In a cool, quiet, forest glade in the North Shore Mountains sits a most venerable tree. Surrounded by a healthy stand of Pacific Silver Fir, this Western Red Cedar makes a daunting first impression. As you approach it from the south, the first thing you notice is the gaping wedge that has been cut from the trunk that almost resembles a mouth, of sorts. The many burls and aged trunk bely its centuries of growth, and its top thrives brilliantly, likely well into a seventh century of growth. Countless folk cruise within 40 metres of it it unwittingly every day without noticing it, on their way to Norvan Falls and points beyond. I call this tree The Survivor, and its narrative is well worth sharing.
Travel back in time, if you will, to the 1920s and 1930s, in what is today Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. The east side of Lynn Creek was being heavily logged by the Cedar Mills Company. In the end, when the harvest was done, they left precious few old growth cedars behind, and decades later a strong second growth forest is slowly recovering from the onslaught. The cutting ended in the early 1940s, I have been told, and then the area was designated as drinking water supply and made off limits to the public until the 1980s, when the park was opened.
The Survivor, too, was expected to perish, like so many giants before it, but fate would decide otherwise. According to legend, its life would be spared, and here follows how that was supposed to have occurred many years ago. At work on The Survivor back in the day was a group of fallers, the same gentlemen who had cut the substantial wedge on one side of the tree that I mentioned previously, in the direction it was to be dropped. That being accomplished, they set to work on the other side of the tree with a crosscut saw, and began slicing a deep groove into the trunk. This was a long and laborious process, given the tools of the day, and would have taken quite some time, I’m sure, to complete.
In the meantime, another group of loggers was hard at work on a closely neighbouring cedar. As goes the tale, they were much closer to falling this second tree than they initially thought, as it fell suddenly and errantly toward The Survivor and its team of loggers. Before it crashed to the forest floor, sadly, it is reputed to have taken the lives of two of those men.
The loggers, for whatever reason, be it grief, be it superstition, or some other reason, decided that The Survivor would not be taken. They also decided not to harvest the wood of that neighbouring giant that fell, causing the accident. Today, The Survivor remains, standing tall and reaching high into the canopy above, while the bulk of its neighbour lies forlornly beside it. On my brief sojourns to this place, my mind often wanders to thoughts about the men who made their livelihood here. They were modest and hard working, and I have learned that most who toiled this part of Lynn Valley were also of Japanese descent. I ponder what an impact that day must have had on their families. There is a haunting sense of loss juxtaposed with that of great triumph when you visit this place: Good men lost, a fine tree saved.
It was, I believe, on April Fool’s Day, 2005, of all days, that I first saw this tree. Jim, Rich, Jim’s dog Midnite, and my dog Amigo were my companions that day. We hiked up to Norvan Falls on what turned out to be a rather cold and inhospitable day, complete with snow, sleet, and some freezing rain thrown in just for good measure.
On the way up, just past the 4.5 km mark on the Headwaters Trail, we had stopped to look at a collection of artifacts that sat on a trailside log, as seen below here.
Minutes later, Rich spied a big tree just downslope off the trail that looked most unusual, and naturally, we went down to investigate. It was then that we found The Survivor, though for us the diatribe of its history was to follow later. That came courtesy of good friend Rick, who had chanced to meet some archaeologists from Capilano College some years before who had told him of the tragedy of this tree.
We speculated, at the time, exactly what to call this tree. Rich saw it as happy to be alive, and thought it should be called “Smiley”. Others on the Clubtread hiking site speculated that it was reminiscent of an Easter Island statue, or retro cartoon character Snidely Whiplash. I have always called it The Survivor. What do you think?
Whatever name you choose, it’s certainly a sight you will always remember.
After stopping for lunch we hit the trail once again and hiked up to see Norvan Falls. It’s a place I have trekked to dozens of times over the years but in winter it can be especially interesting!
That trip some 13 years doesn’t seem all that long ago, and I have revisited the tree more than a few times since then. It’s like dropping in on an old friend who doesn’t get around much, but then it’s a tree, so… here are a few more photos I took this week.
What I know for certain is that today a prodigious example of nature’s tenacity lives on in this cedar. I am struck not only with its ability to heal, but also with its capability to endure, in ways practically unimaginable. That The Survivor lives is a reminder of the fact that there are forces driving this planet and its many ecosystems, many of which continue to flourish despite human effort to their detriment. You know, some tout that old expression “I’d rather be good than lucky”, while others say “I’d rather be lucky than good”? This tree, all would agree, has been as good as it’s been lucky, and I hope that luck never runs out.
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? Well, yes, but read on and find out how!
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!
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.
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.
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 way over 400 years in age.
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.
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?
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 yet relatively young in appearance judging by its trunk wear. Because of where it was growing it was difficult to say exactly what its diameter was 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 someday be among the largest. Here are a few looks at this grand old specimen!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
In these days of public outcry over the destruction of British Columbia’s remaining old growth trees, it is no small twist of irony that one of the last bastions of remaining giants is relatively close to the metropolis of Vancouver. Tucked away in what is still a remote corner of the North Shore Mountains is the Kennedy Creek Valley. It lies within the boundaries of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park on the less travelled west side of Lynn Creek, with its headwaters at seldom visited Kennedy Lake.
It was only through subtle hints in Randy Stoltmann’s Hiking Guide to the Big Trees of Southwestern B.C. that my curiosity regarding the area was first piqued. On page 74, he stated “When this valley was logged before the turn of the century, hollow or broken topped trees were often left, and the steep valley sides were only partially cut over. In these areas, massive cedars up to sixteen feet (five metres) in diameter and 200 feet, 61 metres in height still live on into their second millennium.” Well, that was more than enough to get my undivided attention, so I soon decided I had to see what was there!
But first, maybe a little history is in order. It was near the turn of the twentieth century that the west side of Lynn Creek was harvested by Julius Fromme’s logging crews. They managed to forge their way as far as Kennedy Creek, but, perhaps because of the market conditions of the day, or just plain good fortune, the forest stretching north between Kennedy and Wickenden Creeks was not completely razed. As a result, much of the original forest between 400 metres and 700 metres in elevation remains intact to this day!
There is no easy access to its steep, rugged slopes. You must either hike in to Kennedy Falls on the rough track of the Cedar Trail, or ford Lynn Creek near the Third Debris Chute on the Cedar Mills Trail, that is, if it’s safe to do so. However you get there, you must be fit and well prepared for the experience, as it’s a strong test of all of your wilderness skills. I began by hiking the Westside or Cedar Trail to see the two monstrous Western redcedars that Randy had described in the aforementioned book, but beyond that, there was little more knowledge on which to base further exploration.
On several of my earlier excursions I also visited the beautiful Kennedy Falls, which lies at about 400 metres in elevation. For the ideal photo opportunity, it is best visited after heavy rains, though of course that can make getting around more difficult. While the falls are not exceptionally tall, the cascade and surrounding sections of Kennedy Creek always make the destination worthwhile. Seeing those spectacular trees on the Cedar Trail certainly whetted my appetite for more exploration, but I needed more information so that I’d know exactly where to look.
When I spoke to park employees they had little to say, really, but at the park’s Mill House there were photos of some of the park’s giant trees. In time, I discovered, the park officials are not that enthused about encouraging hiking on the west side of Lynn Creek, perhaps due to the inherent hazards. In many of those photos the face of one person seemed to show up frequently. That person turned out to be Ralf Kelman, a Vancouver artist, who is the son of a Seymour Valley logger. Ralf had grown up in the forests of Vancouver’s North Shore. He was, and still is, this province’s master treehunter, and over the years had been integral in finding numerous champion trees. I managed to contact him, and over a cup of coffee, he was kind enough to share a wealth of knowledge with me. Better still, he said, the valley had not been completely searched, though he cautioned that ground was far from easy to cover.
Finally, in 2006, Chris and I began our day by fording an icy cold Lynn Creek on a cloudy day in September. After that crossing , we hiked up the valley toward the falls, and then worked our way up the slopes on the north bank of Kennedy Creek. It didn’t take long before we made our first find, a grove of cedars all at least eight feet in diameter and all well over four hundred years old.
From there, we decided, we’d just continue upward until the stand petered out, then traverse north in the direction of Wickenden Creek. A natural bench presented an ideal opportunity for travel, if not necessarily an easy one. Fallen trees made it necessary to climb up, over , and around countless obstructions. The finds were frequent, with more cedars up to fourteen feet in diameter and several that were truly ancient. It was hard to believe, but we had basically hit the motherlode, as far as treehunting goes! Forests such as these, once ever present in southwestern British Columbia, are basically a thing of the past. I can still recall how elated we were to be there!
Soon we were upon the south banks of an unnamed creek in the drainage at about 550 metres in elevation. Once we crossed this creek we were in the midst of another grove, this one equally spectacular. By this time, we had seen so many big trees that we were taking the nine foot cedars for granted!
Since time was running short at that point, we stopped for lunch underneath a thirteen foot cedar which may have been the oldest tree we we found that day. I believed it to be roughly 700 years old.
We then opted to try heading uphill again to see what we could find. Our route was determined by the finds – sight big tree, hike to said tree, then on to the next one.
We had ended up, by now, at an elevation of 650 metres, and were just below an expansive boulder field below the end of Goat Ridge.
It was here that we made another grand discovery, a huge cedar spanning over fifteen feet in width, and well over 600 years old. Despite its seemingly unguarded position and exposure to winter avalanches, it had thrived well and its hollowed lower trunk looked to have been used as a winter den of sorts.
Soon time became short and we had to begin the trek home. There were some interesting finds on the way back too.
For both of us, this trip was tremendously rewarding in that we were making discoveries that few had made before us. As we hiked out of the valley toward Lynn Creek again, we both knew we’d be returning, and that’s why this story is only part one of a lengthy tale. Each time I revisit, it’s an exhilarating experience, for who can refuse a trip back in time without leaving your own era?
Last Saturday, Doug, Alex, and I set out to search for some of the hidden mines in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park.
While not strictly a secret, it’s not commonly known that during the period of 1900- 1940, a number of claims were prospected in the Lynn, Norvan, and Hanes Creek drainages. From what I have read, it was mostly iron, copper, and zinc that were discovered, but no doubt more precious metals like silver and especially gold were the real objectives.
Doug had obtained a map from fellow North Shore Rescue companion Wally, who had visited the area some years ago with local mountaineering legend Howie Rode. Our plan was to hike the Headwaters Trail to the bridge at the 5 km mark, check out the camp near that location, and then climb up the creek draw east of the bridge in search of whatever we could find.
The first part of our trek was easy enough, a five kilometre hike on mostly flat ground. The trail was alive with dozens of runners on their way up to Norvan Falls, a popular weekend destination. Most of them would have little clue that the trail they were running on was once a thriving lifeline for both logging and mining operations. Today, Lynn Headwaters, a former watershed until 1981, is one of the jewels of Greater Vancouver’s wilderness parks.
The ore cart you see above is one of easiest artifacts to locate in the area. I stumbled upon it years ago while hunting old growth trees in the area long before I even knew about mining in Lynn Valley. It is only about ten metres off the trail at around the 4.7 km mark. All that remains are the axles and some attached hardware, as the decks have long since returned to the earth, so to speak. There is a nearby pile of ore tailings and supposedly a mine adit too but we were unable to find the actual minesite.
Within sight of the ore cart is another guilty pleasure of mine; one of the most unusual trees in the entire park! It’s a tree with a legend, too, as the story goes a group of loggers were in the process of falling it and another nearby tree, when an accident occurred that took the lives of two men. It was decided that they would leave the tree to stand, with all its cuts, and it still survives today. It’s well over 500 years old now, and truly defies adversity. I like to call it The Survivor.
Sometimes when I look at it I can’t believe it hasn’t toppled just yet, and I hope that day never comes!
There was a time when Western Redcedars between twelve and sixteen feet in diameter and up to a thousand years old were commonplace here. When the Cedar Mills Logging Company plied its trade here, the fallers were very thorough. I have hunted almost all of the park’s drainages on the east side of Lynn Creek and found very few ancient trees.
Now, back to our quest for the mines! We crossed the bridge upstream and began climbing up the south bank. The terrain was typical of the area; we needed to gain but a couple hundred metres but the grades were unforgivingly steep. You also had to be careful not to cliff yourself out, trap yourself in a sharp ravine, or get stuck climbing over deadfall. All good clean fun of course.
Not far up from the trail we found quite a few relics, like this shovel head, piping, and old gas can. The men who worked these slopes were tough and dedicated. Packing cast iron up mountains like this was no easy trick.
The hook we found, here at left, was I think used for logging purposes as you can see some wire rope cable is buried beside it. I thought it would make an amazing movie prop for a Halloween movie of some kind. What do you think?
Next we traversed north toward the next creek drainage at about the 500 metre level in search of a possible camp.Some coal burn remains were found as well as a number of cast iron rails and stove parts. Again, the act of lugging all those parts uphill and assembling them must have been an onerous task indeed!
There were also cast iron pipes found here, and some apothecary bottles. Alex, also a North Shore Rescue volunteer as Doug is, regaled me with tales of his youth in England that included digging for artifacts under cover of darkness. Hunting for hidden history had long been an avid interest of his. Europe, of course, offers centuries more to discover than our reasonably short recorded heritage here in North Vancouver.
Doug’s thought was to cross the next creek canyon because the map indicated several finds on the adjacent cliffs. This involved fighting our way up another steep spine and making a careful crossing over slick rock. We were all glad that there had been very little recent rainfall.
Less than five minutes away, we knew we were on to something when we saw this sign. While the guys approached from above, I climbed up from below, and saw what I thought was either a work platform or a cabin base.
The platform had long been covered by trees and dirt but there was a mound of tailings beside it. From above, Doug and Alex announced with excitement that they had found a mine!
Alex was the first to have a closer look. he discovered that there was a shaft opening beneath the floorboards that went down quite a way. This was not a place to trifle with, as by dropping a rock inside we guessed that it was water filled and well over ten feet deep!
The ground above the mine was extremely steep. We wondered aloud exactly why this spot had been chosen, of all places. It must have been those dreams of untold riches that drive men to prospect. It was something well beyond the modest possibilities found here, we were certain.
The timbers were in amazing condition, considering how long they had been abandoned, and you could see that they had been notched, perhaps to accomodate some kind of pulley system and or a winch to bring the ore up. Deep in the mine opening, on the right, there was even a partly finished scupture of a face.
It was, at the end of the day, some time very well spent. It was soon that we departed, recrossed the creek, and tried to work our way south to the creek canyon we’d started in. We gave up that venture when we realized we would not have the time to explore any more. So we plunged downhill, reaching the trail and its hordes of humanity in just minutes, hiking homeward on a perfect spring afternoon.
As you examine the peaks of the North Shore Mountains from the north shore of Burrard Inlet, the highest mountain visible is one that very few actually know the name of. That mountain, and its broad, accompanying ridge, is called Mt. Burwell.
Once named White Mountain, by a member of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club who was in the first ascent party, it was renamed in 1927, as follows:
“Named by Greater Vancouver Water Board, after Herbert Mahlon Burwell (1863 – 1925). Born and educated in London, Ontario, where he received a commission as a Dominion Land Surveyor and an Ontario Land Surveyor . Arrived in Vancouver in the fall of 1887, and in the spring of 1888 joined the firm of Gardener & Hermon, which had been established in late 1886. In the spring of 1906 Mr. Burwell’s firm were employed by the City of Vancouver to take charge of their water supply. Mr. Burwell had personal charge of the new joint main on Capilano Creek, from the intake to the first narrows (sic), and built the intake and settling basins. In 1913 Mr. Burwell retired from the firm of Hermon & Burwell, but continued to practise as a consulting engineer until his death 30 July 1925, age 62. A great lover of the outdoors, Mr. Burwell wrote many articles about fishing on the streams and lakes of BC; he was an authority on that branch of sport.”
For years I had long wanted to wander this inviting granite playground at the furthest reaches of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. Thus it was that in early August of 2005 that Doug and I found ourselves stalking past the Lynn Headwaters gatehouse at the inhospitable time of 430 am and crossing over Lynn Creek. Hiking as briskly as that early hour allowed, we made swift work of the first seven kilometres, then turned uphill onto the Coliseum Mountain Trail. The plan was to ascend Coliseum and explore the ridge of Burwell to its end, then to return via the same route.
The trail, up to that point, had gained just 220 metres in elevation over seven kilometres, but was soon destined to change markedly, as over the next 5 kms we would be rising over 1100 metres more. It was time to wake up in earnest, as the sounds of Norvan Creek murmured in the background.
At about 650 m, we could begin to see the forest change from second growth cedar and hemlock to a rare grove of high altitude Western Hemlock. This tree, at lower climes, has a much shortened lifespan and therefore limited size, but in the ideal conditions at higher altitudes it can grow much larger. In the 1990s avid tree enthusiast Randy Stoltmann had stumbled upon a record hemlock here, and we hoped to pay it a visit ourselves. Fortunately, it was not too difficult to find, not far from Norvan Pools. We marvelled at the tree, called Norvan’s Castle, which is over nine feet in diameter and hundreds of years old!
Leaving the hemlock grove we climbed upward and across a rocky gully toward Norvan Meadows.
Norvan Meadows are somewhat deceptively named; they are not meadows in the true sense but rather an area razed clean by a considerable avalanche in 1998 that tore out a large section of forest. It was followed by a massive flood that took out the old Norvan Creek Bridge far below. Nature’s power can be devastating at times! The results though, are picturesque, if you ask me.
The track into the subalpine region continued, as we neared the turnoff for Norvan Pass, a familiar stop for us.
Some of the Mountain Hemlocks near the pass were definitely in the ancient category, perhaps as old as 400 years. The sun, too, had now burst into prominence and was doing its best to slow us down on that ideal summer morning.
Nevertheless, we kept up our pace, bolstered by a snack or two, in hopes we could attain the ridge as early as possible.
The sight of The Needles up close and personal brought us plenty of laughter as we recalled our scuffle of the year before. In real comparison, our hike today, though lengthier, would be nowhere near as trying.
Above the pass the terrain opened up considerably, giving way to great blocks of granite and far less vegetation as we approached Coliseum Mountain.
Our alpine start had certainly paid dividends, and meant we would see the summit of Coliseum Mountain at just 930 am!
Awaiting us was a sweeping field of etched granite slabs which dropped sharply into Coliseum Creek, well hidden below. This is the “snowfield” in the first photo I posted in this story, and it’s visible from many places in Greater Vancouver.
As a destination on its own, Coliseum is well worth the walk, with stellar views all around. To the east there are the peaks of the Fannin Range, Meslilloet, and the Five Fingers Group. You can also catch glimpses of the mountains of Garibaldi Provincial Park and Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park. To the west and south are the North Shore Mountains and even distant views of Mt. Baker sometimes. A northwest glance has you looking toward the Britannia Range, where Mt Brunswick holds court, at 1786 m in elevation. The northern vista is of course, dominated by Cathedral Mountain with Sky Pilot Mountain hovering over its shoulder. Here are some of my favourite images from on and around the summit of Coliseum Mountain.
Soon enough, though, we decided to press on, as there was a lot of ground yet to be covered. Next up, the summit of Mt Burwell, only another 100 m or so higher but we would need to do some meandering to get there.
We opted to try descending a bit off the east side and contouring up some beautiful blocks that would yield the next plateau. The rock here ranks among the best anywhere for scrambling, in my opinion. Routes are numerous, and you can make things as simple or as complicated as you like, really.
This was certainly the highlight of the day. I think I would have appreciated bringing overnight gear there so we could spend more time rock climbing but camping is not actually permitted there.
You actually did have to concentrate on the ascent, though, if only because of the distracting scenery. I really have come to love my home on the North Shore and these mountains are among the main reasons for that.
The rock formation at right here was almost parabolic, much like a skateboard bowl or half pipe for snowboarding. There was a great variety of shapes and sizes in the differerent outcroppings.
This tarn was particularly appealing too, with its view of Cathedral and a distant Mamquam Mountain.
The trip from Coliseum to Burwell’s summit took only half an hour, yet seemed longer, somehow. Once on the ridge, you have unobstructed views into the watershed of Capilano River and the sheer south face of Cathedral Mountain, with its rows of steep, vertical couloirs and cliffs. Were it not for my strong desire to leave places such as these unchanged as possible, I could envision building a cabin there and sequestering myself from the world.
Since we were hoping to get as far along the ridge as we could, we soon departed for the west summit of Burwell. At the same time, I was searching for a source of water because I knew I’d run out before we made it back to the valley below.
To get to the west summit it was necessary to descend slightly to the north before scrambling back up to the ridge again. That diversion chanced to reveal a mossy creek where I was able to stock up with the refreshments I needed.
The photo below features a fascinating rock formation that really intrigued us at the time. My friend Drew, who is an accomplished geologist, was able to explain what this actually was, as per his thorough explanation below…
“That’s an aplite dyke in granite. Aplite is a mix of feldspars. When granite solidifies, the feldspar stays liquid the longest. The quartz, mica, etc crystallize out, and solidify, and the solid granite has a smaller volume than the liquid granite, so the solid part cracks. Then the liquid aplite runs in and fills the cracks and cools and solidifies last. The aplite, because it cools last, solidifies fairly rapidly and so has small crystals, and is most resistant to weathering as a result so the aplite dykes tend to stick out of the granite like in your photo.”
The western summit summit of Burwell, at 1499m, had long been a fixation of Doug’s, as he could see it from his driveway at home. Naturally he was pleased to finally stand atop it, but no, he was not able to see his house from there!
Some time was spent lingering here, but not a great deal, as we knew the trip back was going to be a long one. In a perfect world, it might have been ideal to complete the traverse and exit via the Lynn lake Trail but there wasn’t adequate time for that. We settled, instead, for exploring a bit more of the ridge.
What goes up must come down, to borrow a saying, and the hike back followed a nearly identical track, with some very familiar views. We were now in the heat of the day, and I recall our pace slowing somewhat as we trudged along the ridge.
I confess sometimes to being no fan of downclimbing. I always savour the satisfaction of reaching a summit but occasionally I’d settle for a helicopter ride to get home. This was just such a day, but it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and plenty of cold beer was waiting at home.
I can recall the absolute quietude of the afternoon; the silence was broken only by the calls of ravens and once the distant whine of a small plane’s engine.
From the open land of the alpine we decended into subalpine forest as the Norvan Creek Valley welcomed our return, the trees providing some much needed shade.
In deference to the not so subtle marker on the tree above, getting home took us somehow longer than it had taken to make the climb, despite the fact that it was mostly downhill.
On the walk back from Norvan Falls, we encountered an eclectic folk singer on the trail, complete with guitar, then this still unidentified action figure at the signup board you see in the photo below. You never who or what you will meet on a hike these days!
Tired legs marked the end of our marathon trek, some 33 kms and 2000 m of elevation gain. It will be a decade this summer since this story unfolded, and it’s incredible how the time has flown by since then.
*** I’d like to dedicate this tale to the late Ben Mostardi, an athletic young man (of special needs) who met with a fatal accident in the Norvan Creek drainage in 2005. He had been on his way to a meeting with his running group but somehow took a wrong turn. He was 33…***
There are times when I write about a trip in the mountains that I struggle to find the right words to tell the tale, and then there are the stories that almost write themselves, and this one is definitely the latter. It all began innocently enough, with an email from Doug. He had studied his maps and come up with the idea to traverse The Needles, an obscure group of wooded summits north of Lynn Ridge and deep in the heart of the North Shore Mountains. They were steep, largely unknown to most, and shrouded in mystery. They still are. A look at the maps over an Okanagan Spring Ale or two at Doug’s place was enough to hook me on his idea. In retrospect, I now know I can be talked into just about anything by cold beer, as if there had ever been any doubt about that.
Such a peregrination cannot be undertaken without superb planning, and Doug prepared thoroughly by studying the route in detail. The plan was to begin by biking to Hydraulic Creek, and after stashing our bikes there, to run up the valley to the Paton’s Lookout Trail. This is a trail that leads to Coliseum Mountain from the Seymour Valley. We’d follow it to the Needle/Coliseum Col, and then head down the Lynn Headwaters Coliseum Trail to Norvan Pass, where the bushwhacking would begin. We would then complete the traverse and exit via the Hydraulic Creek Trail to our bikes and the ride home. Sounds simple, right? Here it is on a map…
Fast forward to Saturday, July 16, 2004, a day I’ll always remember, in part because it was also my mother’s 71st birthday. The time was 430 am, and I was biking up to Doug’s house where we would rack our bikes and drive up to our ride’s starting point near Rice Lake. I despise harsh exercise before sunrise even though I enjoy rising early. This day was no exception, but on the drive up I began to catch a little more enthusiasm.
The sun was nearly emerging as we finished the first leg of the journey at Hydraulic Creek, where we locked up our bikes and set aside cold Gatorade for our return. After sorting through our gear, it was time to run about 3 1/2 kms to the Paton Trailhead, where the hiking would begin in earnest. At this point, I recall feeling very fresh, as the heat of the summer day had not reached us yet, which was good because temperatures were expected to rise to well over 30 degrees Celsius.
We had a pleasant feeling about our expedition because we had just spotted a young barred owl in the trees near the bridge. “Surely this meant things were going to go well?” I had thought.
We trekked steadily upward after our run toward Paton’s Lookout, a flat topped plateau at an elevation of roughly 1100 m. The trail was in excellent and we were packing light and fast. Time was of the essence, as we hoped to be back before 430pm that afternoon, but we were prepared to bivouac if needed. The forest in Paton Creek is an excursion worthy of its own merits, as there are large stands of untouched timber there and it’s not unusual to see a black bear or two.
At an elevation of around 800 metres you pass a huge Douglas Fir and a section of trail that overlooks some beautiful granite cliffs. As I was getting hungry, we stopped briefly here for some snacks, then began climbing again.
The Paton Creek Cliffs can be seen from well below in the Seymour Valley; I’ve used them before as a navigational feature, of sorts. As far as I know, they aren’t a popular climbing objective but they do look rather interesting.
After another half an hour we had topped out on Paton’s Lookout, and now we had to lose about a hundred metres of elevation, then regain that and more to attain the col below Coliseum Mountain. Here are some scenes from the lookout, an ideal camping spot, however, I believe camping is not actually permitted there.
It was clearly evident the mercury was rising as we worked our way toward the boulder field that gave entrance to the col. I began to wonder if we had brought enough water, as there was still a lot of ground to cover, but for now at least, we were going strongly. We could now see far into the Seymour Watershed, an area off limits to hikers.
You can see the haze beginning to build in the distance here as it often does in the mountains on hot summer days.
Had we known that tarn above was the last water source we’d see for some time, we might have chanced to fill up there despite the risk of giardia, but we chose instead to pace ourselves and conserve our supplies. Another hour passed as we hiked up the boulder field and completed the second link of our journey. We had made the col!
We were surrounded by fields of blooming heather as we hiked toward the pass. The air was calm and still, and the silence was only broken by the occasional buzz of the brilliant blue dragonflies that seemed to be everywhere in the meadows.
Now the task shifted to taking the trail down to Norvan Pass, where a brushy bench would lead us to the foot of the sub peak of the North Needle. This at least went by swiftly, and it wasn’t long before we were confronted with the real challenge of our excursion.
Of all things, this switch plate ushered the way to Norvan Pass, and we followed. The next ten minutes were the only ones we walked on relatively flat ground. The views were very enjoyable here, and we felt the privilege that only relative solitude affords; this was a rarely visited place.
Shortly, our objective came into focus. For a minute or two we studied the climb from a distance, questioning both the possibilities and the probabilities. Well, that, and our relative sanity, of course.
The way I remember it was that ascending from the left was not a tremendous idea due to pronounced gullies and cliffs, and the approach off the right side looked equally inadvisable. I’m not sure which of us coined the phrase but the mantra for the day became “Straight up the gut, not left, and not right.” That proved to be true, all afternoon long!
Well now, there we were at the base of the North Needle, and it was now time to get serious. This has always been the kind of terrain that I like to challenge, and so I more or less dove into the forest. Luckily, we also discovered the route was marked with a series of orange tapes, which we added to at several key points. You know that piece of gear you forget to plan to bring on every other expedition? Well on this trip it was gaiters, and as a result our shins took a constant thrashing from all of the stunted trees, copper bush , and heather that choked our path. Live and learn!
All of the lush greenery you see here is about eye high and just thick enough that you can hardly see in front of you. With practice, though, it gets better. We got plenty of practice.
We just trusted the line we had chosen, heading straight up the middle, over this, under that, around this, through that. By now it was about noon, and we were getting well roasted, as the temperature hit the high thirties in degrees Celsius. Understandably, our pace slowed somewhat, but we kept busy with idle chatting and the occasional profanity laced tirade. Having scrapped our way up the North Needle’s subpeak, we followed a short shelf to the next vertical section and continued the thrash.
The orange flagging on the route at least gave us some sort of psychological edge, but did not diminish the fact that we knew we were strictly on our own here. Rescue was a long, long, way away.
Ironically, rescue was among our topics of conversation, as Doug had just signed up with North Shore Search and Rescue at the time. I would have loved to have joined myself, but my life at home raising a son with autism had to take priority then as it does now. Doug has gone on to become an integral member of the rescue team since then and we often work together trying to map trails and/or get photos of remote locations for possible rescue missions.
Better yet though, we now stood atop the North Needle, where congratulations were in order and more curse words shared profusely. This summit was a mere 1260 metres high, but to this day neither of us has worked harder on a mountain, before or since!
The views were well worth the effort!
In the photo below, the unnamed peak on the Hanes-Wickenden Divide at left here in the foreground is a long time curiosity of mine which I am still hoping to scale someday. It used to be called Forks Peak. Crown Mountain lurks behind kind of menacingly, though maybe I thought so because I had just run out of water! We did not linger long, soon dropping into the saddle in pursuit of the Middle Needle.
Treed and dense, the path from the North Needle became no easier, and the flagging tape became harder to spot. The same basic technique applied, keeping to the middle to avoid the cliffs we knew were there, though impossible to see. The time began to blur somewhat, as the sun beat down on us persistently. I’m not sure how long it took, but soon the Middle Needle, at 1258 metres, was ours!
We were elated to be walking about on these rugged little peaks so rarely seen by people yet so close to home, relatively speaking. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a sense of utter accomplishment, as this was a hike that changed us in ways we may not have understood at the time.
The next link in the chain was a sharp drop of 150 metres followed by scrambling up the north side of the South Needle, which we had stood upon just weeks before. All I could think about was all the food, water, and Gatorade waiting with our bikes, so down we plunged.
As I was leading the way off the Middle Needle in more dense foliage, suddenly I felt something hit my shoe and flash past, so I picked it up, actually, more like stretched out to catch it in midair. Turned out it was a lens from a pair of sunglasses, strangely. What’s more, it turned out to be Doug’s, and at the time he was some sixty feet above me! Talk about lucky.
The fight continued, with us making reasonably short work of the ascent of the South Needle. Now we were within reach of a well marked trail, and chock full of optimism. The forest would help us chill a little, too, we hoped.
I later realized the cliffs in this photo above were those north of the head of Mayers Creek near Jack’s Burn. You can see Lost Lake in the background as well.
Seen here above, Doug celebrates the culmination of his fine but evil plan at the summit of South Needle, 1160 metres in elevation. The hardest work has been done, and we’ll now descend the Lynn Ridge Trail to the Hydraulic Creek Trail. Thirsty and tired, soon we were on our way, but not till Doug shook hands with the mythical wooden creature!
The ancient forest welcomed us with much needed shade. It was tempting just to take a nap under one of the big cedars but we pressed on, cold drinks now being closer to reality.
At roughly 800 metres in elevation on the Hydraulic Trail, trail builder Gabriel Mazoret affixed this plaque. It reads, from a poem by Christina Rosetti (1830-1894) :
“Does the road wind uphill all the way? Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? From morn till night, my friend. ”
I could not have imagined better prose to sum up our day.
It was exhilarating to refuel ourselves when we reached the bikes! What a sight we had become as we burst, scratched and soiled, from the woods carrying our bikes, to the audience of many casual afternoon riders. We were bloodied, bruised, scraped… and about as happy as can be. Almost eleven hours later, we were bound for home, already talking about another adventure!
Statistically, there was 5576′ of climbing, 5428′ of descending, and 32.5 kms of biking, running and hiking, all told, and all of it very memorable. A long and rewarding day in the mountains. The owl, it seemed, had been a good omen indeed.
Travels and adventures past and present, from camping to hiking to searching for B.C.'s remaining old growth trees, and other thoughts on life