Author: Katalina Watt

Surviving The Chilkoot Trail

Surviving The Chilkoot Trail

This summer I survived my first backpacking trip and I had an amazing time conquering the Chilkoot Trail. It was my most challenging hike so far and prior to taking off, I was worried about a myriad of things including slowing down the group and having a miserable time. Instead, I became even more hooked on hiking and experienced history and gorgeous landscapes. Here are some of my key pointers for anyone preparing to undertake this historical trail.

The Chilkoot Trail runs between Skagway and Bennett and through the Alaska-BC border, but the route is commonly mistaken to run through the Yukon, and we did, in fact, drive down from Whitehorse. The trail was established during the Klondike gold rush and many artefacts are preserved along the way with historical markers. Our stats: 54km (detours for historical sites); 5 nights (Finnegan’s, Sheep, Deep Lake, and Bear Lune); 22lbs my pack; 1000m elevation gain.

  • Have a good group and stay close together

I was really lucky to be the most novice out of my hiking group. Even though I was eager to be as prepared and informed as I could be prior to the trip, I found it reassuring to be with a bunch of experienced hikers. It should go without saying, but to get the most out of the Chilkoot it’s important to have an understanding of environmental conversation and historical preservation. The trail acts as an outdoor museum, with many fascinating but fragile objects left there for posterity and context. It is also important to follow the trail’s rules about conservation and safety, such as using bear lockers and greywater sites.

We were acutely aware of our itinerary and timing, having to walk a certain amount of kilometres per day to make it to our next campsite. However, with several recent black and grizzly bear sightings on the trail, we were keen to stick together as a group. We all walked at different paces, a fellow hiker letting me know that I was walking on average a quarter of a step more than everyone else – being shorter of stature definitely made the trail more of a challenge!

  • Pack light but essential gear

We had two stoves between five of us and meals distributed between the most experienced hikers who were used to carrying heavier packs. We had a gravity filter for the group’s water supplies, bear spray, and lightweight camping gear. Be prepared for all weathers and trail conditions by carrying several layers, including ones that are wind and waterproof. We also had gaiters for mud and snow. Some days we got a bit of light rain, buffeting winds, and then blazing sunshine and calm all in one day! Remember to bring your essential luxuries i.e. the extra things you consider necessary for your happiness on the trail, not just your survival. For our group is was good food and entertainment. We had all brought reading material and card games, which definitely helped keep up our spirits! We had also organised a meal plan prior to departure, so we split the ingredients amongst the group. It’s much easier to cook more elaborate meals for a large group, whereas I can understand the appeal of simpler food supplies if you’re a solo traveller.

My pack essentials:

  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag
  • Compressing sack for sleeping bag (also doubles as a storage space for clothes when empty)
  • Ziplock of biodegradable toiletries
  • Snacks (essential calories!)
  • Camping Stove
  • Change of shoes & dry socks for camp
  • Packing cube of changes of clothes
  • Layers: short sleeve base layer, long sleeve base layer, hiking trousers, leggings for underlayer, fleece, pyjamas, raincoat (also for wind protection)!
  • Book
  • Light
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer


  • Plan a schedule and stick to it

The average time taken for the trail is 5-7 days and you do need to apply for a permit. You can definitely do it over more or fewer days and we saw people running the trail in one day! I would advise taking all the detour trails to check out the historical points of interest and being overcautious in terms of time.

There are several campsites along the trail and they all have wooden platforms for pitching tents for conservative reasons. We stayed at Finnegan’s Point, Pleasant Camp, Sheep Camp, Deep Cove, and Bare Loon. Because of this, the difficulty of our days increased with our summit day on Day 3 from Sheep Camp to Deep Cove being a gruelling 17km over the Scales and Chilkoot Pass.

The conditions passing over the summit can be extremely changeable and we found the Ranger Talk at Sheep Camp to be enlightening in terms of history and necessary in terms of safety and hiking preparations. It’s important to start early on summit day (we began at 5am) to avoid avalanches and there are no camps between Sheep Camp and Happy Camp over the Pass. We had a much needed break at Happy Camp before pushing on to Deep Cove. It’s important to take care of yourself and your fellow hikers but it’s also crucial to plan a reasonable schedule and stick to it so you can make your onward travel connections!

  • Befriend your fellow travellers

We had some lovely chats with other hikers along the way. Part of the wonder of hiking is experiencing gorgeous nature and connecting with other people face to face, without screens or other distractions. You have to make your own entertainment, and conversation with strangers was often welcome after a long day chatting with your own group! You’ll run into the same faces on the trail and often be in close proximity with the same people so it’s a good idea to get to know them. It also makes it easier for smaller groups/solo travellers to tag along with a larger group for bear safety.

  • Have fun and take lots of photos!

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Winter Melts to Spring

Winter Melts to Spring

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Winter and the first inklings of spring have been full of travels and outdoorsy adventures. After Christmas I travelled to Calgary to catch up with old friends and take a festive break. We drove back to Vancouver and decided, with time and weather a factor, to break up the journey visiting pals along the way.

We stopped at Banff for the day and I’d almost forgotten how picturesque the town is in winter. After that, we headed for Nakusp, nestled in the snow-capped mountains. We stayed in a quaint cabin and enjoyed hiking into some hot springs. We were blessed with some spectacular views and solitude at the hot springs which were frozen wonders. We stayed with pals in Vernon and enjoyed hiking to frozen lakes and wine-tasting.

Upon our return to Vancouver, we took advantage of the snowy conditions to ski at Mount Seymour. Despite previous attempts at skiing, I had my first official lesson and felt much more confident on the slopes. We spent a gloriously rainy day trekking to Quarry Rock along the Deep Cove to Baden Powell hike.
On some unusually temperate and sunny winter days we hiked around Lighthouse Park and Pacific Spirit Regional Park to enjoy the clear blue coast, dense rainforests and a city retreat to the forest trails.

We took a few days to explore Salt Spring Island and stayed in a lovely wee cabin a short cycle from both Long Harbour and Ganges town. It was a perfectly secluded cabin on a farm which had been created to be self-sufficient and sustainable by its owners. We had a compost bathroom, fireplace and outdoor claw-foot bathtub! Taking a bath under the stars and snowdrift was magical. We sampled some delicious local fare, peeked at art galleries and handmade crafts, wandered around the harbour and had some gloriously sunny winter hikes. We left Salt Spring refreshed and rejuvenated and already keen to return in warmer weather for camping.

West Coast Autumnal

West Coast Autumnal

Moving to Vancouver has been a big change with many adjustments, but one of my favourite things has been having some lovely opportunities to get around the city and out into the mountains during Autumn, my favourite season.

During the initial settling in period, we camped around various remote spots north of Whistler. Our favourite was definitely the hot springs of Sloquet, and even though we got rained out, I loved making friends with other wanderers and taking an evening dip by candlelight. I even found some joy in the challenge of putting up and taking down a tent in the rain and trying to cook with a headlamp in a race against the light.

We also met up with some old friends and made some new ones on a day hike around Lake Garibaldi. We were very lucky with the weather and got some majestic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. We had some great life chats and ate our body weight in carbs back in Whistler afterwards!

We took a lovely bike ride around the seawall in Vancouver, taking in the beaches and mountains.

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Her Story

Her Story

What makes a game? Her Story, written by Sam Barlow, is a divisive and innovative crime fiction video game or interactive movie – depending who you ask.

The premise of the game is that you at an old PC trawling through an old police database from 1994, watching video clips of an interview with Hannah Smith, whose husband Simon is missing. The gameplay is conducted by watching a series of FMVs (full motion video) and beyond this the game gives you very minimal instruction. At first I wasn’t used to such seemingly unbridled freedom, and being the organised geek that I am I started ordering and tagging the video clips to try and create one long ordered narrative. This is an aspect of the game I really enjoyed and I think it would be fascinating to see how each player goes about organising their database search and playing at being a detective.

I would advise going into this game blind because the fun of the game mechanic is discovery, and it is a non-linear narrative driven game. I can understand why many players could be frustrated with the pared down tools, but I enjoyed that Her Story forces you as a player to deduce, listen and analyse the information you are being presented with, questioning the reliability of the narrator and making connections between pieces of information.

I don’t want to spoil the story because discovering that is truly the fun of this game, which is why sadly I don’t think this game has high replayability value. I had several moments feeling incredibly clever and Poirot-esque where I put the pieces together and then my theories were confirmed. No doubt I missed plenty of clips, but the narrative is organised so that you can garner the essence of the storyline through the gaps in narrative, in what is is inferred as much as what is explicit. While I can understand why some players found Viva Seifert‘s performance didn’t work for them, I think she did a commendable job of portraying an array of emotions and characteristics convincingly. The presence of an off-screen detective prompting with questions is implied but never explicit, and therefore Seifert does a good job of sustaining a player’s attention over what are essentially fragmented monologues.

I’m not convinced the narrative would have been as compelling for me if it had been presented in a different format, particularly a non-interactive medium such as a film or novel. The story is a fascinating one to discover filled with many themes I enjoy such as deception, family loyalty and fairy tale motifs and I felt the characters were mostly rounded with complex motivations. So much depends on what level of interactivity you expect as a player, and for some people I can see why Her Story falls into a valley where it’s not quite passive like a film and not as conventionally interactive as they expect from a video game.

I’m not sure it entirely worked for me, but I would love to see more games like Her Story. As an experience it felt innovative and striking, but I do empathise with players who felt a bit directionless. It comes down to the philosophical debate of what makes a game a game?

Some would argue Her Story’s lack of a failure state means it cannot be defined as a game, but I think this is a reductive and restrictive definition. Her Story does have a success state, but it feels clunky and inaccurate to quite call it that. There is an obvious turning point in the narrative and mechanic where you have gathered enough of the story pieces to ‘win’. However, for me the success and therefore conclusion of the game comes from satisfying one’s own curiosity about the story and feeling as though you have gathered enough information to, so to speak, close the book on it. A common search query is “Does Her Story have an ending?” and to that I would say “Undoubtedly yes, but that’s not really the point.”

Goodbye England: Staycation in Devon

Goodbye England: Staycation in Devon

It’s become a bit of a tradition for me and my Mama to take a wee trip together, and past adventures have included Barcelona, Florence and the Lake District. As I’m moving away in less than two months (eek!) we decided to have a simple staycation in Devon.

We stayed in a remote and adorable cabin in Cornworthy, and were blessed with a complete absence of both signal and wifi. Whilst it was mildly inconvenient to be off the grid for planning our activities, it was also incredibly liberating because I spent so much more time reading out in the sunshine and having proper conversations with my Mum. It’s so easy to talk without really communicating when you’re both busy and stressed, so it was nice to feel so disconnected from responsibility and city life.

We drove to the dinky town of Dittisham where we took a boat (which is summoned by ringing a wee bell, so cute!) across the River Dart to Greenway, the summer home of Agatha Christie. The home itself was gorgeous, with tons of fascinating objects, information and first editions of all Christie’s work. We had a great time walking around the gardens, geeking out with the lovely volunteers of the National Trust and generally acting like old ladies together. They had a voluntary donation stand of extra produce from the gardens, and there was something satisfying about making our dinner with those veggies. The estate also has some gorgeous gardens and rambling woodlands which feature as locations in quite a few dramatisations of Christie’s novels.

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We drove to Dartmoor National Park to do a few trails. We stopped at Newbridge, planning to start with a gentle looping track. We brought a picnic spread, took our lunch by the river. It started off so well, but we ended up blazing our own trail when we managed to get off the beaten track. All’s well that ends well as we made it out alive and saw some great hidden views. After such an unanticipated workout, we decided to reward ourselves with a genuine Devon ice cream.

We were extremely fortunate with the weather, almost aghast at the sunshine and clear blue skies. Although it was only a few days away, I always really appreciate little jaunts into other parts of the UK and none more so than when I’m about to leave my home for the next couple of years.

Fran Bow

Fran Bow

Fran Bow is a macabre point-and-click indie horror adventure game, and in terms of tone and themes, this game reminded me a lot of Alice: Madness Returns, Neverending Nightmaresand Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. I was incredibly surprised to find the studio behind it, Killmonday Games, is the brainchild of only two people, married Swedish couple Natalia Figueroa and Isak Martinsson.

I came to Fran Bow after watching some of my favourite YouTubers do a Let’s Play of the free demo. There are some spoilers so if you want to do a blind play through, check this out later.

One of Fran Bow’s strengths is the art style and soundtrack, and Killmonday nailed the animated cut scenes making them concise, engaging and powerful. There is no voice acting, but instead the aesthetic captures the tone and mirrors the narrative of the game through the art direction and music. The main narrative arc involves Fran trying to find her best friend talking cat Mr Midnight, make her way back home and discover the truth about her parents’ murders. Whilst the images were very powerful and memorable throughout most of the game, I did find the plot meandered tediously throughout the middle and personally dissatisfied me at the end.

Fran’s motivations seem clear throughout the game, particularly with each chapter, but sometimes the writing felt a bit disjointed and plot points were included simply to extend the storyline, create drama or confuse the player. Killmonday include so many fascinating characters and backstories that are only hinted, but then manages to overload on information that is both confusing and absurd by literally making Fran read whole tomes on the lore and physics of these alternate realities. There’s some great writing here, but a lot of that is underdeveloped whilst the game’s main plot becomes burdened by too many elements. I would have found the narrative more powerful if the plot had been stripped back to one foundation concept and built up from there.

Fran Bow utilises one mechanic which allowed me to forgive its other sins. Fran begins the game in a mental asylum and is prescribed a medicine, supposedly Duotine, by her Doctor. Under the influence of Duotine, Fran sees an alternate reality, and there are many puzzles which can only be solved by interacting with objects in characters in both realities. We later discover there are five realities. The human world is the third reality, and when Fran is on Duotine she is able to see parts of the fifth reality. This fifth reality is absolutely terrifying, filled with the fears of both Fran but also those around her, suppressed memories of trauma and guilt, and images of death and abuse. This was an aspect where the writing really shone because the player was allowed to question whether this was reality or hallucination, and the horrors experienced by Fran and the other children were only alluded to.

The puzzles in Fran Bow are straightforward, but oftentimes the solutions are illogical, even when using the irrational logic of the Fran Bow universe. The puzzles are clever and well-integrated, however as it’s the main mechanic for game progression, I found myself on tedious fetch quests which slowed the pace.

The dialogue was a bit twee and the language simple and repetitive, but I can make concessions for this because of a child protagonist and a world seen through their eyes. The narrative tone in Chapter Three is so much lighter than the rest of the game that I found it jarring. What drew me to the game was the strong opening chapter, which is the basis of the demo and sets the tone for the macabre and disturbing psychological horror which is the game’s strong suit. Luckily the game does return to this with clever puzzles and a return to motifs we had experienced earlier.

Whilst I can forgive the meandering storyline, I do take umbrage with the game’s ending. The narrative is linear, but Killmonday try to leave the player with an open and ambiguous ending. Usually I’m a huge fan of these, but the ending of Fran Bow left so many elements of the plot unresolved. I enjoyed that the game left a lot to player interpretation, but it felt dissatisfying because there were many disjointed elements with which to form any solid interpretation. Again, it frustrates me because the game had the potential to tell such a wonderfully haunting narrative! Although it is heavily inspired by Alice in Wonderland (there’s even an in-game nod) and the like, I think Killmonday succeeds in avoiding many of the tired cliches of having a ‘mad’ little girl protagonist by making Fran empathetic. She is charmingly naive at times, but wise beyond her years at others owing to the tragedy she has suffered.

Fran and Alice (of Wonderland infamy)

Fran Bow is a disturbing yet wonderfully absurd romp. If you enjoy marrying elements of horror with adventure, are mad keen on puzzles and enjoy endings so open it’s like staring into the abyss, Killmonday’s debut is right up your street.