Monday, August 20, 2007

Trip Report: Yoho National Park

Our search for the sun was successful! On Wednesday morning, Ian and I got on the 9:00am ferry and headed towards the mountains. Because this was a last-minute adventure, we decided to go into familiar territory and headed for Yoho National Park. After a motel stop in Revelstoke, we proceeded early on Thursday morning to the Yoho Information Centre to purchase our park permit and wilderness passes. We asked about some of the backcountry hiking which allowed for "random camping" (no assigned campsites) but were advised that the best hiking was in the Yoho Valley. We chose an itinerary based on this advice, and opted for 3 nights: one night each at Twin Falls, Little Yoho River, and Yoho Lake.

Plans were settled, and we eagerly set off for the short drive up Yoho Valley Road towards Takakkaw Falls. Around 11:00 am, we quickly grabbed our packs and headed up the Yoho River trail. It only took about 5 minutes to leave the tourist-filled parking lot behind, and soon we were in the relative solitude of the Yoho Valley.

The hike to Twin Falls is about 8km on well-marked trails. Although this is some of the most accessible, beautiful hiking around, we only saw a couple of day hikers and even fewer backpackers. After an hour, roughly halfway along the Yoho River trail, we passed Laughing Falls which I assume got its name from when I tripped over a root and Ian laughed at me. Another hour later and we were at the Twin Falls campground. No, we didn't both trip over here: this one is actually named for the waterfall that divides into two distinct plumes falling 180 meters (591 feet). We set up camp and had lunch, then put on the daypack and headed up towards the Yoho Glacier.

The trail up to the Glacier begins in a pine forest, but soon opens on an expansive and barren valley and the Yoho River. Panoramic views of the Waputik Icefield, Mt Balfour, Mt Gordon, and Yoho Peak prevail. Hiking up the rock strewn pathway, the trail gets steeper and then scrambled up some rocks beside multiple waterfalls. We explored the waterfalls for a while, scrambling about on the rocks and looking for a safe place to safely cross a small branch of the river to continue on the trail. As it was getting late in the afternoon, the river was fairly wide, and we didn't feel comfortable with jumping the distance and risking a twisted ankle. After a bit more exploring, we started back towards camp. A father and son went by, in a rush to avoid what they predicted was an impending storm. They mentioned that it was just a "hop" across the river, but we still opted for safety and continued back to camp. The "storm" never materialized, so we spent the rest of the evening relaxing by the river with a book and plenty to eat.

Day two was to take us to the Little Yoho campsite. Heading out of camp, the trail takes you to the base of Twin Falls for some fantastic views, then punishes you for them by heading straight up to the top of the Falls. Well, not quite straight -- there's plenty of switchbacks. Once at the top of the Falls we stopped for lunch and took many photographs of the valley down below. Thankfully, the ruggedness of this trail keeps the majority of tourists away, so the steep cliffs are accessible without the usual blight of guard rails, fences, and warning signs. Common sense keeps you at a reasonable distance, while allowing for an unimpeded view for hundreds of miles.

Once we crossed over the top of Twin Falls, the trail continued to climb for a bit to the top of Whaleback (7250 ft.) A few more photos, and we headed down the much-steeper switchbacks towards the Little Yoho River. We both agreed that coming up from this direction would have been much harder. About 7km from where we started, we arrived at a junction and headed up the Little Yoho River trail. This 5km trail went through a mostly forested area with beautiful meadows and stream crossings until arriving at the Little Yoho campground. We set up camp and had lunch, then freshened up in the ice-cold river.

I was still full of energy at this point, so I decided to head up the 4km trail to Kiwetinok Pass. Ian was feeling his age and opted to stay at camp and guard the coffee. I grabbed some water and a snack then headed up the trail. After about 10 minutes I arrived at an unmarked 3-way junction. David, a gentleman we had met at the previous campsite, had been exploring the area and said the right-hand fork looked like the one to the pass, so off I went. A couple of easy river crossings were required, then playtime was over. The trail went straight up, and then got steeper. I was in full spirits, and practically jogged up the next few kilometers. After one false summit, I crested a second ridge and was rewarded with a small, deep-blue lake of stunning clarity. I took a short break and splashed about in the frigid water, then sprinted up the final section of trail to the top of the pass. Absolutely stunning views in all directions took my breath away, and I cursed myself for forgetting my camera. Luckily David came to the rescue and sent me some great photos, including the one at the top of this paragraph. He also advised me that the

I eventually tore myself away from the top of the world, and bounced down the trail past a few other hikers, practically beaming with contentment. When I got back to camp, I tried not to gush too much about the trail to Ian as I knew he had a hard time saying no to the hike. He made the right choice though, and didn't take a risk that could have made the rest of the trip less enjoyable.

Saturday morning, we awoke to another clear day, and started the trek towards Yoho Lake. After a few kilometers in the forest, we reached the junction to the Iceline Trail. This popular trail follows a ridge just below the Emerald Glacier, and winds through a boulder-strewn landscape replete with small lakes, ice patches, and creeks. Views of Takakkaw Falls and the Daly Glacier proved irresistible to our cameras. We passed dozens of dayhikers equally dazzled by the sights, exhausted after their climb from the valley below. After about 6km on the Iceline Trail, we turned back into the trees toward Yoho Lake.

Emerging into the campground and picnic area at Yoho Lake was a little surreal. A very popular dayhiking spot, the lake front was filled with screaming children, dogs, and guided tour groups. I knew they had all made a long, steep hike to get there, so I didn't begrudge them for intruding on my solitude. We scouted out the available campsites, and found one by the lake with a couple just packing up ready to leave. Rather than hover over them, we retreated back to the main beach area to relax and put our feet up. When the couple still hadn't left after an hour, we settled for a spot in the trees. The lakefront spot probably was probably too close to the water anyway.

After setting up camp, we started to head towards Yoho Pass and Emerald Lake. Once over the pass it was 4km straight down to Emerald Lake, and we were a bit hesitant to hike that far down and end our day with a long uphill hike. I felt suddenly very clammy and sweaty, and really wanted to go back to Yoho Lake for a swim. We abandoned our hike and headed back to the campsite, which was now deserted. I took the opportunity to don the special swimsuit given to me at birth, and jumped in the glacier-fed lake. The water was a bit warmer than the rivers at the other campsites, and I managed to cleanse myself without risking hypothermia.

After my swim, we noticed black thunderheads racing towards us over Wapta Mountain. The air thickened, then shook with thunder. We quickly strung up our small siltarp and had dinner under the shelter while the heavens opened up for an hour-long deluge. Goretex laden campers hurried in from their various explorations and sought the shelter of their tents. It seems we were the only ones who have discovered the 4 oz. siltarp. I wonder if my sudden need to abandon our hike was my body's spidey-sense tingling and detecting the coming storm long before my eyes did? Maybe I'll get a job as a meteorologist. Or a superhero. Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a Weatherman!

I digress. The storm passed and everyone emerged from the nylon cocoons. The rest of the evening was spent reading, relaxing, and chatting with our new friends Barry and oh-I'm-so-bad-with-names. If you're reading this, please forgive my ignorance, you know what we all smoke out here in BC. And mom, I know you read my blog, I'm just kidding. (Edit: Barry and Jennifer sent me an email too!)

Sunday morning we awoke early and quickly packed up camp. It was a short 4km hike back to the car, and we knew we could make the 9:00pm ferry if we didn't dawdle. Just as we put our packs on it started to drizzle. Hiking in the rain is fine, but I'm glad we didn't have to pack up in it. 45 minutes later we were in the car, and headed into Field to have breakfast at the Truffle Pigs Cafe. With casual service, excellent coffee, and a small but tasty menu, Truffle Pigs is an adventure in itself. Allow for an hour or so as it's usually busy, but there's plenty of knickknacks and distractions to pass the time.

The drive home was long and uneventful, an although we got to the ferry terminal at 6:45, there was a two-sailing wait so we were on the 9:00 sailing anyway. The buffet made the crossing bearable, and shortly before midnight I was home to a warm shower and soft bed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Change of plans

The weather reports for the West Coast Trail are looking pretty dire for the next week. Essentially, "rain, heavy at times". Although I have no problem with a damp hike, I'm not eager to spend 5 days in driving coastal rain. I've done the WCT before, so have nothing to prove.

On that note, I'll be heading to the mainland on the 9:00am ferry tomorrow in search of blue skies! We're going to decide where we're going en route, but so far it looks like it'll be somewhere in the Rockies, probably Yoho National Park.

See you in a week!

Monday, August 13, 2007

5-day Menu

As promised, here is my menu for my 5-day West Coast Trail hike. As we don't have permits reserved, we're not entirely sure of what time or day we'll be starting. I'll have a few extra meals in the car in case we have to camp at the trailhead while waiting for our permit. This plan assumes we arrive at the trailhead at noon, get our permit at 1:00, enjoy the hour-long mandatory slideshow, then hit the trail around 2:00pm. I have alternate itineraries planned as well.

Wed, Aug 15: hike 17km to Tsocowis (km17)
snacks: Home Made Energy Bar (HMEB), 2 tortillas + Peanut Butter & Jam (PB&J)
dinner: corn pasta with asiago tomato sauce, mini chocolate bar, decaf tea

Thu, Aug 16: hike 25km to Cribs (km42)
breakfast: meusli, fruit bar, coffee, juice
lunch: greek tortilla
snacks: HMEB, 4 cookies
dinner: Ez Ed's burritos, mini chocolate bar, decaf tea

Fri, Aug 17: hike 14km to Logan Creek (km56)
breakfast: oatmeal, fruit bar, coffee, juice
lunch: hummus and crackers
snacks: HMEB, 2 tortillas + pb&j
dinner: smoked salmon corn pasta, mini chocolate bar, decaf tea

Sat, Aug 18: hike 14km to Thrasher (km70)
breakfast: meusli, fruit bar, coffee, juice
lunch: mashed potatoes & gravy
snacks: HMEB, crackers & cheese
dinner: curried vegetables & rice, , mini chocolate bar, decaf tea

Sun, Aug 19: hike 6km OUT (km75)
breakfast: oatmeal
lunch: stuffing
snacks: granola bar, cheese coins

Food weight is around 2 pounds per day. Although I weigh and keep track of everything, I don't stress about the weight of good-quality, nutritious food. Within reason, the positive energy gained from this food negates the extra pack weight. Often the heavier meals will also be the quickest to spoil, so I will eat those first.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Preparing Food

A friend of mine is heading up to hike the Cape Scott Trail this month, and she recently called me to get some ideas for meals. Good timing, as I'm up to my eyeballs in preparing food for next week's West Coast Trail hike.

I have a few goals in mind when I start preparing a meal list: weight, nutritional value, taste, and shelf life. I like to make a lot of my meals from scratch, using recipes from Lipsmackin' Backpackin, the Web, or my imagination. I know when I make the meals myself that they will be healthy, satisfying, and chemical-free. Unfortunately, sometimes that's just not what I crave on the trail, so I will augment my menu with a few commercial freeze dried meals, energy bars, and snacks. Currently about 75% of my food is homemade.

So, the first step is to calculate how many days and nights you plan to be on the trail, and from there figure out how many of each meal you will need. For this upcoming trip, I have determined that I will need 5 breakfasts, 5 snacks, 6 lunches, 6 bags of trailmix (gorp), and 5 dinners. We're planning to spend 4 nights on the trail, but weather and timing means 5 nights is just as likely. Normally I would bring an extra emergency meal, but instead I will take a bit of cash and perhaps enjoy a meal at Chez Monique's (photo), or some fresh crab or salmon at the Nitnat ferry.

Once quantities are calculated, I will grab a pad of paper and make a chart with the headings of breakfast, snacks, lunch, gorp, and dinner. Under each heading I will create a numbered line up to the quantity of each meal needed (ie, 5 lines for breakfast). I will then proceed to populate the chart with meals as I prepare or buy them.

The next step for me is to go through all the meals and make a shopping list for ingredients. This usually requires visiting a health food store, grocery store, and outfitter. Then, I will prepare all of the ingredients that require dehydrating, and load up my dehydrator. This often takes a couple of days so I try to start a few weeks in advance. While dehydrating, I will start preparing the meals that don't require dehydrated ingredients, but may require dehydrating once prepared. Between stages, I store all dried ingredients in the freezer to maximize shelf life and make them easier to chop in the blender.

The next few days are spent baking, mixing, and generally making a mess of the kitchen. Eventually, I will have a bunch of Ziploc bags full of tasty meals. Each bag gets a masking tape label with the meal name, preparation instructions, and another label with any ingredients I need to add before I leave, such as cheese. If a meal is in multiple bags I will label them with "1 of 3","2 of 3" etc. Once each meal is completed, I will put a checkmark beside it on my chart.

A few days before my hike, most meals should be checked off the list, and any prepackaged meals added to fill in any blanks. When buying prepackaged meals, I look for those with the least amount of chemicals, and make sure they don't require long simmering times or the addition of special ingredients. A paper pouch is also nice as it can be burned in a camp fire. For my Ziploc meals, I will bring the tempty bags home, wash them, and use them again.

Now it's time to load up the pack. Typically I've always put a day's worth of food in one large Ziploc, and label the bag "Monday" or "Day 1", for example. For next week's West Coast Trail trip, I am going to try a slightly different system. As we don't know what time or day we will be starting (we don't have a permit reserved) I am just going to load all the breakfasts in one bag, lunches in another, and so on. This way, if we start early or late I can quickly add or remove items and leave them in the car. Another potential benefit of this method is I can have some choice in meals each day and not force myself to eat something I'm not craving that particular day. It will also let me choose meals according to the weather and schedule: a hot breakfast on a cold day, or cold cereal on a morning we're racing to catch a low tide. Meals with longer preparation times can be used on days we decide to stop early.

In my next post, I will share my specific meal plan, along with weights and approximate nutritional information.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Book Review: Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook

Full Title: Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook: Innovative Techniques and Trail Tested Instruction for the Long Distance Hiker
Author: Ray Jardine

If you've been seriously into backpacking for any length of time, the name Ray Jardine will be as common as Martha is to homemakers. Not content to rest on his laurels after changing the face of rock climbing, Jardine set his sights on backpacking - or, more specifically, long distance hiking.

Until the publication of the Hiker's Handbook, the rules of backpacking were simple: sturdy boots, bombproof backpack, waterproof clothing, and equipment to overcome any obstacle nature could provide. Ray Jardine blew all these rules out of the water, and offered up a new set of guidelines that took the backpacking community by storm.

The Hiker's Handbook has probably stirred up more emotion among backpackers than any other publication. Reading reviews, you will find descriptions ranging from genius to ignorance, insightfulness to arrogance. One thing is sure though, any book that can get a rise out of so many people must be worth reading!

The version available in my library is from 1998, so I opened my mind to the state of the industry at that point, ignored the reviews and descriptions I had previously read, and sat down to read the Handbook from cover to cover. The first thing I realized is this is definitely not just a Pacific Crest Trail Handbook, but a book that can be applied to all aspects of backpacking. Even a weekend warrior can use much of the advice offered.

Part One deals with Planning and Preparations, including goals, training, equipment, and food. This is the technical part of the manual, and immediately begins to dissolve any preconceived notions you may have about gear. Industry advertising and magazines are spared no punches, and every bit of planning a trip is covered from head to toe.

Part Two discusses The Journey, and how to survive the myriad of obstacles the trail will throw in your way. Sun to snow, ticks to cougars, each section is well thought out and discussed from a technical and philosophical standpoint.

Parts Three and Four are more specific to the PCT, and discuss itineraries, resupplying, and other trail-related issues.

The final chapters of the book wax a bit more poetic, and allow a window into the author's political views and feelings. Advanced techniques are discusses, as is the potential problem of re-entry after an extended stay in the wilds.

I think any backpacker could learn from reading this book. You don't need to agree with everything Jardine talks about - in fact, there's nothing wrong with adamantly disagreeing with some of his philosophies. I found the most important aspect of this read was that it got me emotional, passionate, and excited about backpacking. My complaints about the Handbook aren't to do with the ideas and criticisms, even if I don't agree with them, but only that Jardine insists on repeating some of his more controversial ideas to the point they seem like a joke. Ever chapter mentions umbrellas and corn pasta. Both might be amazing ideas, but I had enough of them by chapter 3. That, and a few unnecessary discussions about religion, politics, and ethics aside, I can definitely recommend this book to everyone.

In my next few posts I will discuss some of the specific ideas presented in the Hikers Handbook, and how they have influenced my hiking. Specifically, I will be taking some of this newfound advice (and my new tarptent!) with me on the West Coast Trail in a little over a week.