Life in British Columbia

My life in Vancouver since moving to BC in Jan. 2014

Artist Point Snow Camping

Well it’s that time of year again! Time for my annual snow camping trip with Carolyn and Brandon! It’s a new hobby for us, so we’ve been trying to get out at least once a year to work on our snow camp skills. Carolyn broke her ankle back in July last year and it’s been a really long time healing, so this was our first time out together since last Spring. We have a few snow camps on our bucket list, but we wanted a shorter one for her first snowshoe since breaking her ankle, so we decided to try Artist Point in Washington. It has a fair bit of elevation gain, but it’s not very long – only 6km round trip.

DSC05439

Our first discovery though was that camping across the border sucks. I made a few trips down to Washington this year with Lien for day hikes, but when you’re trying to pack for an overnight trip, it’s a big hassle. We had to leave snacks like jerky, dried mango, cheese, and trail mix behind, and modify our normal camp dinner. Brandon makes a mouth watering backcountry thai curry chicken that we eat on almost every adventure, but we couldn’t bring the chicken or veggies across, so we opted for my dehydrated vegetarian chili and macaroni instead. The chili is fine, it’s just not quite as rewarding as thai curry chicken (okay A LOT less rewarding).

So crossing the border was definitely a pain, but I have to admit, we’ll probably keep on doing it because there are some really great hikes in the Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The actual border crossing was quick because we crossed in Abby at the Sumas Crossing and drove to Mount Baker from there. I snowshoed to Artist Point last year, which was what inspired me to try snow camping there this year. In the summer you can drive most of the way up to Artist Point, but the road and parking lots aren’t plowed in the winter. There’s a ton of open space at the top for the parking lots, which is why I thought it would be a great place to snow camp!

IMG-20200301-WA0035

We started hiking up sometime around noon. The last time I’d hiked up there it was a bluebird day and there was a million other people on the trail, but it was a bit overcast when we went, so there was definitely less people around, which was nice. The area had also received a massive dump of snow the night before (60 cms!), so the entire area was covered with a fresh blanket of shimmering powder. It was definitely a snowshoe day (as opposed to spikes). We had nice views hiking up, though the occasional clouds moved through, sometimes obscuring our view of the mountains, but not our visibility.

That changed a bit when we reached the top. You come up a pretty steep slope before getting to a large flatish base area where the parking lot(s) are located in the summer. The area attracts a lot of backcountry skiers and from there some hike up to Artist Point (another ~15-20mins), while others continue on to table mountain or down into the bowl going back towards the (base) parking lot. We didn’t want to camp right on Artist Point because it’s pretty exposed, but planned to find a somewhat sheltered spot around the parking area. Once we crested the last slope though, the fog moved in and it became harder to see where we were going. Plus in the winter it’s really hard to tell what is actually the parking lot. We wanted somewhere sheltered, but also with a good view. We ended up picking a spot looking out towards Table Mountain and Mount Baker that had a few banks sheltering it on either side.

DSC05463

Fortunately the fog moved out again and our visibility improved a lot while we were setting up camp. We always dig out tent hole too small, so Carolyn outlined a truly massive site for us to shovel out this time. It was clearly too big, but for some reason none of us argued with her and just got to work shoveling! It took quite a while because there had been so much snow the night before and we had to dig down about a metre before we could finally start stomping it down and compacting the snow. Eventually we got enough space for the tent and realized we’d kind of over-shoveled a bit if we still wanted a snow wall to provide some shelter for the tent, so we built up a snow counter on the last side and made a pretty slapdash kitchen that actually ended up being pretty good.

The later it got, the fewer people around, but one giant group showed up in the middle of the afternoon – it must have had 40 people! We think it was an avalanche safety course because there seemed to be one guide and they started digging some shelters themselves. It was obvious from their packs they weren’t staying overnight, so we kept joking they should come dig out our hole for us since they weren’t going to use theirs anyways!

DSC05530

The temperature was around -5 degrees, which in my opinion is perfect for snow camping because you don’t want the snow to be wet at all. It continued to snow on and off as we were setting up our shelter, but the wind kept down and we didn’t have any problems. I love snow camping, but it is definitely a lot more work. It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time we finished the shelter and we decided we wanted to start melting snow for water right away since it takes forever and it gets dark early. It did take a long time, but fortunately the snow was all very clean and it tasted a lot better to drink than the snow on some of our previous trips. We started dinner before dark, but it was definitely dark by the time we finished and started cleaning up.

We puttered around camp for a bit with our headlamps, cleaning up and sharing Carolyn’s flask. Eventually we climbed into the tent because we always look forward to getting into our sleeping bags on a cold winter night. By the time we were all geared up and ready for bed, Carolyn asked me to check the time and I turned on my phone to see 7:30pm staring back at me! I couldn’t believe it! We all knew the sun sets early, but we had a good laugh at ourselves all set up and ready for bed that early! At Elfin Lakes I’d set up and done some star photography, which kept us up a bit later, but the clouds were moving around a lot and it wasn’t really a great night for star photos, though we did catch a great view of Orion at one point.

DSC05598

We read for a little bit, but it’s cold with your hands and arms out of your sleeping back, so it was probably still only 8:30pm when we turned off the lights and went to bed. Carolyn was thrilled about it because she loves to go to bed early without anyone making fun of her for it! As usual, it was a fair bit of work to keep warm overnight, but we all managed it and it was 7:30am before we finally got up.

It was a big change from the previous night when we crawled out of the tent. It was a gorgeous bluebird day with the sun shining down on us! We wanted to make first tracks up to Artist Point, so we grabbed some snacks and postponed breakfast to hike up to the point. It was definitely a good way to warm up! We were all sweating by the time we reached the top and we stayed up there for a while taking photos and goofing around in the snow. The landscape looked much the same as the last time I’d snowshoed up there, which was also a bluebird day, but the big difference was that we were the only people on the mountain.

IMG-20200301-WA0005

The point gives a great view of Mount Shuksan, but the Baker side stole my attention on this trip because there were a ton of clouds sitting in the valley around it and it felt really cool to be up above the clouds. While we were up there we noticed the fog was starting to creep up the valley on both sides and we decided to trek back to the campsite for breakfast. By the time we got back the fog had totally moved in and within 30 minutes you couldn’t see any of the view any more! I felt bad for all the day hikers and skiers coming up later, but lucky that we got to enjoy the nice weather before the clouds moved it. It wasn’t snowing, but visibility was pretty bad and I can see how it would be easy to get lost in those conditions. So it was a good reminder of how fast things can change in the backcountry.

Otherwise it was a pretty uneventful climb down. Snowshoes definitely aren’t as fun going downhill, so we had a few stumbles on the way down, but no more injured ankles! I think we can definitely call this trip another success!

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

Ski Resort Series: Mount Washington

Now that I’m finally up to date on my posts about our trip to New Zealand, it’s time to return to my ski resort mini-series from last winter! Every year me and my friends go on a ski trip to Interior BC, usually around 4-5 hours driving distance from Vancouver. We like to stay in chalets right on the mountain and we finally ran out of new ski resorts in the Interior and decided to take the ferry to Mount Washington instead.

20200207_141823

We drove out after lunch on Thursday and had a chalet booked right at the foot of the slopes. It was an uneventful ferry ride, but the drive up the mountain more than made up for it. About 10 minutes before we reached the chalet, my car came across another car pulled over on the side of the road. It turned out to be one of our other companions – poor Meg who had hit one pothole and ended up with two burst tires on the right side (we’re talking rims on the ground). The benefit of going with so many people is that is wasn’t too hard to call for help and we ferried everyone and their gear up to the chalet while Meg waited for the tow truck to bring her car down to Courtney.¬†Fortunately there was no real harm done except for Meg’s bank account and we finished off the evening with mulled wine, chocolate fondue, and a soak in our hot tubs (yes, we had 2!).

20200207_151016

We were expecting the snow at Mount Washington to be on the wet side, but we ended up getting pretty awesome conditions. It was just around zero degrees on Friday, so it was wet, but the mountain dropped snow on us the whole day, making for poor visibility, but some pretty sweet powdery conditions. Only about half of us went skiing on the first day – I’d debated only skiing one day this year and instead checking out some of the snowshoe trails, but I couldn’t resist and ended up skiing both days. It wasn’t really snowing in the morning, but we had trouble seeing through the low clouds on the slope; they did eventually clear and we skied some gorgeous sunny(ish) runs before lunch.

After lunch it was a totally different story with the snowy coming down thick. We were stoked about what the conditions were going to be like the next day, but it accumulates so fast that we has some really great runs on Friday too, though the visibility did get worse as the day went on.

20200207_175729

As usual, we have a pretty well-tested meal plan for the weekend and I made traditional Newfoundland Jiggs Dinner and a turkey, followed by one of Emily’s famous cakes. Some of the group did go snowshoeing in the afternoon and boasted about how awesome the trails were over at the Nordic Center. Overall it was a low key evening, but I think everyone enjoyed relaxing and watching the snow pile up outside in anticipation of the next day.

Saturday was the kind of skiing conditions you dream about…. almost. It was a gorgeous sunny day with 10-15 cms of fresh powder on the slopes! We all got up early to catch some of the first lifts up the mountain. The only problem was that only half of the lifts were actually open. Apparently it had gotten pretty windy overnight and was still windy at the top of the mountain, so the peak chair was closed. We did a warm up run without too much fanfare, but then we were forced to wait 30+ minutes in the lift line for every run after that. It was super disappointing to spend the beautiful weather waiting in line and the group started getting a little antsy.

20200208_153537

We decided to head over to another lift to try our chances and fortunately by the time we got over there, the remaining lifts had opened. It was still a longer wait than Friday (which had really been no wait), but much better than earlier. We spent a lot of time on the far side of the mountain on the sunset lift and really enjoyed the conditions. The group split up a bit after that and I did a few runs from the top of the mountain before heading over to the bunny hill to help Lien, who was learning to ski. We decided to ski through lunch with the intention of ending the day early. But then we couldn’t bear to leave the awesome conditions and ended up skiing until close and having a late lunch.

20200208_143925

I wouldn’t say Mount Washington was one of my favourite mountains, but it was definitely a comfortable one. It’s a great mountain for beginners and with the exception of the Outback at the back of the mountain (all double blacks), I was willing to ski pretty much any of the runs. It’s a nice mountain if you like nice wide runs. There were some nice gladed areas to try too, but I feel there was a bit less to explore over some of the other mountains we’ve skied.

We finished our last night with Brandon’s delicious hot pot and played games into the night. As usual, our accommodations were pretty awesome. This year we had a few less people, so they felt particularly spacious as we had two units (the upstairs and downstairs unit in the same chalet). It had a really nice log cabin feel, I just wish we could have figured out how to get the fireplace working! So overall it was a great trip with some really unexpectedly great conditions, despite the long lift waits on day 2.

Mount Washington

Categories: Life in British Columbia | 3 Comments

Kayaking Pender Island

Me and Seth went on our second annual kayaking trip over the labour day weekend and I have to say, kayaking is definitely working it’s way up my list of favourite hobbies. We had a great time exploring Sechelt Inlet last year, but I still would have picked a backpacking trip over a kayaking trip, but since Seth doesn’t like backpacking that much, it’s a lot of fun when the two of us go kayaking together. You’re definitely a lot more vulnerable to the elements in a kayak, but when you get great weather it’s the best.

This trip started with a really early morning ferry ride. The ferry doesn’t run very frequently to Pender, so we were pretty much forced to catch the 7am sailing out of Tsawwassen. The water was looking pretty calm, but there were some pretty dark and foreboding rain clouds hanging around during the ferry ride. Fortunately, the rain wasn’t in the forecast for long and the rain moved off by the time we reached Pender Island and the clouds started breaking up. We picked up our kayaks from Pender Island Kayak Adventures at 9am and hit the water as soon as we could get them loaded up. I have to give a shout out to Pender Kayaks because their kayaks are awesome! Ours seemed like brand new to us and had really nice hatches. I was looking back at our photos of the kayaks we rented in Sechelt and they really couldn’t hold a candle to what we rented on Pender.

We launched the kayaks out of Port Browning Marina, which is located on North Pender Island, near the road that connects to South Pender Island. There’s a small canal between the two islands at their closest point and from there you kayak into Bedwell Harbour, which is essentially a bay between the two islands. Our first campsite, Beaumont, was located in Bedwell Harbour. It isn’t too far from our launch point, so we were planning to kayak all the way around South Pender Island on Saturday, but we changed our minds last minute. We started the paddle down the east side of South Pender and there was a headwind coming back at us, so we decided to ditch the long 15km paddle around the island in favour of a more chill day at the campsite.

Our change in plans involved kayaking through the Pender Canal, which was a piece of cake at the time because the tide was going out and there was a nice current pushing us through the canal (foreshadowing!). We took our time exploring both sides of Bedwell Harbour before pulling into the campsite just before noon.

Pender Island is part of the Gulf Islands and has two backcountry campsites as part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. I was really excited about the prospect of staying in a national park, but I was a little less than enamoured when we pulled the kayaks up on to the lower beach at Beaumont. In addition to their dozen backcountry sites, the reserve also has a dozen mooring buoys located in the bay where people can park their yachts. I don’t have a problem with this, it just takes away from the view a little bit when you look out into the bay and instead of the natural surroundings, all you see is a bunch of yachts. Our campsites in Sechelt Inlet had been extremely remote, with kayaks as pretty much the only way to access them, so it was just a change in pace from that – something I had to adjust to.

What was more annoying though was that the site we had pre-booked had danger tape all around it warning that the campsite was closed due to a hazardous tree. I get it, you don’t want people camping somewhere unsafe, but come on Parks Canada, don’t sell reservations on sites that are not useable. Or if this was a new thing, then at least notify me and assign me an alternate site. It was super annoying to have to walk around and find another place to camp. The sign said that overflow camping was okay, to just try and pick somewhere low impact, so we set up on the bluff, only to be told hours later by a park ranger that we couldn’t camp there either. He did find us a new site, but it was a more than frustrating experience and we were not pleased to have to move the campsite.

But that was really the only hiccup with the sites and we did still end up with an amazing site along the bluff overlooking Bedwell Harbour. It was quite busy during the day with all the yachters riding in on their little dinghies to explore the park, but come nighttime, it was pretty deserted and we had lots of privacy.

Since we had cut our kayaking short for the day, we decided to have lunch and then go on a hike in the afternoon. From Beaumont, you can hike up to Mount Norman, which is the highest point on Pender Island and has a great view of the Gulf Islands. At first it’s just a lovely little hike along the shoreline, but eventually you start climbing up to the point.

Now, it was pretty overcast and a bit windy when we kayaked in, but since then, the clouds completely moved out and we were suddenly faced with a gorgeous, completely cloudless, blue sky day. It’s only a 250 metre climb to the top of Mount Norman, so I wasn’t expecting anything too strenuous, but boy was I wrong. It’s not a technical trail by any means, but there are no switchbacks and it pretty much goes straight up to the point. Couple that with the hot and humid weather we were having, and it made from a pretty exhausting hike. It’s about 7km round trip from our campsite, but we were a puddle of sweat by the time we reached the top (to be honest, I think I was also fighting a bit of dehydration from our morning paddle).

But it was totally worth it for the view at the top! From the lookout, you could see straight over North Pender Island and out to Salt Spring and Mayne Islands. There’s no shade at the top though, so we enjoyed the view for as long as we could bare before seeking relief in the trees again. We were rewarded at the bottom though and went for a quick swim before dinner. The water was shockingly warm for the ocean and felt great on our muscles.

Our view from the bluff looks out on two small islands, although island is a generous term because at hide tide they shrink down to a collection of rocks, but it was a popular hang out location for birds (although surprisingly not seals). Seth wanted to get a closer look at them and the wind had died off completely by evening, so we went for a little sunset paddle to explore. There wasn’t much of a sunset (foreshadowing!), but it was so nice not to have to fight against any wind. After that we hit the sack and spent one of the warmest nights I can remember ever sleeping in a tent. I guess I’m used to sleeping in the alpine, which is generally cold at night, but it was so warm on Pender I don’t think I even did my bag up all night.

Day 2 had a lot more paddling in it than Day 1, but we had a little sleep-in and enjoyed a lazy breakfast looking out over the harbour. It’s hard to stay still for too long though because the water is so calm in the morning and evenings. That was probably my second biggest (foreshadowing!) lesson learned from the trip. It’s worth it to be an early riser as a kayaker because the wind tends to pick up later in the day and the water is a dream to paddle in at dawn.

But we hadn’t yet learned that lesson so we took our time on Sunday morning and it was probably around 9:45am when we finally pushed back from the beach. Our plan for Day 2 was to paddle out of Bedwell Harbour and up the outside of North Pender Island to Shingle Bay – the second backcountry campground in the reserve. It was about a 12km paddle, which we knew we had lots of time for, but would be more than we did on any one day on our last trip. We took our time paddling out of Bedwell Harbour. We paddled back to the islands and Seth was thrilled to see 2 black oystercatchers chilling on the rocks (the bird he did his Master’s thesis on). The wildlife viewing was excellent on Sunday and on the way out of the harbour we saw a number great blue herons and other birds and an otter playing on the rocks. We followed the otter for a bit as it swam along the shore and then found some islands at the end of the bay with a seal colony hanging out. We counted 7 seals on the rocks and a bunch in the water.

From there we started to make our way around the outside of the island. This was the single biggest mistake we made throughout the trip. It was a bit windy (although not too bad), but the water definitely got harder to paddle in when we rounded the corner of the island. It was still totally fine for paddling, but it’s a little more intimidating when you’re on the outside of the island with open water on the other side of you. We decided we were ready for a little break to recharge, but we’re dismayed when we couldn’t find any beaches along the coast. Which brings me to my biggest lesson learned: study your maps and know where your stopping points are.

We did have the marine chart for the area and we had given it a look, but we hadn’t adequately mapped out where we were going to stop. Our experience in Sechelt Inlet and the day before was that there are always lots of little beaches around to stop in. But around the south side of North Pender Island, it’s all steep cliffs with no beaches. It makes for scenic views, but not great when you’re getting tired and are in open water. A closer inspection of the map revealed that there weren’t really any beaches for a while. We rafted up for a bit for a little break, but your legs do start cramping up after long periods stuck in your kayak, so we soldiered on to try and get to the first beach we could see on the map, the appropriately named, Boat Nook.

I have to say, I did start getting some anxiety at this point. Seth really needed to pee, but I don’t think I was actually that tired, I just got really nervous about the lack of stopping places and the remoteness of where we were if something happened to us. The water was manageable, but it wasn’t the calmest and we did still have to work against wind and currents. I talked myself down as best I could though and we did eventually make it to the Boat Nook, which was a huge relief.

I couldn’t believe it though when I checked the time after we pulled up the beach. We hadn’t even been kayaking for 2 hours! We ended up paddling probably 9 of our 12km in just 2 hours. It had felt like we were on the water forever, but the anxiety had just made it seem longer than it was. It wasn’t even noon yet, but we wanted a nice long break, so we decided to have an early lunch. There wasn’t much paddling left after that, so we had a leisurely paddle to Shingle Bay.

It’s hard to say which campsite I liked better. Shingle Bay was pretty much just a meadow and orchard, so it didn’t have much privacy, but I liked the vibe there a lot better than at Beaumont, which had been dominated by the people in their yachts. Shingle Bay was really chill. There’s a bunch of apple trees in the orchard and there was a family of deer that hung around all day eating fallen apples. It was low tide when we arrived, so Seth spent some time exploring the tide pools and I did a bit of reading.

What did surprise me about Pender Island though was the lack of kayakers. Sechelt Inlet had pretty much been exclusively kayakers, but because of the nature of the campsites being located on an inhabited island, there were all sorts of people at the campsites, none of which were kayakers. We saw a few people out for day trips, but the two nights we were out, Seth and I were the only people that kayaked to the campsite. People at Beaumont either hiked in or came by yacht, and everyone else at Shingle Bay hiked in. It was a bit odd though because while the campsite is promoted as a backcountry site, apparently it’s not very far from the parking lot, so everyone was carting in all this fancy car camping gear like grills and coolers in wagons.

We hadn’t planned to go out paddling again, but everyone was crowded out on the point to watch the sunset, and we decided it would be more enjoyable to watch it from the water, so we decided to go for another evening paddle. Best choice ever! I didn’t think the sunset was going to be that great because it was pretty cloudy, but it ended up being incredible and lasted for ages! It started off as golden yellow and then changed to pinky-purples, before going a deep red/orange at the end. It made for some really gorgeous photos on the water and we saw a few porpoises as we were paddling around.

We had an early night again though because we had a big day ahead of us on Monday. We had to undo all the paddling we’d done over the past 2 days, about 15km, and we had to do in all in time to catch the 3pm ferry back to Vancouver. We got up at 6am and were on the water by about 7:15am. This was one of the best decisions we made all weekend and really cemented the lesson that the water is best in the early morning. It was slightly choppy right when we started paddling, but it was only because we started just as the tide was changing, after that it was dead calm on the water.

We took a short break again at Boat Nook to prepare for the long section, but the kayaking was a dream this time around! It was so calm, we cut through the water so easily and we saw so much wildlife! We saw tons of otters, seals, and birds, and were again joined by 2 porpoises. There was still some mist hanging over the water and it made for some really gorgeous photos against the rocks. It was a totally different experience than the day before, thank goodness.

We had planned to stop at Beaumont for an early lunch, but we made such great time on the way there that it was still too early. So we stopped in for a pee break and then decided to make an attempt at the channel. We asked Pender Kayaks about the channel when we picked up the kayaks and they said it could be challenging when the tide is going down (which is was), but we didn’t have much choice but to make an attempt at it. As soon as we got close you could tell there was a current, which tried to turn us around, so we stuck to the edge of the channel. The hardest section though is going under the bridge because all the water funnels through the piers and it’s quite strong. That was the hardest part for sure and was pretty exhausting. I was making progress through the opening, but it was definitely a challenge to make any headway and my arms were so tired.

Fortunately there’s a beach just to the left of the channel when you exit, so we made a beeline there for a quick break before crossing the rest of the channel and landing on a beach on the north end of South Pender Island. We had lunch there and enjoyed the last few moments of the trip before kayaking back through the marina and returning the kayaks.

So it was definitely an eventful trip, as evidenced by the length of this post! It was only our second trip, but I definitely feel we learned a little something new every time. Our paddling skills are definitely improving and hopefully we’ll continue to get more planning savvy as we continue. It was a lot different than Sechelt Inlet and I’m pressed to say which one I enjoyed more. Sechelt is definitely more remote, but we saw so much wildlife on this trip and I felt that there was a lot of variety between campsites and paddles. There’s a ton more campsites to explore in the Gulf Islands, so we’ll definitely have to go back!

Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.