Thursday, January 28, 2016

Trail Spotlight - Bald Mountain near Lake Cowichan, BC, Vancouver Island

So many trails, so little time. I learn of new trails on Vancouver Island faster than I can cross them off my list. What I love even more is the diverse network of trails. Something for every level of hiker, trail runner, or mountain biker. Whether you are looking for an afternoon stroll thru the forest, a full day exploring trails, bike trails to shred, something to test your mountaineering skills or multi day treks, Vancouver Island has what you are looking for.

To help guide you through the endless trails to choose from, I am putting together a collection of trails I consider OTBP worthy.

First up - Bald Mountain Park near Lake Cowichan, Vancouver Island, BC

Trail use: Hiking and Trail Running

Description: Variety of trails to hike/trail run and consider level of difficulty to be moderate due to the gentle switchbacks that have you climbing close to the beginning. An easy option would be the Wetland Loop, a well groomed path with little elevation. Switchbacks steady but not steep on a mix of groomed trail, old road, rocky paths, mossy bluffs, and a technical trail [roots and exposed bluffs] starting about 2/3 of the way up to the summit. A variety of trails to hike or trail run pending your needs. Stroll along the Wetland Loop, go all the way to the summit, take the summit connector to Plateau Trail loop, or explore further from the summit.

Directions: From Hwy 1, head west on Hwy 19 to Lake Cowichan and when approaching the town stay right (North Shore Road) towards Youbou. Turn south on Meades Creek road and turn west on Marble Bay road.  Parking lot trail head on right hand side.

Maps: A couple maps to checkout. Signage along the CVRD trail map easy to follow. The Cowichan Lake District map offers some more options that would not be clearly marked with signs (and likely an out dated map). There was blue flagging tape [Jan 2016] that accompanied these trails. Gives option to those who wish to explore further.

Our trip report: The four of us hiked to the summit of Bald Mountain. Hiking distance 11km and just shy of 3 hours hiking time. Plenty of extra stops for taking in the view and snack breaks. Bald Mountain 611m in elevation and we gained a total of 885m while hiking. I plan on heading back to trail run this trail.  Hill climbing anyone? I love a challenge.

Highlights of the hike: The switchbacks were fun to hike.  Cuts down on the steepness of the climb and offers a neat perspective on the landscape as you see fellow hikers above and below you.

Last summer we canoed 30 km across Lake Cowichan so to see part of the lake from a high vantage point was rewarding.  The lake view is mainly the Youbou Arm and Honeymoon Bay but enough for Ben and Liv to be in awe with how big the lake is and that we traveled across it in a canoe. Favorite part of the trail would have to be the section about 2/3 of the way up.  Trail here leads across a rocky slope, around a bluff and up through a more technical treed trail.

Things to pack: It is good practice to always pack to be prepared, even on day hikes. The basics are small and can easily be kept in your pack.  Our basics include backpacks, water [plenty if hiking/running in summer...it will be hot], snacks [we seem to eat often], jacket, extra long sleeve layer, proper footwear [KEEN's work well], cameras, backup batteries, cell phone, GPS [if gadgets are your thing], headlamp or flashlight [and extra batteries], emergency blanket, army knife, whistle, matches and firestarter, toilet paper, plastic bag for garbage [pack out what you pack in ALWAYS], medicine [Benadryl, Tylenol, Ibuprofen] and first aid kit.  Even the smallest of cuts are easily fixed with a band-aid.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Why China? Stepping off of the quiet, wild trails and onto the busy, populated streets of China. #throwbackthursday Repost

** Original post published Jan 2, 2014

How an Outdoor Adventure family chose to step off the quiet, wild trails of Vancouver Island and onto the busy, populated streets of China!

The first question asked by family and friends when they learned of our travel plans over the holiday season was "Why China?"  Most did not consider backpacking across a country with two children, aged 8 & 6, to be a holiday.  So, before I begin blogging about our family travel adventures to China, I figured I would start by answering this question and provide some background information, relating to world travel, about our family.  

Quick family history - we are as Canadian as you get.  Born and raised.  We love bacon with everything, enjoy maple syrup so much we tap maples, and live in an igloo…just kidding on the last one.  Family roots consist of German, Ukrainian, and possibly Russian.  This is verified by our addiction to bratwurst, perogies, and vodka.  My world travel history consists of Hawaii, Las Vegas, Green Bay, Mexico, and Australia.  Joel has traveled to Mexico, Reno, San Francisco, and Green Bay.  Ben and Liv have been to BC and Alberta.  We are hardly experienced world travelers.

Usual travel destinations - When planning vacations before and after having kids, Canada destinations were always our first choice.  Big country to explore with so much beauty.  When living in Alberta, BC was our destination.  We explored and played in the Rockies and Central/Northern Alberta regularly.  Even our honeymoon was in Canada… New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI.

So…why China? Why did we choose China as our first world family travel destination? There are four reason why.

1. Ben and Liv went to a Montessori pre-school.  During their time there they learned about the continents through daily activities;  puzzles, journals, and coloring maps of the world.  Ever since, Ben and Liv have identified the continents based on the colors that were used when colouring the world.  Yellow was Asia and Liv, from very early on, would always ask if we could go to Asia.  (I wanted to throw a dart at a map)

2. In the summer of 2011, when the kids were 6 & 4, we backpacked across Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).  Haida Gwaii is an archipelago on the North Coast of British Columbia, Canada about 750km north of Vancouver and Vancouver Island.  From Nanaimo we hopped on a bus to Port Hardy (North Island) on day 1.  Day 2 we sailed the inside passage from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert (16 hrs) and on Day 3 we sailed from Prince Rupert to Queen Charlotte City on Haida Gwaii (5 hrs).  When we finally arrived there, 3 days later, we joked that in three days we could have travelled anywhere in the world, even China!

3. Affordability.  Cost played a key role in why we chose China as our travel destination.  Flights to Europe or South American were more than double in price vs flights to China.  Direct flights and fantastic seat sale prices from Vancouver to Shanghai were attractive and ultimately sealed the deal.  Once in China, the cost of travel (hostels, food, transportation) is cheap. Traveling as a family of four can be expensive but everything we researched showed that keeping travel costs down was possible in China.

4. As with everything we do re: outdoor adventure, world family travel needed to be a challenge and we needed to come away learning something about ourselves or about the experience.  We wanted an adventure.  It was important that we experience a different culture.  Traveling to China allowed us to step outside our comfort zone, so far outside we can't even see the comfort zone! The language barrier would be a challenge, becoming accustomed to culture differences would be a challenge, and simple tasks like buying/eating food would be a challenge.  We love a good challenge.

And that's how we came up with China.

The Complete Blog Series:

How Outdoor Adventure prepared our family for World Travel

Adventure Food of the Day in China

Beijing, China - Our Cultural Experience

Shanghai, China - Big City Adventures 

8 reasons why Yangshou China felt like home

Photo Gallery:

Adventurous Eating in China

Beijing, China 

Shanghai, China 

Yangshou, China

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Putting kids behind the lens - A hiking photography adventure

A while ago I  posted a blog in my series Adventure Chat with Kids about pet peeves. It was a lighthearted chat that had Ben and Liv share some of their pet peeves about adventuring with mom and dad. One thing they both mentioned was the crazy amount of photos we take.  Fair enough but I was honest with them and stated that taking photographs while adventuring will always be a part of what I do. My advice to them - When in Rome...

Slowly Ben and Liv have taken interest in photography and on this particular adventure day, they both were proactive in their desire to take charge of both the camera equipment and photography for the day. I fully embraced their determination and was looking forward to seeing the two very different and unique perspectives they would create in their photographs. It was a tough day to take on photography given the grey clouds, misty weather and dark coastal forest we were hiking in, but they gave it their all.

I was surprised to see that they both captured some pretty amazing shots using aperture. Ben did a great job experimenting with aperture, describing what it was he wanted and ending up capturing the images he intended to catch. Four of his fabulous creations are below.

Liv had a few great aperture shots as well but it was her scene composition and capturing moments of Ben or Ben and I that expresses her style perfectly. She is a story teller and the four shots below certainly tell a story.

Today, I found myself standing around waiting for the two of them to finish taking their shots. Which I secretly loved.  No better time to play a bit myself.  With the dark dreary day, landscape shots were a no go. Not my area of expertise at the best of times so I used the opportunity to capture what I know and love best, Ben and Liv.

Five Tips for Getting Kids Comfortable Behind the Lens

- Support camera use.  Let them take photos when they ask. Give them use of an old camera or trust them with one you currently use.

- Show them some camera features. A quick review of how the camera works and settings to use. Start with the basics like auto focus and zoom. Then move to aperture and shutter speeds.

- Encourage different perspectives. Demonstrate getting low and using different angles. Point out lighting, composition and have them find interesting to them objects to take photos of. Photography is just another form of art.

- Teach them how to hold a camera. Strap around neck, keep fingers out of frame, hold steady with two hands, and rest elbows on knees for added support.

- Allow experimenting. Their photos do not need to be like your photos. They can be blurry or of way too many rocks but if it inspires them to continue taking photographs then keep on letting them experiment.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Snorkel with the Salmon - a Pacific North West Coast Experience

It was a balmy 17C alongside the Nanaimo River.  The warm temps, blue skies and a bright shining sun resembled a typical summer day only difference was, today was October 15.  I was standing alongside the river with an adventurous girlfriend who was looking to check off a bucket list activity - snorkel with the salmon.  A few years ago my family tried snorkeling with the salmon for the first time at this very same spot on the Nanaimo River.  It was a modest experience (not many salmon that year) so I jumped at the chance to give it another whirl.

The quick low down on what is required for snorkeling in rivers late in the year: a dry wet suit complete with booties, gloves, and hood; snorkel and mask; and an adventurous spirit.  It is also a good idea to be river smart.  Keep away from large rocks, overhanging trees or log jams and swim in conditions within your ability. Having a snorkel buddy a good idea as well.

What makes the Nanaimo River great for river swimming in general is the slow current throughout the summer months and shallow areas. Seems this combination is what salmon find ideal as well. The location I had picked out had a rocky bluff beside the river perfect for gearing up and allowed easy access in and out of the river. The location also has a large pool, what locals refer to as deep hole, so it allowed us to easily swim around without worrying about the current.  It is rather deep so viewing the salmon not ideal.  Best to walk up stream and gently float back down to the deep hole.

As the two of us walked up stream, looking like some sort of river creatures ourselves all donned in slick black wet suits, signs of the salmon run was evident.  Salmon carcasses, likely Coho, were littered all along the river bank.  The salmon’s life cycle is a great one.  Born in rivers, salmon grow for a year or so and then venture out far into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of British Columbia.  Then, some five years later, they return to that same river, their birthplace, to spawn and then die.  As we walked along the river, being sure to step over the salmon that had met their fate, splashes in the river confirmed their presence. It was time to swim with the salmon. 

So there we were, standing in the river about knee high.  My friend and I each adjusted our masks, got the snorkels ready and gently slid into the cool waters.  It took a few seconds to get adjusted and comfortable to the flow but as soon as the mask went into the water a whole new world took over. Underneath me rocks and pebbles became the backdrop. The sound of water rushing was turned off and a calming sound took over. Off to the right a silver flash went by, then another and another. Looking around some more I could now see a handful of salmon swimming effortlessly around me. At one point I recall my friend saying “Oh my, this is so beautiful!” through her snorkel.  It was.  For two and a half minutes we floated with the salmon and it was amazing! Repeated many times over.


The life cycle of salmon is a remarkable one and the brief moment in time I shared with these selfless creatures was almost spiritual. My friend and I left the river completely fulfilled and full of life. This is why I love outdoor adventure. Every outdoor experience enriches my life is so many ways - appreciation for nature, passion for trying different things, sharing outdoor moments with friends, and overcoming my crazy childhood fear of things swimming under me. 

Sunny October day by the river, perfect day to wear KEEN sandals.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Putting kids in charge of travel plans & budget – Munich, Germany – Family Travel

It was the second last day of our three week adventure across Central Europe.  Joel and I were sitting in our hostel in Munich, Germany wondering how we were going to make the most of our short time here.  This marked the last stop before returning home and even though we were all tired, the journey thus far had been fulfilling in so many ways. Ben and Liv traveled well and embraced the culture, people, and adventures along the way. I had taken care of booking most of the hostels, researching possible things to do at each destination, packing each day according to what we were doing and had ran out of steam by the time we reached Munich.  Joel, as always, was our rock and navigated us through countless trains, countries, and language barriers.  Both of us were equally tired of spending money, being responsible for planning a day that everyone will enjoy, and being in charge.  So we turned the reigns over to Ben and Liv.

Liv and Ben, our trusted guides for the day! (photo taken in Vienna)

The idea was Joel’s.  He is brilliant. That, or tired of constantly having to deal with Ben and Liv asking to buy ice cream, some knick knack and having to repeat “money does not grow on trees” over and over again.  This was going to be a way to help them understand what it takes to plan a day of travel and realize the true value of money.

Before we left the comforts of our hostel there were three key things Ben and Liv needed to be prepared for: Research – What were we going to do for the day? Is there something for everyone? Navigation – How are we getting from point A to point B? Do we need maps? Do Ben and Liv know how to use Google Maps on the iPhone? Budget – How much money will we spend? What are the expected costs? What are Ben and Liv willing to sacrifice? Can Mom and Dad ask for ice cream every time we see ice cream?  Here is how our day in Munich unfolded with the kids in charge.


The day started with a debrief on where we were on the map and what options we had as far as things to see and do.  Joel and I pointed out several possibilities of places to go but in the end it was their decision, together, of what we would be doing.  Another decision they were faced with was how we would be traveling throughout Munich.  Would we be taking the metro or walking? Then, the last discussion was about money. Each was given 15 Euros for the day (plus the change we had in our pockets) and that was to take care of all our needs throughout the day, including lunch and paying to use washrooms.  We had eaten breakfast at the hostel, included with our stay, and mom and dad would take care of supper.

The plan Ben and Liv came up with was walk to St. Peter’s Church and then find somewhere to swim in one of the man-made channels along the Isar River.  They even went so far as to packing our towels, swim suits, hats, water, and a few snacks we had left.  Seems like these kids do pay attention!


The chosen method of travel was walking. Ben did great navigating our way from the hostel to St. Peter’s Church.  Joel helped him learn how to use Google Maps along the way and Ben caught on fast.  Soon he was navigating on his own. When it came time for Liv to navigate, she too caught on fast but had to be quickly reminded that navigating through a city meant following sidewalks! Walking in a straight line across four lanes of traffic and two train tracks would not do!

Kids pick of activities in Munich

St. Peters Church, a Roman Catholic church, was built in the 11th century and has seen rebuilds several times due to war and fire. Visiting the church was a great way to learn about some German history, admire the various styles of art inside and marvel at the large ceilings and gilded high altar. Visiting St. Peter’s Church was a perfect fit for our budget.  Admission into the church itself is free. Ben thought it would be worth 6 Euros for all of us to walk up 306 steps to the viewing platform on top the church tower. The reward is a 360 view of Munich. Navigating the tiny spiral staircase that you have to take both up AND down was every bit as entertaining as the view.

Englisher Garten.  If you love outdoor spaces and variety of things to see and do, this is the place for you.  It is a large park, larger than New York’s Central Park, located in the center of Munich offering grassy areas to sunbathe (clothed or not), swim, cycle, walk and re-hydrate at a beer garden of course. Best go early as things get busier later in the day but even experiencing the crowds is entertaining.

On the Eisbach River, a man made channel off the Isar River, there is a wave at the Haus der Kunst that is a popular place for surfing. Surfing in Munich? Who knew? Fun to watch.

Click video below to see some Munich surfing action!

As we walked through Englisher Garten we waded in the channels to stay cool, had ice cream (kids caved) and had lunch at Chinesischer Turm beer garden, seating for a mere 7000! Oktoberfest would be an experience here for sure! Ben and Liv carefully selected a meal each to share with us and Joel saved them some money by packing in his own beer.

Where the Eisbach meets the Isar River is a small rocky beach area that is so far off the tourist trail only locals and their dogs can be found. We swam, we sun bathed, Dad jumped off a bridge, and we all got trampled on by over active dogs.  It was a great way to spend the sunny afternoon in Munich. We even witnessed a new type of river activity. Hang on to a bungee cord while on a skim board (or small surf board) and as you float downstream (facing upstream), hang on as long as possible and then let go. The result is being ejected upstream fast!  Pretty cool to watch. Those Germans sure know how to make fun happen anywhere.

Click video to see river skiing


I was impressed with both Ben and Liv who did a great job sticking to the budget.  The asking for ice cream was kept to a minimum and there was no mention of buying knick knacks. When it came time to eat, reasonable decisions were made rather than rash choices that usually cost more.  Joel and I know that sacrifices to the daily budget need to be made in order to travel the world as a family. After this experience I believe Ben and Liv too have a better understanding of it as well.

Liv’s budget was spent on the following:
  • 1 slice of pizza
  • 2 apples and 2 bananas to share as snacks
  • Lunch at beer garden– European sausage and sauerkraut salad for Liv and I
  • One scoop ice cream and sprinkles (shared with mom)
  • Lighting a candle in St. Peter’s Church and 2 postcards
  • Celebratory ice cream at the end of the night
  • Coins for some street musicians
  • paid for all washroom uses
Ben's budget was spent on the following:
  • One scoop ice cream and sprinkles (shared with Dad)
  • Admission for all of us to go up to the top of the bell tower in St. Peters Church 
  • Lunch for Ben and Dad – Schnitzel and fried potatoes in beer gardens
  • Lighting a candle in St. Peters Church and 2 postcards
  • Celebratory ice cream at the end of the night (never too much ice cream)
  • Bought Dad a beer at the end of the night
Our day in Munich under the kids control turned out to be one of the most memorable days of the trip and was proud of what Ben and Liv accomplished.  The wonderful green spaces in the heart of Munich stole our hearts and I will always have fond memories of our time in Munich. As promised, Mom and Dad were buying supper and as we strolled through Hofgarten, an Italian style renaissance garden built in 1617 we came upon an outdoor courtyard beer garden. I believe it was called Luigi Tambosi but the name is not important. What was important was our time here. We sat and enjoyed a few beverages together and shared in laughter. We had great discussions on what we were going to choose from the menu, mostly trying to figure out what the menu was, and reminisced about the previous three weeks of travel we had enjoyed. As the evening crept on, we slowly made our way back to our hostel. Our final few stops were at Odeonsplatz, a 19th century city square, to sit and relax on some outdoor cushions, listened to some street buskers play music, and purchased one last ice cream, with what was left of Ben and Liv’s money, as a way to celebrate the day and our last evening in Europe.  Ben even managed to scrap together his last few Euros and bought his dad a beer.  What a guy!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A simple adventure break - Falls Lake near the Coquihalla Summit

Many times I have travelled the Coquihalla Highway and sigh as we speed past exits that taunt me with the possiblities of hitting trails and escaping into the beauty of BC's backcountry. Understanding that travel thru here is a means to an end - get from point A to point B. But does it have to be?

Determined to work in some outdoor adventure our next time thru, I did a little research and stumbled upon a trail that would fit in perfectly with our travel plans on Hwy 5.

Falls Lake Exit 221, near the summit of the Coquihalla Highway, will easily lead you to a parking area for Falls Lake. From there it is an easy 1.5km trail to a scenic lake. (3km round trip) The trail is a well groomed dirt trail with some stairs, a couple of boardwalks and only 40m of elevation gain so I would consider this an easy hike for anyone.

Because this stop was our rest break while travelling from point A to point B, we opted to trail run to the lake in order to maximize our time there. It took us about 8 mins to run to the lake and 6.12 mins to run get back to our vehicle. Ben and Liv were highly motivated to beat their time!

Total time for our rest break was an hour. We ate lunch at the lake. Went for a swim and had the whole lake to ourselves. The experience turned out to be more spectacular than I had imagined. Falls Lake can be more than just a pit stop. There were a couple tent pads, outhouses, and a food cache so wilderness camping is also an option. The area would be accesible all year round and is ideal for snowshoeing. May have to stop here next time we travel in the winter.