How I ended up sandboarding

Some really cool snowboard designs I spotted in Chile

When I was in school, many of my friends made visits to Mont-Tremblant for ski trips. I didn’t have a chance to try skiing or until quite a number of years later after university. Still struggling to figure it out. I still haven’t tried snowboarding but I did surprisingly have a number of opportunities to sandboard!

It was during my travels in Chile when I had my first opportunity to sandboard. I hadn’t tried snowboarding yet but the fact that sandboarding was significantly less expensive was already enticing! What made it even more enticing was the fact that it seemed relatively straight forward and didn’t require as many pieces of equipment as snowboarding.

Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile is where lots of folks go sandboarding

Passing through San Pedro de Atacama on the way to Bolivia, I had the opportunity to stay for a day or so in the town.  One of the major activities in the area is sandboarding so a group of my fellow travellers and I took a brief truck ride into Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) to join in on the fun.

To sandboard, you just need a board and the will to hike up giant sand dunes.  Then strap yourself in and slide down!

While many folks might point out that sandboarding is very similar to snowboarding, I’d say that it is actually a bit more challenging for those who sandboard.  You have to hike up the giant sand dune with your sandboard as opposed to an enjoying a ride on a ski lift up a mountain.  Those who have hiked in sand will recognize the extra effort involved.  Nonetheless it was totally worth it, even if all my pockets were full of sand afterwards!

I also had the opportunity to sandboard while travelling in the United States.  In Colorado, there are the amazing Great Sand Dunes.  It is — simply put — a stunning natural environment to be in with such a diversity in the area.  Sand dunes, forest, marsh, mountains.

The Great Sand Dunes in Colorado

There is a great opportunity to hike (bring lots of water!), or alternatively, you can rent some sandboards nearby and have some fun on the dunes!  These are not just snowboards, they are actually designed for sand dunes so be prepared to remove your shoes and either use the sandboards with bare feet or with socks.

Hiking up the sand dunes

Of course, once again in Colorado, my friends and I were hiking up the sand dunes which was tiring after a number of times.  During the summer, I’d recommend heading out into the dunes early in the morning.  It isn’t hot yet and by the time you’ve made quite a few runs (at least 20) down the dunes, you’ll probably be tired out and ready to kickback in the shade.  The sand itself can get pretty hot by late morning to noon depending on the time of year.

sandboarding with friends in the Great Sand Dunes

Just like snowboarding, be ready to fall lots of times.  I can’t even count the number of times I fell or rolled down the side of the dune.  Other times, my sandboard was lacking wax so it’d slow down to a grind half way down the slope which made for some amusing times.

Yours truly, sandboarding for the second time

I’d love to go sandboarding again but just wish there were some places closer to Toronto.  I’ve heard about larger sand dunes in Sand Hill Park and will have to check it out sometime.


Bruce Trail Part 1 – Queenston Heights to Woodends

We started the trek on a pretty darn cold winter day but it turned out to be quite sunny so that made up for the chilly temperature. Once we got into a more wooded area, it helped shelter us from the wind.

Back in November 2013, as my friends and I discussed the possibility of hiking Kilimanjaro, we decided that as part of an on-going training routine, we’d work away at completing the entire Bruce Trail. It is approximately 890km (885km according to wikipedia) so it’ll take a while given that we intend on completing the entire trail in parts. I figured we’d begin in January but there have been some delays with myself getting the flu twice and other things in life that keep us busy. My optimistic self thought we might be able to tackle this in a year if we divided up the complete length of the trail into 52 weeks allowing us to tackle about 17km each week. Given that we’ve missed a number of weeks and we’re not tackling 17km just yet, I’ll aim for 2 years to complete this journey 🙂

The trail goes from Queenston in the Niagara region all the way up to Tobermory. I’d highly recommend purchasing a Bruce Trail membership and map because it isn’t the most straight forward trail with a lot of side trails and sections that pass through shared pieces of private property. I doubt we’d be able to find the trailhead in Queenston without the trail map!

We started the trek on a pretty darn cold winter day but it turned out to be quite sunny so that made up for the chilly temperature. Once we got into a more wooded area, it helped shelter us from the wind.

Starting off at the Bruce Trail Cairn in Queenston

Locating the cairn was pretty amusing.  We drove around and around this restaurant and Queenston Heights park until we finally spotted it.   Made for a great group photograph with some sort of government building in the backdrop.

Icy conditions on the trail, it was an interesting downhill slide

While the beginning of the trail was a walk through part of parking lot, it eventually transitioned into a more wooded area.  The trail began to get more interesting as we got closer to the sections of the trail that covered parts of the escarpment.  Some areas due to the conditions of the trail and the weather we were having in Ontario were pretty icy.  To avoid the really icy areas, we sometimes had to improvise and find a different route to get down hill.  I guess we could have tried some bum sliding!

Heading down some well maintained steps along the trail

I am pretty accustomed to actually hiking trails that are quite isolated from urban environments so it was a different experience to be walking through the wooded area and see that the road was just next to us.  I understood why — it was just … different, but I appreciated it because it made for an interesting juxtaposition and perspective of urban development and growth in these areas against the conservation efforts of many organizations and individuals.

Sections of complete layers of ice on the trail made for a longer trek

Along the way, there were sections of the trail involved walking down small gravel roads meant for vehicles.  Unfortunately these had turned into one long skating rink.  This meant a lot of shuffling on our hiking boots.  Fun for the inner kid, but made for a longer trek.  We came across other hikers who were shuffling along as well and were mutually amused by our situation.

Trekking past a nice partially frozen pond or reservoir

Once we got past the “treacherous” skating rink, we came across a beautiful pond or reservoir near some undeveloped land.  I’m guessing the land was cleared but it just wasn’t put into use … yet.

Tranquil wooded area and stream along the way on the Bruce Trail

There were a lot of sections of the Bruce Trail that were just plain road or in some cases crossing through a part of the backyards of suburban areas.  We’d joke about how we’d probably end up hiking past a Walmart at some point but thankfully, we enjoyed sections of the trail where it was more tranquil.  We also stopped on a part of the trail near the railroad tracks to enjoy lunch.

We were supposed to cross through this tunnel but due to water levels, we went another route

Further into the trail, we had to cross bridges and some pretty deep streams (only because of the weather).  This meant a lot of stone hopping or creative bridgework.  At one point, the trail map had indicated we were supposed to walk down this tunnel below the railroad tracks but the water level was too high for our boots so we climbed up and over the railroad tracks over to the other side.

Dirt road section of the Bruce Trail

Eventually after making our way past some more suburban backyards, we found ourselves on this dirt road.  Heading down this road, there are some side trails that you can take so keep your eyes peeled.

Finishing off the first part of the Bruce Trail - note the mall in the distance

There are some more interesting sections of the escarpment to see along the way and we finally ended the hike at Woodend Conservation Area.  Not too far away from the conveniences of civilization too.  While it wasn’t the most exciting hike I have been on, the trail has been interesting — especially in the way that it winds through neighbourhoods and some areas with historical significance — like Laura Secord’s route to warn the British of an American attack.

Looking forward to tackling the next part of the Bruce Trail!  In the meantime, take a look at the full gallery from this trek.

Hiking the Booth’s Rock Trail in Algonquin Park

One of my favourite parts of this trail was what my friends referred to as the mosquito farm.  This huge body of still water was perfect for mosquito larvae.  I simply enjoyed the green and reflection that was provided.  That said, this was the beginning of lots of pesky mosquitoes following us around.  Consider that a heads up if you do make a visit (pending weather and temperature of course).

Before some friends and I took a road trip to Utah a couple of years ago, I felt it was important for them to do a bit of a practice hike (as we were going to be doing a lot of hiking in Utah).  In one case it was to make sure one of my friends broke in his first pair of hiking boots.  So we hopped in the car, drove up to Algonquin Park, and settled on hiking the Booth’s Rock trail.  I actually had the opportunity to hike this in the winter quite a few years ago but attempting this in the Spring just when the mosquito season begins is probably daring on our part.
The trail is a bit trickier to get to as the trailhead isn’t accessible right off Highway 60 but it just requires one to pay attention to the signage to know when to turn off on to the somewhat unpaved gravel road that leads to the trailhead.

Booth’s Rock is considered a moderate hike.  The Park suggests approximately 2 hours but I’d say lean towards 3 hours depending on the pace of you and your fellow hikers.  Especially if there are shutterbugs in the party.

The look of the trail

As with most moderate trails I’ve encountered, the trail isn’t necessarily difficult but it requires people to pay attention to where they are stepping to avoid tripping over tree roots or rocks — as well as some uphill walking.  A fairly large chunk of the trail resembled above.

Reflection on still water

One of my favourite parts of this trail was what my friends referred to as the mosquito farm.  This huge body of still water was perfect for mosquito larvae.  I simply enjoyed the green and reflection that was provided.  That said, this was the beginning of lots of pesky mosquitoes following us around.  Consider that a heads up if you do make a visit (pending weather and temperature of course).

Lookout point

Once you get through the wet part of the wooded area, you finally make it to an awesome lookout point.  You can see it is Spring here as many trees are still bare.  This was a great place to sit down and enjoy lunch.  I’ve done this in the winter too although in the Spring, the mosquitoes were a bit of a nuisance — especially for a friend who couldn’t stand flying insects.

Booth's Rock

As you move along the lookout area you’ll come across Booth’s Rock.  Don’t be fooled by this photograph, it’s pretty huge.

A view of the lake taken while I'm sitting on Booth's Rock

Here’s a photograph of the lake while I’m sitting on a part of Booth’s Rock.

A muddy route along the Booth's Rock Trail in Algonquin Park

As we descended the trail, we came across this brilliant muddy obstacle.  This was the trail back.  This was a good opportunity for everyone to test drive their waterproof hiking boots.

Tourists on a staircase

Of course, the trail is made a little easier for most folks by this giant staircase.

Lakeside view

Along the way back to the trailhead, the route pretty much sticks to the lake which makes for an excellent and peaceful view.

Beaver dam

Even came across a beaver dam.

This is one of my favourite hikes to do in the autumn.  I love to just hike up to the lookout point, sit on Booth’s Rock and enjoy the view with some lunch.  These are just some highlights but you can check out the whole trek and a bit more in my photo album.

Training for Future Hiking

Once winter arrives in Toronto, it’s harder to find opportunities to keeping hiking and cycling (at least for me).  I’m don’t enjoy in-door gyms so I definitely seek out alternative ways to keep in shape or train for hikes.
My usual preferences are to cycle and walk a lot (I don’t like running), but that doesn’t really work so well in the winter right?

That said, I’ve begun testing out an approach by throwing a bunch of stuff into an 80 litre pack, strapping it on and taking the staircase in the house — up and down for about 30 or 40 times.  Perhaps I’ll start trudging through the snow with this 80 litre pack too and throw on some snowshoes.

More to come.


The Gigantic Icicle Discovery

Quite a few years ago, some friends of mine and I went up to Algonquin Park to do some snowshoeing while staying at a nearby local hostel.  It was really cold that winter; to the point that snow in Algonquin had frozen.
What we didn’t expect was to find ice everywhere.  I laugh when I think back to the time when one by one, each of us slipped, fell, and slid into one another down the hiking trail.

The best part I think of is when we stumbled upon the largest icicle I’ve ever seen while hiking the Bat Lake trail (I think).  We did take pictures next to it but I think this picture really shows how large it is compared to the trees.

Discovering a huge icicle while winter hiking in Algonquin Park