Paradise Meadows to Wood Mountain: A Family Traversing

–submitted by Matthew Lettington; originally published on

Call it our wedding anniversary, the final weekend before school, an early celebration of Octavia’s birthday, or just Labour Day; on September long weekend, I led a group of families on a traverse of Strathcona Park.

It starts with trying to hold them back

I’ve hiked the route between Raven Lodge and the Old Forbidden Plateau ski lodge on two previous occasions. Each time, I vowed to return to do it as an overnighter. Though a bit of a longer route, it meanders Forbidden Plateau with very few steep climbs; a fit group can complete it in about nine hours. In terms of a hiking route, there are very few like it on Vancouver Island. So when the question, “what to do as a family trip for our various celebrations in the face of COVID 19?” arose, I proposed doing the traverse as a family trip.

Distance: 26 km
Starting Elevation: 720 m
Maximum Elevation: 1226 m
Total Elevation Gain: 727 m
Total descent: 1100 m

Oh, its all smiles in the beginning

By the time we hit the trail, we were a group eleven, comprised of three families with kids ages two, four(almost), seven, thirteen, with three sets of parents and a sister-in-law to round it out! Regardless of these eases of the route, I knew our biggest challenge was going to be time. Travelling with kids makes for heavier packs and the need for many, many more breaks.
The first day started pleasantly warm, and as we hiked through the meadows, we took many short breaks and one extended break for lunch before diverting out of the core area and onto the adventure!

the core area features mostly boardwalk.

Midway through the day, the heat kicked in; Hemingway continued to do well, but Octavia gave up, and I ended up hauling her on my shoulders. Hey! as the day’s heat kicked in, even I was grateful for the longer breaks needed to keep the kids going.

Its hard, hot work!

We took our last long break on the rise overlooking Johnson Lake. Entering the trip, I hoped to cover more than half the trip to allow for a more leisurely second day; I was beginning to doubt we’d make it.
The kids are troopers! I think Hemingway had it worst: shortest legs, the least stamina and musculature. When it comes to hiking, he’s excellent for five hours, can be easily coaxed along for another hour without incident, but if we try to push him to seven… beware the storm! I was relieved when we rolled into camp just after six hours of walking.

The tent shared with Hemingway and Dad

By the lakeside, we found enough space for our four tents. By the time we’d set the meals to rehydrate, pitched the tents, and then eaten our food, we still had a few minutes to enjoy the sun. When the long shadow of the ridge finally stretched over the camp, the kids kept themselves busy playing so I could finally enjoy a moment with Kim.

Bedtime in the tent brought a special treat. When camping with kids, I’ve learned that time in the tent is best done once the sun is down. Anyway, my kids don’t sleep well if there’s a lot of light pouring into the tent. So, we only retired to the tents as the light of day was dwindling. We read by headlamp, but before we turned in, I told Hemingway I had a surprise. We turned off our headlamps, and I unzipped the tent flaps to reveal a sky full of stars! After a few minutes, I heard his yawns, and by the time I zipped the door and lay back down, I could hear his rhythmic breathing — sleep! I guess he had a good day.

Rested and ready for day two!

Day two brought a bright blue sky. The heavy dew that christened our camp overnight evaporated quickly once the early morning sun came. It was going to be hot! As we left our rustic campsite behind, we were engaged in the mild chatter that fresh legs allow. Hiking, I was reminded of the terrain I’d forgotten. Though it was easy, it slowed the group; the heat was no help.

We get by with a little help

The highlight of day two was reaching Mackenzie Meadows. I had hoped that Octavia could walk through the meadows, but when we arrived, I realized the grass would tower above her; she would miss the beauty! I carried her as we strolled through the meadow. She grabbed at the taller pieces as we passed by and smiled at the sensation of the bushy heads passing between her fingers.

Mackenzie Meadows
Leaving Mackenzie Meadows

The meadows mark the end of most of the easy walking. Beyond, we hiked the well-booted route as we climbed ever higher. The heat of the day required extra breaks, and our water didn’t last long. By the time we reached the junction between Mount Becher and the parking area, I donated the last of my water to the kids. Passing the six-hour mark, and I sensed that Hemingway was teetering on the end of fatigue.

With the long descent to our waiting cars, I trusted that gravity would carry us home. We almost made too, but we died –evaporated really—in the dry gravel of the lower route and the parking lot.

Arriving at the parking lot.

As we’d ended the trip an hour later than my plan, we needed to stop for dinner on the way home. Burgers at the Chevron outside Nanoose, and the kids each polished off a full-sized burger and small fries. Yes, they worked up an appetite. They hardly said a thing as we ate your food sitting among the derelict minigolf course. Oh, the memories we made.

Post Script

Kim was shocked that I didn’t give a nod to Trace. He’s a patient young man that took an interest in Hemingway. He must have the patience of a saint because he endured endless hours of talk about Minecraft. Even when Trace lost interest, he kept the conversation going with short affirmations to Hemingway. I’m sure all the talk about his time in the salt mines, was the highlight of the trip for Hemingway.

Full album on Google Photos

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