Let’s Talk: Campfires

There’s only really one thing that matters when it comes to having a campfire in the backcountry – if it’s not allowed, DON’T DO IT. I’ve camped in so many locations and there’s almost always one group breaking the campfire rule. Just because someone else is doing it does not make it okay for you to have a campfire too. Just because you see evidence of fires from past campers does not make it okay to have a campfire. Forgetting to check in advance if fires are allowed also does not give you the right to have a fire. Campfires are not an “ask for forgiveness, not permission” issue. Respect the backcountry and always check first.

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If you want to have a campfire when you’re hiking, there’s two things you should check in advance:

  1. Whether campfires are permitted. Most Provincial Parks don’t allow fires in the backcountry, though there are definitely some that do. Fires are a risk in parks and they can be destructive to the natural environment, but I think the main reason why Parks don’t allow fires is because of the impact of firewood collection. People will cut down and destroy live trees and shrubs in their zeal for foraging firewood and even dead branches have a lot of value to the forest ecosystem, so usually, parks are better off left alone.
  2. If there’s a fire ban. Regardless of whether fires are permitted or not, if there’s a fire ban in the area that you are camping in, then you cannot have a fire. Hopefully I don’t have to explain the risk of this one given the wildfires spreading all over the Pacific Northwest the last couple of years. So I usually try and prioritize campfire friendly locations in Spring and Fall since the fire ban will likely prohibit any fires throughout the summer regardless of location.

However, there are some times when you will be able to have a fire! The coastal trails on Vancouver Island (above photo) are a great place if you’re looking to have a campfire because the damp environment keeps the wildfire risk low and there’s lots of driftwood to burn, which has lower ecological value. Often if you stick to trail networks that are outside of park systems, fires are generally permitted as well, though there are some parks that permit campfires. Finally, if there’s no fire ban, campfires are almost always permitted in frontcountry campsites! This is a great way to enjoy a campfire because you don’t have to forage for firewood and there are often firepits provided, creating a safer environment for fires.

But if you are lucky enough to find yourself at a backcountry location where fires are permitted, what should you keep in mind?

  1. Safety: pick a good location for your fire. It should be away from your tent and anything that could catch fire from flankers. If possible, build a fire ring out of rocks to help contain the fire, or dig a pit in the sand, and always have a source nearby to put out the fire. Carolyn’s trick is to fill all our pots with water and keep them next to the fire in case it spreads. Or if you’re on the beach have sand nearby to throw on the fire.
  2. Firewood: like I’ve discussed above, try and disturb the surrounding environment as little as possible. Beach campfires are great because it’s easier to find rocks to create a pit and driftwood makes for great firewood. Never take branches from living trees and avoid larger logs – these are generally wet and provide valuable habitat to many forest critters. Stick to smaller deadfall that will be easier to burn and has less ecological value.
  3. Put out your fire: never leave a fire burning after you’re done with it. Even if it’s just embers left, douse them with water or throw sand on top. A fire should never be left unattended.

Tips for starting your fire:

  1. Stack your wood, by which I mean, start with smaller dry materials, move up to twigs, then sticks, then logs. As the fire grows, start adding the bigger pieces of wood to keep it going. Collect enough wood in advance so that you don’t have to leave the fire unattended to look for more. Use a pocket knife to make wood shavings for kindling, or find some small twigs from the underbrush.
  2. Bring a firestarter to help speed things along. I like to use fluffed up tampons because they’re tiny and burn well, but Brandon dips pieces of paper towel in hot wax and brings them with him. If you don’t mind carrying something a little bulkier, the old dryer lint stuffed in an egg carton and dipped in wax works great too.
  3. Make sure your fire always has oxygen. Use a pot lid to blow some air into the fire when you’re getting started and have a fire poking stick to turn logs over and keep the fire fresh.

I’m not really a fire expert, so if you have any more tips to share or if I missed anything, please let me know and I’m happy to add! Just remember, only you can prevent forest fires!

Kayaking Barnet Marine Park

Since we got our own kayaks, we finally had a reason to check out Barnet Marine Park! I’ve seen it a few times hiking from Belcarra, but had never visited. We decided to check in out during the unseasonably warm weather we got in mid-April in 2021 and loved it!

Barnet Marine Park is located just off – you guessed it – Barnet Highway! It’s behind Burnaby Mountain, at the narrowest part of Burrard Inlet, where it branches and you can either head east into Port Moody, or north up Indian Arm. There’s a lovely sandy beach area that’s popular among picnickers, and it’s only a short paddle across the channel to Belcarra Regional Park.

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To date, we’ve mostly been accessing the water from the parking lot in Belcarra, but that is a much smaller lot and you have to get up a lot earlier to secure parking (plus it’s a longer drive). The Barnet parking lot definitely fills up too, but it’s a lot larger so you don’t have to get up quite as early to get a spot. It has more of an urban feel than Belcarra, but I suspect we’ll spend a lot more time here in the future because of its practicality. I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting point for Indian Arm because it will add length to your paddle, but I’d like to return some evening for a sunset paddle, as I think it’s a great location for when you just want to get out on the water for an hour!

The only downside when we visited is that they’ve closed the drop-off loop that goes right down to the beach, so you have to unload the boats at the first loop, which makes for a longer walk down (although that may have changed more recently). We have a set of wheels for our kayaks, so it’s manageable, just makes for a bit more work – I’m glad we didn’t have to carry them though. We went on a hot day and got there somewhere between 9:30-10am and didn’t have any trouble finding parking. When we left around 1pm though it was a lot busier!

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We launched out into the inlet and basically paddled back up to Belcarra. You could also paddle along the shore to Port Moody, but it’s pretty industrial, so we paddled over to Burns Point instead and made our way back to the main launch in Belcarra. We stopped at a small beach along the way for a snack and to avoid the busy launch, then we paddled around Boulder Island before heading back. It’s not a strenuous paddle, but it made for a nice 2-3 hours on the water. We definitely could have been faster, but we were in no rush so we just took our time.

It’s definitely a popular place for paddlers though – there were tons of kayaks and SUPs out on the water when we were out there and I imagine it probably gets busier as it gets warmer. Overall we really liked it, and I hope to return this year!

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Kayaking Belcarra to Ferrar Cove

Now that it’s finally starting to feel like Spring, me and Seth were stoked to get our kayaks out again! We bought them last year and did a lot of kayaking in the spring, but less than we would have liked in the summer. The backpacking season is so short, so it’s hard to fit in both backpacking and kayaking, so we decided to make Spring our prime kayaking season (since the alpine is still under snow until the end of June).

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We went out once in early April to do our Level 1 Paddling Course (the second course after Sea Kayaking Basics), which was a great opportunity to refresh our rescue skills and work on our paddling strokes. We got wetsuits for Christmas this past year, so I’m feeling more confident about early season kayaking. It made me nervous before because I knew it would potentially be pretty dangerous if either of us accidentally went for a swim. But we tested wet exits in the kayaks in early April and the wetsuits helped a lot!

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The training course wasn’t in our own kayaks though, so we were keen to get back to Belcarra, which is one of our favourite places to paddle near where we live in Coquitlam (Rocky Point and Barnet Marine are closer, but Belcarra is our preferred). I like to look at maps a lot and I noticed that there’s a tea house located in Belvedere (neighbourhood in Belcarra) and thought it might be fun to check out. It’s called 8 Corners Organic Tea Room and you can access it by road through Sasamat Lake, but since the road goes through the park, this can be tricky since Metro Vancouver often closes the gate once the parking lot is full during the busy season. So I scoped out the water access, which is available through Farrer Cove, and decided to make an attempt by boat.

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We started by getting to Belcarra for 8am. In April you don’t have to go quite this early to get parking (there was lots available), but in the summer, I usually aim for no later than 9am if I want to be assured parking. In this case, we went for 8am anyways because the water is a lot flatter in the morning, which makes for great paddling. In the summer you can rent kayaks from Takaya Paddling Centre in Belcarra, but it’s not open year round, so an alternative in shoulder season is that you can instead rent kayaks from Deep Cove and paddle across Indian Arm. It’s about the same distance from either location (Deep Cove or Belcarra), but it’s a bit of an easier paddle from Belcarra since you don’t have to cross the Arm.

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On this particular day, it was super calm on the water and we had a really enjoyable paddle out to Jug Island. I’ve written about Jug Island before, which makes a great paddling trip if you’re new to kayaking. It’s an easy paddle and not as long. I’d budget about 3 hours for Jug Island, whereas we needed a full 6 hours for Ferrar Cove. But Jug Island makes for a good break and we pulled into the beach for a snack and to use the outhouse. There were some hikers on the beach, but it was still pretty early and the tide was really high, so there wasn’t too many people.

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From there we continued across Bedwell Bay to Ferrar Cove/Belvedere, which is where the tea room is located. The open water crossing is shorter than Deep Cove, but you want to make sure you check the weather and wind forecast before attempting either crossing. It was a low 6km/h the day we went and we won’t go out in winds higher than 20km/h, which requires a lot more effort. The wind usually comes up in the afternoon in Indian Arm, so earlier paddling will be easier. It was probably only 3-4km/h winds on the way to the tea room, and maybe more like 8km/h winds on the way back. So it was a very easy crossing, which is always nice.

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In my advance research, I’d identified a small beach at the end of the cove where we could land, but upon arriving, it didn’t look like the beach connected through to the road. There was however a very large dock that was completely empty. We couldn’t see any signs indicating that it was a private dock, so we tied up our kayaks there and walked up the hill to the tea room, which has a beautiful view looking out over Ferrar Cove. I’m still not 100% sure what the deal is with the dock and whether it’s a proper public dock, but we asked the tea room and they said that it’s the correct place to land when you’re visiting the tea room. While there is a road, they are technically a water access property, so they can’t guarantee that customers will always be able to access the tea room via the road if the park gate is closed, but you should always be able to access the tea room via the dock! So definitely check it out!

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The tea room is only open from 11-5 on Fridays and Saturdays. We got there shortly after 11, so we were the only customers when we arrived and had a great chat with some of the staff! The staff are lovely and they let us sample all of the cold brew teas they were just brewing (cold brew is my favourite) and told us a bit about some of the history of the teas, which they get from an organic tea farm on Jeju Island in Korea. You can make bookings for a proper 90 minute afternoon tea, but since we weren’t sure about our timing, we decided to order a la carte instead. So we each had an open-faced sandwich and a dessert with our cold brew. They have both indoor and outdoor seating, but we opted to sit outside to enjoy the view. It’s a really gorgeous location and we felt so content to relax on the patio. It gave our paddling trip a bit more structure to have such a nice destination and I guarantee we’ll be back again!

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Around 1pm we returned to the dock to start the return trip. If you’re visiting by kayak, it is a little bit tricky to dock. It’s definitely tailored to sailboats and yachts, so it’s a bit high to board from a kayak. We were able to use the railings to get in and out of the boats and there is a ladder on the other side if you’re really struggling. The harder part though would be getting the kayaks up onto the dock as it is a bit of a drop. We opted to just leave them in the water and instead locked them to the rail. You could also tie them up using your tow line, just make sure you secure them well.

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The wind did pick up in the afternoon, but it was considerably less than some of the other times I’ve paddled Indian Arm and we didn’t find it challenging. We paddled back to Jug Island for a quick pee break before heading back to Belcarra again. It was 9am when we started paddling and shortly after 2pm when we returned. So if you give yourself a full 6 hours of paddling time that should be more than sufficient, though if you do the full afternoon tea, you might want a bit more time.

All in all, it was one of the most fun days I’ve had on the water since we got our kayaks. At 10km round trip, it was the perfect length paddle for a day trip. We absolutely loved the tea room and would definitely recommend whether you’re paddling from Belcarra or Deep Cove. Can’t wait to go back again!

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