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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Kayaking Sooke Basin

Since we recently got kayaks and I’ll likely be writing a lot more about kayaking, I figured I’d write about some of the day trips I’ve done in the past. I’ve been on three overnight trips in BC (and one in New Zealand), but I haven’t written about any of my shorter adventures, which are likely accessible for more people than overnight trips. Admittedly, my day trips are pretty limited as well, but I always have fun out on the water!

I kayaked Sooke Basin in 2019 with my Pathfinder unit. We went on a week long bike trip on Vancouver Island, which consisted of a few days camping in Sooke during which we went kayaking! We split the pathfinders into two groups, so myself and my co-guider accompanied 5 girls on a 3-hour morning paddle. The rest of the group had gone kayaking the day prior in some pretty heavy winds, so they’d been pretty confined to the shoreline and didn’t stray too far from the dock. But the wind and waves had settled a bit on the day we went, so they decided to take us across the basin. We were all in double kayaks, so I was paired up with one of the pathfinders.

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We rented from Rush Adventures, which is located inside the marina in a very sheltered area. The trip started off pretty chill and we saw some sea stars and jellies hanging out around the rocks. Then we pushed out into the basin to paddle over to the Goodridge Islands to look for seals. These islands are sacred to the first nations, so it’s important to keep your distance from them (and also from the wildlife). It’s also prohibited to land on the island, so our goal was to do some wildlife viewing from a far.

The guides that accompanied us were very enthusiastic, but I’m not sure how much experience they have in going out with younger paddlers. Obviously they’re experienced paddlers themselves, but I’m not sure it was the wisest decision to take a group of teenagers out in these conditions. Despite it being less windy than the previous day, we were still paddling into a pretty big headwind and one of the boats really struggled to stay with the group. I like to think I’m a decent paddler and the girl I was paired with was also very strong, so we didn’t have too much trouble, but unfortunately my co-guider didn’t have a lot of experience paddling and the girl she was paired with wasn’t giving her a whole lot of paddling support. The guide helped them out as best he could and put a tow line on the boat, but the rest of us were forced to paddle in place while we waited for them, which was also tiring because the headwind still required a fair bit of paddling to avoid going backwards.

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Eventually we made it to the sheltered side of the island and spotted a few seals sunning themselves on the rock, before eventually heading towards the other side of the basin and swinging around to head back. By this time we’d already been on the water for the better part of 2 hours, so I was getting pretty stiff and dying to pee. I asked the guide if there was somewhere we could stop and he said, “no, their are no washrooms”. I guess he assumed we’d be requiring a real washroom, but of course, we’re girl guides, so I insisted on stopping at the next beach because there was just no way I could hold it the whole paddle back. Once he realized we’d be “earning a badge” as we call it, he got the whole group to pull into the beach and I was joined by most of the unit, who were apparently all dying to go. It’s another reason why I think the guides maybe didn’t have a whole lot of experience with youth groups as they’d essentially planned to take us on a 3 hours strenuous paddle with no breaks for food or bathroom. Girl Guides is all about trying to make things fun, so we shared around some candy to prepare ourselves for the paddle back.

We made the decision to switch the girls paddling with me and my co-guider since I was a stronger paddler, and launched back into the water for the paddle back. The guides were optimistic we would have a tailwind on the way back, but wouldn’t you know, the wind had changed and we were AGAIN facing a headwind. I discovered the challenge my co-guider had been up against with my new paddling partner. Unfortunately she had virtually no power in her paddle (basically just dipping her paddle in and out of the water), so I really had to push to get us back to the other side and was pretty exhausted when we finally drifted into the marina. The girl later confided to me that she hadn’t been using the footrests because they were “uncomfortable”, which explains why her stroke was so weak. Oh well, we made it and rushed back to camp where the rest of the group blessedly had lunch waiting for us!

So it wasn’t my favourite paddling experience, but I do think the girls had a pretty good time. I’d definitely advise against taking young paddlers out in windy conditions, especially without scheduled breaks, but at the end of the day the girls all proved they could overcome the difficult conditions and had some fun stories to take home with them. Personally, I’d like to return someday and give this area another paddle in better conditions!

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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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