You’ve seen the photos on your instagram feed, a hiker standing over a bright alpine lake or maybe the silhouette of someone perched over the Howe Sound, and you feel the allure of outdoor adventure. It’s no secret that hiking is popular right now. Blame it on instagram culture, or the increased cost of living that has people seeking out free activities, but over the past decade there seems to be a surge of people eager to get out of the city and explore the mountains. In this blog post I’ll explain how you can get involved in the outdoor community, escape the crowds, give back by volunteering, and stay safe while adventuring.
Join a club
If you’re new to hiking or scrambling it can be intimidating to know where to start. What gear do you need? How do you plan a route so that your hike is safe? How do you access the trails?
My suggestion for people interested in the outdoors is to join a club! You’ll meet people with similar interests, learn new skills and discover local trails. Joining an outdoor club is also an excellent way for more experienced hikers to expand their skills. It can also expose you to new terrain and lesser known trails (escape the crowds!).
Vancouver has a variety of outdoor clubs to suit a range of interests and skill levels. Remember, even if you’re not the leader of the group you’re still responsible for your own safety. It is important to be prepared, study the route before heading out, and to bring adequate gear and food.
Here are some of my suggestions:
- Wanderung: A Vancouver based hiking group that connects people via their online trip mailing list. It is free to join and mostly focused on easy to intermediate hikes.
- The North Shore hikers: A hiking group that offers a variety of easy to challenging hikes. Membership is $25/year but they allow you to test out the club by joining one activity for free as a guest.
- The Varsity Outdoor Club: This is the UBC student outdoor club. They offer a range of activities, from rock climbing and skiing to hiking, and have beginner-friendly as well as expert only trips. Membership is $40/year for UBC students and $60/year for everyone else. Bonus: membership also gets you access to their free gear rental program!
- The Alpine club of Canada: The ACC offers day-trips, multiday trips, as well as a wide range of outdoor courses and workshops. This club is great for those with an interest in more than hiking and for people looking to expand their skillset. Membership is $43/year and gets you discounts on ACC huts and cliffhangers indoor climbing gym.
- BC Mountaineering Club: The BCMC is one of the oldest outdoor clubs in BC and hosts over 350 trips a year. This is a great club to join if you’re interested in diversifying your skillset and trying mountaineering, rock climbing, scrambling or backcountry skiing. They offer courses and discounts at many local outdoor stores. Membership is $40/year but you can test out the club for 30 days for free.
So you’ve joined a club and you don’t want to look like a total newbie on your first hike. The solution to this is simple, be prepared.
Going out unprepared and without adequate gear not only puts you at risk, but also the other members of your group and the members of Search and Rescue (who are volunteers!).
Here are some ways to help ensure your safety in the mountains:
- Know your route: Take the time to study the trail and terrain beforehand by utilizing GPS resources, maps and online trail beta. Be sure to take note of how long the trail is (kms and expected length in hours) and pack accordingly. It is also a good idea to let someone know where you’re going and what time to expect you back.
- The 10 essentials: The North Shore Rescue have an excellent blog post covering the 10 essentials you should bring on any trip into the mountains. Read it.
- Headlamp: This is covered in the 10 essentials article linked above but it’s so important I thought I’d mention it again. According to North Shore Rescue the “single most cause of overdue hiker calls” is people getting lost without a light. Headlamps are lightweight and easy to pack, you have no excuse not to bring one on any hike regardless of length. Don’t forget to pack extra batteries too!
- Water & snacks: Judging by the length and difficulty of the hike you should know about how much food and water you may need. Energy bars and nuts are good snacks to bring along to supplement your lunch. Always bring more food than you expect you’ll need, you never know what situation you may end up in and having extra food and water may save your life.
- Layers: Pack extra layers and avoid fabrics like cotton. Merino wool is an excellent alternative, it’s light, warm, easy to layer and drys quickly.
- Know your limits: It’s easy to get summit fever and get swept up in the ‘expert halo’. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to make yourself heard if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Let’s face it, as much as we’d like to think of the trails as a place of solitude, the reality is that they are usually quite busy. Often day hikers, trail runners, backpackers, mountain bikers and even horseback riders will share the same trail. With so much volume on the trails it’s important to be respectful of the others. Here is some trail etiquette I’ve learned over the years:
- Pack in, pack out: Everything (yes, even including toilet paper!). If we want to keep enjoying these wild environments it is necessary that we help preserve them.
- No music: Blasting your favourite song from your iphone while hiking might make it more enjoyable for you, but think of the other hikers who come to the wilderness to escape the noise and chaos of the city. You’re kind of ruining their vibe by playing loud music in the forest. If you’re hiking alone in an area with poor visibility with potential to surprise a wild animal and it makes you feel safer to play music, then by all means go for it. But please, when you get to the summit or near other people, turn it off.
- Right of way: Generally, the uphill hiker has the right of way. But it is polite for a day hiker to move out of the way for a hiker with a large heavy backpack or for a mountain biker. If the hike is popular, like Panorama ridge in Garibaldi park, there can be many people crammed together at a viewpoint. As a courtesy to fellow hikers, don’t hog viewpoints. Take some photos, take in the view, and then let someone else enjoy it.
- Stick to the trail: Wandering off the trail increases your likelihood of getting lost and damages the natural environment.
- No campfires: Pack a camping stove if you need to heat/cook food or boil water. Campfires litter the natural environment, damage trees that are home to insects, birds and other small mammals, pollute and increase the risk of human caused forest fires.
You appreciate the outdoors and likely want to continue to enjoy them. With the trails getting so much use it is important that we give back.
- Pick up garbage: Simply removing any garbage you find on the trails can help preserve the environment and discourage wild animals customization to humans.
- Report: Any trail or sign damage can be reported to rangers or parks canada (depending on the trail/location). You can also report any illegal camping or dogs in provincial parks.
- Volunteer: There is always work to be done, especially trail maintenance. Check out the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC for volunteer opportunities or to learn more about trail advocacy. You can also volunteer with BC Parks.
- Huts: Volunteer to help build and maintain local mountain huts! Check out some of the local clubs listed above to get involved.
It is great to see so many people out experiencing the incredible nature we have access to from Vancouver. Spending time outdoors is free (aside from the gear investment), good for you, and builds a connection to the environment. Although the increased volume on the trails can be frustrating at times, it may be useful to remember that we all start have to start somewhere. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just starting out, we all share the same desire to explore the spectacular environment we live in, to challenge ourselves and what we know, and to find some peace and sanctity away from the city.
Written by Amber Brown, Karma Activist