Category Archives: Exploration

Tree hunting, charting, and mapping trails

A Tale of Two Olympic Champions

It was the spring of 2012 in Oregon, and as we rolled northward on Highway 101 heading for the Washington Coast, there was a touch of excitement in the air. It had been over a decade since we had last visited, yet the smell of salt air, tall trees, and the sound of crashing waves remained fresh in my mind. This story, if you’re wondering by now, is not about two great athletes, as the title might suggest. It’s all about two champion trees in Olympic National Park. Ultimately, our destination was Kalaloch Beach, where we would be camping, but along the way I had plans to see the Quinault Lake Cedar.

53678725_2783370845041070_5271672125017554944_n
Spring sunset on the Washington Coast

It was, I knew, the largest known Western Red Cedar on the planet, and already well over a thousand years old. Having spent so much of my time in the forests of the Pacific Northwest hunting old growth trees, I knew that I needed to see this giant! It was said that its hollow inner chamber was large enough to hold several adult human beings, and that the tree measured over nineteen feet in diameter! When we arrived at Quinault Lake, I regretted not having more time, as the area has many more forest trails that I would hope to hike someday. One such trail leads to one of the world’s largest Sitka Spruces in the world, the Quinault Spruce.

53405381_2783370888374399_3310613679984082944_n
This sign has since been taken down and the trail is not being used anymore, but there is also a very large Douglas Fir right across from the trailhead

We arrived at the trailhead in early afternoon, and there was just one other car parked there, with Oregon license plates. As it turned out, I met a very nice older couple who had a farm down on the Oregon Coast once I got to the tree, so there were some people to share the experience with. The Quinault Cedar was a mere ten minute walk to reach, and I won’t soon forget the absolute awe that it inspired! While it wasn’t an ideal day for photography, I nevertheless enjoyed my time with this veteran of over ten centuries. I could just imagine the stories it could tell, and thought of the times in which it had lived.

54225890_2783371168374371_282496642056192000_n
How’s this for a first impression? I had never seen a cedar that was over nineteen feet wide, at the time

I will often contemplate historical contexts when it comes to the age of trees, just for perspective, so I looked up but a few events of the year 1012, when it may have been born. Here are but a few of them, to accompany some more images of this venerable tree:

In the spring of 1012, King AEthelred (The Unready) resumes the payment of Danegeld, 48,000 lbs of silver, in an attempt to buy off the Viking raiders so that they did not ravage his lands. I’m not sure whether that had anything to do with his nickname.

53347681_2783371195041035_6516420455614644224_n
The trunks of ancient Western Red Cedars are a delight. Each one is ever fascinating
53278932_2783371135041041_2393226176140148736_n
A closer look at the trunk

In Ireland, Mael Morda mac Murchada leads a rebellion against High King Brian Boru, but it ends in defeat in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf.

54191385_2783370971707724_3085663638279684096_n
The expansive hollow chamber of the Quinault Lake Cedar
54353517_2783371241707697_4067171761152589824_n
A little attempt at HDR just to show some more detail on the upper crown

All of this preceded the Magna Carta in 1215, by over 200 years, so much has happened in this world since then!

54519210_2783371348374353_7977517606150078464_n
The top of this aging giant is showing the signs of extreme decline in this photo
53604364_2783371285041026_5592299070115807232_n
It actually took some time to walk around this tree, so impressive was its girth!

But I digress, this was 2012, and the culmination of many years of scheming to get a chance to see the Quinault Lake Cedar had finally been satisfied, for me. I happily walked back down to the truck, chatting with the fellow from Oregon while his wife hurried on ahead.  He told me he had decided to leave America during the years George Bush had been president and that he had moved to Canada, near where I lived, before moving back again in 2008. He spoke so well of honour, peace and decency toward fellow men. I can only guess at how he might be feeling today, in 2019, because he stressed the importance of protecting public lands and wild places from industrial exploitation. We can never forget the value of natural wonders!

One of the reasons I like to travel is the opportunity to meet people from different places. I would know that man from Oregon in an instant if I met him again, yet ironically I never asked him his name!

 

53403608_2783371295041025_5470928590025523200_n
Nowhere but in nature could you find something as marvellous as this!

53340280_2783370918374396_8561482048571703296_n

Soon we were moving on, bound for Kalaloch once again, where we arrived by late afternoon. My wife and I had first visited the campground back in 1988, on our very first road trip to the Pacific Coast. Having grown up in eastern Canada, I had never before seen the roaring surf of the open ocean before. I was instantly hooked! The wind blasted canopies of Sitka Spruce and twisting, spike topped cedars instantly captivated me.

53473670_2783371591707662_9123176643181936640_n
Coastal Sitka Spruce forest is a revelation, with all the windblown and twisting spires
53514217_2783371878374300_7821684196807540736_n
I took a photo of this nearby camper to show the scale of this forest. The only thing missing is the wind and the sound of breaking surf!

I also knew that not far from camp was the venerable Kalaloch Cedar, among the most improbable trees in the world, and naturally I planned to pay it another visit the following morning. For now, though, it was time to enjoy some beach walking, cold beer, campfire, and an inspiring sunset. It had been an especially fulfilling day. Here are some memorable visions of Kalaloch, one of my favourite beaches!

53405279_2783371478374340_7038732253114925056_n
Sitting here and enjoying a few samples from Oregon’s fine Rogue Brewery just made this better!
53549400_2783371535041001_7784312062867406848_n
Sitka Spruce, Picea Sitchensis
53806413_2783371721707649_331176995389964288_n
If you’re ever on Kalaloch Beach, this character, known as The Root Tree, is a popular sight. Coastal rains and root expansion in these soils have exposed its roots. This Sitka Spruce has been this way for at least the thirty years I have known it!
53482331_2783371751707646_2422192694009790464_n
You can see that the process shown in my previous shot has repeated itself over the years

The sunsets at Kalaloch deserve a chapter of their own! Just sitting on one of the numerous driftwood logs and pondering worlds far away is one of the very best parts of a camping trip. As they say, sharing is caring, so here are a few looks before the sun disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.

53576368_2783371701707651_6524908208639705088_n

53705908_2783371851707636_5459721907953729536_n

53468123_2783371831707638_1740380130557034496_n

I woke early the next day, choosing to sit quietly outside listening to the birds and the waves while drinking my coffee. To me, those moments of quietude are the ones I live for, and it’s always as though the world makes more sense when everyone else is still sleeping! Soon the sun would begin to rise above the forest, bringing with it the mist that accompanies so many coastal mornings. After breakfast, the Kalaloch Cedar awaited us!

53507058_2783371621707659_1388805721298042880_n
Well, maybe just one more look. Coffee is good, but coffee with Kalaloch is just that much better!

Visiting this tree had become a rite of passage for my family. Beside our introduction in 1988, we had stopped in to see it again in 1999 when our kids were young. This time it felt just like seeing an old friend. Though it had lost a sizeable limb or two since the last time I was there, much of its grandeur remained well preserved. In its prime, one could have argued that this tree had widest diameter of any other cedar, but its many broken topped leaders showed the struggles of coastal winds. In terms of volume, it ranked in the top ten known Western Red Cedars and for 22 years it was the world champion!

53366425_2783372058374282_4638603600673636352_n
The former world champion Kalaloch Cedar, one of the gnarliest trees ever!
54400018_2783371968374291_4668136414276222976_n
The opposite side of the tree, which also supports a number of Western Hemlocks!
53536651_2783372028374285_7672706903889149952_n
An old friend. There aren’t too many people I have known for over three decades!
53293140_2783372011707620_3470201303060185088_n
Such an improbable sight, this thousand year old monarch!

I was as overjoyed as ever to see the Kalaloch Cedar on that day, but I had no idea it would be the last time I would see it intact. In March of 2014, it would finally succumb to a powerful storm. Much of its trunk fell away and only part of it remains upright, and it’s a matter of time before its demise is complete. Hearing this was sad, but it’s part of the cycle of life in the forest. Its massive trunk will now decay and return nutrients to the earth, giving rise to new growth.  This excellent video by Exotic Hikes shows you the aftermath of the tree’s untimely destruction.

Just over two years later in the summer of 2016, a similar fate would befall the Quinault Lake Cedar. It too split apart in inclement weather and much of its bulk now rests on the forest floor, approaching the end of its days.

 

53545887_2783371401707681_6063955486456152064_n
The end of an era for perhaps the greatest cedar of them all!

It marked the end of an era for the world champion, now ceding its title to Vancouver Island’s Cheewhat Lake Cedar, itself an amazing natural creation! Here are some looks at that tree, still strong and incredibly healthy!

8131916289_b891f45792_k
The Cheewhat Lake Cedar

8131898229_947313c96a_z

Though these trees may have lost their lustre, their legends still live on. I am certain that there is a strong chance there are even larger and older cedars hiding in the wilds of Olympic National Park, or perhaps Vancouver Island. For many of us, the dream of discovery, and the magic created by these denizens of the coastal rainforest will always be worth protecting. May they stand forever tall!

 

 

Advertisements

Living on the Edge: The Forgotten Forest, Part Four

Late in May of 2007, Chris and I decided it was high time to explore the Wickenden Creek Valley above the 400 m elevation. While we were uncertain as to what route to forge, we ended up figuring we’d just fly by the seat of our pants and just choose a random direction. Is that because the very nature of tree hunting is that you allow instincts to guide you? Well, not really, that’s just how we roll! Here’s how that day played out, well over a decade ago now.

Instead of enduring the rude awakening of fording the icy waters of Lynn Creek at the Third Debris Chute, we decided to walk the Headwaters Trail and visit one of my favourite trees first. Located not far off the path (to Norvan Falls) at roughly 4.7kms, this ancient Western Red Cedar carries with it a very illustrious tale. If ever you take the time to visit, you’ll know just what I mean! For more on that topic, just read The Story of The Survivor .

53373608_2777586248952863_6443324149505982464_n
Chris meets The Survivor, an ancient cedar that through unusual circumstances still survives today!
52970868_2777586278952860_8815788715730272256_n
This tree is the subject of one my more unusual stories!

After saying hello to my old friend The Survivor, all we needed to do was bushwhack down to the east bank of Lynn Creek, where I now knew we would be able to cross over a massive fallen fir to the other side. We carefully picked our way through a field of Devil’s Club, aka Oplopanax Horridus, a well known spiny hazard for all would be tree hunters. If you see it, do not touch it!

53280724_2777586142286207_5316928869725372416_n
The thorns of Devil’s Club can break off and stay in you for weeks, sometimes causing inflammation

This is a truly picturesque part of Lynn Creek Valley, with its wide, rocky banks and sweeping mountain views. I remember thinking at the time how fortunate I was to experience places like this so very close to home, and so close to the sprawling metropolis of Greater Vancouver!

53303530_2777586452286176_9076835805778935808_n
Looking southwest to Mt Fromme, a much more dramatic looking peak when seen from upper Lynn Creek
53274841_2777586505619504_307183895030267904_n
There’s the log crossing, which was originally marked in 1985 and is still there today. Doug and I had stumbled upon it earlier in 2007

The log crossing once again proved reliable, but it was the last time we had the opportunity to use it in ideal conditions. It was incorporated as part of a rough trail blazed by the North Shore Hikers in 1985, yet mysteriously, in 2009, when I saw it next, it had been deliberately stripped of all its bark and some of its branching, making it much more dangerous to cross. I have yet to learn exactly how or why that happened, but in any event I am not unwilling to ford Lynn Creek when conditions are right.

Now safely across Lynn Creek, Chris and I kicked up an eroded bank then worked our way southwest into the Wickenden Creek Valley. Fortune was shining upon us that day, as the sun emerged from the clouds and the day became comfortably warm. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves among the giants again. Lower Wickenden Creek has an ambience that is increasingly hard to find in southwestern British Columbia, with its towering cedars and firs that are centuries old!

53410228_2777596252285196_8332839309950320640_n
Thuja Plicata, the Western Red Cedar
53050717_2777587185619436_7718400047339012096_n
I call this tree Split Personality. You can see that half of it has decayed and fallen away, yet the other half somehow continues to thrive!
53584747_2777586918952796_5311724400154771456_n
Walking the broad bench in lower Wickenden Creek
52951195_2777595372285284_7430340245813460992_n
Just seeing this has me wishing I were there right now!
53110874_2777586738952814_841924292798054400_n
Western Red Cedars are never lacking originality. No two are ever the same

The crown jewel of Wickenden Creek is a massive cedar that measures over 14 1/2 feet in diameter and has likely lived over seven centuries, though I’m uncertain as to its exact age. Chris had discovered it the year before, I believe, on one of his forays into the area, while Doug and I had found it just weeks before, in April of 2007. Here are a few images  of this inspiring tree!

53362533_2777587032286118_5631593171856130048_n
Chris calls this tree “The Wall of Wood”. I think that’s a pretty good name for it!
53111080_2777587168952771_4492732982154493952_n
Even sixty feet up it still might be nine feet in diameter, and it enjoys very robust health.
53020255_2777587025619452_8754622596114284544_n
A very impressive tree!

 

53648556_2777595348951953_5997072593570496512_n
There is a certain art to measuring a tree!

It seemed like a perfect time for us to take a bit of a respite at that point. We’d both started the day off relatively tired, and what better place could there be to relax for a while! Sandwiches were eaten and tales of recent adventures were shared, with the usual smattering of Simpsons imitations mixed in.

the-simpsons-sofa-cast_a-G-13438529-0
Yeah, we do a lot of these voices. Some very well, some not so much! (Photo credit: Fox TV: The Simpsons)

Writing this chapter today, I realize it’s been almost seven years since my last visit to this valley. So many places, so little time, I guess, but the memories brought to life by these photographs are as vivid as ever! It is a place I most certainly had hoped to return to sooner than later.

53093763_2777586932286128_2292673570037301248_n
Lunch time!

Once satisfied, it was time to get back to the plan, which essentially was to cover some ground we had not before. Choosing to follow a line in a westerly direction, we stayed for a time on the north bank of the creek. Travel was not too difficult, and we were surprised to find some fair sized Douglas firs as we pressed onward and upward.

 

53043608_2777595478951940_4146004335387475968_n
The Twins, as I called them, hiding at the base of a steep slope that would soon have us hiking up the creek bed instead
53026261_2777595332285288_379746499912794112_n
Straight and true, one can see why mature Douglas fir has been so targeted for harvest by loggers
53468105_2777586882286133_5274232526821392384_n
The largest of the firs were about seven feet in diameter, in well protected locations, which bodes well for their future!
53111082_2777586798952808_5342899390208016384_n
Chris has been so many places that despite an excellent memory he insists on keeping notes

The next thing we knew we were up against a near vertical slope that had little to offer the avid tree hunter, so the decision was made to take to the creek bed in order to progress further up the steep sided valley. Not only would the hiking be easier, but we also made an interesting discovery. Right beside the creek was a snag standing forlornly, not an untypical sight, until we saw what lay at its feet across the waterway. It was the remainder of what may have been the lower valley’s largest tree. The massive trunk had died, broken away, and crashed to the rocks below leaving only the snag standing. I am still convinced it might have been over 16 feet wide if standing intact, but it had degraded considerably so it was hard to be certain, as it might have fallen the century before!

53293147_2777595488951939_8120681480444706816_n
It may not look like much now, but it must have been quite something in its day!

We clambered further and higher, still hiking up the creek bed as a means of travel. I knew that at roughly 400m in elevation there was a broad clearing where we could make a clearer decision on where to walk next. It was something of a relief to hop some rocks for a while and take a break from the bushwhacking. In just another twenty minutes, we arrived at the point of reckoning.

53419713_2777595465618608_6383304979431555072_n
Hmm, what are we looking at here?

At first it looked incongruous, to say the least . To our right were sheer cliffs and the south face of Wickenden Peak, and to the left, somewhat less steep slopes with the bleached broken tops of  ancient cedars visible above us. There was also a gully heavily jammed with dirty looking snow to contend with. There had been an avalanche here, in what winter travellers often call a terrain trap, or shooting gallery. On top of many rocks was a loose layer of gravel as well, indicative of recent slide activity.

53043126_2777595568951931_7098357007752626176_n
To move straight and west up the valley would have been easier, but we needed to swing left and southward to gain a steep basin above us.
53183575_2777595592285262_116600721339580416_n
Mick: “Uhh, what was that, Chris?” Chris: “I said, what the hell is this?” Mick :”Hey! Hey!” (insert Krusty the Clown laughter)

With a sheer stroke of genius, read, blindly choosing a random line, I suggested a way onto the spine above. Chris agreed, wryly commenting that we might as well try it before we started thinking too hard. It turned out that it worked, but not before we wondered if it would!

53365791_2777595678951920_5831522903052517376_n
I remember thinking every time the two of us hike together we end up climbing snow free slopes where I wish I’d brought my ice axe. This was one of them!
53570518_2777595602285261_4301909217280786432_n
And here comes Chris. You can’t hear the curse words, but I still can!
53243756_2777595708951917_3548629561958727680_n
It’s been a while, but I wish I could remember what he was saying here, lol, because I know it was funny!

I wasn’t quite right, as it turned out. Rather than having attained the spine proper, we were now on one side of a narrow, concave basin and would have to cross it to get to where we wanted to be. This meant some ugly bashing through disheveled alder and salmonberry brush, but we sure as heck would not be retreating whence we came without a rope! This we did as patiently as we could, now within sight of the big trees again. It was remarkable how resourceful nature can be, that so many cedars had managed to grow so well there. I do not believe another human being has been there before or since, but I’ve been wrong about that before. Numerous specimens were between six and ten feet in diameter, and considering the tenuous growing conditions, many had to have been five centuries old!

53423677_2777596108951877_1638869497639075840_n
Old growth cedars atop the steep southern spine of Wickenden Creek
53260575_2777595988951889_7244967159510597632_n
Wickenden Creek continued to surprise us!
53071324_2777595715618583_5302581956674846720_n
This cedar was poised on the edge of a very sharp drop, as I recall

There were a considerable number of fallen trees to negotiate and and some very unstable ground, but we didn’t mind taking our time as we took in the sights. It soon became apparent that we were walled in on the south side, so we’d have to head east, which would eventually find us back where we began the route at Lynn Creek. Just as we began hiking downhill, we discovered yet another giant cedar. It was at least twelve feet wide, and just so I could get a photo for scale Chris had to wedge himself into the hillside!

53723666_2777596095618545_5216746227810435072_n
One of my favourite tree hunting photos!

Following a new line back to our starting point produced many new finds, as we steadily lost elevation from our high point of about 550 metres. The weather not only held, but even improved a little as the day went on. Here are a few sights and scenes, as they were encountered.

53668517_2777587325619422_8550667436884492288_n
Yet another 400 year old cedar!
53452039_2777596125618542_1196190551334977536_n
Pillars

53660872_2777586542286167_4826154179560996864_n

53060155_2777586498952838_2588363149035962368_n

The lower reaches of Wickenden Creek have numerous cedars in excess of eight feet in diameter, and as we walked down we would basically sight one and by the time we staggered to it we could then see another! It was a very rewarding day, to be sure!

53161747_2777596405618514_1595067011677814784_n

53274768_2777595968951891_8970998697684893696_n

53472668_2777595818951906_5696557782023536640_n
Occasional glimpses of The Needles across Lynn Creek Valley also kept us amused as we neared the valley bottom.
53797683_2777596418951846_6119012371575865344_n
This fine specimen was found below 300m, just minutes from Lynn Creek

In about half an hour we reached the banks of Lynn Creek once again, but one more challenge remained. It turned out we were well south of the log crossing, and because we didn’t feel like bushwhacking upstream, we decided to try and hop across on rocks instead. That started out pretty well, but it wasn’t long before we ended up getting wet anyway and having a few laughs. While the waters were frigid, at least the temperatures outside were pretty warm!

53226738_2777596525618502_5807229966730919936_n
The art of fording. This is the ideal method…
53057944_2777596562285165_6791511770893647872_n
…and of course, this is what you often end up having to do! Here Chris demonstrates how it’s done

Once we’d taken some time to dry out we simply walked downstream and hiked back to the Headwaters Trail via the old North Shore Hikers Trail that still remains on the east bank of Lynn Creek. We enjoyed a few more sights and scenes.

53121297_2777586305619524_5895846072739168256_n

53476509_2777596605618494_5508775906262384640_n
Does anyone know exactly what this is?

53352588_2777596692285152_8108641432983568384_n

It had been a real adventure, and my only regret is taking a dozen years to share this tale. If truth be told, I had misplaced the photos for about five years. The Wickenden Creek Valley is truly one of the last great stands of old growth forest close to Vancouver, but if you do choose to explore it, be prepared for anything and everything. The last thing you want is to find yourself “Living on the Edge”!

The Story of The Survivor

27958991119_6f94955617_z
The Survivor makes a powerful first impression. It’s one of the more unique trees that I have known

In a cool, quiet, forest glade in the North Shore Mountains sits a most venerable tree. Surrounded by a healthy stand of Pacific Silver Fir, this Western Red Cedar makes a daunting first impression. As you approach it from the south, the first thing you notice is the gaping wedge that has been cut from the trunk that almost resembles a mouth, of sorts. The many burls and aged trunk bely its centuries of growth, and its top thrives brilliantly, likely well into a seventh century of growth. Countless folk cruise within 40 metres of it it unwittingly every day without noticing it, on their way to Norvan Falls and points beyond. I call this tree The Survivor, and its narrative is well worth sharing.

39737612681_ccc596981d_z
The surrounding forest is perfect for silver firs and cedars alike, with a few western hemlocks sprinkled in.
39737844011_2e828d1df1_z-2
The upper trunk of tree has enjoyed excellent health, even growing an extra top over the last century
39737828941_f322b9027d_z-3
Even since the first time I saw this tree its top has grown somewhat and has changed in height. It’s quite normal for cedars to have multiple tops and go on living for hundreds of years
38839491785_69e95c6d28_z
Holes in trees like these once held the springboards of the loggers that felled them.

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

38839656685_f5c03d4c03_z
This shot illustrates the way the cedar has compensated for weakness on one side of the trunk by overgrowing a massive root on the right side
25865939338_18fa3e1365_z
You can see here, on the opposite side from the wedge, where the loggers began to work with the crosscut saw. Note how they were working above a difficult burl as well

 

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

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

39706627932_13fa22e12d_z-2
Nearby, this is the stump from which the tree that killed the loggers fell tragically
24868426067_c21132f675_z
After the accident the other tree came to rest near The Survivor, and it remains there until this day

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

lost-japanese-logging-camp-in-north-vancouver-backcountry-commemorated-4
Japanese logging camp photo from southwestern British Columbia. Men like these and their families were responsible for most of the hard work in harvesting stands of old growth cedar. They were, and are, an integral part of our history… photo from North Vancouver Archives
24868257367_30b55db17a_z
This place always feels powerful to me; I am always conscious of a certain energy when in the presence of this tree

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

41322 copy
April 2005. Rich, me, and the dogs crossing the Third Debris Chute, where the Cedar Mills Trail ends and joins the Headwaters Trail…. Photo by Jim H
41316
You get to meet my dog Amigo, at least in a photo. He’s been gone a couple of years now, and I miss him a lot…..Photo by Jim H
41317 copy
Jim’s dog Midnite. She’s gone now too but is remembered as an indomitable trail partner. One year she hiked the Lynn peak Trail over 50 times!……Photo by Jim H

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

41346 copy
This collection, minus a theft or two, still resides on that log. When you see this, begin looking forward, down, and to your left to locate the tree!

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

41327 copy
Rich tries to climb into the wedge as I look on…..Photo by Jim H

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

41395 copy
Snidely Whiplash

Easter Island statue

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

41328 copy
Rich and I again, with Amigo, below the crosscut mark…..Photo by Jim H

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

41334 copy
Norvan Falls, as we saw it that day….Photo by Jim H
41344 copy
Lynn Creek on a wintery day!

That trip some 13 years doesn’t seem all that long ago, and I have revisited the tree more than a few times since then. It’s like dropping in on an old friend who doesn’t get around much, but then it’s a tree, so… here are a few more photos I took this week.

38839442705_575d412d64_z
The tree above the crosscut mark, brilliantly green
39706476092_abd3e3b098_z
Looking up the trunk from the wedge cut!
27959073099_7b48da3353_z
A closer look at one of the many burls that give the tree such character
24868269877_6aefe01902_z
The forest floor nearby
38839591225_e7e3f7c83b_z
Pacific Silver Fir, also known as Amabilis Fir
24868325807_74ea84ebaa_z
It certainly does have personality!

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

39706366662_0a815afaea_z
Seven centuries and counting!
11025819_358470841027986_67969241196204572_n
On a sunnier day!

 

39737680581_387c52cb4f_z
Until next time…

How Callaghan Made Our Day!

Mt Callaghan, a worthy destination in a scenic valley beside a beautiful lake. I’d been that way before, so why not again? As much as you plan a nice, easy trek on a well walked trail and a pleasant scramble to a summit with panoramic views followed by some tailgating and a refreshing swim in a lake, sometimes, you know, the mountain gods have other ideas.

21371352_2103047203073441_844896217825735142_n-1
Mt Callaghan, back in 2009 on a bluebird day

On Wednesday, Alan, Denis, Ted, and I met up in the pre morning darkness to head up Mt Callaghan. After a quick stop for breakfast in Squamish, it was off up the Callaghan Valley Road and then on to the Callaghan FSR for the trip up to Callaghan Lake, where the trail begins.

I should have known it wasn’t going to be an easy day. I once had a high school teacher named Callaghan who was a pretty tough guy that kind of helped straighten me out back in those days. We called him Dirty Harry! That was back when when discipline was, how do you say, a lot more rampant. On several occasions he threw me up against lockers, a blackboard, and he cured me of leaning back constantly on my chair by kicking it out from under me. Yes, those were the days…Am I rambling? Sorry, back on point…

bb0d52e0cbf7ecbb2c82a9f6a61aeefd--things-to-watch-lobby
Dirty Harry Callahan. That’s what we called my science teacher and what Denis was calling the mountain by the end of the day

Our first obstacle was the logging road. Instead of bringing the truck we took Al’s car which didn’t quite have high enough ground clearance. He did a masterful job of driving much of the road but we were stopped by a waterbar over six kilometres from Callaghan Lake. That meant over an hour walking on the road that we’d be repeating later. Dirty Harry had landed the first shot!

A21317686_732957396912660_7918484105717456758_n
The sun attempts to rise through the smoke from BC and Washington’s many wildfires this season. This was as bright as it would get all day

Between catching up with Alan, with whom I’d last climbed with in 2006, and the usual array of stories from Ted and Denis, the long hike on the road and then on the lengthy trail to Ring Lake went off without a hitch for the most part. The trails were reasonably well groomed and the scenery, though muted by the thick smoke, was as pleasant as I’d remembered.

21430543_732957693579297_1011661746311593645_n
Denis crosses the big bridge over Callaghan Creek
21430126_732957810245952_7713477362893444935_n
The creek, still running pretty briskly!
21369472_732960306912369_2257379020421839816_n
Some of the tarns were mighty dry. This is normally a very wet area
21369171_732959103579156_7731516940142232407_n
Pond near the Journeyman Lodge with some nice reflections

By the time we reached Journeyman Lodge we stopped for a quick break. It was locked up when we got there, obviously closed for the season.

21432774_732960286912371_6232138991150010824_n
Here’s a picture of the l….what the …? Photobombed by Blair yet again. This has happened to me more than a few times before
21369155_732960376912362_1721020535177594839_n
And here is the lodge, closed until the snows return

This valley is hemmed in by some formidable mountains, but none were visible save for faded outlines on a canvas of hazy skies. It would have been an exceptionally hot day without the cloud and smoke cover, which actually served to lower temperatures somewhat while raising the humidity. We hiked onward past Conflict Lake, where you begin to cross a broad meadow and the trail begins to climb.

21430418_732960413579025_5247168728395414156_n
The marshy shores of Conflict Lake
20170906_175906
Me, Denis, and Ted on the march through the f*****g meadows, as Ted put it. Photo by Alan

 

21369250_2103046706406824_1534588978292642836_n
This is Conflict Lake back in 2009. That’s Mt Callaghan in the background. On our trek we weren’t able to see it until we were right below its slopes
21463185_2103046863073475_727102720643160815_n-1
The mountain again, from the big subalpine meadow, in 2009. Much of the upper half of this view was invisible on our hike. Summit of the mountain is at centre in this shot

 

21462642_732960580245675_7919798226512283821_n
Nice view of the creek after you get past the big meadow. Quintessential Coast Mountain scene if you ask me

We pressed on past the meadow and up the ever steepening path at a pretty spirited pace, working our way up past the trail’s signature feature, a nifty wooden ladder that helps you up the slope after the creek crossing.

21433010_732960773578989_28221907510015417_n
Alan tackling the ladder

Once you’re up the ladder, the trail ramps up again as it works upward, heading for Ring Lake, but first you get to cross a boulder field that’s alive with the whistling of marmots. That was where we stopped for a break, and as soon as we did the hordes of insects found us again. There were plenty of bugs but not too many were biting us, luckily.

21369510_732960906912309_6777603147079901516_n
Spot the marmot!

We then crossed the boulder field and headed back into the woods again, finally working our way up into the bowl where Ring Lake resides. Normally, when you arrive there, it’s one of those Sound of Music moments as it’s really a spectacular place to hang out, but on this day it was hardly visible and the smoke cast an eerie orange glow. At the time that REM tune “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” was running through my head.

21462533_732969816911418_2284145719196044481_n
Ring Mountain and Ring Lake looking kind of sinister today
21430342_2103047173073444_2097768294268503347_n
Now here’s the glory of Ring Lake as Chris saw it here in this 2009 photo

Ring Mountain is a tuya, which is a volcano that repeatedly erupts under cover of thick sheets of glacial ice. When that ice melts the unusual looking volcano is revealed.

21369385_732961623578904_2648634442719726907_n
Alan making his way toward the ascent as we head up to tackle the slopes above
21463164_732965860245147_6595295677652968298_n
Conference before the climb, just to see if anyone has any different ideas on the route
21369644_732965763578490_7155346494437034815_n
Great water source, I refilled twice at this spot!

 

Once near the lake we began angling up toward the summit of Mt Callaghan, choosing to aim for a gap in the face at the top of a steep run of rock and heather. It was slow going and shifty ground. Alan led up through the gap, followed by Ted and myself, with Denis bringing up the rear. Right about at the time Ted was moving through the gap, I looked up and heard something clatter and a nasty rock half the size of a volleyball zinged past me at waist height from above about thirty feet to my left. Right away I shouted “Rock!” to Denis below, but he barely had a chance to react before it passed just ten feet to his left while he was looking in the opposite direction! He never even saw it! Too close for my liking. It threw a scare into me for a minute or two, and also at that point I was dealing with my first ever sore back on a climb. It didn’t persist too badly and so I resolved to pace myself a bit because my legs were feeling strong and so we then moved up to join Ted and Alan who were waiting at 2050m.

21371215_732966143578452_2121136401343839317_n
Denis battling up to 2050m. This was as far as he could make it on this day

 

Denis was also not having his best day. Sometimes when you’re not quite right the mountain finds you. Being the only one in our group who’d already climbed the peak, he just decided to walk back down to the lake and rest up while the rest of us went for the summit. We would have to go without his comedic stylings for a few hours but were sure he had made the right decision.

Before that, though, we took a bit of a respite and examined the route. Alan figured it made good sense to head up through a gap in the ridge in front of us to see if we could access the summit block from there and Ted agreed. That worked well, giving access to a cirque above, where we had a decision to make. Work up to the right on rock and snow to examine what was beyond or try a nastier looking mixed gully accessed by crossing some snow on the left? Right it would be, as Alan scouted above and reported it would go all the way to the summit block!

21462853_732960963578970_9208158714091303663_n
View of Powder Mountain across the lake in the smoke and haze
20170906_135513
Alan got this shot of Ted and I crossing the rock of reasonable quality below the summit block
21430441_732968903578176_3963214114562439853_n
Working our way up the mountain was a careful process. This was just below the summit block
21430273_732966373578429_923120729815376455_n
And there it is, the summit block, so close and yet so far, as they say
21314819_10159311001765344_4971212469927465238_n
Alan took this photo as he got to the summit. That is Ted in front as I am coming up behind
21462445_732966800245053_936978512527657816_n
Just below where I was when Alan took the previous photo I was at this spot when a big rock flipped over and crashed off one of my shins and into the other. I got cut up and bruised but all things considered I got lucky. This mountain was fighting back today!
20170906_143203
Alan’s shot of Ted “The Hammer” Oliver just metres below the summit!

Not too long after that we all made it to the top, where we were glad to stop and enjoy rock which was not moving! The summit crests right at the edge of what becomes the Pemberton Icefield. Even through the smoky sky the views were pretty inspiring! We were all stoked to have earned some time at the top of Mt Callaghan.

21557716_2103247233053438_746168493317889723_n
Ted and Alan happy to have made the top!
21317809_10159311085960344_7424328180849975095_n
Here are all of us on the summit, photo by Alan. One of the many subpeaks of Callaghan in behind

The next half hour was spent refueling and, for me, bandaging my cuts and stretching out my lats. While I did that Alan and Ted decided to climb a nearby pinnacle for a good photo opportunity or two. It had a simple and safe approach as the guys said but looked like quite the dramatic perch, with its head shaped like a howling wolf. I resolved to call it “Coyote Ugly” or “Bark at the Moon”. Ted also had a good name for it but I’ve forgotten what it was.

21369636_2103242799720548_1582508689076254811_n-1
Alan on the move up the pinnacle
21371108_2103243729720455_7131714187766321164_n
Tricky step at the top
21370895_2103243659720462_4847135304849626662_n
Alan atop the pinnacle, with the icefield at left
21430057_732966686911731_2439645359115548243_n
That subpeak that loomed behind us in our group shot looking somewhat ghostly
21314761_2103246916386803_6136025537546626176_n
Now Ted gives it a go and gives the thumbs up!
21430557_10159320168370344_556274923337973393_n
Here is a nice shot Alan got of me just after I took the shot of Ted

There was time to enjoy the summit, but not too much time, as the days are getting shorter and we did not want to be walking the trail with headlamps later on, so a few more shots for good measure and we were away!

21557606_732967963578270_2293244259158635284_n
Callaghan summit and its slightly shorter and hard to access tower, which nearly became the true summit after 3m of rock were lost off the main summit in a landslide some years ago
21432702_732966703578396_4515620979616498312_n
So, while Denis was unable to make the top today, it should be noted that when he climbed it with Jim Sedor in the 80s (?) it was actually 2412m high, not the present 2409m
21430250_732968420244891_8605337320443692273_n
Typical coast mountain summit rock, encrusted with good old black lichen. This could be anywhere in the range

The descent went reasonably well, save for us getting sharp rocks stuck in our shoes and encountering plenty more of the same moving rock. It took until around 430pm before we were back in the meadow below again.

21317856_10159311001705344_1715168299753564985_n-1
Alan’s shot of the pinnacle and icefield as he reached the summit earlier. I loved this view!
21371021_732968496911550_3615712880690170773_n
Rugged rock of Callaghan
20799229_732968900244843_2110084546138166027_n
On our way down, working our way down to the lake again!
21317787_732969886911411_8298184173391645216_n
Getting closer, but it’s slow going!
21371153_732969866911413_7227029477866000964_n
Returning to the creek for water again!

It was good to discover that Denis was feeling much better when we made it down, as now the race with daylight was on! It was going to be a long haul back to the car. But first a last look at Callaghan and a few words…

21369395_732970000244733_7984593733088981567_n
It’s still watching us, we better move on, lads!

A quote from the movie Dirty Harry, because some of you may know I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood’s films even if he does spend too much time talking to freaking chairs these days!

Dirty Harry: “Uh uh. I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

clint-eastwood-dirty-harry-make-my-day
“Go ahead, make my day.”

As we marched out along the trail, we concocted a scenario in which Alan would quickly roust us up a ride from someone camping at the lake so that we would not have to walk the logging road again. Well, for all his charms it was not to be. As he returned to us on the road we asked what happened and he replied “Arrghh, they told me to f**k off”, followed by “Nahh, there was nobody there!” and roars of laughter ensued. Somehow or other, mostly because I had not turned on my GPS right away on the walk up, we had duped ourselves into thinking it was only three kilometres to the car, not six plus.

No such luck on that score, so we walked the road as dusk fell quietly. On the stroll back we discussed some of the unusual phenomenons of modern day Japanese culture, courtesy of Ted, and a tale of young Nazis being forced to recover two million land mines off the beaches of Denmark, I think it was, as Denis described. Numerous times Ted, ever the fatalist, wondered whether the car had been stolen and how it wouldn’t be so bad walking to Whistler as long as the thieves left us all the beer! Geesh!  At about 845 pm we hooted and hollered joyously at the sight of Alan’s car and cracked open some Stellas as we celebrated the day!

But…all those ready to beer up please step forward…not so fast retreads! You see, there was still the matter of getting Al’s car off the logging road unscathed and since it was now pitch dark we decided to do that before having a few more beers. I rode up front with Al to scout, and Ted described his ride down the road here:

“Bumping down the pitch black Callaghan FSR, sitting on a cold cooler of beer in the open trunk to provide weight to get over cross ditches. Between sips and various profundities being pondered, I asked my friend [also in his seventies]” Is this really how we should be spending our doddering old age?” My response to that later was “Hell yes it is!”

Once the danger was cleared, a few more rounds were had, with the Nacho Cheese Jalopeno Doritos and Beef Jerky that Al had remembered to bring. The beer selection was diverse, and the jokes were flying left and right. If we know you at all or have even just heard of you, you probably got mentioned, but I’m sure it was in a good way!

I’ll let Alan sum up the apres slog best, as follows:

“TNT beer, Stella, Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee, Alexander Keiths, Bowen Island Lager. F**k we had a great selection too bad we couldn’t have swam in the lake and drank em all. The pitch black tailgate was time well spent though!”

When it was all said and done, Callaghan had made our day, and I guess we were kind of lucky too. Thanks for the day out, lads, highly entertaining as always!

Postscript: I couldn’t resist adding these last two shots. It’s one thing to drink beer in the dark, but it’s another to post about it online. Thanks Alan for these photos and the others I used in the story. Two photographers on a trip with these guys is a bonus!

20170906_214656
Shot of my cooler and its soon to be depleted contents!
20170906_213723
Not too often you see a pitch black tailgating shot, which Alan pulled off with the help of two headlamps

High Country for Old Men!

Maybe some of you have seen the movie No Country for Old Men? Well, uhhh, this is definitely not that. Not even close, really. I’m just hijacking and paraphrasing the catchy title of a fine film. Rather than a tale of intrigue over a battle for ill gotten gains, this, instead, is about a day out climbing in the Cascade Mountains of southwestern British Columbia.

63e6e00a379bb6a3ecd8648b3cde73b7
Good flick

High in the Eleven Mile Creek Valley lie a number of rugged peaks west of Manning Park and north of the Hope Slide. That slide, incidentally, in 1965, calved off the flanks of Johnson Peak and dammed a lake, causing a terrible loss of life and burying Highway 3 at the time. It is remembered as one of Canada’s notable natural disasters.

20108531_2056121751099320_8813229800559278774_n
Morning smoke from distant fires descends on the 11 Mile Creek Valley as our hike begins in earnest

But I digress. Mt Hatfield, at 2227m in elevation, sits in a high bowl not too far from Johnson Peak and nearby Mt Macleod. It is at the north end of Manson Ridge, with a commanding view of Mt Outram. The mountain was named for Penticton based conservationist Harley Hatfield, who contributed mightily to preserving the Skagit Valley. The principles for this excursion? Good mates Ted and Denis. It’s worth mentioning again that these guys have known each other since high school and have hiked together in six different decades so far, going strong into their seventies now! Who does that?

175820
My favourite picture of Ted and Denis (with mustache) taken some years ago near Joffre Lakes

 

At any rate, recently we had seen that our friend Simon had done a pair of hikes in the 11 Mile Creek Valley and had reported the new logging road was in decent condition. On that note, we decided to give it a go!

After picking up Ted in Vancouver at 530 am, soon we were sailing along Highway 1 toward Langley to meet up with Denis. As bad as traffic can get in B.C’s Lower Mainland, it’s never too difficult when you’re up early enough. Sometime around 730 am we arrived at the 8 Mile Creek turnoff, and then soon turned onto the 11 Mile Creek Road. This trek was nearly over before it began, however. After a few kilometres on the road, which requires high clearance 4X4 due to some very nasty waterbars, we ran into some boulders blocking the road. Right out of an episode of MacGyver, we ended up having to find ourselves a lengthy log and with the aid of that, rock wedges, and brute strength we managed to pry a four hundred pound rock off the road. We hadn’t exactly counted on that kind of workout to begin the day!

tumblr_inline_o234wynH9S1td0hds_540.png.cf
Old school MacGyver! Dude had better hair and plenty of brainpower to go with it. Trivia: His show was co produced by none other than The Fonz, Henry Winkler

 

With that nonsense out of the way, we set out again on the road, driving roughly another six kilometres to where we decided to park. Ted, who prides himself on negative banter in the old British climbing tradition, offered us some Haterade, as he likes to call it, for the walk up the logging road. He says it inceases bitterness up to 20%, and Ted knows bitter! As far as I know, there’s absolutely no truth to the rumour that he sleeps on a bed of nails, at least not as far as I know!

 

ArticleImageHandler.ashx
To understand Ted you need to read up on hard drinking, hard brawling, sarcastic English climbers, like the late Don Whillans, pictured here

Anyway, we were approximately four kilometres from Mt Hatfield as the crow flies according to my GPS, but our success hinged on finding the right creek valley to ascend. Well, Simon’s directions were quite accurate, but as it turned out I chose a creek about 1.5 kms west of where we needed to be. It was an excellent line of ascent had we been climbing neighbouring Mt Macleod, since it more or less led us right to the foot of its west ridge, which begins on beautiful granite. This meant that we would need to traverse over steep ground and sidehill for a while to gain the correct valley. Seeing as how there was no other alternative, on we went, because sometimes that’s  just the way it goes in the hills. We distracted ourselves with a lot of obscenities,  a few inane conspiracy theories, as well as keeping an eye out for marmots as their burrows were everywhere on the brushy mountainside.

20155989_2056122921099203_6087371415169428456_n
Arnica amidst slide alder. You take the good with the bad
20106734_2056122694432559_2214089814799610513_n
Lupines
20106710_2056122834432545_3101119074640658525_n
Taking a break from the punishment. That’s Johnson Peak in the background

Once we broke out into the open Mt Hatfield appeared in the distance. It was clear that we now needed to aim for the col that separated it from a high knoll on the adjacent ridge.  Somehow we managed to find ourselves in a sizable gully strewn with immense granite boulders. We chose to follow that upward on easier ground that led to a bench near Mt Macleod. A half an hour of meandering northeast and a brief encounter with a pika brought us to a broad meadow beneath our destination. I traced the path of a stream that braided its way toward us and eased downhill. Surely this was the creek Simon and Justin had followed here! Denis suggested we ought to try that out later on the descent. It seemed a good omen at that point that he spotted a marmot shuffling across the rock debris beneath the mountain.

20108304_2056130707765091_5899732253434011923_n
Mt Macleod is basically straight ahead as I look left from the gully to take this shot
20139627_2056132911098204_2000865980950986415_n
Much easier than side hilling low brush!
20139944_2056132357764926_751360475099298860_n
This gully turned out to be very friendly ground to walk
20106245_2056133171098178_8664351660529152301_n
A rare moment when the sunlight managed to break the haze
20155756_2056134257764736_7168459151877663543_n
The creek we would later follow on our descent
20229398_710594899148910_8649394348928956201_n
We are aiming for the saddle at centre right in this shot

 

I had first seen Mt Hatfield years ago on an attempt on Tulameen Mountain from the adjacent Sowaqua Creek drainage. Below here are some photos I took of the mountain from that neighbouring valley. It had looked much more dramatic than it appeared from our vantage point, as near vertical cliffs drop precipitously off its north side into the basin below that contains Kippan Lakes. The mountain’s first ascent- it was then simply called Peak 7200- happened back in 1956 and featured some twenty more kilometres of hard bushwhacking up from Highway 3. That was one long and punishing day I am sure!

20228473_712541768954223_4636728685648072742_n
Hatfield as you see it from the north, with the col we are aiming for at centre here. It’s a far more dramatic peak from the Sowaqua Creek side
20228502_712541992287534_2281818340529655052_n
Left to right, Outram, Manson and Hatfield from high across the valley to the north
20245369_712542138954186_6188522701072736576_n
A zoom on Kippan Lakes, which lie in the bowl beneath the cliffs of Mt Hatfield

Another half an hour brought us to the foot of the south ridge of Hatfield, where we geared up. It seems like we always end up carrying some gear strictly for pack weight, usually that’s snowshoes but in this case, for Ted and I, it was ice axes.

20108253_710594895815577_4132581172089563401_n
Arriving at the col we were aiming for, and seeing our first snow patch of the day

The ridge we were to scramble was rated a steady Class 3, and its start seemed obvious as those aforementioned cliffs were to our right, and thick krummholz barred the way on our left. Krummholz, by the way, meaning “bent wood” in German, refers to tightly growing stunted trees you find near the timber line. Said trees are quite effective in slowing down climbers, especially in the Cascade Mountains. They also cause random bursts of foul language!

20228794_710595915815475_9013291024760263808_n
Here it is, the south ridge of Hatfield. We begin on that dusty brown patch of dirt in the middle.

There seemed to be an intermittent path to follow as we worked our way upward, and we took our time negotiating a few exposed steps here where a fall would have been dangerous.

20106593_710596829148717_5671389395247693530_n
Hands on section along the ridge, exposure is to the right of Denis
20046861_710597232482010_7221659168249676215_n
Onward and upward
IMG_0457 copyB copy
Working toward the crux above

 

We then broke into something of a clearing below a rock face where the reported crux of this climb came into view. There was a loose gully to deal with and a narrow tree lined chimney that would give passage to the summit block above.

20156161_710597505815316_4641475599977185018_n
Since I didn’t take a photo of the crux on the way up, here’s Ted scrambling it on the way down

 

In my estimation, the exposed step below the crux I mentioned before was somewhat more difficult than this, but of course Simon and Justin were dealing with snow on their trek, which always changes the equation. We also encountered two spots where remaining snow overhung the Kippan Lakes Valley, and I recommend staying well back from the edge should you encounter those.

20106704_710598239148576_7853912968781641172_n
Looking down into the Kippan Lakes basin below!

From there it was easier strolling, and Ted took the lead as I scanned the horizons. The smoke from distant fires blanketed every valley as far as one could see, and its acrid smell hung faintly in the air despite the wind.

19756414_710598002481933_5931667098185706256_n
The summit horn is finally visible on the last 75m of ascent

Minutes later we were on the summit, with its crafty wooden sign, and broke for lunch. While we were there I opened up the summit register and made an entry, and read a few more. This year had quite a few more visitors, I guess because the road is so much more accessible.

20106557_710600079148392_4078685042614426308_n
Hammer meets Hatfield
20108361_710601882481545_8018294963103933429_n
Hatfield summit, 2227m according to Bivouac, 2217m according to my GPS
20228445_710601645814902_6431413470436558766_n
Recent summit log entries. Thanks for the directions, Simon!
20139987_710600369148363_1038335604976398712_n
Our summit entry
IMG_0447 copyA
Summit flower
20245803_711154552426278_9223322597092863293_n
Hanging out on Hatfield

On the summit, Ted was chiding me over twisting his grumbling into too much optimism, saying “You need to stop that positive stuff, I have a reputation to uphold.” I responded with “Okay, how’s this…we’re in a helluva lot of trouble here and I don’t like the way this is going. My name’s Ted and all I gotta say is now we’re f****d!” He really liked that, musing that those would be the perfect three words for his epitaph, whereas Denis figured his would  be “Hold my beer!” Not sure what mine would be, probably something like “We’re really having trouble getting through to this guy.”

Now it was time for us to head down, Denis was already giving me heck about spending more than the maximum twenty minutes on the summit, as per retread rules. I’m guessing that’s to maximize beer time back at the truck! The trip down to the col went reasonably well, save for me leading us through some more annoying brush and getting off route, but no major complications. Here’s a few photos from the scramble down…

20139819_711155345759532_5278831210289072983_n
Looking back at the summit and the smoky haze beyond
20229355_711155882426145_8570911621376469596_n
Such a great view from up here!
20106383_711154869092913_2338901412047541235_n
You can barely see Mt Outram through the haze
20246314_711155522426181_340762960791958259_n
A carpet of rock phlox
20139809_711155162426217_6879887749933205457_n
Ever present purple penstemon
20139659_711155239092876_29428265961333954_n
Roaming the ridge
13438874_710599475815119_978268771261327991_n
Closer view of the horn of Hatfield

 

From the col it was an easy walk down to the stream, where we replenished our water supply and moved down into the basin below. Had I been thinking straight, I’d have heeded Simon’s words about keeping the creek on climber’s right on the ascent, or climber’s left on the way down…but….

20155818_711156355759431_8128535504722225569_n
Water, giver of life
20228841_710594619148938_4265143679073073149_n
The creek and Mt Macleod, before the hike down

…what we ended up doing was coming down the opposite side, which presented plenty of route finding challenges and an eventual crossing to the other side below a canyon. I also had to contend with an annoying leg cramp for about half an hour but that seemed to improve as we got closer and closer to the beer below! It was quite steep for a spell until some relief came in the form of a nice flat subalpine meadow.

20108298_711156412426092_2975733050689227145_n
The meadow. We were back down at 1680m in elevation by now, but our work was far from done!

 

Unfortunately, before we could make it down we still had to negotiate that tricky canyon! Dense brush and spindly trees were the order of the day until we finally emerged on the logging road below. From there it was a couple of kilometres back to the truck after retrieving some beer from the creek. By then the stoke was about as high as it gets. This had been a fine day in the mountains!

Soon we were hanging out on the tailgate of Denis’ Toyota, sorting gear, and downing a few cold ones. In the ensuing discussion, we identified most of the world’s serious problems, and solved basically none of them, but of course the banter was priceless. Another Cascades classic in the book, as Denis said, and a helluva way to spend a Monday!

20108158_711156485759418_5945230629885995609_n
Tailgating!

 

 

 

The Heart of Wickenden: The Forgotten Forest, Part Three

The spring of 2007 was to feature a lot of sunny weather, so I was able to make several more forays into the wilderness west of Lynn Creek. The first trek, near the end of April, was with Doug. For a variety of reasons he’d been unable to join Chris and me on earlier jaunts so he was quite enthusiastic about getting a first hand look at what we’d discovered.

P4290006 copyA
Lynn Creek in morning

Once again, after walking the Cedar Mills Trail, it was a crossing of Lynn Creek at the Third Debris Chute that opened the adventure of the day. That was relatively benign…

P4290007 copy
Doug drying out after the crossing

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

P4290010 copyA

 

P4290011 copyA
Doug searching for a way across

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

P4290017 copy
The first finds came quickly
P4290018 copy
Another old cedar, roughly seven feet wide and three hundred years in age

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

Another hour passed, and in no time we arrived at the steep creek gully and began struggling upward on unstable ground. It wasn’t hard to see where we wanted to go, it just seemed like it took a long time to get there. Suddenly we found ourselves in an open clearing full of salmonberry thickets, a few in bloom with their bright pink flowers.Tall cedars lined both sides of the gorge, true survivors all.

P4290024 copy
Hummingbird Meadow
P4290023 copy
Another three metre cedar in the glade

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

Anna%27s_Hummingbird_b13-44-004_l copy
Anna’s Hummingbird, copyright Audubon Gallery

To this day I call this glade Kingdom of the Hummingbirds, as I’ve never seen so many of them in one place before or since. Some of the cedars nearby were up to nine feet in diameter, modest in size compared to some of our recent finds but still most likely well over four centuries old.

P4290029 copyA
Trees in this location have survived living on very exposed ground below an avalanche/ rockslide runout
P4290030 copyA
Spiky topped cedars!

P4290028 copy

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

P4290025 copy
When I measured these trees, the total diameter was well over eighteen feet. I call them The Wonder Twins. The tree at left could be over 600 years old, whereas the one at right is more likely a couple of hundred years younger. Appearances can be deceiving!

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

P4290033 copy
Sunshine and spires
P4290031 copy
A 500 year old cedar, half shattered, lurking in the shadows
P4290035 copy
A relatively young giant, already three metres in diameter but perhaps only about 400 years in age
P4290019 copy
Doug  meets another big cedar

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

P4290040 copy
The Triplets
P4290042 copy
Wickenden Creek at last! A couple of weeks later I would explore a bit of its upper canyon with Chris
P4290050 copy
Cool, clear waters

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

P4290054 copy
Wickenden Creek’s lower reaches

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

P4290057 copy

P4290060 copy

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

P4290059 copy
Here is Doug doing his turn of the 20th century pose with the Wickenden Giant. Back in the day, portraits were to be stoic in character, I understand
IMG_1878 copy
Here I am struggling to get a measurement on the tree. Doug is on the other side, having walked around it to hand me the reel. It took him a while to get around the whole tree!

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

P4290067 copy
Sunlit forest
P4290074 copy
Doug enjoys a fine view of The Needles

… and the, well, not so pleasant ones…

P4290063 copy
Any forensic experts out there?
P4290062 copy
My guess was deer, but I’m not sure about that

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

P4290109 copy
Just a little bit of bushwhacking, with The Needles standing guard in the background

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

And then I saw it! At first I thought I was imagining things, but there it was, in pain sight! What we saw was that a huge Douglas fir had fallen across the creek, creating the perfect natural bridge!

P4290092 copy
It’s like it was custom made
IMG_1926 copy 2
If only everything was this easy!
P4290095 copy
The creek crossing

It turned out that not only was the log there, but that it was marked as part of the old trail, which meant it had been there for almost thirty years. When I returned in 2010, however, someone had stripped the log of bark, oddly enough, so now it is somewhat scarier to cross. The entire area is quite scenic, offering fine views of the surrounding mountains and  it seems as though it might make a great campsite, though camping is not permitted within Lynn Headwaters.

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

P4290108 copy
One last look at the crossing

In just moments, we had found the trail again! After following it for about a while it petered out, so we simply joined the Norvan Falls Trail at about the four kilometre marker. From there it was a routine stroll home, but it had been an eventful day!

P4290116 copy
When you see this mark on a North Shore Trail, it’s generally the trademark of the 1980s North Shore Hikers

Of all the forest enclaves I have walked, those in the Kennedy and Wickenden valleys have given me the most joy. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m sure in no small part that it’s because I have been able to find something so untamed and unique that is also so close to home. As North Vancouver develops ever so quickly, the difference between civilization and wilderness has been becoming much more pronounced. May never the two merge, and may Wickenden remain forever wild!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Mystic: The Forgotten Forest, Part Two

Only a few pages of the 2007 calendar were to turn before favourable spring weather had us thinking about a return to Kennedy Creek. It was the first day of April when Chris and I began our early day hiking along the Cedar Mills Trail in Lynn Headwaters Park. The idea, this time, was simply to try and cover some ground we hadn’t the first time. Would we be April fools? Well, yes, but read on and find out how!

On reaching the Third Debris Chute, the first mission was fording Lynn Creek. A word to the wise and wary: you have to be comfortable with cold, fast moving water, especially when you do this in spring. Your trip can easily be over before it begins as sometimes it’s simply too dangerous! Techniques will vary. Sometimes I will leave my boots on and walk straight across and sometimes I carry my boots. I recommend hiking poles or finding a long sturdy branch to help with balance as well. Last but not least, put your cameras in a resealable plastic bag and pack extra clothing in case you end up going for an unplanned swim. A climbing helmet is also not a bad idea not only for the creek crossing but also for all the clambering over rocks and logs you’ll be doing!

P4010001 copyA
Not sure if I was smiling here or just chattering from the cold!

Chris had reasoned that on this trek we ought to work our way up to about the 450m elevation mark then traverse north toward Wickenden Creek. This made sense as then we would cover exploring the belt of forest just below the one we had walked the first time. No sooner were our boots back on after the ford than we were faced with the unexpected  fast moving waters of lower Kennedy Creek, but we managed to steeplechase that with minimal difficulty.

P4010128 copyA
Lower Kennedy Creek

Once past the creek it was a matter of bashing our way uphill for about half an hour. On our first trip we had followed the crude flagged route that heads west up to Kennedy Falls after you cross Lynn Creek but on this day we were well north of that line. Morning mist drifted through the trees as the sound of the rushing torrents faded. Silence descended, and almost magically we were again among the giants.

P4010011 copyA
Morning in the forest
P4010008 copyA
Chris with his first find of the day, a cedar over 12 feet in diameter

Normally we think of ourselves as tree hunters, but on this excursion, as with the first one, the trees were more or less finding us! I was surprised by the sheer number of them as much as anything else. This was a stand of forest in which many trees had reached way over 400 years in age.

P4010012 copyA
Another giant, well over 10 feet in diameter
P4010028 copyA
If a tree falls in the forest, I still have to climb over, under, or around it. This fallen cedar was quite a blockade!

The quietude was interrupted from time to time by the rhythmic sounds of a nearby woodpecker building a home, and punctuated by the occasionally inane Simpsons’ banter that seems to follow Chris and I wherever we go. On we thrashed, in the direction of an unnamed creek not far south of the Wickenden drainage, with plenty of distractions along the way.

P4010047 copyA
The way a forest is supposed to look
P4010050 copyA
Find after find, could this day get any better? It’s all a blur now.
P4010021 copy
Every tree is unique in its own way

Another half hour passed, and we found ourselves in a steep creek gully that was peculiarly bright and open. On subsequent trips I discovered that avalanches are not infrequent there, as the gully is at the bottom of a chute that shows evidence of very forceful slides. For a moment, I looked uphill, where I could see the spiky tops of more ancient cedars, then downhill, where I could see the The Needles in sharp relief across the Lynn Creek Valley. Where to go next?

P4010034 copyA
Spiked tops above usually means an old tree and usually a big one, where cedars are concerned
P4010048 copyA
Ironically, only months later we would end up beneath this rock face below the Middle Needle

In proof of the old saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees”, suddenly Chris was on his way up the chute, saying “I think we have something here!” And so he did! It was a huge western red cedar, most likely about 500 years old yet relatively young in appearance judging by its trunk wear. Because of where it was growing it was difficult to say exactly what its diameter was was but it was definitely in the neighbourhood of 15 feet wide, perhaps more. What is likely is that if it reaches the age of the oldest trees in the park it will almost certainly someday be among the largest. Here are a few looks at this grand old specimen!

P4010064 copy
Just figuring out where to measure it took a lot of time!
P4010070 copyA
A look up into its massive crown
444189831_ed6f627990_o copyA
One of my happiest moments. We named this tree the Kennewick Giant. Photo by Chris H.
P4010071 copyA
Here is Chris getting a closer look
P4010059 copyA
Yet another look at this wall of wood

Well, that tree had certainly made our day memorable, but as it turned out the walk home delivered just as much wonder! We were now at an elevation of roughly 350m, and so opted to follow that lower line back toward the Kennedy Creek again.

P4010081 copyA
Trees rooted atop a rock face
P4010078 copyA
Massive tree fallen on the hillside
P4010055 copy
Mylar balloons…I have found countless samples commemorating almost every occasion and birthday. Someday I’ll write a story about them all!
P4010069 copyA
Cedars  in early afternoon light
P4010066 copyA
Magic

Not to sound trite, but this was one of those days that has you really appreciating the wonders of nature. I advocate responsible forest management but I find it hard to understand that some people would only see this forest in dollar signs. In this day and age there is really no excuse for harvesting old growth forest. Thankfully, Lynn Headwaters Regional Park has seen its last logger.

Midday gave way to afternoon, and we decided to stop for lunch near a tree both of us nearly walked past. Life was good.

444189821_91f4e8ee88_o copyA

P4010115 copyA
Afternoon light on another ancient cedar
P4010045 copyA
Twisted Column

 

P4010092 copyA
Mighty and flared, and over 400 years old
P4010096 copyA
Chris taking note of our discoveries
P4010093 copyA
Our lunch time companion. A 13 foot wide tree I called the Keyhole Cedar

Half an hour later we were making our way across lower Kennedy Creek again. The waters were flowing even harder than they had been in the morning, which is typical of creeks during the spring snowmelt.

P4010133 copyA

We had just crossed the creek when I spied something odd lying on the ground and picked it up and showed it to Chris, who exclaimed “What? No way?!”  It turned out he’d lost his lens cap on a previous excursion to the area and had been doing without it for some time. And they say it’s hard to find a needle in a haystack? Not for me!

P4010134 copyA

A short time later we were crossing Lynn Creek again even as we planned our next adventure. Several hikers were having lunch on the other side and from their bemused looks they were no doubt wondering where in the world we had come from. It had been another successful day!

P4010135 copyA
Stay tuned for the next chapter, because the story is far from done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Giants of Kennedy Creek: The Forgotten Forest, Part One

316854698_3a24bad562_o
A piece of an old teapot on the Cedar Trail

In these days of public outcry over the destruction of British Columbia’s remaining old growth forests, it is no small twist of irony that one of the last bastions of remaining giants is relatively close to the metropolis of Vancouver. Tucked away in what is still a remote corner of the North Shore Mountains is the Kennedy Creek Valley. It lies within the boundaries of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park on the less travelled west side of Lynn Creek, with its headwaters at seldom visited Kennedy Lake.

1153058422_3ed8b46c61_o
Kennedy Lake

It was only through subtle hints in Randy Stoltmann’s Hiking Guide to the Big Trees of Southwestern B.C. that my curiosity regarding the area was first piqued. On page 74, he stated “When this valley was logged before the turn of the century, hollow or broken topped trees were often left, and the steep valley sides were only partially cut over. In these areas, massive cedars up to sixteen feet (five metres) in diameter and 200 feet, 61 metres in height still live on into their second millennium.” Well, that was more than enough to get my undivided attention, so I soon decided I had to see what was there!

P9170051 copyA
Kennedy Creek forest: This shot is a tribute to the cover of Randy Stoltmann’s hiking guide

But first, maybe a little history is in order. It was near the turn of the twentieth century that the west side of Lynn Creek was harvested by Julius Fromme’s logging crews. They managed to forge their way as far as Kennedy Creek, but, perhaps because of the market conditions of the day, or just plain good fortune, the forest stretching north between Kennedy and Wickenden Creeks was not completely razed. As a result, much of the original forest between 400 metres and 700 metres in elevation remains intact to this day!

316866604_48607d87eb_z
Remnants of an old cast iron wood stove used at one of Julius Fromme’s logging camps

There is no easy access to its steep, rugged slopes. You must either hike in to Kennedy Falls on the rough track of the Cedar Trail, or ford Lynn Creek near the Third Debris Chute on the Cedar Mills Trail, that is, if it’s safe to do so. However you get there, you must be fit and well prepared for the experience, as it’s a strong test of all of your wilderness skills. I began by hiking the Westside or Cedar Trail to see the two monstrous Western redcedars that Randy had described in the aforementioned book, but beyond that, there was little more knowledge on which to base further exploration.

316855507_de7e088a08_o
Matt with the Stoltmann Cedar. It’s over 650 years old and 14 1/2 feet in diameter
316866607_ec5a5be0b8_o
The second big cedar on the Cedar Trail, about halfway to Kennedy Falls. It’s over 600 years old and 13 1/2 feet in diameter

On several of my earlier excursions I also visited the beautiful Kennedy Falls, which lies at about 400 metres in elevation. For the ideal photo opportunity, it is best visited after heavy rains, though of course that can make getting around more difficult. While the falls are not exceptionally tall, the cascade and surrounding sections of Kennedy Creek always make the destination worthwhile. Seeing those spectacular trees on the Cedar Trail certainly whetted my appetite for more exploration, but I needed more information so that I’d know exactly where to look.

5639184661_b3339eeddb_b
Ryan at Kennedy Falls. It’s not easy to get there, but it’s certainly one of the North Shore’s most idyllic places

When I spoke to park employees they had little to say, really, yet at the park’s Mill House there were photos of some of the park’s giant trees. In time, I discovered, the park officials are not that enthused about encouraging hiking on the west side of Lynn Creek, perhaps due to the inherent hazards. In many of those photos the face of one person seemed to show up frequently. That person turned out to be Ralf Kelman, a Vancouver artist, who is the son of a Seymour Valley logger. Ralf had grown up in the forests of Vancouver’s North Shore. He was, and still is, this province’s master treehunter, and over the years had been integral in finding numerous champion trees. I managed to contact him, and over a cup of coffee, he was kind enough to share a wealth of knowledge with me about Kennedy Creek and much more. Better still, he said, the valley had not been completely searched, though he cautioned that ground was far from easy to cover.

5524682245_a8ba870402_b
Tree hunter and conservationist Ralf Kelman

Finally, in 2006, Chris and I began our day by fording an icy cold Lynn Creek on a cloudy day in September. After that crossing , we hiked up the valley toward the falls, and then worked our way up the slopes on the north bank of Kennedy Creek. It didn’t take long before we made our first find, a grove of cedars all at least eight feet in diameter and all well over four hundred years old.

P9170016 copyA
Chris with one of the first big cedars we found. It measured over ten feet in diameter
P9170023 copyA
Old growth forest
P9170027 copyA
Marked, but still standing

From there, we decided, we’d just  continue upward until the stand petered out, then traverse north in the direction of Wickenden Creek. A natural bench presented an ideal opportunity for travel, if not necessarily an easy one. Fallen trees made it necessary to climb up, over , and around countless obstructions. The finds were frequent, with more cedars up to fourteen feet in diameter and several that were truly ancient. It was hard to believe, but we had basically hit the motherlode, as far as treehunting goes! Forests such as these, once ever present in southwestern British Columbia, are basically a thing of the past. I can still recall how elated we were to be there!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The art of measuring  trees
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
It isn’t always easy

 

Soon we were upon the south banks of an unnamed creek in the drainage at about 550 metres in elevation. Once we crossed this creek we were in the midst of another grove, this one equally spectacular. By this time, we had seen so many big trees that we were taking the nine foot cedars for granted!

P9170022 copyA
Giant trees everywhere!
P9170038 copyA
This tree measured over twelve feet wide

 

Since time was running short at that point, we stopped for lunch underneath a thirteen foot cedar which may have been the oldest tree we we found that day. I believed it to be roughly 700 years old.

P9170034 copyA
There is no artist quite like nature!
P9170033 copyA
This tree had us wondering what the world looked like in the fifteen century, when it began life

We then opted to try heading uphill again to see what we could find. Our route was determined by the finds – sight big tree, hike to said tree, then on to the next one.

P9170042 copyA
And another…
P9170035 copyB copy
…And another!

 

We had ended up, by now, at an elevation of 650 metres, and were just below an expansive boulder field below the end of Goat Ridge.

P9170039 copyA
Not exactly welcoming terrain

It was here that we made another grand discovery, a huge cedar spanning over fifteen feet in width, and well over 600 years old. Despite its seemingly unguarded position and exposure to winter avalanches, it had thrived well and its hollowed lower trunk looked to have been used as a winter den of sorts.

P9170040 copyA
We never did name this one, but I’ve taken to calling it the Boulder Field Giant
P9170044 copyA
Chris enjoying the find! Another veteran of over six centuries. The tree, that is

Soon time became short and we had to begin the trek home. There were some interesting finds on the way back too.

P9170054 copyA
This tree was found below the falls on the walk out. It’s about ten feet in diameter
P9170064 copyA
A  very healthy Western Hemlock

P9170066 copyA

For both of us, this trip was tremendously rewarding in that we were making discoveries that few had made before us. As we hiked out of the valley toward Lynn Creek again, we both knew we’d be returning, and that’s why this story is only part one of a lengthy tale. Each time I revisit, it’s an exhilarating experience, for who can refuse a trip back in time without leaving your own era?

 

 

 

 

Hunting for The Spearhead

The last day in July found Doug and I riding the Solar Coaster Chair up Blackcomb Mountain for the third time in three years. At ten in the morning the temperature was already hovering around 25 degrees, and light winds were keeping the smoke from distant fires away, at least temporarily. We were headed for The Spearhead, a lofty peak at the confluence of three sizable glaciers and not far from the summit of Blackcomb Mountain, which we had visited two years ago. In winter and early spring, it marks the start of the well known Spearhead Traverse, which is a popular ski mountaineering route.

As treks go, this one was not among the most punishing, as you save well over a thousand metres in elevation gain by riding the chairlift up. You do, however, have to move quickly in order to be on time for the last ride down. Basically, you walk a well groomed track until you get to Blackcomb Lake, then swing your way into and up a long and steepish gully between Blackcomb Mountain and Disease Ridge to gain the basin that contains Circle Lake. From there, you scramble up to the col between Blackcomb and Spearhead, and then it’s a reasonably short scramble to climb The Spearhead. Despite my title for this diatribe, The Spearhead is not really all that difficult to find, truth be told.

As we rode up the chair we couldn’t help but notice how dry the lower valley was, as of course there had not been much rain for weeks on end. At roughly 1030 am we were on the trail, at over 1800 metres in elevation, and reached the lake and boulder fields around an hour later.

20234141821_c959f47fe9_k
Blackcomb Lake

On our previous expedition to Blackcomb Mountain we had taken to the rock too soon, which made gaining the gully more time consuming. This time we resolved to follow heather and treeline until it became absolutely necessary to hop boulders, which turned out to be a better approach.

20228607235_7776158251_k
Our new approach to the gully

Once you’re in the gully, there is a beaten track which runs up the shoulder of its left side, which made for easier travel until we could move toward the middle. Views of Whistler Mountain, the Overlord Group, and Black Tusk helped to distract us from the hard work involved. Inevitably, though, there was plenty of loose rock we knew we had to deal with, and soon we were battling through fields of blocky granite and patches of snow.

20228465045_123adc1f9e_k
Working up the gully
20040373740_11bb28eead_k
Getting there, Black Tusk and Whistler in the background
20202160066_827cb80edb_k
Topping out in the gully, Disease Ridge is at left

On this excursion, our strategy  was much more well thought out, and in no time we reached the basin above.

20041833059_a29f3b883b_k
Hard to beat this view! Circle Lake is below in bright blue

My memories of this place were still quite vivid, yet somehow managed to exceed my expectations. Circle Lake was a shining shade of blue in the basin below, and the newly formed lake at the foot of the Trorey Glacier definitely seemed to have grown since we had last seen it. The air was clear, and you could see sharply etched crevasses on the glacial ice.

We lingered for a while, then continued on to the col above, grinding our way up still more loose rock. The skies were a nearly impossible blue.

20041966789_435df632c3_k
Working up to the Blackcomb-Spearhead Col
20040515720_bbb086e85e_k
Mt Decker, with the Overlord Group behind at right

Arriving at the col, we could  see the route we had walked up Blackcomb Mountain two years before, and the summit of Decker Mountain, on which we had stood with good friend Denis the year before.

20220248512_daf029968e_z

20014500093_29b5198015_k
The ridge that would lead to The Spearhead

Now we focused our attention on the ridge leading toward The Spearhead, which seemed fairly straightforward.

20609228616_2f015b8a14_k
The lake basin again

First it was a matter of hiking over the top of the first section, then looping behind and to the right to bypass a gap.From there it was necessary to drop down to the left and traverse below the crest of the ridge so that we could cross a snowfield above the Horstman Glacier.

20339235810_2b600418d8_k
Crossing above the Horstman Glacier, with Rainbow mountain and Ipsoot Mountain among the sea of peaks across the valley

In a matter of minutes we stood a hundred metres or so below the summit of The Spearhead, which, not surprisingly, consisted of, well, more loose rock!

20226461082_5087dfcf62_k copy
The objective is in sight!

As we ascended I noticed something of a left to right trending ramp, so we followed that upward. Finally, there was nowhere higher in sight, and we spied an inconspicuous cairn. We could go no higher, and had reached the summit! Superb views were everywhere.

20244668221_86316ad7d3_k
The Wedge Group with Wedge Mountain front and centre, high above the Wedge Creek Valley and the Spearhead Glacier
20013192254_ae52e83812_k
On the summit, looking toward Mt James Turner at right
20533744331_d6adf17b09_k
Crevasses on the Spearhead Glacier

The other side of the mountain dropped sharply to the massive Spearhead Glacier, with the unmistakable bulk of Wedge Mountain staring us down. Cook, Weart, the Armchair Glacier, The Owls, and Lesser Wedge could also be seen as well as Mt James Turner.

Looking back down into the basin, the Overlord Group was also visible in behind Pattison, Trorey, and Decker, with the icefall of the Cheakamus Glacier in the distant haze. As I looked down the Horstman Glacier I could see all the way down to Green Lake. Blackcomb Mountain, and part of the Mt Currie massif loomed large, while Rainbow Mountain and Ipsoot were almost hidden in the smoke. One could also see the mountains  of the Squamish and Elaho Valleys, with the sharp spike of Ashlu being most prominent.

20527356335_06997270a6_k
Panorama of the basin from the summit of Spearhead, 2457 metres in elevation
20449017739_1630845a6b_k
Ipsoot Mountain through the distant haze
20609423226_80e24decd1_k
Mt James Turner, up close
20533842831_b84924f24a_k
Horstman Glacier
20046734888_1cfe44a42c_k
By now you may have figured out I enjoy this view a lot

This was an outstanding place to stop and break for a satisfying lunch. Even cellular reception was strong, so that Doug was able to contact his wife in the valley below so she could ride up and join us for refreshments. It was now time to begin the race to the beer garden!

19904736484_7e32462309_k
Well, maybe one more! Looking back at the basin, with Pattison, Trorey , and Decker left to right. Below them the Trorey and Decker Glaciers with Circle Lake in foreground. The lake at left is newly formed and not named

Much as we imagined the thought of cold beer giving us wings, which it usually does, the long, shifty, and convoluted route back to Blackcomb Lake and beyond still took us a couple of hours.

20609206486_41270cb3c4_z
Tiny phlox among the rocks, at 2400 metres
20626384312_0f0d9fab54_z
Back at the col again

As we reached the lake and looked back toward Blackcomb Mountain, we could just make out a large group of hikers tackling the west face of Blackcomb Mountain. It’s a tricky and exposed route with plenty of rockfall, but the group was all over the mountain and seemed like they might get into some trouble. It turned out they were just fine in the end, so we continued on with our quest for beer.

20013080944_3a8803c39e_k
Returning to the boulder field with Blackcomb Mountain at left

All in all, it was another fine day in the hills. This area is well known but still seems underrated, if you ask me. The hiking is decent, and camping possibilities in the basin are even more enticing.

***As always, a note of thanks to Matt Gunn’s descriptions in his fine book “Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia”***

Coquihalla Dreamin’

As everyone here in British Columbia knows, there have been numerous hot summer days to go around this year. More accurately, the midsummer weather began early in May, and Southwestern B.C. has  had one of its most active forest fire seasons.

IMG_3421 copy
Coquihalla Mountain, an old strato volcano, as I saw it for the first time in 2008 from Jim Kelly Peak

For several weeks, Doug and I had been planning a trip to the mountains, but the smoke from the fires had been changing our plans. Finally, I came up with an idea. Seven years ago, on a cold, clear, and windblown day, I’d had the chance to visit a sweeping alpine plateau in the Bedded Range and hiked up Jim Kelly Peak and Illal Mountain with a new group of friends. I had wanted to return for another look in warmer weather, and this July seemed the perfect opportunity.

The promise of a decent trail with relatively reasonable elevation gain to an ideal  basecamp was enough to convince Doug of the possibilities. So it was that we set off early on a Friday morning, headed for Hope.  Doug grabbed a coffee at The Blue Moose, and we made our way to the Britton Creek Rest Area on the Coquihalla Highway. There we stopped to organize our gear and eat an early lunch. Half an hour later we were driving up the Tulameen Forest Service Road, and, after crossing Illal Creek, rocked and rolled our way up a rough logging spur to an excellent parking spot around three kilometres in. This was the maiden logging road voyage for Doug’s new Toyota Tacoma and it passed the test with flying colours!

19829696022_36d0073862_z
Illal Meadows and Illal Mountain, as you reach the meadows

All that settled, it was time for the hike in. Our packs were heavy with overnight gear and refreshments, and the temperature, though hot, was offset initially by adequate shade and brisk winds. Insects, sometimes more than notorious there, were few and far between, as we steadily trekked up to the plateau. Most of the wildflowers had already bloomed, which is unusual for mid July, but the meadows were still quite lush and green.

19247152063_7216e9fb68_z copy
Near camp, below Jim Kelly Peak

Soon enough, we arrived at a shining tarn beneath Jim Kelly Peak, and stashed our overnight gear. It was a relief to doff the heavy packs and relax for a while. There was at least some, no, wait, plenty of temptation  to sprawl out and take a nap, but we’d come there to hike and so instead began analyzing our options for the route up Coquihalla Mountain.

Conditions were ideal , and contrasted sharply with the frigid day on which I’d climbed Jim Kelly Peak and Illal Mountain.

IMG_3435 copy
Illal Mountain, 2020 m, in October 2008. That’s Yak peak n the Coquihalla highway in the background

The route we had chosen was the south flank, which involved a long traverse around the mountain, over half of a circumnavigation, one way. There were limited reports about the route but rumour had it that at one time, in the boom days of Coalmont, there was even a once popular trail there that had now fallen into disuse. To begin, we needed to drop from the Illal Meadows into the col between Jim Kelly Peak and Coquihalla Mountain and follow a well worn path that supposedly accesses a popular lake below the pass. Here, on the way in, we spotted several of the biggest marmots we’d ever seen, and on the way back also saw a weasel hunting among the rocks. The next series of photos illustrate the approach step by step…

19648807590_c05f75e1d2_z copy
Coquihalla Mountain. We would be going around to the left and into the valley beyond. Why? Probably because we thought it was the hardest way….
19650348219_7a027981fe_z copy
Dropping into the Jim Kelly/Coquihalla col, shoulder of Coquihalla at left and hiking toward the left here…
19648843658_89fd28550e_z copy
Looking up at Coquihalla from the pass, at the beginning of the “Endless Traverse”
19214275604_5cc44734fb_z copy
You must then lose elevation from the pass. No worries, it’ll just hurt more on the way back 🙂
19656414720_3358e35347_z copy
Getting closer. Travel is deceptively tough beyond here and it’s best to lose elevation and travel just beneath unstable rock fields
19844762115_db1e4fd255_z copy
Looking back from whence we came. That’s Jim Kelly Peak and the col/pass. Easiest line to follow here on the way back is at the base of this rockfall then through krummholz, which was roughly what we did
19223820973_0f75f3f21e_z copy
When you see this aspect you can begin to gain all the elevation back and head for the south flank, out of shot at left…

 

That traverse proved to be as endless as its reputation, and you had to be creative in order to avoid difficult ground. We did that by losing elevation and following easier ground through bands of stunted trees, also known as krummholz. It was a lot like finding one’s way through a maze, and on more than one occasion we did find remnants of that old trail, albeit accidentally. There was plenty of scenery to enjoy, especially as the towers of the Coquihalla massif loomed high above us.

19818479776_0488b332d8_z copy
What you need to do now is find your way onto the low end of the rock at left then pass through the shoulder where you will see your next obstacle….

With more than a little persistence, we just kept on scuffling, and finally the south flank came into view. It was a welcome sight, to be sure!

We knew that the summit was  close at hand now, and that all we needed to do was find a way up the flank. This we did by walking an obvious path through fields of scree right to left in second photo below, then clawing our way almost directly up several partially loose sections of rock including a chimney or two and a lot more krummholz.

19656425198_5738f1f4a1_z copy

 

19221949814_8046e5d426_z copy
Our view as we ascended, just below the last 100 metres of climbing
19818312816_e6c76747bd_z copy
Final countdown!
19849456851_8a6a2e8e1a_z copy
But not before we check the summit waypoint, which showed that we were only fifty metres away….

Finally, we broke through and topped out on yet another band of rock, but from this one the summit cairn could be seen off to our right. Success was near!

Immediately, however, my eyes were drawn to to the left, where the slopes dropped sharply off the other side of the mountain. You can never really relax in the mountains! This hazard was easily avoided, of course, but it sure got our attention.

19659649148_1e18e519cb_z copy

As we walked to the summit cairn I felt compelled to holler “Oh yeah! Earned!” Normally, I’m not given to that kind of expression, but on that day we were both pretty stoked to be there. It had been almost seven years since I had seen this mountain, and it was compelling to see the other side of that view ( see the first picture in this tale).

19226564453_02e94feda2_z copy

Scanning about, one could now see the other summits of Coquihalla as well. Views of the Hidden Creek Valley, Tulameen, Needle and Markhor Peaks were especially rewarding.

19821247226_580db8bd4e_k copy
Needle and Markhor Peaks, with Yak Peak in the background and Highway 5 to its right
19852579721_eb7136bde5_k copy
Looking over at all the other subpeaks of Coquihalla. Friends of mine have traversed this route, highly recommended
19840022472_ec7e72e61e_z copy
Charming summit shot, all smiles and no pain, brother! Perfect for social media post
19660984279_0effbcd740_z copy
Me, with reality setting in, as the beer is hours away still. This hasn’t donned on Doug just yet!
19821309416_f12a4e2c21_z copy
Bedded Lake
19847579635_58d9146551_k copy
A view of what I call the Illal Plateau, with Illal Mountain at centre and Spiral Peak in behind

Taking more than our usual twenty minutes on the summit, at 2157 metres in elevation, we snacked for a while and then left for camp, finally.

19661020399_31b933eb60_z copy
Starting back for camp, bring it on!

The way back was almost as lengthy, but we were able to make somewhat quicker work of it.

19679895260_9821d01ead_k copy
Doug descending toward the boulder field, where the traverse home will begin

We did, as on the hike in, have to gain and lose elevation frequently but before long we were grinding up to the col we had left a couple of hours before.

19223820973_0f75f3f21e_z copy
Oh yeah, i posted this one already, but now we have to do it all over again, so…
19719536269_dbd387b3ab_z copy
Lupines

All that was left then was a somewhat tired ramble to the meadows, dinner, and icing down some beer in a snow cooler we had built. About as good as it gets, if you’re asking me.

19873134361_ff2df8e2f4_z copy
Back at camp, under Jim Kelly Peak again!

The evening hours featured  fine sunset views in all directions, and on the plateau below we could see the tents from several other campers who had arrived to enjoy the meadows. Here are some of my favourite photos from sunset time…

19680480968_64d6bf8059_z copy

19842395576_653f47233f_k copy
Illal mountain looking like something out of Utah

19868292285_0d42454e58_z

19868445535_0cc4cccf31_k copy
Coquihalla, just plain showing off now!

Soon darkness fell, and we turned in for the evening at last. it had been one fine day!

19680545558_0edb773474_k copy
Sun sets over the tents

The night turned out to be reasonably warm, and slept well. I was even happier that I had not tried camping here on that first excursion some seven years back!

IMG_3458 copy
This would have been a bit chillier, from October 2008

Inevitably, I’m an early riser on most mountain trips, and I was up before five in the morning wandering around the plateau. Here are a few shots of the sunrise, which was well worth waking up for!

19892632991_1e472c536e_k copy
Toward Merritt and Nicola Valley in the distance
19699679668_91dd54036c_k copy
Morning glow on Coquihalla

19699715350_941cbca859_k copy

19898582992_392a858031_k copy

19861450666_a6a9cc715c_k copy

Fun fact: If you don’t know what krummholz is, it’s stunted groves of tightly growing conifer typical to cold alpine regions. Growing low and densely helps it to thrive in snows, wind, and other such harsh conditions

19906173155_cb68c15213_z copy
Krummholz

Soon enough, Doug emerged from his tent. All that remained was to break camp, enjoy some coffee and breakfast, and talk about our return to a place where one visit is simply not enough!

19906084595_67df429983_z copy
Paintbrush

The walk back was leisurely, with plenty of time for more photography and to closely examine the geology of the region as well as the plant life.

19718117608_fcca1dde9e_z copy
Not sure what this is, but it thrives near water

19718526058_bd5206a517_k copy

19718584670_dbd8c2bfb9_k copy
Aster!

19283834804_4a62d334cc_k copy

19648989678_aec63fcc8b_z copy
Conglomerate
19650171369_3860f5465c_z copy
One last glance at the meadows and this cool boulder

Back at the truck, we decided to drive out first as we were concerned there might be a lot of vehicles driving the narrow road in. That turned out to be very true, it was a veritable thoroughfare on this Saturday morning! As we exited the logging road there was a group of backpackers milling about, and I later found out that one of them was someone I knew, though not until later on. Small world, as they say!

Credit the 1966 song ” California Dreamin’ ” by The Mamas and The Papas, for the borrowed title of this tale. All day that tune had happened to be running through my mind, for whatever reason. This was, to sum it up, one the more enjoyable trips I’ve been on the last few years,  and highly recommended.

2955642477_19d0c28abd_b
My first visit to Illal Mountain, and Jim Kelly Peak in October 2008… Photo by Silvia B

Thanks also to my good friend Gerry, whose indomitable spirit and determination to get people into the mountains to discover new friends and experiences was largely responsible for my introduction to this part of the world seven years ago. This one’s for you, buddy!