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Navigating the Sooke Hills (without a GPS)

I’ve been surprised to find that a lot of you are still finding my old posts about hiking in the Sooke Hills near Victoria, BC. This includes popular hikes such as Sugarloaf, Mt. Quimper, and Mt McDonald. So I wanted to include an update!

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Paddling around Peden Lake with the old leaky canoe.

I’ve never owned a standalone GPS. Now in the era of crowd sourced maps and awesome phone apps – it’s been even easier to avoid dropping $350 on a decent GPS.

Victoria Feb 2012 024
Where are we… maybe the map knows!

Before the tips, first the warning: these hikes are very dangerous if you are not experienced and well-prepared.

With that out of the way here are my tips, from least technology reliant to most.

Summit Post: The Urban Mountains of the CRD

Navigating the Sooke Hills (without a GPS)

This page on Summit Post is how my hiking buddy and I figured out the Sooke Hills, without trail maps, a smart phone or GPS. We followed printed directions like this:

At 40-45 minutes note the wreck of an old red car on the left above the river and shortly thereafter cross the creek…

It took us years to figure out most of the hikes we wanted to do. We had to sometimes try mountains three or four times before we could summit. And sometimes we spent all day just walking trails to see where they went, which was often nowhere.

This is in no way to criticize the tremendous effort that goes into this incredible resource. Following subjective descriptions is just a very slow (but fun) way for many of us to find our way in the woods.

The verdict: Don’t rely on ONLY this site unless it becomes 2010 again & you are too cheap to buy a GPS.

Navigating the Sooke Hills (without a GPS)
We often took photos of important junctions so we could repeat what we did next time.

Open Cycle Map

Navigating the Sooke Hills (without a GPS)

Just like Wikipedia, anyone can edit Open Street Maps.

The version that includes hiking trails is called Open Cycle Map.

You can use this website in your browser to plan routes, but you can also use Walking Papers to print your own custom maps in various sizes.

A good caveat to remember is that anyone can edit these maps. Not all lines on this map correspond to well flagged, dirt paths in the woods.

The verdict: Always bring along a printed Open Cycle Map! Unless you LIKE that sinking feeling in your gut when you don’t know where you are…

Smart phone apps

The Backcountry Navigator app for Android is awesome.

No cell signal, no problem. The GPS in your phone can use satellites to locate you, just like a standalone GPS would. This has nothing to do with cell reception, so it works in the middle of nowhere.

Just make sure you download the relevant maps at home over WiFi . Or else the app will show you as a little blue dot in a greyed out background OR eat up your entire data plan. Not so helpful.

The only downside is that this completely zaps your battery in 2-3 hours of heavy use. Here is what I do to avoid that problem:

  • Put phone in airplane mode. This helps your phone battery when you are out of cell range, as your phone won’t be constantly searching for towers. (The GPS will still work. I know you don’t believe me, but it will.)
  • Every time I stop for a snack break & before I leave the car/camp, I turn on the GPS inside the app and mark a way point. I then turn the GPS off again.
  • If I am going out for a longer trip or feel nervous about navigating, I carry a backup phone battery.

When I had an iPhone, I used EveryTrail, though it crashed all the time. (If you have a favourite iPhone app, let me know in the comments!)

The verdict: For the price of two lattes, you have a GPS on your phone!

Victoria Outdoor Club

Navigating the Sooke Hills (without a GPS)

The Victoria Outdoor Club heads out for hikes out in the Sooke Hills more often than any other public group  than I am aware of.  Many of the hikes are long, adventurous and full of bushwacking.

The vedict: The way to go if you want to meet new folks, learn from more experienced folks, and/or don’t have a car.

Some photos from five years of hiking in the Sooke Hills

I love being outdoors, especially in the mountains. I live on Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada.

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9 Comments

  1. Anonymous Anonymous

    Interesting and funny … :). I didn’t know about “Alpine” excursions on the island.

  2. Robert Christie Robert Christie

    Hi, I’m so happy for your information, you may have saved my life.
    I love Sooke hiking and outdoor life as well.
    I live on a live aboard war boat at Sooke basin. I have a lot to share but lack the Internet skills you have. Maybe we can share a hike and I could pick your brain so to speak. I will provide lunch and water for this opportunity?
    Robert

  3. A propos your “2010” comment, the Urban Mountains of the SummitPost website is now current in all respects.

    Cheers,
    Vancouver Islander

    • jes jes

      Love your site!! And I hope you know that I never meant that your site wasn’t up to date. We just didn’t always know where to go at first & didn’t have a smart phone with a GPS to check!

      • No prob Jes. Got me off my ass and to my keyboard to make some badly overdue corrections and updates

        Happy hiking,
        VI

  4. Anonymous Anonymous

    Gaia app for iOS is awesome. Not cheap, but runs in airplane mode. Use it in the Sooke Hills all the time.

    • jes jes

      Thanks for the tip!

      • Nic Nic

        You can get the GAIA app as a SAR volunteer for free. Go to their website at the bottom there is a link “for volunteers” and apply.

        Nic

        • jes jes

          Thanks for the tip!

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