I thought, in this pandemic year, I might break my streak of taking the big kids snowcaving every winter. It's become a bit of a tradition. Usually we go up to Red Heather, but we've been sticking to our local mountains this year (fortunately there are a few places on the North Shore that are accessible, yet not overcrowded, if you know how to navigate). Fortunately the snowpack is pretty deep this season, so being stuck on the North Shore wasn't a problem. It was Line who came up with a plan for how to overcome our usual strategy of bringing along an extra adult to help dig and manage the kids - she'd just come up herself carrying W, then head back down for dinner/sleeping, and come up again the next afternoon to pick us up. Since W is only 1.5 years old we decided against her spending the night in the cave, as we'd be without the backup of a warming hut.
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.
Say Nuth Khaw Yum
Upper Fowl Lake
Alice Lake loop
Malcolm and Cormorant island
Recent tips and thought
Making a low DIN tech binding
What is in our backpacks?
The bike canoe trailer
Making kids crampons
Digging a snowcave
Make a kid towing harness