Tag Archives: hiking

High Country for Old Men!

Maybe some of you have seen the movie No Country for Old Men? Well, uhhh, this is definitely not that. Not even close, really. I’m just hijacking and paraphrasing the catchy title of a fine film. Rather than a tale of intrigue over a battle for ill gotten gains, this, instead, is about a day out climbing in the Cascade Mountains of southwestern British Columbia.

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Good flick

High in the Eleven Mile Creek Valley lie a number of rugged peaks west of Manning Park and north of the Hope Slide. That slide, incidentally, in 1965, calved off the flanks of Johnson Peak and dammed a lake, causing a terrible loss of life and burying Highway 3 at the time. It is remembered as one of Canada’s notable natural disasters.

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Morning smoke from distant fires descends on the 11 Mile Creek Valley as our hike begins in earnest

But I digress. Mt Hatfield, at 2227m in elevation, sits in a high bowl not too far from Johnson Peak and nearby Mt Macleod. It is at the north end of Manson Ridge, with a commanding view of Mt Outram. The mountain was named for Penticton based conservationist Harley Hatfield, who contributed mightily to preserving the Skagit Valley. The principles for this excursion? Good mates Ted and Denis. It’s worth mentioning again that these guys have known each other since high school and have hiked together in six different decades so far, going strong into their seventies now! Who does that?

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My favourite picture of Ted and Denis (with mustache) taken some years ago near Joffre Lakes

 

At any rate, recently we had seen that our friend Simon had done a pair of hikes in the 11 Mile Creek Valley and had reported the new logging road was in decent condition. On that note, we decided to give it a go!

After picking up Ted in Vancouver at 530 am, soon we were sailing along Highway 1 toward Langley to meet up with Denis. As bad as traffic can get in B.C’s Lower Mainland, it’s never too difficult when you’re up early enough. Sometime around 730 am we arrived at the 8 Mile Creek turnoff, and then soon turned onto the 11 Mile Creek Road. This trek was nearly over before it began, however. After a few kilometres on the road, which requires high clearance 4X4 due to some very nasty waterbars, we ran into some boulders blocking the road. Right out of an episode of MacGyver, we ended up having to find ourselves a lengthy log and with the aid of that, rock wedges, and brute strength we managed to pry a four hundred pound rock off the road. We hadn’t exactly counted on that kind of workout to begin the day!

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Old school MacGyver! Dude had better hair and plenty of brainpower to go with it. Trivia: His show was co produced by none other than The Fonz, Henry Winkler

 

With that nonsense out of the way, we set out again on the road, driving roughly another six kilometres to where we decided to park. Ted, who prides himself on negative banter in the old British climbing tradition, offered us some Haterade, as he likes to call it, for the walk up the logging road. He says it inceases bitterness up to 20%, and Ted knows bitter! As far as I know, there’s absolutely no truth to the rumour that he sleeps on a bed of nails, at least not as far as I know!

 

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To understand Ted you need to read up on hard drinking, hard brawling, sarcastic English climbers, like the late Don Whillans, pictured here

Anyway, we were approximately four kilometres from Mt Hatfield as the crow flies according to my GPS, but our success hinged on finding the right creek valley to ascend. Well, Simon’s directions were quite accurate, but as it turned out I chose a creek about 1.5 kms west of where we needed to be. It was an excellent line of ascent had we been climbing neighbouring Mt Macleod, since it more or less led us right to the foot of its west ridge, which begins on beautiful granite. This meant that we would need to traverse over steep ground and sidehill for a while to gain the correct valley. Seeing as how there was no other alternative, on we went, because sometimes that’s  just the way it goes in the hills. We distracted ourselves with a lot of obscenities,  a few inane conspiracy theories, as well as keeping an eye out for marmots as their burrows were everywhere on the brushy mountainside.

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Arnica amidst slide alder. You take the good with the bad
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Lupines
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Taking a break from the punishment. That’s Johnson Peak in the background

Once we broke out into the open Mt Hatfield appeared in the distance. It was clear that we now needed to aim for the col that separated it from a high knoll on the adjacent ridge.  Somehow we managed to find ourselves in a sizable gully strewn with immense granite boulders. We chose to follow that upward on easier ground that led to a bench near Mt Macleod. A half an hour of meandering northeast and a brief encounter with a pika brought us to a broad meadow beneath our destination. I traced the path of a stream that braided its way toward us and eased downhill. Surely this was the creek Simon and Justin had followed here! Denis suggested we ought to try that out later on the descent. It seemed a good omen at that point that he spotted a marmot shuffling across the rock debris beneath the mountain.

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Mt Macleod is basically straight ahead as I look left from the gully to take this shot
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Much easier than side hilling low brush!
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This gully turned out to be very friendly ground to walk
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A rare moment when the sunlight managed to break the haze
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The creek we would later follow on our descent
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We are aiming for the saddle at centre right in this shot

 

I had first seen Mt Hatfield years ago on an attempt on Tulameen Mountain from the adjacent Sowaqua Creek drainage. Below here are some photos I took of the mountain from that neighbouring valley. It had looked much more dramatic than it appeared from our vantage point, as near vertical cliffs drop precipitously off its north side into the basin below that contains Kippan Lakes. The mountain’s first ascent- it was then simply called Peak 7200- happened back in 1956 and featured some twenty more kilometres of hard bushwhacking up from Highway 3. That was one long and punishing day I am sure!

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Hatfield as you see it from the north, with the col we are aiming for at centre here. It’s a far more dramatic peak from the Sowaqua Creek side
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Left to right, Outram, Manson and Hatfield from high across the valley to the north
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A zoom on Kippan Lakes, which lie in the bowl beneath the cliffs of Mt Hatfield

Another half an hour brought us to the foot of the south ridge of Hatfield, where we geared up. It seems like we always end up carrying some gear strictly for pack weight, usually that’s snowshoes but in this case, for Ted and I, it was ice axes.

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Arriving at the col we were aiming for, and seeing our first snow patch of the day

The ridge we were to scramble was rated a steady Class 3, and its start seemed obvious as those aforementioned cliffs were to our right, and thick krummholz barred the way on our left. Krummholz, by the way, meaning “bent wood” in German, refers to tightly growing stunted trees you find near the timber line. Said trees are quite effective in slowing down climbers, especially in the Cascade Mountains. They also cause random bursts of foul language!

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Here it is, the south ridge of Hatfield. We begin on that dusty brown patch of dirt in the middle.

There seemed to be an intermittent path to follow as we worked our way upward, and we took our time negotiating a few exposed steps here where a fall would have been dangerous.

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Hands on section along the ridge, exposure is to the right of Denis
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Onward and upward
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Working toward the crux above

 

We then broke into something of a clearing below a rock face where the reported crux of this climb came into view. There was a loose gully to deal with and a narrow tree lined chimney that would give passage to the summit block above.

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Since I didn’t take a photo of the crux on the way up, here’s Ted scrambling it on the way down

 

In my estimation, the exposed step below the crux I mentioned before was somewhat more difficult than this, but of course Simon and Justin were dealing with snow on their trek, which always changes the equation. We also encountered two spots where remaining snow overhung the Kippan Lakes Valley, and I recommend staying well back from the edge should you encounter those.

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Looking down into the Kippan Lakes basin below!

From there it was easier strolling, and Ted took the lead as I scanned the horizons. The smoke from distant fires blanketed every valley as far as one could see, and its acrid smell hung faintly in the air despite the wind.

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The summit horn is finally visible on the last 75m of ascent

Minutes later we were on the summit, with its crafty wooden sign, and broke for lunch. While we were there I opened up the summit register and made an entry, and read a few more. This year had quite a few more visitors, I guess because the road is so much more accessible.

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Hammer meets Hatfield
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Hatfield summit, 2227m according to Bivouac, 2217m according to my GPS
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Recent summit log entries. Thanks for the directions, Simon!
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Our summit entry
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Summit flower
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Hanging out on Hatfield

On the summit, Ted was chiding me over twisting his grumbling into too much optimism, saying “You need to stop that positive stuff, I have a reputation to uphold.” I responded with “Okay, how’s this…we’re in a helluva lot of trouble here and I don’t like the way this is going. My name’s Ted and all I gotta say is now we’re f****d!” He really liked that, musing that those would be the perfect three words for his epitaph, whereas Denis figured his would  be “Hold my beer!” Not sure what mine would be, probably something like “We’re really having trouble getting through to this guy.”

Now it was time for us to head down, Denis was already giving me heck about spending more than the maximum twenty minutes on the summit, as per retread rules. I’m guessing that’s to maximize beer time back at the truck! The trip down to the col went reasonably well, save for me leading us through some more annoying brush and getting off route, but no major complications. Here’s a few photos from the scramble down…

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Looking back at the summit and the smoky haze beyond
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Such a great view from up here!
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You can barely see Mt Outram through the haze
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A carpet of rock phlox
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Ever present purple penstemon
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Roaming the ridge
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Closer view of the horn of Hatfield

 

From the col it was an easy walk down to the stream, where we replenished our water supply and moved down into the basin below. Had I been thinking straight, I’d have heeded Simon’s words about keeping the creek on climber’s right on the ascent, or climber’s left on the way down…but….

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Water, giver of life
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The creek and Mt Macleod, before the hike down

…what we ended up doing was coming down the opposite side, which presented plenty of route finding challenges and an eventual crossing to the other side below a canyon. I also had to contend with an annoying leg cramp for about half an hour but that seemed to improve as we got closer and closer to the beer below! It was quite steep for a spell until some relief came in the form of a nice flat subalpine meadow.

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The meadow. We were back down at 1680m in elevation by now, but our work was far from done!

 

Unfortunately, before we could make it down we still had to negotiate that tricky canyon! Dense brush and spindly trees were the order of the day until we finally emerged on the logging road below. From there it was a couple of kilometres back to the truck after retrieving some beer from the creek. By then the stoke was about as high as it gets. This had been a fine day in the mountains!

Soon we were hanging out on the tailgate of Denis’ Toyota, sorting gear, and downing a few cold ones. In the ensuing discussion, we identified most of the world’s serious problems, and solved basically none of them, but of course the banter was priceless. Another Cascades classic in the book, as Denis said, and a helluva way to spend a Monday!

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Tailgating!

 

 

 

Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin

Once in a while you get a chance to visit a place that will forever live on in your memories. Norris Geyser Basin is all that and more! You would think that crowds of visitors at such a popular attraction would be a deterrent, but Norris somehow rises above all those attentions. Set in the heart of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, it is a truly awe inspiring display of geothermal power.

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The Porcelain Terrace Overlook, a photographer’s paradise

We arrived early in the morning with the hope that fewer people would have the same idea, but there were already a fair number of cars in the parking lot. Norris Basin is very well developed. There is an elaborate network of elevated boardwalks to ensure that foot traffic stays where it should and there are plenty of park rangers to keep an eye on things. I had a short conversation with one of the rangers who told me that she was continually surprised by the number of people who underestimate the dangers of geothermal features. The ground is ever changing and incredibly unstable, of course, and over the years many lives have been lost through carelessness. The gist of her message was to heed the warning signs, and stay strictly on the designated paths. Update: In the summer of 2016 a visitor lost his life in one of the hot pools here, adding to the list of unfortunate accidents over the years.

Rather than drive to Norris Geyser Basin, you can also simply walk there from the Norris Campground which is not far away. As with all campgrounds it fills early so arrive early and stake your site accordingly!

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This map gives you a decent overview of the Norris Geyser Basin area

Norris Geyser Basin is essentially divided into two areas, the Porcelain Basin, and the Back Basin. There’s also a museum and historical display to take in if you have the time. I began at the Porcelain Basin, mostly because the sounds emanating from it were so bizarre I was immediately drawn in that direction. The hissing and belching from steam, water, and hot springs everywhere and the heady aroma of sulphur in the air were a real jolt to the senses.

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The ever changing face of the Porcelain Basin, where no two photos can ever be the same

Fumaroles, like the one you see below here, are the hottest features in the basin, reaching temperatures of between 199 and 283 degrees Fahrenheit (93 to 138 degrees Celsius). Some can emit a shrill, squelching hiss that’ll startle you more than a little if you’ve never heard it before.

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A fumarole, which is an opening in a volcano from which hot sulphurous gases emerge

 

Other features seem unrecognizable from one moment to the next, like the Hurricane Vent. One moment a boiling mass of grey and steam, the next an inviting turquoise pool.

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The Hurricane Vent, now you see it…
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….and now you don’t!

 

 

So how does the Porcelain Basin get its unusual coloration? The park tour explains that best…

“The milky color of the mineral deposited here inspired the naming of Porcelain Basin. The mineral, siliceous sinter, is brought to the surface by hot water and forms a “sheet” over this flat area as the water flows across the ground and the mineral settles out. This is the fastest changing area in Norris Geyser Basin, and siliceous sinter is one of the agents of change. If the mineral seals off a hot spring or geyser by accumulating in its vent, the hot, pressurized water may flow underground to another weak area and blow through it.”

“Siliceous sinter is also called geyserite. Deposits usually accumulate very slowly, less than one inch (2.5cm) per century, and form the geyser cones and mounds seen in most geyser basins.”

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The Blue Geyser in Porcelain Basin

Below is an example of the boardwalks the park builds for preservation and public safety. They are both a labour of love as well as marvels of engineering and design. As an aside, I can’t say enough about park staff. Everyone is professional, helpful, engaging, and informative.

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Boardwalks in Porcelain Basin
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Geysers are both impressive and surprising!
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A last look at the Porcelain Basin. This is Congress Pool, I believe

Having barely scratched the surface of exploring Porcelain Basin, I then headed off to Back Basin to see what it had to offer. One could easily spend a full day touring both areas but I had but a few hours to check out both.

Steamboat Geyser is the most spectacular in the Back Basin, with eruptions sometimes reaching 300 feet into the skies above. I didn’t get the chance to see that, as its displays are completely unpredictable. It is also the world’s tallest active geyser!

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Steamboat Geyser

Nearby Cistern Spring is a clear, constantly overflowing pool that is connected to Steamboat Geyser underground. During Steamboat’s major eruptions, Cistern Spring can be seen to drain, before refilling as the eruption subsides.

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Cistern Spring

The Back Basin boasts many more geysers with colourful names. Here are a few more…

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The Pearl Geyser
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Puff N’ Stuff Geyser, named for its loud puff, which sounds a little bit like a large surfacing whale
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Somewhere beneath the cloud of steam and gases is the Echinus Geyser 

I was so enamoured of this place that, truth be told, I nearly lost track of the time entirely because there is so much to see. The power of nature is on full display at Norris, and it’s a show that should not be missed. It’s a strong reminder that while some forces alter our planet gradually, others are capable of changing it from minute to minute or even second to second! Beneath much of Yellowstone is a vast volcanic caldera, which many scientists consider to be highly unstable. Yellowstone National Park is, in other words, something you might want to see before its ground is forever altered.

Yellowstone National Park’s overview and tour of the Norris Basin can be found at this link

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Norris Geyser Basin, well worth a visit!

 

Into the Mystic: The Forgotten Forest, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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Lower Kennedy Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spiked tops above usually means an old tree and usually a big one, where cedars are concerned
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Ironically, we would end up below this rock face only months later!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Afternoon light on another ancient cedar
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Twisted Column

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idyllic Winter on Suicide Bluffs

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Suicide Bluffs, after a March snowstorm

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

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Looking down into the heart of Suicide Creek valley from the centre of the bluffs

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

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Dog Mountain Lookout

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

 

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You will also see these signs, meant to deter skiers and boarders from heading into Suicide Creek Valley below

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

 

 

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Vancouver Harbour

In winter, you have to be prepared for full on mountaineering at times. It’s not a place for the uninitiated, or for those expecting a well marked trail, so gear up appropriately if you go! We usually bring ice axes, snowshoes, and crampons as well as a GPS, compass, and maps.

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Cathedral Mountain, 1737m, the tallest of the North Shore Mountains

 

 

 

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

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Seymour River at Spur Four Bridge near where Suicide Creek meets its end on the valley floor

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

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Ancient stump near the logging camp, where cedars up to 16 feet in diameter were harvested until the 1920s
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A piece of an old crosscut saw
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Old cast iron stove parts circa 1920

 

 

 

 

 

 

As fun as that was, I would also return  to the valley with regular hiking partner Doug on two more occasions to explore the rough track that leads up to Suicide Falls.  North Shore Rescue has used this route to save wayward skiers and snowboarders on a number of occasions. The valley is rough, vertically steep in places, and under some conditions downright hazardous. The two photos below here pretty much sum up the kind of hiking you get into there…

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Snow, trees, and sky

But I digress. Only after I explored these lower reaches did I actually hike the Suicide Bluffs Trail, some 400 metres above the falls, and 800 metres above the Seymour River. Soon after that Doug and I began to make the bluffs an annual winter destination.

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Doug ascending the westernmost summit of Suicide Bluffs

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

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Me with a 400 year old mountain hemlock which is not too far from the Mt Seymour Trail junction

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

 

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

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There is nothing like laying the first tracks in untouched powder
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Trees take on storybook appearances sometimes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If anyone has hiked the Coliseum Trail up from Seymour Valley, you can see the flat topped summit of Paton’s Lookout in this shot of the Seymour Valley at centre left below Cathedral

 

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Mt Seymour looming behind snow crusted trees as seen from the eastern summit of the bluffs

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seymour on a different day, with drifting clouds

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Views of Vancouver and beyond, New Year’s Eve 2015

 

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Lynn Ridge and The Needles in front of Crown Mountain and others

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

 

 

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Crown and the Britannia Range from the west summit of the bluffs

 

 

 

 

 

 

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North Shore Search and Rescue Cabin can be seen from the central summit area

 

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Adventure is always right in front of you. Pick up a map, look at photo, do some research, and just get out there and discover! This shot is looking into the Seymour Valley with Mt Burwell and Cathedral Mountain most prominent

Truthfully, I think we have come to see Suicide Bluffs as our favourite winter stomping grounds. There is something about standing high above the treeline in fresh snow and looking at so many places that you have been lucky enough to visit. In  twelve years we have hiked, climbed, and thrashed our way through countless North Shore valleys, and the bluffs afford fine views of many of them!

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Show up early both for the easier parking and for the sunrise views

If you’re looking for a local winter hike that still gives you that wilderness feel, then make your way to the Suicide Bluffs. It’s time well spent!

Snow Falling From Cedars

Well it’s December here on the west coast and finally winter has arrived in earnest. There has been snowfall in the North Shore Mountains like we haven’t seen in years. Trouble is, everyone was set on enjoying it at the same time, so it took a little planning for Doug and I to figure out the best way to enjoy one of our favourite local haunts.

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

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Brothers Creek second growth forest near the trailhead

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

 

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The old growth forest

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

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Three twisted western red cedars, all over 400 years old

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

 

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Plenty of snowclad trees to admire….
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…but you’d better be paying attention to the falling snows too!

But beware, unlike its distant cousin the yellow cedar, the western red cedar is built to shed snow quickly and sometimes without warning. We had to pay close attention to falling snows, hence my choice of title for this entry.

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Mountain hemlocks on the Lost Lake Trail

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

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A very quiet Lost Lake

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

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Deep snows! At one point I buried my camera in powder and had to dry it out painstakingly

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

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West Lake

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

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Walking down the old West Lake access road

 

 

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

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Nearly every signpost was buried in snow, as it turned out
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Brothers Creek Bridge on Crossover Trail

 

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

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The 400 year old Crossover Cedar, as I like to call it

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

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Tasteful holiday decorations on the Crossover Trail

A Paradise Lost ?

It was in September of 2014, just last year, when we last visited North Cascades National Park in northwestern Washington.

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Park sign at west entrance

 

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Moss and maple

On the first day of a two week camping trip, we decided to stay at the Goodell Creek Campsite. It was surprising to discover that the site was nearly vacant at the time, and as I wandered the trees alongside the Skagit River, I felt that peace that comes only with solitude in nature.

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A forest glade

There were numerous towering Douglas firs scattered among the forest, many as wide as seven feet in diameter and well over three hundred years old. Dense canopies of big leaf maple filtered the sunlight and the papery leaves that signal the onset of autumn had just begun to fall. As the afternoon passed, the sun made several brief appearances, as did the very lightest of rains. It was a truly enjoyable day for us all, sitting by the campfire and listening to the sounds of the river and the calls of birds.

 

Roll forward in time to August of this year, when I happened to be watching a Seattle news telecast two weeks ago. Goodell Creek was on fire, another victim of the record setting drought the Pacific Northwest has been enduring. Immediately, my mind recalled vivid images of this magical place. I don’t know yet what the extent of the damage has been, but I do know that Highway 20 has been closed in the area and that after two weeks the blaze remains largely unconfined. The nearby town of Newhalem, home to the families of many Seattle City Light employees, is also in danger.

 

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Skagit River

Time will tell whether the forest and campground have survived, but I  am sincerely hoping that they have. Many thanks to the firefighters who are battling valiantly to save the park. Sometimes, when you really experience a place, you leave a bit of your heart there forever. I’ll always remember Goodell Creek for that reason.

Coquihalla Dreamin’

As everyone here in British Columbia knows, there have been numerous hot summer days to go around this year. More accurately, the midsummer weather began early in May, and Southwestern B.C. has  had one of its most active forest fire seasons.

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Coquihalla Mountain, an old strato volcano, as I saw it for the first time in 2008 from Jim Kelly Peak

For several weeks, Doug and I had been planning a trip to the mountains, but the smoke from the fires had been changing our plans. Finally, I came up with an idea. Seven years ago, on a cold, clear, and windblown day, I’d had the chance to visit a sweeping alpine plateau in the Bedded Range and hiked up Jim Kelly Peak and Illal Mountain with a new group of friends. I had wanted to return for another look in warmer weather, and this July seemed the perfect opportunity.

The promise of a decent trail with relatively reasonable elevation gain to an ideal  basecamp was enough to convince Doug of the possibilities. So it was that we set off early on a Friday morning, headed for Hope.  Doug grabbed a coffee at The Blue Moose, and we made our way to the Britton Creek Rest Area on the Coquihalla Highway. There we stopped to organize our gear and eat an early lunch. Half an hour later we were driving up the Tulameen Forest Service Road, and, after crossing Illal Creek, rocked and rolled our way up a rough logging spur to an excellent parking spot around three kilometres in. This was the maiden logging road voyage for Doug’s new Toyota Tacoma and it passed the test with flying colours!

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Illal Meadows and Illal Mountain, as you reach the meadows

All that settled, it was time for the hike in. Our packs were heavy with overnight gear and refreshments, and the temperature, though hot, was offset initially by adequate shade and brisk winds. Insects, sometimes more than notorious there, were few and far between, as we steadily trekked up to the plateau. Most of the wildflowers had already bloomed, which is unusual for mid July, but the meadows were still quite lush and green.

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Near camp, below Jim Kelly Peak

Soon enough, we arrived at a shining tarn beneath Jim Kelly Peak, and stashed our overnight gear. It was a relief to doff the heavy packs and relax for a while. There was at least some, no, wait, plenty of temptation  to sprawl out and take a nap, but we’d come there to hike and so instead began analyzing our options for the route up Coquihalla Mountain.

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Illal Mountain, 2020 m, in October 2008. That’s Yak peak n the Coquihalla highway in the background

Conditions were ideal , and contrasted sharply with the frigid day on which I’d climbed Jim Kelly Peak and Illal Mountain.

 

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Coquihalla Mountain. We would be going around to the left and into the valley beyond. Why? Probably because we thought it was the hardest way….

The route we had chosen was the south flank, which involved a long traverse around the mountain, over half of a circumnavigation, one way. There were limited reports about the route but rumour had it that at one time, in the boom days of Coalmont, there was even a once popular trail there that had now fallen into disuse. To begin, we needed to drop from the Illal Meadows into the col between Jim Kelly Peak and Coquihalla Mountain and follow a well worn path that supposedly accesses a popular lake below the pass. Here, on the way in, we spotted several of the biggest marmots we’d ever seen, and on the way back also saw a weasel hunting among the rocks. The next series of photos illustrate the approach step by step…

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Dropping into the Jim Kelly/Coquihalla col, shoulder of Coquihalla at left and hiking toward the left here…
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Looking up at Coquihalla from the pass, at the beginning of the “Endless Traverse”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You must then lose elevation from the pass. No worries, it’ll just hurt more on the way back 🙂
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Getting closer. Travel is deceptively tough beyond here and it’s best to lose elevation and travel just beneath unstable rock fields

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking back from whence we came. That’s Jim Kelly Peak and the col/pass. Easiest line to follow here on the way back is at the base of this rockfall then through krummholz, which was roughly what we did
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When you see this aspect you can begin to gain all the elevation back and head for the south flank, out of shot at left…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That traverse proved to be as endless as its reputation, and you had to be creative in order to avoid difficult ground. We did that by losing elevation and following easier ground through bands of stunted trees, also known as krummholz. It was a lot like finding one’s way through a maze, and on more than one occasion we did find remnants of that old trail, albeit accidentally. There was plenty of scenery to enjoy, especially as the towers of the Coquihalla massif loomed high above us.

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What you need to do now is find your way onto the low end of the rock at left then pass through the shoulder where you will see your next obstacle….

 

With more than a little persistence, we just kept on scuffling, and finally the south flank came into view. It was a welcome sight, to be sure!

 

 

We knew that the summit was  close at hand now, and that all we needed to do was find a way up the flank. This we did by walking an obvious path through fields of scree right to left in second photo below, then clawing our way almost directly up several partially loose sections of rock including a chimney or two and a lot more krummholz.

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Our view as we ascended, just below the last 100 metres of climbing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Final countdown!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But not before we check the summit waypoint, which showed that we were only fifty metres away….

Finally, we broke through and topped out on yet another band of rock, but from this one the summit cairn could be seen off to our right. Success was near!19659649148_1e18e519cb_z copy

Immediately, however, my eyes were drawn to to the left, where the slopes dropped sharply off the other side of the mountain. You can never really relax in the mountains! This hazard was easily avoided, of course, but it sure got our attention.

 

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Needle and Markhor Peaks, with Yak Peak in the background and Highway 5 to its right

 

Scanning about, one could now see the other summits of Coquihalla as well. Views of the Hidden Creek Valley, Tulameen, Needle and Markhor Peaks were especially rewarding.

As we walked to the summit cairn I felt compelled to holler “Oh yeah! Earned!” Normally, I’m not given to that kind of expression, but on that day we were both pretty stoked to be there. It had been almost seven years since I had seen this mountain, and it was compelling to see the other side of that view ( see the first picture in this tale).

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Charming summit shot, all smiles and no pain, brother!
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Truthful summit shot, thinking about the descent!
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What I believe to be Bedded Lake across the valley

 

 

 

 

 

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A view of what I call the Illal Plateau, with Illal Mountain at centre and Spiral Peak in behind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking more than our usual twenty minutes on the summit, at 2157 metres in elevation, we snacked for a while and then left for camp.

 

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Starting back for camp, bring it on!

 

The way back was almost as lengthy, but we were able to make somewhat quicker work of it.

 

 

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Doug descending toward the boulder field, where the traverse home will begin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But, well, there was this all too familiar view…

We did, as on the hike in, have to gain and lose elevation frequently but before long we were grinding up to the col we had left a couple of hours before.

 

 

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Lupines

All that was left then was a  somewhat tired walk up to the meadows, dinner, and icing down some beer in a snow cooler we had built. About as good as it gets, if you’re asking me.

 

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Back at camp, under Jim Kelly Peak again!

The evening hours featured  fine sunset views in all directions, and on the plateau below we could see the tents from several other campers who had arrived to enjoy the meadows. Here are some of my favourite photos from sunset time…

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Trees aglow
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Illal mountain looking like something out of Utah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interesting clouds

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Coquihalla just plain showing off!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunset over camp

 

After all the rambling about taking photos and setting up camp, darkness came quickly and the beer was gone all too soon.

 

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The plateau and Coquihalla Mountain, in October 2008

We turned in for the night, which turned out to be reasonably warm, and slept well. I was even happier that I had not tried camping here on that first excursion some seven years back!

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The view in the general direction of Merritt

Invariably, I’m an early riser on mountain trips, and I was up before five in the morning wandering around the plateau. Here are a few shots of the sunrise, which was well worth waking up for!

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Alpenglow on Coquihalla Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunrise clouds over camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunrise glory!

 

 

 

 

 

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My favourite photo from the trek
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If you don’t know what krummholz is, it’s stunted groves of tightly growing conifer typical to cold alpine regions. Growing low and densely helps it to thrive in snows, wind, and other such harsh conditions

 

All that remained was to break camp, enjoy some coffee and breakfast, and talk about our return to a place where one visit is simply not enough!

 

 

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Paintbrush

 

The walk back was leisurely, with plenty of time for more photography and to closely examine the geology of the region as well as the plant life.

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Not sure what this is, but it thrives near water
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Jim Kelly and Coquihalla reflected

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fields of aster

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Doug walking around another tarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Conglomerate
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One last glance at the meadows and this cool boulder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the truck, we decided to drive out first as we were concerned there might be a lot of vehicles driving the narrow road in. That turned out to be very true, it was a veritable thoroughfare! As we exited the logging road there was a group of backpackers milling about, and I later found out that one of them was someone I knew, though not until later on. Small world, as they say!

Credit the 1966 song ” California Dreamin’ ” by The Mamas and The Papas, for the somewhat paraphrased title of this tale. All day that tune had happened to be running through my mind, for whatever reason. This was, to sum it up, one the more enjoyable trips I’ve been on the last few years,  and highly recommended.

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Illal Mountain October 2008… Photo by Silvia Bakovic

Thanks also to my good friend Gerry, whose indomitable spirit and determination to get people into the mountains to discover new friends and experiences was largely responsible for my introduction to this part of the world seven years ago. This one’s for you, buddy! Dig this old school video!

An Ode to the Glacier Crest Trail

In British Columbia’s Selkirk Mountains, steep slopes, sharp rock, avalanche fans and fields of ice abound. That is typical terrain in Glacier National Park, not far, as the crow flies. from the mountain town of Revelstoke.

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Glacier National Park, as you enter from the west
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The massive pyramid of Mt Sir Donald towering above Rogers Pass

A lot of folks know of this park, but all too often roll through Rogers Pass on their way to the Rocky Mountain parks such as Yoho, Banff, or Jasper. It is a place in which I’ve felt at home since the very first time I visited, and it’s become an unforgettable part of my summers over the years. Once you have taken the time to experience this park, it somehow takes  hold of your senses.

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The Illlecillewaet Valley

 

Among my favourite tracks to hike is the Glacier Crest Trail, so join me if you like for a look at what it has to offer.

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This is what remains of the old luxury lodge, now just a mountain meadow

A quick stroll from the trailhead soon brings you to the site of the old Glacier House Hotel. Once a worthy destination for travellers, now all that remains of it are remnants of the foundation and some of the massive boilers that were used to heat the establishment. It’s hard to imagine the throngs of high society that once milled about there. The challenges of dealing with harsh winters wrought by avalanches and heavy snows eventually won out in the end.

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Fireweed and fast moving water, two signature features of the park

Among the very first things that caught my eye here  were the tumbling mass of the Illecillewaet Glacier and the rugged beauty of Mt Sir Donald. The power of nature is almost overwhelming in this valley, and the sound of the waters roaring through the woods is unforgettable.

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“Meeting of the Waters”

 

You get a very clear impression of that once you reach “Meeting of the Waters”, where Asulkan Brook and the Illecillewaet River join forces, fed by the glaciers high above. If your time is limited, a short twenty minute walk to see these rushing waters is invigorating in its own right.

 

 

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Looking back at Asulkan Brook as you take to the forest

 

The walk continues to a lively crossing of Asulkan Brook where the work starts in earnest. There are numerous switchbacks to climb, and while views are limited for a while, there is solitude to enjoy. The forests of the Selkirks are reminiscent of the coast, but it’s as though every quality is somehow enhanced and intensified. Waters  seem to rush more quickly, the scars of avalanches are more pronounced, glaciers are larger, and the mountains, too, reach greater heights.

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The glorious Selkirks!

When you finally break out of the trees to the ridge above, all that hard work becomes worthwhile.

 

 

 

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Eagle and Avalanche Peaks

Avalanche and Eagle Peaks are the first conspicuous sights, and of course Mt Sir Donald really stands out strongly! Somewhere around the 1850 metre mark in elevation there is a rocky clearing that affords these fine views. The very first time I hiked the trail, on a sweltering day in late July, this was as far as I made it, having unwittingly run out of water. Ironically, there are few water sources at higher elevations on this trail, so plan accordingly.

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Mt Sir Donald, and the boulder field with a view
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Asulkan Panorama, including Rempart, Dome and a lot of glacial ice

Gradually, as you make your way along the ridge, more views open up, and you can see into the Asulkan Valley as well as down to Highway 1 and Rogers Pass. If you happen to have forgotten your camera, you’ll be regretting by now.

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Grizzly Peak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Highway 1 winding through Rogers Pass

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Illecillewaet Glacier as it tumbles down the valley, as you see it from the nearby Great Glacier Trail

The Illecillewaet Glacier also commands your attention. Once, it reached far into the valley below, but since the turn of the twentieth century, it has receded considerably. On several occasions I have also explored the Great Glacier Trail, which gives you a closer look at its path of erosion. At the height of the last ice age, of course, most of Glacier National Park was covered in sheets of ice. That must have been quite a sight!

 

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The path continues through a boulder field, then emerges into a beautiful alpine rock garden. On a clear day, the sun is almost overwhelming here, as you round a bend in the trail heading toward the lookout. Another half hour brings you to a well built cairn atop the ridge, where you’ll be compelled to stay a while. I’ll let the views speak for themselves.

 

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Looking at the Asulkan Valley from near the high point on the ridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking back at Rogers through the haze

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mt Macdonald, named after Canada’s first prime minister

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the best places I’ve ever eaten lunch at
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Steep sided valleys

On this day, I spent more time at the summit just grooving on all of the views. Even at over 2300 metres in elevation, where I stood on the lookout was dwarfed by almost all the surrounding peaks. Regrettably, but at least with the knowledge that cold beer waited below,  I  began the hike back to camp.

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A big zoom on a huge peak beyond the Asulkan Valley
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Closeup on the Illecillewaet Glacier

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One really big cairn!

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Linger as long as you can, for as hard as the climb up was, it will still take you a while to get back to the trailhead. As much as I have enjoyed this trail, and others, over the years, I still have many more tracks in this park to explore.

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Ferns along the trail, near Asulkan Brook

So remember, if you can, to devote some time to this inspiring place. The rugged spirit of wilderness abounds there, and it is both powerful and compelling!

Strolling the Ancient Cedars Boardwalk

A couple of weeks ago, when we were passing through Mt Revelstoke National Park, I managed a short hike on the Ancient Cedars Boardwalk. As my treks go, it’s a relatively effortless one, but I like to stop there every so often to enjoy this forest. It’s a stand dominated by western redcedars, and while few of the trees exceed six feet in diameter, it’s notable that they are nevertheless very old, some perhaps five hundred years in age. You see, because they grow at a much higher elevation and experience a high volume of snow, they take considerably longer to reach mature size. Parks Canada did a fine job of building this trail for all to enjoy, in the process also protecting the fragile understory, where delicate ferns and thorny Devil’s Club can be found, among many other types of plants. It’s not uncommon to see woodpeckers, squirrels, hummingbirds, deer, or even an occasional black bear in the area. The boardwalk is just half a kilometre long and suitable for almost all ages and abilities. Here is a link to the parks website if you are interested in the park trails…

http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/bc/revelstoke/activ/activ2.aspx

Here then, is a tour of the trail. I hope you enjoy it well…

 

Tolkien, the Story of a Tree

 

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

Every year came the rains. The time passed, ever slowly, ever quickly. The tree grew vibrant and strong, and the forest that surrounded it in the many seasons that followed flourished equally well.

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The Tolkien Cedar in the prime of life, spring of 2006

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

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One of my early visits to the Temple Fir, the ancient Douglas Fir which lives just downhill from the Tolkien Cedar’s location

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

 

Travel far forward in time now, to the 1980s and early 1990s. The forest was then under the administration of those charged with maintaining Vancouver’s water supply, as the area below the Seymour Dam had been designated an auxiliary watershed. Though logging had been strictly banned in the watersheds prior to 1967, it was once again rearing its ugly head. There were extensive plans to cut down the valley’s remaining old groves and, unbeknownst to the public, full scale operations were taking place north of the Seymour Dam in the watershed proper. The area then bore the somewhat ominous name  “Seymour Demonstration Forest”.

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Ralf Kelman, here in 2009. He is, by far, British Columbia’s most accompished big tree hunter.

Enter Ralf Kelman, the son of a North Vancouver logger who had grown up in the woods of the valley. He had developed a love of the forest sometimes bordering on obsession, and had spent many a day hunting down remaining stands of undisturbed old growth trees. He certainly did not want to see any of these destroyed, and became involved with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee in order to speed their preservation. Together with Paul George, Will Koop, Chris Player, and numerous others, he strove to end logging in Vancouver’s watersheds. The conflict raged on for quite some time, with more exploration and mapping as well as the clandestine gathering of photographic evidence. The powers that be were very reluctant to stop the practice, but eventually, in 1994, logging was finally stopped within Vancouver’s watersheds. The ban did not actually become official until 2002.

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

 

 

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

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

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Me and the Hidden Giant

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

 

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Matt meets the Hidden Giant

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

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Me, with the Paul George Giant

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

 

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Matt working his way up steep slopes

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

 

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Tiny frog, about the size of a Toonie

 

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

 

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Mushrooms

 

 

 

 

 

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Bracket Fungus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rosebush Giant

 

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

 

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On a sunny day, the Rosebush Giant is spectacularly located

 

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The bark of the Nick Cuff Giant. If you stare at it long enough you begin to see little faces everywhere, or maybe that’s just me.

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

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Matt and the Chittenden Giant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Hundal Giant, like the Chittenden, is well in excess of 300 years old

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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The Temple Fir, among the largest Douglas firs in the province of British Columbia

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

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

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The Temple Fir in morning fog

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

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The Tolkien Cedar in its resting place

 

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

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The Tolkien, in happier times

 

 

 

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

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

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

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The Hobbit Cedar

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

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Rich and the Hobbit Tree

 

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

 

 

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

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Hydraulic Creek

It’s important to remember that while these trees are currently protected, it wasn’t always so. A mere twenty years ago, after all, there was still logging in our watersheds, and only through dilligence and persistence was that practice stopped. You can find out about that history in the link below here. It’s rather a lengthy read, but a worthwhile analysis nevertheless….

http://www.bctwa.org/SEYMOURGATE.pdf

 

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Huge stump in nearby Mackenzie Creek drainage

 

 

 

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