There's something to be said about decent maps and trail markers. As a diverse and gorgeous province, you have a wealth of stunning hiking trails, most of which can be used as tasty bait to lure adventurous tourists inside the provincial boundaries. (And once they are in, they are sure to spend money.) However, the hikes themselves are not enough. You know what visitors really need? DECENT MAPS AND TRAIL MARKERS.
Not everyone who checks out the hiking trails in B.C. is navigationally savvy. And even those that are would still like to know a few critical details about a hike before embarking on it. For example:
1. How do I get myself to the trail head?
2. How long is the hike? (Better if this is measured in good old kilometres, rather than by time, because the last time I checked, not everybody hikes at the same speed)
3. Where will the hike take me? I.e. what is the route?
4. How do I get back to my car (or bicycle, or the road) when I am finished the hike? Is this a loop trail or an out-and-back?
Seems pretty simple, right? Then why, B.C., oh why, on one of your most beautiful Gulf Islands, can you not provide clear and consistent answers to these basic questions in any of your visitor information provided materials?
An example might help to illustrate this point. My dear husband and I ventured onto beautiful Salt Spring Island this past weekend. We were excited to take in the Saturday market in Ganges and to experience some of the hiking trails that Salt Spring had to offer. We were armed with a hiking trails guide book, and we also stopped by the Visitor Information Centre to retrieve maps of some popular hiking trails. We were prepared. Or so we thought.
One of the hikes we attempted was to Baynes Peak on Mount Maxwell. Our guide book provided the following instructions to drive to the trailhead:
"On Fulford-Ganges Road... turn southwest onto Cranberry Road to Hobbs Road. Swing left (south) at the T-Junction and take Mount Maxwell Road to the main parking lot. The pavement ends at the 4km mark. Parts of the 9km route may be rough. The road is not suited to trailers and RVs"
--- from Hiking Trails II: South-Central Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands
OK, so we were on Mount Maxwell Road in no time. As soon as we turned onto the road, the pavement ended. That must mean 5 km to the main parking lot, then? Sure.
Well, five or so kilometres later, we were indeed in the main parking lot, but said parking lot, unbeknownst to us, actually represented the end of the hike, not the trailhead. There were picnic tables full of families who had driven up for the day, and nary a hiking boot nor bead of sweat was evident on any one of them.
This is how we came to hike down a mountain, rather than up. If you are ever thinking of doing this one day, it's not really recommended. For one thing, nothing beats the exhilarated rush of scaling a mountain by foot and finally being rewarded with a spectacular view. Honestly, it's kind of anti-climactic going from majestic panoramics up above to dark moss down below tree level. Still nice, but anti-climactic. Secondly, going down a mountain from the get-go means you still have to go back up to return to your vehicle. So the pain and suffering of the whole ordeal gets moved to the end of the hike. Come on. You sweat on the way up (at the BEGINNING) and scamper all carefree-like on the way down (AT THE END). That's how it should go.
In any case, down the mountain we hiked, following our 'trusty' visitor information centre-provided map and also consulting our 'very concise and clear' hiking guide book instructions:
Instructions: "At Baynes Peak (4), you will find the best viewpoint... The main viewing area near the sheer bluffs is fenced. From here you can hike northwest to find more viewpoints. The walk back to (1) is clearly marked. You can pick a route through open forest (2) where there is limited roadside parking. If you follow the park road east about 300m you'll find a minor, sometimes indistinct, trail (3) which winds through salal mainly along the north boundary. There are no trail markers. You can estimate the boundary by the size of the trees within the park... Avoid the south side trails: some are extremely dangerous. Only the trails from (4) to (1) are maintained."
Um, yeah. "Surprisingly" (truly, I'm shocked), we got a little lost on the hike. We started off on what must have been the south side trails... not marked at all. Beautiful and well-trodden, but not at all marked.
Marty posing next to the "Extremely Precipitous Dangerous Drop-Off", which had so lovingly been written onto our hand-drawn map.
In 45 minutes or so, we came to a dead end and the road back up. We were so not going to "hike" the road back up (so rustic!), so we crossed the road and discovered another trail. This one was marked with neon orange reflective tape and sometimes with neon orange reflective tiles that had been nailed onto trees. We figured we must be somewhere back on the mysterious route from "(4) to (1)", but even when walking in a straight line on the same trail, we discovered that some of the tiles had the number 2 scrawled on them, whereas others had the number 1, the number 3, the number 5 (?), and even "Gary's Trail" etched in permanent marker on them. So where the hell were we?
Don't get me wrong: the trail was still beautiful, and we were pretty certain that we would get back to our van so long as we eventually hiked "up". But how long would it take? Did we have enough food and water? Would we make it to the lavender farm afterward in time to take a tour before it closed? How much longer was this trail? To all of these questions, we didn't have the foggiest idea of an answer.
More time passed in the confusing sea of randomly numbered tiles, and suddenly we came across this:
Some other hiker, it seemed, had clearly been frustrated in this forest before and had taken it upon himself to laminate a little card of directions and hammer it to a tree. How thoughtful. And then again, soon after heading in the direction that was so helpfully pointed out by Mr. Lamination, we saw another novel trail marker:
This just happens to be a lid from a yogurt container that has been scribbled on in permanent marker and tacked to another tree! Note to B.C.: when your hikers have to resort to guerrilla trail marking tactics, perhaps it is time to invest in some DECENT (and preferably topographical) MAPS AND TRAIL MARKERS. Come on now!
The laminated sign and the yogurt containers proved to be the most clear directions we had received all weekend. We instinctively trusted in these rudimentary signs, even though their directions led us through a jumbled sea of more tiles marked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and now "Frosty Trail". Eventually, we ended up back at the top, taking in the majestic views (again-- and this time at least a little sweaty), but cursing our stupid, not to scale, hand-drawn map, and our convoluted guide book.
We arrived at the lavender farm exactly 4 minutes before they officially closed. Luckily, we were still able to tour the farm on our own time. But B.C, had we known exactly how long the trail was and exactly where it was going, we could have planned our hike accordingly and finished it up with oodles of time to spare. A novel concept, I know, but come on... all the other provinces are doing it.