The Savage Risk of Water

How do you come to terms with a sport that can both give you so much, but take it all away in a moment of indecision? Katrina Van Wijk explores her relationship with risk and reward in the sport of extreme kayaking.

23-year-old Katrina Van Wijk sits poised at the top of a rapid, her six-foot frame partially hidden by her purple LiquidLogic kayak. She is the second-last person to run the Lower Zigzag today, her final rapid on the Green Truss section of the White Salmon River. The river is much higher than normal and the spring melt adds difficulty to the already class five rapid. It is faster, pushier, and today it runs at a formidable 5000 cubic feet per second, almost twice the normal rate for this river.  Due to the high water Van Wijk and her crew of six (including some of the best white water kayakers in the world) have scouted the well-known rapid for new features caused by high water. They have found that the powerful water flows through a narrow canyon towards a sizable log jam – a feature they must avoid. It is what they classify as a “must run” rapid, with a dauntingly long portage as the only alternative.

At the last second, Van Wijk hesitates uncharacteristically, but then urges her kayak forward with a few deft strokes. As Van Wijk’s boat hits the eddy line she realizes that her entry angle is off. It’s too late to make a correction and her boat is forced perpendicular to the flow of the river. She is pushed towards a large hydraulic feature of recirculating water, and in a matter of seconds her kayak is claimed by the hole. She lets out a strangled yell to the last kayaker, signalling that she has missed her line as the feature grabs her, catches her stern, and flips her backwards into the roiling water. She tries to execute a roll, but loses strength as the water beats her down. After a fifty second struggle underwater she is faced with a choice: sink or swim.

Upside-down and running out of air she finds the toggle of her spray skirt, and pries the tightly fitting neoprene away from her boat. Placing her hands on either side of the kayak, she ejects herself from the cockpit in a somersault, letting the river take her. Buoyed by her lifejacket Van Wijk rises quickly to the surface, but the current sweeps her quickly down the river towards the mass of logs and debris.  She swims hard towards the shore, resisting the current, and aims for a small, sheltered eddy – so easily reached in a kayak – but without the agility of her boat she only just makes it.

“It felt like an hour,” laughs Van Wijk, now 25. “Looking back I felt a little strange when we were scouting the rapid, but I had never really felt that way before so I didn’t listen to it.” Up until that point, the Ottawa Valley native felt that she had been gaining confidence and moving forward in her career as an extreme white water kayaker, but the incident on the Zigzag rapid prompted her to reassess the risk she was willing to take. “I remember stepping a little bit back after that…” she says. “Okay, like maybe half a step back in the next couple months. It didn’t knock me too far off my path, but it did make me think about it more, and try and listen to my gut feeling.”

Van Wijk is one of the top white water paddlers in the world. She is deemed as “one of the guys,” by many of her male cohorts, but she is quick to emphasize that gender should not be a limiting factor, and she has been commended for both her fearless attitude and numerous safe descents of class five rapids (characterized as the most extreme of runnable rapids). Yet for someone who shreds on the river, she is surprisingly laid back, with only the odd cuss word thrown in for emphasis when she gets really excited. Her vocabulary is peppered with “sick,” and “rad,” but she simultaneously speaks from her heart about her process of healing.

Van Wijk is what you might call a nomad. She splits her time between Whistler and Vancouver, and currently lives out of her Honda Element. The SUV is a hand-me-down from her parents, Claudia Kerckhoff and Dirk Van Wijk, who run the well-known Madawaska Kanu Centre and OWL Rafting based out of Ottawa. To say that white water kayaking is in Van Wijk’s blood would be a clichéd understatement. Van Wijk comes from three-generations of white water paddlers. Madawaska is the first white water paddling school in the world and was founded in 1972 by Van Wijk’s grandparents, Christa and Hermann Kerckhoff. It has been family owned and operated since.

Van Wijk has had many influential women in her life, including her mother, who was a ten-time Canadian Champion and Bronze medalist at the World Championships in Slalom Kayak. Like her mother, Van Wijk also competed in Slalom, and earned the title of Canadian Champion three times before moving towards extreme kayaking, which she transitioned to with several of her friends from Slalom.

White water in itself is classified as a high-risk sport, and statistics show that the fatality rate in white water activities is 1 in 10, 000. These statistics encompass a wide range of water sports, and combine white water canoeing, rafting and kayaking into one category. Statistics do not differentiate between high-level paddlers and those who participate in water sports recreationally. According to a study conducted in 2013, approximately 3 million people participate in canoeing and kayaking worldwide, but a study by the USA Physical Activity Council shows that participation in watersports has increased by 2% in America alone since 2013. Extreme kayaking takes an already risky sport and makes it even more so.

Since 2013, Van Wijk has seen an increase in river related deaths within the kayaking community, and has lost six of her close friends over the past three years. All were experienced kayakers, and she believes that the kayaking community needs to make a shift in their mentality. “The past few years have been tragic for the kayaking world,” she says. “It’s not sustainable and I don’t want to be a part of a community where these deaths continue to happen.”

Van Wijk admits that she used to be “pretty rowdy” on the river, but says that her own attitude has changed. “We need to move away from the ‘fuck it and huck it’ mentality and start to promote pushing our limits in a more conscious way,” she says. “In kayaking, you’re never going to be as strong as the water, so you have to learn to use it.” Van Wijk’s views have altered drastically, especially since the death of her close friend Louise Jull, who drowned on the Kaituna River in New Zealand in March of 2015.

Jull was one the women who had inspired Van Wijk to start the initiative TiTs Deep in 2012. The group was founded with the goal to celebrate and encourage other women within the white water community, and Jull was closely involved. “Initially we – mainly Louise and I – made a bunch of stickers, and we just passed them out to our friends. We were all rocking them on our boats and helmets, and started taking photos,” says Van Wijk. “I wanted to inspire other females to motivate each other – to take their fear boundary and push the envelope.” She admits she had no idea how big the group would end up being. TiTs Deep now boasts 14, 576 followers on Facebook.

Nicole Mansfield, an extreme kayaker based in Oregon, says she met Van Wijk while on a white water trip to Chile in 2012. “Given our personalities and paddling desires, the friendship was immediate,” says Mansfield.  “For a good chunk of my kayaking life, I was a definite gender minority and found myself paddling with the guys. Not because I preferred being surrounded by males, but because they were doing the same stuff I wanted to do. Since being influenced by the TiTs Deep mentality I’ve noticed I’ve been paddling with more girls – girls who encourage and inspire me on the river. It’s not ‘no boys allowed, but more ‘no boys necessary’.”

In many ways, TiTs Deep owes its popularity to a series of short video edits that Van Wijk made over the course of 2013 and 2014. The videos show clips of fast-paced GoPro footage and casual (often hilarious) interviews that showcase strong female friendships and fierce competition on the water. The ten minute segments feature the women of kayaking, and according to Mansfield, “celebrate the often underrated – but extremely capable – women of white water.” While Van Wijk is proud of this success, she discloses she would do things differently now. “I think we need to be more focused on the full story,” she says. “We need to give more context – what it took to be there and also give a bit of background – longer films help develop that full picture.”

Van Wijk’s long-term goal is to create growth within the sport, but she also realizes that with increased participation comes the risk of injuries and possible fatalities. “For some reason, people don’t fully understand – especially beginners – the savage risk of water,” she says. “The people in these videos paddle 365 days a year – of course they make it look easy!”

White water fatalities have been observed as far back as the early 1970s. Charlie Walbridge and J. Tinsley have published five anthologies on the topic, in which they focus on individual events as a way of helping others avoid similar situations. These studies found two common scenarios in which fatalities occurred. The first was perhaps the most predictable, with inexperienced paddlers attempting rapids beyond their abilities. However, Walbridge writes that the second scenario is more frequent and “involves highly accomplished boaters, usually kayakers, attempting extremely dangerous whitewater.” This is more troubling “since they almost always involve a young, healthy, active individual” and “there is often not an easily identifiable and correctable ‘error.’”

Many kayakers accept the inherent risk of their sport, and decision-making occurs on a moment-to-moment basis. “Kayaking is mental,” says Mansfield. “I am constantly allowing the whims of my emotions to affect my decisions. It’s a constant battle of risk versus reward versus how confident I am at the moment that I can nail the line.”

With that in mind, many of the most experienced kayakers admit to walking around “perceivable easy drops,” if they deem aspects of the line to be unnecessarily dangerous. In kayaking, confidence is paramount. “I was incredibly scared on the river this last spring, but it wasn’t really the situation, it was the mental state I was in,” says Van Wijk. “I think the most important thing is to know your limit, and slowly build up confidence.”

Van Wijk certainly does not seem like someone who lacks confidence. Watching her on the river, she is smooth, powerful and, as she aptly puts it, “stylin’.” With her blonde curls spilling from underneath her paddling helmet – a TiTs Deep sticker placed jauntily along the jaw piece – she emanates a sense of defiance. “What I really want to do is to get people reflecting on their level of risk, and encourage people to be more aware of their own level so that they can consciously push at that envelope,” says Van Wijk. “Putting necessary safety in place should be a priority, and I think people can easily get complacent in their own abilities.”

Now that Van Wijk has earned her degree in Graphic Design at the Vancouver Art Institute she feels a sense of renewed vigour. After letting TiTs Deep take a backseat during her degree, Van Wijk finally feels ready to take on new challenges. She has several projects in mind, and as a long-term goal Van Wijk would like to make a feature film.

While Van Wijk is not sure she will return to full-time kayak racing, she is allowing herself to be re-romanced by the idea, and recently attended a race in China. “It was my first big competition since the North Fork race in 2014, and I really enjoyed it,” she says. “I am just going to take it one step at a time. If I don’t continue to race, I still have so many big ideas and things that fully rotate around kayaking. Even if I don’t compete at the highest level, or even run the biggest drops in the world, kayaking is still going to be a significant part of my life.”

In the near future, Van Wijk will lead a series of camps called “White Water Riders,” a twelve-day program that Van Wijk designed to inspire youth. The program’s instructional seminars focus on safety, and fun on the river. The camp runs under the umbrella of Madawaska Kanu Centre, and has recently expanded to BC. Van Wijk hopes to expand the program worldwide, and will also host a camp in Ecuador this year. “The camps give me an incredible sense of purpose,” says Van Wijk. “Teaching the Riders is the most rewarding project I’ve worked on. The exchange of passion from teacher to student, and in turn from student to teacher is so rad.” With this in mind, Van Wijk hopes to create something similar for her TiTs Deep following. “There’s still so much good we can do.”

WORK CITED

American Physical Activity Council, “2016 Physical Activity Report.” Web. 11 April 2016.

Dunfree, Ryan. “Your chance of dying ranked by sport and activity.” TetonGravity.com. 27            August 2015. Web. 11 April 2016.

Megaw, Brian. “Exactly how much danger is there when you white water raft?”  NewZealand.com. Web. 11 April 2016.

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The things we do (and perhaps shouldn’t do) for Fresh Lines

With a weekend of forecasted sun ahead of us, Saturday morning found Ed and I frantically waxing our skis over the kitchen sink, hastily packing our bags and pulling out of the garage by noon — hoping we didn’t forget anything.

In our haste, we did not think to bring a map, since… like… we had totally been to Wendy Thompson Hut* before and… like… obviously it would be obvious where to go.

We were wrong.

Upon parking, we tried to follow our previous winter route, but, without the snow, the terrain was a little less forgiving. As we tried to find the trail from the road we soon realized that, since it is now spring, we could actually drive down the logging road and park further in.

We retreated to the car and tried again.

This time we made it 700 m down the road, until it forked. We found a good place to park, out of the way of (unlikely) traffic, and strapped our skis to our hefty overnight bags.

And so, by 3:30 pm, we found ourselves with two choices: we could either hike along the lower, road with the occasional snow patch OR we could hike up the road that was no longer a road, went uphill, looked like it hadn’t been used in years AND provided a sea of welcoming buckbrush.

The choice was pretty clear. We went uphill into the buckbrush.

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Now, you might not really understand this logic, but let me defend myself. Having worked in bush camps, where it is my job to swim through buckbrush that often towers over my head, tough terrain has become normalized. It is also part of my nature to expect things to be way harder then they are supposed to be. I have a tendency to expect the impossible, and so when I am presented with easier options along the way, I get suspicious.

Of course, after 45 minutes of stubbornly plowing our way through the buckbrush, both Ed and I were starting to have doubts about our choices in life. Unfortunately, neither one of us had the heart to raise the subject of turning around after the effort we had put into this uphill trudge. It wasn’t until it literally became impossible to go further that we decided to reassess our position and admitted to each other that we were probably going the wrong way.

Rather than go back the way we came, we decided we would just cut down and meet up with the trail. This was a case of oversimplification, as we did not take into account the many patches of deep, soft, rutted snow that littered the mountain-side. After we both managed to sink waist-deep in snow (multiple times), had sworn to ourselves that we would never be over-confident again (lies, all lies) and had endured several moments of crisis where we internally assured ourselves (after face planting for the fifth time into another tree well) that we could not go on…. we made it back to the road.

At this point, we had both confronted several personality demons. Mine, specifically answered to the names of: stubbornness, pride and impulsiveness.

By 5 pm we reached the trail head and tried once more to follow the obstacle course… aka snow rutted trail. Having wasted a lot of energy on our unnecessary uphill ascent, we were both a little pooped by the time there was actually enough snow to warrant putting our skis on.

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When we had finally made it to the hut, we set up our tent with the expectation that hordes of people would show up and kick us out (again, always assume the worst so that you are pleasantly surprised). Then, after a few moments of mental time out, we got to “work” on dinner, which thankfully just consisted of boiling some water (which Ed painstakingly retrieved from a snow-covered stream using ingenuity) for our magical Kathmandu Curry, curtesy of Back Country Cuisine.

As we ate curry out of a bag, we reflected on our eventful afternoon.  By this time, the memories of our struggles had morphed into a distant and I daresay pleasant adventure, and we went to bed with much more optimism than we had started with. Perhaps too much, because we both secretly dreamed that our wet socks and boots would be dried by house elves.

Such was not the case.

In the morning, we forced our cold, wet socks onto our feet, after discovering that candles and camping stoves are not the most excellent drying tools (but also not the worst).

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Of course, the sunshine that flooded the Marriott Basin was enough to make anyone forget about having wet feet, and soon we found ourselves skiing perfect corn snow and enjoying the winter wonderland which we had ALL TO OURSELVES. It was kind of the best day ever.

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And in your future endeavours: May the Fourth be with you.

*It should be noted that the Wendy Thompson Hut is run by the Alpine Club of Canada and requires a reservation and payment of $12 per person per night. It is volunteer maintained and users are responsible for cleaning up after themselves.

For Nepal: Our Turn to be Generous

It seems to me that the recent earthquake in Nepal left us all a little more shaken than previous natural disasters. Perhaps it is because many of us hold some sort of connection to Nepal. Whether we have been there ourselves, or simply have friends and family members who have travelled or lived there, this hits closer to home.

Perhaps it is also the amazing generosity of the Nepali people. They live in one of the poorest countries in the world, and yet they are some of the most unselfish people I have ever met. During my short time travelling in Nepal in the fall of 2013, I came across numerous people who went out of their way to ensure that my friend and I felt welcome and were taken care of. People who had very little, but prided themselves in offering the very best of what they had to take care of complete strangers. For my part, I was especially grateful as I spent much of my time incapacitated, having become sick only a few days after my arrival.

Whether it was the people at Places Restaurant allowing me to lounge for hours, bringing me blankets and water as I napped the afternoon away in a feverous state, the family we stayed with in Pokhara going out of their way to make me chicken noodle soup, or the family at Anandaban Hospital presenting us with a delicious feast and excellent dinner conversation, I experienced first hand their kindness. I never felt like a burden; instead I felt their delight in being able to help someone in need or just get to know someone new.

This experience was not an exception however. From stories I have heard from friends and family alike, all have been sincerely grateful for the friendships they have forged and the experiences they have had in Nepal. There is a reason why many travellers think of Nepal as a second home, and that reason is because they have encountered genuine warmth – no one who has seen the famed Nepali smile can deny it. I remember as I arrived in the Katmandu Airport, seeing a sign just above the entrance to the main terminal. It said something along the lines of “You can’t just come once,” and I now understand why.

Among the many people I know with connections to Nepal is my cousin, Damaris Waroux. Having both lived and worked as a nurse at the Anandaban Leprosy Hospital just outside of Katmandu, she has come to see many of her Nepali friends as members of her family. In fact she is in the midst of making a permanent move. Her friends have even gone so far as to give her a Nepali name: Jyoti Maya (which means Light and Love).

In a recent conversation with her, she opened up about her concerns regarding her friends’ current situations:

They would normally plant rice within the next few weeks, and I am worried given the state of things that they won’t be able to do so.”

This is just one set back, in the face of many, that will hinder them in being self sufficient.

They have lost everything. Plus the rainy season is starting soon and they will be more susceptible to landslides, floods, disease and famine.”

Of course, with all the media hype, people are rushing to help the Nepali people, but another point that Damaris brought up in our conversation was the fact that this is not a short-term commitment.

Nepal will be vulnerable not just now, but especially over the next few months and even years, while they get back on their feet. I hope that people will continue to be generous.”

And so we ask ourselves – how can we help? What we really should be asking is how can we be helpful? A recent article in the Guardian brought up some points that I think are crucial to be aware of. You can read the full article here, but in short, the best way you can help immediately is through donations of money. The article warns against “brigades of do-gooders flooding the country” the way they did after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which the article described as a “wave of unsolicited and poorly planned shipments of untrained people and donated goods which was dubbed by some humanitarians as the ‘second disaster’”. Seeing as we all want to help rather than hinder Nepal, I think it is important for all of us to do our research. That being said, in the immediate future, Nepal will need everyone’s support, and the best and easiest way we can do that is through our donations and continued effort to bring awareness to their situation.

It is also important to know where to send the money that you are donating. There are many organizations who already have an invested interest in Nepal, and consequently are well set up to provide the necessary help. One of these organizations, which my cousin is currently involved in, is the Umbrella Foundation, a non-profit NGO. After the recent events, the foundation has paired up with GOAL, whose people have considerable experience in disaster relief. The two will be working together to provide access to clean water, food, shelter and medical supplies with a focused effort put towards search and rescue which they say “will be of paramount importance in the comings days.” Those interested can donate here.

In the meantime, my thoughts will be with Nepal, and I will be sending my donation. It is our turn to be generous.

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Woods Dream Job

I recently gathered my petticoats and a little bit of courage to apply for the “Woods Canadian Dream Job.” For those of you who did not see the countless advertisements and newspaper articles pertaining to this opportunity, Woods is offering two “explorers” the chance to navigate, hike, climb and paddle across the country along the Trans Canada Trail. The trail is 24, 000 km, 75 per cent connected, and 100 per cent exactly what I want to do with my life over the next 5 months.

While I know that many Canadians are vying for this opportunity, putting together my application for this job was more encouraging than I expected it to be. In fact, I have held onto a stubborn and maybe slightly naive hope that I have a chance to actually land the job. That’s not to say that I did not flip flop between over-confidence and discouragement, but I think the overall feeling was of hope.

I had fun putting together my application too; it helped me to remember the many positive experiences I have had in my life and appreciate the wide variety of skills that I have accumulated as a result. Many of which I have never had much hope in putting to use to make me employable, but do for the simple reason that I love it.

And that is exactly why the “Woods Dream Job” is so appealing to so many Canadians, why it is such a brilliant platform — it puts to use those pet projects and passions. Something we all secretly dream of, but often don’t let ourselves believe is possible.

For me, this process has been one saturated in high emotions, huge growth, and lots of excitement.  The good news is that regardless of the outcome, I feel like I have come out ahead of myself — more directed, motivated and determined. Plus, who doesn’t love an excuse to run around and film themselves doing fun things. I recommend it highly.

See you on the trails!

That (Sk)Aha Moment

If you are a climber, Easter weekend probably found you frolicking your little heart out in Skaha: scampering up lead climbs, hiding from the occasional hail storm under craggy overhangs and settling in for the night at a campsite along the lake. If you’re like me however, you probably naively thought that you would have the whole place to yourself. You had vivid dreams of running your hands through golden grass and singing the Sound of Music in the morning dew whilst birds harmonized… no? Having never actually made it to Skaha, I was unaware that it is considered a “Mecca” for climbing. Apparently I live under a rock, because pretty much everyone in the entire world was there. I heard someone say “thousands,” but in my world, that’s pretty much as big as it gets — my brain can’t fathom much more than that. Luckily we had the foresight to book a campsite ahead of time, after a tip off from our friend and fellow climber Alicia, hailing from Revelstoke. Excellently, we found ourselves at a highly sought after lakeside site with a fire pit, and gloated openly. We took advantage of our fire pit with great amounts of zeal, and overdosed on s’mores until I remembered why I don’t like marshmallows. I realize this is a contentious issue. IMG_5019 IMG_5052 The next morning, after a sugar-infused slumber, we found ourselves at Red Tail Wall, chatting with folks from Canmore and Quebec. My initial fear of being surrounded by mean people who would laugh at my climbing was instantly put to rest, and we all climbed amiably around each other for some time.

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The elusive Mr. Edward Nelles, he took a lot of these photos.

IMG_5118 I quickly realized why the Skaha Bluffs are so popular. Not only are the climbs bolted well for beginner lead climbing, but the general atmosphere everywhere we went was very inclusive and  friendly. Not to mention the excellent Okanogan scenery. IMG_5159 Partly owing to the relaxed atmosphere (despite the whole world gathering), I managed to have some of the best climbs of my life, as did Ed and Alicia. We came away from the bluffs each day feeling like we had made break throughs in our confidence, and I went from never really wanting to lead climb, to wanting to onsite everything. Kind of a big deal for me. IMG_5154 That being said, by the last night, we were all feeling a little crowded out of our campsite, so we went into Penticton and had fancy Greek food, looking a little wind burned and bedraggled in our chalk stained pants and puffy jackets.

A little windswept.

A little windswept.

IMG_5103 Sadly Lola, Alicia’s puppy, could not join us in the restaurant because of small details like “No Dogs Allowed” and the fact that we had tuckered her out with 3 full days of non-stop play time. IMG_5169 IMG_5166

Heavy Onset of Coastal Sunshine: Making the Most of it

On Sunday evening on the first of March, Edward and I drove toward Squamish in his very dirty, somewhat broken Subaru Forester (Jimmy) laden with climbing gear, firewood and the random assortment of food gathered haphazardly from our cupboards.

In order to coordinate our food situation for the next 3 days of car camping and climbing, I texted my friend Jesse: I have a can of diced tomatoes, some rice, noodles, chicken bouillon, lentils, instant oatmeal packets, an unnecessary amount of coffee, hot chocolate powder, stale marshmallows from who knows when and a cauliflower well past its prime. Relying unfairly on her creative cooking mastery to help me make something out of nothing.

A certain magical cooking fairy friend.

A certain magical cooking fairy friend.

As we drove along the sea to sky, the wheel bearings ground disconcertingly but I blasted highly sing-along-able songs so it was almost like it was okay. The promise of pulled pork pizza at Howe Sound Brewery served as a beacon in the night. For us, and apparently the rest of Squamish: the pub was packed with plaid and hat wearing lumbersexuals. We filled our rumbling tummies and fled from the crowds.

When we finally arrived at Cheakamus Canyon, it was deserted and moon-lighty. After I tried, unsuccessfully, to take photos of the stars, we piled our gear into the front seat, cracked the windows and fell asleep quickly, disturbed only briefly by the crunch of gravel and the ping of my phone and Jesse and Matt arrived around 10 pm. Big night!

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After our crazy night of driving an hour, eating pizza and falling asleep, we woke up early to very full bladders and a caffeine craving. By 7 am we sat in foldy chairs sipping coffee with hot chocolate powder and nibbling on cheesy bread that we had grabbed quickly at the grocery store the night before, having anticipated not wanting to cook.

It was pretty much glamping.

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Or so we thought, until Jesse and her boyfriend Matt joined us, upping the ante by making (and sharing) oatmeal a la Jesse. Made with coconut milk, rather than water.

By 10 am, after 3 hours waiting for it to warm up, and fueled by coffee and a much better breakfast then I would have ever hoped to make, we went in search of morning sun and rock pitches that wouldn’t be too punishing to begin with. We made our way across the boulder fields towards “The Main Event,” a beautiful area with a variety of climbs. I for one, way over-estimated my climbing ability (again), and was shocked as always, by how different it is to climb outside. My stomach was a nervous, jumbly mess as I rushed myself up the first climb, and nothing felt right. The climb felt aptly named. “Boy Pie” made a mockery of me, as did it’s rating, which I do not care to repeat.

By the second climb I felt a little less wobbly, though still not entirely up to my delusional standards. I told myself it was because the climbs were rated in the ‘90s, but I’m pretty sure I just really sucked. That’s cool.

Day two brought more sunshine and more early mornings, which turned into late starts. After making our way to Murrin Park and finding a shady wind-tunnel, we huddled in the Adventure Center drinking coffee and then walked to Valhalla in search of hot pockets to put in our chalk bags and belay gloves (which weren’t in stock yet, apparently it’s still winter).

Once we had stalled enough to allow the sun to peak over the mountains, we made our way to the Smoke Bluffs and lounged and climbed slab at “Burgers and Fries,” which was a nice way for me to readjust to climbing. As the name suggests, it is comfort climbing at it’s finest, easy to set up top ropes, and a nice practice area for beginner trad climbing. So while the boys placed gear, Jesse and I played around on a friendly 5.11 slab, which was more forgiving then I expected, but also brutal on our cold-numbed fingers. Gecko-ing up the wall using tiny crystals, while oddly satisfying, was also kind of like torture…

By 3 pm, feeling confident, we went back to Murrin Park to climb at Seal Cove, and catch the afternoon rays. It was so beautiful that, upon arriving, I lost pretty much all desire to climb and decided to just take photos. Lapping ocean waves and the setting sun just set me a tither, what can I say?

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Hi Jesse.

Hi Jesse.

Of course, our day of climbing left us hungry and uninspired to cook, so we went back to Howe Sound and had more pulled pork pizza.

Over dinner we made false promises of having a fire and roasting marshmallows once we returned to the campsite, but came to a silent, unanimous decision upon arriving back at the parking lot at 9 pm that were tired, and went to bed. Because we are all 90 years old.

Morning found us chipper once more however, and we feasted on kale and pepper breakfast wraps and mini potatoes that we roasted in the fire. FIESTA.

We concluded our last morning by climbing a multi pitch opposing our camp site, and the air was filled with many colourful swears as i mashed my cut and cold hands against stupid stone. And seriously enjoyed every minute of it despite my belly aching.

The entire motley crew.

The entire motley crew.

Don’t Ever Go Here

Winter seems to have cast a discriminating eye upon the Vancouver region again. The view of the North shore is a sad sight indeed — the snow line is almost non-existent, and Vancouverites seem to have given up hope on ever having snow.

I know this because yesterday I saw a man wearing a wife-beater tank top. Granted, I probably should not pass judgement off of this one-man anomaly, as he may have just been a highly tattooed cross-fitter wanting to show off his behemoth arms . Or maybe he was a very modest man with temperature regulating problems. Or maybe he has been reading the local newspapers…

That’s probably it. With all the dooms-day depictions and despairing articles, skiers and other snow fanatics on the lower mainland are dejected, despairing, despondent, disconsolate, distressed, doleful and down. However, all is not lost! We seem to have forgotten that while we cannot see the snow from our windows, that doesn’t mean it isn’t lurking in the not-too-far-off mountains. Seek and ye shall find!

Whether ye be a downhiller, snowshoer, alpine tourer, snowboarder, tuber, or nordic skier there are facilities and wide open spaces for you to find and explore, and it’s not quite as far as you might expect.

There is a common misconception that Whistler has the only good skiing, and even Whistler has been hit hard by this winter. Its lower slopes were a sad sight until recently, and the Callaghan Valley, while beautiful, has been unable to open all its trails due to the fluctuation between rain and snow. And then there is the issue of crowds.

When the only place to ski is Whistler, that is where the crowds flock, and so those who don’t like waiting in line often hide at home and miss out on the good days. Sadness. And with all this Whistler hype, people seem to have forgotten that there is a little place called Manning Park just east of Hope. I think there has been some confusion. I should clarify: when people say that Manning is “beyond Hope” they don’t mean it’s hopeless.

In fact, they mean quite the opposite. Manning manages to provide the quiet serenity of the backcountry while still providing the luxurious amenities we associate with a ski resort. The atmosphere is much more laid back then the usual bustling hill, and I have never had to wait in line to do… well anything. (Except for that time on Valentines Day 2014 when Ed and I decided to go winter camping and there was a hoard of girl scouts at our campsite. But I swear that was a freak coincidence.)

Hope is also much closer than Vancouverites are led to think. The drive to Manning Park is 2-3 hours from Vancouver, which is comparable to driving to Whistler, and often has less traffic. Again, less waiting. In fact, in the time spent in a line up for one chair at Whistler, you could have had at least 3-4 runs of untracked snow at Manning. Not that I am in anyway bashing Whistler, but come on people, fresh lines with no competition? How are you passing this up?

Here’s another shocking revelation: Manning has also had a consistent base of over a metre for the past month. In fact, it has managed to avoid most of the lower mainlands plight for snow fairly consistently. For the Olympics in 2010, Vancouver actually had to truck in snow from Manning in order to hold some of their events. FACT.

So why is Manning Park so deserted? I am convinced that no one actually knows it’s there. Vancouver media certainly neglects to mention the Park’s existence. I have concluded that it is a well kept secret by those who love Manning and want to keep it to themselves. Personally I would love to do the same, but I can’t help but think that the resort needs to be given a shout out, as I would like to see it there for years to come.

However, if you are stubborn and habitual and these very sensible arguments do not compel you to change the course of your destination, then perhaps these seductive photos of mountains and snow and smiling people will:

Happy people doing happy things. With mountains.

Happy people doing happy things. With mountains.

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Ewwww, sunlight on powder.

Ewwww, sunlight on powder.

On second thought, it’s really awful and you probably shouldn’t come.