Things to do in Vancouver in the summer

Since we know that most of you will be staying a few days in Vancouver before you start your trip with us we thought we’d make a few suggestions about what there is to do in Vancouver in the summer. It’s not meant to be a definitive ‘best of’ list, more a list of things we like to do and that we think you might enjoy.

1.       Hire a bike and ride around. Bikes rentals are easy to come by and it’s a great way to get around. There are a couple of rental locations on Dunsmuir near Stanley Park. Speaking of which…

2.       The Stanley Park seawall (10km) is obviously one of the places you’ll want to ride around but don’t just ride around the seawall. This is one of the world’s great urban parks so you might want to take a beach towel and make a day of it at Second or Third beaches or you might want to wander some of the tree lined trails that cut through the park.

3.       Granville Island. The idea of a redeveloped industrial area being turned into a public market may not be that unique and Granville Island may not be the best of them but it’s still a great place to go and while away a few hours. There is plenty of good food on display and an equally large amount of arts, crafts and objet d’art. Somewhere to spend a half day or more.

4.       Horseshoe Bay. We like to go out to Horseshoe Bay to enjoy the views and the fish and chips. Grab a take away from C-Lovers and eat them in the park by the marina. You can watch the ferries come in from Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Bowen Island which leads us nicely on to…

5.       Take a ferry to Bowen Island. A quick 20 min ride from Horseshoe Bay out into Howe Sound (spectacular views) takes you to Snug Cove. It’s as beautiful and quaint as its name suggests. You can while away a few hours just eating a drinking at one of the pubs and restaurants or maybe take a picnic with you and enjoy it in Crippen Park. For the more active you can walk to Killarney Lake on some lovely trails or hike out to a viewpoint of Vancouver where there are some excellent examples of the paper-barked arbutus tree.

6.       If you happen to be here on the right dates and you can cope with the crowds you really shouldn’t miss the annual Celebration of Light:

Ten Laws of Multi-Day Backpacking

In no particular order:

1. No matter how much food you eat your pack will not get lighter as the days go by.

2. No matter how much food you eat you will not have any more room in your pack as the days go by.

3. You will only need the one item in your first aid kit that you did not bring with you.

4. You can never bring too much toilet paper.

5. The amount of mosquitoes on your trail will be in inverse proportion to the amount of repellent you have brought with you.

6. You will spend hours finding good bear caches but never see any bears.

7. Distances marked on your map will not correlate in any way to the time taken to hike them.

8. Bring a pack cover and it will not rain. Forget it and you will hike in a downpour for your entire trip.

9. Your meals get more basic but taste better as the days go by.

10. Notwithstanding point 9 the fast food you wolf down when immediately back in civilisation will be the best thing you've ever eaten.

Have we missed any?

The Niagara Comparison

How many times have you seen a waterfall described as 'x' times higher than Niagara as if this is some kind of incredible statement? We've seen it plenty. In fact Chris came back from Wells Grey Provincial Park this week with yet another example of this happening. "Helmcken Fall is three times the height of Niagara". And this in an official parks leaflet.

"What's the problem?" you might ask. The thing is Niagara isn't a very high waterfall. That's not what it's about. Height isn't one of the superlatives you'd give it. So claiming bragging rights because another falls is taller is really not much of a boast. It's height is only a paltry 50m (165') which wouldn't actually come anywhere near the top ten highest waterfalls here in the Squamish Valley let alone the rest of BC. 

However it is a massive waterfall. In fact it has the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. Now that's impressive. If you've ever seen it I'm sure you'll agree. Niagara is amazing, it's stupendous, it's incredible. I defy anyone to stand at it's brim and not be awed by the sight of that enormous volume of water gracefully arcing over the edge and into the air.

But please, don't boast how much higher than Niagara your own local waterfall is, you're missing the point. Beating Niagara in height is nothing to be proud of. Compare like with like and make a fair comparison.


Waterproof and Breathable

I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about the problem of waterproof/breathable clothing. As someone who sweats. A lot. I've always had issues with finding the appropriate layers and getting them working in a way I would like. A major rethink of my entire kit may be in order.

What we have for waterproof clothing today is incomparably better than what we had thirty or forty years ago but that doesn't mean that things can't be improved still further or even, heresy though it might be to say so, abandoned.

Today I found two good articles that explain the problem fairly well. The first explains a little about the dominance of Gore-Tex in the waterproof/breathable market but also helps understand the science behind the terminologies used:

The second article is a personal opinion piece from Andy Kirkpatrick who questions the entire need for waterproof outerwear. This is the direction I have been moving in for some time now and I thought this piece explains it fairly well. Not a good use of paragraphs but good content:


Tents II

So, last time we discussed how 'waterproof' a tent should be. Today we'll take a look at how much your tent should weigh.

We're talking good quality backpacking tents here, not what you might pick up in Walmart or Canadian Tire (these have their places as we shall see later). We should also note that we mean three season tents, not winter tents, which are a whole different kettle of fish and generally much heavier.

For a solo tent we would be looking in the order of 1 kg to 1.5 kg (2.2 to 3.3 lbs). Any heavier than that and you really ought to be thinking whether you should be spending more money and getting a lighter weight tent.

For a two person tent somewhere in the region of 1.75 kg to 2.5 kg (3.85 to 5.5 lbs) is easily achievable today. You can get lighter than this of course but I would personally not go heavier unless there was a specific reason such as needing greater waterproofing or more space (not all two person tents are the same size).

Three person tents can be had that weigh somewhere between 2 and 3 kg (4.4 to 6.6 lbs). These days if you're carrying more than a kilo (2.2 lbs) each when you've split you tent you might want a re-think about your gear.

What about those Walmart/Canadian Tire tents? These can be very good for car camping, sling a tarp over them or string one up and you'll get a very cheap shelter that will be pretty close to waterproof. Everything has its place.

Next time we'll look at a few of the options out there in the marketplace that meet our requirements in terms of waterproofing and weight.

Leave No Trace...

A phrase that is often heard in backpacking circles is 'leave no trace' but what exactly does it mean?

A good, though simplistic, explanation is the old saying "leave only footprints and take only photographs". While this is a really nice summary of the idea that paints a pretty clear picture of the philosophy it doesn't tell us (it's not intended to) the nitty gritty of what to do in specific situations.

Some of these situations will be fairly clear, such as what to do with garbage. Here there can surely be no better answer than "pack it in, pack it out". In other words, if you've brought anything with you, it should not be left behind. No matter what it is. So this may include food scraps as well as the more obvious food packaging.

But what to do in the case of making a campfire? Here the situation is not so clearcut. There are no strict rules over what exactly 'leave no trace' means in every case. There is a broad set of ground rules though. As a philosophy it originally grew in the 60s and 70s partly through institutions such as the US Forest Service and partly through NGOs such as the Boy's Scouts of America, the Sierra Club and NOLS outdoor leadership schools. Eventually this piecemeal philosophy was given a clearer set of 'rules' known as the seven principles.

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare: Poorly prepared people, when presented with unexpected situations, often resort to high-impact solutions that degrade the outdoors or put themselves at risk. Proper planning leads to less impact.
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Damage to land occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond repair. The resulting barren area leads to unusable trails, campsites and soil erosion.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly: Though most trash and litter in the backcountry is not significant in terms of the long term ecological health of an area, it does rank high as a problem in the minds of many backcountry visitors. Trash and litter are primarily social impacts which can greatly detract from the naturalness of an area. Further, backcountry users create body waste and waste water which requires proper disposal according to Leave No Trace.
  • Leave What You Find: Leave No Trace directs people to minimize site alterations, such as digging tent trenches, hammering nails into trees, permanently clearing an area of rocks or twigs, and removing items.
  • Minimize Campfire Impact: Because the naturalness of many areas has been degraded by overuse of fires, Leave No Trace teaches to seek alternatives to fires or use low-impact fires.
  • Respect Wildlife: Minimizing impact on wildlife and ecosystems.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Following hiking etiquette and maintaining quiet allows visitors to go through the wilderness with minimal impact on other users.

So far so good but let's get back to that campfire. The fifth principle says "minimize campfire impact." Let's get down to specifics by looking at two or three situations. In the 'alpine' (above the treeline) we might say that a fire should not be lit unless in an emergency situation. Why is this?

Quite apart from the difficulty of making a fire when there are few trees around (so that there are no great bundles of dead 'firewood') there are other reasons for this. Trees and shrubs have difficulty growing at higher elevations. Building fires around the Krumholz line will destroy a resource which cannot regenerate quickly thus negating the 'leave no trace' principle. If more backcountry campers built fires in the alpine it would not be long before the area was denuded of trees. 

There is also the issue of a campfire being unsightly in an area where the lack of vegetative cover makes human impact all the more obvious (to say nothing of the fact that it is often illegal in parks and reserves). Can the campfire be 'disguised' when finished with so that other users of the area will not notice it? 

Contrast this situation with coastal hiking. Often on coastal hikes there is an abundance of driftwood and other assorted flotsam and jetsom. Certainly this is the case with regards to BC as any coastal hiker can tell you. Not only is there a ready supply of dead (and often dry) wood to be used there is an easy way to dispose of the traces of the fire - tides. It is generally accepted that, so long as you build your fire below the high tide mark, any trace of a fire on a beach will disappear at the next high tide.

Of course this doesn't necessarily mean that you should build one. If there is no need we might say that building a fire is only likely to increase the likelihood of leaving a trace of some kind or other, even if it is only clashing with the seventh principle - "be considerate of other visitors". 

Campfires in other areas, such as besides a river or on snow or in the desert, bring other considerations into play but the overriding idea is to minimise the impact one makes. How this will be done varies greatly with the terrain one is in.

So, while it might be impossible to leave no trace in the absolute sense, and while there might be disagreement and differences of opinion over what to do in every circumstance, we can at least say that we can use it as a guiding principle and that best practice is that which is closest to the ideal. This is what we strive for at West Coast Wonders.

Natural Wonders of British Columbia (Part 3)

The Salmon Run

In a move away from physical objects such as mountains or trees our third natural wonder is more ephemeral - the salmon run. Salmon spawning season in BC is quite incredible. For example, 2014 is one of the quadrennial 'dominant' years in the Adams River near Kamloops. This means a return of perhaps 4 million sockeye salmon in this small river. 4 million!! It's a sight not to be missed and one that is reproduced in many rivers across BC even if not with quite such large numbers.

Sockeye, coho, chinook and chum salmon all arrive at different times and in different rivers.

As has been said salmon numbers vary year on year and river by river. There have also been huge fluctuations due to factors that remain, as yet, unknown to the scientific community. What is for certain is that the salmon run brings with it other amazing wildlife events. Here in Squamish we have the annual gathering of bald eagles where close to 4,000 have been counted in a single year (1994).

It's not only eagles that enjoy the salmon run. BC's most sought after mammal (by tourists) also enjoys the proliferation of easily accessible protein that arrives just at the right time of year in many places i.e. just before the winter's hibernation when it allows them to gorge and fatten up.

If you're in BC in the fall this can be a spectacular sight to see and one that can make up for maybe not being able to get into the alpine in the mountains and the sometimes rainy weather at this time of year. There's always something naturally stupendous to see in BC.


With the first tour of the season coming up on May 1st, Chris and I thought it would be a good idea to check out some of our tents. We have a couple of new ones to look at and get used to setting up (The North Face Talus 3 and Talus 4) and one or two of the others that we haven't had out since last summer needed the cobwebs brushing off and to make sure everything was good to go. Hence we found ourselves in Meadow Park in Whistler on a partly sunny day putting some of our tents up by the side of the River of Golden Dreams.

Back row (l-r): MEC Wanderer 4, TNF Talus 4, TNF Talus 3; Front row (l-r): TNF Mica Fast and Light 1, TNF Rock 22

What makes a good tent? That all depends on your needs.

There are a number of factors that you should look at in choosing the right tent; size, weight, 'usable' space, size of vestibule(s), breathability, waterproofing and, of course, price.

Most decent tents will be rated according to the seasons they are designed to be used for, thus you might have 4 season (or winter) tents and 3 season tents. A 3 season tent will probably not have the waterproofing and structural strength that the 4 season tent will have but it will in all likelihood breathe better and be lighter. That's your trade off.

One question that is often asked in relation to tents (and outdoor clothing) is what exactly is meant by waterproof? Unfortunately getting an 'exact' answer for this is nigh on impossible. One way in which waterproofness is judged is by using the 'hydrostatic head' (HH) measurement. To measure the hydrostatic head of a material a piece of fabric is stretched over a frame in a laboratory and a column of water placed over it. The water level of that column is increased until pressure forces the water through the fabric. The amount of water in the column when this happens gives us the hydrostatic head of that material. For example if it took 2m (6' 6") of water for the fabric to be penetrated the hydrostatic head would be 2000mm. In Europe the standard for calling a material waterproof is 1000mm.

So a tent with a 1000mm hydrostatic head is waterproof? Simple huh? Not really. This is where it gets a little more nuanced. I would never consider 1000mm as waterproof in a jacket or pants where pressure is likely to be considerably higher if, for instance, you kneel on the fabric. Nor will 1000mm likely suffice for a tent if you were out in a gale with high winds for hour after hour where the speed at which the rain hits the fly increases the pressure. (Having said that the structure of the tent can make all the difference here. A good taut tent will repel water for longer than one that sags and pools water so it's not all down to the fabric. That also brings in how the tent has been set up by the user. Even a good tent will not function well if it has not been set up correctly.)

This tautness is why many tents that, to all intents and purposes, we would consider 'waterproof' may only have hydrostatic heads of 1000-1200mm. Personally I'm comfortable with that level of waterproofness even though we also own tents with 10000mm HH. The flipside to this added HH is that it adds weight to the material. Think of the coating (silicon or PVC maybe) required to stop a column of water 10m (33') high penetrating a fabric and then think of the amount of waterproof coating need to stop a 1m (3' 3") high column doing the same. This is one of the main ways in which a tent becomes heavier (though the poles and, obviously, size also matter) since the fabric weighs so much more.

Now we must also think of the floor of the tent. Although we have only discussed the fly material so far it was mentioned earlier how kneeling on a piece of clothing would require a greater HH due to the increased pressure. Obviously this is also the case with the floor of tents where much greater pressure is exerted than by rain pushed by wind. This is why good tents will have a higher HH for their floors than for their flys and will often be in the 2000mm to 5000mm range. 

Finally, it should also be noted that, materials aside, no tent will be 'waterproof' unless it has been seam-sealed i.e the holes that have been made where the pieces of material have been stitched together have been filled or covered over. There are two ways to do this. Firstly you can use seam sealer and do it yourself, this is basically a glue that plugs the holes. The second way is for the tent to have heat sealed tape fixed over the seams which will be done in the factory. This adds expense to the manufacturing process but works better (in our humble opinion) and is something we always look out for in a quality tent.

So there you have it, a 'waterproof' tent should be taut, well designed, have a good level of HH on the fly (1000mm minimum) and a a floor with an HH of a minimum 2000mm and be set up well. Achieve all that and you should be good for a night out in all weathers.

We Love Waterfalls

So we have a bit of a ‘thing’ about waterfalls. We’re not sure why but it’s probably just the sheer beauty and variety of them. We love them in all their guises from vertical plunges to horsetails, cascades and cataracts. 

This post is going to be our homepage for waterfalls. Watch out for updates and additions here when we come across a new one or take a particularly good or interesting new photograph. Unless of course it’s a very special one that deserves it’s own post.

In case you didn’t know about it there’s a great website called the World Waterfall Database (WWD) which is pretty comprehensive and the best site we know of for info on waterfalls. Another good one that doesn’t, unfortunately, cover BC is the Northwest Waterfall Survey but there is a very good guidebook, Waterfalls of British Columbia, that covers the 100 best waterfalls in BC. Tony Greenfield, the author, also runs his own waterfall tours each fall -Whiskeyjack Tours.

An interesting question in BC is which is our tallest waterfall? The record books show it as Della Falls on Vancouver Island at 1440’ (440m). There has been some dispute over this and there still is. For a while James Bruce Falls and Deserted River Falls were touted as higher but WWD has dismissed both of these as either not significant enough in flow (the argument being there must be some volume of water that registers a falls as worthy enough of the name) or simply not steep enough to be considered true waterfalls.

However, WWD does recognise the possibility of Francis Falls in Bute Inlet as a possible contender that may be 1700’ (518m) high. Now for outsiders it might seem strange that we don’t know how tall this waterfall is but when you’ve lived here for a while you get an idea of just how large a province this is and just how remote many places still are. Most of the wilder parts of the province have only ever been seen by bush pilots, loggers and the occasional (very) hardcore hiker/climber. Access to somewhere like Francis Falls would take most people days (own your own floatplane and it might be another story of course). And most people are just not interested enough in waterfalls to bother.

We’d like to think that we are in the small minority that are interested enough. Hence our 5 day trip to Phantom Falls and Lake. Rest assured if we do get to Francis Falls it will be posted here.

An easier to reach waterfall with a claim to being the tallest in BC is Gold Creek Falls near Harrison Lake which the WWD has pegged at approximately 2000’ (610m).(‘Easier to reach’ is a relative term here of course since I know of no photographs that exist of the falls which strongly suggests the degree of difficulty in reaching them). In fact Gold Creek Falls isn’t even the official name for them because.. well.. they don’t have one. Harrison Lake though is not too far from our base in Squamish as the crow flies and we have been to that area to visit Sloquet Hot Springs (we are also looking at making it to nearby Snowcap Lake one day, something that’s been on the agenda for a couple of years). An exploratory adventure to see if Gold Creek Falls are as tall as is claimed might well take place in the near future.  

One further trip that we want to make we’re not going to list on here. The falls we’re thinking of are magnificent but so remote that only a very few photos of them exist and all of these are taken from the air.We’re not giving them away here since we’d like to be the first to take photos from the base of the falls (that we are aware of). Who knows, if the way in proves to be manageable we may even take clients in there.

Of course the search doesn’t end there. It’s quite possible, maybe even probable, that falls taller than the 2000’ claimed for Gold Creek exist somewhere in BC. I know of one claim of a 1000m (3280’) falls in the Kingcome Valley up the BC coast. We have a lot of suitable terrain and a whole lot of rainfall on the coast and who knows what might be out there in some remote valley in the Coast Mountains?

The Road Less Travelled

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

Phantom Falls

Phantom Falls

It’s just speculation I admit but I’d wager good money that Robert Frost never bushwhacked in coastal BC. The idea of taking the less well travelled path seems an absurdity when you have been battling devil’s club, slide alder and other assorted triffids for a couple of days. No, when you have bushwhacked in BC, any path is welcome, but the more well trodden the better.

Myself and Stu took the road less travelled to Phantom Lake. We are two of the very few people who have ever got there overland and it is very likely we are the first to have walked there from Squamish.

Our goal was to see Phantom Falls and then make it to Phantom Lake. I first set eyes on Phantom Falls when scrambling Ossa in the Tantalus Range in September 2012. I was intrigued, to say the least, by this waterfall, hundreds of feet high, that so few people seemed to have seen or even know about. Surely it should be one of BC’s most famous? Have a search around the internet and you’ll find very few photographs of Phantom Falls. Then, in researching the falls, I began to discover about Phantom Lake, another seldom visited jewel of the Coast Mountains, and a plan to get there one day was born.

Eventually the opportunity arose when a planned trip to do the Stein Valley Traverse was cancelled at the last minute. We had the time and we had the weather so we hiked over Zigurd in the Tantalus and bushwhacked into the Clowhom Valley which is usually accessed from the Sunshine Coast. It was hot, very, very hot. There were bugs galore (flies more than mosquitoes) and the bushwhacking was pretty tough but on day two we set eyes on the falls for the first time and on day three we made it to the lake.

First View of Phantom Lake

First View of Phantom Lake

It was well worth it. Even the two more days we spent getting out couldn’t dampen the excitement of these wonderful views. It was so good in fact that we think our guests should see it; so we’ll be running a trip there on next year’s tours when we’ll be staying overnight in this remote spot. If you think you’d like to go then take a look at our ‘Glacial Lakes’ tour. And don’t worry, this time we’ll be flying in.