October was a crazy month. It always is really, because of settling in to the fall weather, school, birthdays and Halloween prep, but this year was even worse for us with the looming prospect of going back to work, figuring out childcare logistics and the stress of finding new housemates with the added challenge of finding people who are similarly covid-conscious yet tolerant of a family with 3 kids in school and childcare. Once November rolled around, and all of the above was settled, we really needed a weekend away. Normally we would go to a cabin at this time of year, so we don't have to spend hours sitting around in the dark and cold, but that is not an option this year, so we wanted to go somewhere were we could have a fire. I looked up a number of car camping sites, and they were all closed for the season, but then we read the subscript at the bottom on the page. It seemed like we would be allowed to walk-in past the gate at some of the provincial sites: "Campground gates are closed during the off-season", "park users can still walk into the park if conditions such as weather permit", "some services and/or fees may be reduced". Seemed promising...
School was delayed by a week due to COVID and then the weekend before school started the smoke came into Vancouver for real. We had been watching the fires all down the west coast of the US. It seemed almost too good that we hadn't had a smoky season in Vancouver for the second year in the row and I guess it was. As we drove across the Lions gate bridge we could barely see the North Shore mountain and I wondered if we should be going at all, but the forecast called for clearer skis further north and the webcam on whistler showed mainly valley smoke. Maybe we would be better off in the mountains.
It was around 4.30pm when Christian announced that we had made it approximately 1/4 of the distance up the trail during our first 3 hours of hiking. I was discouraged to say the least, and a bit worried. Would we make it up before dark? At least we had done most of the elevation gain. We decided that it was time to start carrying N. The trail had been tricky for her so far - narrow with (for us) waist-high shrubbery and many fallen logs. N likes to hold our hand, and the narrow trail made that challenging for her and us. The (for her) face-high branches to push through didn't help (although we did bring pruners and the non-N-supervising parent did some trail work as we hiked). The rest of the way we alternated between Christian carrying N on his shoulders for the steeper sections and one of us holding her hand while she hiked on the flatter sections; both of which are hard when you are already carrying a big backpack. Luckily, F was bouncing along and the trail gradually became easier for us, although both Christian and I were huffing and puffing up the hills. Just before 7pm we saw the lake through the trees - needless to say we were pretty happy. The West side of the lake already had a reasonable number of tents, so we headed to the North side. At this time the mosquitoes were out in swarms. Again I doubted whether or not the trip was a good idea. The kids started rearranging the sand in the little river flowing through the meadow right away, while Christian and I got busy setting up camp and cooking dinner. We almost managed to get the little kids fed and in bed before it was completely dark. Christian and F stayed up for a later dinner, sitting on the big rock looking over the lake, having some quality daddy - daughter time, and discovering caddisfly larvae.
People routinely hike up to Berg Lake in Mount Robson provincial park and return in one day, but with three kids age 6 and under, we decided a week-long "expedition" was the way to go. Our friend and housemate Miriam would accompany us on the trip, evening out the adult:child ratio. Needless to say our packs looked and felt ridiculous, but we also knew that the real challenge would be getting our three year old, N, up the trail - whether it was on her own little legs or on someone's back.
The Bowron Lake circuit is probably the most popular canoeing destination in BC. It felt like one of those things that you just have to do if you live in BC and are at least remotely into canoeing. Most people probably wouldn't think to paddle 116km with 11km of portaging with three young kids though, but for us it seemed like the perfect first-ish multi-day adventure as a family of five. In the canoe you can carry a lot of stuff, our oldest daughters are old enough to sit nicely in the canoe at most times, and baby W is still too young to attempt to jump over board. As an added bonus a few other families would be joining us on the lakes.
We were on a bit of a high after our latest adventure with our bike canoe trailer, and we were excited to take it out again. Luckily I already had an adventure up my sleeve. A campsite booked at Sayshutsun (Newcastle Island) just off the coast of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Bike the canoe to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, walk the canoe onto the ferry, paddle the canoe across to Newcastle Island. Simple enough, but we knew it was going to be a long day, so we got up for an early start (at least for us).
Biking 30km through town with a canoe and three children turned out to a significant amount of work. F biked the first 20 km by herself, so the first part seemed pretty casual for Christian and I, although F was very disstressed going along the causeway and over Lions gate bridge. She found the cars too loud. I had done a recon trip to Lions gate bridge the week before to measure the narrowest spots, making sure the canoe trailer would fit across. The alternative would be paddling, but the shipping lanes make this somewhat more complicated than one might naively imagine. Christian was a bit worried about blocking bike traffic on the bridge, due to the width of the canoe, but managed to do the entire thing (start of the causeway downtown to North Van) in about 15 minutes and was only passed by a single cyclist who he pulled over for at one of the lookout spots.
In October last year, before baby W was even born, I booked campsites on the Berg Lake trail for August. For a while it seemed like we would not be able to go, but now it is seeming more and more likely, so I figured it was time for a test hike. Viewpoint beach is such a great location for a quick get away with kids - both the drive and hike is pretty short. We wondered though if it would be too busy on a beautiful July weekend. The parking sure was busy and we got pretty worried if we would be able to find a campsite or physically distance. The hike in was also pretty busy until the lower falls. We found many people inconsiderate as we would step into the bushes and many would then pass us without making an effort to even step to the other side of the trail. It was a tiring and somewhat stressful procedure with two hiking kids, so we were happy to climb up the steep trail to the much less busy East Canyon trail. Here we enjoyed looking for berries and pine tree tips for snacking on. N hiked all the way without any trouble or complaining.
At some point, early in the pandemic, Line lamented that we didn't have a canoe trailer for our bikes - vehicle access was closed to most beaches, but bicycle access was open. If only we could tow the canoe there on our bikes, she was thinking... Little did she know (well, actually, she probably knew) I've been wanting to make a bike-towable canoe trailer for quite some time. This isn't really going to be a step-by-step with plans, as I mostly winged the design and measurements were written on the back of a cereal box I've since lost... but if you're crafty it will probably give you some ideas.
Our favourite kind of adventures are the ones were we are not quite sure if we are going to make it. "Adventure is when the outcome is uncertain", as they say. This was definitely one of those - in fact when we headed off Friday morning I wasn't even sure it was a good idea. We were already two and half hours later than planned, as we had debated all morning if we even wanted to leave due to the pouring rain. F had insisted though; she would rather go biking and canoeing in the rain than go to school, so we went.
It was 12.30 by the time we finally left the house. I was towing the chariot with the two little ones, Christian towing the canoe and most of the gear, and F was on her own bike. It was still raining but at least not pouring anymore. We headed North on Ontario, and then East on 10th until the greenway. On the usually busy bike route we were grateful for the poor weather keeping the crowds at home. I had been pondering our route choice for a while the night before. I wanted to avoid busy streets, minimize elevation gain, but also make sure that the canoe did not get stuck on a narrow path. Luckily the bollards along the greenway were slightly further apart than the canoe was wide. Until we turned off the greenway F enjoyed riding through puddles and into the wet grass along the path. The real challenge for her started when we turned north again on Willingdon to go up over the Burnaby hill. It seemed like the up would never end, and we had to have a few extra candy and undressing stops. The rain had now stopped and the sun was starting the peak out. Christian and I began to wonder if we had enough time to actually do the canoeing part before dark. We both got a little agitated with F when she stopped for the umpteeth time to adjust who knows what. Just as our patients seemed to be running out we hit the top of the hill and started cruising down. It was smooth riding until we hit the Barnet road. The first kilometre or so has no shoulder, so we opted to loose most of the elevation down the bike route on cliff ave, only to have to regain it on a very steep hill. We were all kind of wondering if Christian would make it up with the canoe. F hopped on the haul-a-day for the little stretch left of Barnet road and we rolled into Barnet marine park just after 4pm.
I've taken the kid(s) snow caving every year since 2017 (when F was 2, in 2016, we tried to take her snowcaving... but she fully refused to go into the cave and we ended up sleeping in the tent instead; the following year we had much more success). Two years ago, when N was a baby, I took F "on my own" (actually, with a couple other families) while Line stayed at home with the new baby, and last year I managed my largest snow-cave ever: 4.1m long by 3m wide with a ceiling height of 1.2m, sleeping 7 people. This year, Line would stay at home with baby W and Miriam and I would take F and N together.
Before you get too judgy this trip actually happened way back at the end of February, before camping became a controversial activity, back when covid was this far-away thing that hadn't really made it to Europe or North America (or, at least, so we thought at the time). It was a special trip for me, but I was kind of busy and didn't write things down at the time... and then the pandemic hit and I became busier than ever. Now that we're settled I want to try and get most if it down before my memory fades too much...
Heading up from the parking lot went very smooth - I towed N in a toboggan, and F wore cross country skis with some old climbing skins attached by just folding the end over the tips. Miriam had only been on skis a handful of times at this point, but was basically an expert at the uphill part from the beginning. I'm sure there must have been some candy-bribery involved, but F skied most of the way herself, with Miriam towing her up the last bit. We made it to the shelter by early afternoon, where the obligatory grilled-cheeses were placed on the wood stove.
Say Nuth Khaw Yum
Recent tips and thought
Pandemic pondering and wandering
Tweaking our haul-a-day
Making kids crampons
Digging a snowcave
Make a kid towing harness