Tag Archives: Coast Mountains

Two Summer Days in the Mamquam Valley


The sound was as loud as it was clear! The distinctive grunt and snapping of jaws left little doubt as to its source. Motioning silently to each other, we beat a hasty retreat down the alder choked logging spur, hightailing it back to the Mamquam Forest Service Road. Chris and I had no question that we’d run into an ill tempered black bear, even though neither of us had seen it. So ended our ill fated assault on Pinecone Peak!

2619631647_de69dc04c0_z
Actual black bear, possibly similar to what was heard. The sound was enough to get rid of us!

This story had its beginnings in the third week of June 2008, when we had decided to set out to climb the aforementioned mountain. Armed with some decent route descriptions and trip reports from good friend Simon, we had made our way deep into the Mamquam Valley in Chris’s trusty Ford, under deceptively clearing skies. The road was still wet from spring torrents as Chris displayed an array of evasive manoeuvres to avoid obstacles better left to four wheel drive travel. In addition to running some damn fine bookstores ( visit him at one of Vancouver’s Pulpfiction Books locations ), he can also flat out drive a logging road! Up until that ursine encounter, it had been a fairly pleasant outing. We had even taken the time to stop and look at the many creeks bursting with meltwater as the skies seemed to part above, hinting at a bluebird day. Optimistically, I felt that the weather would take a turn for the better, after all, how often does the forecast turn out to be wrong these days?

Rushing waters were the order of the day!

 

The M-22 Spur, bear not included!

Alas, we were duped by the weather gods! It was just as well, I suppose. Ominous clouds had begun gathering above and the rain then began to fall, lightly at first, then harder, and harder still. What to do now? Well, we wandered about the valley, hiked up a few logging spurs, located the M-110 logging spur that led to the Pinecone Lakes Trail and Peak 6500, then spent a little more time perusing the area. Some considerably large stumps of Western Red Cedar were one highlight of the morning, along with several piles of shotgun shells and views of misted forest.

Wandering a cut block above the Mamquam River

Clouds hung low in the morning silence, a deer hopped through an opening in the clearcut and soon disappeared. We marvelled at the endless determination of the road builders, and wondered aloud how many more piles of spent shotgun shells there might be in this valley. Good thing none of the local Leroys were around that day!
A stroll up yet another spur netted a really rare find- an old Zenith cabinet style  colour television with, you guessed it, another nearby cache of shotgun shells!

 

A moody day
Colourful array of spent shell casings

 

A misty forest scene
Is this thing on?

As my friend Tracy later said “Wow, that TV’s seen better days!! I bet it remembers this Coke commercial, or this Big Mac commercial, and, of course, Mikey.”                 Televisions like these sure do bring back fond memories, don’t they? In my mind, I almost could imagine Adam West (R.I.P.) and Burt Ward in an episode of the old Batman series playing out on screen! Bam! Sock! Thwack!

batman60s
The only real Batman (the late Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) ***Not for profit, All rights reserved***

 

Alive with greenery!
Chris heading for one of those big cedar stumps
Bearberry

From there we bushwhacked back through the clearcut, admiring the surprising biodiversity, and the general aura that showed us that the Mamquam Valley was a special place, despite the obvious human disturbances.

We finished our foray with a wander down to the banks of the Mamquam River itself, enjoying the sounds of the roaring current amid the din of the pouring rain, while I vainly attempted to keep my camera dry just to try and land a few decent photos!

Thuja Plicata, the Western Red Cedar
The Mamquam River

 

Another raging creek

It hadn’t exactly been the kind of alpine excursion we’d daydreamed about, but it had nevertheless been a memorable day!  I’d characterize it as unexpectedly eventful, at  minimum.
Soon enough we were enjoying our lunch in a Squamish cafe, drinking coffee and telling more tales, a little wet but certainly none the worse for wear. An ironic denouement, at least for Chris, considering his profession. We’d come to buy, but settled for browsing, in the end, though we enjoyed it well!

Default

The weeks rolled by swiftly, and soon, summer was almost over. Doug and I seized the opportunity to head up the Mamquam Valley again, before the days began to shorten. On this occasion, not only was it not raining, but the chance of precipitation was basically nonexistent! We were determined to find the M110 logging spur and hike up to Peak 6500, sometimes known as Seed Peak. The mountain sits in the same cirque as Mt Gillespie, in an alpine playground full of tarns, beautiful granite blocks. There are even remnants of a pocket glacier, whose demise seems inevitable.

Here are a couple of views from the road as we drove up the M 110 spur….

The Mt Garibaldi massif, as seen from the M-110 logging spur. It’s the closest volcano to the Greater Vancouver area, and it’s right on the doorstep of Squamish!
After winding our way up all those logging roads, finally we managed to reach the trailhead to Peak 6500. Both the road and the trail had been brushed out and reflagged, making our passage somewhat easier. The track began with a beautiful walk through subalpine forest to a plateau, then followed with a steep scramble up to Peak 5700, which has an outstanding view of the surrounding Coast Mountains!

The more we meandered, the greater was my affinity for this place. Should you decide to visit it yourself, please remember to treat it with the utmost respect. Be sure to leave no trace by packing out what you pack in, and take great care not to damage the fragile environment!
Default

One of the sections of fast melting glacier in the basin
Default

As day trips go, this wasn’t a long one by my standards. It was about seven hours car to car including all the alpine sauntering, but the drive up will take you at least a couple of hours, so an early start is recommended. One thing I can assure you is that you won’t be disappointed!

A view from the summit cairn

 

 

Advertisements

The Hollyburn Fir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven O’Clock Happens Twice a Day

Steve laughed heartily, leaning over to the right in the cab of his Toyota 4X4. “Damn it,” I said. “When am I ever going to get that right?” You see, his truck is imported from Japan, where vehicles are all right hand drive, so I keep on going toward the wrong door when I go to get in the passenger side. “Haha, you’ll just do it again before this trip’s over! Mark my words,” he replied, laughing harder still. He opened up the tailgate and we rearranged our gear for the long drive north. Soon, we were bound for Britannia Beach, where we’d be meeting Doug and Wally at Galileo’s for a coffee at 7 am. From there, it was back onto Highway 99 to Pemberton, where we’d be detouring toward Birkenhead, and a series of logging roads that would finally bring us to the head of Tenas Creek. Destination? Seven O’Clock Mountain.

6945714759_4b8c29c473_z
Seven O’Clock Mountain, from July 2010, taken from Sun God

Nestled high on the divide between the Birkenhead, Tenas, and Tenquille Valleys, this was a familiar haunt to Doug and I, as we’d biked up the Tenas Creek Road with overnight packs and set up camp near Sun God Mountain eight years before ( You can read more about that here ). While we then managed to climb Sun God, we’d run out of time to summit Seven O’Clock Mountain on that occasion, so were stoked to be returning for another try. For Steve and Wally, it would be their introduction to the area.

There would be quite an eclectic mix of generations present on this trek, with Doug and I in our fifties, Wally in his seventies, and Steve in his thirties. The coffee went down smoothly, and we soon moved on, with Doug leading the way in his Toyota Tacoma. Our only stop was for fuel in Pemberton, where we amused ourselves with current tales of adventure and had a few laughs looking at some very peculiarly dressed summer tourists. The weather was clear and sunny, and we couldn’t have been happier to have had a couple of days free to enjoy the mountains!

02
Wally gets a photo of Doug before we head up, with Mt Ronayne in the background

Driving up the Tenas Creek Road had not been an option for us back in 2010 due to washouts and downed trees, and cycling up the road had been pretty gruelling back then, as we’d later reminisce. This time we’d heard the road could be driven right to the trailhead, and as it turned out, that proved to be true. Just before 1030 am we parked the trucks and geared up for the hike, much to the delight of the waiting clouds of insects. On this trip there was a lot to look forward to, with plenty of food and gear along for the ride, and a full cooler of beer for refreshments!

01
No, Steve is not a member of ZZ Top! Those dudes are way, way older and not as “sharp dressed”

The forecast was typical for the region in July, expected to be clear, sunny, and approaching the low thirties in degrees Celsius. The trail, if you can call it that, is a notoriously steep and sparsely marked track. We soon settled in for the long uphill grind.

03
I was surprised to notice you could see the summit ridge of Sun God from where we parked

Among the sundry topics of conversation as we climbed was an online trivia game for prizes Doug told us he’d been playing lately. All players answer the questions and are eliminated as soon as they fail, apparently. He spoke of one question that involved clocks that knocked out a lot of competitors, then wryly suggested that all the millennials must have dropped out of the running because none of them knew how to read clocks with hands. This brought great laughter from all, and good humoured protest from Steve, who proclaimed he had no trouble telling time and proceeded to prove that several times during the hike. Besides, it was more than easy for him to get back at any of us when we mentioned anything prior to the mid eighties, since he was more than happy to point out he hadn’t even been born by then! None of that stopped me from branding the colour of his shirt as “Millennial Orange”, though.

04
The approach trail is pretty minimalist and features a lot of this type of action!

The trail through the forest was steep and unforgiving, but the the bushwhacking was still light and tolerable. I could tell that the route hadn’t received excessive traffic in the years since my last visit. I found, however, that my memories of the approach had blurred, and after a while it seemed like unfamiliar territory. All that changed, naturally, when we broke out of the trees to the welcome view of Mt Ronayne. It then dawned on me that we were not too distant from where Doug and I had bivouacked eight years before, with Sun God Mountain towering above us.

05
Our first look at Mt Ronayne!
60896463_2891794710865349_8335223532195676160_n
Me, Wally, and Steve crashing through the brush! Photo by Doug
60357404_2891794660865354_1600449902779826176_n
Wally, me, and Steve grinding up the boulder field. The Sun God/ Seven O’Clock Col was getting ever closer! Mt Ronayne in the background. Photo by Doug
06
Doug smartly taking refuge in the trees as we scrap our way uphill
08
Sun God comes into view, can you see Doug scrambling around the corner?
08A
We could now see the road we had driven up the Tenas Creek Valley
60644171_2891794677532019_1974003897370411008_n
Arriving at the col! Photo by Doug

Once we were within sight of a most familiar lake below the summit ridge of Sun God, we decided to take a break. I was glad of that because I had to take off my new boots and repair some blisters they’d already given me. The meadow looked as beautiful as ever, snow free as it was this time. When Doug and I had last visited it had been entirely snow covered.

07
The southeast summit of the Ronayne massif
08B
A big zoom on Birkenhead Mountain across the valley. We hope for a closer look someday

Steve then trekked down to the lake to replenish his water supply while the rest of us snacked. Wally and Doug, meanwhile, were discussing the frustrating issue of markers continually disappearing from Grouse Mountain hiking trails back in North Vancouver. The problem was resulting in lost hikers and late nights for the North Shore Rescue team that they volunteer with. Somehow Wally, armed with an effusive sense of humour, managed to make that a funny conversation. I think his many experiences in different parts of the world have given him some well rounded perspectives on life!

09
The guys enjoying a snack before we begin the battle
10
Steve heads down to the lake for water. “Millennial Orange” is an easy colour to spot!

I spoke of my impending move to Vancouver Island, which was to begin in several weeks. Changes are often unsettling to me, and this one was about as big as they get! Having lived several decades in the same place, I’d be going from knowledgeable to neophyte, so to speak. The bright side was going to be all the new discoveries I’d be making!

11
Back to business! The first order of the day was to gain this ridge line

A brief meeting of the minds followed while we scrutinized the route in front of us. It looked relatively straightforward to begin with, because we needed to reach the high point visible on the ridge above to make a clearer decision about where to go next. The walk began on blocky steps, which became steeper as we climbed. The views of the valley and Sun God Mountain had our spirits soaring, and the sun, as it turned out, was not nearly as hot as we imagined it might be.

60343293_2891765134201640_8822162125074989056_n
Doug leads Wally and I up to the ridge. Photo by Steve
13
Doug and Wally lead the way!
12
Sun God and the lake. Doug and I had camped there in 2010
14
Nearing the ridge crest
13A
So many distractions!
60344183_2891794907531996_2302091295151095808_n
Wally, Steve, and…what’s that? Me taking a photo? Pretty unusual! Photo by Doug

Once we reached the top of the ridge, we could see that there was a broad col and another sub summit that was our next obvious destination, but the route we needed to follow wasn’t immediately apparent. In the end, we chose to flank the ridge on the left side and work our way around it, which required thrashing our way through some pretty persistent krummholz before we managed to emerge just above the col. Krummholz, by the way, is defined as a forest of stunted trees near the timber line on a mountain. It also has the nasty tendency of scratching unprotected limbs and provoking random outbursts of foul language!

15
We have reached the sky!
16
Distant horizon looking somewhat foreboding, but good weather stayed with us on this trek
19
This was our next target, but first we would have to find the best way of getting there
17
The clouds were a great source of entertainment all day long!
18
Sorry, no photos of the brush I led us through. This photo makes me look smarter!

It was Doug who immediately concluded, and all agreed, that we should try out the other side on the way back. For a few minutes though, we savoured the satisfaction of being at the col!

19A
Sun God at the centre of attention!

20

22
Mt Ronayne and company

23

25
The col was a wind blasted and barren place, all except for one persistent plant!
26
That plant in question was the durable mountain veteran Purple Penstemon

Now it was time to cross that col, with its splendid vistas far and wide, and scramble up the next pile of rock. Feeling a bit more energetic, I led the way upward, weaving through, around, and over the great granite boulders. It seemed as though we’d reach the summit soon, but as I crested the top I realized we still had to gain another 200 metres in elevation. We soon realized there was yet another peak to negotiate, and this one was going to be a bit more complicated!

24
We would follow the left skyline here, with some variations
27
This fine view of Cerulean Lake greeted us as we arrived on this part of the ridge!
28
Sun God was now looking larger than life!

We took to the rock enthusiastically, at first we followed close to the top of the ridge but, upon further inspection, we were forced to drop down and traverse it on a series of ledges on the left side. The right side, due to sheer drops, was not really an option at all! Already we could see that there was still another climb to deal with after this one, and after a little more meandering we were soon at its base.

31
The ridge crest had a great view, but no way were we walking on the remains of a cornice!
33
It was at this point I scouted ahead and decided to descend and traverse, after we got “cliffed out” here
29
Wally with Doug and Steve as we head for the next objective
30
I found some ledges then we scrambled up and across this formation.
34
Rock Ptarmigan. So often you don’t see them until you’re right on top of them!

While it didn’t lead to the summit we all wanted, that next section of scrambling finally cracked the code! We were now on an expansive and broad plateau that led to an outcropping of rock almost half a kilometre away. Seven O’Clock Mountain was finally in our sights! We took a short break at an icy tarn there as Steve filtered some water for everyone. I can clearly recall how wonderful it tasted, as does everything when you’re in the mountains, it seems!

35
Are we there yet?         Nooooooo!
36
Looking over the divide into the Tenquille Valley
38
Steve’s military grade water filter did a great job of restocking our supply here!
39
I almost decided to take a nap here!
40
My idea of a perfect world!

 

Doug now took the lead again as we traipsed across the summit plain and soon we were digging in for the last hundred metres or so of climbing. It had taken us about twenty more minutes to reach the final pitch.

37
Doug getting started on the plateau
42
Snow layers over rock
41
At one point the sky turned so blue that I had to check to see whether or not I was wearing my sunglasses. I was!
44
The clouds rescued us from direct sun exposure here, which was fortunate
43
A clump of the delicate looking but ridiculously tough Mountain Rock Phlox
50
Looking back at the plateau as we make for the summit

The top was reached somewhere around 2 pm in the afternoon. Steve and Doug mused that it would have been cool to be on Seven O’Clock at seven o’clock, but of course that would have meant we would have had to walk out in darkness! At Wally’s insistence, we all assembled for a summit photo or two and broke out some snacks. The views of surrounding valleys were breathtaking, and it was a highly satisfying place to be relaxing.

54
We now towered over Mt Ronayne and could see the mountains beyond it
49
The summit cairn!
47
Teal coloured tarn
52
Boyz in the Hood

48

51

45

53

57

 

Well, I reasoned, it’s time to turn it around, because “All that beer back at the trucks is not going to drink itself!” The laughter rose once more, as we began the long descent.

58
Doug leads us across the plateau again
60460682_2891765124201641_1823530542788771840_n
Doug, me, and Wally begin that trek home!

56

55

59
One last look at the summit of Seven O’Clock Mountain

61

60
About to leave the plateau, but time for one more look!

 

Reversing our steps wasn’t too complicated, as it turned out, but we did manage to find ourselves off route a couple of times. At one point, we thought we’d lost Steve while contouring around the ridge again, but it turned out he’d taken a different route that got a little too complicated. I suggested we call it The Millennial Line, kind of a droll play on the Millennium Line, if you’ve ridden Vancouver’s Skytrain.

62
Pondering the route back

63

64

65
Ronayne resplendent in the afternoon light
60356315_2891765374201616_1016074225829543936_n
Staring at the sky while waiting for Wally to get around this corner. Photo by Steve

What follows here is a sequence of shots taken by Steve on the descent, as Wally, Doug, and I descended the route.

60362067_2891765284201625_1138955391946719232_n
This was some fairly barren ground! Photo by Steve
60464077_2891765207534966_4997145426139283456_n
Doug leading the way. Photo by Steve
60352956_2891765280868292_824251185274814464_n
Photo by Steve
60694200_2891765204201633_6790745398404186112_n
Hands on! Photo by Steve
60480016_2891765470868273_6204451400080949248_n
Getting there…Photo by Steve
60355209_2891765427534944_4283424640111476736_n
Where to next? Photo by Steve
60593415_2891765380868282_2185368416351682560_n
Steve titles this one “Old Man Yells at Mountain”. (Smart aleck kids these days) Photo by Steve
old
It’s almost like posting the same photo twice in a row, but not! Copyright The Simpsons All Rights Reserved
66
The shadows began to descend, and so did the mosquitoes!

On the way back we ended up following very close to the same route, but Doug had made an earlier suggestion that would have saved us heading back to the lake and instead forging a direct line to the trail. In retrospect, it might well have served us very well had we tried it, as the extra hour or so was crucial when you consider that the bugs were now swarming aggressively as the afternoon light began fading. As it was, we careened through the brush ever downward, joyously reaching the road at six o’clock. “That’s when the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the six, Steve”, as Doug explained.

67
Back on the logging road, trucks within grasp!

On our way up the valley, we had managed to check out an ideal camping spot on the banks of Tenas Creek, so we returned, hoping to find it unoccupied. It was not only free for the taking, but for some strange reason the mosquitoes never really figured out we were there! Doug and Wally were going to sleep in the truck, while Steve and I set up our tents with the idea of viewing the heavens later.

69
Obligatory camp shot, with my MSR Hubba in front

I had brought firewood but we managed to add to our supply by cleaning up the wood lying about the parking area. Soon we settled in for dinner, drinks, other refreshments, and an evening of tall tales told around the campfire. All manner of trips, past, present, and future, were discussed, as well as gear, music, history, and numerous other topics. Wally had us all laughing hard with the funniest story of the evening, all about a guy who used to do work safe presentations at a place he had worked at many years before. His films featured the woes of chainsaw accidents and apparently, though gruesome, were sometimes as funny as they were terrifying. Let’s just say one of the incidents recounted had us crossing our legs in mock agony. I told some stories about a couple of the more colourful baseball managers I’d played for over the years, while Doug shared some hilarious tales about the late North Shore Rescue leader Tim Jones, who we all knew and loved. Steve? He added a few stories of his own, but mostly, he just “enjoyed listening to you old guys talk!”

70
Tenas Creek

After a superb night out under the stars, we awoke to yet another picture perfect day, packed up, and had breakfast before beginning the long ride homeward.

68

Even as I once again failed to find the passenger side of Steve’s truck, it nevertheless struck me that you can never spend enough time with first rate friends. Seven o’clock may happen twice a day, but ironically, time has a way of standing still in the mountains.

 

 

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!

50962049_2731006823610806_6987651296530530304_n
Five foot diameter Mountain Hemlock on Black Mountain in Cypress Provincial Park
50616264_2731008203610668_3103462111603326976_n
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.

24108106315_448e55e1c5_z
Heavy snow loads and crazy shapes in winter!
2233297098_99a48f1f6a_z
Snow encrusted Mountain Hemlocks
341044261_5e7b53aab4_z
Me with an ancient Mountain Hemlock near the Seymour Trail junction. Photo by Doug
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

2207157577_6c322f6071_z
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!

IMG_5961 copy
Sun sets on Mountain Hemlocks and Vancouver, as seen from Mt Seymour

 

 

 

The Magic of the Blue Cedar Grove

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

58373903_2850338955010925_6004803749451661312_n

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

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

58003907_2850338725010948_1292496074732208128_n

57821893_2850342505010570_5287744571244019712_n
Spectacular place to spend an afternoon

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

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

57613189_2850329465011874_2006676903297024000_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

58372789_2850329855011835_1002665930636918784_n

57811483_2850329021678585_8847863720475361280_n

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

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

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

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

58430297_2850339418344212_6173249424748183552_n

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

58639060_2850346351676852_4406568499313377280_n

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

57678117_2850328645011956_4114652435631308800_n

57503903_2850342598343894_6039913792836468736_n
Rattlesnake Plantain
57936063_2850345488343605_3245358128732045312_n
Timeless beauty

58382999_2850328688345285_429296502519627776_n

57612567_2850340535010767_1416356106845814784_n

57555449_2850330501678437_5736122067271548928_n

57503432_2850351458343008_1707925351918731264_n
Little things!
57486535_2850343898343764_7502316480285900800_n
Partners

57543654_2850351118343042_8561590419186515968_n

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

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

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

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

57572714_2850343055010515_149340432403267584_n
Blue Cedar Grove

The 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.

50272796_2707741249270697_8738961496085626880_n
Bigleaf Maples like these are often 400 years old!
7965927672_f39bfcef98_z
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.

50247457_2707741152604040_5447485507472719872_n
These trees are hard to photograph but I love to try!
50655440_2707741569270665_2704853846198321152_n
Looking into the upper canopy, four centuries of growth and still thriving
50151402_2707740959270726_2641036121147965440_n
Each massive trunk is loaded with lifeforms
50091177_2707741352604020_6082027922858704896_n
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!

50099094_2707741042604051_2073793575547568128_n
My idea of golden!

 

Into the Mystic: The Forgotten Forest, Part Two

Only a few pages of the 2007 calendar were to turn before favourable spring weather had us thinking about a return to Kennedy Creek. It was the first day of April when Chris and I began our early day hiking along the Cedar Mills Trail in Lynn Headwaters Park. The idea, this time, was simply to try and cover some ground we hadn’t the first time. Would we be April fools? Well, yes, but read on and find out how!

On reaching the Third Debris Chute, the first mission was fording Lynn Creek. A word to the wise and wary: you have to be comfortable with cold, fast moving water, especially when you do this in spring. Your trip can easily be over before it begins as sometimes it’s simply too dangerous! Techniques will vary. Sometimes I will leave my boots on and walk straight across and sometimes I carry my boots. I recommend hiking poles or finding a long sturdy branch to help with balance as well. Last but not least, put your cameras in a resealable plastic bag and pack extra clothing in case you end up going for an unplanned swim. A climbing helmet is also not a bad idea not only for the creek crossing but also for all the clambering over rocks and logs you’ll be doing!

P4010001 copyA
Not sure if I was smiling here or just chattering from the cold!

Chris had reasoned that on this trek we ought to work our way up to about the 450m elevation mark then traverse north toward Wickenden Creek. This made sense as then we would cover exploring the belt of forest just below the one we had walked the first time. No sooner were our boots back on after the ford than we were faced with the unexpected  fast moving waters of lower Kennedy Creek, but we managed to steeplechase that with minimal difficulty.

P4010128 copyA
Lower Kennedy Creek

Once past the creek it was a matter of bashing our way uphill for about half an hour. On our first trip we had followed the crude flagged route that heads west up to Kennedy Falls after you cross Lynn Creek but on this day we were well north of that line. Morning mist drifted through the trees as the sound of the rushing torrents faded. Silence descended, and almost magically we were again among the giants.

P4010011 copyA
Morning in the forest
P4010008 copyA
Chris with his first find of the day, a cedar over 12 feet in diameter

Normally we think of ourselves as tree hunters, but on this excursion, as with the first one, the trees were more or less finding us! I was surprised by the sheer number of them as much as anything else. This was a stand of forest in which many trees had reached way over 400 years in age.

P4010012 copyA
Another giant, well over 10 feet in diameter
P4010028 copyA
If a tree falls in the forest, I still have to climb over, under, or around it. This fallen cedar was quite a blockade!

The quietude was interrupted from time to time by the rhythmic sounds of a nearby woodpecker building a home, and punctuated by the occasionally inane Simpsons’ banter that seems to follow Chris and I wherever we go. On we thrashed, in the direction of an unnamed creek not far south of the Wickenden drainage, with plenty of distractions along the way.

P4010047 copyA
The way a forest is supposed to look
P4010050 copyA
Find after find, could this day get any better? It’s all a blur now.
P4010021 copy
Every tree is unique in its own way

Another half hour passed, and we found ourselves in a steep creek gully that was peculiarly bright and open. On subsequent trips I discovered that avalanches are not infrequent there, as the gully is at the bottom of a chute that shows evidence of very forceful slides. For a moment, I looked uphill, where I could see the spiky tops of more ancient cedars, then downhill, where I could see the The Needles in sharp relief across the Lynn Creek Valley. Where to go next?

P4010034 copyA
Spiked tops above usually means an old tree and usually a big one, where cedars are concerned
P4010048 copyA
Ironically, only months later we would end up beneath this rock face below the Middle Needle

In proof of the old saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees”, suddenly Chris was on his way up the chute, saying “I think we have something here!” And so he did! It was a huge western red cedar, most likely about 500 years old yet relatively young in appearance judging by its trunk wear. Because of where it was growing it was difficult to say exactly what its diameter was was but it was definitely in the neighbourhood of 15 feet wide, perhaps more. What is likely is that if it reaches the age of the oldest trees in the park it will almost certainly someday be among the largest. Here are a few looks at this grand old specimen!

P4010064 copy
Just figuring out where to measure it took a lot of time!
P4010070 copyA
A look up into its massive crown
444189831_ed6f627990_o copyA
One of my happiest moments. We named this tree the Kennewick Giant. Photo by Chris H.
P4010071 copyA
Here is Chris getting a closer look
P4010059 copyA
Yet another look at this wall of wood

Well, that tree had certainly made our day memorable, but as it turned out the walk home delivered just as much wonder! We were now at an elevation of roughly 350m, and so opted to follow that lower line back toward the Kennedy Creek again.

P4010081 copyA
Trees rooted atop a rock face
P4010078 copyA
Massive tree fallen on the hillside
P4010055 copy
Mylar balloons…I have found countless samples commemorating almost every occasion and birthday. Someday I’ll write a story about them all!
P4010069 copyA
Cedars  in early afternoon light
P4010066 copyA
Magic

Not to sound trite, but this was one of those days that has you really appreciating the wonders of nature. I advocate responsible forest management but I find it hard to understand that some people would only see this forest in dollar signs. In this day and age there is really no excuse for harvesting old growth forest. Thankfully, Lynn Headwaters Regional Park has seen its last logger.

Midday gave way to afternoon, and we decided to stop for lunch near a tree both of us nearly walked past. Life was good.

444189821_91f4e8ee88_o copyA

P4010115 copyA
Afternoon light on another ancient cedar
P4010045 copyA
Twisted Column

 

P4010092 copyA
Mighty and flared, and over 400 years old
P4010096 copyA
Chris taking note of our discoveries
P4010093 copyA
Our lunch time companion. A 13 foot wide tree I called the Keyhole Cedar

Half an hour later we were making our way across lower Kennedy Creek again. The waters were flowing even harder than they had been in the morning, which is typical of creeks during the spring snowmelt.

P4010133 copyA

We had just crossed the creek when I spied something odd lying on the ground and picked it up and showed it to Chris, who exclaimed “What? No way?!”  It turned out he’d lost his lens cap on a previous excursion to the area and had been doing without it for some time. And they say it’s hard to find a needle in a haystack? Not for me!

P4010134 copyA

A short time later we were crossing Lynn Creek again even as we planned our next adventure. Several hikers were having lunch on the other side and from their bemused looks they were no doubt wondering where in the world we had come from. It had been another successful day!

P4010135 copyA
Stay tuned for the next chapter, because the story is far from done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idyllic Winter on Suicide Bluffs

Over the years, hiking and snowshoeing in Mt Seymour Provincial Park has occupied a lot of my free time, and, if you ask me, very few parts of the park can capture your heart the way the Suicide Bluffs do. It’s become something of a tradition for Doug and I to make it up there once the snow falls. While it’s not an entirely unknown area, it does tend to be a lot quieter. Why? Because the sometimes complicated route finding and difficult micro terrain can be challenging. Like anywhere in the Coast Mountains, all the usual cautions apply, especially in winter. Maybe the name, too, is something of a deterrent.

2286440389_e46b7aa305_z
Suicide Bluffs and fresh snowfall
341056010_2787e30c6c_o
Looking into the Suicide Creek Valley
314572258_7bd1ddc3f7_z
This shows a profile of one of the many cliffs

I don’t know exactly how these bluffs earned their auspicious name, but there are certainly a number of intimidating cliffs on the bluffs. The Suicide Creek drainage nearby even features a pair of waterfalls known for their death defying drops as they plummet to the Seymour Valley below.

We generally access the trail by first hiking to Dog Mountain, then branching onto it just before the lookout. Then we make our way eastward to where the route links eventually with the main Mt Seymour Trail.

2427150002_29e147fb27_z
Dog Mountain, a popular destination
341050574_0e5e5b50ba_o
You’ll see a few warning signs like this along the way, meant to deter skiers from dangerous terrain

While I call it a trail, it definitely stretches that definition, as even in summer this convoluted route uses ropes and chains to help on some of the steeper sections.

3112844370_ac1e6db14b_z
Vancouver Harbour

In winter, you have to be prepared for full on mountaineering. It’s not a place for the uninitiated, or for those expecting an easy and well marked track, so gear up appropriately if you go! We usually bring ice axes, snowshoes, and crampons as well as a GPS, compass, and maps. Clouds and fog can move in quickly as well, challenging your visibility.

7010043331_5ea891a021_z
Cathedral Mountain in the clouds

The views are 360 degrees from all of the summits. You can see Mt Baker down in Washington, all of the Vancouver area and harbour, as well as most of the North Shore Mountains. In summer it’s still a beautiful hike, but it’s in winter that it truly shines!

My own history with the area actually began far below in the Seymour Valley, where I started with a hike with some friends to lower Suicide Creek. We explored an old logging camp near the Spur Four Bridge in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (LSCR) where there was once an incredible ancient forest.

4191146198_d239b77183_z
Seymour River at Spur 4 Bridge, near the confluence with Suicide Creek
325541385_3b47f98a13_z
Bigleaf Maples
573730468_44e0c0678c_z
Former Giant Cedar
405282830_d0b1baae62_z
Crosscut Saw
325541401_c622bd376d_z
Wood stove parts

I would also return later to the valley with regular hiking partner Doug on several occasions to explore and maintain the rough track that leads up to Suicide Falls.  North Shore Rescue has used this route to save wayward skiers and snowboarders on more than a few occasions. The Suicide Creek Valley is rough, vertically steep in places, and under some conditions downright hazardous due to its frequent landslides. The two photos below here pretty much sum up the kind of hiking you get into on that trail.

321024039_a75d5c2a96_o
Me on one of the rope sections
342853444_93a2a08853_o
Doug working his way upward

But I digress. Only after I explored these lower reaches did I actually hike the Suicide Bluffs Trail, some 400 metres above the falls, and 800 metres above the Seymour River. The trail is entirely within Mt Seymour Provincial Park. The first hike was so much fun that Doug and I began to make the bluffs an annual winter destination.

23481387713_4b99a43c59_z
Sunshine!
2207157577_6c322f6071_z
Making Tracks
2214103088_a292b9be02_z
Trees, Sky and Snow
6863905818_c8cd896670_z
Doug climbing what I consider the crux of the route

When we go, we’re very careful about choosing the right conditions, especially in winter, both in regard to the snow conditions and to visibility. We’ve learned that it’s more prudent to ascend the steep slopes from west to east because those same slopes are usually much more precarious to descend during those times. In that way, we get to do a little more climbing too, which we prefer. In summer, we have hiked it in both directions.

23490733073_6b44a0d588_z
Crown Mountain and the Britannia Range

The forest of Suicide Bluffs is predominantly mountain hemlock, sprinkled with the occasional yellow cedar. Some of those hemlocks are well over 500 years old. Interestingly, unlike the the trees of the lower valleys, they don’t tend to garner a lot of attention from conservationists. Perhaps because they are out of sight to many, they are also out of mind. There have been precious few studies devoted to their longevity as a result.

341044261_5e7b53aab4_z
Me with an ancient mountain hemlock near the Seymour Trail junction

All that said, here are some images from our most recent hike on New Year’s Eve of 2015 and from some of our previous treks in other years.

341056008_29fd3d0e28_z
Incredible light!
7010023465_b979bfd263_z
Clouds and mountains!
24108106315_448e55e1c5_z
Tree snow formations can be right out of a story book sometimes
2207688555_42da3337ee_z
Cathedral Mountain with Paton’s Lookout below
2233297098_99a48f1f6a_z
Mt Seymour and snow encrusted trees
6873630314_bb3d13b40a_z
Mt Seymour on a cloudier day
23491959854_a2de7bd3df_z
Vancouver in the distance, New Year’s Eve 2015
7010032187_77340a73f7_z
Lynn Ridge and clouds

On a good day you can also see Mt Garibaldi, Mt Baker, and much of the Britannia Range in addition to most of the North Shore Mountains.

6863892988_d1dc6707a3_z
North Shore Rescue Cabin
23752371259_53035f298e_z
What a backyard!

Over the years, it isn’t surprising that we have come to see Suicide Bluffs as our favourite winter stomping grounds. There is something about standing high above the treeline in fresh snow and looking at so many places that you have been lucky enough to visit. In twelve years we have hiked, climbed, and thrashed our way through countless North Shore valleys, and these bluffs afford fine views of many of them!

23471888563_44c711cb22_z
Sunrise on Crown Mountain

If you’re looking for a local winter hike that still gives you that wilderness feel. and you have already honed your mountaineering skills, then make your way to the Suicide Bluffs. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it well!

Snow Falling From Cedars

Well it’s December here on the west coast and finally winter has arrived in earnest. There has been snowfall in the North Shore Mountains lately like we haven’t seen in years. Trouble is, everyone has been set on enjoying it at the same time, so it took a little planning for Doug and I to figure out the best way to enjoy one of our favourite local haunts without having to brave the crowds.

Rather than join the throngs of humanity up at the ski resort area, we decided to take on a somewhat different approach. Knowing that the snow line was relatively low, we opted to begin our trek somewhat lower on Hollyburn Mountain. The destination? A walk through the old growth forest of Brothers Creek up to Lost Lake and West Lake. As it turned out, we had the best of all worlds: relative solitude, enjoyable weather, a decent navigational exercise to work through, and plenty of untrodden snow to play in!

24036398705_bbcad52a4a_k copy
Lower Brothers Creek on the fire road

The trek began on Millstream Road at the trailhead for the Brothers Creek Fire Road. It wasn’t as cold as we thought it might have been, so we were able to dress fairly lightly for a winter trek. After about half an hour or so, we were already in the midst of old growth forest at an elevation of about 600 metres.

24036534345_8378247757_k copy
Old growth forest on Brothers Creek Fire Road

It was a narrow escape for the cedars here at the turn of the twentieth century. In the early 1900s a full scale logging operation ran for quite some time, one of the first to use large steam donkeys as engines and incorporate the use of incline railways. However, a collapse of the cedar shake market put an end to all of that prosperity, and years later when it did resume easier sources were sought. The lands are now owned by British Pacific Properties and managed for public use.

7791_456932707848465_1043254119690627931_n
Three twisted ancient cedars, all well over 400 years old

Soon after, it was that this valley, then called Sisters Creek after the two prominent peaks then called The Sisters (and now called The Lions), was renamed as Brothers Creek. Logging has pretty much ceased since therearound 1912. Hiking there gives one the ready opportunity to see sections of ancient forest which are almost intact to this day. To see these trees clad in winter snow is especially worth the effort!

944320_456932654515137_2393637602852666108_n

But beware, unlike its distant cousin the yellow cedar, the western red cedar is not built to hold snow and usually sheds it quickly and without warning. We had to pay close attention to falling snows, hence the title of this entry.

10334303_456932311181838_9119835717308009612_n
Here it comes!
23953891941_b968f2c2c0_k copy
Mountain hemlocks on the Lost Lake Trail

The old fire road makes its way up to a bridge that crosses Brothers Creek at about 720 metres and joins the Brothers Creek Trail that meanders the other side of the creek. Our destination though, was Lost Lake, one of the small subalpine ponds that dot the lower reaches of the mountain. There is a well marked route that leads into Cypress Provincial Park and on this day it had been trodden as far as the lake.

23953939851_17b4f731dc_k copy
Lost Lake

The silence was conspicuous once we reached the lakeshore, with nobody in sight and blue skies above the trees. We stopped briefly at the lake to reconnoiter our route, as from that point on we would be  breaking trail in two to three feet of new powder snow! In the Lost Lake area, the silver fir and mountain hemlock dominate the forest, along with the yellow cedar.

625628_456933441181725_310596074526194173_n
The snow was deep! I ended up dropping my camera in it and having to painstakingly dry it out

Doug got out his GPS and we decided to head up the mountain to West Lake, once the site of an old ski lodge. My memory of the trail was a bit vague, but we both knew that it wound its way into the upper valley of Brothers Creek and then crossed over the creek into the West Lake drainage. As it turned out we ended up taking a partly new route to the lake, where we stopped for lunch. Before that we managed to step into a few big snow holes and managed a difficult creek crossing. Somewhere along the way I lost one of my snowshoe straps, which made walking a bit more difficult but not especially hazardous.

10284_456933494515053_4382998347089303641_n-1
West Lake

There was much to talk about as we hiked as we’ve had a long history with the area over the years. At one time you could hope to see a Northern Spotted Owl on these trails but as it’s very elusive that’s not too likely.  I have, however, run into black bears and pine martens occasionally and have seen signs of deer, rabbits, bobcats, mountain lions, and even a wolverine. Woodpeckers, barred owls, and Douglas squirrels are commonly seen as well.

10247_456933691181700_8703872927602512686_n
Great views as we walked down the old West Lake access road

Once we’d had enough to eat we decided to make our way down the West Lake Road to the Baden Powell Trail. In summer that’s easy to do but it took some doing to find the junction where the trail crossed the road as the signpost was almost buried.

1236996_456933181181751_6965978343649515219_n
Most signposts were buried by the snow
10381995_456934147848321_6739852004513383624_n
Brothers Creek Trail at Crossover Trail Bridge

Once we got that out of the way it was clear sailing. We hiked down to the Crossover Trail with the intention of heading back to the Brothers Creek Fire Road. Travel was fast, with only a brief respite or two, including one at the bridge  where the trail crosses Brothers Creek. Only weeks before, we had hiked this trail in the total absence of snow, so it was interesting to see it in such different conditions.

734645_456934164514986_7402118128442383664_n
The ancient Crossover Cedar, as I call it

Before we knew it we were back at the truck once again headed for home, filled with new memories and images of a place so very familiar to us both.

1606952_456934361181633_22667974626988477_n
Merry Christmas, 2015

Hunting for The Spearhead

The last day in July found Doug and I riding the Solar Coaster Chair up Blackcomb Mountain for the third time in three years. At ten in the morning the temperature was already hovering around 25 degrees, and light winds were keeping the smoke from distant fires away, at least temporarily. We were headed for The Spearhead, a lofty peak at the confluence of three sizable glaciers and not far from the summit of Blackcomb Mountain, which we had visited two years ago. In winter and early spring, it marks the start of the well known Spearhead Traverse, which is a popular ski mountaineering route.

As treks go, this one was not among the most punishing, as you save well over a thousand metres in elevation gain by riding the chairlift up. You do, however, have to move quickly in order to be on time for the last ride down. Basically, you walk a well groomed track until you get to Blackcomb Lake, then swing your way into and up a long and steepish gully between Blackcomb Mountain and Disease Ridge to gain the basin that contains Circle Lake. From there, you scramble up to the col between Blackcomb and Spearhead, and then it’s a reasonably short scramble to climb The Spearhead. Despite my title for this diatribe, The Spearhead is not really all that difficult to find, truth be told.

As we rode up the chair we couldn’t help but notice how dry the lower valley was, as of course there had not been much rain for weeks on end. At roughly 1030 am we were on the trail, at over 1800 metres in elevation, and reached the lake and boulder fields around an hour later.

20234141821_c959f47fe9_k
Blackcomb Lake

On our previous expedition to Blackcomb Mountain we had taken to the rock too soon, which made gaining the gully more time consuming. This time we resolved to follow heather and treeline until it became absolutely necessary to hop boulders, which turned out to be a better approach.

20228607235_7776158251_k
Our new approach to the gully

Once you’re in the gully, there is a beaten track which runs up the shoulder of its left side, which made for easier travel until we could move toward the middle. Views of Whistler Mountain, the Overlord Group, and Black Tusk helped to distract us from the hard work involved. Inevitably, though, there was plenty of loose rock we knew we had to deal with, and soon we were battling through fields of blocky granite and patches of snow.

20228465045_123adc1f9e_k
Working up the gully
20040373740_11bb28eead_k
Getting there, Black Tusk and Whistler in the background
20202160066_827cb80edb_k
Topping out in the gully, Disease Ridge is at left

On this excursion, our strategy  was much more well thought out, and in no time we reached the basin above.

20041833059_a29f3b883b_k
Hard to beat this view! Circle Lake is below in bright blue

My memories of this place were still quite vivid, yet somehow managed to exceed my expectations. Circle Lake was a shining shade of blue in the basin below, and the newly formed lake at the foot of the Trorey Glacier definitely seemed to have grown since we had last seen it. The air was clear, and you could see sharply etched crevasses on the glacial ice.

We lingered for a while, then continued on to the col above, grinding our way up still more loose rock. The skies were a nearly impossible blue.

20041966789_435df632c3_k
Working up to the Blackcomb-Spearhead Col
20040515720_bbb086e85e_k
Mt Decker, with the Overlord Group behind at right

Arriving at the col, we could  see the route we had walked up Blackcomb Mountain two years before, and the summit of Decker Mountain, on which we had stood with good friend Denis the year before.

20220248512_daf029968e_z

20014500093_29b5198015_k
The ridge that would lead to The Spearhead

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

20609228616_2f015b8a14_k
The lake basin again

First it was a matter of hiking over the top of the first section, then looping behind and to the right to bypass a gap.From there it was necessary to drop down to the left and traverse below the crest of the ridge so that we could cross a snowfield above the Horstman Glacier.

20339235810_2b600418d8_k
Crossing above the Horstman Glacier, with Rainbow mountain and Ipsoot Mountain among the sea of peaks across the valley

In a matter of minutes we stood a hundred metres or so below the summit of The Spearhead, which, not surprisingly, consisted of, well, more loose rock!

20226461082_5087dfcf62_k copy
The objective is in sight!

As we ascended I noticed something of a left to right trending ramp, so we followed that upward. Finally, there was nowhere higher in sight, and we spied an inconspicuous cairn. We could go no higher, and had reached the summit! Superb views were everywhere.

20244668221_86316ad7d3_k
The Wedge Group with Wedge Mountain front and centre, high above the Wedge Creek Valley and the Spearhead Glacier
20013192254_ae52e83812_k
On the summit, looking toward Mt James Turner at right
20533744331_d6adf17b09_k
Crevasses on the Spearhead Glacier

The other side of the mountain dropped sharply to the massive Spearhead Glacier, with the unmistakable bulk of Wedge Mountain staring us down. Cook, Weart, the Armchair Glacier, The Owls, and Lesser Wedge could also be seen as well as Mt James Turner.

Looking back down into the basin, the Overlord Group was also visible in behind Pattison, Trorey, and Decker, with the icefall of the Cheakamus Glacier in the distant haze. As I looked down the Horstman Glacier I could see all the way down to Green Lake. Blackcomb Mountain, and part of the Mt Currie massif loomed large, while Rainbow Mountain and Ipsoot were almost hidden in the smoke. One could also see the mountains  of the Squamish and Elaho Valleys, with the sharp spike of Ashlu being most prominent.

20527356335_06997270a6_k
Panorama of the basin from the summit of Spearhead, 2457 metres in elevation
20449017739_1630845a6b_k
Ipsoot Mountain through the distant haze
20609423226_80e24decd1_k
Mt James Turner, up close
20533842831_b84924f24a_k
Horstman Glacier
20046734888_1cfe44a42c_k
By now you may have figured out I enjoy this view a lot

This was an outstanding place to stop and break for a satisfying lunch. Even cellular reception was strong, so that Doug was able to contact his wife in the valley below so she could ride up and join us for refreshments. It was now time to begin the race to the beer garden!

19904736484_7e32462309_k
Well, maybe one more! Looking back at the basin, with Pattison, Trorey , and Decker left to right. Below them the Trorey and Decker Glaciers with Circle Lake in foreground. The lake at left is newly formed and not named

Much as we imagined the thought of cold beer giving us wings, which it usually does, the long, shifty, and convoluted route back to Blackcomb Lake and beyond still took us a couple of hours.

20609206486_41270cb3c4_z
Tiny phlox among the rocks, at 2400 metres
20626384312_0f0d9fab54_z
Back at the col again

As we reached the lake and looked back toward Blackcomb Mountain, we could just make out a large group of hikers tackling the west face of Blackcomb Mountain. It’s a tricky and exposed route with plenty of rockfall, but the group was all over the mountain and seemed like they might get into some trouble. It turned out they were just fine in the end, so we continued on with our quest for beer.

20013080944_3a8803c39e_k
Returning to the boulder field with Blackcomb Mountain at left

All in all, it was another fine day in the hills. This area is well known but still seems underrated, if you ask me. The hiking is decent, and camping possibilities in the basin are even more enticing.

***As always, a note of thanks to Matt Gunn’s descriptions in his fine book “Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia”***