This summer I will be departing on my biggest adventure yet, the Pacific Crest Trail aka PCT. For those that don’t know the PCT is a 2650 mile foot path that runs from the Mexican border near the town of Campo, CA to the Canadian border at Manning Park, BC. On average those that complete the trail do so in about 5 months time with around 90% of people travelling in a Northbound direction. However, I wont be one of those 90%, because I’ve decided to go against the grain and walk southbound. What follows is a list of reasons why I am hiking the Pacific Crest trail in no particular order. I’ve split the list into why I am hiking the PCT, and why I am going southbound specifically.
Reasons to Hike the PCT
1. Take Frank for a big walk
2. I love the feeling of moving over land by my own power
3. All the views, vistas, and epic scenery
4. Get lots of fresh air
5. Learn from reading all the signs along the way, seriously I read everything I walk past
6. Get a little leaner
7. Equanimity training
8. Make great memories with Frank
9. Live without keys
10. See lots of neat plants I’ve never seen before
11. Time to process past traumas both emotional and physical
12. Trying to wake up for sunrise somewhere new everyday, trying…
13. See some new insects
14. Not have to drive anywhere, living in a van it gets old…
15. Smell different environments
16. Live in a world where short-shorts are normal
17. Enjoy an extended wilderness immersion
18. Connect to a higher power
19. Hike until I hate hiking, and then keep hiking until I love it again
20. Spend less time on the internet
21. Tanned and toned man thighs, oh yeah dudes in short shorts…
22. Learn from the people I meet along the way
23. Make it up to Frank we had a lazy winter
24. Meet some kick ass people
25. Write everyday with pen and paper
26. Not have to think of what adventures to do all summer
27. Enjoy sleeping outside every night
28. See some cool rocks, I love rocks and studied Geology and Earth & Ocean Sciences in university
29. All the stars
30. Forget who I’ve been told I am
31. Walking lots eases my scoliosis pain
32. Hang out with my tree friends
33. Get a killer sock tan
34. Being able to eat all the chips without penalty
35. Enjoy sunset somewhere new daily
36. I’ve always wanted to go for a really long walk; I don’t even know why, but the time has come
37. To spend long enough living out of a backpack that I can more easily part with the crap in my storage locker, for real.
38. Inspire my friends and family to spend more time being active outside
39. Enjoy watching Frank in his element, that guy is not meant for town
40. Learn to be more efficient at packing my backpack, seriously how am I still so slow after so many years?
41. Learn how to get up and break camp in less than 30 minutes (current time average 2 hours)
42. Become a morning person
Reasons to go SOBO (southbound)
43. Generally safer water crossings, this is important with a dog
44. Cooler desert, this is also important with a dog
45. I can dawdle the last few hundred miles if I feel like it
46. Hopefully less rattle snakes
47. Later start so I can enjoy morel picking season in Canada
48. To be hiking in the desert while Canada is being crapped on with bad weather in the fall/early winter
49. To watch the ecological assemblage change from one I grew up in to one completely foreign.
50. Lower impact hike according to LNT principals and the PCTA
51. Living in Canada it’s just easier to tell people you are walking to Mexico
52. More solitude
53. The added challenge of a shorter weather window
54. Impose my pup on less people
55. Autumn in the Sierra
56. Washington wildflowers
57. Meet the kind of people that do things differently than what ‘everyone does’
If you’ve read this far you may have noticed there are a few typical reasons for hiking that I have not listed such as connecting to nature, learning to hear my own thoughts, breaking out of the rat race, and proving to myself I am capable of more than I realize. It’s not that these aren’t good reasons; they’re great reason, but they’re not MY reasons. My entire life is based on connection with nature, meditating, sovereign living, and challenging myself both physically and mentally, so as a result my reason are more about why I chose this adventure over all the other types of adventure I could be having with my free time.
Needless to say I am incredibly stoked to start this adventure, but in the meantime I’ve challenged myself to camp at least twice a month all winter which I’ve been posting about on Instagram. I’ll also be hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail for my second (and possibly third) time, as well as many other smaller adventures. To follow along on my PCT trek and the adventures that will lead me there you can find me on Instagram @tidelinetoalpine, as well as on Facebook.
Stay tuned for more PCT related posts like trail preparations, being a solo female hiker, vegan trail food, and thru-hiking with a dog.
It was a stormy night on Chilkat pass, Frank and I were cozy in the van resting for the next day. We had returned that morning from our first backpacking trip in more than a year, and were preparing to spend some time exploring The Triangle over the next few day. While putting maps to memory for our trek I found myself distracted by a map of Haida Gwaii. I noticed that the smooth coastline of Naikoon Provincial Park had a trail spanning it’s entirety, and with no other information than a 6 inch dotted line representing over 90km I was committed.
I’ve wanted to visit Haida Gwaii since childhood, and was craving a long walk, so I decided the East Beach Trail combined with further explorations of the remote archipelago would be a perfect SOG adventure. The next month flew by, new gear arrived, autumn came into full swing in the northlands and I was finally on the road south. Wanting to arrive with few expectations I had hardly done any internet research opting to let the mystery unravel as it’s meant to. I spent my first week on Moresby island where I attended the ‘Wild Harvest Festival’ and summited Mt.Moresby, Haida Gwaii’s tallest peak. After enjoying several days of brilliant weather the forecast was mostly sunny for the week ahead, so I decided it was best not to push my luck and get a move on.
I was excited, but in a very nervous way. I intended to hike from Tlell, along the length of East Beach (the longest beach in British Columbia), and around the base of Rose spit to Tow Hill, a distance of just over 90km. This was 30kms further than I had ever done on a trip, and more than 50kms longer than anything I had ever done by myself. Of course I wouldn’t really be be myself, I had Frank with me. He carries his own food, keeps bears away, and keeps me grounded. He is indispensable as a wilderness companion and hard to feel alone around with his large presence. Aside from the length I was nervous about leaving my van at one end and hitchhiking to the start of the trail. I was nervous about my first, and rather isolated thru hike, and about the amount of times I was told ‘there’s no fresh water on the route’. I figured these people had never done the route, after all there were several rivers needing to be crossed at low tide and boglands above the beach; how could there be no fresh water? I was also nervous about crossing those rivers with Frank and the supposed 16 km stretch that you need to do on a receding tide so as to not get trapped along the cliffs with no escape. Basically I was a little nervous about all of the limited information I was able to find, but it was more than early explores ever had and I figured the rest would sort itself out.
The night before we started I took nearly 4 hours to get ready, most of which was spent preparing food. I wanted to maximize my nutrient to weight ratio while also minimizing the amount of meals that needed cooking. I was only bringing one fuel bottle, but wanted to save the fuel to boil water in case my filter failed. I intentionally packed more food than needed incase an injury or illness slowed progress. Rescue on Haida Gwaii is hardly an option, so to explore here you must be self sufficient and have the mental fortitude for self rescue if needed. I intended to take only 5 nights/6days, but didn’t really know what I was in for and decided the minimal extra weight of more food was well worth the piece of mind. For Frank I packed 6 days/nights worth of food into dry bags in his own backpack along with his own pack-towel and bowl. I carried everything else we would need including roughy 7-8 days/nights worth of food. It was one of those nights where I could have spend all night preparing and still not feel certain of my endeavour; instead I took Frank to the beach for a walk.
I woke just before sunrise eager to get the hitchhiking part over with. Having only ever hitchhiked once before I was more nervous about it than any of the hike. Starting from the end of a road with little traffic I was half expecting I would have to walk into Masset, but luckily the tides were in my favour, literally. Before I could even eat breakfast I had flagged down the one and one clam digger out for the sunrise lowtide that day. He agreed to take me to town, but on the condition that Frank would have to ride in the box. Frank had never rode in the back of a truck before, but with poor weather rolling in I doubted another ride would come by anytime soon so I took it. I contemplated tying him in, but figured he would be safer without incase he were to come out of the box. Out of consideration for Frank the driver went slower than normal, but Frank was still scared and mostly not sure if I was inside and it seems he decided to jump out. I heard a yelp and the next moment I was out of the truck to check on him. He wasn’t limping or obviously gushing blood so I threw him back in the truck and we were off. This time he stayed laying down instead of standing up and leaning off the edge, it seemed he had learned (unfortunately the hard way), and I made sure to remind him often I was just inside. My ride, Ben, took a detour along south beach, and seemed surprised by my solo nature. It wasn’t until we were let off at the thumb bench in Masset that I noticed the gash on Franks head, road-rash on his head, tail and legs and poop covering his rear end. I felt absolutely horrible that my desire to do a particular hike had lead to Frank being terrified and injured. Frank tried to get me to play fetch, apparently I was more upset than he was. I cleaned his bum off with wet thimbleberry leaves and before long we were both in a warm car being transported directly to the trailhead in Tlell. During this ride I also learned the islands only vet is in Tlell, and while most people would have likely gone there instead Frank seemed to be in good spirits and has a history of healing exceptionally well so I passed. It was just before 10am when we arrived at the trailhead thanks to Andy, the newspaper man in Masset. Feeling bad for Frank, but pleased with the efficient, friendly, and informative nature of our rides I set off with Frank by my side, tails wagging. He a tough dog, but most of all he trusts me as a leaded. I did not fret over his wounds, so neither did he. Instead I cleaned it, applied a yarrow salve I made and continued to remind him that he’s okay, beautiful and strong. Within two weeks he was completely healed with no complications which I attributed to the salve, salt water, and ocean breeze. I was happy to hit the trail knowing my van awaited us at the other end, no more hitchhiking.
One of the great things about Naikoon Provincial Park, aside from hosting British Columbia’s longest beach and nearly 70,000 sqkm of wilderness, is that there are no user fees or registration necessary. You can just show up whenever you like and hit the ‘trail’ with a high probability that you will not see other park users. There is a long history of the Haida people as well as early homesteaders inhabiting what is now the park. Smallpox drove out the Haida, and the isolated nature and difficult living conditions did in with the homesteaders who abandoned their livestock to rewild for the past several decades. It is recommended to walk from south to north so that the prevailing winds are at your back rather than blowing in your face, and bring a tide table. Even though people had attempted to dissuade my plans I had a very ‘sunshine & rainbows’ mentality about the hike. Before beginning I did not realize how much each day would be dictated by the tides, nor did I think for a second about the difficulties associated with walking in sand for that long. I never thought the solitude could bother me, or the distance tire me. After hitchhiking the doubts, and bad weather began creeping in.
Departing from the Tlell river trailhead is a short section of forested trail along the river before arriving at the river mouth, the Pesuta shipwreck in the near distance. Arriving around hight tide with winds and rain coming in sideways made the decaying ship seem even more dramatic. To imagine the power the ocean can unleash is a humbling experience, especially if you’ve ever been hit by a rogue wave as I have. Continuing on we were at the Cape Ball river long before expected, or so I thought that’s where we were. With the river too high to cross I set up our tent pitch-light and discovered that none of my dry bags really worked anymore. Hiding from the wind and rain Frank and I wasted till shortly before low tide to pack up and move across the river making camp in the forest above. The plan was to wait until the tide was going out the following afternoon so we could race past Cape Ball and the White Cliffs before sundown. The late start would allow us lots of energy to cover ground quickly and ensure we did not get cliff’d out, or stuck walking after dark. While cooking dinner I pulled out my waterproof map and realized I was camped across the Mayer river, not the Cape Ball River. The day seemed shorter than I was expecting but it had not dawned on me to check the map sooner. I had missed the existence of this river in my planning and now did not have time to pack up and make it to the next crossing in time for the low tide at sundown. I felt like a fool, and did not want to add an extra day this early leaving me no choice but to get up at 4:30 in the morning and catch the next low tide.
Frank took some serious coaxing to get him up before the first hint of sunlight. How I woke myself up without an alarm I’m not sure, but it must be tied to a subconscious drive for survival. I was doubting myself enough to consider retreating while I could, but I had managed to wake so I continued on. The moon had already set as we started down the black beach. By the time we reached the Cape Ball River the tide was low enough to cross, but not before taking off my boots and pants. The day was overcast and there was no point to wait for the sunrise, so we head into the forest safe from high tide and set up camp for the third time within 24 hours. Feeling sleep deprived from our early start I misjudged my water source. It was low tide and the river seemed to be flowing out rather quickly so I figured it would be fresh. Upon consuming it became repulsively salty, but luckily I had nearly a full bladder left from beginning the trail. The Mayer river at low tide had been decent for cooking, but this river would have required me to walk much further inland even at low tide. We slept through the rest of the morning as the tide rose waking to sunshine an ample time to eat, write and tear down camp before high tide. While marvelling at the difference between high tide and when we arrived in the morning I saw a racoon making it’s way towards me. It didn’t seem to notice me as it moved over driftwood and up the same route I took to get on top of the bank. It was about two meters down the bank when it stopped and stared, then stood up as if to take a closer look. Frank was sleeping so I gently held his scruff in case he noticed, and our fellow creature headed off away from us into the forest. Soon after a young dear came by, but this time I couldn’t stop Frank from enjoying a good chase. With that excitement over the beach was beginning to reappear and we started north committing ourselves fully to the entire distance.
The waves roared to my right with seeping cliffs of mostly unconsolidated sediments trapping me on the left. I would have found this terrifying if not for the knowledge and planning of moving on an outgoing tide. Regardless I couldn’t shake the thought of a roque wave or tsunami, and as a result continually scanned the bank for any possible escape.As I relaxed a little the scanning turned into a fascinated study of the stratigraphy. Of particular note was a band of bivalve shells much higher than current sea level, and my imagination turned from fear of the worst to the long passage of time along this beach. A couple times we came to sections where we had to stop and wait for the tide to recede before we could proceed. For hours we walked, the beach becoming progressively wider and wider, but no fresh water, or end in sight. My goal was to reach the ‘East Beach Lumber Pile’, a star on the backroads map, but Eagle creek would have been acceptable assuming either were possible to camp at. Pace had slowed considerably, and I was becoming dehydrated from the mornings salty intake, and over rationing of water to ensure Frank had plenty. At one point I thought I could smell fresh water. I should have been tipped off by the collection of buoys on a high piece of driftwood, and the break in the bank, but no water crossed the beach so I carried on, too tired to investigate. My second day had become much longer than expected, and I was leaning how tiring sand can become. The beach did not seem safe for camping yet, but upon reaching a massive pile of logs decorated with buoys a trickle of water crossed the beach. This time I was sure I was smelling the fresh water. I dropped my backpack and climbed over the logs to find a small stream the colour of weak coffee coming down the canyon. Eagles soared above while Frank took a long drink. Freshwater. Finally.
For the next hour I went through a series of emotions from relief, to panic and indecision. It was not possible to camp on the beach before the logs for I could see the last tide had come higher. It was nearing spring tide so each high tide was getting higher than the last. Behind the massive jumble of logs were a couple flat spots along the creek, and a driftwood and tarp shelter higher on the bank. Completely unsure of what lie ahead and nearing sundown I finally decided to stay where I was. I had to literally talk myself, out loud, thought the process of setting up camp. I was very unsure about being there, my mind envisioning all the logs afloat, or waking up to water under my tent like once happened to my parents while camping on the beach. I felt extremely vulnerable and alone that night. I was a now a long way from ether end and well aware I had underestimated the wildness of the route. I was no longer okay with not knowing where I was, or being there alone. If I was at Eagle creek, the Lumber Pile, or possibly anywhere else along the coast before or after the end of the cliff section I did not know, and that made me feel very small. Sun down had brought rain so Frank and I retreated to the tent. Through the rain I could hear the stream trickling, I told myself that if the water rose this sound would stop, I assured myself the shelter would be a safe retreat if the water flooded our camp, but occasionally I had to get up to check on the tide. I held Frank tight and hoped for the best as my paranoid mind drifted to sleep.
The passing of high tide in the night allowed me to finally get some good rest, and despite never being in any real danger I awoke with a renewed appreciation for life. The sun seemed sunnier, the air fresher and the cold breakfast slop taste even more satisfying. When the rain returned I was happy to chill in the tent with Frank, and when the sun came back I packed camp leaving a gift of hair for the Eagles nest. Figuring I could walk on the logs if needed we took off before high tide. After a couple kilometres I noticed the beach closing out ahead, when I turned around I saw a similar image. Investigating the beach above me I noticed wind swept dear tracks. Surely the tracks must have been there longer than the nights high tide, so we settled in to wait. It seemed like a better option than climbing the sand dune behind us, or braving the logs ahead as waves crashed over them. The weather was changing quickly sneaking in from the west, and I was eager to get moving when the tide allowed. Little bit, by little bit we pushed ahead as the tided receded and weather worsened; occasionally making a run for it, and other times having to wait out a several sets for our moment. We had a lot of ground to cover; my goal was the Oeanda River for low tide crossing just after sunset. The rain turned into an outright down pour, my rain gear keeping my sleeping bag and warm night clothes dry I was left to get soaked. Frank and I were drenched, absolutely and completely drenched. I laughed as the wind from the south smashed more rain into me, as if I could possibly get any wetter. It was only through moving I was able to stay warm. I could hardly see through my glasses, but I didn’t need to. Wind at my back I continued North. Once again hours passed as the beach grew wider, my ears filled with the sounds of sirens and waves crashing. Hardly half way and already I was completely fed up with walking on sand and pebbles. Was I also losing my mind? The weight of my backpack had awakened a painful injury in my neck and shoulder making progress painful, clouding my mind and consuming my thoughts. My attitude grew more and more sour as I trudged down the beach being soak by yet another wave of rain just as soon as I had begun to feel dry from the last. Frank followed along in my blind spot, no complaints, his presence my saving grace. I needed to reach water that night, but without him I may not have found the motivation to do so. For him I kept walking. Light was beginning to fade when I caught a strong whiff of fresh water. The last couple hours had crawled past, progress was slow and I perceived I was being mocked by the passing of a truck out for a low tide cruise. I no longer cared if I reached my intended destination, I had packed plenty of food and needed water more than to be on any schedule. After locating the water source, which did not cross the beach above ground, I headed up the dune to make camp in what appeared to be a forested clearing. I felt secure in knowing Frank had plenty of water and the waves could not reach us. The day had been long, I was miserable and eager to hide in the tent, fill my belly and rest my body. Frank crashed shortly after eating both the days meals at once (his choice not mine). It seemed we had both endured a long day, once again.
Laying in the tent the next morning I listened to the rain trickling down on us. If I was going to make it (however far that was) to cross the next river at low tide I needed to get up then. Frank was fast asleep, my body ached and my mind was exhausted. I wanted Frank to enjoy the trek, to have fun along the way and I wanted to remember more than just a long walk on the beach, so I switched into rest day mode, cuddled up to Frank, and went back to sleep. After all, this was why I had carried extra food, so I could do it at the pace I needed to for it to be enjoyable and considerate of Frank as well. He could not ask me for a rest day but deep down I knew it was what we needed most, as individuals and as a team. We woke at low tide, the sun breaking, and feeling rested and happy to be there. As I finally got a proper look around I came to realize where we were. There was a little red tent on the map signifying a ancient site titled Hoyagundia. The woman at visitor information had insisted that the map makers had used creative liberty, and that there was nothing there. As I went into ‘what ifs’ she remained adamant that there was absolutely nothing there. I did not believe her, but figured it would be better to find out one way or the other myself rather than to push the topic. Low and behold I had found it without trying, almost institutionally it seemed. My tired, water needy state had lead me right to it, and for once I was certain that I was somewhere I could point to on a map. Not that it ultimately mattered, but I found it calming nonetheless. It was not that I saw anything in particular that told me people had lived there but I could feel their presence. The land had been tailored by man, and I could envision it full of homes and happy people. I was among the largest sitka spruce along the entire beach, the understory and all the small trees completely cleared out. The space between trees was flat and dipped, gentle on bare feet consisting of mossy and grassy sand. As I walked further from my tent I found an old cabin. Tucked away at the back end of the cleared forest, roof blown off, sinking into the sand, shingles growing over with greenery; idyllically rustic as could be. The space I was temporarily calling home had been used more than once before, and suddenly I didn’t feel so isolated from mankind. I could imagine others sharing the relief I felt to find a source of water and safety from the ocean. I could imagine others perching on the edge of the sand dune watching the tide go out and come back in just as I did. I could imagine children collecting agates along the shores and food in the forest behind. I could imagine the wicked storms that were endured at that site, and the strength of the Haida who settled it. Later I learned that there was indeed a village there called Hoyagundla occupied at different timed by both the Raven and Eagle clans. While under occupation of the Raven clan is was home to Great-Foaming-Of-The-Waves, a significant figure in the stories of the Haida people, or so I’ve been told.
Our rest day was off to a great start, and the promise of improvement was strong. The sun was warm enough to strip down, and combined with a gently breeze my soggy gear was quickly drying out. The water as gross as it appeared was quite palatable after filtering and I enjoyed rehydrating and ingesting larger than normal rations. I rarely break to eat during a day hiking, so it becomes vital to pack in as much as I can during down time. Being a sunny weekend day a couple trucks cruised by at low tide, but I did not take it personally this time. Instead I pitied them for the array of experiences they were missing out on by taking only a couple hours rather than a several days to make the voyage. As the tide rose I revelled in knowing no other humans would pass by and I could enjoy the day in my own little bubble, still two days of walking from my van. When rain started early afternoon I was happy to duck into the tent to lay on my back as relaxed as possible. As I heard the tide switch directions, the rain stopped and I was back outside. I then realized I could hear the tide change directions. I could not describe the change in sound with words, but the ocean had become a part of me, I was saturated in it’s energy, tied to it’s cycles. Freeing my feet I ran down the dune to the crashing waves. This time when the beach appeared I wasn’t trying to get anywhere, and I could dance the beachcombers dance. In and out with the waves I gathered agates that glistened in the sun until the retreating water exposed expanses of sand. I played with Frank and his favourite buoy, ran weightlessly across the sand and gained a greater perspective of the value of Earth. They say ‘never turn your back on the ocean’, but if you don’t how else will you see the Earth for what it is? For me the tideline had always been a marvellous place to be; of neither Earth nor Ocean it allows for a greater appreciation of both worlds. I lingered on the beach until the final colours of sunset faded from a dramatic cloud filled sky. This time when night fell Frank and I were tired in a more lighthearted way, spirits nourished and bodies rested. Under starry skies and a rising moon I enjoyed another large supper. I had grown rather fond of my salty, garlic rich and soupy quinoa with red lentils. The seemingly boring meal was designed to be quick cooking, hydrating, help avoid salt deficient cramping and prevent water born illnesses through large doses of garlic. It served it’s purpose and went down easy after full days. Frank already asleep I laid awake imagining the village that once thrived amongst the then not so giant Sitka’s. Knowing that their demise was caused by the same history that later allowed me to visit such a wonderful place only made me want to stay there indefinitely, to abandon the colonized world and forget about my white skin. As I fell asleep I never wanted to leave that wild and wonderful place which felt so familiar.
After sorting through my agate collection, and creating an art piece with the ones I wasn’t taking away Frank and I continued our Northward journey. We quickly reached the Oeanda river crossing the many channels at low tide quite easily. Frank had learned to cross ‘in my shadow’ reducing the rivers effect on him, and I was once again happy to have trekking poles in hand. It was our final river crossing, the sun was shining and my pack feeling lighter I even had a bit of bounce in my step. For the first time we were travelling during an incoming tide, the incoming spring tide to be exact. Two days north was the steadily growing Rose Spit. The same currents that are responsible for it’s creation and growth are also forming a series of northward projecting fingers of sand. Trying to walk on the firmest sand lead me down one of these fingers rather than the shore. The tide was still low and I managed to nearly jump across upon my realization. The second time I wandered down a finger the tide was a little higher and the water separating me from shore a little deeper. Luckily there was log to cross saving me from removing my boots. After that I had learned about the forces at work and stayed a little more up the beach studying the path a little further ahead. The ocean seemed to get louder and louder as the tide rose. Hours passed as light steps turned heavy, my pack once again imposing delirium inducing pain. Occasionally I would break out of character and stop to sit, unweight my pack and disappear momentarily. The rising tide hurried me along as the beach grew narrower, sun blazing down on me, a previously broken foot reminding me of another past injury. As ocean covered the the sandy beach I moved onto the logs, but finding it difficult to balance I retreated further to the loose windblown sand at the dune base. I had seen a point coming closer most of the day, my map leading me to believe the Cafe Fife shelter would be right around it. That was where my day would end, and this time nothing was going to stop me. Frank could tell I was suffering and not once asked me to throw the stick when I sat to collect myself. As hard as it was though I managed to keep a smile on my face, even if it was occasionally sprinkled with uncontrollable whimpers. My mind in state of steadfast slogging I nearly didn’t clue in to the almost artistic collection of buoys of the beach. Beyond it I noticed a lagoon, not feeling up to taking more steps than necessary I nearly continued on, but then without debate started inland. A sign. The Cape Fife shelter!
Dropping my bag at front door of the longhouse shelter (built in partnership by the Haida Nation and BC Parks ) I was completely ecstatic. Before I could open the rusted latch with the butt of my Seal Team SOG knife Frank had found a suitable ball and requesting to play fetch. Clearly the sand and backpack did not effect him as it did me, and for that I was quite appreciative. The cabin was basic but tidy; two bunk bets able to sleep 6, a picnic table, a couple small shelves, rope to hang food, and a wood stove. Outside a outhouse, fire pit with seating, and a couple fish net hammocks. The walls inside and bunks were littered with writing of past inhabitants, representing the summit register of a coastal shelter. Among the walls and guest books were notes of gratitude, spiritual realizations, warnings of the resident mouse, and tips on the closest water, 1 kilometre south. I stood thirsty and devastated reading the park pamphlet from 1998. In it contained all the information I had previously sought which seemed to have been forgotten by both tourism and parks including distance breakdowns and warning of phenomena such at the fingers. Having just learned there were no water sources north of the shelter I dreaded backtracking when I heard Frank lapping outside the shelter. As quick as I could move I was out the front door and around the shelter to see Frank drinking from barrels of rain water. Squealing with joy I hugged Frank forgetting completely about the gruelling day.
Settled in and feeling much lighter I made several trips to the beach for fire wood before sinking into the hammock unleashing a sign of relief and satisfaction. I was now only one day from my van with two options to get there: take the boggy forest trail, or the much longer route along the beach as I originally planned. The purpose of my trip was to take a long walk and with ample water supplies I had no had intention to shortcut on the Cape Fife trail. I wanted badly to be done with the trail but figured a potentially muddy trail with tree route obstacles would harder than taking the beach even if it was less than half the distance.. Knowing there was a shorter option if needed in the morning I headed down to the beach to play with Frank and enjoy sunset. As the cotton candy colours faded I returned to the shelter to get a fire going. The cabin warmed as Frank slept, and the same soupy dinner cooked while I ready through the cabin logs. Cuddling in with Frank we slept sound, not a hint of the mouse.
There was no hurry the next morning and I considered staying another day. I had yet to interact with a single human being in more than 5 days. Wanting to stay in my bubble I choose to carry on taking the beach. It was a misty morning, the kind of weather Haida Gwaii is known for. After walking for days with endless beach in sight beyond and behind I welcomed the limited visibility. The pain set in rather early that day and it was better I didn’t see how far there was to go. I moved quickly, a mild limp to compensate for my foot, completely focused on a reservoir of strength within. The trees on the bank disappeared from view with no sign of the path across the tow of Rose Spit and before I knew it I was out at the weather station with the ‘end of the world’ within sight. I had walked further than necessary adding several kilometres to a already big day but I couldn’t bother to care. After a small snack we continued on following the access road towards north beach. The road was lined with salal, ripe berries lingering, the sugar rush heavenly. Eventually the road lead us out to the beach Tow Hill in sight. The end was finally in sight. Three hours of complete trudgery and determination later I finally dropped my bag next to the van, removing Frank’s pack and my boots.
The entire journey Frank showed no signs of exhaustion, even asking me to play fetch at the end of each day. Upon reaching the van he ate only a small portion of his dinner choosing to go straight to bed where he stayed asleep until sunrise the following morning, 15 hours later. Myself I set to work unpacking my gear now dried from the warmth of the shelter the night before. Meanwhile a massive, greasy stir fry was sizzling on the trusty whisperlite. A meal for two; after which I set to work on devouring every type of snack food my van contained. I was tired in a way I rarely experience, but felt no need to sleep. My body felt completely beaten now that I was off the trail and no longer needed to turn the pain off to survive. My mind was racing from the experience, 6 days in the wild, nearly 100km underfoot in shifting sand, and not a single human interaction. Bliss.
After a rollercoaster week I had a collection of photos that I enjoyed, and a story to tell. I had followed through on yet another dream, expanding my perceived realm of possibility and adding to my list of apparent achievements. Just writing that feels irrelevant when I know that the true value in such an experience does not come from pictures and ticks; social validation or success. It is neither in the doing, remembering, or sharing of such an endeavour that drives me. It is in the learning, the re-wilding, and the attuning to the unknown that I find motivation. It is an instinctual quest to increase my self-reliance, and self-knowledge that I can’t bear to resist. It is what I would do whether or not I ever had anyone to tell, or a way to tell them what I was doing. It it a way of training virtuous behaviour and building mental fortitude. Creating reservoirs of strength for future hard times, and entering the mystical realms of infinite space, time, and life. It is by passing the bounds of our comfort zone that we find the seeds of personal growth, and in taking the journey in solitude we allow for the greatest fruition of each seed. It is a way to see in mind the doorway to freedom, a way to truth.
Huge gratitude to my sponsor SOG knives for making this trip possible, allowing me to create my own adventure, and supplying me with great gear.
Thank you to Wild & Roaming for the killer fern pants that were so cozy hiking all day
I’m not sure exactly how it began, but somewhere during my limited pre-trip research I got the idea in my head to climb Mt.Moresby. It is the tallest peak in Haida Gwaii at a whopping 1164m. Its relatively close proximity to a logging road and low elevation made me figure it must be possible. A google search brought up minimal information making it clear there wasn’t a ‘trail’, nor was it that popular. My only real returns were a tourism blog about bushwhacking and a youtube video showing enticing summit views. That was all I needed; I was hooked on the idea, and going to give it my best effort despite not even knowing where to begin. I was completely committed to trying without a route description, topo, directions or first hand accounts. I intended to take a mountaineering approach by packing for a overnight trip and mentally preparing myself for a bushwhack. I love the tummy tickles I feel before heading into the unknown; the feeling of a real adventure. I find great value in being motivated even when I don’t know what to expect. What is to come may be a slight spoiler, but I hope to keep the mystery alive for any explorer intending to try this route while still relaying my account.
As my trip came a little closer I learned there was a Wild Harvest Festival happening on Moresby Island so I decided to make it to Haida Gwaii in time for that. Between the festival events of the shore walk, and the mushroom foray I went in search of water in the community of Sandspit. As I passed by Morisby Exploreres, an adventure tour company and B&B, I noticed someone cleaning kayak gear with a hose and stopped to get water. The young man was nice enough to let me fill up, but as with most people I asked had not been up the Mt.Morisby route. As will happen in any small town the person you need to meet will cross your path, and out of the building comes the company owner who happened to have summited the previous year. In a hurry to be elsewhere she provided me with clear directions to the trailhead and the same warning of a steep rope section I had heard elsewhere. My water jugs full I headed back to the festival, and off to the mushroom foray. Upon arriving in my own van with Frank I realized the leader was the owner of Morisby Explorers who I had talked to just a hour earlier. Hoping to gather a little more beta on the route I joined her group as we headed into the forest to pick mushrooms. While she taught me about picking chantrelles I was able to glean just a little more information. During her scouting mission she had found a way to avoid the roped gully, but had decided not to bring her dog the day she summited. She didn’t reveal very much information about the route or what to expect, but it sounded like there was a lot of hands on action. At this point I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about a summit (especially with Frank in tow), but I was stoked for the adventure of trying.
The next morning, after a huge feast of chantrelle scramble and a little too much time in the hammock at the Moresby camp rec site I made my way to the un-signed trailhead. Not the quickest snail in the morning I managed to hit the trail shortly before 2pm. Soon I would learn I had underestimated the mountain. My time in the ‘Sea to Sky’ left me pampered with short approaches, heavily traveled trails, and so much beta you hardly need to think; while my time in the desert .and northlands pampered me with visibility. and ease of travel. There are no shortcuts on Haida Gwaii, no roads to the alpine, no guidebooks, and no search & rescue on the sidelines. If you want to go to the top you have to start at the bottom, and that means a lot of this rainforest between you and the alpine. I had only walked about 15 minutes when the old logging road I was supposed to follow for ‘5 or 6 kilometres’ seemed to disappear. Momentarily stumped I considered I may not have begun in the right place, but I also had a really good feeling I was in the correct place and decided to poke around. I remembered from the map I would be following a river, so I headed towards water trending upstream, and soon enough had found myself back on the old road. This road was much, much older than the old logging roads I had previously encountered in my life and would frequently disappear for a moment, then reappear across a creek or through the forest. For the most part it was easy to follow, pleasant walking and soothing to the eyes. I was perplexed at the flagging though; it was so frequent in the most obvious places, yet lacking in others. Regardless, time passed quickly and soon the road had tapered out and the route took over as the bush grew thicker and the terrain steeper. Before long I had to stow my trekking poles to keep them from snagging and free my hands for scrambling and protecting my face from bushes. Packed to spend a night Frank and I worked our way up the steep hillside following a drainage. The route was a bushwhack on the verge of becoming a trail, so when possible I placed my feet where other had clearly done so. The flagging had been placed that year, since the huckleberries grew foliage. In some moments I was thankful for the assurance it brought, but mostly I begrudged it for robbing me of a proper adventure and allowing the type that drops bar wrappers to pass more easily. Perhaps I am stuck in a time I’ve never been apart of, but I put the wrapper in my pocket and continued up along the flagging which itself will one day decay becoming garbage in the forest…
Movement up was an engaging effort that called to use some questionable techniques. In the same moment I would struggle holding onto an entire fern plant to climb slippery slopes Frank would flow past me on all fours. When Franks pack would get stuck he would find a way to make it work, and when he couldn’t get over the big slippery logs I would use it to hoist him up. Virtually no work has ever been done to create a trail; only the collective footsteps of explorers. Occasionally you share the same steps, using the same roots to climb, ducking under the same trees and awkwardly climbing over others. In the next moment you might believe you were the first, not a step in sight, but only for a moment or two. Flagging, new and old guiding you to the same crux, a steep and soaking gully with a big old marine rope dangling down. A summit stopping kinda crux for Frank, and therefore myself as well. We had climbed our way through a sopping, slippery and steep forest for the past couple hours. I knew it was coming, and I knew that someone had bypassed it, but I was also curious. I had Frank stay behind for my first inspection. Muddy scree leading to a loose and soaked gully. Even with the rope it looked like a challenge, and I questioned getting Frank down so I called him up to me for his opinion. It was much longer than anything he has encountered before and not by-passable within sight of me if I went ahead. For a moment we stood at the base together looking up, but gravity was strong and neither one of us were inspired. To our right mossy cliffs lead to more cliffs, so the obvious thing to do was to retreat until we could find a way to try again. Knowing it had been done made this part easy because it wasn’t a matter of if anymore, it was a matter of where. Of corse that didn’t mean it would be possible for Frank, that was the big unknown of the whole trip. Upon finding a break in the cliff band I thought may work, I had Frank wait behind while I checked it out.. Normally he will not allow me to leave him, but in situations like this he will stay with my pack as long as it takes for me to go scout and come back. He will wait patiently, and take the opportunity to rest. After several minutes I returned to Frank, and we continued very carefully up a steep ‘no fall’ slope. Once again it was easier for him than I. His low centre of gravity and four feet makes steep, steep vegetated slops much easier than being upright on two feet using handfuls of plants to gain leverage and avoid slipping down the slope and over cliffs. I remember on a similar slope, before the time of Frank, I slipped and instinctually went to self arrest, but I had no axe and my only option was to grab a young tree. It painfully worked, the roots stuck and so did the needles in my palm. The slope eased and we continued to switchback our way up through the open forest gully until we rejoined the main route. We were not far below the alpine, and there was a perfect camping location. Soft, level ground for the tent, a view to behold and a small fire pit. I contemplated staying, but with a coupe more hours of daylight left I made a mental note and continued on to the alpine.
I was happy to find myself on dry, solid rock. It was a great relief after fighting the downward ooze of the rainforest scramble until that point. I was pretty exhausted already, my legs had not carried me up that far in a long time (specially with a overnight load). I had gotten used to bouldering, and long walks on rolling ground not the continuous up a mountain demands. What I was lacking in physical preparedness I was able to more than compensate with determination, and a positive attitude. We had reached the most pleasurable part of the route, hiking and scrambling on rock with stunning views of land and sea. At one point the flagging tried to lead us up another wet gully but we opted to swing around on terraced slabs. Looking back that was one of the funnest sections of the entire route and it wasn’t even on ‘the route’. I enjoyed watching Frank think about how to tackle each section, how to use the holds and judge whether or not to take it with momentum. Once I had to give his bum a power spot when the holds disappeared and he slid back a little. I was not worried though, and that is exactly how it should be if you are leading someone who would otherwise never be there. If Frank is being challenged, I cannot be. I need to be completely solid in order to ensure his safety.
As I ascended through the alpine I made a mental note of every possible tent and water location while staying mindful of the time it would take to retreat to them, and the amount of daylight left. I saw no reason to be moving after sundown; I was out to enjoy the views and time spent. Then we hit a crux that we could not make our own way round. A little chimney, a boulder problem only a couple meters with one good move. but steep enough Frank could not do it on his own. If we were going up I was going to have to lift him over my head, and somehow get him down. I called Frank over and instructed him to climb, he got up as far as he could and I wedged my body in behind him. With my ear two feet from his heart I could hear it pounding, his body tense and heavy, and we went back down. I took my pack off to think about it, Frank laid down to relax. It was a crappy location to spend the night, possible but not ideal. I wasn’t ready to call it in yet, but there was not enough daylight to search for a bypass this time. We would need a whole new way into the alpine to be able to avoid this crux. I knew I could get Frank up, but there was also no point continuing if it got any harder, so I told Frank to stay with the pack and went on ahead. I returned several minutes later, Frank exactly where I left him. I told him it got easier after and that it would be okay, before taking my pack to the top of crux and coming back for Frank. He had seen me go up and down a couple times now, so when I went to hoist him he calmly cooperated coordinating his paws on the top of the chimney and mantling over. On ahead we went, him leading; both of us a little proud. The feeling quickly ended when my legs began to buckle, quads knotting combined with painful sensations of ripping. I had experienced these types of craps on a couple previous occasions and had come to the conclusion it was best to walk them off rather than try to sit it out. Grimacing I moved up the mountain, with absolute focus needed to conduct each step. My legs did not want to lift off the ground, therefore I used my shorts to lift my legs up so I could step down into them and keep moving. Instinctually I found myself licking salt off my arms and hands. Progress was agonizing for close to a quarter hour before the cramps eased and my body began to work again much to my relief. Sitting was not an option in my mind, like a foot cramp that must be stood on to work itself out, I had to keep moving to prevent complete seizure. As it seems I have a strong tendency to dehydrate myself in order to keep a water supply on hand for Frank.
Less than a hour till sundown and I had accepted we would not camp on the summit as hoped. As far as I could see there was no suitable camping locations ahead, so we called it a day and headed back to a small, damp patch of moss I had noted. Surrounded by rock it was perfectly level with a source of water for Frank, and just enough space to call it home. As the sun set across the lowlands I made camp, fed Frank and tucked him into bed. For myself dinner consisted of hard boiled eggs, almonds, hazelnuts and raisins. I was glad I left the stove behind saving weight and time cooking. I too was exhausted to cook anyways, my mind desperately needed to clock out. I laid down with Frank to wait for the stars to show themselves. Stretching, relaxing and thinking calm, positive thoughts for the next day I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my furry little companion. He certainly experiences a full life following me around which is why I take every measure to ensure his comfort along the way. In order to made sure we can have warm, comfortable nights together I upgrading my sleeping bag. My old bag was packed out and a really tight squeeze with Frank inside. Too many times it left us chilly and poorly rested, but thanks to Western Mountaineering we were about to have a fantastic sleep. After much consideration I opted for the Antelope MF, a -15c down bag that will tolerate moist conditions, condensation and hopefully Franks paws. The best part is they make bag expanders that allow us to not only fit in the same bag together, but I can roll over and change positions with minimal disturbance to Frank. I was half asleep when the moon rose over the mountain illuminating the land. As tired as I was I couldn’t resist getting up for awhile to enjoy the night before climbing back into the sac Frank had so kindly kept warm and drifting away.
Somehow I managed to wake a hour before sunrise to enjoy the show. Not often do I wake that early on my own, and even less often do I get up to enjoy it, but this time I was eager and full of energy. Perhaps it was the excitement of the day ahead, or the excellent nights sleep with Frank by my side; regardless he did not share my enthusiasm and stayed in bed awhile longer. By the time the sun had risen I no longer felt rushed to get going and instead enjoyed cuddles with Frank before a breakfast of nutritious cold slop.
Leaving camp set up Frank and I continued up the mountain across rock, scree and heather’d slopes. Shortly after reaching our high point from the day before the route took a sweeping traverse to gain the ridge. If the route had gone more direct it would not have been possible for Frank and had therefore been scouting the longer option from camp. Within an hour we found ourself on a broad, relatively flat summit eating wild blueberries. Aside from the man made towers on the summit the 360 degree views were incredible. Lakes below us, and layers of land leading to the ocean on either side. Had I known the summit was so friendly and lush I would have pushed on the night before, but I had no way to know and was at my wits end. Frank rolled around with glee and smothered me with kisses while I took photos and savoured a brief moment of success. It was early in the day, but I dared not to linger. As soon as my mind turned to the way down, to getting Frank down, I was on my way.
We were camped less than 200m below the summit. Frank lead us back swiftly and was asleep before I could break camp. He’s a smart boy, he knows what is between us and home and does not want to waste energy in the process. Packed and heading down through the alpine I worked to calm my nerves about reversing the crux. I imagined my early adventures with Frank when at half the weight he would resist my assistance, and I found myself wishing I had a certain taller, stronger friend to help us. Arriving at the crux I tossed my trekking poles down, but before I could take my backpack off Frank was down. I stood there flabbergasted! It was the most incredible thing I have ever witness a dog do. With no command from me he dropped over the edge flowing from one chimney wall to the other like a squirrel down a tree perfectly squeezing himself and his pack through the constriction at the base. I laughed, relieved and impressed. Lowing my pack before me, I climbed down with a lot less momentum and grace. Celebration erupted, my heart exploding with love for the bravest companion I’ve known. No assistance needed.
With a huge weight lifted we continued easily down until recognizing the location we had rejoined the route above the rope. Having trouble retracing our steps we made our way slowly trying several dead ends until I caught a glimpse of the main route. It was a steep step down to join it, which I now knew was possible for Frank. I wasn’t sure he could get back up if it was the wrong way. Leaving him with the pack I headed down until I saw familiar trees that confirmed we were indeed below the roped crux. Returning for Frank we carried on down the mountain side. Still as wet and slippery as on the way up I must have landed on my ass a good dozen times, other times I found my feet dangling with a handful of bushes saving me from a tumble. The descent tired me quickly, constantly slipping, and feeling burdened by gravity. I was relieved to lift Frank over the last slippery log and reach the valley bottom. All that was left were several kilometres of over grown logging roads, a couple creeks, and way more logs to step over and duck under than I remembered. Arriving at the van I removed our packs and Frank brought me a stick. I could hardly walk, and he wanted to play fetch.
That night we stayed at Mosquito Lake Rec Site, and laid eyes on Mt.Moresby for the first time ever. It was beautiful, it’s reflection rippled by a breeze on the lake, sun setting. It didn’t even feel real, being up there, completing Franks hardest objective to date. My body was already aching, and I was in no hurry to do anything like that again, not anytime soon and maybe never without another person. Food sizzling away I was crashing hard from days of adrenaline flowing. It’s easy to turn back, much easier than dealing with the consequences of plowing ahead when you shouldn’t. It’s not so easy to continue forward with a wisp of terror inside, to do it as safe as possible and remain in control. To be responsible for the life of another is a huge weight to bear in an environment like that. To have no way to call for help, and no organization to call to help, to know that any rescue will be self-rescue. As scary as it might sound that may be my favourite part of it all. To set out to walk on the edge, to live completely accountable to myself, and to feel fully the fragility of life. I believe these experiences are made as rich as possible by being ‘alone'; a level of satisfaction is enjoyed that cannot be reached otherwise. Ultimately success hinges on being in tune with something our society tends to deny and suppress, instincts. That’s how it’s alway been done though; instinctually exploring, and pushing the boundaries of faith, mind and body to do so.
I’m glad there was so limited information before setting out, that I had to let the universe guide me to the the right people to find the needed information. Despite being spared some route finding difficulties thanks to the recent and enthusiastic flagging job I still enjoyed plenty of uncertainty along my way. The steps we left behind helped turn this rough route into a little bit more of a trail. Step by step it is becoming less of an adventure. Never again will I be able to experience it in that state, which only makes the memories I’ve created that much more special. Days later I enjoyed a long conversation with a island local who began trying the route 19 years ago, it took him 9 tires just to reach the alpine and never had he heard of a dog on the summit. In fact, he wasn’t to quick to believe that I had made it to the top myself, especially on my own and on my first try to boot. After a series of questions I had satisfied his doubt and earned a little admiration. This was the morning after completing my next adventure, the East Beach Trail. We met briefly as I was departing, but I had to bolt for a ride as he tried to dissuade me from such an endeavour. Now he knew I was not the usual visitor used to having rescue on standby, a guidebook and trail to follow. He rest assured knowing I understood Haida Gwaii, it’s untamed nature and the toughness needed to thrive in such a place. He acknowledged the solid team Frank and I appeared to be as he told me about a incident on the islands ‘user-friendly mountain’ earlier that week. The helicopter had to come from Prince Rupert to save a man and his dog. Sadly the dog did not live. I could not imagine to loose Frank for my own desire to climb a mountain. My heart goes out to the man who lost his best friend.
As proud as I am of Frank for a potential FDA (first dog ascent) of Haida Gwaii’s tallest peak it was not what we set out to do. I set out to to learn the mysteries of the unknown, not for a known glory. Learning after the fact what we had accomplished was delicious icing, but never the goal. I was willing to turn back if it was truly warranted, and closely monitored Frank, his control, judgement and abilities. Leading up to this we had done more than a dozen scrambles together, yet this was by far the most difficult. Spending our entire lives together outside we have a exceptionally strong bond of trust, something that is necessary because if he is scared we cannot be safe. He is naturally agile and intelligent, and conditioned to being handled in case I need to carry him to safety. It is my belief that most dogs should not be taken into these types of environments. Not only are they not always as physically capable making them a liability to their owner, but the challenges we faced are not appropriate to partake in if you’re the type who’s willing to leave your dog behind to pursue other activities. The saying goes something like ‘you don’t climb 65 days a year and solo big walls, you climb 300 days a year and then maybe solo big walls’. Three years of continuous companionship and ‘training’ have lead to a very proud moment, one I am okay with never out-doing. It is a great feeling of team success, but there is no success greater than that of a long life with Frank.
I hope to inspire you to share the wild with your dog, but please never push your dogs limits for your own glory, or to get a epic photo. Not every dog is meant to be a mountain dog, and not every dog that is physically capable will enjoy Type 2 fun like Frank does. Scrambling can be a excellent activity to do as the right human/dog team, but so are camping and hiking if you and your dog enjoy being in nature. Please do not endanger yourself or your dog simply because you saw someone else do it. Do not take dogs beyond your ability to rescue them, and do not take dogs you do not know well (such as friends dogs you are sitting and foster dogs) into challenging terrain. Know your dogs limit and let your number one goal always be to return home safety, together.
Adopt, don’t shop.
Huge gratitude to my sponsor SOG knives for making this trip possible, supplying me with great gear, scoring me hook-ups, and getting me filming. Thanks for the push.
When it comes to enjoying the outdoors and backcountry adventures what you don’t take with you can be just as important as what you do. As someone who finds conservation in day to day life very important I try to encourage people to buy quality made products that will last long into the future in order to minimize waste, and the energy of producing new items. At the same time I am also a proponent of ‘voluntary simplicity’ which means buying less, making what you do have last longer, and learning to live without every single item that hits the market. People are eager to preach that how we spend our money can make the world a better place. While that may be true, not buying will have a greater impact in the end which is why I feel it’s important to take the time to talk about some of the items I do without, and why. The first two being bear spray and ‘outdoorsy’ food.
On Camp Food & Trail Snacks
Only a few times in my life have I ever eaten one of those prepackaged camp meals. Authentically spiced eggy substance, salty lentil mush, nostalgic meaty pasta sac, and the always popular homogenous pseudo-cobbler sweetness. Bleck! Horribly wasteful, and questionably edible. Perhaps I have fallen behind the times and this stuff is alright, but it wont change the fact I want nothing to do with it. Same goes for the plethora of tiny, individually packaged trail snacks. Bars, gels, protein, carbs, quick, convenient, perfect for the person too busy to think beyond themselves. I can’t believe how much packaging it now takes to eat when you do things outdoors. What’s wrong with a pocket full of nuts, and meals of basic rations in reusable containment? What’s wrong with slowing down and enjoying what nature is proving you to eat waste free when available? In a world of people claiming to love nature it seems that convenience and measurable success are valued over conservation of the natural world. How sad. While I may not live waste free myself, I only contribute a slight fraction of what someone listening to mainstream marketing would.
Anytime I hike in areas frequented by people I tend to find bits of these snack wrappers. Surely not left behind on purpose, but more likely snatched by the wind or carelessness. Doubtful either would wrestle a nut out of my hand, but if it did at least its compostable food. I know myself I would rather accidentally feed a critter than leave garbage behind to be scrutinized by archeologists, ingested, or washed out to sea. Paying more money to conveniently be able to accidentally violate the commonly preached LeaveNoTrace principals; great. This may be shocking news, but making meals from scratch with bulk, basic ingredients is much cheaper than the micro-packaged alternative. Not only is it cheaper, but if done smartly can have less cooking required, keep your body functions predictably save weight, and time on food which can add up to longer trips, and less time working. That’s right! The changes we make to honour our supposed values of conservation actually make life more affordable allowing for more time to be spent outdoors. Spending time outdoors being self powered is one of the cheapest ways to pass time, and so more time outdoors again makes for a cheaper way of life. Once you start making changes like how you eat when you leave the pavement behind a positive feedback cycles begins that ultimately leads to a satisfied soul and free time galore. That is as long as you don’t get lured by that shiny new piece of gear…
On Why I Don’t Carry Bear Spray
I remember so clearly one of my first times ever camping alone. I wasn’t the only one on the beach, but I had come alone and made a effort to be that way. I didn’t have a dog or much experience with bears at the time so I easily bought into the idea of carrying bear spray. Nearly constantly thoughts and fear of bears would distract from my experience. Into the night I slept lightly, and intermittently with a paranoid ear on my surroundings. Waves crashed as I doze, and the scurry of mice sounded like giants. And then a foot sept on the tent platform. Shit, I am camped in the salal patch at a beach known for bear activity, again. This time I was alone; I clutched my bear spray and tried to keep my body as calm as possible. I heard what I believed to be a bear walking along the side of my tent, going around to the front door. I panicked, opened the tent door and let open the spray. Shocked and suffering the bear stumbled back; I had really fucked up. The bear was a mother, and now she would have trouble for days feeling them and keeping them safe. It was a critical time for the family and my fear had caused them harm. I woke up to hear the bear walking off my platform. It had been a dream, a message as I took it. The bear had actually come to visit, but I was never in any harm, had I not woken I would have been none the wiser. It’s true the bear spray may come in handy in a off-chance freak encounter I figured it was actually bound to cause more harm than good. I had heard enough user fail stories working at the gear store I didn’t need much convincing to leave it behind. From that day on I have never carried bear spray again, and I no longer fear the bear.
I have encountered countless bears since. Sometime alone and sometimes with other people. Sometimes my dog Frank runs them off before I even know it’s coming, and other times grown men have hid behind me. Shameful I must say, a man like that has no business in my life. There is no one response I resort to. Each and every single bear is different, or in a different mood. Each time I respond differently, and so far it’s always been the right way to respond to that bear in that moment. Bears are not to be feared; they are to be respected and understood. I am not saying to ditch the bear spray, I’m simple saying not to rely on it instead of instinct and understanding. For myself I occasional wonder if I’m doing the right thing, but then I remember that for thousands of years man has lived alongside the bear without spray and done just fine. Living around people is far more dangerous anyways: vehicles, homicidal maniacs, “terrorist attacks”, and the physical decay and illness of a sedentary life. I didn’t always have the confidence I have now, but I knew I had to learn. Perhaps it’s strange to some to make life decisions based on dreams, but to me it’s become quite normal. Now I have one less item to take along, replace, and rely on. I’m certainly not invincible to bears, but I accept the risk of roaming with them and do my best to stay off the dinner menu.
This is not fluff or filler. This is my outright honest opinion and experience. This is for those needing a push, those with whom it resonates, and those that is appalls (as they need it the most). This is for those seeking anything real in a world of madness and delusion. This is for the animal inside that’s done with secrets and lies. This is because I can’t help but be myself.
Roaming Wild in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park
Frank and I recently returned from a four day backpacking trip in Tatshenshini-Alsek provincial park located in ‘The Triangle’ of BC. It was much needed after a long hiatus from the tent, as is this trip report after a even longer break from writing. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, but more that each idea grows out of control and then needs further contemplation. When I began with public writing I found trip reports the easiest thing to complete, and used them for practice so to speak. In a effort to overcome ‘writers block’ I will share with you a story of our recent adventure, and details of our preparations for Franks longest backpacking trip to date. Then perhaps I can get on with the topics that truly matter to me.
August is generally a great time to spend in the mountains; creeks are lower, ground is drier, bugs have dissipated, days are still relatively long, and nights not too cool. It had been more than a year since our last trip, so we started with a easy overnight to a quiet little lake in Yukon’s Kluane region. I loaded my pack with way more weight than needed for a singe night including a delicious van-made burrito, and my heavy wool knit sweater. This was Frank first time overnighting with his new Granite Gear pack (we had done some test hikes previously) so I spent some extra time to made sure it was fitting properly and loaded well.
After a super successful trial run Frank and I were full of energy and confidence to make a longer trip. Both being the wild types who prefer to wander without the regulations, leashes and infrastructure of developed parks we headed south into the isolated NW corner of British Columbia refereed to as ‘The Triangle’. Growing up in BC I was always curious about this mysterious place that didn’t seem to have anything there. It was a place I had never heard of anyone visiting. Aside from a couple cabins, one ranch, the Pleasant Camp customs station and the road that runs through it linking Haines, Alaska and Haine’s Junction, Yukon there doesn’t seem to be anything other than pure wilderness. Perfect.
Before we could begin I made one last stop at Million Dollar Falls, just north of the BC border, to take advantage of a day use picnic table for staging our adventure. Not only did I have to pack for our trip but I also had to prepare my van to be left sitting in the sun, and that meant feasting on perishable items (mostly vegetables), turning the last of my hazcap berries into jam, and making sure my van was clean and tidy in case we came back in a emergency situation. The park has no infrastructure aside from one outhouse at the start of a old mining road which is used to access Samuel Glacier, the most popular attraction. There is no phone service, fees (rafting is an exception), hiking trails, rangers, and is so isolated you can’t even pick up a single am radio station. This park combined with it’s neighbouring parks Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory and Glacier Bay & Wrangell-St.Elias Parks and Prerserves in Alaska comprise the world largest protected landmass. Designated as a UNESCO world haritage site the park itself covers 9580 square kilometer, and is jointly managed by BC Parks and the Champagne-Aishihik First Nations who’s traditional territory the park is located on. Together they keep the outhouse stocked, and monitor wildlife ect, but seem to completely leave visitors alone. I like this. I like being able to visit places that are protected and pristine without the heartache and hassle of what a place turns into when it becomes populated. Seeing beautiful, wild places become developed and gentrified for the masses to consume and profit of parks all under the guise of conservation is something that really sets me off, but that’s a topic for another post. I hope that never happens to this place, so please if you visit think and act accordingly.
When it comes to spending time outside and in the backcountry I do things a little different than is generally advised, partly due to the fact that I basically live outside already (usually away from society), and because I like the personal responsibility of my own way. Before you become alarmed remember I am NOT advising you to do things my way, only sharing a different perspective. I have a strong mentality of “you get yourself into it, you get yourself out” and that means I live as if help cant be called, search & rescue doesn’t exist, and no one will notice for a long time if I am gone longer than planned which are all pretty much true in this case. Those closest to me knew I was going to be hiking and camping in the ‘Haines Junction area’ which covers an area more than 300km North to South, but I do not leave a safety plan, I had no plan when I set out. I prefer the freedom of travel over the pseudo-security of people far away. I didn’t research other people trips, and I never carry a GPS. Instead I studied maps, in this case a 1:250,000 topo with 500ft contour intervals (not detailed….) which I put to memory and left behind. I intended to create my own scenic route and for that I would be relying on my route finding skills, patience, endurance, positive attitude, and mental fortitude to take it as it comes or back out. I wanted to explore, to have a real adventure, to take responsibility for my own life, and that of my canine companion. Most of all I wanted to be fully and completely immersed in my environment, to allow it to show me the way.
Having recently quit coffee I decided against taking a camp stove for the first time ever which would save weight, space, and reduce bear attracting odours. Instead I packed ample food for Frank for 4 days/3 nights, and light rations for myself opting to rely on foraging for the rest. If needed Franks food could be stretched another day or two without being unhealthy, and I had packed a natural hunger suppressant. Most of the time I spend in the backcountry is done without other humans, so I have created a custom survival kit based on my experiences with the most important item being my wilderness first responder training. Aside from food and a survival kit I brought just the basics: a single person tent, sleeping bag, air mat, water filter, warm camp clothes, rain coat, journal, camera (with 3 lenses), and a well weighted and sturdy tripod. Frank carried his own food, bowl, team peanut butter, and my Lifestraw for easy access. I hike in the same boots I have enjoyed for 8 years, and always carry a SOG knife with fire starting supplies in the sheath on a long cord (even when sleeping).
Our trip began by hiking out to Samuel glacier, the first 6km or so are along an old mining road, after which you can see the glacier several more kms away and make your own way to a camping location of your choice crossing creeks on the way. Having been the year before this part of the trip was not new to me, and I able to choose smarter terrain making the approach feel much easier and drier this time. Somehow I ended up at the exact same spot as last year and decided it must therefore have the best overall panoramic view in the vicinity, exactly what I was going for. Water can be found springing forth from the hillside in trickles which I could easily located at a distance based on the nearby vegetation changes. Arriving early in the afternoon gave me most of the day to relax in the sun, stretch, study the terrain for the day ahead, and ponder the bigger questions in life. One of my favourite amenities of my new traditional camp spot is a stone for resting your back against, perfectly angled to enjoy the sunset. I got the feeling I wasn’t the only who had sat against that stone watching the world turn. A special place indeed; Frank and I were the only ones around for kilometers.
Over the night clouds rolled in neither threatening rain nor reducing ground visibility, instead bringing a welcome coolness with them. After a leisurely morning and at the sight of incoming weekenders we packed up and started on our way. I was particularity drawn to the enchanted vibe of Klehini Mountain to the South and headed towards it, but first some backtracking in order to safely cross a swift creek and avoid navigating the loose canyon walls the separated our first camp with the way ahead. Without a set destination, and not planning to travel more than a few kilometres that day I enjoyed a nice slow pace nibbling on berries and flowers. Once again early afternoon came as I found a wonderful perch with nearby water to spend the rest of the day soaking in space and time. I marvelled at the effects gravity and water had on the landscape and pondered what was down the valley and beyond. Without a stove food was simple, taking virtually no time, allowing me to write and draw. This time I couldn’t help but think just maybe I was the only person to ever spend a night at this very location. The sound of the river flowing into the distance was a calming change from the previous nights roar from glacier off-flow. As the colours of sunset faded a small fox came to investigate me while Frank was off ‘securing the perimeter’. In the night it came for another visit, this time Frank nearly went through the tent wall before I grabbed his scruff and opened the door. I heard them rip circles around the area before the fox outwitted and outmanoeuvred Frank, as they always do. As a Australian cattle dog rescue it is in his blood to ‘protect’ from wild animals, and to stop him from doing so is not worth the struggle, especially when I know he cannot catch the fox. I wish I could teach him fox are friends even if they are coming to steal food, but I will have to wait for times without Frank around to observe them more closely.
Being at a higher elevation than the first night meant we woke up in the clouds, but by late morning I was back to enjoying blueberries with a view. From here I decided to head up and over the flank of mineral mountain rather than continue south along the west side. Having had no previous sight of what lay ahead I was surprised at how broad and undulating the terrain was. The topo map I studies had left plenty to mystery and I found navigation be a rewarding choose your own adventure with treasures to be found around each corner. Among my favourite were colourful foregrounds for glaciated mountains, patches of coltsfoot, deposits of gypsum displaying radiating fibrous crystallization and surprise tarns. As I descended the east side towards Mineral lakes I stopped to enjoy a snack with good vantage point and ended up making camp. There was a cool, crisp stream running from the snow pack and I enjoyed the view of being high. It no longer made sense to camp at Mineral Lakes as I had imagined I might do. Being alone without a schedule made this easy to do, a freedom I rather enjoy. There are many perks to being alone in the wild including the solitude to process one own thoughts, face lingering fears, and most importantly live moment to moment on instinct and intuition. The freedom to be animal is rarely found in the company of others, and the ability to be animal is what will save your life push come to shove. As I watched shadows creep across the mountains to the east I noted the locations that have the last of the evening sun shining on them. This information will come in handy for future trips when I want to enjoy nice views with sunsets from high up locations.
While my choice of camp spots the third night was pleasing to the eyes it was also horrible windy. The sound of the tent fly violently flapping kept me awake for hours, until one moment the wind died and instantly I was asleep. If I am camping in a place where encounters with people are rare it’s nice to keep the fly off, but moisture the second night and wind the third had me putting it on before bed. I noticed that both Frank and myself are comforted by the false sense of security it provided despite limiting our ability to sense danger. If he sleeps better, I sleep better, even if it means danger can creep a little closer. Regardless I was not concerned for bears, even with my food at the tent.
Once again we spent the morning watching clouds lift from the mountain peaks before taking off. It is not that we were unable to travel, but had the time it was not necessary. The trip had not been physically demanding so I choose to take the long way back to the van by descending to the lakes in the opposite direction, passing between them with a easy creek crossing, heading up and over the hill beyond them, and then winding through the flats past smaller lakes while enjoying blueberries. Sitting on a moraine overlooking a tarn I could see a RV parked on the the side of the road in the distance. “Those poor fools…”, I thought to myself, “…they spend their whole lives working so that they can retire and spend it driving around gazing into distant lands their bodies can no longer take them to”. At least they had stopped to take it in, most people just cruised through on their way from one destination to the next, then again maybe there were just watching satellite TV. Whatever the case I’m choosing to live each moment as they arise with the faith it will all work out.
I don’t know how far I walked or how long it took me because I don’t wear a watch, use a GPS or any other type of tracking device. That isn’t important to me; I didn’t go into the wild with a set of objectives or athletic goals. I went to BE, not to do. The area I hoped to explore took less time than I imagined it would and felt like less time than it was; the perfect amount of time to do anything in my opinion. In the end I spent more time sitting and taking it all in more than anything else, as I am prone to doing. Nature provides a lot to take in, most of it beyond what the eyes can see. Each bend and fold in the land, every waterway, rock, and plant on every scale imaginable can teach you something about the past, present, and future; about the passage of time and flow of life. There is only one thing guaranteed in life; you are going to die. I know this to be true. Everything beyond that is something unknown you get to create or create a response to. I know there will always be change, and something new to discover so I’m going to spend as much time as possible in the wild world learning it’s secrets and observing it change.
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