We had high hopes for 2021, both in terms of hiking and the pandemic. Alas, our pandemic hopes were largely dashed by the third and fourth waves, despite our vaccinations. However, the hiking was good and we had some truly outstanding trips, although the season was very uneven weather-wise and it felt like it ended in early September with only a few good days after that. We made it out on only two backpacking trips (two!), the lowest number since 2007, but at least one of those was our epic week-long traverse of the South Chilcotin Mountains. At some level, I think I was conscious of our superb year last year and perhaps it was only inevitable that it would be impossible to beat which, as a result, led to a sense of disappointment, justified or not.
However, we persevered and still managed to get out most weekends. We made a concerted effort to maintain some level of fitness over the winter by forcing ourselves to make some early starts in order to be able to find parking for the Mount Seymour and Cypress Bowl trails. Despite the rude (and frigid) awakenings of those trips, I have to say I really enjoyed catching the first light of sunrise on the snowy peaks and trees. Did it help our fitness? I’m not sure but it certainly helped our mental health to spend that time in the mountains.
In our more-than-respectable tally of 52 hikes, ten of those were to new destinations or involved taking new trails that extended previous visits. This surprised us as it didn’t feel like we were planning to explore a significant number of new trails. As with previous years (regardless of the pandemic), most of our hikes were just the two of us, but it feels like no accident that some of the most memorable trip moments of 2021 were those we shared with others.
Once again we have a top six, most of which were new (or mostly new) and long-sought destinations.
- South Chilcotins traverse: a no-brainer for our top trip. Seven days of backpacking and exploring new areas of the South Chilcotin Mountains and Big Creek provincial parks that saw us spending more time hiking along ridges than we’ve ever done before. The wind was challenging but the reward was a trip that will be forever etched into our memories.
- Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass: we have wanted to do this hike for over a decade but its often stringent group requirements have made it tricky to schedule. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and remarkably easy hike with stunning views. Busy, yes, but it never felt crowded until we returned to Moraine Lake (which I can only describe as a gong show). We can only imagine how spectacular it would be in larch season!
- Devil’s Thumb and the Big Beehive: this hike wasn’t high on our list but we have wanted to do something in the Lake Louise area for a long time and, when planning our August trip to Banff, the Devil’s Thumb had the most appeal. Despite an ankle issue showing up for me (which affected the next couple of months of hiking), this hike was worth every step to its incredible precipitous viewpoints. I mean, what’s not to like about a view of both Lake Agnes and Lake Louise?
- Flora Peak: another peak that’s spent a long time on our to-do list, this was a superb hike. Challenging, for sure, and relentlessly steep but on an excellent trail that ascended through lovely forest and emerged into colourful autumn meadows before a stiff climb to the broad summit. The views were spectacular and it reminded us of just how stunning the North Cascades are.
- Frosty Mountain: one of our favourite summits that we hiked on a perfect sunny day just as the larch trees were turning gold. Absolutely stunning! Plus, to make it all the more enjoyable, we finally managed to hike with Josy and Marc from A Walk and a Lark. Yay!
- Cool Creek Canyon: one of the shortest hikes we did all year but with possibly the greatest return for our effort. A wonderful trail to hike (even if it was steep) that passed more waterfalls and cascades than we could count or photograph, topped off with some stunning valley views. Highly recommended!
We have some amazing honourable mentions, stellar trips that were only nudged out of the top six by conditions or familiarity. First up is the Skywalk South trail which we enjoyed enormously, though our enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the hordes of mosquitoes, rain, and smoky views. Plus I forgot the insoles for my hiking boots so I had to hike the trail (the longest we did all year) without them. I had very sore feet and many itchy bites at the end of the day. But it was worth it, and we would love to repeat this hike.
The second honourable mention goes to our four days in Cathedral Provincial Park towards the end of the heat dome of June and July. It’s a gorgeous place that we’ve visited a couple of times before and we enjoyed three spectacular days of hiking, exploring the park at our own pace and encountering many mountain goats. In addition to the oppressive heat, we regretted leaving out our bug-shirts at home, being caught out by the number of hungry mosquitoes. But we found a new trail that might just be our favourite and reached a summit we’d eyed up on both previous trips.
Third and finally, our only other backpacking trip to Blowdown Lake also deserves an honourable mention. It may have been a repeat but we had a wonderfully peaceful couple of days, caught up with one of our long-time hiking friends, and saw no other hikers in that time.
These hikes are closely followed by several sunny snowshoeing trips on the North Shore, days that offered much-needed mood-lifts during the winter months at each end of the year. Pushki Lake was an unplanned new destination that we will definitely revisit at a time of year when the snow has melted. Had the day been sunnier, this trip may have made it into the honourable mentions at least, if nothing else due to the sheer number of glacier lilies, which might have been the most we’ve ever seen. Plus we saw four bears on the drive back into Pemberton!
Now for the numbers… Much to our surprise, they’re remarkably similar to last year and much closer than we expected. We fitted in more hikes, largely due to an increase in the number of day hikes at the expense of longer backpacking trips, but quite a few of those were also shorter than average. On the whole, it all evened out.
- Number of hikes: 52 (+14!)
- Number of days hiking: 59 (-1)
- Total distance: 587 km (-19.5 km)
- Total elevation gain: 33420 m (-855 m)
- Average per trip: 11.3 km / 643 m (-4.7 km / -258 m)
- Average per day hiking: 9.9 km / 566 m (-0.2 km / -5 m)
What does the crystal ball hold for 2022? We are already planning a return trip to the South Chilcotins and we want to make use of our Discovery Pass to explore some more of the Rockies (as always!). Our choices are many – Lake O’Hara? Tonquin Valley? – so it may come down to where we can obtain backcountry permits. I really want to try some winter camping, probably starting with something short on the North Shore to make it easy to hike out if things don’t go to plan. And I’d like to see more mountain sunrises. Beyond that, we’ll sift through our hiking guide books for gems we may have missed, and no doubt revisit some old favourites.
Here’s to the memories of a great 2021, and we hope that everyone has an even better 2022!