How To Survive Cold Weather Like A Polar Explorer

Winter Survival Tips

Polar Training on Lake Winnipeg

Manitoba, Canada

It’s -16 degrees fahrenheit outside, and we’re pitching tents on a thick layer of hardened ice, preparing for a night of extreme cold weather conditions. Welcome to polar expedition training!

Twelve strangers from around the world traveled to Manitoba, Canada to spend a week camping and skiing across Lake Winnipeg, simulating the cold weather conditions of an expedition to the North Pole.

Leading our group is professional polar explorer and arctic guide Eric Larsen. Eric is no stranger to traveling in extreme winter conditions. He’s spent the past 20 years visiting some of the coldest places on earth.

In fact, he’s the only person to have trekked overland to the North Pole, the South Pole, and summited Mount Everest, unsupported, all in a single year!

Eric runs a Level 1 Polar Training Course in Canada to help prepare other adventurers for the unique challenges of camping and trekking in cold weather situations.

This year, Citizen Watches invited me to tag along and document the training, while also sharing some winter camping survival tips with you.

Polar Cold Weather Training

Ready to Tackle the Cold!

Eric Larsen Class

Eric Larsen’s Polar Training Class

Cold Weather Survival Tips

Who in their right mind would want to go hiking and camping in the ice and snow? Not many. However winter travel gives hardcore wilderness-lovers the challenge they crave, and a completely different outdoor experience.

Staying safe in these freezing conditions requires a bit more planning, and a unique set of survival skills.

If you do it right, like Eric does, you shouldn’t actually feel cold — the thing preventing most of us from enjoying winter adventures in the first place.

Being prepared for cold weather is the difference between a great trip, and a miserable one.

While I love a good winter hiking trip, I don’t have tons of winter camping expereince. So I was eager to learn how Eric stays warm on his epic long-distance polar adventures in the middle of nowhere.

Winter Survival Tips

Trekking Across the Ice

Layering Is Critical

What does layering mean? Basically, regulating your body’s temperature by adding or removing different layers of clothing.

Because while you don’t want to get cold, you also want to prevent getting so hot that you start sweating. Sweat sucks heat away from the body, eventually making you colder.

So staying warm requires a fine balancing act. This is why wearing multiple layers helps, as you can add or remove layers depending on your level of activity.

Eric recommends a 3-4 layer system, starting with a synthetic moisture-wicking base layer to draw sweat away from your body.

Next up is a warm insulating layer, preferably fleece. Now if it’s REALLY cold, you may want to add a 2nd, thicker base layer under the fleece.

Finally, a windproof, waterproof, and breathable shell jacket (like GoreTex) to protect against the outdoor elements.

On his extreme North & South Pole trips, he also brings an oversized expedition down jacket to throw on during breaks, because your body heat quickly drops once you stop moving.

Winter Footwear Tips

Example of Cold Weather Footwear

Keep Your Feet Warm

If you’re trudging through ice and snow, you need to take care of your feet. The frozen ground will quickly suck heat away from them without proper insulation, risking frostbite on your toes.

It’s wise to wear a proper winter-rated boot. Something that includes a removable insulation layer if possible, which helps you dry them out later.

Don’t pick boots that fit too tight, as you’ll need room for at least 2 layers of socks. And tight fitting boots means less blood-flow to your toes.

Eric recommends wearing thin liner socks, followed by a thicker pair of wool ones. Plus a 2nd set for sleeping in while the others dry out.

In extreme temperatures, you can also wrap plastic bags on your bare feet, wearing socks over them. This “vapor barrier” traps in heat while also preventing your socks from getting soaked with sweat.

Night Stars Manitoba

Clear Cold Night on Lake Winnipeg

Remember To Hydrate

It’s sometimes easy to forget drinking water is important in the cold, because we’re so used to feeling thirsty in hot weather. But staying well hydrated is an important part of any outdoor winter adventure.

Eric recommends taking a break every hour from your activity (hiking, skiing, etc.) for a drink. Make it a regular routine. Proper hydration maintains good blood flow and other bodily functions — helping you stay warm.

Filling a bottle up with hot water helps prevent it freezing, as does using an insulated container or cover of some kind. Drinking warm water keeps your body warm from the inside.

There are different types of cold too. For example, at the North Pole, the air is wet & humid (feels much colder). But Antarctica is basically a dry desert — so staying hydrated in that environment is more difficult.

Citizen Promaster Altichron Watch

Time for Adventure!

Stay On Schedule

In cold winter camping situations, setting up and taking down your campsite takes longer than it does in the summer. It’s important to stay aware of what time it is.

For example, stopping early enough to prepare camp before the sun goes down. Timing regular snack and soup breaks to keep you warm during the day. But not too long — or you’ll quickly get cold standing around.

Using a weather-proof watch like the Promaster Altichron from Citizen, the same watch Eric uses on his expeditions, really makes this easy.

Not only does the watch hold up to the extreme -40 F temperatures found at the North Pole, it’s also powered by the sun, which means you never have to worry about dead batteries.

The Altichron features an integrated compass and altimeter too. Having backups of these adventure tools on your wrist, in something that won’t run out of battery power in cold weather, is handy for peace of mind.

Layering for Cold Weather

Fur Ruff, Goggles, and a Nose Break

Head & Neck Protection

There are many blood vessels near the skin’s surface on your head and neck. Exposing them to cold weather cools your blood down quickly, which then flows into the rest of your body lowering overall temperature.

Obviously a good winter hat that covers your ears is required. Fur lined hats or jacket hoods with a fur ruff work especially well, which is why they’re common in places like Siberia and Alaska.

Another piece of gear Eric recommended is a simple balaclava ski mask that only exposes part of the face.

Stretching a buff over everything holds your head warmth system together, in addition to providing yet another layer of protection. Remember, layers!

If it’s going to be windy, winter goggles and a face mask or homemade “nose break” will protect the last of your exposed skin while still allowing you to breathe freely.

Winter Camping Survival

Camping in the Snow

Winter Shelter Systems

You wouldn’t think the thin nylon walls of a tent would protect you much outside in the winter, but it can. In fact, even a shelter made of snow can keep you alive!

When choosing a shelter for survival in cold temperatures, pick a 4 seasons rated tent. A tent that’s specifically made for camping in the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.

Four season tents have less mesh netting than 3 season tents, meaning they hold heat in better. Winter tents also come with larger vestibule areas where you can keep snow-covered boots and outerwear, outside.

Tramp down the snow to create a firm & level base for setting up your tent. Place the tent door perpendicular to the wind. Pile snow onto the bottom outside edges as an additional wind barrier.

Snow is a great insulator! So if you ever find yourself stuck in the wilderness without a tent, building an emergency snow-cave shelter may help you survive the night.

Winter Camping Food

Re-Fueling With a Hot Meal

Fuel Your Body

On Eric’s two month long ski expeditions to the Earth’s poles, the weight of his sled full of supplies can top 300 pounds. So maximizing food calories while also minimizing weight is essential.

To be as efficient as possible, he prefers to remove meals from their original fancy packaging, using thin plastic bags instead. He also packs each day’s meals together for easy & quick access.

Choose foods that can be eaten cold or require very little prep time. Granola. Salami. Cheese. Trail mix.

Eating food is like putting fuel on a fire. Your metabolism kicks into action to digest it, heating up your core body temperature and radiating outwards through the bloodstream.

Instant soup is also a regular staple of Eric’s arctic diet. He prepares it in the morning, storing in an insulated flask for later. Eating hot soup is wonderful for emotional support, hydration, and warmth.

Cold Weather Camping Trip

My Polar Training Tent Crew

Sleeping In The Cold

You are not going to have a great time on your cold weather adventure if you can’t recharge with a good night’s sleep! That’s why it’s so important to pack a warm & comfortable sleep system.

You lose way more heat from the ground through conduction than you do from the air. So during our training we used two sleeping pads — at least one made of closed-cell foam, the other can be an insulated inflatable type.

To stay warm in -16 degree F temperatures, I used a 0F/-18C down sleeping bag that cinched up close to my face keeping the heat inside, as well as a 20F bag over that. This way if any frost builds up inside the tent, it doesn’t penetrate into your main bag.

Before going to bed, we also filled a Nalgene bottle with boiling water and placed it inside our sleeping bags. This makeshift hot-water bottle will radiate heat for about 5 hours of bliss.

Cooking in the Tent

Winter Stove Training

Frostbite & Hypothermia

The dangers of cold weather travel are real, and include frostbite and hypothermia. So I wanted to talk a bit about how to identify and treat these conditions.

Frostbite is when yo­ur skin falls below the freezing point, causing ice crystals to form in your cells, killing them. Your skin will change color to red, then white, and if it’s really bad, black.

It’s very important to warm your skin gradually. Sticking your fingers or toes into hot water can make it worse! Instead, try your armpits. Or soaking in luke-warm water.

Hypothermia is when your body loses more heat than it produces, and your core body temperature drops. Symptoms include slurred speech, loss of coordination, uncontrollable shivering, and mental confusion.

To treat hypothermia, it’s important to remove wet clothing and put on dry stuff, get into a sleeping bag, break out the emergency space blanket, start a fire, etc. Warm up as soon as possible.

Eric believes in the importance of being “selfish” during cold-weather adventures. In order for the whole team to function, each member needs to pay attention to their own health & comfort.

So if you’re feeling a bit cold, it’s ok to stop the group and put on another layer — before it turns into more serious problems that will affect everyone later (like caring for frostbite or hypothermia).

Tips For Cold Weather

Skiing Over the Ice

Emergency Cold Weather Gear

Maybe you aren’t planning a trek to the North Pole. Or even spending one night winter camping. But on regular winter day hikes or car trips, you should still have some basic cold weather emergency gear with you:

  • Fire-starting kit with waterproof matches & lighter
  • 3/4 piece of closed-cell foam pad insulation
  • Emergency bivy bag and space blanket
  • Spare hat & gloves
  • Extra fleece mid-layer
  • Chemical hand-warmers/heat packs

Your chances of surviving the night outside in the cold without these essentials drops significantly, so it’s wise to pack them with you just in case.

Maybe you get injured. Maybe the weather changes. Maybe you get lost. Maybe your car breaks down.

No one ever plans on getting into trouble. It just happens!

North Pole: The Last Degree

Trekking around Manitoba’s frozen Lake Winnipeg and learning polar expedition skills from Eric stoked my enthusiasm for future cold-weather adventures. His advice has really helped me become better prepared.

Many of my fellow students are planning expeditions of their own to the North Pole, South Pole, or crossing Greenland’s ice cap! Hanging out with them was pretty inspiring.

Right now Eric is leading his next Arctic expedition, a North Pole Last Degree trip.

This means participants fly up to the 89th parallel and then proceed to ski the last 60 nautical miles to the Geographic North Pole. It takes about 12 days.

You can follow along on his latest polar journeys through his blog and Instagram feed. ★

Bonus Video! Interview With Eric Larsen

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Any questions about Eric’s winter survival tips? Do you have any other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Citizen Watches

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Surfing & Hot Springs In Tofino On Vancouver Island [PART 2]

Vancouver Island Coastline

Exploring Vancouver Island’s West Coast

Vancouver Island, Canada

The second half of my Vancouver Island road trip took me to the island’s West coast, and the fun little hipster surf town of Tofino. It’s a lush wilderness outpost on the edge of the sea.

I was on a self-drive road trip with Canada By Design — their Coastal Cultural Explorer Tour of Vancouver Island.

Which means I was following a basic itinerary, while my accommodation, a rental car, and some activities were included in the price.

This 8-day journey across Canada’s Vancouver Island was mixed with adventure, a taste of First Nation’s culture, and dramatic Pacific Northwest scenery.

Yet I was on my own, taking my time to enjoy this road trip at my own pace.

Driving To Tofino

For the first half of the journey, I’d explored parts of Vancouver Island’s East coast. Today’s drive was a long one (about 6 hours) which took me across the island from Telegraph Cove to Tofino over the stunning Pacific Rim Highway.

I managed to drop into some native art galleries, hiked an ancient old-growth rainforest, and enjoyed beautiful mountain scenery and lakes along the way.

First Nations Longhouse

K’ómoks Longhouse Mural

iHos Gallery Vancouver Island

iHos Gallery in Courtenay

First Nations Art Galleries

During this road trip around Vancouver Island, I’m constantly reminded of the deep history of the landscape, first populated by the peoples of the First Nations around 7,000 years ago.

Driving into Courtenay, I stumble upon a K’ómoks native longhouse, decorated with a colorful mural featuring an eagle & whale. These cedar buildings were often shared by extended First Nations families, everyone participating in daily tasks like preparing food, building canoes, etc.

At I-Hos Gallery, local people express their identity through art. This gallery, with its masks, wood carvings, intricate prints and textiles, is designed to tell stories as much as please the senses.

Stories of origins, about their technological and spiritual relationship with the natural world, about how they lived, how they died, and how they endured to become modern descendants of First Nations cultures.

Vancouver Island Goats on a Roof

Goats?! On a Roof?

Coombs Vancouver Island Goats

Coombs Old Country Market

Goats On A Roof!

My eyes started to play tricks as I entered the town of Coombs. What first looked like a green hill with goats appeared to become the roof of a long, wood-pannelled building.

I found them. Vancouver Island’s famous “Goats On The Roof!”

In the 1950s, Kristian Graaten and his wife, Solveig, left Norway and emigrated to British Columbia.

When they decided to build a market in the mid-70s, Kris used the Norwegian tradition of lining roofs with grass/sod. It may sound eccentric, but this roof traps the warmth of the building, reducing heating bills up to 25%.

It’s also soundproof, easy to maintain, and the perfect place to keep your pet goats! Which has turned into a huge tourist attraction for his roadside Coombs Old Country Market, a fun location to stop for lunch.

Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island

Yes, I’m a Tree Hugger

Vancouver Island MacMillan Park

MacMillan Provincial Park

Hiking Cathedral Grove

A twenty-minute drive west, and things got even more vertical. If you’ve never seen a majestic Douglas Fir, your first sight can be overwhelming.

Imagine the average fir tree, the kind you’d hang your Christmas ornaments on. Now double it in size. Now double it again. Maybe a third time. Now you’re getting close – but maybe not close enough, since a fully-grown Douglas fir can reach 225 ft / 75 m into the sky!

At the heart of MacMillan Provincial Park stands Cathedral Grove, home of the densest collection of these trees. It’s an opportunity to stretch your arms around their trunks, failing to make it even halfway (the widest has a circumference of 27 ft / 9 m).

When you stand there in the quiet, gazing up towards the distant canopy where the treetops meet the sunlight, it feels unchanging, like time itself has stopped to listen. Some of these trees are 800 years old.

Tofino on Vancouver Island

Ice House Oyster Bar in Tofino

Tofino Town Vancouver Island

Beware of Grandma… She Bites!

Welcome To Tofino

Making it across the width of Vancouver Island, I finally arrive to the quirky Pacific coastal town of Tofino. A place I’ve heard so much about.

Tofino is the gateway to Vancouver Island’s wildest and most spectacular scenery, and in the summer, it’s an enormously popular destination for visitors, greatly multiplying its small local population of 2,000.

Pacific Rim National Park is right next door, a 500-kilometer expanse of rainforest trails, rugged wave-battered coastlines and pristine beaches.

However it’s best to visit in the summer months, as winter conditions can get a little fierce (it’s a haven for storm-watchers in the winter).

Tofino is ideal for hiking, surfing, hanging out at the beach, wildlife viewing, or just strolling down boardwalk paths through pacific northwest temperate rainforests.

Vancouver Island Whale Watching

Pod of Orca Whales

Black Bear Tofino

Black Bear Feeding On Crabs

Hot Springs Vancouver Island

Hot Springs Cove

Whale Watching & Hot Springs

You can’t visit Tofino and not go whale watching! But I’ll give you a tip, rather than take a dedicated whale watching trip, join the Hot Springs Cove Tour with Remote Passages.

Because there’s a very good chance you’ll see whales (and other wildlife) on your way to the hot springs. Like I did. It’s like two tours in one.

As part of the Maquinna Marine Provincial Park, Hot Springs Cove gets its name from the nearby Ramsay hot springs (it hits up to 50 C / 110 F in places), which are only accessible by boat or float-plane.

The trip had us speeding through the waves in an inflatable zodiac, stopping to watch playful Orcas (don’t call them killer whales!), large sea lions, sea otters, and even a black bear fishing for crabs on the coastline.

After the boat ride, it was time to relax by soaking in these steaming-hot natural pools & waterfalls while enjoying an epic view.

Surfing in Tofino

Long Beach Surf Shop

Vancouver Island Surfing

Surfing Chesterman Beach

Surfing Around Tofino

If you surf, or want to learn, Tofino is a good place to hit some waves. In fact they call themselves the Surf Capital of Canada. Although keep in mind this is the Pacific Northwest, and chilly 50 – 60 F water means you’ll want a wetsuit.

There are a few surf-shops in town that can outfit you with a board, wetsuit, and even a surfboard car rack. I stopped into Long Beach Surf Shop and rented a longboard for a morning surf session at Chesterman Beach.

Tofino is a surfer’s paradise – so if you’ve been following my surfing adventures, you can imagine my reaction to these miles and miles of surfable coastline, reliable beach breaks, and uncrowded waves.

There are a few good surf-spots in the area, and waves for all abilities. Long Beach is a popular spot, a 15-km stretch of undeveloped coastline that’s regarded as the park’s most photogenic.

Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay are two more. Winter usually has the better swells, and fewer tourists — but crazier weather and colder water too.

Coastal Sunset in Tofino

Colorful Tofino Sunsets

Tofino Sea Plane Trips

Take a Scenic Flight with Tofino Air

Places To Stay & Eat

As part of my Coastal Cultural Explorer Self-Drive Tour, accommodation in Tofino was included at the stunning cliffside Middle Beach Lodge.

For good food, I recommend checking out Wolf In The Fog for dinner, and Tacofino for a delicious food truck experience at lunch.

Tofino has a super fun farmer’s market every Saturday, where you can sample all kinds of good food, or pick up some locally-made artwork/crafts.

If you’re looking for a great place to watch the sunset with a beer and some fresh oysters, check out Tofino’s Ice House Oyster Bar. Thank me later. ★

Bonus Video! Vancouver Island Road Trip

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(Click to watch Vancouver Island BC – Road Trip on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Vancouver Island, Canada
Self-Drive Tour: Canada By Design
Useful Notes: With a self-drive tour your accommodation, rental car, ferry trips, and some key activities are included. You present pre-paid vouchers for these things on arrival. The rest of the trip is yours to create as you go.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Pacific Northwest
Suggested Reading: Island Of Dreams

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Have any questions about visiting Vancouver Island? Are you planning a trip? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Canada By Design

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Vancouver Island Road Trip: Whales, Waterfalls, & First Nations Culture [PART 1]

Vancouver Island Flowers

My Vancouver Island Road Trip

Vancouver Island, Canada

Just when we’re about to give up searching, a group of humpback whales pop their heads above the water, feeding on a school of fish swimming in the turbulent coastal currents. Then they dive below, flashing us glimpses of massive tails.

But the whales come later in this tale. My first impression of Vancouver Island is not whales, but trees. So many trees.

They rise in a green wall on each side of the road, or fall away to reveal incredible views of cliffs, rivers, inlets, the straits that separate it from the mainland, or the endless sweep of the Pacific to the west.

There’s no doubt about it: Vancouver Island is a natural wonderland.

I arrive to the island by ferry, just a 2 hour journey from the city of Vancouver to Nanaimo. After driving off the boat, I grab some breakfast at a coffee shop in town, and begin my 8 day Vancouver Island road trip.

Vancouver Island Driving Adventure

Canada by Design Self-Drive Tour

Vancouver Island Highway

Exploring Vancouver Island’s Wilderness

Canada By Design Self-Drive Tour

This is not your typical road trip. I took a self-drive tour with Canada By Design – specifically, their 8-day Coastal Cultural Explorer, starting and ending in Vancouver.

As you’d imagine, the itinerary takes in all the most beautiful spots on this mesmerizing, rugged stretch of coastline – but as the title suggests, it’s also designed to open your mind as well as your eyes, giving you a taste of the inhabitants’ rich, culturally fruitful relationship with this vast expanse of natural beauty, both now and in the past.

While some aspects of the trip have been planned (accommodation, rental car, and a few activities) I’m basically free to move at my own pace, and take side-excursions whenever I see something fun along the way.

Canada By Design’s local experts put together a general itinerary for me to follow along with recommendations. But there is plenty of free time to figure stuff out on my own too — and have a real adventure.

As someone who prefers independent travel over group tours, this is an ideal mix of convenience and freedom.

I don’t have to worry about the more tedious aspects of planning a trip, and can just relax and enjoy the discovery of a new travel destination.

Vancouver Island Kayaking

Sea Kayaking on Quadra Island

Vancouver Island Wildlife

Wild Deer On the Side of the Road

Lighthouse on Quadra Island

Cape Mudge Lighthouse

Exploring Quadra Island

My first stop is Quadra Island, which crumbles off Vancouver Island on the eastern side, marking the passage northwest into Johnstone Strait.

Many hundreds of years ago, long before Europeans set foot on these shores, it was called “Tsa-Kwa-Luten” – gathering place in the Kwak’wala tongue.

Based on the relics and carvings discovered in this area, it was well-named.

I spent my time wandering around the island, hiking some trails, photographing wildlife like deer and bald eagles, and rented a sea kayak with Quadra Island Kayaks to paddle along the coast.

Sea kayaking is a popular sport here – there’s tons of varied coastline to explore.

I saw seals playing off the side of my boat, and watched jellyfish float under the surface of the water. Some of the smaller islands also have colorful starfish clinging to the rocks.

Cape Mudge Vancouver Island

Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge

Totem Pole on Quadra Island

Nuyumbalees Cultural Center

Vancouver Island Bald Eagle

Bald Eagles Nesting Nearby

Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge

My home for 2 nights is Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge, located within a large peaceful forest on the coastline of Discovery Passage. The lodge, owned by the Laichwiltach people, is built on the site of a former First Nations village.

It’s decorated with indigenous art from the area, and surrounded by wildlife like deer, bald eagles, and seals. In the early morning at low-tide, you can find ancient petroglyphs carved into rocks on the shoreline.

A short drive away from the lodge is the Nuyumbalees Cultural Center, which displays an array of Native artifacts of cultural, artistic and historic value to the Kwakwaka’wakw people.

Potlatch masks, totem poles, ceremonial costumes, and more. The craftsmanship was incredible!

Telegraph Cove Vancouver Island

Telegraph Cove, BC

Telegraph Cove Sea Plane

Sea Plane Parked In The Cove

Wildlife & History In Telegraph Cove

Driving further North, my next stop was the tiny former lumber/canning community of Telegraph Cove. With a population of only 20, this is one small town!

However it feels like a picture postcard, nestled on the edge of a tiny bay in the middle of the Pacific North West wilderness. These days tourism is the main draw, wildlife fans visit for access to excellent whale watching, grizzly bear viewing, sea kayaking, and fishing.

In the morning I met with Mike Willie, owner of Sea Wolf Adventures, for a local whale watching & First Nations cultural experience on his inflatable zodiac speed boat.

Mike is a member of the Musgamakw Dzawada‘enuxw First Nation, and his family has lived off this land for generations.

First Nations Wooden Mask

Ceremonial Mask at U’mista Cultural Center

Vancouver Island First Nations

Mike Willie of the Musgamakw Dzawada‘enuxw

U’mista Cultural Center

Before we go looking for humpback whales, Mike takes me to Alert Bay and the U’mista Cultural Center to learn about some sad history.

In 1884, the Canadian government outlawed the most important of all ceremonies performed by Canada’s First Nations – the Potlatch – to assimilate and acculturate the country’s indigenous people.

Half a century of arrests and confiscations later, cultural treasures of the Kwakwaka’wakw remained scattered.

Today U’mista works to promote the Kwakwaka’wakw language and culture, and to preserve the heritage of the 5,500 Kwakwaka’wakw making a living in and around modern Vancouver Island.

The center sits next to a recently demolished Indian Residential School, a tragic part of Canada’s history.

Humpback Whale Tail in the Water

Humpback Whale Watching

Whale Watching Telegraph Cove

Searching For Whales With Sea Wolf Adventures

Whale Watching In The Rain

So after a somewhat depressing yet eye-opening experience learning about Canada’s indigenous First Nations history, it was time to cheer up and head out on the whale watching part of our wildlife & cultural trip.

Mike knows these waters like the back of his hand, and it wasn’t long before we came across a pod of three giant humpback whales feeding on fish along a roiling tidal current.

It was mesmerizing watching the massive animals crest the surface of the water, arching their back in the “hump” shape they’re named after, before diving into the depths with a flick of their large tail fins.

Humpbacks are about as large as a school bus, growing up to 60 feet long and weighing 40 tons!

Myra Falls Vancouver Island

Myra Falls in Strathcona Provincial Park

Strathcona Provincial Park

I had some more time to venture off my itinerary, so I decided to visit Vancouver Island’s largest provincial park, called Strathcona. The park is known for it’s many lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers.

The drive through Strathcona Provincial Park was spectacular, tons of amazing scenery to take in on the winding mountain roads. Not very busy at all, I was able to stop at a few overlooks and a waterfall called Myra Falls.

Much of the park was empty, too far for most Vancouver Island tourists to venture, but well worth the trip if you have the time! If I had more myself, I would have loved to do some overnight hikes in the area.

Road Tripping Vancouver Island

After experiencing the nature, wildlife, and culture of North Eastern Vancouver Island, it was time to drive to the opposite coast and see what the West side had to offer.

Make sure to read PART 2 of my Vancouver Island road trip, where I visit an ancient rainforest, take a dip in some natural hot-springs, catch a glimpse of orcas and bears – plus give cold-water surfing a try. ★

Bonus Video! Vancouver Island Road Trip

(Click to watch Vancouver Island BC – Road Trip on YouTube)

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Have any questions about visiting Vancouver Island? Are you planning a trip? Drop me a message in the comments below!

River Surfing In Montreal: Not Your Typical Surf Trip

Montreal Surfing

Surfing in Montreal

Montreal, Canada

When you think of Canada, does surfing come to mind? In the city of Montreal it’s possible to surf perpetual waves on the mighty Saint Lawrence River.

Known for its strong currents and whitewater rapids, Montreal’s Saint Lawrence River is a favorite spot for kayaking and rafting trips. But local surfers also take advantage of the unique conditions here.

Every day you’ll find a handful of surfers riding river waves.

Wanting to try it for myself, I filled a cooler with refreshing Cayman Jack Margaritas and drove up to Montreal for a few days of river surfing on the outskirts of the city.

I knew that after spending a few days in the sun, cooling off with the taste of Cayman Jack – blue agave nectar, organic limes and real cane sugar – would be exactly what I’d need.

Montreal Surfing

Not Your Typical Surf Spot

Cayman Jack

Stocked with Refreshments

River Surfing

Only a handful of rivers around the world boast standing waves large enough to ride using a surfboard. River waves are created by high volumes of water flowing over rocks, producing a large wave in the process.

Surfers are able to float into this wave and ride the water flow for as long as they want without actually moving anywhere — unlike with ocean waves.

Even experienced ocean surfers have trouble adapting to river waves.

Instead of a nice gradual slope, a river wave resembles more of a half-pipe shape. This unfortunately makes it easier to catch your surfboard nose in the water — resulting in a wipeout.

Montreal Surfing

Surfing a River!

Montreal Surfing

Hiking to the Lineup

Habitat 67 Surf Spot

There are a few different waves you can surf on the Saint Lawrence River. The one most people learn on is called “Bunny Wave” near the Lachine Rapids area. Once you master that, you can move up to Habitat 67.

Habitat 67 is a much larger & faster wave located behind a famous building with the same name. Surfers park by the tennis courts and walk down a dirt path in back.

Everyone was polite (it’s Canada!) and rode the wave for only a few minutes before waving the next person over. While waiting for my turn, I passed the time sharing surf stories and tasty Cayman Jack Margaritas with others in the lineup.

They appreciated a refreshing margarita before tackling another wave. Inspired by my partnership with Cayman Jack, I thought about how important it is to craft your own journey when you travel.

This means embracing everything that comes along with a new adventure. The planning, the anticipation, the challenges, the people you meet — the little pieces that produce a complete journey.

Montreal Surfing

Crafted by the Journey

Montreal Surfing

The Wave that Never Ends

How To Surf A River

River surfing can be challenging. The general process is to start upriver, paddle out, and carefully maneuver into position before turning backwards at the last second letting the current drag you into the sweet spot with the most whitewater.

Once you drop into this liquid half-pipe, paddle hard as you get sucked backwards. If you don’t put in enough effort, the river’s powerful surge will drag you over the top and down through the rapids.

Ride the surfboard on your stomach for a while first to get a feel for the wave.

Once you’re comfortable, pop up and maintain your balance. Because it’s a perpetual wave, you can theoretically ride it for as long as you want!

Montreal Surfing

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Montreal Surfing

Making New Friends

More Difficult Than It Looks

Once you get pulled over the wave into the rapids (and you will), it’s important to keep ahold of your board and relax. Attempting to paddle against the current is a losing battle that will just make you exhausted.

As the rapids dissipate you swim over to the shore, hiking back to the starting point to try it all over again.

It took me at least 6 attempts to get the hang of it, and I have some surfing experience. Learning to surf a river isn’t easy — be patient!

Now you’d think that Montreal river water would be ice cold — but it actually wasn’t that bad. The water temperature can vary between the 60’s and 70’s (fahrenheit). A wetsuit is recommended if you’ll be there for a while.

Next time you’re in Montreal, rent a board or take a lesson and check it out! River surfing is a pretty unique adventure. ★

Watch Video: River Surfing Montreal

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More Information

Location: Montreal, Canada
Company: KSF Surfing
Total Cost: $20 USD (3 hour rental)
Useful Notes: If you want to learn how to surf a river wave, KSF offers classes. It’s not the same as ocean surfing. If you already know how to surf, you can also rent a board from them and try on your own.

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Have you ever heard of river surfing before? Would you try it?

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When you think of Canada, does surfing come to mind? In the city of Montreal it's possible to surf perpetual waves on the mighty Saint Lawrence River.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.