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!

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!