Getting Started with Hiking in Beautiful BC!
Spring is here, and I don’t know about the rest of you but after a year stuck at home I can’t wait to stretch my legs, socially distance from my outdoorsy companions, and head up a mountain or ten this month!
I’ve loved hiking for years, growing up in BC it’s hard to escape trips into the dirt and trees, catching glimpses of the cities I know through new eyes. We’re blessed to live in “Beautiful British Columbia” - as the license plates say - and hiking is a wonderful way to experience the province I’ve always called home.
With COVID-19 keeping us apart from one another indoors, I can’t think of a better way to spend the season than being together outdoors and on the mountainside - so here’s a quick introduction - or refresher - to hiking, to get you ready for this spring and summer!
Unlike at the house, out in the woods you can’t reach for a quick snack or huddle under the rooftop in a storm, so I’ve got a few things I keep in mind:
- Never forget a water bottle or three. Especially on a hot day or even just a mild one, staying cool and hydrated is important when you’re exercising. I usually bring an extra in case a friend forgets ;)
Food - How to use snacks on the trail
- Carbs are great for an energy burst, always best used when you’re about to use the energy pretty soon. A granola bar or a banana at the outset of a hike can get your body ready for the trail.
- Proteins build muscles once the lactic acid of exercise has broken them down. It’s best to have protein in your system while your body is rebuilding and nothing handles hunger like a good protein. Trail mix nuts or jerky in the middle of a long hike or at the end of a hike set your body up to build on your hard work!
- Veggie/fruit snacks can deal with temporary hunger when you’re not ready for a protein, and I find they always taste better when I’m sweating on a mountain with a view!
Weather & the Environment
- I’ve got a quick-to-grab hiking bag filled with gear like a cheap emergency poncho, mosquito repellent, a small first aid kit, and a flashlight for any hike. If you’re not a serial hiker though, I’d recommend looking up the weather beforehand and picking a nice day!
- If you’re not sure what the temperature is going to be, a number of thin layers can help you modulate your heat. Make sure they can all fit in your pack (or tied around your waist!).
- On deep woods trips, I’ll also bring bear spray and play music or bring a friend to talk to - making continuous noise signals your position so you and the bears can stay away from each other. Some hikers will use bells that jingle as they walk as well.
- If you’re taking on a proper hike you’ll want to stretch your leg muscles out so they’re ready for the journey. I’ll usually take the first checkpoint slow to let my body get started, and stretch there.
- You can look up a more thorough warm up menu online, but for a casual hiker I would focus on stretching your legs, ankles and core. I find a good lunge session pretty satisfying!
- Let someone know that you’re going on a hike and where you’ll be, in case an emergency comes up and you get stuck out there.
- Leave only footprints and take only pictures, as any responsible hiker would!
Pick the Location
When I’m picking a hike for the day, I’ll think about what kind of experience I’m after. Some days I want a light stroll with the smell of the trees, while other days I’m craving a real adventure. I’ll think of the trails in a few different ways:
- Nature walks: These are the trails that are nothing too heavy on the legs, for those days when I just need to feel dirt under my feet and see trees piercing the sky.
- Steady inclines: The trails that exist to teach my hamstrings a lesson. These hikes never go hard uphill but they never let up, and ride a fine line between challenging and satisfying. On the other hand, it’s always easy to turn around when you’re done for the day! (Bad knees can make the downhill tougher though, look out for that)
- Variety hikes: The trail has distinct sections, changing from mild uphills to flat trails, narrow paths to wide fields, these hikes are great when you want a bit of everything, a taste of the unexpected.
- Forest treks: The ground rises and falls with the ancient roots of massive trees. While you won’t fall off a cliff, just walking forward can be a challenge. Great for young explorers who want to try something harder while only risking a bruise or twisted ankle.
- Rocky climbs: The hikes where it’s not enough to just use your feet! With a bit of dexterity and dirt under the fingernails you can reach places fewer people get to see, but they can be a serious challenge if you’re not prepared.
- Off trail: The seasoned hiker may decide to find adventure beyond provincial parks and go into the woods where no trails are ready for them. Do your research, know the risks, always let someone know where you are, and bring proper emergency gear.
- The high rise: The upper lookouts are great for when you want to be way up a mountain and look out over the rolling hills below, seeing the city in a new light. Many trails will have a few lookouts and you can decide on the day how many you want to hit!
- A panoramic view: Some trails that make it to the top of a mountain give you a view of the area in every direction and there’s nothing like it. Having a picnic with a view like that is a great way to spend a day-long trek. Time to break out the high quality phone camera ;)
- The deep forest: There’s something special about the atmosphere in the forest when all you can see in every direction are trees. It’s often hard to say you’ve arrived at your destination, but that’s part of the fun…
- Landmark: Hiking out to a waterfall or a river for a swim, historic railroads, a beautiful canyon, a geocache, a burned out forest, or a long lost plane crash can all make for a wonderfully distinct memory and photo op. I like setting an ambitious late spring or summer hike and working my way up to it - that way every hike is part of a season long story!
Other Ways to Enjoy Hikes
What I love about hikes is that they don’t have to be just one thing done one way, there are as many approaches to enjoying the fresh air journey as you can muster, and here are a few more of mine:
- Following the plot: I like thinking about the story structure of a mountain. The opening act… hints at the set up, does this mountain have twists and turns in the story as you weave through the forest or slowly reveal the plan as you climb one mountainside with the same ever-rising view?
- Changing your understanding: There are a few hikes that have radically altered how I view the Okanagan Valley where I’ve grown up. Sometimes the right view at the right time just clicks and the world is shaped differently than it was before.
- Micro-hiking: While I do enjoy an ambitious all-day affair, I find a lot of joy in just 20min-1hr hikes throughout the week. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where the dirt trails are a short drive away in every direction, and it’s part of why I love BC.
- Flora appreciation: Getting outdoors and on an adventure is a great way to stumble across all kinds of trees and flowers that can be truly striking and lovely, I really enjoy catching an unexpected colour and just taking a moment to rest and “smell the roses”.
Hike How You Want!
These are all just thoughts to help kick off the hiking season - what really matters in the end is hiking the way that works best for you!
If you want to drive out totally unprepared and retreat 15 minutes into the mountain but you had a blast catching the scenery on the road with that hike destination in mind, then that’s a good day. Daydreaming about hiking all summer but only making it into the woods once for an August-long-weekend big trip can be very rewarding, as can micro-hiking every week from May through August.
Stay safe, tie those dirt coated shoelaces tight, and I’ll see you on the mountainside!
As a bonus, here are a few hiking pictures I’ve taken around the valley...