Thursday, October 18, 2012

Trip Report: The Hesquiat Peninsula (Part 1)

I've divided this trip report into two portions in the interest of space.  The first portion is the "useful stuff."  The second is my personal trip report.  

This summer I spent a few days hiking the Hesquiat Peninsula.  Never heard of it?  That's the best part. Currently, less than 100 hikers follow this route each year.

Mountain Man and I learned about this trip in a hiking book called Hiking the West Coast of Vancouver Island written by Tim Laedem.  I highly recommend that you buy the book if you are planning to do this trail.

Why this Hike is Worth Your Time

1) Did I mention that it's remote and very few people have done it?  How cool is that?  You actually need to charter either a float plane or a boat (the plane is usually cheaper - surprise!) to get into and out of the hike.  For a few days you can be the King of the Hesquiat!

2) If coastal hiking floats your boat, this hike delivers.  Tide pools, sandy beaches, sea life,  rocky cliffs, ocean views.  Lots of beautiful and interesting things to see.

3) There is no elevation gain.  A weird benefit?  Yeah, kind of, but if your a mountain dweller like me it's a pretty novel to hike for four days on essentially flat land.  Don't worry though, you'll still get a great workout - there is lots of climbing and scrambling over rocks, just not hoofing it up long inclines.

Vital Stats
  • Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, BC.  Closest town is Gold River, BC.  
  • 28 miles/46km
  • No elevation gain
  • I would recommend spending 4 days/3 nights on this hike.
Getting There

In order to get in and out of the hike we chartered a float plane through Nootka Air in Gold River to drop us off at Escalante Point and pick us up at Hesquiat Lake.  The service at Nootka Air was friendly and very flexible.  We booked the smallest plane that could accommodate us which kept the price down (under $300/person).

Other options for transportation include chartering a boat from Tofino - more expensive and takes a lot longer, but possibly worth it if you want to combine the trip with a visit to Tofino.

What to expect

Section I - mega tidal pools Escalante Point to Estevan Point

Section II - boulders boulder and more boulders from Estevan Point to Hesquiat Village

Section III - gorgeous white sand beaches from Hesquiat Village to Le Claire Point

Section IV - mix bag of craggy headlands, pocket beaches, and forest by-passes from Le Claire Point to Boat Basin

What to Bring

Based on my experience on this hike I highly recommend you bring the following items:

sturdy pair of water shoes.  Keens, Teevas, Fourfingers...whatever.  You'll want something that's both sturdy and comfortable when wet.  I didn't realize that this wasn't a hiking boot friendly trip and so only had a pair of cheapy water shoes with me (well, luckily I guess as I almost never bring extra shoes backpacking).  I hiked for two days straight in them and they were trashed in that time.  That said, I suggest you bring hiking boots as well.  It's unlikely you'll be able to keep them dry, but sometimes wet hiking boots are better than sore feet/stubbed toes.  

My cheap water shoes were toast in two days.  The Vibram 5 Fingers fared much better.

Hiking poles.  I will be the first to admit that hiking poles are a bit dorky.  (Of course, those who know me know that I couldn't care less about being dorky.)  But for real guys, they saved my booty on this trip.  Slippery boulders without poles would have meant a lot more bumps and bruises.

Cash.  Hang on, didn't I emphasize how remote this trip is?  It's remote from the point of view that there are no roads and few hikers, but there are actually three people who live along the route.  At two of these spots cash might come in handy.  There's a family who lives at a spot called the Hesquiat Village and they sell a variety of things that might be of interest to you - homemade fudge, a nice space for camping, artwork (which they can ship to you), or even a boat ride to Hot Springs if the weather is right.

Bear Line.  This should be on your typical what-to-bring-list, but did I mention that we saw 5 bears within the space of 12 hours?  Hang your food!

Other Tips
1) It's pronounced Hesh-quit.

2) Everything on this hike is prettier, more interesting, and easier when the tide is out.  Bring a tide table for the week you'll be hiking and make sure you spend the low tide out along the water and take your breaks when the tide rolls in.

3) People live at three different points along this trail.  First you'll find Brent the lighthouse keeper at Estavan Point; then the family Diane, Dave, Jeff, and Koryanne at Hesquiate Village; and finally Peter at Cougar Annie's Garden in Boat Basin.  All three have access to radios.  There is also an emergency use cabin in the forest near Homais Cove.  It's about 200 feet before the totem pole.  All of these people are a resource should you find yourself in an emergency, and more than likely a friendly face for a short  visit when you find yourself hiking by.

3) Get a guidebook to help with logistics.  The map in the guidebook is useful, a full topo is overkill.

Taking on a unique hike like this one is a special opportunity. You can bet that if a road is ever built to the Hesquiat it will become a popular route fast.  If you're looking for a unique get away I suggest you check it out!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Backpacking cocktails

A cocktail or two can make a long campfire a whole lot more fun.  But what to bring?  After many tries, I keep coming back to the same few favourites.

Mountain Man mixing up a batch of Mojitos.

Vodka Lemonade

Expecting hot weather and time to chill out in the sun?  Then vodka lemonade is the drink for you.  This makes a great cold, quick cocktail when you plan to leave time on your trip for hanging out lakeside.  

To prepare this all you'll need is vodka, lemonade crystals, and a plastic bottle.  Never bought lemonade crystals before?  You can usually find them in the bulk section.  Alternatively, you'll definitely find a brand such as Country Time near the iced tea crystals.  

The trick to this drink is to mix your lemonade crystals & vodka before you leave for your trip.  This will create a sweet vodka liquid that you simply mix with cold water to make a complete drink.  

I personally mix about 1/4 cup lemonade crystals to 1 cup vodka.  It's going to look like a LOT of lemonade powder (and it is).  This is one of the reasons that it's useful to pre-mix.  I've found out the hard way that we always bring too few juice crystals if we pack it separately.  However, there is considerable personal preference here, so start with this ratio then test it by mixing a drink with water and make adjustments to accommodate your taste.  

Baileys and....lots of things

When winter camping or spending a night huddled around a campfire Baileys Irish Cream is delightful.  A few different ways to prepare your Baileys:

Fastest way to make friends at a backcountry ski shelter?  Share your Baileys.
  • Straight Up.  If you're like me and have a taste for things that are very rich,  you don't need to mix your Bailey's at all.  It's almost obnoxiously creamy with a nice little bite of liquor.  
  • & Hot Water.  If straight Bailey's is too much for you, or if you'd prefer a hot drink, try mixing your Baileys with equal parts hot water.  The first time I heard about this I thought it sounded weird but trust me, it's worth a go.  Mountain Man prefers Bailey's this way.
  • & Hot Chocolate.  A classic combo! The cream will make your hot cocoa richer while the liquor will make it more fun.  
  • & Coffee.  Does this even need to be mentioned?  I do this at home.  Does that make me a lush?  
  • & Liquorice Tea.  Or I guess many kinds of tea (Chai? Earl Grey?).  But in particular I find that Bailey's combines admirably with Liquorice tea.  

Mountain Mojitos  

Are these recipes too simple for you?  Maybe you're like Mountain Man would prefer to make something overly complicated simply because you can't sit still? (Kidding, love you darlin'!)  Then Mountain Mojitos are for you.  

To make those you'll need
  • White Rum
  • Confectioners Sugar
  • A little squeeze bottle of real lime juice (like this)
  • Fresh mint leaves
Again, pre-mix your rum and sugar at home.  Start with 1/4 cup of sugar to 1 cup of rum and work from there to find your personal level of preferred sweetness.  

Pack your sweet rum mix into a plastic bottle and bring along your lime squeeze bottle and your fresh mint leaves, wrapped in a paper towel to keep them from sweating themselves into oblivion.  If you can pick fresh mint on your trip, bonus!

To assemble put a few mint leaves in your mug and add lime juice (1 part).  Muddle with your spoon.  Add rum mix (2 parts) and water (2 parts).  Mix and enjoy.  

A note on packing

I recommend repackaging the appropriate amount of your drink of choice into a disposable plastic water bottle (or two) prior to your trip.  Plastic water bottles are light weight, cheap, and reusable.  If you're worried about leakage you can get more piece of mind for slightly more weight by using a plastic soda bottle.  And let's be honest, if you've made space for liquor, you're probably not concerned about ever last milligram of weight.  

What's your favourite drink to kick back with in the backcountry?  Cheers!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How To Set your Bike up for Cycle Touring

We've talked about tips for buying a touring bike, how are you going to get all of your stuff onto it?  You'll need a few more accessories to go from townie to touring.

Racks are contraptions that you add over top of the front and/or rear wheels. They create a flat surface that you can strap bags/other items to and also provide the base on which to attach panniers. When you buy a rack make sure that it's strong enough for the poundage you plan to load it down with. 

When you buy a bike for touring make sure that it has rack mounts for both front and rear racks. Front racks are certainly not required, but why limit yourself?

For cycle touring it's commonly recommended that you seek out chromoly-steel racks rather than aluminum (like the rack pictured above).  The reason for this, according to MM (who is an engineer when he's not off adventuring), is that steel is not only stronger but also can be welded easily while aluminum cannot.  That way your rack is less likely to break; and if it does you have the option of repair rather than replacement.  Can you imagine being left to MacGyver a way to carry your bike bags without a rack?  Yikes.

That said, like many people I am still using an inexpensive aluminum rack and haven't had any issues with it (yet!).  Once day when I head off on a longer cycle tour I'll opt for an upgrade.

Panniers are bags that are specifically made to clip securely to your racks. Choose bags by deciding the carrying capacity your require, if you'd like them to be waterproof ($$), and making sure the clip system works for your bike.  

In my experience Mountain Equipment Coop has the best deal on Panniers.  Both MM and I have the ones below.  While they aren't the fanciest bags you'll ever find, they are well priced and excellent quality.  

Handlebar Bags are great for keeping a few valuables or much used items close at hand.  While jumbo handle bar bags may seem practical at first, my experience is that carrying a lot of weight on your handlebars is annoying.  In fact, many people may prefer to forgo this all together, which is a perfectly valid choice.  I use a small, inexpensive handle bar bag and as I talked about here, use it to stow my valuables so that I can easily take them with me when I park my bike.  

Trailers are an alternative (or possibly an addition to...if you have legs of steel) to panniers. Instead of carrying your gear in bags on your racks you can pull it in a trailer behind you. This is a pricier option but it does increase carrying capacity and allows you to haul gear on a bike not equipped with attachment points for racks. However, it's still not advisable to use a trailer on a carbon fiber bike. The torque of the heavy trailer could damage your light weight frame.

Fenders are covers that fit around your wheels, attached to the hubs and - on a road bike - inside the fork.  Before I got fenders I didn't see what all the fuss was about, but MM insisted.  Then, the first time I rode on a wet day after installing them I realized how wonderful they were.  I remember instinctively bracing myself as I rode through a puddle, ready for the water to soak my shoes and...nothing!  Not only do these babies keep you from drenching yourself, but they also prevent you from spewing a rooster tail of water at anyone who's behind you.  How nice.  They are fairly inexpensive and will make foul weather riding all the more pleasant.

Kickstands aren't just for kids bikes.  A cycle touring bike without a kickstand can be a pain in the butt, however, a traditional "leaning style" kickstand wont do you much good when you're bike is loaded with gear.  I recommend a pricey but oh-so-worth is double legged kickstand - I talked all about my beloved stand here.  

Have you set your bike up for touring yet?  What's your favorite piece of gear?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How to Poop in the Woods...this time Without Toilet Paper

Why on earth would I tackle the indelicate topic of answering the call of nature while in nature not once but twice?  Well, the article I wrote on How to Poop in the Woods is far and away the most popular one on this site.  It's not surprising to me - this is something that I used to have a fair deal of anxiety about and can be a real barrier to many when they think about getting out camping.

Since it's obviously a topic of interest, I think it deserves a follow up.  I've done a lot more camping, and a therefore a lot more "business in the woods" since writing that article.  (I'm sure you really wanted that image in your head.  You're welcome.)  And so I have an update: I've quit carrying toilet paper, and I'm loving it.  (Again, don't you just want to invite me to your next sophisticated cocktail party?)

That's right, I've fully converted to using nature for my toilet paper.  I was intimidated by this at first, but once I read Mike Clelland's fantastic book, Ultralight Backpackin' Tips I was inspired to give it a go.   Mike (we're on a first name basis now, obv) describes pretty much everything you could ever use as TP in his book, lovingly detailing the benefits of different mediums.  I definitely suggest you check the books out which is packed with useful information.

If you haven't tried it you'd be surprised at what makes great trail TP.  After employing this method in a variety of climate zones, I find that it's impossible to try to give you a list of what works well since it varies so much from area to area.  For example, moss in one area may be dry and crumbly (not practical) and sparse on trees (shouldn't be picking it) versus moss in another area may be thick and damp and awesome and practically choking the life out of every surface available (a.k.a. jackpot).

When choosing natural toilet paper I'd suggest these general guidelines:

  • Texture: choose something smooth enough to not scratch your tender bits, yet textured/rough enough to get the job done.
  • Waterproof: choose something that's either water proof (such as a leaf with a soft and textury on the under side for wiping, but water proof and smooth on the other wide for finger protection) or can be stacked thick enough that leak through wont be an issue.
  • Quantity: nature as TP is rarely if ever as efficient as normal TP, so grab plenty of your material of choice and wipe away generously.
  • Environmental Impact: choose something that wont be missed from the current environment.  What is found in abundance?  What is already on the ground and not still living?  These are good places to start.
  • Dampness: Try using something a little damp - it's surprisingly luxurious.  It gives a delightful little freshening up.  
  • Variety: Don't think that each bathroom session can only have one type of TP.  By all means, grab a few different items and try them out!  
Here are a few of my favourite natural TP sources, but I'm sure you'll find your own:
  • Snowballs.  If you do a lot of winter camping this may be the only thing available to you, so it's lucky that it makes for great TP.  Form several tight snowballs and give it a go.  Not only does the delicate yet gritty snow wipe pretty well, but it also gives a bonus washing effect.  I recommend following these up with something dry if you can find it.  
  • Moss.  The right moss is a delight.  I live in British Columbia where moss can often be like a thick shag carpet over everything in the forest and can be pulled off in 2 inch thick pillowy clumps.  The right moss may actually be better than toilet paper.  Well, that's probably an exaggeration.  But it's pretty great.
  • Rocks.  I know, right?  Rocks!  Who knew!  I never would have figured that rocks would make nice toilet paper without Mike Clelland's endorsement.  Just make sure they aren't too scratchy. 
  • Leaves.  The obvious go-to.  If you can find a broad leaf with a fuzzy, soft underside it works well.  But overall I'd say leaves are a lower order choice for me.  Firstly, usually that means picking a live plant which I'd prefer to avoid.  Seconly, many leaves are a overall too slick to do a nice job.
The benefits of using nature as toilet paper are many:
  1. Light Weight.  No need to carry any toilet paper, shaving ounces from your pack.
  2. Minimize impact. I always hated the idea of leaving toilet paper behind, even if it was buried, and equally hated the idea of packing it out (or packing it until the next outhouse).  
  3. It's kind of fun.  It makes you feel like an adventurous pioneer person.  Toilet paper hasn't been around forever, after all.  Plus it makes you appreciate the convenience of TP more when you get home.
If you've been thinking about it, take the plunge!  You may find that it's not nearly as intimidating as you thought and be able to confidently leave the toilet paper behind on your next trip.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Trail Fuel: Homemade Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is one of MM and my favourite camping treats.  It's a super satisfying as a snack, a welcome break from monotonously sweet trail mix, and is a delicious addition to a bowl of instant mashed potatoes.

I can't imagine its healthy per say, but homemade beef jerky has to at least be a little healthier than the store bought stuff.  Right?  Right.  Let's go with it, ok?  Luckily, if you have a food dehydrator, it's easy to make.

I've eaten a lot of the store bought stuff and I've experimented a bit with recipes.  I'm sold on a recipe based on the Doc's Best Beef Jerky recipes from  I'd classify it as a cross between a teriyaki and a classic jerky recipe.  It's salty, a little sweet, and not spicy.

I changed it a smudge, here's how I do it:

About 1 lb of the leanest inside round steak you can find.
1/4 cup tamari sauce (I use this instead of soya sauce because I'm avoiding wheat currently, but soya sauce works just as well, I've tried both).
2 Tbsp Worcestershire
2 tsp salt (I like grainy kosher salt)
1 tsp black paper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika

First you need to slice up the beef.  If you've got any visible fat on your beef your going to want to cut that off.  Fatty bits won't ruin the process, but they sure don't add anything and I find them unappealing in the finished product.

As the original recipes suggests, to get really nice thin slices it helps to freeze it first for about 30 minutes.  Alternatively, if you can find beef that's already thinly sliced or get your butcher to do it that's even better.  I find that the inside round from Price Smart Foods (in Western Canada) is already sliced thin, so it's perfect.

Next, mix all that good stuff (a.k.a. everything but the beef) together into a yummy paste.  Put your beef strips into heavy duty ziplock, add that sauce, make sure you get it all coated, and marinate in the fridge  for at least half a day.  If you don't feel like the sauce has quite enough liquid to cover all of your beef, you can add a quarter cup of hot water to the mix to thin it out.  This is also a good idea if you would like a milder, less salty end product.

Next it's dehydrating time!  I use a NESCO Food and Jerky Dehydrator.  It's from Costco.  It's a good quality dehydrator with a fan and all that jazz.  Set that bad boy to 160 degrees F.

I like my jerky dry and crunchy so I let it go for about 12 hours.  The time really depends on how thick you've sliced your meat and your personal preference, so I'd suggest checking in on it after 8 hours.  MM often makes fun of me for producing "jerky chips" but I like them that way.

I keep my jerky in the freezer in an air tight freezer bag and it appears to keep forever (or for however long I can manage to keep my hands off of it).  Once you take it out of the freezer it should be good for a couple of weeks, varying depending on how dry you've made the product.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Summer, eh?

The May long weekend is considered the beginning of the summer season in Canada. We woke up to four inches of fresh powder.

Welcome to summer!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Providence Bridge Pedal

MM and I overnighted in Portland on our way to the coast. While pursuing the Saturday Market we learned that the Providence Bridge Pedal would be taking over the city the next morning.

We were in Portland, we had our bikes, and our hotel check out time wasn't until noon. We were in.

This ride is a BIG deal. Innumerable roads and eleven different bridges are fully/partially closed down to accommodate 20,000 bike riders all raising money for Providence Health & Services - a not for profit that operates a number of heath care facilities including 26 hospitals in Alaska, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and California.

While I was eager to go, I kind of expected it to be mayhem. Nothing could be further from the truth. This ride was so fantastic in organization and in spirit that it made the absolute perfect start to our ride across Oregon.

From my point of view, here's what made the Providence Bridge Pedal such a fabulous experience:
  • Ride not Race. When you have a big event that combines people who are serious about racing with people who are just out there to have fun, there's a bit of a culture clash. This event was promoted as a ride not a race, and it was run as such. There were no speed categories, plenty gigantic and tempting pit stops, space to stop on bridges to take pictures, and a general atmosphere of fun and camaraderie.

  • Course design. The coarse was huge and allowed ample space in all the turns so that collisions and congestion were minimized. And that's a real achievement when you've got so many riders on the road.
  • Flexible start time. Riders start the race any time after 7:00 am. This really spreads out the crowd and add to the fun for those who aren't early rises. When MM and I finished at 9:30 there were people who were just starting.

  • Portlanders. I don't know if there is a city anywhere that can compete with this one. People in Portland are just really nice. They must put happy powder in the water. Time after time we came across happy friendly people. For example, we found out about the ride from a vendor at the Saturday Market. And later we got to chatting about with the couple sitting next to us in a bar and they invited us to join them and their family during the ride. We did and it was delightful.

The Providence Bridge Pedal was a memorable start to a fantastic bike trip. Have you ever participated in an organized bike event? Is there any event that can rival this excellent 20,000 rider event?

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