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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
If you happen to be out for a nice summer bike ride in the Seymour Valley this year, keep an eye out for a marker at just past the 6km mark on the Seymour Valley Trailway. As you head north it will be on your left, on the uphill side. Just a minute or two off the road is the massive stump of an ancient Western Red Cedar, on what is called the See More Stumps Trail. There are a number of these behemoths in the valley, where once stood some of the most impressive forest stands that British Columbia had to offer. This particular stump nearly measures five meters in diameter, and if it stood today, would be more than eleven centuries old!
An excellent article by forest ecologist and tree hunter Ira Sutherland has more information on the Super Stumps of Seymour Valley and on the topic in general. There are two fine photos of the See More Stump as it looks from the outside. In the first photo he is seen measuring the stump with a friend. In another photo later in the piece, you’ll also see a photo of Ira standing atop this spectacular stump!
When I visited the stump, I then wanted to see if I could present it from a different point of view. This giant reminder of the past has now given life to the forest around it. A group of Western Hemlocks now gain sustenance from its remains and are well rooted into the stump they began life in. The stump also supports a community of lichens and mosses! What I did was to take the time to climb into the hollow of the tree and photograph the forest canopy above it from the inside. I think it provides a pretty unique perspective, don’t you? Once again, the resourcefulness of nature shines through. Nothing is wasted, and everything has a purpose!
***Thanks to Ralf Kelman, B.C’s best known tree hunter, for the information generously shared with me about the Seymour Valley back in 2004***
It was, of all things, a chance encounter. He had read several of my trip reports, posted on a hiking forum, on relatively obscure pursuits in the North Shore Mountains, and simply sent me a message. At first I was not even certain I’d answer, as I’m given to solo pursuits, but for whatever reason I did. That was in late May of 2004, and it likely marked a distinct change in the course of both of our lives. That was how I met Doug, who has become a regular partner in crime on so many of my most enjoyable trips, and one of my closest friends.
We had similar backgrounds, besides both being from North Vancouver, we had spent some of our youth in eastern Canada, myself in my hometown Montreal and Doug in Toronto (though he’d been born in Burnaby) and we were both trail runners and mountain bikers. His forte as a planner and navigator and my knack for reading terrain immediately blended well, and our ability to read off each other’s thoughts and make decisions together was well apparent from the start. Add to that sports, beer, and all things outdoors and we began with a lot in common!
A lot of people ask me, “So where did you two hosers actually meet?” The story of our first trip is, therefore, I thought worth sharing here. It begins on a typical North Shore spring day, with morning clouds obscuring the mountains, and the two of us biking up the Seymour Valley Trailway. Our destination, soon to be all too familiar, was the bridge at Hydraulic Creek.
I can recall having had very little sleep the night before – for a long time that was normal for me, as my wife and I raise a son with autism which, especially then, deprived us of sleep on a regular basis.
We had been hearing about a trail that led up from the bridge to connect with the Lynn Ridge Trail to the South Needle, an 1160m pinnacle just north of the end of the ridge, and were definitely intrigued.
Having biked the 6 kms to the bridge, we walked our bikes into the woods and found a place to lock them down. It was at this point I knew that Doug had no shortage of leg power, as he produced an enormous steel chain lock to secure our rides, weighing about least fifteen pounds! We then set off to explore the Hydraulic Creek Valley.
The enchanting nature of this forest became swiftly apparent. I had been told of the route by friend Ralf Kelman, who had first reconnoitred the area some years ago. Now, a route had been constructed by North Shore Hikers member Gabriel Mazoret up to the Lynn Ridge junction. Gabriel was and is something of a legend among trail builders; I’ve still not managed to get to know him very well. His work, it must be said, is admirable, as he has a real sense of taking the path of least erosion and resistance that is obvious as you hike the trail.
The trail wastes no time gaining elevation from its beginnings at about 240m. The forest on that morning was swirling with mist. You had the sense that it was not going to rain, but that you would certainly be getting wet.
There were quite a few trees that had escaped early twentieth century logging. As goes the story, a fire in 1936 halted logging in the valley, and afterward it was no longer viable to resume operations when it was over. One Douglas Fir we found was well over 8 feet in diameter, as pictured above here, tall, straight, and true. It was among the biggest Doug had seen before and he was duly impressed.
The sounds of nature were everywhere as we walked. An eagle screeched from high above, and woodpeckers could be heard hammering on the trees in search of food, while the sound of ravens echoed off the walls of the canyon. We shared a mutual appreciation of the relative silence and lost ourselves in the efforts of the hike.
Altogether, it took us just a couple of hours to reach the junction at 905m. Though the fog had descended heavily, we opted to continue on to the summit of the South Needle, in hopes the sun might show itself.
Here are some more images that I captured along the way, starting with a stand of sizeable Western Hemlock.
I believed this to be a marker for a mining claim, which at one time was not uncommon in the Seymour Valley.
Just before the junction we entered a forest of Silver Firs, which, though beautiful, served to give us quite a soaking. The creek itself can be heard but remains unseen as it is hidden by steep rock walls, or so I had been told. I have still yet to explore the canyon more closely.
This cedar had grown to over 6 feet in diameter, something rare at the 800m elevation in the North Shore Mountains.
As we climbed the remaining 250 m of elevation to the summit, the fog thickened noticeably, to the point where we had to be very alert to stay on track. Really though, it was just a matter of being persistent and just digging in, because soon we reached the alpine.You would never know this was a reasonably warm spring day, at least by the photograph below here!
While there were no views of distant peaks, the subalpine tundra with its stunted trees was still enjoyable to walk. The scrambling was not too complicated, but there were a few sections to be mindful of. Just to the right of this there is a severe and dangerous drop of at least 200 m.
It’s a very short walk from here to the rocky summit, where today there are no other signs of life, just heather coming into bloom.
There are two colours of heather that you find in the Coast Mountains, pink and white.
Things were quiet indeed, save for the sounds of the two of us discussing what the ridge beyond the South Needle might be like. We resolved to give that a try soon.
Here’s Doug calibrating his GPS, amid spectacular mountain views!
We lingered for some time and ate lunch, but soon we departed for the bikes as I had a deadline to keep. Unfortunately, on the way down, we both made a very uncharacteristic mistake and carried on uphill past the ridiculously well marked junction. We decided to continue on toward Lynn Peak via the Lynn Ridge Trail to complete the loop back to Rice Lake where we had begun. Unfortunately, that would mean we would have to go for a little run and ride the next day to retrieve our bikes, but heck, we were both game for the task. Next time, less talking, and more paying attention was the lesson learned, mea culpa.
As it turned out, we were glad to have hiked the Lynn Ridge Trail as the trail is a decent challenge.
It took us another hour and a half to reach the Lynn Peak Lookout, then we ran down the trail from there to make up some time. This was right in my wheelhouse, as at the time I was using the trail to train several times a week.The forest remained clouded in mist; here are a few more scenes from the Lynn Ridge Trail.
In another hour we were on the drive home, discussing things like how we lived only five minutes apart, and that each of us had two kids, so on and so forth. I ended up getting home an hour and a half late, auspiciously, something I rarely end up doing, but it had been an eventful day, and one I’ll always remember. The next day we ventured out again to retrieve our bikes, and the fog had yet to lift.
If you drop in here from time to time you’ll no doubt be reading about one or two of the many expeditions we’ve been on that followed this one. Here’s hoping you enjoy hearing about those treks as much as we enjoy our days in the mountains. I think I speak for Doug when I say “Crack a cold one and enjoy getting outside!” Cheers!
Travels and adventures past and present, from camping to hiking to searching for B.C.'s remaining old growth trees, and treks to the mountains