Posts Tagged With: outdoors

Kayaking Pender Island

Me and Seth went on our second annual kayaking trip over the labour day weekend and I have to say, kayaking is definitely working it’s way up my list of favourite hobbies. We had a great time exploring Sechelt Inlet last year, but I still would have picked a backpacking trip over a kayaking trip, but since Seth doesn’t like backpacking that much, it’s a lot of fun when the two of us go kayaking together. You’re definitely a lot more vulnerable to the elements in a kayak, but when you get great weather it’s the best.

This trip started with a really early morning ferry ride. The ferry doesn’t run very frequently to Pender, so we were pretty much forced to catch the 7am sailing out of Tsawwassen. The water was looking pretty calm, but there were some pretty dark and foreboding rain clouds hanging around during the ferry ride. Fortunately, the rain wasn’t in the forecast for long and the rain moved off by the time we reached Pender Island and the clouds started breaking up. We picked up our kayaks from Pender Island Kayak Adventures at 9am and hit the water as soon as we could get them loaded up. I have to give a shout out to Pender Kayaks because their kayaks are awesome! Ours seemed like brand new to us and had really nice hatches. I was looking back at our photos of the kayaks we rented in Sechelt and they really couldn’t hold a candle to what we rented on Pender.

We launched the kayaks out of Port Browning Marina, which is located on North Pender Island, near the road that connects to South Pender Island. There’s a small canal between the two islands at their closest point and from there you kayak into Bedwell Harbour, which is essentially a bay between the two islands. Our first campsite, Beaumont, was located in Bedwell Harbour. It isn’t too far from our launch point, so we were planning to kayak all the way around South Pender Island on Saturday, but we changed our minds last minute. We started the paddle down the east side of South Pender and there was a headwind coming back at us, so we decided to ditch the long 15km paddle around the island in favour of a more chill day at the campsite.

Our change in plans involved kayaking through the Pender Canal, which was a piece of cake at the time because the tide was going out and there was a nice current pushing us through the canal (foreshadowing!). We took our time exploring both sides of Bedwell Harbour before pulling into the campsite just before noon.

Pender Island is part of the Gulf Islands and has two backcountry campsites as part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. I was really excited about the prospect of staying in a national park, but I was a little less than enamoured when we pulled the kayaks up on to the lower beach at Beaumont. In addition to their dozen backcountry sites, the reserve also has a dozen mooring buoys located in the bay where people can park their yachts. I don’t have a problem with this, it just takes away from the view a little bit when you look out into the bay and instead of the natural surroundings, all you see is a bunch of yachts. Our campsites in Sechelt Inlet had been extremely remote, with kayaks as pretty much the only way to access them, so it was just a change in pace from that – something I had to adjust to.

What was more annoying though was that the site we had pre-booked had danger tape all around it warning that the campsite was closed due to a hazardous tree. I get it, you don’t want people camping somewhere unsafe, but come on Parks Canada, don’t sell reservations on sites that are not useable. Or if this was a new thing, then at least notify me and assign me an alternate site. It was super annoying to have to walk around and find another place to camp. The sign said that overflow camping was okay, to just try and pick somewhere low impact, so we set up on the bluff, only to be told hours later by a park ranger that we couldn’t camp there either. He did find us a new site, but it was a more than frustrating experience and we were not pleased to have to move the campsite.

But that was really the only hiccup with the sites and we did still end up with an amazing site along the bluff overlooking Bedwell Harbour. It was quite busy during the day with all the yachters riding in on their little dinghies to explore the park, but come nighttime, it was pretty deserted and we had lots of privacy.

Since we had cut our kayaking short for the day, we decided to have lunch and then go on a hike in the afternoon. From Beaumont, you can hike up to Mount Norman, which is the highest point on Pender Island and has a great view of the Gulf Islands. At first it’s just a lovely little hike along the shoreline, but eventually you start climbing up to the point.

Now, it was pretty overcast and a bit windy when we kayaked in, but since then, the clouds completely moved out and we were suddenly faced with a gorgeous, completely cloudless, blue sky day. It’s only a 250 metre climb to the top of Mount Norman, so I wasn’t expecting anything too strenuous, but boy was I wrong. It’s not a technical trail by any means, but there are no switchbacks and it pretty much goes straight up to the point. Couple that with the hot and humid weather we were having, and it made from a pretty exhausting hike. It’s about 7km round trip from our campsite, but we were a puddle of sweat by the time we reached the top (to be honest, I think I was also fighting a bit of dehydration from our morning paddle).

But it was totally worth it for the view at the top! From the lookout, you could see straight over North Pender Island and out to Salt Spring and Mayne Islands. There’s no shade at the top though, so we enjoyed the view for as long as we could bare before seeking relief in the trees again. We were rewarded at the bottom though and went for a quick swim before dinner. The water was shockingly warm for the ocean and felt great on our muscles.

Our view from the bluff looks out on two small islands, although island is a generous term because at hide tide they shrink down to a collection of rocks, but it was a popular hang out location for birds (although surprisingly not seals). Seth wanted to get a closer look at them and the wind had died off completely by evening, so we went for a little sunset paddle to explore. There wasn’t much of a sunset (foreshadowing!), but it was so nice not to have to fight against any wind. After that we hit the sack and spent one of the warmest nights I can remember ever sleeping in a tent. I guess I’m used to sleeping in the alpine, which is generally cold at night, but it was so warm on Pender I don’t think I even did my bag up all night.

Day 2 had a lot more paddling in it than Day 1, but we had a little sleep-in and enjoyed a lazy breakfast looking out over the harbour. It’s hard to stay still for too long though because the water is so calm in the morning and evenings. That was probably my second biggest (foreshadowing!) lesson learned from the trip. It’s worth it to be an early riser as a kayaker because the wind tends to pick up later in the day and the water is a dream to paddle in at dawn.

But we hadn’t yet learned that lesson so we took our time on Sunday morning and it was probably around 9:45am when we finally pushed back from the beach. Our plan for Day 2 was to paddle out of Bedwell Harbour and up the outside of North Pender Island to Shingle Bay – the second backcountry campground in the reserve. It was about a 12km paddle, which we knew we had lots of time for, but would be more than we did on any one day on our last trip. We took our time paddling out of Bedwell Harbour. We paddled back to the islands and Seth was thrilled to see 2 black oystercatchers chilling on the rocks (the bird he did his Master’s thesis on). The wildlife viewing was excellent on Sunday and on the way out of the harbour we saw a number great blue herons and other birds and an otter playing on the rocks. We followed the otter for a bit as it swam along the shore and then found some islands at the end of the bay with a seal colony hanging out. We counted 7 seals on the rocks and a bunch in the water.

From there we started to make our way around the outside of the island. This was the single biggest mistake we made throughout the trip. It was a bit windy (although not too bad), but the water definitely got harder to paddle in when we rounded the corner of the island. It was still totally fine for paddling, but it’s a little more intimidating when you’re on the outside of the island with open water on the other side of you. We decided we were ready for a little break to recharge, but we’re dismayed when we couldn’t find any beaches along the coast. Which brings me to my biggest lesson learned: study your maps and know where your stopping points are.

We did have the marine chart for the area and we had given it a look, but we hadn’t adequately mapped out where we were going to stop. Our experience in Sechelt Inlet and the day before was that there are always lots of little beaches around to stop in. But around the south side of North Pender Island, it’s all steep cliffs with no beaches. It makes for scenic views, but not great when you’re getting tired and are in open water. A closer inspection of the map revealed that there weren’t really any beaches for a while. We rafted up for a bit for a little break, but your legs do start cramping up after long periods stuck in your kayak, so we soldiered on to try and get to the first beach we could see on the map, the appropriately named, Boat Nook.

I have to say, I did start getting some anxiety at this point. Seth really needed to pee, but I don’t think I was actually that tired, I just got really nervous about the lack of stopping places and the remoteness of where we were if something happened to us. The water was manageable, but it wasn’t the calmest and we did still have to work against wind and currents. I talked myself down as best I could though and we did eventually make it to the Boat Nook, which was a huge relief.

I couldn’t believe it though when I checked the time after we pulled up the beach. We hadn’t even been kayaking for 2 hours! We ended up paddling probably 9 of our 12km in just 2 hours. It had felt like we were on the water forever, but the anxiety had just made it seem longer than it was. It wasn’t even noon yet, but we wanted a nice long break, so we decided to have an early lunch. There wasn’t much paddling left after that, so we had a leisurely paddle to Shingle Bay.

It’s hard to say which campsite I liked better. Shingle Bay was pretty much just a meadow and orchard, so it didn’t have much privacy, but I liked the vibe there a lot better than at Beaumont, which had been dominated by the people in their yachts. Shingle Bay was really chill. There’s a bunch of apple trees in the orchard and there was a family of deer that hung around all day eating fallen apples. It was low tide when we arrived, so Seth spent some time exploring the tide pools and I did a bit of reading.

What did surprise me about Pender Island though was the lack of kayakers. Sechelt Inlet had pretty much been exclusively kayakers, but because of the nature of the campsites being located on an inhabited island, there were all sorts of people at the campsites, none of which were kayakers. We saw a few people out for day trips, but the two nights we were out, Seth and I were the only people that kayaked to the campsite. People at Beaumont either hiked in or came by yacht, and everyone else at Shingle Bay hiked in. It was a bit odd though because while the campsite is promoted as a backcountry site, apparently it’s not very far from the parking lot, so everyone was carting in all this fancy car camping gear like grills and coolers in wagons.

We hadn’t planned to go out paddling again, but everyone was crowded out on the point to watch the sunset, and we decided it would be more enjoyable to watch it from the water, so we decided to go for another evening paddle. Best choice ever! I didn’t think the sunset was going to be that great because it was pretty cloudy, but it ended up being incredible and lasted for ages! It started off as golden yellow and then changed to pinky-purples, before going a deep red/orange at the end. It made for some really gorgeous photos on the water and we saw a few porpoises as we were paddling around.

We had an early night again though because we had a big day ahead of us on Monday. We had to undo all the paddling we’d done over the past 2 days, about 15km, and we had to do in all in time to catch the 3pm ferry back to Vancouver. We got up at 6am and were on the water by about 7:15am. This was one of the best decisions we made all weekend and really cemented the lesson that the water is best in the early morning. It was slightly choppy right when we started paddling, but it was only because we started just as the tide was changing, after that it was dead calm on the water.

We took a short break again at Boat Nook to prepare for the long section, but the kayaking was a dream this time around! It was so calm, we cut through the water so easily and we saw so much wildlife! We saw tons of otters, seals, and birds, and were again joined by 2 porpoises. There was still some mist hanging over the water and it made for some really gorgeous photos against the rocks. It was a totally different experience than the day before, thank goodness.

We had planned to stop at Beaumont for an early lunch, but we made such great time on the way there that it was still too early. So we stopped in for a pee break and then decided to make an attempt at the channel. We asked Pender Kayaks about the channel when we picked up the kayaks and they said it could be challenging when the tide is going down (which is was), but we didn’t have much choice but to make an attempt at it. As soon as we got close you could tell there was a current, which tried to turn us around, so we stuck to the edge of the channel. The hardest section though is going under the bridge because all the water funnels through the piers and it’s quite strong. That was the hardest part for sure and was pretty exhausting. I was making progress through the opening, but it was definitely a challenge to make any headway and my arms were so tired.

Fortunately there’s a beach just to the left of the channel when you exit, so we made a beeline there for a quick break before crossing the rest of the channel and landing on a beach on the north end of South Pender Island. We had lunch there and enjoyed the last few moments of the trip before kayaking back through the marina and returning the kayaks.

So it was definitely an eventful trip, as evidenced by the length of this post! It was only our second trip, but I definitely feel we learned a little something new every time. Our paddling skills are definitely improving and hopefully we’ll continue to get more planning savvy as we continue. It was a lot different than Sechelt Inlet and I’m pressed to say which one I enjoyed more. Sechelt is definitely more remote, but we saw so much wildlife on this trip and I felt that there was a lot of variety between campsites and paddles. There’s a ton more campsites to explore in the Gulf Islands, so we’ll definitely have to go back!

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Ski Resort Series: Sun Peaks

Continuing on with my ski resort mini-series, my first post was about Big White Ski Resort, which I visited in 2016. We had so much fun that we decided to make a ski trip to the Interior an annual event. There’s so many different ski resorts and we were excited to try out another mountain, so in 2017 we decided to visit Sun Peaks, which is the biggest ski resort in BC after Whistler-Blackcomb.

Sun Peaks is located just north of Kamloops, about a 4.5 hour drive from Vancouver. Easter was too late for skiing in 2017, so we decided to use some holidays to go over the St. Paddy’s Day weekend. This time we weren’t located right in the village, but we managed to score accommodations in a huge log chalet with 6 bedrooms and a hot tub! It was definitely one of the nicest places we’ve stayed and was just a short bus ride away from the village. I took Friday and Monday off to make a super long weekend and we drove out after lunch, but the rest of the group drove out after work and arrived to a bit of a Paddy’s Day celebration.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get as lucky with the weather at Sun Peaks as we did at Big White. Looking back, I still had a great time at Sun Peaks, but it was probably my least favourite of the resorts I’ve visited. I think I have to mostly attribute this to not having ski-out access and to the weather conditions not being as great. Sun Peaks is a huge resort, but it was quite warm when we visited and the snow was really icy in the mornings from freezing overnight, but then heavy and slushy in the afternoons.

We spent the first day hanging out on the Crystal Bowl and Sunburst lifts. I liked the Crystal Bowl because the snow was a lot better on top of the mountain, but visibility was quite poor. Sunburst had better visibility, but not great snow. it was still a fun day, but on our second day we hit the other side of the mountain on the Morrisey Chair and I personally had a lot more fun on that side. It took me a while, but I’ve finally learned that depending what side of the mountain you ski on, conditions can be totally different because of the direction of the sun. Morrisey Chair ended up being a lot nicer than the other side of the mountain because the sun was on it in the morning and softened up the ice from the night before.

Morrisey Chair is primarily glade runs, which I used to not like that much, but have grown to really enjoy the more I ski. If you’re a big skier, you definitely already know how fun glade runs can be, but I only ever skied 2 days a year growing up and they were always at the same resort, so it wasn’t until I moved to BC that I started to get a bit better at skiing. My friend Grant is one of the more adventurous of our group (or was before our group grew), and I love trailing him on glade runs, trying to hit some of the little ramps and bumps between trees. We spent most of our second day doing glade runs and then me and Carolyn popped back over to Crystal Bowl to finish our day off with some awesome views.

So I did still end up having a great time at Sun Peaks, it just doesn’t stand out as one of the more memorable trips to me. It is a huge resort though and there’s definitely a wide variety of runs available. I think I would still like to go back and maybe try it on a day with better snow conditions.

We’ve developed some fun traditions over the years though. It took me a while to meet people when I first moved to BC and most of the people I was friends with were actually Newfoundlanders, so the first ski trip we went on, I cooked Jiggs Dinner (traditional Newfoundland cooked dinner) for everyone for Easter. Even though it wasn’t Easter on our second trip, I cooked it again and have made it every year since. To shake things up a bit, Brandon always prepares hot pot for the whole group on our second night and it’s become a fun tradition and a bit of a culture sharing thing.

And some more photos! I’m pretty sure this is my first time looking at them since I took them 3 years ago and they are cute!

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

First Time Snow Camping

The weather in Vancouver is pretty mild most of the year, but the weather in the mountains is a completely different story. Spring hits Vancouver in March and April, but it’s often late June or even early July by the time the snow finally melts in the mountains, only to come back again in October. So the backpacking season isn’t that long. There are lots of trails you can do at lower elevations, but some of the more scenic mountain trails have a short window in which to hike them.

For this reason, me and my friend Carolyn got it into our heads that we wanted to try snow camping to get in some more backpacking trips in the off season. I only started backcountry camping in the summer of 2016, so it was definitely a bit of stretch for me to take up snow camping so quickly, but we did a bit of research and built up some of our gear and decided to give it a try last winter.

Camping gear is expensive, so we tried to be as thrifty as possible in acquiring winter gear. We both bought Teton synthetic sleeping bags on Amazon that are rated to -15 degrees celsius. I wouldn’t normally recommend Amazon for camping gear, but good winter sleeping bags cost hundreds of dollars and as newbies, we weren’t ready to sink that kind of cash into a sleeping bag. But the Teton bags are actually really compact and come at a great price, so neither of us have regrets about this purchase. We’re both cold sleepers, so for a bit of extra warmth, we also purchased the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme bag liner, which claims to add another 14 degrees celsius to your bag rating. I don’t believe it actually adds that much, but it certainly warmed up our bags. Finally, we each bought cheap “closed cell” foamy sleeping pads to put under the 3-season pads we already owned. A sleeping pad with a R-value higher than 5 is recommended for winter camping, but these pads run in the neighborhood of $200-300, so doubling up our sleeping pads with a $20 foamy worked better for us.

These were the main items we bought to prepare for the trip. Fortunately I had an old 4-season tent that had been handed down to me from my parents, so we decided to use that, despite the fact that it’s old and weighs 10 pounds. I doubt many people have that option available to them, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The tent is from the 80’s and it didn’t really work for snow camping, but hey, live and learn, we still survived. The only other items that really differed from our normal gear is that we brought a small shovel with us, a thermos, and some extra layers of clothing.

For our first adventure, we decided to try Manning Park. Manning is one of my favourite parks near Vancouver and they have a snow camping site located just off the main road. We thought this was the safest plan because then we wouldn’t be too far from our car if we got really cold in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, nothing about our trip went according to plan and we ended up having to do a fair bit of improvising, but we still ended up having a really good time.

One thing you should know (or probably already know) about me is that I’m a big talker. Throw me and Carolyn together in a car and we’ll have a great time, chatting and laughing the whole trip. I’m usually a pretty decent navigator (and I maintain that I do have a good sense of direction, mostly because I love maps), but put me in a car with Carolyn and I will forget everything I know about navigating because I always get caught up talking and telling stories. We’re pretty good at getting lost because I tend to think as the driver Carolyn know’s what she’s doing and she tends to think as the passenger (and more often then not, trip planner), I’ll tell her what to do. So we tend to get lost a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On this particular trip we got re-routed because an accident closed one of the highways, so we were a bit out of sorts (read, hungry) and when we left Hope, I thought it was just a straight shot to Manning and settled in for the 45 minute drive. 40 minutes later, just when I think we should be hitting the Manning Park lodge, I see this tunnel ahead that I know is actually on the Coquihalla highway (not the Manning highway) and realize the depth of my mistake. Hearing one “uh-oh” from me was all Carolyn needed to hear to know we’d made a mistake along the way (I will take full credit for it in this instance). We were pretty hangry from being re-routed once already and not into the idea of driving another hour and half in the opposite direction, so Carolyn quickly pulled us over and started making lunch, telling me I had until we finished eating to come up with a plan B.

Fortunately, we had landed ourselves in the Coquihalla Summit Rec Area, an area I hadn’t previously explored, and I had just enough cell coverage to check the avalanche risks for the area and work out a quick back-up plan. Instead of going back to Manning, we decided to commit to snowshoeing about 1.5km to camp at the trailhead to Falls Lake. The 1.5km is actually a forestry road that’s just not plowed in the winter and the “trailhead” is really just a parking lot, but hey, we’re adaptable. Plus, at the end of the trip, we both agreed that missing Manning was one of the best mistakes we could have made, because we ended up having a great time at Falls Lake and it forced us to camp further away from the car and to really commit to snow camping.

There wasn’t too many people around because we were about 2.5 hours away from Vancouver, but Falls Lake seems to be a popular hangout for snowshoers who want to check out the lake and backcountry skiers who want to hike up towards Zoa Peak and ski down. We did neither of these things, but we did have a nice flat area (parking lot) to try out our snow camping skills! Plus, we were the only people who stayed overnight.

We ended up having a blast! It was about -10 degrees celsius overnight, so it was pretty cold, but we worked up a nice sweat hiking in and then spent a fair bit of time digging down in the snow to set up our shelter, so the cold never really kicked in until later in the evening when we didn’t have anything to do anymore. We dug down about a metre and then stamped the snow as flat as we could with our snowshoes. We set up the tent and our bags just like any other trip and then started building ourselves a little snow kitchen. This mostly consisted of a kind of counter area where we could sit and put our stove.

After we finished setting up, we threw on some more layers to stay warm. I think one of the biggest things about snow camping is to avoid sweating in multiple layers of clothes, but to layer up as soon as you start moving to trap your body heat from exercising and to prevent yourself from ever getting cold. We didn’t find cooking in the winter to be any different than summer, we just made sure to use Carolyn’s white gas stove instead of my propane one because propane is prone to freezing in cold temperatures.

One of the biggest challenges actually proved to be melting snow for drinking water and cooking. As you can imagine, it takes a while to melt snow and a full pot of snow doesn’t translate into very much water. We kept filling up the pot and boiling a tiny amount of water, just to have to add more snow to do the whole thing again. One tip that we learned is that it’s best if you add a bit of your drinking water as a base and then add snow slowly as it starts to heat up. Don’t bother boiling the water until the end, just keep it hot enough so that any snow you add melts and then wait for it to heat up again before adding more.

Our second lesson learned was that you need to give yourself lots of time to set up camp, ideally about 3 hours. Fortunately we did have enough time, but digging a hole (with a single small shovel) takes a long time and so does melting snow, so give yourself enough time to set up camp because doing all those things in the dark wouldn’t be fun. The hardest part about snow camping was that it gets dark so early in the winter and there’s really nothing to do once it gets dark and you’ve finished eating supper. We’d been planning to maybe play cards in the tent, but it’s too cold once you stop moving that all you really want to do is climb into your sleeping bags. So prepare for an early night. I read to Carolyn on my kindle for a bit, but I think an audiobook might work well in the future.

Keeping warm at night is really the most important and challenging part about snow camping. We survived the night, but we definitely learned some trips to keep in mind for our next trip. I thought my sleeping bag and liner together would be enough to keep me warm, but you definitely need to wear the right clothes to bed. We initially didn’t wear enough layers and we were quite cold when we got into our bags. After about an hour, we got up again to put some additional layers on and that definitely helped. You want to have enough clothes on to keep you warm, but not too tight or too many layers that don’t allow you to trap some heat in your bag. It’s also important to stay away from the edges of your tent because your body heat will cause condensation on the inside of the tent that will then freeze and be really cold if it’s touching you. We’re both side sleepers, so our butts were getting cold from touching the side of the tent. It’s also better to sleep on your back because you get more warmth reflected back at you from your sleeping pad (easier said then done though if you never sleep on your back).

But we made it through the night! We had some lessons learned, but the tough bits weren’t enough to deter us from trying it again. We witnessed a beautiful purple sunset over the mountains and did a little hike in the morning up a nearby hill to get the cutest photos of our little tent down below. It’s not the easiest experience, but I had a lot fun trying something new with Carolyn and it makes you feel like a real bad-ass to sleep outside in the winter! We never did make it to Manning for snow camping and this was the only snow camping trip we tried in 2018, but stay tuned because we recently went on our second snow camping trip, which I’m working on a follow-up post for!

Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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