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.

20220514_110757

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).

20220514_151022

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…

20220514_160209(0)

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!

20220514_150442

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!

20220514_161512

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!

received_1154885161973791

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.

DSC06085

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!

ECT Series: Cape Broyle Head Path

I’ve been trying to do an overnight hike on the ECT for a few years now and I finally succeeded with Cape Broyle Head. Emily’s done more of the ECT than me and this was the only section with a campsite she hadn’t done, so we went for it in early August of 2021. In total, there’s only 5 official campsites on the entirety of the ECT, but you can generally free camp along other parts of the trail if you can find a good spot for it.

The campsites are located on longer sections of trail, which Cape Broyle Head is at 18km. It’s listed on the ECT website as difficult to strenuous. It’s a bit of a drive from St. John’s and at the time my family was all sharing one car, so Mom and Dad decided to drive out with us on Saturday, hike a few kilometres, and then turn around and return the next day to pick us up on the other end. The trail runs from Cape Broyle to Calvert. We didn’t put too much thought into direction – the campsite is located 7km from Cape Broyle, so we decided to start in Calvert to get the longer distance (11km) done on the first day.

DSC00161

There’s a nice view out towards Ferryland as you leave Calvert. On this particular day it was extremely windy, but there’s a viewpoint located approximately 1km past the trailhead, which we made a visit to. After that you climb up and over the headland. It’s a bit of a slog uphill, but honestly it’s not that bad and we didn’t really think much of it. Probably about 15 minutes in total. Mom and Dad hiked over with us in hopes of another viewpoint. Sadly though, after the headland it’s a pretty steady hike through the forest with no viewpoints, so we stopped in the woods and had lunch and then Mom and Dad turned around to go back to Calvert.

20210807_124537

This section is pretty flat and easy and continued to the 4km mark, where you can descend off the trail to a nice viewpoint. It might have made for a nicer lunch stop, but there’s not much room there, so I’d recommend continuing on and we only stopped briefly. The weather was pretty good for hiking, it was overcast and calling for rain later in the evening, but it hadn’t yet made an appearance. The trail continues to meander up and down around Church Cove, Shag Rock Cove, and Shipwreck Point. It’s a bit of a slog though – you get a few viewpoints down to each cove, but for the most part it’s in the trees. But we did make a lovely discovery at the top of Church Cove! There is a picnic table in this location, so it makes for a really nice rest point or lunch break. I can’t recall seeing many picnic tables along other sections of the ECT, so it was a nice surprise.

DSC00184

Just before you hit the 10km mark, you get a beautiful view down into Lance Cove. It was a pretty calm day on the water and there were a few boats that had pulled ashore with some families hanging out along the beach. Despite glimpsing lots of beaches on the ECT, often they’re not accessible from the trail. We assumed this to be the case for Lance Cove because it looked pretty sheltered, but we were thrilled to find a steep staircase heading down to the beach right at the 10km mark! We continued down the trail and found a nice place along the beach to drop our packs and go for a quick dip in the ocean. It was pretty cold, but it’s always nice on your tired muscles after a day of backpacking.

20210807_164031

By this time, it was getting later in the day, about 5 or 6pm, so we packed up to hike the last kilometer to the campsite. The campsite is located at Freshwater Point which looks down to Lance Cove from the other side of the bluff. There’s an outhouse and it’s just a short walk down to the river to get water. I can’t remember exactly how many tent pads there were, but I want to say about 5. They’re all in the trees and there’s not really enough space to free camp on the ground anywhere, so we had to stay on one of the pads. Unfortunately the tent pads are kind of in rough shape, with missing boards and loose nails, but we were able to find enough space to set up the tent. There was one other woman camping overnight and she had set up on another pad and gone down to Lance Cove for supper.

20210807_174013

There’s not a great view from the campsite, but you can peak down to Lance Cove through the trees. In this case, there was a storm coming in that night, so we were happy to be sheltered in the trees. We did also run into another couple while we were getting water and they told us they had happened upon a small cabin on the way in and decided to stay there. We passed it the next day and it had a couple of bunks, but I’m not sure the history of it or whether it’s supposed to be accessible. But it turns out, of everyone else we encountered on the trail, we were the only ones going from Calvert to Cape Broyle. Apparently the headland has a bit of a reputation from the Calvert side and the other campers were impressed we had hiked up over it. We were impressed they were saving the longer distance for Day 2 considering there was a fair bit of rain in the forecast for Sunday, but some of them were just turning around and going the same way back after Lance Cove.

DSC00167

We had a nice supper and hot chocolate before getting ready for bed. There’s no bear cache at the campsite, but there are bears in Newfoundland, so we decided to hang our food. It’s pretty rare to encounter bears, so I don’t really know anyone in Newfoundland who practices bear safety. I always like practicing my bear caching skills, so we went for it. I didn’t have the best luck though, I ended up with too strong a throw that wrapped itself around the branch twice and it took me a while to get it down again to hang it properly. Then in the morning, one of our carabiners had become stuck on a branch overnight and we ended up having to get a really long stick to poke our food out of the tree, so not the best bear cache I’ve ever made.

IMG-20211222-WA0031

Unfortunately the rain moved in overnight and it was pretty wet when we got up the next morning. We did a tent breakfast before packing up to hike out in the rain. It did stop raining not too far into our hike, but there’s a lot of vegetation and mud along the trail and we still got soaking wet from rubbing against all the plants on the way out. We only had to hike 7km, but it resulted in a much slower pace than the previous day and we knew Mom was probably going to be waiting a little while for us on the other end.

20210807_191417

Overall it was a bit of a miserable hike out. Aside from Lance Cove and the view right out of Calvert, there’s not really a lot to see on this long trail. It’s almost entirely forested and didn’t make for the most inspiring day. I did really love Lance Cove, but I think if I was ever to return, I’d probably just hike out to Lance Cove and back from Cape Broyle since that’s the only real highlight on the trail.

Eventually we stumbled into Mom on the trail, she’d decided to hike in and meet us and we hiked the last 1 or 2 kilometres out together. There is a nice beach right at the end of the trail, but if you’re coming from Cape Broyle, you don’t really have to hike far to get to it. We had a good time because we love hiking and camping and the two of us don’t really get to do it together very much anymore, but I wouldn’t rank it as one of my favourite sections of the ECT. Best done as an overnight.

DSC00172