The Forgotten Forest, Part Three: Into the Heart of Wickenden

The spring of 2007 was to feature a lot of sunny weather, so I was able to make yet another expedition into the  rarely trodden wilderness west of Lynn Creek. Due to a variety of reasons, Doug had been unable to accompany Chris and me on our earlier jaunts, so he was quite enthusiastic about getting a first hand look at what we had seen.

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Lynn Creek in morning

Once again, after walking the Cedar Mills Trail, it was a crossing of Lynn Creek at the Third Debris Chute that opened the adventure that late April day. We were somewhat surprised that turned out to be a relatively benign experience.

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Doug drying out after the crossing

Of course, on hikes like these, not everything goes according to plan. It had been exactly four weeks since Chris and I had last forded the lower tributary of Kennedy Creek , a mandatory exercise after you make it over Lynn Creek. Conditions were, how do you say, a little different this time?

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Doug searching for a way across

Somewhat compelling, to say the least, but the only real danger was getting wet, so with a little determination and adroitness, we found a way. Today’s plan was to make our way toward that unnamed creek valley north of the Kennedy drainage where Chris and I had found the Kennewick Giant. We had seen towering spires  on the hillside above us that day, and I wanted to know what lay in wait there. We chose a line moving generally northwest to the desired area, which was at roughly 550 metres in elevation.

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The first finds came quickly
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Another old cedar, roughly seven and a half feet (2.29m) wide and over four hundred years in age

As this was now my third trip into this valley, it was particularly rewarding to introduce another hiker to this land of giants. I can still recall how much Doug enjoyed the visit, and that memory still stands out vividly as I share this tale today. Now the time has come for others to discover this special wilderness that is so close at hand, yet somehow so well hidden.

Another hour passed, and eventually we arrived at the steep creek gully, where we beganstruggling upward on very unstable ground. It was obvious to see where we wanted to go, it just seemed like it took forever to get there! Suddenly we found ourselves in an open clearing full of salmonberry thickets, many in bloom with their bright pink flowers. Tall, broken-topped cedars lined both sides of the gorge, true survivors all.

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Hummingbird Meadow
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Another three metre cedar in the glade

The next thing we knew the air was alive with unusual sound. Having been on so many treks to the mountains, my inclination was to clear out right away, as I figured I’d stepped on a ground nest of of wasps! Our healthy fear soon turned to laughter when it donned on us that we had stumbled upon a bustling community of hummingbirds! Not just one or two, but more than we could count. It was not possible to get a decent photo, but here is the bird we encountered!

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Anna’s Hummingbird, copyright Audubon Gallery

To this day I call this glade Kingdom of the Hummingbirds, as I’ve never seen so many of them in one place, either before, or since. Some of the cedars nearby were up to nine feet (2.75 metres) in diameter, modest in size compared to some of our recent finds, but possibly ten centuries old.

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Trees in this location have survived living on very exposed ground below an avalanche/ rockslide runout
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Spiky topped cedars!

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We spent quite some time clambering about this unique grove of trees and were just about to press onward when I spotted something unusually hulking just downhill. From where I stood, at first, it looked like a record setting tree, but upon closer examination it was actually two trees each at least ten feet (3.04m) in diameter. They were so close together they had appeared to grow as one, and their photo, pictured here below, is framed and hangs on my living room wall today!

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When I measured these trees, the total diameter was well over eighteen feet(5.49m). I call them The Wonder Twins. The tree at left could be over 1000 years old, whereas the one at right is more likely a couple of hundred years younger. Appearances can be deceiving!

After a little more searching we carried on, now opting to traverse at an elevation of roughly 500 metres with the intent of reaching Wickenden Creek. Within this valley were other gems, I’d learned, even including an old cabin and a mysterious mine tunnel! We didn’t locate either of those, but there were certainly plenty of trees to be found!

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Sunshine and spires
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A 500 year old cedar, half shattered, lurking in the shadows
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A relatively young giant, already three metres (almost ten feet) in diameter but perhaps merely 500 years in age
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Doug  meets another big cedar

This forest was not easy to negotiate, but an open understory allowed for steady passage, and in another hour we were dropping down toward Wickenden Creek, with our thoughts focused on lunchtime by then. As we scuffled into another sketchy ravine, something caught Doug’s eye. It was a one of a kind tree, a mature cedar many centuries old. The main trunk had  once fractured, and the tree had grown three distinct reiterations, all uncommonly vertical for a broken topped cedar. We would revisit this tree again a number of years later and discover that one of its columns had been toppled in a storm by another falling tree. Doug called this cedar The Triplets. It kind of saddens me to think we might have been the only people to see it with all three leaders intact. Nature is powerful and ever changing!

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The Triplets
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Wickenden Creek at last! A couple of weeks later I would be exploring part of its upper canyon with Chris
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Cool, clear waters

After our break, we began to work our way down Wickenden Creek. The hope was that there would be more discoveries. Travel was relatively easy on the gravel bars of the creek, where the waters retreat underground for a spell at roughly 400 metres in elevation. It was here that we decided to head north once more before descending all the way to Lynn Creek.

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Wickenden Creek’s lower reaches

Just steps from the creek bed we were stoked to happen upon yet another cluster of old growth cedars. Many of them were eight feet (2.44m) in diameter, and several were considerably larger than that.

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Minutes later, we made the trip’s most spectacular find, a robust old cedar that measured almost sixteen feet (4.88m) wide. I had not expected to find a tree like that at relatively low elevation, yet there it was. We later found out that Chris had stumbled upon this giant on a solo jaunt just the week before. He had been equally impressed!

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Here is Doug doing his turn of the 20th century pose with the Wickenden Giant. Back in the day, portraits were to be stoic in character, I understand
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Here I am struggling to get a measurement on the tree. Doug is on the other side, having walked around it to hand me the reel. It took him a while to get around the whole tree! Photo by Doug

Regrettably, it was now time to begin hiking back to the trailhead, but the forest still held some surprises. Here are they are, the pleasant ones…

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Sunlit forest
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Doug enjoys a fine view of The Needles

… and the, well, not so pleasant ones…

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Any forensic experts out there?
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My guess was deer, but I’m not sure about that

Soon after, we reached the banks of Lynn Creek, but there were some obstacles to deal with. Thickets of young trees, common in riparian zones, proved to be formidable opponents, if only for a short time. While thrashing about, we also picked up an old trail. It was an extension of an old North Shore Hikers route  that had been marked in 1981 that was rumoured to follow Lynn Creek’s west side, but had long fallen into disuse. The trademark red paint blazes gave it away. I knew of the route through Ralf Kelman, and I had rediscovered its southern sections several years before, losing the track roughly a kilometre south of Wickenden Creek. On that day I had even found the trail builder’s camp, complete with with remnants of  a twenty five year old lunch and a couple of empty cans of spray paint!

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Just a little bit of bushwhacking, with The Needles standing guard in the background

Folklore had it that this trail eventually crossed Lynn Creek, and continued on the east bank at some point. I was intrigued, had we found a new way back? Also, what about crossing Lynn Creek?

And then we saw it! At first it seemed a  hallucination, but there it was, in plain sight! What we stumbled upon wasa huge Douglas fir that had fallen across the creek, creating the perfect natural bridge!

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It’s like it was custom made
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If only everything was this easy!
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The creek crossing

It turned out that the log was in fact marked as part of that old North Shore Hikers trail, which meant it had been there for at least thirty years. When I returned in 2010, however, someone had stripped the log of bark, oddly enough, so now it is less safe to cross, if it’s still there. The entire area is quite scenic, offering fine views of the surrounding mountains and would make a great campsite, but camping is not permitted within Lynn Headwaters Regional Park.

The only thing left to satisfy our curiosity was to try and find the continuation of the trail, so we followed along the east bank of Lynn Creek in search of a sign.

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One last look at the crossing

In just moments, we found the trail once more! After tracking it for a while it petered out, so we simply bushwhacked uphill to join the Norvan Falls Trail at about the four kilometre marker. From there, it was a routine stroll home, but it had certainly been an eventful day!

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When you see this mark on a North Shore Trail, it’s generally the trademark of the 1980s North Shore Hikers

Of all the forests I have walked, those in the Kennedy and Wickenden valleys have given me the most joy. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it was  because we were able to find something so uniquely untamed  which was also relatively close to home. As North Vancouver develops ever so quickly, the difference between civilization and wilderness has become  much more pronounced. May never the two merge, and may the heart of Wickenden remain forever wild!

2 thoughts on “The Forgotten Forest, Part Three: Into the Heart of Wickenden”

  1. I really enjoy your accounts of exploring the upper Lynn Valley. One thing I am curious about is what sort of benchmark you use to estimate the tree ages? At elevations ~500m red-cedar can grow quite slowly. The other day I cored a red-cedar near Maple ridge at around 600m elevation that had 425 growth rings packed into a foot of wood. It was only 90cm DBH, and had a well developed but not very complex crown. I would have guessed it might have been ~200 years old, but after seeing its rings, it is likely 600+ years old. In many respects, that site was similar to the Kennedy and Wickeden Creek areas of Lynn Valley.

    It seems reasonable to predict the ‘minimum age’ of red-cedars based on their trunk diameters, but the actual age is more of a mystery. I’m thinking that it’s pretty likely that some of these trees your estimating may be a lot older than you’re predicting. What I’m getting at is that there is likely some very very old trees up in Lynn valley.


    1. I have suspected for years that my age estimates were too conservative, especially for trees I have found above 500m in elevation, and then there are the hollow trees. Really, I have been guessing based on similar sized trees that have been cored or measured more precisely. Example of this, there is a grove of small gnarled ancients at creekside on the east side of Lynn Creek reached by heading west at 6.7 kms on Norvan Falls Trail. They are not much larger than 3 or 4 feet DBH but are most certainly very old

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