Adding Value to Your Hike

Gosh, it’s the beginning of July already! It’s been unseasonably warm and dry (especially compared to last year’s cooler-than-usual Spring).

Hopefully you’ve been able to get out on the trail a little, but if not, you’ve left it to a great time. The snow is melting (er ... gone, except maaaybe on shady parts of Heiko’s Trail). Mind you, although it’s a little hot a little early, there’s still water in the creeks for toe-cooling.

As summer comes in, we’re seeing the foliage (grasses, bushes, leaves-on-trees) get to what I call “full lush,” which sounds like my Uncle Bob, but actually describes all those happy healthy photosynthesizing plants growing taller, fuller and denser. They are big enough to obscure the less used trails, camouflage those pesky stinging nettles and devil’s club plants, and certainly big enough to hide those bigger animals we really want to keep our distance from (bear, moose and elk). Try to travel in a group, keep your eyes peeled, keep making noise as you move along (this is where yodeling IS considered cool), and think about wearing long pants on certain trails (as defence against nettles, not bears).

OK, that’s enough pre-amble. Here’s the meat of this month’s column: Adding (knowledge) value to your hike.

For some, just the joy of the physical activity is enough (hands up, gym rats), others simply like the places they get to by hiking (summits, ridges, lakes, deep cool mature forests). Others still add value to their hike by looking at everything out there and wondering and questioning and researching and learning... for you, there are resources!

If you are only going to use / bring one book (and it’s a bit heavy, so maybe only one is a smart thought), it’s going to be Ben Gadd’s Handbook of The Canadian Rockies - basically the Bible of our backcountry with just enough about everything to satisfy everyone. Plants, animals, bugs, rocks, history… it’s all in there. My second choice for around here is Fernie local Terry Nelson’s excellent Fernie Area Hiking Trails and Natural Plant Compendium. Thirdly, and hardly weighing anything, would be a laminated The Flower Twitcher, A Guide to Canadian Rocky Mountain Flowers by sometime Fernie local Kelly Eaton.

You’ll find each of these awesome paper trail-companions at Polar Peek bookstore on 2nd Avenue.

Grab a paper map of our local trail system from one of Fernie’s fine gear shops or the Visitor’s Information Centre. Or get around with the help of one of the (amazing when you think about it) cellphone-based mapping apps: GaiaGPS, AllTrails, Trailforks, and others. For a more lifelike look, there’s FatMap, which gives you a 3D view of the terrain, (just like GoogleEarth), and for on-the-summit-what’s-that-mountain answers, there’s the amazing PeakFinder, an augmented look at the skyline with everything named. Awesome, who needs a guide?! 

I already mentioned mapping apps, but there’s a few others that can add interest and learning to your day out. There’s Seek, another augmented-reality cleverness. Point it at a tree, flower, bug, bird, lichen, or even scat (polite word for poop!) and voila, it’s pretty good at telling you what you are looking at. If you hear a tweeting and would like to know who (which bird) is whistling at you, turn on your Merlin app and it will analyse the tune and often times identify it for you. It’s pretty close to magic!

Well, that’s it for this month. Go have a backcountry (educational) blast, not forgetting the heat and the power of the sun. Bring water, sunscreen, lip stuff, ‘personal shade’ in the form of at least a ballcap, maybe one of those brim-all-around bucket hats, long sleeves, and a collared shirt so you can stand it up (à la James Dean). Add ski-pole-for-balance-and-support (creaky knees, I’m looking 
at you!), lunch and a can ‘o bear spray and you’re set for an amazing day out!