Tag Archives: British Columbia

Bittersweet chocolate

After our night at the “Eagle Beach”, we managed to take down our tents during a short dry period. With everything packed up and ready to go, we continued our hike to the “Nitinaht Narrows”. The trail was becoming muddier and we encountered first signs of bears, who had decided to place their poop in the middle of the trail. A little later we had to climb over massive slippery root systems to reach the bank of this silent, but strong current.

The boardwalk was more deteriorated as we continued our hike
Luke and Heather climbing the massive root systems

Perry the ferryman came over to pick up Heather, Luke and me. He had good news for us, as the weather forecast was predicting nice weather for the next few days. This would be very helpful for conquering the large ladders and mud holes that were yet to come. On the other side we met Harold and Susan again, who had left camp before us and were now celebrating Susan’s birthday with the delicacies of the “Crab Shack”.

Perry the ferryman had an updated weather forecast for us
Harold and Susan enjoying the birthday lunch at the “Crab Shack”

As it was still early in the day, Heather, Luke and I decided to continue walking. We were able to make good mileage on the next section, which consisted of newly built boardwalks. After a nice picnic at “Cheewhat River”, we followed the beautiful beach, where camping is forbidden to an abundance of wildlife in the area. However, we saw neither bear nor cougar, but I’m sure they were watching us, well hidden in the dense forest.

With the newly built boardwalk we avoided the swampy area around the lake at “High Place”
It was forbidden to camp at this beautiful beach section due to abundant wildlife activity

At “Cribs Creek” (km 42) we decided to set up camp between the mounds of driftwood. It wasn’t long before Harold and Susan reached the camp and shortly after, Sarah, Lisa and Mel also arrived. Everyone was quite tired from the long day and nobody wanted to move more than necessary, so the tents ended up being spread out with several campfires going. Everyone wanted to dry the damp clothing and warm up before heading to bed.

Camping between the driftwood at “Cribs Creek”

The following day we continued along the beach towards the “Carmanah Lighthouse”. I was the first one of our little group to leave the campsite. As I was walking down the beach, I saw a sudden movement between the rocks. It was a small, chocolate brown river otter that was searching for food in the intertidal zone. Very happy with this sighting, I started the ascend of the steep ladders up to the lighthouse.

The tidal pools in the rocks were pretty interesting
The river otter in search for some food

By the time I had reached the top, a slight drizzle had picked up. Therefore, I just had a quick look around. After admiring the views and the enormous whale skeleton, I headed back down to the next beach, where I sought refuge at “Chez Monique”. This is a well known stop among the hikers of the “West Coast Trail”, where Monique and her family serve delicious burgers and other long desired treats in their walk-in tent with plastic tables and sand floor.

Monique has been operating her little restaurant for years
The burgers are enormous and really delicious, especially after days of trail food

After everyone had caught up with me and enjoyed the pleasures of this eatery, I joined Sarah, Mel and Lisa for the next section of the trail. With the picturesque lighthouse still in view for a long time, we followed the rocky shores past “Bonilla Point” and all the way to “Walbran Creek” (km 53), where a beautiful campsite was waiting for us on the other side of the river. Instead of using the cable car, we put on our sandals and waded through the rapidly flowing water.

Great times with Sarah, Mel and Lisa
The “Carmanah Lighthouse” was still visible from far away

We spent the rest of the evening cooking, drinking tea and enjoying the nice sunset, which seemed to fulfill the promise of better weather. Unfortunately, I forgot my chocolate brownies that I had bought at “Chez Monique” in front of my tent. But instead of foraging bears it were the mice that found my food immediately, eating up my treat that I had saved for the following day. What a shame!

Watching the sunset at “Walbran Creek”
The campfire was an important part of every evening

Harold and Susan had met their goal and were the first ones to leave the next day. I followed about an hour later on my own, since the others were not quite ready yet. The first five minutes on the trail already gave a good overview of what was waiting for us that day: Mud and ladders. However, after the first hour it seemed like I had made a good distance, so I sat down to eat the chocolates that I had gotten from Sarah this morning. Afterwards I must have been so relaxed that I didn’t pay enough attention and slipped on a wet log. The next moment I was sitting in the mud that I had been trying to avoid.

It was tricky and not always possible to avoid the large mud holes

Despite being covered in mud, I was still feeling fine. My shoulder was hurting a bit, but I rested a few more minutes and then put my backpack back on and continued. At the long ladders that led down to the suspension bridge across “Logan Creek”, I realized that I could not really put weight on my left arm. Somehow I still managed to get across and was quite happy to see Harold and Susan on the other side of the cable car at “Cullite Creek” (km 58), who helped me to come across.

The large suspension bridge at “Logan Creek” is only wide enough for one person
My shoulder was hurting, but I was trying to make the best out of it

After an extended lunch break we decided that it was best for me to wait for Mel, who happened to be a nurse. Soon enough they reached us and she had a look at my shoulder. A bit disappointed, I accepted her diagnosis of a possibly cracked clavicle and decided to stay in place, while sending out my emergency paper with Harold, as there was no cellphone reception available. He would drop it at the next guard cabin at “Camper Creek”, another four hours away.

I accepted the possible diagnosis of a cracked clavicle and ended my trip at “Cullite Creek”

Luckily there was an official campsite at “Cullite Creek”. What was even better, was the fact that Sarah, Mel and Lisa had planned to stay there anyways. Soon it was clear that my rescue boat was not going to arrive before the next day, so we set up camp. Later, a group of eight men (all from BC) joined our campfire and cooked salami and cheese on flat rocks next to the fire, which somehow worked much better than our attempts of pancake “on the rocks”. As the evening progressed, the ongoing conversation quickly turned from old jokes to physical and philosophical discussion about space and the origin of the earth. There could have been worse places to end this trip!

Pancakes “on the rocks” did not really work
“Cullite Creek” was definitely not a bad place to end this trip!

After everyone had left the camp, I slowly packed my backpack and sat down at the beach to wait for help. Several boats and a helicopter passed by my cove, but none of them seemed to have any interest in me. The day progressed and I was wondering, if the promise of help within 24 hours would hold true. But sure enough, eventually a zodiac boat came to pick me up after a quick check-up. They brought me to the southern end of the trail, where I changed to an ambulance that took me straight back to the hospital in Victoria for some x-ray pictures.

After nearly 24 hours the rescue boat finally came to pick me up
Mel’s diagnosis was correct, which means that I had to trade my backpack for a suitcase

Ghosts of the west coast

Within 24 hours of being on Vancouver Island, I had decided against going to the north part of the island and instead for going on the “West Coast Trail”. This is a famous Canadian multi-day hike on the isolated Pacific coast between Pachena Bay (Bamfield) in the north and Gordon River (Port Renfrew) in the south. It’s about 75 kilometers long and takes about six to eight days to finish, if you’re not rushing through this beautifully rugged landscape.

Magical forest boardwalks are waiting on the “West Coast Trail”
Forest and beach walks alternate

Due to the restricted access it’s usually booked out months in advance. Luckily I was able to get a space within a few days, as it is still low season. This was also the reason why I had to take the bus one day early, because in May it only runs every second day. With enough food for eight days I boarded the bus early in the morning and got dropped off in Pachena Bay for an early group briefing with one of the park rangers. Again, luck was on my side and I was able to start the same day.

The “Trail Bus” connects Victoria and the remote cities on the west coast

While everyone was waiting for the briefing, I weighed my backpack – 23kg

After learning about how to behave in case of an encounter with a bear, wolf or cougar or what to do in case of a tsunami, the tide was too high for the first beach section, so everyone had to start off with the forest trail and the first ladders, giving us an impression of what was waiting for us at the southern end of the trail. And even if everyone started at the same time, it quickly spread out and I was on my own. The trees around me were lush and green and full of moss.

It’s time to hit the trail!
These ladders were a first impression of what was waiting for us at the southern part of the trail

For most part of this day, the ocean was far off in the distance, the sounds of breaking waves were unable to reach the trail through the thick forest. After about two hours the trail led to a hidden viewpoint from the top of a steep cliff overlooking a rock filled with sea lions. A little later the trail passed the “Pachena Lighthouse”, which was built in 1907 as a response to the wreck of the “Valencia”, where more than 130 people had lost their lives a year earlier.

Sea lions on a rock just off the coast
The “Pachena Lighthouse” was built following the wreck of the “Valencia”

But the “Valencia” was not the only ship that sunk at this treacherous coastline, where the rocks are never far from the surface of the ocean. Many other ship wrecks led to the nickname “Graveyard of the Pacific”. So maybe it was not a coincidence that I encountered numerous trail ghosts along the way, some of them definitely causing goosebumps. At “Michigan Creek”, the first campsite (km 12), these ghosts were even talking to me by sending a pod of Orcas along the coast. I decided to listen and set up my tent instead of continuing to the next one.

Some of the trail ghosts were huge, but well hidden
Arriving at “Michigan Creek” campsite

The next morning I got up without a rush and was rewarded with a spectacular fight of three bald eagles over some food. What a great start of the day! But the trail ghosts had more pleasant surprises for me up their sleeves – they introduced me to Sarah (ON), Mel (BC) and Lisa (BC), three Canadians with more food than they could carry, as well as Heather and Luke from Duncan (BC), whom I had briefly met the day before and who let me join them for parts of the trail.

Despite the clouds, this was a spectacular start to the first full day on the trail
Lisa and Sarah (and Mel) had too much food, so I was invited to get rid of some snacks and trail spirits (picture by Sarah Main)

The trail continued with a mixture of forest boardwalks and deserted beaches. We decided to call it a day at the picturesque “Klanawa River” campsite (km 23), in order to avoid the crowds at “Tsusiat Falls” (km 25). Only later I found out that this had been planned by the trail ghosts all along, because I found a buoy with my name on it right above the entrance to our campsite. And if that wasn’t enough, we heard from a northbound hiker about a deserted beach at km 31, which would allow us to cut the longest hike in half, making use of my spare day.

I joined Heather and Luke at most campsites like here at “Klanawa River” 

After setting up my tent I realized that this spot had been reserved for me

The following day started with blue sky. Quite a nice surprise, as we had been expecting the rain that was forecasted for today. But we didn’t need to wait for long – after we had successfully crossed our first river by cable car and reached the beachfront once again, it was starting to get wet. However, it was neither the spray from the “Tsusiat Falls” nor from the pounding waves, but a slight drizzle that would have soaked everything had it not been for my bright red poncho.

For sunset and sunrise we enjoyed the dark blue sky
At “Tsusiat Falls” the forecasted rain had reached us

It was still raining as we reached the desolated beach (km 31) just past the “Comfort Camping”, a service that is offered by the local First Nations at an additional cost. Sarah, Mel and Lisa decided to skip the rain and take up the offer, as well as leave some of their excess food with the camp attendants. Heather, Luke and I decided to fight the rain and set up our tents as soon as we had a little break from the rain. Not too long after we were joined by Harold and Susan from Toronto (ON), who had also heard of this spot at “Klanawa River” last night.

Hiking through the rain
Defying the rain with campfire and marshmallows – Luke, Heather, Susan and Harold

While we were preparing our dinner under the tarps that we had set up, some more bald eagles were watching us from the small rocky islands at a safe distance. The cracking fire that Luke had managed to ignite despite the constant rain and the roaring waves that the wind was pushing to the coast just added to this awesome moment where I felt like I was the only foreigner on this truly Canadian trail.

Wind and rain made camping at our private “Eagle Beach” pretty exciting

The captain and the queen

After camping at “Cultus Lake”, Ash and I returned to Vancouver around midday. The day was really nice and we decided to go on a little bike tour around the city. We went down to the water, where everyone was enjoying the last day of this long weekend. The people were laying on the grass with a magnificent view of the “False Creek Bay” and the glittering skyscrapers of the downtown area.

The neighborhood of “Mount Pleasant” shows that Vancouver has more to offer than skyscrapers
Locals enjoying the sun at “False Creek Bay”

We biked all along the water to the famous “Stanley Park”, the large forested area in the north of the Vancouver peninsula. Along the shore, a bike path and walkway lead all around the park. However, it’s only a one-way lane for bikes to accommodate the large number of people that come here on a summer’s day. Artwork, swimming pools with ocean view and food trucks wait on the other side to serve the exhausted locals and tourists after completing the 10km loop.

The waterfront walkway passes by the “Brockton Point Lighthouse”
Finishing the long weekend with a nice bike tour through Vancouver

Since Ash was busy with work and had an appointment on the following day, I set off to explore the city on my own. This time the air was a bit cooler and a strong wind was blowing from the sea. The setting sun illuminated the skyline with a warm glow and it was easy to see, why Vancouver, named after the captain who led several major expeditions in this part of the continent, has been continuously named as one of the best places to live in the world.

The next day the strong wind had emptied the streets
The downtown harbor reminded me a bit of the “Alster” in Hamburg

Another day we met up with Andrew, who graduated with us from high school in Maidstone back in 2005. He is now an earthquake specialist for landslides and moved to Vancouver after finishing his bachelor degree in Edmonton, which is where I met him last time. The second time we were joined by Ryan, who is developing computer games and also graduated with us from Maidstone. Neither Andrew nor I had seen him since. It was really nice to catch up and see what they had been up to.

There are many little parks around “False Creek Bay”
Catching up with Ash, Andrew and Ryan

Since I had two weeks to spare, I decided to go to Vancouver Island once again. With my parents and my brothers I had visited Tofino, Ucluelet and Victoria back in 2006. These are also the places that most people visit during their first time on the island. But the island is much bigger than that. I was thinking of going up north, if I could figure out a way of getting there. However, my first stop was Victoria, after a nice ferry ride through the “Strait of Georgia”.

The “Spirit of British Columbia” took me over to Vancouver Island
Watching boats and islands on the cruise through the “Strait of Georgia”

Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest. It was named after the British Queen ruling at that time. It is much smaller than Vancouver and lacks the glittering skyscrapers, but definitely has its charm. Old and impressive buildings include the “Fairmont Empress Hotel”, the parliament of British Columbia or the gate to Chinatown. The Chinatown itself is the second oldest in North America after San Francisco.

The parliament is located right at the harbor of Victoria
Chinatown is small, but it’s the second oldest in North America

“Mount Douglas” provides an excellent view over the city, especially at sunset. At that time the coastal mountains of Washington, just on the other side of the “Juan de Fuca Strait”, get a red glow. The same view without the city can be seen from the shores of the “Beacon Hill Park”, which is also a perfect place to practice the speeches for the theater play of “Macbeth” as I found out from the leading actor.

The view from “Mount Douglas” over Victoria and the snow covered mountains of Washington
The shore of “Beacon Hill Park” is perfect for practicing Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

And somewhere along those lines I came up with a better plan for the following weeks: Hiking the “West Coast Trail”, a famous multi-day hike north west of Victoria. I spent a full day booking all the required permits and busses and preparing for the trip. But since I couldn’t start right away and all the hostels were booked out, I decided to prepare also mentally by camping and hiking around “Thetis Lake”, which is just out of town.

“Thetis Lake” is located just on the outskirts of Victoria and popular with the locals
Hiking around the lake in preparation for the “West Coast Trail”

Canadian style camping

After four weeks in Banff it was time to move on. My next destination was Vancouver, where I wanted to visit my friend Ash, who had been in high school with me some twelve years ago. The timing for my visit couldn’t have been much better, as it was over “May long weekend”, where the Monday is off. It’s a very Canadian holiday in itself, celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday, who was the first sovereign of confederated Canada.

An eleven hour bus ride through beautiful scenery got me to Chilliwack

Ash was planning to go camping with some friends and I was invited to join them. So instead of going all the way to Vancouver, I got off in Chilliwack, where Ash picked me up. Together we picked up a large load of firewood and met the others at the campground at “Cultus Lake Provincial Park”. Mike, Steph and Carly were already there and Daren and Vinny arrived later that night.

“Cultus Lake” in the provincial park of the same name
We joined Daren, Mike, Carly and Steph (and Vinny) at the campground

The “Clear Creek Campground” is located in the middle of an ancient forest with thick layers of moss covering almost every tree. With spring just starting to kick in around Banff, this was a real feast for the eye with numerous different shades of green. And because Canada is so large, there is also a lot of space in between the different campsites. Enough, so that we couldn’t see or hear anything from our neighbors on this booked out campground.

Exploring the ancient forest around our campground
A giant “Douglas Fir Tree” adds to the numerous shades of green

A maximum of three tents per campsite were allowed and with seven people we made full use of that. But since everyone came by car, the others didn’t have any weight or size restrictions. So we ended up with three room-sized tents, each one big enough to house two queen-sized air mattresses. The other super sized camping equipment included camping chairs, four large coolers (drinks, ice cubes and two for food) and three or four cooking units. Now that was professional camping!

Three room-sized tents for seven people
Carly, Steph and Mike had looked after food and cooking equipment

Just recently, Ash had bought a canoe, which he had taken along for this weekend. He had never used it before, so he was eager to try it out. Luckily our campsite was not too far from the water. We grabbed everything we needed and set out for a nice cruise. Needless to say, we used it on both days and never had a problem. We even survived the higher waves created by the countless motor boats and sea-doos on the lake.

Taking Ash’s new canoe out for its (second) maiden voyage
Ash and I had to fight the waves of the motor boats and sea-doos several times

While paddling around the perimeter of the lake, we discovered beautiful beach houses and steep cliffs, where people were jumping into the refreshing waters of the lake. We also saw a guy with futuristic jets under his feet just flying above the water. He made some cool moves and it almost looked like in the movies. Later at our campsite we were happy that all the noise from the lake had stayed behind and we were surrounded by the tranquil forest once again.

Nice beachfront houses along the lake
A futuristic way of moving across the lake

The rest of the time we used for playing Boccia – quite a challenge on a slope with high grass – or playing various card games. Another favorite sport of Canadians seemed to be the campfire. While we managed to burn almost the entire load of slightly moist wood that Ash and I had bought during the first night, the others insisted on getting nine prepacked bundles of dry wood for the next two days. But then again the fire was more of an atmosphere, as we only roasted a dozen marshmallows and burned two packages of “colored flames”.

Daren, Mike and Ash playing Boccia in the deep grass
Keeping the campfire going was an important part of the weekend

Spring time

As soon as the weather forecast promised a few days of sunshine and warmth, I asked my friend Raghu, if he wanted to go on a little road trip to make use of the extra hours that I had accumulated. Raghu is living in Calgary and is still looking for a job, so he didn’t mind going in the middle of the week. He picked me up in Banff and together we continued towards Radium Hot Springs, a town west of “Kootenay National Park”, where the climate is warmer and drier than in Banff.

Raghu joined me for a two day road trip
“Kootenay National Park” was largely affected by bark beetles and forest fires

After a quick stop at the “Paint Pots”, where it was more exciting to navigate around the ocre mud holes than to watch the three slightly blueish colored spring pools, we continued our journey along the “Banff-Windermere Parkway”. The road leads right through the “Kootenay Valley”, which is mostly bare at the moment, despite being covered in evergreen trees. However, bark beetles and forest fires have diminished large areas of the pristine forest, which is only slowly recovering.

The ochre soil has been used by Indians for centuries for painting
The “Paint Pots” were not as spectacular as we had expected

We reached Radium Hot Springs by the late afternoon and set up our tent on one of the campsites overlooking the valley. As there was still some time left until sunset, we decided to go on another little hike to the “Sinclair Creek Waterfall”. A spontaneous extension of our hike led us to the actual hot springs, only accessible through a modern swimming pool. But instead of a concrete pool, we wanted to have a more natural experience, which was waiting for us the next day.

View of the gorge just outside of Radium Hot Springs
The “Sinclair Creek Waterfall”

The next day kept its promise and we had perfect weather throughout the day. We started off with what we thought would be a short hike. At the tourist information, we had been recommended to visit “Mount Swansea” overlooking the “Columbia River Valley”. However, instead of driving almost all the way to the top, we decided to park the car at the bottom to hike up along the southern ridge.

Climbing the southern ridge of “Mount Swansea”
An interesting bird encounter on our way up

The climb was steep up through the forest, but it was nice and quiet. We didn’t encounter any bear, but a very interesting large bird that was suddenly sitting almost right on the trail. And if that wasn’t enough, we were constantly rewarded with amazing views of the valley and the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Only the way down was a bit too steep in our opinion. By the end we had accomplished a solid four hours hike and were quite hungry for some lunch.

It took longer than expected, but we made it to the top!
Amazing views of the “Columbia River Valley”

After an extensive lunch break and another short hike at the “Hodoos” next to Fairmont Hot Springs, we continued our road trip along the “Columbia River” and the “Columbia Lake” until we reached the turnoff for the “Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park”. As we were driving, the valley got narrower and the road led us higher and past the sign for the “Top of the World Provincial Park”. That sounded pretty good, but unfortunately we couldn’t go there, because there is still too much snow. However, we’ll definitely keep it in mind for some other time.

On top of the “Hodoos”, looking down
The “Hodoos” as seen from the bottom

At “Alces Lake”, which is already in the provincial park, we found a nice little campground with a superb view over the lake. We occupied a site, set up our tent and started making dinner. By the time we were finished it was getting dark – the perfect time for a bath in the “Lussier Hot Springs”, free and all natural hot springs, just a few kilometers from our campground. Afterwards we were all warmed up and it was time to go to bed, as it had been a long day.

Great campsite and great dinner!
The “Lussier Hot Springs” have become quite popular with the new access path

The next morning we had a look at “Whiteswan Lake”, before heading back to the “Columbia River Valley”. Here, we wanted to do some more hiking, but the weather had changed and it was all cloudy and rainy. Therefore, we changed our plans and drove back to the “Johnston Canyon”, which had better weather and is much closer to Banff than where we had been before. This was important, as I still had to work the evening shift that day.

The morning at “Whiteswan Lake” looked quite promising
The trail through “Johnston Canyon” leads through a narrow gorge

The canyon was very crowded up to the upper falls, even if it was not a weekend. However, was still worth going and seeing the narrow gorge with the suspended trail at the walls of the canyon. With a bit of time left, we decided to continue our hike to the “Ink Pots”, several spring ponds, which were much more interesting and colorful than the “Paint Pots” on our first day. Eventually we got back to the car and back to Banff with only half an hour behind schedule.

The spring weather had melted most of the ice at the upper falls
The “Ink Pots” were more impressive than the “Paint Pots”