Category: trekking

North coast trail close to opening

It’s been five years in the making, but it’s finally nearing completion: Vancouver Island’s north coast trail. Stretching 43 km from near port Hardy to Cape Scott, it is said to give the West Coast Trail a run for its money when it comes to scenery. It doesn’t have as many cable cars and ladders as the WCT, but there is one 200-rung ladder to keep you in shape.

The new Wild Coast Magazine has a feature article on the trail, including a two-page North Coast Trail map. The trail is slated to open sometime this year. I will need to arrange some holidays to walk this trail as soon as it actually opens.

Outdoor Research Gear

I am a self-confessed outdoor gear addict. I believe in having few but high-quality pieces of gear. But because their are several seasons and sports to cover, that still means that I have many containers of it.

Crocs gaitersOne of my favourite brands has to be Seattle-based Outdoor Research. They have always made a range of great accessories. But nowadays they don’t only make accessories, but also jackets, shelters and sleeping mats. My favourites:

  • Crocodile gaiters. Simply the best gaiters I have had. My last pair lived twenty years. Virtually indesructible, heavy duty, and very waterproof.
  • Exos Gaiters. These are a luxury winter gaiter. Made of soft shell Schoeller fabric, they are great for snowshoeing or skiing. Your feet/legs will stay toasty warm in these.
  • Omni glove linersOmni glove liners. Most importantly for me, I can operate my camera with them, and they are more water-resistant than other liners, They have a grip patern on the palms, which is made of a cool glow-in-the-dark material.
  • Their lightweight Goretex PacLite Celestial jacket is indeed ultralight, and features innovative sidezips that make it easier to wear with a pack on.
  • The Seattle Sombrero is supposed to be one of the best rain hats out there. I am waiting for a solid spring rainstorm to test mine out.
  • Check out their exped downmats. Instead of open foam, they have a down filling, whcih has a much higher insulation value than a standard Thermarest. Very cool idea.

Exped downmatOne of Outdoor Research’s best selling points: their unconditional lifelong guarantee. When my crocodile gaiters wore out after just twenty years, they replaced them with new ones, no questions asked. To me that’s worth spending a few extra dollars on!

Trekking in the Pyrenees

I spent most of the month of September in Europe, hence my lack of postings. Most of the trip was spent with family, but we did sneak in a three-day trek in the French Pyrenees.

Map of trekWe did a typical European mountain trek – walking from hut to hut, along well-marked trails. The huts are not little shacks, but rather well-appointed hostels with most amenitied. The stays at each hut included four-course meals. Slightly different from your average Canadian trip.

Mt. Vignemale - north faceWe hiked a part of the GR10 in the Parc National des Pyrénées – from Pont d’Espagne to Gavarnie. While the park is still quite spectacular, with some amazing moutain walls, it was interesting to observe the differences with our Canadian park system. Most surprisingly, there are no entrance fees. It saves one money of course, but as a result, the average visitor doesn’t even know there is a national park. Apparently, general awareness of the park is very low. Interestingly also was that sheep and cows continued to graze throughout the park, even in the core zones. As a result most grassy slopes looked heavily grazed if not over grazed. Of course, people have been grazing their cattle here for thousands of years, but one’d expect a few core areas to be cattle-free.

Valley west of GavarnieOn the other hand, the hut system worked well. It keeps most people on the main trails, and allows people who don’t want to carry a heavy pack with tent and food to enjoy the back country. But of course they also attract additional hikers, and so put an additional strain in on the environment.

The dearth of huts in the Rockies puts many people off doing treks here, although there now are a few huts (both from the Alpine Club and high-end lodges). A few hut-based treks in Canada could certainly attract additional European visitors. One wouldn’t want to turn all the trails in the Rockies into hut-based treks, though!

Elaho to Meagre Creek Trail

Cesna Creek BridgeMy friend Jason and I decided to check out the Elaho-Meagre Creek trail (Upper Elaho valley, 100km NW of Squamish) last weekend. This trail through the Stoltmann Wilderness traverses some of the last untouched lowland old growth forest in the lower mainland area. Sadly, we didn’t get very far, as the first bridge, across Cesna Creek (also aptly known as Impassable Creek) was out, the victim of a heavy snow load. If our lives had depended on it, we could have probably made it across, but it would have been a hairy crossing. One’d need full mountaineering equipment to belay one another across the bridge.

Instead, we poked around the old growth forest near the trailhead, in a stand of gorgeous old-growth Douglas fir.

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Great New Guinea photos

Like me, my good friend Will Betz never had much time to scan his New Guinea slides. He’s finally started, and posted some of them on his New Guinea pages. Will spent many a month on both the Indonesian and PNG side of the island. His description of the island sums up my feeling perfectly. The trekking is among the toughest in the world, but its nature is truly stunning, and the people are fantastic. The island remains one of my favourite areas in the world, especially the mountains of West Papua. We both have many more slides to scan and post.

We met in West Papua (then Irian Jaya) in the early ninetees, and did some epic mountain treks together. Closer to home we hiked the West Coast Trail, and two years ago the Stein divide.

Canol Heritage Trail

Outpost Magazine (March/April 2007 issue) has a great article about one of Canada’s great treks: the Canol Heritage Trail in the NWT. This 355km trek along an old WWII road/pipeline is not for the faint of heart: if involves several major river crossings, and you aren’t likely to see anone (other than some big grizzlies) along the way. In 2006 only three parties completed the trip. One more reason to take on the challenge.
Some resource sites:

NWT Tourism and Parks
Backpacking the Canol Heritage Trail
Canol Heritage Trail site

Hiking the Sunshine Coast

While the West Coast Trail is still THE great trail of the west coast, BC’s sunshine coast now has its own long-distance trail: the Sunshine Coast Trail. The trail stretches 180 km from the Saltery Bay ferry terminal in the south to Sarah Point in Desolation Sound Marine Park in the north. While not as spectacular as the WCT, it does appear to have some great views and pass through some old-growth forest.

Other trails to consider on the west coast:

  • The Nootka Trail, a wilder and more rugged version of the WCT.
  • Coming soon: Vancouver Island’s North Coast Trail. This trail is still being built, but promised to be pretty amazing when completed.

West Coast Trail storm damage

The West Coast Trail suffered significant damage in the recent storms. The damage includes two broken cable cars, and the bridge over Logan Creek has been destroyed. This may delay opening of the trail in May. As this year is the 100th anniversary of the lifesaving trail, it would be a shame if it opened late.

Update Feb. 17: I talked to a warden from Pacific Rim NP today, and she mentioned that work is progressing well. They expect to have the damage cleaned up in time for the May 1 opening. Check their website for updates.

Rick over at besthikes.com recently rated the trail as the top hike in the world. Although I think that treks like the Snowman Trek in Bhutan rate higher on a world scale, it is certainly the top trek in Canada.