The Story of The Survivor

The Survivor makes a powerful first impression. It’s one of the more unique trees that I have known

In a cool, quiet, forest glade in the North Shore Mountains sits a most venerable tree. Surrounded by a healthy stand of Pacific Silver Fir, this Western Red Cedar makes a daunting first impression. Approaching it from the south, the first thing you notice is the gaping wedge cut from the trunk that almost resembles a mouth, of sorts. The many burls and aged trunk bely centuries of growth, and its top thrives brilliantly. This forest giant is likely well into a seventh century of growth!Countless folk cruise within forty metres of this tree  every day, unwittingly, without noticing, on their way to Norvan Falls and points beyond. I call this tree The Survivor, and its story is well worth sharing.

The surrounding forest is perfect for silver firs and cedars alike, with a few western hemlocks sprinkled in.
The upper trunk of tree has enjoyed excellent health, even growing an extra top over the last century
Even since the first time I saw this tree its top has grown somewhat and has changed in height. It’s quite normal for cedars to have multiple tops and go on living for hundreds of years
Holes in trees like these once held the springboards of the loggers that felled them.

Travel back in time, if you will, to the 1920s and 1930s, in what is today Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. The east side of Lynn Creek was being heavily logged by the Cedar Mills Company. In the end, when the harvest was done, they left precious few old growth cedars behind, and decades later a strong second growth forest is still slowly recovering from the onslaught. The cutting ended in the early 1940s, I have been told, and then the area was designated as drinking water supply and thus made off limits to the public until the 1980s, when the park was opened.

This shot illustrates the way the cedar has compensated for weakness on one side of the trunk by overgrowing a massive root on the right side
You can see here, on the opposite side from the wedge, where the loggers began to work with the crosscut saw. Note how they were working above a difficult burl as well

The Survivor, too, was expected to perish, like so many giants before it, but fate would decide otherwise. According to legend, its life would be spared, and here follows what was supposed to have occurred many years ago. At work on The Survivor back in the day was a group of fallers, the same gentlemen who had cut that substantial wedge on one side of the tree that I mentioned previously, in the direction it was to be dropped. That being accomplished, they set to work on the other side of the tree with a crosscut saw, and began slicing a deep groove into the trunk. This was a long and laborious process, given the rudimentary tools of the trade then, and would have taken quite some time to complete.

In the meantime, a second group of loggers was hard at work on a closely neighbouring cedar. As goes the tale, they were much closer to falling this second tree than they initially thought, as it fell suddenly and errantly toward The Survivor and its team of loggers. Before it crashed to the forest floor, sadly, it is reputed to have taken the lives of two of those men.

Nearby, this is the stump from which the tree that killed the loggers fell tragically
After the accident the other tree came to rest near The Survivor, and it remains there until this day

The loggers, for whatever reason, be it grief, superstition, or some other reason, decided that The Survivor would not be taken. They also chose not to harvest the wood of that neighbouring giant that fell, causing the accident. Today, The Survivor remains, standing tall and reaching high into the canopy above, while the bulk of its neighbour lies forlornly beside it. On my brief sojourns to this place, my mind often wanders to thoughts about the men who made their livelihood here. They were modest and hard working, and I have learned that most who toiled this part of Lynn Valley were mostly of Japanese descent. I ponder what an impact that day must have had on their families. There is a haunting sense of loss juxtaposed with that of great triumph when you visit this place: Good men lost, a fine tree saved.

Japanese logging camp photo from southwestern British Columbia. Men like these and their families were responsible for most of the hard work in harvesting stands of old growth cedar. They were, and are, an integral part of our history… photo from North Vancouver Archives
This place always feels powerful to me; I am always conscious of a certain energy when in the presence of this tree

It was, I believe, on April Fool’s Day, 2005, of all days, that I first saw this tree. Jim, Rich,  Jim’s dog Midnite, and my dog Amigo were my companions that day. We hiked up to Norvan Falls on what turned out to be a rather cold and inhospitable day, complete with snow, sleet, and some freezing rain thrown in just for good measure.

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April 2005. Rich, me, and the dogs crossing the Third Debris Chute, where the Cedar Mills Trail ends and joins the Headwaters Trail…. Photo by Jim H
You get to meet my dog Amigo, at least in a photo. He’s been gone a couple of years now, and I miss him a lot…..Photo by Jim H
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Jim’s dog Midnite. She’s gone now too but is remembered as an indomitable trail partner. One year she hiked the Lynn peak Trail over 50 times!……Photo by Jim H

On the way up, just past the 4.5 km mark on the Headwaters Trail, we had stopped to look at a collection of artifacts that sat on a trailside log, as seen below here.

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This collection, minus a theft or two, still resides on that log. When you see this, begin looking forward, down, and to your left to locate the tree!

Minutes later, Rich spied a big tree just downslope off the trail that looked most unusual, and naturally, we went down to investigate. It was then that we found The Survivor, though for us,  its haunting history was to follow later. That came courtesy of good friend Rick, who had chanced to meet some archaeologists from Capilano College some years before when they had told him of the tragedy of this tree.

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Rich tries to climb into the wedge as I look on…..Photo by Jim H

We speculated, at the time, exactly what to call this peculiar specimen. Rich saw it as happy to be alive, and thought it should be called “Smiley”. Others on the Clubtread hiking site speculated that it was reminiscent of an Easter Island statue, or retro cartoon character Snidely Whiplash. I have always called it The Survivor. What do you think?

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Snidely Whiplash

Easter Island statue

Whatever name you choose, it’s certainly a sight you will always remember.

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Rich and I again, with Amigo, below the crosscut mark…..Photo by Jim H

After stopping for lunch we hit the trail once again and hiked up to see Norvan Falls. It’s a place I have trekked to dozens of times over the years but in winter it can be especially interesting!

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Norvan Falls, as we saw it that day….Photo by Jim H
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Lynn Creek on a wintery day!

That trip some 15 years doesn’t seem all that long ago, and I have revisited the tree more than a few times since then. It’s like dropping in on an old friend who doesn’t get around much, but then it’s a tree, so… here are a few more photos I took this week.

The tree above the crosscut mark, brilliantly green
Looking up the trunk from the wedge cut!
A closer look at one of the many burls that give the tree such character
The forest floor nearby
Pacific Silver Fir, also known as Amabilis Fir
It certainly does have personality!

What I know for certain is that today a prodigious example of nature’s tenacity lives on in this cedar. I am struck not only with its ability to heal, but also with its capability to endure, in ways practically unimaginable. That The Survivor lives is a reminder of the fact that there are forces driving this planet and its many ecosystems, many of which continue to flourish despite human effort to their detriment. You know, some tout that old expression “I’d rather be good than lucky”,  while others say “I’d rather be lucky than good”? This tree, all would agree, has been as good as it’s been lucky, and I hope that luck never runs out.

Seven centuries and counting!
On a sunnier day!
Until next time…

22 thoughts on “The Story of The Survivor”

    1. You sure were, Rich, hence the star billing in the lead photo! I wonder how many more times I’d have run past and missed it without your help to change all that. By the way, we also found a big pair of axles not too far off the trail and apparently that camp we discovered may have been used as both a mining and logging camp!


  1. Fantastic post! I’d like to make a documentary about this tree. I’ve been dreaming up film ideas for Lynn Valley in general. If I do, it would be great if you can help with the story!


    1. Thanks! I would be happy to help in whatever way I can. I would try to get hold of Bob Muckle at Cap College. I think he would be the fellow who could share research on the topic as I know he is very thorough and knowledgeable. I have never met him but I know he did the digs at Hydraulic and Suicide Creeks, among others


    1. I’m quite thankful too that it sits in what is currently protected as parkland, a stark contrast to the greed and overdevelopment that currently plagues the Lower Mainland! The one thing I do know about the story is that it came from the Capilano College Archaeology department which is overseen by Bob Muckle. He’s a very thorough researcher, and someone I’d love to talk to someday!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rich and I were up in that area the other day and decided to wait until the snow level dropped, and the sun came out. Thanks for the great photos and the story.


  3. Thanks for this post BC Tree Hunter! I love our ancient giants and this summer am going to make a concerted effort to find more of them and say hello. Your blog will be a great help for this.
    Out of curiosity, when you say 4.5km onto the Headwaters Trail, you find the log with logging artifacts and look/hike down from here. Do you mean 4.5km from the Headwaters? Or 4.5km from 3rd Debris Chute? I know some maps only call it Headwaters Trail after 3rd Debris Chute. Also, is that log where the old bucket used to hang? I ran up there 2 weeks ago and the bucket is definitely gone now 😦


    1. you’re most welcome!
      I mean that you look for the markers on the Headwaters Trail after you cross the Debris Chute. That bucket hanging from the log is gone now, the collection of artifacts will be on your right as you head toward the falls. At that point you will be looking left and down toward Lynn Creek and you should see it. If you need more info I can dig up a waypoint for it too. Happy hunting!


  4. I found it today, thanks to your blog! It really is a fantastic tree. Unfortunately the artifacts on the main trail have been raided and it looks like just garbage now, but I did find the set of wheels/axles you talked about and got a photo of those. Can we call the tree Lone Survivor? Sounds a little more dramatic that way, which I think it deserves. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You could, I suppose, I know I don’t mind as after all I did not discover the tree. In truth, though, those forests have many survivors for those hardy enough to find them. I am happy you enjoyed the story, Holly!


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