Monday, 10 May 2021

Double Review: "Destination Hikes" and "Backpacking" in SW BC.

Within the same month, 2 highly anticipated local hiking guidebooks are being released by the same publisher:

Destination Hikes in and Around Southwestern British Columbia by Stephen Hui
Backpacking in Southwestern British Columbia by Taryn Eyton

Along with Hui's earlier "105 Hikes", these books could almost be seen as a series and combined, some of the latest entries into the local guidebook market (Vancouver and beyond) for their areas. As a guidebook collector, and self-proclaimed book bagger I aim to help you decide if these books are worthy of your hiking dollars.

Before proceeding (if not a spoiler alert), for full disclosure I know Stephen Hui and the mapping specialist for both of his books and have met Eyton at least once. In other words, this "review" could be seen as biased but if I didn't feel these books were a great addition to anyone's collection, I'd likely choose not to write anything at all.  That said,... if I think there is room for improvement somewhere, or something that might not appeal to others, I'll try to qualify that and say it.

My Background:
I own a sizable library of local outdoor recreation guidebooks spanning form the early 70s to... today.  These books cover mostly BC and Washington, and beyond that, only select US based hiking areas in the Southwest.  Although I'm "semi-retired" from going at it aggressively, I've completely "book bagged" a handful of these and have found it a great way to ensure I see a nice variety of locations for my precious hiking hours.
I also subscribe to many of the more common online resource providers as part of my toolkit for seeking GPS tracks and recent conditions (Livetrails, All Trails, Viewranger and more).
In 2002 I started with my friends and the organization has propelled several thousand group adventures over the last 2 decades.

Review: Backpacking in Southwestern British Columbia by Taryn Eyton

I was really pleased to hear about this book coming out because most recent SW BC guidebooks go very light on the camping specific details. Almost all current publications assume you can make an assault on a summit and return in one day and would figure out the rest yourself should you want to stay the night.  The fact is, the greatest adventures I've experienced tend to have involved a 2nd day and a ton of the unknown details for those trips emerged from the camping logistics (water, regulations, etc.).  Spending downtime with your friends, looking at the stars, and cooking a meal together is really superior to just hiking and it is about time someone assembled this book.

My first impression of this book is that the formatting looks very, very similar to Hui's original 105 Hikes and latest book. Well,.. there is a reason for that, it is the same publisher and the same design team and frankly, .. I like that. Hui's book had a great aesthetic and logic for a functional guide, plus I don't want to relearn my way around.  It has all of the standard disclaimers and intro chapters but I think Eyton's is a bit shorter but more informative than most (please everyone,.. read her Leave No Trace section). Formatting may seem like a boring thing to look at but for guidebooks,.. it matters (just ask anyone about Dawn Hanna's elevation profiles instead of maps...).

That all being the case, the other Greystone books aren't identical in layout and the differences are important and well chosen on Eyton's part. In fact, between Eyton and Hui, I think the formatting is approaching "perfection" for my tastes but here are the formatting "innovations" I've found so far I think really add to Backpacking:

The trip planner: How many times have I wished for a km by km breakdown of the trail I'm hiking (junctions, landmarks etc.) instead of sifting through paragraphs of text and sometimes even writing my own summary? A lot. This book has them.  Hallelujah.

Itemized Key Details: Both in the individual trail sections and the handy summary table, Eyton lets you know if a given location has fees, dog leash regulations, number of camping pads or cabin bunks, and more. More importantly, they are separated out form the other text.  This is huge!  I don't think any guide book in my collection does as good a job as this one in this regard. 
Will dog owners and the new instagrammers heed these warnings? Fuck no! But as a rule follower I like to know what is deemed ok in a sensitive area so I can at least feel smug and superior as I try to sleep in my tent listening to someone else's portable stereos and crackling brush fire.

Best months: Ooohhh! Controversial!!  Safety nuts love to debate this one.  Of course we should all look at the conditions whenever we plan to go somewhere but the author had the guts to go 20 years back and include "optimal months".  I think this is important.  Yes snow might never recede somewhere in a given year but help people narrow it down at least.  Better yet, maybe really help out the novices that often ping me about alpine destinations once they have experienced an unseasonably warm March day at sea level.  As a book bagger, I need some rough approximation to help me plan a year of trips and Eyton does this (thanks for having the guts!).

If I had to pick one knock against this book, I'd have to look hard, but it might be that the selection of trips. Take a random group of seasoned Vancouver backpackers that has been at it for a while and ask them to list the 40 most common destinations,.. and you'd have a very high correlation with the TOC of this book.  For me, 8 of 40 I had not already done and only 2 of them I'd not at least researched (or heard of).

Although I think I was selfishly hoping for more fresh discoveries... there is a reason for that. Eyton made what I assume had to be a hard choice,.. on top of an ethical one to craft this selection.  She very clearly in the first pages of her book defines why she has selected certain hikes over others. I won't repeat the whole list (you need to buy the book for that!), but I'll highlight the ones I'm referring to above:

4X4 not required: For those that know hiking in BC, you will know how limiting this might be. This is the hard choice I refer to above. With only space for 40 trips, it would be shame to have people buy the book and be able to hike only 30... Eyton had to draw a line and chose no need for anything beyond 2WD access (or at worst combined with extra doable hiking distance that those blessed with clearance could shorten by driving).

Supported by Land Management: By this she is saying that unless a government agency will ensure the habitat is protected she is not going to direct people to it. This usually means tent pads and toilets (though not always).  That is a tough and limiting choice. Eyton is a trained educator in Leave No Trace adventuring and knowing that, this tough choice to exclude some real eye poppers and smells of one thing: integrity. I can get behind that. I often wonder if these books are part of the problem with overrun trails and personally have some guilt along those lines for my part in propelling group travel in the region through Wanderung. I don't think that written the way it is, this book does anything but make the right choices in that regard and attempt to educate those that simply may not be aware.

Lastly, on this topic, I need to remember that not since Brian Gover's BC Car-Free or perhaps some of the Copeland's books has anyone really given camping specific details much lip service.  In other words, of course this book should be rolling out the classics, it is the most current and most foundational resource out there (now) on this topic locally. Do you know anyone with a thoroughly researched recent account of the details you need to hike the whole Howe Sound Crest Trail? I don't.

I think the way to think about this book is that if you are a Vancouverite into backpacking or getting into it,.. it might be a one stop shop for your regional "rite of passage" trips and if you complete all of them... I'm hoping Eyton has volume 2 lined up.

Review: Destination Hikes in and Around Southwestern British Columbia by Stephen Hui

The author may not appreciate my first comment here but: though Destination Hikes is not officially a follow-up to 105 Hikes,.. it sort of is.

Not unlike bonus levels in a favourite video game, Hui's latest release has a very familiar format, and when one of the old 103 Hikes previous edition classics appears such as Diez Vistas or The Sisters (Lions),.. it is hard to deny that this book feels like a sequel.  But,.. I loved Star Wars and that doesn't mean Empire wasn't also awesome (my review of 105 Hikes here).

I'm going to start by just saying if you liked the original, or hiking around here in general.. buy it.  There are differences which I'll outline below but nothing that should sway a buying choice.

105 Hikes brought many improvements over the earlier Macaree and Bryceland editions and they continue here:

  • advances in affordable colourized printing
  • land acknowledgements and forewords by BC's first people
  • handy tables and checklists
  • more...
There are key differences and I think they all make sense.  For starters, the purpose of this work is less about continuing the tradition set by the Macarees for hikes of a certain range of difficulty and length.  I'm pretty certain Hui took some heat for slipping in some sub-5 hour hikes of minimal stats in 105 from the orthodox BCMC hardcores.  Destinations claims to focus on payoffs, not kms, for each trail, which breaks from the tradition of killing yourself to climb 8 hours of mud to only see a grown over view that you could beat by biking up Little Mountain.

Also being free of the shackles of the 103 Hikes lineage allowed Hui to write - gasp, more than 2 pages per hike! Included in that are what in my opinion are much better (and larger) photos than what surfaced in 105 Hikes. I guess the extra 50 hikes sops up some space!

Two edition "innovations" that must be noted are the Feature Icons and the Stops of Interest boxes:

Feature icons summarize at the top of the title page of the hike what you stand to see by doing this hike. Colourfully coded circles with google maps style icons will indicate "Big tree", "Waterfalls", "Coastal views", "Wildflowers" and more.  The only way to improve on that is a magical book that can dynamically tell you when the bugs are hitting!  These items are what I call the "gravy" for your sweat and blisters and it also can feed into planning.  Nothing is worse that executing a hike and not being aware that it is known for wildflowers or a waterfall and timing that wrong as you buddy shows some amazing photo 3 weeks later.

Stops of Interest really is where Destinations becomes about,.. destinations. As a prolific trip organizer in my day I always wanted to make sure we made a full day of it wherever we went.  Hell, this is our leisure time so I don't want to drive to Chilliwack and deadhead it back - we were travelling as much as we were hiking.  A great pub or pull-over viewpoint was always welcome and Stephen Hui has injected yellow boxes into every destination's section to indicate exactly those kinds of sites for the area you have decided to adventure.  Othello Tunnels, Alexandra Bridge, or a plethora of museums and cultural centres.  No pubs or bakeries, but no one is perfect.

This book is a great addition to your library and will fill hours as you sit inside on a rainy day and dream out your upcoming adventures.


Something I've not addressed here is the utility of hiking books,.. at all. There are great electronic resources out there, especially where mapping is concerned so has the guidebook gone the way of the dodo?  I don't think so. 

Online content is more accessible than ever and expanding almost as rapidly as,.. crappy and irresponsible writers.  I've read online reports with: illegal acts, environmentally destructive acts, and all variety of trail information that is incorrect.  Search and Rescue calls these days almost regularly say "the person was following bad instructions on their cell phone". 

Between Steve Chapman's verified maps and the thorough and recent research done by these authors,.. I think you are in better hands with books like these as a base than someone that jotted down their best memory of the trail after trail running it. With books you can also calibrate your fitness level based on previous usages,.. you have no idea what you are in for with online content (a braggart trail runner, or someone dragging along a child...?).

Clearly, I've enjoyed what I've seen in these books.  I also just enjoy thinking of my friends and acquaintances that are newer to hiking and how both books give them well thought out options where to go with some context to go there safely and responsibly.

I urge people to not do what I normally do and skip the intro sections... they are worthy of your time.  Now more than ever it is evident that new hikers are needing a north star regarding caring for these amazing trails we have and these books could serve to raise that awareness.

Buy them.  Buy them both. And don't rule out an e-book version which can be good for printing and especially if you are backpacking, convenient to carry along with your novels while your paper copy sits nice and dry at home to be lovingly flipped through in the off-season.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

My 2020 in Review

Every year I like to take that rainy stretch near New Year's to look back at what we got up to, set some goals, and see if we delivered on our intentions from the previous year.   I do this mostly for myself and sometimes re-read earlier years. I also like to share it with friends and family that might be interested walking down a recent "memory lane".

The way I worded it in 2017: "It is both a time to remember "oh ya! we did that THIS year?", and also a means to inspire ourselves to do more of the things we like, and better, and not become complacent. It also, in some years like this one, is a reminder of how short life can be and a chance to honour the passing of important people or institutions."

I'm not sure why but I didn't do this in 2019 (and I wish I did). I do have a running record of our activities and it seemed like a "normal" year, with no loss of family or friend, manageable health, and an increased participation in some little hobby interests (eg. participating as a citizen in many phases of the Granville Street bridge public consultation).

2020 Overview

I always try to do the "if x was the year of travel/graduation/new job, 2020 was the year of y".  There is just no ways around it, it was the year of COVID-19.  It changed how we worked, it cramped our main hobbies and it took the life of at least one loved one.

That said, a few minor things went our way.  We decided to take an early vacation to Nevada, California and Utah right before COVID kicked into gear, so ended up not feeling as deprived of adventure as many. However, even before that, in January we had several losses on the friend and family side.

The rest of the year was like a roller-coaster as it was for everyone else and we lost more family and friends as we tried to just get through the year injecting as much local adventure in where we could and keeping our own stress levels in check.  We really needed to change our patterns but it was a very anti-social year, and in many ways we achieved new levels of inactivity and boredom. Trump will not be talked about in the sections below btw.  So here goes.

My select chronological set of cell phone pics from the year.

Friends and Family

I'm going launch right into this one as it was mostly not a positive.  Like everyone, we saw far too little of our friends and families. We definitely took liberties when the health officer allowed us to lower our guard but on so many levels this was the opposite direction for what we wanted as we feel negligent typically in this area in "normal" years. 

In early January, my aunt Jean passed away (my mother's sister). This was early enough that a proper service was held which I'm very thankful for (especially for my uncle Lorne and my cousins).  She was a very nice woman, and someone I only have fond memories of, many through the words of my own mom.  

Shortly after that, a junior co-worker of mine from a previous job of mine decided to take his own life. This was someone I bonded with during my time at that job and thought about often afterwards (before and after he died).  I still don't quite know why, but of the many deaths I'll associate with 2020, this one may have hit me hardest. His death occurred right as the fear and confusion around COVID started kicking in. A celebration of life would have happened if just a week or so earlier but never did occur. This was just the first of many such events that never happened this year for our family and I feel really complicates closure. 

In March, Laura's father (Dick Langs) passed away unexpectedly.  The effects of not being able to be with her mother or have a formal event are still unfolding. 
During one of the low alert periods we did drive to Nelson and joined the bubble of her sister's family but we were all so desperate to just enjoy that, we didn't unpack Dick's passing much and perhaps that was the right thing at that time.

Laura's father was someone I did not get to know as much as I would have liked, but I feel fortunate to have had as a father-in-law. I never felt judged by this super kind man (which seems like a thing that happens to other men).  I feel there were common interests that we never got to discuss due to limited time. There is a lesson in there somewhere. An eye-opener for me was how strong my wife is as I watched her cope with the waves of emotions.  Her journey with this is not over but I am amazed at the grace with which she handles it and am pleased she now "Zooms" with her mom almost daily which is a positive new thing that came of all of this.  My wife never met my mother, so it not wasted on me that the few meetings I had with her dad are precious.

My aunt Liesbeth (my dad's sister) passed away in May. She had health challenges but it still was a rapid chain of events from what I understand. She also was a gentle soul and being younger than my dad, added to a bit of selfish anxiety for me regarding him. Being in Ontario and someone that didn't travel much, we didn't know her well, but she always felt like family as soon as we were in the same room.  I don't know how my dad is dealing with it but I should probably ask.  The thing is just that these days we always try to share positives to keep each other buoyant and it just feels weird to bring it up.

Right under the wire of 2020 ending a very distant acquaintance now, but someone part of my once tight BCIT class and still in my work network, passed. He was young, possibly depressed, and for some reason it added to the feeling this was just a shit year for certain things. It was like the other bookend to how 2020 started.

Although it was kind of spotty, we did manage to get out for some trips with friends to the mountains or an alfresco meal between lockdowns, but it was just way too little and I miss this social pillar of our lives.

Needless to say - when possible, we aim to see more of our family and friends.  I feel generally more distant to all of them and I do not want that stretch of time to pass where it is even harder to reconnect.  This is a priority for 2021.


I need something light,...let's talk about what we did this year that aligns with our usual objectives.  Travel is one of our biggest shared hobbies and we love planning, executing, and remembering it. 

We could not have timed our "biggest international" trip better.  COVID was being talked about when we were in Vegas, but not before.  We sort of categorize trips as either big ones (Europe, Asia etc.) or small ones which would even include Hawaii maybe and certainly week long max US city trips like Chicago,.. or maybe a longer BC roadtrips.  Las Vegas turned out to not just be our biggest trip of the year,.. but it behaved like one.

Honestly, I though it was going to be a throw away. Laura had never seen Vegas and it seemed time, but I hate the place... Somehow it was an amazing trip.  We did the highlights of Vegas cheeze, but the extended trips from the hub were phenomenal and some 'sites of a lifetime'  for sure. I am so grateful that we fit this one in when we did (photos).  I love desert and think that people that go to Vegas and don't got further afield are nuts! This trip included:
  • The Strip highlights: Neon museum, Fat Elvis 
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Mojave Nation Preserve
  • Zion National Park
  • Valley of Fire
  • Beatles Cirque du Soleil
  • A random brunch with Laura's friend Rob!
From there, the year became what I think it did for many of us in BC (my co-workers in particular maximized this),.. a cat and mouse game of how to responsibly get out into BC when the authorities and communities were open to it. 

Even a basic car camping trip seemed like a precious treat, especially with the hoards flooding into the areas that WE tend to frequent historically in the summer (and the weird restrictions and booking systems that came along with COVID). Here is where we managed to get to:
  • Lac le Jeune - car camping
  • Manning Park - car camping and hiking
  • Whistler - with our friends Peter and Olivia when restrictions relaxed (with WAY too many other peple up there that simply did not give a shit)
  • Gibsons - just checking it out and keeping to ourselves
  • Nelson - to visit family and I did a longish rail trail ride (my only bike trip of the year!)

We only fit in one standalone backpacking trip (with Brenda, Andy, and Maria) and I'd say that was a situation of quality over quantity.  No bike trips,... which are often my faves so if there is a way in 2021 to safely do that,.. that will be a priority.

The other big trip was with Wendie and Pete to Yoho and Glacier National Parks including an overnight backpack trip on the Iceline trail. I had only ever been through that area on tour with my band in the 90s and wow was it an amazing place as was the roadtrip and cabin in Golden we stayed in.

Day Trips

More than ever, day trips (after work or weekends) played a big role in our mental well-being and maybe we "improved the system" a bit so I've broken that out as a separate thing. 

Without commuting to work as much we needed exercise so reasoned out that if we were working from home (and the same place) we can get on the road faster AFTER work (we also dramatically increased daily walking from and around our place).

This year we did far less of the 5+ hour hikes that usually shape our year and more of the short and local hikes including SFU based ones and some easy access North Shore hikes.  It was fun to re-aquaint ourselves with those and safer since we could not go in bigger numbers with people outside of our bubble.  We did tons, (like 2 a week at one point).

We also bought a proper bike rack so could drive further out for some new areas like Pitt Meadows and areas of Surrey for some exploring by bike.  These were great additions and something we want to do more of.

In both cases, we also started to get smarter about packing food which kicked off a renaissance of al fresco eating for us. This was one of the great take-aways of 2020 where we now bring dry padded seats with us everywhere (and a food kit), and enjoy the great outdoors more than ever for a nice lunch or dinner.


It is difficult to know where our work lives were going before COVID forced a right turn in everything.  There is no doubt that some of the content of what I did changed in part to the "how" we would work given provincial restrictions.  The business I work for serves the public so any growth trajectory was hit hard. We were able to stay open as the need for alternative transportation categorized us as a necessary service. However, this was not before we needed to conduct some temporary and permanent reductions unfortunately.

Like many companies this year, employment related government subsidies were well used by our management team (aka my manager) and thankfully my role was not impacted as a result.  The slowness of the world however was reflected in the type and content of work we got up to.  I volunteered to take a temporary 4 day work week at the tail end of the year. It just made sense and something I wanted to explore and understand about myself for down the road in life.

Laura's work also continued but unlike me, she remains working from home 100%. Because I'm 50% home now and for a month or so at the start was 100%,.. I'm amazed our arrangement worked so well right out of the gate.  With us both on calls etc. I would not have expected that.  Much of that is owed to Laura who seems content working in the "lesser workstation" in our apartment kitchen (IMO) which she can just pack up and hide away at the end of the day.

I never liked working from home in past jobs. I like the separation, but this exploration of that was not as bad as I thought. That said, whereas all the jokes are around what people do not get up to when unsupervised,.. I found myself initially doing longer days, taking no breaks and for the type of tasks I would chip away on,. it probably was not needed and went unnoticed. I'm a bit more ok with it than I used to be as a concept, but I don't feel the world is easily going back to non-permeable barriers between work and home time any time soon.  2021 feels quite up in the air on many fronts for me and my place of work so I don't want to speculate too much or bank too much on things going the way I want.

Our Extended World

A complete shake-up in the world triggered an array other noteworthy events and behaviours for us.

Wanderung (the hike club I started in 2002 and now semi-participate in as a board member), had to be paused. It is effectively a tool for connecting strangers in carpools.. so,.. kind of a no brainer, but after 18 years running, it did feel a bit odd knowing those group trips would not be happening and potentially keeping people safer. 

I had been getting more involved and interested in "urbanism" for lack of a better word so some of the changes to the city like pop-up-plazas, improvements in Stanley park for recreation, and opening up outdoor patios for restaurants were a welcome diversion and of great interest to me.  I've always felt that the city was not doing enough for people outside of their cars and hope some productive lessons have been learned and will lead to permanent changes.  I love street closures and more thoughtful use of public space.

The one project I was deeply following, blogging about, and attending engagement events for was the Granville Street Bridge improvement plan.  IMO, the opportunity is massive and it is the single most obvious impediment in fluid transportation across the city. In January of 2020 the unquestionable "best" option of several was chosen from the design choices. 2 months later, they had to de-scope it due to city budgets into phases (the second of which may never happen) and, to me, defeated the entire purpose of the key feature... removing gradient for unpowered vehicles (wheelchairs, pedestrians, bikes).  I'm still disappointed and feel this is short-sighted!  I think critics will have more legit ammo to knock the costs if it remains a half measure and we might see less positive sway for travel choices as a result.

We also endeavored to move the needle in the positive direction on our impact to the planet. We flew less, and drove less but I question if that was a really a deliberate choice that will stick. We carpooled less too... so presumably our friends were doing more trips with less people...

We bought more of our food from ethical sources such as Fisher Otto and a Sunnyside Farm CSA subscription. We also incorporated food  shopping into our daily routine which allowed making more smaller trips by foot, and closer by, and leaving the car at home. 

I can say we have gotten more into the concept of re-use and repair but that seems still like a tiny dent in the seemingly massive amount of garbage and recycling we seem to generate. The Soap Dispensary etc. is something we like to support but seems to have such a narrow scope and impact given our needs.  This needs more work in 2021 especially as I learn just how misleading current recycling systems in our area may be.

I was trying to reign in spending in general this year but not sure yet how that has gone as I did buy some big items that hopefully make 2021 less one of spending.


For us personally, this was not a year of notable injuries or illness (thankfully). That said, it was not a healthy year. The extra time generated by COVID did not translate to more home exercise at all,.. it has led to us consuming more online content than in the history of earth.  Contact me if you want Netflix recommendations...

I gained weight, got further out of shape, and do not feel great. Though I don't know how it happened,  we started to dabble in far less meat consumption. We are not vegans, or even vegetarians, but in 2019,.. we were major carnivores. Honestly, I do not feel any health benefits, in fact kind of the opposite, but I do think it is balancing out our diet better for variety, moderation, and the environment.  This year we did do way better on a goal we never pull off and that is expanding our repertoire of recipes. Our food planning and cooking has made a move in the right direction.

I feel generally that this year wore on people mentally more than they are acknowledging (and statistical markers all show this).  I've observed that others are not as sensitive to this as I feel they should be and some, completely unaware that people around them are struggling as much as they are. It doesn't seem as if they don't care, but they are failing to see it. I felt like I was doing fine up to a point but have to admit, I feel pretty fragile and listless so do hope for a better next year though I'm not expecting the flip of a calendar to trigger any meaningful movement in the root cause of all of this (even with a potential pandemic vaccine on the way for end of 2021).


Who the hell knows. That might be the real sign of how 2020 went,.. it seems hard to plan ahead and settle on a path. 

I feel that the conservative way to view vaccines is to expect, at best, by 2022 we can be social and travel more. The job loss and economic toll on governments will be in full force by then though and I for one do not underestimate the magnitude of that at all. For that reason, I am cautious about making too many plans. To think otherwise feels too optimistic.

My goals this year will be a bit fortune-cookie-ish:
  • Keep flexible - roll with it, expect nothing but seize opportunity to mix things up
  • Stay healthy - every year I fail to really get in shape but I need to address a few issues including this golf ball in my shoulder.  I must turn around my exercise lethargy, especially for my joints.
  • Communication - with friends and family far more frequently.  We are getting isolated.  Games nights, etc.
  • Keep the following trends on the DOWNWARD trajectory:
    • driving (and fuel consumption)
    • spending on non-essential or non-experiential things
    • animal based product consumption
  • Keep the following on the UPWARD trajectory:
    • Batch cooking.
    • Alfresco dining (and having the supplies with us).
    • Daily walks.
  • Bike trips before all else (when safe and acceptable)
  • Understanding CoV waste processes and improve our impact