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  • Meg Cuthbert

A Year of Hiking on Vancouver Island

As a kind of whimsical challenge, last December I set a 2019 goal of completing 12 new hikes in 12 months. 'New hikes' simply means trails I had not done before. They didn't have to be hard, long or remote; they just had to be new to me. The intention was to get out of my hiking routine and explore more of Vancouver Island. It all felt like a reasonable and attainable goal, until September when I realized I wasn't even halfway through my list.

It was a bit of a mad rush at the end, combatting weather, schedules, work, illness and just general motivation to get them all done. I completed my final hike at East Sooke Park on December 29th, just squeezing the video out before the end of the year. 

I'd like to thank my hiking partners who went on these missions with me, sometimes getting lost, sometimes without food, sometimes with food in their eye, sometimes in the rain, and occasionally having to drive for hours to do a two-hour hike. So, thank you to Daniel, Holly, Eric, Courtney, Miranda, Bronnie, Steph, and Hannah (and the dogs Dino, Hoagie and Walt).

Our pup Dino is an Australian cattle dog, and he requires a lot of running time, or he gets a bit squirrelly (me too). Dino and I usually adventure out on Maple Mountain because it's close to home. What I wanted to accomplish in these 12 hikes was to get off of Maple Mountain and explore more of Vancouver Island. However, I acknowledge that a lot of the trails I picked were day hikes close to home — I wanted to set a reasonable goal, and explore my home base as a priority.

The 12 hikes included three waterfalls, four mountain summits, two work trips (I am very fortunate), seven nights in a tent, one rainstorm, and no lasting injuries. I travelled 1,400 kilometres up, down and across the island to hike 125 kilometres-ish. The actual distance isn't very much, but being in new places uses up more energy (or so I learned).

Exploring all these different places required more research and due diligence in advance of each trek. As this was my project, I became the hike coordinator by default. It wasn't a big deal, but I found myself feeling responsible for the people who were hiking with me in a way that I didn't when we were on trails I knew. When I have experience on a trail, it is easy to assess whether someone will like it or not, if the conditions will be right on that day, or if the trail needs repair. When planning hikes to places I've never been before, all that confidence is gone. Will everyone have a good time? Is this hike too hard? Too easy? What will we see? Is it worth the drive?

Although trekking in new places occasionally made me nervous, it was also fun to explore new areas with a group when everyone is there for the first time. Who knows when this incline will end? We sure don't. Luckily, I have a rad group of people who are willing to hike with me and enjoy (to some extent) the spontaneity of it all (doing research was something I started to figure out somewhere in the middle of this project).

Here are some lists of things that happened on the trails this year. Good or bad, it was all excellent.

Top Five 12 Hikes Moments:

  1. Camping on the point at Great Central Lake on Canada Day during our Della Falls trip.

  2. Upper Myra Falls, just in general was an incredible hike, the terrain was soft, and the forest was so lush.

  3. The incredible lunch put on by the City of Langford, Tourism Vancouver Island and the Great Trail at the end of the Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail instameet. If only every hike ended in a catered long table lunch.

  4. Capturing the shot of Bronnie hanging out with the whiskey jacks on Mount Benson.

  5. Interviewing Tanya at the Wild Pacific Trail to learn about their trail stewardship. 

Top Five 12 Hikes Fails:

  1. Forgetting everything we needed to cook and stay dry for the disastrous Bald Mountain hike.

  2. Scaring the pants off myself camping alone in Ucluelet when exploring the Wild Pacific Trail (more on that to come).

  3. Not bringing any food on the 15-kilometre hike along the Cowichan River Footpath - I mean, really.

  4. Accidentally carrying a bike lock in my backpack on the hike to Della Falls. I was going to lock the canoe with it but forgot, and ended up lugging three extra pounds. I didn't admit to anyone for months after the hike that I had done that!

  5. Basically hike-running (hunning?) down Mount Benson because we didn't start early enough and the sun was setting.

Top Five 12 Hikes Lessons Learn:

  1. Tell your hiking friends the full details of the hike. Don't sugar coat it to convince them to come, they've said they want to come, just tell them how long the trip will be so everyone can prepare. 

  2. Everyone has different danger thresholds, respect them. If someone is uncomfortable, make sure they feel safe to tell the group and make sure the group listens. We reached a lot of different danger thresholds on these hikes; everyone has a limit to where they will go. It was something I became increasingly aware of but didn't create any issues as we're a supportive bunch out to have a good time.

  3. Carry the 10 essentials. Almost all our issues on Bald Mountain would have been remedied if even one of us had the ten essentials. At the start of the year, I hiked with almost nothing, but now I have a kit that I toss in my bag before every hike.

  4. Pay attention to where you are when the sunsets. If you're hiking in the winter and have to get home in the shadow of the mountain, it will be very dark very early. Cough, Mount Benson.

  5. Research the hikes before you get there. Sometimes there are really interesting historical features, like the explosive history at Ripple Rock, the petroglyphs at East Sooke Park, or the shipwreck on the Wild Pacific Trail that you'll miss if you don't look it up.

BONUS LESSON: If you're near Cumberland always make time in the itinerary to stop of tacos. I really should have put this as the first lesson. 

The full list of hikes is available right here.

What's up for 2020? 52 Hikes Challenge Babay!!!


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