Tikwalus Heritage Trail Backpacking Trip

Despite the high levels of snowpack hanging around in the mountains this year, I had a good start to the season and got in a second backpacking trip the first week of June. I find Spring backpacking challenging because of the limited number of trails with campsites that are snow free, so me and Carolyn have been trying to branch out to find new trails. This was made somewhat more challenging because we wanted to bring our dogs with us (and even fewer trails are dog friendly), but fortunately Tikwalus Heritage Trail fit the bill!

Tikwalus is located about a half hour north of Hope on Highway 1, just before you reach Hells Gate. As we were driving up there we realized that neither of us had done any hiking in this area and I couldn’t recall ever driving the highway since I’ve lived in BC (though I did it once as a tourist before I moved here). It’s exceptionally beautiful driving along the steep walls of the Fraser Canyon and it doesn’t seem to get that much hiking traffic. Despite not arriving at the trailhead until noon, we were only the third car in the lot! A very promising sign for me since Sadie can be reactive to people and dogs.  

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At 6.5km to the campsite, it’s not an overly long trail, but it is very steep and you gain almost 800m in the first 4km. We took our time going uphill and the dogs had a blast alternating between playing with one another and guiding us up the trail. Sadie is almost 2.5 years now and is an Australian Shepherd, which is a very high energy dog, so she had no problem with the hike and carries her own food and equipment in her Ruffwear pack. Jasper is still a puppy and less than a year old yet, so he was freeloading off Carolyn until he gets old enough for a pack. He got a bit tired early in the hike from the uphill, but he also has a lot of energy and bounced back very quickly once he got used to the climbing.  

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As the name suggests, Tikwalus is a heritage trail and covers both indigenous and colonial history. The trail has been used for many, many years by the Nlaka’pamux for hunting and gathering and there are several culturally modified cedars along the trail. In later years, the trail was used as a trade route through the Cascades by the Hudson’s Bay Company. There are several placards along the trail providing lots of information about the history of the trail, so it made for an educational hike and a nice respite from the uphill monotony on the way in. About halfway up there’s a beautiful viewpoint looking out on the surrounding mountains.  

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Once you get to the top of the steep section (~4km), you’ve done most of the elevation gain and the trail branches into a loop around the summit. If you do it as a day trip, it’s about 13km round trip. It’s mostly flat around the top, so we decided to take the slightly longer lake route to shorten our journey for the following day. Unfortunately there’s not a ton of views around the lake route, but there is a huge viewpoint on the other route. It was clouded over on day 2, so we never got to take advantage of the viewpoint, but it’s still quite scenic at the campsite, so it wasn’t that big a deal. Just something to note if you’re in a similar position as us with the weather. The viewpoint route does go along a narrow spine though, so if you have any issue with heights, the lake route felt a bit safer.

It took us about 3.5 hours to reach the campsite. We didn’t take any long breaks, though we did stop to get water when we crossed over a fast flowing creek on the way up. This was a really good choice because the water options near the campsite are not ideal. There are two creeks on either side of the campsite. I would say the option on the lake route is the better of the two. It’s closer to the campsite (maybe a 10 minute walk?) and it has a decent flow rate. The placard said there used to be a cabin in this area in the past because it was used as a water source. The second option is on the viewpoint route.

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It’s a bit farther (maybe a 15 minute walk?) and it’s not as fast flowing as the other one. To be honest, neither are great, so make sure you bring a filter, I wouldn’t want to rely only on water tabs. I’ve read in some comments online that people get water from the first lake, but I would definitely avoid – it’s very still and a terrible water source. Just walk a bit further to use either of the creeks.

There were two other groups at the campsite when we arrived, but it’s very large and we had no trouble finding a good spot to pitch our tent away from other people. We were joined later by a few more groups, but at no point did it feel crowded. The trail seems to be used primarily for backpacking. We didn’t see a single person on the way up or down, so it seems like most people who go up there plan to stay the night. It’s a mostly forested trail and campsite, but there are some really nice views looking out over the mountains.

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We had really nice weather on the way up and it threatened rain in the early evening, but mostly held off. Campfires are allowed at this campsite and there were several established rings around, so we collected wood debris from around the site and got a small fire going. I’ve done a whole post on responsible campfires, so make sure to only take dead wood and to avoid harming any natural habitat. Fires aren’t permitted in so much of the backcountry (and even when it is permitted there’s often a ban), so it was really nice to have one! We forgot a firestarter, but Carolyn worked some magic to get one going.  

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The rain finally moved in around 8pm and we decided to call it an early night. It was really just a bit of drizzle, but neither of us wanted to sleep with 2 wet, stinky dogs. However, it was still light, so it took the dogs a while to settle down and we did some reading before falling asleep early. Unfortunately, the dogs get up with the light, so they had us up and awake at 6am. It rained on and off throughout the night, but was mostly mist when we got up. We had a quick breakfast and then packed everything up and were back on the trail shortly after 8am. Quite early for us!

I thought it was going to be a brutal walk down based on how steep it was, but it ended up not being too bad. We saw nothing but clouds from the viewpoint on the return loop, but they lifted enough for us to get a misty view of the mountains at the halfway viewpoint. We finished the hike around noon and stopped into the General Store on the way back to Hope for lunch.

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Overall, it’s a pretty understated hike. It’s mostly in the trees and it is quite steep, but we really enjoyed it. It’s very green in the Spring and we loved that it wasn’t crowded. The large campsite gave us lots of space and we liked the rare opportunity to have a campfire. It was a great choice for taking the dogs and we loved exploring a new part of the region that we’d never been to before and learning a little bit about the history of the area. Would definitely recommend if you’re looking for an early season hike and don’t mind a climb. It is tiring, but it’s not a technical trail, so I think it would be good for beginners looking to build up their stamina and abilities. It has both an outhouse and a bear cache and you can bring your furry friends!  

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Viewpoint Beach Girl Guides Backpacking Trip

This is my third time writing about Viewpoint Beach in Golden Ears on this blog, but I did this trip with Girl Guides so I wanted to write about it again since I’m coming at it from a different angle. I started volunteering with Girl Guides shortly after I moved to Vancouver and have since done 3 years with a Brownie group (grades 2-3), 3 years with a Pathfinder group (grades 7-9) and most recently, my first year with a Trex unit (grades 7-12). Trex isn’t part of the core Guiding Program, but is a special ops group for members that just want to do adventure activities. Unlike the normal guiding program, which promotes learning and badge-work on everything from arts, to STEM, to activism, to camping; Trex doesn’t have any badges and just meets sporadically to plan adventure activities.

I’ve been wanting to do Trex pretty much since I discovered it existed, but there are limited units. Finally, last year I decided it was time to go for it and opened my own unit based out of New West (which is where I’ve been Guiding the past 7 years). We weren’t sure if we’d get enough members register to go ahead with the unit, but it ended up getting completely filled up and we’ve been working on developing adventure skills all year for when COVID finally died down enough to re-start overnight events. Our group was really keen to develop our backpacking skills this year and were thrilled to plan our first overnight trip for mid-May.

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Our original plan was to hike to Cheakamus Lake, which is a pretty flat trail before Whistler. I’d been once before in mid-May and had a great time and we reserved several campsites. Unfortunately, the weather this Spring has been terrible and the access road to Cheakamus lake was still half inundated with snow, so we decided to change our trip at the last minute to hike to Viewpoint Beach in Golden Ears instead. The goal was to do a shorter hike with only gentle inclines, which the Viewpoint Beach trail definitely delivers.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t deliver. We met up a few days before the trip to go through everyone’s gear and pack our backpacks. Camping was only permitted with 2 people per tent thanks to COVID, so we had to carry a lot of tents with us. The nice thing about Girl Guides is that we can borrow most of the gear, so we shared around pot sets, tents, backpacks, and sleeping pads. The only thing we couldn’t borrow was sleeping bags, which proved to be a challenge because a lot of our members had older unrated bags and it was hard to tell how warm anyone would be (spoiler, not very warm).

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I’ve spent the last 6 years trying to reduce my pack weight and size by gradually upgrading my gear, so I was a little concerned that everyone was carrying big and heavy packs. What I didn’t take into consideration is that our group is made up of 13-16 years olds who have a lot more energy than their said Guide leaders. The weakest link on the hike in was definitely the adults!

It’s ~4km to the campsite at Viewpoint Beach and the Guides had absolutely no problem hiking there, even with their large packs. They blew through the trail in just an hour and 20 minutes! It’s possible that it was the rain spurring them on though…

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It was raining pretty heavily on our drive to the trailhead, but it stopped by the time we arrived. We got all ready with our backpacks and it started to rain again just as we started. Fortunately we were under the trees, so it wasn’t too bad, but we all layered up with our raincoats and pack covers to protect our gear. We arrived around 12:30pm and our timing was amazing, because it stopped raining long enough for us to put up our tents while it was dry before eating lunch. There was one other group on the beach when we got there, so we set up along the back by the trees and got a few tarps up. One more group showed up after us, but everyone else seemed to be continuing on to Halfmoon Beach instead. I’m not sure if our big group (11 people) was a deterrent, but there were empty sites left overnight, which is more than I can say for the last two times I went with a small group.

After lunch it started to genuinely pour, so we had a bit of a rest under the tarps and in tents. Since we had arrived early, we wanted to do a bit of exploring, so when the rain eased up we decided to hike back to the bridge to try and cross over to Hiker’s Beach, which is located just across the river from Viewpoint Beach. I have seen people ford Gold Creek to get to that beach on other trips, but the water is very cold and I definitely wasn’t going to attempt it with a group of teenagers!

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BC Parks has put a lot of effort into upgrading the trail as far as Viewpoint Beach in the past few years. The first time I hiked there was in 2014 and there was barely any infrastructure, since then they’ve added a really nice bridge to connect the East Canyon trail (the official trail name), to the West Canyon trail, which heads up towards Alder Flats and Golden Ears peak. It also connects to Hiker’s Beach to save you from having to ford the river.

We hiked back across the bridge, but unfortunately, there’s a second river crossing just past the junction to Alder Flats that was impassable. We could tell from Viewpoint Beach that the trail entrance to Hiker’s Beach was partially flooded, so we knew it was possible we wouldn’t make it there, but we didn’t realize we also had to worry about crossing Alder Creek. If I’d been on my own or more adventurous, I might have explored around for a way across the creek, but again, with 8 teenagers, none of whom were using hiking poles, I wasn’t willing to risk it. So instead we hiked back to the beach and enjoyed hanging out along the river as the rain had finally stopped. We didn’t see anyone on Hiker’s Beach the whole day, so I guess no one else was willing to chance the crossing either!

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The rain stayed away for the rest of the evening, which made the trip a lot more enjoyable. We were able to spread out to cook dinner rather than to all huddle under the tarps. We did cold soak lunches on the trip and had coconut chickpea curry with rice for supper. It turns out there’s a big difference in how much teenagers can eat – the 16 year olds had no trouble eating their entire meal, but the 13 year olds only ate about half of theirs. We finished the evening with a chocolate pudding for mug-up. One of the Guides convinced me to try my pudding hot, which is how she loves to eat hers, but I will attest that it is not good, haha. Always go for cold pudding my friends, or if you’re lazy like I usually am, a chocolate bar.

So despite the weather, our first day was actually quite successful. Unfortunately, the rain didn’t cut us a break on Day 2. It started raining again in the middle of the night and only increased in intensity throughout the morning. We packed up what we could in our tents and then left the tarps up until the very end to try and stay as dry as possible. Unfortunately I got quite wet taking down the tarps and rolling them up, so it didn’t make for the most enjoyable hike back. Plus I think I was carrying several extra pounds in water weight from the soaked gear!

Despite the weather though, no one complained! One of our Guiders is also in Scouts and she informed us that the Scouts whine a lot more when the weather is bad, so we were really impressed with Trex. We were all satched when we arrived back at the vehicles and quickly stripped off our layers and loaded everyone up with snacks to boost morale. We stopped into Tim’s on the way back to have our lunch and get hot chocolate and donuts. I’m always worried that a bad trip might deter someone new from continuing to adventure, but our group are a real bunch of troopers and I still saw lots of smiles at the Tim’s!

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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!