Mission successful: We are back!

LP1110929The Secret Coast Expedition was a success! We paddled in to Chestermans Beach, Tofino, yesterday, and landed our kayaks near the Wickaninnish Inn – where the Inn’s Managing Director Charles McDiarmid and staff greeted us with a tray of champagne glasses and a bottle of bubbly. Let me tell you, that was a very nice way to return to civilization.


There were so many unknowns, heading out to Vancouver Island’s remote and nearly uninhabited central west coast for a month – and, for the most part, everything went really well. I had done my work in the planning, and it really paid off – in everything from the route design to the food packing to the travel logistics (our float plane and motor boat connections). Once out there, we had pretty much no contact with anyone (we had handheld VHF radios, so we could contact passing boats – if we saw one – and the lighthouses – if we were within range). So everything had to be planned and committed to well in advance. And all went really well!


And then there was the weather – another unknown. We were extremely fortunate. We had some very high winds, day and night, around our second week out – but that was on the hiking section. It was fatiguing to be in that constant wind, but it did not hamper our travel the way it would have if we had had that weather on the kayak section. We had some rain (what would a west coast trip be without rain? it would seem a fraud!). But we had nowhere near the amount of rain that Vancouver Island’s west coast is capable of dumping.


Yesterday, my dear kayaking friend and Tofino author, Joanna Streetly, paddled out to accompany us on our final kayak leg and to take some photos of us.

Many thanks to Joanna for the pix and the video, and to the Wickaninnish Inn crew for the amazing welcome – and many thanks to the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Spanish Embassy in Canada, as well as to our many industry sponsors. (Honestly – having quality gear made a HUGE difference to both our safety and our comfort out there. More to say about the hiking gear later – but for the paddling section our Kokatat paddling jackets and PFDs kept us safe, dry and comfortable, and our Aquabound graphite paddles were light yet strong: just what you need for long paddling days).

Here we are paddling past the Inn:


I now have thousands of photos to go through. We hiked with bears and camped with wolves and paddled with whales… we had some wonderful visits with the Nuu-chah-nulth people who still live on their traditional village sites… and there will be a lot more posted to this blog, as well as to our Twitter and to my Instagram site, over the coming weeks and months.


The tent: Why our ONLY option came down to the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL “Hotel”

LP1110320Wow, tents are such a difficult thing to figure out when venturing out into the wilderness. It needs to fit you (and whoever you are travelling with) comfortably. It definitely needs to withstand the wind and be dry in the rain. It’s nice if it’s big enough that you can sit up in it – but at the same time it needs to be light. But not so light that it is fragile and the fabric rips or the poles break.

Me in Patagonia last year, with the Big Agnes HV UL1 one-person.

Ack, how to choose!

Well Dave and I actually did a whole pile of this research a year and a half ago when I was heading down to Patagonia on a month-long solo trip. Patagonia summer starts in January, so we researched great one-person tents and Dave bought me the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV Ul1 for Christmas. (Or maybe it was actually Santa who gave it to me – I forget).

The main pole for the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 backpacking tent is a single piece: a hub with four parts sticking out from it (then one cross-ridge pole to insert after). Super-fast to set up.

Anyway, that tent totally performed. Yes, the fabric is delicate so you need to be careful (don’t set it up in a blackberry thicket or anything). But it does everything you want, balancing the needs for sturdiness and being lighweight as best as absolutely possible (considering that every move in one direction is a sacrifice in the other).

No! You don’t have to carry all of this! On YOUR left is the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 with regular fly – the lightweight option. But if you want the “hotel” fly (on YOUR right), you remove the regular fly from the pack and put that one in instead. Two great options!

So – we DID look at a lot of other brands when getting ourselves outfitted for The Secret Coast. Reviewed a lot of specs and read even more reviews. And once again – Big Agnes was the only choice. Especially when we saw the “hotel” option for the fly! Dave had wanted us to get a 3-person, so we could keep our packs inside – but I did not want the extra weight of a 3p tent. This “hotel” design means you have a 2-person tent for sleeping, but the giant vestibule (yes, a door on each side – but one of them has a huge living area) means we can keep our packs under cover when we sleep – AND have the option of cooking our meals under the fly if the weather gets a bit uncooperative.

So here are some pix of our trial test set-up of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Hotel tent! We have yet to sleep in it – but for ease of set-up and for packability it is already scoring really well!


¿Porqué la costa “secreta”?

¿Cuál es el secreto? El “secreto” es que la historia de los exploradores españoles aquí, en lo que hoy se llama el país de Canadá, es muy poco conocido.

SPAIN_A2-ROEn general, la gente piensa en la historia de colonización de Canadá en términos de los ingleses y los franceses. Pero aquí, en la costa oeste, la historia es muy diferente. De hecho, los primeros extranjeros que llegaron aquí, en lo que hoy se llama la Isla de Vancouver, y hicieron contacto con los indígenas, los Nuu-chah-nulth, fueron los españoles.

Este pequeño video explica el propósito de le expedición The Secret Coast (y por favor, que disculpen mi español – ¡no es mi primer idioma!). Y muchísimas gracias a la Embajada de España en Canadá y a Spain Culture Canada por su apoyo de nuestro proyecto de exploración.

On choosing the right gear for a wilderness expedition

Dave and I are going to be away from civilization for a month – departing June 9 and returning July 8. So it is super important that we have only the best quality gear on this expedition, both for the hiking section and for the kayaking section. Durability and ease of use is important the whole way through. And for the hiking section (which is three weeks), light weight and low volume are also priorities.

LDSC_0117We have a number of great sponsors who are providing us with gear – but I want to make it really clear that we are not using their products simply because we got it for free or at a discount. Free gear is no help to us if it doesn’t work or if it falls apart or if it’s too heavy! These are all products that we have researched and selected specifically for our needs (and also because, beyond the requirements of our month on the Secret Coast, they will serve us for years to come!).

Here’s a list of some of the products and equipment that we will be using – I will continue to update it as we work on our gear and with links to any posts or reviews we write:

Clothing and Footwear:

Arc’teryx: When travelling on the wet coast (oops, I mean west coast), rain gear is essential, no matter what time of year. But it’s so heavy! Not any more… Arc’teryx has a new “Zeta” line of ultralight Gore-tex gear – so we’ll each be carrying (and sometimes wearing) the Zeta hooded rain jackets and the amazingly lightweight Zeta rain pants.

Woolpower: Hmm, a month in the wilderness? Sounds stinky. Good thing wool (unlike synthetics) is naturally odour-resistant! So we will be wearing Woolpower undergarments: lightweight long johns and T-shirts, and thicker zip turtle-neck. This ability to dress in layers means that we don’t have to pack a lot of clothing with us!

LDSC_3854MEC long-sleeved shirts: We also need quick-drying synthetic shirts to protects us from the sun, and the lightweight MEC T1 long-sleeve crew-neck shirts (SPF 40!) will be fantastic for hiking and even better for paddling. (Here’s Dave trying his on).

Fjallraven hiking pants: Once again, we want to minimize how much clothing we are carrying – so pants with legs that zip off to become shorts are clearly our best option. Once we saw how durable the Fjallraven Keb Gaiter hiking pants are – no worries about them tearing them as we bush-bash! – this was our obvious choice.

Salomon boots: As ultrarunners, Dave and I have been wearing Salomon running shoes for a decade or more. And we wore Salomon hiking shoes when trekking in India. But we expect the terrain to be pretty rugged on this trip, and our packs are going to be very heavy, so we are opting for boots rather than hiking shoes. Our research pointed us to only one viable option that is both lightweight yet rugged: the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX. They are on order – can’t wait to break them in!

LP1110320Hiking and Camping Gear:

Big Agnes tent: I already have a Big Agnes one-person tent that I use for my solo trips. Dave and I spent all winter researching lightweight tents, and reading review. We need to balance light weight with durability, and also be sure that the tent will be dry. A new Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 (with the “hotel” fly, to store our packs) was our choice.

Trangia camp stove: I bought my first Trangia stove more than two decades ago. It still works perfectly – these are the most indestructible and fail-safe camp stoves! They burn alcohol rather than a gasoline-type fuel. However, we needed to size up for the two of us, so we got a new one.

Fjallraven backpacks: Once again, Fjallraven wins on the durability: strong materials for packs that can be chucked around and scratched by branches and dropped on rocks, coupled with clever design for accessing gear. Looking forward to receiving the Fjallraven Kajka backpacks (I’ll get the 75l, but Dave will get the 100l since he carries my camera gear) and to getting out on a shake-out hike!

LP1090573Kayaking gear:

Feathercraft kayaks: Too bad these kayaks are no longer made. They are the best design of folding kayaks I have ever seen (they handle like real kayaks, not like pointy rafts). I am very lucky to own two of them, which I treat with great care (since we cannot get replacement parts). Float planes will no longer strap kayaks to their floats – but we are able to transport these ones to our transition point folded up in their bags.

Aquabound paddles: For a combination of light weight and durability, we will be using the Aquabound Tango, with its carbon shaft and ultralight fibreglass blades, as our main travelling paddle. The Aquabound Manta Ray, also very lightweight but with a more durable blade, will be for when we want to pull a bit harder and also for when we there is a risk of us touching rocks, for example on some of the trickier surf landings.

Kokatat paddling jackets and PFDs: These guys set the standard for paddling apparel. Kokatat Gore-tex paddling jackets, with adjustable neck and wrist seals, will keep us dry in the spray and on surf landings. And we will try out the new Kokatat Neptune PFD, which looks absolutely fantastic for our purposes: short-waisted (which you need in a kayak) and with lots of handy pockets.


Girl explorers become women explorers!

Anyone can decide to become an explorer – it is a choice. But it definitely helps, both for generating the interest and for acquiring the adventure skill-set, if you start at a young age. In the case of kids, there is a bit of an element of luck there: whether you have mentors who are willing to take you out there and teach you.

LP1100047 Jill and me on an adventure last fall – heading out to photograph grizzly bears!

My childhood best friend was Jill Heinerth. We have been friends since we were three years old – and Jill is still one of my best friends today! (If you want to do the calculations to figure out how long that is and how old we are… well, then you are going to have to listen to the podcast of us chatting about exploring and childhood mentors, linked to below).

RCGS-EN-4Lines-BlueJill is one of the world’s top cave divers (this is a very risky and adventurous sport!). She is also a recipient of the prestigious Governer General’s Polar Medal, and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s first Explorer-in-Residence. (I am also a Fellow of the RCGS, and the RCGS is one of the presenting sponsors of the Secret Coast Expedition).

Jill and I have both travelled very non-traditional and adventurous paths, compared to most of our school friends – and to this day we are not really sure why that is. In part, it probably is just something ingrained in our personalities, and it’s just a coincidence that we happened to grow up two doors down from one another. But I think the mentoring 2-20-2010_008-e1555516711985we received as kids also played a role. Our years in Girl Guides – as geeky as the photos look now, that’s a photo from Jill’s collection of me pinning an award on her shirt – got us outside exploring the wilderness, and made us really at ease camping. (Sleeping on the ground under a thin veil of canvas or nylon is very familiar and comfortable to both of us). And I think that we actually (inadvertently) served as mentors to one another, too: Jill and her family did more hiking and paddling than mine ever did, so they exposed me to those activities, and I think I probably stimulated Jill’s curiosity about the sciences more (we did a lot of rock collecting, and sorting and trading of our prized mineral samples, in Jill’s basement!)

Jill and I got together this winter to chat about this recently. We both feel lucky that we had one another in our lives – in our formative years, and even still! – and we both feel strongly about mentoring kids, so they gain the confidence to get out exploring (and exploring doesn’t always have to mean “wilderness” – it can mean exploring your options or exploring the limits of your abilities). Our conversation is up on Jill’s “Into the Planet” podcast – have a listen!