Tag Archives: LowerSeymourConservationReserve

Tolkien, the Story of a Tree

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tall firs like these may become future giants!

 

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

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Me, with the Paul George Giant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rich and the Temple Giant

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

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Looking skyward into the fog

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

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

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

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

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Matt photographs the Tolkien Giant, 2006

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

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

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

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

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The Hobbit Tree

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

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Rich and the Hobbit Tree

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

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Hydraulic Creek

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

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

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

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

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North Shore Boys Storm the South Needle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Locked up and ready to go!

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

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Hydraulic Creek

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

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

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Four centuries of amazing Douglas Fir!
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Greenery abounds!

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

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

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

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

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

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Claim boundary marker?

 

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

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

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

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Uncommonly large western red cedar at 800m in elevation

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

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Dark and foreboding

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

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

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Ghostly summit awaits

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

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

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

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

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

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Lynn Ridge Trail giants

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

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

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Forest fog
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Remnants of winter snows

 

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Splendour

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

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

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Doug
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Mick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Search of the Eagles Nest Grove

It was May of 2004, and I found myself biking up the Eastside Road in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, a favourite destination of mine. At one time, not so long ago, this valley was home to magnificent stands of old growth forest. Now, though much has been lost, the area’s timber is  protected for future generations to enjoy. That day, I was in search of the Eagles Nest Grove.

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Mayers Creek plunging down its canyon from the Needles above

A cool spring morning warmed gradually, with morning mist occasionally drifting in. There was much to lose myself in as I climbed the steep incline near the 8 km mark. The grove, according to an old Western Canada Wilderness Committee map, was roughly three more kilometres away. Discovered by noted tree hunter Ralf Kelman, the Eagles Nest Grove was named for the sizeable nest atop one of the larger Douglas firs.

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One of the many creeks that cross Eastside Road

On my way to the grove, I decided to pay a visit to Rolf Lake, now called Lost Lake. The lake is nestled at the bottom of the Rolf Creek Valley, which has its headwaters high above in the snowfields of the Seymour-Runner Col. If you’re lucky, you’ll see Pacific Newts basking on the shore there, and sometimes a deer or a black bear.

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The shores of Lost Lake are littered with old logging detritus which as it turns out is quite helpful to the local newt population
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Water Lily between logs, shore of Lost (aka Rolf) Lake
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You never know where you’ll find an outhouse

After a brief sojourn rambling about the lakeshore, I stopped for lunch and then continued up the Seymour Valley. Once I reached the 11 km mark, the familiar screech of young eagles broke the early morning silence. I stashed my bike quickly among the trees, and made off in search of the sounds. In no time at all, I’d found the grove without the use of the map I’d brought, instead, nature had guided me there. The grove was relatively small, but I was glad it had survived the saws of nearby logging. Many of the trees were between 300 and 700 years old, and the understory was alive with tremendous biodiversity. Nearby, Douglas Squirrels chattered their warnings and  a Downy Woodpecker busied herself foraging for insects. It’s a treasured place that sees few if any visits, and it’s the kind of refuge that is at the very root of my love for nature. “Well worth the 38 km bike ride,” I thought. In that moment, it donned on me that it was my birthday. I could not have imagined a better present for the occasion. Here then, is more of what I saw…

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Eagles Nest Grove’s quiet beauty
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Bearberry growing on the forest floor
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Enjoying the presence of this fallen giant cedar, now a nurse log
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There is nothing quite like looking into the canopy of an ancient forest giant
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Impossible to see, but easy to hear its inhabitants, the eagle’s nest is definitely up there…
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There is something magical about the texture and appearance of Douglas Fir bark. This tree was over 400 years old.
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Ferns and other greenery
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One of those golden moments BC forests give you sometimes

A world of thanks here to the WCWC, Chris Player, Will Koop, Paul George, and especially Ralf Kelman, for their work on the map that helped me to rediscover this time forgotten place.

UPDATE: I paid another visit to this Seymour Valley grove in the spring of 2017, about 13 years later. It remains largely intact, with some changes, and I made some new discoveries too. Look for that in an upcoming story!