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Monday, July 21, 2014

Behind the scenes look at what it takes to be the first family to travel the Spine Trail

We have officially begun our 4 year long journey to become the first family to travel the entire Vancouver Island Spine Trail, all 700 km of it.  It is an ambitious goal but one we hope will help bring awareness to the trail building efforts and inspire people to get out and enjoy parts of the trail that are already there.  Our plan is to tackle sections of the trail and travel by foot, bike, and canoe.  We may even horseback some of it but that requires horses, something we do not have. (No Liv, we are not getting a horse.)

A blog post/article about the trail and our intentions is set to be published Aug 1 so I will wait til then before I post it here. So instead, I thought I would share with you some photos from the first leg of our adventure.  So often, us outdoor bloggers get all caught up in showing off the highlights and amazing moments that happen while out on the trail.  Guilty as charged.  I am here to tell you that it is not all sunshine and lollipops, especially when adventuring as a family.  There are moments of fatigue, injuries, and the odd case of silliness.

I first want to mention that adventures do not always turn out the way they were planned.  This is part of the appeal of adventuring.  You have to be willing to expect the unexpected and this adventure was chalked full of them.  Our first adventure along the Spine Trail involved backpacking three trails that are now connected and part of the Spine Trail and trail run along one other.  

For those who wish to know what trails, they were the Tseshaht Runner's Trail, stage 3 of the Alberni Inlet Trail, the CNPR Historical Inlet Trail, and stage 1 of the Alberni Inlet Trail.  We traveled from Francis Lake to Port Alberni.

I knew the trails we were backpacking on were not as well used or maintained as the trails we were used to, which is part of the reason why we opted to tackle this lofty goal - To get more people aware of these trails and increase trail use.  Well folks, if  you want to check out these trails, now would be the time because we have cleared the path of overgrown bracken fern, salal, orange huckleberry and salmon berry bushes.  We now wear the term Trail Blazers proudly!

Now you see them, now you don't.

Joel clearing the trail with our measly 8 inch saw. We are now shopping for a machete.

Backpacking with kids requires a lot of effort from mom and dad to ensure the needs of the kids are taken care of.  We have learned to arm ourselves with plenty of food, proper gear, safety supplies, and trail activities to entertain them along the way.  Apparently our choice in trail clearing tools was not up to there standards. 

"Seriously? What am I going to do with this?" Liv asks.

They still managed to clear a few big trees out of the way with that nifty 8 inch saw.

Unlike any other adventure we have been on, this one resulted in the most scars, bug bites, and minor injuries.  We hope this will be as bad as it gets.  Knock on wood.  Regardless, we came out of it smiling and can joke about it all now.  It did however, open up the opportunity to talk to the kids about the what ifs.  What if dad had a more serious injury other than a sprained ankle?  What if he were unconscious? What would they do?  It was a great conversation and Ben and Liv learned some valuable outdoor skills on basic survival, rescue and first aid.

Darn thorns.  But we are thankful the trails were not overgrown with Himalayan blackberry bushes.

Repeated scratches makes for tender ankles. 

It takes grit and toughness to be the first family to travel the entire Spine Trail and our leader is fearless.  Sprained ankle has nothing on this guy. #followyourfeet #myKEENadventure

I would be lying if I said this adventure was a piece of cake.  Not only did we face miles of bushwhacking and minor injuries, but we also had to deal with scorching temperatures.  +30C everyday is not the type of weather we like for hiking.  That is when you go swimming in the river.  Hiking under the forest canopy kept us out of the hot sun but there were times when we had to hike around old cut blocks and on logging roads which meant no tree cover.  That drained our energy level fast.  

Taking a quick cat nap waiting for Dad to clear more trail.  Too tired to even swat away the mosquito's.
Don't worry, we still found time to swim in the +30C temps.  Francis Lake is amazing.

Let me be very clear.  This photo will lead to believe that Ben had an epic fall and the trail is dangerous.  I assure you that he did not get hurt, in fact, he is laughing during the whole stumble.  The kids like to play "mini man" when the trail gets steep. (Squat down and slide on two feet, bum slightly off ground, and gentle slide down the trail)  They never do this is there is a drop off or any other dangers on the trail.  Joel captured a series of photos of them sliding down the trail right when Ben's feet stopped sliding but his body kept going.  It was very slow motion and he decided it best to just fall forward and start mini man all over.  I will admit though, the photo looks very different.  This was followed with several re-enactments of the stumble. 

Mini man down!

There are a whole lot of skills, determination, toughness, and passion required to do what we do.  It takes effort to backpack as a family and is hard work.  We have to all be committed, trust each other and be willing to step into the unknown.  But the most important thing you need is silliness.  Silliness allows everyone to check out, take their mind off the heat, the tried legs, the endless walking and have some good old fashioned fun.

Trail side goofiness with some old cooking supplies from a log camp long gone.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

All weather adventures

As I write this post, it is a balmy +23C at 7:00 pm.  Typical summer weather for Vancouver Island, BC but that is not always the case.  In fact, just 4 days previous it was cloudy and rainy.  The temp was not terrible, hovering around +15C, but not the type of weather that has you jumping up and down as you head out the door for a hike. Yet here we were, heading out the door because the kids and I had arranged a group hike to Saddle Trail and Jewel Lake, a gorgeous hike that offers vistas of valleys, the Pacific Ocean, the Salish Sea, with Mt. Arrowsmith as a backdrop. (Highest Mountain on southern Vancouver Island) Sadly, I forgot to book the sunny weather.

Peek a boo view of the mountains surrounding Saddle Trail

Final approach to the saddle.

Adventuring in the rain is not new to us and now that I think about it, most of our summit hikes have been in the rain and offered no views.  You are probably asking yourself, then why go? I say, why not?  Hiking in the rain, without the views to distract you, make you see things you don't usually see.  Rain droplets on leaves, vibrant greens, shiny browns and stunning misty landscapes.  And how many times do you get the chance to play in the snow while it's raining? That alone is worth it. (Ben and Liv loved this)


There were 6 other hikers joining us on the hike this rainy day, and a few times it was asked why are we here? Obviously we all enjoy the outdoors and not one of us would have traded in the day for nothing else.  We all wanted to hike and share the experience with each other.  I mean, what else would we have done, clean the house? No thank you! 


Eat lunch over looking Jewel Lake (somewhere in there) or clean house?

I love our adventures in the rain.  When was the last time you stood out in the rain and just let yourself get wet?  I did, 4 days ago, and have many times in the past and will many times more.  Just a few weeks ago we got caught in a shower while biking.  Ben loved riding thru the puddles.  I quickly learned to keep my distance if I didn't want mud in my face.  Liv was not a fan of biking in the rain but hey, she didn't give it two thumbs down!



No matter the weather, if we have an adventure planned we go.  I call it All Weather Adventures.  And if you asked the state of my house, I will happily admit it is long overdue for a good cleaning and I am OK with that!


I leave you with a few parting shots of some of our other All Weather Adventures.


Rainy day summit of Mt. Benson
Visiting the fairy homes on Mt. Erskine (Salt Spring Island).  Gnome one home.
Misty landscape of Mt. Maxwell.


Trail info:

Other than the mentioned scenery, the great thing about this trail is the distance and level of difficulty.  3km will get you to the Saddle Pass and another 1/2 km or so will get you down to Jewel Lake.  Elevation change from trail head to saddle is about 450m with a few steep sections but nothing that would rank this more than moderate in difficulty. It is a great day hike that makes you feel like you have ventured deep into the wild. 

For more directions and a peek at the stunning scenery this hike offers, I recommend you visit Lorne Collicutt's blog.  Great photos and write up that will tempt you to go see it for yourself.  That's what happened to me!

Monday, June 30, 2014

8 reasons why Yangshuo, China felt like home

No matter where we go - day trip, weekend excursion, or month long trip to somewhere in the world - outdoor adventure, travel, and experiencing local life is always a part of the journey.  We are lucky to call Vancouver Island, BC, Canada home, arguably the best place in Canada to live when it comes to enjoying a wide range of outdoor pursuits with a diverse selection of landscapes and lifestyles.  It is because of where we live we are are able to incorporate our passion for outdoors, travel, and experiencing new things into our regular daily lives.

Travelling to China as a family was a first for us all.  I have written several blog posts about the experience but have been saving the best for last. The cultural experiences we encountered along the way were life changing and walking along the Great Wall of China, appreciating the history, was surreal.  Then there was big cities, the food, the reason why we chose to travel to China and how we prepared for the trip.  But it was our stay in Yangshuo, the northeast part of the Guangxi province, where we felt most at home. We found life here to to be very similar to our life way back in Canada.  Sure, there were differences but the fundamental connection to nature, outdoor recreation, and way of life was the same.  I felt at home and comfortable in Yangshuo.  


Here’s why:

1. Lifestyle - Vancouver Island is very laid-back.  Traffic jams are timed with ferry arrivals only, more likely to happen upon wildlife walking home than a person, and people are happy just doing what they love to do.  I found this to be true of Yangshuo locals.  No one rushed around.  Yes, there was traffic constantly, but it moved in one continuous speed.  Parks were full of elders playing cards, crochet or participating in aerobics.  Toddlers were running around playing happily.  Street vendors were busy setting up their produce to sell for the day, never missing to smile and say Ni Hoa to everyone that passed by. 


2. Quiet country roads - The island is not blessed with well paved roads and wide shoulders like Alberta, for example, but there are plenty of quiet roads that wind, weave, and climb through the landscape.  Yangshuo was similar.  The roads in town were busy with bumper to bumper traffic (always moving) but travel to a neighbouring village and we were pretty much the only motorized vehicle.  We chose to tour the countryside on scooters.  Never have I driven a scooter, let alone with a child on board.  Locals ride these things with babies strapped on their back, cargo hanging every which way, and sometimes with 4 people! Surely I could drive one! I did, but it was not quite as smooth or graceful.  Neither Ben nor Liv wanted to ride with me.  Maybe Dad should have taken them both! Just thinking of this now.  Darn. 


3. Agriculture - Local food is easy to come by on Vancouver Island.  Produce, fish, meat, poultry, cheese, wine… you name it, Vancouver Island grows, produces, or makes it! I can drive to work and just about do my grocery shopping at local farms.  Yangshuo takes this to a whole new level.  Aside from the produce growing on any patch of soil that is to be found, the area is a major producer of kumquats and mandarins. The countryside hills are completely covered with kumquat farms. Streets are lined with vendors selling a wide variety of produce. Diversity in the types of food present with the Li river and Yulong River providing fish. Complimenting the fish are chicken and pig farmers.  Highlight of our agricultural experience in Yangshuo was visiting the Seven Star Tea Plantation and the Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces in neighbouring Longsheng.  What we took away from visiting these areas was the stunning landscapes used to grow the tea and rice. 


4. Grocery Shopping - You may be asking how grocery shopping in China made me feel like I was home? The answer is that we did in fact grocery shop, just like we do at home.  Whether it is somewhere local or across the world, going about day to day tasks allows you become a part of the region you are exploring.  Liv and I took this to a whole new level by taking a cooking class in Yahgshuo.  We were able to grocery shop in local markets, buying our ingredients fresh, and then spent an afternoon learning how to cook authentic Yangshuo dishes.  So yummy, so fun!

 Check out a little video from our cooking day: Yangshuo Cooking School Video 

5. Cycle - With moderate temperatures thoughout the winter, cycling is a year round sport on Vancouver Island.  In Yangshuo, it's also is a year round activity but the focus is transportation, not recreation.  Now, we have not done much cycling as a family.  We own mt. bikes but do take a bike pack trip once a year that could be viewed as cycling. It usually involves riding quiet country roads on the small islands that surround Vancouver Island.  In Yangshuo, we did what the locals do.  Hopped on some bikes and rode through the city and countryside.  Riding the busy streets was a challenge but somehow it worked out.  We rode through a busy traffic circle, down busy freeways, and through crowded streets.  Once we hit the countryside, we considered ourselves pros.  Cycling through the countryside showed us how locals live.  They are hard working people, either farming or building, and live in modest multi dwelling structures.  The experience of cycling the countryside was a learning experience not only for me, but for Ben and Liv as well.  It’s one thing to read about how different living in another country is, but to see it with your own two eyes is powerful.  


6. Caving - Vancouver Island Vancouver Island is so rich in caves, with more than 1,000 recorded, that it is sometimes referred to as the "Island of Caves”.  A few years ago we began caving and are members of the VI Cave Exploration Group.  The caves here require you to be geared from head to toe in water and dirt proof clothing, rubber boots, gloves, helmets, and wear headlamps complete with back up batteries.  A spare light source is recommended and if venturing deep in to the darkness, it is a good idea to have ropes, harnesses, and training on how to ascend and descend.  Ben and Liv are huge fans of caving and were pretty excited to get the chance to explore a cave in Yangshuo.  Unfortunately, the cave experience was not what we thought.  Instead of crawling into darkness, we walked on paved sidewalks and admired the cave formations enhanced with multi coloured lights.  Music was playing and we even passed by a couple snack booths and a gift shop while in the cave! Not quite what we were looking for.  Ben and Liv were not impressed, to say the least.  We did however, see amazing cave formations and the sheer size of the cave was impressive. 


7. Mt. Biking - Vancouver Island is home to some of the worlds best single track bike trails.  Expectations of mt. biking in Yangshuo was not high but the fact Joel and Ben could rent some decent mt. bikes and ride some dirt trails in the hills was worth it.  Bike Asia set them all up for a day of riding.  The owner drew a map for them and shared his local knowledge on where to ride.  Through bamboo forests, over hills, and on farmers paths they rode.  After a long day of riding, they came back with huge smiles on their faces.  This is exactly how they return from a ride back home.  Some things never change no matter where you are. 

8. Rock Climbing - Climbing is our newest outdoor pursuit.  We have plenty of outdoor climbing under our belts and Ben and Liv are huge fans of climbing.  We knew ahead of time that we could rock climb in Yangshuo and that was one of the reasons why we chose to travel there while in China.  Thank god it turned out to be what we were expecting and not the cave experience we had.  It was true outdoor rock climbing on a spectacular rock face in a stunning location.  I learned here that language barriers quickly disappear when enjoying common outdoor pursuits.  Not a single word of English was spoken to us and our Mandarin was not understood but it made no difference.  We were able to communicated with our guides beautifully.  I truly felt at home.



Complete photo gallery: Yangshuo, China

Monday, June 16, 2014

Get your paddle on! Why I love to kayak.

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, Vancouver Island is heaven.  The list of outdoor activities one can enjoy, anytime of the year, is endless.  It comes as no surprise that kayaking is one of those activities, being an island and all, with some of the best fresh water lakes in all of BC, numerous rivers and the ocean of course.  Kayaking is a sport that is sought out by many and in a wide variety of ways: Recreational, competitive, adventure, and leisure.  I would not consider us to be advanced kayakers but we are certainly not beginners.  Every summer for the past 7 years, we manage to squeeze in a few kayak adventures as a family.   Every time we do kayak, I ask myself why we don't make it a regular part of our outdoor adventures?  Reality is, the only thing holding us back from doing so is having our own kayaks.  So, until we make that commitment, renting or borrowing kayaks will have to do for now. (Thanks Sealegs Kayaking)


Kayaking is a great outdoor activity for so many reasons.  Great exercise, suitable for all ages and experience, is fun, and gets you out on the water.  All reasons we kayak as a family but there are three special reasons why we seek out kayak adventures.

Paddling any floating object involves rhythm and pattern.  I find paddling very therapeutic and calming.  The motion of the paddle moving through the water, the sounds of water splashing the hull of the kayak, and feeling yourself glide over the water releases all the stress that has built up.  Slowly the mind shifts from life's responsibilities to enjoying the people I am with and the gorgeous scenery around me.


One of the passions behind our outdoor adventures is enjoying the natural settings that are around us.  Ocean kayaking lets us get a bit closer to marine life, something land adventures can't offer us. Paddling allows us to move quietly in the water and often we can get close to seals and sea lions.  Eagles and blue heron are a bit more tolerant of our presence and allow us to watch them go about their daily life.  In shallow water we see shell fish, marine plants and small fish in their natural setting, not washed up on shore.  Kayaking always reconnects me with nature and the ocean.

The best thing about kayaking is seeing the landscapes we are familiar with in a unique and different way.  Usually we are standing on the shore looking out but in a kayak, you look back at the shore and see hills behind the shore, mountains behind the hills, and blue skies dotted with white clouds behind the mountains.  Little scattered islands begin to take shape.  Waves are not sparkles far off in the distance, they are rolling under you.  Suddenly I feel my presence and realize just how small I am and how big the earth is.


Those are my reasons why I love kayaking and I bet you have your reasons as well.  Whatever the reasons are, kayaking is fun, it is a great activity for the whole family, and it is a great workout.  If anyone has tips on how to deal with numb, jello, wobbly legs when exiting the kayak, I would love to hear them.  So far, stumbling around in ankle deep water and falling over is not quite working.  The price we all pay for being tall.

Photo gallery on Flickr

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Sunshine Coast Trail - A trail worth celebrating!

June 7, 2014 is International Trails Day!  An annual celebration of trails to promote trail development, the use of trails and the healthy lifestyle they encourage. 

This year, I thought I would feature a trail that is the perfect poster trail for what the day represents.  The Sunshine Coast Trail is a 180-kilometre trail that stretches from Sarah Point in Desolation Sound to Saltery Bay near Powell River, BC, Canada.  It is Canada's longest hut to hut hiking trail with 12 beautiful huts strategically placed for public use and part of the National Hiking Trail of Canada.  The Sunshine Coast Trail (SCT) traverses a wide variety of landscapes, from coastal shorelines, along creeks and lakes, through old growth forests to panoramic mountaintops. It provides hikers with the opportunity to experience Powell River’s breathtaking backcountry with its rich fauna and flora.  


In May, my family and I headed to Powell River, BC from Vancouver Island looking for adventure.  We had 4 days to burn and were intrigued by the trails history.  Specifically the trail development.  Without going into too much detail, the Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association is in the progress of completing a 700km long trail on Vancouver Island.  We have a vested interest in such a trail here on Vancouver Island and felt to better educate ourselves on what a long haul trail looks like or can offer, we best try it out ourselves.  We did just that by spending 4 days and 3 nights backpacking along the SCT. What began in 1992 with a few hard working dedicated outdoor enthusiasts looking to expand a trail by a few kilometers has turned into the formation of the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society.  This lead to an idea of connecting existing trails and creating new trails to form one trail.  Sometimes ideas have a way of growing! Today, 22 years later, the SCT boasts 12 backcountry huts, 700 wooden signs, 12,000 trail markers, plenty of campsites, trail bridges, trail side benches, outhouses, and spectacular views.  This trail has demonstrated how successful trail development can be.  I applaud those who had a part in creating this wonderful wilderness trail.


Not only does the SCT deliver on trail development, it also delivers on use of trail.  I foresee us adventuring here again in the near future in a variety of different ways.  The SCT was well thought out and offers numerous access points along the entire 180km trail.  This is great because it allows trail users to access the trail for day hikes or multi day hiking without committing to the entire 180 kms.  If people are going to use a trail, it needs to be inclusive to as many outdoor users as possible.  Like swimming for instance.  I know my crew loves jumping in and that they did! The SCT has significant elevation gain so winter activities like snowshoeing keep the trails and huts alive through the snowy months.  Trail running, bird watching, geocaching, and photography are more activities that are enjoyed on this wonderful trail.  And if that was not enough for you, there is even a paddle route that shares use of campsites with the SCT.  The Powell Forest Canoe Route is 57km in length including 8 lakes and 5 portages.  We can't wait to get paddling here.


I know that trail use encourages a healthy lifestyle and I'm sure you do as well.  But did you know (Canada stats) that active lifestyles can reduce health care costs.  In fact, 2.5% of health care costs are attributed to physical inability!  I was shocked when I first learned that statistic and I can tell you, based on our experience on the SCT that the trail is encouraging a healthy lifestyle for the residents of Powell River, for example.  Of course we came across other fellow backpackers, some local but most visiting from other areas.  That was expected.  Encouraging was meeting three separate Powell River families who entered the trail from different access points specifically as a way to be active.  Two families were day hiking and the intent was to get out as a family and enjoy the trails.  One family even shared their summer goal of hiking the entire trail.  They were most intrigued with our ability to backpack and would not be surprised if they attempt to tackle some of the trail this way as well.  Good luck to them!  The other family, also intrigued with us backpacking with Ben and Liv (9&7), were just out for the day enjoying the trail and plan to do more of the same as a way to stay active.  The third family we met up with at the Manzanita Hut (16km point on the SCT).  They hiked in from Malaspina Road, a short but uphill climb access trail, and enjoyed one night taking in the scenic views that Manzanita Bluffs amaze you with.  Backpacking was not quite their style.  They painstakingly hauled up heavy camp gear, an electric mattress pump (useless), milk jugs of water, beer, a box of wine, a Smore's making kit, and a fun spirited attitude.  Hats off to their dedication and perseverance in taking on this challenge.  A challenge I am sure they will continue with on the SCT, less the electric mattress pump I hope.

After reading this, take a moment to think about how trails impact your life.  Now, get out off your computer/device and get out on the trails and celebrate them with those you love! Happy Trails!



Saturday, May 24, 2014

Adventure Chat with Kids - Backpacking

Backpacking is hands down my favorite outdoor adventure pursuit.  There is something about following a rough trail through a forest,  traveling along a beach, or scrambling up a slope that never gets old.  Moving with one's own power, stumbling across beautiful scenery and watching wildlife, no matter their size, in their natural setting fills my heart and soul.  It is also my favorite because of who I backpack with.



Backpacking as a family is our norm: hubby, two kids and me.  In fact, prior to having kids, my husband Joel and I only backpacked one time.  Plenty of car camping in remote areas but only one backpack trip.  Maybe that's why backpacking is so special for me.  My kids have been with me every step of the way, experiencing it all for the first time together.  I have been able to grow with my children.  The memories being made are not their first but rather our first. Roughing it in the back country has solidified our family bond.  Together we have built trust, shared joy, faced fears, and endured wet feet and hungry stomach's.  I have watched Ben and Liv handle situations outside their comfort zone beautifully.  They have watched Joel and I do the same.  I have also watched them struggle, encouraging them to rise to the challenge.  They have returned the favor.  I can't even describe how powerful and rewarding it is to walk off the trail after 3 or 4 days and high five my little adventurers.  Perhaps that is why I have very little blog posts about our adventures backpacking as a family.  I can't put it into words.  My words don't do it justice so instead I will share their words on our most recent backpacking trip.  

One day after our 4 day/3 night backpack trip along the Sunshine Coast Trail (near Powell River, BC, Canada) I sat down with the kids and got their take on the experience.

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Let's start off with food.  It is a huge part of our adventures so, on our last backpacking trip what was your favorite thing we ate?

Liv - The strawberry cheesecake.
Ben - Bacon and eggs.

Yumm...I agree. The Backpackers Pantry dehydrated Strawberry Cheesecake with graham crumbs sprinkled on top was pretty tasty.  But, it is pretty hard to beat bacon and eggs.  The liquid eggs from "eggcreations" with real crumbled bacon bits is one of our staple backpacking breakfasts for sure.  

Lets move on to camp chores.  When we arrive to camp, mom and dad are pretty busy getting everything all set up.  You are both great at helping out.  Can you think back to what it was you both did to contribute to camp life?


Liv - I set up the tent, put all my stuff out, and made my pillow.

How did you make a pillow?

Liv - Stuffing my sleeping bag bag with clothes.  

Anything else?

Liv - I always pack my stuff back up.  Sleeping bag and clothes.  And I snap together our plates before eating.  I like doing that.

Thank you for always being so helpful.  Ben? What did you do to contribute to camp life?

Ben - I pack my stuff up when we get ready to leave.  Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and clothes.  I did the dishes, made a table to eat at, and collected water.


Thank you Ben.  We appreciate your help.  I know that backpacking is not always easy.  It is hard work trekking up and down hills with heavy packs.  Your feet hurt.  You get hot.  The bugs can be annoying.  What did you like least about our last backpack trip?

Liv - That we had to sleep in tents.  It's uncomfortable. So rocky and bumpy.  

Do you need a new mattress?

Liv - Yes, a puffier one!

Are you going to carry it?

Liv - How?

In your backpack?

Liv - I need a bigger backpack!

Ahhh, got it.  Well, if that will help with your uncomfortable sleeps then we will get you a bigger backpack. (guess she is ready to fill my shoes)



Liv - Thank you.

Ben - I don't like carrying the huge pack.

Do you want to trade with Liv?

Ben - No, I won my backpack in a video contest.  I just wish it was not so heavy.

I know.  But the pain is worth the gain in the end, right?

Ben - Yes.  And I like having all my stuff with me.  I like reading my books and carving with my knife.

Now that I know all the things you do not like about backpacking, lets hear the things you like.  Mom and dad like backpacking as a way to escape our busy schedules, connect as a family, and take in the beautiful natural settings like the ones we saw along the Sunshine Coast Trail.  What did you like most?

Ben - That we got to go on a vacation.  I liked everything.

Liv -  I like the wildlife, the huts, and everything.

I loved watching the Orca's pass by while we were eating breakfast at Feather Cove.  And what about the crazy water taxi dismount we had to do at Sarah's Point? That was fun. Crashing waves, boat rocking, and nothing but steep rocks! Oh, and how could you not like the plastic toilet with no doors or walls!  

Liv - I did not like that! You think they could give some privacy while going to the bathroom! Gheesh!

Some outdoor facilities on the sunshine coast trail resemble this toilet.  Photo courtesy of SaskParks.net

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More blog posts on backpacking the Sunshine Coast Trail to come.  Thanks!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Stepping into a dark but beautiful adventure - Night Hiking

There are so many ways to experience the diversity of our natural surroundings and find wonder through outdoor adventure. Night hiking is a unique way to explore forests, to observe from a different perspective and to marvel at the power of nature.  To be quite honest, I had never considered night hiking before.  The idea only came to mind when I happened upon a Facebook group of hikers who were planning a night hike on Mt. Prevost. Instantly I was intrigued.  A few Facebook conversations on the “TAKE A HIKE Vancouver Island” group with Rick, the outdoor guru heading up the adventure, confirmed that we needed to be a part of this amazing outdoor experience.

The part of night hiking that excited me the most was a chance to encounter the nocturnal animals that live in the forest. A beam of light into the thick forest could expose the beady eyes of raccoons, owls, moles, and bats that we rarely see during our daytime adventures. Perhaps even something bigger could be staring back at us. (No eyes were seen but that would have certainly added some adrenaline to the hike.) Night hiking significantly decreases normal vision.  To compensate for that, other senses like smell and sound increase.  Exposure to new wonder and amazement is experienced when hiking through the dark forest.  This and exploring a new area (to us) was enough to fuel my outdoor passion but there is more.  Timing for the night hike was planned in January during the full moon, which adds a mix of shadows and a spooky element.  As if that was not enough, how about throwing in the weather phenomenon known as an inversion.  It was all these factors coming together that made our first night hike experience unforgettable.

Beautiful shot captured by Lisa Bronson showing the blanket of cloud covering the entire Cowichan Valley.  Absolutely stunning.

That night a combination of warm air aloft and cold air sticking to the ground created a blanket of fog covering the entire Cowichan Valley.  A short uphill jaunt from the parking lot on Mt. Prevost to the first peak unveiled a spectacular sight.  Above us the night sky was clear, the moon was bright and the air was warm. Standing beside the stone monument and looking down across the fog landscape was a sight like no other. Mountains like Tzouhalem, Maxwell, and Maple, normally prominent sights appeared to be little islands amongst a vast fluffy ocean.  Lights below the fog glowed up through the clouds adding a splash of color across the white canvas.  There were seven adults on the night hike and every single one of us stood there in amazement and wonder.  Ben and Liv were quick to realize that this was something special, stopping to take notice and appreciate the view as well.  Never had any of us seen such a magical sight.

Ben standing beside the stone monument, lite up with headlamps, on the first peak of Mt. Prevost.

From the first peak we headed towards two more peaks on Mt. Prevost where views of Copper Canyon, which was completely swallowed up by the fog, reignited our wonder once again.  Our night hike continued on through forest trails that eventually lead us back to the parking lot.  There was a bit of bushwhacking along the way, which is always fun, especially in the dark.  The final touch to the evening was walking underneath a mini waterfall that thankfully, did not have much water flow to it.

We have always taken precautions on our day hikes and backpacking trips, should we ever get delayed or are forced to hike at night, by carrying flashlights and a long shirt or extra jacket.  Love that now we can add night hiking to our arsenal of outdoor adventuring activities.  Night hiking is not at all scary or unsafe; in fact, just a few helpful tips will ensure an enjoyable hike.  Scout out the trail ahead of time.  A trail that is familiar is best and if possible, flag the intended route out ahead of time.  Some public trails may only be open from dawn to dusk.  Check regulations ahead of time and respect the rules.  Night hike in a group, never solo.  Avoid hiking along steep cliffs, crossing water, or straying from the group.  Pack flashlights, headlamps, glow sticks, extra flashlights, and back up batteries.  Allow for more time on the trail at night than during the day.  Following these simple tips will put everyone's mind at ease and make the night hike more enjoyable.

Photo courtesy of Rick Bronson and a big thanks to him and the rest of the group for a wonderful outdoor experience.

My sincere thanks go out to Rick, Lisa, Paul and Tonya for welcoming my family and me to the hike with open arms.  It was very special to have Ben and Liv treated as part of the group and everyone took the time to chat with them.  Sometimes more than what was required.  Thank you.