Heart Strings is a must-do classic in the Duffy Lake Area. If you love ski touring and don’t know the Duffy Lake Area, YOU SHOULD! It’s a magical zone Northeast of Pemberton and is home to a lifetime of backcountry skiing opportunities. Heart Strings is one of the busiest day trips in the region and for good reason. The views are unbelievable, the ascent is moderate (minus a spooky ridge bootpack which is not fun for anyone afraid of heights) and there are many ways to avoid avalanche terrain. The highlight for me other than the views was skiing powder between two mammoth rock spires that act as the gatekeepers to the couloir and pillow fields below. Heart Strings was my first ever touring experience in the Duffy and I think it is a solid option for any backcountry enthusiasts first visit to the area. If you haven’t ticked Heart Strings off your list, give this guide a quick read and add it on your hit list.
Remember the Backcountry Basics
- Carry your Survival Kit & Essentials
- Let someone know where you’re going with a Trip Plan
- Know how to avoid negative wildlife encounters
- Practice Leave No Trace to keep the wilderness pristine
- Carry a Satellite Communicator like SPOT X
|Distance (Round Trip)||7-8km|
|Time Needed||4-5 Hours|
|Terrain Type||Mixed Trees & Alpine Terrain|
Safety Gear Required
Heart Strings is probably the most popular ski touring target in the Duffey Lake Area. Many skiers and split boarders climb to its summit on a daily basis. Although it may feel more comfortable with a skin track to follow or other people around, remember to never let your guard down and make terrain choices that you and your group feel comfortable and confident about. I would personally give the route an Avalanche Terrain Exposure rating between 2-3 (Moderate/Complex). As you near the upper ridge it is hard to avoid exposure to avalanche terrain and the bootpack along the ridge exposes hikers to a large cliff on one side. If the avalanche risk is high on any given day you can always opt to stop at middle lake and mess about in the trees and pillow lines. Avalanches can happen so it is absolutely necessary to carry your avalanche gear and know how to use it. Also, if you have the option I always recommend carrying along a GPS device like a SPOT X or Garmin In Reach and to wear an avalanche airbag pack for worst case scenarios!
The Trailhead is located in Joffre Lake Provincial Park and the beginning of the ascent follows the Joffre Lake summer hiking trail. Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is located about 30km North on Hwy 99 past Pemberton. When you arrive you can park in the lot beside the trailhead or in one of the overflow lots. These lots can fill up some days so be sure to arrive early and do your best to park close to other cars so more backcountry enthusiasts can have a spot to park.
The route begins at the Joffre Lake’s main parking lot. Follow the trail down to the first lake and slide straight across the lake. In the summer you have to hike to the right and around the lake, winter is hiking is always more satisfying because you get to walk right across lakes (what a rush!).
Meet back up with the summer trail on the other side of the lake and continue following it to the middle lake. Overall the skin up to the middle lake is simple. It can feel tedious and extra effort is required on an icy day when climbing up the steep portions of the well packed trail.
The middle lake is a great stopping point for a water break and maybe a few photos. The middle lake is where you will leave the summer trail and begin the ascent breaking through the treeline and into the alpine. To the lookers right of middle lake you will see a steep pillow field often with skin tracks switch backing up its face. This is the most common, faster, and the path I followed towards Heart Strings.
If you want a less steep option or want to see the upper Joffre lake you can opt to hike up to the third lake and double back to meet up with the route.
Once you conquer the steep climb up the pillow field you will weave through the trees arcing towards the right until you reach an obvious bench. A bench for those of you who don’t know is mountain term for a level or moderately inclined land bounded by distinctly steep slopes above and below. Follow the path of the bench and stay to the right within the trees to avoid any unnecessary exposure to the avalanche terrain to the climbers left.
Once you wrap around the bench and climb past the last few trees you will have to make your second decision of the day. To access the entrance to Heart Strings you will need to walk across a narrow ridge accessed either by bootpack (around 50m) up one of the steep gullies, or you can keep your skins on and traverse to the east (lookers left) and join the ridge on the far side. The sun was beating down hard on the bootpack up the gully but the face to the east was well shaded. We decided to opt to skin up the face to access the ridge.
Upon reaching the ridge you will be rewarded with 360 degree views of the Duffey Lake area and my god is it ever beautiful. Skin or boot pack the ridge slowly and soak it all in! It is a really special ridge to walk along.
About ½ way along the ridge approximately at the point where the bootpack up the gully meets with the ridgetop is where the ridge walking becomes a little more technical. You will have to bootpack this portion with your skis on your shoulder or pack. It is super narrow and a fairly spooky bootpack along a thin portion of a ridge with a looming cornice on your left and a steep but not overly consequential pitch to your right. This ridge walk is very doable, but be aware of the spook factor, especially for those afraid of heights.
I opted to use my hand as an anchor in the snow as I hiked slowly along the ridge ensuring good footing every single step. After maybe 2 minutes of sketchy/narrow ridge boot packing the ridge opens up again and it is an easy walk to the top!
There is a great little high point on the ridge just to the left above the descent which is the ideal spot to eat lunch and enjoy the views on a bluebird day.
Once you’ve had enough time soaking in the views (never enough time) or you’re too chilly to stay still get ready to descend. You are going to continue west (skiers left) along the ridge over a few steep rolls before arriving at the mammoth rocks which mark the entrance to the run below. There are a few blind corners when finding the rock spires and entrance to the line, but the path is fairly obvious since you are surrounded by cliffs and there is really only one way to ski down the ridge.
I opted to fire through the two rocks on the far left and stayed to the left enjoying loads of pillows and sweet rocks to jump off. You can continue down along either side of the creek or head further to the right into the trees. We managed to find a couple bonus pillow lines in the trees which were loads of fun.
As long as you trend right once you are back in the trees you will end up linking with the summer trail which can be followed back down to the first lake and the parking lot.
Please Note – It’s considered bad etiquette and poor risk management to skin back up the main face of HeartStrings, so don’t do it. You can always go for another spin or plan to combo a few descents in the area if you are eager to slide down some more vertical.
Please remember your safety equipment, understand the forecast and manage risk appropriately.
Enjoy the hike & more importantly ENJOY THOSE TURNS!