Capilano Mountain, Thanks for the Memories!

Friday, the 12th of July, 2019. It was a warm afternoon as I pushed my bike onto the ferry at Departure Bay. My destination? Horseshoe Bay, where I’d catch a ride with Steve. The morning after, we’d be meeting up with Doug for a biking and hiking expedition to Capilano Mountain. It would be my first hiking trip back on the mainland since moving to Vancouver Island, and I was really looking forward to the trek!
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Aboard the ferry in Departure Bay, Nanaimo, B.C.
 This, for Doug and me, would be a return to a mountain that we had first climbed some 14 years ago, and I was wondering just how well we might recollect the details. If you’re up for a comparison of two fine adventures and a dash of historical perspective, grab a refreshment or two and read on!
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A view of the Britannia Range from the deck of the ferry. Capilano Mountain is hidden behind these peaks
For clarity, I’ll first cover our “ancient” history from the first excursion, before recounting our recent experience. Much of the route remains the same, but there have been some important changes since then, not to mention that time may have altered our impressions somewhat!
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The scene at the bottom of Furry Creek in 2005, as we readied the bikes alongside my beloved 1992 Dodge pickup. I drove it until October of 2018 and I miss it a lot!
The heat of the summer sun had begun quite early on that summer morning in late August of 2005. As on many of our trips, just as we still do today, we relied on the directions in Matt Gunn’s Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia. It’s always an invaluable resource and I highly recommend you get yourself a copy!
I think I was expressing my displeasure at biking logging roads, but Doug, on the other hand, looked reasonably happy. Had he drank more coffee? I’m thinking yes….

 

Timberjack Skidder parked at the roadside

 

Biking up the road, old school!

 

Me and Phyllis Creek, on the second logging spur. That old North Face pack was a beauty, I thrashed it beyond recognition!   Photo by Doug

 

After 14 years, you’d expect there to be some gaps in our memories, but for the life of me, looking at some of these photos it seems as though I must have done this trip with a possible concussion. Oh, wait, come to think of it, I may well have, but more on that later! The first strong memory I had was crossing a massive washout of Beth Creek before finishing the bike portion of the trip. It wasn’t long after this that we cached our rides at the trailhead, elevation 665m.

 

Me crossing the washout in 2005. This crossing has been rerouted now and you cross the creek toward the back of this photo.                               Photo by Doug

 

Much as you’d all know or could probably guess, by the name of this website, I’m a real aficionado of old growth trees. We must have been moving very swiftly that morning, because my impressions of this forest seemed inadequate, to say the least. Doug’s own notions were similarly understated. When we walked this trail so many years later, observations were to change, but here were the only images of those ancient trees I recorded at the time.

 

The forest below Beth Lake, August 2005

 

I have to laugh because when I first looked at this old image I thought I’d inadvertently captured a bear, but that is definitely not the case!

 

Beth Lake is a stunning place, and I vividly recalled being struck by its beauty. Then, as now, the shadows cast by the ramparts above make the lake challenging to photograph, especially as one tends to arrive in morning light. What we both remembered best were all of the berries we ate there! It turned out we thought the lake was at about 1000m in elevation, but actual statistics have it at 1085m.

 

A shadowy Beth Lake in August of 2005

 

Well, before I get into describing this year’s trek, how about a little history?

The name Capilano will be forever enshrined in the history of British Columbia. Chief Joe Capilano, who was born in 1850, was a leader of the Squamish Nation from 1895 until 1910, when he unfortunately died from tuberculosis. Known as Sa7plek ( pronounced Sahp-luk) to his people, he fought very hard for the recognition of native rights here in Canada. Most notably, he traveled to the nation’s capital in Ottawa, and to London, England with several other native leaders to meet with King Edward VII. They wanted to express the urgency regarding the settling of native land claims, which even today is still an issue.

The delegation of leaders were also in protest of the government law which banned potlatches in 1885. A potlatch is a gift giving feast practiced by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and the United States, among whom it is a focal point, historically, of their economic system and culture. The government basically banned it in order to force cultural assimilation, but also to further the colonial interests of churches, who considered it to be both Pagan and anti-Christian. Understandably, First Nations people saw the law as a great injustice and symbol of oppression, which it absolutely was. It was not until 1951 that the ban on potlatches was lifted.

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Chief Joe Capilano

Capilano, who was also known as Joe Mathias, was an avid outdoorsman and guide in his younger days. Along with Dr Henry Bell-Irving and an unnamed native companion, he spearheaded an 1889 expedition into the Britannia Range that climbed the West Lion, Harvey, Brunswick, Hanover, and a number of other peaks. These were first recorded ascents, but ironically, they did not climb Capilano Mountain, though it most likely would have been within their reach. Capilano Highlands, Capilano Road, Capilano River, and Capilano Lake, however, all bear his name on Vancouver’s North Shore.

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Joe Capilano (credit Vancouver City Archives)

What piqued my interest even more was that Joe Capilano also worked in the sawmill at Moodyville, a pioneer settlement in what is now the Lower Lonsdale area of the city of North Vancouver. I had lived in that part of North Vancouver for the last three decades. He even inspired prose, as well known poet Pauline Johnson’s “Legends of Vancouver” was adapted from his tales of adventure!

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Moodyville Milling (North Vancouver Museum and Archives)

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“Rattlesnake, rattlesnake! Rattlesnake, rattlesnake!…” The rhythmic sound of Steve’s stereo was playing a long and steady beat as we rolled along Highway 99. That lengthy tune, courtesy of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, was serving two purposes. The first was to get us locked into hiking mode, and the second? It was answering that eternal question “How many times can you say ‘rattlesnake’ in one song?” Whatever the answer to the latter was, we were pretty psyched up!  I was definitely looking forward to the long climb of Capilano Mountain as we pulled up behind Doug’s Toyota at the bottom of the Furry Creek Road that morning.
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Doug and Steve get ready to roll

 

The weather on the 13th of July, 2019, was quite uncertain. We expected a mix of sun and cloud, with a strong chance of showers, but decided to give it a go anyway. It was about 8 am that we started out riding up the logging road.
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Starting out on Furry Creek Main
We weren’t as quick as expected on that ride. Doug seemed to be going strongly, but Steve had a bit of a sore back and I just seemed a bit tired. When we reached the correct spur for the turnoff we actually biked right past it, but luckily, we checked our bearings after a few minutes.
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Foxglove in bloom
That was a good catch by Steve, and it no doubt saved us much unneeded exercise on the day! With said diversion out of the way, we now cycled up the somewhat overgrown spur that would eventually land us at the trailhead. We knew it was the right road when we soon reached the familiar bridge over Phyllis Creek.
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The familiar sight of Phyllis Creek
Somewhere around 450m in elevation we encountered a substantial washout that seemed relatively recent, but at least there was no problem carting our bikes around it. That was more than we could say about the next one, which was bad enough that we decided to cache our bikes much earlier than we had hoped.
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Steve looks enthusiastic here!

 

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Stashing the rides
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This washout prevented us from getting the bikes any further!…Photo by Steve

The hiking, as a result, began around 200m lower in elevation than in 2005, and a couple of kilometres in distance of walking were also added to the trip. We didn’t feel it then, but we certainly would later! It took at least another hour to finally arrive at the Beth Creek washout, which was near where we had left our bikes on the first trip.

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Beginning that walk to the old trailhead…Photo by Steve

 

On the ride up, naturally, we told Doug about the “Rattlesnake” song, so from that point on in the entire trip any obstruction, challenge, or random topic of conversation had us chanting “Rattlesnake! Rattlesnake” at opportune times. You might be surprised how funny a recurring joke can be over the course of an entire day. Between that, Seinfeld dialogue, and South Park imitations, we kept ourselves well amused!

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The cast of Seinfeld. We’re all fans, but Steve goes next level and even names his pets after characters who’ve appeared in the show!

For a taste of the best of Eric Cartman, click here.

 

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Things are looking up as we cross near the old washout!

 

We kept a steady pace on the trail, and worked our way up to the old growth forest which starts at roughly 800 metres elevation. That was where the fun began. Steve was  on the lookout for Porcini mushrooms, which were expected to be in season considering recent rains. First there was one, then another, and another, and another, and… you get the idea! He finally reached the point where he’d be adding too much pack weight if he didn’t wait to pick them on the way back. As it was, even after trimming the mushrooms they weighed over five pounds. This, for Steve, was a constant source of joy all day long!

 

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Steve gets really animated around mushrooms, as you see here!  …Photo by Doug

 

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Violet Cort…Photo by Steve

 

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Bear’s Head Tooth Fungus…Photo by Steve

 

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Porcini…Photo by Doug

 

As much as Steve was stoked about all the mushrooms, I was equally enthralled by the ancient forest we found ourselves in. Yellow Cedar, Pacific Silver Fir, and Mountain Hemlock were the dominant species, and the chattering of Beth Creek nearby added to the ambience.

 

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Pacific Silver Fir in this section have regrown in an old logged area that was formerly Western Red Cedar, curiously. This is just below the old growth forest at roughly 800m elevation

 

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Me and Steve trekking the old growth forest…Photo by Doug

 

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The delicate plants of the forest floor

 

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A spectacular Yellow Cedar, over 800 years old

 

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Doug on his way up while Steve stashes mushrooms

 

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Truly spectacular forest!

 

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Another Porcini!

 

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Doug finding a way through some deadfall

 

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Strolling

 

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Morning at Beth Lake, soon after we emerged from the forest, was all too familiar. The one regret was that sadly we were too early in the season to gorge ourselves on berries as we had done many years ago! As before, we took a break near the lake boulders for lunch, and once again, the mosquitoes found us in seconds!

 

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A moody Beth Lake in morning

 

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Doug in the boulder garden. This was a place we really remembered well, including all the mosquitoes!

 

We worked our way through steep forest after leaving the lake area, which we knew would give passage to the boulder field. There were even more mushroom finds, and more than a few venerable trees in this subalpine forest to keep us amused. Much to our chagrin though, the boulder field was not as close at hand as we had speculated!

 

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A very aged mountain hemlock

 

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Intricate patterns in yellow cedar bark

 

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At long last, a view I remembered! Can you see the guys bushwhacking? We are nearly at the base of the boulder field!

 

Just as we were approaching the draw that contains the boulder field, we stopped to filter some water. The clouds above were starting to look a bit suspicious, but we were somehow convinced it wasn’t going to rain. Still, as we shifted into low gear heading for the ridge above, the views behind us were definitely becoming more obscured.

 

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Arriving at the vaunted boulder field!

 

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Getting closer to the top!

 

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Doug and one really big rock!

 

Though it seemed like a long time grinding up to the ridge, we finally arrived. Now came the circuitous ramble that would take us behind the ramparts into the alpine basin beyond. On the way, we ran into a mother grouse, and for a time the clouds even hinted at blue skies!

 

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Trying, but failing, to get a picture of the grouse…Photo by Steve

 

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Mt Windsor in the clouds

 

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The first tarn to welcome us to the alpine….Photo by Doug

 

As mentioned before, Capilano’s broad alpine basin, though it takes a solid effort to reach, is what really makes this trip worthwhile. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, the rains arrived there just as we did, dampening our spirits a little. At the time, I remember saying if we wanted the sun to come out, we just needed to put on our rain gear. Just a few minutes later, we were peeling off our jackets as the sun broke through the clouds. I’ve no doubt in my mind it would have deteriorated into a torrential downpour had we left them at home!

 

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And here comes the weather!

 

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Rain, rain, go away…

 

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…Please come back another day!

 

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That chant doesn’t always work, but it sure did that day!

 

We pushed onward, with the aid of countless jokes, toward the summit. There was a bit of route finding involved, but the views were now becoming very worthwhile. Our first order of business was to once again lose some hard earned elevation gain as we made for the summit ridge. So close, and yet so far away.

 

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Steve and I at the base of the ridge, finally….Photo by Doug

 

Doug’s memory returned as we began the climb up a steep slope filled with heather, and he reminded me of how we’d wrestled with that problem on the first trek. This time, after a fresh rain, plenty of care was needed just to stay upright! Steadily though, the summit got closer and closer!

 

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Love this picture of me and Steve getting ever so close to the summit!…Photo by Doug

 

And then we were there! It was just as I recalled it, a broad and rambling granite plateau, with expansive views everywhere! We took some time to enjoy our lofty perch, but not too long, as I had to be down in time to catch the ferry homeward. In the end, with a more relaxed pace and so much exploration, this trip ended up taking us over four hours longer than it did in 2005! Here are some of the sights and scenery we took in at the summit!

 

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Doug’s photo of the summit cairn, elevation 1681m

 

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Steve’s idea of a summit shot! …Photo by Doug

 

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I know what you’re thinking… Maybe if Steve had worn his boots in the first place the trip would have been easier? Not really, he just usually takes them off on summits. Note the current use of gaiters by Doug,  not just a fashion statement! They are very effective for preventing some, but not all, ground wasp attacks.

 

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Britannia Range summits!

 

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Appian Mountain and the North Shore Mountains behind

 

This view was obscured in 2019. In the foreground is “Chanter Ridge” which I  traversed with Simon in spring of 2006. In behind you can see Sky Pilot, Sheer, Ben More, and Ben Lomond, while Mamquam Mountain is at centre on the horizon

 

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A cloudy scene above Howe Sound

 

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Our worries about the rain now seemed forgotten!

 

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From whence we came, soon to be repeated!

 

With some regret, we began the trek down to the tarns, happy in the knowledge that we were halfway home! On the descent, we had some unfinished business to take care of in the form of retrieving Doug’s bear spray and gathering more of Steve’s mushrooms. The emerging sunlight meant we’d be staying dry, at least!

 

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Returning to the perfect tarn!

 

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Looking toward Gordan Lake Basin

 

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Alpine glory!…Photo by Doug

 

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It was at about this point that I began to get a bit of a leg cramp, but lately Steve always packs electrolyte tablets to add when he filters water. They are an item I keep forgetting to add to my own kit, as they’ve proven useful many times. Luckily the tablets breathed life into me at just the right time, but they didn’t help the sore back I was also dealing with. Getting older isn’t always fun! We hiked onward, behind the ramparts, up and down, up and down, up and down… until we finally reached the boulder field again.

 

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Steve and I descending the boulder field, Goat Ridge and Sky Pilot at right…Photo by Doug

 

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Yours truly, slugging through the boulder field…Photo by Steve

 

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Wild light over Howe Sound

 

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Early evening light on Beth Lake

 

We busied ourselves with hustling toward the bikes as best we could, but it soon became apparent I wasn’t going to make the 820 pm ferry at Horseshoe Bay, so I’d be catching the 1040 pm sailing. Steve’s cache of mushrooms also steadily grew on the hike down! When we finally reached the bike cache, I walked right by it, not noticing my GPS had recalibrated somewhat. The ride down went well, albeit cautiously for me as I was unable to adjust the seat post on my bike. Once we reached the trucks, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief!

We chilled for a while before moving on, as the sun began to sink slowly out of sight. An hour or so later, I was laid out on top of my pack on the deck of the ferry, utterly spent and gazing at the full moon. It would be after midnight before I was on my way home from Departure Bay, and two more hours until I finally slept. It had been a long and rewarding day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2019———————–

Biking onto the ferry, staying at Steve’s. Delores and Bosco

 

 

Repeat it all, speed walker, finding the mushrooms, finding the bikes, ride down, ferry ride home by 1 pm

Notes, electrolyte water tablets, Steve’s filter

Bagger challenge spooning, Tweedsmuir, Burwell, wtf is with our memories? Only remembered a bit re the forest, the climb up to base of boulder field, and the swim tarn area, also a bit about the climb up to the summit last pitch

How the hell did we manage to do this in just over 8 hours even after I endoed and broke my ribs? That was 2005, this is now. Arguably I think Doug could have managed it this time in 1 1/2 hours less, but the rest of us were on the limit.

 

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