Author Archives: Lottie

Winter snowshoeing

Top Tips for Winter Hiking

Hiking can absolutely be a year-round activity. However, hiking in winter is a little different to hiking in summer. It’s cold and dark. There are more hazards. And having the right gear can make the difference between a great day out and a downright miserable experience.

If you’re hoping to hit the trails this winter, here are some top tips to keep you safe and warm.

Check the trail conditions

If you’re planning a hike, then you probably have an objective in mind. Do some research to find out what the trail conditions are like.

For recent events, find the nearest mountain listed on mountain-forecast.com and cross-reference the week’s weather with your intended destination. If the hike is in the vicinity of a ski resort, check snow-forecast.com instead. The resort might also have webcams you can check. Then take a look at local hiking forums and social media. Reach out to anyone who’s recently been in the area and ask them questions – was there snow on the trail? Was it horrendously muddy? How’s the access road? Hikers are a friendly bunch and will be more than happy to share information with you.

Let the conditions guide your decision-making. If the trail is likely to present difficulties – such as snow, ice or swollen waterways – then ask yourself if you’re equipped to deal with those kinds of conditions. If not, explore alternative options instead.

Check the weather and time of sunrise/sunset

Checking the weather forecast on the day of your hike is good practice, no matter what month it is. But it’s particularly important during the winter months when small temperature drops can make the difference between hiking in the rain and hiking in a blizzard.

If the weather is less than favourable, don’t be afraid to shelve your plans for another day. Remember, heavy rains can cause rivers to swell, low visibility can make navigation impossible, high winds can cause trees to fall and unstable loading in avalanche terrain. If the weather is going to compromise your safety, don’t go.

Also pay close attention to the number of daylight hours you have available. When checking the forecast, take note of when the sun sets. You can of course hike in the dark if you want (provided you have a sufficient light source), but don’t let it catch you out. You might prefer to start early and finish early. That way, you can be home safe and sound by the time darkness falls.

Woman and dog stand by nearly frozen lake
First snowfall of the season

Wear and carry layers – and lots of them!

Once you’re on the trails, the key is to dress in layers. Actually, this applies year-round, but all the more so in winter when you’ll quickly switch between hot and cold.

In the past, I’d arrive at the trailhead shivering and put all my layers on. Then I’d hike for about five minutes, be sweltering hot and have to take them all off again. I’ve finally learned that I’ll quickly warm up once I get moving. I’ve also learned that it’s bad to overheat while hiking in the winter. Someone once said to me: “you sweat; you die.” This is slightly alarmist, but I get the point. If you start sweating, that moisture will cool on your skin. When you stop, you’ll suddenly be extremely cold.

So, dress in layers. During the hike, remove and add layers as needed. If you’re getting hot, stop and peel some clothes off. If you’re getting cold, stop and add more. It can be tempting to ignore your body temperature and carry on hiking. However, you either risk over-heating – meaning you’ll get sweaty and then eventually become very cold. Or you risk a steady descent into mild hypothermia, from which it can be very difficult to warm up from. Don’t worry about stopping your group so you can layer/un-layer. Chances are, everyone else will want to do the same thing.

On the top, you’ll want a base layer which wicks sweat away. Don’t wear cotton – it retains moisture and will make you colder in the long-run. Then you’ll want a mid-layer, which is something a little warmer like a fleece. Then you’ll want a shell jacket for your outer layer. A waterproof jacket is ideal because it prevents wind chill and keeps you dry. When you stop (or if you get cold), whip out a down jacket and some additional mid-layers to keep you toasty. On your lower half, you’ll want moisture wicking tights/leggings and some waterproof trousers (pants) on top. You can remove the latter if you get hot or conditions are dry.

You should also take a warm hat, gloves and a buff to protect your face from wind chill. I like to take spare gloves and socks, just in case the pair I’m wearing get wet or I’m really, really cold. Take more clothes than you think you need – even if that means taking a bigger bag than you normally would on a day hike.

Wear the right footwear

You can get away with hiking in trainers in the summer. Not so in the winter. You’ll absolutely need waterproof hiking boots. They should be high-cut, meaning they wrap around your ankle. They should also have aggressive lugs which allow for better traction in wet, slippery conditions. If it’s going to be really cold, you can invest in a pair of insulated hiking boots.

Synthetic or wool socks will help keep your feet dry. Gaiters can also be helpful if you’re going to be wading through mud, slush or snow.

Carry micro spikes and snowshoes

If the trail is snow-covered, you’ll either need micro spikes, snowshoes or both. Lots of people automatically reach for snowshoes when they’re hiking in snow. However, snowshoes are only useful for floating in deep snow. They provide a greater surface area so prevent you from sinking. But they don’t have very good grip. If the trail is full of compressed, icy snow, then micro spikes are better. If it’s steep, then you might need crampons.

It’s very easy to slip and hurt yourself in winter conditions. In fact, this is a common cause of winter hiking accidents. Even the first snowfall of the season can turn the trail into an ice rink. If you don’t want to be sliding down on your backside, be sure to carry micro spikes and/or snowshoes with you. Micro spikes can be easily stashed in your bag when you don’t need them, while snowshoes can be lashed onto the outside of your rucksack.

Keep eating and drinking

You might not feel very hungry or thirsty while hiking in winter, yet it’s vital that you keep eating and drinking.

You actually burn more calories while hiking in winter because your body is working harder to keep warm. Stay fuelled by guzzling high-energy snacks at regular intervals. Some foods become solid at low temperatures, so things like a traditional sandwich might not be too palatable. Hunks of hard cheese and dark chocolate work well. I also like to take a flask of hot soup to glug at lunchtime.

Stay hydrated by taking regular sips of water. You might not sweat as much as you do when hiking in summer, but you’re still losing moisture. The tubes on hydration bladders often freeze in cold weather. You can combat this by filling your bladder with warm water and sipping on it frequently throughout the day. You can also try an insulated tube cover, or simply switch to insulated bottles instead.

Prepare for the unexpected

I once read that when even if you’re planning on a day hike, you should be prepared for an overnight hike. This is all the more pertinent in winter when you have fewer daylight hours to get yourself out of a jam.

Always carry the 10 Essentials with you. Then, think like a catastrophist and pack extra of everything. This includes extra layers, food, lights and batteries or chargers for electronics (which often die in cold weather!) Take a bivvy bag just in case you end up camping overnight. Stick some handwarmers in your bag which will save your fingers if you get really cold. And always leave a trip plan with a friend or family member.

Get avalanche safety training

If you plan on venturing into avalanche terrain, then you need to attend an Avalanche Skills Training (AST) course. This gives you the knowledge required to identify avalanche hazards and minimise the risks. You and every member of your party will need to carry an avalanche receiver, probe and shovel – and know how to use them!

It’s a common misconception that only skiers and snowboarders get caught in avalanches. Actually, snowshoers and winter hikers are frequently killed or injured in the mountains, be it in avalanches or collapsed cornices. Obviously, it all depends on where you’re hiking. If you’re trudging across the Mendip Hills in England, you don’t need to know the meaning of surface hoar. But if you’re headed to snowy peaks, it could be crucial. If you’re not sure, book yourself onto a course anyway. You’ll learn a bunch of interesting (and potentially life-saving) information and maybe even make some new hiking buddies in the process.

If you have any other tips for winter hiking then I’d love to hear them!

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How to Get Started Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry skiing is the natural progression for a lot of people wanting to push their skiing to the next level. Resorts can be busy and expensive. Lift lines can be long. And no matter how early you arrive on a powder day, it’s mere minutes before those fresh lines are tracked out.

Not to get too purist about it: there’s always a time and a place for the ski hill! But sometimes you just want something a little more, well, spiritual. A day out in nature. A physical challenge. Oh, and lots of untouched snow all to yourself. You might only have the energy for one lap, but you might just make the best turns of your life. 

If this sounds appealing, then backcountry skiing could be for you.

What is backcountry skiing?

Backcountry skiing refers to any kind of skiing that’s not within the boundary of a ski resort. This means it hasn’t been controlled for avalanches and isn’t covered by ski patrol.

You can either access this terrain by taking the chairlift up and then skiing, touring or boot-packing beyond the boundary lines. This area is known as the side-country or the slack-country. Alternatively, you can make the expedition entirely human powered. This involves hiking up, usually with climbing skins on the bottom of your skis, before transitioning to downhill mode and skiing back down again.

How to get into backcountry skiing

Even to the seasoned resort skier, getting into backcountry skiing can seem like daunting proposition. Take a few turns out of bounds and you suddenly feel very vulnerable – and with good reason. It’s a wild place out there, full of terrain traps, tree wells and avalanche hazards. There are precious few people, and ski patrol won’t be sweeping the area at the end of the day, so it’s up to you to get home safely.

All these risks are very real, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a pro mountaineer to start backcountry skiing. If you have a reasonable level of fitness and are comfortable skiing blue runs, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take up backcountry skiing.

But before you leave the resort boundary behind, you need to equip yourself with a little bit of know-how first. You may be a highly experienced skier, and you are probably oh so very eager to play in that pristine powder. However, backcountry skiing is a different kettle of fish to resort skiing. It’s practically a different sport. Because of this, you need to start at the very beginning.

So, here’s how to get into backcountry skiing.

Person traverses snowy slope

1. Try an intro to backcountry skiing course

First up, you could try an introductory backcountry skiing course. These courses teach you the basics of ski touring, including how to use your equipment and how to plan a safe route. Then you head out into the field to experience it for yourself.

Trying before you buy is a great idea. Backcountry gear is an expensive investment, so it’s good to know that you actually like it before you splash the cash. It’s not for everyone, especially if you’re less-than-confident about your fitness or skiing ability.

2. Take your AST 1

If you’re keen as a backcountry bean, then you absolutely must take your Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 (AST 1). Find a course provider approved by Avalanche Canada or Avalanche Quebec.

During the course you’ll learn how to travel safely in the backcountry. You’ll cover route planning, terrain traps, avalanche risks, companion rescue and snow assessment. You should not attempt to ski in the backcountry until you’ve completed your AST 1.

Top tip for ladies – some companies offer women’s only AST 1 courses, including Altus Mountain Guides in Whistler.

3. Get the gear

A ski touring set-up is different to a resort set-up. Most important are the avalanche safety tools, which encompass an avalanche transceiver, a probe and a shovel. You’ll also need climbing skins and alpine touring bindings.

This equipment is required to do your AST 1. However, you can always rent to begin with. This gives you the chance to build your ski touring set-up gradually. Find out exactly what you’ll need with this Ski Touring Kit List.

4. Find a group of fellow ski tourers

Now you’re equipped with the right knowledge and safety tools to head out into the backcountry. The next step is to find a group of fellow ski tourers (or split boarders) to accompany you.

Do not travel in the backcountry alone. Instead, find some friends who have also taken the AST 1 (at least). These people might have to save your life, so you better be confident that they know what they’re doing.

5. Start simple

Then, start off with something easy. You might even want to skin up some local trails or gentle logging roads first. This gives you the chance to dial down those kick turns and do some beacon practice before heading out into the wilds.

Be sure to stick to simple terrain when you’re starting out. You’ll learn all about this during your AST 1. You can work your way up to bigger backcountry adventures once you’re more adept at identifying avalanche hazards.

If you live in British Columbia, John Baldwin’s book Exploring the Coast Mountain on Skis is a great resource. Each trip is given a difficulty rating and is classed according to the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES).

Snow covered slope with snow covered trees
Simple terrain

6. Take a guided tour of the backcountry

If you’d like to experience more of the backcountry in a safe way, you could always take a guided tour. Your guide will be grateful that you’ve got your avalanche skills training under your belt.

You could also ask a more experienced friend to take you out for the day too. However, don’t rely on your friend, just because he or she has been backcountry skiing for longer. Keep communicating with each other and stay involved in the decision-making process. You’ve recently done your AST 1, so all that important safety information will be fresh in your mind. If you’re not happy with something, speak up.

7. Keep learning

Backcountry skiing is one long learning curve. Re-read your AST handbook at the start of every season. Do a companion rescue skills course to refresh your memory. Take the AST 2. Just because you learned what to do in an avalanche situation five years ago, doesn’t mean that you’ll remember what to do if a burial actually occurs. This could be the difference between life and death.

So, no matter who you are, keep educating yourself on avalanche terrain, map reading, first aid, survival skills and even weather forecasts. You don’t know when you might need it.

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Snowy mountains

Ski Touring Kit List

There’s something so magical about ski touring. You can get far from the madding crowd in search of new terrain, untouched lines and fresh pow. But before you can earn your turns, you’ll need to invest in some new gear.

If you’re new to ski touring, then take a deep breath. You’re going to need to modify your traditional downhill resort set-up. This can be overwhelming – firstly because there’s so many options out there, and secondly because, let’s be honest, it’s not cheap.

If you’re operating on a budget, then check sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for second-hand gear. Stores might also offer discounts on last year’s stock, and you can also wait for those annual sales to come round. It’s also a good idea to start shopping around sooner, rather than later. That way you can collect your gear bit by bit, rather than having a last-minute splurge at the start of the season.

Here’s a run-down of everything you’ll need for a ski touring set-up.

Skis

OK, this seems obvious – you’ll need a pair of skis to go ski touring. But bear with me! You’re going to want something that can float through powder, as opposed to a pair of narrow-waisted carvers. Ski technology is incredibly advanced these days and ski aficionados can talk for hours about rockers, camber and width. Basically, you’ll want some powder skis or some all-mountain skis that are wider underfoot.

If you’re a snowboarder, you’ll need to get a splitboard mounted with splitboard bindings.

Bindings

Ski touring bindings are special because they have an uphill mode and a downhill mode. There are two options available: frame bindings and tech bindings. Traditionally tech bindings (i.e. pin bindings) were aimed at uphill efficiency but compromised on safety during the descent. New technology is now combining the best of both worlds, but only a few companies currently offer such products (like the Salomon Shifts) – meaning they have a much higher price point.

Whichever you choose, be sure that your bindings are compatible with your touring boots.

Touring boots

Which brings me onto my next point: touring boots. Like bindings, touring boots have a skinning mode and a skiing mode. You don’t realise how important this is until you start hauling yourself up a mountainside. If you have alpine ski boots on, your feet will quickly become sore and blistered. This is definitely not what you want in the backcountry. In fact, you want to take care of your feet at all costs. Trust me, I’ve been there and got the blisters. Make sure your boots are comfortable. If not, consider getting a custom liner, such as an Intuition liner.

Skins

Skins are like carpets you put on the bottom of your skis during the ascent. One side is gluey and sticks to the underside of your ski. The other side usually consists of nylon or mohair and lets you glide effortlessly across the snow. Skins come in different sizes, so select some that fit your skis. You’ll then need to trim the edges (and possibly adjust the tail and tip clips) so they sit flush with your edges.

Woman walks on skis along snowy ridge
Skinning along!

Avalanche transceiver

Now onto the safety equipment. First up, an avalanche transceiver. This might just save your life one day, so if you’re going to buy anything new, this is it. Transceivers are worn across your chest at all times while you’re in the backcountry. They have a send and receive mode. You keep them on send or ‘transmit’. In the event that one of your companions is buried, you switch onto receive or ‘search’. Your device will pick up the signal being transmitted by your buried companion. You’ll then know where to dig.

Some avalanche beacons are considered safer than others, and some get an extremely bad press indeed. Research different models and check the news, reviews and advice from industry experts before you invest.

Shovel

Shovels have many uses in the backcountry. Most importantly, they allow you to move snow fast in the event of an avalanche burial. They’re also useful for digging snow pits and snow caves. There are specific snow sport shovels on the market. These are lightweight and durable. Most also have handles that fold down or detach, meaning you can easily fit them into your backpack.

Probe

A probe is essentially a long metal stick that is used in an avalanche situation. This is a crude description for such an important piece of kit, but you get my point. Once you’ve located the rough area of your buried companion, you whip out your probe and insert it straight down into the snow. You keep going until you hit a human. Backcountry probes break down so they can be carried in your bag and feature a pull cord for quick deployment.

Lightweight/moisture wicking clothes

You probably already have a closet full of ski clothes. But check – are your jacket and pants insulated? If you’ve been skiing in resort, then they likely are. This is because it’s cold on a chairlift. But when you’re out touring, you can get incredibly hot while skinning up. Then, you can get incredibly cold while transitioning and skiing down. This means lots of lightweight layers are key.

For your outer layers, you’ll want a shell jacket and pants/bibs that are uninsulated. Anything else will be too hot and heavy. Ideally, you want to achieve the holy trinity of lightweight, breathable and waterproof. For your base and mid-layers, choose moisture-wicking materials such as merino wool. Stay away from cotton.

Backpack

You’ll need somewhere to put your shovel, probe, layers, skins (when your skiing down), food, water and all your other items. You might feel that any old backpack will do. However, there are dedicated ski touring backpacks available. These have a separate compartment for your avalanche tools, ensuring they’re easy to reach when you need them.

The usual ski stuff

Then there’s all the other usual ski stuff, like a helmet, goggles, poles and gloves.

Other bits and bobs

And finally, all the other bits and bobs. Some of these items will be personal to you. For example, while skinning I prefer to wear a cap, sunglasses and a pair of lightweight gloves. But you’ll learn what works as you go.

Then there’s the other essential safety items, like a compass, a map of the area, a multi-tool, a first aid kit, sunscreen and a head torch. You’ll also want some kind of communication device – you know, just in case anything should happen. Mobile phones don’t always work out of bounds (or in bounds, for that matter) so you might want to invest in a satellite communication device. Ultimately, the choice is yours, but it can provide peace of mind while you’re shredding around the backcountry.

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Golden larches in Manning Provincial Park

Frosty Mountain Golden Larches Hike

See the golden larches in Manning Provincial Park by hiking the Frosty Mountain trail in late September or early October.

What are the golden larches?

As the season shifts from summer to autumn, there’s one question on every hiker’s mind: have the larches turned golden yet? If you’re wondering what all the hype is about, then let me explain.

You’ve heard of coniferous trees, right? They have needle-like leaves which stay put year-round. Then there are deciduous trees. They turn a riot of colours before shedding their leaves for the season. Well, larches are conifers – but unusually, they also lose their needles. Cool eh?

The result is that for a few precious weeks each year, larch trees around the world turn a beautiful golden colour. Arrive too early and they’ll still be green. Get there too late and the needles will already have dropped, leaving the trees bald until spring.

Just like Goldilocks and her porridge, you’ve got to get it just right.

Golden larches in Manning Provincial Park
Sub-alpine larches turn golden in late September/early October

Where can you see the golden larches?

To get the real wow factor, you’re looking for the sub-alpine larch, known in Latin as the larix lyallii. These are found growing at high elevations where the temperatures are low and the soil is rocky. Stands of sub-alpine larches can be found across Canada and the USA, particularly in the Rockies and the Northern Cascades.

Popular places to see the golden larches include:

  • The Sentinel Pass in Banff National Park, Alberta
  • Chester Lake in Kananaskis Country, Alberta
  • Cathedral Provincial Park, British Columbia
  • Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia
  • Maple Pass Loop, Washington State
  • Cutthroat Pass, Washington State

Golden larches near Vancouver

If you live near Vancouver – and crossing the border isn’t an option (hello Covid) – then the best place to see the golden larches is in Manning Provincial Park.

But here’s the catch: these larches grow high up the side of a mountain. You can’t see them from your car, so you won’t be doing a drive-by photo shoot. Instead, you need to dust off the hiking boots and follow the trail up to Frosty Mountain.

You don’t have to reach the summit of Frosty Mountain, which stands at a considerable 2,408m. In fact, the golden larches plateau is around 2km below the peak. The hike to the plateau is certainly uphill, with approximately 800m elevation gain. But it’s manageable for the intermediate hiker, as the trail ascends gradually during a long series of switchbacks.

Golden larches in Manning Provincial Park
Manning Provincial Park in early October

When to see the golden larches in Manning Provincial Park

The Frosty Mountain hike is typically snow-free from mid-July to early October. To catch the larches at their most vibrant, visit in late September to early October. I went in the first weekend of October and was met with a dazzling array of golden hues.

The weather in late September and early October is unpredictable. The larches are extremely high up and it’s very possible that there will be snow on the ground. Take warm layers and micro-spikes for your hiking boots. Oh, and always carry the 10 Essentials!

Top tip – these glorious larches turn golden for a short period, meaning the trail is very busy at weekends during late September/early October. If possible, time your trip for a week-day.

Frosty Mountain hike quick facts

  • Distance: 22km round trip to Frosty Mountain, or 18km to the larches plateau
  • Start: from the Lightening Lake day-use area in Manning Provincial Park
  • Time needed: between six and nine hours, depending on your speed and whether you go all the way to the summit
  • Dogs: are allowed on leash
  • Elevation gain: 1,150m to the summit, 800m to the larch plateau
  • Camping: is available if you want to do this as an overnight trip. Frosty Creek Wilderness Campsite is around the 7km mark.
  • Alternative routes: it is also possible to reach Frosty Mountain from the Windy Joe trail. Additionally, you can do a loop trail incorporating Lightening Lake, Frosty Mountain and Windy Joe. BC Parks has more information on the options available.
  • The larches in Manning Park: are, according to John Baldwin in Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis, ‘up to 2,000 years old and are some of the oldest trees in Canada’. Woah.
Manning Provincial Park
It’s thought that these are the oldest trees in Canada!

Hiking the Frosty Mountain trail

The most popular way to see the golden larches in Manning Provincial Park is to hike the Frosty Mountain Trail. This is the route I’ll describe here.

Travel directions

From Vancouver, head east-bound along Highway #1. After Hope, stay in the right-hand lane as it merges into Highway #3. Turn right immediately after Manning Park Resort onto Gibson Pass Road. There’s a signpost for Gibson Pass ski area. After you’ve made the right-hand turn, you’ll see a sign for Lightening Lake. Continue until you reach a fork in the road. Take the left-hand fork towards the Lightening Lake day-use area. Park here.

The route

Start at the Lightening Lake day-use area. If you’re looking at the lake with the parking lot behind you, head left (east) around the lake, keeping the water on your right-hand side. Cross the dam and you’ll see a trail marker for ‘Frosty Mountain trail’.

The trail immediately enters the forest. From now you can expect around 6km of switchbacks. The trail isn’t technical and ascends gradually. However, it’s very narrow which makes overtaking difficult. Bottlenecks can form on busy days, especially when there’s a two-way flow of traffic.

Every now and then the forest opens up and you’ll get a glimpse of Lightening Lake below you and Mount Hozameen in the distance. Eventually the switchbacks end and the trails levels off. You’ll undulate up and down for another 1km or so, after which you’ll reach Frosty Creek Campsite. There’s an emergency shelter, an outhouse and a very small creek.

Manning Provincial Park
Glimpses of Lightening Lake and Mount Hozemeen along the Frosty Mountain trail

Pass through the campsite and over the creek. Now the trail begins to climb again, but it’s only 0.5km until you get to the larch grove, so keep going! Soon you reach a plaque that tells you about larch trees. Finally, you’ll get your first glimpse of the famed golden larches. Continue walking along the trail, which becomes relatively flat. You’ll find larches all around you for around 1km, set against the stunning backdrop of the Northern Cascades.

Golden larches Manning Provincial Park
The golden larches plateau

Soon the trail starts to climb once again. Then, the tree line abruptly comes to an end and you’re faced with a scree field. If you don’t want to continue to Frosty Mountain summit, this is the end of your hike. Turn around and return the way you came, taking time to appreciate the golden larches from an alternative perspective.

If you want to keep going, then be prepared for the difficulty rating to increase. Hike up through the scree field, following the pink dots painted on the stones. It’s steep and the scree is loose, so take care.

Manning Provincial Park
The scree field to the ridge. You can see the summit in the distance

Once you’re at the ridge, turn right and walk along the ridgeline. It remains rocky and the altitude can make it hard going. Keep following the ridge until you reach the east summit.

Manning Provincial Park
Walking along the ridge towards Frosty Mountain

Once you arrive, you can congratulate yourself: you are standing on the highest mountain in Manning Provincial Park!

Take your time to soak up the incredible views. To the south is the Cascade Range in the USA, and to the north is a sweeping panorama of Manning Provincial Park in all its glory. Whichever way you look, there’s layer upon layer of mountains.

Manning Provincial Park
Views from the top of Frosty Moutain in Manning Provincial Park

And there you have it: your complete guide to hiking the golden larches in Manning Provincial Park.

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Howe Sound Crest Trail

Hiking the Howe Sound Crest Trail

Spanning from Cypress Bowl to Porteau Cove, the Howe Sound Crest Trail is one of THE iconic hikes near Vancouver. At 29km long, it’s like a greatest hits list of local peaks, allowing the hiker to bag them all in one fell swoop.

OK, maybe not them all, but your legs will carry you up and over St Mark’s Summit, Mount Unnecessary, The Lions, James Peak, David Peak and, if you want, Brunswick Mountain. Then you’ll skirt round Brunswick Lake, Hanover Lake and Deeks Lake. It’s quite the sightseeing tour. Did I mention the views? They’re spectacular.

If you’re thinking about hiking the Howe Sound Crest Trail (HSCT), here’s what you need to know.

Howe Sound Crest Trail quick facts

  • Distance – 29km, not including a detour to Brunswick Mountain.
  • Rating – very difficult
  • When to hike it – late summer to early autumn, preferably on a clear day when you can enjoy the views!
  • Time needed – two days ideally. Some advanced trail runners tackle it in one day.
  • Logistics – this is a point to point hike. You’ll need to leave a car at either end, or get someone to pick you up/drop you off.
  • Start/end – most people hike the trail from south to north. This mean you’d start at Cypress Bowl (Cypress Mountain Resort) and end at Porteau Road.
  • Camping – wilderness camping is available along the trail. Preferred sites are Magnesia Meadows (14.5km from Cypress), Brunswick Lake (19km from Cypress) and Deeks Lake (22km from Cypress). There are no outhouses, tent pads or bear caches.
  • Water – if you are hiking the trail from south to north, water is scant until you reach Magnesia Meadows. From thereon, you’re never too far from a water source. Boiling or treating drinking water is recommended.
  • Campfires – are not allowed.
  • Dogs – are allowed on leash. However, the section between Mount Unnecessary and Magnesia Meadows is definitely not dog-friendly. There are cables, ropes and steep step-downs. Leave the fur-baby at home.
  • Shorter hikes – you can exit the trail early if you want a shorter hike. Rather than going all the way to Porteau Cove, head down to Lions Bay via the Lions Binkert Trail or the Brunswick Mountain Trail.

There’s some important safety information tucked into this list. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to expand on a few points.

Honestly, it’s very difficult

I hiked the Howe Sound Crest Trail from south to north, stopping at Magnesia Meadows overnight. Honestly, the first day kicked my butt. I don’t want to sound too big for my (hiking) boots, but I’ve done trails rated as difficult before and thought they weren’t so bad. But this was a different story. The first half of the trail sees you scaling up and down various peaks. It’s steep, not only going up, but going down too. There are ropes, cables, boulders, scrambles and sheer drops. The terrain is technical and progress is often slow-going. When you’ve got an overnight pack on, it makes it all the more difficult.

Be warned: the Howe Sound Crest Trail is not for beginners, or indeed intermediate hikers. It’s hard. For fit and experienced hikers, this is a challenging and highly rewarding experience. Be prepared and be sure to carry the 10 essentials with you.

This is a late summer/early autumn hike only

Snow persists on the HSCT well into summer. It may balmy down in the city in June, but up at 1,500m you’ll find yourself knee-deep in the white stuff. “I’m not deterred by a bit of snow”, you might think. That’s all well and good, but the terrain of the Howe Sound Crest Trail means that you’d need avalanche training and mountaineering skills to traverse it safely. There’s a particularly sketchy col in between The Lions which can be covered in a thick slab of compact snow, even when everything else is bone dry. Slip here and you’d promptly slide 50 feet into a boulder field.

You may be itching to tick this one off your bucket list, but be patient and wait for the right conditions. The snow pack changes every year, so it’s impossible to say exactly when the Howe Sound Crest Trail is hike-able. Usually, you’ll be looking from late July to early October.

Howe Sound Crest Trail
Looking across to Enchantment Lake

How long does it take?

If you hike the Howe Sound Crest Trail, you’ll no doubt see trail runners tackling the length of it in one day. You could, in theory, hike the HSCT in one day too. However, you would need to start very early and travel very quickly to avoid being caught out by nightfall. This would be a shame, as the Howe Sound Crest Trail is beautiful. You’ll want to take your time – and hike in daylight – to fully appreciate the views.

So, from a safety perspective, and for your own enjoyment, this is best done as an overnight hike. One night will suffice, but if you really want to savour the scenery, you could stay for two nights.

I’m always wary of disclosing how long a hike has taken me, as everyone’s abilities are different. To give you an idea, we were hiking for nine hours each day. The first day included two short rest stops. The 4km between The Lions and Magnesia Meadows took three hours alone due to the difficulty of the terrain. The second day was more leisurely and included a detour to Brunswick Mountain and multiple stops for lunch and lake swimming.

Howe Sound Crest Trail
Stunning scenery along the Howe Sound Crest Trail

Parking and logistics

This is a point to point hike, meaning a bit of planning is required in terms of logistics. Ideally, your group will have two cars. On the morning of your hike (or the evening before) you can drop one car at your end destination. You can then all pile into the remaining car and drive to your start point. That way, when you finish your hike, you’ll have a car waiting for you. You can collect the other car on your way home.

I didn’t have two cars, so instead dropped my car at Porteau Cove the evening before the hike. My boyfriend collected me in an Evo. In the morning, a friend picked us up and dropped us at Cypress Mountain Resort, where we started our hike.

There is a large parking lot at Cypress Mountain. To save your legs, you’ll want to park as close to the ski lodge as possible. The address is Cypress Mountain, 6000 Cypress Bowl Road, West Vancouver, BC V7V 3N9. Take exit #8 off Highway 1. At the northerly end, you need to park at Porteau Road parking lot. Follow Highway 99 and exit at Porteau Road. The parking lot can be found on the east-side of the highway, up a short hill.

Hiking the Howe Sound Crest Trail – the route

Most people opt to hike the Howe Sound Crest Trail from Cypress to Porteau Cove because the elevation gain is significantly shorter. If you, too, are stomping in this direction, then here’s what you’ll find.

St Mark’s Summit – approx. 5.5km from Cypress

The first hurdle to overcome on the Howe Sound Crest Trail is St Mark’s Summit. From Cypress Mountain Resort, there are plenty of maps and signposts towards the Howe Sound Crest Trail. You can take either the east or west access trail – you’ll end up in the same place. You can veer off the trail to the Bowen Lookout if you want. Otherwise, continue to follow signs for the Howe Sound Crest Trail. As you near the top there’s a series of steep switchbacks. Afterwards, the gradient starts to level out and the trail can be muddy. Soon afterwards, you’ll come to the summit. This is your first real chance to enjoy the stunning views across the Howe Sound.

The hike to St Mark’s Summit is a popular one. From here, the trail is quieter with fewer signposts. Be sure to look out for orange markers.

Mount Unnecessary, north and south peaks – approx. 7km from Cypress

Follow the trail round to the left where there’s a steep drop down the back side of St Mark’s Summit, only to be followed by a taxing ascent through the forest. This section is challenging with a heavy pack on and there are lots of tree roots to haul yourself over. You’ll soon appreciate why it’s called Mount Unnecessary, as you’ll wish this mountain-shaped obstacle wasn’t standing in between you and The Lions.

Finally, you pop out of the treeline and come to a rocky ridge. Follow this and you’ll reach the south peak of Mount Unnecessary, followed by the north peak. There are supposedly incredible views from this vantage point, which at the north peak stands at 1,542m. I say supposedly, because unfortunately when I went, we were shrouded in clouds. Well, you can’t plan the weather.

Woman walks along snowy rocky ridge
The ridge leading to Mount Unnecessary

The Lions – approx. 10.2km from Cypress

From the north peak of Mount Unnecessary, you scramble down some steep rocks with the help of a rope. From here, follow the trail towards The Lions. You’ll come to a rocky slope, at the top of which you’ll see the Search and Rescue Cache. Follow the trail upwards. It can be difficult to navigate this section, but some of the rocks have faded orange paint on. Continue to follow the ridge crest until you come to the base of the West Lion.

Experienced scramblers and climbers may choose to drop their packs here and climb up the West Lion. I’ve not done it myself but I know others who have. They report that it’s a no-fall zone – so it’s best left to those who know what they’re doing.

James Peak

At this point, things step up a notch in terms of fear factor. You’ll drop downwards slightly and follow the trail across the col between the West and East Lions. This is the sketchy section I mentioned previously which is often covered in snow. The trail traverses around the East Lion and is very narrow and exposed. You’ll then ascend upwards, rounding some small peaks – don’t be fooled, this isn’t James Peak!

Instead, you need to descend steeply around the base of Thomas Peak, where you’ll come to a boulder field. This can be covered in snow, making the trail difficult to follow – keep an eye on those orange trail markers. If you’re looking at the boulder field, you need to stay high, keeping to the left.

Woman traverses snowy boulder field
Crossing the boulder field

After a couple of hundred metres there’s an exit that takes you back into the forest. This area is known as Enchantment Pass. Soon it becomes incredibly steep and exposed as you climb the ridge to James Peak. There’s a chain rope to help you.

Woman scrambles up mountainside
Scrambling up the side of James Peak with the help of a chain rope

David’s Peak

Once you’ve enjoyed yet more incredible views, it’s time to descend from James Peak. The terrain becomes more open and meadow-like, but the respite doesn’t last long as there’s one more peak to summit – David’s Peak. Once again, this is a steep climb, followed by a steep descent the other side. By now you’re in the forest and it’s a matter of climbing up and over trees roots.

Magnesia Meadows – approx. 14.5km from Cypress

Once you’re descending David’s Peak, you know there’s not far to go until Magnesia Meadows. However, the going can be slow down the backside of David’s Peak. Once at the bottom, there’s an agonising incline up an old logging road. This section is open, grassy and full of berries – making it a hot-spot for bears. Keep grinding away until you reach a junction. Turn right and you’ll see the Magnesia Meadows emergency shelter in the distance.

Howe Sound Crest Trail
Hiking in to Magnesia Meadows – the red emergency shelter is in the distance

This is a gorgeous place to camp overnight. The views of the Howe Sound are framed by Mount Harvey on your left and the forest on your right. There’s a running stream for water and you can take refuge in the emergency shelter if needed. There’s no outhouse or bear caches, so bring a trowel and bear bag for your food.

Howe Sound Crest Trail
Camping at Magnesia Meadows

Brunswick Mountain – optional

From Magnesia Meadows, the trail continues gently upwards past the emergency shelter and into the trees. The terrain is much more manageable from here and you will cover the remaining distance much faster.

Howe Sound Crest Trail
Views across the Howe Sound

However, you can extend your hike if you want by taking a detour up to Brunswick Mountain. If so, watch out for the trail marker on your right (around 2km from Magnesia Meadows). Stash your bags and continue up the Brunswick Mountain Trail. It’s a scramble to the top but you’ll be treated to incredible views. Return to your bags and re-join the Howe Sound Crest Trail.

Brunswick Mountain
Brunswick Mountain

Brunswick Lake – approx. 19km from Cypress

Back on the Howe Sound Crest Trail, the gradient remains fairly level. Then, you’ll start to drop steadily downwards. This section is full of pretty meadows with tarns. You’ll come to the emergency shelter above Brunswick Lake before descending further to the lake itself.

Howe Sound Crest Trail
The emergency shelter sits just above the lake

The lake is a brilliant blue colour and very cold, as you’ll soon find out when you take your shoes and socks off to wade across to the other side. Take care – the underwater stones are slippery and uneven. I saw one hiker in front of me fall right in. I was glad to have my sandals with me!

This is another great spot to camp, or at least to stop for a sandwich and a swim.

Brunswick Lake
Brunswick Lake

Deeks Lake – approx. 22km from Cypress

From here, a creek runs all the way to Deeks Lake. The trail runs parallel to it. You’ll pass by a waterfall and Hanover Lake, which like Brunswick Lake is bright blue in colour. There are some more creek crossings, so you’ll be taking your socks and shoes off a couple more times. Otherwise, the trail is fairly easy. It undulates up and down with a few rocky sections, plus a slippery section near the waterfall.

When you get your first glimpse of Deeks Lake you’ll start to traverse around the water’s edge. There’s a short uphill followed by a short downhill, after which you’ll come to a log jam across the lake. Cross over here to the other side. There are a few camping spots, and you’ll probably be greeted by day trippers who have hiked up to the lake for a swim. Speaking of which, this is good place to have a dunk and a final pitstop before the long descent to the car.

Woman swims in alpine lake
Deeks Lake

Porteau Cove Road parking lot – approx. 29km from Cypress

Once you set off from Deeks Lake, you are firmly on the home stretch. It’s a long way downhill from here and your knees may start to get creaky. Down you’ll go, past a waterfall, through the forest and out onto a (boring) logging road.

Due to logging activity, there is currently a detour at the end of the trail. This brings you out below the parking lot. Ordinarily, you would continue down the logging road until you reach a yellow gate. The Porteau Road parking lot is just beyond it.

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Bike Touring Saturna Island

If each of the southern Gulf Islands has its own personality, then Saturna would be the brilliant introvert. Often overshadowed by its more popular neighbours of Salt Spring and Galiano, it sits quietly, largely unnoticed by the masses.

Yet take the time to explore this island, which is just 31 square kilometres in size, and you’ll find it has its own hidden virtues. Beautiful hiking trails, spectacular views, quiet bays and onshore whale watching are just some of the reasons that make Saturna one of my favourite summer-time destinations. There’s even a vineyard for goodness sake.

Those looking for bustling farmer’s markets, a choice of restaurants and a calendar chock-full of events will be disappointed. Saturna is a sleepy, rural island. One half sits within the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. The other half is home to just 350 full-time residents.

These characteristics, however, make it prime bike touring territory. The roads are quiet but there are enough hills to make it a challenge. I’ve bikepacked to Saturna on two occasions now, and while I’m adamant about visiting new places, I’d go again.

Bikepacking Saturna Island

Perhaps one explanation for Saturna’s isolated existence is that it’s not easy to reach. Ferries run between Saturna and Swartz Bay (Victoria) and Tsawwassen (Vancouver), but passengers typically have to transfer at Mayne or Pender. It’s also possible to get to Saturna from the other southern Gulf Islands, as I recently did after bike touring on Galiano Island.

In terms of accommodation, the island has a range of cottage rentals and B&Bs. For those wanting to sleep under canvas, there are two options available.

Arbutus Point Campground is conveniently located next to the ferry terminal at Lyall Harbour and, I might add, the pub. There are seven reservable sites, potable water and, in non-Covid times, a shower. It’s a short, sharp ride up to the General Store, which is surprisingly well-stocked and reasonably priced. But its proximity to the ferry, and its compact nature, mean this isn’t the most peaceful of sites.

That’s why my preferred choice is Narvaez Bay campground. A backcountry campsite run by Parks Canada, it’s billed as “one of the most beautiful and undisturbed bays in the southern Gulf Islands”. There are seven reservable sites, along with an overflow area that permits a maximum of three tents. There’s no potable water and you’re a long way from the island’s only grocery store. Given this, it’s best to stock up on all the essential items before pedalling the length of Narvaez Bay Road. During the final approach, the road becomes a little looser with more potholes. When you finally reach the end, there’s a 1km walk (or ride, if your bike’s up to it) to the campsite. There’s also a bike rack, should you want it.

Narvaez Bay campground
Narvaez Bay

What to do on Saturna Island

Regardless of whether you camp at Narvaez Bay, it’s well worth a visit. It’s a gorgeous spot and the hiking trails to Monarch Head and Echo Bay are stunning.

Monarch Head

Another must-see destination is East Point. The ride there is an event in itself. Another cyclist I spoke to said it was the highlight of her trip, and she’d been touring all over the southern Gulf Islands. On a clear day, Mount Baker looms large in the distance. Thanks to the geography of the area, sea life here is abundant. The road runs alongside the shore and it’s common to see harbour porpoises, seals, sea lions and otters as you pedal along.

Once you reach East Point, you’ll find a former fog alarm building perched amongst the grass, which is parched golden during the summer months. Inside you can read the harrowing story of Moby Doll, the first orca to be captured and kept in captivity. Afterwards, take a stroll along the whale trail where you stand a good chance of seeing orcas and humpback whales.

For views, nothing beats those on offer at the top of Mount Warbuton Pike. At around 400m high, reaching the summit is an uphill slog on a bike. The road is steep and fairly rough. Once you reach the end, expansive views open up in front of you, spanning all the way across to the San Juan Islands in the United States. The Brown Ridge trail runs parallel to the edge. It’s a relatively flat hike, and one that will have you reaching for the camera time and time again. Eagles and vultures usually soar overhead, and you may also bump into the wild mountain goats that live here.

Views from Mount Warbuton Pike

Other points of interest include Winter Cove, which has an easy 1.5km loop trail through the forest and along the shoreline. Saturna Beach in Thomson Park is great for a picnic and a swim. There’s also the disconcertingly named Murder Point hike, a cliffside trail which continues along to Taylor Point.

Cabbage Island

Should you be fortunate enough to have access to a seafaring vessel, you could ditch your bike for a night and sail, motor or kayak across to Cabbage Island. There are five rustic campsites, a sawdust outhouse and a food cache – erected not for the bears, but for the rapacious racoons. Be sure to take drinking water and cash so you can pay your fees using the self-registration envelopes.

One side of the island is exposed to the elements, and the black volcanic rock is strewn with logs and windswept trees. In contrast, the other side has a white sandy beach with calm waters, making it ideal for swimming. The wetlands and lagoon make this an important area for wildlife, and eagle and oystercatchers often nest here.

The rugged side of Cabbage Island

During peak season, you’ll probably have to share the view with other boaters who make use of the Parks Canada mooring buoys here. But should you get the place to yourself, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d landed on a desert island. You can’t see any signs of civilisation from the beach, and should the winds pick up – as they did when I went – you might just be marooned here.

boat on sandy beach
The sandy shores of Cabbage Island

I made it off Cabbage Island in the end. But had I missed my return ferry to Vancouver, I wouldn’t have minded too much. I’d be happy to pedal around Saturna with my panniers for a little while longer.

Know before you go

  • Get to Saturna Island via BC Ferries (Tsawwassen/Swartz Bay to Lyall Harbour). A bike costs $2 extra
  • There’s only one grocery store on the island – it’s located on Narvaez Bay Road, a 10 minute cycle from the ferry terminal
  • Narvaez Bay campground has no potable water
  • Hiking opportunities include Mount Warbuton Pike and Murder Point
  • The island has some steep hills – you’ll want all your gears!

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Galiano Island

Bike Touring Galiano Island

If the Saturday morning ferry from Tsawwassen is anything to go by, the joys of cycling around Galiano Island are no secret. There are bikers of all varieties. Some are ultra-streamlined, carrying only a few snacks about their Lycra-clad bodies. A few have small backpacks, evidently having arranged accommodation on the island – no tent required. While others, like me, are heavily laden with panniers. Everything needed for my survival is strapped to my ancient hardtail, ranging from a sleeping bag to a paltry number of knickers.

Cycling on Galiano Island

This is my first stop on a week-long bike tour around the southern Gulf Islands, during which I’ll visit Galiano Island, Saturna Island and Cabbage Island.

As the ferry prepares to dock, I eye up the road leading from the terminal. Unusually, it doesn’t appear to feature a giant hill. But as I soon discover, there are other obstacles to overcome. Most notably, the array of cafés and shops located in the vicinity. In fact, I only manage to cycle approximately 100m before stopping at the Bowline Café for a coffee and cake. I figure I need the energy.

I finish the last crumbs of my scone and decide I’d better get moving. At 27.5km long and never more than 6km wide, Galiano is long and thin. I’m keen to see as much of it as my legs will bear. I cautiously manoeuvre myself onto my bike. It’s no joke having everything piled atop the back wheel, and my trusty steed is almost impossible to control until I’m sat on the saddle. I’m suddenly thankful for my unscheduled pit stop, as the ferry traffic has now passed by, leaving me an almost empty road to wobble along.

I soon encounter my first hill. And the second. And the third. As it turns out, this island is full of hills. But mercifully, most are fairly short. The only time I’m really gasping is during the climb from Montague Harbour to the Hummingbird Pub. This is all the more galling when the free pub bus passes by, on its way to collect revellers from the campground.

But despite the hills – and the absence of a hard shoulder – I can see why this is a cycling hotspot. Those out for the day can jump on the morning ferry from Tsawwassen, work up a sweat during the 55km out and back ride, before returning to the mainland in the evening. For bike tourers like myself, a more leisurely pace can be adopted. There are various coves, beaches and viewpoints to discover. There are walking trails dotted across the island, with Bodega Ridge and Mount Galiano offering spectacular views across the channel.

Woman looks out from ridge across the sea
Bodega Ridge

Camping on Galiano Island

After a day of exploration, I needed somewhere to pitch my tent. Galiano has two campsites to choose from, both of which are operated by BC Parks.

Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park

The first is Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, which is just 8.3km from Sturdies Bay. The sheltered harbour offers safe mooring to boaters, while clear waters lap against a white shell beach. Across the lagoon, the Gray Peninsula has a gentle 2km loop hiking trail. More white shell beaches line the shores, giving it the feel of a tropical paradise on a hot summer’s day.

There are 28 walk-in/cycle-in sites which can be reserved, along with seven first-come first-serve sites. Campers have access to pit toilets, drinking water and fire rings. With drive-in sites also available, this campground gets busy during the summer, so reservations are highly recommended.

white shell beach
White shell beaches line the Gray Peninsula

Dionisio Point Provincial Park

The other option is Dionisio Point Provincial Park, which is roughly 25km from Sturdies Bay. The park is, in theory, marine access only. However, it can be reached via the eastern foreshore. It seems many people also make use of the private road that leads directly to the park boundary. This begins at the end of Bodega Beach Road and cuts across a hotly contested parcel of land. The details are complicated, but suffice to say that it’s been the focus of a long-running legal battle between the land-owners and the provincial government. Currently, the road remains the property of the land-owners – meaning anyone who uses it without permission is trespassing.

Access issues aside, there are 30 wilderness campsites spread across two campgrounds. Parry Lagoon Campground is closer to the beach and the water pump, while Sandstone Campground features waterfront sites. All are first-come, first-serve and can be paid for in advance through Discover Camping, or in cash upon arrival.

The park has a network of trails that guide you through the rugged beauty of this northerly outcrop. Dionisio Point offers a sweeping panorama of the North Shore Mountains, and the verdant forest contains stands of Douglas-fir, Western hemlock and arbutus. The park also has archaeological sites formerly used by the Penelakut First Nation. It’s a serene spot – a place to sit quietly and watch for herons, seals and deer.

woman sits on rock at sunset
Sunset at Dionisio Point
man walks through forest next to beach
Walking around Dionisio Provincial Park

The gem of the Salish Sea

After a few days spent swimming, hiking, fishing and, of course, cycling, it’s time to head to my onwards ferry. As I’m puffing my way up the final hill, I find Galiano Island has surprised me. Being so close to Vancouver, I expected it to be overrun and noisy. Sure, there are plenty of tourists here during the holidays. But there are pockets of tranquillity, an artisan atmosphere and unadorned natural beauty. The Galiano Island Chamber of Commerce dubs it the gem of the Salish Sea. That, I decide, is fair enough.

sunset across the sea
Views of Mount Baker from Galiano Island

Know before you go

  • Get to Galiano Island via BC Ferries (Tsawwassen/Swartz Bay to Sturdies Bay). A bike costs $2 extra
  • Grocery stores and other amenities are clustered in and around Sturdies Bay – stock up once you get off the ferry
  • Hiking opportunities include Mount Galiano and Bodega Ridge – both are beginner friendly and have great views
  • The ecological reserve is good for trail running – although there aren’t any maps, which makes navigating confusing
  • Other places to visit include the Tapovan Peace Park and Lover’s Leap viewpoint
  • Look out for beach access signs. Popular spots include Pebble Beach and Morning Beach

Interested to know more about the southern Gulf Islands? Read about my time bike touring Saturna Island and my Active Guide to Salt Spring Island.

Three people playing Jenga near a campfire

7 Ways to Get Adventure-Ready in Lockdown

Whether you’re practicing social distancing or in full-blown quarantine, the era of Covid-19 is a weird time for us all. Staying at home is a must. But if, like me, you’d rather be stomping around the great outdoors, you won’t be looking forward to the coming weeks of captivity.

Yet just because you’re indoors, doesn’t mean you can’t be proactive. In fact, there’s plenty of ways to get adventure-ready while you’re in lockdown. Here’s seven ideas to get you started.

1. Hatch a plan

One day – hopefully in the not too distant future – normality will return. When you’re released back into the world, what’s going to be first on your adventure agenda? Now is the time to plan your next escapade. Scour the internet for ideas, pore over maps and get the travel guides out. That way, when the restrictions are lifted, you’ll be hot to trot.

If you live in British Columbia and are looking for some inspiration, check out my 10 BC Adventures to Plan in 2020. Personally, I’m keen to hike the North Coast Trail soon, so research and route planning is keeping my occupied.

2. Fix up, look sharp

If you’re anything like me, your outdoor gear will get a lot of use and not a lot of TLC. When you’re busy having fun outside, it’s all too easy for repairs and maintenance to get neglected. If you’re now stuck at home, knuckle down and get fixing! Tune your bike, re-waterproof your jacket, clean your hiking boots, wax your skis or snowboard, sharpen your Leatherman, sew up holes in your clothing, repair those dings in your surfboard…I could go on.

By ticking these jobs off your to-do list, your outdoor gear will be as good as new, ready for action when the time comes.

3. Experiment with dehydrated meals

While you’re at it, have you ever considered making your own dehydrated camping meals? The shop-bought ones are convenient, but they’re also expensive, (usually) full of salt, and are most certainly not zero-waste. Making your own is much healthier, both for you and the planet. You just need two things – a dehydrator and time. Luckily, most of us have a lot of time on our hands at the moment. So, if you can source a dehydrator, you’re good to go.

To get started, check out my guide to making your own DIY Dehydrated Camping Meals. By prepping in advance, you can stock your cupboards full of goodies, ready to grab when you do eventually head out into the wilds.

Bowl of food cooks over a campfire
My DIY dehydrated camping meal – orzo with tomato and parsley

4. Hone your skills

Spending time in the great outdoors is one long learning curve. It doesn’t matter what discipline you enjoy most, there’s always room for improvement. Are you an avid hiker or a happy camper? Brush up on the Leave No Trace principles. Are you a wannabe sailor? Practise your knots. Are you a mountain biker? Fine-tune your technique by watching some YouTube videos. Are you a backcountry skier or split-boarder? Reread your Avalanche Skills Training Handbook. Even better, Altus is currently offering an online Avalanche Safety Training Module. Whatever your vibe, there’s a way to hone your skills from the comfort of your sofa.

If your brain is in need of further stimulation, why not learn a new language? For the moment, any kind of non-essential travel is a no-go, particularly international travel. But perhaps you’ll be heading to foreign climes in the future. There are lots of free online learning resources out there, with Duolingo being a particular favourite.

5. Be inspired

If you can’t be out on adventures, then reading about them it is the next best thing. Fuel your imagination with some good ol’ stories from the outdoors community. I have a pile of books and magazines itching to be read, all full of entertaining tales, handy tips and need-to-know titbits. I’m currently reading Deep Power & Steep Rock by Chic Scott, which tells the life story of mountain guide and father of heli-skiing, Hans Gmoser. I’ll also be working my way through the past few issues of Coast Mountain Culture magazine, which have been sitting untouched on my coffee table for too long.

If reading isn’t really your thing, there’s plenty of podcasts to inspire you. As a starter for ten, try the Firn Line. It delves into the lives of mountain climbers, beautifully weaving together interviews, narration and music.

Woman reads book next to calm sea

6. Keep exercising

You may feel like a bear in hibernation right now, but it’s important to keep exercising. It’s good for your mental and physical health. It also ensures you don’t lose too much fitness, standing you in good stead for when you return to your pre Covid-19 activities. There’s plenty of exercises you can do at home without any equipment. Think squats, lunges, press ups, star jumps, burpees, sit ups, glute bridges, calf raises and planks. Or, get creative! Use a jerry can of water as a dumbbell or wear a loaded rucksack for weighted squats.

Now is also the perfect opportunity to start (or resurrect) your yoga practice. If you need some guidance, then YouTube and IGTV are your friends. You’d be amazed by how many aches and pains can be cured by stretching regularly.

Woman does yoga pose on empty beach

7. Get outdoors – but be safe

As it stands, you’re still allowed to exercise outside, so long as you don’t have any symptoms or a history of possible exposure to coronavirus in the past 14 days.

However, this comes with some caveats. Firstly, be conservative with your choices. If you injure yourself, you’ll be an added burden to the healthcare service. Secondly, avoid crowded places and remain at least two metres away from others at all times.

Despite these measures, you may be lucky enough to have access to some quiet trails where you can walk, run or ride a bike. Being outside, surrounded by nature, is the perfect tonic for the stresses and strains of this strange world. I wanted to up my trail running this year, and that ambition holds true. I won’t be participating in the trail running events I had planned, but I’ll still be increasing my mileage in the hope of reaching my goals.

Want to join me? Take a look at my guide to Trail Running for Beginners.

When this is over, we’ll be back to adventuring like it’s 2019. In the meantime, stay safe.

Woman runs along mountain ridge
Running in splendid isolation
Woman stands on mountain wearing trail running vest

Kit Review – Patagonia Slope Runner Vest 4L

The 4-litre Patagonia Slope Runner Vest is a stripped-back, no-nonsense trail running vest, perfect for shorter training runs and races.

Product description

Patagonia says: ‘we designed the Slope Runner Vest for long-haul comfort with enough storage to keep extra layers, nutrition and hydration organised and within easy reach.’

The 4-litre version (as opposed to the 8-litre version) is described as ‘close-fitting and breathable for all-day comfort with just enough room for an extra layer and snacks.’

The verdict

Hats off to whoever wrote the product description because it’s bang-on. The point of the 4L Patagonia Slope Runner Vest is that it’s minimalist. It weighs just 160g (5.6oz) but still delivers the fundamental requirements of a trail running vest – simply without any unnecessary design features.

The vest fits really snuggly and doesn’t bounce around. The adjustable ties at the front, and the bungee cords at the sides, mean you can adapt the fit according to your shape. The back panel is made of high-flex monofilament mesh, which does indeed improve breathability, as promised.

It comes with two 500ml HydraPak flasks. These slot into the front of the vest, which itself sits high on the chest. This means you can bend your head down and drink straight from the bottles, without having to remove them. There’s a large compartment at the back, so you can carry a water bladder if you prefer.

Inserting the bottles can be a tad fiddly, but I’ve now mastered the technique of stretching both upper and lower chest pockets at the same time. This allows the bottle to drop back in. The elasticated fabric keeps them in place, so they don’t fall out or slide downwards while you’re running.

There’s a selection of storage pockets of varying shapes and sizes, most of which are easy to access while on the go. As the product description suggests, it might prove difficult to pack a lot of layers. However, the vest is surprisingly spacious. I went on a 30km outing carrying four sandwiches, two homemade energy bars, a Patagonia Houdini jacket, an extra base layer, phone, keys, and a headtorch – and I still had plenty of room leftover.

Woman stands in meadow
Plenty of room for sandwiches in this vest

There are two zipped pockets. One tucks into the back pouch and is useful for storing things such as keys. The other is hidden underneath the left-hand water bottle and is intended for your phone. This is perhaps my only gripe with this vest. It’s very difficult to insert your phone while the water bottle is full, and the space isn’t big enough for most modern-day devices. Even so, a phone can easily be stashed in one of the other pockets.

As you might expect from Patagonia, the vest is made out of 100% recycled polyester ripstop, giving it extra points for eco-credentials.

All in all, the Patagonia Slope Runner Vest delivers everything you could want from a 4-litre vest – enough room for all the essentials, but so streamlined you hardly notice you’re wearing it.

You might also be interested in:

Dog stands on grassy hill with tongue out and ears flying in the wind

How to Travel the World as a House-Sitter

When I first moved to Vancouver from the UK, I wanted my first Christmas to be the quintessential Canadian experience. So I packed up the car, drove six hours east, and arrived at a snowy log cabin set amongst thick forest. The owner, Barbara, gave me a quick tour. Then, she handed me the keys and was gone.

How much did this festive treat set me back?

$0.

For you see, I’ve spent many years now as a house-sitter. In return for my accommodation, I promised to care for Barbara’s two Airedale terriers – give them food, water, walks, and general love and attention. It’s not much to ask for eight nights in a beautiful house, slap bang in the middle of holiday season.

Two dogs sat in the snow wearing santa hats
Dog-sitting in the Okanagan, British Columbia

House-sitting has taken me across the UK, Europe and Canada. I’ve looked after dogs, cats, horses, fish and even a flock of sheep (which were, alarmingly, due to lamb at any moment). I’ve stayed in country manors, beach-side villas and downtown apartments. It’s allowed me to visit new places for free, stay in houses I could never afford if they were on AirBnB, and work as a freelance writer at the same time.

So, what’s the catch? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for.

House-sitting comes with responsibilities. The owner is trusting you with their home – no parties, no nights off, no disasters. If they’re leaving pets behind, they’re also relying on you to look after their beloved creatures. These duties separate house-sitting from your usual vacation. And as I know from first-hand experience, things aren’t always plain sailing.

A case in point: I recently house-sat in Tofino, a remote surf town on Vancouver Island. The day I arrived, the dog was sick all night long. In the morning I drove her to the nearest vet, which was two hours away and the only access road was closed for several hours.

Eventually she was found to have a rock in her colon and needed emergency surgery. Due to the logistics I stayed at a motel for the night. I spent the next few days driving many miles back and forth to the vets, having emotional discussions with the owner and generally not getting much sleep. Things turned out fine, but it just goes to show that house-sitting isn’t always a walk in the park.

Of course, this kind of horror story isn’t necessarily the norm. I’ve got many more tales of happy house-sits. But just like any travel experience, you have to take the rough with the smooth. If you’re willing to accept the responsibilities associated with being a house-sitter, you could technically travel the world, non-stop, staying in each destination entirely for free.

Around the world in 80 house-sits…sounds pretty good to me.

Dog with ball in mouth
Walking Bentley the black lab in rural Spain

How to get started as a house-sitter

There are lots of house-sitting websites you can join, such as TrustedHousesitters, MindMyHouse and Nomador. You create a profile, after which you can start applying for house-sits. Most sites operate on a review basis, so the more positive reviews you have, the more likely it is that you’ll get picked.

I often get asked back, so after a while you might find that your regular house-sits keep you busy.

Top tips for wannabe house-sitters

If house-sitting is something you’re keen to get into, here are some top tips to get you off on the right foot:

  • Work hard on your profile – this is your selling point! Who are you? What experience do you have looking after property/animals? Why should someone pick you?
  • Stay in touch with the owner before and during the house-sit – liaise about arrangements, and while you’re there, let them know everything is OK. Regular communication is reassuring for the owner, whereas radio silence is alarming.
  • Be respectful – remember that you’re staying in someone’s home. Treat it with respect.
  • Leave the place clean and tidy – you might not bother stripping the bed when you leave a hotel, but that doesn’t fly when you’re house-sitting. Leave it clean and tidy – meaning in the same (or better) condition as when you arrived.
  • Prepare for the unexpected – before the owner leaves, make sure you have phone numbers for their vet and other emergency contacts. Also, find out how to turn off the water supply (in case of a leak) and where the fuse box is.
  • Enjoy yourself! Ask the owner for some recommendations on where to go and what to see. Locals always have the best advice.
Ship sails down harbour surrounded by paddle boarders

An Active Guide to Bristol

For the outdoors enthusiast, cities aren’t always the most appealing prospect. I get it – you’d rather be ensconced in nature than checking out the latest cocktail bar. But remember, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Take my home town of Bristol, for example. Located in the south-west of England, it’s one of the country’s most populated cities. Yet despite its urban sprawl, there’s plenty of outdoor activities to keep you entertained.

So without further ado, here’s my active guide to Bristol. The following seven activities should put a spring in any outdoor adventure lover’s step.

Running

Bristol has running routes galore. Like it flat and fast? No problem. Hill training on the agenda? Oh, there are hills a-plenty. Muddy woodland tracks more your thing? Got it. Whatever you’re after, Bristol has a running route to suit you. Even better, lots of them encompass some of the city’s best spots.

The 4km route around Bristol Harbourside is a firm favourite, with good reason. You’ll be treated to some of the best views in town and there’s not a hill in sight! The Downs, known as Bristol’s ‘green lung’, also offers 400 acres of grassland to galivant around. At the southerly end you’ll find panoramic views across Avon Gorge and the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge.

If it’s trail running you’re after, make your way to Leigh Woods National Nature Reserve. It’s a woodland haven just moments from the city.

Rock climbing

Grab yourself a belay partner and check out the slick limestone walls of Avon Gorge. It’s extremely close to the city, sitting just below Clifton Village and the Downs. For something a little more rural, take a 40-minute car journey over to Cheddar Gorge. The north side of the Gorge is owned by the National Trust and is typically open year-round to climbers.

For indoor climbing, take your pick from Red Point Bristol, The Climbing Academy and Bloc Indoor Climbing Wall.

Cycling

It may be hilly, but Bristol is actually Britain’s first cycling city. There’s a network of bike routes across the region, making it a popular mode of transport amongst locals. A classic route is the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. With 13 miles of car-free tarmac, this is fun day out for all the family. If you can’t face cycling the return journey, you can always hop on a train at Bath.

Another off-road option is the Chocolate Path. From Greville Smyth Park, follow the path along the south-side of the River Avon. It passes under Clifton Suspension Bridge and continues all the way up to Ham Green. Thicker tyres are recommended!

Woman in cycling helmet next to river
Cycling along the Chocolate Path

Mountain biking

If you want to swap a road bike for a mountain bike, you’ll find a selection of downhill and cross-country trails in Leigh Woods and Fifty Acre Wood. If you’re new to the sport, start at Ashton Court Estate and try the Nova trail first. It’s a blue beginner route, with optional red intermediate sections. Bike hire is available from Pedal Progression.

To take things up a notch, haul yourself (and your bike) over to Rowberrow Warren on the Mendip Hills. It’s a 35 minute drive from the city centre and offers a range of technical downhill tracks and wide, open moorland. Just be aware of horse-riders and hikers.

Stand-up paddle boarding

For a different perspective of Bristol’s famous harbourside, book a paddle boarding session with SUP Bristol. They’ll show you the ropes of stand-up paddle boarding before guiding you round the local waterways.

If you want to take your own SUP or kayak for a spin, you’ll need to buy a licence from the Bristol Harbour Office first. Life jackets are mandatory.

Surfing

If you know anything about Bristol’s geography, you might be surprised to see surfing on this list. But since The Wave opened its doors in 2019, surfing is now on Bristol’s doorstep – and you don’t have to go anywhere near the muddy waters of the Bristol Channel!

Using ground-breaking Wavegarden Cove technology, this inland surf lake is just eight miles from the city centre. The facility produces over 1,000 artificial waves per hour and caters to beginners and pros alike. Surf lessons are also available.

Horse-riding

Bristol is surrounded by countryside, with the Cotswolds to the north-east and the Mendips to the south. You need only drive a short distance before you’re enveloped by green fields, rolling hills and country lanes.

To explore this bucolic region by horseback, check out Tynings Trekking Centre or Shipham Riding, both in Somerset. They offer hacks on the Mendip Hills, where you’ll saunter amongst towering trees and enjoy frenzied gallops across the open moors.

Visit Bristol

Want to know more? Just get in touch. Alternatively, the folks over at Visit Bristol will be happy to help.

Woman runs along mountain ridge

Trail Running for Beginners

Take your first steps into trail running with this beginner’s guide. If you’ve ever wondered what trail running is, how to get started and what gear you need, read on.

What is trail running?

Trail running is really just a fancy way of saying running off-road. In other words, running outside, in nature, on anything other than a road. This could be a coastal footpath, a windswept mountain ridge or a gnarly woodland track. You might encounter a variety of terrain, from smooth, grassy surfaces to trails full of rocks, roots and other obstacles (known as ‘technical terrain’).

How to get into trail running

You don’t have to be a fully-fledged mountain goat to get into trail running. You might be a road runner who wants to mix up your routine with a bit of trail running. Or, you might be a hiker who wants to move faster on the trails. Whatever your motivation, trail running is easy to get into.

The best advice is to build up gradually. Start by running some simple trails through your local park or woods that you already know well. Once you’ve cracked that, you can progress to terrain that’s a little more challenging – perhaps something steeper, longer or with more tree roots.

You could also join a local trail running group. It’s a great way to discover new routes in a safe, welcoming environment. If you’re more of a solo runner, that’s fine – just be sure to tell someone where you’re going. Unlike road running, the trails can be quiet. If you hurt yourself, you can’t rely on passers-by finding you. Nor can you rely on phone reception.

Woman runs down mountain ridge
Trail running in E.C. Manning Provincial Park, BC

Trail running kit

Going for a run in your local park might sound a bit too easy. Surely there’s some expensive gear or fancy equipment you need before heading to the trails? Well, not necessarily.

The most important thing is footwear. If you’re just starting out, or you’re running on smooth terrain, a pair of road running trainers will do just fine. However, if you want to tackle more technical terrain, specific trail running shoes are recommended. They are more robust and have better grip, making it easier (and safer) to run on loose, slippery or rugged surfaces. My current favourites are the Wildcat 2.0 GTX trail running shoes by La Sportiva.

For longer trail runs, you might also want to invest in –

  • Moisture-wicking layers – essential for wicking away sweat, ensuring you don’t get cold.
  • A windbreaker – which is a lightweight, windproof shell jacket. This protects you from the elements, but can be stashed away when it’s not needed. I love the Houdini jacket by Patagonia.
  • A trail running vest or belt – used to carry water, snacks, extra layers, a head torch, phone, first aid supplies and other items. A vest should sit snugly and not bounce around when you run. My go-to pick is the Slope Runner Vest 4L, also by Patagonia.
  • Hiking poles – which help on the uphill sections and can be stowed away or carried when they’re not needed.

What to expect from trail running

Trail running is a little different to road running. Here’s some things you should know before starting.

You need to stay safe

Safety is a priority, no matter where you’re running. However, trail running does come with a few hazards. It’s easy to get lost, hurt yourself, stumble upon angry wildlife and accidentally find yourself out after dark. So, always tell someone where you’re going. Always carry water, food and a headtorch. And always leave yourself plenty of time. Trail running takes longer than road running, and it can be darker in the forest than out in the open. Plan accordingly!

You will go much slower than road running

As mentioned above, you typically run much slower than you do when road running. Don’t be disheartened – it’s perfectly normal. When you’re starting out, it’s useful to plan your trail runs according to time, rather than distance. For example, rather than going for a 5km run, go for a 30 minute out and back run. Run for 15 minutes in one direction before turning around and heading home. This will give you a better idea of your average speed over a certain distance. Once you know this, you can scale upwards.

Walking up hills is a thing

You probably think of running as exactly that – running. Hardened road runners typically only walk if they’re injured or feeling unwell. But not so in trail running. In fact, it’s totally normal to walk the uphill ascents. If you can run every step of the way, then good for you. But for the mere mortals among us, don’t be ashamed to power-walk up a steep or technical incline. Everyone else does! And anyway, it can actually be a more efficient game plan, allowing you to reserve energy for the ‘run-able’ parts of the trail.

Woman walks up mountain ridge
Don’t be afraid to walk up the hills!

You might fall

Hopping over logs, rocks and tree roots at pace is a perilous activity. It’s very possible that you’ll fall over at some point. Again, this is not unusual. You can minimise this risk firstly with the correct footwear, and secondly with good trail running technique. Lift your feet up, watch where you’re going (even though the view is so very pretty) and use your core to stabilise you. If in doubt, take shorter strides, especially on technical terrain.

Trail running etiquette

There’s also some trail running etiquette to follow.

Share the trails

There’s a lot of hoo-ha about who should yield to who on the trails. The rule of thumb is that the slowest mode has the right of way. For example, this would mean cyclists give way to pedestrians.

Ultimately, it’s best to be courteous and use a bit of common sense. If you’re on a single-track trail, let faster runners behind you overtake. If you see a horse-rider, slow to a walk and be sure they’ve seen you. If you’re about to run across a downhill mountain bike trail, look up and stop if any riders are approaching. It’s harder for them to see you, and even harder for them to stop quickly.

Don’t litter

Always pack out what you pack in. Sadly, trail runners have been known to rip open energy gels and throw the wrapper on the floor. It takes a second to put litter in your running vest, but a lifetime for packaging to decompose.

Don’t listen to loud music

Listening to music while trail running is not always wise. You need to be aware of your surroundings. There might be another trail runner behind you trying to overtake. Or a mountain biker hurtling down the hill on a collision course. Or (depending on where you live) a dangerous animal in the vicinity.

Stay on the trail

Last but not least – stay on the trail. It may be tempting to veer around a big puddle or take a more direct route up a switchback, but it’s damaging for the environment.

Woman stands in meadow of wildflowers
Always stick to the trail

Time to get started

This advice gives you the basics to trail running. There’s always more to learn, particularly when it comes to technique, pacing and navigation. For now, at least, you’ll have the knowledge to get started. The main thing to remember is – have fun out there! Every trail run is a little adventure, a time to explore and spend time in nature. This makes it good for the mind, as well as the body.

10 BC Adventures to Plan This Year

10 BC Adventures to Put in the Diary

With the new year looming, it’s time to start planning what the next 12 months have in store. If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s 10 adventures to put on your to-do list.

1. Take a guided tour of the backcountry

Are you eyeing up fresh lines and untracked snow? Consider taking a guided tour of the backcountry. This is the best (and safest) way to get to know a new area. Companies such as Altus Mountains Guides offer backcountry tours of Whistler and Pemberton. If you’re new to backcountry skiing or split-boarding, sign up to an introductory course. Or, take the plunge and book your AST 1+ course.

2. Hunker down in Elfin Lakes shelter

Elfin Lakes shelter is located in Garibaldi Provincial Park near Squamish, BC. The hut is open year-round, but really comes into its own during the winter months. Snowshoe or ski tour/split board up to the hut before hunkering down in front of the fire with a hot toddy. From here, you can strike out further into the park, before returning back to base each day. This is a popular destination, so book in advance through Discover Camping.

Man on skis surrounded by snowy trees
Ski touring to Elfin Lakes shelter

3. Enter a trail running race

Want to move faster and lighter in the mountains? Trail running might just be for you. Set yourself a goal by entering a trail running race. There’s something for everyone, from the 12km Cap Crusher in West Vancouver, to the Fat Dog 120 mile race through Skagit Valley and E. C. Manning Provincial Park. For a happy medium, there’s the 21km Loop the Lakes Trail in Squamish.

Want to know more about trail running? Take a look at my Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running.

Woman runs along mountain ridge
Trail running through E.C. Manning Provincial Park

4. Mountain bike on Vancouver’s North Shore

Considered the home of freeride mountain biking, Vancouver’s North Shore mountains are a pilgrimage for riders across the world. The terrain is famously challenging, and you can expect steep, technical descents full of roots, rock rolls and wood features. Beginners can find their flow on trails such as Bobsled and Roadside Attraction (Mount Fromme), Empress Bypass (Mount Seymour), and Richard Juryn (Lower Seymour Conversation Reserve).

5. Complete a thru-hike

Discover how far your two feet can take you by completing a multi-day thru-hike. There are plenty to choose from, including the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca trail on Vancouver Island, the Howe Sound Crest Trail near Vancouver, and the Sunshine Coast Trail (on, er, the Sunshine Coast). Nothing beats several days immersed in nature. If you’re thinking about hiking the Juan de Fuca trail, here’s what you need to know.

Woman stands on rock in front of blue lake
Hanover Lake on the Howe Sound Crest Trail

6. Kayak the Sechelt Inlet

Load a kayak with supplies and paddle up the Sechelt Inlet on BC’s Sunshine Coast. You can spend days or even weeks zig-zagging up the coastline, staying at the numerous campsites along the way. From Porpoise Bay Provincial Park, head north and select your route. Campsite options include Piper Point, Oyster Beach, 9 Mile Point, Half Way Beach, Kunichen Point and Tzoonie Narrows. Kayaks can be rented from Pedals and Paddles.

Nose of yellow kayak surrounded by sea
Paddles at the ready

7. Hike to St Mark’s Summit for sunset

Watching the sun set over the Howe Sound is pastime in itself. St Mark’s Summit in Cypress Provincial Park makes a particularly fine viewing platform. Time your hike so that you reach the summit just as the sun is going down. Take extra layers to protect you from the cooler temperatures and the rabid mosquitoes. You’ll also need a head torch so you can safely make the return journey in the dark.

Woman watches sun set over sea and islands
Watching the sunset from St Mark’s Summit

8. Cycle around the Gulf Islands

The Gulf Islands are an excellent destination to explore on two wheels – despite the hills! Pack up some panniers, jump on a ferry from Tsawwassen and island-hop between Galiano, Pender, Saturna, Salt Spring and Mayne. Each island has at least one campsite if you prefer to sleep under canvas. If you’re short on time, spend a weekend touring around just one island. Salt Spring is the most populated, while Saturna has a cosy village-vibe.

Read about my time bike touring on Galiano Island and Saturna Island.

9. Go surfing in Tofino

Wait for the summer crowds to disperse before planning a surf trip to Tofino. The swell is consistent and the line-ups are less busy. Just remember a winter wetsuit – the water is always cold. In fact, it’s not just the surf. Here’s 5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Tofino.

10. Bikepack the Oregon Timber Trail

It’s not in BC, but if you’re keen to head south of the border, check out the Oregon Timber Trail. At over 660 miles long, it’s described as ‘North America’s premiere long-distance mountain bike route’. As a relatively recent innovation, some sections of the trail are still being developed. This adds to the challenge, so riders should have the necessary experience before embarking on the epic journey.

You might also be interested in:

Two people making tea on a portable stove on a stone beach

What to Eat on Multi-Day Hikes

If you’re planning a multi-day hike, you’ll inevitably confront the question – what food should you take? There are four general rules –

  1. Your food should be easy to prepare – you don’t want to be carrying loads of propane. Nor do you want to spend hours preparing your dinner when you’re tired, hungry and weather-beaten. Minimal preparation is key.
  2. Your food should be lightweight – you’re the one having to carry it, so do you want to be weighed down by 20 tins of baked beans? No, didn’t think so.
  3. Your food should be nutritious – you burn a lot of calories while hiking, especially with a heavy pack on. These need to be replaced or you’ll soon start to struggle.
  4. Your food should correspond to the water supply – if water sources are likely to be scant, you will need to adjust your menu accordingly.

If this advice has you scratching your head, then never fear – take a look at my meal plan below for inspiration.

However, you should note that I take food very seriously! I’m not content to eat trash that tastes disgusting, just because it contains a lot of calories. Eating is something I look forward to when I’m hiking – if you prepare properly, you don’t need to compromise on that.

Also, I try to create as little waste as possible. This has obvious environmental benefits, but it has practical advantages too. After all, what you pack in, you must pack out. Remember those 20 tins of baked beans you were planning to take? Well, until you find a rubbish bin, you’ll have to carry the empty cans with you. That gets very annoying, very quickly.

Woman outside cooks pasta in red saucepan
Don’t go hungry in the backcountry!

Multi-day hike meal plan

Here’s what I took while hiking the Juan de Fuca trail, a multi-day hike over three nights and four days. Water wasn’t an issue as there were lots of creeks nearby (although the water in that region does need to be treated or boiled).

Day 1

Breakfast – Homemade banana breakfast bars (recipe below)

Lunch – Cheddar cheese and tomato sandwich

Top tip – I pre-prepared my sandwich before leaving and wrapped it in foil. I then saved the foil and used it as my saucepan lid while cooking dinner.

Dinner – Mexican macaroni and black bean stew, which was one of my homemade dehydrated camping meals, topped with a few shavings of hard cheese like gouda or parmesan. Followed by a square of 80% dark chocolate.

Snacks – Homemade peanut butter and chocolate energy balls (recipe below).

Day 2

Breakfast – Porridge prepared with water, topped with dehydrated bananas.

Top tip – I find one cup of oats per person is sufficient. Before leaving, I measured what I needed and then ground the oats up in a blender to make them smaller. I kept them in a reusable plastic bag, into which I sprinkled some brown sugar for sweetness.

Lunch – Cheddar cheese and pickle sandwich (I also pre-prepared this. The weather was cool so I wasn’t concerned about having a sandwich lying in my bag for a day).

Dinner – Orzo with tomato sauce and parley, which was one of my homemade dehydrated camping meals, topped with a few shavings of hard cheese like gouda or parmesan. Followed by a square of 80% dark chocolate.

Snacks – Homemade peanut butter and chocolate energy balls (recipe below).

Day 3

Breakfast – Porridge prepared with water, topped with dehydrated bananas. See my top tip above!

Lunch – Cheese and crackers

Dinner – Mexican rice and black bean stew, which was one of my homemade dehydrated camping meals, topped with a few shavings of hard cheese like gouda or parmesan. Followed by a square of 80% dark chocolate.

Snacks – Good old raisins and peanuts (also known as ‘GORAP’). Just put some raisins and peanuts into a reusable plastic bag. Dip in as needed.

Day 4

Breakfast – Porridge prepared with water, topped with the remaining raisins and peanuts.

Lunch – Cheese and crackers

Snacks – The remaining energy balls

Dinner wasn’t needed because I’d finished the hike and returned to civilisation.

Recipe for homemade breakfast bars

These won’t keep outside the refrigerator for too long so are best used at the start of your hike.

What you’ll need to make around 12 bars (depending on how big you cut them):

  • 4 cups of rolled oats
  • 6 large over-ripe bananas, mashed up
  • ¼ cup of pitted dates, chopped up
  • ¼ cup of chopped nuts, such as peanuts, cashew nuts or walnuts
  • 6 tablespoons of honey or agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • ½ cup of shredded coconut (optional)
  • Baking parchment

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F/175°C
  2. Mix everything together in a bowl
  3. Line a baking tray with baking parchment
  4. Tip ingredients onto the tray, pressing down to compact
  5. Bake for 30 minutes until golden
  6. Leave to cool, turn out of the baking tray and cut into squares

Recipe for peanut butter and chocolate energy balls

These keep well outside the fridge for a few days. But I warn you – they are incredibly more-ish. I recommend setting yourself a daily quota, or you’ll finish them in one sitting.

What you’ll need to make around 12 balls (depending on how large you roll them):

  • 1 cup of rolled oats
  • ½ cup of crunchy peanut butter
  • ½ cup of dark chocolate chips (or break up a chocolate bar and put it in a food blender)
  • ½ cup of ground flax seed
  • ⅓ cup of honey

Method:

  1. Mix everything together in a bowl
  2. Roll into balls
  3. Refrigerate overnight
  4. Roll in some ground oats to stop them sticking together (optional)
Food on wooden chopping board
Peanut butter and chocolate energy balls

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DIY Dehydrated Camping Meals

I’m not a fan of shop-bought dehydrated camping meals. They’re expensive. They look like they’ve come out of a dog’s behind. Sometimes they taste like it too. But their biggest crime is the amount of waste they produce. I know some companies use compostable packaging. In the main, however, you’ll find single-use plastic pouches lining the shelves. Once you’ve chowed down the contents, there’s nothing left but throw the packet in the nearest trash can.

As someone who loves spending time in nature, and thus wants to preserve the environment as best as possible, this seems like an abomination. Which is why I’ve converted to homemade ‘do it yourself’ dehydrated camping meals. If you have good dispensaries in your local area, you can even make them entirely zero waste. The DIY approach also ensures there’s no added salt, sugar or other weird preservatives in your camping meals. Just tasty, healthy ingredients – which is exactly what you need after a day on the trails.

How to make your own dehydrated meals

To make your own dehydrated meals, you’ll need two things – a dehydrator and time.

If you don’t have a friend willing to lend you a dehydrator on a semi-permanent basis, you can pick one up second-hand. If you want to buy one new, then remember you don’t need a state-of-the-art device! Any old dehydrator with a few tiers will do.

As for time, well, we all know that can’t be bought. Unfortunately, dehydrated meals can take hours to prepare, as each element of your meal must be 100% dry. Even so, it’s simply a case of sticking ingredients in a dehydrator and leaving it alone. So, not exactly labour intensive.

The basic steps of making a homemade dehydrated camping meal are –

  1. Cook all the ingredients that usually require cooking, but cook them separately
  2. Dehydrate all the ingredients needed to create your meal
  3. Place all the dehydrated ingredients in a bag (which can be later reused!)
  4. Head out and enjoy your adventures

When you’re ready to eat, all you need to do is –

  1. Boil enough water to cover the ingredients
  2. Pour the contents of your bag into the boiled water
  3. Turn off the heat, cover and leave to soak for 15 minutes
  4. Place back on the heat and cook until everything is rehydrated, stirring regularly
  5. Enjoy!

Rather than throw the bag away, keep it for a future dehydrated meal.

Easy to make DIY dehydrated meals

Once you’ve got the hang of homemade dehydrated meals, the culinary world really is your oyster. Here’s a few ideas to get you started.

Orzo with tomato and parsley

Serves 2

What you’ll need:

  • 250g orzo (can often be found in dispensaries)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 5 tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of chopped parsley
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oil
  • Baking parchment
Pasta, tomato sauce and parsley
Before going in the dehydrator – cooked orzo, tomato sauce and parsley

Instructions:

  1. Cook the orzo as per packet instructions
  2. Dice the onion and garlic. Fry them until golden using as little oil as possible
  3. Dice the tomatoes and add to the pan with the onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Turn down the heat and reduce until you have a thick sauce (approx one to two hours)
  4. Line each tier of your dehydrator with baking parchment
  5. Place a thin layer of orzo on one tier of your dehydrator
  6. Place a thin layer of the onion, garlic and tomato mixture on another tier of your dehydrator
  7. Place a thin layer of parsley on another tier of your dehydrator
  8. Dehydrate all the ingredients until they are completely dry. This may require some juggling. Some of the ingredients will dehydrate faster than others, so you can swap them in and out. You should only spread a thin layer on each tier, meaning each ingredient may require two or more tiers
  9. Once everything is ready, place all the dehydrated ingredients in a bag and mix together
  10. Pop a stock cube in the bag, ready to be used when you cook the meal
Wooden chopping board with food on top
After coming out the dehydrator – orzo, parsley and tomato sauce

How to cook:

  1. Boil water in a saucepan. This should be just enough water to cover the ingredients. If you’re not sure, start conservatively and add more water later
  2. Add the stock cube and stir until dissolved
  3. Add the contents of the bag
  4. Turn off the heat, cover and leave to soak for 15 minutes
  5. Return to the heat and cook until the orzo is rehydrated, stirring regularly. You can always add more water at this stage if you need
  6. Eat! Grate some cheese over the top for added luxury
Bowl of food cooks over a campfire
Orzo with tomato and parsley

Black beans and rice or macaroni

Serves 2

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of rice or 2 cups of macaroni pasta
  • 1 400g tin of black beans (or buy from a dispensary, soak and cook)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 2 jalapeno peppers
  • Seasoning mix – 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp of coriander seeds, 1 tsp of smoked paprika, salt, pepper
  • 1 tin of sweetcorn
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato puree
  • 1 bunch of coriander leaves (cilantro)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oil
  • Baking parchment
Dehydrated macaroni and black beans
Dehydrated macaroni and black beans

Instructions:

  1. If you buy dry black beans, soak them in water overnight and cook until soft. If you buy tinned black beans, drain and rinse
  2. Cook the rice/macaroni as per packet instructions
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F (Gas mark 4/160 C)
  4. Dice the onion, red pepper and jalapenos. Lightly drizzle with oil and coat in the seasoning mix. Roast in the oven until soft (approx 30 minutes)
  5. Dice the tomatoes. Fry them off in a saucepan using as little oil as possible. Turn down the heat and reduce until you have a thick sauce (approx 1 hour)
  6. Drain the tin of sweetcorn
  7. Line each tier of your dehydrator with baking parchment
  8. Place a thin layer of rice/macaroni on one tier of your dehydrator
  9. Place a thin layer of the onion and pepper mixture on another tier of your dehydrator
  10. Place a thin layer of sweetcorn on another tier of your dehydrator
  11. Place a thin layer of black beans on another tier of your dehydrator
  12. Place a thin layer of the tomato mixture on another tier of your dehydrator
  13. Place a thin layer of coriander (cilantro) on another tier of your dehydrator, along with the tomato puree (can be squeezed straight out of the tube)
  14. Dehydrate all the ingredients until they are completely dry. This may require some juggling. Some of the ingredients will dehydrate faster than others, so you can swap them in and out. You should only spread a thin layer on each tier, meaning each ingredient may require two or more tiers
  15. Once everything is ready, place all the dehydrated ingredients in a bag and mix together
  16. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper

How to cook:

  1. Boil water in a saucepan. This should be just enough water to cover the ingredients. If you’re not sure, start conservatively and add more water later
  2. Add the contents of the bag
  3. Turn off the heat, cover and leave to soak for 15 minutes
  4. Return to the heat and cook until the rice/macaroni is rehydrated, stirring regularly. You can always add more water at this stage if you need
  5. Eat! Grate some cheese over the top for added luxury
Bowl of food cooks over a campfire
Mexican style black bean and macaroni pasta

Making your own dehydrated camping meals does require a little bit more effort, and a fair amount of forward planning. But once you’re in the groove, you’ll never look back. Soon you’ll be dehydrating everything. Dehydrated banana chips are a personal favourite and make a great snack while you’re out adventuring.

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Sailboats moored at a dock

The One Where I Learned to Sail

It’s a stormy October night. Outside the wind whips across the Howe Sound, gusting noisily. I rock gently from side to side. My fellow crew members sleep soundly around me. One snores in a deep, loud baritone. Another punctuates the air with short, staccato snorts. Together they create an unpleasant symphony. I kick myself for not bringing ear plugs.

I’m aboard the Celeste, a Dufour 31’ sailboat. Earlier that day, I met with three other budding sailors, along with our instructor, Steve. We would spend the next five days living on a keel boat in a bid to pass the Basic Cruising Standard test. Unlike everyone else, I have little-to-no sailing experience. This is going to be a steep learning curve, I think.

Day one

I wasn’t wrong. Straightaway, there’s a lot of information to take in. Steve shows us round the boat, explaining how everything works. I’m instantly confused over how to use the toilet, or the ‘head’, to use the correct sailing terminology. I’m so busy calculating when I might have to urinate next, I forget to listen when he explains how to use the sink, electronics and bilge. I spend the next five days hoping my ignorance doesn’t cause the boat to sink.

Kitchen aboard sailboat
The kitchen
Living quarters inside a sailboat
Inside the Celeste’s cabin

After waiting for gale force winds to die down, it’s time, quite literally, to set sail. Steve negotiates the boat out of the tight slip in Vancouver’s Granville Island. Then, he calls me up to take the helm. As we glide through the cargo ships anchored outside the harbour, a smile spreads across my face. I’m sailing! I’m doing it! We’ve not capsized, no one has gone overboard and I’m at the wheel. It’s a miracle.

As we round Whytecliff Park, we’re soon becalmed. We motor the rest of the way to Gambier Island, where we learn how to set an anchor. We’re not docked, so there’s no hope of stretching our legs. It’s only been 12 hours and I’m already understanding the meaning of cabin fever. But it’s a beautiful spot, and were it not for the frigid breeze and isolated showers, I could have spent all evening up on deck, staring out to the horizon.

Later I confess how nervous I am about this trip. Steve laughs and says there’s nothing to worry about – “this is just a floating RV”, he says. I can see what he means. Living aboard a boat is much like camping. You have everything you need, only on a much smaller scale. Cooking on the propane stove is a juggling act, showering is a luxury, and the living quarters are cosy – especially when you’re inside, listening to the rain pattering on the deck above.

Sea and hilly landscape at dusk
Anchored near Gambier Island

Day two

When I poke my head outside in the morning, I find the wet weather front has passed. It’s a brisk autumn day with clear blue skies. Perfect for sailing. Unfortunately, I haven’t slept a wink. Apparently, exhaustion and sailing go hand in hand. It’s good practise, I’m told.

Sadly, this does not stand me in good stead later when I’m at the helm, sailing close hauled in gusty winds. Suddenly the boat heels, turning everything on a right angle. I hear books go flying inside the cabin, and look to see the port side toe rail in the water. I panic, squeal and let go of the wheel. The boat careens off to the left. Steve (who until now had been casually pottering around in search of snacks to eat) tells me to keep the boat under control. “It’s heeling excessively”, I whimper. I’d read in the course manual that this wasn’t recommended. “There’s no such thing”, he tuts. Later I try to tack in the wrong direction. Fatigue and fear are getting the better of me.

That evening we dock in Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast. We can make use of the showers and, mercifully, the toilets. I’m still not 100% certain on how to use the head, and now too much time has passed to ask. After a group dinner at the pub and a couple of beers, I give myself a stern talking to. I’m here to learn how to sail, so I’d better get on with it. I think about the physics of sailing – something which doesn’t come naturally to me – and gets things straight in my mind.

Day three

From thereon in, it’s plain sailing (pun intended). I successfully learn how to tack and gybe. I get to grips with various manoeuvres, such as docking, mooring, anchoring and crew overboard. I also understand when to harden the main sheet and jib, how to furl and unfurl the sails, and when to reef the sails.

On the third evening we stop at Keats Island and hike up to the view point. From on top the hill we can see across the Howe Sound. Someone spots a couple of humpback whales migrating down the coast. It seems to me that they’re always on the move, just like a sailor hopping from port to port. I think I wouldn’t mind being a sea-based nomad too.

Sailboat on the sea with man on the bow
Sailing in calm seas

Day four

Day four is test day. There’s little wind, so we motor to our destination of Bowen Island and go over some final revision. This is the bit I’d really been dreading. It’s been a long time since I took a two hour, 200 question test.

I’d read the course manual in advance, and as I work my way through the exam, I realise Steve has been subtly supplementing our knowledge throughout the week. We all pass with flying colours, and reward ourselves with burgers and beers at the local eatery.

Day five

With the test out of the way and my confidence bolstered, I find I don’t really want to go home. I’m enjoying myself in this floating RV. As we cruise back into Vancouver, dolphins encircle the boat, presumably feasting on the salmon running at this time of year.

Only now do I reflect on what an incredible week I’ve had. It felt like a terrifyingly tall order at times. I didn’t sleep and the head remained a mystery almost to the end. But I managed it. Even better, we had sunshine, good company and five days of incredible scenery. Amidst all that, I’d actually learned how to sail – something I’m still astonished by. So you won’t mind if, for now at least, you call me Skipper.

Calm sea with lighthouse in the distance
Sailing around Point Atkinson

Learn to sail with Simply Sailing

If you’re interested in learning to sail, Simply Sailing operates out of Granville Island in Vancouver. They offer a range of day sailing, intensive and liveaboard courses.

Sail boat on the sea with city in the distance
Heading back into Vancouver

Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail

The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is a 47km hiking trail located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. If you’re thinking about hiking it, here’s what you need to know.

Shorter hikes

You can access the Juan de Fuca trail at four different trailheads – Botanical Beach, Parkinson Creek, Sombrio Beach and China Beach. If you’re looking for a day hike, you can park at any of these locations and explore a section of the trail as an out-an-back hike. If you prefer not to turn back on yourself, you could always shuttle cars or catch the West Coast Trail Express back to your vehicle.

For a kids-friendly option, park at China Beach and walk the 2km down to Mystic Beach. To make it longer, carry on to Bear Beach, which is another 7km from Mystic Beach. For something longer still, start at Sombrio Beach and walk all the way to Botanical Beach. From there, get a friend to drive you back to Sombrio or reserve a spot on the West Coast Trail Express from Port Renfrew – just make sure you get to the bus on time!

Bear Beach

Hiking the whole trail

If you want to complete the whole trail, you can do so in one day as a trail run, or as a multi-day hike. The number of days you need is entirely up to you. If you travel quickly, you could do it over two days, spending the night at either Sombrio Beach or Chin Beach. However, this will be a push for many. Also, it would be a shame to rush your way through this beautiful corner of the world.

I hiked it over three nights and four days. I front-loaded the distance, with a long first day followed by three fairly relaxing days. This gave me more beach-chilling time – always a good thing! It also gave me a day each to hike the most difficult sections.

Man lies on beach log next to campfire
Sometimes it’s good to relax!

Camping on the Juan de Fuca trail

There are six campsites to choose from along the way. No reservations are needed. At each you’ll find bear caches and outhouses. You don’t need a permit to hike the trail, but the campsites cost $10 per night, per person. You can pay online before you go, or take cash and use the self-registration envelopes when you’re there.

The trail is open year-round and can be hiked in either direction. If you hike from north to south, the starting point is Botanical Beach (near Port Renfrew) and the end is China Beach (near Jordan River). If you’re going in this direction, you will reach the campsites in the following order –

  • Payzant Creek
  • Little Kuitshe
  • Sombrio Beach
  • Chin Beach
  • Bear Beach
  • Mystic Beach

Payzant Creek and Little Kuitshe campsites are in the forest, so can get muddy. Sombrio Beach and Mystic Beach campsites are often busy, as they are readily accessed from the road, making them popular with non-hikers. Chin Beach can also fill up quickly. Because the campsites are first come, first serve, it’s a good idea to leave early in the morning to bag the best spots.

What’s the trail like?

As you might expect from a coastal hike, the trail is undulating. Most of the flat sections are on the beaches. You may have heard of (or even hiked) the Juan de Fuca’s more famous neighbour, the West Coast Trail. While the West Coast Trail is known for its boardwalks and ladders, the Juan de Fuca trail is known for its technical terrain and relentless elevation change.

Hiking through the forest
And along the beaches

On the trail map, you’ll see that some sections are classed as ‘moderate’, others as either ‘difficult’ or ‘most difficult’. The most difficult section requires you to traverse up and down steep ravines, which can be tiring, especially with a heavy pack on. Thankfully it was fairly dry while I was there, but no doubt it could get very slippery in bad weather. Which brings me on to my next point…

The Juan de Fuca trail is very wet, partly thanks to the number of creeks which pass through it, and partly thanks to its location on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Even at the end of summer there were deep sections of mud. Wet weather gear is a must and gaiters are recommended. The creeks mean you can refill your water pouches whenever you need, although the water should be treated or boiled before drinking.

Here’s how I hiked the Juan de Fuca trail

My boyfriend and I hiked the Juan de Fuca trail at the end of August, opting to go from north to south. Here’s how it went down…

Day 1 – Port Renfrew to Sombrio Beach – 20kms

After sleeping in our car at the Jordan River Regional Park Campground for a night, we got up early and moved the car to the China Beach day use parking lot. Be sure to remove your valuables because break-ins have been known.

I’d reserved a space on the West Coast Trail Express, so waited by the highway for it to arrive at around 8am. I didn’t think it was going to stop, but in fact, it pulls into a rest stop a little further up the road, on the far side of the highway.

After about an hour we reached Port Renfrew. We got off the bus and hiked 2km up the road to the Botanical Beach trailhead, which is the start (or end) of the Juan de Fuca trail. This is a bit of a nuisance, but it’s as close as you can get in the bus. You might want to hitch a lift!

Shortly before Payzant Creek there’s a sign to Providence Cove. This is a lovely spot to have lunch and a swim.

Two people making tea on a portable stove on a stone beach
Taking a lunch break at Providence Cove on the Juan de Fuca trail

We had planned to spend the first night at Little Kuitshe, but made good progress so continued on to Sombrio Beach. This is a long first day at over 20kms, but it made the remaining days much more leisurely.

Tent pitched on empty stone beach
Camping at Sombrio Beach

Day 2 – Sombrio Beach to Chin Beach – 8kms

After sheltering from the rain in the morning, we started late and reached our next destination – Chin Beach – in the middle of the afternoon. The delay also meant we caught the tail-end of high tide at Chin Beach, so had to don our sandals and wade through the shallow ocean. Everyone else waited on a rocky outcrop, but I was glad we carried on because by the time we’d put up the tent the campground was full. Better to arrive early on busy weekends!

Woman stares out to sea with red tent in foreground
Camping at Chin Beach

Day 3 – Chin Beach to Bear Beach – 12kms

On day three we hiked as far as Bear Beach, which was my favourite campground. It’s a long beach with sites at both the northern and southern end. In my opinion, the southerly end is better. This is the most difficult section of the hike.

Man stares out to sea
Camping at Bear Beach

Day 4 – Bear Beach to China Beach – 9kms

On the final day we hiked back to the car at the China Beach day use parking lot, although not before a final dunk in the ocean at Mystic Beach. I was glad to finish at my car, rather than worrying about making the bus on time.

Woman swims in sea
Swimming at Mystic Beach

If you’re hiking it in this direction, I would say this is a fairly standard itinerary, as we often saw the same faces at each campground.

What you need to know before you go

If you’re planning on hiking the Juan de Fuca trail, here’s what you need to know before you go –

  • If you don’t have two cars to shuttle then you can book the West Coast Trail Express. It can pick you up at Victoria, Sooke, China Beach, Sombrio Beach, Parkinson Creek or Port Renfrew
  • You don’t need to reserve anything other than the West Coast Trail Express (if using)
  • You don’t need a permit but the campsites are $10 per person, per night
  • Some campsites – particularly Chin Beach and Mystic Beach – fill up quickly, so leave early in the morning to get the best spot
  • Remember to camp above the tideline
  • Certain sections of the trail are cut off at high tide – check the tide times and plan accordingly
  • There are lots of bears in the area – be bear aware
  • The trail is very well-marked and has km markers along the way
  • There is no phone reception in the area
  • Dogs are allowed on the trail
  • It can get very muddy so gaiters are recommended (but not essential)
  • You don’t need to take much water as you can fill up along the way. The water must be boiled or treated before drinking

My thoughts on hiking the Juan de Fuca trail

If you want to try a multi-day thru-hike, the Juan de Fuca trail is a great place to start. At 47kms, the trail isn’t overwhelmingly long, but it still presents challenges. Although there isn’t any cell reception, it also feels quite safe. You aren’t too far from a road and there’s four access points along the way, meaning you can opt out if you need. It’s also much cheaper than the West Coast Trail, for which you need to buy a permit.

Everyone has a different idea of what is ‘difficult’. A trail runner told me that, pound for pound, the Juan de Fuca trail is harder than the West Coast Trail. Why? Because of the terrain. There’s lots of big step-ups and step-downs, logs to clamber over and mud to negotiate. You have to constantly watch your footing, or the tangled web of tree routes will trip you up. And the constant elevation change can be a killer on the joints.

Terrain aside, I didn’t find the hike too difficult. For me, the biggest negative of the Juan de Fuca trail is the proximity of the logging industry. Cutblocks go right up to the trail, and in certain sections the second growth forest looks like it’s dead. But perhaps it’s important to see – that way, we can better appreciate the old growth forests that still remain. And anyway, four days of forest wandering, beach camping and tree hugging is always a joy.

In some sections the cutblock goes right up to the trail
Some of the forest looks like it’s dead

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Hiking in Tetrahedron Provincial Park

If you love a backcountry cabin, then Tetrahedron Provincial Park is for you. With four maintained huts to choose from and a network of hiking trails to explore, it makes for a perfect weekend adventure.

Tetrahedron Provincial Park is located on the Sunshine Coast, near Sechelt. In winter it’s a haven for backcountry skiers, who skin up to Mount Steele and Panther Peak in search of fresh lines. Come the warmer months, hikers hit the trails – although not in any great numbers, it seems. When we visited on a sunny Friday evening in August, ours was the only car in the parking lot.

The hiking here isn’t difficult, if you don’t want it to be. You gain a significant amount of elevation when you drive up the logging road to the trailhead. From then on, you can weave your way along undulating trails, past subalpine lakes and boggy wetlands. If you prefer more of an ascent, the hike to Mount Steele is available and is around 8kms (one way) to the summit.

Chapman Lake

There are four backcountry cabins in the park, making this an ideal opportunity to stay overnight. While the cabins are rustic, they are brilliantly maintained by volunteers at the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club. Each has a stove stocked with firewood, a sink and grey water bucket (but no running water), a dining table and benches, an outhouse and a range of survival equipment. Even comfy sleeping pads are provided.

You cannot reserve these cabins – they are first come, first serve. You have to be prepared to share. The upstairs sleeping quarters are cosy, so you might want to take some ear plugs. In theory, the only other items you need are your sleeping bag, cooking equipment, water, toilet roll and dishwashing soap. I always recommend taking a tent, just in case the cabins are full. And you must pack out what you pack in – including food waste.

The hiking route

The great thing about hiking in Tetrahedron Provincial Park is that there are numerous options open to you. I wanted to see as much as possible in 48 hours, so devised a loop that incorporated all four cabins.

From the parking lot, we hiked the 4.5kms to Edwards Lake cabin. The first section is along an old logging trail, which if truth be told, isn’t very inspirational. Then, all of a sudden, you’re deep within the forest. The bushes are teeming with berries in August (and bears!) The terrain is easy-going, so it doesn’t take long until you skirt the edges of Edwards Lake. The cabin itself is a little further along the trail.

Backcountry cabin in the forest
Edwards Lake cabin

We stayed the night at Edwards Lake cabin, which we had entirely to ourselves. In the morning, we left our big packs behind and put together a day hiking bag. We then headed over to McNair Lake cabin, which is 5kms (one way). The trail rolls up and down, over roots and creeks – some with questionable bridges. As you get closer to Chapman’s Lake, the ground gets wet and boggy. McNair Lake cabin appears shortly afterwards.

Backcountry cabin in the forest
McNair Lake cabin

At this point we still hadn’t seen another human being since entering the park. In fact, we didn’t see anyone else until later that afternoon, when we came across a big group heading to Mount Steele. Walking alone to McNair Cabin was almost eerie, and strange for a Saturday in mid-summer. In Tetrahedron, it feels like you don’t have to go far to achieve a sense of isolation and remoteness.

After eating lunch, we retraced our footsteps almost to Edwards Lake cabin. But instead of turning left to the cabin, we continued upwards to Mount Steele cabin, which from this point is 3km one way. It’s a steep climb, so it’s much easier without a fully loaded backpack. From Mount Steele cabin, it’s a short hike up to the summit. We then returned to Edward’s Lake cabin for a second night, and this time we were joined by a local couple.

Alpine landscape with cabin
Walking up towards Mount Steele cabin

In the morning, we packed up all our belongings and returned almost to the parking lot. However, when we got to Victor’s Landing, we took a left turn towards Bachelor Lake cabin. There’s also a stone arrow on the floor to point you in the right direction. This is not a well-trodden path and is overgrown, so you need to follow your nose. You skirt the edge of the valley before descending down into the forest.

Backcountry cabin in the forest
Bachelor Lake cabin

Apparently, Bachelor Lake cabin is the party cabin. We didn’t find any hungover souls, but we did have lunch and a swim in the lake. We then returned to the parking lot via the normal summer trail – just follow the orange trail markers. And there you have it! Two days, four cabins and a few kms under our belts.

Woman sits in front of lake
Bachelor Lake

Of course, you don’t have to follow this route. You can pick and choose which cabins or lakes you want to go to. Some might prefer the out and back to Mount Steele. This seemed to be the preferred destination for the hikers we did meet. Others may opt for the loop from the parking lot to Edwards Lake, returning via Bachelor Lake. For solitude, I suspect McNair Lake cabin is the best bet. It’s entirely up to you.

Know before you go

The road to the parking lot is steep and extremely rough. We just about managed it in a Honda Odyssey – but only just. If you do not have a 4WD with good clearance, do not attempt to make it to the upper parking lot. If you visit in winter, 4WD and snow chains are essential.

The cabins are maintained by volunteers from the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club. If you’re staying, they ask for a donation of $15 per person, per night, or $25 per family, per night. Fees are payable to the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club can be paid online. If you want to send a cheque, there are pre-addressed envelopes in the cabins.

There is no running water in the cabins. In the summer, you can refill at the creeks and the lakes. Water should be boiled or treated.

In the summer months the park is bursting with berries. Where you find berries, you inevitably find bears (we saw two). So, be bear aware!

Man holds bowl of berries
Freshly picked berries covered in chocolate

There is little-to-no cell reception in the park.

Conditions are very different in winter. The lakes may be frozen and avalanche hazards exist.

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La Sportiva trail running shoes

La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX Trail Running Shoes

When I was given a new pair of trail running shoes for Christmas, I immediately took them back to the store and switched them for a pair of Wildcat 2.0 GTX shoes by La Sportiva.

I’m not ungrateful! It’s just that the original pair were way too big, whereas the Wildcats were a good fit for my feet (which is why I have a pair of La Sportiva hiking boots, too).

Also, as the product description says –

‘The Wildcat 2.0 GTX Women’s is a highly stable, neutral trail runner that provides excellent cushioning and a secure fit. The waterproof Gore-Tex® lining keeps your feet dry in wet conditions, and the aggressive outsole and supple midsole combine to ensure comfort and stability on rough trails.’

Living on Vancouver’s North Shore, this ticked a lot of boxes for me. My local stomping ground is steep, technical and often slippery. So, I needed shoes that were waterproof, sturdy and had good traction.

La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX Trail Running Shoes
La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX Trail Running Shoes

The verdict

I can safely say that the Wildcats deliver on all these points – almost too effectively.

The Gore-Tex technology works well. I regularly cross creeks and splash through puddles but my feet stay dry. The uppers are described as breathable, although I find my feet get sweaty in warmer weather. So it’s not ideal as a summer trail running shoe.

The lugs on the sole provide great grip, which is exactly what you need for rough terrain. They’re not the lightest trail running shoe out there, coming in at 660g for a pair of size 38s, but they don’t feel especially heavy.

La Sportiva have included several features to enhance stability, including nylon shanks, heel stabilisers and resilient outsoles. However, I do find them quite stiff. While they are comfortable enough to wear right out the box, my feet often feel slightly sore after a long trail run. I’m not talking blisters – it’s more like they’re slightly beat up. This could be due to my petite build, and generally, it’s not too much of a downside. I’d rather have solid support than too much flex.

Sometimes I also take these on summer hikes and they always perform well. They have as much grip as a hiking boot and are waterproof. Yet they are much lighter, so you can travel faster when desired.

Overall, the La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX trail running shoes are a sound investment, especially if you’re going to be tackling wet, technical trails. If you live in a warmer climate, or will be running on mostly smooth paths, you might prefer something more lightweight with greater flexibility.

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A Vancouver Island Road Trip

Vancouver Island is the ultimate playground for the outdoors enthusiast. From skiing in Mount Washington to surfing in Tofino to hiking the West Coast Trail, the possibilities are endless. There’s just one problem. It’s big. Like, really big. To put it into context for those Europeans amongst you, Vancouver Island is comparable in size to the Netherlands.

So when planning a two-week road trip around the island, that posed something of a conundrum – how to fit everything in? In the end, I conceded that it just wasn’t possible. Instead of a whistle-stop tour, I decided to pick and choose a few destinations and take my time exploring them.

Here’s how my Vancouver Island road trip panned out.

Days 1 to 4 – Ucluelet and Tofino

The first stop on the itinerary was Ucluelet, or ‘Ukey’, located on the west coast of the island. We took the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, driving to Ukey via Coombes Old Country Market for some supplies. The drive is incredibly scenic, and it’s well worth stopping off at Cathedral Grove en route for a quick walk amongst the old growth forest.

Ukey is not so famous as its neighbour, Tofino, but it’s a great base if you’re visiting the area. The Wild Pacific Trail is right on your doorstep, offering two different coastal walks. There’s the shorter Lighthouse Loop, at 2.6km, and the longer there-and-back trail between Brown Beach and the rocky bluffs.

Woman sits on tree looking out to sea
The Wild Pacific Trail
Woman looks up at tall tree
An ancient cedar on the Wild Pacific Trail

Along with exploring the Wild Pacific Trail, we hiked up the hill at Cox’s Bay. Thanks to the elevation, you get wonderful views across the rainforest on a clear day. We also hit up the surf at Wickaninnish Beach and Chesterman’s Beach, ending each day with dinner cooked over a beach fire.

For more inspiration about things to do and where to stay, take a look at my Top 5 Reasons to Visit Tofino.

Days 4 to 7 – Campbell River

After leaving Ukey, we drove back across the island, then headed north to Campbell River. The town itself is quite small, but quickly gives way to a vast wilderness. I’d booked a lakefront cabin out of town, so spent a lot of time rowing the cabin’s boat around the lake while my friends attempted to catch some trout.

We also spent a morning at Elk Falls Provincial Park, which is just 2km from downtown Campbell River. There’s a platform where you can view the thundering waterfall and a network of easy trails to explore.

Elk Falls Waterfall
Elk Falls

The following day we spent at Strathcona Provincial Park. Expanding over nearly 250,000 hectares, there are numerous hikes on offer, catering to a range of abilities. After a lot of debate, we opted to do the Elk River Trail. In April, the park is still under a blanket of snow. Due to constant post-holing we progressed at a slow place, so had to turn back before reaching the end of the trail.

Three people hike through snow
Strathcona Provincial Park in April

If you want to ski, snowboard or snowshoe, Mount Washington is also nearby. When we were there the season was coming to an end, so gave it a miss this time.

Days 7 to 11 – Cortes Island

Our next destination was Cortes Island, which is part of the Discovery Islands. To get there, you need to take the ferry from Campbell River to Quadra Island, drive across Quadra Island and catch another ferry to Cortes. This sounds like a lot of work, but it’s worth it!

Unfortunately, a storm blew in the morning we were due to leave, meaning the ferries were cancelled until the afternoon. After drinking a lot of coffee in Campbell River, we managed to get on the ferry to Quadra Island. We were then stuck at Heriot Bay on Quadra Island for several hours, but thankfully, the Heriot Bay Inn does good food and has a pool table.

Old wood cabin surrounded by trees
Cortes Cabin

When we finally arrived on Cortes Island, we settled into our beautiful sea-front cabin. During our stay we did a lot of hiking around Ha’thayim (Von Donop) Marine Provincial Park, Green Mountain and Easter Bluffs. We also took advantage of all the fresh seafood on offer, collecting crabs, oysters and clams straight from the shoreline.

Oysters grill over an outdoor fire pit
Grilled oysters

Read more about my time Exploring Cortes Island.

Days 11 to 13 – Qualicum Beach

Next, we returned to Campbell River (thankfully, not a ferry cancellation in sight) and headed back down the coast to Qualicum Beach. We stayed at Spider Lake which is good for fishing, swimming and kayaking, especially as motorised boats aren’t allowed. There’s also lots of trails around the lake to wander around. Horne Lake Caves is nearby, as is Little Qualicum Falls and of course, Qualicum beach (as the name would suggest!)

Lake surrounded by trees with low lying cloud
A misty evening at Spider Lake

This was the shortest stopover, so it felt like we’d only just arrived before it was time to leave for the final destination – Jordan River.

Days 13 to 16 – Jordan River

Jordan River is located past Sooke, about 67km east of Victoria. There’s not much to it, aside from a café and a smattering of wood cabins. But this little place has two major draws.

Firstly, there’s surf! There’s a point break where the River Jordan meets the sea, which is a known (but seemingly friendly) surf spot amongst locals. One person told me the season typically runs until May. It’s also possible to surf at China Beach, which is quieter but rockier. Be warned. My friend’s board took a beating.

Secondly, Jordan River sits at the southerly end of the Juan de Fuca trail. This 47km hiking trail is often completed as a thru-hike in around four days. However, you can explore sections of it as day hikes. You can access the trail at China Beach, Sombrio Beach, Parkinson Creek and Botanical Beach.

We spent the mornings and evenings surfing so only had time for two short hikes. The first was between China Beach and Mystic Beach, while the second was between Sombrio Beach and Sombrio Point.

Woman stands by cliff next to waterfall
Mystic Beach on the Juan de Fuca trail

If you want to camp, the Jordan River campsite is first-come, first-serve. It only has an outhouse (no water) and you pay at the gate. Camping is also available at China Beach and Sombrio Beach. I’ve previously car camped at Jordan River, but this time we stayed in a tiny wood cabin with an outdoor shower and toilet. A truly rustic, west coast experience! Find out more by taking a look @rusticwestcoastcabin

Three people playing Jenga near a campfire
A tense game of outdoor Jenga at our rustic west coast cabin

It’s useful to know that there is very little mobile phone reception in this area. It’s close to the US border, so your phone may also pick up US networks. You might want to turn off your data roaming.

Back to Vancouver

And just like that, our Vancouver Island road trip had come to an end. We were only an hour from Victoria, so on our final day we pottered around the city before taking the ferry from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen.

After two weeks on Vancouver Island, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. We didn’t make it to the north of the island at all, and there’s so much still to see and do in the regions we did visit. Even so, hopefully this has provided some useful information if you’re planning a Vancouver Island road trip.

If you have any suggestions of your own, I’d love to hear them!

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Woman looks out to sea while the sun sets

Exploring Cortes Island

My first morning on Cortes Island, I open my eyes tentatively. Thanks to gale force winds and a string of cancelled ferries, we arrived the previous day much later than planned. This is my first glimpse of our cabin in the daylight.

I sit up in bed and find I haven’t pulled the blinds. Outside the window, an American Robin flutters around a golden arbutus tree. Beyond that is the sea, now calm and inviting. There’s an oyster farm and I watch as the owner chugs his boat across the inlet. We soon grow accustomed to his singing, a new tune marking the start and end of each working day.

I creep downstairs and assess my surroundings. I quickly conclude that it’s my dream home. This cabin has obviously been built with love. Everything is made from wood, and every piece of timber looks like it’s been carefully selected and skilfully handled. Even the sawdust toilet is a work of craftsmanship.

Woman looks over sea while the sun sets with a fire in the foreground
Living the good life on Cortes Island

The open plan living space is full of quaint, cosy furniture with a wood-burner to boot. The large windows provide sweeping views across Gorge Harbour. In the distance, you can make out the snow-capped mountains of Vancouver Island. It makes you want to sit here all day, staring out to sea.

If you did, you’d soon realise that this is a prime spot for bird-watching. Twitchers will be delighted at the variety of birds that visit the area, with everything from hummingbirds to vultures. Seals also make a frequent appearance in the inlet and seem completely unfazed when we launch ourselves off the rocks to swim, fish and kayak.

Woman looks through binocular while sitting in wood cabin
Bird-watching from the cabin

After making a pot of tea, I spot something else on the horizon. It’s my boyfriend, who’s taken the canoe out to drop a crab pot. As it turns out, our equipment is surplus to requirements. You can walk to the shoreline below the cabin and scoop out red rock crabs with a net, along with oysters the size of your hand.

Man holds four large oysters
Oysters the size of your hand

During our stay, fresh seafood becomes a daily staple. Every evening we stoke the fire in the outdoor pit, grill a few oysters and crack open a crab claw. If we’ve been to Manson’s Landing, we’ll also cook up a pot of butter clams on a bed of pine needles, conveniently collected from the foot of a nearby tree.

Man and woman cook oysters and clam on an outdoor fire
Cooking up oysters and clams

It’s an idyllic way to live, sourcing food from your doorstep and cooking it as the sun sets over the Salish Sea. Self-sufficiency is a way of life on Cortes Island, it seems. There’s a strong counter-culture vibe here, too, with a focus on community spirit. People even wave to you while driving, no matter that you’re a tourist.

Dinner spread on an outdoor table
Dinner of freshly caught oysters and clams, served with homemade pickles and bread

In April, it’s also extremely quiet. I hear the island gets busy during the summer months, even if it does take three ferries to get here from Vancouver. At this time of year, the only other visitors appear to be boaters – a frequent sight amongst this smattering of islands in Desolation Sound, known collectively as the Discovery Islands.

By day we explore the island. The hikes up to Easter bluffs and Green Mountain are relatively short, but provide beautiful views across the region. We enjoy mostly good weather. It’s either luck, or the fact that the southerly half of Cortes Island is in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island, making it drier and warmer.

Woman sleeps on mossy rocks
Chilling at Easter Bluffs
Two women stand on high elevation rock
Green Mountain

The day we head to Ha’thayim (Von Donop) Marine Provincial Park, however, it pours. We delay our start, meaning we don’t have time to reach our destination of Cliff Peak. It’s slow going in the forest, as fallen trees block your path, forcing you to clamber up and under the debris. Even so, it’s a magical place – ancient, remote and full of wolves.

Two women make their way over fallen trees in a forest
Clambering our way through Ha’thayim (Von Donop) Marine Provincial Park
Woman walks through an overgrown forest
Walking in wolf country in Ha’thayim (Von Donop) Marine Provincial Park

As our five-day trip comes to an end, I can see how people might come here to visit and stay forever. It’s that place you move to in search of the good life. The atmosphere is laid-back and friendly. There’s a vibrant community, should you want it. But there is wilderness too, full of Mother Nature’s finest produce.

If I could just get a wood cabin here, I’d be as happy as a butter clam.

How to get to Cortes Island

If you live on the mainland, getting to Cortes Island requires three ferries and a healthy dose of dedication.

Firstly, get to Vancouver Island. Then take a ferry from Campbell River to Quadra Island, which has a crossing time of 10 minutes. Drive across Quadra Island to Heriot Bay. Take the ferry from Heriot Bay to Whaletown on Cortes Island, which has a crossing time of 45 minutes.

Alternatively, you can access Cortes Island via plane or seaplane.

Top tip – if you’re on Quadra Island waiting for the ferry, enjoy a drink and a game of pool at the Heriot Bay Inn. Don’t forget that ferries may not operate in adverse weather conditions.

Where to stay on Cortes Island

The main settlements on Cortes Island are Whaletown, Manson’s Landing and Squirrel Cove. If you have a car, it is very easy to drive around the island, which opens up your options in terms of accommodation.

There’s lots of rental accommodation available – just search on AirBnB.

Camping is available at Gorge Harbour Marina Resort and Smelt Bay Provincial Park.

What to do on Cortes Island

  • Hike to Easter Bluffs and Green Mountain
  • Hike through Ha’thayim (Von Donop) Marine Provincial Park and have lunch at Von Donop Inlet. Continue to Cliff Peak if you have time. Keep an eye out for wolf poo!
  • Get a chocolate brownie from Cortes Natural Food Co-op
  • Collect butter clams at Manson’s Landing at low tide – be sure to get a fishing licence, take only what you need, and be wary of red bloom.
  • Eat some local oysters
  • Get a kayak and explore the coves, inlets and beaches

Things to know

  • Most of the island’s amenities are found in Manson’s Landing
  • You can get groceries at Cortes Natural Food Co-op and Cortes Market, which also sells alcohol
  • The island is 25km long and 13km wide, so you could survive on a push bike, although there are most definitely some hills
  • People will wave to you while driving – it’s a thing, just go with it

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Empty beach

5 Reasons to Visit Tofino

Drive as far west on Vancouver Island as you can possibly go and you’ll find yourself in Tofino – a small coastal town of about 2,000 residents, situated on the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

It’s not easy to get to. There’s no public transport, so you must drive, fly, or book yourself onto a private bus. It’s at the very end of the road. Travel any further and you’ll find yourself in the Pacific Ocean.

Yet despite its humble size and remote location, Tofino is high on the tourist to-do list. Why? I can give you five very good reasons.

1. Pacific swell

There’s one thing that Tofino is known for above all else – surfing. Of course, there is so much more to this place than just riding waves. But it’s a big draw (and let’s face it, there isn’t an abundance of world-renowned surf spots in Canada). One local even told me that Tofino has the most consistent swell in the whole of North America. I can’t verify this claim, but if you don a winter wetsuit and paddle out, the Pacific Ocean is sure to provide sooner or later. Top surf beaches include Chesterman’s, Cox’s Bay and Wickaninnish (which is also the closest surf beach if you’re staying down the road in Ucluelet).

2. Rainforest walks

Tofino sits on the tip of the Pacific Rim National Park, offering no less than 511km² of temperate rainforest to explore. It’s thick with old growth trees that have lichen dripping from the branches – a sure sign that you’re breathing fresh rainforest air. There aren’t many mountains to conquer, but there are plenty of easy-to-navigate trails that weave along the coast. The walk from Wickaninnish Beach to Florencia Bay is a good place to start – known as the Nuu Chah Nulth Trail. If you’re craving some elevation, head to Cox’s Bay and hike up the hill at the southern end of the beach. It is a bit of a scramble, but the views at the top are worth it.

Woman looks across forest and sea from high vantage point
The view across Cox’s Bay
Two women look across rainforest from high vantage point
Looking across the rainforest from the top of Cox’s Bay

3. Canadian-sized beaches

My mother-in-law says that everything in Canada is big. Judging by the size of the beaches in Tofino, she might well be right. At low tide, the aptly named Long Beach spans a whopping 16km (10 miles). And there’s plenty of others to choose from, including Chesterman’s Beach, Florencia Bay, Cox’s Bay…and so the list goes on. At each, you’ll find the dense rainforest extends right up to the coastline. When the trees finally give way, you’re met with vast stretches of golden sand, refined over the years by the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean. Due to their westerly position, all the beaches enjoy fantastic sunsets.

Man stares out across empty beach
Florencia Bay

4. Nature, nature everywhere

Following the Clayoquot protests of the 1990s, Tofino and the surrounding area was named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Having been threatened by the logging industry, it is now a nature lover’s paradise once again. The peninsula is encased by water, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Clayoquot Sound on the other. Sightings of orcas, humpback whales and grey whales are not unusual. Bald eagles rule the sky, while wolves, bears and deer stalk the forest. There is a sense of the wild in Tofino, and thanks to all the trees, the oxygen-rich air is as fresh as can be.

Back of woman in a red kayak on the sea
Exploring the Clayoquot Sound by kayak

5. West Coast living

Tofino is the very epitome of West Coast living. For non-North Americans, this is a difficult concept to explain. It’s a lifestyle; a way of being. It’s a laid-back vibe, where people cycle to the beach, wetsuit on and surfboard strapped to the rack. It’s jaw-dropping sunsets and small, independent eateries which punch above their weight. It’s a hotchpotch of wooden buildings, ranging from rickety wood cabins to grandiose beach-front pads. It’s a place that makes you forget about work and all the chores waiting for you at home. It’s a place you don’t really want to leave.

Man cooks using a beach fire
Preparing dinner post-surf

When to visit

Tofino touts itself as a year-round tourist destination. The summer months are peak season, during which the crowds can be heavy. May and September are quieter, yet still enjoy good weather. If storm watching is your thing, head there in winter. The ocean puts on quite a show.

Where to stay

Tofino is full of holiday rentals, most of which are available to book through websites such as AirBnB and VRBO. There’s something to suit all budgets. For camping, options include Bella Pacifica Campground, MacKenzie Beach RV and Camping, and Long Beach Campground.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, try Ucluelet instead (known to the locals as Ukey). It’s at the other end of the peninsula and is a 40 minute drive from Tofino town centre.

What do to

  • Get a surf lesson with Surf Sister or Pacific Surf Co.
  • Book a kayak trip with Tofino Kayaking Company
  • Walk from Wickaninnish Beach to Florencia Bay
  • Drive up Radar Hill and marvel at the views
  • Head to Ukey and walk the Wild Pacific Trail
  • Eat a Tacofino and get a growler from Tofino Brewing Co.
  • Book a boat trip to Hot Springs Cove
  • Have a sunset beach fire on Chesterman’s Beach
  • Book a fishing charter and catch your dinner

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Horses on the beach at dawn

Los Alamos Horse Riding Holiday

It’s 8am and the sun is just starting to warm my skin. To my left, the crashing waves of the Atlantic roll in. To my right, grassy sand dunes flutter in the breeze. Ahead of me lies a vast, empty beach. I put my hand down to pat my horse’s neck, then tighten the reins in anticipation. I wait for the signal. Then, with a jolt, we’re off.

For the next five minutes, all I can hear is the wind whipping in my ears. I set my gaze on the horizon and remind myself to breath. My horse has a long, even stride. I trust him, so I give him more rein. He responds accordingly and picks up the pace. In 25 years of riding, I’ve never galloped this fast, nor for so long. Soon my legs start to burn.

Our guide, Jose, puts his hand up. This our cue to put on the brakes. We ease off and wait for everyone to congregate. I look back and marvel at the distance we’ve travelled. Finally, there are 12 horses, all snorting and straining. Their riders are smiling from ear to ear. It’s an exhilarating way to start the day, and there’s plenty more to come.

Horse and rider gallop along beach
Galloping down the beach

Los Alamos

I’m on Cape Trafalgar in the south of Spain. Over 15 years ago, Rachel moved here from the UK to work at a local stable. Shortly afterwards, her brother Andrew and his wife Rhiannon joined her. Together, they now run Los Alamos, which they describe as the ‘ultimate Andalucian horse-riding experience’.

Their position on the Costa de la Luz is enviable. This feels like the Spain of old, with dusty roads and whitewashed buildings. The rich equestrian tradition of Andalucia is palpable. Men ride their horses to the local bar and tether them up outside. The coastline remains unspoilt. There’s not a high-rise hotel in sight.

Although in many ways, I myself am on an all-inclusive holiday. Other than flights and travel insurance, everything has been taken care of for me. Andrew picks me up from the airport in Malaga and drops me off a week later. All my meals are provided and I’m told to help myself to the fully stocked drinks cabinet.

The horses

But instead of rising early on my first morning to bag a sunbed, I pull on my jodhpurs and walk five minutes to the stables. There, Rachel and her team have prepared our horses. There’s a mixture of Arabs, pure-bred Andalucians and crosses on offer. It’s evident that they are all impeccably treated, their health being the top priority.

My horse is called Shukran, which means ‘thank you’ in Arabic. I am thankful, because for me, he’s perfect. This is no coincidence. The previous evening, Rachel asked each of us what kind of horse we like to ride. I favour forward-going but sensible, and that’s exactly what I got. Here, horse and rider are matched by personality, not just by height and weight.

We spend the first day in the saddle getting to know one another. There’s 10 people in my group, which is the maximum allowed. We have a guide at the front and a guide at the back. Together, we snake our way around the forest, getting a few trots and a short canter under our belts.

The accommodation

After around five hours of riding we return to the stable and untack. Once the horses have been turned out, we return to the beautiful Spanish finca, which is home for the week. There are nine rooms, all traditionally furnished. In the centre is a communal living area, complete with an open fire for the winter months.

We have the rest of the day to spend as we please. The first day I lie by the swimming pool, reading book in one hand, gin and tonic in the other. Later in the week I head to the nearby beach at Barbate. Another afternoon, I explore the quintessential Spanish hilltop town of Vejer de la Frontera. Each time, Andrew drops me off and picks me up.

In the evening we gather around the large dining table as Rhiannon serves up a delicious home-made, three course meal. Before arriving, I decided to give up dairy, and she adapts the menu for me without complaint. Wine flows and conversation gets underway. It’s an extremely social set-up, and it’s not surprising that most people have come alone.

The riding

On the second day, the riding steps up a gear. There’s no trotting to be had. From here on in, if we’re not walking, we’re either cantering or galloping. Take note – you have to be an intermediate or advanced rider on this holiday. Novices simply cannot be catered for, although non-riders are welcome to stay at Los Alamos, should they wish.

I believe, however, that you need to ride to experience the magic of this place. I find the quality of the riding startling. So often on group hacks you’re lucky to get a canter in, and even then, it’s at a sedate pace. Not here. There’s 5,000 hectares of forest adjacent to the stables, and each day we cover a lot of ground.

We canter nimbly along narrow tracks, weaving our way around corners, past umbrella pines and eucalyptus trees. We race along wide, open firebreaks. We even canter downhill on a sandy path known as the rollercoaster – a strange sensation, even for the experienced rider.

Thankfully the tide is in our favour, so two mornings we are treated to a beach ride. Normally this isn’t permitted during the summer months, but Los Alamos has a special licence. Now we can see what our horses are really made of. It’s fast and furious. My Spanish Arabian doesn’t even break a sweat. It’s no wonder he’s an endurance champion.

Horse and rider canter through water
Catering through tidal pools

The holiday

As the week wears on, I settle into the familiar routine. Each morning breakfast is laid out in the dining area where we help ourselves. After a morning of riding, we stop for lunch at a local taverna. It’s all been organised and regional produce fills the table. The horses snooze happily in the shade, their girths loosened for the time being. In the afternoon, we make our way home to spend a few hours as we wish before dinner.

Two horses rest in the shade
Tethering our horses before lunch

On Thursday the horses rest, so those who are interested attend a show at the Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez. The cost of transportation and the tickets are included in the price of the holiday. Afterwards I buy some local sherry, if only to use the spending money I have brought with me and found no other use for.

I thought I would welcome a day off. In fact, I miss being in the saddle. I can understand why the majority of guests at Los Alamos are repeat bookings. The pace of riding, the stunning scenery and the warm hospitality make this like no other horse-riding experience I have ever encountered. That may be the only downside to Los Alamos – it sets the bar so high, little else can compare.

Horse riding holiday Andalucia

Los Alamos is open throughout the year. Holidays run from Sunday to Sunday, or for shorter breaks from Wednesday to Sunday. Non-riders are eligible to a discount. Bookings can be made directly with Los Alamos, or through In The Saddle.

Woman hikes into a forest

Hikes on Vancouver’s North Shore

Vancouver’s North Shore is teeming with hiking trails. In fact, it can be a little overwhelming to know where to start. To help you out, I’ve put together a list of what are (in my humble opinion) the best hikes on Vancouver’s North Shore. That way you can pick and choose depending on your mood.

Where possible I’ve provided links to other sites which provide descriptions of the routes.

Best for little-to-no elevation

Sometimes you want to get outdoors for a good few hours, but you don’t feel up to tackling any mountains. I get it. If so, I recommend the Big Cedar and Kennedy Falls trail on Mount Fromme. This undulating trail is a 10km round-trip, so it’s still a reasonable distance. But with only 150m elevation gain, you don’t need to worry about any thigh-burning ascents.

Dry creek on Mount Fromme

En route to Big Cedar and Kennedy Falls

Another good option is Norvan Falls in Lynn Headquarters Regional Park. It’s very similar in terms of terrain, but is a little longer at 14km.

Woman stands in front of waterfall

Norvan Falls

Both are also great hikes for the winter months, thanks to their low elevation.

Best for steep elevation

On the flip side, maybe you’re keen for a challenge. For some people, a hike ain’t a hike unless there’s a grinding slog uphill. If you’re one of them, I urge you to try Mount Harvey. The hike begins on the logging trail from Lions Bay, then takes a left turn – after which, it’s a steep climb to the top. Once you get there, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views around. There’s also a secret whiskey stash near the summit!

Mount Harvey summit

Mount Harvey summit

Whiskey stash and note on top of Mount Harvey

The whiskey stash on top of Mount Harvey

If you don’t take the left-hand turn, you’ll end up on the Lions Binkert trail. This is another classic North Shore hike, again with a steep ascent and stunning views.

Because of their high elevation, these hikes are only suitable between the months of July and October (or November if there is no snow). Five hikers died on Mount Harvey in 2017, so please stay safe.

Best for lakes

During summer, you might be keen for a refreshing dunk in an alpine lake. There’s so many to choose from, but I particularly enjoy hiking up to Deeks Lake for a swim. If you start at Porteau Cove then it’s a steep ascent, but that just makes it all the more rewarding. You’ve got to work for it, right?

Two men balance on a log in a lake

Deeks Lake

If you’ve got time, head past Deeks Lake and onto Hanover Lake. It’s not so good for swimming, but the turquoise water set against the backdrop of Brunswick Mountain is beautiful.

Woman looks across blue lake and mountains

Hanover Lake

Remember that alpine lakes are cold! Muscles can quickly seize up, making it difficult to swim. So, stay close to the edge and use a buoyancy aid if needed.

Best for peace and quiet

Despite the abundance of hiking trails near Vancouver, it can sometimes feel like the whole city is out there with you. If you’re craving seclusion, hike to the top of Mount Fromme. You’ll encounter mountain bikers to begin with, but human contact quickly peters out. On a clear day you can see all the way to Mount Baker from the summit.

Woman stands on top of Mount Fromme

Mount Fromme summit

Alternatively, you could make your way to Mount Elsay. Once you get past the turning for Mount Seymour the trail becomes extremely quiet. Although be careful, it can be easy to lose your way. There’s also an unforgiving boulder field to cross. For these reasons, this one’s best left to those with the necessary experience.

Boulder field near Mount Elsay

Boulder field at the bottom of Mount Elsay

Whenever you go on a hike, be sure to leave a trip plan with a family member, friend or colleague. This is particularly important if you’re heading to a lesser-travelled trail.

Best for backcountry camping

If you’re looking for an overnight hike, then top of the charts has got to be the Howe Sound Crest Trail. This 29km trail stretches between Cypress Bowl and Porteau Cove, and takes in a number of the North Shore Peaks. Most people opt to camp at Magnesia Meadows or Brunswick Lake. Take note – this is no walk in the park.

Views across trees and mountains

Hiking along the Howe Sound Crest Trail

Or consider an overnight hike in Seymour Provincial Park. Wilderness camping is permitted north of Brockton Point, although fires are prohibited year round.

Sign towards Elsay Lake

The Mount Elsay Trail is classed as difficult

Don’t forget that snow continues well into the summer months in the North Shore. Hikes such as the Howe Sound Crest Trail and Elsay Lake in Seymour Provincial Park are not do-able until July (unless you are an experienced mountaineer, of course).

Best for foraging

When the forest is dripping with berries, I like to stop for a tasty nibble. In the past, I’ve found the trail to Norvan Falls to be rife with salmonberries, while the trail to Eagle Bluffs offers rich pickings for blueberries. Just remember not to take too much – this is bear food after all!

Woman holds up freshly picked berry

Fresh pickings

It goes without saying that if you don’t know what something is, don’t eat it!

Best for a quick walk

When does a walk become a hike? I’m not sure, but I know that sometimes I just want a little stroll amongst the trees. Nothing too long, and nothing too strenuous. In these situations, my go-to move is either Lynn Loop in Lynn Valley Headquarters, or Rice Lake in Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve.

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Gran Paradiso mountain range

Italy’s Best Kept Secret

Gran Paradiso National Park. Ever heard of it? Because I hadn’t. Not until a fortuitous conversation led me to this secret jewel nestled on the Italian/French border.

But before we get to that, here’s a bit of history, along with some geography thrown in for good measure.

A bit about Gran Paradiso National Park

Gran Paradiso National Park is located in the north west corner of Italy, and joins the Vanoise National Park in France. It crosses two regions – Piedmont and Aosta.

The area was first protected by King Vittorio Emanuele II in 1856 who declared it a royal hunting ground. No one else was allowed to hunt there, on the basis that the local ibex population was nearing extinction.

Years later, King Vittorio Emanuele III went a step further and donated the hunting reserve to the Italian state, thus creating Italy’s first national park in 1922. Thanks to his actions, ibex numbers have soared and now live happily alongside marmots, chamois, vultures, eagles and other flora and fauna.

For those peak baggers amongst you, Gran Paradiso National Park is also home to the highest mountain located entirely within Italy. Gran Paradiso (which gives the park its name) stands at 4,061m. It’s true that there are higher peaks in Italy, such Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, but they are shared with other countries.

Mountains and meadows in Gran Paradiso National Park

Enjoying the views en route to Colle della Crocetta

Gran Paradiso and the Italian Alps

However, I didn’t know any of that until a few years ago. In fact, I’d never heard of Gran Paradiso National Park. Nor had any of my well-travelled family, friends or acquaintances. Have we all been living in ignorance, or is this Italy’s best kept secret?

Certainly compared to the likes of Venice, the Amalfi Coast and the Cinque Terre, the masses are yet to ‘discover’ this destination. Yes, there are tourists. But hordes, there are not.

In the summer months the meadows are full of flowers and grazing livestock. Raging rivers and streams cut through the landscape, swollen with run-off. The snow-capped peaks of the Graian Alps tower above you, at once beautiful and frightening. Beyond the treeline, the region’s volcanic history is exposed. The black rocks and barren terrain sit starkly against the lush greenery below, providing a menacing reminder of the altitude at which you are standing.

For people with the necessary experience, there are mountains to conquer and glaciers to traverse. For everyone else, there is a vast network of trails catering to all abilities. Either way, you can rest assured that this is Mother Nature at her finest.

Anyone familiar with the European Alps might say this description rings true of the entire mountain range, which stretches across no less than eight countries. That’s fair enough. But for me, Gran Paradiso holds a special place in my heart.

Maybe it’s because I discovered it entirely by accident. I first became aware of the park while researching a van trip around Italy. While scouring the internet for information, I stumbled upon a Lonely Planet article titled Italy’s Seven Best Hikes. There at number one was a 20km hike through the heart of Gran Paradiso.

Fast forward one week later. I was at a campsite on the Italian Riveria, trying to explain to the man on reception that I was considering a visit to Gran Paradiso National Park. After some confusion (my Italian accent is less than convincing) he shouted “ah ha! This is where I’m from.” I couldn’t believe it! I’d only just learned about this place, now I’d met a real life local. “You must visit my home town, it is most beautiful”, he said.

He wasn’t wrong.

Shepherd's hut in Gran Paradiso National Park

Shepherd’s hut with a view

Piedmont, Italy

Thanks to my new friend’s recommendation, I ended up in a town called Ceresole Reale.

Located in the Orco Valley of the Piedmont (Piemont) region, Ceresole Reale is the last town before a high mountain pass called the Colle del Nivolet. As such, it has that ‘end of the road’ feeling. By which I mean, not many people come here, and seeing as there’s only one road in and out, you’d better hope nothing happens to it.

I stayed at a pristine campsite called Camping Piccolo Paradiso. Despite being August and despite not having booked, I had a choice of pitches to choose from. Opposite is a cosy bar-cum-café-cum-restaurant called La Baita, which is a welcome retreat after a day exploring the wilderness outside.

After setting up camp I spent the afternoon cycling around Lago di Ceresole, which is also a hot spot for windsurfing. The following day I retraced my tracks to the lake, chained up my bike near Villa Poma and followed route 520 to the Colle della Crocetta. This is one of those stunning hikes that takes you through verdant meadows, along the shores of crystal blue alpine lakes, and finally through a moraine to the ridge.

Mountain summit in Gran Paradiso National Park

Atop the Colle della Crocetta

The final day was spent exploring the Nivolet Pass – where, incidentally, the final scene of the Italian Job was filmed. Cyclists and motorbikes are drawn to this road. I can see why. It has gut-lurching hairpins and a steep gradient, making it a challenge. Yet it is stunning. If you make it to the end, you’ll find the Refugio Savoia and a bar. Go and explore the trails, gawp at the moon-like landscape, then enjoy a hot chocolate.

Mountains and lakes in Italy

Exploring the Nivolet

Bar on top of the Nivolet pass

Warming up with a hot chocolate

Aosta, Italy

Now I’d had a taster of Gran Paradiso National Park, I wanted more. So the following year I returned, this time to the Aosta region. I stayed at Campeggio Gran Paradiso in the village of Valnontey, 3km from the large town of Cogne. It was definitely busier here than Ceresole Reale, so if seclusion is a high priority for you, this might not be your cup of tea.

River running through Gran Paradiso National Park

Looking down the valley towards Valnontey

Nevertheless, once you’re out and about, you can quickly leave human contact behind. There are a number of trails straight from the campsite. The valley floor is popular with families, but continue past this and you’ll soon be alone. I found some fantastic hikes in the area, including the one listed by Lonely Planet in their rundown of the seven best hikes in Italy.

This hike follows the Alta Via 2 to the Refugio Sella, one of the many alpine huts open to visitors in the summer months. You can find a definitive list on the Gran Paradiso National Park website. From the refuge, you continue onto Casolari dell’Herbetet and back down to the village. It’s considered a demanding hike, so take heed. If you’re up to it, then it sure is rewarding.

Valley cutting through Gran Paradiso National Park

You need a head for heights on this hike!

As I was making my way down the mountainside, clinging perilously to a chain while the Gran Paradiso massif loomed above me, I had a moment of clarity. In Italian, ‘paradiso’ means ‘paradise’. For me, it certainly lives up to its name. So why has no one heard of it? Who knows, but maybe it’s a good thing.

Man looks across snowy mountaintops

The 10 Essentials for Hiking Safety

While you might not think of hiking as a high-octane, adrenaline junkie activity, it does carry risks. After all, you’re stepping out into the wilderness, which is anything but predictable.

Even if you’re embarking on an easy, well-trodden trail, things can quickly go awry. What if you set off too late and darkness falls before you’ve finished? What if someone rolls an ankle and can no longer walk? What if the weather unexpectedly closes in, meaning you lose your way?

As with all ‘what ifs’, these things may never happen. But they could do. And they could happen to you. That is why you should always carry the ‘10 Essentials’ on each and every hike. Although these won’t guarantee your safety, they could save your life if something goes wrong.

The 10 Essentials

The idea of the 10 Essentials was devised in 1974 by The Mountaineers, a climbing and mountaineering group based in Seattle. Since then the list has developed into 10 ‘systems’ rather than 10 individual items.

You need to bring items from each of these 10 systems on your hikes. Precisely what you bring depends on the nature of your hike. For instance, if you’re taking a short, well-marked trail, you might only need a map and compass. But if you’re striking out into the unknown, you will want a GPS too.

The 10 Essentials are –

Light

Having a source of illumination can make the difference between being able to finish a hike safely in the dark, and having to take shelter for the night. A head torch or flashlight (with spare batteries) will do the trick. Do not rely on your mobile/cell phone – the light is not sufficient and it uses up valuable battery.

Navigation

Take a map of the area and a compass – and know how to use them! You might also want to take a GPS unit. Again, do not rely on your mobile/cell phone as a means of navigation. Even if you have signal (which you might not), the maps do not provide enough information. What’s more, physical maps you can hold don’t require battery.

First aid kit

First aid kits can vary in scope. At the very least you should have scissors, bandages, plasters, blister kits, dressings, protective gloves and a SAM splint. Antiseptic solution and painkillers can also be useful, but make sure they are not past their expiry date. Also, remember to replace any items that you’ve used before heading out on the trails.

Sun protection

Being exposed to the elements all day can quickly lead to sun stroke and severe burns. Prevent this by taking, and frequently applying, high factor sun screen. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and wear clothing that covers your skin but still keeps you cool.

Tools

Situations may arise which necessitate the use of a tool. For instance, you might need to saw wood, build a shelter or open a tin of emergency food. A multi-tool such as a Leatherman or Victorinox Swiss army knife can perform most of these functions. Otherwise, a pocket knife with a strong, sharp blade will do.

Fire

If you need to stop for the night, a fire will keep warm. Unless you have excellent bushcraft skills, you’ll need a lighter or waterproof matches to ignite your kindling. A fire starter will also help to get things going.

Shelter

If you’re going on a day hike and something goes wrong, it could well turn into an overnight hike. This is a terrifying situation to be in, especially if you don’t have any shelter. So, be prepared and carry an emergency bivy bag or something similar. This will help you stay warm and dry.

Extra food

You may already be taking food on your hike, but you need to take extra supplies, over and above what you think you need. That way, if you end up being in the wilderness for more time than expected, you’ll still have something to eat. While Bear Grylls may be able to catch a fish with his bare hands, it’s not actually that easy – best just take more energy bars in case.

Extra water

The same goes for water. Being dehydrated can quickly lead to exhaustion, hypothermia and other issues. Along with taking your own supplies, check the potential water sources before you go, taking into account that they can run dry in warm weather. If you do refill while in the great outdoors, take a water purification system or tablets.

Extra clothes

Finally, take extra clothes. While it might be warm at the bottom of the trail, it can be significantly colder at the top, especially if you’ve worked up a sweat or fallen in water. And if you are outdoors when night falls, things can get very chilly, very quickly. A hat, gloves, jumper and down jacket will keep you snug.

Other things you must do

Along with carrying the 10 Essentials, you should also –

Carry a communications device – such as a fully charged mobile/cell phone in a waterproof case or bag. Know how to find your GPS coordinates on your phone. Of course, you cannot always depend on phone signal, so a personal locator beacon is also a good idea. Also, take a whistle so you can attract attention. It’s louder and more durable that your voice.

Tell someone where you’re going – give a friend, family member or colleague your trip plan. If you don’t return when you’re supposed to, they can raise the alarm. Because they know your general location, search and rescue teams will be able to focus their efforts on a specific area.

Wear the correct footwear – which means hiking boots with a good tread. Not trainers! Shoes that are not made for hiking will be much more slippery and have less ankle support, significantly increasing the chances of injury.

Wear the correct clothes – preferably you should have base layers which wick away moisture, with warmer layers to put on top, as and when needed. Cotton is not a good material for hiking because it absorbs moisture, making your clothes wet, heavy and cold.

Woman stands on rock in front of blue lake

La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX Hiking Boots

There comes a time in every hiker’s life when their boots begin to give up the ghost. Cracks appear in the heel, the sole begins to fray, and water finds its way into every nook and cranny. If you’re like me, you’ll limp along a bit longer than you should. Then you’ll relent and go shopping for new ones.

Trango TRK GTX hiking boot by La Sportiva

So it was that I found myself browsing the shelves of Mountain Equipment Co-op. I was adamant that I wanted a fancy pair of Scarpas, but quickly discovered they are far too wide for my narrow feet. I tried on boot after boot. Finally, after much exasperation from the sales assistant, my Cinderella moment came.

The Trango TRK GTX hiking boot by La Sportiva was the perfect fit.

The Trango TRK GTX hiking boot by La Sportiva

The Trango TRK GTX hiking boot by La Sportiva

I was a little deflated. Don’t get me wrong, La Sportiva is a great brand with quality products. But boy, these boots are a little loud for someone whose wardrobe consists entirely of neutral tones. I’d been hoping for Nubuck leather. Instead I’d got synthetic materials in an array of jazzy colours.

But you can’t be so shallow about such things. This was the only boot I could find designed for slim feet. They are Gore-Tex. They have a seriously robust sole. And, as the description on the MEC website says, they are ‘built for abuse’. They were the boots for me. As they say, it’s not all about looks.

The verdict

The following day I embarked on an overnight hike to Hanover Lake from Porteau Cove near Vancouver. Unfortunately, I have very delicate skin. The steep ascent led to Deeks Lake meant there was a lot of pressure on my heels, and soon the skin had worn away, leaving fresh, open blisters.

Woman walks across logs on Deeks Lake

Road testing new boots at Deeks Lake

But alas, I’ve had no trouble since. The boots were well and truly broken in by the time I got home from their maiden voyage, and now I have only positive things to say. I’ve thrown a lot at them – hot and dry terrain, wet and slippery conditions, torrential rain, creek crossings and the odd bit of scrambling. They’ve stood up to the test in all.

Particular plus points include the high ankle support, the solid rubber toe and heel rands, the traction on the sole, and their all-round flexibility. They are sturdy, without feeling like you have iron clamps stuck to your feet. And thus far, they have remained waterproof. Which is an absolute must.

In all, the Trango TRK GTX hiking boots by La Sportiva certainly meet the necessary tick boxes. However, if you are looking for hiking boots, remember that they must suit your feet too. Otherwise you’ll never be comfortable while on the trails. If you have narrow feet, I recommend you give these a whirl.

Woman looks across blue lake and Brunswick Mountain

2018 Round-Up

The New Year is a time for reflection – on both the good and the bad. But I always think it’s better to focus on the good, which is why I love to look back at my photos from the past year and remember all the great adventures that have been had. Here’s a run-down of my favourites from 2018.

January

Tofino. One of my favourite places ever. ‘Nuff said.

Beach sunset

Sunset on Chesterman’s Beach

February

Basking in the frozen glory of Lillooet.

Frozen river and mountain

The frozen Fraser River

March

Hitting up the powder in Whistler Blackcomb.

Man walks with snowboard along mountain ridge

Morning powder on Blackcomb Mountain

April

Hiking with my mum at Joffre Lakes.

Man and woman hike in the snow

Joffre Lakes in April

May

Accidentally stumbling upon the Jordan River point break.

Woman sits in from of beach fire

Camping at Jordan River

June

Rohr Lake – the first of many overnight hikes in 2018.

Tent pitched in front of lake

Backcountry camping at Rohr Lake

July

Exploring the Sunshine Coast Trail. Read more about my trip to the northern Sunshine Coast and my brief encounter with the Sunshine Coast Trail.

Woman sits in front of Confederation Lake hut

Cabin porn

August

Enjoying in the bucolic delights of Salt Spring Island. Heading there yourself? Take a look at my active guide to Salt Spring Island.

View from Mount Erskine

View from Mount Erskine

September

Hiking Black Tusk via Garibaldi Lake, just as the leaves start to turn. Stunning.

View of Garibaldi Lake from Black Tusk

View of Garibaldi Lake from Black Tusk

October

Going home to England means one thing – horse riding on the Mendips.

Horses ears with lake, gate and fields in the background

The Chew Valley from horseback

November

Hiking Mount Harvey on a crisp Autumn day. The views are something else.

Woman walks along mountain top

Hiking back down Mount Harvey

December

Christmas Day skiing at Cypress Mountain with our family away from home. I was having too much fun to take a photo, so here’s another shot taken from the top of the Sky Chair last season.

Sunset from Cypress Mountain

Sunset skiing on Cypress Mountain

It’s been a great year. Bring on 2019!

Man with Osprey backpack hikes through mountain meadow

My Favourite Kit of 2018

Here’s a run-down of my favourites kit purchases from this year* –

Osprey Sirrus 50 Backpack

After year of lugging round an impossibly heavy pack, I decided it was time for an upgrade. And the Osprey Sirrus 50 litre backpack came out trumps. Being on the petite side, this is one of the only bags I could find that actually fits my body size. The back can be adjusted to your torso length and the hip straps just about go tight enough for me – although only just.

There’s padding in all the right places, but the tensioned back panel ensures it’s still breathable. There are countless compartments, zippered pockets, loops and attachments – in fact, I’m still discovering some! At the bottom you’ll find an integrated rain cover neatly stashed away, providing protection during precipitation when needed. Oh, and being made of denier nylon means the whole thing is incredibly light.

The downsides? I could only get my hands on a plum coloured pack, which I don’t exactly dig.

The Osprey Sirrus 50 litre backpack – in plum!

Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini Lantern

I use this little lantern while on camping and hiking trips. I love that it can be recharged via a USB port or compatible solar panels. The USB cable neatly wraps around the device itself, ensuring it can never get lost. The dual LED light itself is dimmable and can you select to light just one side (allowing you to save on battery), or both sides. Because you can adjust the light as needed, I even use it at home as a bed-time reading lamp when my partner wants to sleep.

And what of the running time? The specification says that if you have both sides lit on full, it will last for four hours. However, if you keep one side lit on low, then run-time is 500+ hours. Other cool features include fold-down legs and built-in hooks and magnets, so you can stand it up, hang it up or mount it as you please! You can also charge other devices (like your phone) from the USB port.

The downsides? At 210 lumens it’s not overly bright, so it won’t light the way if you get stuck on the trails in the dark. Also it doesn’t pack down as small as a head torch, which might be an issue if space is tight.

The Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini Lantern

Exped Downmat Lite 5 M

As someone who feels the cold, I decided to progress from a foam sleeping mat to the Exped Downmat Lite 5 M. Weighing in at 683g and with a packed size of 26 x 13cm, I was a little hesitant. After all, there are more compact, more lightweight versions on the market. But boy is it comfy! It’s a decent length and width, and the air-filled cells run vertically, all of which works together to prevent you from rolling off. In fact, it cocoons you. The air cushions are thick and spread evenly, preventing any random cold spots. And with 650-fill duck down and an RV value of 4.1, this is a solid three-season sleeping mattress.

I’m always wary of popping the fabric on an untoward stone, but so far, the 75-denier fabric has proved durable enough. The duck down is less robust, meaning it is important not to inflate the mat with your breath, or it will fill with moisture. That is why the mat comes with a pump, as well as a handy repair kit.

The downsides? Inflating the mat with the hand pump can be a little trying after a long day, especially when you just want to flop into bed. There is a valve to deflate it, but again, you’ll need a bit of patience if you want to roll it tightly enough for the sack. Lastly, it is heavier and bulkier than other products available – but really, it is so comfortable, I think the extra weight is worth it.

Exped downmat lite 5m

The Deuce 2 Trowel

Being made of aluminium, this trowel by TheTentLab is strong but light. You can cut into tough, stony terrain without fear of it snapping, and you’ll be helped along by the serrated edges. This has been a really excellent addition to my backcountry hiking stash. Because you know, sometimes you gotta go!

The downsides? While seriously light at 17g, the Deuce 2 trowel doesn’t pack down any smaller. What you see is what you get.

The Deuce 2 trowel

Patagonia Women’s Houdini Jacket

Thank you, Patagonia, for my favourite ever windbreaker jacket. At 94g it is incredibly lightweight and the zippered chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack. So, you can scrunch it up until it magically transforms into an oversized jellybean. Hence the name, the Houdini Jacket.

The 100% nylon fabric is an effective wind block. That’s why I like to wear it running or cycling in inclement weather. I’ve also worn it over base layers while hiking. The specification says it has a durable water repellent coating, but I’ve found that any precipitation causes it to soak through. However, that’s not what it’s meant for, so I can’t include this as a criticism.

What’s more, this jacket comes in an XS (and goes up to an XL) and actually fits my 5’2’’ petite frame. Highly unusual! The drawcord hem, elastic cuffs and hood adjuster all ensure maximum snugness.

The downsides? My partner was so envious, he bought himself the men’s version. So now we match. Great.

Patagonia Women’s Houdini Jacket

See how it rolls up into a jelly bean!

*(Please note, these are entirely my own opinions and I have not been paid or sponsored to write any of the above).

View from Mount Erskine

An Active Guide to Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island is the largest of the Gulf Islands and is a firm favourite amongst those looking to escape the hubbub of the city. And with good reason. It’s just a short trip from either Vancouver Island or the Lower Mainland, but once you step off the ferry, island life quickly kicks in. There’s a decidedly laid-back vibe here, with arts, crafts and food being high on the list of priorities.

Food is a particular passion on Salt Spring, especially of the homegrown, artisan variety. Cheese, coffee, salt, meat, vegetables, baked goods, wine, ale and cider – it can all be found here in abundance. The plethora of markets, roadside stalls, farm shops and independent eateries ensure you can never go far without devouring something totally delectable. All locally grown and produced, of course.

But as I found out on a recent visit, Salt Spring Island also has a few treats in store for the outdoors enthusiast. So, here’s my active guide to Salt Spring Island.

Cycling

Salt Spring Island is a popular destination for those touring on two wheels. If you visit in the summer months, it won’t be long before you see a Lycra-clad cyclist lugging a pair of panniers up a hillside.

Upon telling a local that I, too, intended to cycle around the island, his eyes widened and a torrent a warnings quickly poured forth. It was too hilly, he said, and too dangerous. The roads don’t have separate cycle lanes and the drivers aren’t particularly accommodating.

Feeling a little deflated, I made my way to Salt Spring Adventure Company and made further enquiries. The staff allayed my fears, saying that while there are hills, you can always get off and push (or rent an e-bike). And yes, you do have to cycle in the hard shoulder, and yes, some of the roads are busy. However, if you are reasonably confident on a bike, and you stick to the quieter roads, you’ll be just fine. So, I rented a bike and off I went.

There are two recommended routes – the northern loop (approximately 35km) and the southern loop (approximately 50km). If you’re keen, you could do the whole thing.

I opted for the northern loop, heading out of Ganges on the Upper Ganges Road, skirting St. Mary’s Lake, peddling to the northern-most tip before heading back along Sunset Drive for a pit-stop at Vesuvius Café. There was one final hill to conquer before reaching Salt Spring Wild Cider, where it was time to relax in the apple orchards while quenching my thirst.

It cannot be denied that some of the hills are real thigh-burners. And some of the roads are unpleasantly busy. But on the whole, it’s a beautiful way to spend a day. The winding country lanes take you through pastoral landscapes where vines grow and cattle lazily munch. During August the hedgerows were bursting with blackberries, and there’s plenty of quaint cafes, farm shops and roadside stalls to keep you fuelled. If it all gets too much, you can always stop in one of the freshwater lakes for a swim.

Three friends sit at a table in an apple orchard

Enjoying a cider after a thigh-burning bike ride

Swimming

Unless it’s blistering hot outside, sea swimming probably won’t be high on the agenda. The waters surrounding Salt Spring Island are incredibly cold. The warmest waters are up by Vesuvius, but even those are frigid.

But never fear, there is a handful of freshwater lakes around the island, perfect for a dunk. St Mary’s Lake is by far the largest, with Cusheon Lake, Stowell Lake and Weston Lake being other options.

Pebble beach with logs on

Caution – the water is cold!

Hiking

Baynes Point is the highest point on Salt Spring Island. Standing at 602m, you won’t be scaling any mountains during your visit. Nevertheless, there are some great hikes to be had.

A favourite was the hike to Baynes Point from Burgoyne Bay. The steep, steady climb takes you through the heart of Mount Maxwell Provincial Park, one of the largest contiguous protected areas in the Gulf Islands. When you reach the lookout, you are rewarded with stunning views across the sea to Vancouver Island. You can actually drive to this point, but if you ask me, the rewards are greater if you arrive on two feet!

Another good hike is Mount Erskine. It’s not as long, but the walk through the forest is extremely peaceful, and the views are just as breathtaking (although the mill at Crofton, which can be seen across the water, is a bit of an eyesore!) If you have kids with you, they’ll also love the little fairy doors which are dotted throughout Mount Erskine Provincial Park.

View across the sea from Baynes Point

The view from Baynes Point, Salt Spring Island

Trail running

It often follows that where there’s good hiking, there’s also good trail running! Ruckle Provincial Park is particularly plentiful in that department. I was staying at the campsite, so followed the trail up to Yeo Point and back. There’s not much elevation and there are a few little beaches to stop at for a rest (and a swim, if you can brave the cold water).

Man balances on a log

Exploring at Yeo Point

Kayaking

Kayaking is another popular past-time on Salt Spring Island, although you do need to be wary of the ferry traffic. Kayaks can be rented from Salt Spring Adventure Company and they can offer some top tips on destinations to hit up. Or, you can always go on a guided tour.

I decided to paddle over the Chocolate Beach on Third Sister Island, which is a short jaunt from Ganges Harbour. With clear blue waters, a white crushed shell beach and a wooden swing hanging from an arbutus tree, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d landed on a tropical island.

Tree swing on Chocolate Beach

Chocolate Beach on Third Sister Island

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