Tuesday, 20 March 2018

SideStix allows amputees to go snowshoeing

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Starting out the Snow Paws trail
      Recently my brother Bruce and his wife Mary Ellen visited from Victoria and they brought their dog Keita and some new crutch attachments that my brother was interested in trying out.  We had suggested they try snowhoeing at Raven Lodge at Mount Washington but since Bruce uses crutches he would have to come up with an attachment to keep his crutches from sinking into the snow. It turn out that SideStix, a BC company, produces just that sort of attachment for snow. As you can see in the pictures it simply is added to the crutch and provides a wide surface area with all important serrated metal ring that digs into the snow preventing the crutches from slipping out on icy or hard packed snow.
Along the Snow Paws snowshoe trail
 On Sunday, March 18 he tried them on the multi purpose trail that links Raven Lodge to the Hawk Chair lift and found that they worked very well. So after lunch he and Mary Ellen did the 2.5 km Old Cabin Loop trail (classed as green or easy) and found that they worked equally well on that trail as well. The bonus of that trail is that it winds through the trees yet provides views of the surrounding mountains. The next day we decided to take the dog Keita along and so we tried the Snow Paws trail which is classes as a blue trail and Bruce found that it had more challenging terrain so did about half of that trail. After lunch we did the multi use trail again since it is also dog friendly.  For a video of Bruce testing them click here: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=R1AnrqOpB8Y  
We ran into a couple of people snowshoeing with their dogs
 For anyone that would like to go snowshoeing and uses crutches then these SideStix attachments are well worth looking into. Bruce had many people ask him where he got them so for anyone wanting to check them out see: https://www.sidestix.com/    If you check out their web site you will see they are all about getting people of all abilities out into the outdoors.  One of the founders of SideStix, Sarah Doherty is an elite US Alpine Skiing Paralympian and  the first amputee to ever summit Mt. McKinley.  Impressive! 
Along the multi use trail
 For more details on snowshoeing at Mount Washington  see: https://www.mountwashington.ca/    Mount Washington Alpine Resort actively supports people with disabilities and has a large Adaptive Snowsports programme run by the Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports (VISAS).  


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Cross country skiers love Mount Washington’s “Far East” trail for good reason

by Keith and Heather Nicol
       When we ask Mount Washington skiers what cross country ski trail they prefer they often say “Lake Trail” or “Far East”.  Both trails have much to recommend them but Far East is abit more forgiving in terms of required skills so might appeal to abit larger audience.  Lake Trail is classed as a black diamond or difficult while Far East is classed as a blue square or of moderate difficulty. Depending on your route around the “Ponds” , Far East is roughly 11 km long so makes for a nice workout. To access Far East you need to follow the Ponds to Paradise Meadows to Jackrabbit Link to reach the 4.5 km Far East loop. We usually go around it in a counter clockwise fashion since some the steep twisting hills as easier skied going down and and the long gentle uphill return slope can often be rhythmically skated or strided.

Be sure to have a good snowplow for this trail
       On Tuesday, March 13 the forecast was not looking good- showers turning to rain. But when we got up to Raven Lodge there was no rain and the sun was even popping in and out of the clouds. It looked like weather was coming but if we got going quickly we could take advantage of the fast snow for skating and perhaps not get rained on. We also ran into our friend Doug Rose in the lodge and he was thinking like us—lets get in a quick ski before we the weather system arrives. We were some of the first people to lay down skate tracks on the firm corduroy skating lane and we one skated and two skated our way to Far East. 
You will use all your skating techniques on this trail-- Doug offsets up a a hill
Once on Far East the hills get abit more serious and we had to employ a solid snow plow and had lots of places to do quick step turns around corners. One of the nice aspects of Far East is that you get a chance to use a variety of techniques to get you around the trail. We also like to open aspect of Far East and it is one of the only cross country ski trails at Mount Washington to give you views of the ocean and mountains on the BC mainland.  Turns out we timed it well since the showers started only as we headed back to the lodge over the final 2 km of trail. Overall we were gone for 1 hour. So this time of year-watch the weather forecast but we aware that it is often wrong so check the web cams and current weather at Mt Washington to see what is really doing. You might get in an unexpectedly good ski.  For more information see: https://www.mountwashington.ca/
We love the distance views of the ocean and mountains

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Sea Kayaking with dozens of sea lions at Pt Holmes near Courtenay, B.C.

by Keith and Heather Nicol
    On Thursday, March 8 we attended a dinner party and one of the hosts Guy Wassick mentioned that he had seen many rafts of sea lions off Pt Holmes that day while driving along Lazo Road. We had been out to that area earlier in the week looking for evidence of herring spawning and the buzz of wildlife activity that occurs with that but had seen nothing at Pt Holmes, Air Force Beach or Kye Bay.  So with this new information we headed out to checking things out on Friday morning and sure enough we could see many congregations of sea lions with their fins in the air and some groups were noisily barking. Curiously we saw no other activity that we knew was associated with herring spawning like gulls squawking and eagles swooping but it is always fun to see large groupings of sea lions so we headed back to the house to get our sea kayaks.  
Heather paddling slowly toward a group of sea lions
The water was flat calm and the boat launch at Pt Holmes made it easy to launch. We could see several rafts of sea lions just off shore so paddled off toward the closest grouping.  Sea lions use their flippers for thermoregulation and in this grouping we could see a mass of flippers, tails and heads. Biologists think they use the flippers to gather the sun’s energy and then this is heat is transferred to the rest of the animal below the water surface.  Sea lions are also known for their distinctive barking, a sound which carries a long distance across the water. It seems like once one sea lion starts barking it sends others into the barking mode as well.  Most of the sea lions we saw appeared to be California Sea Lions and the males have a distinctive “dome” on the forehead. 
Bring a camera with a telephoto lens - lets you see the mass of fins and heads up close
   We usually give these animals a wide berth since they do have a mouthful of sharp teeth but as far we can determine they never seem to attack kayakers. We would typically paddle within a 100 meters of so and then just sit and watch and often they would come closer. Sometimes they would surface close to us have a quick scan around and then noisy dive under the water. This isn’t too unnerving when they are in front of you but when you hear loud slapping and splashes behind you wonder what is going on. One sea lion seemed intent on sunning his head and swam quite close to us keeping its head above the water the whole time. Then another sea lion came up next to it and fortunately I had my camera out and got a picture of the 2 of them “kissing”. They stayed like that for a few moments before one sea lion let out a snarl and the other one quickly disappeared under the water.  We also saw some sea lions with herring in their mouth as they came to the surface. 
Two sea lions came face to face right in front of us
A paddle boarder also came out to investigate and he got very close to the sea lions. In fact at one point a large group seemed to swim right toward him but since it was 200-300 meters away we couldn’t see exactly how close they were.  Herring season is short lived but is well worth having a look at either from on shore, from a paddle board or from a small boat.  Click on the link to see a video of our outing-  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKZV-q2poPk

A paddleboarder cruises past some sea lions with Lasqueti Island behind

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Returning to Red Mountain Ski Resort was ski down memory lane

 by Keith and Heather Nicol
Michael on top of Granite Mtn

   In late February, 2018 my son and I took a road trip along the Powder Highway to check out Red Mountain and do some cat skiing at Valhalla Powdercats. It had been roughly 50 years since I had skied at Red Mountain and it certainly has changed. When we skied there in 1968 there was a single chair running up Red Mountain and a double extending to the top of Granite Mountain.  There was also a poma lift on the Red Mountain side.  We were there the winter that Nancy Greene won Olympic Gold and Silver at the Grenoble Olympics in 1968 and since Nancy’s home mountain was Red Mountain there was a buzz in the air. There was also a World Cup race in the spring of 1968 at Red Mountain and I recall Jean Claude Killy arrived in a helicopter took his runs and then took off again. Nancy Greene won the Giant Slalom race at Red Mountain before 7000 cheering fans and this was the first World Cup race to be held in Canada!!
Michael checking out the powder on the T bar slope

   Fast forward to the winter of 2018 and it was time to take a return trip to Red Mountain and show my son Michael where we used to ski 50 years ago on wooden skis with screw edges with bear trap non releasable bindings. When we arrived on Saturday, Feb 24 it was sunny and the lift lines were stretched out well before the chairlifts started turning.  We arrived just after 9:00 am and after getting our tickets we opted for the shortest lift line which was at the T bar. That turned out to be a good choice since we had several runs through nice powder snow that had fallen in the last 48 hours. All with no lineups!  After 4 laps on the t-bars we noted that the lift line for the Red Mountain chairlift had diminished so we did several runs on it before turning our attention to Granite and Grey Mountain. There are now 4 ski lifts on this side – 3 on Granite Mountain and 1 on Grey Mountain which was a big change from 50 years ago. We found the snow less deep on this side and mostly skied out and after a few runs here exploring this area we returned to Red Mountain and took a final few runs down the face of Red. This is where the Giant Slalom was set that Nancy Greene raced on and it certainly has not gotten any less challenging.  I can`t imagine skiing it in the equipment of the day back in 1968. We had a post ski beer in ``Rafters`` which has been named one of the best ski bars in Canada by Ski Canada Magazine.  There is a ton of terrain at Red Mountain and we plan to check more of it out on our next visit. For more information see: http://www.redresort.com/   
We found the best snow in the T bar slope