On our recent third hike of the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park, Fiona and I were discussing trail runners and ultralight backpackers. The Rockwall is everything we love in a mountain trail, with beauty everywhere around you. It also has a few mountain passes to climb.
We were due for an adventure together, and though we are both hooked on bikerafting trips, we also like hiking and we decided that the long weekend was a good time to test our limits in terms of minimizing what we take with us on a hike. We’ve done the trail as a 6 day trip, and with the skimpy packs, we’ve booked campsites to do it in 3 days, 2 nights. Availability on the long weekend was sparse, so our Friday and Sunday are both over 20km while the middle Saturday is a mere 8km.
How Low Can We Go?
Each year, my pack gets lighter. I try to take less stuff every trip, but I still carry a massive pack by ultralight standards. One of the goals of this hike is to cut back to an absolute minimum when it comes to weight. The idea is that even with longer distances, the hike will be more enjoyable when our packs are barely noticeable.
The goal is 5 pounds for Fiona’s pack, and 15 pounds for mine.
What do we Really Need?
I don’t mess with safety. If I need it to be safe, or to keep Fiona safe, I’m bringing it. That means my InReach Mini gets a free 100g ride, along with 350g of bear spray. The first aid kit is getting stripped down to a backcountry minimum, mostly gauze and duct tape which should cover bleeding emergencies, with ingenuity left over for splints.
Stoves are great, and anyone who knows me knows my love for coffee, but a stove, fuel, and pot, not to mention the coffee grinder and Aeropress. Food is going to be stove-free. Water filters are great, but if we want to count grams, even the lightest is going to weigh us down. Mountain stream water in BC is generally drinkable right from the stream, with the exception of Giardia, and a couple of grams of tablets will deal with more water than we can possibly drink in a week.
Nobody wants to sleep in the rain, so shelter matters. We have a selection of shelters, but our usual is my home made tarp which comes in under 450g with pegs. I’ll use my hiking poles this trip so I don’t have to use sticks or find trees to hold the tarp up. Our quilts are good down to about -10ºC, and we shouldn’t see colder than that. We discussed bringing closed-cell foam mats, but our Therm-a-Rest Neoair X-Therm mats are only a little heavier and a lot more compact.
My spare clothing is a wool puffy jacket, a Buff, wool longjohns, and a pair of wool socks. Fiona’s is similar. A mylar space blanket poncho and a cinch-sack rain skirt pass as rainwear. I plan on rocking a Buff as an all-purpose hat.
Toothbrushes, toothpaste, a couple of sports-drink bottles for water, and toilet paper pretty much round up the rest.
That’s a Wrap!
The food plan is to bring leftover thin-crust pizza, bean and cheese burritos, and peanut butter and honey wraps as our main food, with some Cliff Smoothie bars as snacks. Without my beloved coffee in the morning, I’m bringing some chocolate-covered coffee beans for breakfast.
Pack it in!
I have been using a 1982 Lowe Alpine pack. It is massive, and carries lots of stuff for the family, but it weighs 6 pounds empty. Instead for this trip I will be using my HMG pack which is just over 2 pounds. Fiona is getting in on the pack lightening with a summit pack that has less support and less weight than her usual one.
By the Book
We would normally bring a book to read in the evenings, when we aren’t ready to sleep but do feel like a rest, but books are heavy. As a compromise, we will bring an encyclopedia containing all scientifically proven astrology – total weight 0 grams.
Are You Ready to Rock?
With the packs full, and a bottle of water, Fiona will be carrying 7 pounds, or 3.2kg. My Pack without food but with a full water bottle is 14 pounds (6.3kg) after I add food for 3 days that goes up to 10.3kg, or 22.8 pounds. We’ll let you know how it goes.
I originally had a 4-day loop planned for this weekend, It definitely involved hot springs. Life, and drying out an iPhone that had spent some time submerged, got in the way of the 4th day, and I set out from Radium late Friday afternoon. My bike was loaded with my packraft, paddles, pfd, 4 days of food and camping gear.
A bit of highway riding got me to Settlers Road FSR and the start of the fun. A quick 15km down the low-traffic gravel road took me to my set-in point near Nipika Resort.
The Kootenay river is not as straightforward as the Bow River that Fiona and I had paddled two weeks ago. It has several challenging rapids, and the flow rate is much higher. I was not ready to paddle something like this with kids. I’m sure they could have managed, but I did not feel prepared for river safety with children without another experienced paddler.
The river did not disappoint. I paddled to the famous Horseshoe Rapids, pulled out, decided I really wanted the provincial rec site on the opposite shore, and paddled across again. I had a relaxing time eating and watching the standing waves in the river.
Saturday, after some quick boat patching,to deal with a slow leak, I hit the river again. What followed, was four more hours of rapids, canyons, cliffs, and sensational river beauty.
Biking After the River
I had a vague plan to visit Lussier Hot Springs, and ride the Lost Elephant Jumbo route back to Invermere. Being short a day, I decided to shorten the route and visit the Red Rock Hot Springs instead.
I was just rolling down to the river to cross to the hot springs when I met a couple in a Jeep (on about the most backroad of back roads) who filled me in on how the “hot” springs were only lukewarm, and covered by the river when the river was high (it was).
I re-routed myself on to the Jumbo route. I figured I’d get some riding in, and camp for the night.
Things Go South
My dehydrated dinners need water to re-hydrate. The pass I was climbing had wet forest all around me, it had hailed on me twice. All of BC has streams and creeks, and rivers, it’s kind of their thing. Unfortunately, the trail I was on had only dry creek beds. I was alternating between pushing and riding because the trees were so wet that I was getting soaked if I rode, and too sweaty if I rode with my paddling jacket. I pushed on for 2 hours without finding a creek. My GPS told me the pass summit was 4 km away, but that was up switchbacks, so it took 18km of pushing/riding.
As it got dark, I finally crossed the high point of the pass I was on and found a creek about 200m down the opposite side. I quickly put up my tarp as darkness settled in and it began to rain. I tossed my stuff under the tarp, and inflated my mattress. Unfortunately, I then put it down on a sharp stick and had to repair the puncture – and the glue wouldn’t stick to the wet mattress, and the patch wouldn’t stick. It got cold, it was raining, I was having a lot of fun.
I awoke to near 0ºC temperature, fog, but weather that looked like it was clearing. A quick coffee and some food and I was off.
After some great downhill and some wonderful singletrack (Spirit Trails? east of Columbia Lake) I dropped down on to the highway to make time back to Radium to pick up my family.
Note that this route would be entirely possible without a raft since there is an FSR that parallels the river for the entire water portion. It was my alternate route if I had found the river paddling too risky.