Friday, May 21, 2010

VIP 2010

Ladysmith was, as usual a pretty good time. Paula and I headed up-Island on the E&N about 8:00am with two inflatable kayaks and a couple of backpacks, and got off the train just after 10:00am to find John, Louise, Marlene, and Tracy just getting the lay of the land.
The trip up was uneventful; the usual drinking tea and relaxing in big seats while the train rocked its way over the Malahat. As usual, the engineer stopped the train in the middle of each of the two trestles in order to let us all get a good look at the stunning views. The only excitement was provided by the three idiots walking across the second trestle as the train came upon them. But there are refuges provided and, thankfully, the three young men (I've a guy, and even I'm disappointed in these young men who seem to take the laws of self-preservation less seriously) were smart enough to actually get out of the way on the tracks.
The train pulled in to Ladysmith on time, and it took us only moments to hop off—even with the kayaks. We were a bit loaded down because Paula was leading a discussion on inflatable kayaks Saturday afternoon and so we were camping overnight in Transfer Beach Park, along with a couple of dozen other people. From the train stop to the beach was a fairly short walk (had we wished, it was a shorter walk across the highway to a motel we'd scouted out on a previous trip). The organizers allowed us some space to cache the kayaks until the discussion, and a little while later I had the tent set up. Before I could even tell Paula about it, she'd found it and changed into her paddling gear and was off to test out boats.


    I'm still interested in boats, but more from a design standpoint these days. I ended up interviewing John Rogers from 8 Dragon Custom Kayaks (who builds beautiful wooden boats), and then cruising the gear sales and checking out new boat designs. Among the more interesting ones was Delta's new Catfish design: a catamaran hull sit-on-top. It looks like a well-thought-out fishing boat, and was one of the few boats I would ave been interested in trying out. Not because I'm looking for  a catamaran hull sit-on-top, but just to see how well the design translates into function.

The Catfish

After renewing my acquaintance with Insomniac Coffee's coffee wagon,  Marlene and I settled in for a bit of a mid-day nosh, and were joined by a couple who had earlier recognized John and Louise from the blog. We ended up having a great conversation and were slowly joined by the rest of the group, more food, and a couple of bags of fresh-made mini-doughnuts.

Louise and Marlene talking to Mike Jackson

The afternoon passed in usual Paddlefest style, with meeting new people, discussing boats and paddling, and generally spending a sunny afternoon with a couple of hundred un-met friends. John, Louise, and Marlene decided to leave about 3:00pm, but not before Louise won a double kayak rental from Sealegs Kayaking—which apparently means at least one more trip to Ladysmith this year. Paula hosted her discussion on inflatable kayaks which made up for its small attendance with brisk and wide-ranging conversation.




    After the discussion, Paula and I packed up her boats and headed into Ladysmith to find dinner. We ended up at Robert's Street Pizza, where we were delighted with a very good pizza.
Roberts St. Pizza

We had several choices of restaurant, but found ourselves wanting something simple and light instead of some of the more elaborate meals on offer. Although the Greek restaurant, Transfer Beach Grill, received a good review the next morning from the couple with whom we had breakfast.
Eventually we wandered back to Transfer Beach and, after chatting with other campers, we went to bed early and slept late.


The next morning was bright, and the night had been warm (much warmer than I'm used to experiencing when sleeping in a tent), and Paula came back to the tent chatting with a woman. We ended up at In The Bean Time with the other couple and had both a great breakfast (In The Bean Time would definitely become my second home if I lived in Ladysmith) and great company.

 Almost regretfully, we four found our way back to the beach, where Paula inflated a kayak and took off for an extended paddle around the bay. I threw a few things into my new pack, and set off to break-in both boots and pack with a hike around Holland Creek.
The hiking trail extends from the marine trail that follows part of the bay, under the highway, and up through Ladysmith to one of the entrances to the Holland River trail.

The trail itself consists of three loops; the main loop, with one side being handicapped accessible and the other with some steep sections; the lower loop, which is fairly short and extends south from the Dogwood Road bridge (in itself a short and enjoyable hike); and the upper loop which is fairly difficult and takes you past Heart Lake (a lake advertised by the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce on their website, as a “good place for skinny dipping”).  Taken together, the three loops are about 14 or 15 kilometres long. The Marine Trail would add a few more kilometres to that.
I ended up hiking both the lower and main loop, although I ran out of time to make the upper loop. It was a great hike, And as the river is a salmon-spawning stream, there are warnings about bears in the fall, and the area is kept pretty pristine, making it a great hike. And right on the edge of Ladysmith —you could spend the night in a motel or B&B, spend the day hiking, have a swim, and spend the night indoors again, and have had a great time.



All in all, I'm very impressed with Ladysmith; from the support for keeping the historic buildings in downtown, to the free trolley making its rounds, to the beautiful park at the beach, the town has done several things correctly, making it a great place to visit. And the kid's playhouse I spotted in town was unbelievable.


Eventually, Paula and I met back up, packed up, and caught the E&N back to Victoria. We'd had a great weekend, and I'd had the chance to explore a bit more of the Island.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gear Day

Well, it's Paddlefest this weekend in Ladysmith (home to a lovely market, beautiful historic down town, and cool bus, and Sealegs Kayaking), and this year Paula is leading a discussion about inflatable kayaks. We planned last year to take the train up this year--particularly because it stops practically at the entrance to the park from the highway. On the other side of the highway is a lovely motel looking out onto the harbour, but I really want to make sure all the camping gear is ready for the beginning of June, so I'm hoping to camp out at Transfer Beach Park. The motel is a back-up plan.
While hauling all the gear out, Marlene came over, and we ended up setting up her tents as well as our own. She has a great Outbound tent in her earthquake preparedness kit:

I like the fact that the fly is double-sided, with one side shiny to reduce daytime heating. Marlene also has a Taymor "Walk-about," which I'd never seen before.


While it has a lot of interesting features (like the tunnel entrance, a semi-circular floor zipper so you can keep your boots from fouling the tent, and a large vestibule), I'm not as thrilled with the pole structure. The tent is not free-standing, relying on the tension between the guy lines and the poles to stay up. Still, its large and certainly usable.

I put up my bivy, which neither Paula nor Marlene had seen up before, and our new Sierra Designs tent.


The Sierra Designs tent ~1.5 kilos and the bivy is lighter than that. But the tent is a whole lot bigger and does allow some movement inside it without waking up to roll over. It was also a discontinued model that we got from Robinson's Sporting Goods for about a third of its original price.
I also set up the Tarn 2 from MEC. I've only used this once since getting it--that was the overnight at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park with Lila.


I really like the amount of space it offers--and the colour-coded set-up. It's too heavy to take backpacking for more than an overnight, but it should be great for bike camping--which I'm still hoping to do this summer.
One thing I did discover is that apparently I have a thing about the end of the world. I fully intend to eat after it happens. Unpacking the bins, I found I have this many stoves:


There are nine in the picture. Starting at the back, they are:
9. A Stormbuster single burner stove. This uses isobutane canisters (of which I have about 20--they went on sale), and I've taken this kayak camping. In fact, I specifically made the rear hatch on my kayak big enough to take this stove.

8. The classic Sterno stove; jellied alcohol and a fold up stove. Had this in the kayak for a while also.

7. This is an emergency stove I picked up in Cowichan Bay. You unscrew the cap, light the wick (it burns paraffin or alcohol or something like that) and then the screen unit screws on where the cap used to be. Mostly for heat, you're supposed to be able to heat a sierra cup of water on top of it. I think it was about $2, which is another reason I have it.

6. Ah, the Trangia alcohol stove. This is the Trangia Mini--it comes complete for under $30 from MEC. The stove, a small kind-of wind-screen that the burner sits in and the pot sits on, the pot and a lid and pot-lifter. Add a sixty-nine cent bottle of gas line anti-freeze and you have an emergency cooking system. Really a lovely inexpensive design.

5. The Whisperlite Internationale. Man, I wanted this stove. A tried and true multi-fuel stove, field repairable, light, and functional. But messy and smelly and burns through the fuel. This one is currently jetted for kerosene, but will also burn diesel, white gas, and pretty much anything else you can scrounge.

4. This one is an accident. It's an MSR Superfly isobutane stove that Lila bought and fell out of love with. I agree, and for the same reason--the potholders. They don't lay flat enough, and you can't protect against damage from the sharp tips on the wings. That said, it's light and works very well. These stoves are also pretty frugal with their fuel (in the red tin underneath it).

3 and 2. Alcohol stoves. #2 is a home-made version I made from the bottoms of two beer cans. I eased them together with a bit of fibreglass insulation in between them, and then punched holes in one side with a drawing pin. A hand-bent wire potholder and you're heating water. A bit frustrating to light at first, and the flame is invisible. But it works, and works well. Behind it, #3, is the titanium version of the same thing. This lives in my fanny pack for hiking along with a pack of matches and a bottle of gas line antifreeze. And it practically floats, it's so light.

1. The Optimus Crux. What a stove! 93 grams. Folds flat into a neoprene case that stores the stove in the hollow in the bottom of a fuel cannister. The red fuel cannister gives you about an hour's worth of burn time. Behind the Crux is my cooking gear: a GSI Pinnacle Soloist Cookset. The one litre pot holds the stove, the fuel cannister (the neoprene bag prevents scratching the inside of the pot) the folding titanium spork (with it's bag in front of the stove) and an insulated cup and a lid that fits both the cup and pot. Oh, and the bag it travels in is watertight, and meant to be used as a sink. A complete system that takes up almost no room and weighs almost nothing. Lila and I both have the same system, and it's our combo of choice for backpacking.

I'm not exactly sure what there will be to eat after the end of the world, but I'm certainly equipped to cook it!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Into The Trees

So on Sunday (28 March) I headed up to the University and joined a group of people headed off to Upper and Lower Avatar Grove outside Port Renfrew. We sorted ourselves into cars and headed off to Jordan River.
Jordan River was overwhelmed with cars--and not just the convoy of 23 that was us. There was a storm cell off the west coast of the island that was pushing in some perfect 1.5 metre waves onto the beach, and there were surfers littering the ocean like cormorants.
There were enough surfers littering the waves that I totally understood the fierce territoriality of the local surfers.
We reconvened, introduced ourselves, discovered that there were about 80 of us, and headed off to meet in Port Renfrew. The four other people I was car-pooling with had not been to Renfrew--heck, a couple hadn't even been as close to the west coast as Jordan River (JR isn't the west coast--it lies on the south of the island, protected by the Olympic Peninsula). So they found the drive up to be quite interesting.
We convoyed out of Renfrew about fifteen kilometres out and up a logging road so old it's actually paved. We pulled over and got our rain gear on--we were heading into a temperate rainforest and it was (naturally) raining.
There is no trail off the road--one of the group leaders cast about for a bit until he found the place he'd entered the forest on his last trip, and led us up. The big trees are so close to the road that I suspect that there were still people climbing off the road when the first hikers arrived at the trees.
I find being in the forest liberating. The silence, the humidity, these things release something in me. But that wasn't true for everyone. I ended up adopting four or five young Japanese ESL students who hadn't really understood the email that said "Hiking boots. Rain forest. No trails." And other similar things. They did, thankfully, have on water resistant jackets, but were wearing a variety of sneakers (including one set of low cut Converses), and jeans, tights, and other such unsuitable clothing. As we walked, they kept having trouble getting over fallen logs, or broke through the duff and dropped a leg in between roots up to mid-thigh. I started helping them over things, showed them where to put their feet, and suchlike. There didn't seem to be any point to them hating the day.
We made our way to the gnarliest tree found so far:
TJ Watt, who took the above photo, was with us on the trip. It really is an amazing tree.
I took a bunch of video and edited together some of the shots into the short video
below.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Where I'm Headed Today

"Avatar Grove" I hate the name, but I get the reason for it.
Avatar Grove is about 15 km outside of Port Renfrew, and has some of the last remaining big trees in the Renfrew area.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

V-Con (No, Really!)

Sometimes it's really very easy to do without a car. Friday morning found us up early and on the municipal bus out to the ferry.
20 Minutes to down-town and another 40 or so out to the ferry with a 5 minute transfer layover, that's not bad. Sure, we ended up at the ferry an hour earlier than we needed to, but that was my fault rather than a flaw in the transit system.
Traveling as a walk-on is really a good way to use the ferry; it's so much more relaxed than worrying if your car is going to start, and making sure to park close enough and all the rest of what we think of as normal at the terminal and on the ferry.

Notice that there's two layers of traffic loading. That's a lot of cars, and this isn't one of the new "Super-C's."

Passengers, on the other hand, have a much quieter boarding experience.

Although there are a lot more passengers than 20 years ago. Paula and I have boarded, gone up a deck, found kiosks to sit at (so that I could plug in the Aspire 1ne), and dropped our packs, and there are still walk-ons loading.

Once at the other end of the ferry route, we waited maybe 10 minutes to board a municipal bus. Okay, 5 bucks, but that got us right into down-town Vancouver.

This was one of the articulated buses we're familiar with from our days in Edmonton, but haven't ridden out here. Victoria went with the even cooler, retro-styled double deckers rather than the articulated buses. A good choice, I think.


The double-decker buses (you can see one at the front of the queue here) are air-conditioned and quite comfortable. Besides, riding up top offers a hell of a good view, even if the ride itself can be a bit rocky on occasion.



The Skytrain, on the other hand, especially the new Canada Line, is a terrific ride. And the new cars are a delight. Notice the vertical bar on the right, with the four loops sticking out of it--making a terrific number of handholds when the car is full.
Our trip in from the ferry took about an hour all told. We boarded the bus about 10:00 am and were checking in to the hotel just after 12:00.

It is strange to be at a V-Con again after so many years away. It didn't take long before I was having fanzines thrust into my hands; an old BCSFAzine, and a copy of Why You Got This Zine #5. It took me about ten minutes to realize that we'd published the original WYGTZ and we'd done it back in 1983 (all nicely credited in the extended colophon). Kathleen is now pubbing her ish, and doing a lovely job of it--making sure that its only available in print and not online, which is unusual and quite nice.

And after decades:

Garth! It was great to see Garth again and catch up on at least an overview of the last few years.
There were other people, of course. People I live near:

like Karl, busy minding the Neo-Opsis table.

And Stephanie, gettinga few minutes away from the table.
But there's also Donna and Clint



who seem to becoming regular features in this life. Which is interesting and unexpected.



Marlene happened to be in Van and so she showed up--and got the chance to play dress up in the dealer's room. The period / pirate clothing was a real treat; the women looked lovely and the men looked dashing, and I even gave it a go. Ah, to be independently wealthy, and have a place to wear pirate clothes...!


SF Canada threw a author party / book-launch Friday night


Which was neat and well-attended. The idea was to create various circles of chairs and then scatter author names about, so that people could either sit beside authors they knew, or figure out who it was they were sitting beside.

There was also a book table--these are, after all, authors.
The event was well attended. Just a few of the familiar faces:

Brian Hades

Barry Alder


Selu--whom we had met on the Skytrain, having completely missed her on the ferry and bus....

Paula, having a good time chatting.


And Fran. Overall, quite a different Friday for me.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kayaking in Sidney

We went out kayaking in Sidney yesterday. The original idea had been to make the passage out to Portland Island and then for the rest of the party to return while I carried on to Prevost Island and up the passage between Galiano and Saltspring Islands. I wasn't really ready by Sunday morning, but close enough that I could have gone for a couple of days at least. But the small craft warning up Sunday morning changed the plans into a trip round Coal Island, and the weather itself changed that into a much shorter trip. With the wind/current combinations, it was probably a good choice to turn back--I haven't paddled long distances for quite a while. So rather than a long trip, a short video.

video

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Juan de Fuca Trail Day Four 12 June 2009

Woke up about 5:00 am, after a night of short sleeps, broken by waking up to roll over or pull more sleeping bag over me. So I had a quick breakfast of a Rebar© and Advil© washed down with the last of my water.

I was on the trail by 6:00 am, heading for Botanical Beach and Port Renfrew. The trail was good; few climbs, and lots of elevated boardwalks to keep feet out of easily-damaged areas. The last 7 km was a lot closer to an exhausted march than I would have liked. Interrupted sleep means I wasn't bouncing back as well as I had hoped. My legs were tired but willing, but my feet wasted no time in hurting. I had moleskin on all my blisters and hot spots, but my feet just hurt. It was the old brain that was the most tired, though. I was moving along at my pretty-standard kilometre every 25 minutes or so, but it was taking a lot more concentration to remember to do things like lift my feet all the way over an obstruction. Even so, I was off the trail at the Botanical Beach trail head at 9:00 am.

From the trail head, it was about another three kilometres into Port Renfrew along the paved road. I found the hotel where I was to catch the bus back to Victoria the next day. When I called to see if there was space on the Friday bus, I found out that daily service didn't start until the following Monday, so I was stuck in Renfrew for the night.

Main Street, Port Renfrew 2009

But first things first. Port Renfrew is only about 150 families in size, and mostly strung out over a couple of kilometres long strip, with not a whole lot of width to the town. So it wasn't hard to find anyplace, and I quickly found the Coastal Kitchen Café. The only real restaurant in town, its open early and serves big portions. I ended up eating there twice, breakfast both Friday and Saturday mornings. My Friday celebratory breakfast tasted great; a big load of French toast and my first cup of coffee in a month. The restaurant uses thrift-store mugs, and sitting amongst the ones to chose from was my mug. A large (two-cup) ceramic blue-and-white spackleware mug, I bought this mug back about the time the kids were first born. It was the mug I used for years on the farm—I even made a spruce cap for it so I wouldn't get sawdust in it while I was working in the shop. I think it eventually broke, but here it was, sitting on a tray in a café in Pt. Renfrew. The owner actually offered to give it to me, but after so many years, I figured it was time for someone else to own it. But is was nice to see it again.

After breakfast, I ended up walking through town and found a place that actually caters to hikers—a laundromat and (more importantly) a coin-operated shower! The general store sold me a single razor and five bucks later I felt (and looked) more civilized than I had in days.


Friday morning in Port Renfrew, 2009

I ended up getting a hotel room for the night—ever been in a place where you weren't even tempted to take the travel shampoo? Well, that was the West Coast Trail Motel. Rooms weren't bad, but I had to clean the filthy coffee maker before it could be used, and the shampoo was in little tear-open pouches. The minute your hands are wet, you can't possibly open them, so you use your teeth with the risk of having shampoo breath afterwards. And seriously, who puts two copies of the same art print in a room? You can't get two different prints for the same price? From a customer service point of view, shouldn't you tell guests that “the satellite is down and there's only one channel” at check-in? Honestly, the room was way over-priced. However, the bed was nice.

Saturday was spent drinking tea and reading second-hand novels from the rec centre—run by an amazing woman. Breakfast was again at the Coastal Kitchen Café—the “fisherman's breakfast.” This was three eggs (not local, not fresh, not free-range), “the best sausage on the Island”(not local, not fresh, almost cold, and certainly not “the Island's best”), hash-browns (very hot potato-based food-like substance), toast (thick slices, but of a mediocre bread) and the whole works cost me $8. Man, sure let me know what I have been taking for granted.


Ocean spray, Pt. Renfrew 2009

The West Coast Trail Express bus picked us (myself and the other three hikers) at one end of Pt. Renfrew and then drove through town, picking up a dozen or more people fresh off the West Coast Trail and hauled us all back to Victoria. The bus had a sign up saying “for your comfort, this vehicle is equipped with air-ride suspension.” I figure that means that for most of the ride, you're suspended in the air. But the Express is a great service, running hikers and gear from Victoria to pretty much any point along the West Coast between Sooke and the north end of the West Coast Trail. It is exactly the right scale for the job, and serves the community well.

Eventually, I made it back to Victoria, and bused home on the municipal service. Happy to have been gone, happy to have successfully hiked the JdF, and happy to be back home.





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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Juan de Fuca Trail Day Three 11 June 2009

Chin Beach to Sombrio Beach, that was the plan. After last September and taking four hours to make the 6 km hike (leaving me utterly exhausted), I thought that planning Chin to Sombrio as my hike for the day would be about right. I even planned for a rest stop after climbing out of Loss Creek (which I believe is the most vertical metres of the entire trip). But things didn't go as planned.

Instead, the entire hike from Chin to Sombrio, beach to beach, took 2 ½ hours. And then I stopped for breakfast . Heart, lungs and legs were working in perfect harmony—I have no explanation as to why. But the climbs and descents were nothing like ten months ago. I pulled in to the campground at Sombrio and made some oatmeal, and as I was eating it, a group of six hikers was just leaving Sombrio for Kuitshe or Payzant campsites. I cleaned up my utensils, abandoned a water bottle (not on purpose) and decided to set out to Kuitshe about an hour after them.

Eagle on Sombrio Beach 11 June 2009
The trail is not solely in the bush—quite often it leaves the bush and traverses the beach. Meaning that if you don't pay attention to the tides, you can get stranded or find the beach impassable for a couple of hours. This sounds like a big deal, but it really isn't. Tide tables are posted at each beach, and you can time your hike around the tides. What is difficult is finding the place where you exit from the beach and head back along the trail. These points are supposed to be marked with large orange or red float balls hung in the trees. But time, sunshine and weather have destroyed some of the balls. Others are small and branches have grown in such a way as to screen them. Finding your way on to the trail is often an adventure in itself.

The rest of the hike, from Sombrio beach all the way though to the end at Botanical Beach, is rated as moderate. The elevations are lower and the transits along the same elevation are longer. The trail itself is about the same, with water working its way downslope finding the trail and turning it to mud. Or, in some cases, the water decides the trail makes a good stream bed and flows along it for five or ten metres before returning into the loam.

Fern unfurling along trail to Kuitshe 11 June 2009
The beaches were covered with sand fleas by the thousands—little springtails that would cluster on bits of seaweed. As I walked by, they would leap wildly, this little fountain of bodies going every which way. Or crabs in the intertidal zone; left with the tide pools, rocks or washed-up clumps of seaweed to hide under, there were thousands of them as well, all between 10 and 30 millimetres across. Those that could, scurried under rocks or seaweed as I passed. Those that had nowhere to go, backed up, flashing white-edged claws at me, warning me not to come any closer. Of course, while their claws were only a millimetre or two long, this wasn't much of a threat, but they did the best they could with what they had.


salmonberry blossoms

There were other discoveries along the trail as well; apparently slugs like orange peel. And they like it a lot. The peel I saw hadn't had time to dry and shrivel, yet there were several holes the size of toonies in it and a couple of slugs still working it over. And both ants and millipedes like dead slug (I knew something had to, but had no idea what did).

My plan had been to stop at Kuitshe—well, that had been my plan after storming the hike from Chin to Sombrio. But I got to Kuitshe and found that it was still early, I was still feeling strong, and there really wasn't any reason to stop, so I carried on. I ended up at Payzant campsite, about 13 km further along than I had expected to be—and only 7 km from the end of the trail at Botanical Beach. There had been quite a few people on the trail, enough that I was surprised by how busy it was. This was, after all, mid-week in early June. But like Chin Beach, Payzant filled up as the evening wore on. I arrived about 4:00 pm and the first four of the party of six I'd met at Sombrio came in about 4:30 pm. The last two didn't make it until 6:15 pm—late enough that their mates were starting to get worried.

So after all, it was a 19 km day. A great day physically, and a personal best. I was beat, at the end of it, but just tired, not feeling destroyed. Dinner and sleep would serve to restore my strength and, even more importantly, replenish my sugar stores so that I could do it again tomorrow.





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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Juan de Fuca Trail Day Two 10 June 2009

This was the day of the hike I had been dreading the most; Bear Beach to Chin Beach. A little over 10 km long, it is rated as “very difficult.” Last September I hiked from Sombrio Beach in to Chin, a distance of 6 km and rated as “difficult,” a hike that had radically changed my perceptions of the JdF and my own fitness levels.

Chin Beach 2009

When I hiked from Sombrio to Chin, I had expected a challenge, but nothing like what I was confronted with. The first kilometre out of Sombrio is brutal, and by the time I made it to the old logging road at the high point of the trail, I'd climbed about 160 metres—much of it more than once. By the time I got to Chin Beach four hours later, I had used up all my energy reserves, and I ended up setting up camp and then sleeping for a couple of hours, quite exhausted from the hike. The next day I was facing either going back the way I'd come (no thank you!) or continuing into a section of trail I didn't know, but that was twice as long and rated as even more difficult. I ended up pulling the pin the next morning, hiking out to the highway some 200 metres above me ( a heavy climb, but the least objectionable alternative at the time).

Over the winter, I was certain that I wanted to hike the JdF, but that rating, “very difficult,” kept raising its head. The 10 km kept growing in difficulty in my head, getting longer, higher, and more wild. I thought about it, and the more I thought about it, the worse it got. So facing it on my second day out, well, I was not happy. In fact, I was very nervous.

When planning the hike, I had set aside 6-8 hours for this section of the trail. My thinking was to hike to the halfway point (or better, if I was lucky/strong enough) and then break for a good lunch and maybe a short nap before taking on the second half. I was looking forward to having finished this section, but I wasn't looking forward to doing the actual hiking. I ate breakfast, refilled my water bottles, and was on the trail just after 8:00 am.—and was on the beach at Chin at 12:30pm.

It's not that the hike wasn't hard, it was. It just wasn't brutal, and nowhere near as hard as I'd built it up to be in my mind. Going back over the map, I see that the trail never gets more than about 100 metres above the beach—only two-thirds the maximum height on the Chin to Sombrio section. I can't really figure out why it's rated as “very difficult,” except that its twice as long as the Chin-Sombrio section.

Beautiful, though. Some points look down on some lovely looking beaches, although there is no land access to them. My timing was apparently off, though. The couple who left 10 minutes behind me kept seeing Grey whales at the lookout points, while I only saw one seal lazing about while hunting the near-shore. The couple figured it was the same whales, moving down the coastline at about the same speed that they were. Mostly I was seeing the slugs, spiders and millipedes along the trail.

Slugs on the end of a log

This actually makes sense; I was more focused on the microcosm rather than the macrocosm (well, maybe not the micro-, but at least the “small-cosm”), just as the outward journey of the hike was reflecting the more inner-directed journey I was on. There was a tremendous amount of inner monologue going on in my head, liberated by the physical demands of the hike. It was very difficult to achieve the state of inner silence, of “just being” while hiking.

I also spotted a couple of red squirrels along the trail. At first I thought they were immature greys, but as I got a better look, I realized my mistake. The Grey squirrels are an imported, invasive species that are driving the red's out of their traditional territory, driving down their numbers until they are a threatened species in Canada.

Red Squirrel

This should actually be a self-limiting problem; the Red squirrels are small (about half the size of the Greys) and are supposed to taste bad. But the Greys are not only larger, but are actually quite tasty. So one could eat local and help re-balance the local environment. But just as with the feral rabbits up at the University of Victoria, there's the Bambi factor at play. People don't want to kill anything cute. And they certainly don't want anyone else to kill anything that's cute. The fact that both the Grey squirrels and the rabbits are massively destructive bits of unharvested protein that would be better in a stew pot than running around loose, doesn't matter. They're cute, and mustn't be killed. Just ask the seal hunters about how that plays out (okay, the seal hunt is based on false reasoning and is pretty stupid, but the opposition isn't based on sense, but the Bambi factor—which is why pictures of big-eyed whitecoats are used by the opposition, even though the whitecoat harvest was banned decades ago).

Camping on Chin Beach isn't the same as it was ten months ago; then I was alone until the morning, when who surfers appeared out of the bush at 7:30am. Now, early June and there are well over a dozen hikers in the campsites tonight. The mountains across the Strait are sheathed in mist all day—a mist that turns out to be smoke drifting down from forest fires hundreds of kilometres north of us. As if to relieve my frustration at being so crowded when I would rather be alone, I spot whales spouting off the point a kilometre or so northwest of the campsite.





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Monday, June 22, 2009

Juan de Fuca Trail Day One 09 June 2009

Up at 5:00 am which, sadly, is not that uncommon for me. Wake Paula (who doesn't take to 5:00 am well), toss my backpack in the back of the (borrowed) car (there was no public transit from our place early enough) , and off to breakfast at Tim Horton's and the bus depot. Paula pulled away and ½ an hour later, I was on the West Coast Trail Express.
There were only five of us aboard, and I was the only one bound for the JdF instead of the WCT. Which I was quite happy about. Got dropped at the China Beach trail head about 7:45 am and walked down the drive and onto the trail. No worries,eh? The first stage of the hike is through the trees for 2 km to Mystic Beach. Some gentle climbs and drops, some hints of what is to come, but still an easy hike.
Mystic Beach is gorgeous. Waterfall, and sea caves dug into the sandstone by logs and waves. It's been 2 decades since I was last here—then, ripped to the tits on mushrooms. Now? Hoping that endorphins and Advil® will get me through the next five days.
Waterfall on Mystic Beach
I stopped to fill my water bottle at a creek-fed pool, and as I was pumping water through my filter, there was this ungodly noise, followed by the appearance of 2 mink engaged in a territorial dispute. The one not winning the argument kept right on going, but the other stopped cold and stared at me, clearly wondering if I needed to be taught a similar lesson. Eventually he did back off, but not until after subjecting me to a long measured stare from 2 or 3 metres away. Quite the auspicious start to my first attempt at the whole JdF.
Cave in the sandstone cliff, Mystic Beach
It was easy to cross Mystic—the beach is mostly sand. And it was easy to spot the trail entrance. The next 6 km or so is listed as a “moderate” hike and I would agree. Plenty of up and down, but not too steep or high. Most of the bridges have handrails—although work is still being done to clean up from the winter storms (something that would become more of an issue as the hike continued. Some of the bridges are logs salvaged out of the bush and flattened on one face with a chainsaw, and then cut on opposing diagonals to give at least the semblance of drainage and grip.
Reminder of the origins of the JdF as a lifesaving trail
This use of salvage is a significant one; BC Parks doesn't have the budget to repair, never mind upgrade, the JdF. Originally, the trail improvements were done by a crew of local First Nations youth on an employment program. The improvements (bridges, boardwalks, steps, etc.) were necessary not only for hiker safety (a good thing, as getting in to haul people out is not easily accomplished), but also to protect the trail and wilderness. The rainfall here is measured in metres (most of it occupying in about a four month period) so things like steps built into the slopes don't just help hikers, but help prevent the trail itself from becoming a river and eroding the slope into a new gully or wash. At the north end, between Botanical Beach and the campsite at Payzant, the boardwalk serves to protect a rather fragile temperate rainforest environment from pounding feet.
Bridge over Ivanhoe Creek
But the lack of funds for maintenance and repair means that the two (two!)guys who do all the work on keeping up the 47 kms of trail (including outhouse and campsite maintenance, as well as trail repair) are left scrambling. There are no materials for proper repair, so they are continually salvaging fallen wood to bridge streams or soggy areas, or simply to repair damaged or rotted-out parts of previous improvements. As one said to me, “It's fine for the trail to be a wilderness trail. But where there are improvements, the assumption is that they're safe. It's not good when someone's foot goes through a step that's rotted out.” And there are steps missing in places. And in places, the rebar used to pin landscape ties in place for steps and erosion control is now poking up 15 to 30 mm above the ties, creating tripping and fall hazards. Thankfully, these have all been flagged, making them visible and less of a problem. And between Chin and Sombrio Beaches, one entire slope has pretty much been washed away, and the trail with it. The current fix? Two staged 15 metre ropes to help get you up or down the slope.
The use of salvage has its problems as well. The log bridges, being logs, are subject to the same forces that are continually renewing the forest itself. This means that they get moss and algal growth on them, rotting away the crosscut treads and making the surface slippery. In some places log rounds have been used to make steps across springs and muddy areas. Eventually these go black with mold and become extremely slippery, often being more dangerous to walk on than sinking shin-deep in the mud would be. And yeah, I did wipe out on one.
Dollars were promised for trail repair by the Campbell government last year, and some of it even came through—but nowhere near what was promised. And during the recent election campaign it came out that 50 positions were being cut from Parks—that's about 20% of the workforce. But for some reason, the multi-billion dollar boondoggle that is the Winter 2010 Olympics carries on, unfazed. Not saying that there's a relationship, just saying that the accounting around the Olympics is shrouded and Parks is being cut, while the economy's tattered remains flap forlornly in the breeze. Tourism's down, logging's collapsed (again), and global warming has made it even odds whether there will even be any snow for the Games. I suspect that Gordon Campbell will become B.C.'s “Pregnant Premier,” as Jean Drapeau became Montreal's Pregnant Mayor after saying that “the Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby.” Gordon Campbell will have his legacy. The only thing up for discussion is how big a burden it will be on the taxpayers and citizens of the province.

By the time you've hiked from Mystic to Bear Beach, you've ended up climbing quite a bit, so the last few hundred metres of trail exiting onto Bear Beach is quite a drop. The section is improved with stairs and handrails and such, but the idea of climbing it first thing in the morning heading the opposite direction is definitely unappealing. Of course, it's pretty much identical to every morning's departure from a beach—it's always uphill and it's always steep.
Bear Beach is a very long hike from end to end. And it's not necessarily the distance—the beach is a boulder, rock, and pebble beach, making it an awkward, frustrating, and ankle-threatening hike. There are formal camping areas at each end of the beach, each with outhouses and food caches. I couldn't imagine trying to hike the length of the beach first thing in the morning and then taking to the trail.
Hiking the beach itself, I very quickly met a bear—a young black bear apparently trying to transit from trail to trail. He had trouble getting my scent, but he could hear me as I made a very large circle around him, and he eventually headed back up the trail he'd come down.
The beach itself is very interesting. The cliffs facing the ocean are sandstone, and so are carved into beautiful curves and shapes by the ocean and weather. I know that when I think about sandstone, I think of layers of silts and sands being laid down and slowly concretizing. Here it is the opposite; here the sand is being washed out of the cliffs. All the rocks, pebbles, and the sand that are the beach on top of the sandstone shelf that extends out into the ocean come from the cliffs. The sandstone is creating sand, rather than being created by it.
I ended up camping near Ledingham Creek, in front of Rock-On-A-Pillar, which is exactly what it sounds like; a hoodoo similar to those in Southern Alberta.
Rock-On-A-Pillar, Bear Beach