Trip Planning: Evaluating the VIT

Disclaimer

You should always hike your own hike and be accountable for your own safety. The information hosted on this website is not complete and has not been vetted by anyone at the VITA. It may be incorrect. You are responsible for your own safety and success in your hike.

Plan

We were considering hiking the VIT with our new baby Toothless in the early 2021 hiking season. We will have time off of work for parental leave which gives us a window of early May to mid June. During this time we are also considering the SCT as a “practice run”; we’ve hiked the SCT in April before so early season hiking is feasible.

Depending on the weather and snow conditions, we could need to hike alternates around some parts of the trail due to the hike being planned early in the season. Of course we would plan to come back to hike the missed parts in season if they are feasible for hiking with a baby.

In order to evaluate whether or not, or how much of the VIT, should be hiked in 2021 I have spent some time researching the hike and detailing out my own maps and resources.

Caveat/ How to Navigate our Info

Since the trail is in it’s infancy, the VIT website is a work in progress. There is some information missing from the website that could be useful for Thru Hikers, so the below information is meant to fill the gaps that I found as it was compiled for our personal use. The below information departs from some of the official information or naming of the VIT trail sections.

Sections

The VIT website provides:

  • PDF maps
  • GPS tracks
  • Digital hiking guides for many of the trails or routes along the VIT

The provided PDF maps capture sections of the trail of decent length (>100km) that would take the average thru hiker 3-5 days. The maps are numbered (1, 2, 3, etc), which is consistent to how map inlays are typically numbered. However these maps appear to capture major sections of the trail and do not have the method of using letters to label sections (eg: Section A, B, C) which I’ve grown to expect to categorize specific lengths of trail with clear start and end points. These longer sections covered by each map tend to connect major towns that may be suitable for zero days or resupplies. This made me confused – is it Map 1, or Section 1? Where exactly does Section 1 end?

The PDF maps also colour code the trail based on the quality of trail (good trail, road, poor trail, no trail) and sometimes lists areas suitable for camping or resting. The quality of these maps are good but unfortunately the scale on the maps is such that they are difficult to use for navigation.

The VIT website also lists smaller sections in a small 2D table, with (at least to me) no clear relation to these maps. These smaller sections are trails and routes that are contained within the longer sections captured in the maps. The sections listed are linked to blog posts that are written as a guide. The guides are reasonably thorough, but some posts are lacking of images or diagrams. Photos are sometimes provided within linked files rather than as inline photos in the blog posts.

The VIT website provides GPS tracks, which are split based on those smaller sections and guides. Some GPS tracks unfortunately don’t list campsites, or the same information contained on the PDF map. Some segments of the GPS track are more thorough and complete than others. The GPS tracks do not tend to have any information on accessing towns, resupplies, or provincial parks. Having GPS tracks at all is hugely beneficial.

I struggled to tie all of this information together. I was also looking for a way to summarize key locations such as campsites and resupply sites. To close this gap I put the below table together. In doing so, I took some liberties to clarify sections to myself. I named the longer sections that were approximately contained in the PDF maps as Section A, B, C, etc. Although I won’t have clarity on the exact start/ end points for each section until I finish scrubbing through the GPS tracks, I realized in doing this that the numbered sections already provided by the VIT line up 1:1 to my lettered sections. But at least now I can have numbered maps that don’t confuse me with the numbered sections.

NOTE: Since I started putting this together, the VIT put together something a little more descriptive showing the sections via GPS tracks here.

Itinerary

I have not put together a hiking itinerary yet, but as I was mapping the first two sections of the trail I started compiling distances between campsites using my Caltopo Map. This was intended to be used to develop an itinerary later.

I only managed to get through these first two sections; if we plan any further I will use this to develop the itinerary.

As with any hike and especially since we are hiking with a baby the itinerary is a plan and a guide, but we are ready to change plans as needed. Alternates and exit points are being considered in case of poor weather or emergency. I also focussed on identifying potential front country campsites or hotels wherever possible to make ourselves more comfortable.

GPS Tracks

I have scrubbed through the GPS tracks and added any information I could find. I have split tracks up to get appropriate measurements of distances and to split sections into smaller trails. I put as much information in the notes as possible as I came across them.

I created this by importing the VIT GPS tracks as well as cross referencing against another VIT hiker’s Caltopo. I researched each trail and section independently. Again, I have NOT hiked this yet – so the GPS tracks may be inaccurate or the camping or water markers may be inaccurate.

My Caltopo only goes up until the end of Section B. I started sorting out Section C, but as you will see below, slowed down due to the limitations that section will present with the seasons.

My Caltopo is here.

You can also download the (incomplete) GPS track here.

Section A

This section seems to be largely community trails and paths. After a long first day, there is a good camping opportunity at Goldstream Provincial Park.

I struggled to find camping options in some areas since community trails do not allow random camping and some of the provincial parks do not allow camping. I did find a few options via AirBNB campsites or Bed and Breakfasts to fill this void.

This section of trail seems do-able early season with a baby.

Section B

This section has a lot of road walking out of Lake Cowichan, but I used google streetview for what parts of the road I could and it seems feasible. There are plenty of campsites along the road and the road seems .. okay.. to roadwalk but not ideal.

There are a few water crossings, which may be a little high early season but from what I can tell they are do-able and should be OK with a baby. The Franklin River crossing, if too high, could be bypassed by doing ~ 30 km roadwalk. Unfortunately one won’t know this until you get to the river.

Again, this is relatively low elevation and at times a bit coastal, so this seems do-able with a baby early season.

Section C

This section goes along the Beaufort Range coming out of Port Alberni. This route is more sensitive to the seasons.

Avalanche Canada warns that snow levels even 30cm in depth can trigger avalanches. While I know that the definition of an avalanche includes events of any size, 30cm also is the max I would consider doing a trip like this without proper snow equipment while carrying a child.

My GPS tracks / caltopo list and link the weather stations that record snow levels. The closest one is Mt Arrowsmith, which I used as a guidance. This shows statistically that snow levels can drop below 30cm late May to Late/ Mid June. This is a wide window, and doesn’t apply directly against the Beauforts, but I found it helpful.

Most trip reports for the Beauforts suggest high snow in March, some snow in June, in season in July/ August. Some trip reports that I found helpful:

Even with good weather, someone on the VIT Hikers Facebook Group recommended against the Beaufort with a baby. I take that advice to heart, but everyone has different thresholds for concern so I was planning on reviewing the information this person provided and making my own decision.

Due to potential high snow, I considered alternates. The alternates that bypass just the Beauforts are not very interesting:

  • Drive from Port Alberni to Cumberland
    • I’d prefer to hike, but this is a safe back-up
  • Hike the entire Log Train Trail and then roadwalk either small roads or Comox Main.
    • This is a long roadwalk potentially without anywhere to camp
  • Hike along the south side, to Horne Lake/ Cameron Lake and then onto Qualicum Beach. Maybe drive from there to Cumberland.

Driving is probably the best option, as a long roadwalk is not ideal.

But after that, you still have to get through Strathcona Gap, which would be just as risky (if not worse) in early season.

North Ross suggested an alternate that also bypasses the Strathcona Gap, which was incorporated into my Caltopo. This takes you by Red Pillar which would also need to be considered for the snow in the season and would be much safer in late July/ August.

So Section C, and I guess Section D are unlikely to be appropriate to hike in the climate I would expect in late May and June. It might be suitable for a low snow year but that would need to be assessed at the last minute.

Conclusions

It seems that the only part of the VIT that could be done for sure in May/ June is Section A, B (up until Port Alberni). Everything else is weather dependent and would be better later in the season.

I still haven’t reviewed sections North of Port Alberni in detail to see if they are suitable to hike with a baby. This would need to be carefully considered as there are not a lot of alternates around the most technical sections without skipping large sections of the VIT. From what I have seen of trail reports, this is no worse than much of the GDT that we are comfortable hiking with our little partner. But the devil is in the details.

The entire VIT would only take myself or Natasha a month to do together without a baby; maybe a bit more with a baby if suitable. This is within the realm of being able to do any year with our standard holidays. So it’s not necessary to do the whole hike this year with our parental leave. So this might be a hike we could each do solo, or alternate sections solo (one person do a technical section solo and the other bypass it with Toothless, then meet up and continue together).

We will be focussing on the GDT in 2021 and fit the VIT in another year using regular vacation in the normal hiking season (July/August).

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