The Forgotten Forest, Part One: The Giants of Kennedy Creek

In these days of public outcry over the destruction of British Columbia’s remaining old growth forests, it is no small twist of irony that one of the last bastions of remaining giants is relatively close to the metropolis of Vancouver. Tucked away in what remains a remote corner of the North Shore Mountains is the Kennedy Creek Valley.Kennedy Creek lies within the boundaries of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park, on the less travelled western side of Lynn Creek,  having its origins at seldom visited Kennedy Lake. Travel there is extremely difficult and sometimes hazardous, and without groomed trails.

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A piece of an old teapot on the Cedar Trail
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Kennedy Lake

It was only through the subtlest of hints in Randy Stoltmann’s Hiking Guide to the Big Trees of Southwestern British Columbia, that my curiosity regarding the area was first piqued. On page 74, he stated “When this valley was logged before the turn of the century, hollow or broken topped trees were often left, and the steep valley sides were only partially cut over. In these areas, massive cedars up to sixteen feet (five metres) in diameter and 200 feet, 61 metres in height still live on into their second millennium.” Well now, that was more than enough to get my undivided attention, so I soon decided I had to see what was there!

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Kennedy Creek forest: This shot is a tribute to the cover of Randy Stoltmann’s hiking guide

But first, maybe a little history is in order. It was near the turn of the twentieth century that the west side of Lynn Creek was harvested by Julius Fromme’s logging crews. Working northward, they managed to forge their way as far as Kennedy Creek, but, perhaps because of the market conditions of the day, or just plain good fortune, the forest stretching north between Kennedy and Wickenden Creeks was not completely razed. As a result, much of the original forest between 400 metres and 700 metres in elevation remains intact to this day!

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Remnants of an old cast iron wood stove used at one of Julius Fromme’s logging camps

There is no easy access to these steep, rugged slopes. You must either hike in to Kennedy Falls on the Cedar Trail, or ford Lynn Creek near the Third Debris Chute on the Cedar Mills Trail, that is, if it’s safe to do so. However you arrive, you must be fit and well prepared for the experience, and it will be a strong test of all of your wilderness skills. I had begun by hiking the Cedar Trail to see the two monstrous Western Red Cedars that Randy had described in his aforementioned book, but beyond that, there seemed little more knowledge on which to base any further exploration.

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Matt with the Westside Cedar It’s over 650 years old and 14 1/2 feet(4.42m) in diameter! It can be found not far off the Cedar Trail
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Big Cedaron the Cedar Trail, about halfway to Kennedy Falls. It’s over 600 years old and 13 1/2 feet(4.12m) in diameter

On earlier excursions I also visited the beautiful Kennedy Falls, which lies at about 400 metres in elevation. For the ideal photo opportunity, it is best viewed after heavy rains, though undoubtedly that can make access difficult! While the cascade is not exceptionally tall, it is always a worthy destination. Visiting the spectacular trees on the Cedar Trail had certainly whetted my appetite for more exploration, but I needed more information.

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Ryan at Kennedy Falls. It’s  still not easy to get there, but it’s certainly one of the North Shore’s most idyllic places

When I spoke to park employees they had little comment on the subject,  yet at the park’s Mill House displayed photos of some of the area’s giant trees. In time, I discovered, park officials were very unenthused about encouraging hiking on the west side of Lynn Creek, perhaps due to the inherent hazards. In many of those photos the face of one person seemed to show up repeatedly. That person turned out to be Ralf Kelman, a Vancouver artist, who is the son of a Seymour Valley logger. Ralf had grown up in the forests of Vancouver’s North Shore. He was, and still is, this province’s premiere tree hunter, and over the years has been integral in locating numerous champion trees. I managed to contact him, and over a cup of coffee, he was kind enough to share a wealth of knowledge with me about  Kennedy Creek. Better still, he said, the valley had not been completely searched, though he cautioned that the hiking was not easy!

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Tree hunter extraordinaire and conservationist Ralf Kelman

At long last, on a cloudy day in mid September of 2006, Chris and I began our day by fording the icy cold waters of Lynn Creek. After the crossing , we continued up the valley toward the falls, working our way up the slopes on the north bank of Kennedy Creek. It didn’t take long before we made our first find, a grove of cedars between eight feet and ten feet(2.44m and 3.05m)  in diameter, and all many centuries old!

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Chris with one of the first big cedars we found. It measured over ten feet (3.05m) in diameter
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Old growth forest
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Marked, but still standing

From there, we reasoned, we’d just continue upward until the stand petered out, then traverse north in the general direction of Wickenden Creek. A natural bench presented the best opportunity for travel, if not  an easy one. Fallen trees made it necessary to climb up, over, and around countless obstructions. Our discoveries were frequent, with more cedars up to thirteen feet (3.96 metres) in diameter. We were incredulous! It was basically like hitting the motherlode, as far as tree hunting goes! Forests such as these, once ever present in southwestern British Columbia, are a thing of the past, and I can still recall just how elated we were to be there!

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Chris demonstrates the art of measuring  trees
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It isn’t always easy

Soon we were on the south bank of an unnamed creek in the Kennedy Creek drainage, at roughly 550 metres in elevation. Once we crossed it,  we were in the midst of yet another equally spectacular grove. By this time, we had seen so many big trees that we were nearly taking the nine foot (2.75m) cedars for granted!

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Giant trees everywhere!
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This tree measured over twelve feet (3.66m) wide

Since time was running short at that point, we stopped for lunch underneath a thirteen foot (3.96m)cedar which may have been the oldest tree we we found that day. I believed it could well have been well over a thousand years old!

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There is no artist quite like nature, is there?
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This tree had us wondering what the world looked like in the tenth century, when it lmight have begun life

We then opted to try heading further uphill once more to see what we could find. Our route was determined by the discoveries – sight big tree, hike to said tree, then on to the next one!

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And another…
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…And another!

We had ended up, by now, at an elevation of 650 metres, and were just below an expansive boulder field below the end of Goat Ridge. This was a place that gave you the notion that you shouldn’t be lingering too long, after all, geologic time includes now!

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Not exactly welcoming terrain

It was here that we stumbled upon a true giant , a huge ancient cedar spanning close to fourteen feet (4.27m) in width! Despite its seemingly unguarded position and exposure to winter avalanches, it had survived well, and its hollowed inner trunk looked to have been used as a winter den by black bears.

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We never did name this one, but I’ve taken to calling it the Boulder Field Giant
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Chris enjoying the find! Another veteran of over ten centuries. The tree, that is

Soon time became short and we had to begin the trek home, but our good fortune continued. More intriguing trees revealed themselves as we descended the valley carefully, bound for Lynn Creek once more.

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This tree was found below the falls on the walk out. It’s about ten feet (3.05m)in diameter
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A  very healthy Western Hemlock

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This trip was tremendously rewarding in that we were making explorations few others had experienced . Even as we returned  to civilization, we both knew that this story would be only the first chapter of an ongoing saga. After all, who can refuse a trip back in time without even leaving your own era?

2 thoughts on “The Forgotten Forest, Part One: The Giants of Kennedy Creek”

  1. Nice post! It looks like you managed to get pretty far in and I do enjoy hearing people’s impressions of these extremely wild forest that certainly feels lost in time. The large cedars growing among maple covered boulder fields are something bizarre there aren’t they!? I’ve never seen that before, but the trees look so healthy up there. I’ve got a few photos of them on my page in progress. http://vancouversbigtrees.com/lynn-valley/

    Are you taking gps points for some of the trees? It would be interesting to combine resources, coordinate our efforts and do a sort of community forest mapping to find out whats ‘really in there.’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we’ve got a few GPS waypoints for some of them. Your idea sounds like a good one; I guess it’d help if we knew what each other were doing in there. I’ve been in there about ten times by now

      Like

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