Elfin Lakes: The best views I’ve never seen.


I’d been looking forward to it for a long time. Looking forward to enjoying the world-class views which greet hikers at Elfin Lakes.

I rose early, ate a hearty meal and joined my brother in waiting for our lift to the trail head of the hike, which lies 14km from the suburbs of Squamish, in British Columbia, Canada.

We’d chosen to pay for a shuttle to avoid riding the boring and arduous 14km to the start of the hike, which itself is a 2okm round trip along a gradually rising walking path. We’d also chosen to ride the trail rather than hike because we figured it would be much more fun on the way down. Ultimately, though, we decided to tackle the trail for one reason – the 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains.

We parted with the shuttle after assuring the driver we had packed the bear spray and set off on the trail in a light drizzle under a sky heavy with clouds. We’d expected some rain early in the morning but were confident the sun would emerge by the time we reached the summit.

We passed a number of hikers on the steady climb but no other cyclists, until one came flying down the path. The massive grin on his face assured us we had something to look forward to.

The large number of hikers who had defied the weather indicated a view worth seeing. The descending hikers constantly warned us of two baby black bears on the trail up ahead. Lucky we’d packed the bear spray.

The reports of bears filled us with some trepidation and this combined with my general fatigue to turn the leisurely ride into something more arduous. I was glad we had taken the shuttle, because even without the 14km ride from Squamish, I was already struggling.

Alas, we did not see any bears, which should have been a relief, but was also a disappointment because I hadn’t seen a single bear in the preceding two weeks in Canada, and because I was hoping an encounter would be an excuse to stop and rest. After about an hour of climbing, I was struggling, with a lack of fitness and the realisation that I couldn’t keep up with my older brother, who was not helping the situation by popping wheelies up ahead.

We didn’t see the bears, but we soon discovered their bounty – blueberries. There were hundreds of them, on bushes right beside the trail, and they were absolutely delicious. More delicious than anything that can be bought in a store, so sweet and bursting with flavour that we devoured as many as possible. The berries themselves were a reward for the previous hour’s exertion, and the promised world-class views provided even more motivation to continue.

It was at this point that a light fog descended upon us and added some mystery to the beauty and silence of the forest. It also made us much easier targets for the bears, but as we surmised, if they wanted to get us they would.

Thus, on we rode, higher and higher through the forest and the clouds. The clouds thickened as the temperature dropped. We had to pick our way through the rocks on the trail and this added to my exhaustion, but I pushed on in anticipation of the spectacular views at the summit.

Soon though, the clouds thickened to such an extent that we could barely see in front of us. It was also at this point that the path levelled out and even descended at some points as we neared the lakes. We had to resort to calling and making noise on the descents, not to avoid a run in with a bear, but with a hiker. We had no idea where we were, until a faint outline of a building emerged through the fog.

We’d reached the summit, but where were the lakes?

They were hidden in the fog. We could see only a few metres in front of us. The much vaunted, spectacular, world-class, views were completely shrouded in fog. Two hours of solid climbing had been rewarded with…fog.

We rode past the hut, expecting to see a lake, somewhere, but only found the designated camping area. Thus, we perched on the edge of a camping platform, cold and tired, and ate a sandwich in the drizzle and clouds.

“Apparently there’s a wold class view here,” we assured each other.

We re-traced our steps to the hut and passed the frames which are used to keep food bags off the ground and away from bears. In the heavy fog, the macabre structures looked more suited to hanging someone.


It was only when we started to ride back along the trail that we spotted it – a lake. One of the world-famous Elfin Lakes, which sat not two metres from the edge of the trail we had ridden down just 5 minutes earlier. The fog had been so thick we’d completely missed it.

Luckily, some of the fog lifted momentarily and we caught a glimpse of the lake, enough to persuade us to sit and enjoy our second sandwich and take a stroll around the lake, wondering whether to brave the cold and hope for the fog to clear, or to descend to warmer climes. Our stroll took us past a sign indicating that swimming was permitted in this particular lake – no thanks, it was way too cold for a swim.

We eventually headed back to Squamish and definitely enjoyed letting gravity carry us back to the start of the trail, which we reached with a feeling of satisfied exhaustion. We enjoyed the journey but will have to return to enjoy the truly spectacular views.

By Kieran Blake





Hiking Elegance.


I feel the soft, silken caress on my toes and up onto my feet. The smooth, sheer fabric slides over my skin and wraps my ankles in a luscious embrace. I succumb to the temptation to run my fingers slowly along the svelte seduction and this indulgent pleasure ascends from the tips of my toes all the way up…


my hairy legs.

I always wear pantyhose when I step out.

I wear the pantyhose under my hiking socks for added comfort and blister protection. I picked up the tip from a friend and fellow hiker who uses the technique to protect her feet on day hikes and multi-day hikes.


Ever since I first tried it, my feet have felt better. I’ve had no blisters and my feet feel more comfortable inside the shoe. I feel almost as good as I did the day I bought the pantyhose from the department store.

In an attempt to avoid being labelled a pervert, I decided against wandering aimlessly through the hosiery section of the department store, as my legs are far too hairy to belong to a drag queen or ‘entertainer’. Plus, the region in which I live is yet to embrace the modern, urban trend of gender-fluid androgyny. I asked the helpful assistant to point me in the right direction, and even after explaining that I needed them for hiking, she still wasn’t convinced.

Oh well, they make me feel good.

Are Athletes in Danger of Developing Skin Cancer?


Athletes force themselves through exhaustion and suffering on a daily basis and accept that their pursuit of personal excellence exposes them to the risk of injuries, but do they also accept the risk of developing skin cancer?

Prolonged exposure to UV radiation and the potential for sunburn are realities for athletes involved in outdoor sports and they are also the primary causes of melanomas. A melanoma, according to Cancer Council Australia, is

“…a type of skin cancer…which… develops in the melanocytes (pigment cells) and usually occurs on parts of the body that have been overexposed to the sun…and is considered the most serious type of skin cancer because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body, especially if not detected early.”

A Case Study.

Already in Australia, one Australian Rules Football player, Jarryd Roughead, suffered a well-publicised case of skin cancer. Roughead developed a melanoma on his lip which later caused cancer to spread to his lungs.

Professional ‘Aussie Rules’ players typically spend two hours playing on match day and more time in the sun while training. They wear sleeveless jerseys and they don’t wear hats during competition. They’re also the object of much harmless ridicule for their famously short shorts.

Fortunately for Roughead, and fans of the Hawthorn Hawks, he returned to the field in 2017 after receiving treatment. He now encourages all Australians to undergo regular skin checks, in recognition of the fact that more than 12,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year in Australia.


What if athletes have a tan?

Roughead has fair skin and light-coloured hair, making him extremely susceptible to skin cancer. However, Cancer Council Australia advises that

“…a tan will offer only limited protection from sunburn, usually equivalent to SPF3, depending on skin type. It does not protect from DNA damage, which can lead to skin cancer.”

This suggests that any athlete, from anywhere in the world, bears some risk of developing skin cancer while participating in outdoor sports, especially while competing in the many national and international sporting events conducted each year in Australia and New Zealand, countries around which this article is centred.

Australia and New Zealand have some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world and are also located under a large hole in the ozone layer, exposing residents to yet more UV radiation. Furthermore, Cancer Council Australia reminds us that

“…sunburn is also common on cooler or overcast days.”

Athletes v Ordinary People.

Research findings in The United States elucidate the increased risk for athletes in comparison to us mere mortals.

“Outdoor athletes face double jeopardy because perspiring exacerbates their risk,” explains dermatologist Brian B. Adams, chairperson of the American Academy of Dermatologists.

“Perspiration on the skin lowers the minimal erythema dose, the lowest ultraviolet (UV) light exposure needed to turn the skin barely pink.”

Which sports pose the greatest risk?

Athletes who participate in sports such as Tennis, Athletics and Long-Distance Running, Triathlon, Sailing, Surfing and aquatic sports, Beach Volleyball, Lacrosse, Hockey (field), Rock Climbing and most football codes.

The Australian Open Tennis tournament exemplifies the risk.

Few players can be seen re-applying sun screen during a change of ends, not even the unbelievably fastidious Rafael Nadal. Players may have applied sun block before the game, but most reputable brands recommend re-applying sun screen every two hours during sun exposure “…or after swimming, exercising and towel drying.” This is true even for sunscreen with the highest SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating and those designed specifically for sport.

Grand Slam Tennis players must be ready to spend at least two hours in the sun during the early rounds of a tournament, which also begs the question;

Why don’t they wear a hat?

Few players wear hats, even though the tournament is conducted during the height of the Australian summer. Interestingly, players and officials are sentient of the risk of heat exhaustion, and pragmatically take measures to reduce this, but few players adopt the precaution of wearing sun protection.

Some Tennis, Golf and Beach Volleyball players wear visors; others wear caps – some for sun protection or improved visibility, others to honour their lucrative endorsement deals. While some protection is sensible, Cancer Council Australia advises everyone to

“…avoid prolonged sun exposure and always wear protective clothing, a broad brim hat and eye-wear when out in the sun.”

Head protection during competition is rare in most football codes (except American Football) as well as Triathlon, Athletics and Long-Distance Running, Hockey and Surfing and other aquatic sports.

Cyclists and Cricket players cover their heads, for safety and/or sun protection, but Cyclists offset this sun smart behaviour with hours in the sun developing their infamous Cycling tan lines.

Surfers find hats cumbersome and unfashionable, and if you think image is not important for surfers, scour social media. Increasing the risk for surfers is the reflection of the sun off the water and the fact that many of the world’s best waves, and competitions, are to be found in warm, tropical locations such as Indonesia.

Developing a melanoma on the head or face is more serious than on other parts of the body because removing it requires a more complicated procedure.

The Gender Gap.

Female athletes often cover less of their body than men during competition (and sometimes during training). This is true for Tennis players, especially since the arrival of the fashion savvy Williams sisters and the highly marketable Russians, Kournikova and Sharapova. The trend is similar in other sports.

The ‘barely there’ outfits of female Beach Volleyball players attract large (often male) crowds while female surfers help sell enormous numbers of bikini bottoms, while their male counterparts promote boardshorts.

Elite Female Golfers often wear shorts during tournaments while men wear long pants. Female Athletes and Long-Distance runners, as well as Hockey players, cover less of their limbs in clothing designed for optimal performance.

In contrast, gender neutral uniforms are worn in sports such as Cricket and the major football codes (unless you count Lingerie Football, although is this played indoors?) and the degree of exposed skin is fairly uniform in Rock Climbing and Triathlon.


Good luck finding a professional athlete these days without a tattoo. Do tattoos impact upon the skin’s susceptibility to cancer? I don’t know, perhaps this is a topic for a future article.

Risk Reduction.

Athletes could follow the philosophy of the late Olympic marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru. When asked about running an Olympic record to win gold in Beijing, the Kenyan mentioned that the blistering heat made him want to finish the race sooner so he just ran faster.


Other measures include conducting competitions during the early morning, late afternoon or evening. Media coverage is already dictating this shift for many sports, but only for the elite athletes and often for the finals stages of tournaments. It’s also not a feasible option for some sports, such as Golf, Surfing (shark bait) and Marathon running (short cuts).

Advances in material and fabric could lead to adaptations in clothing and equipment, which could provide more protection for athletes without impeding their performance or comfort.

Finally, we can all take action to reduce the impact of Climate Change, because regardless of where you stand on this issue, the reality is that environmental damage is extenuating the harmful rays of the sun, exposing professional athletes involved in outdoor sports to a greater risk of developing skin cancer.

Images:Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash, http://www.thenewdaily.com.au

Cancer Council Australia, http://www.cancer.org.au,

American Academy of Dermatology, http://www.aad.org


Caving in Semuc Champey, Guatemala.


Does my travel insurance policy cover me for this?

Caving in Semuc Champey, Guatemala, with guides who looked 15, because they were 15.

One was guiding for the first time.

We weren’t told much. Well, the guides didn’t speak English. None of the travellers in the group spoke fluent Spanish.

At the hostel, they’d said wear old clothes. Shoes or sandals. You will get wet. You will get dirty.

No headlamps, even though it’s caving

We got candles. To take through the water, no worries.

“Vamos” the guides grinned, as I wondered how to say “she’ll be right mate” in Spanish.

In we went. Walking, squeezing, crouching, sliding, climbing, swimming.

Candles went out. Surprise, surprise.

“Vamos”. Deeper and deeper into the dark cave.

Fascinating. Beautiful. Exhilarating, and unnerving.

Deep caverns, tiny crevices, mini waterfalls.

Then a deep pool. Apparently it was deep. The guides said it was. Well, they said something before removing their headlamps and leaping in.

“Tu tambien”

“Me? You mad?”

Well, we’re in this far, why not?

What a rush.

Further and further. Colder and colder. Deeper and deeper. Then I started to shiver, we were only halfway in.

The guides grinned and leapt and crawled and climbed. We followed.

Just as I was about to freeze to death, we made it out.

Great fun, but no time to thaw out.

We stood on the bridge. The guides threw their tyre tube into the fast flowing water.

Then Jumped.

So did we…

Published on http://www.myholidayflashback.auspost.com.au, May 2016.

Image: Rachelle Blake.



Meandering Through Mangroves in Brunei Bay.


A leisurely Sunday afternoon meandering the mangroves of Brunei Bay.

A helpful guide. A cool breeze. Refuge from the heat.

Friendly locals and fellow visitors.

A yellow ringed cat snake. Curled up, sleeping. Birds and more birds.

A live chicken.

A pleasant way to spend $30 and a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Money well spent, contributed to 1stopbruneiwildlife, a local conservation and environmental protection group.

Contributed to their ongoing conservation projects.

Mangroves within minutes of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei. This isn’t London.


Peace. Quiet. Solitude. Wildlife.

And a live chicken.


More trips are planned in the future, according to the guide Nazri. Check their website, http://www.1stopbrunei.com, or social media sites.

A fortunate discovery on a very, very quiet afternoon. No tourist info available. I tried.


And the live chicken?

On the t shirt of a friendly young local lad, which read “ayam alive”. In Malay, ayam means chicken.

Yes, we all made it back alive.


Flying Papaya.

20160516_130744 (2)

Wake early. No breakfast. Wear sports clothes.

The extent of my orders.

My birthday treat would begin upon the arrival of a certain person at a certain hour at a certain hotel on the outskirts of Colima.

The certain hour passed. It’s Mexico.

I was permitted some papaya. Nothing more.

“Vamonos.” Our convoy set off.

We stopped at La Cumbre.



“Yeeees” I’d wanted to try it since I first saw them flying above the city.

Instructions. Strap in. Safety check.


So I ran. Then off.

“Yeeeeoooooh” the first few seconds were terrifying; then absolute peace.

We glided above the farms in the stillness of the sky.

My friends got smaller and smaller.

This was fantastic.

Then around in circles and up, up, up. More circles. We had to rise in order to reach the rendezvous point at the old airport. Over the city. Over my apartment.

Up and Up and around.

I started to feel nauseous.

Up and up.

More nauseas.

“What if I need to vomit?”

“Just not on my equipment” replied Santi, my guide.

“Umm. Ok.” Then it happened, papaya flying through the air onto the fields below.

I hoped it didn’t land on any of the cows. Not a good start to a Sunday morning.

Then again.

It was too much. I was too sick. 20 minutes into the flight we had to descend.

A great disappointment. A great reason to return.

To see old friends. To fly.

Without papaya.

Published on http://www.myholidayflashback.auspost.com.au, May 2016.




Diving Through Clouds.



The overwhelming sensation was one of stillness.

A stillness I’d only ever experienced while floating through the air in a parachute.

A stillness that is increasingly difficult to find in a high-tech, digital world.

A stillness to savour.

IMG_1913 (3)

Stillness of crystal clear waters trapped within caves called cenotes, near Tulum, Mexico.

Stillness of a world without noise or the tides and turbulence of the ocean. A submarine stillness utterly unique to myself and my dive partner who had only weeks before secured our dive certificates on the Barrier Reef of Belize.

An experience we knew was too special to forego. Thus, we dived both Dos Ojos and Bat Cave and with our two eyes witnessed limestone formations seemingly frozen in time as we floated past in pure serenity.

From light to shade we floated as the sun pierced through cracks in the caves.


We also experienced the method of controlling our buoyancy largely through breathing, rather than relying primarily on the buoyancy device employed in open water diving.

We floated through the caves, following the rope and our guide, in a state of blissful peace akin to a drift dive, but even more serene, as we propelled ourselves with only the slightest of dolphin kicks.


Stillness that must be respected and protected, a stillness so unique that divers must leave only the tiny air bubbles that are trapped on the roof of the caves.

Images: Rachelle Blake


Rafting Taiwan – Down a Creek Without a Paddle.


It’s a bad sign for a rafting trip when the highlight of the day occurs miles from a river.

The trip down the Xiguluan river near Hualien, Taiwan, started well enough. We were given life jackets and headgear and shown an instructional video; but then things took a turn for the worse.

Boats were chosen randomly by groups of friends, thus I was grouped with eight friendly but inexperienced Taiwanese women. The paddles we were given looked more suited to scooping ice cream than controlling watercraft, but as I was soon to discover, this wouldn’t really matter.

The guide then joined our raft, but only to rest the zip lock bag which contained his phone and cigarettes. He took to the water in an Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB), where he and his colleagues remained for the duration of the trip.

The first few small rapids gave the occupants of the six rafts a chance to take in the scenery and engage in water fights, which were quite welcome on a hot, humid summer’s day.

As the rapids and the space between them increased though, the trip was ruined.

Seeing the largely inexperienced clients tire in the flat water, the guides threw them a rope and towed them down river, sometimes connecting up to three rafts behind one IRB. Great for more water fights, but not great for savouring the renowned scenery, which passed by in a blur.

Another method for controlling the rafts was to push them, like a tug-boat pushing a tanker. This was fine when our friendly but inexperienced crew was heading for the rocks, but was usually unnecessary.

At one point, I copped the nose of an IRB in the back. On another occasion the guide rammed us and started to push us. The closer we came to hitting the rocks, the more he pushed us away from them. His IRB ended up mounting our raft as he revved the life out of the engine, sending two women ducking for cover on the deck. Maybe this is why we were given helmets.

When not pushing or towing, the punks, or guides, busied themselves keeping their cigarettes dry and their clients wet, hooning up and down the river, splashing the rafts with diesel infused water – mmmm, nature!

Most of the trip passed this way, but just as my frustration grew, I saw a chance for redemption. A nice, clean, class three rapid lay ahead; the biggest so far. My companions also sensed the occasion and we readied ourselves for the challenge: ice cream scoops in hand, eyes fixed, ready to devour what lay ahead.

We inched closer and closer, steering ourselves towards the best line. At last ! I thought. But then, out of the corner of my eye, a blur of red.


The IRB approached. The guide shouted instructions. A rope was tossed aboard.


We were tied to the IRB with two other rafts and were towed, yes towed, through the best rapid of the day, and the next, also a grade three.  Instead of the thrill of being thrown around a rapid and fighting for control, we sat passively as the IRB flattened the bumps and we clung awkwardly to the raft.

As the raft snake wound its way down the rapid, passengers stopped steering and started splashing, but were often caught unaware when the snake’s tail inevitably slung towards the rocks. Only driver skill and a fair degree of luck prevented any serious injury. It also meant that the leg we had been instructed to dangle outside the raft often became jammed between rafts or river obstacles.

The trip appeared to please many of the clients, who appreciated the chance to have fun without the hard work, but it was less satisfying for those who enjoy the satisfaction and pleasant tiredness derived from hard work at the end of a trip.

The highlight of the day was joining my crewmates for a massive caramel ice cream, which was bigger than most of the rapids we were allowed to run – I should have brought the paddle.