Category Archives: Exploration

Tree hunting, charting, and mapping trails

The Story of The Survivor

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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.

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The surrounding forest is perfect for silver firs and cedars alike, with a few western hemlocks sprinkled in.
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The upper trunk of tree has enjoyed excellent health, even growing an extra top over the last century
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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
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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.

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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
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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 life of two of those men.

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Nearby, this is the stump from which the tree that killed the loggers fell tragically
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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.

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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
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This place always feels powerful to me; I am always conscious of a certain energy when in the presence of this tree

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

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

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

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

Minutes later, Rich spied a big tree just downslope off the trail that looked most unusual, and naturally, we went down to investigate. It was then that we found The Survivor, though for us 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.

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

We speculated, at the time, exactly what to call this 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?

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Snidely Whiplash

Easter Island statue

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

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

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

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

That trip some 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.

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

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Seven centuries and counting!
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On a sunnier day!

 

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Until next time…
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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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Denis crosses the big bridge over Callaghan Creek
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The creek, still running pretty briskly!
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Some of the tarns were mighty dry. This is normally a very wet area
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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.

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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
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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.

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

 

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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
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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ring Mountain and Ring Lake looking kind of sinister today
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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.

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Alan making his way toward the ascent as we head up to tackle the slopes above
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Conference before the climb, just to see if anyone has any different ideas on the route
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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.

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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!

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View of Powder Mountain across the lake in the smoke and haze
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Alan got this shot of Ted and I crossing the rock of reasonable quality below the summit block
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Working our way up the mountain was a careful process. This was just below the summit block
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And there it is, the summit block, so close and yet so far, as they say
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Alan took this photo as he got to the summit. That is Ted in front as I am coming up behind
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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!
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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.

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Ted and Alan happy to have made the top!
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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.

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Alan on the move up the pinnacle
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Tricky step at the top
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Alan atop the pinnacle, with the icefield at left
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That subpeak that loomed behind us in our group shot looking somewhat ghostly
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Now Ted gives it a go and gives the thumbs up!
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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!

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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
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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
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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.

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Alan’s shot of the pinnacle and icefield as he reached the summit earlier. I loved this view!
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Rugged rock of Callaghan
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On our way down, working our way down to the lake again!
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Getting closer, but it’s slow going!
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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…

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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?”

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“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!

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Shot of my cooler and its soon to be depleted contents!
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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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!

 

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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.

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Arnica amidst slide alder. You take the good with the bad
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Lupines
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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.

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Mt Macleod is basically straight ahead as I look left from the gully to take this shot
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Much easier than side hilling low brush!
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This gully turned out to be very friendly ground to walk
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A rare moment when the sunlight managed to break the haze
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The creek we would later follow on our descent
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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!

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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
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Left to right, Outram, Manson and Hatfield from high across the valley to the north
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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.

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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!

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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.

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Hands on section along the ridge, exposure is to the right of Denis
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Onward and upward
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hammer meets Hatfield
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Hatfield summit, 2227m according to Bivouac, 2217m according to my GPS
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Recent summit log entries. Thanks for the directions, Simon!
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Our summit entry
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Summit flower
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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…

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Looking back at the summit and the smoky haze beyond
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Such a great view from up here!
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You can barely see Mt Outram through the haze
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A carpet of rock phlox
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Ever present purple penstemon
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Roaming the ridge
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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….

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Water, giver of life
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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.

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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!

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Tailgating!

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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Working up the gully
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Getting there, Black Tusk and Whistler in the background
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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.

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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.

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Working up to the Blackcomb-Spearhead Col
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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.

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The ridge that would lead to The Spearhead

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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The Wedge Group with Wedge Mountain front and centre, high above the Wedge Creek Valley and the Spearhead Glacier
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On the summit, looking toward Mt James Turner at right
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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.

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Panorama of the basin from the summit of Spearhead, 2457 metres in elevation
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Ipsoot Mountain through the distant haze
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Mt James Turner, up close
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Horstman Glacier
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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!

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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.

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Tiny phlox among the rocks, at 2400 metres
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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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….
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Dropping into the Jim Kelly/Coquihalla col, shoulder of Coquihalla at left and hiking toward the left here…
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Looking up at Coquihalla from the pass, at the beginning of the “Endless Traverse”
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You must then lose elevation from the pass. No worries, it’ll just hurt more on the way back 🙂
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Getting closer. Travel is deceptively tough beyond here and it’s best to lose elevation and travel just beneath unstable rock fields
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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
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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.

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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.

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Our view as we ascended, just below the last 100 metres of climbing
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Final countdown!
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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.

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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.

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).

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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.

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Needle and Markhor Peaks, with Yak Peak in the background and Highway 5 to its right
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Looking over at all the other subpeaks of Coquihalla. Friends of mine have traversed this route, highly recommended
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Charming summit shot, all smiles and no pain, brother! Perfect for social media post
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Me, with reality setting in, as the beer is hours away still. This hasn’t donned on Doug just yet!
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Bedded Lake
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Oh yeah, i posted this one already, but now we have to do it all over again, so…
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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.

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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…

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Illal mountain looking like something out of Utah

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Coquihalla, just plain showing off now!

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

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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!

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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!

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Toward Merritt and Nicola Valley in the distance
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Morning glow on Coquihalla

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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

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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!

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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.

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Not sure what this is, but it thrives near water

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Aster!

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Conglomerate
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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.

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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! Dig this old school video!

Canyoneering 101: An Afternoon in Looper Creek Canyon

 

It was September of 2012 when I received a message from my good friend Chris: Was I interested in joining him and a group of friends to do some canyoneeering on Vancouver Island?

First, a brief explanation, of sorts. For those of you who have never heard of canyoneering, it’s a sport in which you don a wetsuit and dry pack and make your way down a creek canyon as best you can to hopefully emerge in one piece. I kid, really. Actually, it is generally a very safe pursuit when you consider that you make use of a plethora of mountaineering gear, if needed, and take all the necessary precautions while making said descents.

It didn’t take me long to answer in the affirmative. Chris had been telling me canyoneering tales for years and I’d been intrigued for quite some time. His description of the Looper Creek Canyon’s beautiful polished rock and verdant limestone gorge sounded fantastic to me, and so more plans were made.

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Morning on the ferry deck

Since Chris was on a tour of some Pacific Northwest canyons and already on Vancouver Island, I’d be taking the ferry over to Nanaimo to meet him in Departure Bay. Riding the boat with me was Vlad, a long time climbing partner of Chris whom I’d only had the chance to meet briefly before. Also in on the trip were Kevin and Francois, aka Fix, who were also on “The Island” and had been descending some other canyons there. The sun was just beginning to come up as my wife Jan dropped Vlad and me off at Horseshoe Bay. We were in luck, it looked as though it would be another warm and sunny day.

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Looking back at the city, Island bound again!

As the ferry steamed toward Nanaimo, Vlad and I sat out on the upper deck enjoying the scenery and sharing hiking stories. Soon the boat was docking, and we met Kevin and Fix on the other side. They were still recovering from the previous day’s adventure but other than lack of sleep they were none the worse for wear. I had known Kevin from sites online for years, so it seemed, strangely, as though we had already met. Fix, who was entirely new to me, was a real canyon enthusiast with a strong interest in photography and filming.

But, where was Chris? He’d left his transplanted home in Utah some days ago and as far as I knew had last been somewhere in Washington state. In another fifteen minutes, his well used Jeep Cherokee rolled into the parking lot and Vlad and I jumped in for the ride. With Fix and Kevin following in Kevin’s Jeep, we all set out for Lake Cowichan, where we would begin a long drive on logging roads bound for Looper Creek. “Don’t mind the dust, chips, the box of blueberries and whatever else you find.” Chris warned, jokingly. “Just move whatever so you can sit down!” Many shenanigans were shared along the way; this was to be the sixth canyon in six days for Chris, one of his busier weeks ever.

We continued to Lake Cowichan where there was a stop to fuel up, and then hit the logging roads for at least another fifty kilometres. Finally, Chris pulled over abruptly at an inconspicuous looking bridge. We walked over and stood about for a minute. “Well, that’s the canyon down there,” Chris said. I peered down into the deep gorge, but I couldn’t see much of anything in the midday shadows.

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Peering into the “abyss” from the Looper Creek Bridge

Seconds later Kevin and Fix arrived and the next half hour was taken up with both idle banter and the important task of outfitting everyone with the necessary gear for the trip. Then there was an important discussion regarding the possible technical challenges. In canyoneering, teamwork is paramount, because once you’re in the canyon, you’re pretty much committed and it can often be difficult to reverse your direction. Since this was summer, high water flows were not expected. If we were lucky, the whole trek might be able to be done in wetsuits and of course the mandatory climbing helmets, but nevertheless we would be ready for anything!

I was of two worlds on this trip. Firstly, I was the oldest person in group, but secondly, I was also the least experienced, as this was to be my first canyon. Since Chris has been one of my best mates for years and I’d heard so many stories, I did have a good idea of what to expect, however. As for the others, Vlad had been in a number of canyons with Chris, while Kevin and Fix were both seasoned veterans.

Once we had packed up, it was time to make our way up the logging spur near the bridge for about a kilometre and a half to where we would drop in to the canyon. Being the ever eager rookie, I’d already put on my wetsuit and tied it off at the waist for the walk uphill. The result of that was an uncomfortable stroll in the hot sun, though I was glad to have the leggings on when we bushwhacked down into the gorge.

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Kevin dropping in!
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Vlad gets ready
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Chris is pretty relaxed, he’s been here before

 

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Monster Bigleaf Maple specimen, probably 300 years old
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Polished rock

No sooner had Fix led the way down the steep, brushy slope, than we were all on the banks of Looper Creek. Huge Bigleaf Maple trees towered above us as the creek ambled quietly by. I could tell almost immediately that this was a special place, quite unlike any I had been before. As a youngster one of my favourite things to do was to find a creek and explore it, so this seemed like another chapter of my youth, in a sense.

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An otherworldly place

We walked onward through the waters, descending, almost imperceptibly at first. The mood was light and there was no shortage of humour from everyone.

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Vlad and Kevin taking it all in
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Fix leading the way
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Kevin contemplates the day
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Walking downstream

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Pretty soon we reached a clearing with deep emerald pools and a series of small cascades, so it looked as though we’d now be doing some swimming. It was there that everyone else got into their wetsuits.

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I also got a tutorial on how to stash your camera in a dry bag. Kevin and I were using waterproof digital cameras whereas Chris and Fix had digital SLRs. They had ample suggestions about how best to keep your camera dry but that was something that was brand new to me!

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Vlad in the very first pool

We moved on, walking through narrows, hopping on rocks, and swimming through pools. It was just a lot of good clean fun! There was plenty to see along the way.

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Kevin befriends one of the locals
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Into the mystic

Canyoneering is a very unique experience. I found it similar in spirit to exploring forests, one of my favourite pursuits, in that you envelop yourself in the surroundings. The walls help to enhance that feeling. It is very different from mountaineering, my other passion, where you may begin in forest but you work your way ever upward into the open terrain of the alpine. Each pursuit has its own enticing qualities, I believe.

There was but one demanding section, as depicted below, near a confluence of huge fallen trees. Chris had thought we might need to break out the harnesses and rappel down to the waters below, but as it turned out it was able to be circumvented using a simple hand line. For good measure, though, Chris and Kevin took the time to practice setting up some gear. The rest of us were either taking photos or clowning about, and jumping into pools!

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Kevin and Chris setting up
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Fix looks on as they rig gear
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Chris tests out his work

The sun made occasional appearances too, wherever an opportunity presented itself.

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The canyon was a place of truly phantasmal beauty, and it seemed that everywhere one looked caused the fascination to grow stronger.

There were the walls. Sheer, unyielding, granite, limestone. Sometimes they were smooth and polished, other times rough, even somewhat sinister, and enclosing.

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Then there were the fallen trees, interlocked to create obtructions, or perfectly placed to aid our path. It rather reminded me a life sized version of the kids game “Kerplunk”, as we manoeuvred our way over, under, down, and around their hulking skeletons. Whenever it seemed we had reached an impasse, nature seemed to provide some avenue of escape.

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The vegetation too, was everywhere and conspicuous. Every available space for growth was exploited, wherever possible, and sometimes where improbable.

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Another huge Bigleaf Maple tree

Last but far from least were the pools. Clear, green, shimmering, sometimes travertine. Some were shallow, others deep. Some you walked, some you swam, others you floated through.

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I learned a lot about photography in watery conditions on this trek. Each person had their own way of landing shots and a system of setting up for the ideal image. Even if you brought a waterproof camera, as I did, you still have to keep water off the lens!

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Fix landing the ideal shot
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One of my favourite shots from the trip, taken with my eight year old Olympus 410 Waterproof Camera. It still works well today!

The journey continued on down the gorge. Eventually, we arrived at the crux of the trip, a large pool surrounded by rock walls that canyoneers sometimes wryly refer to as a “keeper pothole”. The name derives from the fact that they can sometimes recquire a grappling hook to escape. This one had no such issues, though I scuffled briefly because for whatever reason my hands had gone numb. Here’s a short video Kevin took of the resulting shenanigans, where, if you ask me, Vlad steals the show by repeatedly leaping in and climbing out again.

After a few more laughs and a lot more photographs we moved on again. Just when it seemed the trek might never end, or simply wasn’t meant to end, we reached the grand finale.

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Chris heading through a narrows

Suddenly, the creek virtually vanished, its flow now subterranean. Our path bent sharply to the right, then to the left before the water reappeared in a succession of swims that finished in a cavern like chamber underneath the bridge we had begun at. It was high above us, and partially obscured. From the road above one could never have known that such magic was so well hidden from sight!

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We lingered there as long as we could, reflecting on the day. I later discovered that my friend Karsten K. had once rappelled off the bridge to the place we now stood admiring. Now that is what I call making an entrance! This is Karsten, below, after that rappel into the gorge. Check out his Flickr photo site by clicking on the photo, it’s well worth the time!

Looper Creek Canyon

We left reluctantly, scouting for the exit trail nearby. It was well rigged with a series of ropes to aid us in our ascent. In another ten minutes we were at the trucks, sharing the stoke of a truly unique adventure. Amid all the camaraderie, a few beers were drank, thanks to Kevin, and we stowed away a lot of wet gear for the ensuing ride homeward.

We then parted company with Fix and Kevin, who were bound for Duke Point, and set out for Departure Bay. The ride back on the ferry featured an epic sunset to craft the ideal ending to what was, in every way, a near perfect day.

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Ship in the night
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Texada Island from the ferry deck

If ever you’re looking for a unique experience, I highly recommend you give canyoneering a go. You won’t regret it! My only misgiving was that I had waited so long to try it myself!

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Well, maybe just one more look!

 

Cheewhat to Carmanah, a Journey Back In Time

 

When I first found myself on the west coast of British Columbia after arriving from Quebec in the late 1970s, the very first thing that captivated me here in British Columbia were the towering conifers. The very scent of the forest was something unknown to me, and I can recall spending an inordinate amount of time looking upward in admiration. It was that sort of awe that kindled my interest in hiking, and it remains strong even today. I have spent countless hours in search of the province’s remaining old growth trees.

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Coastal British Columbia forest

Years later, when I began to research the whereabouts of these remaining giants, I began to follow the exploits of legendary B.C. big tree hunter and conservationist Randy Stoltmann. Through his book Hiking Guide to the Big Trees of Southwestern British Columbia, I learned of numerous incredible finds. Two particular areas captured my imagination more than most others. One was Cheewhat Lake, and the other was the Carmanah Creek Valley, both on Vancouver Island. Cheewhat is notable for the discovery of the world’s second largest Western Red Cedar, perhaps as old as two thousand years. Carmanah features great stands of ancient Sitka Spruce, and is among the last intact valley bottom ecosystems to escape the saws of logging. The Cheewhat Cedar is now protected within Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, while Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park gives sanctuary to the Carmanah Valley.

It was not until the autumn of 2012, however, that the right opportunity to visit these forests would present itself for me. It was on a late October afternoon that Doug and I would finally see ourselves enroute to the west side of Vancouver Island. Naturally, the trip began on the ferry at Horseshoe Bay, bound for Nanaimo. The goal, from there, was to make our way to Cowichan River Provincial Park where we’d camp the first night. The rains persisted right up until the time we arrived at the campground.

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Bigleaf Maple leaf on the picnic table

We’d been listening to the World Series on the radio while we drove, and so the drive seemed to fly by. That night, clutch hitting by Pablo Sandoval and a gritty pitching performance by veteran Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants was enough to down the Detroit Tigers and their ace Justin Verlander, if you’re a baseball fan.

More showers ushered in a somewhat gloomy night, but to us that hardly mattered. We were armed with plenty of tarps, and Doug’s sturdy MEC Wanderer tent, which has served as basecamp for many of our adventures. Add to that steak to barbecue,  a cooler full of beer, and an ample supply of firewood, and we had the makings of a fine evening. The next day called for improved weather, so our fingers were crossed for better fortune on that front. We spent a great night in camp, reminiscing about past exploits and bantering about future plans. As we turned in, the night descended into a world of silence, broken only by the sounds of rain striking the tent and the hiss of our campfire being quietly extinguished.

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Coleman stove, eh

Wanting to get as early a start as possible, we awoke in darkness to get breakfast straightened away. Ahead was the rest of the highway to Lake Cowichan, followed by a lengthy drive on logging roads to the Rosander Main and the Cheewhat Cedar.

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Lake Cowichan and unexpected autumn colours

We soon realized that sunshine was upon us, and that it was going to be a bluebird day. After a stop for fuel, we took to the gravel, aided in no small part by a work crew which had newly graded much of the road surface. It was still early in the morning when we parked beside a small roadside cairn. Beyond that cairn lay a rough track that would hopefully lead us to the legendary tree.

Radiant morning sun filtered through the forest canopy as we passed the sign that let us know we were now within the national park reserve.

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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

A massive fallen cedar immediately captivated our attentions. A giant well over 15 feet in diameter, its massive root ball and trunk had become host to a vibrant community of new life. The understory was very biodiverse, and the further we hiked, the larger the trees became. The trail itself was  a somewhat indistinct path, and aside from the occasional marker, close attention was needed to stay on track.

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Overturned cedar and its roots, now home to many forms of life
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The trunk of the fallen giant

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After walking through a clearing in the forest we stumbled upon the gnarled mass of a very large cedar which was well over fifteen feet in diameter. It was easy to tell that it was very, very elderly.

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Some folks find this tree and think they have found the Cheewhat Cedar. As cool as it is, keep going, you have a ways to go

Though we were following but a faint footbed, Doug figured we were on the right track, and I agreed. It was as though we had landed in another world as the forest grew more enchanted with each step!

Soon the trail took the sharp bend to the left that we were looking for, and we were led to an absolute giant of a tree. As massive as it was, at nearly eighteen feet in diameter, we knew that it wasn’t the Cheewhat Cedar. The entire grove, in fact, was a true old growth stand, so rarely seen nowadays, yet once so commonplace on Vancouver Island. Before moving on we stood still, not speaking much, but simply absorbing the atmosphere.

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Ancient tree just uphill from the Cheewhat Cedar

We knew that the monarch could not be far away, as the map indicated it was only yards downhill from where we were, and so we continued hiking. Suddenly, and somehow almost surprisingly, it appeared in the clearing below. I could now understand the feeling its discoverer must have experienced.

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Doug with the Cheewhat Cedar, which is the world’s second largest Western Red Cedar
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A true giant

This tree was truly gargantuan, spanning twenty feet in diameter. Since the time this tree had begun its life as a seedling, two millennia had passed, give or take a decade or two. Two thousand years! That was almost beyond comprehension, though by no means could it compete with, for longevity, with the world’s oldest trees. That is a topic for another time, of course.

The next hour was spent eating lunch and rambling about the tree taking photographs from every conceivable vantage point. The Cheewhat Cedar is truly a remarkable exhibit of nature at its finest. I highly recommend visiting it if you ever get the opportunity.

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The tree was discovered by the late Sooke resident and tree hunting legend Maywell Wickheim in 1988
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Twenty centuries of growth, perhaps!
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Sign of designation
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The base of the Cheewhat Cedar

Wanting to make our way to Carmanah, we hiked resolutely back to the trailhead and continued up the logging road, accompanied by the midday sun.

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Onward to Carmanah

The morning had given way to a beautiful autumn afternoon, as we rolled into the parking lot. It seemed a deserted campsite, and there wasn’t a soul in sight.

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That’s a Marbled Murrelet on the park sign!

We decided to take advantage of the clear skies and take to the woods right away, as more rain was predicted for the evening. The park trails were comparatively well developed in contrast to the Cheewhat Trail we had just walked.

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Trees, shadows, and greenery

In fact, in the early 1990s this valley had been the centre of a very well organized conservation effort. Randy Stoltmann, among many others, had been integral in spearheading that movement at the time.

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Doug on the Carmanah boardwalk

It was the year before before his untimely passing in a ski mountaineering accident in 1994 that the valley finally attained designation as a provincial park. Miles of boardwalk had been built by scores of volunteers to raise awareness of this rare forest. The campaign was also supported by numerous artists of worldwide acclaim.

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Here’s a book I have in my collection. It’s well worth a look if you can find a copy

In just twenty years, these paths have begun to fall into disrepair, but the dream they represent still burns brightly. It was a triumph to preserve this special place for all to see.

Our hike down the valley continued quietly along Carmanah Creek. On the sandy gravel banks the tracks of animals could be seen clearly, and our necks craned trying to find an elusive Marbled Murrelet nest. A shy, retiring creature, this bird has the habit of nesting in the tops of old growth Sitka Spruce trees. Much of its habitat on the west coast has been destroyed or altered, and its southern population has dwindled over the years. In Canada’s north, where apparently it is a ground nesting bird, it has far more abundant numbers, I understand. Unfortunately, we never did see one.

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Wolf track
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The fabled Marbled Murrelet… Image from Wikipedia
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Carmanah Creek
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Clear and still waters

We visited the Heaven Tree, among the largest spruce trees in the valley, and admired the vast garden of hanging mosses it presented. This tree is definitely one of the park’s star attractions.

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The Heaven Tree, a huge old growth Sitka Spruce

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Then we walked down to the Randy Stoltmann Commemorative Grove, home to several massive specimens. We felt immense pride in following in Randy’s footsteps, as we have done on many hikes. He also lived on Vancouver’s North Shore, as we do, and spent hours in the forests we have walked.

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Sitka Spruce, Picea Sitchensis

That Carmanah survives well would likely mean a great deal satisfaction for him, I imagine, but Randy Stoltmann left us long before his time.

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Some of these spruce trees are extremely tall!
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Stoltmann Grove has quite a few spruce in the nine foot diameter range
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Walking the grove

The route toward the ocean is officially closed beyond the grove, but I’m told it’s actually somewhat intact, if riddled by deadfall in some stretches . There is a giant Sitka Spruce called the Carmanah Giant further downstream that I plan to look for someday. The trail actually follows Carmanah Creek to its intersection with the well known West Coast Trail, which one needs a permit to hike.

After a short stay at Stoltmann Grove we hiked back to walk some of the upper section of the trail and to visit The Three Sisters. The forest there was equally enchanted. We lingered for a while but since skies were darkening we headed back to the truck to get camp set up.

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The Three Sisters
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Pool alongside Carmanah Creek
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Spruce and moss

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It turned out we did have the whole park to ourselves and the only firepit in sight as well. Amidst eating dinner while the rains began to fall we listened to the faint and crackling radio feed of the second game of the World Series, where the Giants Pablo Sandoval was once again terrorizing Tiger pitching.

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Carmanah Camp

This day also ended with cold beer and a decent campfire! Darkness came early, and when the beer was gone we turned in, with the distant sounds of Pacific surf drifting in the wind. The sound of rain drowned out all consciousness, and the next thing we knew morning had dawned.

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Carmanah forest panorama

Breakfast came early, and all that remained was the long journey home. A relentless downpour chased us all the way to the ferry terminal at Departure Bay. It had been two remarkable October days, a time I’ll always remember.

Randy Stoltmann (1962-1994). Without his efforts there might not be a Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park. Now it's time to finish the job and protect the entire Walbran Valley

I dedicate this this to the late Randy Stoltmann (1962-1994) whose efforts helped ensure that Carmanah-Walbran became a provincial park. It is important to note, though, that there is more work to be done, as the entire Walbran Valley is not yet fully protected.

 

 

Hunting the Forests of Yesteryear: The Old Mines of Lynn Headwaters

 

Last Saturday, Doug, Alex, and I set out to search for some of the hidden mines in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park.

While not strictly a secret, it’s not commonly known that during the period of 1900- 1940, a number of claims were prospected in the Lynn, Norvan, and Hanes Creek drainages. From what I have read, it was mostly iron, copper, and zinc that were discovered, but no doubt more precious metals like silver and especially gold were the real objectives.

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View from Third Debris Chute in Lynn Headwaters. I sometimes call this spot a gateway to adventure!

Doug had obtained a map from fellow North Shore Rescue companion Wally, who had visited the area some years ago with local mountaineering legend Howie Rode. Our plan was to hike the Headwaters Trail to the bridge at the 5 km mark, check out the camp near that location, and then climb up the creek draw east of the bridge in search of whatever we could find.

The first part of our trek was easy enough, a five kilometre hike on mostly flat ground. The trail was alive with dozens of runners on their way up to Norvan Falls, a popular weekend destination. Most of them would have little clue that the trail they were running on was once a thriving lifeline for both logging and mining operations. Today, Lynn Headwaters, a former watershed until 1981, is one of the jewels of Greater Vancouver’s wilderness parks.

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Ore Cart

The ore cart you see above is one of easiest artifacts to locate in the area. I stumbled upon it years ago while hunting old growth trees in the area long before I even knew about mining in Lynn Valley. It is only about ten metres off the trail at around the 4.7 km mark. All that remains are the axles and some attached hardware, as the decks have long since returned to the earth, so to speak. There  is a nearby pile of ore tailings and supposedly a mine adit too but we were unable to find the actual minesite.

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Doug, putting navigational skills to use

Within sight of the ore cart is another guilty pleasure of mine; one of the most unusual trees in the entire park! It’s a tree with a legend, too, as the story goes a group of loggers were in the process of falling it and another nearby tree, when an accident occurred that took the lives of two men. It was decided that they would leave the tree to stand, with all its cuts, and it still survives today. It’s well over 500 years old now, and truly defies adversity. I like to call it The Survivor.

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The Survivor!

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Sometimes when I look at it I can’t believe it hasn’t toppled just yet, and I hope that day never comes!

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A true giant!

There was a time when Western Redcedars between twelve and sixteen feet in diameter and up to a thousand years old were commonplace here. When the Cedar Mills Logging Company plied its trade here, the fallers were very thorough. I have hunted almost all of the park’s drainages on the east side of Lynn Creek and found very few ancient trees.

Now, back to our quest for the mines! We crossed the bridge upstream and began climbing up the south bank. The terrain was typical of the area; we needed to gain but a couple hundred metres but the grades were unforgivingly steep. You also had to be careful not to cliff yourself out, trap yourself in a sharp ravine, or get stuck climbing over deadfall. All good clean fun of course.

Not far up from the trail we found quite a few relics, like this shovel head, piping, and old gas can. The men who worked these slopes were tough and dedicated. Packing cast iron up mountains like this was no easy trick.

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The hook we found, here at left, was I think used for logging purposes as you can see some wire rope cable is buried beside it. I thought it would make an amazing movie prop for a Halloween movie of some kind. What do you think?

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Next we traversed north toward the next creek drainage at about the 500 metre level in search of a possible camp.Some coal burn remains were found as well as a number of cast iron rails and stove parts. Again, the act of lugging all those parts uphill and assembling them must have been an onerous task indeed!

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Stove plate

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There were also cast iron pipes found here, and some apothecary bottles. Alex, also a North Shore Rescue volunteer as Doug is, regaled me with tales of his youth in England that included digging for artifacts under cover of darkness. Hunting for hidden history had long been an avid interest of his. Europe, of course, offers centuries more to discover than our reasonably short recorded heritage here in North Vancouver.

Doug’s thought was to cross the next creek canyon because the map indicated several finds on the adjacent cliffs. This involved fighting our way up another steep spine and making a careful crossing over slick rock. We were all glad that there had been very little recent rainfall.

Less than five minutes away, we knew we were on to something when we saw this sign. While the guys approached from above, I climbed up from below, and saw what I thought was either a work platform or a cabin base.

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The platform had long been covered by trees and dirt but there was a mound of tailings beside it. From above, Doug and Alex announced with excitement that they had found a mine!

Alex was the first to have a closer look. he discovered that there was a shaft opening beneath the floorboards that went down quite a way. This was not a place to trifle with, as by dropping a rock inside we guessed that it was water filled and well over ten feet deep!

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The ground above the mine was extremely steep. We wondered aloud exactly why this spot had been chosen, of all places. It must have been those dreams of untold riches that drive men to prospect. It was something well beyond the modest possibilities found here, we were certain.

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The timbers were in amazing condition, considering how long they had been abandoned, and you could see that they had been notched, perhaps to accomodate some kind of pulley system and or a winch to bring the ore up. Deep in the mine opening, on the right, there was even a partly finished scupture of a face.

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It was, at the end of the day, some time very well spent. It was soon that we departed, recrossed the creek, and tried to work our way south to the creek canyon we’d started in. We gave up that venture when we realized we would not have the time to explore any more. So we plunged downhill, reaching the trail and its hordes of humanity in just minutes, hiking homeward on a perfect spring afternoon.

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The Retreads Grapple Gillespie

It was September of 2012, and a run of near perfect weather gave rise to the idea of climbing Mt Gillespie, in the Mamquam River Valley of the Coast Mountains. Sitting on a high divide in Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park, it’s a handsome summit that can be seen from afar. It’s also surrounded by several pocket glaciers whose days may well be numbered. So it was that Ted, Denis, also known as “The Retreads”, and I were rolling up Highway 99 at the customary early hour, then turning into the shadows cast by the sheer walls of the Squamish Chief. We would need to travel quite some time on logging roads to reach our destination.

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Ted and Denis, clowning it up on the trail, on one of our other trips!

But… “Whoa now, wait a minute!” You’re thinking. “What the heck is a retread?” Well, it’s a term that is, as far as I know anyway, coined by my longtime trail companions for this day, Ted and Denis. Denis explains a retread as a grizzled, old school, experienced mountain man who drinks beer, likes to joke, and never gives up till the job is done. There’s also an aspect of style to the term: retreads do not resemble today’s metrosexual genre, per se.  As I’m fourteen years their junior, I sometimes get called a “pretread”, a retread in training, of sorts. Also, I get to be the expedition photographer, because, you know, I wouldn’t just do that anyway!

These guys have known each other almost as long as I’ve been alive, and their long history makes for a wealth of experience and about as much laughter and tall tales as you can imagine. The stories were flowing freely that morning, so much so that we managed to miss the proper junction for the road we needed. It ended up that we inadvertently explored some newly cut logging spurs. An idle distraction  that was, but we then had to double back to cross the bridge we passed, thus wasting about half an hour altogether. I was unperturbed by the delay or by our short attention spans, because it just gave me more time to hear more stories.

At some point on the long drive it occurred to me to ask Ted what the heck the clinking sounds coming from the back seat were. He informed us insistently that some of the beer he’d brought had to be consumed  from “proper glasses”. This was a first for our trips, though we later discovered that glass and logging roads would make uneasy partners. When I kidded him about whether he’d next be bringing limes on trips he assured me that would not be happening. “Old school climbers don’t put lime in beers, and they don’t stretch before the hike either!”

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Tom Fyles

Tom Fyles, above, was an old school hardscrabble B.C. climber also known as The Climbing Postman, and one of Ted’s all time favourites. He assures me Tom neither stretched nor did he ever put limes in beer!

What was about two hours sped by as though it were half of that before we reached the trailhead. I had been there several years before and immediately noticed that the alder had reclaimed some sections of the road, but the water bars were still only a mild deterrent. After taking some time to gear up, we began forging our way up the rough route through the lower cutblock.

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The Mt Garibaldi massif, 2687 metres high, as seen from above the cutblock

To my chagrin, I noted that it had now been marked as a logging boundary, but to my knowledge it has not been harvested yet. If so, it would be a shame, as the old growth mountain hemlock forest makes for a scenic walk enroute to the meadows.

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Sky Pilot Mountain, 2031 metres in elevation, highest in the Britannia Range

The way to Gillespie is relatively straightforward. First you must attain Peak 5700 from the top of the proposed cutblock, and then you need to lose elevation into a gap before ascending to the alpine basin below Peak 6500 (sometimes known as Seed Peak). From there you wind your way through the ancient glacier that will yield the ridge  that leads to Gillespie’s summit, at 2018 metres in elevation. There are amazing sights in all directions as soon as you gain the plateau below Peak 5700.

You’ll note in this tale I  sometimes refer to elevations in both feet and metres, so I apologize for the confusion. Ted and Denis are only reluctant converts to the metric system, and would be quite happy sticking to English measures. Being typically Canadian, I try to appease all parties!

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Mt Judge Howay in the Stave River drainage
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Ted geared and ready for the alpine
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Meslilloet Mountain, 2000 metres tall, and home to the closest glacier to Metro Vancouver

After a mere half hour of trekking, we climbed a steep hillock that gave us access to the summit of Peak 5700. It was an ideal vantage point, from which we caught our first glimpse of our objective.

This valley has become a welcome place to me, even though my indoctrination to the region some years back with my good friend Chris B. had been a day of foul weather and fleeing from bears, to exaggerate only mildly. The previous excursions I had made there had given me a sense of familiarity, but more than that, it has always seemed pleasant in nature to me. It’s hard to explain, almost as though there are good vibes there, or something like that. Mt Gillespie now took center stage as it appeared across the ridges.

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Mt Gillespie
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Sharp drop into an adjacent valley. We would be weaving our way down into a gap, then up to the basin at upper right

There were only mild technical   difficulties on the next leg of the trip. The trail, if you can call it that, simply uses a high connecting bench that leads you to slopes below Seed Peak.  Then, once you manage to arrive in the high alpine bowl above, you can plot your route to Gillespie.

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The bowl below Seed Peak aka Peak 6500

For a number of years I have wanted to make a point of camping here, as it has all the amenities of the finest wilderness campsites. There is abundant drinking water, and a few icy tarns to cool you off on those hot summer days too. The retreads, though, abhor overnight missions, preferring marathon marches, if necessary, to finish in a single day.

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Denis and Ted reaching the basin, Gillespie at right

Challenges would soon begin in earnest, however. Crossing the bench proved simple enough, but meandering down the granite slabs into the belly of the pocket glacier was next on the agenda.

The photo below illustrates the task well. The glacier is an ancient one that has receded considerably, so we did not have to contend with any crevasses. There were dangerous moats where ice had melted away from the rock faces though, so those had to be walked with care.

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The guys heading down to the glacier
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Walking the glacier

I am pretty sure this is the friendliest glacier I have ever hiked. The snow was in ideal condition and was never steep enough to require crampons. We simply strolled across it.

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Afternoon sun on the granite

In the now approaching midday sun, the rock took on different tones, changing from pollished greys to browns and pinks.

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Concentric patterns

The glacial ice, too, was fascinating. In this photo you can see it has formed concentric patterns over the years. I’m not totally sure how that process would have occurred, but I guessed it had something to do with melting patterns.

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The ledge that leads onto the ridge

I had first heard of this mountain years before from good friend Simon, who had climbed it back in 2005. His description of the way up was quite accurate. We just climbed up to a broad ledge that gave way to a steep and somewhat loose section of scrambling. This was the key to the ridge. We marked our exit point with a cairn so as to make the trip back less complicated.

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Denis on the ridge, where the walking got easier for a while

The bottom of the ridge consisted of fairly simple hiking, with the odd bit of boulder hopping thrown in.

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Me, with the summit now in sight

Once through the large rock garden at the bottom of the ridge, we broke into the clear and were able to see the summit block. It was hard to evaluate the crux from where we stood, but as Denis often says “You’ve got to get a closer look, it never looks easy from afar.”

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In the home stretch now!

What next? Eyeing the summit from the clearing. I figured a short walk on snows and then stick to the rock from there, to start with.

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In the rock garden getting nearer to the summit block

The rocky field of boulders below the buttress above posed no issues at all. It wasn’t long after that we found ourselves gazing at the last of the obstacles that kept us from the summit.

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Incredible mountain views!

What was even better was that the views were opening up more with every step we took. The Mamquam Vallley is a sight to behold, highlighted by glacier clad Mamquam Mountain, which lies within Garibaldi Provincial Park.

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One final snowfield

 

When we crested the boulder slope, we could see a very nice line up a snowfield that had remained hidden until then. Denis led the way, with the rays of the sun all the warmer.

The crux turned out to be a short, narrow slot with almost no exposure which could be scrambled with ease. This completed, all that was left was to tag the summit.

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The final crux, Denis leads and Ted follows

It was time to break for lunch and enjoy the fine views afforded by the summit. But first, a bit of historical banter…

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Ted, as it turned out, had worked with John Gillespie, whose father had been instrumental in lobbying for Pinecone-Burke to be set aside as parkland. The elder Gillespie had passed some years ago, but the mountain we stood atop had been named in his honour. A worn but well made little sign lay nearby as well. Here are some summit views!

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Gillespie Glacier

There was a large snowfield and a glacier on the other side of the mountain as well.

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Five Fingers Group

Haze from recent forest fires hung over the mountains, but of course the views were still grand.

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Meslilloet Mountain again
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Mamquam and Pinecone Lake peaks
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A glacial lake forming on the flanks of Gillespie
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The guys on Gillespie summit, 2018 metres high

Of course, we couldn’t stay there forever. Lingering on mountaintops much more than thirty minutes is frowned upon in the retread culture. I suspect this is mainly because the cold beer is back at the truck and, well, that reason’s good enough for me!

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Well, maybe one last summit shot before we head home!
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Amid the haze

The idea was, of course, to retrace our steps from whence we came. On the way back we missed the cairn that marked the way and ended up casting about for alternative routes down to the glacier.

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Denis reversing the crux
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The end of the summit ridge with Peak 6580 behind
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On the descent
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Mt Gillespie

The sight of November Lake brought to mind my friend Martin. He has a burning desire to pack inflatable rafts to alpine lakes, and I think he has his eye on this lake too.

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November Lake

We explored several routes. One was a steep gully that looked loose and unsafe, so that was ruled out. Then two more that ended in cliffs. We were about to reluctantly climb up and search for the cairn we missed when Ted noticed a rocky gully that swung down to a moraine we could cross to get closer to the glacier.

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Denis on the snowfield

 

Attaining the glacier was somewhat tricky too, as there were moats to avoid, but finally an easy avenue appeared. We crossed the glacier once again, aiming again for the basin below Peak 6580 .

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The glacier, shrouded in the pinks of “watermelon snow”, caused by an organism called Chlamydomonis Nivalis
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A final look back toward the ridge
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And now time to head back up…

Under ideal conditions, but as dictated by the objective, one of the chief designs of a retread’s day in the hills is to avoid vertical gain on the trip back. That was not to be possible on this day, as the ups and downs of these mountains meant there’d definitely be some hard work on the way home. Once at the basin we met some hikers with their dog who had climbed Peak 6500. I asked them if they had found the pair of sunglasses Doug had left there when we had hiked there three years before, but no luck there. Somewhere there’s a mountain goat strolling the hills up there with a nice pair of shades, I guess.

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One last look at Gillespie

The walk back up to Peak 5700 after descending the ridge below Peak 6500 was a bit of a chore for me. I’m not sure whether I managed to get dehydrated or what but I ended up with a sore quadricep for a week after this trip. We were all happy to make it back to the truck and down a few very cold Budweisers after roughly 7 1/2 hours on the trail. Retreads in training are also required to supply chips- plain or ripple but no flavours being preferred. A very rewarding day, good times!

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Doing what we do best!

Myriad topics of conversation on the drive home included mountains, more mountains, wine, women, song, still more mountains, barrroom brawling, the NFL, softball, old western movies, beer, chips, more beer, and still more beer.

Since the ride up had thoroughly shattered his beer glasses, Ted included one of these beers below to each of us as parting gifts. Add a total of 5 1/2 hours driving- longer still for the guys- and it made for a solid 14 hour day. If you have never visited this part of the Coast Mountains, you’re missing out on the very sublime experience that is the Mamquam Valley. Get up there soon!

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Old Cellar Dweller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traversing the Ridge of Chanter

Nestled on a sharp divide between Cyrtina Creek and Furry Creek, the unofficially named Chanter Peak and its accompanying approach via its western subpeaks looked to be an adventurous ascent. The name Chanter, assigned by the Bivouac website, refers to the pipe of a bagpipe which is provided with finger holes with which to play the melody. It was not, as we joked then, what you call those groups of friendly Hare Krishna folk you sometimes see carrying on and chanting happily at the airport. The peak’s suggested name is supposed to be in keeping with the Scottish theme of names in the area, like Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond, whose names are official. At any rate, Simon had diligently researched the ridge and knew that it was rarely hiked and promised great views, and that was enough to pique our curiosity!

Our  immediate concern was to try and avert any kind of route that crossed a potential avalanche chute. The north face of the ridge you see in the photo below had several that were particularly dangerous looking and incredibly steep.

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Chanter Ridge: We were to approach at right and traverse to the left in this photo. The summit of Chanter Peak is 1568 metres in elevation. Our exit ramp is clearly visible at far left… Photo credit Martin O.

So it was that on a perfect tenth of May in 2006, we set out to tackle the task. Simon’s Nissan X-Trail lurched to and fro up the logging road. It was evident that it was going to be a warm spring day, and we continued up the road to park at a washout about 8 kms from the gate. I was intrigued, since I had climbed nearby Capilano Mountain the year before. We had packed snowshoes, crampons, and ice axes, as we weren’t sure exactly how the snow conditions might play out, and expected the trek to last a good portion of the day.

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Morning views from our parking spot
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Here is a view of the ridge, in the foreground, as I’d seen it from Capilano Mountain in August of 2005. Sky Pilot Mountain is at left, and the tower of Ben Lomond on the right

We began by crossing Cyrtina Creek to gain the forest below the western side of the ridge. This went well, at least for Simon, but I managed to end up in the drink.

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Simon shows how it’s done on the creek crossing

None the worse for wear, we continued through stands of ancient mountain hemlock, working our way to the bottom of the ridge. Plenty of stories and laughs were exchanged as we worked our way upward. We had developed quite a rapport through previous expeditions and now had that easy sense of humour that only develops through familiarity.

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The beautifully open old growth forest that we saw that day is now forever gone, according to Simon, who repeated this trek some eight years later. At the time it had been slated to be logged, and though we had hoped it would be preserved, that, unfortunately, was not to be.

We soon came upon a tree that looked as though it would be a perfect den for a bear. Simon peered inside for a quick look, finding no ursine residents, but did so with a casual air that had us both chuckling at the time.

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Hey in there, anybody home?

In short order, the forest opened up into an area of scattered trees and lighter foliage. It didn’t quite don on me at the time, but there was good reason for it that would soon be clear to us.

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The forest begins to clear as we near the ridge above

Once we crested these slopes you could tell that avalanches had snapped trees and created substantial clearings, and possibly in the not too distant past. We soon climbed into a bowl below the ridge and could see a path to the ridge above. Route finding was simple – we chose a steep gully already razed right down to the earth in some spots by a recent slide.  It provided an ideal avenue to attain Chanter Ridge. Had that avalanche not already occurred we might well have shifted our plans or stood down, but luck had prevailed, in this case.

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Me ascending the steep gully below the ridge… Photo by Simon C

This was one of those treks in the mountains that has turned out to be incredibly memorable to me. Perhaps it was the feeling of isolation, perhaps it was the ample sense of adventure. I’m not sure, however, these photos still evoke strong recollections. I  sometimes use the photo above as an icon on social media sites at times.

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Simon waiting for me atop the west end of the ridge

The elevation at the west end of the ridge was about 1420 metres, I believe. It was an appealing vantage point, and we were beginning to enjoy the day immensely. The route we would be taking to move eastward toward the summit seemed straightforward. We knew only of the destination, and scarcely little of the possible obstacles, but that was perhaps the best part of it all.

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Mountain views across the valley were beginning to improve!

The sun was beginning to warm us up quite a bit, and the first thing we realized was that neither of us had brought any sunscreen. While that was no issue at the time, it certainly was to be later. We resolved to move on, trying to shade ourselves wherever possible. There were plenty of other preoccupations to focus on, as it were. Here are some of the emerging views that were enjoyed.

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The ramparts of Capilano Mountain through the trees
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The Tantalus Range over in the Squamish River drainage
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Ben Lomond, a nice looking rock tower at the head of the Seymour Valley

We now concentrated on the task at hand; the next peak on the ridge was a short but sharp ascent of less than 150 metres, elevation wise. The snow, at this point, was well consolidated and ideal for travel.

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Simon assesses the route up the next peak we must ascend

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Getting up this peak was not a marathon undertaking, but it did take plenty of determination. We had to stop on a ledge to put our crampons on, and, as we did, we noticed a huge crevice where snow met rock. It looked very deep and foreboding, and neither of us wanted to end up trapped inside, so we carefully moved past it then tackled the last fifty meters or so to the crest. The first crux was soon ours!

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T’is the struggle that makes the man, as Simon captures in this photo!
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Sky Pilot Mountain, from near the summit of the first subpeak

The sun had really  begun to roast us by now, especially since we were now without the cover of trees. I had wrenched a knee on the steepest section of the climb, but it seemed I could manage. We stopped to eat some lunch and survey the sublime views in every direction, savouring them as much as we could.We could now see the road we’d driven up on, and where we’d begun, roughly 800 metres below on the valley floor.

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Looking back at the entrance to our valley and the road on which we accessed it
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Capilano Mountain, at the head of the Capilano River, a major source of Greater Vancouver’s water supply
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Simon having a look at Ben More, Sky Pilot Mountain and Mt Sheer

We had set a good pace up to this point, or rather, I should say, Simon had set that pace. Of all the people I’ve been with in the mountains, he is certainly the quickest when moving uphill! I’ve often wished that I could spend the number of days he does in the hills, as usually he averages ascending over fifty new peaks a year and has climbed hundreds of summits. Me? I’m just glad to have been along for a decent handful of those hikes.

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Beginning the ridge walk…Photo by Simon

We were now in the kind of territory every mountaineer loves; an open stroll on a friendly expanse of snow with stunning vistas everywhere you looked. At left you see me working toward another peak on the ridge.

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Simon with the westward end of the ridge and the Tantalus Range behind him

I was in no hurry to accelerate this part of the trek, as we trudged along through snow that was fast becoming isothermic. It was also clear we’d both be sporting obvious sunburns in the days to come but that too, seemed not to matter. We had not managed to catch sight of the summit yet but according to readings it could not be far away.

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Simon on the ridge again, one of my favourite photos!

One could discern that the prevailing winds had the habit of creating huge cornices, which we were very careful to keep our distance from. It was safe hiking in the middle of the ridge, but we had seen the sheer drops and avalanche chutes on the north face and so naturally wanted nothing to do with those.

Soon enough, the summit was in our sights, and Simon took the lead as we dug in for the top. You can see (in my photo below) Simon making tracks upward and next (in Simon’s photo) me ascending the ridge with the start of our ridgewalk in the distance.

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On the last pitch to the summit!
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Almost there!

In another ten minutes, we were standing at the high point, at 1568 metres, on this unnamed ridge! It was time to break out the cameras yet again before beginning the journey back into the valley!

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On the summit…Photo by Simon
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Sky Pilot Mountain, at 2031m, tallest in the Britannia Range
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Ben Lomond. Simon was to stand on its top in about 4 weeks, and while I was present on the trip when he did so, it would take me another year later to make it back for a successful second attempt. That’s a fine tale in itself!
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Cathedral Mountain, tallest in the North Shore Mountains at 1737 m….Photo by Simon
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Britannia Range…Photo by Simon
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Simon explores the surprisingly wide summit plateau

While capturing the summit had been eventful,  now it was time to think about the day’s second crux. How were we to get down? While we had a general idea, there was some apprehension due to the snow having softened and the need to avoid avalanche prone slopes. That would take some doing, but we were confident a solution would present itself.

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Pondering our escape

This mountain hemlock, as pictured below here, that guards the end of ridge where we dropped down may be well over 500 years old.

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Tsuga Mertensiana, Mountain Hemlock
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Where to next?

As we reached the end of the summit block, an appealing snow bowl with reasonably safe slopes came into view. We would start our trip downward there, plunging steps as we walked.

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The bowl we descended into, with the summit looming behind
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Me, hiking down into the bowl below the ridge…..Photo by Simon
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Mountaineer’s best friend

 

Next came a glissade on wet snow that enabled us to lose almost a hundred metres in elevation. At the end of the slide only quick reflexes allowed Simon to avoid a nasty broken snow bridge. Had I been in the lead I would certainly have broken through if only because my greater weight would have ensured that. As we stood about considering where we should go next, a conspicuous solution leaped out at us. A perfect ramp to our left seeemed to lead to the foot of the ridge, and since we knew that the slopes above it were reasonably safe,  we walked and glissaded our way down. It had taken merely half an hour to reach the valley floor.

The end of the ramp came abruptly, and  welcomed our return to the forest, but not without warning. Some  weeks before, an avalanche had ripped down the couloir immediately west of our exit point and taken out a huge expanse of forest. There was no urge to linger there, because while the danger had passed, the feeling of vulnerability had not, so we continued on toward the logging road.

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The ramp where it met the valley below. You can see the devastation a previous snowslide had wreaked on the forest here! It looked to be a week or two old
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Another view from back on the logging road. The chute at center was the one that released. Our ramp exit would be unsafe in typical winter conditions or even a couple weeks earlier

It had taken us just under eight hours to complete our trip, and we were feeling that brimming sense of accomplishment that a fine day in the mountains typically brings.

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Well done!

On our walk down the logging road, we stopped in to have a look at Rolf Beltz’s ski cabin, which has now long fallen into disrepair. We certainly wished it had a beer fridge, but you can’t have everything, I guess.

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Simon in the ski cabin
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A decent wood stove

All told, our eight hour day featured about 9 kms of travel and 1300 metres of cumulative elevation gain. It was a day that tested not just our skill and mettle, but also our critical thinking process. It was a satisfying day in so many respects, and I suppose that this trek has left such an impression on me. The ridge with no name, had, to us at least, made a name for itself!