Author Archives: Maria

About Maria

Book blogger @ www.thepaperbackprincess.com Travel and adventure blogger @ www.mariaadey.com

Howe Sound Crest Trail: Part I

I finally hiked the Howe Sound Crest Trail!

Seriously, I’ve been trying to hike this trail since 2017. We couldn’t do it as planned in 2017 because there was too much snow on the trail, in 2018 it was too smoky, and in 2019 there was an issue with re-routing the trail. But the stars finally aligned and I hiked it in mid August with Carolyn and Emily. It was not at all what I expected – I knew it would be a tough trail, but the topography was so much more challenging than I anticipated. That said, we had amazing weather for it and still had a great time!

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The Howe Sound Crest Trail is a 29km trail that runs from Cypress Mountain to Porteau Cove. It passes by several iconic peaks and is popular among trail runners. The window for hiking the trail is short, which is why we had so much trouble with it – there’s generally still snow up there in June, which is very dangerous because of snow bridges and snow wells. But what makes the hike so challenging is water access. Once you leave Cypress, there’s no water access for 14km, so you either have to bring a lot of water with you, or hike the most challenging part of the trail in a single day. 14km doesn’t really sound like that much, but there’s a lot of elevation gain and it involves crossing many challenging peaks. It can definitely be done, but I think it would make the trail less enjoyable as there’d be less time to appreciate the views. Plus the most challenging part of the 14km is the last 4km, so it’s easy to think you’re making a good pace and then get hung up at the end.

So long story short, we opted to bring extra water. I think this was definitely the right choice for us, but it was a 30 degree weekend and we drank more than we thought and ended up having to conserve at the end, so in future I would bring even more. But let’s start at the beginning. Because we were planning to do the trail over 3 days, we took Friday off work to get a head start on the trail. Generally there is no pass needed to hike the HSCT, but BC Parks has the new day pass system, so I got up at 6am to get passes for us. I managed to snag 3 passes, but they sold out by 6:01am, so you definitely have to be on the ball.

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We arrived at Cypress around 9am and there were a ton of people hanging out in the parking lot. The first stop on the HSCT is St. Mark’s Summit, which is super popular among day hikers, so we think that’s who was taking up most of the day passes. After St. Mark’s the traffic on the trail was drastically reduced. Seth dropped us off and I believe we started hiking sometime around 9:30am. I figured this would give us lots of time, but it was still almost 6pm by the time we rolled into our campsite at the 11km mark, so definitely give yourself lots of time.

Thanks to the early start we were able to hike at a pretty leisurely pace. It didn’t take long at all to get to St. Mark’s, mostly I think because me and Carolyn hadn’t seen each other in a while and we were gabbing the whole way there. We stopped at St. Mark’s for a snack break and then got lost trying to get back on the trail. Overall the trail isn’t too hard to follow, but there were definitely several sections where we ended up off course, so I was glad me and Carolyn both had GPS as we used it more than once to find the trail.

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The second stop on the trail is Unnecessary Mountain – I found this one a little confusing because there were two unnecessary mountains showing up on my GPS, the first of which was marked South. We were getting pretty hungry for lunch, so we stopped to eat when we hit the ridge, before reaching Unnecessary Mountains. Like I said, it was a hot day. We thought it would be cooler up in the mountains, but most of the trail is exposed, so it was definitely hot the whole weekend. I had a large iced tea before starting the trail to hydrate, but Emily forgot and was pretty dehydrated starting out, so she drank her water a lot faster.

The view of Howe Sound and the Lions from Unnecessary Mountain is gorgeous, but after that the trail gets a lot harder. It’s a pretty technical trail, with lots of rope sections, climbing, and steep ascents and descents. It’s a through trail (rather than a loop), so you can hike from either direction, but almost everyone goes from Cypress to Porteau Cove because you’re basically hiking from Cypress Mountain down to the highway and people want to avoid all the elevation gain.

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It may be challenging, but the section of trail leading up and past the Lions is one of the most beautiful parts of the trail. We hiked along the ridge up towards the West Lion. It was a bit of a climb, so we continued to drink lots of water with the sun bearing down on us. You can summit the West Lion along the trail – we hadn’t decided whether we were going to attempt it or not – but once we got a look at it, me and Emily were firmly in the ‘no’ category. Carolyn is much more intrepid than us and I know she would have hiked it in a heartbeat, but it was now after 4pm and the trail started with two steep rope sections, so we all agreed it wasn’t really a wise choice.

Instead we had a break under the West Lion and then started the descent down and around it. For those not familiar with the Lions, they are two iconic mountains located just outside Vancouver. The familiar looking humps can easily be seen from the city and have become a bit of a symbol of Vancouver. I’ve seen them tons of times, from the city, from other trails, and even from helicopter, but I’ve definitely never been so close to them – it felt a little unreal. Both Lions are incredibly steep, I’m not sure if you can physically hike the East Lion or not, but either way, you’re not allowed to because it’s located in the watershed. Metro Vancouver has one of the best protected watersheds and absolutely no recreation is permitted inside it. The HSCT skirts right along the watershed and the trail unbelievably enough, goes right between the two Lions.

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Between the two lions there is another smaller peak called Thomas’ Peak. The scariest section of the trail was definitely traversing down the side of the West Lion to Thomas Peak. You go down a steep section, which isn’t too bad, but then you have to navigate a small ledge around the edge of the Lion and up to Thomas Peak. It’s not terrifying, but you definitely proceed with caution. From there though there’s an amazing view down into the watershed and Capilano Lake. Some of the best city views of the Lions are from Cap Lake, so the same can be said when you’re looking back the other way too.

As we went over Thomas Peak, we were starting to get pretty done with hiking. There’s 3 official campsites on the trail, and one unofficial, which is the one we were aiming for. I couldn’t find its location on any maps and had just seen it listed as “the ridge above Enchantment Lake”. I knew it was located around 11km, so we were planning to just look for anywhere good to camp along the trail once we passed the Lions (which are located around 10km). From Thomas Peak, you can see the trail as it winds over peak after peak, but we couldn’t really see anywhere that looked great to pitch a tent.

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As we started to come down, I noticed a ridge branching off the main trail that looked promising. Fortunately, it wasn’t too far away (less than a km, as we’ve established) and when we reached the branch, it quickly became evident this was the place. We were just confused because we assumed “the ridge” was on the trail, but it’s just off to the right of the trail as you come down Thomas Peak. There’s no easily accessible water source from the trail, but there are some flat spots to pitch a tent. If you’re desperate, you can hike down to Enchantment Lake, but it’s a bit of a trek. There’s also a small pond on the other side, but it’s located in the watershed, so this should not be part of your plan.

We had to do a bit of water assessment after we set up our tent. Emily had drained her 2 litre platypus around the West Lion, but me and Carolyn were still on our initial supply. We had each brought 4litres. It was enough, but only because we put a lot of effort into conserving towards the end. My logic had been 2L for the first day, 1L for overnight, and 1L for the 3km the next day. We had brought sandwiches for lunch to avoid needing water for cooking, but had forgotten to take into account water for our oatmeal (only 150ml a person, so not the end of the world), but we hadn’t taken enough for how hot it was. Also, the 3km the following day was SUPER challenging and ended up taking us 3 hours, so we really could have used more water for that as well. It’s not a great feeling having to conserve water, so if I did it again I would bring 5-6L. We might have had a different experience on a cool day, but always plan for the worst.

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Our campsite was amazing though! We shared it with one other group of 2 women, who we’d been passing back and forth on the trail all day. We were located right under the Lions and it was dreamy to watch the sun set over the Sound and then watch the stars come out around the Lions. I thought there would be too much ambient light for stars, but the stargazing was actually great – though there was still too much ambient light for star photography (at least for a notice like me). So overall, it was a challenging, but fun first day on the trail and we were thrilled with the location of our campsite! You definitely need nice weather to hike this trail though, I can only image how slippery and dangerous it would be in the rain – plus camping would be very exposed in any adverse conditions. But luckily for us, all we had to worry about was heat management.

I’ll end the post there for now – check back in for my next post on the second half of the trail!

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Let’s Talk: Backcountry Bathrooms

Okay friends, let’s talk about using the bathroom in the outdoors. I’ve done a lot of overnight trips without bathroom facilities this year and I’m shocked by the amount of bathroom waste being left in the wilderness. I’m a wastewater engineer by trade and a passionate advocate for leave no trace camping, so let’s get dirty and talk about it!

You’d think using the bathroom in the wilderness would be intuitive, but it’s absolutely not for a lot of people, and that’s totally okay. You don’t need to feel bad if the prospect of peeing and pooping in the wilderness is scary or overwhelming for you, but you do need to do your research about it to be prepared. So I’d like to use this post to talk about some tips and proper leave no trace principles, so that we can all commit to a healthy and clean wilderness and so that Carolyn doesn’t have to avoid stepping in HUMAN POOP the next time she tries to make a bear cache.

Tip #1: Do your research about the trail

Before you go anywhere, always research the trail so that you know what to expect and ensure that the trail is within your ability. This includes checking if there are any facilities along the trail where you’ll be hiking or camping. I would say that generally, most hikes in southwestern BC have outhouses at the trailhead. There are hikes that don’t, but most hikes within provincial parks will have a toilet near the parking lot, so make sure to use it before you start your hike. Fewer hikes have outhouses at the end destination, but if it’s a popular backcountry camping location, odds are there may be an outhouse there too. Unless you have digestive concerns, for most people, access to a toilet at the start and end of the hike is usually sufficient, just make sure to bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you, because these are rarely guaranteed to be available.

Tip #2: Plan ahead

If access to toilets are limited, pay attention to your surroundings along the hike. If a hike has a long open section, you may want to consider using the toilet before you get to that section because there will be limited privacy later. Keep an eye open for more private areas where you can hide behind a tree, or if you need to poop, pay attention to the ground conditions and look for a spot that would be easier to dig. Take into consideration where the water sources are and avoid them or go downstream of where you collect your water. Planning ahead also includes making sure you have the right supplies with you, both for using the bathroom, and for disposing of your waste. I always bring a ziploc bag with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, plus another ziploc bag for my used toilet paper. Bring a trowel for digging catholes, or a waste disposal bag if catholes are not possible (see below).

Tip #3: Properly dispose of all bathroom waste

In my opinion, this is the hardest part and the part that most people get wrong. Never ever leave waste. I know pee tissue is gross y’all, but it’s not as gross as a beautiful trail that’s cluttered up with half de-composed pee tissue. There’s no getting around this one, unless there’s an outhouse, you just have to take it with you. Use an extra ziploc bag, double bag it, or bring an empty pringles container along with you, whatever you have to do to make it bearable. But you have to take it with you. If this is really a challenge for you, consider using the drip dry method or getting a pee cloth (see below).

Tip #4: Research proper cathole technique

I recommend using leavenotrace.ca for proper techniques, but to summarize here, the two most important considerations are location and technique. As discussed in Tip #2, find a location away from the trail, that has good soils, and that is away from or downsteam of your water source. I’ve found that soil type really is a big consideration because it influences how easy it will be to dig the cathole. Organic soils are best because they will help decomposition and are easier for digging. As for technique, the hole should be 6-8 inches deep (length of the trowel blade) and 4-6 inches wide. It’s not necessarily better to dig a deeper hole as it will be harder for the waste to decompose. Afterwards, fill the cathole with the removed dirt and disguise with other native materials. You can bury your poo tissue in the cathole, however, try to use as little as possible as it does take a while to decompose and some people recommend just taking your poo tissue with you too. For the same reason, do not try and bury your pee tissue from earlier as it’s just too much material. Overall, it is better to pack the tissue out as much as possible. Lightweight trowels are easily available at camping stores, Canadian Tire, Walmart, etc. I have a plastic Coghlan’s trowel that literally cost me $3.

Tip #5: Be prepared for your period

You can absolutely go hiking and camping on your period and it’s smart to be prepared for it. First of all, even if you’re not on or expecting your period, bring supplies for it. Hiking and camping are a big change to your normal habits and can cause your period to come early. Otherwise, dealing with your period on the trail isn’t really that different from anywhere else. Take extra care in washing and sanitizing your hands both before and after you use the toilet and pack everything out, including used tampons and pads. These will not decompose in an outhouse or cathole and may be dug up by wild animals, so they need to be packed out. Bring something a little more heavy duty for waste disposal (a pringles can instead of a ziploc) and mask the smell with other garbage, like used tea bags. As with all garbage, you need to keep it in your bear cache overnight. If you use a menstrual cup (see below), you can use a cathole to empty the cup. REI has a great article about menstruation in the backcountry if you want to read more.

Tip #6: Proper squatting technique

Some of you may laugh at me for including this one, but I still believe it’s not necessarily intuitive to everyone. The sitting position that we use on the toilet is not really a natural position for using the bathroom. Don’t try and mimic a toilet position in the wilderness, it’s tiring and not as effective. I’ve heard some people will bench against a tree for support, but my recommendation is to squat with your knees out so that you get your bottom as close to the ground as possible. Try and keep your feet a good distance apart and use your hand to brace against whatever is nearby. If you’re on a slope, pee downwards to avoid the pee running back into your shoes. Likewise, if its super windy, pee with the wind. If you still find squatting really difficult, consider getting a pee funnel to make it easier. Some people really love these, just make sure you give consideration to how you will clean and store it.

 

That’s it for my tips, but there are 3 more backcountry bathroom considerations that I’d like to discuss:

1. What to do when it’s not possible to dig a cathole? There are some situations where it’s just not possible to dig a cathole, primarily in the alpine where it is mostly rock. Fortunately I haven’t been in this situation very often and I usually try and plan ahead (i.e. poop in advance when it’s possible to bury it), but unfortunately in some cases you will just have to take your poop waste with you as well. If it’s a short haul, use a sealed container like a pringles can and dispose of it when possible by burying it or dumping in an outhouse. If it’s a long haul, consider getting a proper waste disposal bag. I don’t have experience with these myself, but there are waste disposal bags, such as the wag bag, on the market.

2. What’s the deal with menstrual cups? Menstrual cups are definitely not for everyone and if you’d prefer to continue using pads or tampons, that is totally great, though I’d recommend against free-bleed in the backcountry for wildlife reasons. Essentially, it’s a silicone cup with a stem that collects menstrual blood and is removed, dumped, and cleaned up to every 12 hours. Personally, I’ve been using a menstrual cup for several years and I absolutely love it. I find it more comfortable than tampons or pads and I like that you don’t have to change it as frequently. It’s great for the backcountry because it’s easier for disposal and you only have to carry the one little cup with you instead of a stash of products. But it’s definitely messy and that can be a challenge to manage. Always wash your hands before inserting or removing. It can also be hard to wash the cup in the backcountry, so I usually just give it a wipe with some toilet paper or pour some water on it if I’m only out for a day or two. There’s lots of cups on the market, I have only tried DivaCup, but I love it.

3. What about pee cloths? I don’t personally have experience with pee cloths since I don’t mind just dealing with pee tissue, but I’ve heard a lot of people really love them. It’s basically a microfiber quick dry cloth that can be used multiple times and then laundered after the trip. If you have one, you can carry less toilet paper and subsequently, less pee tissue. I won’t get into it because I don’t have any experience with them, but I’ve heard Kula is a great brand and recommend checking them out if you want to learn more about it.

 

And that concludes my bathroom talk. It’s important to take care of ourselves and the environment, so it’s also important to normalize talking about it. I hope you learned something and always do your best to be prepared in the wilderness!

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Hiking Cheam Peak

One of my favourite local hikes to date is Cheam Peak – which is interesting because the first time I hiked it was in 2018 and in much less than ideal conditions. Cheam Peak is a well known hike in the Fraser Valley, whose sharp peak dominates the skyline as you drive out Highway 1 past Chilliwack. Though you can easily see the mountain from the Highway, you have to enter the trail from the South on Chilliwack Lake Road. I wasn’t expecting it to be a busy hike because you need 4WD to access to the trail head, and it was a pretty smoky day when we hiked it in 2018, so I was shocked when we arrived at the trailhead to find the parking lot packed with trucks and SUVs. As far as 4WD hikes go – I can also assume this is one of the more popular since the mountain peak is so iconic.

5 of us piled into Brandon’s 4Runner to get to the trailhead – a drive that was a lot more fun for Brandon than the rest of us. The higher we drove along the road, the worse the visibility got. 2018 was one of the worst summers for forest fires and the city was filled with smoke for weeks on end, making it hard to do much of anything outdoors without coughing up a lung. The smoke hadn’t peaked yet, but it was also an overcast day and we were high enough to be up in the clouds – so the smoke and fog together made for some really terrible visibility.

The conditions didn’t impact my enjoyment of Mount Cheam though and even with the poor visibility, between the alpine meadows and cute little Spoon Lake, I was in hiking heaven. The meadows start pretty much at the trailhead and are gorgeous and green, with this tiny little swimming hole that looks like it’s been punched out of the landscape. Plus there’s lots of wildflowers if you go at the right time of year. From the meadow, I think you can see up most of the mountain, but unfortunately for us, the meadow was the only part of the trail not shrouded in fog. As we started to ascend, we immediately entered the clouds and lost all sight of anything around us. I’ve hiked a few times in the fog, but this was definitely the worst. The closer we got to the top, the worse it got. It’s not the longest trail, only 9km round trip, but you tackle a lot of elevation gain in that hike, approximately 650m. So it’s pretty steep for most of the hike, with lots of switchbacks and at times I literally couldn’t see my friends if they were more than 6 feet away.

We weaved our way up the mountain until we reached the ridgeline along the top. It was super creepy in the conditions because the fog was getting caught up on the other side of the ridge (towards the highway), so we could see down the ridge a little bit, but the highway side was just a bank of milky white fog. It’s made weirder by the fact that when you reach the top, you get over the mountain sound barrier, so all of sudden you can hear all the traffic from down on the highway. From the peak, Mount Cheam looks down on the highway, but since we were hiking it from the back, we were totally surrounded by the backcountry. Since you can’t see any of the traffic on the way up, you feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness, it makes for a really weird experience.

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We hung out at the bottom of the ridgeline for a bit and had our lunch. We figured there was no use racing to the top when we couldn’t see anything anyways, so we took our time. The fog did eventually start to thin, so we continued on to the very top, but we never did get a view down into the Fraser Valley. We hung out for a long time taking funny pictures of the fog and messing around, but we eventually gave up on our hope of catching the view and started to head back down again. Despite all the fog and not being able to see the view, I still had a great time on the hike, which I attribute to my companions, who had just as much fun taking photos in the fog as we would have with an amazing view!

The fog continued to thin as we made our way back down again. We could see more of the mountain around us and eventually the fog got high enough that we could see all the way down to the meadow. This was my favourite part of the hike and it made for a nice, scenic walk back. Me and Lien are a bit obsessed with swimming, so we had big plans to take a dip in the little hobbit pond, formally known as Spoon Lake, at the bottom. We didn’t waste any time and both dove right into the water as soon as we got there. It’s a small waterbody and it was the middle of the summer, so it was actually really warm and we had a great time swimming around. From Spoon Lake, it’s just a short walk back out of the meadow and about a kilometre along a gravel road back to the parking lot. So even though the weather conditions weren’t the best, we still had a great time on the hike and will have to keep in on our bucket lists to return on a clearer day!

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Fast forward to 2020. 2 years after our first hike to Mount Cheam, we decided to return and see if we could actually catch the view. It was Sunday morning back in mid July and it was one of the hottest days of the summer. Me and Emily spent all Saturday trying to get into any of the lakes in the lower mainland and were rejected from Buntzen and Sasamat, so we figured cute little Spoon Lake would make for a great end of hike swim the next day.

Even though I never saw the view the first time, I’d loved everything about Mount Cheam, particularly swimming in Spoon Lake, which looks like its been carved out of the hillside. So I was excited to return, this time with Emily, Seth, and Sadie in tow. We drove separately and then all piled into Brandon’s 4×4 for the 9km ride up to the trailhead. I remembered there being some pretty bad waterbars along the forestry road the first time, but I also remembered us driving up it pretty fast. I don’t know if I mis-remembered or if the road has gotten worse, but it seemed in much poorer condition then the last time. It ended up taking us over an hour just to go the 9km! I wasn’t sure how well Sadie would do on the drive. As a puppy she had really bad car sickness, but has mostly grown out of it. Fortunately she seemed to love the 4×4 road! She was running back and forth across me, Seth, and Lien in the back seat to look out the windows as we drove up.

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It was a slow year for the snowpack melting, so there was still quite a bit of snow on the trail when we visited in mid-July. Fortunately we had microspikes, but since the snow was so sporadic, it’s a pain constantly taking them on and off, so we mostly went without. Sunglasses are a must with so much snow though – Emily sunburned her eyes crossing the snow fields. Walking into the meadow from the parking lot we could see there was a fair amount of snow left and we were concerned the lake might still be frozen. You can’t see it until you’re pretty much on top of it, so we were anxious as we approached, praying we’d be able to swim in it. Unfortunately, the lake was a real mess. The whole area coming down to the lake looked more or less in shambles. Since our last visit, it looked like there’d been an avalanche in the area. There’s several trees knocked down and a ton of debris coming down into the lake. It looked like there was a bunch of debris from the slide that had been knocked into the lake and was now covered with snow and dirt. We were convinced it would never be swimable again, but I’ve since seen photos of the lake on Instagram later in the summer, and it looks totally fine now, so most of it must have been snow, or the debris suck to the bottom. So we were quite sad at the time, but thrilled to see it more or less seems to have recovered.

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The hike ended up being more challenging than I remembered. Like I said above, it’s a short hike, but has a lot of elevation gain. I’m not sure if I was having a bad day or if I’m just out of shape from the pandemic, but it was a challenging hike, even after completing the NCT. I’m inclined to blame it on the heat though because it was well over 30 degrees. From the lake it’s a steady climb for the rest of the hike, the main difference being that this time we got to enjoy the views! A lot of the hike is going back and forth across exposed boulder fields, some of which were still under snow, so caution is definitely advised. On our way down we saw a few people trying to take shortcuts up the boulder field, don’t do this, it’s deceivingly hard, it’s dangerous (loose rock and steeper) and it damages the landscape.

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It was a slog, but we reached the top to gorgeous blue sky views of the surrounding area. Looking north you can see Highway 1 all the way out to Harrison Lake, and south is a cacophony of snowy peaked mountains all the way to the States. We sat at the very peak to enjoy our lunch before heading back down again. This was Sadie’s first major hike, so we weren’t sure what to expect, but she LOVED it. She’s definitely an outdoor dog and has a ton of energy. She thrives on steep difficult trails, so she was right in her element on Cheam. Also, she’s obsessed with the snow and loves playing it. I’m not sure if it’s just because it was so hot, but she couldn’t get enough of running around throughout the snow fields. She was totally pooped by the end of the hike though. She was all wet and muddy from running around and we didn’t want her sitting in our laps, so we made her sit on the floor in the back seat and she immediately lay down and fell asleep for most of the car ride back (a feat for Sadie who rarely settles down).

So despite the setbacks with the lake, it was still a great day! It’s a challenge to get to, but well worth the visit, my only recommendation is to leave early to avoid the crowds and go prepared for any condition because you will be a long way from help! Happy hiking everyone!

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