One thing I’ve learned over the years of living an active Whistler lifestyle is that you can’t be the best at everything. Some folks can, but the rest of us aren’t so inherently talented that we can pick up a new pursuit and be an expert in a matter of weeks.
It’s for that reason I try to keep my outdoor playbook relatively small; skis in the winter, bikes in the summer. I’ll even keep a harness and a pair of climbing shoes on hand in case a friend is looking for a chill afternoon at the crag. No paddling, no kite surfing, no paragliding, no beer league softball or beach volleyball. But an activity I feel like I should be great at (and am definitely not that great at), is hiking. I’ve heard—and recited—many of the reasons why I don’t enjoy it as much as my other activities, including (but not limited to):
- It takes so much time to get anywhere;
- Walking back down the mountain sucks;
- I could be having so much more downhill fun on my bikes or my skis;
- It’s too mainstream. Crowded trails ruin the experience.
Plenty of folks agree with the above points, but having been convinced to join people on some truly spectacular hikes in the past, I’ll counter with:
- It has one of the lowest barriers to entry with gear;
- It makes you slow down, stop and smell the (wild)flowers;
- It still requires a reasonable amount of fitness, especially on trails in the Sea to Sky;
- You can access backcountry that can’t be accessed any other way.
Let’s start with the pain points. The downhill travel is definitely an anticlimax of mountain hikes. You’ve put in your effort to get to summit, ridge or alpine lake. You’ve basked in the glorious views and vibes of the alpine. Now you just need to spend the next few hours getting back down, often on the same trail and terrain you ascended, so there’s not much new going on. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hiking down the Wedgemount Trail, you’ll know that the relentless toe-bang and impact on your knees quickly moves the exit day into the Type 2 Fun category. There’s not much that can be done about this, but for terrain as steep as Wedge, I’ve found a collapsible pair of ski or splitboard poles invaluable to alleviate that pain and frustration. Selecting a route or trail that loops can also help with the monotony of covering the same ground twice, but this shouldn’t be attempted unless there’s a designated trail to do so.
I’ve done enough ski touring and hike-a-biking that I’m OK with the slower going uphill, but it’s the long flats and traverses that get me while hiking, especially under load. This is where shoes and clothing can make a big difference. I prefer hiking boots to low-top shoes since my slightly pigeon-toed feet (and ingrained clumsiness) inevitably try to roll my ankles.
Crowds can be off-putting, but that just means you need to do a bit more research, get a 4x4 vehicle and start exploring. Getting off the beaten trails of BC Parks takes a lot more preparation and often means camping a night or two to make the trip worth the effort. But if you do your homework and nail a good weather window, it is most definitely worth it.
That’s the thing with hiking; with the exception of getting lost or having to travel through arduous terrain, the harder your effort, the more you’re rewarded with. Skiing and biking rely on so many other factors, such as how far a trail builder was able to get out into the boonies or how safe a slope is to actually ski.
I haven’t done any of the big classic hikes such as the West Coast Trail, Sunshine Coast Trail or Howe Sound Crest Trail, but I haven’t written them off, either. My challenge is allocating the time and effort into planning the exciting hikes and then embracing the slow-paced travel the same way I do with skis and bikes. Mountaineering adds a whole other level of excitement to the trip, but can also add a lot of required skills, gear and risk.
Like all mountain activities, hiking needs mileage to stay in shape. Attempting 20 kilometres in a single day with a multi-day pack off the couch will have you hating life, no matter how fit you are in other sports. Work your way up accordingly.
Spring has been kind to us thus far. Let’s hope the summer gives us similar weather opportunities for some spectacular hiking.
Vince Shuley can take a hike. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram @whis_vince.