Ollie's First Backpacking Trip: A Trip Report

Ollie's First Backpacking Trip: A Trip Report

Hi, my name is Sydney and my pup Ollie (@ollie.explores) and I have a love for all things outdoor adventure related. Ollie is a 9-month old mixed breed with a contagious smile and no off-switch when it comes to exploring! Camping and hiking rank as our all-time favourite ways to spend our free time. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, if we’ve got time off work, you’d better believe we’ll be out exploring.

Most of our camping trips (especially when the weather is colder), are what you would call ‘car camping’. We’ve got a passion for off-road adventures and finding new places to setup our home on wheels. To give you an idea of just how much we camp… we’ve spent over 60 nights (and counting) in our rooftop tent just this year!

With the arrival of the warmer weather, we decided to combine our love for camping with our love for hiking, trading in the truck and rooftop tent for a backpack and hiking boots. It was time for Ollie’s first overnight backpacking trip!

We chose to make Ollie’s first hike-in camp trip a goodie – a 22km round trip hike in Strathcona provincial park, located on Vancouver Island, BC.

Because we don’t live on the island and the only way to get there is by boat or plane…we started our trip with a ferry boat ride! It is a beautiful cruise across the Strait of Georgia that we have taken way too many times to count. This 2 hour trip takes you to Nanaimo, BC and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a whale pod swimming alongside you in the water! From Nanaimo, head towards Campbell River until you reach the park.

Here’s how the hiking part went down…

Day 1: The day we began our three-day backpacking trip just happened to be summer solstice. What better way to officially kick off summer than a backcountry hiking adventure with a pup! We arrived at the trailhead around 4pm, eager to get started on our hike. 

We put on our carefully-stuffed 53-liter backpacks and clad Ollie in his very own doggy pack and we were ready to go. (This lucky dog gets away with carrying very little!) 

There weren’t too many other hikers on their way in, but we did pass a few groups on their way out of the park. Because of the risk of wildlife encounters in the back country, a leash is always necessary! We bring along a 10ft Wilderdog leash to give Ollie a little freedom while still keeping him close enough to reel in if necessary. To stay safe in bear country we always carry bear spray and equip Ollie with bear bells to make a little extra noise.

The trail was very well maintained and guided us through lush forest, past shimmering waterfalls, over creaking bridges and across crystal clear mountain streams.

Three hours later – we made it! It’s always rewarding once you arrive at your base camp… especially when you’ve been carrying 32lbs on your back in the form of tents, sleeping bags, food, and water. Always remember to soak in your surroundings and appreciate the path that you travelled to get there though, it is just as much a part of the experience!

We didn’t waste much time getting our camp all set up (and really…there isn’t a ton to assemble when you’ve carried it all there). Next on the agenda, Ollie’s favourite time of the day: dinner! The humans made some dehydrated meals (night #1 was shepherds pie) with the help of a Jetboil, and Ollie had ‘his usual’.

We packed his kibble in his Wilderdog kibble carrier  – it is such a convenient way to keep all his food and treats in one easy to carry place.

One thing to always remember when you’re in the backcountry, is that you need to store your food away from your campsite, and out of reach of wildlife. Never keep any food or scented items inside your tent. Bear boxes and tree hangs are your friend out here!

Although we didn’t see any wildlife other than birds on this trip, Vancouver island is home to many black bears, cougars, wolves, Roosevelt elk, and blacktail deer! We’ve seen all of these creatures on past island trips, but we were pretty happy not to encounter any on this trip without the safety of the truck!

Ollie was so tired from our hike that he was more than happy to curl up on the ground and have a quick nap while we were eating. Naps never last long for Ollie…even 10km with a backpack doesn’t leave him napping for long.

This hike has gotten fairly popular recently (for good reason!) but on our first night at the campsite there were only a couple other groups spread out around the camping area between the trees. Thankfully, one of those groups had a pup not much older than Ollie and they had a run around in our campsite to tire each other out again before bed. 

Ollie loves our rooftop tent, but I wasn’t quite sure how he would do in the regular tent. It’s not nearly as padded and comfy, and it was bound to be a bit colder sleeping on the ground. I’m so glad we brought along his Wilderdog sleeping bag for him to curl up in and keep warm.  It’s always a good idea to bring a comfort item for your dog if you’re not sure how they’ll do in a new environment.

Ollie did so well for his first night in the tent. Much to my surprise, the little dude slept the whole night through, and didn’t even wake us up at the crack of dawn like he normally does at home! He even crawled out of his sleeping bag in the morning to give me a quick little cuddle before it was time to get up (he’s usually an independent dog who don’t need no mom cuddles).

Day 2: The plan for today was a 3km trek to a beautiful glacier fed lake. The trail was sometimes a bit hard to follow as it climbed the rocks beside a fast-flowing waterfall. There were a few open areas where you had to search to see where the trial continued into the trees on the other side! Every once in a while we caught a glimpse of the magnificent mountains surrounding our destination lake, motivating us to pick up the pace!

When we did reach the lake, we stood in awe for a few moments, gazing at the impressive mountain range behind the aqua blue water. Hiking and wading in the water give Ollie a crazy case of the zoomies (zoomies = sprinting around like a crazy canine)!

After some time spent at the lake, admiring its beauty and cooling off from the hike, we chose to carry on to the second lake, another 2km on a very technical trail. The trail was mostly a series of roots to climb over and rocks to navigate. Ollie always surprises me with his abilities on the trail – nothing seems to phase him! The last part of the trail was a rock climb beside yet another waterfall. At the top was a stunning view of the first lake, framed by the magnificent mountains and lush trees. The second lake was still half frozen, but that didn’t stop Ollie from taking a quick dip and re-hydrating.

When we were able to pull ourselves away from the view, we hiked back to the first lake and stopped for a snack break and a well-deserved rest. We all (Ollie included) napped by the water while the sunshine popped in and out from behind the clouds. When we awoke, the lake was quite busy with other hikers and we decided it was time to hike back to camp for dinner (it was almost 6pm after all, and a day of hiking had us hungry).

Once we cooked up a filling dehydrated meal (this night we had pad thai, my fav) for dinner, Ollie decided it was time for him to hit the hay after the long day of a hiking. He stood by our tent, seemingly saying, ‘time for bed’! I zipped open the door and he forced his way inside only to flop down on my sleeping bag and settle into sleep.

Fires are prohibited in the provincial park all year long but with such an action packed day we didn’t have a lot of down time after dinner! Instead of sitting around a campfire making s’mores, we played a few games of cards before retiring for the night.

When the humans were ready to crawl into the tent, the task of lifting Ollie off of my sleeping bag and onto his own was not an easy job (he’s a heavy 52lb sleepy puppy)!

Day 3: We had a 7am wake up so that we could get packed up and hit the trail early. We retrieved our food from the bear cache and made a quick breakfast of oatmeal (I love to add nuts and peanut butter to mine) and coffee (never forget the coffee).

Packing up is always less fun than setting up because it means the trip is coming to a close. We disassembled our tent (still wet with morning dew) and folded up our sleeping bags and mats, stuffing them into our bags like a game of Tetris.

On the way back to the parking lot, we made better time than we had on the way up. This was probably because all the food we had to haul up there had been eaten! Ollie also helped out by pulling me up the hills, making sure he was always in the lead.

Once we got back to civilization, we celebrated Ollie’s first backpacking trip with a beer and a hot meal (anything is better than dehydrated, in my opinion), eager to sit back and start planning Ollie’s next backpacking trip! (I think he’s addicted!)

Camping with pups is such an extraordinary experience. We had done lots of camping, and lots of hiking leading up to this trip, but to put the two together was something spectacular that we had never done together before! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at first and at times it seemed a little daunting, but I felt our special bond became stronger and this will not be our last backpacking adventure together. Ollie is truly happiest when we’re exploring, and it brings a smile to my face and warms my heart to see him living life to the fullest.