Tag Archives: Douglas Fir

Remember the Elaho

It survived for nearly a thousand years. Think about that. Ten centuries. The Elaho Giant, one of the largest and oldest Douglas firs ever to live in British Columbia, lived at least nine and a half of those centuries in complete solitude. After all that, it managed to escape being cut down in the 1990s, when the Elaho Valley was the site of bitter conflict over proposed logging.  Additionally, the building of a route which traversed the Elaho to the Meager Creek Valley was forged, which later helped lead to the designation of the area as the Stoltmann Wilderness, named after noted conservationist Randy Stoltmann.

75241132_3237512839626866_5668761303439638528_o
The spectacular Elaho Giant in 2007

Years later, in June of 2015, a dry spring season took its toll, as a wildfire tore through the upper end of the valley. Though the grove of firs at the Elaho-Meager trailhead was spared, the Elaho Giant was caught in the midst of the tragedy, and rumour had that it  was burned beyond recognition. When a group of fire fighters who had battled the blaze reached the tree, they declared that it had miraculously been saved! Some limbs and branches were alive and green, they said, and though the trunk was charred, that seemed to be the only real damage.

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 7.20.55 PM
A look at the area, showing our ultimate destination. This is taken from an old Western Canada Wilderness Committee map. Due to a washout at Cesna Creek, the trail still remains inaccessible and has been for a very long time

Now, turn back your clocks to November of 2007. My only visit to the Elaho Valley was a brief one, featuring a lengthy day that featured enough torrential rain to put any set of windshield wipers to the ultimate test. The principals? Two guys willing to hunt trees in any given deluge, and that would be Chris, and me. We really wanted to see the Elaho Giant, and besides, what else would we be doing on such an inhospitable day? Armed with Chris’s trusty Jeep Cherokee, raingear, salty snacks, and a Backroads Mapbook, we were off!

75580077_3237511186293698_2397040167228538880_o
Of all the day’s views, this would become the most familiar of all. It’s a long drive from North Vancouver to the Elaho Valley!

You must reach the Elaho Valley by making your way up to Squamish via Highway 99, then by following the Squamish FSR to its junction with the Elaho FSR. From there, it’s a question of driving about as far north as the rough roads take you! Even on an unpleasant day, the valley’s character somehow shines brightly. It is the gateway to an endless, rugged wilderness that few people choose to explore. It’s also remote enough that help is a long way away, and should you venture there you should be prepared and self sufficient.

75576642_3237510816293735_1214963840500891648_o
As rainy an autumn day as you will see in the Squamish Valley!

The drive is more than long enough to immerse yourself in all manner of thoughts and conversation. What’s more, it’s male time to hone your imitation of nearly every Simpsons character, if that’s your thing! There was much to see, from shrouded views of jagged mountains and swiftly rushing creeks, to glimpses of glaciers and trees turned brilliant autumn colours in the icy November rain.

70845471_3237510829627067_2458250988864143360_o

We did make one brief stop in the Squamish Valley to check out Huberts Creek, of particular interest to Chris and his love of canyoneering. Among my aspirations were spotting one of the transplanted herds of elk, or perhaps even one of the many grizzlies that call the Elaho home!

75642419_3237510872960396_7935474089685155840_o
Huberts Creek. I don’t think Chris ever did descend its canyon, but come to think of it I never did ask him that!
74784425_3237511042960379_2183634001183375360_o
The mighty Elaho River, very popular with rafters and white water kayakers
76246699_3237511059627044_2980133912405082112_o
The roadside waterfall of Maude Frickert Creek
74240787_3237511352960348_1814492587273224192_o
I took a photo of this sign so I would never forget the name Blakeney Creek
77061781_3237511262960357_6579104953543950336_o
Blakeney Creek. Beautiful, mysterious, and fed by the glaciers high above on Exodus Peak and the Pemberton Icefield
75491754_3237513229626827_5704109068969312256_o
Clendinning Provincial Park and its rugged wilderness is also accessed from the Elaho roads

76706752_3237511239627026_7543048760415223808_o

As we bounced further up the valley, it was decided we’d first check out the Elaho- Meager Trail and its grove of ancient Douglas firs before doubling back to see the Elaho Giant on our return trip. Other than the rain, the trip was relatively uneventful, and we rolled quietly to a stop, right beside the trailhead. The view from the nearby bridge over Sundown Creek is something everyone should see!

77163546_3237511412960342_1113763935581896704_o
Sundown Creek roaring down its canyon

 

Even by then, the trail had become pretty much inaccessible. A major flood had destroyed a makeshift crossing over Cesna Creek, making it impassable, and as a consequence the trail fell into disuse. With the limited time we had, the plan was to explore the grove and see how far we could get along the main trail before turning around. The first thing we did was to walk the Douglas Fir Route, which is a 2 km loop through an extraordinary and venerable forest. There has been some conjecture about the age of this stand, but some core samples taken from other trees in the area suggest some may be as old as 1300 years. In any event, we weren’t disappointed, as the firs were inspiring to see!

77063942_3237511652960318_2176512855212294144_o
The thick bark of ancient firs is unmistakeable
76925519_3237512226293594_431374802834423808_o
So much to discover!
78611079_3237512342960249_7786421140917846016_o
So what do you do when a tree falls in the forest?
78310051_3237512142960269_6527228848189210624_o
We just make it part of the trail!

The firs in the grove were immense in girth, with many over eight feet in diameter. Old growth Douglas Fir is becoming an increasingly rare sight in British Columbia, where most of it has already been logged. Growing conditions in the Elaho have certainly been ideal over the years, and as proof the forest here thrives very well.

76762495_3237511812960302_1442084958108647424_o
Pseudotsuga Menzieszi, the Douglas Fir
77340054_3237511912960292_3589058857915121664_o
There were many healthy trees that looked to be over 250 feet high, though height estimation is challenging when the rain is pouring so hard!
70776436_3237511719626978_8344240382241931264_o
Yet another giant
74586074_3237511979626952_8639493897505996800_o
After a while, we got used to the rain. That was easy, as we’ve had plenty of practice!
74529532_3237511756293641_5067135946906927104_o
If there’s one photo that sums up this day best, this just might be the one!

Though we only scratched the surface of this wilderness, it was easy to see why people worked so hard to save it. The Elaho-Meager trail had always been at nature’s mercy, inasmuch as the very forces that make it desirable have also served to caused its isolation. In recent years, the Meager Creek access has also been affected due to landslides and volcanic instability.  The long and the short of it? Now one of the most scenic trails in the province is unable to be enjoyed for the time being. There are no plans to repair the washout at Cesna Creek.

76680611_3237513102960173_4500628704002572288_o

 

Having seen the trees, we now moved on to the main trail, which was, surprisingly, able to be followed quite reasonably. It led us through more old growth forest and a rocky, exposed area that looked a lot like a manicured rock garden.

78534214_3237512406293576_7100712290508341248_o
It seemed as though every rock had been carefully placed, somehow
75241100_3237512436293573_1304611537524097024_o
Delicate mosses and lichens
74173846_3237512526293564_4279536556542263296_o
This clearing led to the forest beyond, but soon we began our hike back to the trailhead
76706671_3237511946293622_443755522806513664_o
Our turnaround spot, as the rain intensified!

Once we turned around, it was a fairly short jaunt back to the Jeep, where again we studied the maps. According to the Backroads Mapbook, the Elaho Giant looked as though it was within shouting distance of the road. It took us just another twenty minutes to locate, and fortunately at the time, the forest nearby had also been spared from logging.

73475250_3237513256293491_1792983640162959360_o
The shadowy Elaho Giant was a standout on the dreariest of days

 

78260614_3237512546293562_8973357510903726080_o
We had expected quite a battle to find this tree!
75412223_3237512866293530_7935162786160574464_o
An unforgettable tree

76688961_3237513056293511_6047612994160951296_o

76678352_3237512816293535_7163156154304954368_o
The bark of the Elaho Giant

Well, it’s said that all good things must come to an end. An optimist by nature, I’m always reluctant to admit that, but I do understand that life has no guarantees. Our brief sojourn into the Elaho Valley ended several hours later, jarred by the reality of returning to the all too familiar signs of civilization. The downpour persisted, as though it felt the need to escort us, and we managed a few stops on the way that almost helped ease us back into humanity, as it were.

78289972_3237511072960376_6246421519849750528_o
Squamish River
75407665_3237513246293492_2009695268873699328_o
A last look
78173434_3237513416293475_8941980219300904960_o
Cliffs below Cloudburst Mountain

The Elaho Giant, years later, was not as fortunate as we were. Its roots, thought only to be badly charred in that fire of June 2015, were later found to have incinerated, as it was  discovered in 2016 that the tree had finally died. A life of  a thousand years in such an idyllic place must certainly have been fulfilling, but I could not help wishing the tree had lived longer.  I did, however, take solace in knowing that its birthplace remains wild and untamed. Twelve years have passed since that cold and rainy November day in 2007, and though we’ve yet to return, I will always remember the Elaho.

 

******* Author’s Note *******

In my search for any kind of report on the Elaho- Meager hike, I came across but one good representation of what it’s like from a two people who managed to do it before the Cesna Creek washout. Thanks to Trudel and Andre for telling this story, which for all intents and purposes may not be duplicated for a while!

Dedicated to John Mann, lead singer of Spirit of the West, who lost his battle with dementia today, on November 20, 2019, at the age of 57. Live life well, you never know how long you’ve got! Thanks for the memories, John.

 

 

 

 

The World Champion Red Creek Fir

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

57343580_2845537748824379_7221064347953397760_n
Douglas Fir cone

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

05e
San Juan River

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

IMG_4910 copy
The towering mass of the Red Creek Fir

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit With Coastal Giants

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

01
Harris Creek Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

02i

 

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

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

02c

02a

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

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

02h

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

03A12

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

03A3

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

03A11

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

04y copy

04n copy

04v
It stands alone!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Eden Grove, an Endangered Paradise

01
Gordon River Valley

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

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

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

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

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

05

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

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

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

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

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

12
The potential road bed

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

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

15

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

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

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

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

23
Life is vibrant on the forest floor

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

25
Lush green hillside cloaked in ferns!

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

26
The Corkscrew Cedar

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

27
Cannot get enough of this place!

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

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

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

32
Duncan stands with the Boundary Cedar.

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

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

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

39

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

44

45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

67744238_3032155346829284_5083634346514972672_n

*******

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

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

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

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

 

*******Author’s Notes*******

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Hollyburn Fir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

temples and pipeorgan -#9AA copyA
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.

PA040198 copyA
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.

IMG_0664
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.

PA040197 copyA
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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

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

 

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

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

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

58373903_2850338955010925_6004803749451661312_n

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

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

58003907_2850338725010948_1292496074732208128_n

57821893_2850342505010570_5287744571244019712_n
Spectacular place to spend an afternoon

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

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

57613189_2850329465011874_2006676903297024000_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

58372789_2850329855011835_1002665930636918784_n

57811483_2850329021678585_8847863720475361280_n

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

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

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

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

58430297_2850339418344212_6173249424748183552_n

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

58639060_2850346351676852_4406568499313377280_n

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

57678117_2850328645011956_4114652435631308800_n

57503903_2850342598343894_6039913792836468736_n
Rattlesnake Plantain
57936063_2850345488343605_3245358128732045312_n
Timeless beauty

58382999_2850328688345285_429296502519627776_n

57612567_2850340535010767_1416356106845814784_n

57555449_2850330501678437_5736122067271548928_n

57503432_2850351458343008_1707925351918731264_n
Little things!
57486535_2850343898343764_7502316480285900800_n
Partners

57543654_2850351118343042_8561590419186515968_n

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

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

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

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

57572714_2850343055010515_149340432403267584_n
Blue Cedar Grove

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 .

53373608_2777586248952863_6443324149505982464_n
Chris meets The Survivor, an ancient cedar that through unusual circumstances still survives today!
52970868_2777586278952860_8815788715730272256_n
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!

53280724_2777586142286207_5316928869725372416_n
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!

53303530_2777586452286176_9076835805778935808_n
Looking southwest to Mt Fromme, a much more dramatic looking peak when seen from upper Lynn Creek
53274841_2777586505619504_307183895030267904_n
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!

53410228_2777596252285196_8332839309950320640_n
Thuja Plicata, the Western Red Cedar
53050717_2777587185619436_7718400047339012096_n
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!
53584747_2777586918952796_5311724400154771456_n
Walking the broad bench in lower Wickenden Creek
52951195_2777595372285284_7430340245813460992_n
Just seeing this has me wishing I were there right now!
53110874_2777586738952814_841924292798054400_n
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!

53362533_2777587032286118_5631593171856130048_n
Chris calls this tree “The Wall of Wood”. I think that’s a pretty good name for it!
53111080_2777587168952771_4492732982154493952_n
Even sixty feet up it still might be nine feet in diameter, and it enjoys very robust health.
53020255_2777587025619452_8754622596114284544_n
A very impressive tree!

 

53648556_2777595348951953_5997072593570496512_n
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.

53093763_2777586932286128_2292673570037301248_n
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.

 

53043608_2777595478951940_4146004335387475968_n
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
53026261_2777595332285288_379746499912794112_n
Straight and true, one can see why mature Douglas fir has been so targeted for harvest by loggers
53468105_2777586882286133_5274232526821392384_n
The largest of the firs were about seven feet in diameter, in well protected locations, which bodes well for their future!
53111082_2777586798952808_5342899390208016384_n
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!

53293147_2777595488951939_8120681480444706816_n
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.

53419713_2777595465618608_6383304979431555072_n
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.

53043126_2777595568951931_7098357007752626176_n
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.
53183575_2777595592285262_116600721339580416_n
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!

53365791_2777595678951920_5831522903052517376_n
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!
53570518_2777595602285261_4301909217280786432_n
And here comes Chris. You can’t hear the curse words, but I still can!
53243756_2777595708951917_3548629561958727680_n
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!

53423677_2777596108951877_1638869497639075840_n
Old growth cedars atop the steep southern spine of Wickenden Creek
53260575_2777595988951889_7244967159510597632_n
Wickenden Creek continued to surprise us!
53071324_2777595715618583_5302581956674846720_n
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!

53723666_2777596095618545_5216746227810435072_n
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.

53668517_2777587325619422_8550667436884492288_n
Yet another 400 year old cedar!
53452039_2777596125618542_1196190551334977536_n
Pillars

53660872_2777586542286167_4826154179560996864_n

53060155_2777586498952838_2588363149035962368_n

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!

53161747_2777596405618514_1595067011677814784_n

53274768_2777595968951891_8970998697684893696_n

53472668_2777595818951906_5696557782023536640_n
Occasional glimpses of The Needles across Lynn Creek Valley also kept us amused as we neared the valley bottom.
53797683_2777596418951846_6119012371575865344_n
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!

53226738_2777596525618502_5807229966730919936_n
The art of fording. This is the ideal method…
53057944_2777596562285165_6791511770893647872_n
…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.

53121297_2777586305619524_5895846072739168256_n

53476509_2777596605618494_5508775906262384640_n
Does anyone know exactly what this is?

53352588_2777596692285152_8108641432983568384_n

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.

50227021_2707741962603959_8149912091558412288_n
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!

50293438_2707742019270620_3514951787087921152_n
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…

50048302_2707817812596374_2481620713375531008_n
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.

50306235_2707742359270586_8597693794017607680_n
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.

50045940_2707742079270614_5608746183519371264_n
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.

50466395_2707741905937298_5480376706327904256_n
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.

49820711_2707741705937318_1478181349322915840_n
Steve finds an elevated highway!
50220971_2707740785937410_3113070640639246336_n
As the sun began to shine through, the grove became more picturesque by the minute!
49503020_2707742372603918_1044263745460633600_n
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.

50670702_2707741982603957_8979707418187399168_n
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.

50230620_2707741645937324_505315658427269120_n
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!

50163262_2707741005937388_655687432737390592_n
Here I am looking up at several inverted trees leaning on the wall above me. I didn’t linger long here!
49818020_2707740759270746_5312421670915407872_n
This is the reverse of the previous image!
50069622_2707742245937264_3846978584707072000_n
These trees have thrived in a not so forgiving environment!
50108011_2707741375937351_6459451429579915264_n
True survivors!
50342201_2707741339270688_3083571228997320704_n
A close look at the cliff face
50620490_2707742099270612_2691215967823855616_n
Steve contemplates our next move
49408025_2707742219270600_1103954277522472960_n
Water streaked walls
50115427_2707740929270729_5055554833881235456_n
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!

50676819_2707741852603970_4465156165377982464_n
Some very large granite boulders here!
49784212_2707741835937305_4407342031513321472_n
A five hundred year old cedar growing atop a house sized hunk of granite. You don’t see this every day
50127152_2707741472604008_7578242186295115776_n
It was on such a grand scale that you could not really get an overview. Instead, it was much like wandering a maze
50115502_2707741495937339_4580965985669873664_n
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
49948375_2707741255937363_1721160083187957760_n
A truly enchanted forest, so fragile that we were loathe to climb the boulders least we damage the plant life
50309847_2707741075937381_7235587015360643072_n
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!

50112138_2707741452604010_2462872966380126208_n
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!

50074624_2707741735937315_4319975876952326144_n
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.

50272796_2707741249270697_8738961496085626880_n
Bigleaf Maples like these are often 400 years old!
50091114_2707741772603978_174946430421565440_n
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.

50151402_2707740959270726_2641036121147965440_n
Each massive trunk is loaded with life
50655440_2707741569270665_2704853846198321152_n
Looking into the upper canopy, four centuries of growth and still thriving
50247457_2707741152604040_5447485507472719872_n
These trees are hard to photograph but I love to try!
49389989_2707741585937330_2242799890105106432_n
So many trunks, so little time
50099094_2707741042604051_2073793575547568128_n
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!

50091177_2707741352604020_6082027922858704896_n
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.

49949308_2707740792604076_2652579644619882496_n
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!

49938010_2707741172604038_3066913584886841344_n
The 500 plus year old Bigfoot Cedar
50279691_2707742179270604_2488227202005467136_n
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.

P4290006 copyA
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…

P4290007 copy
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?

P4290010 copyA

 

P4290011 copyA
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.

P4290017 copy
The first finds came quickly
P4290018 copy
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.

P4290024 copy
Hummingbird Meadow
P4290023 copy
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…

Anna%27s_Hummingbird_b13-44-004_l copy
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.

P4290029 copyA
Trees in this location have survived living on very exposed ground below an avalanche/ rockslide runout
P4290030 copyA
Spiky topped cedars!

P4290028 copy

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!

P4290025 copy
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!

P4290033 copy
Sunshine and spires
P4290031 copy
A 500 year old cedar, half shattered, lurking in the shadows
P4290035 copy
A relatively young giant, already three metres in diameter but perhaps only about 400 years in age
P4290019 copy
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!

P4290040 copy
The Triplets
P4290042 copy
Wickenden Creek at last! A couple of weeks later I would explore a bit of its upper canyon with Chris
P4290050 copy
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.

P4290054 copy
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.

P4290057 copy

P4290060 copy

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!

P4290059 copy
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
IMG_1878 copy
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…

P4290067 copy
Sunlit forest
P4290074 copy
Doug enjoys a fine view of The Needles

… and the, well, not so pleasant ones…

P4290063 copy
Any forensic experts out there?
P4290062 copy
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!

P4290109 copy
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!

P4290092 copy
It’s like it was custom made
IMG_1926 copy 2
If only everything was this easy!
P4290095 copy
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.

P4290108 copy
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!

P4290116 copy
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!