A wet climb up Mt Bartle Frere 1622m

Yes, it’s been over a year since I last posted anything! But this latest adventure up Queensland’s tallest peak was worthy of a post.

The short story is we made the summit, but there were certainly unexpected difficulties along the way – the worst was the blood sucking leeches and a wet, slippery trail that went on and on through dense tropical rainforest.

The trail meandered through wet rainforest mostly
The trail mostly meandered through wet, tropical rainforest

We started from the Josephine Falls trailhead (an hour’s drive south of Cairns) and finished at the Gourka Rd trailhead near the Atherton Tablelands – a distance of 15 hard km and some 1500m elevation gain and loss.

Even though it was supposedly the “dry” season, we were soaked in sweat only 10 minutes down the trail. The humidity was intense! The gradient started off pretty flat until we reached this incredibly picturesque creek crossing.

Splendid!
Splendid!

But as is usually the case, with good comes bad, and our bad came in the form of one small, black, wriggly creature – our first leech encounter…

I was slightly disgusted and definitely grateful that I’d packed the salt. Thankfully we found that the higher up we climbed, the less of an issue the leeches became.

The trail really steepened up between the 3 and 5km mark (note that the trail is marked in 1 km intervals, and regularly with orange arrows or tape), and left us gasping for air. Especially since we were lugging up 15kg packs. The kilometres seemed to go by at a snails pace.

Towards the upper slopes we entered into the clouds which was cool at first – turned out they never left us though and we didn’t get a view for the entire trip! Unfortunately this is apparently quite normal.

With several more stops we reached eastern summit camp (7km) after 6 hours, which we thought was pretty good…until we met another couple of guys who did it in half that time! And they made the summit and back down in the day.

Rain looked ominous, so we quickly set up the new tent and bundled into it for the night.

New tent - One Planet Goondie 2 - worked well
New tent – One Planet Goondie 2 – worked well

Unfortunately the weather deteriorated overnight and we woke to rain lashing sideways at the tent. The decision was made to stay put for the day in the emergency shelter, and we boiled the water that ran out of the shelter’s drain pipe for drinking.

Also worth mentioning is my phone got reception at eastern summit camp so I could advise of our change of plans.

The final day on 15 July was a solid one. Light rain lingered around all day and made the rocky section between eastern summit camp and the real summit painfully slow! Every step had to be taken with such care so not to slip. The rocks were large in this section and scrambling skills were definitely necessary.

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Matt scrambles ever upwards

The summit was made 1.5 hours up the trail and then it was all downhill. The trail was less obvious on this side of the mountain, but we never made a wrong turn. And we didn’t make many stops cause we didn’t want to become leech lunch! Still, we both became lunch at some point…they got everywhere!

All in all, it was a successful trip full of new climbing conditions.

Funny thing was Matt found two leeches on his dirty clothes a full two days after the climb, 150km away from the mountain, after having gone through a washing machine…and still alive!

A leech ready to grip onto anything that runs into it
A leech ready to grip onto anything that runs into it
At the top!
At the top!
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Brisbane Valley Rail Trail cycle tour

The big tester ride for New Zealand is done and dusted. The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail proved a great ride and a success.

In preparation for our cycle tour of New Zealand’s south island at the end of the year, Matt and I were after a ride that would test out all of our gear and setup completely. So the BVRT it was. Plus, we needed to ride to find out if we even enjoyed cycle touring, given we’d never done it before!

Here’s the map I took along for the ride…the blue lines mark the open rail trail sections and the dotted lines mark the closed section of the trail, we had to ride on the highway along this section. We started down at Fernvale and made our way up to Blackbutt and back to Fernvale over 4 days and 250km.

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Brisbane Valley Rail Trail map

We set off on Day 1 from Fernvale and rode the smoothest, easiest section of the whole trail to Lowood. It was quite unbelievable how easily the km’s ticked over. At Lowood Matt had his first and only fall trying to ride his loaded up touring bike around the local skate park…luckily only his pride was dented.

We pushed on from Lowood and found the largest old railway bridge out of all the ones we encountered. This one was over Lockyer Creek. It was interesting seeing all the old bridges and thinking how much harder the builders had it a hundred years ago. Quite impressive work, and to think it’s all just slowly rotting away now.

Old railway bridge over Lockyer Creek
Old railway bridge over Lockyer Creek

As we quickly learned there were two constants on the trail – closed railway bridges, which meant descending into the gully and slowly pushing our bikes up the other side, and the other constant was opening and closing countless cattle gates.

Matt pushing his bike across the Lockyer Creek gully
Matt pushing his bike across the Lockyer Creek gully
One of many gates.
One of many gates…

On the second day the funniest moment of the whole 4 days took place – well for me at least. We were riding along in the morning coolness about 10km north of Esk, Matt about 30 m ahead of me, when we saw a road overpass ahead. There were a couple of Council workers shovelling excess gravel off the overpass. So there goes Matt, “scrape”, “smack”. Yep they shovelled gravel off the roadway all over Matt, a good gravel shower to wake him up. How’s that for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

By the end of the second day we made it to Linville where we stumbled upon a brilliant free camping/caravan overnight area. Peter and Diane, a kind retired couple caravanning around Australia invited us over to their fire where they gifted us with hot tea, and we shared stories. Thankyou Peter and Diane for your hospitality! We were also gifted with a brilliant dark sky and the milky way stretched right across the sky. I love it.

July 2014 - Admiring the Milky Way from the dark skies of Linville, QLD Australia.
Admiring the Milky Way from the dark skies of Linville. A couple of old rail carriages are here too.

By this stage, the end of day 2, I had planned to already be at the end of the trail in Yarraman but our progress was only 50km/day instead of 80km/day. We decided to make a big push for Yarraman on day 3 with our new technique…

One thing was clear, Matt was way more bike fit than me, so we decided that he should ride ahead of me and open every single gate, then I’d ride straight through, he’d close it, and pass me again. This technique helped us get up the range from Linville to Blackbutt in great time but it left me dead! I smashed a meat pie and coke and felt so much better!

We headed on towards Yarraman until a couple of kilometres down the trail we found it blocked off. It looked like it was temporarily shut until they got a chance to mow it, but there was no signpost explaining what was happening. After we had spent time trying to find a way around the fence, we realised the day was ticking away from us, and we both agreed to head back to the awesome Linville camping spot.

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The point where we turned back. That arrow only lead to another barbed wire fence!
The most picturesque part of the trail on the climb from Linville to Benarkin
One of the most picturesque parts of the trail on the descent from Benarkin to Linville
Setting up our tent in Linville.
Setting up our tent in Linville

When we began riding from Linville on day 4 we planned to camp again that night, but as the day progressed we realised we were flying through the km’s. Somehow I managed to find my legs and we powered through to Esk by 1pm. It was quite weird actually, I think my body just got used to riding everyday and made overnight adjustments to cope. I loved it! So after a big day in the saddle, 8:30 to 5pm, we finished off the 100 odd km back to the car at Fernvale.

What got us there? Definitely the thought of a hot shower and pizza! Wow, I downed that  deep pan pizza in 10 min flat!

So the big question is what do we take away from this ride?

  • Highway riding with little road shoulder is best avoided. Especially when big trucks are rumbling passed. The highway section was the least enjoyable, so we’ll aim to ride as much off road trails as possible in New Zealand.
  • Bikes performed superbly. My pannier rack fell off once because I forgot to tighten the bolts and Matt had one flat tyre. That’s it.
  • I need to do some training!
  • Matt needs some more spare clothes!
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A great ride.

The next adventure – cycling New Zealand!

This one’s been in the works for a while but now it’s official! My brother, Matt, and I are going cycle touring in New Zealand at the end of this year for around 8 weeks. Interestingly this whole idea started way back on 19 July 2013, when I posed the idea to Matt on Skype from a McDonald’s in Paris! He was as keen as a bean from day dot.

Why cycle touring though? Well, both of us are right into bikes (as Mum would confirm by the growing number of bikes finding homes in every nook and cranny), cycle touring gives so much freedom and independency, it’s a physical and mental challenge, and it works for uni students on a budget. It also gets us out into the outdoors and the elements.

First the grand idea was to ride from the northern tip of the north island to the southern tip of the south island, and call it the “Tip to Tup”, the “Tup” being a play on words of how a Kiwi says “Tip”.

When I came home in November 2013, we delved further into research and decided to focus our energy on the more interesting places rather than just ride “Tip to Tup” because of two points on a map. So for a few months we thought we’d fly into Auckland on the north island and ride south to Queenstown, and across to Dunedin or Christchurch and fly home.

Only in the last couple of weeks have we had another change of heart and finally (I think) decided to spend our entire time on the picturesque south island. That way we can ride a big loop of the south instead of just one way, see impressive landscapes the whole time, plus the added bonus of quieter roads – considering only 1/4 of New Zealanders live on the south there’s bound to be less traffic.

I’ve also found hundreds of km’s of dirt road sections that will really make this trip unique and only doable on bike.

The fun so far
Maps, lists and books. All valuable information.

After we realised this was actually happening we quickly turned our attention to gear – specifically, what bikes were we taking? A pretty important subject for a cycle tour. I already had a mountain bike that could work, but Matt was in desperate need of a bike that fit his growing frame!

In January we hadn’t spoken about the trip for a month, when I said, “Hurry up and sort out your bike, time’s ticking.” To which he replied, “Are we still going? I thought because you hadn’t said anything lately we weren’t going anymore.”

“Are you kidding me!?!? Of course we are!” We couldn’t believe how fast communication can fall down even when you’re living together!

So with that anomaly resolved he got to work researching bikes. A process that lasted months, and convinced him at various stages on a cyclocross, road bike and 29er mountain bike. Finally though he got a 29er, which will be good for the dirt roads, and I stuck with my 26er.

The bike so far
My bike in the works
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Tyres, bar ends, top tube bag, pannier rack and bags the additions so far

The preliminary gear list we put together is slowly but surely being ticked off. Tent – check, sleeping bag – check, bike spares and repair kit – partly checked. It’s taking a while to acquire gear because we are trying to get it second hand or at reduced prices. So far so good.

Our next step towards preparing for New Zealand is a practice 4 day ride on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail in a few weeks. It’s the only way to properly test our gear out and see what’s needed, what can be left at home, and see what we are getting ourselves into!

Not long ago Matt said, “The idea of touring seemed so much better when you were in Canada.” Now that the realities of keeping warm, keeping the stomach satisfied, and riding on roads with no shoulders have hit home everything isn’t as rosy as first imagined. We’ve already resigned ourselves to the fact that we are going to lose several kilos, but it will all be worth it no doubt.

Bay to Bay yacht race

If there’s been one constant in my life over the last 8 years it’s been the annual Bay to Bay trailerable yacht race. The 2 day, 87km race through the picturesque sandy straits off Fraser Island in Queensland has been a great weekend getaway with Dad.

Back in 2007 we started off in our 18 ft Compass Careel and had mixed results. By mixed results I mean some years we finished and some years we didn’t. When the wind don’t blow the boat don’t flow and we don’t make the time cut off.

We’ve definitely started a trend though. When we began we were the one and only Careel but these days there’s consistently 5 or more. Dad’s sailing mates have realised this is actually doable in a little Careel and it’s become quite the race for Careel supremacy.

Nowadays we’re in a bigger, but still not much faster Sonata 7 (23 ft). Let me tell you it’s so much more livable! A great overnight boat.

Course Map
Through the Great Sandy Straits beside Fraser.
Dad and the Careel boys
Dad and some of the Careel boys at Garrys.

Getting on to this year…2014 brought along the 34th annual Bay to Bay and it delivered spectacularly! Brilliant 5-20 knot winds from go to woah kept the pace high, so high in fact that Mad Max broke the course record! 87km in just 3 hours 41 min! We got home in 10 hours 40 min. Given that neither Matt nor I had sailed in over a year we did well.

Memorable moments of this year’s race was the drenching rain when we were rigging up on Friday night, the hairy moment when we almost tipped over on Sunday, the race to make the start line on Sunday morning after we slept in, and of course launching the boat at 4am Saturday morning at Tin Can – trying to navigate through the darkness to where we wanted to anchor proved a challenge.

It went a little something like this, “Alright, you’ll have to get out and push us off this sandbar” Dad said to a wide eyed Matt. When Matt couldn’t push us off, all three of us had to get out and push. Not the kind of thing you dream of, pushing a boat barefoot through pitch black water at 4:30am. Thankfully it was only knee deep.

“Keep splashing your feet around” was Dad’s uncomforting but welcome advice. Got to let those stingrays know your coming. Splashing was not a problem when Dad started power walking it out, pulling us in tow. He was running tight on time to drive up to Hervey Bay with the trailer and make the return bus. Good to know he made it by 15 min.

It was another great weekend away at the Bay to Bay.

Careel
Dave’s Careel weighted at the front for minimum drag, maximum speed.
Splendid spinnaker run
Looking aft at the splendid spinnaker run past Turkey Island, always a highlight.

Climbing Mt Ngungun, Glass House Mountains

If you’re up at the sunshine coast in Queensland and are a bit awestruck by the Glass House Mountains, then make your way to the summit of Mt Ngungun (pronounced “gun gun”). It’s not hard or long. Two hours return is very achievable for most, and the views from the top make it one of the most rewarding hikes for the minimal effort required.

The 2.8km return hiking trail begins from a well marked carpark along Fullertons Rd, a few short kilometres from the Glass House Mountains township. The grade is a steady incline suitable for the whole family, although upon arriving at the 253m summit there is a dramatic cliff you’d need to keep kids away from.

If you find this trail a bit tame then head down the road to Mt Tibrogargan. It provides a testing scramble up to it’s 364m summit. To read about that climb click here.

The summit with Mt Coonowrin (377) and Mt Beerwah (556) behind
My brother and I on the Ngungun summit (253m) with Mt Coonowrin (377m) and Mt Beerwah (556m) behind
On the trail up you get a nice view of Mt Tibrogargan
On the trail up you get a nice view of Mt Tibrogargan
The final summit ridge is easily negotiated
The final summit ridge is easily negotiated
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More views from the top

The home run with Mum

My “gap year” as it’s called has sadly come to an end – 360 days away and once again I’m back home. For both good and bad.

It’s strange being back for sure, in one way it’s great seeing family and friends again but it’s also so much more boring. After being home for two weeks I’ve enjoyed relaxing in a way that’s not possible when you’re on the road, and I love watching the cricket again.

The last three weeks of my trip I spent with Mum who flew halfway across the world to see me. It really was such a perfect way to conclude my time away. I am thrilled that I got to act as tour guide and show her around the Canadian Rockies for two weeks and then another few days in Hawaii.

I certainly got her straight into adventurous trips…we jumped in a freezing cold lake, crawled into a cave, climbed a couple of mountains, rowed a boat, and did lots of hikes – even encountering a couple of moose.

It’s fantastic that we both share a strong appreciation of nature and she got to discover how beautiful mountains actually can be.

Mum climbed her first mountain

Mum climbed her first mountain, a solid eight hour day
Stumbling upon this couple was a lucky surprise
Stumbling upon this moose couple was a lucky surprise
Maligne Lake on a stunning October day
Maligne Lake on a stunning October day
More of the Rockies
More of the Rockies

As Hawaii is directly over the flight path home we thought why not stop over for a few days. So we did. We attempted Hawaii’s most famous hike – the Kalalau Trail which is on the north side of the island of Kauai. It follows the rugged Na Pali coastline which made for hard work going up and down, and through slippery mud.

The Na Pali coastline
The dramatic Na Pali coastline

We made it to the first camp after 5 hours which was 10km down the trail – sunset put an end to any plans of pushing on to the beach, another 6km away. Mum was happy about that!

Following that hike we didn’t have much time for anything other than a quick swim in the crystal clear Hawaiian waters and before we knew it we were flying home.

Mahalo (Hawaiian for thanks/regards)
Mahalo (Hawaiian for thanks/regards)

Now that my big trip is over my posts will become a little more sporadic. Whenever there’s an adventurous trip though, you know it will be told on here. My next big trip in mind is cycling the length of New Zealand, Mahalo!

My first northern lights sights

At long last I’ve finally seen the northern lights!

Not just a dim green glow on the horizon (which I don’t count), but the no holds barred version – the full blown overhead real deal. Amazing! The green and red-ish lights flashed across the sky in an unpremeditated manner of madness. There was no pattern to them.

Now the challenge is to try and describe them accurately in words to someone who has never seen them. And that’s a challenge!

Even seeing a photo doesn’t portray them in their right light (excuse the pun). Generally an aurora photo is captured with a 20 to 40 second exposure, and so the colours come across as bold, bright and vibrant.

Seeing all those photos tricked my mind to expect that same level of vibrance, but they just weren’t (at least not this time). If they weren’t moving they would have honestly just looked like wispy, unassuming grey clouds with the faintest touch of green.

And that’s exactly what they did look like when I first spotted the faintest green “clouds” on the horizon.

A glow on the horizon.
A dim glow on the horizon

But boy oh boy when they move they move!

Appearing in the east sky, beams of faded green and red light proceeded to shoot across the sky from random places like a round of bullets. Each shot of light just a little different to the last. Each one swaying and wiggling just a little different to the last.

My camera's limited 5 second exposure didn't help capture the moment
My camera’s limited 5 second exposure wasn’t the best tool for the job

At one point a battle ensued between red and green – the battlefield encircled by a ring of clouds. It was Harry vs Voldemort. The lights began shooting into each other. It was surreal. Unbelievable how perfect that scene appeared and so quickly disappeared. Sorry to say I can’t tell you who won.

All in all we watched active lights for at least a couple of hours, it was an incredible experience and I’m so grateful I did get to see them at last. Now I can go home satisfied.

Goodbye to summer in the Rockies

It’s now the start of October and a fluffy blanket of snow has tucked the mountain peaks to bed for the looming long and cold winter. The summer crowds are long gone and daily highs are now hovering around 10 degrees.

It’s the perfect time to sit back with a cuppa tea and reflect on what was one busy, adventurous and fulfilling couple of months. Join me in a recollection of events.

When I arrived back in Jasper in late July I wrote down a list of ten trips I wanted to do before summer was out, and blow me down I did them all!

With all my trips, and other trips going on in the meantime, there was always more to plan, organise or just jump aboard and go.

Given I was simultaneously working full time at the hostel there was no time to rest on a day off. My housemate and I pushed each other to do more and more, and on the rare occasion we found ourselves inside on a nice day we certainly heard about it from the other! It was great motivation and I can look back proud at everything I got done.

My Summer To Do List (in order of completion)

  1. Beat Donny’s time of 1:39 up Whistlers Mountain.     Check Aug 1 with 1:35.
  2. Get to Edith Cavell Meadows.                                        Check Aug 2.
  3. Berg Lake camping trip.                                                  Check Aug 6,7,8.
  4. Go whitewater rafting.                                                     Check Aug 19.
  5. Climb Mt Temple.                                                             Check Aug 25,26.
  6. Hike the Skyline trail in one day 44km.                         Check Sep 3.
  7. Climb Mt Hardisty.                                                            Check Sep 9.
  8. Climb Pyramid Mountain.                                                Check Sep 10,
  9. Tonquin Valley camping trip.                                          Check Sep 16,17,18.
  10. Maligne Lake canoe/camp trip.                                    Check Sep 30, Oct 1.

More trips not on my “list”:

  1. Grouse Grind, Vancouver.                                                Check July 25.
  2. Bald Hills trail.                                                                    Check Aug 13.
  3. Maligne Canyon.                                                                Check Aug 15.
  4. Sulphur Skyline trail.                                                         Check Aug 21.
  5. Sunrise kayak on Pyramid Lake.                                     Check Aug 24.
  6. Plain of Six Glaciers trail.                                                  Check Aug 25.
  7. Palisades Lookout.                                                            Check Aug 30.
  8. Slept on top of a mountain.                                             Check Aug 31.
  9. Climbed Mt Tekarra.                                                         Check Sep 3.
  10. Photographed a wedding.                                               Check Sep 28.
  11. Horseback riding                                                               Check Oct 6

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Palisades Lookout – WOW! The two hour uphill slog on a bike was worth it.
That's me taking cover front left
Rafting! That’s me taking cover front left
sleep
Waking up on top of a mountain was both strange and very awesome.
Sulphur Skyline
Sulphur Skyline hike.
Photographing a wedding was a new experience for me
Photographing my first wedding was a great experience for me.
And horse riding today - end of summer staff event.
And horse riding today – our end of summer staff event.

To try and pick my favourite trips is hard as every one is so different and they are all great but nonetheless I devised a system that works. Are you ready for it?

To pick my top four I simply asked myself, “if I could only take home the memories from four trips, and all the rest would be forgotten, which ones would I choose?”

And that brought me to my top four…in no particular order.

Berg Lake, Mt Robson Provincial Park

An awesome three days and an exhausting 80km of backpacking with Ben around the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, Mt Robson.

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Berg Lake was freezing!

Mt Temple, Banff National Park

A quick two day run down to Lake Louise with Donny, Arne, and Jakub to summit the giant Mt Temple.

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Descending Mt Temple
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Peyto Lake

The Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park

One monster of a day hike with Grayden, Laura, and Joel. 50km along the premier Skyline trail including two mountain summits along the way.

Up into alpine heights. Snow covered for most of the year, in summer a desert like landscape is unveiled.
The Skyline trail was captivating!

Maligne Lake canoe trip, Jasper National Park

The most recent big adventure, a two day canoe and camping trip with Jackie and Joel to the far end of the breathtaking Maligne Lake.

We're here already! Burning time in paradise.
A well earned break at Spirit Island, Maligne Lake.

Thanks so much to everyone who shared this memorable summer with me – the corner stones of a great trip are great people.

“Hello winter” Maligne Lake canoe trip

This trip was just awesome! Great people, great scenery, and so many laughs. We had “paradise to ourselves” for two straight days. Top three trip of summer for sure along with Berg Lake and Mt Temple.

"Paradise to ourselves" at one of the most photographed locations in the world. An icon of the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island.
“Paradise to ourselves” at one of the most photographed locations in the world. An icon of the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island.

It sounds like everything went as planned right? Don’t be fooled though, it didn’t start out as well as it finished. There were problems. Like waking up…

A big night out for birthday celebrations the night before didn’t help our cause. We could forget “let’s be paddling by 10am”. Just pretend that was never said – we only began paddling at 12:20pm. We didn’t know if we were going to make it! We still had 22 long kilometres ahead of us to get to Coronet campground.

The first couple of hours didn’t get much better either even though our spirits were sky high. We had our first break only a few hundred metres from the start, we were battling into a headwind, and at our first change over break Joel discovered his only jacket was dripping wet. Of course he left his other jacket at home and only had packed a sleeping bag and some food into his huge backpack.

Joel discovers his jacket mishap.
Joel discovers his jacket mishap.

Despite the less than perfect situation we were all as happy as kids in a candy store. Joking about how crazy we were going on a canoe trip while it’s snowing and daily highs of just 5 to 7 degrees. We wanted to check where we were on the map but of course we didn’t know where the map was (when I got home I found it in my pocket).

We knew we had to do two things though. Keep paddling and most importantly keep this canoe the right way up. Capsizing here is no joke. So we did our best to keep near the shoreline out of the way of the tour boats’ wake. Jackie was the expert on this front, us Aussies need serious practice at keeping a canoe straight!

Thankfully the headwind disappeared after the first break and paddling became a soothing and relaxing motion. The sun even came out for a while and everything was just perfect. The mountains were beckoning in the distance, and the blue waters extended as far as the eye could see.

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The mountains got bigger and more dramatic the further we paddled.

There were a few moments where it looked like the lake just ended, even though we knew it didn’t. It reminded me of how your eyes play tricks with your mind when climbing a mountain. It looks like the summit is just ahead until you get there and find it was just a false one.

Because of the “ahem” map issue, we only found out where we were when we stumbled upon Spirit Island. Somehow we completely missed our bail out option of Fishermans Bay campground, but it was all good. We were going to make it!

We knew the world famous Spirit Island was 15km in so with another two hours of paddling to go we had time to burn baby. A break on the island was in order.

We're here already! Burning time in paradise.
We’re here already! Going to make our goal.

On a side note the reason Spirit Island is famous is because an amateur photographer entered the image into a photo contest, and won first prize, upon which the photo was enlarged to billboard size and displayed in Grand Central Station, New York for a number of years.

Another interesting note is that the island is only an actual “island” for a few weeks of the year when the glacial waters melt and fill the lake. The rest of the time it’s still connected to the land, as you can see above.

From Spirit Island to the end of the lake the mountains loomed all around us. It was a sight to behold and Joel and I both agreed that these landscapes rival the Berg Lake region for sheer dramatic scenery.

We headed that way!
Not too much further…

We made camp just before dark and enjoyed a fire and warm pasta, which never ceases to do the trick after a long day. Once again, there was no one else around and upon signing the book we proposed the idea “will we be the last ones to camp here in 2013?” Joel volunteered to come back next year to confirm or deny our hopeful suspicions…

The next day we unfortunately had to leave this place and head for home. The weather was cloudier, colder, and snowier today, but not to worry. The “Earlybirds” as we ironically called ourselves can handle any deadline.

Needless to say we got underway later than planned and pulled away at 11am. This time only 2 hours behind schedule – we’re improving!

Beautiful surroundings.
Beautiful surroundings.

A few hours of paddling and the weather took a bit of turn. The waves picked up beyond what’s comfortable in a canoe, which lets face it isn’t much, so we pulled ashore and waited it out. Jackie amazingly found comfort sleeping on a tree trunk! We really connected with nature on this trip that’s for sure.

Waiting out the worst of it was a smart move.
Waiting out the worst of it was a smart move.

Strangely after this point the waters were almost as flat as a pancake. Brilliant paddling even if the temperature plummeted from a balmy 5 degrees down to a biting 2.8 degrees. Then it started snowing even more. All layers of clothing on!

Team Earlybirds in full flight.
Team Earlybirds in full flight.

With one last break and the end in sight we jumped in the canoe for the last time. Within an hour and a half we were back at the dock. Mission complete. Against all odds we had made it.

For all of us it was our first canoe trip. 44km in 15 hours of paddling in less than perfect conditions.

What a brilliant trip team. Thanks for the memories. And remember even if everyone says “you know there’s snow at Maligne Lake don’t you?” it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it!

This is going straight to the pool room.
This is going straight to the pool room.

Tonquin Valley in 3 days

Trip Diary: 16-18th September

16 Sep – 6pm

I’m in my tent huddled in my sleeping bag keeping warm. It’s drizzling as it has been all day. Today I started hiking from Portal Creek trailhead at 9am and arrived at Maccarib camp at 2:45pm, 19km in total. First 9km to Portal Creek campground was through a valley covered by many trees, and beyond 9km was through wide open meadows where I was expecting to see a Grizzly at any moment.

In the meadows
In the meadows

Trail was really muddy and in desperate need of repair. Overall not too big a day. Past a handful of people. Awesome green, yellow and red foliage all around, winter is just around the corner! Cooked up noodles and made a hot cup of tea already, very satisfying. Then since it was raining hoisted my food up the bear pole and crashed. Hope the rain eases so I can go down to the lake and scope out positions for sunrise photos when first light hits the “wall” that is the Ramparts. Excited to get wicked photos. Fingers crossed!

Rest break from my 20kg pack (45 pound) at Portal Creek camp.
Rest break from my 20kg pack (45 pound) at Portal Creek camp.

18th Sep – 5am

It’s early and cold but I’m wide awake once again tucked in my sleeping bag. Yesterday wasn’t an enormous day but it was enough to do me in early. I got up at 5:30am and walked half an hour to the lake shore. Turned out I was well and truly early enough since the first rays only hit the mountain tops after 7.

Before sunrise a wicked view about 1km north of Amethyst camp.
Before sunrise a wicked view about 1km north of Amethyst camp.
Enjoying sunrise
Enjoying sunrise

As it usually happens my best photo was unplanned as I was walking back to camp.

The swampy, wet marshlands of the Tonquin Valley from the northern end of Amethyst Lake.
The swampy, wet marshlands of the Tonquin Valley from the northern end of Amethyst Lake.

After breakfast and packing up I left Maccarib at 11:30am and walked back down the muddy, horse beaten path 9km to Surprise Point. On the way I got lucky seeing a rare species. I turned to my right and woah – two woodland caribou 40m away staring at me.

This is the rare species the woodland caribou
This is the rare species the woodland caribou

I just stayed still and watched them for 15 minutes. One even used it’s antlers to tear the branches off a tree. I’m not sure why as it left all the branches on the ground (since found out it might be to remove the fur off it’s antlers to look more attractive). I arrived to the awesome location of Surprise Point at 2:30 and by 5 took a lay down which turned out to be bed for the night. I’ll try for better sunrise photos today, then begin the 17km back to the real world.

19 Sep – 11pm

The sunrise never prevailed through the clouds that next morning unfortunately, but good news is it didn’t rain on me. I gunned it out of there at 8am to get to work by 4pm and ended up doing the 17km in just shy of five hours. 3.5km/h with a heavy pack is solid pace. When I reconnected to the main trail (Astoria River trail) I was so grateful to finally be out of the mud, and hopping over rocks and logs. For a while there I was following some fresh animal tracks but didn’t see any this time.

I believe these were moose tracks I was following on the way out (my foot is pointing in the wrong direction)
I believe these were moose tracks I was following on the way out (my foot is pointing in the wrong direction)

So how did the Tonquin compare to other similar trips in the area? Straight up Berg Lake and The Skyline are both superior in my opinion.

For me the Tonquin was hyped up to be a magical “Garden of the Gods” experience, but it wasn’t. Yes, the Ramparts are an incredible sight and I know the weather wasn’t perfect (if I was there a few days earlier it would have been 10 degrees warmer) but the fact is the trails are so beat into the ground which just takes up too much focus to avoid sinking ankle deep every step. Your eyes are spending too much time on the ground instead of marvelling at the surroundings.

And how do you compensate for this? You can’t go earlier in the season before the horses have eaten the trail apart because you’ll get eaten alive by mosquitoes and flies. In June and July avoid the Tonquin at all costs! Those marshlands are a mosquito breeding ground heaven.

Am I missing something here? Was this year just particularly bad or is the trail condition just part of the deal? Maybe a March backcountry ski trip is the way to go.

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