ELK Mountain + Mt. THURSTON
Route: Snow-covered trail (spikes + snowshoes)


TR #: 332

Category: British Columbia/Alberta        Summit Elev: Elk: 1,432 m / 4,700 ft    Thurston: 1,630 m / 5,350 ft 

Partner: Sue Abegg

Another New Year's snowshoe with my mom.


It's a tradition for my mom and me to go on a New Year's snowshoe. On New Year's Day I was with a friend taking advantage of the (relatively) warm day to squeeze in a few pitches of climbing at Mt. Erie, but on the following weekend my mom and I went on our snowshoe. My parents live in Chilliwack, BC (just north of the US-Canada border) so we wanted to choose something in the mountains near Chilliwack. Also, the avalanche forecast was for "considerable" danger on open slopes, so we wanted to choose a relatively safe objective with timbered slopes and ridges. The Elk-Thurston hike was the perfect choice.

Elk-Thurston is one of the more popular hikes in the Chilliwack area. The hike starts with a 2000-foot climb up timbered slopes, and then breaks out onto the shoulder of Elk Mountain, reaching the summit of Elk not long after that. Starting between 3,500-4,000 feet elevation, the trail had a layer of hard-packed snow; our spikes proved to be the ideal footwear all the way to the summit of Elk. From here, my mom and I rambled along the gently undulating ridge towards Thurston, putting on snowshoes as the snow deepened and the tracks of other hikers dwindled away (most hikers stop at Elk). We enjoyed gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains (dominating the view were Slesse, American and Canadian Border Peaks, Tomyhoi, McGuire, and Baker) and also of the Chilliwack River Valley and Fraser Valley about a vertical mile below. My mom decided to stop at a high point about 2/3 of the way to Thurston, while I continued onward, motivated by the fact that no tracks continued onward and the sense of completion of going all of the way to the summit of Thurston. On the summit, I snapped a few photos of the winter wonderland and hurried back to meet my mom. We made it back to the trailhead just before dark (we had gotten a late start due to indecision), 6.5 hours after we left the trailhead. Another memorable New Year's snowshoe with my mom!

The following page gives a short trip report for the adventure. 


gpx file
GPS track.
(GAIA map screenshot)
GPS track.
(Google Earth screenshot)
GPS track.

Round trip TH to Thurston, Guidebook: 16.5 km / 10.3 mi;  +/- 1,030 m / 3,380 ft
Round trip TH to Thurston, GPS track: 18.7 km / 11.6 mi;   +/- 1,100 m / 3,630 ft
Round trip TH to Elk Mtn, GPS track: 10.6 km / 6.6 mi;   +/- 810 m / 2,650 ft
~6.5 hours (6 hours moving time, 30 minutes stopped time)


Elk Mountain trailhead. It's a popular hike.
There was some evidence of shattered glass on the ground at the trailhead. You might want to avoid leaving any valuables in your car here.
The first few miles climb through beautiful timber. (From our experience on the hike, it seems that humans and dogs alike are obeying the first sign, but dogs are having difficulty with the second sign.)
Between 3,500 - 4,000 feet elevation, we started to encounter snow on the trail. It was hard packed and icy. Our spikes were the ideal footwear.
I bought these spikes at the end of the summer when I spotted them on sale for 50% off at REI, figuring someday they would be handy to have. This someday was today!
A view out to the Fraser Valley as the views began to open up.
The summit ridge of Elk Mountain.
The summit ridge of Elk Mountain. The flag had just been put up by a couple of paragliders, marking their take-off point (apparently Elk Mountain is a popular paragliding spot in the Chilliwack area).
Mount Baker and lenticular clouds.
American and Canadian Border Peaks, Tomyhoi Peak, and Mt. McGuire.
Changing light on American and Canadian Border Peaks.
Tomyhoi Peak.
Mt. McGuire.
Mt. McGuire and Mount Baker.
This photo was taken from near the top of Elk Mountain, looking at the continuation of the ridge between Elk and Thurston. The best view of Slesse (which is out of view behind the ridge) is from the top of the ridge in the photo.
Matchstick-like trees on the ridge between Elk and Thurston.
On the ridge between Elk and Thurston. It is a nice rambling ridge with some great views. Now you can see Slesse in the distance on the left side of the valley. American and Canadian Border Peaks are on the right side of the valley. The summit of Thurston is at the end of the ridge.
Zoomed in on the Slesse area. Mt. Slesse is on the right. You can also see the Illusion Peaks and Mt. Rexford to the left of Slesse.
A black and white photo of Slesse area.
On the ridge between Elk and Thurston. The Chilliwack River Valley and Fraser Valley stretch out a vertical mile below.
Views of the Cheam Range (Cheam, Lady, Knight) to the north.
Pretty muted light.
My mom enjoying the open ridge. This is where she stopped while I continued to Thurston.
The final push to the summit of Thurston.
The trees became more snow-laden as I neared the summit of Thurston. Fraser Valley in the distance.
Winter wonderland on the summit of Thurston.
A sign for Elk Mountain on the summit of Thurston.
A view towards Elk Mountain during my descent from the top of Thurston.
Harrison Lake in distance.
Two of the dozens of dogs we passed on the hike. Smell good?
Headed back down. The broad Fraser Valley stretches away below.
The crux of the day was this 200-foot stretch of trail.