Canada, you beautiful country, luring us in with sweeping landscapes, enchanting forests with soaring trees and crystal-clear, turquoise-tinged lakes. Beckoning us through your borders and then locking us down like a cooped-up cluster of chickens. Finally, at long last, we have made it into the wild spaces you promised.
Three days seemed like a good start to get our atrophied hiking skills back on track. That gave us two peaceful nights in our tents, waking on the edge of Circlet lake to the sounds of snow-melt cascading down the opposite mountain, birds chirping and bugs stirring, luring us from our cosy slumber to embrace another day in the wild. With two children rather larger than they were the last time we ventured forth into the great outdoors, we weren’t sure how much they could carry (*happily) or how much they would need to eat. We certainly knew they were larger, and therefore the need for a second tent was crucial. Squeezing us into a three-person tent just wasn’t an option anymore, no matter how much I love cuddling. The rest of the family wasn’t game for that kind of closeness, especially on a hiking trip where washing in a river or lake is your only opportunity for cleanliness.
So, we started with a gear check. We were missing almost all of our hiking gear! There was very little we wanted to bring with us to Canada, but our hiking gear was amongst the few items we actually decided to ship. Once again, thanks to Covid and all of its myriad ramifications, our belongings are floating on a ship somewhere between South Africa and Canada. Sigh. So we set out to repurchase gear in a hopefully somewhat different configuration so we wouldn’t end up with duplicates of everything we already own. This took planning, lots of trips to numerous outdoor shops, and beating off fellow shoppers to get our hands on the gear first. With a worldwide shortage of e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g (uh-um – Covid), it was a serious case of thinking outside the box. Almost luckily, the rapidly growing size of our children meant we had to get them new gear anyway. All of this is a big deal because if you are a hiker, seasoned or novice, you will know that purchasing gear is no cheap exercise. Please feel free to shout if you need gear recommendations – we pretty much have the low down on the lot at this point.
So, gear sorted and bags packed – time to hit the trail!
Destination – Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC. We had heard it was beautiful, had been skiing up there in winter, enjoyed it as a winter wonderland, but had no idea how absolutely gorgeous it was in the summertime. The trees, the meadows, the lakes, the abundance of colour in every direction – it was nothing short of breath-taking. I lagged behind the others snapping picture after picture, trying desperately to capture how the scenery was shaping my emotions (which any emotional soul, taken by a view, will know is impossible to capture accurately), and then scuttling to keep up.
What took us all by surprise was the amount of snow we had lining the trail as we hiked, in no small part because a week earlier we had record highs throughout the Pacific North-West, clocking temperatures of over forty degrees in many parts. There must have been a butt-tonne of snow to start with because it was melting rapidly and by the time we hiked back there wasn’t a patch to be found.
Arriving at Circlet lake that afternoon was picturesque, with large snowy sheets melting their way down the gorges and into the lake. Being Canada, and incredibly organised, there were wooden platforms for tents to be pitched on, bear-bins for us to safely stash our food, and even long-drop loos. I can’t say the loos were a pleasure to use, in fact, we would all much rather have been digging our own holes – maybe that’s the wild camping in Africa coming out in us, but fewer people and fewer facilities provide a much more authentic wilderness experience. There is so much space in this world, heading off the beaten track is a must. We realise that here we are going to be fighting against incredibly cautious Canadians, so we’ll begin by dipping our toes in gently.
Day two comprised of an uphill adventure: Mt Albert Edward was calling, and we weren’t about to refuse the invitation. Rousing two tired preteens from their tent and forcing a meal worthy of the adventure ahead was a challenge, to say the least. The first day had been gruelling for them mostly because we hadn’t fed them a hearty enough meal before we set off and hadn’t quite prepared them for what lay ahead either – largely because we weren’t sure ourselves. It was a little further, a little hotter and a little harder than we’d thought. The two friends that Shaun and I trail run with had agreed to join us on our adventure and having done it before, and being the incredibly fit go-getters that they are, had said it was ‘flat-ish’. *Hard laugh*. When an ultra-runner tells you something is ‘flat-ish’, ask for a route profile.
Nevertheless, after the rigours of rousing the preteens was over, we headed for the hills. It was steep and the higher we got the more snow we encountered. Lincoln had his heart set on snowball fights at the top, so he warmed up his throwing arm the whole way up, throwing snowballs at us and guffawing with laughter every time his ice-rocket hit its mark. His uncanny accuracy made me rethink signing him up for baseball.
There were plenty of treacherous snowy patches we had to navigate, but luckily not dangerous enough to need snow spikes, and as we climbed through the Alps-like scenery with its icy lakes and beautifully delicate wildflowers, I kept thinking I was Maria in the Sound of Music. It provided a great soundtrack, albeit in my mind, although there were moments I was so taken by the scenery I could have run up the slopes singing too.
I was more than a little surprised to find how barren the top of the mountain was – rocky, dry and snowy, yet covered in the same wide array of delicate wildflowers. The disparities were astounding. It was a gruelling slog up the final climb, but man oh man was it worth it! The kids were absolute super stars, trucking all the way to the top without any grumbles. In fact, Lincoln flew up there so fast I think it’ll not be long before he leaves both his parents in his dust. Shaun may insist Lincoln carry all the water for the whole family just to even the playing field.
Being back in the wilds surrounded by the mountains, the trails that beckon to us, the silence as company and a sky full of stars, was balm to our souls. All of us. The way the kids relax and unwind is still remarkable to see, even though we’ve been seeing it all their lives. We were noshed by mosquitoes, pestered by gnats and gnawed on by flies, and although this Canadian wilderness requires some extra supplies in terms of bug netting (heading out the door now to fight a fellow shopper for one), even that won’t keep us away.