A seasoned pivoter's tips for getting from Plan A to Plan D without tearing your hair out and still having fun
But when my group arrived at the dock in early July 2022, bright-eyed and eager to hit the trail, we found out that the boat was unexpectedly cancelled due to high currents and water levels.
The Lytton ferry unexpectedly cancelled due to high water levels. Photo credit: Michelle La
Though I was disappointed, I wasn’t all that surprised. It was the third weekend in a row that my backcountry hiking plans had been foiled by the later-than-usual snowmelt, courtesy of what has felt like a never-ending La Niña spring on the West Coast.
As any backcountry enthusiast will know, even the best laid plans are often disrupted by weather or other unforeseen circumstances. This was one of those times. But as any seasoned pivoter will know, that doesn’t mean your trip is an automatic failure.
Our group was left with a few options. Plan B: finding an alternate way to access the trailhead, Plan C: going home early feeling disheartened, or finally Plan D—coming up with a new adventure on the fly.
Enjoying the sunshine on Seton Lake. Photo credit: Michelle La
Was it the Plan A we expected? No. But with the right gear, a dash of spontaneous problem-solving and a high dose of optimism, Plan D was more than we could have hoped for—and just as fun.
As climate change continues to make weather patterns more volatile, the art of the pivot is an increasingly important backcountry skill to master.
These seven tried-and-tested tips will help you get from Plan A to Plan D with minimum stress and maximum fun.
Prepping to Pivot Before You Go
Getting ready to launch kayaks at Seton Lake. Photo credit: Michelle La
Check, double check and triple check conditions up to the minute before you leave
Conditions change rapidly in the backcountry and on the road. Even if you checked conditions the night before, it’s best to check again up to the minute you leave.
If we had done this, we would have been more prepared to face a cancelled ferry. Learn from our mistakes!
Download a GPS app
Before you leave cell service, download a GPS or trail map app like Gaia, AllTrails or Fatmap. Not only are they helpful for navigation—especially if you get lost—these apps can also help you locate nearby trails and other hiker's trip routes, giving you tons of ideas for back-up plans.
That’s how we found the stunning, desert-like Red Rock trail, also known as the Lillooet Grind—well-worth a visit!
Get a paper map
Because most backcountry activities take place outside of cell service in Canada, it’s always a good idea to kick it old school with some analogue tools in your kit. Beyond topographic paper maps, the Backroad Mapbooks series are excellent resources. They have detailed information on local forest service roads, trail access and backcountry activities from lesser-known campsites to trails, paddling routes and fishing destinations.
Using our Backroads Mapbook for the area, we could see that there was another backroad to access the trailhead. Though we opted not to take it, it helped us assess all options.
Overpack a little
Flexibility and adaptability are key to the pivot. In addition to packing the ten safety essentials for hiking and camping to prepare for the emergency situation you hope you’ll never face, it’s best to keep a bit of extra gear and food stashed in your car. That way you’re better equipped to change your plan or activity on a moment’s notice.
Did we plan to kayak in Lillooet? No. But we had enough of the right gear to make it happen anyway.
Backup Planning in the Field
At the top of Red Rock Trail. Photo credit: Laine Butler
Work with the weather
Sometimes, you’ll be caught in the elements and have no choice but to deal with it as safely as you can. Other times, you can pivot and work with the weather instead of against it.
For example, if high-elevation snow poses a threat to your trip, especially in shoulder season, look for a sea-level or lower elevation trail. Or change your activity all together, opting to rock climb, paddle or mountain bike instead.
Phone a local visitor centre
Visitor centres are great free resources to tap into for advice on outdoor recreation activities. We received a lot of great tips from the Lillooet Visitor Centre on where to rent kayaks, as well as the most popular hikes in the area.
Pivoting in an Emergency
The author enjoying the view at the top of Red Rock Trail. Photo credit: Kyle Elderhorst
Make the safe call
You’re eager to make the most of your vacation, but the trip just isn’t working out. Maybe you’re running out of daylight to comfortably reach your objective, or the terrain isn’t what you planned for and you’re unprepared and ill-equipped to continue safely.
Fight the stubborn urge to push onward and always make the safe call instead—not just for you, but for the whole group, taking everyone’s risk tolerance and skill level into account.
You haven’t failed. Coming home safely is the ultimate success.
However, we’re all human, and none of us are immune to the disappointment of a thwarted trip plan.
If your group’s post-pivot spirits are low, my best advice is to make a pitstop for a tasty treat. After all, food is the key to every hangry backcountry adventurer’s heart, and everyone’s favourite consolation prize.