Socrates, who, so far as I know, never climbed Mount Seymour, is claimed to have said, “I know one thing: I know nothing.”
It’s an odd, but appropriate, quote with which to begin a story about British Columbian hiking maps, because only a man who mapped trails for 15 years could know just how little we know about the mountains in our corner of the world.
A man like, say, Tim O’Hearn.
O’Hearn, along with his wife, Claudia, has spent more than a decade tirelessly mapping trail routes throughout the region, from Slesse to Strachan, from the Chilcotins to Chilliwack. As a result of all of this work, the pair have created no fewer than five stellar trail maps that offer hikers an indispensable resource.
The maps (available at many local retailers, as well as online at www.trailventuresbc.com) are intricately detailed topographical treasures, and much more useful than the standard maps available from Provincial resources. For example, compare the Trail Ventures BC map of Seymour Provincial Park to the one available from the BC Parks website.
Better still, O’Hearn continually works at updating his maps, and those interested in hiking the North Shore will be pleased to note that a new updated edition of that map is now available and, coming in 2016, a Port Moody to Port Coquitlam map will be available, joining the list of the Southern Chilcotin, North Shore, Chilliwack West, Chilliwack East, and Stein to Joffre.
But how does this happen? How does a mild-mannered individual raised in the Lower Mainland become the purveyor of highly complicated maps?
It began with a trip to the Southern Chilcotins in the late 1980s, when O’Hearn and his friends attempted to tackle some trails, only to be waylaid by poor maps and directions. With no good hiking maps available, O’Hearn steeled himself to the idea of creating a hiking map for the region.
“Other people had the same idea,” O’Hearn recalled, “But they didn’t follow through with it. Of course, if I had known in the beginning the work that would be involved, I might not have done it myself!”
That work included three years of charting trails, and a fortuitous friendship with Matt English. English was a hiking partner of O’Hearn, and, when English wound up leaving for the US to take a job with a company called ESRI, it proved to be an incredible blessing to O’Hearn’s venture.
“Matt was a huge help to us,” O’Hearn said over drinks a few weeks ago. “His company in the U.S. was the main provider of GIS software used in creating maps, so he got on the phone to me immediately to say, ‘Hey, this might be possible.’”
The work wasn’t without hiccups, though. The O’Hearns hiked numerous trails, only to find out later that the mapping software required additional data, meaning they had re-hike all of those routes.
Not to mention the fact the Chilcotins lie hours from O’Hearn’s Lower Mainland home, necessitating endless weekend drives.
“Lots of friends asked me, why don’t you start with the North Shore rather than way the heck up there,” O’Hearn remembered with a laugh. “All I could tell them was that I’d already started it, so I wanted to finish it.”
After three years of sweat and notes, Claudia and Tim were finished, the map (and, more recently, the wonderful guidebook) was printed and their voyage was complete. Until, of course, he decided that it was time to listen to his friends and do a map for the North Shore.
And then one for the Chilliwack area, which was too big to put into one map, so they split it into two maps (East and West).
And, since they’d done so much work, why not make one for Stein and Joffre?
More than 15 years later, Trail Ventures BC now offers a multitude of maps for everyone from the novice hiker interested in exploring new terrain, to the seasoned mountaineer looking at trying something off the beaten path.
The maps, which are printed on durable, weatherproof and tearproof polypropylene material, are obviously created by people who hike. The references to ponds and wetlands reflect O’Hearn’s nature.
“We go overboard on a lot of stuff,” O’Hearn said. “I’m interested in hydrography, it’s kind of unhealthy interest of mine. So we map creeks, ponds, wetlands, all sorts of things you won’t find anywhere else.
“They’re all landmarks. But when you’re out hiking and you run out of water, it’s pretty nice to know.”
He also made it a point to mention that the duo works in partnership with the Search and Rescue organizations in the areas they’ve mapped, both to get their feedback and to ensure that the trails they list aren’t unreasonably dangerous. And, as avid hikers know, there are many trails in the North Shore that don’t show up on any other maps, simply because the municipalities or the provincial authorities haven’t mapped them out.
“Our policy is that if a trail exists, the city or whomever knows about it, and it is seeing significant use – even if it’s unofficial – then it’s a trail,” O’Hearn explained, noting, though, that if a trail has been closed by the responsible authorities, he is quick to indicate that on his maps.
“We always work with stakeholders, which is unique to most map makers,” he said.
In the end, the maps are a revelation to the reader at just how many unknown trails are available to us in the Lower Mainland and, considering the maps cost less than a round of post-hike drinks, they make a valuable and economical addition to a hiker’s backpack. And, unlike a smartphone, a map never runs out of batteries, loses its signal, or breaks when you – drat! – drop it onto a boulder.
All of which takes us back to a certain Greek philosopher’s sage wisdom from thousands of years ago, intended for general usage, but certainly applicable to hikers in British Columbia: You don’t know as much as you think you do.
So get a map.
The recently updated North Shore Trail Map published by Trail Ventures BC is now available for purchase at www.trailventuresbc.com. You can also find it at many local outdoor stores in the Lower Mainland. The previous version sold out, and this edition is only available in limited quantities, so pick it up before they’re all gone.