Category Archives: Vancouver Island

Adventures on “The Island”

The World Champion Red Creek Fir

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

57343580_2845537748824379_7221064347953397760_n
Douglas Fir cone

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

05e
San Juan River

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

IMG_4910 copy
The towering mass of the Red Creek Fir

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

IMG_4912 copy
The Red Creek Fir has suffered significant damage a number times but has nevertheless maintained its status as the world champion. Here Scott is “surfing” a massive limb which we think broke off and fell to earth during the storm of December 2006

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

3593881625_528cb8c42e_b
It was thanks to Scott W that we finally got to see this tree
3587045661_c9126e6f96_b
Chris and the Red Creek Fir
3583234069_ec364d2b87_b
A vertical panorama
3587045733_6c043e95cd_z
The old sign, now fallen to earth nearby

 

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

AFA-Big-Tree-Map-Port-Renfrew-1024x661
Just to give you an idea of where the tree is located, here is a map provided by the Ancient Forest Alliance.  Consider donating to their tireless efforts in preserving our forests, if you share their dedication to preserving these spaces.
IMG_4875 copy
Logging road approach
IMG_4951 copyA
Here is where we parked on the old Red Creek Main

 

IMG_4949 copyA
Not far past the intersection of the two roads, on the same side of the road that we parked on is a cairn that marks the trailhead

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Visit With Coastal Giants

 

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

10433559033_2ffd20b5c0_k
October surf at Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Tofino, B.C.
27
Adventure guide Duncan Morrison with a massive Western Red Cedar in Eden Grove , near Port Renfrew

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

67401919_3018538984857587_1851169464792383488_n
Who could disagree that nature is what makes British Columbia special? Our mountains, rivers, and forests need to be preserved for future generations!

 

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

53362533_2777587032286118_5631593171856130048_n
Imagine that all ancient cedars were preserved for everyone to enjoy, like this giant in North Vancouver’s Wickenden Creek

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

port-renfrew-big-trees-map-front1-1024x660
Map courtesy of the Ancient Forest Alliance . Consider donating to their tireless efforts in saving B.C.’s remaining old growth forests

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

P5250003
Back in 2007, this fellow manned the Harris Creek Gate. Not sure where he is today!

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

Ancient-old-growth-forests-of-Vancouver-Island-1024x770
The map tells the tale well. Orange is already logged forest, green remains unprotected. Over 92% of the prime valley bottom timber on Vancouver Island has already been clearcut. It’s clearly time to protect the rest!

 

31
These forests, in their intact state, have considerable value in terms of ecotourism dollars,  which generate long term and sustainable employment. Harvesting the trees is a one time opportunity, and even when second growth harvest is factored in, the cashflow realized is far less than income realized through tourism. We need to make decisions that benefit the environment!

 

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

01
Harris Creek Canyon

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

01a
One of Chris’s favourite stops along Harris Creek

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

01c
The sign that marks the short trail to the Harris Creek Spruce
01i
The original old growth forest here was logged in 1893, but the Harris Creek Spruce was spared. Logging has been prohibited in this area since 2012 now.
01f
This tree is vibrantly alive and growing happily beside Harris Creek
01j
I processed this in black and white in order to show the tremendous intricacy an ancient spruce has. They are always covered in mosses and lichen and support a veritable community in their network of limbs!

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

02d
Beautifully striated rock layers in Botany Bay
02
Enjoying the Pacific surf!

02i

 

02j
Mussels
02k
By now you might be asking if you can have too many photos of the surf? The answer, by the way, is no, of course not!

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

02c

02a

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

02l
Powerful coastal storms deposit scores of trees on the beaches every year. Be sure to remember to never turn your back on the ocean, especially when seas are rough!

02h

02g
If you ever get to know Chris you’ll soon find out he’s a big advocate of sustainable and smaller housing solutions. This one looked great, and even had a swing, but alas, it’s also in a provincial park!

 

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

03A
Chris spotted this big Douglas fir just off the trail, so we bushwhacked in for a closer look!

 

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

03A16
Communing with nature on the Upper Avatar Grove Trail
03A1
Walking these groves has you feeling like a much smaller part of nature. I have often felt people see themselves as too important, and many could do with more experiences like this!

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

03A10
Chris getting set up for a photograph
03A6
Massive burls!
03A4
It’s quite likely this tree is over 600 years old

03A12

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

03A3

03A7
Afternoon light in the forest
03A8
These trees are an irreplaceable resource

03A11

 

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

03Bj
Welcome to Lower Avatar Grove
03Ba
The base of another ancient cedar
03B
Magnificent cedar in Lower Avatar Grove
03Bb
Composing the shot
03Bd
So many things in nature defy description

 

03Bc
Chris filming a very subtle moment as a faint breeze blows through some hanging moss. Sometimes it is the smaller things you appreciate the most.

 

03Bh
The process of the nurse log assisted tree is perfectly illustrated here

 

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

04z1 copy
Getting to Big Lonely Doug involves crossing a spectacular bridge over the Gordon River on Edinburgh Main
04j copy
Cross section of a big cedar stump on which you may stand to get a good look at Big Lonely Doug

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

04l copy
Chris on his way down to the tree
04
This is one of British Columbia’s largest Douglas firs!
04r copy
Many centuries have passed since this fir was born!
04f
Chris and Big Lonely Doug

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

BNCImageAPI_5ca0000a-d49c-4fca-9141-078c9b08e92d_800x
Highly recommended reading! (Image property of Walrus Books, House of Anansi Press, and Harley Rustad )

 

04w copy-Panorama
The indelible mark of a wire rope cable on its trunk seemed sadly symbolic
04b
Chris and Big Lonely Doug

04y copy

04n copy

04v
It stands alone!

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

05a
The San Juan Spruce
05h
The tree has suffered damage but remains spectacular!
05e
The nearby San Juan River
05m
A curious hollow in the main trunk
05f
This is where the damaged limbs came to rest
05c
There are several Bigleaf Maples nearby that have reached enormous size
05o
An amazing tree, well worth seeing

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

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

04c
Well, maybe one last look at Big Lonely Doug

 

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

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

A Walk in the Clouds, Mt Cokely in August

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

55621068_2817708754940612_2472370689554776064_n
Arrowsmith massif from the Nanoose Bay area

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

01
Fog and mist welcome us to the trailhead. It had been raining that morning, and the evening before

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

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

 

69712015_3075175689193916_3587092372778909696_n
After about half an hour things began to dry out a little as Dustin, Holly, and Adrian emerged from the woods here
02
Subalpine tundra

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

03
Chica at home on the trail!

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

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

69269750_3075175729193912_8526682144775340032_n
View from the first lookout
05
Fringed Grass of Parnassus. How do you like that for a wildflower name?
04
John R and Karen getting closer to the saddle
06
Campanula
08
There’s Karen and John Y almost at the saddle! Would the sun make an appearance? Read on and find out!
07
Thistle

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

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

 

69447640_3075456892499129_7195985385371992064_n
The last Island Mountain Ramblers group got to see Jewel Lake but we weren’t as lucky…Photo credit Wikimedia
09
Holly partway up on the climb, right where it begins to steepen considerably
69505143_3075175662527252_2709469213759635456_n
John R reaches the ridge, having taken care to climb a safer line because Chica was following him
10
Adrian, Janine, and Christin arriving on the ridge

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

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

12
Summit lunch break for all!
11
Christin examining all the radio hardware on the summit
13
It began to get brighter after about ten minutes 
14
This is looking down into the McBey Creek Valley where the CPR Trail comes up to Cokely
15
I liked the look of this!

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

17
John Y makes tracks on the way back to the ridge
16
Mt Arrowsmith is lurking in the clouds
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Waiting to descend…Photo by John Y
18
Stephanie looks on as the rolling fog exposes new views
19
Adrian, Janine, and Christin finish the descent to the ridge 
20
See you later, Arrowsmith!

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

22
Traversing the ridge on the Rosseau Route
21
Cleft in the ridge and juniper
69212089_3075175639193921_1390408899445653504_n
Clouds still looming!

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

23
Definitely a cool part of the trail!

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

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

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

24
Scaly Chanterelle, not an edible mushroom
69368366_3075175819193903_3647816553145040896_n
Yellow Coral

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

Eden Grove, an Endangered Paradise

01
Gordon River Valley

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

24
Especially for the uninitiated, there’s nothing like wandering an ancient forest. One can immediately tell it has been centuries in the making!

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

03
The first tree to greet you in the forest is this beautiful Douglas Fir, which is very close to 8 1/2 feet in diameter and certainly over 500 years in age!
04
This trillium will live on again to bloom next spring

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

05

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

67897292_3030087767036042_7597062994979192832_n
Duncan with one of the finest cedars in the grove. This tree, likely over 600 years old, is nearly 39 feet in circumference and has a diameter of about 12 feet!

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

67064009_2987539331290886_8195322883858235392_o
As the AFA’s camera recorded, the grove is sometimes home to black bears, so be mindful of proper behaviour if you encounter one there. Make sure that you leave no trace, and give all animals plenty of space when you see them
11
Witches Brooms, as you see here, are caused by stress that is brought on by pests or disease.  Mites, aphids, and nematodes, fungi, viruses, and bacterial organisms are among the many causes . Mistletoe is the most common culprit where western hemlocks are concerned.
06
In an old growth forest, there is magic around every corner
09
Thuja Plicata, the Western Red Cedar
68600694_3030095790368573_5517459814738821120_n
Savouring the forest vibes    Photo by Duncan Morrison

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

12
The potential road bed

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

07
Moss covered branches and the morning light
13
Duncan hanging out with another ancient cedar
14
Straight and true, this spire is one of the many cedars in Eden Grove which exceed eight feet in diameter

15

16
Chicken of the Woods
17
The radiance of light
18
Shadows and burls

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

19
But first, a moment of meditation
20
The Arch
21
Pillars of The Arch at ground level
22
It’s quite a configuration

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

23
Life is vibrant on the forest floor

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

25
Lush green hillside cloaked in ferns!

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

26
The Corkscrew Cedar

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

27
Cannot get enough of this place!

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

29
Note that the tree has actually been blazed and painted
30
The falling boundary tape

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

32
Duncan stands with the Boundary Cedar.

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

67776453_652035535306379_5245270303919046656_n
The biggest tree in the grove is nearly 40 feet in circumference and quite close to 13 feet diameter on its widest face. You can’t replace nearly ten centuries of growth. Let’s save it instead for future generations! Photo by Duncan Morrison
33
The Eden Giant
34
It was an honour for me to see this tree in person!
36
The bark of the Eden Giant

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

39

38
Early afternoon light fills Eden Grove
40
A last look at the Eden Giant
41
The burled base of the Corkscrew Cedar
43
I am still trying to figure out how this tree grew in such a twisted fashion!

44

45

46
Revisiting The Arch
47
The forest as it was meant to be seen. Our thanks to the Ancient Forest Alliance for bringing attention to Eden Grove!
48
The magic of the afternoon light in the forest

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

50
I haven’t come up with a definitive name for this tree yet!
51
This shot shows the delineation between dead wood and live tree
52
I loved how the burl above has created a little planter for hemlock seedlings!
53
Reaching skyward!
54
Enchanted?
55
I would estimate this tree to be about 11 feet in diameter. It might be 600 years old but I do not believe it will survive too much longer

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

56
The straight and true trunk of that second largest tree in the grove. I thought to call it Adam but maybe that doesn’t quite fit with no Eve nearby to keep it company
57
Cedar reaching for the sun!
58
Another look at the Douglas Fir near the logging road, such an impressive tree!
59
Did you know that the bark of ancient firs has been known to grow as thick as one foot? That’s a lot of protection against the elements!

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

60
The creek below the falls
61
Beautiful light!
62
The rock was beautifully polished

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

02

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

63
The nearby Big Lonely Doug and his clearcut companions. Can you see the people at right in this image?

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

BNCImageAPI_5ca0000a-d49c-4fca-9141-078c9b08e92d_800x
A compelling tale, highly recommended reading!     ( Image is the property of Walrus Books, House of Anansi Press and Harley Rustad)

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

66605208_1136828336525562_7993829793156038656_o
Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area was designated a provincial park in 2016

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

67744238_3032155346829284_5083634346514972672_n

*******

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

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

35
Let’s ensure that future generations can enjoy Eden Grove in its natural state. Take a step, and get involved! The future of places like this depend on the efforts of many people!   Photo by Duncan Morrison

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

 

*******Author’s Notes*******

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Disappearing World of the Garry Oak

When most conservationists speak of forest protection here in the Pacific Northwest region, they are usually talking about the giants of valley floor forest ecosystems, such as  Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Sitka Spruce. There is a species, though, that seems to consistently fly under the radar. That tree is the Garry Oak ( Quercus Garryana ), known also as the Oregon White Oak. With its twisting trunks and beautifully detailed bark, it doesn’t have the enormous size of many of its relatives in the Oak family, but in its natural habitat it certainly fills a vital and unique ecological niche.

56598205_2828368440541310_1584966021691736064_n
These trees manage to survive in dry, scrubby soils on rock outcroppings that are typical of the region. This is on Mt Tzouhalem, near Duncan

Garry Oak ecosystems, which also support a wide variety of specialized plant life, have for years been endangered in their northern range. They are generally found on British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and on a relatively narrow strip along Vancouver Island’s east coast. Though once absolutely common in those areas, these trees have not fallen victim to disease, conventional logging, or even climate change, for the most part. So what, exactly, has shrunk their habitat?

56487399_2828368397207981_1377291528157790208_n
This look at Piper’s Lagoon in Nanaimo shows the highly desirable seaside habitat that Garry Oaks prefer. Unfortunately, so do people

The answer is actually quite obvious: their greatest enemy is none other than encroaching human civilization. People have a great desire to build homes in waterfront areas, where trees like arbutus and Garry Oak often thrive. Of course, land developers highly covet the land they grow upon, and this has led to severe reduction or elimination of many groves.

56494467_2828368317207989_8012646349822492672_n
A particularly nice grove in Nanaimo’s Piper’s Lagoon Park

It’s now estimated that less than 5% of  Garry Oak ecosystems here in coastal British Columbia remain intact. Most of those are basically islands of preserved growth that were once part of broader populations that also allowed for greater genetic biodiversity. The result of that condition is that numerous species found in these ecosystems are either endangered or at risk. What’s worse is that they are often battling invasive species like Scotch Broom just to survive!

56679340_2828368307207990_759025144743067648_n
They often share space with the Arbutus tree, also known as the Madrone, as with this stand on The Notch in Nanoose Bay
56558628_2828368227207998_5215582794184392704_n
The bark is unique and easy to identify

In the general area of Nanaimo, where I live, you can find fair sized forests in Nanoose Bay, Parksville, Harewood Plains, Joan Point, and Mt Tzouhalem, for example. Sadly though, countless other populations  are either small, dwindling, or already eliminated. I’m soon hoping to explore these forests in springtime, when their numerous wildflowers emerge. It’s a world I’m just beginning to discover, in what I now call my backyard. Here on Vancouver Island there is a society devoted to these trees, it’s called the Garry Oak Meadow Preservation Society ( GOMPS ). Continual efforts must be made to set aside protected areas for these fast disappearing trees, for without them, so much will be lost. The Garry Oak is well worth treasuring!

 

 

 

Canyoneering 101: An Afternoon in Looper Creek Canyon

 

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

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

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

IMG_0236 copy
Morning on the ferry deck

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

IMG_0229 copy
Looking back at the city, Island bound again!

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

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

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

IMG_0241 copy
Peering into the “abyss” from the Looper Creek Bridge

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

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

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

7965945924_6123e1baf3_z
Kevin dropping in!
7965936154_054d0aecc8_z
Vlad gets ready
7965916326_364c2030c9_z
Chris is pretty relaxed, he’s been here before

 

7965927672_f39bfcef98_z
Monster Bigleaf Maple specimen, probably 300 years old
7965894626_b529d25e4a_z
Polished rock

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

7965907072_1c61dcbc5f_z
An otherworldly place

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

7965884926_7e282369e8_z
Vlad and Kevin taking it all in
7965865682_aed32db855_z
Fix leading the way
7965847342_fd2d863cf5_z
Kevin contemplates the day
7965573444_99298fede3_z
Walking downstream

7965830916_3035459908_z

 

 

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

7965838188_339364283d_k

 

 

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

7965812176_dd9dc2880d_z
Vlad in the very first pool

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

7965589240_e005440d7a_z
Kevin befriends one of the locals
7965756118_65186a3f9b_z
Into the mystic

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

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

7965792748_fccacdf924_z
Kevin and Chris setting up
7965581272_41b814e73d_z
Fix looks on as they rig gear
7965773898_0ca88f0f5c_z
Chris tests out his work

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

7965782698_0c8174ef70_z

 

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

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

7965703014_d031d844c9_z

 

7965615332_4eeceb03dd_z

7965691544_db783779ca_z

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

7965855478_761f68287a_z

7965669972_441224837a_z

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

7965747240_621f0b0b13_z

 

7965561656_aa3af80af9_z
Another huge Bigleaf Maple tree

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

7965821940_a43a2de216_z

7965874926_2faf38b41e_z

7965766764_2c6219610e_z

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

7965737008_b445240eba_z
Fix landing the ideal shot
7965600258_3d138ca345_z
One of my favourite shots from the trip, taken with my eight year old Olympus 410 Waterproof Camera. It still works well today!

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

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

7965712962_e89b6b1fd1_z

7965681546_124437e897_z
Chris heading through a narrows

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

7965635052_578412b341_k

 

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

Looper Creek Canyon

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

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

IMG_0278 copy
Ship in the night
IMG_0273 copy
Texada Island from the ferry deck

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

7965712962_e89b6b1fd1_z
Well, maybe just one more look!

 

Cheewhat to Carmanah, a Journey Back In Time

 

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Coastal British Columbia forest

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

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

IMG_0814 copy
Bigleaf Maple leaf on the picnic table

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

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

IMG_0818 copy
Coleman stove, eh

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

IMG_0820 copy
Lake Cowichan and unexpected autumn colours

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

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

8132754808_aae266d0af_z
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

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

8132853280_b9dc66d423_z
Overturned cedar and its roots, now home to many forms of life
8132735973_90bf49c511_z
The trunk of the fallen giant

8131947982_39a350887e_z

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

8132782078_3eedc3090f_z
Some folks find this tree and think they have found the Cheewhat Cedar. As cool as it is, keep going, you have a ways to go

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

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

8132811715_05ba712022_z
Ancient tree just uphill from the Cheewhat Cedar

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

8131898229_947313c96a_z
Doug with the Cheewhat Cedar, which is the world’s second largest Western Red Cedar
8131916289_b891f45792_k
A true giant

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

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

8131907307_897453291c_z

8132828992_92f53df93d_z
The tree was submitted to the BC Big Tree Registry by the late Sooke resident and tree hunting legend Maywell Wickheim in 1988
8140593349_d2189a031c_z
Twenty centuries of growth, perhaps!
8140589447_4e5e132322_z
Sign of designation
8132791130_f6b7f752cc_z
The base of the Cheewhat Cedar

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

8140572971_ee1b224933_z

8140617768_0a82cdd9f5_z
Onward to Carmanah

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

8133922631_d18f3f3a4d_z
That’s a Marbled Murrelet on the park sign!

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

8135070013_ab09ec8eaa_z
Trees, shadows, and greenery

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

8135066371_21d47ea92d_z
Doug on the Carmanah boardwalk

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

d289e61a0019735f705efe3b9f98ee8d
Here’s a book I have in my collection. It’s well worth a look if you can find a copy

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

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

8135099124_d65866af57_z-2
Wolf track
WO_2087_Marbled_Murrelet
The fabled Marbled Murrelet… Image from Wikipedia
8135108376_4b4826168f_z
Carmanah Creek
8135100112_aa3b4b8653_z
Clear and still waters

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

8135103476_39ffbb085d_b
The Heaven Tree, a huge old growth Sitka Spruce

8133957679_2b8dff659e_z

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

8135078609_37850a86c1_z

8133942993_be5e12bbef_z
Sitka Spruce, Picea Sitchensis

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

8135105460_b4f1540554_z
Some of these spruce trees are extremely tall!
8133965700_e5fa42fe05_z
Stoltmann Grove has quite a few spruce in the nine foot diameter range
8133947867_12e37ca750_z
Walking the grove

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

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

8260566478_0ecb559940_z
The Three Sisters
8133931661_5040a4ae10_z
Pool alongside Carmanah Creek
8133962831_caa051ace5_z
Spruce and moss

8133955580_8306bdaeb8_z

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

IMG_6186 copy
Carmanah Camp

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

17100203606_30aadc3783_k copy
Carmanah forest panorama

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

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

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

 

 

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.

IMG_4433 copyB
BC Ferries, our cruise ship for the trip to Nanaimo
IMG_4446 copyB
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.

16734576470_3e5662b25f_z
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/#

16301996843_7faab0cf02_z
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!

16734599630_dbd838f3c4_z

16299640994_b343770723_z
One of the petroglyphs we saw. Is this one authentic? Not so sure
16922030475_e2a97d6af2_k
These are some of the petroglyphs we were certain were legitimate historical relics
16922022665_a68db2fd6a_z
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.

16743325749_ef62123180_z
The view from our campground, with Gabriola Island in the distance
16743314099_47f83d0431_z
Cliffs along one of the campground’s trails
16743322679_59cbc662d0_z
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.

16928249632_4de860e6ce_z
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.

16281683163_820a6896f3_z
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.

logo2

 

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.

16875767246_2f1bce26c3_z
One rainy afternoon!
16279287904_f993b81d94_z
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.

16715506649_864cf6277f_z

 

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!

IMG_9472 copyC
The kids clowning it up on the beach
16875795636_fabd57eef3_z
The shoreline, with its wind battered Sitka Spruce
16281659613_85ae2a14a8_z
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.

16875809926_0f4478761e_z
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…

16900444012_e8c3d0eecb_z
Salal and driftwood
16281691283_73b219ecbf_z
Calm seas
16714041488_fc090c36da_z
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.

16279304744_ae5305e0d1_z
Clatter!

16901677895_7f5196b302_z

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!

IMG_4505 copyB
“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.

16745535718_797c2b69e7_z
Jordan River, popular with sufers and paddleboarders

16907281986_5c4da6a9c1_z

16907275786_74dbc7d646_z
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.

16931923252_393f489fe9_z
Sandcut Beach

16933229965_fcc6d84be0_z

16933243755_3eba2ed940_z

 

 

16725891407_363f84cb4e_z

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.

16329460744_406e8ac87e_z
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.

16329396544_92a2929802_z
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.

16331607843_a179e86227_z
Tantalus Mountain, in Tantalus Provincial Park, across the waters, 55X zoom
16950337072_f4bb7bf6ae_z
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.

16331634073_2886229c11_z
Texada Island in the distance
16329340004_5c1e848639_z
Looks like I found me a friend who also likes sunset watching!
16764106638_62533d6de5_z
Tantalus again, with alpenglow
16329258114_fc1c4185d5_z
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.

16765568359_a6c63b95f0_z
Gerald Island is the largest, I think, with Mistaken Island and some of the Ballenas Islands in there as well
16331661893_837dfafce6_z
Looking toward Howe Sound and the Britannia Range
16329343394_e8d37c68dc_z
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.

16764105408_f03807aff7_z
My friend’s back too!
16873109655_47c1cee191_z
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.

16925783136_1a7a7ed501_z

16744366087_5f2a430a2c_z
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…

16925808596_cd20b85746_z

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Saga of the Red Creek Fir, Part 3 of 3

Time now for the conclusion of this chronicle. The sundial moves forward yet another year, to May of 2009, and, you guessed it, we’re chilling again at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal. It’s way too early to be drinking anything but coffee, but it’s another bluebird day, and this time we’re going to find that tree, right? The Simpsons imitations are flowing freely, and I’m doing my best Troy McClure ( credit here to The Simpsons, all rights reserved, and the late great Phil Hartman )…

fulltroy

” Hi, we’re tree hunters Mick and Chris, you may remember us from such failed  Red Creek Fir expeditions as last year, and the year before that. Will we be third time lucky? ”

3590532157_b1a5390af0_z
Sunrise on the ferry, again!

3590532097_6f718298c9_b-2

This time, though, as far as I was concerned, it was going to work out just fine. I had contacted my friend and fellow hiker Scott, who lives in Victoria, and had been to see the tree before, in 2005. The plan was to pick him up along the way and head out to Port Renfrew on Highway 14. Morning sunshine provided some fine views on the boat ride to Nanaimo.

IMG_4872 copy
On a nice day there is nothing like hanging out on the ferry deck!

It was smooth sailing to Nanaimo, and trouble free driving to Victoria, where we met Scott. He’s what you’d call a true Vancouver Islander, in that he loves the lifestyle there and sees little need to venture to the mainland very often. I can’t say as I blame him, as I certainly enjoy my time there too! Much of the drive was spent catching up and discussing prospective climbs in remote regions of The Island, especially the isolated northern ranges, which I’ve not visited at all.

3596476497_0d534c3757_b
The view from Highway 14 at Jordan River

We had planned in advance to approach via the new logging spur, so we crossed over the San Juan River and then doubled back over the Lens Creek Bridge. Hopefully, this time, the tree wouldn’t see us coming and hide, you know, like it did the last time.

3583596359_211f0fce37_b
Cutblock views
IMG_4875 copy
Nicely graded new Red 100!

The new spur lands you at about the 13 km mark on the old Red Creek Main, and in Scott’s memory the trailhead was quite close to where the roads intersected. It was decided we’d try to spot the tree from the vehicle at first but when that proved fruitless, we jumped out and began to scrutinize every tree and rock for signs of disturbance. After about ten minutes of searching, suddenly we heard a loud holler from Scott, he had found the trail! Chris drove back and parked in a clearing with a pile of old culverts. If you go, pull over on driver’s right, the trailhead is on the same side of the road just upriver from where you’re parked. We rebuilt the cairn, which had been dismantled, and found some flagging tape to do some marking where the path begins.

IMG_4951 copyA
Here is where we parked, and…
IMG_4949 copyA
…not far past the intersection of the two roads, on the same side of the road that we parked on is a cairn that marks the trailhead

Ironically, the tree is a very short stroll from the road, and the last time we visited we were, unwittingly, not much more than 150 metres from where it stands, As an added bonus, you get to see three very old Western Redcedars that are just downhill from the world champion  Douglas Fir. They are called The Three Sisters, appropriately enough, and all are over 400 years old.

3583596383_92c49642ae_b
Scott and Chris on their way to the tree!
3583596411_d25ac12bf9_b
One of the Three Sisters
IMG_4888 copy
Trillium in bloom
IMG_4887 copy
Another of the trio of ancient cedars

I clearly recall the elation I felt on the hike in, as we’d already devoted over 40 hours on three separate excursions in the quest to see this forest giant, after all! At that point, though, we’d probably have crawled there on broken glass, I recall Chris saying, only half jokingly. It had been since the early 1990s that I had first read about the tree, and I had been sure it would prove almost mythical in stature.

The next thing I knew, Scott called out excitedly. “It’s still here!” And so it was, though it had lost a  limb from its ancient upper canopy, perhaps in the great storm of December 2006. Scott  was just as impressed as he’d been when he first visited, and as for us, I’m not sure if we were more in awe or just dumbfounded that we could finally see it!

3593881625_528cb8c42e_b
Scott, happy to see an old friend!

The tree is almost 14 feet in diameter, and is the world”s largest member of the pine genus as well. Its future status is reasonably ensured, but nearby logging has made it somewhat vulnerable and exposed to rough coastal windstorms. Still, it has managed to survive a millennium, so perhaps it will survive another.

3587045661_c9126e6f96_b
Chris, in wide eyed disbelief that he finally can see this tree!

Huge valley bottom specimens such as this are the rarest of the rare, and it’s not likely very many remain. We need to make every effort to preserve trees like the Red Creek Fir for others to see.

3630788225_59652b1b50_b
Time for me to get a closer look!

This image below is a five frame vertical panorama that I took of Scott and the tree. It really puts into perspective just how immense it is. I had never seen a fir over 10 feet in diameter before and to see one 14 feet in diameter was remarkable. It’s about 240 feet in height, but the top leaders were blown off years ago so it’s possible this tree was once close to 400 feet tall. We could actually get close without trampling the root system as we were basically standing on the fallen limbs.

3583234069_ec364d2b87_b
Scott and the Red Creek Fir. We will forever be thankful for his assistance in finding the tree!
3587045947_ff980fc255_b
A look toward the top of this forest giant
IMG_4910 copy
From the ground upwards! This tree was probably over 350 feet tall at one time

 

We spent quite a while clambering  around and looking at different aspects, here are a few more.

IMG_4932 copy
1000 year old bark
3587045879_f7dc05f78e_b
The massive trunk of the world champion Red Creek Fir

The broken limb that had crashed relatively recently nearby was as big as a young second growth tree all by itself.

IMG_4912 copy
Scott surfing the massive limb which we think broke off during the storm of December 2006
3587045733_6c043e95cd_z
The old sign, now fallen to earth nearby

You could certainly build a few houses from the timber if this giant were ever to fall, but I hope that that day never comes to pass!

3583596467_62f3a2856d_b
Well, maybe just one last look!

Now it was time now to head home, but I found it especially hard to leave. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that now we at least knew where to find it, but it almost seemed like we should spend a week there, considering how long it had taken to see this tree.

3587045599_4fdb99b57b_b
World’s largest member of the pine genus. A Douglas Fir (pseudotsuga menzieszi) is not a true fir, rather it is a member of the pine family

It was a happy trek back to Victoria, where we brought Scott home. How does a guy from Toronto end up living near the corner of Yonge St and Toronto Ave in Victoria? I’m calling that a strange coincidence, to put it mildly. We bid adieu, and continued on the highway back to Departure Bay, this time with a sense of accomplishment. If you read this, thank you Scott!

So, what were we going to do now, with this mission impossible finally accomplished?Well, we’d probably find something else to obsess with, after all, it’s what we live for! Time for yet another ferry ride to close out this epic. I couldn’t wait for the cold beer that I knew awaited me in the fridge at home, hours away!

IMG_4966 copyA
Homeward bound again!

Thanks to all of you who actually took the time to read the whole tale. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it.  Until next time…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Saga of the Red Creek Fir, Part 2 of 3

The months rolled by, the pages of the calendar turned, sometimes slowly, sometimes swiftly, as life goes. Now it was May of 2008. Chris and I had resolved to try again on a spring day to find the Red Creek Fir and so, there we were again, somewhat livelier, in line again at 5 am for the ferry to Nanaimo. Filled with laughter and optimism, how could we possibly fail?  [sarcasm/] Well, keep reading, for more insight into that rather unlikely scenario [/sarcasm].

IMG_0999
Memorable views
IMG_1050
Silence of the early morning

We spent much of our time that morning on the wind blasted deck of the ferry, identifying distant peaks and planning future treks. The rest of our time was taken up watching the trials and tribulations of a very confused fellow passenger. He had had great difficulty in listening to the traffic employees direct him where to park when boarding, and later he arrived late to his car, having forgotten exactly where it was. He became thusly known as “Dude, where’s my car?”, after the title of a recent movie neither of us had actually seen. I could certainly relate to his struggles, as I’ve had plenty of trouble finding my truck in mall parking lots over the years and I’m hopeless at finding my keys!

Unknown

Soon enough, we were on the road again, intent on taking Highway 18 to Lake Cowichan so that we could save time by driving the Harris Creek Main across the island to Port Renfrew. Here are some scenes from our trip along the road, including a stop to see the Harris Creek Spruce, 400 years old and over 12 feet in diameter.

P5250003
What up? Logging companies trying to save money on security?
P5250004
Sadly, much of the heart of Vancouver Island has been logged like this. Estimates are that a mere 5% of valley bottom ecosystems remain untouched.
IMG_1015
The Harris Creek Spruce, which was preserved in part with the help of logging companies, I have heard
2680704405_a108e2a0ff_b
Harris Creek, for which Harris Main, the backroad we traveled, is named

In due time, we’d arrived at the point of reckoning, as we crossed the bridge over the San Juan River.

IMG_1020
San Juan River

A mere five minutes more, and we pulled into the entrance of Red Creek Main, with about 12 kms to go until we found the tree.

IMG_1021
Hey now, that doesn’t look so bad…
IMG_1024
….but, on the other hand, don’t say they didn’t warn you!

Not without some mildly harrowing moments negotiating a washout or two, Chris managed to skillfully pilot us to where the trailhead supposedly was. Somehow though, things seemed altered from the original description. There was a new spur that came in from the hill above on the right that appeared to be the new road in, and the old road had been extended for what looked like a km or two at least. We opted to walk the road, searching for any sign of a trail, but we could not find anything promising. We did not have either a GPS or a set of coordinates for the tree to go by, so then we drove up the hillside to see if the tree was visible from above, even engaging in some fruitless bushwhacking for a while. I’m not sure whether it was just collective mental exhaustion or just plain inability to think logically, but we just could not figure it out at the time. By this time Angry Chris had made his appearance and he was NOT happy with the Red Creek Fir gods! The score, after the inevitable capitulation that followed, was Red Creek Fir, 2, Chris and Mick, 0. Shut out again, and none too pleased!

Unknown
Angry Homer Simpson. Not my photo, may or may not have resembled Chris at the time. (copyright Simpsons all rights reserved)

Now what? Well, Plan B suggestion for the day was to explore the new spur, called Red 100, to see where that led us, and then possibly to see if we could head down Gordon River Main and locate the Braden Creek Canyon. You see, Chris has an obsession with canyoneering. For the uninitiated, that’s a sport where you don a wetsuit and pack dry bags and climbing gear in order to descend a creek or river whatever best way you can. I’ve now tried it once, and so I can understand how he got addicted, but that’s a tale for another day.

We caught all the breaks on the next part of our day, and in half an hour we had found the Braden Creek Spur, and we got out to scout the upper canyon. This was well worth the time, and almost assuaged  the considerable frustration that was renting a room in our heads by now. Here is a look at Braden Creek. I’m still not sure or don’t recall whether Chris has descended it yet or if he will any time soon, as he’s living in Utah as I write this.

IMG_1039
Braden Creek, where we dropped in
IMG_1038
There is something special about exploring creek valleys!
IMG_1033
Fast and angry water here!
IMG_1030
This canyon has beautiful rock, much of it granitic
IMG_1029
By far my favourite view of this canyon, what lies beyond that opening?

So, what was left? A long ride back to Departure Bay, to catch the ferry to Horseshoe Bay again. We began to relate to how the 1982, and especially the 1994 Vancouver Canucks must have felt when their dreams were dashed, but no, we were not going to quit! This was far, far, far, from over. Like Homer Simpson gunning for that last remaining doughnut, we vowed to return. God willing, for our own good and the good of our wives’  sanity. Who knows, maybe we’d even succeed next time?

IMG_1045
Cruising by Nanaimo airport again

Yet another lengthy day came to a close 18 hours after it began, and the sunset views on the boat ride home put it all into perspective, our problems being, on a world scale, really rather trivial at best…

IMG_0997
Mt Baker and sunset. Just for fun this time we caught the Duke Point sailing
IMG_0995
Watching the wake
IMG_0985
Thanks again, BC Ferries!

Until next time, same bat time, same bat channel…