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Retirement plan different than most for qathet couple

Region's mountains continue to attract hiking pair who go prepared

The mountainous areas of the Northern Sunshine Coast that surround the qathet region have attracted people with adventurous spirits for decades. Beyond the coastal snowbelt of the Knuckleheads are alpine hikes of Mount Sentinel, Skwim, Freda and Juarez, located past Lois Lake, heading north, and still popular destinations for those well prepared. 

Clarke and Karen Slootweg began hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail in their 30s, back when it was still being developed by Eagle Walz and crew. The couple is still trekking regularly and recently hiked Mount Freda. However, in order to enjoy 360-degree views at the peak and come back home again, they go out prepared for almost anything.

"We usually drive as far as we can but this time there was an avalanche across the road that we normally go up to get to the top of Freda," said Clarke. "We knew that ahead of time but sometimes we take our quad ATV [all-terrain vehicle], but this particular time, we just parked at the avalanche and hiked all the way up."

The couple said the hike took them about four hours up and three hours down.

Clarke and Karen regularly photograph their backcountry treks and recently took up operating a drone, in order to film the sweeping vistas and expansive peaks they visit.

"First thing we do is sit patiently and wait for the most perfect day," said Clarke. "We are what you'd call, fair weather hikers."

They said sometimes it can take a month or a few weeks before they go out on a specific hike.

"What we like to do is take photographs or fly a drone, so there is no point going up when it's cloudy," said Clarke. "We've learned over the years that you're better to bring all the gear and have a little extra weight, such as snow shoes and survival gear, in case you need to stay on the mountain overnight."

The couple said they have about a dozen peaks they like to do; some suitable for summer, and some suitable for winter. 

Tourism Powell River assistant manager Emily Fahey stated in an email to the Peak that being aware of the terrain before going on a hike is really important.

“Layering [clothing] is always a good idea as weather conditions can vary during the course of a day,” stated Fahey. “Good, sturdy footwear is also necessary. Try to hike with a companion or group and always let someone else know where you plan to hike, as well as the approximate duration of your trek.” 

Carrying a medical kit, a map and bringing enough drinking water is also crucial on a hike or in the backcountry, added Fahey.

Clarke and Karen said some of the treks they go on require a high-clearance vehicle, and when on a logging road during the week, bringing a radio is a must because of logging activity.

"In the winter, my favourite [hikes] are the little Knucklehead, Freda, Sentinel; and we camped out on Mount Juarez about a month ago," said Clarke. "In the summer we like Centre Lakes and Eldridge Valley, hiking the ridge line."

The folks at Tourism Powell River recommend taking bear spray and a whistle in order to make noise on hikes because of bears and cougars in the area: "If you plan to camp along the way, make sure that all food sources are secured and safely stored."

Karen was born in the qathet region and Clarke's family moved to the area when he was one year old. They have both been hiking for more than 50 years now, and joke that it has become their retirement plan.

"We've learned lots of stuff and one of them is, you've got to know what you're getting into," said Clarke. "You should consider if it's the right time of year to go [on a specific hike] and you have to gauge your own ability. This is important, especially in winter, because you can get yourself into places where it might be too scary to get back down."

Having the right gear is crucial, the couple said. They pack snowshoes and crampons with them in case there is deep snow or ice; they also carry an emergency satellite beacon.

For less experienced alpine hikers, they recommend starting with something like Tin Hat Mountain, which is part of the Sunshine Coast Trail.

"The pictures we take on our treks, we make into a calendar every year for friends and family," said Clarke. "I love flying the drone up there. Something we added in the last four or five years was drone photography."

What keeps Clarke and Karen going back to the alpine is the scenery, the fresh air and having a challenge to plan for.

Clarke said their recent hike to Mount Freda is not what they consider to be dangerous terrain. He said the trail is quite easy to follow, but that there is quite a bit of elevation and some cardio fitness required. 

"Another piece of gear you cannot go to the top of a mountain without,” said Clarke, “is a thermos of hot coffee." 

Other tips Clarke and Karen have for novice hikers is to find a group or someone with experience to learn from. Also, always check for avalanches or potential areas that may have them, and to get out and enjoy the many spectacular views and alpine hikes there are in the region.

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