Elfin Lakes Girl Guide Trip

Since I just wrote about the bike trip I took with Girl Guides, I figured I’d continue the trend by writing about a backpacking trip I did in September 2019 to Elfin Lakes. I wrote this post almost right after the trip, but I never got around to posting it, so with the changing of the seasons (foreshadowing), I thought it was finally time! This was my most recent trip to Elfin Lakes, but I’ve been 3 other times, all of which were very different experiences. Read about my Fall day hike, summer tenting trip, and winter snow camping experience for my stories about the trail.

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I’ve been wanting to take my Pathfinder group into the wilderness, but you need previous experience on backcountry trips with girls before you can lead your own, so I jumped at the opportunity to join the North Vancouver Trex group on this trip. It was only my second trip into the backcountry with Girl Guides, but for some reason I always seem to encounter the craziest weather on guide trips, and this one was no exception!

We were a group of 12 and we planned to hike up to Elfin Lakes on Friday, tent for 2 nights – day hiking to Opal Cone on Saturday – and then hiking back down on Sunday. Needless to say, things did not go quite as planned. We do our best to be prepared as girl guides. The forecast was calling for rain on Friday and temps down to -8 degrees celsius overnight, so we packed lots of rain gear and warm clothes for sleeping. However, the temperature ended up dropping a lot faster than we expected and the rain started to turn to snow just before we reached Red Heather Hut, which is almost the halfway point up to the lakes.

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The girls were thrilled about the snow, which was falling gently, and I have to admit, hiking in the snow is a lot nicer than hiking in the rain. We had hot noodle soup for lunch before continuing on to the lakes. It was still September at this point and it was obvious it was the first snowfall of the year. However, the snow started to accumulate pretty quickly and it started snowing heavier as we continued on from the hut. Fortunately, there was no wind, but visibility wasn’t great and we couldn’t see any of the views on the way up. I admit, the further we hiked, the more apprehensive I got.

I wasn’t really nervous about camping in the snow, because I have done that before and we had brought really warm gear, but we didn’t have snow boots or snow pants and it was increasingly obvious we weren’t going to be able to hike to Opal Cone the following day. Even though it was calling for sun and blue skies on Saturday and Sunday, there was too much snow to hike further without proper footwear. But we just focused on getting to the hut and the girls did really well managing the conditions. Fortunately no one got cold or wet feet on the way up!

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We hit the hut around 4pm and everyone was thrilled to go inside. I think the girls were thinking we were going to abandon the tenting idea and just sleep in the hut, but as we had only booked tent pads and there were 12 of us, that wasn’t really an option (although obviously in an emergency we would have camped out on the floor if we had to.) We made them hot drinks to warm up and everyone hung their wet gear by the fire. I have to say, the girls had a great attitude when we told them we were still planning to camp. The snow did start to slack off and was almost stopped when we went back outside an hour later to scope out the tent pads. Fortunately the clouds had started to lift and you could just start to see the surrounding mountains (which are incredibly striking from the tent pads at Elfin Lakes), so the girls started to get excited again about tenting.

We shoveled off the tent pads and set up 4 tents. This proved to be a bit more of a challenge than we anticipated because it was pretty darn windy when we were setting them up. We had to weigh them down with rocks and then shove all our gear inside them to hold them down. Then we had the added difficultly that we couldn’t peg them because of the tent pad, but we eventually managed to get them set up and soon after that the wind died down and I didn’t give it much more thought.

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By the time we finished it had really cleared off and we had fun getting some photos of the mountains and the tents. Time really got away from us with the weather though and it was 8pm before we finally had supper in the hut. We had pesto pasta and re-hydrated coleslaw for dinner, with 2 bite brownies and reese peanut butter cups for dessert. After that we pretty much hit the sack because we were all exhausted. Unfortunately we decided we couldn’t stay for a second night because it just wouldn’t be safe to hike to Opal Cone and the girls didn’t have the appropriate gear to play in the snow, so it made the most sense to just hike back out on Saturday. The girls took the news pretty well and were very understanding.

I stayed up to get some star photos and then nestled into my sleeping bag for the night. It was pretty calm when we went to bed, so I thought that was the end of it, but oh was I ever wrong. Around 3 or 4am a wind storm blew in that totally put our tents to the test. I grew up in Newfoundland, which is super windy, but I never really did much tenting there, and not in recent years, so sadly I’ve kind of gotten used to tenting without wind. As a result, I never guy line my tent and only ever peg it really to protect from the rain. So it never really occurred to me to guy line the tents. It had occurred to the other leader though, but she had forgotten her rope, so she never brought it up (not realizing I always bring extra rope with me).

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Anyways, I’m sure you see where this is going, but the wind was really strong. I’ve never tented in wind like that and it was totally billowing the tent in and out. It woke everyone up and the girls started freaking out a bit, but everyone’s tents looked fine, so we told them to go back to sleep. Then I was woken up again at 5:30am by one of the other Guiders when her tent collapsed on her and two girls. When we looked at the other two tents the girls were in, it really looked like they were going to collapse soon too. So we had to put the first tent back up and then I got my rope and we guylined them all to the tent pads. Somehow my tent was the only one that didn’t look close to collapsing, but we were in a slightly different area than the rest of the tents, so the wind may have been blowing slightly differently.

It was still super windy in the tent, but the guylines did the trick to prevent any more collapses and we were able to go back to sleep until 8am. The wind never really let up though and it battered us all morning when we tried to take the tents down as well. but it was a beautiful sunny day and the blue sky and fresh snow made for a really beautiful view. We had sunrise spuds for breakfast and then packed everything up again to head down.

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I was worried it was going to be super slippery on the way down and was concerned about not having spikes (my friend once broke her arm in similar conditions), but the snow was still fresh enough that it hadn’t been compacted into ice yet, so it wasn’t too bad. We had a little photo shoot on the ridge looking down on the lake and then hiked back to the Red Heather hut for lunch again.

We had one more spot of adventure on the way down. One of the girls rolled her ankle about a kilometre from the end, but fortunately it seemed to be only sprained and she was able to slowly walk the last little bit out. We divvied up some of her gear and strapped the rest of the pack to my front to carry it out and we all made it down to the parking lot in one piece!

With the exception of the first photo, all pictures were taken on Day 2!

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Vancouver Island Bike Trip

That’s right, you read the title correctly, I went on a bike trip. For those of you who don’t know me it might not sound that surprising since I do a lot of adventurous things, but trust me, I am not a biker. So the fact that I went on an 8 day, 160km bike trip last summer (July 2019) was definitely a surprise to me and something that I never thought I would do.

Taking up bike touring was a little bit of a forced hobby, but I ended up enjoying it quite a lot. I’m a girl guide volunteer in my spare time and have been volunteering in a Pathfinder unit (girls ages 12-14) for the past 3 years. The girls in the unit had gone on a short bike trip the year before, so we decided to take things to the next level with an 8 day bike trip around Victoria and Sooke.

Like I said, I’ve never really been a biker. I do own a bike, but it’s not the most ergonomic bike and New West (where I was living at the time) is super hilly, so I hadn’t used it very much. To prepare for the trip, I did weekly spin classes (something I’d already been doing as knee strengthening for hiking) and I started doing weekly bike rides around my neighbourhood. I got pretty into it and then before I knew it, I’d convinced Carolyn to sign up with me for my very first triathlon! I completed the triathlon (750m swim, 10km bike ride, 5km run) about a month before the trip and felt so accomplished.

But that’s all besides the point. Let me tell you about the trip. Our group of 10 girls and 4 leaders met at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal on the Saturday morning of the Canada Day weekend. We walked our bikes onto the ferry and aside from our support vehicle for food and gear, our bikes were our only mode of transportation all week.

On day 1, we rode off the ferry and biked ~24km to Kingswood Camp, which is a girl guide camp next to Elk Lake, about halfway between Sidney and Victoria. It was a really nice day, but we had a lot to learn about group riding and it ended up taking us about 4 hours to get to the camp. The Lochside Trail runs from Sidney all the way to downtown Victoria, so we spent most of the morning on a nice bike trail through Sidney, before exiting the trail to bike to the camp.

We got a little lost on the way to camp, but we eventually made it. There are definitely challenges with group riding as you don’t want to ride too close together or too far apart, and you can’t all cross the street at the same time. So we had a few kinks to work out, but we took our time and had a pretty good ride.

Since this was a trip with 10 teenagers, we kept to a pretty leisurely itinerary and enjoyed the camp facilities on Day 2. Like I said, the camp is right next to Elk lake, so we went on a short ride to explore the surrounding area, doing a total of 11km of riding. On Day 3, we packed up and hit the road again.

Day 3 was Canada Day and we wanted to celebrate with the masses in Victoria, which involved a 13km bike ride into downtown. Unfortunately I had to miss this ride as it was my turn in the support vehicle, but I raced the girls to find parking in downtown Victoria and meet them at the hostel where we were going to spend the night. We had a full 16 person room booked out for ourselves, so we set up base there before going to explore Victoria for the day.

I have to confess that I rarely celebrate Canada Day in the city. We’ve had a long weekend the last 4 years for Canada Day and I have a tendency to skip out of the city for the weekend to hit the mountains, so it was a lot of fun to actually properly celebrate Canada Day. We walked to Parliament from our hostel and caught some of the celebrations. We had a nice dinner at the Spaghetti Factory and caught the fireworks over the harbour.

On Day 4 we left Victoria for our longest biking day. We biked out of the city on the Lochside Trail and picked up the Galloping Goose for the rest of the ride. The weather caught up with us though and it was a wet ride out of Victoria. We rode along the trails in the rain until around noon, when we made it to Langford and found a Tim Horton’s to rest and dry off. It was okay biking in the rain so long as we were moving, but as soon as you stop, it starts to get really cold. It quickly became evident that we were going to have to make some serious changes if we were going to make it to Sooke in one piece.

Fortunately we had a support vehicle and it caught up with us at the Tim Hortons. We had all the pathfinders change into dry clothes, but it was definitely a lesson in preparedness. Some were well prepared with good quick dry clothes and waterproof outerwear, but others had to do a complete change of clothes and shoes. I changed into all dry clothes, but I opted to wear the same shoes because I wanted to have a dry pair when we arrived. Instead, I changed my socks and did the old trick where you line your sneakers with a plastic bag to stop the wet shoes from seeping into your socks. It totally worked.

Fortunately, the rain finally stopped while we were in Tim Horton’s and stayed away for the rest of the ride. So we had a quick bite to eat at Tim’s and then took off again, this time being able to stay dry. The Galloping Goose from Langdale to Sooke was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. Until then, we were mostly riding on side road bike paths or in many cases, just bike lanes. But after Langford, the Goose changes to a wide forested trail for the rest of the ride. We were able to ride long distances without having to worry about any road crossings and the trail was wide enough that the girls could ride two abroad and chat.

It was 4 or 5pm by the time we rolled into Sooke and found the camp that would be our home for the next 3 nights, Milne Creek Camp. Kingswood was cool, but I loved Milne Creek. It’s this old timey lodge right on the river. It’s 100 years old and has these little hammock beds that you fold down from the wall. The old porch has been converted into a sun room where we would eat our meals and it had a great view looking out over the river. From the sun room we saw so much wildlife. I saw 3 bears, a bunch of kingfishers, and at least a dozen deer throughout the 3 nights.

The rest of the evening was pretty much devoted to drying out our clothes. In total we had biked 44km. Day 5 was a more relaxing day for me. Half of the group got up early to go kayaking, but I was in the second group, so we had a bit of a lie-in and then a lazy morning. In the afternoon we went out to Sooke for ice cream and spent some time playing games in the field before returning back to our humble abode for a campfire (indoors).

Day 6 was much more eventful as it was my turn to go kayaking. We hired a 3rd party to take us out kayaking for 3 hours in the Sooke Basin. The first group hadn’t made it too far out as it was too windy to cross the basin, but while it was still windy when we went, they deemed it had calmed down enough for us to cross the basin. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment as it was rough crossing the basin in open water, but we saw some sea stars and cucumbers along the shoreline and then kayaked around sacred first nations islands where we saw a bunch of seals sunbathing themselves.

In the afternoon, we visited the Sooke museum and farmers market. We tried some tasty treats at the market and then spent a fair bit of time at Sooke karaoke night at the market! The girls had been planning their own Karaoke night for the evening and were thrilled to discover a full fledged karaoke machine at the market, so we had fun watching them all sing the latest Jonas Brother’s songs. We finished with a trip to the community pool to take the opportunity to shower as our cozy accommodations were sadly lacking any way of bathing.

Day 7 was our last full day and the route was a bit of a repeat of Day 4. Fortunately though, the rain stayed away this time. The girls biked another 44km back to Kingswood Camp, but I was on support vehicle duty again. I did meet them several times throughout the day though. We met for a picnic lunch in Langdale, and then again for an ice cream break closer to Kingswood. We had a bit of a party on the last night. We had technical biking shirts for all the girls, so we dressed up and made some virgin margarita’s to celebrate all the distance we biked!

Day 8 was our last day and it was a bit of a flurry as we biked another 24km back to the ferry terminal. We stopped again for ice cream along the way and arrived at the terminal just in time to catch our ferry back to Vancouver. In all, the girls biked 160km over the course of the week. It was a totally new experience for me and something I don’t think I ever would have done on my own. I can’t see myself taking up biking as my main form of adventuring, but it certainly made for a great trip and experience!

Lets Talk: Backcountry Gear

Anyone who hikes all the time, loves talking about gear. I started off with a lot of gear that was either old or borrowed. My parents gave me a lot of their old camping gear, which was very robust, but a bit on the heavy side. Since then I’ve slowly been replacing my gear over the years, though there’s a few older pieces I still use because I love them.

Unlike me, Carolyn used the same crappy gear for years and then this year she decided it was time to finally replace everything all at once. Not ideal on the chequebook, but the two of us having been talking all gear all the time for months, especially in advance of the Black Friday sales, so I figured I’d share some of my favourite pieces of gear that I use!

First off, backpacks. It took me a few years to replace my old 80L travel backpack, which weighed a whopping 7lbs, but subsequently I went a little backpack crazy. A few years ago I got the Gregory 60L Amber, which I loved, but started to find it was a little too big for me as I downsized my gear, so this year I got the Gregory 53L Jade, which I LOVE. The Amber is one size fits all, but I got the Small size in the Jade, so it’s actually 50L and has some great features. My favourite are the suspension back, the fact that you can remove the head of the pack, and the easy access water pockets. Almost all of my friends use Gregory packs, Emily sports the 44L Amber and Carolyn has the 55L Maven. For men, check out the Gregory Zulu or Stout.

Next up, sleeping gear. Having a good sleeping bag and pad can really improve your nights as there’s nothing worse then being cold. A good sleeping bag was the one thing I invested in from the start. I’ve been using the MEC -7 Aquilina bag for years, sadly they don’t make it anymore, but a better alternative would be the MEC -9 Delphinus (it’s warmer, lighter, costs about the same, and it’s purple!). The male version is the MEC -9 Draco. The key things for me in a sleeping bag were getting something that has a high comfort rating and is down (I know it’s not great for wet climates, but its just so warm). I went for a women’s bag because women generally sleep colder than men. If you’re looking for something warmer, Carolyn recently bought the Marmot -18 Lithium, and Brandon uses the Thermarest -30 Polar Ranger when we snow camp. I’ve been looking at purchasing the North Face -29 Inferno bag for snow camping myself.

Don’t forget to put some serious thought in your sleeping pad as well. A good sleeping bag will only do so much if you’re not using a warm pad. When buying a pad, pay special attention to the R-value as this is what tells you how insulating the pad is. My recommendation is to stay above an R-value of 3. Some people buy summer mats with super low R-values, but something around 3 will be a great 3 season mat for you. I used the MEC Reactor 3.8 for a long time because it’s on the cheaper side, but if you can stomach the cost, I’d now recommend the Thermarest Neoair Xlite. It weighs less and in my opinion, is comfier. Currently though, I use the Thermarest Neoair Xtherm. It’s an expensive mat, but it’s 4 season and I use it snow camping as well, so it’s been good value for me.

Moving on to tents. I’ve been using the North Face Talus 3 for years and I absolutely love it (and got it for a steal), but at 6.5lbs, it’s a heavier tent, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it. Although when you do actually sleep 3 people in it, the weight to person ratio is generally less than a lot of standard 2 person tents, so it’s decent value for 3 people, but heavy if you only have 2. I’ve been doing a lot of research on tents lately because I was looking to purchase a new one. I’ve been comparing between ultralight freestanding tents and ultralight tents that are set up using hiking poles. Take my advice with a grain of salt because I haven’t tested these tents, but I narrowed my research down to my top two picks, which were the Big Agnes UL Tiger Wall, and the Gossamer Gear The Two.

I recently purchased The Two, which rings in under 2 pounds and can be set up using hiking poles, or two tent poles purchased from Gossamer. I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet, but looking forward to trying it out next year! I think the downside to this tent will be that it’s a single walled tent. So if you want double walled, check out the Big Agnes, which is a little bit heavier, but still very light. If you’re looking for something a little cheaper, I think one of the best value on the market is the Marmot Tungsten, which comes in both standard and ultralight (higher price, but worth it in my opinion). Again, there’s much lighter tents out there, but you pay for it. Brandon uses this tent, so I do have experience with it.

Stoves and pot sets is one area where I will encourage you to seek advice elsewhere. My stove is the one piece of gear I inherited from my parents that I still use and therefore is ancient. It runs on propane, so the fuel is heavier, but I keep using it because it’s a robust little stove that provides great heat distribution. I also have a smaller stove that runs on iso-butune mix that I love, but I got it in New Zealand, so you can’t find it in North America. Brandon and Carolyn both use white gas stoves, which are a must have if you’re snow camping, but personally I like the gas stoves. In addition, I just have the basic 2 pot set from MSR. It’s pretty cheap and the coating is starting to come off, but it served me well for several years.

I think that about covers it for major pieces of camping equipment, but I’ll link a few more of my favourite miscellaneous items below if you’re on the hunt for any other gear.

Hiking boots: I swear by Vasque, the Breeze is probably the closest to what I currently hike in.

Sit-upon/Pillow: MEC Seat Cushion (I fold it in half to use as my pillow. LOVE IT)

Mug: GSI Infinity Mug (seriously, this thing is the best!)

Safety: Kahtoola Microspikes (excellent for icy conditions), Garmin InReach Mini (could save your life)

Kettle: Sea to Summit Kettle (collapsible and great for hot chocolate on day trips)

Sleeping bag liner: Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme (great for winter camping)

Clothing: Honestly, Costco is the best. They have merino base layers, wool socks, small compressible puffy jackets, puffy slippers, just stay on the lookout for great deals! No need to break the bank on clothing, although I started using merino undies and bra when I hike now and I am a huge fan! They’re a little pricier, but you can usually get them on sale from Icebreaker or Smart Wool. They dry so fast and keep you warm even when they’re sweaty.

The only other thing I wouldn’t skimp on is your rain jacket. If you’re relying on it to keep you dry, it’s worth investing money in. I’m currently saving up for a gore-tex Arc’teryx shell jacket – they’re top of the line for rain jackets, but you definitely pay for it.