Walk a mile in Clayton Kessler’s shoes – a wild Canadian life

In this post we continue our interview series with interesting outdoors people from around the world.

We present to you Clayton Kessler, a Canadian back country man and outdoor blogger. Reading Clayton’s extensive answers brings to mind “boy’s own” adventures of growing up with a life of squirrel hunting, life on the “range”, building log cabins and exploring the fantastic central areas of Canada.

We hope you enjoy the picture Clayton paints of his life and adventures as he continues to enjoy the outdoors around 400km east from Vancouver, home of this year’s Winter Olympics.

How about a bit of background on yourself. Live where? Work where?

Thanks for asking. I will start from the beginning. Back when the Rockies were being built, I was born. Soon after my birth, my family moved to the Kootenay region of British Columbia in a small town called Nakusp. Many communities across Canada have names originating from a First Nations tongue, Nakusp – from the Sinixt or Okanagan language word “Neqo’sp” meaning “closed-in” or “safe” or as another translation puts it, (the bay behind the long point).
Glacier National Park
Nakusp is a remote community of 1500 folks situated on the shores of Arrow Lakes and cut off from the rest of the world by the Selkirk and Monashee mountain ranges. The stunning beauty of which I was blessed with was not fully appreciated until after I was married and moved (Drove a 1968 Pontia Parisienne and U-Haul filled with all of our belongings) across Canada to New Brunswick. While I enjoyed the endless horizons and blazing sunsets of the prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), the meandering Highway through the Canadian Shield and shores of Lake Superior (Ontario) and more of the same through the historic Quebec (except in French and at 100 miles faster in Montreal) and finally the Bay of Fundy and its incredible rising tides (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), my wife Suzanne and I could not remove the pull that beautiful B.C. had in our hearts.

So after 8 years of living in the Maritimes (where my wifes parents own 50 acres on the St. Croix River), 5 years of banking and several years of self employment and three busy boys, Jesse, Caleb and Zachary we sent our stuff on a transport truck and headed West to Kelowna BC, a city of just over 100 000 people located in the sunny Central Okanagan region of British Columbia, one of the hottest places in Canada.

How did you first get into bushwalking / hiking / treking? Any particular mentor or group?

Though we do not use the term bushwalking in Canada, that is precisely how I became involved with hiking. As a child, my family lived on five acres in the country and a few miles south of Nakusp. My father had made skidder trails on the acreage when he pulled out the logs to build our home and garage.

Building the house

So while my father, grandfather and older brothers (I had six brothers and no sisters) were building the homestead, I was busy building my tree fort, fishing or hunting squirrles with my pellet gun. I soon stopped hunting squirrels as I found I liked watching them play as opposed to adding their tails to my squirrel tail collection. Our five acres were bordered by other fully treed parcels of land so I was free to roam the woods and I guess that is where my bushwalking began.
Snow over garage

In the early 80’s my parents packed the family up and we moved to a community called Big Creek. Big Creek is in the region of British Columbia called the Chilcotin. The Chilcotin Plateau is a volcanic plateau that offers spledid scenery with rolling hills, volcanic rock formations and incredible canyons like the Farewell Canyon on the Chilcotin River. While we lived in Big Creek my father and his brother were contracted by the Government of B.C. to build range fences. The range fences in the Big Creek area could run for miles and miles. Big Creek is at a higher altitude so the ranchers could only grow one crop per year, instead of three or four and the range fences allowed ranchers to leave the cattle forage on a large section of crown land before herding them to a different section of land in the spring. The range fences were so remote that when we went to visit my Dad on the range, we had to get there by horses or in the least have our 4X4 pulled through some of the rough areas. I guess I did some bushwalking and hiking in those areas as well as horsebackriding. I was 14 at the time and the time spent in the country really shaped my desire to enjoy the country any way I could.
Big Creek fencing

Big Creek - Chad

Big Creek

After a enjoying a couple of years in Big Creek with no power, running water or television, and reading a lot of Louis L’Amour novels, my family and I moved to Williams Lake where I joined a high school outdoor club in grade ten. Two of the trips that we went on were unforgettable and probably cemented the love of the outdoors into my heart. The first memorable trip was a five day canoe trip. This trip included portaging the canoe for up to two kilometers as we canoed a total of 73 miles (a little over 100 km) through a circular route of lakes and rivers.
Bowron Lakes canoe route
The longest lake of the Bowron Provincial Park canoe route, Isaak Lake, provided a chance for me to learn how to use a tent fly (the extra tarp to protect your tent from rain) as a sail.

Bawron Lakes school trip
The second unforgettable outdoor trip was in June. When all the snow was melted at lower elevations, our team hiked into the Coastal Mountain Range of BC just south west of Williams Lake. After backpacking in for several hours, we found snow, dug down a foot or so and pitched our tents. The next morning, we strapped on our cross country ski’s and climbed to the top of an alpine peak and skiied down the most unbelievable untouched powder that you can imagine. I’ll never forget looking back, seeing the curl of ice and snow called cornice at the alpine peak and my tracks cutting through the otherwise untouched blinding white snow just below. If my outdoor ed teachers, of who’s names I cannot recall, ever read this, please email me so I can thank you and reminisce.

The final outdoor experience was not really a hiking or trekking experience but an outdoor experience where I had to use all the best gear to survive and do my job. While I worked for Chuck Fipke, a famous Canadian geologist, I had the opportunity to fly east to a northern point in Ontario, stay at a base camp for collecting diamond exploration samples and from that point take a helicopter to James Bay area for a few days to collect more samples. In the next picture I have my mosquito coat and head cover on as well as full length hip waiters used for wading into any creek or lake that the helicopter dropped me off at to collect mining samples.

Great job if you can get it

James Bay is a long long way from civilization and the helicopter ride out took four hours. The canadian shield area that we were flying over seemed to be flatter than the prairies. The whole flight I did not see any sign of man until we got closer to our destination at which time smoke was coming from a First Nations settlement. Seeing the incredible expanse of seemingly nothingness the far North area of Ontario gave me a real appreciation for the beautiful mountains that we enjoy in British Columbia.

Solo or with someone? Who is your preferred hiking partner?

I must say my favourite walking partner is my wife because when we walk and talk I find that we can receive clarity and direction on any issue, problem or potential roadblock that may concern us. While my wife is great to walk with, she doesn’t take to the skinny dangerous and extreme trails that I sometimes have to navigate when I am out hiking or backpacking. For hiking I really enjoy the company of one of my Search And Rescue buddies as they can be relied upon to know every detail of any piece of equipment or terrain that I may not be familiar with. I guess that when I think about it, Phil, a fellow search and rescue, has taught me a lot and has encouraged me to get familiar with things like ham radios, gps technology etc.

However, For Backpacking on multi day trips, I couldn’t be happier than when I am with any one or all of my teenage boys! One backpacking trip on the High Rim Trail near Kelowna found our backpacking group had to split up (something I really hate to do) because a couple of younger boys were just too slow as we climbed over several km’s of dead fall on our trail. The older boys went ahead, started a fire and my oldest son Jesse came back to guide us the rest of the way on a short cut route that was clear of deadfall. Of course before he led the older group ahead, I made sure he had the GPS co-ordinates of our destination and that both of us had our fox 40 whistle to help find each other if required. The whistles helped us connect as he came back to guide us. Now I have a vhf radio – Call sign VA&CBK – and try to make sure there are two radios to communicate with in any group.

If you had a couple of months off just to hike, what would be the three multi day hikes in your country you would complete?

There is so much beauty in BC that I would have to stay in British Columbia. I would first hit a trail that is close to home and on my bucket list. This would be the undeveloped Highlands Trail. Then I would be sure to book the vary popular West Coast Trail along with a few side trips on Vancouver Island. Finally I would try to go find some friendly grizzlies in the Rockies. there are so many multi-day trips in the Rockies that it is hard to choose which one to do first.Also, I would definitely go back to Glacier National Park. The country there is nothing short of spectacularGlacier National Park

Alright, unlimited finances, money and time what would be the three multi day international treks you would complete?

Ok, now I’m dreaming! The Continental Divide Trail!!! I will quote from Wikipedia “is a United States National Scenic Trail running 3,100 miles (5,000 km) between Mexico and Canada. It follows the Continental Divide along theRocky Mountains and traverses five U.S. states – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. In Montana it crosses Triple Divide Peak which separates the Hudson Bay, Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean drainages.

As of 2004, the trail, a combination of dedicated trails and small roads, is considered 70% complete. The uncompleted portions of the trail must be traveled by bushwhacking or roadwalking.

Only about two dozen people a year attempt to hike the entire trail, taking about six months to complete it. As of 2008, no equestrians have managed to ride the entire trail in a single year, although several “long riders” have tried[citation needed]. German long distance rider Günter Wamser, on his way from Fireland to Alaska [1]) and Austrian Sonja Endlweber (who joined him for the rest of the journey from Mexico) managed to complete the tour with 4BLM-mustangs in 3 summers 2007 – 2009.[2]

The Continental Divide Trail along with the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail form the Triple Crown of long distance hiking in the United States.

This trail can be continued above the Canadian border to Kakwa Lake north of Jasper National Park by the Great Divide Trail, which is so far described only in a few books, and carries no official Canadian status.

After that (if my wife hasn’t left me yet) I would do something in Europe and Asia…hmmm maybe Australia. I am still gathering info on the best trekking in those areas so please contact me here and let me know which treks would be best, and why they would be a great trekking goal for me. I will then post the answers to acquire more info and comments from my website visitors as well.

My three favourite bits of gear are? Why?

My tomahawk and combination knife are hard to choose from but I guess I would have to choose the knife for versatility but the Tomahawk is a wonder for wood gathering, protection, and digging. check out the picture of it and other details here:http://tracksandtrails.ca/2008/12/tomahawk-the-ultimate-backpacking-and-fire-making-tool/

My flint and firestarter kit would be a must because I do not like to spend a night in the wilderness without a fire. Many of my fire lighting tips and other folks fire lighting comments can be found in the “Survival” section on the TracksAndTrails.ca menu. Fire gives hope and assurance that you can survive. Fire is a signal for searchers to find you if you become lost. Fire can help keep away bears…I have experienced this truth personally!

Last well, I have to choose from my VHF Radio, Headlamp, and other favourites like my GPS but believe it or not, I think I would want the headlamp. The head lamp last a long time and can help with fire wood acquisition, signalling etc. I love my headlamp!

I really hate it when I am bushwalking / hiking / treking and …..?

I really hate it when you think you have trekked into a remote location and then you hear an ATV or motorcycle scream by…unless of course the driver is really cute or she is bringing fresh coffee. :-) I also really hate it when I forget my lipsol. I tend to get chapped lips easy given the right conditions.

I knew we were in trouble on that trip when …….

I have never been in trouble with a group or hiking partner as I tend to plan very carefully. However, I have had my experiences when I was younger. I almost had to stay out all night after an afternoon hunting trip.

Along the KVR near Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park at the South end of Chute Lake, you will find a forest recreation site and campground.

The first time I stumbled into this campground was not with the anticipation of a hot chocolate and marshmallows. No, my foray into the community of happy campers was with a sad dissapointment. Earlier that fall afternoon of 1993, I had been hunting along the ridges one or two km SW of Chute Lake. As the light began to fade I headed back to meet my buddy at his Jeep, or so I thought. The ridge I made my decent on looked similiar to the ridge that I came up on but as dusk turned to dark, I knew I was lost! I decided to travel West and down a steep side hill and subsequently find the KVR and the way home. Knowing the KVR was near and getting to the KVR were two different things!

The steep terrain, rock outcroppings and black forest surrounding made for a slow cautious hike. In the hope that my buddy would be able to recognize my situation and to alert anyone else that may be near, I fired three quick shots from my 30-06 into the night sky.

After moving down the hillside farther I let another round of 3 shots fly like lightning from my gun barrel, skirted a few more rock outcroppings and was surprised to find that Chute Lake was just below me. As I moved along the shore of Chute Lake and closer to the campsite at the South end of the lake, I could see several groups of campers – but to my surprise, none of which made any recognition of my situation or movement to see what I was up to. I mean, if you were camped in a skinny little valley with the thunder of a 30-06 rolling accross your campsite, wouldn’t you either confront the individual as he approached your camp…or run and get the heck outta the way!It was just as well, I didn’t have to explain my stupidity and at about the same time I got to the campsite, I could hear the distinct roar of my buddies jeep approaching. I caght up with my buddy on the KVR and arrived home safe and sound.

What trips have you planned in the next 12 months?

Nothing too big. I want to take my wife to Wells Gray Provincial Park. Any area there is awesome but the Helmcken Falls are a must see! See my posted info here: http://tracksandtrails.ca/2009/08/helmcken-falls/ I am pretty sure I will do the full 50 km High Rim Trail this spring. The Okanagan Highlands Trail is undeveloped and I hope to get a good GPS track on it this summer. And some weekend this Feb / March I will be enjoying a nice winter camp of some sort.

Clay camping
I am really going to try to get into the Rockies again this summer. After all they are only four hours drive from my door!

What is your favourite outdoor website?

I may be a bit biased but TracksAndTrails.ca is my favourite because it will allow small outdoor businesses have free marketing for their outdoor business, product, campsite or service by just registering for free and telling the world about their outdoor business. I love it when I check the site and see folks from all over the world telling me about a hike, trek or backpacking expedition in their area!

What is your favourite outdoor hiking gear store?

Really the internet is my favourite store but when it gets right down to the best service and product availability I rely on my local outdoor gear experts at AG Outdoor Superstore and Outdoor Adventure Gear and Travel Outfitters.

Many thanks to Clayton for such a huge response to our interview question, we really enjoyed this insight. Don’t forget to check out TracksAndTrails.ca for information from across the world.

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