The Terrain, Vegetation and Other Stings
The topography of Vancouver Island is very rugged and intricate. While only a handful of the highest summits reach 2100m/7000ft they rise from deep valleys at a mere 225m/700ft. The alpine ridges that much of the Backbone route follows are around 1200m/4500ft. A quick subtraction will show that the vertical rise in crossing from ridge top to ridge top across the valleys can be quite a gain.
The alpine ridges are open, vegetated by heather and other low plants, and are a joy to hike through. This can contrast sharply with the lower forests that vary from open stands of huge timber to thick, shoulder high undergrowth. The key to hiking through this vegetation, where no trail exists, is to find and follow the numerous gametrails that travelling animals create. The wildlife have had the benefit of aeons of experience in figuring out the right path and their trails can save a great deal of effort at times.
It is advisable to have as many of the Information Sources listed as possible, at hand. The complexity and ever changing roads and landscape will require practice and experience navigating to travel successfully through the remote and rugged Island terrain. If visiting the Island for the first time, try one of the less committing sections first, before embarking into more remote areas.
There is no Poison Ivy on the Island but the indigenous Devil's Club fills this void amply. This plant can be readily identified by its 2m/6ft spiny stalks and broad leaves, usually growing in valley floors or creek beds. The spines can produce a nasty rash, and even infections. Needless to say, cross stands of Devil's Club with care. The forest and alpine are also home to untold varieties of mushrooms and fungus. Some are delicacies and strongly recommended. But there are also many toxic species and a positive identification should be made before consuming any of these fungal delights.
From mid-August to the first frosts in late September, nests of Yellow- Jackets and Black Headed Hornets seem to be every where. They build nests in the ground, old stumps and amongst the branches of shrubs and trees. Consider carrying an Epi-pen or Ana-kit with Antihistamine tablets because of the threat of life threatening allergies to their sting. They are rarely a problem for small groups but in a larger party, those at the back.... Watch out!
The tiny Western Black Legged Ticks are active in the lower elevation forest during early spring, March to May but are less common in later summer. They are known to carry Lyme's disease. If one should attach itself to your skin be patient and remove it without leaving its head in your skin. It apparently takes a day or so for Lyme's disease to be transmitted once the tick is attached, so early detection of ticks is important. Symptons of Lyme's disease are similar to flu initially, if you are in any doubt, keep the tick and take it and yourself for testing at a medical facility.
Logging Road Travel
Travelling the Vancouver Backbone requires extensive driving or hitchhiking on gravel logging roads. These are private industrial roads and each company is at pains to point out that travel on these roads is at the individual's own risk. Huge off-road trucks haul immense loads of timber during working hours and must still be anticipated 24 hrs. a day, 7 days a week. Yield immediately to these trucks, they cannot and often will not even try to avoid a small car or truck. In this case they quite literally own the road! Before setting out, check your car jack kit is complete and, the air pressure in your spare tire is good. The wise will carry two spare tires.
Current logging road conditions are also important to research. Many valleys have been logged and abandoned years ago and a road marked on a map is no indication of its driving condition. The Forest Practices Codes requires companies to decommission roads that are no longer active. This means removing bridges and ditching the road. Access may also be restricted on roads that have active logging sites on them it is advisable to respect these restrictions. A simple phone call to the company may save a lot of grief.
It is also worth noting that most rental car companies' insurance policies are void when travelling on gravel roads.