In Search of the Cabin Lake Fir

You can see it on a signboard at Cypress Provincial Park, where it’s featured as one of the trees discovered by Randy and Greg Stoltmann. There’s a a picture of a magnificent Amabilis Fir deep in a snow filled gully, with one of the brothers posing beside it back in the late 1980s. Randy, who passed away in a skiing accident in 1994, is even today a legendary tree hunter and conservationist. It would have been interesting to have met him, indeed, his legacy still burns brightly.

Randy Stoltmann (1962-1994). Without his efforts there might not be a Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park. Now it's time to finish the job and protect the entire Walbran Valley
The late Randy Stoltmann, who, along with brother Greg, discovered the Cabin Lake Fir

I’ll admit that I’d been hunting old growth trees for many years before I ever went looking for a record Pacific Silver Fir ( the other namesake of the Amabilis Fir ). The tree occurs in cool forest glades at lower elevations, often less conspicuous in the company of the larger Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir, and Western Red Cedar. True giants of the species, however, are generally found at higher elevations where they are similarly overshadowed by Mountain Hemlock and Yellow Cedar. In a sense, they sometimes seem to be hiding in plain sight!

39737612681_ccc596981d_z
Typical stand of Pacific Silver Fir ( Abies Amabilis ) which you’d often find at elevations of 300-500 meters in Southwest B.C.
The cones of Amabilis Firs are very distinctive and aromatic.

It was actually in 2004 that I first heard about the Cabin Lake Fir, when talking to Ralf Kelman, B.C.’s preeminent big tree hunter. Over a decent cup of coffee, he told me, among other things, a tale of a November trek to see the tree back in the late 1990s. Accompanying Ralf on that excursion was Washington state tree expert Robert Van Pelt,  who was hoping to measure the crown spread of the tree with then state of the art laser technology. Typically for Ralf, not known for preferring early starts, the trip began a bit late in the day. While they did manage to locate, photograph and measure the tree, there were some adventurous moments extricating themselves from the steep approach gully and subsequently, hiking back to the parking lot in Cypress Provincial Park. Darkness, sleet, and poor visibility didn’t help them much either. The day ended with more than a few beers at an east end Vancouver drinking establishment where all finished the day both dry and more than a little happy!

It was my frequent partner in exploration Doug who finally convinced me that we had to rediscover this tree some eight years later. He reasoned that we ought to approach it by following a direct contour line off of one of the Black Mountain ski runs. Doug also thought that we might just have the chance to find some of the large Mountain Hemlocks he’d also seen marked on some maps. It didn’t take too much effort to get me hooked on his plan. I later learned, years later, that due to the destruction of Washington’s Goodman Creek Fir, the Cabin Lake Fir had since become the largest known of its species. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were now hunting for the world champion Amabilis Fir!

A rocky gully behind the northeast end of Cabin Lake leads you to the tree, not recommended for inexperienced hikers

We chose a decent spring day for the hike, and though the terrain was steep and time consuming, travel was reasonable. The forest was well spaced, and indeed, full of the beautiful Mountain Hemlocks the park is well known for!

50960014_2731006863610802_5327740041143779328_n
One of the larger Mountain Hemlocks I have seen in Cypress Provincial Park
50962049_2731006823610806_6987651296530530304_n
These were not the Mountain Hemlocks on Doug’s map, but nevertheless they were great finds
51057078_2731006836944138_2034685862502989824_n
Untouched and unlogged, just the way I like to see a forest!
51356438_2731007003610788_8484733920749813760_n
As we approached the couloir we were looking for, the forest opened up somewhat

We soon managed to work our way close to a broad chute fortified with high walls on the side we found ourselves on . It was first necessary to climb safely into the chute so that we could explore the area, which was at roughly the elevation we expected to find the Cabin Lake tree. The light soon began to shine more brightly as we kicked our way into the snow slope and gradually worked our way down. We were glad to have brought our ice axes for the descent.

51737891_2731006993610789_4838981889664483328_n
Doug using his ice axe to dig in on a steep traverse we made to get down into the gully

We didn’t see it at first. Curiously, the next thing we noted was that the snows below us were covered with a fine layer of fallen moss and lichens – the kind you often see draping trees in the high mountains. I’ve heard it called Old Man’s Beard.

50914610_2731007563610732_7350983745698004992_n
Where had all of this come from?

While we were both pondering exactly where that carpet of foliage had come from, a towering spire appeared almost right in front of us, just downslope. It was clear we had found the source of all that fallen plant life, it was the Cabin Lake Fir itself! In its company were a number of young Silver Firs, perhaps seeded from the cones of their parent nearby.

50988180_2731007883610700_6496599864443404288_n
This tree has lived for hundreds of years! You can see the mosses hanging from every appendage
51311795_2731007616944060_7545925701308776448_n
In contrast, the mature trunk of a mature Silver Fir at right, and a relatively young tree at centre here

To some, it might seem like hyperbole to assign mythical qualities to a simple being such as a tree, but the Cabin Lake Fir most certainly had a peculiar aura. It  grows in a  location quintessential  for its survival and it’s doing exceptionally well. The tree is ideally situated to acquire all the necessary nutrients, water, and just the right amount of sunlight. Simultaneously, the steep rock walls nearby shade it from the midday sun and protect it from high winds. It is even evident that the slides and avalanches which take place in the couloir follow a path well away from the tree.

51392145_2731007463610742_6667896581980684288_n
Doug and the Cabin Lake Fir, both good friends, one a lot older!

We spent quite a while in the presence of this grand old spirit of the forest, taking ample time for photography and lunch, before packing up and climbing out of the gully to Cabin Lake, as we wanted to be certain to chart the entire route. I was certainly happy that Doug had been so insistent that we make the trek that day!

51048609_2731007136944108_7663581116292399104_n
You can see this tree is loaded with character!

 

51549845_2731007756944046_5851699615732072448_n
Towering in the mist
51658211_2731007313610757_4582282633664266240_n
Getting that all important location
51085263_2731008076944014_5472597343733809152_n
Lunch with the World Champion Cabin Lake Fir!
50946162_2731007980277357_7739038086750797824_n
The Cabin Lake Fir!
51050960_2731008170277338_2917282941543383040_n
This photo was taken on the walk out of the couloir. If you are approaching the correct gully from the lake when it is snowed in, this is what you should be looking at
51210438_2731008573610631_7595060659750961152_n
You will also see this iconic pair of Mountain Hemlocks just before descending the gully. I call them The Happy Couple

Two years later, we would return in autumn, descending that same gully downward from Cabin Lake, with the bluffs of Black Mountain looming above. Paul, who was along with us on that day, was also keen to get a look at the tree.

50790038_2731008300277325_1106507536795697152_n
The well known Cabin Lake. Most folks don’t get too far beyond its shores and the nearby summit of Black Mountain plateau
51217567_2731008346943987_6970221430185132032_n
Tour Guide. I hire only the best ones!
50999223_2731008333610655_6112988130187411456_n
The ponds were just beginning to freeze on that early November day

If you are taking notes on the approach and how it might look once the snow melts, after you leave the lake behind you should find yourself in a blocky, granite boulder field that is very distinctive looking . Just carry on downward, with bluffs on your right, as you descend toward the gully.

51083585_2731008436943978_6951741147983118336_n
Doug and Paul getting ready to head toward the gully

50614962_2731008220277333_2684691779357245440_n

50988240_2731008470277308_1640540115363168256_n
A look at the boulder field. some of the rocks are huge in size
51607296_2731008450277310_5970189212148826112_n
Yep, we’re heading down there!

The tree was no less magnificent on that occasion, and the weather was about the same as it was for our first visit. Fog and mist made getting an ideal photo something of a challenge. All agreed, though, that it was a tree worth revisiting!

51533400_2731006966944125_5853040792284692480_n
A different angle shows the broken top of the Cabin Lake Fir
51286849_2731007923610696_8673832964196401152_n
Still straight and true!
51398906_2731008013610687_6480799611769323520_n
Centuries of bark

In the end, it seemed fitting once again to walk in the footprints of the Stoltmann brothers, and my only regret was all of the years I had waited before searching out the Cabin Lake Fir. To paraphrase the immortal Warren Miller: “Get out there and get it done. If you don’t do it this year, you will just be one year older when you do!”

****IMPORTANT UPDATE***

I have recently learned that the Cabin Lake Fir has died, as reported in the summer of 2015, not long after our last visit. Here is a link to the BC Big Tree Registry that documents its demise in two very telling photos. It was a privilege to have made its acquaintance and it truly magnifies my concluding paragraph in this story. Had we not made the effort to see the tree when we did, we would not have seen it alive at all. It will have to live on in memory alone, once the largest and perhaps the oldest known tree of its kind! It was, at least, the world champion for about seven years!

51182309_2731008720277283_8375868465575100416_n
Heading back to Cabin Lake on the walk home

 

 

51166575_2731008680277287_5221484757853929472_n
An artistic rendition of the Cabin Lake Fir, emphasizing the shadows. It was a grand old tree, I will miss it a lot

***In memory of Warren Miller (1924- 2018 )***

84bcb586-012e-11e8-97df-295a7fd15d8d-780x522

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “In Search of the Cabin Lake Fir”

  1. Excellent post! I had understood previously that this tree was deceased…? In fact, we even have it marked so in the big tree registry. Could you DM me the gps coordinates please, and if you took any measurements we would love to add updates to the registry!

    Like

    1. I never did measure it, and it seemed alive when I was there last but that was a few years ago. I have not been since 2014 I believe. Here are the coordinates, Ira, would love to know how it is faring
      10 U 0484133
      UTM 5471422

      ELEVATION IS 1147m

      Like

    1. You know, it had slipped my mind that with the earlier demise of the Goodman Creek Tree near Forks, Washington in 1997 that the Cabin Lake Fir had inherited the title of world champion. I guess it only enjoyed that status for about 18 years, unless, of course, a larger tree has been discovered in the interim!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s