Category Archives: On the Road

Camping and hiking in B.C, and Alberta

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

 

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

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

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

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A giant reaches for the misty sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Tale of Two Olympic Champions

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

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Spring sunset on the Washington Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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The Cheewhat Lake Cedar

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

 

 

Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin

Once in a while you get a chance to visit a place that will forever live on in your memories. Norris Geyser Basin is all that and more! You would think that crowds of visitors at such a popular attraction would be a deterrent, but Norris somehow rises above all those attentions. Set in the heart of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, it is a truly awe inspiring display of geothermal power.

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The Porcelain Terrace Overlook, a photographer’s paradise

We arrived early in the morning with the hope that fewer people would have the same idea, but there were already a fair number of cars in the parking lot. Norris Basin is very well developed. There is an elaborate network of elevated boardwalks to ensure that foot traffic stays where it should and there are plenty of park rangers to keep an eye on things. I had a short conversation with one of the rangers who told me that she was continually surprised by the number of people who underestimate the dangers of geothermal features. The ground is ever changing and incredibly unstable, of course, and over the years many lives have been lost through carelessness. The gist of her message was to heed the warning signs, and stay strictly on the designated paths. Update: In the summer of 2016 a visitor lost his life in one of the hot pools here, adding to the list of unfortunate accidents over the years.

Rather than drive to Norris Geyser Basin, you can also simply walk there from the Norris Campground which is not far away. As with all campgrounds it fills early so arrive early and stake your site accordingly!

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This map gives you a decent overview of the Norris Geyser Basin area

Norris Geyser Basin is essentially divided into two areas, the Porcelain Basin, and the Back Basin. There’s also a museum and historical display to take in if you have the time. I began at the Porcelain Basin, mostly because the sounds emanating from it were so bizarre I was immediately drawn in that direction. The hissing and belching from steam, water, and hot springs everywhere and the heady aroma of sulphur in the air were a real jolt to the senses.

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The ever changing face of the Porcelain Basin, where no two photos can ever be the same

Fumaroles, like the one you see below here, are the hottest features in the basin, reaching temperatures of between 199 and 283 degrees Fahrenheit (93 to 138 degrees Celsius). Some can emit a shrill, squelching hiss that’ll startle you more than a little if you’ve never heard it before.

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A fumarole, which is an opening in a volcano from which hot sulphurous gases emerge

 

Other features seem unrecognizable from one moment to the next, like the Hurricane Vent. One moment a boiling mass of grey and steam, the next an inviting turquoise pool.

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The Hurricane Vent, now you see it…
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….and now you don’t!

 

 

So how does the Porcelain Basin get its unusual coloration? The park tour explains that best…

“The milky color of the mineral deposited here inspired the naming of Porcelain Basin. The mineral, siliceous sinter, is brought to the surface by hot water and forms a “sheet” over this flat area as the water flows across the ground and the mineral settles out. This is the fastest changing area in Norris Geyser Basin, and siliceous sinter is one of the agents of change. If the mineral seals off a hot spring or geyser by accumulating in its vent, the hot, pressurized water may flow underground to another weak area and blow through it.”

“Siliceous sinter is also called geyserite. Deposits usually accumulate very slowly, less than one inch (2.5cm) per century, and form the geyser cones and mounds seen in most geyser basins.”

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The Blue Geyser in Porcelain Basin

Below is an example of the boardwalks the park builds for preservation and public safety. They are both a labour of love as well as marvels of engineering and design. As an aside, I can’t say enough about park staff. Everyone is professional, helpful, engaging, and informative.

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Boardwalks in Porcelain Basin
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Geysers are both impressive and surprising!
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A last look at the Porcelain Basin. This is Congress Pool, I believe

Having barely scratched the surface of exploring Porcelain Basin, I then headed off to Back Basin to see what it had to offer. One could easily spend a full day touring both areas but I had but a few hours to check out both.

Steamboat Geyser is the most spectacular in the Back Basin, with eruptions sometimes reaching 300 feet into the skies above. I didn’t get the chance to see that, as its displays are completely unpredictable. It is also the world’s tallest active geyser!

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Steamboat Geyser

Nearby Cistern Spring is a clear, constantly overflowing pool that is connected to Steamboat Geyser underground. During Steamboat’s major eruptions, Cistern Spring can be seen to drain, before refilling as the eruption subsides.

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Cistern Spring

The Back Basin boasts many more geysers with colourful names. Here are a few more…

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The Pearl Geyser
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Puff N’ Stuff Geyser, named for its loud puff, which sounds a little bit like a large surfacing whale
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Somewhere beneath the cloud of steam and gases is the Echinus Geyser 

I was so enamoured of this place that, truth be told, I nearly lost track of the time entirely because there is so much to see. The power of nature is on full display at Norris, and it’s a show that should not be missed. It’s a strong reminder that while some forces alter our planet gradually, others are capable of changing it from minute to minute or even second to second! Beneath much of Yellowstone is a vast volcanic caldera, which many scientists consider to be highly unstable. Yellowstone National Park is, in other words, something you might want to see before its ground is forever altered.

Yellowstone National Park’s overview and tour of the Norris Basin can be found at this link

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Norris Geyser Basin, well worth a visit!

 

An Ode to the Glacier Crest Trail

In British Columbia’s Selkirk Mountains, steep slopes, sharp rock, avalanche fans and fields of ice abound. That is typical terrain in Glacier National Park, not far, as the crow flies, from the mountain town of Revelstoke.

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Glacier National Park, as you enter from the west
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The massive pyramid of Mt Sir Donald towering above Rogers Pass

A lot of folks know of this park, but all too often roll through Rogers Pass on their way to the Rocky Mountain parks such as Yoho, Banff, or Jasper. It is a place in which I’ve felt at home since the very first time I visited, and it’s become an unforgettable part of my summers over the years. Once you have taken the time to experience this park, it somehow takes  hold of your senses.

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The Illlecillewaet Valley

Among my favourite tracks to hike is the Glacier Crest Trail, so join me if you like for a look at what it has to offer.

A quick stroll from the trailhead soon brings you to the site of the old Glacier House Hotel. Once a worthy destination for travellers, now all that remains of it are remnants of the foundation and some of the massive boilers that were used to heat the establishment. It’s hard to imagine the throngs of high society that once milled about there. The challenges of dealing with harsh winters wrought by avalanches and heavy snows eventually won out in the end.

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This is what remains of the old luxury lodge, now it’s just a mountain meadow
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Fireweed and fast moving water, two signature features of the park

Among the very first things that caught my eye here were the tumbling mass of the Illecillewaet Glacier and the rugged beauty of Mt Sir Donald. The power of nature is almost overwhelming in this valley, and the sound of the waters roaring through the woods is unforgettable.

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Meeting of the Waters

You get a very clear impression of that once you reach “Meeting of the Waters”, where Asulkan Brook and the Illecillewaet River join forces, fed by the glaciers high above. If your time is limited, a short twenty minute walk to see these rushing waters is invigorating in its own right.

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Looking back at Asulkan Brook as you take to the forest

The walk continues to a lively crossing of Asulkan Brook where the work starts in earnest. There are numerous switchbacks to climb, and while views are limited for a while, there is solitude to enjoy. The forests of the Selkirks are reminiscent of the coast, but it’s as though every quality is somehow enhanced and intensified. Waters seem to rush more quickly, the scars of avalanches are more pronounced, glaciers are larger, and the mountains, too, reach greater heights.

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When you finally break out of the trees to the ridge above, all that hard work becomes worthwhile.

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The glorious Selkirks!

Avalanche and Eagle Peaks are the first conspicuous sights, and of course Mt Sir Donald really stands out strongly! Somewhere around the 1850 metre mark in elevation there is a rocky clearing that affords these fine views. The very first time I hiked the trail, on a sweltering day in late July, this was as far as I made it, having unwittingly run out of water. Ironically, there are few water sources at higher elevations on this trail, so plan accordingly.

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Mt Sir Donald, and the boulder field with a view
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Asulkan Panorama, including Rempart, Dome and a lot of glacial ice

Gradually, as you make your way along the ridge, more views open up, and you can see into the Asulkan Valley as well as down to Highway 1 and Rogers Pass. If you happen to have forgotten your camera, you’ll be regretting that by now.

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Grizzly Peak
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Highway 1 winding through Rogers Pass

The Illecillewaet Glacier also commands your attention. Once, it reached far into the valley below, but since the turn of the twentieth century, it has receded considerably. On several occasions I have also explored the Great Glacier Trail, which gives you a closer look at its path of erosion. At the height of the last ice age, of course, most of Glacier National Park was covered in sheets of ice. That must have been quite a sight!

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The Illecillewaet Glacier as it tumbles down the valley, as you see it from the nearby Great Glacier Trail

The path continues through a boulder field, then emerges into a beautiful alpine rock garden. On a clear day, the sun is almost overwhelming here, as you round a bend in the trail heading toward the lookout. Another half hour brings you to a well built cairn atop the ridge, where you’ll be compelled to stay a while. I’ll let the views speak for themselves.

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Looking at the Asulkan Valley from near the high point on the ridge
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Looking back at Rogers through the haze
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Mt Macdonald, named after Canada’s first prime minister
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One of the best places I’ve ever eaten lunch at!
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Steep sided valleys

On this day, I spent more time at the summit just grooving on all of the views. Even at over 2300 metres in elevation, where I stood on the lookout was dwarfed by almost all the surrounding peaks. Regrettably, but at least with the knowledge that cold beer waited below, I began the hike back to camp.

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A big zoom on a huge peak beyond the Asulkan Valley
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Closeup on the Illecillewaet Glacier
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One really big cairn!

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Linger as long as you can, for as hard as the climb up was, it will still take you a while to get back to the trailhead. As much as I have enjoyed this trail, and others, over the years, I still have many more tracks in this park to explore.

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Ferns along the trail, near Asulkan Brook

 

So remember, if you can, to devote some time to this inspiring place. The rugged spirit of wilderness abounds there, and it is both powerful and compelling!

Strolling the Ancient Cedars Boardwalk

A couple of weeks ago, when we were passing through Mt Revelstoke National Park, I managed a short hike on the Ancient Cedars Boardwalk. As my treks go, it’s a relatively effortless one, but I like to stop there every so often to enjoy this forest. It’s a stand dominated by western redcedars, and while few of the trees exceed six feet in diameter, it’s notable that they are nevertheless very old, some perhaps five hundred years in age. You see, because they grow at a much higher elevation and experience a high volume of snow, they take considerably longer to reach mature size. Parks Canada did a fine job of building this trail for all to enjoy, in the process also protecting the fragile understory, where delicate ferns and thorny Devil’s Club can be found, among many other types of plants. It’s not uncommon to see woodpeckers, squirrels, hummingbirds, deer, or even an occasional black bear in the area. The boardwalk is just half a kilometre long and suitable for almost all ages and abilities. Here is a link to the parks website if you are interested in the park trails…

http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/bc/revelstoke/activ/activ2.aspx

Here then, is a tour of the trail. I hope you enjoy it well!

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Cedars in sunlight
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Sunlit forest
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Devil’s Club leaves
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Quiet Morning
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A clearing
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Standing strong
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Panoramic View
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Devil’s Club bud and thorns
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Sunlight on cedar
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And it’s dog approved too!

 

 

Three Days in March, An Island Sojourn

With a few precious days off and a rare chance to get our whole family together, we headed off to Vancouver Island two Saturdays ago for a short camping vacation.

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BC Ferries, our cruise ship for the trip to Nanaimo
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My daughter with our illustrious family dog Amigo

The idea was to catch an afternoon ferry over to Departure Bay from Horseshoe Bay then hang out in Nanaimo for the first night. There’s a nice private campground at the mouth of the Nanaimo River called  Living Forest Campground that we like to stay at there.

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Georgia Strait on a sunny afternoon

The boat ride over was relatively uneventful and pleasant, so we arrived in Nanaimo at around 230 pm. With some time to spare, we stopped in at Petroglyph Provincial Park for some exploration. We had driven past the park sign for years without ever visiting , and I’m quite glad we finally did. In addition to the petroglyphs, there are also some bouldering possibilities there. We were there for about half an hour, and enjoyed the stay immensely. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/petroglyph/#

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Queen of the Hill

My daughter has an innate talent for climbing just about anything, so of course she ran up this face to a tiny ledge and scrambled up from there! Naturally, the slide down was twice as much fun, so she did it again and so did I!

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One of the petroglyphs we saw. Is this one authentic? Not so sure
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These are some of the petroglyphs we were certain were legitimate historical relics
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There was some bouldering to be had here as well!

The views at the campground did not disappoint. We were able to see not only the Nanaimo River and Gabriola Island but much of Nanaimo Harbour as well. The blend of the estuary’s natural scenery and the industry beyond gave us plenty to look at, and we passed the rest of the evening drinking cold beverages and listening to the calls of barred owls by the campfire before turning in.

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The view from our campground, with Gabriola Island in the distance
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Cliffs along one of the campground’s trails
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Nanaimo River

The campground has a number of trails that give you a fine view of the river delta and the area is well known for its birdwatching opportunities as well.

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Nanaimo Harbour gathering dusk

The following day we awoke to overcast skies and headed south along Highway 1 toward Victoria before swinging west toward Sooke on Highway 14. The spring rains hit hard late Sunday morning, as we arrived in Langford to fuel up.

Sunday’s destination? French Beach Provincial Park. It has become a family favourite of ours over the years. Set in a beautiful forest of cedar and Sitka spruce, it features a cobblestone beach that crashes and rattles when the Pacific surf crashes its shores. If you’re lucky, you can also catch glimpses of migrating gray whales in March and April.

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French Beach

Along the way, my wife and daughter got a chance to stop off at a local meadery called Tugwell Creek near the town of Shirley to sample its wares.

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http://tugwellcreekfarm.com

Mead, if you’ve not heard of it before, is an alcoholic beverage, wine to be specific, made with honey! Tasty stuff, and something to do while you wait out the rainstorm, which by now was hitting us in full stride! We pulled in at French Beach by mid afternoon, and after a very wet hike on the nearby trails, we spent the rest of the day drying out.

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One rainy afternoon!
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Coastal Sitka Spruce rainforest

These rocks below are the cobbles that generate the signature sounds of French Beach, especially on days of high surf and brisk winds. This place as as unique for its sound experience as it is for anything else.

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Sometimes it rains so much on the coast that attempting to have a campfire is almost an exercise in futility, and this Sunday was just such a day. We amused ourselves by drinking, reading, creating dinner, and playing games, all good fun!

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The kids clowning it up on the beach
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The shoreline, with its wind battered Sitka Spruce
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Intertidal marsh created by high surf

 

Monday morning dawned with much improved weather, and upon seeing some sunlight, I made for the beach that morning. The tide was at ebb, but the waves were much higher and the beach clattered with its all too familiar sounds. I was able to see across the waters to the Olympic Peninsula and Washington state, in the United States.

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After the rains

While there were no whales in sight, the odd Harbour Seal popped its head out in curiosity. Seas were calm, and birds could be heard when the surf receded. Listen, if you like, to the sounds of French Beach in the video below…

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Salal and driftwood
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Calm seas
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Salmonberry in bloom

 

I returned to camp and ended up going back to the beach again with my son, who had just awakened. We spent another half hour there before breakfast. He has a natural love of being near water, even to the point that he often prefers to walk in the rain.

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Clatter!

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This photo below had me thinking back to a time when he couldn’t peer through an outhouse  window six feet off the ground. Time flies, and your kids grow up fast!

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“Scared ya, didn’t I?” He says to me.

We eventually decided to head north toward Port Renfrew, with the idea of camping on the beach at Jordan River. Unfortunately, the CRD has temporarily closed the area to camping while a dam above the town is being assessed for safety reasons. Some time was spent on the beach watching surfers and paddleboarders out on the break.

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Jordan River, popular with sufers and paddleboarders

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Jordan River surf shack through the trees

Since the sunshine was holding true, the choice was made to reverse directions and retrace our steps toward Nanaimo again. This time the plan was to stay the night at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park near Parksville. Though this meant a little longer on the road, it would also make for a more relaxed return trip the next day as the park is not all that far from Departure Bay. On the way back toward Sooke we stopped at Sandcut Beach Regional Park, which is not too far from French Beach, and my daughter and I hiked down to the shores.

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Sandcut Beach

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It was an ideal cruising day for the trip around the horn, as the sunshine persisted. We even pulled over  to pick up some farm fresh eggs in Sooke along the way. On this Monday, even the people driving the Malahat near Victoria didn’t seem to have their usual frenzied sense of urgency, and we hit little or no traffic until we arrived in Nanaimo.

It was about 4 pm when we rolled into Rathtrevor Beach. Once there, I tended to splitting some firewood and we took turns walking the beach and trails. Rathtrevor is a special place to me, as I always see something interesting that I hadn’t before, whether it be animals, trees, or distant mountains.

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Afternoon on the beach at Rathtrevor

The park is noted not only for its beach but also for its forests of old growth Douglas Fir. There are very few low elevation fir forests that remain intact on Vancouver Island as most of them have been harvested long ago. There is considerable biodiversity and wildlife that lives on there despite the area’s popularity in the summer months. The beach and its reasonably sheltered waters make it ideal for watersports like kayaking and canoeing too.

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Douglas Fir

I had not noticed on my last visit, but you can see the hulking mass of Tantalus Mountain, 2605 metres tall, visible in the distance.

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Tantalus Mountain, in Tantalus Provincial Park, across the waters, 55X zoom
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The forest

I was particularly interested in seeing what the sunset had to offer after dinner and a couple of very cold beers, so I walked back to the beach just as the sun was beginning to set.

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Texada Island in the distance
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Looks like I found me a friend who also likes sunset watching!
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Tantalus again, with alpenglow
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Campfire!

I had already known that Rathtrevor was an epic place to catch the sunrise, but I certainly was more than contented with the sunset too. It was a very quiet scene, silent but for the odd call of the occasional owl. It’s very obvious why the people of Parksville enjoy this place so much as it’s one of the island’s most beautiful parks. More beer and laughter ensued late into the night, but that wasn’t going to deter me from getting up early to see the sunrise!

It’s 6 am Tuesday morning, and I’m rolling out of bed trying not to wake anyone, a normal occurrence on our road trips. As someone who craves solitude, something I take naturally to but that was well reinforced spending mornings with my father while younger, there is really nothing quite like the sun’s first rays. A mere five minute walk had me on the beach to begin the day.

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Gerald Island is the largest, I think, with Mistaken Island and some of the Ballenas Islands in there as well
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Looking toward Howe Sound and the Britannia Range
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Heart of the sunrise

This, however, was no ordinary sunrise. The whole time I was there, the natural world virtually paraded before me. First, there were the calls of loons, followed by herons swooping by above. Then came the sounds of eagles, woodpeckers, and songbirds. Canada Geese flew across the waters at intervals as did Brants, and the entire time I was serenaded by the barking of sea lions.

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My friend’s back too!
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Sunlit trees of Rathtrevor Beach

It was soon evident that there were sea lions everywhere, perhaps as many as fifty, from where I was observing. I later was to discover that there was a run of herring going on, so of course the food source was what was drawing all the attention. When I returned to the beach later with my son, we also spotted a killer whale breaching in the distance and a few harbour seals, and not long after that a sizable pod of dolphins also showed up to the party. It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in some time.

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One last look…

Reluctantly, I headed back to camp for breakfast, and the girls set out for a walk on the trails for a while before we left for home. As I write this today, with the rain crashing down here on Vancouver’s North Shore, it reminds me of how much I appreciate sunny spring days here on the west coast. This trip was well worth the time. Here is another image taken on the deck of the ferry, looking toward Mt Garibaldi, the closest volcano to Greater Vancouver. Until next time…

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John Day Fossil Beds, Painted Hills Unit

When most people plan a visit to Oregon, they’re thinking about the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean, walking on warm sands, or maybe experiencing the rage of coastal storms, from a distance. Still others might pay a visit to Mt Hood and its neighbouring peaks, or even Crater Lake National Park. Few if any have even heard about the three units of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

This fall, I had the chance to visit the Clarno and Painted Hills Units, leaving me the Sheep Rock Unit to look forward to. We had but a few hours to spend at Painted Hills, but the drive there through the surrounding countryside made it well worth the drive.

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The surrounding mountains

Through years of seepage and erosion, plus the exposure of volcanic layers, the resultant rhyolite clays that have extruded over the years have created a landscape that is incredibly unique. Though these formations are fragile, their composition does not provide a fertile growing medium, thus, being mostly free of vegetation, the layers give the hills their painted appearance.

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Pretty good view from a parking lot!

Camping in the actual monument areas is considered off limits, but more information can be found here on lodging, among other things…..

http://www.nps.gov/joda/planyourvisit/ptd-hills-unit.htm

I spent most of my time just enjoying the views from the trail that runs from the first parking lot, but there are a number of other paths to walk. I also strolled the nearby Painted Cove Trail, which comes complete with a boardwalk. This, and the other units, as the name implies, have also been the sites of significant fossil finds.

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Painted Cove Trail

 

If ever you are travelling through Central Oregon on Highway 97 it is time well spent to meander your way to John Day Fossil Beds. You’ll certainly be glad you did!

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Roadside views
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A photographer’s paradise!

Remember when you are there to stick to authorized trails so that you do not damage any formations. They have taken countless centuries to form and can be ruined in seconds by careless human footsteps.

We were impressed not only by fascinating geology but also by the solitude of the John Day River and its quiet and colourful mountains. I know we’ll be back again!