Life in British Columbia

My life in Vancouver since moving to BC in 2014

Frosty Mountain and PCT Backpacking Trip

This may be the last post in my Manning Park mini-series for now. I have a few more trips I can write about, but they cover some of the same trails, so for now I’ll save them for another time. But I have a great trip to end off the series with – a 4 day trip I took in 2018 with Girl Guides of Canada.

I was a girl guide growing up in Newfoundland and I’ve been volunteering with the New Westminster District in BC for the last 5 years. I’m currently a leader with a pathfinder group, which is girls 12-14, so I wanted to expand my camping skills so that I could start to take girls on backcountry trips as well. There’s obviously a lot of risk involved in taking girls into the backcountry, so I completed an Outdoor Adventure Learning course and was selected to go on an adult backpacking trip to Cathedral Park.

The trip was scheduled for the BC day holiday in August – if you recall, 2018 was a SUPER bad summer for forest fires in BC. So I was really excited about going to Cathedral Parks, but unfortunately, there was a nearby fire and the park closed just days before our trip. It probably would have been easier to cancel the trip, but fortunately I was going with a group of enthusiastic women and we quickly came up with a back-up plan to go hiking in Manning instead.

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I’m sure everyone’s heard of the Pacific Crest Trail – it’s definitely a dream of mine to hike it some day. The trail actually ends in Manning Park, so it makes for a great long weekend hike for locals. 4 of us piled into one car in Vancouver to make the drive out to the park, where we met with 4 other women who would join us on the hike. The goal was to build our own skill sets and share knowledge so that we’d gain the ability and the confidence to take girls into the backcountry.

Our goal for Day 1 was to hike 7.5km to the final campsite on the PCT Trail (there’s 2 on the Canadian side of the border). We toyed with the idea of going up to the Windy Joe lookout, but ultimately decided against it. Our group consisted of hikers of all different abilities, so it was a good exercise in learning how to accommodate everyone’s skill set. Some of us do a lot of hiking and didn’t find the hike too challenging, while others struggled with their pack weight. Girl Guides definitely err on the side of caution, so we did go into the backcountry pretty heavily loaded. One of the participants dropped out at the last minute and another Guider was added to the trip, so she struggled on the trail because she didn’t have the time to train like the rest of us. About halfway to the camp, we re-distributed some of our gear to make it easier on those who were struggling, so I ended up with a pretty heavily loaded pack.

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But we made it and found some sites to set up our tents and start making dinner! The campsite is pretty forested, but you can get a little bit of a view through the trees. It’s also not the largest campsite, so it can get pretty crowded, especially on a long weekend – which this was – but we took Friday off so we had a head start on the rest of the weekenders.

On day 2 we planned to continue on the PCT to border Monument 78, a popular photo spot for all the Northbound through-hikers (and I’m sure for the SOBO hikers too). It’s about 5km to the border monument – it’s not the most scenic trail, but it’s a steady downhill towards the 2nd camp, located just before the border. The camp is quite pretty, with this super clear river and a pretty rickety, but fun, bridge going over it.

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We stopped to use the outhouses before walking the last 500 metres to the monument and I had a bit of a mishap. Right after I used the outhouse I was using my hand sanitizer and when I snapped the lid closed, it shot a big glob of hand sanitizer right into my eye! It burned so bad. I immediately screamed out, likely terrifying all of the other Guiders into thinking there was a bear, but quickly communicated I’d gotten hand sanitizer in my eye, which brought the first aider running. If you’re ever going to get injured in the wilderness – do it with a group of Guiders, they are the most prepared people in world.

Our first aider had me lying on the ground in no time while she poured a steady stream of water into my eye. It worked at flushing my eye out, but what surprised me what how long she had to do this. She flushed my eye for about 10 minutes before I felt I was okay to go on. We finished the walk to Monument 78, snapped some photos, and then she flushed it for another 5 minutes while the rest of the group walked back to the camp for lunch. After that it seemed we had flushed it enough and fortunately it didn’t bother me any further. The things that can happen to you in the backcountry are just so random!

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We ate lunch next to the river and soaked our feet in the water. It was freezing, but it was a pretty hot day and it while it was a bit numbing, it was also refreshing. The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful. It was mostly uphill on the way back and since we had such varying abilities in the group, we decided to split in two. I went ahead back to the campsite. Some of us were toying with the idea of going back to do the Windy Joe lookout that we had skipped, but decided to wait for the rest of the group at camp first. We sat down for a few snacks and noticed that some pretty foreboding looking clouds were moving in. It started to look like it might rain, so we secured the camp, making sure everything was tucked away where it wouldn’t get wet.

The rest of the group showed up just before it started raining, which was lucky because once it started it was like the clouds just let loose and it started torrentially pouring on us. We had brought 2 tarps with us, so we quickly put them up to huddle under. This was my first time really getting caught in a mountain storm and it was another good lesson in always being prepared. I’ve been out hiking in the rain before, but it was amazing how this storm came out of nowhere. The rain switched to hail for a bit in the middle and we were relieved to have shelter. A few groups showed up while it was raining and they were just drenched to the skin. They started trying to put their tent up, but we advised them to wait it out rather than risk getting everything else wet. It was the right call because as fast as it started to rain, it let up and the dark clouds moved on. All in all it was probably about of hour of rain, but boy was it a lot of water. The sun came out soon after though and it was almost like the whole thing never happened.

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On day 3 we decided to split the group in half from the start. About 100 metres before the campsite, the PCT branches off to Frosty Mountain. Frosty Mountain is a well known Manning hike, especially in the fall when the larch trees all turn golden yellow. It’s about a 20km hike to the top of Mount Frosty and back. You can do it as a loop or hike up either side of the mountain. I think most people start from the other side because it’s a shorter hike on that side, so if you go in and back you can save yourself a few kilometres. Plus there’s a camp on that side as well. But our goal for the day was to hike up to the summit and back to camp. At 18km round trip, it was a big hike for us and had a lot of elevation gain.

We got up early to get a start on the trail. It’s a steady uphill the whole way, but we made good progress, stopping only once on the way up for a snack. The first part of the hike was in the trees, but the higher you get the more it starts to open up. There’s some really beautiful mountainside meadows with views looking out over the park. Unfortunately the wildfires were really picking up steam and there was a fair amount of smoke blowing through. Not enough to obscure the view, but enough to make everything a little hazy.

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Eventually the trail opens up more and you hit a steep rocky section. Things got a bit more slow going after this. On the map it looks like you’ve done a lot of the trail, but the last section is the most challenging. We continued on up over the rocks, following a steady stream of switchbacks up the side of the mountain. A lot of it is boulder fields, so it’s pretty technical and sometimes hard to see where the trail goes. You can see a signpost that looks like the top most of the way up, so we just kept striving towards the sign.

We finally made it, but unfortunately it’s just the point where the trail up both sides of the mountain meets. There’s still about another kilometre along the ridge to get to the peak. We had set a return time to meet back at the camp, so we were trying to keep a schedule that was starting to get tight, but none of us could resist going all the way to the top. We were pretty exhausted, but we pushed through along the ridge to the very peak.

It was totally worth it. Mount Frosty has unreal views of the surrounding mountains and the hike along the ridge is out of this world. From the top you have a 360 degree view all around. It’s totally the kind of viewpoint I live for. It was a nice day, as well as being a long weekend, so there were a lot of people around and we had to share the top with a bit of a crowd. It was really windy at the peak, so we decided to go about halfway back along the ridge to eat our lunch. We still had an amazing view looking out over the park as we ate.

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We took about a half hour for lunch and then we definitely had to start heading back to make our return time. I know some people prefer downhill, but I really hate it. I don’t find it any easier, especially with how steep the rocky section was on the way back. Once we got to the meadows it was a little easier going, but by then we’d hiked a lot of kilometres with very few breaks and our legs were really starting to ache. We pushed through, rolling in to camp right at the pre-arranged time!

We enjoyed one last evening together. While the hiking was mostly what I focused this blog on, it was really only one small part of the weekend. The rest of the trip was about supporting each other and being a part of a Guiding team. There were 8 of us, so there was a lot of planning and coordinating involved in the trip. We divided ourselves across 3 tents and ate all our meals together. Everyone was responsible for planning 1 meal for 8 people. I quickly signed up for breakfast because it’s my favourite meal, and in my opinion the easiest, but apparently everyone else was a fan of dinner, so I had some really great meals on the trip. One of the Guiders brought an outback oven – it’s a piece of camping equipment that has been discontinued by the manufacturer but is dearly beloved to almost every Guider I know. So for one of our mug-ups she made us an actual chocolate cake! Still the one and only time I’ve had homemade cake in the backcountry.

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Even though we weren’t really hiking the PCT, one of the cool things about being on the trail in early August is that there were actually a ton of people coming through our campsite that were completing their journey on the PCT that very day. We talked to several through hikers – some in groups, some solo. None of them stopped for long, but it was interesting to ask them about their time of the trail and how it felt to finish. None of them really seemed to comprehend that they were almost done; I got the feeling a lot of them were either sad to be finishing or in denial about it. It was fun to check out their packs though. For a 3 night hike, we were pretty crazily over-packed. It’s unreal to see how small a lot of their packs were considering most of them were coming off a 4 month hike.

Our final day was easier then everything that had come before. It was a steady downhill hike back to our cars. We made a stop in the lodge for some snacks from the cafe and then we all said goodbye. It was a very cool group of women – we were all very different, but all shared a real love for the outdoors, and of course, for Guiding. We wrote about our trip in the local Girl Guide magazine if you want to read more about it (page 20). To date I haven’t seen many of the women since, but I did have the opportunity to pair of with one of the Guiders from our group to take a group of girls up to Elfin Lakes last September! One day I hope to get around to telling that story too!

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Backpacking the Heather Trail

Continuing on with my mini-series on Manning Park, in 2018, 2 years after first being inspired by 3 Brothers Mountain, I returned to hike the full Heather Trail. Manning Park is filled with dozens of awesome mountain trails, but (dare I say) the Heather Trail is one of the most popular. It’s a 21km trail the starts at the top of Blackwell Road, runs past 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Brother Mountains, and continues through many kilometers of scenic alpine meadows to Kicking Horse Camp and Nicomen Lake. In the height of the summer, you can find every colour imaginable of alpine wildflower scattered along this trail.

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In 2018, I finally took 3 days to hike the Heather Trail with my good hiking buddy, Carolyn. One of the reasons the hike is so popular (I imagine) is because it starts at the top of Blackwell Road, which is one of the few public roads going right up into the alpine, so it saves you from having to hike much elevation gain. I believe most people hike the 21km in to Nicomen Lake and then hike all the way back, but me and Carolyn decided to drive 2 cars out and added an extra 17.5km onto our hike to make it a through hike down to the highway and Cayuse Flats parking lot.

We took Friday off and dropped my car at Cayuse Flats and then started our hike from the Blackwall parking lot shortly after noon. I was dogsitting my friends black retriever, Alfie, at the time, so we had the added excitement of taking a dog with us along the trail. The view from the parking lot is already beautiful and showcases the surrounding mountains, so from the parking lot, we started hiking down into the woods for about 4 kilometres before arriving at the first backcountry campsite, Buckhorn Camp. We skipped this one and continued on towards our destination, which was Kicking Horse Campsite, located at kilometre 12.

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From Buckhorn Camp, the trail gets super scenic. You hike back up into the alpine meadows and from there, you continue along the ridge to First Brother Mountain. There are incredible views of all the surrounding mountains, and though the wildflowers were a little late this year, we did spot a few starting to bloom. The nice thing about the trail is that once you hike back up from the first campsite, there’s very little elevation gain or loss for the rest of the trail (with the exception of First Brother Mountain).

Me and Carolyn aren’t ones for too many breaks, so we pretty much powered through the first 9km to the base of the First Brother Peak. From there we abandoned our packs for a little side hike up the First Brother. Like I said, I’ve done this one before, but it was no less breathtaking the second time. It starts with a steep ascent up the side of the mountain before flattening off again along the ridge to the peak. The mountain drops out from under you on both sides, so it makes for a narrow, but scenic walk up to the peak.

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It’s a little steep, so we tried to tie Alfie to a tree for the last couple hundred metres, but he’s part retriever, part border collie, so his herding instinct started to go bananas as soon as we started to walk away from him. We were honestly worried he was going to pull off his leash in his anxiety to stay close to us. I told Carolyn to go ahead without me, but even that was too stressful for Alfie, so he did accompany us (slowly) to the top of the mountain. Honestly, he was totally fine with the rocks, it was me that was the nervous one.

We all survived the hike to the top, so after that we continued our hike to Kicking Horse Campsite. This was all new terrain for me and it was rolling meadows as far as we could see. We weren’t particularly worried about the campsite being busy because we had taken Friday off work, but a group of about 8 boys caught up to us mid-hike, so we kept just ahead of them for the last few kilometres to beat them to the campsite.

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Our haste was wasted though, because even though we had barely seen anyone on the trail, everyone had apparently beaten us to the campsite and all the tent pads were taken when we arrived. So I can only imagine what this campsite must be like on a weekend, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom. But no fear, we don’t like tent pads anyways (they’re hard and uncomfortable), so we found a nice empty patch away from the crowds to set up our tent.

It was probably around 6 or 6:30pm by the time we rolled into camp, so we mostly just set up camp and had our supper before hitting the sack. We weren’t sure how many people were heading to Nicomen Lake in the morning, so we wanted to get a head start nice and early. It was also pretty cold, so we layered up and cocooned into our sleeping bags for the night. It actually dropped below zero in the night because when I got up to pee Alfie’s water bowl had completely frozen solid and everything had frost on it when we got up in the morning.

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We’d picked a stellar spot though because as soon as the sun made it up over the mountains, it was shining directly on our tent. There’s nothing I love more than being able to pack up a dry tent! We had a quick breakfast, took down camp, and then started on our way to tackle the 9km to Nicomen Lake.

The hike to Nicomen Lake is just as scenic as the rest of the trail. We hiked through meadow after meadow until we finally hit the ridge before Nicomen Lake. From the top of the ridge, we could see Nicomen Lake and started our descent towards it. We were momentarily distracted by a helicopter transporting a supply load via cable down to the campsite and a couple we passed in the opposite direction informed us they were doing some campsite maintenance at the trail.

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We had no worries about campsites this time. We were the first people to make it to the lake and arrived around 12:30pm. This time, the tent pads were all taken up by the maintenance crew, but we found an awesome sandy spot right next to the lake to pitch our tent. Nicomen Lake is incredible beautiful, the only problem is the bugs…

We’ve never arrived at a campsite as early as noon before, so we were honestly at a bit of a loss for what to do. It would have been lovely to lie next to the lake all day, but the amount of mosquitoes made it a bit torturous. We had lunch, took a little nap, went for a swim, and played fetch with Alfie. Eventually we decided to go for a little mini hike to explore the area to keep moving to avoid the flies. It was a really lazy afternoon and I got in a fair bit of reading, but by nighttime the campsite had completely changed and gotten very busy. Some of the people from Kicking Horse showed up, along with a huge crowd of others who had hiked the entire 21km that day.

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We had supper and then made it a pretty early night. We got hit with a small bit of rain in the evening, but it only lasted about 15-20 minutes and the clouds cleared out again pretty quickly. We had a beautiful view of the lake and I wanted to try my hand at some night photography, so I turned my midnight pee break into a bit of a photo shoot and got some really awesome shots of the stars and the milky way!

We kind of forgot that our last day was going to involve a whopping 17.5km, so we decided to get up really early again because we really had no idea how long it would take and neither of us wanted to be too late getting home on Sunday. We also knew the last day wasn’t going to be scenic (all forest trails), but it was actually a bit of a relief because it was scorching hot on Sunday and the trees provided a nice buffer from the sun.

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We totally killed the last 17.5km and exited the trail ~5 hours after we left the campsite. The trail out comprises of 2 hiking trails, the Grainger Creek Tail and the Hope Pass Trail. The Grainger Creek Trail was mostly switchbacks (although very gentle ones) that undid most of the elevation we had driven up. It ended at Grainger Creek horse camp, where we stopped for our only break, before rejoining the Hope Pass Trail to Cayuse Flats. The Hope Pass Trail has a lot of history because it was originally used as a wagon trail during the gold rush in the mid 1800’s. So it was a very nice wide trail the rest of the way down.

There was one challenging spot about 100m before the parking lot. There was a pretty high flowing river with two trees down over it that were the only way to cross. I’m not really afraid of heights, but I hate crossing on narrow trees with my backpack, so we had to butt-scootch our way along the tree. The real problem was getting Alfie across. I was worried about letting him go over the tree, so we spent forever trying to find somewhere for him to ford the river, but another guy and his dog eventually caught up with us and his dog had no problem crossing the fallen tree, so I let Alfie go across it too and he totally had no problem. So again, it was just me being a worry wart.

And that pretty much concluded our adventures on the Heather Trail. From the river it was a short walk back to the parking lot. It’s a pain having to drive all the way back into the park to pick up the second car at Blackwell peak (easy way to kill 2 hours). But the trail was just a scenic as expected and I had a great time exploring it!

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Viewpoint Beach Backpacking Trip

I feel like it’s a bit misleading to refer to this trip as a ‘backpacking trip’ – it was only a 30 minute drive from my house and 4km to get to the campsite – but I still lugged a backpack and all my gear out there with me, so it counts!

Like many other locals, I was thrilled to hear that the government would be relaxing some of their coronavirus measures and that BC Parks would be re-opening for camping. I was one of the many hopefuls trying to get campsites when they released on May 25, but alas, I had absolutely no luck, so I was left to research where I could go on a last minute permit.

I went to Viewpoint Beach, which is located in Golden Ears park, that first weekend in June after the campsites opened back up again. I had 2 goals. The first was just to get outside and go camping; I wasn’t too fussy on where as long as I had enough space to set up my tent. The second goal required a bit more thought – I wanted to take my puppy on her first ever camping trip. That’s right, I got a puppy!

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Seth and I have wanted a dog for a long time – like pretty much since we moved to BC – but of course a dog is a lot of work and we didn’t really have the space for one at our old apartment, nor were we ready to commit to the time constraints of a dog. But we recently bought our first home and getting a dog was pretty much our first priority when we got back from New Zealand. I know a lot of people have taken on pet ownership in the recent pandemic. We never intended to get a pandemic puppy, but I can’t deny that the timing worked out perfectly.

We’ve done a lot of dog sitting over the past few years, mostly for Jordie the Australian Shepherd and Alfie the Black Retriever. I love them both and was initially leaning towards getting a golden retriever, but after some research, we decided that a high strung Australian Shepherd was the perfect dog for us. Aussies have a bit of a reputation for being high energy and not great for beginners, but they’re also great hikers, so I was sold. We found a breeder in Keremeos and we were set. We picked out a little red merle puppy, named her Sadie, and brought her home at 8 weeks.

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This was right around the time Coronavirus started to blow up (mid-march). The week before we picked her up we went pandemic shopping at the grocery store and I was so anxious to go get her because I could tell the climate was changing fast and I just wanted her home with us. We drove out to Keremeos on Friday night, picked her up Saturday morning, and then drove straight back home. She was so soft and precious. With the exception of vomiting a WHOPPING 4 TIMES, she slept in our arms almost the whole drive home. I took Monday off to stay home with her and by Tuesday, my work had announced we were going to a “work from home” protocol, so it was about 6 weeks later before we left her home alone for the first time. She’s a lucky pup – it was so much easier to be able to properly care for her as a puppy being home all the time, but it has resulted in a bit of separation anxiety (we think). Me and Seth are very much “her people”, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyways, back to the hike, what I’d intended to write about before going off on this life update. I really want for Sadie to be a hiking dog, but as a puppy, obviously she still has her limits, so I wanted something easy and close to home. We decided to try out Viewpoint Beach in Golden Ears.

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I did this hike once before about 5 years ago, so I kind of knew what to expect, but it seems BC Parks has put a lot of work into the trail since then, so it was a lot different than I remembered. They’ve updated a lot of the signage, upgraded the path to the lower falls, and the bridge that crosses over to Alder Flats (was there even a bridge here before? I always thought there was, but I’d hiked to both Viewpoint Beach and Alder Flats in the past and never saw one before). They’ve also added an outhouse at Viewpoint Beach, so it was more popular than I was anticipating for a rainy forecast, but there were still only 6 groups on the beach in total. Not bad for the first camping weekend after a 3 month quarantine.

Seth had to work on Saturday, so it was me and Emily that went on the hike. Emily lives on her own in North Van, so we kept her in our bubble throughout the pandemic. We picked up a Modo right after work on Friday and went straight to Golden Ears. We had sandwiches in the parking lot and then set off at around 6pm. Sadie’s been hiking around the tri-cities with us and has hiked up to about 8km to date, so I wasn’t too worried about the flat 4km hike to Viewpoint Beach. It’s always interesting to watch her though – this was our first time with backpacks and I think she could tell it was a slightly different experience than previous hikes.

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She’s a pretty high energy dog. She loves to be outside and if you don’t take her for a walk every day she’ll drive you crazy. It’s funny but even at 4.5 months old, she already has trail preferences. She doesn’t like wide gravel paths, I think she finds them a bit boring, and she seems to enjoy going up or down more than just going along a flat path. The more variety the better, so to date her favourite trails are actually mountain bike trails. We did a lot of exploring in the mountains up behind Port Moody during the pandemic, most of which are mountain bike paths, and she loves nothing more than running up and down those steep, technical trails. So I think I’ll have a pretty rugged hiking companion when she gets older.

It was a pretty easy hike to the beach, we knocked out almost 4.5km in just over an hour, which is actually pretty fast for us. Sadie did well on the hike, but the camping was definitely not without its challenges. Because everything was new, everything was very exciting and it was hard for her to settle down. At home when she gets hyper we just put her in her kennel for a little while and she calms down, but in the wilderness there’s no where to put her and she gets a bit anxious being on the line away from you.

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But we were able to get camp set up without too much difficulty. The forecast was calling for rain all weekend, starting around 9pm that night, so we wanted to get everything set up before that happened. There was no sign of rain when we arrived at the beach though. There was blue sky and we had a lovely view looking up at Golden Ears and the surrounding mountains. We set up a tarp for the next morning and a bear cache before settling down on the beach for some tea. Sadie went back and forth between trying to settle next to us and running around the beach chewing as many sticks as she could find.

I was really curious what she’d think about sleeping outside. Having down time was a challenge, but she ended up doing really well in the tent. I bought her a little backcountry dog bed from Ruffwear and she seemed to like it. She settled down there pretty easy and spent the night alternating between her bed and snuggling up between mine and Emily’s heads. I don’t know how much sleep she actually got, but she was quiet until 6am, which is when she normally gets up.

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The rain held off for most of the night, but then it really started to pour around 3am. It wasn’t calling for that much rain, but it was coming down pretty heavy, so I wasn’t really looking forward to the next day. It still sounded like it was raining when I got out of the tent at 6:30am with Sadie, but I quickly discovered it was only the rain from the trees dripping on us and that the rain had actually stopped. So we didn’t end up needing the tarp, but rule number 1 of camping, if you prepare for the rain, it will pass you by, so always prepare!

We had a chill breakfast on the beach and the weather continued to improve, not enough for us to dry the tent or tarp out, but we were able to pack down in dry weather, so no complaints. Had we known the weather would improve, we would have stayed for the day, but since the forecast had been all rain, we hadn’t brought a lunch, so we packed up and hit the trail again by 9am. So we didn’t spend that long in the wilderness, but it was great to finally get out camping and I actually really liked the campsite.

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We had a lovely walk back to the car and decided to try the new (old, but better signed) trail to the lower falls. The first 20 metres of the trail is much improved, but after that it’s a pretty steep, technical hike down to the falls. Nothing we couldn’t handle and it ended up being Sadie’s favourite part of the trail of course.

It’s definitely going to be a very different summer with all the travel restrictions and extra precautions, but I’m so glad the parks have opened back up again because I think so many of us really rely on them to maintain our mental health. Can’t wait to get back on the trail again soon!

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

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