Day Trip Report: Mount Fromme

With April now underway, it’s officially hiking season! To mark the occasion, we decided to hike Mount Fromme. The hike takes 4-5 hours round trip – we took about 2.5 hours to reach the top and then just over 2 hours to get back down again.

Rope to get up ditch

Depending on when you do the trail, there may just be snow at the very top or there might be a significant amount of snow on the trail. Last year – an effectively zero-snow year – we did this hike in February and there was only patches of snow at the very top. This year there was a significant amount of snow starting around 900m elevation and for an hour of hiking. The snow was for the most part packed in, but myself and Kyle probably post-holed half a dozen times. I’d say snowshoes aren’t required, but microspikes might be nice to minimize slipping when coming back down right now. Earlier on in the season snowshoes would be a must.

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Other than the snow, the trail is a pretty standard Vancouver area trail with pretty steady climbing for the majority of the trail. At the beginning of the trail, it would be possible to accidentally get onto one of the mountain biking trails or Baden-Powell, but once you are past the Old Grouse Mountain Highway, the trail is straightforward to follow. We did notice that the trail has more trail markers on the way down than going up, so if you ever find yourself lost, try turning around the see if there’s a trail marker behind you.

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On a clear day the view from the top is of the surrounding mountains – views of the city are blocked by the trees. When we were at the top there were around 5 eagles/hawks circling around and there were a couple hanging out in a nearby tree. On a cloudy day, you won’t probably won’t be able to see much.

imageIt’s a fairly quiet trail – definitely less popular than the nearby Grouse Grind/BCMC and the easier Baden-Powell, both times we’ve done the trail we’ve only encountered 1 other group going to the top. On Saturday there were a pair of trail runners heading up in shorts.

I’d highly recommend this trail – it’s a bit steeper than the usual trails around, but not unreasonably so and it’s not as busy as most other trails in the area.Panorama of Top of Mount Fromme

Trip Report: Juan de Fuca Trail

We were looking for something to do over the Easter long weekend and with about two days notice we decided to do the Juan de Fuca Trail on Vancouver Island. The JdF is a 47km trail that follows the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, generally less popular than its nearby sibling, the West Coast Trail. It follows the coast line, so you nearly always have the ocean in sight and the trail crosses a number of beaches. Generally it’s recommended to do over four to five days, but we completed it in two and a half.

Logistics

Getting to/from the trail

If you go during the main hiking season (May – September), there is a hiker bus that will bring you to and pick you up from either trailhead. If you are going in the off-season or you’d rather get there another way there are a few options:

  1. Two cars – Drop one car off at each trailhead. There are parking lots at both trailhead that allow for parking – be aware that they are commonly targeted by thieves and avoid leaving anything in your cars if possible.
  2. One car – Drop your car off at one trailhead and then call a taxi or hitch a ride to get back to it.
  3. Take a taxi or hitchhike – Taking a taxi will run you over $100 each direction and that’s what we did. I’ve never personally hitched in this area, but imagine it would be fairly easy as there’s a decent amount of traffic on the road.

The walks from the highway to the trailhead are very easy from both ends – at China Beach it’s a few minutes and at Botanical Beach it’s about 45 minutes. It’s also a super short drive on paved roads, so you may get someone willing to drive you right to the trailhead.

Permits

You’ll need a backcountry camping permit which will be $10/person/night – you can purchase permits online in advance or bring cash to pay at the trailhead. Regardless of how you pay, you have to carry your permit with you.

Food Storage

There are food caches at all the designated campsites. Depending on how busy the campsites are/how early you get there, they may fill up. I’d recommend at very least bringing rope and being prepared to hang your food if needed.

Maps

BC Parks has an overview map of the trail available and the trail is very easy to follow so extra maps aren’t necessary per se, but I’d still recommend bringing some along with a compass.

The BC Parks map has difficulty of the trail marked – I’d consider this to be fairly accurate and the sections marked most difficult were indeed very difficult.

Itinerary

If you are doing the whole trail, I’d recommend traveling northbound – you’ll get the most difficult part of the trail done at beginning and your last day will be a relaxing hike on mostly boardwalks.

Generally it’s done as a 4 or 5 day hike, we did it in 2.5. The schedule really depends on how much you want to hang at the beaches/hike at a leisurely pace/how much you just want to hike. 2.5 days leaves very little time for lolling about at camp, especially early in the season when light is more limited. There are also a number of sections where your speed will be severely limited by the difficulty of the terrain (mud, rocks to balance on, slippery boardwalks, etc) for a significant portion on of the trail we were doing 2km/hour.

Trip Report

Day 1 – China Beach Trailhead to Chin Beach (21km)

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We started off at the Jordan River Campground (4km away from the trailhead) at around 7am and reached the trailhead by 8am. After a quick washroom break at the outhouse and checking over the information board, we were off. For the first couple hours, we were on our own on the trail, but after that a couple groups caught up with us and we began leapfrogging them on the trail for the rest of the day.

The first few kilometers of the trail were nice and well maintained and graded, but after that the trail switched to constant ups/downs, relatively muddy conditions and downed trees blocking the trail.

imageWe reached Chin Beach around 5:30pm to find the majority of the campsites already claimed by the groups we had been leapfrogging throughout the day, so we ended up with a spot quite close by the creek which we hoped wouldn’t be too cold during the night.

Immediately after dinner, we tucked ourselves into bed before it had even fully gotten dark. Most of the other groups were still up, but the sound of the ocean waves drowned them out quite well.

Day 2 – Chin Beach to Payzant Creek (19km)

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We had a lazy start on our second day as we’d found the first day extremely tiring, not really getting up until 8am. Despite our late start, we seemed to be the first ones in the area up. After a quick breakfast (pop tarts for Natasha and larabars for Kyle), coffee and topping up our water bladders, we were off.

The morning trail was mostly the same as the day before – muddy, constant ups/downs and trees down on the trail. It was much quieter on the trail than our first day though – it seemed like most of the groups we’d encountered on the first day were just overnighting and not doing the whole trail – we encountered a few groups going the opposite direction as us, but no constant leapfrogging like day one.

We reached Sombrio Beach just in time for lunch. It was quite windy and busy at the beach, so we ducked behind the first unoccupied log we saw to find a bit of shelter to eat lunch.

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The trail from West Sombrio to West West Sombrio was closed due to slides so we followed to beach around the bluff – there was lots of rock hopping which is exhausting with a pack on. We didn’t quite time this section right, so we had to wade for a 50ft or so section around the bluff. The water was <6 inches, but still deep enough to definitely get your shoes wet. Kyle took his boots off and did it barefoot and Natasha just waded through with her shoes on.

After West West Sombrio it was back into the forest and the trail got progressively more and more muddy as the day went on. We were averaging 2km/hour for the majority of the afternoon. We finally reached camp – Payzant Creek – just before it got dark and started to rain around 6:30pm. We quickly set up our tent in the site that looked least likely to turn into a mini-lake overnight and put on our rain gear and headlamps to eat dinner.

Despite it’s name, Payzant Creek is a dry campsite – there is a bridge that crosses the creek and as far as we could tell there’s no way to access the creek to get water. There is plenty of water along the trail, but you do have to either get water before you reach camp or plan to get some from one of the next creeks in the trail the next day.

We tried to eat as quickly as possible before packing up and tucking ourselves in for the night as it was starting to rain quite hard.

Day 3 – Payzant Creek to Botanical Beach (7km)

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We woke up early on the third day before the sun was even up and started heading down the trail around 7am. Large portions of the trail were turned into creeks the rain the night before, but the mud wasn’t actually too bad. The last few kilometers of the trail alternated between logs and boardwalks, which although slippery were a nice change of pace.

We reached the trailhead before 11am and then headed towards Port Renfrew which took around 45 minutes. The road drops you off right at the Port Renfrew Pub/Hotel which is a great spot to quench some of your hiker hunger before making your way home.

Final Thoughts

imageThis is a nice trail and has some beautiful sections and we’ll likely do it again at some point. I generally wouldn’t recommend doing it this early in the season though – it was extremely muddy and there were a lot of trees/branches on the trail – even blocking the entire trail at times. It was also quite busy, so I don’t think the mud/trees are worth coming early to try to avoid crowds. It was also a hassle to get to/from the trail without a car as the bus wasn’t running yet.

I’d recommend coming out midweek later on in the summer to try to avoid crowds and get much more ideal trail conditions. It definitely is a nice little section of trail though and I would recommend doing it.

Finding my Bike: Norco Cityglide 8 Review

I test rode the “women’s” version (mixte) of the Cityglide. This bike has a partial chaincase, fenders and rim brakes. This bike does not come with a rack.

I did not like how this bike handled and it was not comfortable for me – I felt quite stretched out like the handlebars were too far away. It also didn’t seem like it would be a good bike for commuting on – probably a good bike for occasional weekend rides, but definitely not a ride-everyday-kind-of-bike.

I would not recommend this bike to anyone – if they were looking for a casual weekend bike, they could get something similar for cheaper and if they were looking for a commuter, I don’t think it would be suitable for that.

Stay tuned for my next post with my impressions of the Brodie Section.

Finding my Bike: KHS Green 3 Review

I test rode the step-through version of the KHS Green. This bike has a partial chaincase, fenders, colour-matched rack and rim brakes.

This was the cheapest of the bikes that I was considering and it definitely felt like it. Just everything about this bike felt slightly… cheap and like ti might fall apart at any minute. The saddle that was on the bike was the most bizarre uncomfortable thing ever – and I’m not super picky about saddles!

If someone had a hard limit of $500 I think it would be much more worthwhile to get a used bike and fix it up than to get the KHS Green. I would not recommend this bike.

Stay tuned for my next post with my impressions of the Norco Cityglide.

Finding my Bike: Linus Dutchi 3 Review

This was the first bike I test rode. I was looking to get a feel for how an upright riding style felt and if I could survive with only three gears. This bike has a partial chaincase, fenders, rack and rim brakes.

I wasn’t expecting to like it very much, but much to my surprise, I really loved it. It was lighter than my current bike and in my price range. Felt nice and quick to ride and the gear range was adequate – I’d probably be mashing the pedals a bit on some steep hills, but most should be doable. It also got bonus points for looking nice and coming in a wide range of pretty colours.

If I was going to get the Dutchi, I think I would end up going with the 8 speed to avoid needless pedal mashing (although that would add ~$200 to the price and push it up to the top of my price range), but in a less hilly area or for casual riding, the 3 speed would be fine. I would have also liked to try the Linus Mixte – I think it has slightly more aggressive geometry than the Dutchi, but they don’t have any details on their website unfortunately.

So overall, good bike; would definitely recommend to someone else and would have likely bought it if the Brodie Section 8 wasn’t available.

Stay tuned for my next post with my impressions of the KHS Green.

Gear Selection: Bear Canisters

The two of us have degrees in engineering so when it comes to selecting and optimizing our gear we often draw on that background to help with the selection process.    When gear is purely performance based with less dependence on comfort or fit then it lends itself to that kind of selection process quite well.

Why Use These Methods to Select Bear Canisters?

While there is certainly some “soft” or immeasurable requirements in bear canister selection, they are generally dominated by stats and numbers.  The main requirements for a bear canisters are:

  • low mass (minimize)
  • acceptable cost (threshold)
  • high or acceptable volume (threshold)
  • meets regulation (binary – yes or no)

These are pure numbers and can be optimized and used in the selection process.  In addition to those requirements you should also take into account the following:

  • ease of use/ difficulty to open
  • security against other animals (not bears)
  • ease to pack

These are generally what I would consider to be immeasurable.  You can’t really grade these parameters in an honest, non-subjective way. As engineers we try, but we almost always acknowledge how much of a “fudge factor” these provide.  I like to take these case by case and not fool myself with grading these values.

Collecting Data

So to use the data to rank the canisters, first you actually need the data.  This is pretty simple to do. Most websites have this information available.   When they are not available you can pull data from product reviews or even buy something, weigh or measure it, then return it.

We collected the below data on some bear canister options.  We limited our selection to canisters that we could purchase reasonably easily as well as canisters that were likely to be approved to be used on the trails we plan on hiking.

Table of Bear Canister Data

Table of Bear Canister Data

Criteria

Already partially covered above, we have some requirements and some criteria for selection:

  • Low mass (minimize)
  • Cost should not be above $150 per unit
  • Be capable of carrying a week (5-7 days) of food for two people at a time
  • Be allowed to be used on the JMT

Selection

To select the bear canisters we generated a few plots of some parameters based on the criteria.

Mass per Cost vs Capacity

Mass per Cost vs Capacity – Minimize Mass/ Cost for Capacity Above 10 days

Starting with the capacity, we put together some combinations that could make sense based on the size of our packs.  Then mass per cost is plotted against capacity.  By minimizing the mass/ cost ratio for canisters with capacities above 10 days, this let us count how many options we have.  The above plot is a little simplified, but we could continue to put together combinations of canisters to get enough combinations that meet the cost, mass and capacity requirements. In the above plot, the orange X satisfies these requirements the best. The blue dot meets the capacity requirements but isn’t the best for the mass/ cost ratio.

 

Cost vs Mass per Volume

Cost vs Mass Per Volume – Both Parameters Should be Minimized

Next we plotted cost vs mass/ volume.  For this you want to minimize cost as well as minimize the mass/ volume ratio.  As you can see, as mass decreases the cost increases. This is to be expected. When evaluating this curve we want to ride the curve as far left as possible without going above our total cost requirement (approximately $150).  Then that option needs to be evaluated against the capacity requirement above.

On this plot, the orange X certainly has the lowest mass/ volume ratio but it also has the greatest cost.  Unless we can sort out the extra cash this is no longer an option.

CONCLUSION

When evaluating both plots together the blue dot is the option presented that has the lowest mass/ volume ratio while having a capacity above 10 days and a cost below $150.

The blue dot in the above charts represents combining both BearVault canisters (BV500 & BVSolo).

Of course the above charts hide a few decisions made based on the “soft” requirements, but they still guided us in making an informed decision.  We had to take into account availability and lead times (we purchased our bear canisters immediately before our PCT hike in 2014).  We also took into account the size of our packs, and general expectation of how fragile a canister could be if dropped.  Also, ease of use was considered. The BearVaults can be opened / unlocked by pressing firmly. Other canisters need a coin or screwdriver to open them up.  The BearVault also is transparent, allowing for you to easily see the contents. This is very helpful after a long day on the trail.

Overall we are pleased with our decision.  The Wild-Ideas Expedition (orange X above) was definitely the lightest per volume, but getting it cost $200 more than getting both BearVaults. That would have only given us a reduction in mass of 200 grams. Saving this money let us focus on reducing our pack weight even further by getting new sleep systems and upgrading other gear.

 

Gear Review: MEC Scout Zip Pants

I’m a small guy. That’s just how it is.  So when it comes to finding clothing that fits me, either for hiking or for everyday wear, I am just used to more often than not compromising on one aspect (size, style, fit, comfort, colour, etc).  I have a 27-29 inch waist, so finding technical clothing that actually fits me correctly can be a major challenge.

After years of looking for hiking pants that actually fit me, I’ve started thinking out of the box a little.  I mean, it’s not that out of ordinary, but until this past year I never thought to look at youth sizes for technical clothing.  I just never thought they’d be good enough. One day, after being fed up with my old Patagonia pants that never quite fit right and after spending months actively trying on pants from many of the major brands, I stumbled into the youth section and came across the MEC Scout Zip Pants.  I’ve had these since the start of the year so I have put together my impressions of them. I also previously wrote an actual product review on the MEC website a while back, so this review may have a lot of overlap in content.

Summary:

I am an adult male (late 20s) who has a 27-29 inch waist, and am very impressed with these pants. I did not have high expectations for youth technical clothing, but these meet most of my requirements and do not stand out as kids clothes (so I don’t look ridiculous on the trail!).

Fit:

As an adult buying these for myself I can’t say much about whether this fits true to size or not for a child. However, I can say that these fit me very well. I have a 27-29 inch waist and have struggled for years to find a pair of hiking pants that properly fit me. Most men’s hiking pants that I have come across that claim to fit a 28 inch waist are actually a 30 with a belt loop or a snap to cinch it smaller. That can be very uncomfortable on the trail and add extra weight (or extra belts, etc).

The MEC Scout pants fit more or less perfectly around the waist. I have a size 14 and sometimes use a belt, but can get away without one, especially since there are adjustment straps on the inside of the waist that allow for small amounts of adjustment.  You can tighten or loosen the pants waist using a very light, small strap and button. This mechanism is much more comfortable than the ones I typically encounter on adult hiking pants that adjust from a 30 inch waist to a 28. The adjustment straps on the MEC Scout don’t cause any bunching and they tighten the waist band evenly around your waist. There are belt loops, and the belt loops actually will hold a belt comfortably if you need one or prefer to wear one for other reasons. I wear a Patagonia friction belt, partly because the belt itself can be useful to have as an extra strap that can be used in a pinch on your pack or as an emergency tourniquet or to support a splint if you get injured on the trail.

 

Adjustable Waist Allows for Some Adjustment

Waist Band Allows for Some Adjustment

The lower legs are a little wide near the bottom, but that seems to be because they are convertibles. I can unzip the legs and carefully take them off without removing my boots. I am considering taking in around the ankle a bit so they don’t collect mud when hiking without gaiters or rain pants, but that will make it more challenging to remove the legs when I convert them to shorts. I’ve also been thinking about adding a couple straps near the ankles with velcro or buttons to cinch in the outside of the pants. Regardless, these pants do fit under my rain pants (Outdoor Research Helium, Small), but they feel a little bunched around the lower legs. Not uncomfortably so, but enough that I was concerned the first time I wore them together that they would ride up my legs when hiking. Thankfully that did not happen and these are actually quite comfortable under rain pants once I got used to it.

Features:

These pants are a little heavy (approx 390 g for size 14) compared to what I am used to, but they still dry quickly and are just a little warm when it is cool (they block wind rather well, but still breath OK). They are convertibles so when it gets warm enough I can easily zip them off, but so far this (very, very warm) winter I have not needed to convert them to shorts when hiking. Now that warm weather is starting, I have found them just a hint too warm when exposed or when pushing it up a steep hill.  I’ll need to be a bit more proactive about converting them to shorts before I get too warm; I am still getting used to having the option.

Considering their weight, it’s fairly unsurprising that they are actually pretty tough. They are not as fragile as some of my more light weight clothing and gear (and not nearly as fragile as my old hiking pants which had been repaired many, many times) so I don’t worry if I have to scramble up some rocks or even if I just want to sit on a ledge and take in a view. The fabric is fairly stretchy and forgiving. I have not felt restricted at all when hiking or kneeling. The pants are thick and a bit heavy compared to more lightweight options, but I can still pack them up smaller than my rain jacket. Of course, packing size doesn’t really matter if you are just wearing one pair of pants on a trip or a hike.

The pockets are actually very well designed, which surprised me for youth clothing. The front pockets are deep enough to fit a wallet, or a small camera or phone. The back pockets are a little small (maybe a little tight) but can still fit small items. The side pocket isn’t huge, but it is large enough to fit a fairly large, flat-ish object. Small folded maps, phone, camera – that kind of thing. The clasp on the side pocket is well designed. There is only one snap, but the pocket retains whatever you have in it because the opening is a little tight.

Pocket Design Retains Objects

Pocket Design Retains Objects With Only One Button

The bottom of the rear pockets are mesh, allowing the pockets and the pants to breath.  This also provides drainage if the pants become wet (rain, or being submerged).

Conclusion:

Overall, these are pretty stellar pants. I’d get them in a second for a youth and I am very happy with them as an adult. I’ll be wearing these on the JMT this summer and I fully expect these to last me more than a few years and many, many miles. These are not “kids pants”, these are pants that fit kids (and of course, smaller adults). I’ve learned there is a difference. It’s just too bad I didn’t think to look in the youth section for hiking pants a few years ago…

Closing Notes:

Although I have not had much success with Lululemon sizes (most of the mens clothes are giant), I recently found a pair of tights for exercising in that fit me very well. So it’s not all bad.

I am still looking for adult hiking pants that are a little more lightweight than the Scout pants. I love the Scouts, but I am always pushing to get a balance between gear that’s durable and light weight.

I love my Outdoor Research Helium pants.  I haven’t had much opportunity to shop for more OR pants locally, but based on my experience with those rain pants I will continue to look closer at general hiking pants.

If you have any suggestions or success stories for small men’s pants, then let me know in the comments! I’d love to get your suggestions.