Hiking in a Rain Shadow

Kamloops sits in a physiographic region of BC called the Interior Plateau, which lies immediately to the east of the Coast Mountains. These mountains run roughly southeast-to-northwest and form a barrier to the dominant, moist air-flow from the Pacific Ocean, and result in a climate that is much drier and more continental than that of the coastal areas.

This happens because when the air is forced to rise over the mountains as it travels east, it cools and much of its moisture falls as precipitation on the windward slopes. The now drier air then warms again as it flows downhill on the leeward side, and the clouds dissipate. This region, where the precipitation is much less, is called a rain shadow.

Mara and Canyon
Left, Mt. Mara and Tranquille River Canyon in foreground

Rain-shadow climates are not just drier than those ‘on the other side of the mountain’, they are also warmer. In fact, the southern interior, and in particular those narrow fingers of land centered on the major river valleys there, experience hotter and drier summers than any other areas in the province. Kamloops has the hottest summers of any Canadian city, and only Whitehorse in the Yukon is drier.

These narrow river valleys make up a small climactic zone called the Bunchgrass Zone, which covers less than one percent of the total area of BC and is characterized by open grasslands where the climate is generally hostile to tree growth. But the very conditions that prevent the growth of forests are a blessing to hikers.

Kamloops lies in an area that is uniquely favorable for hiking. The Thompson River valley is flanked on both sides by lines of high hills, some with stunning perpendicular cliffs, from which sweeping vistas spread in all directions. The views to the north from the line of cliffs in the Buse lake Protected Area, and to the south from the summit of Mount Mara, are among the finest in the southern interior, and because of our climate these places can be reached year-round. The open terrain in the valley also provides excellent views without having to go high to get them, and the semi-arid climate has allowed geological features such as hoodoos to form which cannot exist anywhere else.

Hiking in a rain shadow means that where you are it is, on average, drier, sunnier and warmer than it is elsewhere, and you will probably have a beautiful view from almost anywhere.

grasslands and Al
Al in the Grasslands north of Kamloops

Al Budreau

Kamloops Backcountry Hikes

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Why Hike?

CORR BACKPACK ON GE
Mid summer hike up Golden Ears, in Lower Mainland, BC  Photo: Heather Ellis

Some hikers hit the trail to move blood and build muscle, to discover a new view, feel the rewards of a hard climb or challenge a fear. Some burn off stress, get away from daily life, or walk and visit with a friend. Some wear ear buds to push a compelling mantra into their brains, some go to exercise the dog, log new entries on their birding list, and others find magical photographic light or seek out neat rocks, and find feathers to bring home.

Another way to experience a hike is to slow down – a lot.

On a familiar trail to you, (less likely to get lost) pull out the ear buds, wear silent clothing, refrain from talking both to your self and others for just a while and move like smoke on a gentle breeze. Slowly, timelessly and breathing deeply follow a level path and a whole new energy enters the body and quiets the mind.

If you’re wound up it may take 15-20 minutes of this slow pace to really settle and feel it in your system, but once it does, just coast or sit for a while. Let your gaze shift to daydream. Listen to birds and plants and trees alive in their world. Lay down and watch the clouds drift, or branches sway. Roll over and smell the earth, the grasses or forest floor – you’ll be amazed at the perfume, especially at the base of fir or pine tree when the sun has shone on it for awhile.

sm SMELL EARTH WIDE
Inhaling forest perfume – pure delight.

Why we hike doesn’t always have to fit the mold of exuberant movement. Being out there whether active or not brings balance to some of the nonsense of daily life.

If you feel energized and refreshed at the end of it all, then tick the box called, ” Food for body mind and soul ” as well done for today – yay you!

Mairi Budreau

Kamloops Backcountry Hikes

 

Pining

The summer went by fast.

Some folks pine about summer ending, but I love all seasons; one door closes and another one opens.

In autumn the forest under-story floods my lungs with earthen perfumes. Organisms are busy breaking down leaves and tree skin, weaving a thicker blanket for the forest floor before winter arrives. Rains come a little more often and the tilt of the sun signals the leaves to stop being green because its time to let go and be free of twiggy tethers, its time to return to the beautiful mother earth and nurture the lives yet to come. We are privileged to see this cycle, and to dwell upon a deeper meaning.

Grasses have long been brown yet still bend and a few seed heads release the last of their children to the winds. I wish more of us could be free and trust our lives enough to allow the wind to place us to where we are supposed to be, and that we would find within us an innate ability to accept where we land and see the virtues that challenging places bring out in us, like endurance and ingenuity.

LM forest
Rainforest near Mission, BC

You don’t have to walk far in a natural forest to see the challenges that some trees live in. Yet they grow and grow and grow until they simply can’t. Original wild places make us more of what we are.

We used to think trees competed against each other for food, and light, and space but its much more intricate and caring than that. We now know that forests are communities of young and old, rich and poor, and mixed species. Parents support children with extra nutrients and children support parents by breaking the wind. Trees may appear at first to be quite different from people, but when it comes to community we, and the trees, are very much the same.
So while some folks pine about the closing days of summer, I admit to pining for ways that city dwellers see how much we have in common with the forest, no matter the season.

Mairi Budreau

Kamloops Backcountry Hikes

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Don’t Get Lost

Hiking in the back country has provided me with some of the greatest pleasures of my life. I have sometimes entered a pure-enjoyment zone, where the spectacular scenery and wildlife have literally made me want to quit my job, leave home and just keep hiking, completely giving in to the temptations of the wilderness. Many hikers have felt this euphoria, and in so doing have missed the warning signs of impending disorientation.

Becoming lost is probably the biggest risk a hiker can face, and at one time or another almost all of us have done it. Here are some tips that may help you.

green woods

First, do your homework. Research a new area thoroughly before setting out. Topographic maps are a valuable source of information, as many trail maps do not show topography.

Second, be prepared. Even if you think that you’re only going out for a couple of hours, be prepared for being out a much longer time. If you become lost you are on your own, and must be able to fend for yourself until finding your way back. Your day-pack should contain: sufficient food and water, matches in a water-proof container, compass and map, GPS with extra charged batteries, extra clothing, emergency blanket, pencil and paper, whistle, and flagging tape. I also carry a folding saw and a small axe.

Third, have a plan, and stick to it. Make sure someone knows where you intend to go and how long you plan to be out. Bring your cell phone, but be aware that you may not always be in cell range.

logs across path

Fourth, stay on the trail; trails can be surprisingly hard to re-locate once you venture off them. Short-cutting switchbacks, or even detouring around fallen trees, can be enough to disorient you. If you must leave the trail, tie a piece of flagging tape onto a tree branch as a reference marker, or set a waypoint that you can ‘home in’ on.

Fifth, pay attention to your surroundings. Remember or write down landmarks you see, such as rock outcrops, streams or oddly-shaped trees. Look behind you periodically – the trail will look much different when going the other way. Note unmarked trails or animal trails that cross or merge with yours. And old or infrequently-used trails can still be obvious when in the forest, yet disappear completely in open areas or on rocky ground.

Sixth, know where active railways, highways, or rivers are with respect to your trail and listen for them to give you a bearing on what direction to take to find your way out.

The rewards of back-country hiking can be great, but you must always keep your wits about you. Prepare for your trip, pay attention to your surroundings and to where you are, and don’t get lost.

Al Budreau

Kamloops Backcountry Hikes

The Ups and Downs of Wind

What does it mean to be up wind or down wind? Wind comes at us from all sides so it can be a bit confusing.

MB on trail

Your position in an up or down wind situation is relative to something else, for example  lets say its a fox.

So you’re on the trail, notice where you feel the wind is coming from, say it’s felt on your face as you walk forward. If the fox is behind you, you are up wind of him and he is down wind from you. The wind passes you first carrying your scent and any sounds you make, slight as they be, to the alert ears and keen nose of our little red friend. As you walk ahead and further away from the fox, the information about you decreases. This fox knows you are there and you will most likely never even know about it.

Fox den by simply Appalachian
Fox Den    Photo by Simply Appalachian

Now let’s look at it the other way. The wind stays on your face, but now the fox is ahead of you, you are now down wind of the fox and he is up wind of you. If he is out of sight you have little or no sense that he is there because your senses are not as sharp as his are. And with the wind blowing your scent behind you and away from the fox he is not getting the information that you are approaching and both of you might have a surprise encounter, or you catch a glimpse of his tail disappearing in some underbrush, or if you’re lucky capture a photo if he locks into his tracks and you’re fast and ready with a camera.

Being up wind and down wind is important to be aware of as you hike, particularly in transition zones between forests and fields, climbing up onto clearings and along the edges of creeks, ponds, and swamps; the borders between these different habitats are often frequented by wildlife. Paying attention to air movement tunes you more closely to the location and can help you avoid a sudden meeting with a more powerful four-legged than a fox.

Mairi Budreau

Kamloops Backcountry Hikes

Mosquitoes are Teachers – what?

I wrote in our Kamloops Backcountry Hikes that you can hike on most trails year round in the semi-arid Kamloops climate without using bug repellant, but this year has been a bit different – there are a lot of mosquitoes this year, also a lot of rain and short stretches of heat which is prolonging their season.

I’ve lived and hiked in Kamloops since 2005 and have found that ‘skits’  have not been a big deal except in the spring or when travelling through shady areas by lake shores and creeks. By mid summer the heat dramatically cuts back their numbers, but this summer is a bit different – so far.

spring
One of several springs along the Tranquille River Trail

Both Al and I are not fans of putting insecticides on the largest organ of the body, our skin, so we ‘feed’ the mosquitoes.

As a ‘feeder’ I’ve learned that after a bite if I resist scratching it, in just a few minutes the irritation declines and disappears and the need to scratch goes away entirely. If I cave in and scratch it, I’ll be scratching the bite for 2–3 weeks. From this I’ve deduced that mosquitoes are great teachers by giving us an opportunity to exercise tolerance of discomfort by withstanding a little sting and ignoring the urge to scratch for a few moments. If we’re successful the white lump disappears.

allergic-to-mosquito-bites
If you give up and scratch, the white lump inflames and itches for many, many days, scabs can form and then there is blood on the sheets or your clothes and so on – I’ll take the former.

As a society we’ve become very soft and intolerant of discomfort, any little thing gets under our skin. We’re programmed to avoid discomforts or treat them by buying a product. Not this chicky!
Mosquitoes can be looked upon as reminders to build tolerance for discomfort which can enrich other areas of our lives because there’s plenty of things in this world that would benefit from our tolerance. ‘Skits’ also remind us to make a choice about a future outcome – to itch or not to itch.

Through a little introspection, nature reveals subtle yet important life ways.

Mairi Budreau

 

Be ‘Bear Aware’

There are several different types of large wild animals native to the Kamloops area, and hikers should learn all they can about each one and where they might be encountered. Wild animals are naturally unpredictable, and they may consider a sudden encounter with a human to be a danger to them. Different animals will react differently, so if you do find yourself face-to-face with one you will need to know which set of tactics to use.

The most familiar, and perhaps the most misunderstood, of the large wild animals around Kamloops is the black bear.

standing BEAR IMG_8105
This bear saw Al then stood up perhaps to get a better look, then dropped to all fours, turned away and disappeared into the forest.

There were more than 14000 complaints about black bears in BC in 2017 and a number of these have involved bear-human conflicts on the hiking trail. These conflicts are almost invariably caused by inappropriate human behaviour – they are never the fault of the bear. Black bears are naturally shy and will avoid people if given the chance, so if you see one at a distance, do not approach him.

If you encounter a black bear on the trail, give him plenty of room. Black bears have a strong sense of personal space – a distance that varies from bear to bear and from which they won’t back away, and if you end up inside that space, you are likely to experience a combination of highly intimidating behaviours. You are entirely responsible for your own safety if this happens, and to manage a human-bear conflict successfully you must be able to communicate with the bear in a way that he understands.

bear IMG_6953
In the bush, we saw this bear before he saw us, so we moved ourselves out onto the road and continued the hike. On the return he paralleled us and again seemed to be oblivious of us. Then came into the open right behind us and then moved on.

Almost all bear attacks are defensive bluffs based on fear, and many of the behaviors that appear ferocious are really expressions of the bear’s own anxiety. So make yourself appear physically harmless; face the bear but avoid direct eye contact, talk calmly to him to identify yourself as a human and not another animal, then slowly begin to back away. Do not turn away from him, and NEVER RUN. This takes nerve, but remember that the bear is defending something; cubs perhaps, a food source or just personal space, and is not making a predatory attack – black bears do not prey on humans. Once there is enough distance between you, the bear will no longer feel threatened.

Leave the area immediately following the encounter, preferably the way you came in. If you choose to detour around the bear and continue your hike you may very well face him again on your way back.

More information about bear encounters see pg 35 of Kamloops Backcountry Hikes

BEAR VIDEO       There’s a little blurb below the video too!!

 

Al Budreau