Tag Archives: Canada

Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Oft Forgotten Mountain Hemlock

Here in the Pacific Northwest, when talk turns to the preservation of old growth trees, generally what people are discussing are the giants of valley bottom ecosystems. Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Sitka Spruce are most frequently mentioned. Why is that? Well, the answer seems obvious, in that they are located at lower elevations and as such might seem more relatable to the average person. They also reach great size and are conspicuously targeted by logging companies in pursuit of the almighty  dollar.

There are, however, a number of different species that grow in the Coast Mountains that simply don’t garner as much attention. One such tree is the Mountain Hemlock, also known as Tsuga Mertensiana . If you’ve ever explored the forests above 800 metres in elevation, then you’ve seen your share of them. What you have likely never heard, however, are sharp cries of protest when the oldest of their kind are cut down. In truth, most people remain unaware that they are even targeted for harvesting!

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Five foot diameter Mountain Hemlock on Black Mountain in Cypress Provincial Park
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An interesting pair of Mountain Hemlocks near Cabin Lake in Cypress Provincial Park. I like to call them The Happy Couple!

Invariably, you’ll find the Mountain Hemlock at those higher elevations, where it’s most prolific. In coastal British Columbia it shares space with Yellow Cedar, Pacific Silver Fir, and in this subalpine zone it tends to be the dominant forest tree.

Having spent an inordinate amount of time in British Columbia’s southwest region, I’ve come to admire this hardy survivor of the woods. It’s specially designed to be able to hold the heavy snows of winter in the alpine regions, and to shed them efficiently. The Mountain Hemlock can be found growing in the most adverse conditions. It can thrive in groves, where some protection from the elements is afforded, but some big specimens are often found on exposed ridges, where they must confront the wrath of winter head on. Smaller, stunted versions are often found growing on rocky summits where their trunks thicken even more to withstand the winds.

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Heavy snow loads and crazy shapes in winter!
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Snow encrusted Mountain Hemlocks
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Me with an ancient Mountain Hemlock near the Seymour Trail junction. Photo by Doug
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Tsuga Mertensiana, the Mountain Hemlock. This one is on a wind blasted ridge at almost 1500 metres in elevation on Chanter Peak

The Mountain Hemlock is a tree that grows at a very slow and measured pace. When you see one that is just several feet wide in diameter that usually identifies a tree that is already several hundred years old. Growing season is short and difficult in the mountains, and nutrients are sparse, yet I’ve seen so many that have lived multiple centuries. In 2008, when Cypress Provincial Park was given permission to remove trees to accommodate some of the facilities for the Olympic Games, I made a startling discovery. Quite by accident I wandered into an off limits area where dozens of old growth Mountain Hemlocks had been cut down. Even the ones that were just three feet wide proved to be over 400 years old when I counted the growth rings and some of the trees were nearly two metres in diameter. Experts estimate that the tree can reach up to 800 years in age but I am convinced that some may make it into a second millennium.

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Gnarled and ancient Mountain Hemlock. If ever there was such thing an ent, this is it! It grows on the summit of Mt Bishop, at over 1500 metres in elevation

Yet another example of similar negligence occurred when the trail to Joffre Lakes was expanded  back around 2010. BC Parks contracted a firm to do the excavation and during the process they decided to take down a number of Mountain Hemlocks that were over a thousand years old. This was done, allegedly, in the name of public safety, but truthfully in this case they simply took the easiest possible line to widen the path. I’m quite certain they would be standing today had that evaluation been more accurate.

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Making tracks in the magic of a Mountain Hemlock forest

Many an ancient Mountain Hemlock has been levelled by ski resorts, road builders, loggers, and even homesteaders building cabins, over the years. Sometimes this has been done for business purposes, and other times for expediency, but nevertheless countless venerable trees have been destroyed in the process. Much of that destruction has occurred out of sight and out of mind, and it’s high time we paid more attention to this fine and noble tree. In the big picture, it plays an important role in nature, and must not be forgotten!

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Sun sets on Mountain Hemlocks and Vancouver, as seen from Mt Seymour

 

 

 

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The Magic of the Blue Cedar Grove

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Spectacular place to spend an afternoon

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

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Douglas Fir aka Pseudotsuga Menzieszi
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Bigleaf Maple on O’Hayes Creek
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The sheer volume of their foliage is overwhelming!
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Bigleaf Maples are highly underrated if you ask me

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

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

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

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

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

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This territory is about as rugged as it gets!
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Cliffside cascade

 

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

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

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

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Introducing “The Elk”, one very interesting Pacific Yew!
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The base of “The Elk”

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

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

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

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Rattlesnake Plantain
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Timeless beauty

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Little things!
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Partners

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Sunlit Alder trees
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I call this cedar “The Moose”
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Tilting panorama of a cedar tree

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

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Western Red Cedar, aka Thuja Plicata
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Towering Douglas Firs

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

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Blue Cedar Grove

The Bishop Giants

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

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

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

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

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Doug and the two giants of the Bishop Grove from several years later in April 2006
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700 year old cedar in the Bishop Grove

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

 

 

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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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They often share space with the Arbutus tree, also known as the Madrone, as with this stand on The Notch in Nanoose Bay
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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!

 

 

 

The Kennewick Cedar

“I think we’ve got something here!” I turned abruptly, just in time to see Chris clambering swiftly up the steep gully we were crossing. From my vantage point, I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew he was absolutely serious. I followed along, and as he disappeared from sight into the brush, suddenly his source of excitement became obvious. There, on the south bank of the gully, was one of the most impressive Western Red Cedars I have seen, before or since!

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Me and the Kennewick Cedar…Photo by Chris H.

The tree rests on the edge of an unnamed tributary about halfway between Kennedy and Wickenden Creeks, hence the moniker, somewhat borrowed from the Washington city of the same name. It took us quite some time to decide how to actually measure this giant, just because of the way it sits on the bank, but its diameter may well exceed fifteen feet! That ranks it in the top six we have seen in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park and far and away the largest Chris and/or I have discovered there. I returned to the tree again six years later with Doug in the spring of 2012 to find it still in excellent health!

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Looking skyward!
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A vertical panorama

What’s even more remarkable is that for its size its wood gives the appearance of a younger tree, and none of its towering leaders have yet been broken by storms. I believe that it is less than five hundred years old, which augurs well for record future growth, should it survive well. Perhaps more than any other tree, the Kennewick Cedar could perhaps truly inspire future generations of tree hunters in the region, because as I’ve said before, there have to be more giants out there just waiting to be discovered!

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Chris with the Kennewick Cedar

The Hurley Cedar

It was early December of 2005 when Chris and I set out on the Cedar Trail, trekking toward Kennedy Falls in North Vancouver’s Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. The route, at that time, was a relatively rough track that very few people bothered to hike, but it was a favourite of mine. It had that feeling of isolation that I so enjoy about wilderness, and along the way, there were two six hundred year old cedars to visit!

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The rarely tracked wilderness of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park is a treasure worth preserving

What we had hoped to discover, however, was an entirely different tree. It was perched, according to noted British Columbia tree hunter Ralf Kelman, on a precarious bank above a creek with no name. He had told me about it a year or two before, but it was only then that we were getting around to looking for it. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t too difficult to locate, and was a highly underrated tree. Its age was approximately five hundred years, said Ralf, and it was roughly eleven to twelve feet in diameter. The tree had been discovered by Randy Stoltmann back in the early 1990s, apparently.

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Exploring the woods on a winter day can be very exhilarating! Photo by Chris H.

The key to finding the tree is relatively simple. There is a short section on the trail which is rigged with ropes to assist hikers down a steep bank to a creek crossing. Once you cross the creek, immediately make a left turn and follow a spine uphill along the creek. Eventually, you’ll reach the tree, which I started calling the Hurley Cedar years later on a day Doug, Ryan, and I were searching the general area for a lost dog who goes by that name. The dog was found alive and happy, though nowhere near the tree, but the name seemed to stick in my circle of friends so I am using it here.

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The massive trunk of the Hurley Cedar

 

It did not take us too long to find the tree, as Ralf’s directions were pretty concise. Once there, we spent half an hour or so enjoying the cool, crisp, early winter day. There was a fresh snowfall on the ground that added to the ambience and at least, we thought, it wasn’t raining at the time!

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A pretty good place to stop for lunch
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Trying to get that perfect shot! Photo by Chris H.

Over the years, I have returned to this grand old cedar on many occasions, so if ever you’re out this way, I suggest you pay it a visit yourself. You won’t regret the effort!

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This tree remains as healthy as it was 13 years ago. See it while you still can, and do be careful in its presence.
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Powerful and strong, the Hurley Cedar!

 

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Times change. Thirteen years later, the trail to Kennedy Falls has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts. The building of a parking lot on upper Mountain Highway and temporary road closures of usual park access have served to help popularize the route. Up until that time, it was my understanding that Lynn Headwaters Regional Park had not  marked the trail in both directions because there was a notion the location of the trail ought to be kept relatively quiet. Consequently, I don’t think they were unprepared for the increase in traffic , which has also resulted in significant damage to the path. The actual marking of the trail is no longer an issue, but do please stick to the path and please do your part to minimize erosion.

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The Giant Maple of Squamish Creek

High in British Columbia’s Seymour Valley, in a broad clearing once razed of vegetation by landslides, is a most incredible tree that I call the Squamish Creek Giant. It’s a massive Bigleaf Maple that grows right along the creek bed. Rising above it is a rugged coastal valley that has seen little if any exploration, in no small part because its terrain is so difficult! I’m not sure exactly why the creek is named Squamish, by the way, as it is not near the well known city by that same name.

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Bigleaf Maples like these are often 400 years old!
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Upper crowns of Bigleaf Maples are incredibly productive!

 

In the coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest, Acer Macrophyllum, as it’s also known, is a relatively common tree, usually native to riparian zones. Generally it will have multiple trunks, and tends to support a wide variety of plant life that grows from its limbs. Just because of its crown spread, it can be difficult to photograph on a tree hunt, and its lifespan can widely vary. The largest of its kind is reputed to reach over five hundred years in age, but many seldom reach half that age, perhaps due to the state of flux they endure growing near watercourses.

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These trees are hard to photograph but I love to try!
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Looking into the upper canopy, four centuries of growth and still thriving
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Each massive trunk is loaded with lifeforms
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I have not explored much of the forest above the cascades. Who knows what’s hiding there?!

This particular tree is one I stumbled upon at least a decade ago, and we returned to photograph last year. It’s quite close to an especially captivating place I call The Giant’s Rock Garden (story is here ). Lately my interest about other Bigleaf Maple trees has definitely been on the rise. I have encountered many of them, but it has usually been when I am hunting other  species, like Western Red Cedar or Douglas Fir. Has anyone else out there developed an interest in these beauties? Feel free to leave your comments if you have!

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My idea of golden!

 

Living on the Edge: The Forgotten Forest, Part Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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There is a certain art to measuring a tree!

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

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Yeah, we do a lot of these voices. Some very well, some not so much! (Photo credit: Fox TV: The Simpsons)

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

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Lunch time!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Hmm, what are we looking at here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One of my favourite tree hunting photos!

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

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Yet another 400 year old cedar!
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Pillars

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

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

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

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

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

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Does anyone know exactly what this is?

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

The Story of The Survivor

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Snidely Whiplash

Easter Island statue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seven centuries and counting!
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On a sunnier day!

 

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Until next time…

How Callaghan Made Our Day!

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

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Mt Callaghan, back in 2009 on a bluebird day

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

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

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Dirty Harry Callahan. That’s what we called my science teacher and what Denis was calling the mountain by the end of the day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Alan tackling the ladder

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

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Spot the marmot!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alan on the move up the pinnacle
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Tricky step at the top
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Alan atop the pinnacle, with the icefield at left
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That subpeak that loomed behind us in our group shot looking somewhat ghostly
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Now Ted gives it a go and gives the thumbs up!
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Here is a nice shot Alan got of me just after I took the shot of Ted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Go ahead, make my day.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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