September 11, 2020


 Last Sunday I went out on an outdoor jaunt with two friends, Bill and Pat.  It was a grand day in the mountains - getting up above cloud inversions, surveying from afar the peaks of Squamish and those much more distant,  sampling numerous blueberries and huckleberries, chatting up a storm on topics ranging from religion to ultra running to politics to the merits of Sour Patch Kids (I am a recent convert).  We spent some 13h45 on the trails and mountains and covered some 26kms/ 16 miles.  I can already see some of your brows furrowing and you shifting uncomfortably in your seats.  'Just how did they go THAT slowly?"  And that is me being on the optimistic side - Bills watch said 26k, mine said a mere 22k - which would mean that we pretty much moved at a pace of one little lonely mile per hour.

Sure, we bumped into Eileen and her friend Shawn so spent a good 15 minutes chatting and taking group photos for one another, and yes - on one peak we spent maybe 10 minutes looking for the whisky cache (more to come later - it's a North Shore thing), and on another peak we took a few minutes ensuring that we were on the actual peak (which is not as odd as it sounds) but other than that - no long picnic lunches, no lengthy swims in mountains tarns, no mountain meadow siestas in the sun, just plodding along steadily and with purpose - and that got us at a pace of a hair over one mile/ hour.  Welcome to North Shore peak bagging!

In recent years, 'peak bagging' has become more and more popular locally - in a similar vein to Colorado's 14ers (peaks that are 14, 000ft or more) some locals have come up with a list of some 84 or so distinct peaks on Vancouver's North Shore.  The concept I guess was mostly the brain child of David Crerar and others and with the publication of their book (The Glorious Mountains of Vancouver's North Shore) and the Bagger Challenge Facebook page more and more have followed in their footsteps.  The ambitious and foolhardy (or those who don't work 9 to 5) may attempt to summit all 84 or so peaks in one summer season, for others it's a lifetime project.  I guess I fall somewhere in between - and in fact I am not even registering the peaks I have attained on the official register - instead I am smugly summiting peaks without a care for outside recognition from my peers ... tho looking back I did do three Instagram posts based on last Sundays outing alone, so I guess I am indeed in search of a little back patting and kudos from the online world.  Heck, why not - 13h45 on the trail - and it was an 12k cycle each way on a non-motor road to get to the trail!  Even in mid summer this would be a headlamp outing. 

The reason that peak bagging tends to be a relatively miserable pace per hour affair mostly comes down to the word 'peak' - significant vert usually makes up for the piddly mileage total.  For example in last weeks 26ish km adventure Bills and my watches agreed on vert - it was something north of 3000m.  Not bad.  I think these stats are now making it abundantly obvious that this is NOT trail running - at times it is trail hiking but routinely it is blueberry bushwhacking and heather slope scrambling - no established trails,  some rough goat tracks (though sadly I have yet to see a mountain goat on these adventures), and an occasional fixed rope pull up some rocks (for which I am always very grateful to those who have installed the ropes).  It's rough, it's steep, it's technical, it's a lot of fun.  And somewhere along the line someone decided to make this a lot more fun by starting the tradition of whisky caches, so it's not unusual that as we huff and puff out way up the final metres of a summit we ask one another, 'Does this one have any single malt?' and then the group spreads out, turning over rocks and cairn piles often to be rewarded with some Macallans or similar.  (Side note - it's COVID times so hygiene is a must, bring your own mug, safety first!)

And whilst peak bagging is becoming all the rage here in our local mountains it's worth remembering that we are far from the pioneers in this task.  I couldn't but help think that I was treading in the footsteps of some of the women who were part of the group to first ascend Mount Dickens in 1908.  And one can only assume that First Nations folks explored these mountain summits long before the Europeans came.  I slightly over dressed last week in 3/4 tights and my HOKAs got damp in the mud from recent dew, but I was sure as anything impressed by Elizabeth Creech, Mary Fowler, Miss Wickwire and the men of the first ascent - long skirts, wool pants and leather boots were no doubt their attire of some 112 years ago as they made it to the heady 1300m summit.  I doubt they had CLIF drink or Sour Patch Kids to fuel them either.

So instead of following the ethos of my favourite website iRunFar, I have found that iHikeSlowly can be a lot of fun too.