Tag Archives: Douglas Fir

Eden Grove, an Endangered Paradise

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Gordon River Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The potential road bed

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

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

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Chicken of the Woods
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The radiance of light
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Shadows and burls

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

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

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

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Life is vibrant on the forest floor

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

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Lush green hillside cloaked in ferns!

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

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The Corkscrew Cedar

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

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Cannot get enough of this place!

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

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

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

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Duncan stands with the Boundary Cedar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A compelling tale, highly recommended reading!     ( Image is the property of Walrus Books, House of Anansi Press and Harley Rustad)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*******Author’s Notes*******

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

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

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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
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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!

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The base of the Hollyburn Fir is a bit over ten feet in diameter at breast height
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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!

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This is the more rarely photographed west side of the tree
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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!

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I am always happy to visit the Hollyburn Fir!

The Temple Giant

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

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

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

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

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

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Rich approaches the Temple Giant in 2008

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

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

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

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

 

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

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 of 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.

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 chapter of the 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”!

A Walk in the The Giant’s Rock Garden

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

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

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Seymour Valley from the Spur 4 Bridge

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Healthy old growth cedars early on in the hike

 

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

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Steve finds an elevated highway!
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As the sun began to shine through, the grove became more picturesque by the minute!
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Verdant and healthy

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

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

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

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

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

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Here I am looking up at several inverted trees leaning on the wall above me. I didn’t linger long here!
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This is the reverse of the previous image!
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These trees have thrived in a not so forgiving environment!
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True survivors!
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A close look at the cliff face
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Steve contemplates our next move
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Water streaked walls
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Another cliffside view

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

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

 

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

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Just a perfect day for forest exploration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 500 plus year old Bigfoot Cedar
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The foot of the Bigfoot Cedar

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

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

The Heart of Wickenden: The Forgotten Forest, Part Three

The spring of 2007 was to feature a lot of sunny weather, so I was able to make several more forays into the wilderness west of Lynn Creek. The next trek, near the end of April, was with Doug. For a variety of reasons he’d been unable to join Chris and me on earlier jaunts so he was quite enthusiastic about getting a first hand look at what we’d discovered.

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Lynn Creek in morning

Once again, after walking the Cedar Mills Trail, it was a crossing of Lynn Creek at the Third Debris Chute that opened the adventure of the day. That was relatively benign…

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Doug drying out after the crossing

Of course, on hikes like these, not everything goes according to plan. It had been exactly four weeks since l’d last forded the lower tributary of Kennedy Creek, a mandatory exercise after you make it over Lynn Creek. Conditions were, how do you say, a little different this time?

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Doug searching for a way across

Somewhat compelling, to say the least, but the only real danger was getting wet, so with a little determination and adroitness, we found a way. Today’s plan was to make our way toward the unnamed creek valley north of the Kennedy drainage where Chris and I had found the Kennewick Giant. We had seen tall spires above us in the canyon on that day and I wanted to know exactly what lay in wait there. As before, we chose a line moving generally northwest to the desired area, which was roughly 550 metres in elevation.

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The first finds came quickly
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Another old cedar, roughly seven feet wide and three hundred years in age

As this was now my third trip into this valley, it was particularly rewarding to introduce another hiker to this land of giants. I can still recall how much Doug enjoyed the visit, and that memory still stands out as I share this tale today. It is now time for others to discover this special wilderness that is so close at hand, yet still so well hidden.

Another hour passed, and eventually we arrived at the steep creek gully and began struggling upward on unstable ground. It wasn’t hard to see where we wanted to go, it just seemed like it took a long time to get there. Suddenly we found ourselves in an open clearing full of salmonberry thickets, a few in bloom with their bright pink flowers.Tall cedars lined both sides of the gorge, true survivors all.

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Hummingbird Meadow
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Another three metre cedar in the glade

The next thing we knew the air was alive with unusual sound. Having been on so many treks to the mountains, my inclination was to clear out right away as I figured I’d stepped on a ground nest of of wasps! Our healthy fear soon turned to laughter when it donned on us that we had stumbled upon a bustling community of hummingbirds! Not just one or two, but more than we could count. It was not possible to get a decent photo, but this is the type of bird we were looking at, though mostly listening to…

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Anna’s Hummingbird, copyright Audubon Gallery

To this day I call this glade Kingdom of the Hummingbirds, as I’ve never seen so many of them in one place before or since. Some of the cedars nearby were up to nine feet in diameter, modest in size compared to some of our recent finds but still most likely well over four centuries old.

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Trees in this location have survived living on very exposed ground below an avalanche/ rockslide runout
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Spiky topped cedars!

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We spent quite some time clambering about this unique grove of trees and were about to press onward when I spotted something unusually hulking just downhill. From where I stood, at first, it looked like a record setting tree, but upon closer examination it was actually two trees each at least nine feet in diameter that were so close together they had appeared to grow as one. Their photo, pictured here below, is framed and hangs on my living room wall today!

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When I measured these trees, the total diameter was well over eighteen feet. I call them The Wonder Twins. The tree at left could be over 600 years old, whereas the one at right is more likely a couple of hundred years younger. Appearances can be deceiving!

After a little more searching we carried on, choosing to traverse at an elevation of roughly 500 metres with the intent of reaching Wickenden Creek. Within this valley were other gems, I’d been told, even including an old cabin and a mysterious tunnel! We didn’t locate either of those, but there were plenty of trees to be found!

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Sunshine and spires
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A 500 year old cedar, half shattered, lurking in the shadows
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A relatively young giant, already three metres in diameter but perhaps only about 400 years in age
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Doug  meets another big cedar

This forest was not easy to negotiate, but an open understory allowed for steady passage, and in another hour we were dropping down toward Wickenden Creek, with our thoughts focused on lunchtime by then. As we scuffled into another sketchy ravine, something caught Doug’s eye. It was a one of a kind tree, a mature cedar well over five hundred years old. At some time in its tenure, the main trunk had fractured and it had grown three distinct reiterations, all uncommonly vertical for a broken topped cedar. We would visit this tree again a number of years later and discover that one of its columns had been toppled in a storm by another falling tree. Doug called this cedar The Triplets. It kind of saddens me to think we might have been the only people to see it with all three leaders intact. Nature is powerful!

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The Triplets
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Wickenden Creek at last! A couple of weeks later I would explore a bit of its upper canyon with Chris
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Cool, clear waters

After our break, we began to work our way down Wickenden Creek. The hope was that there would be more discoveries. Travel was relatively easy on the gravel bars of the creek, where the waters retreat underground for a spell at around 400 metres in elevation. It was here that we decided to head north before descending all the way to Lynn Creek.

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Wickenden Creek’s lower reaches

Just steps from the creek bed we were stoked to happen upon yet another cluster of old growth cedars. Many of them were eight feet in diameter, and several were considerably larger than that.

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Minutes later, we made the trip’s best find of all, a robust old cedar that measured almost fourteen feet wide. I had not expected to find a tree like that at relatively low elevation, yet there it was. We later found out that Chris had stumbled upon this giant on a solo jaunt just the week before. He had been equally impressed!

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Here is Doug doing his turn of the 20th century pose with the Wickenden Giant. Back in the day, portraits were to be stoic in character, I understand
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Here I am struggling to get a measurement on the tree. Doug is on the other side, having walked around it to hand me the reel. It took him a while to get around the whole tree! Photo by Doug

Regrettably, it was now time to begin hiking homeward, but the forest still held some  surprises. Here are they are, the pleasant ones…

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Sunlit forest
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Doug enjoys a fine view of The Needles

… and the, well, not so pleasant ones…

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Any forensic experts out there?
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My guess was deer, but I’m not sure about that

Soon after, we reached the banks of Lynn Creek, but there were some obstacles to deal with there. Thickets of young trees, common in riparian zones, proved to be formidable opponents, if only for a short time. While thrashing about, we also picked up an old trail. It was an extension of an old North Shore Hikers route marked in 1981 that was rumoured to follow Lynn Creek’s west side, but had fallen into disuse. The trademark red paint blazes gave it away. I knew of the route through Ralf Kelman, and I had rediscovered it several years before, but at that time I had lost the track about a kilometre south of Wickenden Creek. On that day I had even found the trail builder’s camp, complete with with remnants of lunch and a couple of empty cans of spray paint!

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Just a little bit of bushwhacking, with The Needles standing guard in the background

Folklore had it that this trail eventually crossed Lynn Creek, and continued on the east bank at some point. I was intrigued, had we found a new way back? Also, what about crossing Lynn Creek?

And then I saw it! At first I thought I was imagining things, but there it was, in pain sight! What we saw was that a huge Douglas fir had fallen across the creek, creating the perfect natural bridge!

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It’s like it was custom made
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If only everything was this easy!
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The creek crossing

It turned out that not only was the log there, but that it was marked as part of the old trail, which meant it had been there for almost thirty years. When I returned in 2010, however, someone had stripped the log of bark, oddly enough, so now it is somewhat scarier to cross. The entire area is quite scenic, offering fine views of the surrounding mountains and  it seems as though it might make a great campsite, though camping is not permitted within Lynn Headwaters.

The only thing left to satisfy my curiosity was to try and find the continuation of the trail, so we followed along the east bank of Lynn Creek in search of a sign.

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One last look at the crossing

In just moments, we had found the trail again! After following it for about a while it petered out, so we simply joined the Norvan Falls Trail at about the four kilometre marker. From there it was a routine stroll home, but it had been an eventful day!

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When you see this mark on a North Shore Trail, it’s generally the trademark of the 1980s North Shore Hikers

Of all the forests I have walked, those in the Kennedy and Wickenden valleys have given me the most joy. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m sure in no small part that it’s because I have been able to find something so untamed and unique that was also so close to home. As North Vancouver develops ever so quickly, the difference between civilization and wilderness has been becoming much more pronounced. May never the two merge, and may Wickenden remain forever wild!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tolkien, the Story of a Tree

 

Imagine a journey back in time, if you will, to the year 1497, let’s say. A tiny seed cone from a western red cedar flutters to earth deep in the North Shore Mountains, in what would later be known as the Hydraulic Creek drainage in the Seymour River Valley. It comes quietly to rest on an outcropping of granite, and in this protected enclave, somehow takes root and begins life as a tiny seedling. In a forest seldom if ever seen by human eyes, but walked by deer, bears, mountain lions, and squirrels, the tree is never wanting for companionship. Not fifty yards downslope, a tall and sturdy Douglas Fir already into its second century provides it shelter and shade.

Then, every year came the rains. The time passed, ever slowly, ever quickly, and the seedling became a tree. That tree grew to be vibrant and strong, and the forest that surrounded it in the many seasons that followed flourished equally well.

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The Tolkien Giant in the prime of life, spring of 2006
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The nearby companion of the Tolkien Giant that would come to be known as the Temple Giant, one of the larger Douglas Firs in all of British Columbia

All began and ended as nature determined until the turn of the twentieth century, when men arrived in the Seymour Valley, wanting cedar for the shingle bolts that would be used to build homes. Life for the cedar, now a towering spire, would never be quite the same. In fact, its very survival became threatened.

Teams of loggers arrived in the forests, working their way up the valley in search of the harvest. Many trees fell to their crosscut saws, but somehow, that gnarled cedar atop the rock and its neighbouring Douglas fir survived. Some might speculate that it was because of a great fire that halted logging operations in the mid 1930s, or that they may also have been saved by the fall of timber prices and the Great Depression. In any event, luckily, they were spared.

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Big trees were felled with saws like this one, found in nearby Suicide Creek

Travel far forward in time now, to the 1980s and early 1990s. The forest was then under the administration of those charged with maintaining Greater Vancouver’s water supply. The area below the Seymour Dam had been designated an auxiliary watershed and had just been opened to recreational users. Though logging had been strictly banned in the watersheds prior to 1967, once again it reared its ugly head in the years that followed. There were extensive plans to cut down the valley’s remaining timber and, unbeknownst to the public, regular harvesting was taking place in both the Seymour and Capilano Watersheds. The area below the dam, now called the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, then bore the more ominous name Seymour Demonstration Forest. It was not clear at the time just how much of the forest would ultimately be saved.

Enter Ralf Kelman, the son of a North Vancouver logger who had grown up in the woods of the Seymour Valley. He had developed a love of the forest sometimes bordering on obsession, and had spent many a day hunting down remaining stands of undisturbed old growth trees. He certainly did not want to see any of these trees destroyed, and became involved with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee in order to speed their preservation. Together with Paul George, Will Koop, Chris Player, and numerous others, he strove to end logging in Vancouver’s watersheds. The conflict raged on for quite some time, with more exploration and mapping as well as the clandestine gathering of photographic evidence. The powers that be were very reluctant to stop the practice, but eventually, in 1994, logging was finally halted in the Seymour Demonstration Forest. The  logging in Greater Vancouver watersheds did not actually become official until 2002. This link to the WCWC’s actual conservation campaign is a real eye opener and shows you the attitude of the Greater Vancouver Water District (GVWD) and logging interests at that time.

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Ralf Kelman, here in 2009. He has been one of the most accompished big tree hunters of his day, along with Randy Stoltmann and Maywell Wickheim. He has helped to inspire several generations of forest conservationists and continues to do so today!

During that time of conflict, the WCWC had published a map of the old growth tree groves in the Seymour Valley, and through my good friend Vida I was able to get a scanned copy of the map, so I set out to find what Ralf had already discovered. The very centrepiece of his finds was the Temples of Time Grove of Giants, which was just south of Hydraulic Creek.  The Tolkien Giant and the Temple Giant, two of the trees on the map, particularly captured my imagination.

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An excerpt from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC ) map, now out of print. For today’s purposes, the newer Seymour Valley Trailway runs parallel and uphill to the original Seymour Mainline road which is now off limits to the public…Photo by Vida M.

On a perfect spring morning in 2006, Matt C. and I visited the trees to find out whether they were all still alive. While I had visited many of the them before in 2004, the plan that day was to try and visit each and every one on the map. After a brisk bike ride to the Hydraulic Creek Bridge, we stashed our rides in the woods and began hiking. Matt, who at the time worked for the Seymour Hatchery near the Seymour Dam, was really looking forward to seeing the grove.

We began as I had several years before, by trekking steeply uphill to the Hidden Giant. It is a Douglas Fir that spans about seven feet in diameter, and could be as old as four hundred years old. If it remains permanently protected, it will surely become one of the finest remaining specimens in the valley.

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Me and the Hidden Giant
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A proud moment, Matt meets the Hidden Giant, which is likely four centuries old

From there we worked our way a little bit higher, as the sunlight filtered through the forest canopy. We could easily imagine how Ralf must have felt when he discovered these trees. Just thinking about the fact that they might well have been cut down shows how far the conservation movement has come in a relatively short time. Still, the balance between preservation and industry will always be a precarious one. Hopefully, compromises will be reached, and forests like these will survive for future generations to enjoy.

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Tall firs like these may become future giants!

 

Our next stop was the Paul George Giant. Paul is well known for his environmental efforts, and also authored the book Big Trees, Not Big Stumps, which documents many of the efforts to preserve British Columbia’s forests. His namesake is a six hundred year old fir whose trunk measures about eight feet in width, and sits quietly overlooking the rest of the grove.

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Me, with the Paul George Giant

It has been nearly twenty years since I was told that an official trail was planned to be cleared and marked through this grove, but that has not happened just yet. Should you wish to explore these trees you should be fit, sure footed, and experienced in off trail hiking. If you’re lucky, as I’ve been, you might also see wildlife such as black bears, deer, bobcats, and pine martens. Cougars are also native to the area, so all normal precautions apply.

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Matt working his way up steep slopes. As you can see this is by no means a groomed trail!

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While you hike it also helps to have a keen eye for the little things, like this tiny frog that we stumbled upon, and a wide variety of mosses and fungal growths.

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Tiny frog, about the size of a Toonie, aka a two dollar Canadian coin, for those who aren’t familiar with that term

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We soon found ourselves traversing through thickets and deadfall as we worked our way toward a small creek bed (Krisby Creek on the WCWC map) that would lead us to even more ancient Douglas firs. Here we found  the tree called the Rosebush Giant, sitting in an isolated clearing that readily gathers sunlight.

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The Rosebush Giant
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The Rosebush Giant is spectacularly located to take advantage of sunny days!

Not too far away you will find the Hundal Giant and the Chittenden Giant, two more beautiful firs with deep, channeled, almost crenellated bark. A little known fact about the bark of these trees is that it may reach nearly a foot in thickness. With protection like that, a tree is capable of enduring many Pacific Northwest winters!

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The bark of the Nick Cuff Giant. If you stare at it long enough you begin to see little faces everywhere, or maybe that’s just me.
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Matt and the Chittenden Giant
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The Hundal Giant, like the Chittenden, is over four centuries old

A little more time and persistence brought us to the monarch of this grove of trees, that six hundred year old leviathan known as the Temple Giant. It measures ten feet in diameter and towers well over 250 feet from the forest floor. It may have a chance, if it thrives, to become the biggest champion tree in the valley if it isn’t already.

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Me and the Temple Giant
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And now Matt meets the Temple Giant. Hard for me to believe this day was so long ago!
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The Temple Giant, among the largest Douglas firs in Canada

Within sight of this leviathan, still wedged into the rock face just uphill, was the twisted bulk of the Tolkien Giant. It almost seemed to be watching us. I will describe our meeting with this veteran of five hundred winters, but for an important perspective, first we need to move forward in time once more…

Two more revolutions of the earth around the sun. Now it is the spring of 2008, and as the remnants of a spring storm fade into mist, I find myself once again cycling the Seymour Valley Trailway. On this day, my companions are Rich, Daryl, and Chris, tree enthusiasts all. We opted to use the more southern trailhead to access the grove on that day. There were few sounds other than our occasional banter, as even the birds were still hiding from the morning rains. We made our way slowly to the Temple Giant, which still stood tall and proud.

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Rich and the Temple Giant

I stopped for a second, watching Rich approach the tree. I recall turning to Chris, who, like me, had been to visit the Temple Giant numerous times, and saying that something didn’t seem quite the same. I didn’t remember the tree sitting in a reasonably well lit opening in the forest. Chris agreed, adding that the tree had always been difficult to photograph because of the shade.

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Looking skyward into the fog

The explanation for our momentary puzzlement became apparent all too soon. Lying in bizarre symmetry, the perfectly split trunk of a great tree had come to rest on the hillside. As it had fallen, it had also taken out a number of younger trees, hence creating space in the forest canopy above. I soon realized that the Tolkien Giant had met an untimely end.

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The now fallen Tolkien Giant in its resting place. It used to grow on the prominent rock behind at right

This was both unexpected and sad. I paused interminably, thinking. Though I’d only known the tree for a fraction of its five centuries, I felt as though I’d lost an old friend, and found myself looking back to the bluebird day on which I had last seen it. Matt and I had marvelled at what an unlikely looking survivor it had been. Its location alone, anchored steadfastly around and into the grooves of the rock face, was a classic example of the way nature wastes no opportunity.

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The Tolkien Giant, in happier times, as Matt and I had seen it two years earlier

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Matt photographs the Tolkien Giant, 2006

Much as I felt the loss, I also began to see that its passing had made way for other denizens of the forest, and my eye was drawn to some nearby cedars I had not noted in years past. Nature always provides, however mysterious its ways, so to speak.

Our hike continued that day, as the mist cleared and the forest brightened somewhat. We visited most of the trees Matt and I had seen two years before, and made several more discoveries as well. Even the most familiar walk can be a unique experience. Here are  some sights and scenes from the rest of the trek…

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Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga Menzieszi
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Fungus
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Bark
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The underrated Pacific Yew
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Closeup of yew tree
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Daryl and Rich show you what happens when you go hiking with me!
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Chris and tree
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Rich and Daryl hiking through the morning mist
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Side by side and strong
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Tall and towering
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Paul George Giant
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More bark
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Rich and rock
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Straight and true
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Foggy forest

Though it was a shame to have lost one of the valley’s most spectacular trees, there was a most fitting way to end our day, a consolation of sorts. We made our way back toward the banks of Hydraulic Creek for a visit with the Hobbit Tree, another cedar well over halfway into its first millennium of life.

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The Hobbit Tree

This tree, which can be easy to miss although relatively easily located, is at least nine feet wide and just exudes character. Rich was kind enough to pose with it for scale, just to give me an idea of its immense size. I hope that it still stands for at least a few more hundred years!

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Rich and the Hobbit Tree

There was little left to do but stop, eat lunch, and take a few photographs of the creek nearby before heading home for the day. It had certainly been an eventful day!

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Hydraulic Creek

While it’s important to remember that while these trees are currently protected, it wasn’t always so. A mere twenty years ago, after all, there was still logging in the Greater Vancouver watersheds, and only through diligence and commitment was that practice stopped. You can find out more about that history in this link here. It’s rather a lengthy read, but a worthwhile analysis nevertheless. If it had been solely up to the GVWD and the loggers who held Tree Farm License #42, the Temples of Time Grove would long ago have been logged. A tip of the hat to the people who fought so hard to save these forests!

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A grim reminder of what we have lost. This is one of the super stumps in nearby MacKenzie Creek, with my bike thrown in for scale. It’s time to ban the practice of old growth logging in British Columbia once and for all! Groups like the Ancient Forest Alliance and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee are working to accomplish just that. Get involved, make a difference!

In order to protect the best of our forests, our values of conservation must remain strong. In that sense, the message conveyed in the title of Paul George’s book remains as relevant as ever: Big Trees, Not Big Stumps.

*** Update: As of a visit to this grove in the spring of 2017, I can happily attest to the health of all the trees and that the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve remains committed to their preservation. ***

North Shore Boys Storm the South Needle

It was, of all things, a chance encounter. He had read several of my trip reports, posted on a hiking forum, on relatively obscure pursuits in the North Shore Mountains, and simply sent me a message. At first I was not even certain I’d answer, as I’m given to solo pursuits, but for whatever reason I did. That was in late May of 2004, and it likely marked a distinct change in the course of both of our lives. That was how I met Doug, who has become a regular partner in crime on so many of my most enjoyable trips, and one of my closest friends.

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We’re probably, no, definitely, thinking about beer!

We had similar backgrounds, besides both being from North Vancouver, we had spent some of our youth in eastern Canada, myself in my hometown Montreal and Doug in Toronto (though he’d been born in Burnaby) and we were both trail runners and mountain bikers. His forte as a planner and navigator and my knack for reading terrain immediately blended well, and our ability to read off each other’s thoughts and make decisions together was well apparent from the start. Add to that sports, beer, and all things outdoors and we began with a lot in common!

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Doug, on the move!
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Me, grooving on Mt Brunswick

A lot of people ask me, “So where did you two hosers actually meet?” The story of our first trip is, therefore, I thought worth sharing here. It begins on a typical North Shore spring day, with morning clouds obscuring the mountains, and the two of us biking up the Seymour Valley Trailway. Our destination, soon to be all too familiar, was the bridge at Hydraulic Creek.

I can recall having had very little sleep the night before – for a long time that was normal for me, as my wife and I raise a son with autism which, especially then, deprived us of sleep on a regular basis.

We had been hearing about a trail that led up from the bridge to connect with the Lynn Ridge Trail to the South Needle, an 1160m pinnacle just north of the end of the ridge, and were definitely intrigued.

Having biked the 6 kms to the bridge, we walked our bikes into the woods and found a place to lock them down. It was at this point I knew that Doug had no shortage of leg power, as he produced an enormous steel chain lock to secure our rides, weighing about least fifteen pounds! We then set off to explore the Hydraulic Creek Valley.

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Locked up and ready to go!

The enchanting nature of this forest became swiftly apparent. I had been told of the route by friend Ralf Kelman, who had first reconnoitred the area some years ago. Now, a route had been constructed by North Shore Hikers member Gabriel Mazoret up to the Lynn Ridge junction. Gabriel was and is something of a legend among trail builders; I’ve still not managed to get to know him very well. His work, it must be said, is admirable, as he has a real sense of taking the path of least erosion and resistance that is obvious as you hike the trail.

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Hydraulic Creek

The trail wastes no time gaining elevation from its beginnings at about 240m. The forest on that morning was swirling with mist. You had the sense that it was not going to rain, but that you would certainly be getting wet.

There were quite a few trees that had escaped early twentieth century logging. As goes the story, a fire in 1936 halted logging in the valley, and afterward it was no longer viable to resume operations when it was over. One Douglas Fir we found was well over 8 feet in diameter, as pictured above here, tall, straight, and true. It was among the biggest Doug had seen before and he was duly impressed.

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Four centuries of amazing Douglas Fir!
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Greenery abounds!

The sounds of nature were everywhere as we walked. An eagle screeched from high above, and woodpeckers could be heard hammering on the trees in search of food, while the sound of  ravens echoed off the walls of the canyon. We shared a mutual appreciation of the relative silence and lost ourselves in the efforts of the hike.

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Oplopanax Horridus aka Devil’s Club…Do Not Touch!

Altogether, it took us just a couple of hours to reach the junction at 905m. Though the fog had descended heavily, we opted to continue on to the summit of the South Needle, in hopes the sun might show itself.

Here are some more images that I captured along the way, starting with a stand of sizeable  Western Hemlock.

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I believed this to be a marker for a mining claim, which at one time was not uncommon in the Seymour Valley.

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Claim boundary marker?

 

Just before the junction we entered a forest of Silver Firs, which, though beautiful, served to give us quite a soaking. The creek itself can be heard but remains unseen as it is hidden by steep rock walls, or so I had been told. I have still yet to explore the canyon more closely.

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These young silver firs made for a wet section of the trail here

This cedar had grown to over 6 feet in diameter, something rare at the 800m elevation in the North Shore Mountains.

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Uncommonly large western red cedar at 800m in elevation

As we climbed the remaining 250 m of elevation to the summit, the fog thickened noticeably, to the point where we had to be very alert to stay on track. Really though, it was just a matter of being persistent and just  digging in, because soon we reached the alpine.You would never know this was a reasonably warm spring day, at least by the photograph below here!

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Dark and foreboding

While there were no views of distant peaks, the subalpine tundra with its stunted trees was still enjoyable to walk. The scrambling was not too complicated, but there were a few sections to be mindful of. Just to the right of this there is a severe and dangerous drop of at least 200 m.

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It’s a very short walk from here to the rocky summit, where today there are no other signs of life, just heather coming into bloom.

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Ghostly summit awaits

There are two colours of heather that you find in the Coast Mountains, pink and white.

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Things were quiet indeed, save for the sounds of the two of us discussing what the ridge beyond the South Needle might be like. We resolved to give that a try soon.

Here’s Doug calibrating his GPS, amid spectacular mountain views!

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Foggy mountain views, as far as the eye could see, so about 20 metres or so

We lingered for some time and ate lunch, but soon we departed for the bikes as I had a deadline to keep. Unfortunately, on the way down, we both made a very uncharacteristic mistake and carried on uphill past the ridiculously well marked junction. We decided to continue on toward Lynn Peak via the Lynn Ridge Trail to complete the loop back to Rice Lake where we had begun. Unfortunately, that would mean we would have to go for a little run and ride the next day to retrieve our bikes, but heck, we were both game for the task. Next time, less talking, and more paying attention was the lesson learned, mea culpa.

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Lynn Ridge Trail giants

As it turned out, we were glad to have hiked the Lynn Ridge Trail as the trail is a decent challenge.

It took us another hour and a half to reach the Lynn Peak Lookout, then we ran down the trail from there to make up some time. This was right in my wheelhouse, as at the time I was using the trail to train several times a week.The forest remained clouded in mist; here are a few more scenes from the Lynn Ridge Trail.

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Forest fog
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Remnants of winter snows

 

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Splendour

In another hour we were on the drive home, discussing things like how we lived only five minutes apart, and that each of us had two kids, so on and so forth. I ended up getting home an hour and a half late, auspiciously, something I rarely end up doing, but it had been an eventful day, and one I’ll always remember. The next day we ventured out again to retrieve our bikes, and the fog had yet to lift.

If you drop in here from time to time you’ll no doubt be reading about one or two of the many expeditions we’ve been on that followed this one. Here’s hoping you enjoy hearing about those treks as much as we enjoy our days in the mountains. I think I speak for Doug when I say “Crack a cold one and enjoy getting outside!”  Cheers!

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Doug
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Mick