Category Archives: North Shore Mountains

Trips and treks in my home range

The Hollyburn Fir

The Hollyburn Fir is an absolute revelation! Sitting almost inconspicuously in a shaded forest clearing on West Vancouver’s Brewis Trail, it has somehow managed not only to avoid being logged, but also to evade even being discovered until 1985, at least officially! Its trunk measures over ten feet in diameter and its age is estimated at about 1000 years old. The tree was nominated for the B.C. Big Tree Registry by Randy and Greg Stoltmann, both West Vancouver residents at the time, I believe. It still ranks highly on British Columbia’s list of top ten Douglas Firs, as far as I know.

61951401_2925525964158890_6914626029180944384_n
The first time I saw this tree I was surprised that it seemed so little known. That has changed now, and it gets many regular visitors
62201619_2925526024158884_6426339761463492608_n
The trunk retains a lot of diameter as it rises, and is very straight and true. I believe the height is roughly 250 feet, when I last checked

You would think that an enormous Douglas Fir would have drawn more attention over the years, especially as it resides in an area that once had extensive logging and has also been used considerably for recreation. It may just have been that it was a well kept secret by locals, as there are even eighty year old cabins in the vicinity that are less than two kilometres from this tree!

62577778_2925525870825566_2559368172713017344_n
The base of the Hollyburn Fir is a bit over ten feet in diameter at breast height
61838474_2925525997492220_8623178347540643840_n
It’s easy to feel humble standing alongside something that is ten centuries old! Doug giving it the stoic turn of the 20th century style pose in this photo!

It’s no surprise, however, that it was found on the lower slopes of Hollyburn Mountain. A large scale logging operation at the turn of the twentieth century did a fair share of harvesting in both Lawson Creek and nearby Brothers Creek. The forests of Lower Hollyburn were legendary! Many of the trees taken in those days were between 500 and 1000 years old in age. Even so, many grand specimens do remain standing, but with certainty, the Hollyburn Fir may just outshine them all!

61775904_2925526144158872_2034686257639981056_n
This is the more rarely photographed west side of the tree
61995435_2925526124158874_1011330640609542144_n
A closeup of the bark structure on one side of the tree

If you haven’t had the chance to visit this giant, I suggest that you do. In a world that persists in seeing ancient forests simply for their dollar value, trees that have lived for a millennium are in increasingly short supply. This one, at least, is protected from that avarice, and to see the Hollyburn Fir is like travelling back in time!

62471600_2925525840825569_5593781572567302144_n
I am always happy to visit the Hollyburn Fir!
Advertisements

Hiking the Dreamweaver Trail

I’ll call him “A”, and ultimately, it was his vision. His brainchild was to build a unique trail joining several challenging obstacles on the east side of Mosquito Creek Canyon to connect with a substantial log crossing on Mosquito Creek. From there, a serpentine path would twist its way through a superb grove of Western Red Cedars on Grouse Mountain that had somehow escaped the crosscut saws of early twentieth century loggers. It would eventually meet with the well worn Lower Grouse Mountain Highway (LGMH) Trail, which could then be used to access other paths. That trail would come to be known as Dreamweaver (click here for map)

One of the old wooden signs that used to mark the trail. It has since been removed, I have been told

Our unnamed trail builder was a  highly skilled woodsman with an impressive array of carpentry skills. The evidence shows that he is also someone who seems to like to tackle a difficult project. In other words, the perfect person to battle the route’s obstructions. The crux of the matter was a sharply sloped hillside high above Mosquito Creek bisected by a jagged ravine which had been worsened by decades of flooding. There was also the usual problem of massive fallen trees, not at all uncommon in this canyon.

60334410_2883195231725297_1392496708818042880_n
Deadfall and other resultant chaos is common in the Mosquito Creek Valley, which is very steep sided and in a constant state of change

But were those downed trees really a problem?

“A” certainly didn’t think so. There was a massive log that spanned the hillside, but it was not quite safe for passage, at least not for most hikers. So what was the solution? In time, he figured it out! He would build a bridge using that fallen giant as a base.

In actual fact, that bridge had two incarnations because he wasn’t happy with the prototype. The final version would even be bolstered by wire rope cables. There would also be a sturdy cedar plank deck and some handrails at one end.  The result, after all those trials and tribulations, was a secure bridge that could withstand all but the absolute worst of Mosquito Creek’s propensity for natural disaster. It was a complex process into which he put his heart, soul, and determination. Days of work were required, as well as plenty of ingenuity, to get the job completed. A chainsaw, winch, plenty of physical strength, and the occasional friend also proved helpful.

So was he successful? Absolutely! The Kwai Bridge, as he named it, has stood solidly for the last seventeen years that I know of! Once this feat of engineering was mastered, then the next stage was to find a way to cross the oft raging waters of Mosquito Creek Canyon.

60397261_2883262575051896_7442609936585981952_n
The Kwai Bridge is truly one of a kind and quite a feat of engineering

Once down on the banks of the creek, “A” once again found a similar solution to the problem of crossing Mosquito Creek’s main tributary. There was another fallen old growth giant admirably wedged across the waters! It could be used to bridge over to a series of big logs on the west bank of the creek! He set to planing it flat and etching it for improved traction. With all of that accomplished, all that remained was to choose an entry point into the forest above, where the track would continue its way into that splendid grove of cedars hidden nearby.

The crossing of the creek used to be quite simple as you would simply stroll across this downed tree that “A” customized

I have never had the chance to thank him personally, but the dedication he put into this project can only described as a labour of love. The North Shore Mountains have had more than their share of iconic trail builders, and Dreamweaver’s creator certainly takes his rightful place on that honour roll. Soon after it was built, the trail became a fast favourite of mine, and in the rest of this story I’ll try to show you why!

As the map shows, the trail actually begins in the maze of old skid roads near the top of St Mary’s Avenue in North Vancouver, where it makes use of a variety of different tracks which get it into the Mosquito Creek Canyon. For the purposes of this story I simply describe the trail from the point at which Dreamweaver intersects the Mt Fromme Trail, because I generally skip the conventional access and begin quite near where the Kwai Bridge is located ( I hike in via the Mt Fromme Trail which begins near the water towers at the top of Prospect Drive). 

60076481_2883197161725104_6573948656326541312_n
Crossing the Kwai Bridge

When some local officials first saw the Kwai Bridge ten years later, there was a lot of disdain for it. In fact, though, despite its unorthodox construction, it has proven its worthiness over and over again. When you cross it yourself, take the time to linger and appreciate the effort it took to make it a reality, as you gaze down the sharp defile into the canyon.

Once you are across the bridge, your journey into the old growth forest begins! There is a nice group of cedars to wander among before the trail makes its way downhill to reach Mosquito Creek’s log crossing.

60417867_2883197995058354_3899918016590118912_n
Among the old growth trees you see once you cross Kwai Bridge

The next segment of your excursion takes you across a slide slope that released about twenty years ago, with its origins half a kilometre uphill from the creek. The trail here becomes crude, with loose gravel, rock and exposed earth. New trees and foliage are struggling, with modest success, to reestablish growth on the rough hillside.

60142832_2883262825051871_3879588587758419968_n
The slide path you cross on the way down to Mosquito Creek

Once you’re down on the banks of the creek, you’ll be looking to cross it, then head slightly downstream on the opposite side. If waters are high, you might find that fording the creek is now necessary, because that sturdy downed tree that makes the crossing has shifted somewhat over the years during storms.

60524251_2883196321725188_9197283512145674240_n
The log crossing in 2018

In heavy rains, Mosquito Creek is not the place you want to be! In fact, further down the canyon the District of North Vancouver has even had to construct some elaborate cages of wire rope cable in order to catch and control debris torrents. Despite its proximity to North Vancouver, there have also been a disproportionate number of hikers that have lost their way in this canyon. Be well prepared if you go hiking there, and allow plenty of time so you don’t get caught out by darkness.

60224735_2883196748391812_89215812291788800_n
Mosquito Creek, just behind the log crossing
60007823_2883195998391887_3784016524516261888_n
Golden reflections

The trail is sparsely marked once you reach the west side of the creek and enter the woods, so pay close attention to the footbed. The forest soon works its charm wonderfully as you hike upward once again. On a sunny morning I cannot think of a place I’d rather be, as every step adds to the enchantment.

88579
Follow along yet another log as it leads you down stream to where the path climbs uphill
60094236_2883197371725083_2246281227386486784_n
Looking back at the crossing from the west side, with the slide slope in the background
60254982_2883197265058427_6376092372131905536_n
Climbing into the forest above, hearing the roar of the creek nearby

The silvered and spiky treetops pierce the upper canopy as the sounds of woodpeckers and songbirds fill the air. The forest takes on an entirely different character; Douglas Squirrels chatter loudly, laying claim to their territory, and the sounds of ravens and eagles are often heard echoing above.

60287349_2883195305058623_939340073831235584_n
Old and sun bleached Western Red Cedars

It isn’t unusual to see a deer, pine marten, or a black bear, and, on more rare occasions, even a bobcat or cougar. Barred Owls swoop silently in the treetops above sometimes, in search of prey. The creek itself is home to the Coastal Tailed Frog, a blue listed species in southwestern British Columbia, and the feisty Pacific Water Shrew.

60342510_2883195458391941_2101541675619844096_n
Mosquito Creek welcoming committee!
60530597_2883262668385220_8933954918289506304_n
Morning mist on Dreamweaver
60511778_2883262945051859_5757341550765932544_n
Doug winding his way through the forest

The trees in this grove are centuries old, as wide as eleven feet in diameter, and the forest supports a diverse and mature understory which is wonderful to photograph. There are also immense boulders and several small brooks that trickle through the  glades. It’s hard to believe that you’re so close to civilization when you walk there, and it’s very easy to lose yourself in the moment. Places like these must be preserved for future generations to appreciate!

60400881_2883196118391875_517040992159793152_n
Gateway!
60445731_2883198138391673_4075394927012347904_n
Woodpeckers are very busy in this forest
60151406_2883197008391786_710743617777434624_n
Skeletal remains and blue skies
60111079_2883196911725129_2532933323316002816_n
If you do this hike, try to choose a sunny day!
60470040_2883197425058411_5867019897220890624_n
Three Rocks, as I like to call this formation

60230199_2883197068391780_7474435631364440064_n

60020408_2883197981725022_1437759058458181632_n
Chris with one of the oldest cedars on the trail

You gain a few hundred metres in elevation as the track continues, and by the time you reach LGMH , you’re suddenly among the second growth trees again. Soon after that you will also encounter the signs of human detritus along the trail.

60098840_2883195951725225_4473379232453492736_n

60518258_2883197555058398_3891901820909387776_n
Twisting giant in the shade
60146691_2883196255058528_1914672308610400256_n
Western Red Cedar, Thuja Plicata, over 400 years old
60300521_2883195515058602_2323306470793281536_n
Several trees in the grove were about to be cut, but thankfully remain standing today. This tree is about 500 years old
60294952_2883262845051869_4273133121081180160_n
What’s this? Classic beer bottles and an old kitchen knife

In terms of expediency, taking LGMH back down to the toward the top of Skyline Drive is the most efficient return to where you began, if you take my preferred route. Eventually you will reach the Baden Powell Trail and follow it down to the Mosquito Creek Bridge, (which isn’t far from the top of Prospect Drive). The Baden Powell Trail then loops back to Dreamweaver, and all of the other trails that connect to it.

60098558_2883262285051925_8033791105180893184_n
I call any old kitchen items I find in the woods Ted Oliver Cookware, in honour of a certain good friend of mine. You’d be surprised how much of this stuff can be found in the North Shore Mountains!

Of all of the places in the North Shore Mountains I’ve hiked, the Dreamweaver Trail takes you through some of the most idyllic forest you’ll find anywhere. Hopefully you get the opportunity to explore the Mosquito Creek Valley more closely, though I do have to happily warn you that one visit probably won’t be enough. Just to prove it, here are some more images that showcase Dreamweaver’s beauty!

60236594_2883196808391806_9167785371814068224_n
Tower of strength
60596403_2883262598385227_6243287993314967552_n
The forest as it should be seen, natural and mostly undisturbed by man
60059222_2883196581725162_7518156594551455744_n
Please do not remove the markers on this trail! They help ensure hikers do not get lost and also help search and rescue people find them!

To close this out this diatribe, I’ll leave you with this 1976 music video by Gary Wright. I think it’s reasonable to assume his song just may have inspired the name of this trail. In any event, the music does seem to suit a walk through the wilderness, if you ask me. I  played it while browsing the photos in this report and it somehow it just sounded right. I’ll let you decide if you agree!

The Temple Giant

There are times, I am reminded, that a simple gesture of kindness leads to a great deal of happiness. Fifteen years ago I was given scanned excerpts of an out of print map published by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) by my good friend Vida, and that aided me in a long quest to rediscover the hidden old growth trees of the Seymour Valley. It has been a memorable journey, and during those years not only was I able to find all of the trees on the map, but also many more of the valley’s secrets.

temples and pipeorgan -#9AA copyA
An excerpt from the WCWC map, now out of print. For today’s purposes, the newer Seymour Valley Trailway runs parallel and uphill to the original Seymour Mainline road which is now off limits to the public

The Temple Grove of Giants was really the first part of the map that captured my attention, with its high concentration of ancient Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars. The Seymour River Valley had been extensively logged earlier in the twentieth century, so how had these trees managed to survive? Thankfully, there will be no more timber harvesting in the North Shore Mountains, so they are at least now protected for future generations.

PA040198 copyA
Matt meets the Temple Fir back in 2006. Hard for me to believe this was so long ago!

In order to get the big picture, I suggest reading Tolkien, Story of a Tree, in which I detail a broader history of the Temple Grove of Giants, but for today, I’ll focus on the Temple Giant.

IMG_0664
Rich approaches the Temple Giant in 2008

Well over six centuries have passed since the Temple Giant took root in the forests of Hydraulic Creek. Since that was long before the time of colonization, its life was relatively undisturbed for most of that duration, but the early 1920s brought about considerable change. It is said that a human caused fire in 1936 broke out while fallers were working in the area, and authorities closed down their camp at that point. There was also The Great Depression to contend with, when timber prices plummeted, and that may have helped to save the grove as well. Years later, in the 1990s, when there were plans to begin harvesting again, the efforts of the WCWC finally led to the end of  logging in Greater Vancouver’s watersheds.

PA040197 copyA
The Temple Giant is among the largest Douglas firs in the province of British Columbia

The Temple Giant is without a doubt one of the most impressive Douglas Firs I have seen,  certainly ranking in the top five as far as British Columbia is concerned. Its diameter is well over eight feet at breast height and it pierces the skies at a height of over 250 feet! It may be as old as 700 years in my estimation. There are many others in the Temple Grove of Giants that are over four hundred years in age, in fact. If you’re interested in a visit, you’ll probably want to bring your bike so that you can cycle the Seymour Valley Trailway to the Hydraulic Creek Bridge. It’s an excursion well worth making!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Temple Giant is a sight to behold. It’s a real time saver if you ride your bike to the trailhead!

 

Sunset on Seymour, a Retrospective

It was an early October afternoon a few years back when Doug and I finally got around to doing something we probably should have done years before. What was that, you ask? Hiking to the summit of Mt Seymour to catch the sunset! When I originally posted the photos from this trek, a lot of people I know said “Is that the first time you’ve done that? I thought you guys did that all the time.” Truth is, as often as both of us had explored the remotest corners of Mt Seymour Provincial Park, we had never actually lingered over a sunset there. There had been, of course, many treks where we’d seen the sunrise, but it was high time to change that equation.

PA130026a
Sunrises on Mt Seymour have been much more common for me. Here’s Simon watching the sun come up on our way to Mt Elsay years ago

So it was that Saturday evening Doug and I were headed up the mountain at about 5 pm, on yet another flawless autumn day. The plan was to scramble the south face of Pump Peak, then head over the shoulder below its summit, bypass Tim Jones Peak, then get to the summit of Mt Seymour well before the magic hour. The climb up was fun, with afternoon shadows providing a welcome respite from rays of sunshine that were unusually warm for October.

IMG_5890
Reflections on the pond below Brockton Point
IMG_5892
Late afternoon sun on Brockton Tarn

We set a decent pace uphill, reaching the summit by about 615 pm, where we soon broke out the cameras and refreshments. The sunset was an incredible show, and we had the place entirely to ourselves. Unbeknownst to Doug, I’d packed up four beers, some chocolate bars, and a sandwich, so we were well prepared for the show.

IMG_5906
A sea of mountains to the north and west of Mt Seymour!
IMG_0611
Setting up my Canon SX 40 as the light begins to change. I still use it for a lot of the big zooms I take

Although Mt Seymour is so close to the ever burgeoning metropolis of Vancouver, it is sometimes easy to forget that it is also the gateway to an expansive tract of wilderness. Few people find themselves on its summit at day’s end and fewer still venture beyond it, especially as darkness approaches.

IMG_0635 copy
Looking west to Vancouver Island. Though I didn’t envision it at the time I now call “The Island” home!

The ever changing light was a delight to photograph, and we spent a good hour and a half savouring every moment. From the towers of Mt Judge Howay and Meslilloet to the glaciers of Mamquam Mountain and Garibaldi, from the city lights of Vancouver to the distant peaks of Vancouver Island, every mountain seemed visibly pronounced in some shade of vivid colour. I still recall it as one of the finer golden hours I’ve had a chance to see! Here are some of the more notable images I captured.

IMG_0618 copy
Coquitlam Mountain, a real sufferfest for climbers I am told! I often wonder, when I see it from this angle, if anyone has ever ascended that prominent ramp all the way to the ridge . It is, of course, off limits, in the Coquitlam Watershed. It’s only 1583m in elevation but its west face is quite a dramatic sight!
IMG_0617
Mt Robie Reid, in Golden Ears Provincial Park, almost 2100m in elevation. If you look closely you can even see its radio repeater
IMG_0607
Looking over the east shoulder of Mt Bishop to the Mamquam Valley beyond. The Coquitlam Divide is at right above Indian Arm, which can’t be seen in this shot
IMG_0609
Meslilloet Mountain, elevation 2000m, and having the distinction of hosting the closest glacier to the Vancouver area, as the crow flies
IMG_0643 copy
Mt Garibaldi, in Garibaldi Provincial Park, 2678m tall, and the closest volcano to the Vancouver area. It’s much closer, however, to Squamish
IMG_0608
The Fannin Range, of which Seymour is a member, also features neighbours Mt Elsay and Mt Bishop.  Meslilloet and Bonnycastle are in the background behind them
IMG_0658 copy
Sunset begins to glow over Vancouver and company
IMG_0655
Crown Mountain and The Camel in evening silhouette
IMG_0646
Cathedral Mountain, at 1737m, is the highest mountain in close proximity to Vancouver, although it cannot be seen from North Vancouver where I used to live
IMG_0615
To the east again, this is the twin towers of Mt Judge Howay, 2262m, near the head of the Stave Lake. It’s prized by climbers as it’s a real ordeal just to get to it. That’s Viennese Peak at far right over in the Chehalis Range
IMG_0640 copy
The monstrous icefields of Mamquam Mountain, 2588m, in the Mamquam Valley in Garibaldi Provincial Park
IMG_0645
The Sky Pilot Group, with Mt Habrich hiding out at right. At 2000m, it is the tallest in the Britannia Range, at the head of Britannia Creek

     I could go on and on about all of the things I love about Mt Seymour, but what I have always liked best is that you are in an alpine environment with unrivalled views of the city.

IMG_5956
Best city views by a mile, in my estimation!

There is no tram to pay for on the way down, for you must hike and scramble over rock, not staircases, and if you want beer you’d better bring your own, just the way I like it. When I moved to the Lower Mainland many years ago from Montreal, it was the first Coast Mountain I ever hiked. It is wilderness in every way, however, for those uninitiated, despite its proximity to civilization. Once you are above the ski runs and into the backcountry try not to forget that all the inherent dangers remain, along with all the potential for solitude and adventure.

IMG_0612
Untold miles of wilderness looking northeast of Mt Seymour’s summit, about as rugged as it gets!
IMG_0631 copy
Sun begins to set in the west
IMG_0644 copy
A closer look at the Sky Pilot Group. The second highest summit is Ledge Peak
IMG_0636
The Mt Arrowsmith massif on Vancouver Island is quite a landmark, at 1819m in elevation

With beers downed and photos taken, we packed up to head down via the standard parks trail. By the time we reached Tim Jones Peak the light had all but vanished, so then we were relying on headlamps, a GPS track, and our familiarity with the trail. When finding your way in darkness, the old route up the face of Pump Peak is somewhat harder to navigate, so we purposefully allowed more time for the descent. Hiking in the dark is in itself a skill, and not to be underestimated. For me, it’s something I don’t commonly do, but for Doug, as a North Shore Rescue member, it’s something he does all the time. It gives one a whole new sense of appreciation about what it takes to locate and rescue lost hikers at night. What was also interesting was that I discovered I really do know every inch of the Mt Seymour Trail, dark or otherwise. There are, by the way, always a headlamp and an extra set of batteries or two in my pack because lighting is never underrated!

IMG_5961 copy
Light fading fast on the descent
IMG_5925
A parting shot: Mt Burwell, 1545m, at left beside Cathedral, with Sky Pilot and Garibaldi and others on the horizon

All told, it took an hour and fifteen minutes to hike up, about an hour and ten minutes on the summit, and less than an hour and a half to hike down in the dark to make it  three hours fifty minutes for the trip. Highly recommended, but only if you are very well prepared, have excellent navigational skills, and you know the mountain well. If not, why not camp on the summit? I think I’ll do that myself sometime!

The Magic of the Blue Cedar Grove

The Blue Cedar Grove. It’s a title that stirs the imagination, kind of like The Golden Spruce, I remember thinking, when I first read the words. I never did remember to ask Ralf Kelman exactly why he’d chosen such a name, but as soon as I saw it on the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) map, I knew that I needed to see these trees!

The first trip I made to this grove was hardly a day filled with great inspiration. It was a one of those spring days when it’s hard to anticipate what way the weather is going to turn. In short, I guessed wrong. Only half an hour into my bike ride up the valley, light rain began to fall, escalating into a torrential downpour by the time I had left my ride to hunt for the trees. I did decide to press on, but it seemed the further I walked the harder it poured! I made it as far as a soaking wet, moss covered boulder field before I conceded defeat.

58381014_2850352065009614_8759178727486652416_n
The only find on a very rain soaked day was this fine four hundred year old cedar
57882532_2850352258342928_6642488491760418816_n
A day when you could not keep the water off your camera lens!

 

The high point of the day was returning to my truck to don dry clothing, devour a sandwich, and drink a thermos of hot chocolate laced with Grand Marnier! ( I highly recommend that last part if you haven’t tried it before, just don’t drink and drive. Take a very long nap, like I did. )

It was four years later in 2008 that I finally returned. On that occasion I chose perfect weather, with the sun shining warmly on my birthday, no less! In a scant twenty minutes from where I left my bike I reached the grove, which certainly did not disappoint.

57467893_2850338881677599_107153077483601920_n
There it was, the moss covered boulder field where I had begun my retreat several years before!

58373903_2850338955010925_6004803749451661312_n

Tall and towering cedars, draped in moss, set the scene. The forest floor and understory were a carpet of innumerable greens, though it was far from easy to decide where to place your next step.

58373336_2850339708344183_8969183051800117248_n
In this case, moss grows on the east side of this big cedar!
58057774_2850342071677280_6724398779430076416_n
If you like marked trails with few obstructions, avoid hiking with me!
57620749_2850340385010782_1566518011873984512_n
Fallen giant on the forest floor
57540166_2850328938345260_8743060015872475136_n
An explosion of greenery!

58003907_2850338725010948_1292496074732208128_n

57821893_2850342505010570_5287744571244019712_n
Spectacular place to spend an afternoon

I was quite surprised to also find a number of very nice Douglas Firs interspersed here and there, and along the creek a number of massive Bigleaf Maples held court, shading me from the midday sun. Nearby, a quizzical deer observed me clambering about, no doubt wondering what in the world I was doing there!

57584295_2850329208345233_3445013312733970432_n
Douglas Fir aka Pseudotsuga Menzieszi
58749450_2850329441678543_8091839005525540864_n
Bigleaf Maple on O’Hayes Creek
58383896_2850329185011902_4035367322167279616_n
The sheer volume of their foliage is overwhelming!
58570767_2850329715011849_8512091037064232960_n
Bigleaf Maples are highly underrated if you ask me

57613189_2850329465011874_2006676903297024000_n

After enjoying the grove, I was soon drawn uphill, following the dull roar of water that I could hear in the background. When I found the source of the noise it was a surprise to me. A winter avalanche had roared down the creek canyon right down to an elevation of 500 meters. By the month of May the snows had melted out and the creek had created a cavern beneath them, leaving me something highly unique to explore. I dared not venture inside it, though, as I could hear the creaking and groaning of shifting ice echoing from within.

57485269_2850328618345292_197523638977560576_n
Just a shot here to give you an idea how steep and rough these creek valleys are. These are the nearby cliffs at Jack’s Burn, where you can sometimes spot mountain goats
57821749_2850338321677655_4011320199708934144_n
O’Hayes Creek as seen from a helicopter. Credit to Doug for this photo, which really gives you a different perspective!

Some years later I was to learn that this creek was highly volatile indeed, as during heavy rains the entire couloir released and stripped out the creek bed right down to earth. You can still view the scars of that event in Google Earth images, another five years after it occurred! Here then is the walk up the canyon as I viewed it that day…

57437577_2850330378345116_5560455869050650624_n
O’Hayes Creek
58373016_2850330318345122_8519578655414812672_n
Over the years quite a few huge boulders have tumbled down this creek gully
57558636_2850329691678518_5456588170965549056_n
Those are The Needles in the background
58689271_2850329708345183_4864890700057018368_n
I got to see this rock tower from above on the day we traversed The Needles several years before
58542900_2850329901678497_3844711387435630592_n
The canyon walls
57694929_2850329911678496_1768541329173774336_n
A truly unique place, and one I’ll never forget!
57908920_2850330095011811_1330346749633495040_n
The ice cave back in 2007. For scale, the opening is, or was, seven feet at its tallest. I did not go inside!
58379979_2850330171678470_1528968431360016384_n
The sounds emanating from within were intimidating to say the least!

Having finally run out of time, I descended the gully once again, vowing to return. The next decade, however, would have a lot to say about whether that was going to happen, but suffice it to say that I was a very happy hiker on that sunny afternoon in late May!

57538134_2850329988345155_1267471890163695616_n
This territory is about as rugged as it gets!
57578709_2850330105011810_7303502701852098560_n
Cliffside cascade

 

58586786_2850330298345124_1768250018721955840_n
I could not resist another look back at a truly incredible place

58372789_2850329855011835_1002665930636918784_n

57811483_2850329021678585_8847863720475361280_n

58766093_2850338445010976_4271112377623117824_n
The end of a great day, heading back to my bike

In 2018, I would finally return again, on another absolutely resplendent day. I knew that soon I was to be moving away from the North Shore Mountains, and the Blue Cedar Grove compelled me to visit one more time. The day of discovery was a rewarding one, as I found several sizeable  Pacific Yews , hiding in plain sight as they always seem to be. One of them was so twisted and gnarled that I named it “The Elk”, for its upper branches that gave the appearance of antlers.

58374214_2850344548343699_7552112872281604096_n
Introducing “The Elk”, one very interesting Pacific Yew!
58113339_2850343975010423_8082019838408523776_n
The base of “The Elk”

I will never forget having lunch on the banks of O’Hayes Creek that day, warmed by the sun as countless birds sang nearby. It may seem trite to say I feel as though I’ve developed a bond with this place over the years, but I can’t think of any other way describe it. It is, without a doubt, one of the Seymour Valley’s special places. Here is a guided tour of what I experienced that day.

58430297_2850339418344212_6173249424748183552_n

58543841_2850341315010689_2054234320251387904_n
Shadows in the forest
58461495_2850341261677361_8457132592594944000_n
This cedar tree had a very long piece of bark that seemed to have stripped from the trunk

58639060_2850346351676852_4406568499313377280_n

57972790_2850329051678582_6840860610117238784_n
Spiky treetops usually mean old growth trees!
58381413_2850346311676856_4291136241006542848_n
Any time you find a yew around two to three feet wide you have yourself a very old tree
58375621_2850345471676940_1126236761127649280_n
When a giant falls it can either be quite a roadblock or a highway for escape!

57678117_2850328645011956_4114652435631308800_n

57503903_2850342598343894_6039913792836468736_n
Rattlesnake Plantain
57936063_2850345488343605_3245358128732045312_n
Timeless beauty

58382999_2850328688345285_429296502519627776_n

57612567_2850340535010767_1416356106845814784_n

57555449_2850330501678437_5736122067271548928_n

57503432_2850351458343008_1707925351918731264_n
Little things!
57486535_2850343898343764_7502316480285900800_n
Partners

57543654_2850351118343042_8561590419186515968_n

57451009_2850352145009606_7174717970042585088_n
Sunlit Alder trees
57485567_2850328935011927_5058109476133928960_n
I call this cedar “The Moose”
57592747_2850341735010647_2261862252044877824_n
Tilting panorama of a cedar tree

Imagine, if you can, the Seymour Valley in the late 1800s. It was a land almost completely undisturbed, abundant with wildlife, and blanketed with one of the finest coastal temperate rainforests this land had to offer.

57471841_2850329061678581_9042707097996754944_n
Western Red Cedar, aka Thuja Plicata
58594817_2850349961676491_5301027998852448256_n
Towering Douglas Firs

With the influx of settlers and the further displacement of indigenous peoples, however, everything changed. Much of the valley bottom timber was harvested, and the majority that remains many years later is in the stages of recovery. There are, however, places that do remain relatively pristine, and I’ve made it a passion of mine to search for them. The Blue Cedar Grove certainly possesses that magic in abundance, a place that always fills me with gratitude. Should you take the time to seek it out, I’m sure you’ll agree!

57572714_2850343055010515_149340432403267584_n
Blue Cedar Grove

The Bishop Giants

Fifteen years ago, I cycled up the Seymour Valley’s East Side Road on an impeccable spring day.  The intention was to find the approach trail that led up to Vicar Lakes and Mt Bishop, which I accomplished, but what I discovered was something else again.

Just minutes after wondering whether I ought to just head home after spotting what I thought was the tail end of a very big cat near the trailhead, I gathered myself and continued up the forest path toward Mt Bishop. I was glad I did!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The patriarch of the Bishop Trail Grove, which may be almost 1000 years old

At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but upon further examination, they were not. There in in an auspicious clearing in the forest was the monstrous trunk of a venerable Western Red Cedar. Due to the second growth trees that surrounded it, at first it was difficult to tell whether or not I was looking at a live tree or not, or even if it was a stump. I began to circle this giant, trying to get a look at its canopy high above the forest floor. Sure enough, it was alive, and it was immediately apparent just how ancient it really was, perhaps a thousand years old. What’s more, a somewhat smaller tree of similar old age sat quietly beside it in the shadows. This was a revelation!

2350507271_4e823e57fd_b
Doug and the two giants of the Bishop Grove from several years later in April 2006
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
700 year old cedar in the Bishop Grove

It isn’t every day that you find two trees, each over seven centuries old! A decade and a half later, they are both still thriving well, and perhaps receive just a few dozen visitors every year. It’s hard to imagine that once trees like these were a common sight in the Seymour Valley, but heartening to know that their status is now well protected. See them while you can!

 

 

Living on the Edge: The Forgotten Forest, Part Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

53093763_2777586932286128_2292673570037301248_n
Lunch time!

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

 

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

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

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

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

53419713_2777595465618608_6383304979431555072_n
Hmm, what are we looking at here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

53723666_2777596095618545_5216746227810435072_n
One of my favourite tree hunting photos!

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

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

53660872_2777586542286167_4826154179560996864_n

53060155_2777586498952838_2588363149035962368_n

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

53161747_2777596405618514_1595067011677814784_n

53274768_2777595968951891_8970998697684893696_n

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

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

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

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

53121297_2777586305619524_5895846072739168256_n

53476509_2777596605618494_5508775906262384640_n
Does anyone know exactly what this is?

53352588_2777596692285152_8108641432983568384_n

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

The Grove That Time Forgot

He named it the Mary Jewell Cedar, after his closest companion. I never did get to see it for myself, but Vancouver artist Ralf Kelman described it to me as quite a sight to behold. It was a venerable cedar, roughly twelve feet in diameter, with an expansive hollow chamber, and perhaps seven centuries old. If it stood today, it would be among the largest remaining cedars in the Seymour Valley, to my knowledge, but sadly, it now lives on only in folklore.

52100186_2759153337462821_2772686867454230528_n
Mary Jewell, by the way, happens to be an artist who specializes in conceptual paintings (frottage) of the surface texture of the bark of ancient native and other old-growth trees on canvas, silk or vellum, revealing patterns (Source: LinkedIn). The intricate patterns of ancient bark are endlessly fascinating, if you ask me!

The story of the tree’s demise dates back twenty years and begins with Ralf’s efforts to preserve the remaining giants of the Seymour Valley from logging. He walked the steep drainages below Lynn Ridge and The Needles, discovering and documenting these ancient remnants, in what was then known as the Seymour Demonstration Forest. At the time, the powers that be did not take kindly to being told what they could and could not do with the lands in our watersheds, including logging. It was only through bringing notoriety to the area that change would result. Each grove he found was later featured on a map published by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee ( WCWC ) and that, combined with timely and persistent lobbying, finally brought about an end to harvesting timber in Greater Vancouver watersheds.

52478550_2759155447462610_8624544181500510208_n
This excerpt from the old WCWC map shows the roads as they existed in the year 2000. The new road, which is above the Mainline Road, runs right through where the Jewell Cedar is shown here at the bottom of the map. As you can see there are a great many ancient trees in this concentrated area

It was in the early 1990s that Ralf visited the cedar with Mary Jewell and friend Neva Hohn. They made several treks to the forest, and enjoyed them well. Time, though, moved forward, and as the century turned, the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, as it is now known, eventually made plans to build the Seymour Valley Trailway above the old Seymour Mainline. There were upgrades slated for the Seymour Dam, and a need to give recreational users a safe way to access the valley. Unfortunately, when they were building the new route, the contractors decided the tree was an impending hazard and that it had to be felled. Another version of events was that one of the crews had an accident and damaged the tree beyond repair, though I have never substantiated that story. In any event, the Mary Jewell Cedar finally met its maker.

52572809_2759153970796091_3120397691637465088_n

 

Does my story end here? Well no, of course it doesn’t! You see, roughly where the Seymour Valley Trailway road crosses the 4 km mark the rest of the trees still remain. If you look closely, after climbing a steep bank, you may find tattered remnants of 25 year old flagging tape that lead you steeply into a stately grove of  Douglas Firs. The WCWC map calls these trails the Mary Jewell and Neva Hohn Trails, but nowadays what little that’s left  is more of a suggestion than a trail, and above the grove there are even more hidden mysteries. What follows here are my tales of further exploration in this time forgotten place!

52448076_2759153987462756_9132190460981280768_n
The trunk of an ancient Douglas Fir, which on the map is the Varley Giant, I believe

 

My first foray dates back to 2007, when Chris and I rode our bikes up the Seymour Valley to try and track down this group of trees. While the ride was short and brisk, travel was slow and deliberate in the woods, which is pretty much the norm for off trail exploration.

52427864_2759153720796116_1746861081587875840_n
What I believe to be the Neva Hohn Tree, a beautiful and ancient Douglas fir

52300389_2759152714129550_8932671182629502976_n

52498692_2759151177463037_3844559276873875456_n
So you want to be a treehunter? Well, nobody said it was going to be easy!

Not only did we find some of the valley’s taller firs, but a number of massive boulders that had come to rest in the forest there. Were they erratics deposited by glaciers or the byproduct of a powerful landslide? Difficult to say but nonetheless very impressive!

52331901_2759154020796086_5739330334827216896_n
Chris and his most unexpected discovery, a monstrous boulder!

To round out our day we ended up bushwhacking our way northwest toward the upper reaches of McKenzie Creek. Steadily gaining altitude to about 550 meters in elevation, suddenly the forest began to get noticeably brighter. The reason was soon apparent, as we found ourselves at the base of a massive boulder field! I had the immediate notion there had been relatively recent activity there. The rocks were moss covered but almost every one of them moved when walked on, so we concluded the slide had not yet stabilized. We tread very carefully there for a while while we worked our way northwest. Were it not for the low cloud across the valley our perch would also have afforded fine views of the Fannin Range.

52602099_2759154727462682_5980945592669437952_n
Working our way higher into the drainage, powered by dreams of the undiscovered
52331914_2759155044129317_3048713712509648896_n
Is it getting easier yet?
52355783_2759155020795986_403337063052607488_n
Uhhhh, no. No, it is not!
52392570_2759154514129370_8743660138767843328_n
Chris exploring the boulder field in upper McKenzie Creek
52874810_2759154454129376_5949681864296890368_n
We never did get around to exploring above the boulder field
52607913_2759154210796067_1635485127834337280_n
Taking a break and looking out across the valley
52082307_2759154220796066_4710877274516226048_n
The Seymour Valley and the Fannin Range

In another half hour we began our retreat to the bikes, taking a roundabout route to complete our circle of exploration. The hiking seemed somewhat precarious, with both of us staggering and lurching often through the loose underbrush.

52407053_2759154260796062_996543098274185216_n
Big cedar hiding near the bottom of the boulder field
52313928_2759155277462627_5297480742413008896_n
It was the height of these trees that had us very optimistic about their future

52353292_2759154790796009_4316970542306426880_n

52179307_2759154477462707_5961343881621536768_n
Seven foot diameter cedar found just below the boulder field, despite growing in difficult conditions

The best moment of comedy came when I stepped on a log while moving downhill, and the next thing you know it was rolling right at me in pursuit! Not long after that, Chris nearly took an awkward fall of his own. When we hike, it’s not official until we each manage to end up on the ground somehow! We discovered several promising old growth cedars there too, but figured it was time to quit while we were ahead and forged our way back to the road.

52706354_2759154637462691_7899071536022159360_n
This, the case of the curious trail marker. I am unsure as to its purpose because where we found it there is no semblance of a trail!
52574051_2759155310795957_1516655077949964288_n
The mist descending on this rocky clearing, time to call it a day

 

Fast forward to the spring of 2018, when Doug and I took advantage of a sunny spring day to revisit these trees. After caching our rides carefully, we set off into the forest in the hope of making some new discoveries. Many a tree had fallen in storms since I’d last walked there, but most of the same giants still survived. For good measure we hiked up to the sunny, salal covered bluffs to the south of the trail, but soon doubled back to the grove, realizing that our time was short. It was one of those days just made for photography, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves!

52830820_2759150534129768_1126859071824068608_n
There is nothing quite like the forest on a sunny day!

 

52592553_2759153444129477_1637238917600116736_n
Shadows at play in the upper canopy of the Varley Giant
52668824_2759151134129708_786158961412800512_n
Hunting trees can be serious business. We try to use protective eyewear when possible and often wear helmets, as Doug shows you here

52816979_2759152107462944_8171358645678768128_n

52258594_2759152814129540_7100903639891312640_n
Not so much as a trail as an exercise in finding your own path!

52527211_2759153857462769_7692678819643129856_n

52427976_2759151220796366_8296930166425255936_n

What is particularly inspiring about the firs of the Mary Jewell and Neva Hohn Trails is that they show such great promise for the future. Reaching estimated heights likely in excess of 240 feet already, in subsequent generations this group of Douglas Firs may well become some of the finer specimens in southwest British Columbia. Less well known than their nearby brothers in the Temples of Time Grove, they remain equally important. The most surprising thing of all, though, is their proximity to such a popular and busy trail, and the fact that only a handful of people have experienced them!

52487986_2759153504129471_7706870551230283776_n
Future champions? Only time will tell

52345131_2759149947463160_1198388466488967168_n

Though these trees have gained protected status for the foreseeable future, the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve is not particularly interested in promoting their existence, probably over concerns about public safety. That means, in a broader sense, that they’ll only be seen by the type of intrepid explorer who ventures off the road well traveled. In the end, maybe that is as it should be, for those who seek out life’s mysteries ought to be armed with the necessary passion and determination. For many folks, it’s enough just to know that forests like these are still out there!

52459012_2759155417462613_4096803840039321600_n
An especially captivating forest clearing
52347574_2759152004129621_4442719591231127552_n
Pseudotsuga Menzieszi, the Douglas fir

 

52548501_2759150504129771_3341238317222985728_n

 

***Author’s note***

It should be said that the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve has definitely lived up to the promise of protecting the forests of the Seymour Valley. That is something that should never be taken for granted. Conservation today is as important as ever, if future generations are to experience the beauty of our remaining old growth forests

In Search of the Cabin Lake Fir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50914610_2731007563610732_7350983745698004992_n
Where had all of this come from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

50614962_2731008220277333_2684691779357245440_n

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

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

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

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

****IMPORTANT UPDATE***

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

51182309_2731008720277283_8375868465575100416_n
Heading back to Cabin Lake on the walk home

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

A Walk in the The Giant’s Rock Garden

You know, when you’re open to possibilities, sometimes the day you envisioned turns out to be a whole lot different than you planned, and the story that follows here is a prime example of that. While it’s been the better part of a year just getting my act together enough to write about this day, I still thought it worthwhile to share, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

This trip began in the parking lot of North Vancouver’s Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (LSCR). That’s where Steve and I readied our bikes for the ride up the Seymour Valley. We stuck to the Seymour Valley Trailway  for the first half hour, before branching off toward the Spur 4 Bridge, and eventually to the road that climbs along the east side of the Seymour River.

50227021_2707741962603959_8149912091558412288_n
Seymour Valley from the Spur 4 Bridge

 

The idea was to search for a grove of ancient Sitka Spruce which had evaded both of us, previously.  Well, spoiler alert, we still haven’t found it yet! As I recall that day, it took a while for me to get my biking legs going, but our usual joking around helped to pass the time quickly!

50293438_2707742019270620_3514951787087921152_n
Steve showed me this saw blade along the Homestead Trail on our trip back, but I had to post it sooner in the story! He has a knack for finding things

The remote places of the Seymour Valley have certainly become an avid pursuit to me and I truly enjoyed exploring my backyard during the years I lived nearby. It might surprise you to know that there are still many tracts of rarely explored wilderness that are relatively close to the hustle and bustle of North Vancouver traffic. Steve has also spent dozens of hours trekking the valley’s obscure drainages and has managed to discover many things that have escaped my eyes. Truth is, when terrain is rugged you can only cover so much ground, so there is always something new to see even in places you’ve been before!

Once we reached the likely marker on the road, we spotted an old logging spur that seemed to head down to the riverbank and I decided we should explore it. You know, had I brought a map that day, we might have spared ourselves an extra half hour or so of thrashing about spindly second growth timber and brush before it dawned on us the suspect spruce grove was actually on the opposite side of the road. Mea culpa! At any rate, with that little diversion now behind us, it was back to the road and we carried on for a little while longer. I’ll explain more in the caption on the map below…

50048302_2707817812596374_2481620713375531008_n
The supposed spruce grove is allegedly off the right hand road on this map just north of Wyssen Creek. I took us on a wild goose chase off the left side of the road, hence the confusion. We actually ended up beginning our entirely different adventure by heading off to the right at roughly the 9km marker, north of our original quarry.

In just another ten minutes we were shouldering our bikes into the woods and stopping for lunch. We were very much at home in this wild, rugged enclave, which I  called “Camp Rock”, for obvious reasons. We took the time to enjoy it well before moving on. There had still been no signs of the mythical spruce grove, so instead we decided just to head uphill into a tract of forest we had not been before.

50306235_2707742359270586_8597693794017607680_n
Camp Rock, where we stashed our bikes and stopped for lunch

Well satisfied, we left our bikes behind and began climbing, with the sounds of the Seymour River gradually fading into the background. The first hundred meters of travel were painstakingly slow and difficult. There were plenty of fallen trees to hurdle and the footing was typically unstable. The only noise now came from branches crackling underfoot and the many birds busying themselves with their daily tasks.

50045940_2707742079270614_5608746183519371264_n
This is why tree hunting takes patience, endurance, and a sense of humour!

Our first finds were several old growth cedars that had managed to establish themselves on very steep ground. Some were as wide as five feet and likely 300 years old or more.

50466395_2707741905937298_5480376706327904256_n
Healthy old growth cedars early on in the hike

 

You have to be creative when you’re bushwhacking this type of ground, clambering over rocks, walking up and along fallen trunks, and sometimes ducking under them.

49820711_2707741705937318_1478181349322915840_n
Steve finds an elevated highway!
50220971_2707740785937410_3113070640639246336_n
As the sun began to shine through, the grove became more picturesque by the minute!
49503020_2707742372603918_1044263745460633600_n
Verdant and healthy

High cliff bands to the east of us soon had us moving a bit further north of our original line, and the forest seemed to gain character and diversity as we climbed. The usual stumbles and falls aside, I could see that what was ahead looked especially intriguing.

50670702_2707741982603957_8979707418187399168_n
This might just be my favourite photo of the day, but there were many more

You could now discern those cliff bands emerging from the shadows as the sun began to illuminate the forest. While we could see a way we might be able to climb above the bluffs, instead we chose to hike beneath them and explore the cliff walls.

50230620_2707741645937324_505315658427269120_n
The cliff bands were very rugged. This portal would have been the only easy way to gain the ground above them, but we had other ideas

What caught my eye at first was a number of old cedars that looked like they had fallen from above and were now leaning against the granite walls! It was all at once, beautiful, improbable, and chaotic!

50163262_2707741005937388_655687432737390592_n
Here I am looking up at several inverted trees leaning on the wall above me. I didn’t linger long here!
49818020_2707740759270746_5312421670915407872_n
This is the reverse of the previous image!
50069622_2707742245937264_3846978584707072000_n
These trees have thrived in a not so forgiving environment!
50108011_2707741375937351_6459451429579915264_n
True survivors!
50342201_2707741339270688_3083571228997320704_n
A close look at the cliff face
50620490_2707742099270612_2691215967823855616_n
Steve contemplates our next move
49408025_2707742219270600_1103954277522472960_n
Water streaked walls
50115427_2707740929270729_5055554833881235456_n
Another cliffside view

Well, the hike had certainly been enjoyable up until this point, but after moving down from the cliffs and just 100 meters further north, it soon became clear that we were in the presence of something truly unique. Nestled beneath those vertical cliffs was a rugged bench strewn with massive moss covered boulders, some as big as small houses, others the size of cars. Ancient, broken topped spires rose high into the forest canopy above, some growing atop the boulders, others surrounding them. Somehow this idyllic grotto had escaped the hands of human destruction and remains relatively undisturbed. The superb biodiversity we discovered there was remarkable too. I have taken to calling it The Giant’s Rock Garden. I could describe it some more, but better still, here is what it looks like!

50676819_2707741852603970_4465156165377982464_n
Some very large granite boulders here!
49784212_2707741835937305_4407342031513321472_n
A five hundred year old cedar growing atop a house sized hunk of granite. You don’t see this every day
50127152_2707741472604008_7578242186295115776_n
It was on such a grand scale that you could not really get an overview. Instead, it was much like wandering a maze
50115502_2707741495937339_4580965985669873664_n
Many of the boulders were grown thickly with mosses and other understory plants, and beneath the rocks were enclosures ideal for animals to take refuge in
49948375_2707741255937363_1721160083187957760_n
A truly enchanted forest, so fragile that we were loathe to climb the boulders least we damage the plant life
50309847_2707741075937381_7235587015360643072_n
Another spectacular cedar

 

More time was spent wandering about taking photographs, and thoroughly examining our surroundings. I know I must have been quite distracted at the time, because somehow I managed to miss a nasty branch that sprang back at me and gave my eye a hard whiplash. As I write this almost a year later it has only now properly healed! A word of warning to all of you would be tree hunters: On that day, I didn’t have my sunglasses (with clear or amber lenses) with me which I normally wear while bushwhacking to prevent such accidents. Don’t forget to wear your own eye protection!

50112138_2707741452604010_2462872966380126208_n
Just a perfect day for forest exploration

Our day was already a great success, but where to go now? Steve suggested we head northward, into an area he had previously explored while hiking the year before. I was quite certain I had been there too on several occasions, but I had not approached it from the south. Along the way we rediscovered several very old Pacific Yews. There are a great many of these trees in the groves along the Eastside Road and it’s always a treat to find one!

50074624_2707741735937315_4319975876952326144_n
The ever present Pacific Yew, often inconspicuous and not as large as its forest companions, but highly unique

Soon, the sounds of a creek could be heard, and we emerged into a broad, well lit clearing. Now we could see the gigantic group of Bigleaf Maples that tower above the creek there. On their map, which I reference here, the LSCR calls this Squamish Creek , and the drainage we had begun our walk in is called Wyssen Creek. In any event, the trees there are truly magnificent.

50272796_2707741249270697_8738961496085626880_n
Bigleaf Maples like these are often 400 years old!
50091114_2707741772603978_174946430421565440_n
Quiet cascade on Squamish Creek, below the peaks of the Fannin Range

Each Bigleaf Maple is much like its own separate ecosystem in the sense that they support such lush plant life. Even among tree hunters they are often overlooked, and undeservedly so if you ask me.

50151402_2707740959270726_2641036121147965440_n
Each massive trunk is loaded with life
50655440_2707741569270665_2704853846198321152_n
Looking into the upper canopy, four centuries of growth and still thriving
50247457_2707741152604040_5447485507472719872_n
These trees are hard to photograph but I love to try!
49389989_2707741585937330_2242799890105106432_n
So many trunks, so little time
50099094_2707741042604051_2073793575547568128_n
My idea of golden!

There are actually several cascades to enjoy there if you follow the creek further uphill, and the rugged valley above them all  is still just waiting to be explored!

50091177_2707741352604020_6082027922858704896_n
I have not explored much of the forest above the cascades. You never know what might be up there!

We took another short break before hiking back down toward the road again, greeting several more ancient cedars en route before emerging at roadside.

49949308_2707740792604076_2652579644619882496_n
This cedar survives even though half of it was sheared away by a falling tree. Nature is tough and resourceful

It just so happened then that when we found the road we were looking right at the Bigfoot Cedar, which is found near the 10 km marker. This tree is at least ten feet in diameter and could well be over 500 years old!

49938010_2707741172604038_3066913584886841344_n
The 500 plus year old Bigfoot Cedar
50279691_2707742179270604_2488227202005467136_n
The foot of the Bigfoot Cedar

The trip back was a fun one, as we rode back to the Spur 4 Bridge again and eventually out on the Fisherman’s Trail, before walking our bikes up the short and sharp grind that is the Homestead Trail. It had been a rewarding day with great company, and one I’ll always remember!

As I look back fondly on this day it dawns on me that this was my last trip into the Seymour Valley before I moved to Vancouver Island last summer. Well, you can take the boy out of the valley, but you can’t take the valley out of the boy! A part of me will always remain there, and I know I’ll always be compelled to return!