New outdoor guidebooks keep wanderers on track

August 26, 2008

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

A massive public campaign led to the creation of Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park in 1995.

Well-written guidebooks are worth their weight in time—as in, time well spent consulting one in advance of an adventure. That’s particularly true here in B.C., where, from one year to the next, roads are washed out by monsoon rains and new trails appear under the aegis of local stewardship groups.

At the same time, new parks mushroom in urban regions and, on a larger scale, within the vast wilderness that lies beyond sidewalk’s end. Whether you’re looking for an afternoon bike ride or a weeklong backcountry traverse, two recently published outdoor guides make ideal companions for summer exploration.

Gordon White originally published Stein Valley Wilderness Guidebook in 1991. In 1995, a 107,191-hectare provincial park was created, during the waning months of Mike Harcourt’s NDP government. The Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park, west of Lytton, came about after two decades of hard-fought lobbying by a coalition of conservation groups and First Nations. Interviewed at his North Vancouver home, White spoke with the Georgia Straight about the significance of that achievement.

“In terms of First Nations’ rights and wilderness protection on a grassroots level, the Stein is one of the great success stories in Canadian history,” White affirmed. “The park’s creation came from a kaleidoscope of groups working together.”

Indeed, one of the major themes that echo through the freshly updated edition is that the Stein Valley would not have received official protection without massive public support. White devotes an entire chapter in his exhaustively researched Stein Valley Wilderness Guidebook (Selcouth Publishing, $24.95, http://www.sandhillbooks.com/cgi-bin/sandhillbooks/00084.html) to the larger topic of the politics of wilderness protection in this decade, as focused through that lens. Suffice it to say that what was achieved in the Stein has come to serve as a template for future successes.

“In part, I used the first edition as a soapbox to make the case for preserving the entire Stein watershed,” he said. “The new edition addresses the threat of underfunding. Between the Glen Clark and Gordon Campbell governments, funding to B.C. provincial parks has been reduced by 40 percent over the past decade.”

During the same time, White observed that public apathy replaced activism. “There’s more cynicism about the political process now than in the 1980s and ’90s. People have to get reconnected.” How is that going to happen? “By getting out and experiencing wilderness paradises like the Stein, and more especially in northern B.C. in places like the Chilcotin, the Taku, the Skeena, and the Stikine headwaters. There are some big wilderness issues up there.”

White noted that, to B.C. Parks’ credit, since the establishment of the Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park, river crossings have been improved in the protected area, bear-proof food lockers have been installed from the lower valley to the alpine, and much of the trail network damaged or obliterated by forest fires in the upper canyon in 1996 has recently been brushed out.

Despite washouts in 2003 on the Lizzie Lake Forest Service Road, which once allowed trekkers to drive to the park’s western approach near Mount Currie, a new 12-kilometre trail now leads around the worst-affected areas. “Sure it adds an extra day to a visit, but I’m trying to let people know how very pleasant the new trail is,” White said with obvious delight.

The same enthusiasm for exploring new routes infuses Whistler Mountain Bike Guide, by Brian Finestone and Kevin Hodder (Quickdraw Publications, $23.25, http://www.quickdrawpublications.com/index.htm). Finestone spoke with the Georgia Straight from the cab of his truck while inspecting trails in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, which he manages.

“Despite the fact that there are several detailed maps to bike trails around the valley, we saw a void in the self-guided–book market,” he explained. Finestone and Hodder previously identified a similar need among skiers and snowboarders: their two-volume trail guide to Whistler and Blackcomb grew out of experiences gained when the two worked as patrollers on the twin mountains during winter.

The latest project came when Finestone took up mountain biking after a hiatus of several years. “I had so many bikes stolen that I stopped riding for a while,” he said. “When I decided to get back into the saddle, I found it hard to find the trails I was hearing about. There’s been a meteoric rise in trail construction, but for many of them it’s sort of like lore. You have to find the right guy at the right bike shop, then follow his cryptic directions.”

In that respect alone, Whistler Mountain Bike Guide’s detailed descriptions, including photos and an easily understood profile of the rise and fall of each trail, represent a welcome change. “From die-hard to family trails, we covered 131 of the best bike routes on offer in Whistler, plus dirt jumps, and trials and skateboard parks. We even suggest linkups of various trails for those looking for ultra-savage, epic rides,” Finestone said.

The Whistler Valley has an interlacing network of municipal, commercial, and rogue bike trails that run the gamut from paved greenways to rocks-and-roots single track, but Finestone and Hodder’s guide achieves the feat of turning the mysterious into the familiar at a glance. Icons indicate things like sections of slippery rock and man-made stunts, which proves enormously helpful when you’re planning a ride, as does the inclusion of GPS data.

With Whistler Mountain Bike Guide at hand, there’s no excuse for getting lost in the woods or hung out to dry on Comfortably Numb, Finestone’s favourite new trail. Now if he can just keep light-fingered thieves away from his bike, all that research will have been worthwhile.

You needn’t venture far — or overnight — for adventure

August 26, 2008

You needn’t venture far — or overnight — for adventure

Dana Gee, The Province

Text CR Dana Gee
Photo CR Louise Christie

Published: Monday, August 18, 2008
Original Article

Plain and simple, my idea of camping is no room service.

Now I know that sounds like something a spoiled princess would say, but really, it’s just something someone who doesn’t like to carry heavy things on her back and be dirty would say.

But just because I have no desire to zip myself into a sleeping bag doesn’t mean that nature is out of the question. I am a fond sampler of the great outdoors — I just like to do it one day at a time and have a roof over my head when I am finished.

So that in mind, the Vancouver area is the perfect place for low-impact adventurers like myself to enjoy recreation-based day trips.

“You can do everything year round,” says Jack Christie, a Vancouver-based recreation and travel journalist. “I don’t think there is a better place than Vancouver.”

Christie, the author of 52 Best Daytrips from Vancouver, says the day-trip opportunities are growing every day.

“I think it’s a sign of our times,” says Christie. “It’s kind of like the slow-food movement. You know, eating food from nearby. It’s a slow-travel movement. People want to explore closer to home.”

Christie and his photographer wife, Louise, travel every week of the year. Sometimes they go far, but most of the time it’s day trips such as the one they took to Squamish recently.

“We kept going from one thing to another and really thought this town was far out,” says Christie about rediscovering his old Howe Sound friend.

The pair hiked, paddled, swam and walked the Squamish Estuary.

“We did all this and didn’t even do some of our favourite things, like riding our bikes,” says Christie, who suggests people check out the Squamish Adventure Centre (www.adventurecentre.ca). “I couldn’t believe the choices — that’s what is great.”

A favourite choice of Christie’s is even closer to home.

“The great thing about living here is the number of regional parks,” Christie says of the 24 parks in and around the Lower Mainland.

“Everyone really has a regional park almost right out their back door.”

Like Christie, Brian Jones, the director of the Squamish-based Canada West Mountain School (www.themountainschool.com) — who this past spring reached the summit of Mount Everest, giving him No. 7 in his seven-highest-summits-on- seven-continents quest — loves the day-trip possibilities our location presents.

“I like the region because of the access to mountains, other recreation and that there are still relatively few people out there, even in the popular areas,” says Jones, whose favourite climb of the seven was the 4,884-metre-high Carstensz Pyramid in Papua Indonesia.

“[This area] is so much better than other parts of the world, especially Europe. I have been on every continent in the world and I haven’t found another place like this.”

Jones, who averages three international trips a year, says that, when he’s home, he’s “out locally all the time.”

“I haven’t discovered what my threshold for cabin fever is yet because I’m always out.”

For a list of day trips, product guides and safety tips, go to www.theprovince.com/doitbetter.