All posts by bctreehunter

On Standing Down

The annals of mountaineering, especially those of social media offering, are so often filled with the stories of success. That is, you plan the trek, face the adversities, and eventually stand triumphant and heroic on the summit before staring down the descent. The truth, however, is that sometimes victory eludes you, yet in defeat there is often a story worth telling. If you have the courage to look back on the bad days, you might even get a laugh or two out of the spanking you’ve taken. Whatever the case, the most important thing is to keep on going back to the mountains. They are always worth the effort!

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Doug, Steve, and Wally on the summit of Seven O’Clock Mountain. There’s always a reward in reaching summits!

Here then, are a few excerpts from my three and a half decades of history in the hills, some rather inglorious. The mountain has a way of finding you when you’re not having the best of days, you know.  As long as your ego isn’t too closely shackled to grabbing the summit every single time, and even if it is, you can still learn a lot from your misadventures.

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Ted and Alan happy to have made the top of Mt Callaghan. We were still one helluva long walk from the beer!

What follows here is a retrospective of some climbs on which I ended up turning around, and the variety of related reasons for those retreats. I was surprised to find, to my chagrin, that there were a few more of them than I thought there were! Most of the real epics were concentrated in a ten year period that I’d characterize as the most trying time in my life, yet those same years were crammed full of discovery and elation as well.

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Remember, it’s all about the determination, as you can see Doug demonstrating here!

First up? Mt Elsay, the avalanche… It was late one spring when I finally had my first experience setback in the mountains. I was close to my 39th birthday, and was feeling pretty immortal back then. I was, after all, at the peak of fitness at the time, having finally quit destroying myself playing baseball, and freshly off successful knee surgery. In many ways I felt unstoppable! Spoiler alert, I wasn’t.

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The Coquitlam Divide from Wes’s Staircase, taken on a successful ascent of Mt Elsay later in 2007

That trek basically ended for me almost before it started. No sooner had I descended Wes’s Staircase on the Elsay Lake Trail, than a haunting mist obscured the entire valley. I continued on for a spell, knowing the route well, but almost immediately I froze in my tracks. There was a deep rumbling off the eastern slopes of Mt Seymour. It sounded powerful, so I stood and waited a minute or two to see what had happened. When the clouds drifted away momentarily, I could see a massive runout of wet snow that had carried with it the twisted limbs of small trees and continued on well over the trail I had intended to walk! This was an omen, had I been five minutes faster it’s possible I might not be telling this tale right now! It was a timely reminder that nature couldn’t care less how much you want to reach a summit. Though my wife sometimes begs to differ, I can sometimes take a hint! I turned around, and didn’t return again until over eight years later to climb the mountain.

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Tim Jones Peak, Mt Seymour and Mt Elsay. The eastern slopes here hold danger sometimes. I think this experience subconsciously kept me away from Mt Elsay for some time

In 2006, I only missed out one summit, and that was the rock tower of Ben Lomond in the Britannia Range. Simon, Alan, Denis, Chris, and I had planned on climbing Ben More, Ben Lomond and Red Mountain in one long day. On our way up Ben More, I felt something pop in my left hip, which I had injured the year before on Mt Price. I knew right away it was going to be serious, but I badly wanted to stand atop the high point of the Seymour Valley. Though I did manage to summit Ben More, by the time we reached the base of Ben Lomond, I could not move my leg high enough to kick steps into the precipitous snow slope. Frustrated, I sat down with Chris, then chipped off a piece of snow with my ice axe to stuff in my pants. Chris, meanwhile, was suffering with a painful foot injury. We were not happy campers! This was the first time I ever had to sit idly and watch other people climb a mountain and I didn’t like it.

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Left to right, Alan, Denis, and Simon descending Ben Lomond

It made me kind of nervous to be a spectator, but of course Alan, Denis, and Simon pretty much pulled it off without a hitch. When they came down, it was time to climb the less technical Red Mountain, which I had decided I was going to do come hell or high water. It hurt like hell, but I did it.

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Simon, Alan, me, and Denis on the summit of Red Mountain in 2006. I do some of my best smiling when I’m in pain, but this is still a great memory!

Meanwhile, we watched from afar, cheered, and celebrated as Chris got up off the snow and proceeded to climb Ben Lomond! After that, we all walked out, and I returned the next summer with Denis to finally climb this peak. It was all I had hoped for! It was, however, the start of a ten year battle with that serious hip injury. Hip flexors are difficult, as they may heal, but in the process, they often tear again frequently. It took me a decade to properly rehabilitate from the injury, but then, I never stopped hiking, so maybe that is why. I resorted to taking up yoga to help the healing process, and it worked better than anything else I had tried.

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Denis and me on the summit of Ben Lomond in 2007. All smiles here!

July of 2008 on Cayoosh Mountain was the best of times. Ted, Denis, and I spent the night camped out having more than a few beers before starting out the next morning for the summit. The conditions were ideal, but we were going to have to move fast to avoid the high temperatures of midday.

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Ted on the way to Cayoosh Mountain in 2008. You work hard to climb mountains, and this peak was no exception!

It had been a big snow year and we knew the route could become dangerous if we tarried. As it turned out, I basically managed to louse that up by getting us off the right path. We passed the correct gully and instead I led us to a ridge we cliffed out on. That meant we had to double back before ascending the correct line, which we did, eventually.

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Denis in the Cayoosh Valley, Joffre Group in the background, in 2008

Once we reached a steep bowl below the sub summit, however, I knew our day was done. The snow had become too isothermic, and was now too unsafe to cross. The only sane decision was to walk away. We haven’t returned yet, but maybe someday we will. That one’s on me, boys!

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Cayoosh Mountain lived rent free in my head for a few years, then somehow it became a fonder memory. Still haven’t given up on this one!

Later in 2008, Chris and I were attempting Tulameen Mountain in the Cascades. We began, sans helmets, by climbing a very sketchy gully and veritable shooting gallery of falling rock that I began calling the Jingfest Couloir. With that bit of Russian Roulette out of the way, it was a question of digging in and making our way through a big field of shifting rock and up the southwest ridge of the mountain.

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Tulameen Mountain, so close and yet so far! It’s just in behind the southwest summit, which is in the foreground here

On that day, the weather had looked unsettled, and then suddenly we could see a storm moving very quickly up the Fraser Valley. This was not good! We were only another hour from the summit of Tulameen but our position was much too exposed.  The next thing we knew there was lightning, and more threatening clouds, and we were scampering back to the cover of the woods below! It took a while, but we struggled back to the truck in one piece, none the worse for wear. Chris often tells me he’s a magnet for bad weather. I’m not sure about that, but on that day it was a funny enough explanation!

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Chris in Kennedy Creek with one of his better finds!

 

A different fate struck on Castle Towers in 2009, where Doug battled vertigo gamely and scrapped his way up to the west summit on a perfect summer day. The week before he’d been down with the flu and an ear infection. Climbing the true summit, just a half hour away, just wasn’t going to happen. While I took summit photos, Doug took a seat just below the cairn trying to gather his bearings.

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Castle Towers west summit, looking at Garibaldi, 2009

He offered to wait while I attempted it alone, but we were a long way from civilization and if anything had happened to me I was not sure he was in the right shape to walk out alone. I made the only decision that I felt right about, and we enjoyed the west summit for a good thirty minutes more before beginning the long walk back. In the end, this trip was among the finest we have ever done together, and over a decade later I still talk about it!

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Charming summit shot, all smiles and no pain, brother! This is me and Doug on Coquihalla Mountain in 2015. Reaching summits has never seemed to be our biggest concern in the mountains. We seem more concerned with good jokes and cold beer, which I think is why we’ve been successful

The year 2009 also brings to mind one of the more strange and happy days of my life. In September, Chris and I drove up to the North Creek Valley near Pemberton to have a go at Hemionus Mountain. As we hiked up the south ridge on that cold and sunny day, we were treated to some phenomenal scenery. Just as we reached a high sub summit with a commanding view, we made the mistake of sitting down.

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The North Creek Valley is alpine perfection, if you ask me

I had slept only an hour and a half the night before and Chris had been doing a lot of trekking the weeks before as well. Though we might have had the summit, instead we just kicked back, relaxed, and let it all sink in. This was the first time I’d ever done that on a mountain trip, and it was outstanding! We laughed a lot, and then strolled back down after a while. Some of my friends were a little incredulous, wondering why we would drive all that way and not at least try a little harder. I just shrugged, to us it had seemed right. Still does.

Then there was Ring Mountain, a dormant volcano in the Squamish Valley. I set out with Doug, Denis, and Chris on a spectacular spring day in 2010 with the goal of standing atop this tuya. The year before, Doug, Chris, and I had approached it from the Callaghan Valley, and due to a lot of faffing around on the wrong side of the mountain we had already spent a fair amount of time on the objective.

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Chris approaching Ring Mountain in 2009. I guess we are both 0 for 2 on this mountain, come to think of it!

I was to fail again that day, as despite Doug’s stellar efforts at breaking trail I simply did not have the strength to follow.  What I didn’t know at the time was that I had previously picked up a very devious intestinal parasite which only affected me especially in times of hard physical effort. With it came chills, shuddering, fever, nausea, and sometimes the complete and random evacuation of my bowels. That day featured all of the above. While Doug and Denis reached the summit, I waited below, cursing my fortune. In fact, I was damned angry! Chris also had to turn around on that day, but it was more a matter of time constraint, not for lack of strength. Current score: Ring Mountain 2 Mick 0.

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This view of Ashlu Mountain was as good as it was going to get for me on my second attempt at Ring Mountain. I sat in the snow for over an hour while my head was spinning

Only months later, I would make an attempt of Mt Bardean and Mt Ratney with Gerry and Sabine that turned out to be all too familiar. In those days I was pushing the envelope on every trip, and surviving on the absolute minimum of sleep.

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The summit of Bardean was only half an hour away, but I would not see it that day

My wife and I raise a son with autism, you see, and for the better part of about 20 years, we lived in a partial state of exhaustion. I made it to within just 150m of Bardean’s summit that day, but could go no further.

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A pretty nice place to take a nap, if you ask me

It wasn’t as bad as all that though, because I enjoyed a 90 minute nap in an idyllic alpine meadow while Sabine and Gerry climbed the two peaks. I’ve not managed a return yet, but would love to try again!

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Illal Mountain October 2008, Gerry’s wearing the red toque!… Photo by Silvia Bakovic

Curiously enough, since 2010, every summit I have attempted has been met with success and for the most part with far less difficulty. As time has passed, I don’t get up mountains with the quite the same speed I did in younger days. Who does? What I do is finish off the efforts with a combination of persistence and well, more persistence. I live by two important mantras: “Just put one foot in front of the other” and “Those beers down at the truck aren’t gonna drink themselves!”

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Me ascending the steep gully below the west ridge of Chanter                                                Photo by Simon C

 

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Hey, in the end, it’s all about the tailgating! This is Denis, me, and Ted after climbing Mt Gillespie in 2012

 

 

 

 

 

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Gemini Mountain, Welcome to The Island

It had taken us the better part of two years to sort out our move to Vancouver Island, but having finally done that, I wanted to climb a mountain here! Recently I’d joined a local hiking group called Island Mountain Ramblers , and while checking out the trips they had planned, I discovered one I had to join! Gemini Mountain, deep within the Nanaimo River Valley, sounded like a place I needed to see!

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A very reputable Vancouver Island group, the Island Mountain Ramblers have been active since 1958

There is limited access to the valley, which is controlled by Timber West, the landowners. It was only possible to hike there in autumn months, according to Matthew, our trip organizer and current club president. The twin summits of Gemini Mountain were ideally located and, if the weather was in our favour, might serve up some beautiful views. The only catch was that we’d be in there during hunting season, but at least the area we were to hike was off limits to the hunters. While that sounded a little scary, of course there were no problems!

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Neither hunters nor wabbits seen on this day!

Eight of us met at Harewood Mall, and from there drove a long way up the Nanaimo Lakes Road to reach our destination. We stopped at a checkpoint along the way, where you need to report in to let Timber West know where you’re headed. It was at least another half hour before a while before we turned onto the K15 logging spur. A long climb led us steeply up that road to where we’d begin our hike.

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The view from where we parked

The Nanaimo River Valley has a lengthy history of logging, and there are still a lot of active haul roads within its watershed. Despite the piles of logging slash burning at roadside as we climbed, you could still see that the valley maintained its strong feel of wilderness. Somehow it seems to have transcended all the harvesting that has happened there.

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Green Mountain, seen here, was once the site of a ski resort
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Mountain Hemlock draped in Old Man’s Beard

After gearing up, we began our hike at about 1200m in elevation, with cold winds urging us on.   Our leader knew the route well having been there before, but there were few markers to show us the way. The forest, a mix of Mountain Hemlock, Silver Fir, and Western Hemlock, was quite enchanting.

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Enjoying the forest walk

 

Soon the trees became more widely spaced, and we entered some attractive subalpine meadows, then heather covered slopes led us to some dense coastal brush. The mist and clouds were constant companions, and would only leave us for short breaks throughout the day.

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The subalpine meadows

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We were soon approaching the first of Gemini Mountain’s two summits, and after a short bushwhack, we were there! As we arrived, the clouds would clear, making good on the promise of those spectacular views. I had been hiking for many years in the same familiar ranges of the Lower Mainland, where I was used to being able to identify most of the peaks around me. Here on Vancouver Island, however, the surroundings were entirely new to me, so there was a great sense of discovery that had me quite enamoured.

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The view from the first summit
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Decent rewards for only an hour of hiking
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Atmospheric conditions above the clouds

 

After a short break, we began hiking over to the second, and highest summit. This involved trekking over the shoulder of the first summit and weaving our way down to a col between the two. On the ridge, we passed by  bedding and grazing sites of elk herds, and followed their paths quite often. We’d have to return the same way we came, because both sides of the col were lined with steep cliff  bands that would prevent us from taking any  shortcuts.

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Back inside the clouds

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The sun, trying to make an appearance
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Morning skies

The col was a beautiful and rugged place! Soon the skies parted for at least half an hour, as we rose above the clouds. The ground sloped sharply into a valley below the col, and in the distance the road we had driven up to the trailhead became visible. There was a sea of mountains to gaze at, but most of them were unknown to me.

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The cliffs at the col, which I recommend avoiding
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The main summit of Gemini Mountain as you see it from the col

Soon we left the col and crossed over on a ramp to the base of some steep bluffs. Here we waited, before climbing up to a bench just below the summit. That was the biggest challenge of the day, as the rock was a little unstable in places. While we did that, the skies would clear even more, which had everyone feeling more cheerful.43837671200_6faf4179b0_k

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A look back at the route we descended into the col from the first summit

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Getting closer to the summit

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Looking back down to the valley below
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The first peak of Gemini Mountain, where we had just been
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Stunted alpine trees

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Our trip leader Matthew, along with navigating, had his two year old daughter in his backpack. He also had his five year old son walking the entire route with us. He did well, and the only help he needed was a boost or two on some of the steepest sections. It reminded me of hiking with my kids when they were young, trying to share with them that fascination with nature, which they still seem to have to this day!

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Matthew and his kids

After we climbed the bluffs we then headed up to the summit proper, at 1525m in elevation. The summit plateau was fairly broad, with panoramic views. There were also some alpine tarns that were just beginning to freeze over. I was very happy to be atop my first peak on Vancouver Island!

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Gemini mountain, 1525m elevation
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That’s the mainland of British Columbia over there
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An icy summit tarn
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Atop one summit looking over at the other

Pretty soon the weather began to arrive in earnest. The winds now began blowing more briskly as we took a short break before the hike back. Many peaks could be seen in the distance, including Mt Baker down in Washington state.

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Ever changing weather
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Clouds have a way of being you it’s time to leave!
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Mt Baker is in this photo somewhere

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Light rain began to fall as we walked down to the col, then back up  to the first summit, and finally back down again to the logging road. It seemed like much longer than a five and a half hour hike, yet at 3 pm we were back at the vehicles and rolling down the road to the gate shortly after.

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A last look at one of the tarns!

If anyone out there on Vancouver Island has thought about hiking this mountain during the limited opportunity, I’d highly recommend it. As well, if you’re looking for a hiking club on Vancouver Island, join the Island Mountain Ramblers, you’ll be glad you did!

 

The World Champion Red Creek Fir

Ten centuries ago, this world was a very different place. Already, Leif Erickson, son of Eric the Red, had just led his expedition to the east coast of North America. Soon after, battles raged throughout Europe as The Crusades began, not to mention all that followed in the next nine hundred years. Why all the history? The answer, in my mind, is that it gives relevant perspective when you discuss ancient living things. Time illustrates the incredible longevity, in particular, that trees can have.

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Douglas Fir cone

Even as Erickson landed in North America, in the relatively undisturbed coastal rainforests of Vancouver Island, a fateful cone, plausibly, had seeded itself not too far from what is now the San Juan River.  Fortunately, there would soon be a sapling where the cone once lay, which eventually managed to grow well over 300 feet tall and almost fourteen feet in diameter! It may also have reached the age of a thousand years, though that estimate is based on known sizes and ages of similar trees of its species.

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San Juan River

Today that tree is called the Red Creek Fir, and it is, by volume of wood, the largest Douglas fir on the planet! Over the years, several violent storms have reduced its height, but it still stands at 74m (242 ft) tall.  It is not, however, the world’s tallest Douglas fir. That honour goes to Oregon’s Doerner Fir, which measures 327 ft tall ( it is formerly known as the Brummit Fir).

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The towering mass of the Red Creek Fir

The Douglas fir, ironically, is not actually a true fir, but a member of the pine family (Pinaceae) . Pseudotsuga Menzieszi is its Latin name, and Pseudotsuga actually translates as “false hemlock”. Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies and Scottish botanist David Douglas are its noteworthy namesakes. The Douglas fir has been a vitally important species to the timber industry, due to its strength, durability, and versatility.

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The Red Creek Fir has suffered significant damage a number times but has nevertheless maintained its status as the world champion. Here Scott is “surfing” a massive limb which we think broke off and fell to earth during the storm of December 2006

My own history with this tree has been somewhat checkered, to say the least. When I lived in North Vancouver, I visited Vancouver Island not once, not twice, but three times with good friend Chris before finally getting to see it in 2009. What I’ll say for certain is that it was well worth the effort! The Red Creek Fir is definitely one of the more awe inspiring trees I have ever seen!

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It was thanks to Scott W that we finally got to see this tree
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Chris and the Red Creek Fir
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A vertical panorama
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The old sign, now fallen to earth nearby

 

Considering the amount of logging that has taken place on the west coast of Vancouver Island, it’s no small miracle this giant still stands today, but now it is safe from harvesting, at least. The tree can be reached by a network of rough logging roads and a short, pleasant forest trail. I’m including a map and a few photos here that will help you find the trailhead, and detailed driving directions can be found here.

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Just to give you an idea of where the tree is located, here is a map provided by the Ancient Forest Alliance.  Consider donating to their tireless efforts in preserving our forests, if you share their dedication to preserving these spaces.
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Logging road approach
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Here is where we parked on the old Red Creek Main

 

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Not far past the intersection of the two roads, on the same side of the road that we parked on is a cairn that marks the trailhead

 

It isn’t often that you get the opportunity to meet a living being that has been around as long as the Red Creek Fir. If you’re ever in the area, and you have a vehicle with half decent ground clearance, it’s well worth a visit!

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit With Coastal Giants

 

You hear it from everyone who has visited the west coast of Vancouver Island. They rave about the tall trees, the crashing surf, the unforgettable sunsets, and countless other charms. Wilderness adventurers of all experience levels come from far and wide to visit its forests and beaches year round.

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October surf at Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Tofino, B.C.
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Adventure guide Duncan Morrison with a massive Western Red Cedar in Eden Grove , near Port Renfrew

British Columbia’s future may very well depend on how our province chooses to protect its natural world. It has become clear that times are changing. To those who reside here, one crucial question must be asked: If nature is really our greatest resource, why are we in such a race to destroy our future legacy?

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Who could disagree that nature is what makes British Columbia special? Our mountains, rivers, and forests need to be preserved for future generations!

 

The answer would seem simple, but conflicted interests make it complicated. We are at a crossroads: No longer are industries based solely on the extraction of natural resources  a reasonable base for a thriving economy. The truth is, they have reached the point where they are destroying that very foundation. In my mind, the only way to shine the light in a different direction is to spend more time bringing attention to the natural world. That then, is primarily what this story is all about. This province needs to save its earthly splendour, and what better place to start than the windswept shores of Vancouver Island’s Pacific Coast?

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Imagine that all ancient cedars were preserved for everyone to enjoy, like this giant in North Vancouver’s Wickenden Creek

The month of March brought with it unseasonably warm and dry weather this year, so it seemed like decent timing for a visit to Vancouver Island’s wild west coast. Set in the heart of unceded Pacheedaht territory, the forests near Port Renfrew still hold many hidden secrets which I hope to explore. Fortunately for me, I had an ideal tour guide for the mission, in the person of Chris Istace. “Stasher”, as he’s known to many, has spent plenty of days wandering the coast, and is one of the first good friends I’ve made in my new island home. Our plan, basically, was to visit many of the trees on the map seen below here, and to walk the Botanical Beach area. Here is a link to the fine story about this trip that Chris wrote up a while back, I highly recommend his website!

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Map courtesy of the Ancient Forest Alliance . Consider donating to their tireless efforts in saving B.C.’s remaining old growth forests

We met early in Chemainus before heading toward Lake Cowichan, where we’d grab a coffee before reaching the coast via the old Harris Creek Mainline. The last time I’d driven that road was nearly a decade before, when it was still unpaved! Much had changed, but some things had remained the same.

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Back in 2007, this fellow manned the Harris Creek Gate. Not sure where he is today!

The ride left us plenty of time to discuss a wide variety of topics, especially the preservation of British Columbia’s ancient forests, which we both have been very vocal about. The interior of Vancouver Island is an absolute statement on how not to manage those forests and you get a front row seat to view that devastation on the road to Port Renfrew! At the very least, we as citizens ought to have more say in what happens to our forests, and there are a lot more valid questions. Why can’t we log sustainably? Why can’t we transition to a lumber economy that focuses on processing second growth timber or older stands of less prime value? Why have we been exporting raw logs and all the processing jobs that go with them? Why is there no willingness by government to protect the finest of our forests from clearcutting? To be succinct, I am not in favour of abolishing logging at all, I just feel it’s high time to change the model on which the industry operates.

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The map tells the tale well. Orange is already logged forest, green remains unprotected. Over 92% of the prime valley bottom timber on Vancouver Island has already been clearcut. It’s clearly time to protect the rest!

 

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These forests, in their intact state, have considerable value in terms of ecotourism dollars,  which generate long term and sustainable employment. Harvesting the trees is a one time opportunity, and even when second growth harvest is factored in, the cashflow realized is far less than income realized through tourism. We need to make decisions that benefit the environment!

 

It was also a chance to learn a bit more about each other’s backgrounds. We have each managed to find our way westward, but through markedly different routes.  Chris has previously lived in Alberta and Estevan, Saskatchewan, whereas I moved to Nanaimo after living in Montreal, Edmonton, and North Vancouver. What I’ll say, to summarize, is that the love of outdoor living brings a lot of people to Vancouver Island!

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Harris Creek Canyon

The morning air still held a chill, as we reached  Harris Creek. There we took a break and Chris showed me several of his favourite spots along the creek. The rushing waters of the canyon made for an ideal place to clear the mind, and we were happy to linger there for a while.

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One of Chris’s favourite stops along Harris Creek

Our next stop was the nearby Harris Creek Spruce, a massive Sitka Spruce which is likely about five hundred years old. It’s quite fortunate that the logging companies decided to preserve it, for it holds so much life upon its aging limbs. The tree is surrounded by a picket fence, to protect its root system, and nearby there is a beautiful stand of Bigleaf Maple trees. I had first visited the tree back in 2007, and was heartened to see an old friend once again.

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The sign that marks the short trail to the Harris Creek Spruce
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The original old growth forest here was logged in 1893, but the Harris Creek Spruce was spared. Logging has been prohibited in this area since 2012 now.
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This tree is vibrantly alive and growing happily beside Harris Creek
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I processed this in black and white in order to show the tremendous intricacy an ancient spruce has. They are always covered in mosses and lichen and support a veritable community in their network of limbs!

Port Renfrew was the next destination, where we would spend some time hiking the shores of Botany Bay and Botanical Beach. It wasn’t quite possible to arrive there at low tide, which would have been ideal for viewing the many tide pools, but nevertheless, we had a lot of fun.  There is nothing quite like exploring the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, with its pounding surf and wind blasted Sitka Spruce providing the backdrop. The geology alone is quite interesting, and of course the biodiversity you find in each and every tide pool is unique and fascinating. Quite commonly you’ll see black bears wandering the shoreline foraging for food but we weren’t lucky enough to spot one that day.

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Beautifully striated rock layers in Botany Bay
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Enjoying the Pacific surf!

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Mussels
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By now you might be asking if you can have too many photos of the surf? The answer, by the way, is no, of course not!

Sometimes you need to go the extra mile to get yourself a really good photograph too. Have a look at this sequence and you’ll see just what I mean.

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Soon we scrambled around the point and onto Botanical Beach, where we wandered just a bit longer before moving on to the next attraction. I never tire of these coastal beaches, and even the sound of waves triggers so many pleasant memories.

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Powerful coastal storms deposit scores of trees on the beaches every year. Be sure to remember to never turn your back on the ocean, especially when seas are rough!

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If you ever get to know Chris you’ll soon find out he’s a big advocate of sustainable and smaller housing solutions. This one looked great, and even had a swing, but alas, it’s also in a provincial park!

 

Our whirlwind tour continued as we stopped for a bite to eat, then headed over to Avatar Grove. The trees there were preserved through considerable effort by the Ancient Forest Alliance. On the way up we actually ventured off the trail looking at several trees that get less attention, one a venerable Douglas Fir.

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Chris spotted this big Douglas fir just off the trail, so we bushwhacked in for a closer look!

 

The Ancient Forest Alliance, with the help of many volunteers, built trails through both the upper and lower groves and did a commendable job of campaigning for the preservation of these trees.

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Communing with nature on the Upper Avatar Grove Trail
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Walking these groves has you feeling like a much smaller part of nature. I have often felt people see themselves as too important, and many could do with more experiences like this!

The upper grove is most known for the burled and twisted Western Red Cedar affectionately called Canada’s Gnarliest Tree. I’m not sure whether it can lay claim to that title but it is certainly quite the sight, with its heavily burled trunk and twisted branches!

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Chris getting set up for a photograph
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Massive burls!
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It’s quite likely this tree is over 600 years old

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Back on route, we visited the rest of the trees in the upper grove, and met a number of other folks paying their own respects as well. It’s notable that when left standing, forests like these drive both spiritual and economic interest in a region, which is a unique combination. Ancient forests are undoubtedly places where people find their souls.

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Afternoon light in the forest
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These trees are an irreplaceable resource

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The lower grove was our next objective, and though Chris had been to Avatar Grove a number of times he had not happened to see it yet either. I found it to be quite a revelation, in part because you could could hear the Gordon River running in the background, as filtered sunlight shone through the trees. There was a subtle breeze to go with it all, and as it turned out, we may have spent more time there than in the upper grove!

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Welcome to Lower Avatar Grove
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The base of another ancient cedar
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Magnificent cedar in Lower Avatar Grove
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Composing the shot
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So many things in nature defy description

 

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Chris filming a very subtle moment as a faint breeze blows through some hanging moss. Sometimes it is the smaller things you appreciate the most.

 

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The process of the nurse log assisted tree is perfectly illustrated here

 

What I’ll call the high point of the day, at least in my mind, came with a visit to Big Lonely Doug, which stands almost alone in a clearcut off Edinburgh Main.  Its stark existence, ironically, brings to mind that there is a campaign going on to save the trees in nearby Eden Grove merely a few hundred yards away. Keeping stands of old growth forest intact should be our goal, and in British Columbia that has been a difficult task to accomplish.

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Getting to Big Lonely Doug involves crossing a spectacular bridge over the Gordon River on Edinburgh Main
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Cross section of a big cedar stump on which you may stand to get a good look at Big Lonely Doug

The story of Big Lonely Doug is an interesting one, to say the least! Apparently, on a winter morning in 2011, a logger named Dennis Cronin was walking through a stand of old-growth forest in the Gordon River Valley near Port Renfrew. He was supposed to  survey the land and flag the boundaries for an up and coming clearcut. Soon he would soon stumble upon one Canada’s largest Douglas firs, no doubt worth a considerable sum in the timber market. Cronin, for reasons of his own, marked the tree with a ribbon that instructed the fallers to leave the tree standing, and that is just what they did. Everything around the tree was levelled and removed, leaving the now solitary fir alone in the cut block. Ironically, the tree was even used as a spar, as cable was wrapped around it in order to help haul other trees out of the cut block. Some time later, environmentalist T.J.Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance, an organization committed to preserving old growth forests in British Columbia, happened to find it while out searching for big trees in the valley.

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Chris on his way down to the tree
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This is one of British Columbia’s largest Douglas firs!
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Many centuries have passed since this fir was born!
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Chris and Big Lonely Doug

 

 

If ever there was an apt metaphor for the destruction of British Columbia’s ancient forests, that Douglas fir was a textbook example. A towering giant, set in a field of destruction, the tree would soon be given a name: Big Lonely Doug. It would gain tremendous popularity, embraced by Port Renfrew, which calls itself  “Tall Tree Capital of Canada”

 

The sheer scale of this Douglas Fir is something to behold. I had seen countless photos of it and closely followed its story, but as they say, seeing is believing! Chris had seen the tree before, but was no less impressed. I’m not at all surprised that author Harley Rustad was inspired to write a book about this tree!

 

 

 

Just looking at Big Lonely Doug and all the stumps in the clearcut, I could not help but imagine what has been lost in our forests. Time is definitely running out to save them! We spent the better part of an hour just taking it all in and working for the ideal photo opportunity.

 

 

 

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Highly recommended reading! (Image property of Walrus Books, House of Anansi Press, and Harley Rustad )

 

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The indelible mark of a wire rope cable on its trunk seemed sadly symbolic
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Chris and Big Lonely Doug

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It stands alone!

Before we headed homeward, we decided to make one more stop. It had been years since I had been to the San Juan Spruce, which was British Columbia’s largest Sitka Spruce up until several years ago, when a storm destroyed part of its upper canopy. I lamented the fact that I’d not taken photos of it back in 2003, as I didn’t have a camera with me at the time. It remains, nevertheless, still an inspiring tree, set as it is right beside the San Juan River, in the middle of a forest service campground!

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The San Juan Spruce
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The tree has suffered damage but remains spectacular!
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The nearby San Juan River
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A curious hollow in the main trunk
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This is where the damaged limbs came to rest
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There are several Bigleaf Maples nearby that have reached enormous size
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An amazing tree, well worth seeing

The drive home seemed somewhat faster than I expected, but then again all  things come to an end, relatively speaking. As we parted ways in Chemainus, I was already contemplating a return trip and some new explorations. You can never get enough of coastal British Columbia!

As I write this, the current state of preservation of old growth trees here on Vancouver Island is still of pressing concern. Already, very little ancient forest remains here, and neither the incumbent New Democratic Party, the current opposition B.C. Liberal Party, nor a plethora of logging companies have any desire to cease the destruction. Only British Columbia’s Green Party, part of the coalition government at this time, is supporting a moratorium on old growth logging. What is really needed here is a paradigm shift, for lack of a better phrase. The tired rhetoric of  seeing old growth forest as a decaying resource that might as well be harvested or it will lose value is simply an excuse for justifying environmental destruction. Why not consider change?

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Well, maybe one last look at Big Lonely Doug

 

************************ Author’s Note***********************

If you’re also interested in supporting the preservation of our forests here in British Columbia, consider investigating these sources and contributing, if you can, to the fine work they are doing:

A Walk in the Clouds, Mt Cokely in August

Mt Cokely sounded like an interesting destination. I had read about the trip on the Island Mountain Ramblers page several weeks before, and though at first it was fully booked, I managed to latch on when a few people cancelled. The plan, for our group of ten, was to ascend the Saddle Trail, scramble up to the ridge of Cokely, and then further on to the summit. On the return trip, we’d return to the ridge, find the Rosseau Trail, and return to the vehicles via that route. This would be my first visit to the Mt Arrowsmith Biosphere Region, and I was looking forward to the views!

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Arrowsmith massif from the Nanoose Bay area

The lightest of rains and low clouds followed us as we made our way from Nanaimo on the Island Highway toward Highway 4. By the time we passed through MacMillan Provincial Park (Cathedral Grove) and turned onto Summit Main, the rain had begun to fade. Next came more logging roads, as we followed Cameron Main and Pass Main to the trailhead high above, at roughly 1000m in elevation.

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Fog and mist welcome us to the trailhead. It had been raining that morning, and the evening before

The Saddle Trail proved to be a beautiful hike, as promised. It’s a fairly well used track that winds its way through a pleasant subalpine forest and the occasional bluff on its way to the col between Mt Arrowsmith and Mt Cokely.

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Karen leads John R and me as we work up through some bluffs. This section has ropes to help you out a little….Photo by John Y

 

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After about half an hour things began to dry out a little as Dustin, Holly, and Adrian emerged from the woods here
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Subalpine tundra

John Y., who was our trip leader for the day, had also brought along his dog Chica. She proved to be quite a talented scrambler, but I suspect she may just have been there for the food!

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Chica at home on the trail!

The rest of our group was rounded out by Karen, John R., Stephanie, Christin, Janine, Adrian, Holly, and Dustin. It helped that we all seemed to have good camaraderie, but after all, it’s hard not to have fun in places like these!

While rolling fog and low cloud obscured much of the views, it was still easy to see why the Saddle Trail is a popular hike. The final approach to the saddle was particularly scenic, with wildflowers lining the path and a creek cascading down to the valley below.

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View from the first lookout
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Fringed Grass of Parnassus. How do you like that for a wildflower name?
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John R and Karen getting closer to the saddle
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Campanula
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There’s Karen and John Y almost at the saddle! Would the sun make an appearance? Read on and find out!
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Thistle

It took us less than a couple of hours to make the saddle, where we regrouped and prepared to scramble up to the ridge. It turned out the rock was of reasonable quality with decent holds, but as we climbed the exposure would increase significantly. Due concentration was needed to choose the right line, especially during the last fifty metres of the climb. This was definitely my favourite part of the hike!

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The scramble begins, an easy Class 2 at this point…Photo by John Y

 

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The last Island Mountain Ramblers group got to see Jewel Lake but we weren’t as lucky…Photo credit Wikimedia
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Holly partway up on the climb, right where it begins to steepen considerably
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John R reaches the ridge, having taken care to climb a safer line because Chica was following him
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Adrian, Janine, and Christin arriving on the ridge

From the ridge, we traversed our way over to the summit block. That required another short section of scrambling which probably had the most exposure of all and one particularly tricky step you could certainly call the crux. That went very well as we made sure not to rush. Curiously, I took no photos on that part of the hike.

The summit was broad and inviting, and we stopped there for lunch near all the radio repeater equipment and hoped that the clouds might soon clear. Sure enough, after about ten minutes, some blue skies materialized and opened up some views. One could see down to the valley from where the CPR Trail to Mt Cokely made its ascent.

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Summit lunch break for all!
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Christin examining all the radio hardware on the summit
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It began to get brighter after about ten minutes 
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This is looking down into the McBey Creek Valley where the CPR Trail comes up to Cokely
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I liked the look of this!

In another twenty minutes or so, we began the walk back to the ridge, which involved down climbing that tricky section that slowed us down on the way up. It was at that time the clouds once again shifted and parts of Mt Arrowsmith made several brief appearances.

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John Y makes tracks on the way back to the ridge
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Mt Arrowsmith is lurking in the clouds
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Waiting to descend…Photo by John Y
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Stephanie looks on as the rolling fog exposes new views
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Adrian, Janine, and Christin finish the descent to the ridge 
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See you later, Arrowsmith!

Pretty soon everyone was together again and we began following the cairns along the ridge of Cokely that marked the Rosseau Trail. Save for one particular area where a short and sharp scramble connected two parts of the ridge, this was the easiest part of the hike, technically speaking. We simply followed the ridge until it neared its end and the trail began to descend into the forest below.

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Traversing the ridge on the Rosseau Route
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Cleft in the ridge and juniper
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Clouds still looming!

Next came a most unusual part of the route, where we meandered through a garden of stunted trees, some very ancient, along a near vertical cliff band. It made the trail seem  almost enchanted!

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Definitely a cool part of the trail!

A word of warning about the next part of the trail, because there is a spot where people have been tending to wander off route on the way down. You reach a point where the trail opens up to your left and it tends to draw hikers downward but in fact the actual route continues along the cliffs a bit longer. At one point, part of our group out front were making their way down this particular hillside, and the hikers toward the back of the pack heard a bit of a yell. I did not see what had happened from where I was. Holly, apparently, had stepped on a log then began a quick slide that ended with her tucking forward and then, briefly airborne, executing a perfect forward somersault before hitting the ground. Miraculously, even though there were plenty of sharp and nasty things she could have landed on, it turned she was just fine. We were all very happy that she was pretty much unharmed, saved by some good athletic instinct!

We actually carried on down that fateful slope for a few more minutes, before several of us finally concluded we had lost the trail, so the rest of us climbed back to the last marker we’d seen. By the time I made it back up, half the group were already laughing a bit, having easily rediscovered the trail once again. According to previous club trip leaders, and a couple of hikers I spoke to on Mt Benson two days later, wandering off the track at this particular spot is nothing new on the Rosseau Trail. It might be worth doing a little trail work to remedy that problem.

With all that out of the way, we continued on the trail, which transitions into an easier walk through a venerable forest. It didn’t take much longer than an hour or so to reach the logging road again from there, and in another ten minutes we arrived back at the vehicles.

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Scaly Chanterelle, not an edible mushroom
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Yellow Coral

That marked the end of another successful Island Mountain Ramblers hike, and a really enjoyable day out. Mt Cokely was well worth the time, and I can hardly wait to do this hike again!

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Elusive Pacific Yew

Picture the scene. You’re hunting the forests of the Pacific Northwest in search of record giants. On a hillside you can see the outline of a massive trunk in the distance. Is it a Western Red Cedar? Douglas fir? Whatever the answer is, you’re determined to find out! You struggle up the steep slope, and suddenly that tree disappears quickly, as though it had been an apparition. Why? Because now you’re going to have to scramble over some fallen timber and around a sharp cliff face before you can see it again. You press on, momentarily cursing the obstructions, and grab onto a nearby limb to pull yourself upward. Oddly, you observe, the tree you’re holding onto also has needles growing out of the trunk, and its bark is a beautifully understated hue of reddish brown, and then you look upward…and realize the tree in question is a very sizeable Pacific Yew!

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The ever present Pacific Yew, often inconspicuous and not as large as its forest companions, but highly unique

That, so often, is typical of how one happens upon a yew in the forest. It grows inconspicuously, its base preferring the shaded understory beneath the towering trees above. Meanwhile, its upper branches reach higher into the forest canopy, gathering more sunlight for growth. Quite often you’ll see one from afar and assume it’s either dead, or deciduous, as frequently there is little foliage on the lower extremities of an older specimen. The overwhelming notion, though, is that you seem to stumble upon them, as though they are hidden in plain sight!

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Introducing “The Elk”, one very interesting Pacific Yew. The tree is very opportunistic and is often noted for its unusual shapes

While they aren’t frequent topics of discussion among tree hunters, they are nevertheless highly significant forest dwellers. Their flaking bark is frequently home to mosses that give refuge to flora, and their trunks, which are usually  hollow, are often home to Douglas Squirrels and other small rodents. At higher elevations, the tree grows closer to the ground and seems to have more limbs. Quite often, when you walk a mountain trail at elevations up to 800m, you’ll inadvertently grab a piece of one to assist you upward!

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Closeup of yew tree

The giants of the species are not exceptionally large when compared to their forest companions. The largest one in British Columbia, for example, is just 0.91m in diameter at breast height, fairly modest in comparison to, say, that 14 foot wide cedar that may be growing nearby!  It has a consistent habit of rotting from the inside out, making it difficult to determine its precise age, but I’ve managed to find several that are at least 300 years old. It also boasts wood that is exceptionally hard, which can dull  a chainsaw chain after a single cut, or so I’ve been told.

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Any time you find a yew around two to three feet wide you have yourself a very old tree
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Doug with an amazing Pacific Yew, in North Vancouver’s Hydraulic Creek

I’ve grown fond of these underrated denizens of the rainforest over the years. The next time you walk through an ancient forest, take a closer look around. You might soon find yourself looking at a beautiful Pacific Yew, and once you do, you’ll be seeing the forest for ALL the trees!

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The noble Pacific Yew

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.

 

Eden Grove, an Endangered Paradise

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Gordon River Valley

They nicknamed it Eden Grove, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, which, in theological lore, was intended to be the paradise where mankind had its hopeful beginnings. Some years ago, Ken Wu and TJ Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) happened upon this spectacular grove of trees in the heart of Vancouver Island’s Gordon River Valley, not far from Port Renfrew. As the raven flies, it is located on Edinburgh Mountain, just minutes from the iconic Big Lonely Doug, the now legendary Douglas Fir which has only recently been designated for protection by the Government of British Columbia. Eden Grove (not  an official name) falls within the traditional lands of the Pacheedaht First Nation. It is about thirty hectares of prime valley bottom ancient forest. Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar are the showcase species, including one cedar that’s well over twelve feet in diameter! Many of the specimens there are likely 500 to 1000 years in age, but forests as rich in biodiversity as Eden Grove can take up to twice that long to fully evolve.

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Especially for the uninitiated, there’s nothing like wandering an ancient forest. One can immediately tell it has been centuries in the making!

Recently, I had the opportunity to tour this grove with local adventure guide and tree enthusiast Duncan Morrison. A resident of Sooke, just east of Port Renfrew, he’s quite knowledgeable about the area and keenly interested in saving its ancient forests. We met in Lake Cowichan and drove out to the coast from there, with the clearcuts visible from the now paved Harris Creek Main a sombre reminder of past forest management decisions. I had been looking forward to visiting these trees since earlier this year, when I visited Avatar Grove and Big Lonely Doug in March. We arrived in late morning on a warm summer day in August, and it was something of a relief when we dropped into the cool shade of Eden Grove.

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The first tree to greet you in the forest is this beautiful Douglas Fir, which is very close to 8 1/2 feet in diameter and certainly over 500 years in age!
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This trillium will live on again to bloom next spring

The rough route through the grove was actually well trodden in places, a surprise to me, as I had thought it a relative secret. We met a number of like minded people enjoying their opportunity to travel back in time, as it were, while sunshine filtered through the canopy above.

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It took just a minute or two to reach one of Eden Grove’s largest cedars, which measures a healthy 39 feet around! I could hear the calls of many birds there, though we saw very few. The mosquitoes and flies, though, were another story, as they found us right away!

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Duncan with one of the finest cedars in the grove. This tree, likely over 600 years old, is nearly 39 feet in circumference and has a diameter of about 12 feet!

It is not just the trees here that are at stake. Among other species, these lands are also known to provide homes for cougars, black bears, Roosevelt elk, marbled murrelets, Queen Charlotte goshawks, and Northern red legged frogs. Watch this video that the Ancient Forest Alliance put together, it really emphasizes just how crucial habitat like this is to wildlife. You can also read about a most interesting tree climb that took place in Eden Grove back in 2016, when the AFA teamed up with expert tree climbers Matthew Beatty of the Arboreal Collective and Damien Carré of Expedition Old Growth to ascend a giant Douglas Fir in the endangered forest.

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As the AFA’s camera recorded, the grove is sometimes home to black bears, so be mindful of proper behaviour if you encounter one there. Make sure that you leave no trace, and give all animals plenty of space when you see them
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Witches Brooms, as you see here, are caused by stress that is brought on by pests or disease.  Mites, aphids, and nematodes, fungi, viruses, and bacterial organisms are among the many causes . Mistletoe is the most common culprit where western hemlocks are concerned.
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In an old growth forest, there is magic around every corner
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Thuja Plicata, the Western Red Cedar
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Savouring the forest vibes    Photo by Duncan Morrison

Fifteen minutes into our hike brought us to the marking for the planned logging road into the grove. It looked as though it would lead into Eden Grove from the general direction of the clearcut that’s home to Big Lonely Doug. Much as I’d like to say it was hard to imagine a road there, it was not, as I’ve seen it happen many times in other places.

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The potential road bed

There are times when I photograph a forest that I have to make a concerted effort to show its beauty, and then there are the times when it comes easily. On this excursion, it definitely was the latter, as Eden Grove delivered in every way. Walk with me, I’ll let the images speak for themselves, with a few captions…

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Moss covered branches and the morning light
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Duncan hanging out with another ancient cedar
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Straight and true, this spire is one of the many cedars in Eden Grove which exceed eight feet in diameter

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Chicken of the Woods
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The radiance of light
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Shadows and burls

We meandered on, toward one of the more interesting sights in the forest. There are two ancient cedars that stand together, in more ways than one! For now at least, the larger of the two steadfastly supports the other, which leans to the right at a considerable angle. Duncan took to calling them The Arch.

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But first, a moment of meditation
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The Arch
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Pillars of The Arch at ground level
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It’s quite a configuration

The understory is diverse and alive with greenery. There are more than a few fallen giants now providing their nutrients to the forest as they decay, completing their own circles of life. These downed trees also provide shelter for small animals, amphibians, and insects.

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Life is vibrant on the forest floor

Eventually you swing gradually to the right and follow the top of an embankment, which is where the cut block boundary has been marked. The hillside beneath is packed with ferns, but above them all, there are a few more unexpected delights.

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Lush green hillside cloaked in ferns!

A most peculiar cedar with a radically twisted trunk is sure to get your attention. I have taken to calling it “The Corkscrew Cedar”.

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The Corkscrew Cedar

The magic continued, more than enough to keep two enthusiastic tree hunters more than busy. Duncan knew the route was soon to end, so we took a break for a few minutes for a bite to eat and discussed what to do next. He was hoping to go for a quick swim in a nearby creek, while I was preoccupied with bushwhacking to a cedar we had spotted across a steep ravine!

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Cannot get enough of this place!

During our brief stop, we were looking straight at what I am calling the Boundary Cedar, which sits right along that line of falling boundary tape. I suspect it to be in the nine foot diameter range but we did not measure it.

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Note that the tree has actually been blazed and painted
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The falling boundary tape

As anyone who has read the Old Testament might know, not everything went well in the Garden of Eden, and B.C.’s forests, metaphorically, have also been forever changed by those tempted by avarice. Recently there has been heated discussion about preserving the remaining old growth forests in the province of British Columbia, but the oldest of habits die hard. Logging company Teal Jones, which holds the timber license for Eden Grove, has even made a recent announcement that they are closing all of their mills that process second growth timber on Vancouver Island. Their intent, in the future, is to exclusively log profitable stands of ancient forest, and that has the clock ticking loudly toward the destruction of Eden Grove. Indeed, they have already begun logging in several other sections of the valley, and it may not be long before the grove becomes yet another clearcut!

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Duncan stands with the Boundary Cedar.

Roughly ten yards from our lunch spot, we located the largest tree in the grove, which I’ll call the Eden Giant. It’s quite a sight, at nearly 40 feet in circumference and close to 13 feet at its widest diameter! It would not surprise me if it were well over 800 years old!

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The biggest tree in the grove is nearly 40 feet in circumference and quite close to 13 feet diameter on its widest face. You can’t replace nearly ten centuries of growth. Let’s save it instead for future generations! Photo by Duncan Morrison
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The Eden Giant
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It was an honour for me to see this tree in person!
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The bark of the Eden Giant

Having seen much of what the forest had to offer, we finally decided to hike back to the logging road. I also took a few, errrr, maybe a lot more more pictures! The end of the route is well enough marked, so that you know where to turn around.

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Early afternoon light fills Eden Grove
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A last look at the Eden Giant
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The burled base of the Corkscrew Cedar
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I am still trying to figure out how this tree grew in such a twisted fashion!

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Revisiting The Arch
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The forest as it was meant to be seen. Our thanks to the Ancient Forest Alliance for bringing attention to Eden Grove!
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The magic of the afternoon light in the forest

On the way into the grove, as I mentioned earlier, we had sighted a cedar that was on the opposite side of a dry creek bed that I just had to see! Getting to it involved clambering over some fairly precarious ground. Duncan, having recently had knee surgery, wisely chose to wait for me as I made my way to it. At first I thought that it was dead, but closer inspection revealed that it is still clinging to life, with just one strong limb still growing.

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I haven’t come up with a definitive name for this tree yet!
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This shot shows the delineation between dead wood and live tree
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I loved how the burl above has created a little planter for hemlock seedlings!
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Reaching skyward!
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Enchanted?
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I would estimate this tree to be about 11 feet in diameter. It might be 600 years old but I do not believe it will survive too much longer

I was glad to have made the detour across the ravine, but just as stoked to be back on the easier ground again! It was around this time we ran into a couple of hikers and chatted about these trees. It’s always encouraging to meet like minded people!

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The straight and true trunk of that second largest tree in the grove. I thought to call it Adam but maybe that doesn’t quite fit with no Eve nearby to keep it company
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Cedar reaching for the sun!
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Another look at the Douglas Fir near the logging road, such an impressive tree!
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Did you know that the bark of ancient firs has been known to grow as thick as one foot? That’s a lot of protection against the elements!

When we got back to the road, Duncan headed off to enjoy that refreshing swim he’d been thinking about, while I got sidetracked photographing the unnamed creek nearby. Maybe it should be called Eden Creek! There’s even a small waterfall nearby but I took no picture of it as a number of people were swimming there. Seems like Duncan wasn’t the only one thinking about cooling off that day!

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The creek below the falls
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Beautiful light!
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The rock was beautifully polished

The British Columbia New Democratic Party (BCNDP) campaigned on a promise to review and increase the protection of our fast shrinking ecological treasures, but in reality, their policy has been “business as usual”. All they have done to date is to designate a mere 54 significant trees for preservation, many of which were never expected to be logged. Unfortunately, while Forest Minister Doug Donaldson and Premier John Horgan refuse to implement a moratorium on old growth logging, the timber companies are, if anything, stepping up their activities. It is as though they have decided,  that now is the time to escalate their efforts, rather than decrease them. Coastal temperate rainforests have been under attack for over a century now, and the crisis has risen well past the point of no return. Additionally, government policies and some of their definitions have only served to confuse the facts and end up distorting the truth. They have included countless stands of relatively unproductive timber in their inventory of remaining old growth forests in British Columbia, perhaps in order to inflate that number.

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The reality is that valley bottom stands of ancient forest are disappearing as fast as they can be cut, at a rate of roughly 34 football fields per day in British Columbia alone! On Vancouver Island, almost 94% of the valley bottom ancient forest has already been cut. We hear the government say that they know, as do the timber companies, that logging these forests is the best way to manage the resource. But is this true? Let’s consider the numbers. Cutting down an old growth forest certainly does bring revenue and jobs, but it also removes a highly desired income source from the eco tourism industry. Much of the planet is becoming very conscious of nature. People want to see the ancient forests, the wild, storm blasted coastal beaches, and the roaring waterfalls! Port Renfrew, once exclusively a logging town, has already seen that writing on the wall. Its business sector has realized the value of the natural world, which they well know can only bring added value to their community. They are even billing the town as ” Tall Tree Capital of Canada”. Studies have shown that the sustainable value from ecotourism far exceeds that of a one time clearcut even if subsequent second growth harvest is factored in. That does not even take into account that many timber companies cut and ship raw logs to foreign countries for cash. When that happens, jobs are actually lost, not created, and in B.C. that questionable practice has gone on for decades!

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The nearby Big Lonely Doug and his clearcut companions. Can you see the people at right in this image?

So what is the ideal solution?  Harley Rustad, the author of Big Lonely Doug, has previously suggested that Big Lonely Doug and Eden Grove be designated as a provincial park (story here). What an excellent idea! Honestly, I’d like to see ALL of Edinburgh Mountain’s remaining old growth be saved from the chainsaws, but we do need to start somewhere!

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A compelling tale, highly recommended reading!     ( Image is the property of Walrus Books, House of Anansi Press and Harley Rustad)

There are precedents for similar commitments in our province already, such as Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area, which opened in 2016 as our newest provincial park. I made a recent visit there myself and I was thoroughly impressed! It’s important to note, however, that 25% of its forest was logged before it attained protected status, so now, as then, time is of the essence.

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Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area was designated a provincial park in 2016

Canada ought to become a world leader in conservation, and saving our ancient forests would be an excellent step on that road to future success. Logging companies persist in spreading the notion that forests are a renewable resource, and that in a few decades the trees will grow again. Yes, it’s true, they will grow, and the forest will regenerate to some extent, but places such as Eden Grove will actually take many centuries to resemble what they are today! Considering climate change, that process, in fact, could take even longer, or it may no longer be possible. We have plenty of second growth and less productive older forests that could be cut instead, so it’s about time the logging industry changed its business model. Eden Grove should remain as it was intended to be, a paradise that only nature could have created.

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*******

Human intervention has already changed Edinburgh Mountain forever, but there is still time to save what remains of this unique place. I ask that once you have read this story,  please share it widely to garner public attention. Feel free to send it to your local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in British Columbia, and/or  your Member of Parliament (MP) in Canada. Most importantly, share your concerns, along with the story, with Doug Donaldson,  who is the B.C. Minister of Forests, and John Horgan, the premier of B.C. (both pictured below).

You can also share this story with friends, conservation organizations, media outlets, newspapers, and any other sources that may help to spread the word worldwide. If you do share the story, please do so respectfully, as a constructive discussion needs to take place in order to further this cause.

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Let’s ensure that future generations can enjoy Eden Grove in its natural state. Take a step, and get involved! The future of places like this depend on the efforts of many people!   Photo by Duncan Morrison

I’ll leave you with a video that Duncan sent to me that was made in Eden Grove by some friends of his, I hope you enjoy the musical interlude!

 

*******Author’s Notes*******

*While the Ancient Forest Alliance and other organizations have campaigned for the protection of Eden Grove, neither the BCNDP nor Teal Jones have yet responded positively.  Edinburgh Mountain’s ancient forests truly need to be preserved for our future generations! Consider supporting the AFA’s tireless work to save old growth forests in British Columbia in this campaign, and in others, by clicking here   

*Though he still remains in an advisory capacity, Ken Wu has since left the AFA in September of 2018 and now heads up the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance

 

 

 

 

Hosers, Flowers, and Castle Towers

Doug’s Ford Explorer rolled slowly to a stop. It was an ideal summer morning back in 2009, and there was plenty of excitement in the air. We were finally going to climb Castle Towers Mountain! The plan was simple: We would hike along the ridge lines below Helm Peak after leaving the trail, then work our  way to Gentian Pass. From there, we would push on to set up camp on Polemonium Ridge and find our way to the summit the following day. You may have heard that this part of British Columbia is overcrowded and a bit too popular for your liking. While sometimes that is undeniably true, likely even more so today, I think this story might just change your mind a little. If you’ve ever had any doubt that spending a couple of days hiking in Garibaldi Provincial Park is a good idea, then be prepared to dismiss those worries!

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Castle Towers at 2676m in elevation, is one of the more beautiful summits in the Garibaldi Ranges. It can be seen from Garibaldi Lake on a clear day

With full packs, the grunt up the Helm Creek Trail took plenty of effort, but we were still elated to be there. Doug had put a lot of planning into this trek, and now it was time to put our boots to the trail. It seemed a relatively short couple of hours for us to make it up to the Helm Creek campsite, and some overnight campers were still lingering there as we arrived at Helm Meadows. The momentary envy we felt for the coffee they had was all but extinguished when I told Doug I’d packed some beer along for the walk!

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The beautiful ancient forest on the Helm Creek Trail
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Western Red Cedar
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Rugged Helm Creek greets the morning sunshine

If by now you’re wondering about the catchy title to this story, well, here’s an explanation of sorts. So, exactly what is a hoser? See the actual definition below, but the word has come to mean any typical Canadian in many circles, and it’s also a nickname that got attached to the two of us by friends years ago. The flowers and Castle Towers? I’ll let the photos answer that question!

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Hosers? You decide

To elaborate, I offer the following:

Hoser: (n) Canadian hockey derogatory term that is similar to the American “idiot” or “loser”. It is derived from the pre-Zamboni days in hockey, where the losing team would be stuck with hosing down the ice after the game. It was popularized again by the characters Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis played on the SCTV comedy show of the late 1970s and 1980s.

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They even made an album! Copyright SCTV, using only to explain genre, eh!

 

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Lupines in bloom, Helm Meadows

The next phase of the operation was to circumvent the Helm Glacier so that we could arrive at the col above Gentian Pass. To do that, we climbed steeply toward  Helm Peak and simply meandered along the ridge some 250 metres below its summit. The clouds and sunshine put on a real show for us as we walked, and although the weather looked unsettled it ended up clearing just as we had hoped. The views, at least, were a welcome distraction, as the slope we had chosen to hike up was steep and lined with heather.

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Helm Peak, notorious for its crumbling rock and exposure, especially near the summit!

 

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Pyroclastic Peak and Mt Cayley on the distant Squamish Cheakamus Divide

Spectacular views of Gentian Peak, Black Tusk, and many of the peaks of the Garibaldi Ranges made their appearance one by one. Though we were beginning to feel the heat of the day and the weight of our carry, it hardly seemed to matter. Gazing at all of the lakes, with their varied shades of blue and green, I could not have imagined a better place to be on a summer day.

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Cinder Cone, one of the many volcanic features in the valley
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Gentian Peak and Panorama Ridge behind Helm Glacier, Mt Price at centre
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Panorama Ridge
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Black Tusk
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The Garibaldi massif behind Gentian Peak, with Helm Glacier in the foreground
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One cold looking swimming pool!
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Guard Peak and Garibaldi

Once we reached the col, we virtually stopped in our tracks. There it was, Castle Towers! The very first time I had hiked to Garibaldi Lake I had been drawn to this high, glaciated, triple summited tower, and now we were getting a closer look. After a brief diversion examining a weather station there, we continued on.

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Castle Towers is an imposing sight!
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Weather station
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Gentian Peak, Garibaldi behind

It is here on this climb that you get an idea of the punishment you’ll endure on the return, because at that point you drop at least 250 metres in elevation to reach Gentian Pass. As per mountain terminology it isn’t strictly a pass so much as it is the Gentian – Polemonium Col, I suppose, but the name seems to have stuck. It took us another three quarters of an hour to reach the short expanse of meadow below, with its fine views of Castle Towers and the nearby Spearhead Range. By then we were in no mood for the up and coming hike up to Polemonium that was to follow, so we decided it was dinner time.

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Dropping down into Gentian Pass
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Local marmot offers greeting
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We weren’t looking forward to this climb on the way home

Doug broke out the stove and cooked up tasty dinner of rice and chicken with Indian spices, which was so good at the time I can still recall it a decade later! Meanwhile, I iced down some beers in a creek nearby and broke out some Snickers bars for dessert. After we ate and drank, we took ourselves a short nap, which really helped Doug as he hadn’t been feeling that well the week before the trip. Still, it was only with great reluctance that we shouldered our packs again and made for the ridge above. It seemed like every step took a minute, but eventually we reached our destination.

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Dinner is served!

Polemonium Ridge was a revelation! It was a broad plain of multiple levels, and featured endless vistas of the surrounding peaks. Though I don’t remember saying much at the time, I do recall being very thankful to be there! For lodging, we had brought two lightweight bivouac shelters that were braced with our hiking poles, and of course sleeping bags. We placed camp in a carefully located position, in case the winds kicked up, then set to exploring the ridge for a spell. Garibaldi Lake loomed below us, no doubt buzzing with campers, but from our perch we heard only faint summer breezes and the calls of nearby marmots. This was a real mountaineer’s camp, complete with some aging remnants left on a previous expedition or two. I even found an old pair of aviator sunglasses that date back to the 1970s which I still have today!

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Sardines, anyone?
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Polemonium Ridge
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Gentian Peak looks very different from Polemonium Ridge
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Garibaldi and Guard Peak from camp

 

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Camp on the ridge!

The sunset was a grand show, as the alpenglow danced across the nearby peaks and a fiery orange glow hung over the Tantalus Range and the Squamish Cheakamus Divide. We spent the time letting all of that sink in and talking about trips past and future, and the fact we were then out of beer! Shortly after the sundown, we turned in, wanting to take advantage of the cooler morning conditions as we knew we’d be climbing in the shadows. Sleep came easily, it had been a long day!

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Garibaldi and The Table
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Garibaldi Lake
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Sunset over Tricouni Peak

I awoke early, as I always do in the mountains, having never been one to lie in a few extra hours when there’s a sunrise to see. I found myself thinking about my father, who had passed away the previous November. He had a lot to do with teaching me about the joys of early rising, being of the belief that it was particularly sublime to be awake while most of your corner of the world was ensconced in slumber. I will always think of him in the wee hours of the morning.

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Sunrise
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Castle Towers and its namesake glacier
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First light
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The Table is a tuya, which is a volcano formed under thick layers of glacial ice
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Good morning, Castle Towers
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Getting ready to leave camp

Breakfast came next, then we cached some of our gear which we’d pick up on the descent. No sense carrying too much weight, right? Cool morning air accompanied us as we climbed further up the ridge and searched for the gully that would give us passage to the west flank of Castle Towers. It turned out that it wasn’t too difficult to locate, the crux being all of the loose rock that we had to contend with. We were well distracted by the views of the hulking mass of the Garibaldi massif and it’s volcanically created lake in the valley below.

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The loose gully you descend off the summit of Polemonium Ridge
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Looking toward the route up to the west summit
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Garibaldi!
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The land of ice and snow!

Pretty soon our objective stood before us, and next we scaled yet another pile of randomly placed rock to bring us to the foot of a snowfield. According to our information, the snow here was supposedly in decent shape for kicking steps, so we’d opted not to bring crampons and ice axes with us. Big mistake! Doug, with his sturdier footwear, was able to lead successfully up the steep pitch to make it just barely possible for us to cross the snow. I followed behind, trying to very carefully place my steps. Since there was some exposure, this took us some time, but in time we made it up intact. Lesson learned? A serious mountaineer brings ALL the necessary gear, and that way if you need it you have it with you!

All that was left to do was to finish the climb to the west summit, where we could examine the rest of the route. That consisted of  a fairly large boulder field, which never gave the feeling of walking on secure and solid ground. Nearly every rock moved regardless of its size, and that made for one very nervous ascent, but we just kept on moving until we arrived at the top.

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Ascending the loose boulder field
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A most spectacular view! Keep scrolling, you’ll see it again in a moment
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Our blurry entry in the west summit logbook

The west summit of Castle Towers is a spectacular vantage point. Not only could we see Garibaldi across the valley, but many of the more rarely ascended peaks in the park, such as The Sphinx, Isosceles, The Bookworms, Phyllis Engine, and many more. We could even see the Tantalus Range and could make the distant peaks of the Squamish Elaho Divide. Mt Price and Garibaldi Lake stood out in especially sharp relief, and seemed close enough to reach out and touch, as did the Castle Towers Glacier!

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Mt Price and Tantalus Range behind Polemonium Ridge and Garibaldi Lake

This was a day on which I was going strongly, but I could soon see that Doug was now grinding out every step. It turned out that he was dealing with a case of vertigo which was disturbing his sense of balance, despite his determination. When we finally reached the cairn of the west summit, it was time to reevaluate our situation. Doug decided it would be best if he rested for a while, while I finished the task and made my way to the central and true summit. While that looked relatively straightforward, my concern for his well being prevented me from doing that. Had I met with an accident, I could not have been sure he was going to be alright on his own, and since we were in a very isolated location,  I opted to stand down. While I felt was the right decision, it wasn’t necessarily an easy one, but whatever disappointment we felt soon faded away as we focused on the incredible views!

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Phyllis Engine, Mt Carr and more. Sky Pilot flowers growing in the foreground
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Garibaldi from the boulder field
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Castle Towers Glacier

We savoured the moment as best we could, as soon we’d be on the clock again, and heading homeward. We’d need to pick up the rest of our gear that we’d left at camp on Polemonium Ridge as well, and were expecting a long walk back to the parking lot! For a minute or two, we could hear nothing but the wind whistling through the vents in our helmets. I love that sound!

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Phyllis Engine and Mt Carr again, plus more rarely explored territory!
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Mt Price and Garibaldi Lake. The Burton Hut is right near the lakeshore but not visible here

Feeling somewhat fresher than before, we now backtracked down the boulder field, with all the more caution. It may have been even more unnerving on the descent, as even car sized boulders shifted underfoot. I remember laughing uneasily, referring to it all as “geologically recent”, mostly because it was!

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On the boulder field!
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Wedge Mountain zoom

When we reached the hardened snowfield for the second time, I had even come up with the idea of using a sharp rock to improve the steps, but the sun had shifted, serving to slightly soften the snows. It turned out nature had helped us out somewhat, and we were soon back on the endless rubble that would lead us back to the now familiar gully, then up to Polemonium Ridge beyond. It wasn’t quite as easy to climb as when we’d descended it, mostly because we kept finding rocks to dislodge, but thankfully it was a short, sharp, section of suffrage.

Our loads would get a little heavier, and as we retrieved our gear and stopped for another snack on the ridge, Garibaldi Lake shimmered below in the distance. It was at that moment we joked about calling for a helicopter ride home, but part of earning your keep in the mountains means you’ve got to do that walk back to the truck!

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I still miss this campsite, a decade later!
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Gentian Peak

As we left Polemonium Ridge behind, we turned to stare once again at Castle Towers. Would we try again for the summit? I knew I definitely wanted to. We still have not. It was one of the most ruggedly beautiful places I’ve seen in the Coast Mountains, not far as flies the crow from civilization, but it may as well have been a thousand miles from the closest human. It’s that very feeling of isolation that fuels my love of the mountains, and most of these words are but faint praise when comparing them to being there in the moment.

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See you later, my friend

Next, however, came the drop into Gentian Pass, steep as it was, followed by the climb back up to those ridges above the Helm Glacier. We were trudging along so slowly at one point that I’m sure I recall some of the resident marmots mocking us! Despite their imaginary taunts, we soon found ourselves overlooking the Helm Glacier and its sprawling valley below. Turning one last time to Castle Towers, with a quick nod of respect, we were off yet again. It would be over an hour before we reached the well groomed trail at the Helm Creek campsite, and several more before we made it to the parking lot. It was Doug who rebounded strongly toward the finish line, as I began to fade, as much mentally exhausted as anything.

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Spearhead Range
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Rugged territory in Gentian Pass
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Polemonium Ridge from Gentian Pass

The hike back was something of a blur, so I’m glad I took plenty of photographs. All I really recall was that it was dark when we finally finished the trek! Here are some more looks, in no particular order, at this wonderfully scenic place.

Author’s Note: I must have been tired and delirious because I forgot that just before we reached the parking lot we stopped to retrieve some very cold Heinekens Doug had stashed from a nearby creek. Doug actually checked the GPS track he had and found a waypoint called Beer Creek. It makes me happy to know we weren’t deprived of refreshments after all that walking!

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Black Tusk in all its glory!
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Summit block of Black Tusk
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Wide open spaces
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Panorama Ridge
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We really enjoyed all the colourful lakes and tarns!

 

As popular as Garibaldi Park has become over the years, there is still land in the park that is as isolated as it is difficult to reach. Castle Towers Mountain is, in spirit at least, the gateway to this wilderness, so don’t pass up the opportunity to experience it. The harder you work, the greater the rewards!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area

 

When discussion turns to the great remaining stands of ancient Western Red Cedar, most people are referring to the trees found on the western coasts of British Columbia and Washington. Even among those interested in hunting down those fast disappearing giants, precious little attention is paid to the few surviving rainforests of British Columbia’s interior. If you have never been to one of these rare and beautiful sanctuaries, then this story might just pique your interest!

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Inland temperate rainforest is becoming increasingly hard to find in British Columbia

High in the upper Fraser River Valley, about 110 kms southeast of Prince George and 93 kms northwest of McBride is a surprising grove of trees just off Highway 16, near the outpost of Dome Creek. Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area ,close to Sugarbowl Grizzly Den Provincial Park and Protected Area, is also host to a most unusual climate. Here, all of the right conditions have combined to create something truly magical. You see, this cedar and hemlock forest has somehow managed to exist without any natural disturbance, including a complete lack of fires, for at least a thousand years. It has the added distinction of being further from an ocean than any of this planet’s other inland temperate rainforests.

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A giant reaches for the misty sky

The quest for the conservation of these trees was a determined one. It was a University of Northern British Columbia graduate student named Dave Radies who first brought wider attention to this incredible place. The forest had already been been marked and surveyed for logging at that time. This story, thankfully, was to have a different ending! After consistent lobbying and a barrage of media publicity, the provincial government agreed not only to preserve the trees, but to designate the land as a provincial park! Thanks to the efforts of the Caledonia Ramblers, an extremely dedicated local hiking club, trails were built, and later interpretive signs were posted so that future generations could appreciate these cedars for years to come. Substantial parking space was also created to accommodate the expected increase in visitors. Cooperation between local First Nations and British Columbia finally led to the official opening of Ancient Forest/ Chun T’oh Whudjut Provincial Park and Protected Area in 2016.

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This sign welcomes visitors
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Every inch of this forest serves its ideal purpose

There are a variety of hiking choices in the park. You can choose a boardwalk section that is wheelchair accessible that can be seen in half an hour, the forty five minute Big Tree Loop, a sixty minute trek to Tree Beard Falls, the ninety minute Ancient Forest Loop, and even a 15 km hike along the more rugged Driscoll Ridge Trail, whose western trailhead is  five kilometres west of the park on Highway 16. Not having an entire day to work with, I experienced a good combination of all but the last option! I took a great deal of photographs, and have arranged them, for once, in no particular order. Should you ever visit this park, I think you’d enjoy the opportunity to discover it yourself, as I did!

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Sunshine and splendour near the Driscoll Ridge Trailhead
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The sound of running water was a constant companion, and yes, so were the mosquitoes!

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I can only ponder what it must have been like for First Nations people to discover this woodland paradise. Everything about it seems as venerable as it is verdant. The understory is alive with mosses, lichens, ferns, and many other plants. Rising above the forest floor are tall groves of spiny Devil’s Club, always a challenge to the forest explorer, and a look skyward reveals not only the spiked tops of the ancient cedars, but also their ever present coastal companions, the Western Hemlocks. This forest, being inland, is subject to winters that are colder and lengthier than seen on the coast, thus growing seasons are shorter and trees take longer to reach larger girth. Other than the man made structures that have been constructed to preserve the fertile and fragile ground, not much has changed here in the last twenty centuries or so!

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Beautiful scenes around every corner. This is forest as it’s meant to be!
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The base of Treebeard

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The largest tree in the grove reaches nearly sixteen feet in diameter and is well over a millennium old!
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Wondrous biodiversity!

Wildlife in the area is considerably varied. At lower elevation, black bear and deer are commonly sighted, as are moose. Above the forest, high on the Driscoll Ridge Trail, you’ll find Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine Fir growing, where grizzly bears, mountain caribou, and even wolverines can sometimes be sighted.

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Black bear sightings are common in the area. They are generally peaceful, but be sure to take all the normal precautions should you encounter one

When I hear logging companies talking about trees like these, they speak in terms that confound me, focusing only on harvesting them for cash value before they reach the end of their lives. What they fail to understand is that aging trees, and those that fall to the ground, are the life blood of the ecosystem, allowing for maximum biodiversity and wildlife habitat. That is why what little remains of apex old growth forest needs to be preserved, not cut down! Surely there is room in our resource based society to at least protect the finest of old growth stands that still remain. If not, they will exist only as posts and beams in some grand architectural design, or worse, be shipped off as raw logs to some foreign land to be processed.

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Many of the trees still display paint from when the cut block was surveyed. It’s an important reminder that other forests are not so lucky

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Every once in a while, a superb place like this gets discovered and then preserved in its intact state. While most would agree that it doesn’t happen often enough, at least when it does, I believe it sets an inspirational example of what we should be striving for as a society. We need to preserve nature in its intended state and save its very best for all, instead of destroying it for our own purposes. That’s a vision that I know that I can embrace.

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These forests deserve to be celebrated and respected
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I hope you enjoy seeing this forest as much as I did!