For years, the recently retired Hazel and Rod Braithwaite have planned to put their entire lives on their backs and attempt the 4,200km Pacific Coast Trail starting March 25. Updated travel advisories are the first hiccup in an adventure sure to be full of them. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Oak Bay couple spent years planning 4,200km Pacific Crest Trail

Duo set to leave on biggest trek of their lives

Expect the unexpected and be ready for something to go wrong.

Hazel and Rod Braithwaite have been preparing for years to hike the 4,200-kilometre Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Manning Park. And now they’re finally ready.

Hazel, 60, retired in January after 20 years at Coast Capital and three with United Way. Rod, 63, retired in June after 25 years with Victoria Hospice, many of which were as the CFO and COO. They have planned, re-planned and planned again, having scoured the myriad blogs and how-to guides about the Crest. On average, only about 25 per cent of the trekkers who attempt the Crest trail finish each year.

This is not another story about the novel coronavirus. Rather, the novel coronavirus has asserted itself as the first barrier for the Braithwaites to overcome.

READ ALSO: Film features Chez Monique, West Coast Trail’s off-the-grid restaurant

Put bluntly, “If you do this, you have to be able to tolerate the suck,” Rod said.

Last Monday, they were almost sure they could sneak out of the country by plane and find their way to the Crest trailhead, 80 km from San Diego.

By Friday, things had obviously changed.

“We are going to decide [next week] unless the decision is made for us,” said Hazel, a fourth-term councillor.

The plan was to take about 5.5 months to cover the various terrains of the Pacific Crest Trail as it winds through California, Oregon and Washington. It dwarfs the 14-day quarantine the Canadians returning internationally have been directed to do by the provincial health minister.

Backing up to Wednesday, still a few hours before the first domino fell with the government-instructed shutdown (it really hit with Washington state’s declaration to cancel gatherings over 250 people).

READ ALSO: West Coast Trail born out of tragedy

Set up in the front of the Braithwaite’s Oak Bay yard that morning was a 1.5-pound all-season tent, with high-tech air mattresses and sleeping quilts. The tent cover is pitched using hiking poles to reduce the weight.

Trekking the Crest trail has been whittled down to a science and Rod has all but earned his PhD in preparation.

“We’ve bought everything and some things twice,” Rod said.

In their life the couple has hiked the Juan de Fuca and West Coast trails, North Coast Trail, Cape Scott, Nootka Trail, and through Naikoon Park on Haida Gwaii. They also hiked Gros Morne Park and the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Recently, they dragged their new kit up Shields Lake in the Sooke Hills and took a snow traversing course at Mount Washington where you learn to self-arrest.

“Basically we’ll be traversing sloped snowfields in the High Sierra [of California] wearing crampons and carrying an ice pick,” Rod said. “The sole purpose for the ice pick is to stop yourself if you fall and start sliding.”

Rod was an ice climber when Hazel met him in Alberta in the 1980s. Hazel wasn’t. But the two are well prepared besides gear. In the last two weeks they walked as much as possible, including a Tuesday morning hike to Uptown.

“We won’t start quickly but we expect to cover up to 40 km for a lot of the days,” Rod said.

The way the Crest trail works is that there are small outposts within a few hours of the trail which hikers can walk into every few days to re-supply. Along those outposts, they will pick up things like a new pair of hiking shoes that they get mailed there by their daughter.

They’re ready for blisters, sunburns (they have a foil-based parasol, snow, rain, and extreme misery. They’re ready for long, waterless stretches, during which your pack load nearly doubles with up to six litres of water on their backs.

But there are also some reassuring advances thanks to technology. Most campers use an app (when they can get a signal) that will show the water situation up ahead.

“Hikers will post to the app when they reach a water source as to whether it is flowing so that we can look ahead and know, ‘OK, we are only a day or two away from freshwater,’” Rod said.

If they do go, the Braithwaites hoped start March 25. Their daughter Lauren, who lives in San Jose, was to start April 26.

“She will catch us, that we know,” Hazel said.

Hazel will take a leave from council following the budget approval and will time her leave with council’s five-week summer hiatus.

The Braithwaites are also raising money through their journey on behalf of the United Way uwgv.ca/h-and-r-walk/ and

the Sovereign Order of St. John at sosj-victoria.ca/donate.  

reporter@oakbaynews.com


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