Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 19

Monday 21 August 2017

The High Note Trail and Flute Summit

At last, a high level alpine walk on a path more akin to a well used alpine path than to a badly engineered pile of Canadian rubble.

In exchange for only half a gold bar we were able to secure a gondola ride up to the Roundhouse Lodge at 1850 metres on Whistler Mountain. This was above the tree line! We were accompanied in our gondola by a chatty family from 60 miles east of Vancouver. It was the first of many chatty interludes with like minded walkers. There wasn't an oriental face to be seen.

Coffees were savoured as the sun dimmed due to a 90% eclipse. Somebody kindly lent us some suitable spectacles with which to view the eclipse despite the bright sunshine through minimal cloud.

We then ascended a further 300 metres or so by a chairlift over scary gaping chasms. Then we enjoyed by far the best walk of this trip. Was that because of, or despite the lack of trees? I'll let the reader judge that one.

The High Note Trail is a popular walk, there's no doubt about that. There were lots of people, but it wasn't just we who were comparing the mountain etiquette with that encountered on the Joffre Lakes paths. There were numerous viewpoints worthy of a pause. We kept encountering the same people albeit our walking speeds differed.

The mountain etiquette extended to the resident marmots, one of whom spotted me from a distance and kindly came to a nearby rock on which to pose for me. The chipmunks weren't quite so obliging.

There were fine views down to Cheakamus Lake, some 800 metres below us, and yesterday's route and summit could be seen clearly to the west. The Black Tusk visible on yesterday's last picture takes on a different persona from Whistler Mountain, appearing more like a giant tooth.

Our 13 km walk comprised a standard loop plus a there and back extension to Flute Summit, at 2012 metres my second summit, and Sue's third of the trip. We continued a little further, to an idyllic lunch spot and beyond. A mere 7.5 km beyond Flute Summit, at the end of the Musical Bumps Trail, lies Russet Lake, where wilderness camping is allowed. It's just below the nose of the Overlord Glacier. We met people going to and fro from this reputedly wonderful spot. Sadly we've not brought a backpacking tent on this trip, but this would be a good venue for anyone with such a tent. We were told that bears aren't known to visit this spot, so precautions are minimal.

On the way back to the main trail from Flute Summit we had the pleasure of meeting Kelly and Adam, a couple from Cheshire who are over here working and (when they get a chance) playing. They hope to be able to earn a living from travel writing and associated activities. We wish them well. Their website (under construction) is

It was a delightful walk back, despite a drippy ascent from Symphony Lake and another one to Harmony Meadow, to the Roundhouse Lodge, past more posing marmots and great views in all directions, if a little hazy.

Lauren was our companion in the gondola returning to Whistler. It's a half hour ride, which is just about long enough to get to know someone and more than enough for a first impression. So, Lauren, we are genuine about the offer to help you with any European trip planning, and you are welcome to get in touch/visit if you come to the UK. And the guys in the outdoor shop where you left us were most helpful. I exchanged the other half of this morning's gold bar for some shiny new walking poles, having inadvisibly left mine in the UK.

Lauren also provided a little insight into the Joffre Lakes debacle. Apparently it used to be a tough and not very popular trail, but a combination of social media postings that went viral, and the sanitising of the path with unsightly rubble, have changed all that. There are now better alternatives.

Regarding mountain biking, I may have been too harsh in my earlier comments. Lauren confirmed what others have told us, in that there is something for everyone. But I still think the high tree line would be a problem for me. 

Today was a brilliant day, concluding with another excellent self cooked meal and a few beers at the Whistler Lodge Hostel.

Today's Pictures:
1. Ascent by gondola
2. Roundhouse coffee
3. Brandywine Mountain and part of yesterday's route
4. Roundhouse Lodge
5. At the Stone Man, with The Black Tusk to the left
6. A posing marmot
7. Cheakamus Lake
8. Lunch with a view towards Overlord Mountain
9. Afternoon tea at Symphony Lake
10. Whistler
13 km hike with about 500 metres ascent, in around 6 hours. 

Monday, 21 August 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 17

Sunday 20 August 2017

Brandywine Mountain (aka mosquito hill)

Two missed items from yesterday:
• our walk involved ascent of about 500 metres - quite a feat for many of the tourists
• on our return journey to Pemberton the traffic suddenly stopped. We thought it was an accident, until we saw the black bear, chewing nonchalantly on something in the drainage ditch. It looked a bit hot

Richard, Diana and Joe had recommended today's outing. So they are to blame for today.

We set off on a short drive down Highway 99, which is a road between Vancouver and Whistler a bit like the A9 north of Perth, and found the correct Brandywine turn off (not the one to the falls) without too much difficulty.

Soon after leaving the tarmac a wolf was spotted, wandering confidently around an area of wasteland. Then began a rather long and tedious drive for 5-6 km up a dirt road. Charlie wasn't happy. Nor were Martin and Sue. After a long drive at near walking pace we eventually managed to deposit Charlie in a relatively save spot a good 500 metres and a steep climb before the lower trailhead for Brandywine Mountain. Everything there looked a bit dilapidated. We started walking around 10 am. My boots were deployed for the first time this trip. A mountain chicken guided us up the road.

The trail thrutched relentlessly steeply up a forest - apart from a short boardwalking interlude - for an hour and a half, before reaching an alpine meadow. We paused for elevenses. There were lots of orchids and gentians as well as pretty yellow and blue leopardsbane type flowers. 

Another feature of today's walk was the mosquitoes. It was alright if you kept moving, but as soon as I stopped they always found me, despite the spray.

Above the tree line we soon joined a grotesquely engineered motorway of a path from the nearby Upper Trailhead, only accessible by 4WD. This path was busy with hikers and dog walkers. It came to an end about a kilometre up the valley, where we stopped for lunch with good mountain views.

An easy river crossing led to another thrutch upwards through heather. I was going very slowly. And I didn't fancy the scramble ahead that was promised by our guidebook. So Sue went ahead and we agreed to meet in the bowl of a small amphitheatre later. It was 1.30. Sue hoped to be back by 4 pm.

A group of four soon arrived at where I'd  stopped and I followed them up to a point where it got too steep for them. They were wearing trainers that they realised were unsuitable for the terrain. I went a little higher, but turned round at about 1850 metres as I couldn't be sure which way Sue had gone from there. The terrain was complex. The bottom picture was taken from my high point. A view that I enjoyed all afternoon whilst pacing around a small flattish area as if in a prison cell full of mosquitoes but suspended over a sublime view.

Several people came past whilst I was waiting. Most of them were carrying skis. Apparently there's a bowl of snow higher up where you can ski. "It's not the best skiing experience, but it has to be done" commented one of them.

Sue turned up again at 3.45, having successfully reached the 2213 metre summit. By now the weather had improved into a lovely sunny afternoon. We ambled our way down to the car, reaching it at 6 o'clock. Then the battle with the rough track recommenced, the first 5 km taking us 35 minutes. At one point a chipmunk played chicken with one of our front wheels.

It was a late meal of pasta and sausage back at base. Thankfully (unlike Richard, Diana and Joe), we hadn't booked a posh restaurant.

Today's Pictures:

• the start of the trail
• a boardwalk interlude
• the Brandywine meadow (2)
• the view from my high point

13 km hike with 1000 metres ascent, in 8 hours. An extra 3 km and 400 metres ascent for Sue.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 17

Saturday 19 August 2017

Whistler parkrun and the Joffre Lakes

Thirty people turned up for today's parkrun, a fair sprinkling of whom we'd met two weeks ago at Richmond. The first four pictures were all taken at the parkrun, which took a scenic route around the Lost Lake. Well named, as several of the Brits got temporarily misplaced and nearly went round the lake twice.

The run director has to put up with a constant supply of tourists, some of whom forget their bar codes. That's no problem here so long as you can remember your name and number. He's also very relaxed about unaccompanied children, though I think he might have had something to say if four year old Sebastian had not dragged his dad around with him in 43 minutes.

Shrewsbury Paul was pleased to be first home. His GPS indicated ascent of about 600 feet, so we are all excused for going a little slower than usual. Some of us have additional excuses.

We enjoyed a slow coffee surrounded by rental mountain bikes. That's the major activity hereabouts. There are apparently some good routes, though the emphasis seems to be on downhill adventure riding rather than the touring that I prefer. Given that a lot of the routes are no doubt in trees I don't feel I'm particularly missing out by not hiring a bike here if the weather is suitable for walking, which it was today.

So Sue and I headed off to Joffre Lakes, about 60 km away. Many others were also headed there and parking required patience. There seemed to be thousands of people crammed onto the narrow but very well surfaced trail. I couldn't be bothered to change out of my parkrun trainers. Sue donned three season boots and walking poles as our guide book said there was a tricky bouldery section. There might have been in the past, but it has now been sanitised almost to wheelchair friendly status. Sue looked a bit out of place; trainers or sandals were the norm. There were large numbers of Oriental and Indian folk on this trail, as well as the usual Caucasians.

There are three lakes, all of which sport fine views to nearby summits and glaciers that were free of cloud on this warm, sunny and Clear day. The smoke seems to have dissipated from this area. In between the top two lakes the water plunges down some falls. Given that we'd been parkrunning today, their name, Holloway Falls, seemed quite appropriate.

There were queues of people waiting to pose on tree trunks in front of the views. One enterprising chap from Oxford was using a drone to take pictures. He could get all three lakes into one frame. "The middle one is the bluest" he confirmed. Some folk were showing off their swimming skills. The water looked very cold; it was after all emanating from a glacier.

After the 3.5 hour 'there and back' stroll, we adjourned to the Mile One Eating House in the nice town of Pemberton. Their burgers were excellent despite some of the names (out of deference to AlanR I chose a 'Rusty Tractor' burger). We were lucky - early enough not to have to queue - by the time we left there was a long queue of customers who would have to wait an hour for their meals. At least they could listen to the jazz and blues classic soundtracks that were playing.

A chat with our waiter had him chuckling at our having been suckered in by the Joffre Lakes hype. He reckoned there were much more scenic walks in the area that didn't involve walking through a forest on a crowded sanitised path. Pemberton could be a good alternative base to Whistler.

Today's Pictures:

1 to 4: Whistler parkrun number 7
5: A Joffre Lake view
6: Crowds at the upper lake
7: Holloway Falls
8 and 9: Dinner at Mile One Eating House

5 km parkrun, 8 km hike in trainers, and 4 km wandering around Whistler and Pemberton.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 16

Friday 18 August 2017

Sechelt to Whistler

Another leisurely start with no time pressures as we had to be at a ferry terminal about 35 minutes away by around 11.30. So we lounged around the campsite until the sun had dispelled any condensation on the tent, then we packed up and drove the short way into Sechelt.

A short walk along the beach at the isthmus of the Sechelt peninsula was pleasant enough, but the sight of a house being revered for its extreme age - it was built in 1909 - brought home the fact that the history of this area is all fairly recent. Perhaps that explains the blandness of places compared with their characterful European counterparts. The views to date, when not limited by the smoke haze that has now dissipated considerably, are dominated by trees and lack the variety that we come to view as normal at home. This is a mere observation - not a complaint.

Perhaps things will change as we leave the Sunshine Coast.

A short ferry journey on the Queen of Coquitlam, found us taking our last pictures of the sea for a while, after which we headed inland towards Whistler. With views of cloud capped mountains. And trees.

Lunch was taken at a rubbish strewn car park at a trailhead at Bertram Creek, by Howe Sound. Walking routes from here led to exotically named places like Enchantment Pass and Mount Unnecessary.

We didn't have time for that. Instead, we paused at Shannon Falls. After waiting for a space in the car park we enjoyed a short stroll with the masses to a viewpoint. The falls are 335 metres high, quite impressive, and apparently the third highest in British Columbia. 

Then we decided to stop at the town of Squamish. A suitable supermarket was found. This was a Good Move, as the traffic slowed to a crawl in drizzly weather about 10 km before reaching Whistler. Our accommodation at Whistler Lodge is 2-3 km before the centre of town, which we have not needed to visit. It's an interesting hostel. We are in what was billed as a room for four, but it's actually a largish dormitory with curtains around each numbered bed for privacy. Everyone gets a light and a power point, as well as a large storage box on another floor. We all get little fridge boxes and boxes for our non-fridge items - all numbered accordingly.

Our salad/quiche based meal, with a dessert of strawberries and cream, was delicious as usual, and the envy of the hostel.

Pictures: chronological as usual.

About 3 km of gentle strolling, a 130 km drive and a 50 minute ferry.

Friday, 18 August 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 15

Thursday 17 August 2017

Sechelt by the Sea

After a very comfy night in the tent, my back played up for the rest of the day. I've no idea why. We didn't wake up until nearly 9 am, and that was after an early night.

'Pedals and Paddles' was our first port of call. 'Paddles' was Sue's choice, and as they had no single kayaks left I was commanded to accompany her in a double kayak. I went in the back this time (see our NZ blog from 2008 to see how I fared in the front of a kayak). That meant I could steer whilst Sue paddled. She likes paddling. Just as well. My back hurt and I recalled the NZ experience. At least this was only for two hours, as opposed to three days. We made it to a small bay for a rest and a banana, then back past some blooms (huge numbers) of jellyfish, and it was much to my relief when we managed to locate the 'Pedals and Paddles' depot. Everything looked a little different the wrong way round!

Back to camp to look for my missing wallet. It was found in the car, so we finished off our lunch provisions on the comfort and relief of our campsite picnic table.

The afternoon was spent wandering the footpaths at Hidden Grove. This area seems to be the local 'Hiking Trail' but it's really just a closely knit network of paths that have been created in an area where local opposition foiled the loggers. Pine Bluff viewpoint offered a vague sort of outlook (second picture) through the trees towards Vancouver Island, and 'The Lonely Giant' was a relatively big tree compared with others in the forest. There was also another 'lookout' from which you could see a nearby (tree coated!) hill. The bark had been stripped by some of the native Indians, in the past, from some of the trees for basket weaving and other uses. Also abundant in this area were the Arbutus trees with peeled back bark exposing the red trunks of these drought resistant specimens. After observing a woodpecker at close quarters and having walked nearly 5 km along these paths we called it a day and went back to camp.

From Bayside it turned out to be 1.8 km to the dinky but delightful Burnet Falls. Quite steep at the end. We dashed back for a cuppa and a shower before heading for the Fleshpots. 

The Lighthouse Pub provided excellent rehydration fluid and a tasty dinner on the patio with fine views up Sechelt Inlet under a clear blue sky.

About 4 km of kayaking, 5 km of walks, plus 3.6 km in 23.15 on the dash to Burnet Falls and back.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 14

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Cumberland to Sechelt

Another leisurely start on a warm day with sunny intervals soon found us waiting at Little River for the ferry across to Powell River on the mainland. So ends our sojourn on Vancouver Island, and we diverge for the moment from the route taken by the Brexton Travelers two years ago. They drove all the way up to Port Hardy for the ferry to Prince Rupert.

The Riding Fool hostel in Cumberland was very good, with a massive kitchen and living area and lots of polished floorboards and wood paneling. Cumberland is an old coal mining town, settled by people from guess where in the UK. Closure of the mines led to hard times, but it is now reinvented as a mountain biking centre, with lots of trails, albeit I suspect most of them are in the trees. It's a shame I didn't have the time (or the gold bars to pay for the hire costs) to try any of them.

The visibility is now much better than when we arrived. I've noted 'lots of totem poles' and 'a proliferation of psychic mediums and tarot carders' during our stay on the island.

The sea was calm for our 1.5 hour crossing to Powell River, where we had time for a short exploration of the town's heritage buildings - many of them century-old Arts and Crafts constructions, including the Patrician Theatre, Canada's oldest continually operating cinema, before moving on to a second, shorter, ferry from Saltery Bay to Earls Cove.

We pass under an incredible span of power lines to an island, as the high mountains on the horizon draw closer. Then after the ferry journey, an easy 50 km drive to Sechelt and Bayside Camp Ground.

A short walk takes us to a beach within this long inlet. We can look at water instead of just trees.

Pictures should be pretty much self explanatory, chronological as usual.

3 km of walking, 120 km on the road, and 2+ hours on ferries.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 13

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Three easy walks

The plan for today, which turned out to be sunny and warm, was to walk up a nearby hill, Mount Becher (1390 metres). After the usual chores - breakfast, shopping, etc - we drove up to the 800 metre roadhead for a 10.45 start and headed up a well used footpath. Elevenses after half an hour, featuring delicious 'Chips Ahoy' biscuits. There were good views down to Comox Lake and across the sea to the mountainous mainland. After another half hour we passed a small lake and paused to check the route description Sue had photographed from the internet. There was no correlation. We decided to backtrack to a point where the description matched our route. We finished up back at the car, having walked about 4 km. Had we ignored the route description we'd probably have made the summit, but with no map and no idea where the summit was (it was no doubt shrouded in trees) we had felt that following a detailed route description would be our best bet. Annoyingly, this particular route description appears to have been a work of fiction, which is worse than no route description at all.

So, with another travelling day tomorrow, our time in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island has elicited just one full day's walking, and a summit of just over 200 metres. I'm sure we will soon make up for that!

We decided to give up on Mount Becher and descend to a network of short trails based around the Nymph Falls, which turned out to be a bit like Aysgarth's Lower Falls, with lots of cairns strewn across the shallows above the falls, and a chap sitting on a deckchair on a slab of rock in the middle of the river above the falls. We found a spot for lunch and appreciated the continuing joy of having no biting insects to contend with. 4 km on easy manicured paths.

Next we decided to head up to Mount Washington Alpine Resort, in the massive Strathcona Provincial Park. Time constraints involving supermarket opening times meant that we had little more than an hour to explore the vast area now available to us at over 1000 metres in altitude. We did our best, zooming in a 3.5 km circuit around the boardwalks that have been specially designed to cater for unicycles, as mountain biking along them is considered unsafe for pedestrians.

Distant snow capped mountains were visible for the first time this trip. The ones in the Strathcona PP were actually fairly close, and mainly shielded by trees, with a foreground of salad burnet and bog cotton. But views across to the mainland north of Vancouver revealed slightly more than hazy outlines of some high coastal mountains. At last!

Sue kept pausing to dodge the unicycles and photograph orchids, the most profligate of which was the White Bog Orchid. There was also lots of Northern Bedstraw and many other damp loving plants including several varieties of gentian.

Other denizens of this area that made themselves known to us were a chatty red squirrel, some attentive grey jays - the 'Don't feed the Birds, it's Bad for their Diet' signs were largely being ignored - and a number of woodpeckers and LBJs.

After Sue had come to the aid of a parched old lady who was about to drink the water put out for dogs whilst she awaited the rescue and delivery (by unicycle) of an injured companion, we rejoined Charlie, who happily coasted us down to a supermarket before its 5.30 closing time. That resulted in an excellent baked potato and tuna mayo with salad meal in this excellent hostel, followed by strawberries and cream, following tea, beer, and a twenty minute run for Sue.

Today's photos:

• Sue on the Mt Becher trail
• Elevenses on the Mt Becher trail, with the first 'clear' view we have had, with mainland summits visible
• Giant slugs near Nymph Falls
• Nymph Falls - can you spot the man in the deck chair?
• Looking down river from Nymph Falls
• A Mount Washington trail - spot the boardwalk
• A unicycle trail
• A mountain view from a Mount Washington boardwalk

4.2 km in 23.15 for morning exercise, then 11.5 km of walking in three leisurely ambles.

We are camping for the next couple of nights, and may not be able to get an Internet connection, so you may have to bear with us for a few days. I'm sure you'll manage.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 12

Monday 14 August 2017

Five easy walks

A leisurely start saw Charlie springing into action after a two day break. Items accidentally 'borrowed' from Alan and Toddy were dropped off, and provisions were acquired.

A short drive to beyond the Port Alberni turn took us to Wick Road and the 'Bog Trail' for our first exercise of the day. An 800 metre loop on a boardwalk through a bog. There were supposed to be sundew but we couldn't spot any. Just a blue gentian-like flower that was struggling to bloom. The top picture shows the ambience...

Next, we drove to the end of Wick Road and strolled for a kilometre or so along Wickaninnish Beach. It's the first of a series of beaches ending with Long Beach, all of which merge into a 16 km continuous strip of sand. Despite the cool, overcast morning, some surfers were demonstrating their skill in the breakers. Others were learning.

Curious marks in the sand were analysed as deriving from dogs and ravens. There were lots of shells in the sand as well as seaweed and small jellyfish. The entire beach was backed by a rim of bleached tree trunks, then forest. The tree trunks are everywhere. We are told that they derive from many years of carelessness when transporting lumber by sea. The washed up trunks are now so ingrained with sand and other impurities that they are totally useless and are therefore left to litter the shores of the whole area. (See second and third pictures.)

After a brief visit to a nearby visitor centre we embarked on another 2 km stroll. This was along the South Beach Trail, a woodland route leading past a totem pole, some large slugs and a garter snake, to a beach of soft shingle. The path was mainly another boardwalk. It passed through an area inhabited by a large family of noisy ravens. (See fourth picture.)

Continuing our drive we reached Sproat Lake, where a café satisfied our thirst for coffee and some picnic benches provided a suitable venue for our picnic lunch.

By now it was hot and sunny, so we were glad of a bit of shade for our next outing, another 2 km stroll. We had reached the tourist trap known as the Cathedral Trail, in the MacMillan Provincial Park. The Douglas Fir trees and the Western Red Cedars reach up to about 70 metres in height, so there's no problem with shade. The latter live for up to 800 years. There is evidence of a serious fire here around 350 years ago, but many trees survived that event. (See fifth picture.)

We left the crowds and the very smelly washrooms (aka toilets) in favour of heading to the Qualicum Falls. Here we managed a circuit of over 4 km (wow!), taking in the lower and the upper falls (sixth picture) plus a pleasant diversion to an upper bridge next to a campsite. All this was not unexpectedly in woodland, with the twisting nature of the river providing excellent views that neither of us had the skill to photograph effectively.

After this quieter and much more pleasant stroll than that along the Cathedral Trail, we hopped back into Charlie for the hour's drive to Cumberland, where we are spending two nights in the Riding Fool Hostel, part of the Hostelling International network.

The Waverley Hotel provided a very tasty and filling supper.

11 km of walking in five short bursts, and a 210 km drive.