Motivational Words To Myself – Before a Long Race in 2 Days

It’s 1am near Mt. Esja in Iceland, and I’ve given up on sleeping tonight. I spent the last hour lying in bed, pretending to sleep while feeling every minute pass by. Maybe I would be sleeping if this week I planned to sit in Icelandic hot springs eery day. But I was lying there and nervous sweating, thinking about how I plan to run 120km through the French/Italian Alps in about 48 hours…

Rather than watch the clock tick or worse, trying to remember how to drive manual with the rental car, I decided it would be a good idea to brainstorm and consider some inspiring / motivational quotes for my future self. (Hopefully, the less nervous, less jet-lagged me…)

1. This is fun! 

This is my usual go-to. It succeeds in taking the pressure off before the race, and perhaps I would sleep better if this becomes my mantra.However, I can count on two hands, the number of times I’ve tried to reach to this “motivation” while running, and it simply did not work. Times when, it wasn’t fun, say I was puking, or nauseous, or perhaps feeling like a soldier in the military. In those times, the thought failed to motivate me, as I simply denied it. “This is not fun!” I would easily reply.

This is probably not what it looks and feels like when you’re trying to tell yourself “this is fun” in the middle of something long and hard. (Unless the Squamish/Vancouver girl gang, depicted, has surrounded you on one of their birthday, halloween, or other random celebration runs!)

2. People you care about are rooting for you to finish! 

I’ve used this one before, once or twice, in long running races. For example, Diez Vista 100k in 2018. I’m from the town where this race is held, so going into it, I felt some hometown pride, and that it was important to have a good race. It was honourable or something. I was excited to have my dad and stepmom come to the finish line in the afternoon, and at the start of the day, the thought of having a good race, and sharing in the joy/excitement and whatnot really made me stoked. Fast forward to 50km, halfway. I wasn’t having fun, felt so sick to my stomach, and I was about to have to repeat everything on the course again, in a series of small loops and lollipops. The thought re-surfaced about how “I’m from here” and “it’s time to make the family proud”. But at 50km, I was suddenly wiser. I knew that my dad wouldn’t care whether I finished, won, lost, puked and quit, or puked and finished. As long as I was healthy, non-injured and happy, whatever the result, he would be happy. My dad’s pride wasn’t contingent on some crazy challenge. With that, I got to halfway without any remaining joy, and handed my race number in. (Update– the 100km is no longer offered, so you do not need to subject yourself to this.)

The last 4 miles of Gorge Waterfalls 100km in 2015.

3. You travelled alllll the way here.

This motivation comes in handy when you’ve travelled a long way for an endurance challenge. Maybe you drove for hours, or you even flew somewhere internationally. I used this one during CCC in 2018, as I had flown all the way from Canada to France to run in the race. Honestly, this one does sometimes work for me. It quite effectively taps into the right pang of guilt for me, having dedicated so many resources to get there– the money, the annual vacation time, your partner’s annual vacation time, etc. I caution about using this one, however, because the same thinking can lead to the related thought, “but if I stop, maybe I will enjoy my vacation more, and be able to do more“– quite a wise thought, especially given how tired your brain is during these endurance events.

Tory, Mike and I on our first run all together, around 2014, a fun journey from Squamish to Whistler.

4. You’ve trained for months!

I could rarely use this one, it’s too ballsy for me. It’s implying that the work is done, you’re so ready. With trail running, I never feel ready. I always feel like I’m up against a mountain, which I am, most often. A ton of them. Usually I’ve either overtrained, or I’ve gone skiing instead of running too much, or I’ve been anemic, or most recently, I didn’t learn how to use crampons for the Mt. Baker Ultra! Anyway, rarely does it go ideally. Thinking about the preparation would just draw my attention to the gaps. I think people can use this one when they’ve pushed hard in training and then they can remember that feeling in a race. Unfortunately it doesn’t work for me: my memory for pain is like a squirrel monkey’s, I undergo the pain and then never remember it again.

Who am I kidding, I’ve actually been training my whole life for these things… (my poor parents!)

5. You’re “5” km to the next checkpoint!

After thinking about all the idealistic self talk, I think this is the only thing that makes me move forward, toward the end of whatever crazy thing I signed up for, more quickly than otherwise. In a long event when I need this type of self-talk, it’s probably not feeling fun, I probably don’t care what other people, or my future self think anymore, or how long it took to train or to get there. My brain is basically cutting through all that bullshit in a primitive way, there is no cognitive thinking involved. To deal with this exhausted, primitive side of myself, I can only hope to motivate myself in a super basic, simple way: get to the next care station! When I think of that, everything else erodes away. It helps me just move forward toward the goal, without thinking about it, idealizing, getting in the way of myself. Come to think of it, all my “motivational thoughts” are ineffective anyway, and so it’s best to shut those thoughts down and just run.

Running the East Coast Trail with Katie in 2015. Obviously it’s so much easier with a good friend and a killer support crew (Katie’s dad would give us a briefing of the next 10km, at every section!!)

What are your motivational thoughts that help you get to the finish of whatever crazy thing you dreamed up and committed to?





2018 Mt Baker Ultra: Seeking A New Runner’s High

It all starts with a beer…

Mid-winter, sitting at Backcountry Brewing in Squamish, I had one beer too many, then signed up for the Mt. Baker Ultra. A bunch of BC friends (Shauna, Tara, Kerry) all said they would too, and of course, only Kerry, bored after having completed all the 200 milers, followed through. The race involved running from Concrete, Washington to the top of Mt. Baker’s glaciated Sherman Peak at over 10,100ft., ascending the glacier with fixed ropes, ice axes and crampons. I had never actually used those before, but this race seemed like the perfect push I needed to finally learn those things. I went home, signed up immediately, then started madly messaging Scarlett, last year’s female winner, on everything about the race.

Excited. Photo by Ben Groenhout

For me, this wasn’t really just a race, it was an adventure, and also a way to join and celebrate the amazing efforts that local hero Dan Probst has been putting into developing this event. Inspired by the original Mt. Baker Marathons in 1911-1913, Dan wanted to bring a new (safer) version of the crazy mountain race back to life, and not just that, he’s working on creating a world-class trail system all the way from Bellingham all the way to Baker! His energy is infectious, whether you’re a runner in the event, a volunteer, or a spectator, it’s just amazing to get behind his vision.

Before I begin to talk about the race, I’ll just start by saying that I’m pretty anxious around heights and exposure. It’s very bizarre, and it must be super annoying for my belayers when rock climbing, but I figure I should approach that fear to the right extent, rather than run the other way. This race seemed like the perfect amount of comfortable fear… it would involve a logging road run to snowline, an easy hike on snow for maybe 5,000 feet, and then just a tiny bit of summit ridge, which would really test me. I figured, if it really seemed sketch, I could simply turn around early when I got there. Either way, I wanted to try.

DIY intro mountaineering training

Thank goodness, I was able to get in one good morning of ice axe training before the race, with the help of my friend Raz. We gathered a bunch of friends and created our own self arrest course on the slopes of North Vancouver’s Mount Seymour, about a month before the race. (So much fun!)

Practicing self arrest with Tory and Tara. So fun!

Training with the new crampons didn’t go as well. I forgot about it until the week before the race, then hiked up Evac Trail in Squamish, only to find no snow, only patches about 6 feet long on Al Habrich’s Trail. Feeling foolish, I actually walked back and forth along the 6 feet as “training”. (Thankfully no one saw me!) I got one quick practice hike up Hollyburn Mountain in West Vancouver, and come race day, I was so lucky that I had at least worn the crampons properly once.

I had also never worn hiking boots (I usually just wear runners), but I decided to wear them because they were suggested to would work well with the crampons. I found the cheapest pair at an outlet store, then I took them out for a few hikes on the Chief before the race, realizing, these are a great invention, why have I never had them?!

The race would have a long fixed line, and I even practiced clipping and unclipping the carabiners while walking, so that I would be more efficient come race day. (I’m not sure if that helped!)

Meanwhile, Kerry didn’t bother with any of this practice, being fearless and drawn to exposure and heights. Instead, Kerry focused his efforts pre-race on choosing the best baker outfit to wear for his summit on Baker… (for those of you who haven’t, check out his adventures on youtube, here.)

Party time! Run through the night, up a glacier

Another reason this race appealed to me, was that it started at midnight. Strange, but I love that little push to get out in the mountains at night with the stars. There’s a certain peace, solitude, and feeling of being alive when you’re alone in the night.

The race has about 20 miles of logging road running followed by about 5 miles of snow travel, then glacier to the peak, before returning back down the same way.

As predicted, I loved the midnight logging road experience, running across the Baker Dam, and feeling the air get colder as we approached snowline. I got to the snowline feeling awesome, and to my surprise, there were the most amazing waffles, with bacon, upon our arrival at the snowline aid station. From here, we would be donning all the mountaineering things, and then essentially approaching to the summit on snow. I proceeded to faff around after the waffle, fiddling with the harness, ice axe, crampons, even a set of snowshoes came out. After listening to Dan and the volunteers, I decided to wear the snowshoes for a bit, with the option to drop them at the next aid station. Feeling great, I ran out of the aid station, just in front of another woman, and a nice new friend, Nick. It was about 3:30am once we faffed with all the gear and waffles, and we were still making great time, as I planned.

Faffing around. Photo by Ben Groenhout.

At this point in the race, I think I was leading the females and maybe quite good in the overall standings, but I started to feel a big low. Suddenly, I was super fatigued, and I needed to drop my pace and just focus on any forward motion. I let Nick and the other woman pass, and started mowing cheese croissant, as though the cheese croissant would be the saviour to take me out of my sorry state. This part of the trail started to really piss me off, it was a snow-track made by sleds, lopsided rather than flat, with post-holes, and just steep enough to necessitate walking, but low enough to make me feel badly about it. I wish I had hiking poles here, in this sorry state. Finally around 5am, light started to reveal how beautiful the area was around us. There were sharp, black volcanic rocks contrasting the snowfields, and you could start to see a pink glow in the Cascades, to the east. We were getting close to the glacier, where the fixed line, and a beautiful sunrise would greet us.

Around 5am.

Arriving at the fixed line felt like progress, the fun part was about to begin! I left my snowshoes behind and opted to start without crampons, as a volunteer thought I could maybe kick steps, although he seemed to regret saying that when he saw my lightweight boots. The climb would steepen to 30 degrees, then level off, then repeat. I couldn’t really kick steps in my hiking boots, and I was ascending super inefficiently, stepping all over the place from one side of the fixed line to the other, looking for existing footsteps. After a while, it seemed like a storm was coming, and I started to feel afraid. To give myself a bit more confidence, I decided to switch to crampons, and suddenly the hiking became way easier. I wasn’t looking around for footsteps anymore, I was simply walking straight up. (It was inevitable that I wouldn’t be efficient with the gear.)

At this point, the weather was cooperating, and I was excited for a beautiful summit view. I could not have been more wrong… Photo by Ben Groenhout

The glacier section had three wonderful aid stations, each one with amazing, encouraging volunteers, water and surprise candy they had muled up, and radio updates from the other stations. I arrived at the midway aid, and was told that I should wear some waterproof pants, the storm was getting heinous above us. Adding a layer proved challenging with the harness and crampons, and thankfully a volunteer helped me take the harness and crampons off so that I could slither into my waterproof pants, then put it all back on top. I also struggled with long transitions to remove all the gear again to pee. I was never destined to be a triathlete, being slow at changing clothes and awkward with my hands, and I’m also horrible at mountaineering transitions.

As the storm picked up around me, the dream of a sunrise on Baker eroded. It was against my normal instincts to keep climbing to a ridge during a storm, and my pace slowed as every cell in my body resisted. I thought about turning around, and on my own I certainly would have, but I had to keep reminding myself that we were roped in to a fixed line, so this was strangely fine! Snow started to pelt me in the face, and I kept climbing, past crevasses beside my right foot, past and above the amazing Sherman Crater to my left. As I climbed, I was navigating a cognitive disconnect: my primitive instincts were to retreat away from the storm immediately, but my conscious thoughts corrected, recognizing that we were roped in, with experienced volunteers around! I was determined to carry on in, but I switched into slow and safe mode, resigned from any race ambitions, and just wanting to focus on surviving the current moment.

Finally I arrived at the final glacier aid station near the summit, which meant just a few more sections of rope to go! The pitch ahead looked very steep, but the volunteers encouraged me, telling me I had crampons on, I would be good! I let the man near me go ahead, turns out it was Yassine, I wanted to watch him to build my own confidence. Yassine also looked slightly afraid, which actually helped my confidence, so I followed behind. (Turns out later, he had issues with his carabiners freezing on the summit!!) There was a little rocky scramble after that with a hand rope, and I let another man go ahead, again so I could watch him. We were entering the eye of the storm, right along the ridge to Sherman Peak, with drop-offs just a few feet on each side. I was pretty terrified, barely being able to see with the storm on this ridgeline, and sharing it with multiple other climbers at the same time. Finally there was one last section, which I reluctantly crossed, and I summited in the storm. I have so much respect for the volunteer who was sitting in the storm all day at the summit, giving us amazing smiles and high-fives, and taking photos. (Hopefully there is a good one of Kerry with his baker hat on the summit!)

Posing beside the Baker on Baker. Photo by Kerry.

The rest of the event was “all downhill”, although way, way slower than I expected. I didn’t even attempt to run down on the technical sections with the crampons on, and then when the terrain was runnable, the snow was incredibly heavy and soft, running felt similar to walking. I was lucky that Kerry reared his baker’s head midway down the glacier, and we chased one another down to the snowline aid station, an oasis in the rainstorm. That aid station was one of the most fun parts of the race for me, with a bunch of tired and hyper runners huddled around together, regaining strength before the ~20 mile run back to town in the downpour. We took our time there, enjoying the company of the other runners and the amazing volunteers, who helped us celebrate the end of the snow with burgers, bacon, and amazing ramen soup. We were all on a bit of a high, coming from the summit and storm. Finally, Kerry and I decided to accompany each other to the end, taking our time to walk/run our way back to Concrete together.

Snowline aid station party. Photo by Ben groenhout.

Over 17 hours from when we started, we finally rolled across the finish line in Concrete, and to my excitement, I saw a tiny person in the distance, it was Tara there cheering. She had been waiting in the rain for five hours, as it took me that much longer than expected!! Immediately while crossing the finish line, I was able to muster some half-serious remarks to RD Dan about how sick and twisted he is, this race definitely felt more like a 100 miler. Such a fun adventure, with amazing people, I would definitely recommend doing it once!

Full results, here.

Race info, here.

Time to reflect, recover, and get curious about other interests again, besides just running and mountains… 


Attend Bellydance, Earn Mt. Albert Edward

Two weeks ago, I scored a surprise last-minute invite from my friend, Chris: do you want to come skiing up Mt. Albert Edward with me and Faron on Sunday? We’ll pick you up from the ferry! That message couldn’t have come at better timing. For all of April I had been staring up at Garibaldi Park and the Mamquam Icefield from Downtown Squamish, it looked perfect for skiing, but I felt constrained by my running training, mostly always confined to adventures in the dirt. Suddenly this message from Chris came my way, and it just knocked me out of my running trance and opened me up to my craving for adventure. Yes. Damn it. I don’t know where that is at all, but I am very intrigued! 

I accepted almost immediately without asking really where it was, with the caveat that my skiing would be horrendous, it had been months since I had skied! As though to sweeten the allure, there was talk of summit sardines, of camping at Comox Lake, Chris and Faron would even supply me all my camping stuff!!!

Camping at Comox Lake is the dream!

Eventually I discovered the destination was in Strathcona Provincial Park, a place I had really wanted to visit since, forever. I didn’t have any other idea except that it would be good conditions, and we would have to get up at like 4am, which seemed to follow my general equation of more time outside = more fun.

We rolled up to our beautiful campsite at Comox Lake at around 10pm, with plans to wake up at 4am. Bedtime was near until Faron realized, he forgot his avalanche shovel, 3 hours back in Victoria! Selfishly, I realized that this piece of gear was not for him, but for me – he would need to use it to dig me out, if I was to be buried in an avalanche. So, there was no way I would go without it. I instantly remembered the busy brewpub we drove through in nearby Cumberland… surely some of the people there would have some avalanche gear we could borrow? And so, it was decided, that we would descent upon unsuspecting Cumberland at 10:30pm, and seek out an avalanche shovel. Faron would maybe walk around the bars going from table to table asking to borrow gear, and we would support. Hey, we really wanted to go skiing tomorrow!

We spent the first twenty minutes in Cumberland searching a friend-of-a-friend’s yard for their avalanche gear, hoping that they just kept their gear outside, or used the avy shovel also as a garden shovel. (Yes, we were that desperate and tired!) No luck, as you might imagine. Next up in our quest was our idea to descend on the brewpub. Unfortunately the brewpub was closed. However, the band was just leaving, who we solicited, and they told us of a Mike and Lisa who could maybe help. Apparently, Mike was part of the local Search and Rescue, and so he likely had the gear. We were told he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt today, and he was apparently at the Waverly Pub, just a few doors down. So we booked it to the Waverly.

The Waverly had some sort of event going on with a cover charge, but they let us in for free when we explained our quest. It was a bellydancing show. Faron went to look for Mike in Hawaiian shirt, meanwhile Chris and I enjoyed the bellydances. Faron came back, he was in luck, Mike was found, and he had agreed to lend us the shovel, he even lived around the corner. However, we would need to wait until the bellydance finale, which was to happen in 30 minutes.

How badly do you want to go skiing tomorrow?! Would you go to a bellydance show?!

Chris and I watched more bellydancing, and then Faron decided to drive us back to the campsite to get some rest, he would go back to retrieve the shovel with Mike. Finally, just before midnight, Faron returned to the campsite, having earned a borrowed shovel and enjoyed a free bellydancing show in the process. Success! We gifted ourselves an extra hour of sleep, thinking that 5am would be fine, given the unanticipated visit to the Waverly.

The skiing was great, in fact just as awesome as the quest we had, the night preceding. There was snow right from the trailhead, there were amazing views to Desolation Sound, spring slush to ski, we witnessed cornisses breaking off safely in the distance, skins failed and we glued them on, and there was summit fever, which pushed us to spend an unplanned extra night together, strangely again, back at the Waverly. That place just kept drawing us back…

Remembering how to skintrack. Photo by Faron Anslow.


Skiing across lakes in spring will continue to freak me out. Note that I let Chris go slightly ahead to test the ice. Photo by Faron Anslow.


Summit selfie! Chris, me, Faron. Photo by Faron Anslow’s long arm.


The ski down was so chill and fun! Photo by Faron Anslow.


Strathcona Park Views! Photo by Faron Anslow.


Words and photos can’t really do it justice, you’ll have to go there.

I Want All The Goals, Right Now (Goals For Impatient People)

If you have lots of goals, how do you space them out?

I get it, I’m supposed to set goals for various timeframes. Some for this year, some for next year, some for ten years from now. But what about for impatient / goal-greedy people? I see those 3-year goals, and I want them all at once, along with my goals for this year. It’s sort of like a buffet, where I try to stuff as much on my plate as possible, so that there’s no space on the plate. It’s towering, and when I walk by other people, they just sort of stare at my plate in horror!

I feel like my goals are similar. I have lots and I understand they should be spaced out, but I can’t resist wanting them all, now!

2 different paths. Both please, now!

Some of my goals this year are running-related, things like seeing if I can better my best time at Chuckanut 50k this March, running the West Coast Trail solo in late June, and having a great run at UTMB’s TDS in August. In coming years, I also really want to further my skiing skills, and get into ski mountaineering. The trouble is, I’m super impatient, and I really desperately want everything at once. It means I’m never fully focused on one thing, I’m always thinking about how I can fit the other things in, too. And when you factor in the variability of planning for skiing, having to time the weather, avalanche safety, and the snow conditions, it just doesn’t work that well with also trying to improve in running. Doing multiple things at once is totally fine, but often the best people are the ones who really focus their efforts and energies, day after day. (One gal I really admire who exemplifies this is Krissy Moehl! 18 years of dedication and she wins every damn race there is!)

Lots of goals, I want them all now! Like skiing up to Sproatt in Whistler backcountry.

The only reason I even noticed my tendency to get impatient & greedy with my goals is thanks to my running coach, David. Occasionally I would go out and ski instead of running what I had in my schedule. It was oblivious to me that this might be less than ideal, until I learned from him, that this might be a bad idea the week before a running race. Before having a coach for trail running, I would just go out and do whatever I felt like, so at first it felt weird that there could be an ideal timing to consider, and to plan adventures neatly around the timing. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I could conform to a timing or restrict my adventures in any way. But how can you expect to improve, if you just keep doing the same thing, never fully committing?

After thinking more about it, I realized that I have a commitment phobia. By doing lots of goals at once I allow myself to dabble, and I stay away from having to fully commit to any one goal. When the time comes to put myself to the test, I never have to know that I gave everything, because I didn’t. I was out frolicking, and I never did fully apply myself to the single purpose, so I can avoid the same level of expectation as though I had. Instead of doing X really well, I did X and Y and Z to a pretty good level. And it’s comfortable, by goal-dabbling, I stay exactly the same each year, maintaining my comfy spot while minimizing chance of failure, by doing other things too. (Case in point, I ran Deception Pass 50k in 2017 & 2013, both times were only 5 minutes off!)

Photo by Ashley Agellon – on Bowen Island in 2017

I hear that some people stagger their goals, and they actually space them out, taking one goal at a time and giving it their all. Going for one goal with everything is a big risk, it’s more clear when you fail, the ego can be crushed, and so it takes courage to commit.

To push past the comfy mediocrity I know and love, I’m going to finally give it a try, dedicate myself fully to one goal without those side goals, and see what happens. For me this year, it means I’ll give the running goals my attention, actually following my training plan and trusting the process. Then next year, I’ll give skiing its own time and space in my goals.

The monthly winter sun came out in North Vancouver, BC!

The Ethics Of Flying In The Mountains

In September, a gang of us hiked up to Lake Lovelywater, one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever visited near my house in the Tantalus Mountains of BC. Getting there was a satisfying effort, it entailed crossing the Squamish River to access the trailhead, and then hauling huge packs up 1,170m, as the trail climbs alongside a giant waterfall. The old-school, nostalgic person in me loved the simplicity of travelling up there on foot, just as the first explorers might have (although we definitely had more cheesecake, and champagne).

On our way across the Squamish River with lots of colour. Photo by Alex Lea.

Getting to the lake for the first time made us realize how many people fly in to the lake, either by helicopter or float plane. On that trip, there was one party of two guys who had also hiked up, but all other groups at the lake had taken a helicopter, or a float plane. One group had even packed such that they could not move their own belongings 500 meters without the helicopter. (They had packed giant coolers, and didn’t realize the camp spot was a bit of a walk. They made multiple trips to eventually haul the cooler around the lake.) My first reaction was that I really didn’t like the concept of using helicopters to get to the lake. It felt unfortunate to skip the beautiful trail, and to neglect our abilities to simply walk forever. Given the availability of a nice trail to get there, it seemed wasteful. For some reason, I took personal offence to it, it bothered me. The fly-in people were the enemy.

Later that evening, we went to the hut to borrow canoes. These hut people had all flown in, so I wasn’t sure what to make of them. The second I arrive outside the hut, someone waves. The hut people are our friends from Vancouver! That moment turned everything on its head for me, suddenly my enemies were my friends, and my friends, enemies. Seeing the helicopter use in the context of my friends sort of changed everything. Even though I still personally disagreed with it, I felt more open to understanding, because I liked these people.

Since that trip, I’ve thought more about the ethics of travelling in the mountains with support from fossil fuels. In the past I thought about it mostly in terms of helicopters and flights into the mountains, and I wanted to avoid those. So far I had avoided any helicopter use, so I felt innocent. But when I dug a bit deeper, I realized that I do have my own versions, they’re just different.

I don’t fly into mountains, but I fly to big international airports. I fly to Portugal, or Italy, or Mongolia, jumping off points for exotic mountains. Then I started realizing, really, what’s the difference? For some reason I had categorized my international flights as relatively benign, and these mountain helicopter trips as evil, but it doesn’t add up. In fact, those international trips are far more wasteful than the local helicopter trips. When I dug into it, I realized that I was perceiving the two types of trips as benign or wasteful based on whether I could get there by foot, or not. If I could get to the destination by foot in a reasonable time, taking a heli to get there was wasteful. International travel, meanwhile, was rarely ever wasteful in this mindset, because it’s very rare that I could get to an international destination by foot in reasonable time. Maybe that makes sense as one outlook, but it was self-serving, allowing me to become negligent about the impact of my international trips. Who cares about one 20-minute helicopter / float plane trip if I take five long-haul international flights? And what about the person who takes only one single trip per year, and it’s a short helicopter trip, instead of travelling internationally? Then there are the volunteer trail builders who take helicopters to load tons of heavy gear, so that we can enjoy the trails.



The helicopters at Lake Lovelywater do have an impact, and perhaps when there’s one of the most beautiful trails instead, we should walk. But the situation is less straightforward than my primal urge to think, heli = bad. Our impact on the environment is more about looking at the big picture of what we do in a year.

Paddling on that beauty lake with Alex, Tara, Tory, Nancy and Tara, somehow all snug inside one row boat. Photo by either Tara or Nancy?!


Race: Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc, Sept 1st, 2017. 6:30 pm.

Distance: In 2017- Approximately 167 km, with 10,000 M of elevation gain.

Course: Around the Tour Du Mont Blanc in the Alps through France, Switzerland and                        Italy.

In 2017 the Course was shortened a few km’s the day of the race due to the volatile weather forecast. There was rain, snow, wind, and cold temperatures down to -9.

Results:        There were 1685 finishers and 852 DNF’s.

Full Results here:


Photo: UTMB

The start line of UTMB is incredible! Runners started lining up at the start really early (almost 2 hours before)! I saw this happening and I got anxious that I should get to the start line, but I waited until about 30 minutes before to join.

As the fast elite athletes joined the start there were big cheers and announcements throughout. The music, pump up announcements, and energy created an electric atmosphere throughout Chamonix and it felt like everyone in town was there waiting for the race to start. At one point we all joined in making an oath that we would get to the finish line in this grand adventure. It was all amazing, but in hindsight also pretty overwhelming! I have never been that nervous at the start of a race, but at the same time never been to a start line with so much energy and excitement!

IMG_0496 (1)

Photo: Tara Berry     Tara Berry & Melanie Bos


Photo: Alissa St. Laurent      Tara Berry & Alissa St. Laurent (6th Women)!

Fellow Canadian runners found at the start line!

I knew that this race starts off quickly and the first 8 km were fairly runnable. I made sure to go out easy and not get carried away at the very start. The first 8 km’s were lined with so many people and children wanting high fives throughout Chamonix. I tried to high five every single kid I ran by that had their hand out. The crowds were mind-blowing and the kids put a smile on my face. Everyone was yelling “Allez, Allez, Allez” along the route, and the aid stations and surrounding villages were packed with supporters with cowbells and cheers. It looked like some locals were even out having dinner parties outside to cheer on the runners. This went on for hours and hours and was one my favorite things about this race!

IMG_0493 (1)

Photo: Tara Berry

Even though I thought I started easy as soon as we hit the first climb I felt it; my legs didn’t feel good, they felt heavy, way to heavy for so early on. I felt like I was getting passed by 100’s of people (and I was literally being passed by 100’s of runners)! Looking at the stats, at the first aid station 1 hr:39 min in, I was in 338 overall, and I continued to drop back to 357 overall.

More than anything, mentally things weren’t going well. I don’t think I’ve ever got in that much of a negative headspace so early in a race! We were in fog and even with fresh lights it was hard to see, I had stomach cramps, and I felt like the down hills were not coming easy. Usually downs hills are my strength but I was breaking a lot as it was hard to see, and my legs didn’t feel good. I could feel my nagging hamstring a bit and I was getting worried. I had a lot of self-doubt and started making up excuses of why I was going to drop. This was during the majority of the first 40 km’s into the race. Courmayeur was around 78 km; for some reason that seemed like a good place to stop and I planned to drop there. I thought I could make it there even if I was in rough shape and I didn’t really know of any other spot that would be easy to drop and be able to somehow get a ride back to Chamonix. I didn’t plan to have Ryan (my crew and fiancé) meet me until 125 km into the race. There was one-drop bag allowed on course and it was at Courmayeur, so I also knew I wouldn’t freeze as I had a change of clothes!

Things started turning around after about 40 kms’ and I was feeling much better (stomach cramps were gone), my legs were warmed up, and I was moving well on the ups and the downs. I felt like I was gaining back some of the time I was slogging along in the beginning. Looking at the placing you can tell where this happened…(I went from 357 place overall down to 227 by Courmayeur). There were some big climbs and big descents (My fav), and even though it was foggy the area seemed majestic and beautiful. There looked like there were some big drops below and I was loving the rocky terrain. I bailed hard on some slippery rocks, but I was back in a good headspace and I brushed it off and was back up quickly with some minor bruises and scrapes on my knees.

I started gaining some confidence back that I could finish this race! Even though things got harder later on, I became even more determined that I was going to get to the finish line! By the time I got to Courmayeur I had no plans to quit, and the thought of quitting never came back. I took my time to fully change at Courmayeur into new socks, shirt, sports bra, eat pasta, use the washroom etc. I left there feeling refreshed, and the sun had just come up. It was early Sat morning and Mont Blanc was stunning!

IMG_0609Photo: Tara Berry

The climb out of Courmayeur felt tough after a really long descent into town, but the views were incredible and we were rewarded after the ascent up. I was really enjoying myself and I guess you could say I was on a high! This section was my favorite part of the entire race and the only part of the race I took photos. The sun didn’t last very long, and the rest of the time it was raining, or snowing.


Photo: Tara Berry

I was eating OK. I was getting some food down from the aid stations (meat, cheese and soup)! I was using tailwind in my water, which I carried with me along with some other gummies and blocks. Out of everything, soup was going down the best at most of the aid stations (A few times I had 2-3 bowls of the noodle soup just in one aid station)!

We got to a really cold section between Arnouvaz and La Fouly and it started snowing. I had everything on (even a bandana covering my entire face with just enough space to see). Dressed like a ninja, I was still moving steady here, but it was FREEZING cold, and windy as well. The ground and plants were frozen and covered in fresh frost and snow. I thought about adding another layer, but stopping for even a moment to try and put on more underneath was not an option in those winds, so I kept moving as quickly as I could to get to the top of the climb as it meant there was another long descent…the longest of the entire race.

Coming down into La Fouly it started to warm up a bit. On the downhill on the way into La Fouly, I rolled my ankle at some point, however, I could still run on it and it wasn’t too sore.

I got to La Fouly (110 km), and my friends and unicorns from home (Tory Scholz & Tara Holland) had made a video for me that was played on the screen, which surprised me and made me laugh! At the end of the short clip they were yelling “Get out of the Aid Station”. I heard the video come on a 2nd or 3rd time (after other runners had played), and realized I really need to get out of there! I was trying to eat more soup, as it was the only thing going down well at this point. I left the aid station and the downhill continued, some on road through a village. It was pretty quiet and not many people were around during this section.

I knew I would see Ryan soon. I was moving a bit slower on the downhill’s and there was a big downhill section on some roads and then up to Champex-lac. Looking back at the stats, I was in 163 overall at this point.


Photo: UTMB

When I saw Ryan he had my bag of food and clothing all spread out and ready to go! I don’t think I took anything, even though he kept asking me what I needed! I didn’t want to sit down at first and I pranced around a bit, grabbed some pasta, soup, and tried to get some food down but I wasn’t able to eat too much. Ryan asked me if I wanted to change my clothes. I was a bit wet underneath from sweating, but I didn’t feel like changing. I asked him how long I had been there and he said about 15 minutes, it felt like 5. I realized again, I needed to get out of there! I was about 100 feet out of the aid station when I realized it was absolutely POURING and I was getting soaked quickly. I wasn’t wearing my rain pants and I went off to the side of the road under an under-hang to fully put on all my gear. It was already too late, I was soaked underneath and my gloves were soaked through. I opened up some hand warmers I had to try and warm up my hands and they worked well.


Photo: Tara Berry

I was slow out of here to the next aid station even though there was some runnable sections, I was walking a bit. My ankle started really hurting on the downs and I couldn’t really run well downhill anymore especially on any technical parts, I kept rolling it. I was getting cranky- just in time to see all my friends!

From here to the next aid station, it felt like one of the longest sections. At some point there was a long uphill and I was stomping through tons of mud. There was a lone hiker hiking up and he looked like he was going camping up there for the night. I heard a sound behind me and he was yelling at me from down below. I saw him holding something up and realized it was my credit card. Of course it’s something I would lose during a race, but I got it back!

I came into Trient to see my crew again (Ryan, Alicia & Vincent were there this time). Alicia & Vincent had just ran CCC the day before finishing in the middle of the night, and they had made it out to support! Alicia was being really encouraging and telling me I was doing well and I was going to get to the end. I really wasn’t in the mood for chatting. I told them they should go home and sleep as I was going to be awhile and planned to walk the rest due to my ankle (about 40km to the end)! Alicia thought I could run and she mentioned taping or wrapping it, for some reason I refused and said that I planned to hike the rest!

I left there pretty quickly and started hiking up the next climb and my ankle was now hurting on the ups AND downs. I saw another women coming down in the opposite direction. I asked if she was ok as she was slightly limping. She had rolled her ankle in the mud and said she was done, I told her I also had a bad ankle and tried to encourage her to come with me and that we could hike together! She was worse off than me and said she didn’t think she could make it and warned me to be careful in the mud on the downhills up ahead. I stubbornly stopped and sat on a trunk and wrapped my ankle up the best I could myself with the required bandage we had to carry! This was a gear requirement and ALL of the required gear came in handy!

This did help quite a bit to stabilize it and I found that I could run again on the downs in not too much pain, it was manageable. I wasn’t moving quickly, but I was still moving.

This section had so much mud on the downs! Some of the time I was just trying to stay upright after sliding around corners, and used my poles to stop myself from falling.

I noticed, as it was getting dark I was starting to see things. Some of which I knew was not real once I got closer; (a deer which was a branch), faces and people in large rocks, the trees were forming structures and people, and scary faces were jumping out at me.

I got to the second last aid station Col Des Montets and re-fuelled again on soup. I think I stopped eating anything after the 2nd last aid station and I don’t know how much I was drinking. As a result, things were starting to get weird. I was with another guy named Oscar, and a couple of other men. We didn’t chat at all, but we were running near each other and sticking together. At one point we stopped for a moment and I looked up and screamed! I thought there was a black panther sitting under a tree up ahead of us. This really felt real to me at the time and swore I saw eyes staring back at me. I told Oscar what was there and possibly hid slightly behind him! He assured me things were ok and he didn’t think he could see anything. He probably thought I was crazy. We continued up and it was gone… I was wanting to get out of the forest by this point, it was creeping me out and I felt a bit trapped and claustrophobic.

Around this time we thought we were back on the same climb a second time, and we were delusional trying to look at the maps we had. We couldn’t figure out where we were, plus there were course changes on this section, which made it even more difficult to figure out. We thought we had somehow gone off course and done a loop going back on the course in the wrong direction. It was dark and hard to tell. We thought we were on the same bridge we had already been on and climbing up the same climb again… We contemplated calling the emergency # for help with where we were, when shortly after a medic came by and happened to be hiking up to the last aid station. He explained where the last aid station was up on the ski hill and continued on. We got to the top of the tree-line and all had trouble seeing where the aid station was, we kept going up through the fog trying to follow one light we could see of a runner or possible the medic ahead of us in the distance, and we finally stumbled our way through the fog and into the last aid station.

Mentally thinking we were lost, whether we actually got lost or not was draining every bit of energy left in me. The fatigue had set in big time and I couldn’t think straight.

Once we knew we were for sure on track and had made it to the last aid station at La Flagere, it was 8 km downhill to the finish! I stayed with Oscar for some of this, but was mainly alone as I got closer to the bottom of the descent. My lights were dying and I couldn’t see very well, but at this point it felt too difficult to figure out where my batteries were and I made do with the 3 faint lights I had.

I knew I was close when I could see streetlights and recognized one of the streets running into Chomonix. I came around one of the street corners and up ahead I thought I saw two massive grand stands, with two big groups of people singing. A choir all dressed in white I thought! How lovely! As I got closer it turned out this choir was actually a bunch of big trees with light colored leaves (yup things continued to get weird)!

I continued on and ran through the finish and into my friends arms! I was happy to have made it to the finish line at UTMB when it felt like a crazy second night! It’s an experience I’ll never forget! Chamonix and UTMB is such a special event, I’m excited to go back again (hopefully in 2018)!

In total it was 31 hours, 56 minutes. 22nd women, 204 overall.

IMG_0520Alicia Woodside, Tara Berry & Ryan Ledd.

Gear that got me through ALL the weather:

Merino long sleeve shirt, Merino pants, Merino T-shirt & Merino Sports Bra, Salomon skort, Salomon Gloves, North Face waterproof coverings for my gloves, Arcteryx Gortex Norvan SL (AMAZING)!!! Inov waterproof pants (very light and compact)!, merino wool socks (2 pairs), a buff, Merino wool toque, Salomon Hat, black diamond poles, Patagonia down vest., hand warmers, Petzl headlamp, two Nebo bike lights clipped onto my pack, Salomon Sense Ultra (Same pair the whole race- these are my favourite shoes to date)!! Salomon 12 L pack.


Alicia Woodside & Tara Berry

Favourite Camp Spots From This Summer!

This past summer, I had the chance to camp all over the place, mostly on a trip to the Sierras in California, and near my home in Squamish, BC. Some of the camp trips were car camping, others were spots that we hiked into with little packs. Here are some of my favourites!

Backcountry fun


Lone Pine Lake, Mount Whitney, California

The minute we realized we would be in California during summertime, we jumped at the chance to camp in the Mount Whitney area. Lucky for us, we had an entire week of flexibility, so we were able to enter several dates for the permit lottery. And success! We were awarded an overnight permit to camp at Lone Pine Lake, which is about two miles up the trail from Whitney Portal entrance.


Arriving at Lone Pine Lake, near where we camped.

Of course we would blow right by the lake, hiking onwards and much farther than necessary. (Two miles really flies by!) Backtracking to the lake, we were blown away by its peaceful, crystal blue waters, the beautiful little pine trees around, and the huge slabs of granite on peaks all around us. This camp spot is by far the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen, you can make coffee in a little perch overlooking the Whitney Portal, and watch the sun dance up the granite.

What’s hard about it:

  • Getting a permit. (The lottery wasn’t too bad, but once you get your permit awarded and you think it’s all good, you have to phone the office to confirm the permit closer to your trip date, we nearly missed this as we were traveling, turned into a mad dash to find wiki to Skype-call.)
  • Having to carry a huge food storage device for bears, required by the Parks Office, which is larger than anything else in your bag. Since we hadn’t researched enough, we had to use the massive containers they had on hand. (Likely could get a much smaller one with some advance planning.)

What’s great about it:

  • Given how famous the trail is, I was surprised that it wasn’t super busy. (However, this was June.)
  • So easy to hike up to Lone Pine Lake with overnight gear.
  • Most beautiful sunrise and starry nights.
  • It seems that it’s quite often that the Whitney area weather is amazing for camping! Warm, and unlimited clear skies for gazing at peaks, stars, and staying dry.

Watching the sun rise up the Whitney Portal, from our perch at Lone Pine Lake, summer 2017

Lake Lovely Water, near Squamish BC

My friends surprised me and took me on this amazing camping trip at the end of September to an area I’ve wanted to visit since, forever.


Waltzing around at Lake Lovely Water, summer 2017. Photo by Tara Berry.

Lake Lovely Water sits high above the Squamish River, on the opposite side from town. This makes it really tough to get to, as you have to cross a fierce river with some sort of watercraft to get there. I think that’s part of the appeal, it’s fun to figure out the logistics, and exciting to cross it. Plus, getting to the other side sort of feels like stepping into Narnia, a world of deep greens and waterfalls everywhere.


Lake Lovely Water is an amazing place to take in the Tantalus mountain range.

What’s hard about it:

  • Crossing the river (need some gear, or planning to organize a jet boat)
  • Hiking about 900m vert to get up to the lake (not everyone’s idea of a great time)

What’s great about it:

  • Crossing the river (so fun!)
  • Hiking about 900m vert to get up to the lake (fun!!)
  • You can borrow canoes and rowboats at the lake if you get permission from people staying at the ACC’s hut at the lake!

Car camping fun


William Kent Campground, West Lake Tahoe, California

This campsite was a little gem right across from the shores of Lake Tahoe. Huge trees provide a cozy haven, and you just feel so at home and protected among them. Doesn’t hurt that this spot is a block from gelato, draft beer and local wine at West Shore Market!


Serene coziness at William Kent Campground…

What’s hard about it:

  • Most expensive camp spot of our California travels. But hey, still way less than hotel-type lodgings…
  • The camp site happened to be low-key when we were there, (June) but everything in the surrounding area is super busy.

What’s great about it:

  • Across the street is Lake Tahoe and a public beach!
  • Also, across the street is an artisan wine. cheese, ice cream, sandwich shop, so you can be lazy and eat delicious foods made by someone else, if you want.
  • Super close to Tahoe City, Squaw Valley and Truckee, Tahoe Rim Trail…

Convict Lake, near Mammoth Lakes, California

Someone from a gear shop in Bishop, CA, told us about 5-10 various different amazing places to visit in Mammoth Lakes, and while many were lost in translation, we were lucky that this one stuck to our memory.


Convict Lake is just a few kilometers outside of town in the Mammoth Lakes area, and being so close to the town and not far from the highway, it almost feels wrong that you can drive up to such a massive, beautiful lake, crested by granite peaks. It’s a treat to be able to camp so close to this amazing lake and its trail system!


What’s hard about it:

  • Not much shelter from the sun, so we tended to hang out there only in early mornings and evenings.
  • Not for a remote camp experience, as it has a resort nearby and lots of tourists coming to fish and boat on the lake.
  • Unlike backcountry lake spots Lake Lovely Water and Lone Pine Lake described above, the campsites are not directly on the lake, but it’s a short walk away.

What’s great about it:

  • The lake is stunning at any time of day, and you only need to walk about 200 meters from any campsite to go see it, again and again and again.
  • Situated right beside a beautiful singletrack trail around the lake, and taking a quick turn off to another trail takes you up to a glacier in just a few kilometers!
  • Showers, laundry, general store, breakfast burrito food truck!
  • Super convenient, close to Mammoth Lakes town. (We even went to a movie one night!)

Those campsites are definitely little slices of heaven… at least in our experience. So many more to explore in BC, Washington and Oregon!


Baker Lake trail, Washington




Adventures In Mountain Town Lifestyle

Last winter, I was craving a small mountain town lifestyle, which brought me to nearly moving with Julien to Fernie, a small town of about 5,000 in BC’s Rockies, right near Crowsnest Pass. It was so close to fruition, we had made a secret trip there to check out some places to live, and even made an offer on an apartment… right on the ski hill!

Fernie Wednesday Night Socials

Wednesday Night Social at the Fernie Arts Station, summer 2016.

Momentum toward the plan built very quickly… our offer was accepted and we were hiring a lawyer and mortgage broker, just going through the routine contractual stuff. After we were just about final, a kink in the plan was about to set us onto a new course entirely. It turned out that the place we loved was a unique type of vacation property zoning, which meant that banks wouldn’t lend to a place on the ski hill– and we worried about the re-sale, if it was that hard to finance. The apartment was our only real solid plan, and without that, it just didn’t feel meant to be.

We decided to wait a while, move back from False Creek to Vancouver’s North Shore, and continue working until the timing was right. Julien started looking for apartments to rent on the North Shore and unbeknownst to me, he expanded his search to include Squamish. I’ve always loved Squamish. Of course, an amazing apartment surfaced, which is really rare in the town of low rental vacancies. It was also nicer than everything we found in North Vancouver at the time!


Al Habrich’s trail– one of my favourite spots. Looking just above the Squamish valley.

Of course, our drive up to the apartment viewing was intense– very dark, and the most rainy Vancouver weather I’ve ever seen. I really wanted to move there, so I was already decided, pretty much from before the apartment viewing. And, while Fernie was isolated from any big city, this seemed like a huge positive– you could work in a huge metropolis (Vancouver) and at the same time, live here. Best of both worlds!

We figured that Squamish would be a great place to try living in a smaller city: it’s an amazing place, and we could keep our jobs, and all our friends!


Running with Nicola and Shauna just outside Squamish, near Deeks Lake at the end of the Howe Sound Crest Trail.

With that, in December, I simultaneously moved to Squamish, and started a new job in Vancouver. It was the best of both worlds for me. I could live in a beautiful mountain town, and also work at an awesome tech company. It was like cooking a new dish, with all new ingredients, and all new processes. But it was exciting!

The early days of my Vancouver / Squamish life were interesting, and full of variety. I got to experience city stuff by day, and then retreat to my beautiful little town in the evenings. It was amazing to not have to choose between lifestyles– I could have both!

Over time, the romantic beginnings of the dual lifestyle wore off, and I began to see things more objectively. I noticed that the only part of Squamish I saw, was my bedroom and kitchen, (mostly unwrapping takeout) and a view of the mountains at night. I wasn’t spending time with new friends in Squamish, and I wasn’t seeing my friends from Vancouver as much. When a friend tried to invite me to a morning run, it wouldn’t really work. Or evening plans. Weekdays were simply out of the cards, for anything leisure. After a while, I also became willing to notice the amount of the time I was spending in transit– almost three hours a day in some form– (shuttle / carpool / drive to carpool / bike to carpool etc.) and once I was willing to notice the numbers, I saw the true cost to the lifestyle.


Taking Mallory for a quick farewell hike up the Chief when she really should have been down below, at the bus station… 😉

I was indeed living both lifestyles, but living neither one well. I was going to have to choose: my new town, or my new job? The cost of having both was simply not sustainable.

I lasted only nine months of the dual lifestyle… last Thursday was my final day of adventuring to Vancouver for work! It’s always very tough to walk away from something, especially when it involves a group of very kind, smart people, but my heart was planted in my new town, and I’m excited to live here, fully! I’ll actually be around to run at 5pm, show up at potlucks that involve contributing something, and be a better friend!


Tara enjoying Man Boobs, (it’s a trail), plus splashing in mud! 🙂



Learning Patience From The Trails

Since I was little, I’ve been an impatient sort of person. In many ways, I benefited from it. I never wasted a moment, and I got to do lots of things at a young age, guided by this crazy internal clock.

As I started working, I was often rewarded for my impatience, as it transformed into a get shit done quickly attitude. I expect progress to happen, right away. In the short term, I feel like our society really rewards an impatient attitude.

However, it’s also a big pitfall. Being impatient all the time rewards short-term thinking over long-term thinking. But when we set long-term goals, we need to be prepared to wait months, or sometimes even years to see our results come to life. Any long term endeavour requires patience– by definition, it’s something that happens with sustained effort over a long period of time, and an impatient attitude can’t change that. So as I get rewarded in the short-term for my impatient attitude, I know that those big long-term goals require a balance.

Long distance trail running has really been an interesting mental exercise for me, because it’s all about patience. Often, the people who are the strongest in long trail runs are the ones who were patient– in their training, and in their race. In the many long ultra running races I’ve seen, or been a part of, it’s often the smart, patient runners who have the best day. And that’s not to mention the cases of injuries and other setbacks, which further test our patience, and our ability to wait for a better day toward our goal.

One of my favourite places to trail run, Island Lake Lodge in Fernie, BC

When I started trail / ultra running, I was incredibly patient. Coming from a road running background, I didn’t hike or climb at all, so I couldn’t really run uphill, or downhill. I decided it didn’t matter: I really enjoyed running long distances on trails, so I was willing to wait. I gave myself an arbitrary long time– ten years– by when I expected myself to overcome these weaknesses, and I was surprised to really improve in about two years.

Adventures with friends is the best way to spend a day on Earth! Kerry and Tara on the route to Hanes Valley.

As I became less of a disaster and liability, my patience began to slip away. I started to do better and better, and as I did, I expected more from myself, more quickly.

In the past two years, I’ve had to really remember the patience I had when I started. I’ve had an incredible two years of running, getting faster and stronger than ever, and getting opportunities to race internationally. But when it came to the races I entered eagerly, everything usually fell apart, because of my inability to figure out the nutrition side. I found it incredibly frustrating to feel fit, but unable to have a good day at a race. Over and over, I got severely nauseous during races, and performed way worse than I had in similar training runs. It got so frustrating, I thought about maybe trying a new sport… something that did not require eating during the event. Yoga, sprinting, and others became attractive.

But then I remembered that I could simply choose to be patient. If I really like the beautiful places I get to see, the people I get to meet, and the fun I have doing this, why not just chill out a little bit, and give myself time to work through these issues, just like when I started?

Photo by Tara at this year’s epic Broken Arrow Skyrace, which I barely survived. Had a terrible day in terms of results / hoped-for run, but I’ll be using those lessons for the next decade!

With that mindset, I’ve gained back my original patience, bit by bit. I’m more focused on my long-term quest than before. And funny enough, as my short-term expectations lower, my performance rebounds… finally had a race where I didn’t DNF, try to bushwhack off the course at halfway, eat only a single granola bar, eat only goldfish crackers, etc. last week at the Elk Valley Ultra!

Galloping around just outside town in Fernie, BC before a super fun day at the Elk Valley Ultra



Cirque Lake: Venturing into a Mosquito War, Via Paddle Board

Articles online rave about Cirque Lake, a lake that’s tucked away in the Callaghan Valley of Whistler. It’s supposed to be amazing, so Nikki and I were intrigued. We thought it could be fun to scope it out, and think about bringing a larger group there on a Girls Gone Wilderness adventure.

Of course, others were less interested in all the effort required. To get there in summer months, you must canoe / paddle board / kayak across Callaghan Lake, then take a short trail from there. Fun!! As soon as the mention of multiple sports were mentioned, Nikki and I were stoked.

So we loaded up the Suby with 2 paddle boards, snowshoes, (we figured there would still be a lot of snow this year in July) and a beer. Onwards to Callaghan Country!

Driving up the Callaghan Lake Forest Service Road felt strange. I spent many a winter day hauling ass up here on skate skis, so it was weird and a bit too easy to be driven up.

Getting to Callaghan lake, it was beautiful. With all the focus on Cirque Lake, it’s easy to be surprised by Callaghan. A few people were camping there, and there was generally a really nice vibe.


Paddling across Callaghan Lake. Photo by Nikki Johnston Beaudoin.

FML, Unexpected Adventure

As we paddled across Callaghan toward the Cirque trailhead, we remembered the advice from online: “paddle to the waterfall, then see a clearing in the trees to the right, that’s where the trailhead is.” Should be no problem. After a 25 minute SUP journey, we transitioned to looking around for the trailhead, getting off the SUP and walking around all places “right” of the waterfall, and there was nothing. After a futile 20-30 minutes of paddle – search, look at low-res map, paddle – search, we decided to ask for advice from the pair of kayakers who were floating nearby. Sure enough, they had been there, although it had taken them four hours, when the guides online said it would be two. The kayakers did a lot of bushwhacking, and it sounded like they didn’t find any sign of a trail until they found the scree field. Their advice was to bushwhack to the right of the waterfall. When I asked if we should bring the snowshoes we had strapped to our SUPs, they said there was snow most of the way, but no. I disregarded their advice. Having paddled the snowshoes all the way, I was bringing them if there was any snow!

I knew following people who had clearly gotten lost and taken 2-3 times longer than I wanted to wasn’t ideal, but we had no other information. We couldn’t see any sign of a trail, and the map we had was way too low-res. A GPS track would have been ideal, we just didn’t think it would come to this. So, we decided to follow the other misguided people’s advice. FML.

Bushwacking in Callaghan Valley

Nikki fending off the mosquito/fly attack while crawling around the forest. Photo by Alicia.

Entering the bushwhack phase, a special kind of hell transpired. A combination of flies and aggressive mosquitos swarmed our faces, especially our eyes and ears. (Side note: I don’t use bug spray.) We were bushwhacking through a marshy area, up and down gullys, while being eaten alive. I have never before encountered a situation where I was tested to my limit in such a short amount of time. It got so miserable that at one point, I asked Nikki if we should just call it a day and turn back. Who cares, it’s just a lake anyway?! We decided it was time for a snack before anything else.

A Little Snack Does Wonders

Glucose does wonders to the brain and general morale. As soon as the snack went down, we decided to continue another 10 minutes to find the scree field, as it should be really close, and the kayakers had said that the scree field navigating got way better. This is such a tiny hike (300 meters gain, total) that we should be really close to the lake by then.

And of course, as soon as we got into this headspace, we found a tiny trail — the trail!!

Cirque Lake trail

This is what the trail looks like! Note the obvious orange flagging.

While the mosquito / fly massacre continued, we weren’t bushwacking hopelessly at the same time, so it became tolerable. Following the trail, we found the scree field, enjoyed views of Callaghan Lake below as promised, and we made it to the lake from the scree field in about 20/30 minutes. (At this point, I remembered that I’ve already been to Cirque Lake, on touring skis in winter.) I was glad to have my snowshoes, as there was some traversing on snow which became much more fun and less cautious with any sort of traction. The icy, snow-lined lake was indeed pretty, but I was actually more enamoured with the huge and sparkling Callaghan Lake.

Callaghan Lake

Looking back at my favourite, Callaghan Lake from the top of the climb to Cirque Lake. Journeyman Lodge would be to the right of Callaghan Lake. Photo by Alicia.


I was happy to bring my snowshoes, it made this little traverse from the top of the climb over to Cirque Lake way more fun. Especially downhill! Photo by Nikki.


Cirque Lake in July

Cirque Lake in early July after a huge snow year. Photo by Nikki.

On the way back, we paid special attention to follow the trail all the way back. After the scree field, the path got thinner and thinner. At first there was tiny orange flagging every so often, then it became animal trail-like, snow-covered, and devoid of any markers. Blending in with the ground around it, it was extremely hard to notice, and we understood why it was impossible on the way in. Emerging at the paddle boards after about 30 minutes down, we were stoked to avoid the bushwhack entirely on the way down, and finally discover where the “trailhead” lies.

Getting back to the paddleboards, I removed the beer from its natural cooler in the cold lake, and off we paddled back across Callaghan, searching for a bug-free area in this paradise to down it. All in all, this trip was hilarious and super fun. It tested us in new ways, and turned into an adventure we weren’t expecting. Definitely not bringing a big group here!

Things I would do differently!

  • Note follow the “route-finding” of misguided people who were clearly lost. Instead, have a GPS track of the route. It will save 1 hour of bushwacking!
  • Bug repellant!!!!
  • The best decision I made was bringing fleece pants. Pants were crucial for bug protection, having fun sliding in the snow, and for warmth when we got up higher.
  • Bring orange flagging tape to re-mark the route and trailhead as I go to help the next people!
  • Have 2 beers instead of 1.

For anyone who wants to do this and avoid the bushwhack / mosquito hell, the “trailhead” is in between two streams of the waterfall: it’s to the right of the main waterfall stream, and to the left of a smaller outflow. (Mind you, this is in early summer after a big snow year.) Of course, you will not see a trail sign or any indication of a trail there, but it is the path of least resistance, with minimal alder.