Looking back at 2018 I couldn’t help but feel that it was an odd year, something we seem to say most years lately! We hiked a lot of trails that we’d hiked before, and the weather in what would normally be peak hiking season turned for the worse, with forest fires in August followed by wet weekends in September.
But we scored big time with our backpacking trips. We may not have got out as often as we would have liked but the trips we did have were absolutely stunning with some of the most enjoyable backcountry time we’ve ever had. Perhaps more than in the past, these trips left us with such profound feelings of awe, joy, and wonder; deeper than just the sense of achievement associated with visiting a beautiful place, a sense of being in a place. It is disappointingly inevitable, then, that with such strong emotions the photographic record of our time doesn’t approach the feeling of actually being there. We’ve barely even looked at the photos, our initial cursory glance being unsatisfying. It is only with the passage of time that we find that some photos do in fact come closer to capturing that sense of being than we thought initially.
In the past I’ve only included our top five trips, but I want to include one more to the list for 2018. In fact I could add another couple based on the sheer enjoyment of those trips, in which case I’d then be tempted to add more after those, and so on until I’d ranked every trip this year! Let’s keep it at the six that had the greatest effect on us.
The top six, then, are:
- Southern Chilcotins: Easily our favourite trip of the year, and perhaps not surprising given that it was new territory and we spent almost a week backpacking. There’s no doubt that longer trips lend themselves to deeper feelings, with time spent over many days getting to know an area. Definitely some of the most enjoyable and spectacular hiking (despite carrying heavy packs) we’ve done in a while, this trip stood out for the sheer quality of the hiking, the range of colours (of the land and flowers), and landscapes. Plus, of course, our breakfast grizzly bear sighting. Without doubt an area we want to revisit and explore some more!
- Phelix Creek: An area we’ve wanted to visit for many years, and it didn’t disappoint. While we didn’t get to summit one of our target peaks and we were besieged by countless mosquitoes, we really enjoyed our few days here. The ridge line of Frodo Peak provided some of the best views we’ve seen this year while the basin between Mounts Aragorn and Shadowfax offered a delightful day of exploration, complete with the added bonus of finding a wildflower we’d not seen in a decade.
- Al’s Habrich Ridge Trail (October): After hiking the lower section of the trail last year and again on snowshoes in January, we were determined to push beyond and make the steep climb up to the ridge proper to get the expected views of Mount Habrich and the Sky Pilot group. And it was worth every vertical step. I think that this particular view is one of the best we’ve ever seen, and certainly among the best in this part of BC. We were utterly speechless when we first set eyes on it and didn’t want to tear ourselves away. I’m not a great fan of hikes that are all about the payoff, but this was quite the payoff, and the approach – while steep – wasn’t overly taxing.
- Blowdown Pass: We have visited this area many times over the years, and yet this was the first time we’d stayed overnight with the intent of exploring the surroundings. Even though we re-explored and revisited a couple of the nearby peaks, we had the time to venture further, following ridge lines to new vistas, and finding lakes we’d previously only seen from above. A glorious few days, complete with dramatic light, rain and snow showers, and multiple rainbows.
- Heather Trail: After more than a decade since we first backpacked this trail we chose to revisit the Heather Trail on a whim, essentially a coin toss decided by the weather. Though the famous flower displays had withered, we found ourselves enjoying the open space, casting fresh eyes on old(-ish) ground. Coupled with a beautiful sunrise, the quietest night in the backcountry we’ve ever experienced, and some great mellow hiking, this trip was exceptional.
- Watersprite Lake: With all the photos I’ve seen on Instagram of this area I have to admit I was initially underwhelmed when we first arrived at the lake. It seems that only in retrospect have I realized just how good a trip it was, even with the rain and snow on the second day. Sipping afternoon coffee on a rock by the creek below the Watersprite Tower was very relaxing, as was my morning coffee the next day, sitting in the tent to escape the wet snow. There’s no doubt it remains a spectacular destination, and I would love to revisit and explore further.
Honourable mentions go to the trio of trails we hiked in the Mount Baker area in November – Heliotrope Ridge, Chain Lakes, and Yellow Aster Butte – as well as another couple of favourite repeats – Elk-Thurston and Frosty Mountain. This year we didn’t make it out on a single Wanderung trip, neither joining one or calling one out ourselves. Maybe next year. We also revisited a few more low-key destinations and enjoyed those days out far more than we expected: Petgill Lake, Norvan Falls, and the Sea-to-Summit trail.
Now for the stats. We went out on fewer trips this year than last (boo!), although we amassed more days of hiking (yay!), and hiked 20% further with correspondingly more elevation gain.
- Number of trips: 34 (-5)
- Number of days hiking: 47 (+4)
- Total distance: 477 km (+107 km)
- Total elevation gain: 26265 m (+6175 m)
- Average per trip: 14.0 km / 772 m (+4.4 km / +252 m)
- Average per equivalent day hike: 10.1 km / 558 m (+1.5 km / +91 m)
For next year? Our list never gets any shorter but we have a couple of ideas for 3-5 day trips not too far from home. I’m also tempted to try a bit harder to get into the glacier-lily valleys as soon as possible, hoping to time it right to find a slope carpeted in yellow. The bigger challenge is always filling in the time between the marquee destinations. Which ones do we feel like repeating? Now that we have a trio of up-to-date guide books I think we should make use of those to get us through the shoulder season and train for the summer. And maybe we should look through our photos before we begin?