Tag Archives: mountains

The Trouble With Joffre, Part One

You’ve no doubt heard the story by now. It’s one of overcrowding, lack of planning, and the abysmal management of a natural treasure. With all of the current controversy regarding Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, sometimes it’s hard to remember that it ‘s also one of the most idyllic places in all of southwestern British Columbia. This park, located at the summit of Cayoosh Pass, is just north of  Pemberton on Highway 99. The turquoise lakes, glaciers, and towering peaks make it popular year round, but the summers are when it’s busy beyond description.

Screen Shot 2019-11-08 at 9.31.16 PM

So exactly what happened to cause all the issues? Well, with the advent of social media, the expansion of the Sea to Sky Highway, and the excessive promotion of tourism, came a huge influx of visitors. When you combine that with the destruction of the old trail in favour of a wider gravel path, and a zero dollar increase in parks management funding over the last fifteen years, what you have is a recipe for disaster. Long before the ridiculous and sometimes unruly crowds, however, Joffre Lakes was a markedly different place to visit. Even if you turn back the clock a mere dozen years, the park was a far more pleasant experience, though even then there were clear signs of change. Well, if you’ve been of the mind that a place this overrun just isn’t worth seeing, then continue reading and I’ll try to illustrate why you might want to rethink that resolve!

It was in July of 2008 when I finally found my way to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. I had heard it could be a bit crazy in the sunnier months, so I’d avoided it mostly for that reason. Most of the people I knew in the hiking world had already spent plenty of time there by then. It was an overnight stay in the parking lot and a trek to the 2377m summit of Mt Tszil that served to change all of that for me. I arrived on an early July evening to meet up with Ted and Denis, who were climbing nearby Saxifrage Mountain earlier that day. Once there, I spent a lot of time rambling back and forth to Lower Joffre Lake just to photograph the mountains and glaciers as the sun began to set. The parking lot had but nine other vehicles in it, which is unimaginable by today’s standards.

Sun shining through the trees!

 

Evening at Lower Joffre Lake
Mt Matier and the Matier Glacier, with the shoulder of Slalok at right

 

Look at all that glacial ice!
Lower Joffre Lake reflections
Cassiope and Saxifrage in the Spetch Creek Valley, where Ted and Denis had just spent their day

 

Slalok Mountain alpenglow

The guys arrived around 10 pm, a bit tired and short a couple of pints of blood courtesy of the hordes of mosquitoes in the Spetch Creek Valley! We hung around shooting the breeze and enjoying a couple of cold beers before settling in for the night. We knew we’d be starting out very early the next morning.

Arising early to make coffee, I found the clouds had closed in and the bugs had now come out in full force. During the night the valley had chilled and we awoke to clouds of mist swirling in the parking lot. The weather was expected to clear as the day wore on, as we geared up for what was sure to be a long trek. Soon Denis and Ted were ready to go, and a short while later we were hiking the beautiful trail up the Joffre Creek Valley. Rolling fog and cooler temperatures made for fast travel, and on the way I enjoyed the Kendal Mint Cake Ted had brought up for me!

At Lower Joffre Lake the sun had been struggling to emerge, but by the time we arrived at Middle Joffre Lake half an hour later it had nearly won its battle. There was plenty of chatter to kill time, bit it was a lively discussion about the right kind of chips to eat that dominated the trail conversation. Denis is strongly against flavours, strictly preferring plain or ripple chips. Despite the fact I am of the same mind, it was fun getting him to evaluate all the other varieties. Lines like “If I wanted a dill pickle, I’d be eating a dill pickle. Why would I want my chips to taste like one!”, and “Ketchup is a condiment. If you must add it to your chips, please do so privately with packets, because I don’t want it on mine!”, or “BBQ flavoured chips don’t really taste like anything I’ve ever barbecued, so I don’t understand that idea at all!” were the order of the day. Ted had heard it all before, and seemed more concerned with where we were going next and the beer we’d be drinking later on.

Joffre Creek crashing down the valley!
This was our view of Middle Joffre Lake
Bright greenery around Upper Joffre Lake

 

In no time at all, we had reached Upper Joffre Lake and would be scouting for the somewhat obscure trail that leads you up into the alpine. It winds through the woods and eventually to the bottom of a large lateral moraine of the Tszil Glacier, where a steep and rough track follows a spine into the col between Mt Taylor and Tszil Mountain. The path was soon located, and so was a sweater lost recently by someone we knew through the Clubtread hiking website we all hung out on. The guys, uhhhh, put that to good use in their latest comedy routine of the day.

Hammer (Ted’s nickname among friends) and rock. The trail to the Tszil Glacier begins around here
Comic relief

 

The route ahead looked just a little foggy!
Making the way up the moraine of the Tszil Glacier
One of those mystic moments

The route was well marked and reasonably straightforward, and soon we found ourselves staring down the summit block of Tszil Mountain. The line of ascent was simple to figure out, and much sooner than we had figured we were standing on the summit, in less than four hours from the cars. Not too bad, especially for Ted and Denis, who had knocked off 1500m of climbing the day before!

Quartzite bonded to a granite boulder
Islands of granite led us to the summit of Tszil Mountain

Originally, we had planned to climb Slalok Mountain, but the guys were pretty burned out from the previous day’s climb so, between that, and the whiteout we encountered, Tszil would be enough to content us that day. We sat high above the clouds, enjoying our lunch and the constantly changing scenery.

Slalok Mountain cloaked in cloud cover
Nearby Mt Taylor
Suddenly the route up Slalok became visible, but moments later it would again be enshrouded by fog
Looking down the Tszil Glacier at Upper Joffre Lake

Soon, with snacks now consumed, we departed the summit, and were now basking in the warmth of sunshine. Along the way the guys ran into a couple who had just finished a trip to The Alps, and spent a while discussing their experiences there. Feeling the need for some solitude, for whatever reason, I decided to wander down the ridge further to take photos of the lake and mountains. I marvelled at the clusters of tiny wildflowers, and the way they take advantage of every opportunity, while the calls of pikas occasionally broke the silence.

A splash of colour amid the boulder field
Wildflowers of highly unique colour , these are Inky Gentian ‘Gentiana glauca’. ( Thanks to good friend Maisie on the identification of these attractive specimens)
An icy tarn below Mt Taylor
Looking down toward Upper Joffre Lake. It was not that long ago that this whole valley was covered in glacial ice
The beautiful colour of these lakes is one reason why they are so popular!
Looking back at the summit of Tszil Mountain
The Tszil -Slalok Col
Ted and Denis bantering with the couple from France

Eventually, it was time to retrace our steps back down to the lakes, where we experienced a fairly hectic hike back down to the parking lot. Keep in mind this was a weekday in 2008, and the crowds today have increased at least twenty fold! Then, as now, there were a lot of impatient people on the trail, many spectacularly unprepared, and plenty of peculiar behaviour to go with them.

Entering the woods again at the bottom of the moraine
Closer to the icefall
Upper Joffre Lake
Middle Joffre Lake. At right you can see the infamous “Instagram Log” which has become so obsessively popular
Old growth forest
One last look at the icefall

We were happy to reach the parking lot, now jammed with cars, and kick back with some cold Stella Artois and those potato chips we love so much. Plain ripple, of course, if you’re keeping score, as I had no ketchup packets! Then, as now, it was a day worth remembering, and it had me planning future visits to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.

But what of today? Despite the fact that this park faces many future challenges, it is still a wilderness worth preserving. In a world where outdoor recreation has reached record demand, there will have to be some well reasoned solutions so that it thrives. I’ll discuss those potential answers in this story’s next chapter, to follow soon…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Begins on Klitsa Mountain

It was 3 am on a Monday morning when I rolled reluctantly out of bed, making it as far as the couch. You know, I used to be an early riser, once, but that’s becoming something reserved for special occasions lately. As I forced down coffee and breakfast and read my computer screen in the fading darkness, my eyes later came to rest on a sentence: “430 am and heading for a hike, Mt Klitsa, here we come!” The words were Mary’s, and it occurred to me that despite how early it was, everyone else was getting up a whole lot earlier! Less than an hour later I met up with Dustin, Jim, and Mary, and we were soon rolling toward our destination.

Screen Shot 2019-11-01 at 7.51.27 PM
Map of the general area. The mountain is in the Alberni Valley near Sproat Lake

Klitsa Mountain, at 1639 m in elevation, is the second highest peak surrounding the Alberni Valley. It’s not as high as Mt Arrowsmith, but because it gets far more snowfall it stays snow covered until much later in the season.  The mountain’s name,“Kleet-sah”, derives from the aboriginal word that translates as “always white”.

The route to access Klitsa, at least via the Brooke George Trail, is certainly a circuitous one. For us, it meant driving on Highway 4 to Port Alberni, then following Stirling Arm, Gracie Main, Nahmint Main, and finally the N600 spur which led to a branch where the trailhead begins. Dustin was able to drive us all the way there, to within 20 metres of the first trail marker. That gave us the advantage of beginning our hike at 800 metres in elevation! It also helped that Mary had been on the trail before, so navigating the maze of  roads was, thankfully, somewhat easier.

It was still fairly early that we piled out of the truck and began gearing up, and the blast of frigid morning air had us moving around quickly, with more than our share of joking around. I’d hiked with Mary and Dustin before, and also joining us on the trek was Jim, who I hadn’t met until then. It turned out we had more than a little in common, as you often discover on those long trips on logging roads!

71470227_3134610903250394_4900282300022915072_n
Fearless leader Mary headed into the woods

The only hitch on the entire trip happened within 150 metres of the trailhead, where a stray set of flagging tapes had us heading in the wrong direction, but we soon sorted that out and were promptly back on track. The route to Klitsa from the Nahmint Valley is actually long established, and the trail was renamed the Brooke George Trail in honour of a very well respected member of the Alberni Valley Outdoor Club. Brooke passed away some years ago in a mountaineering accident, and the club has adopted the trail in the years that have followed.

71548907_3134611026583715_4552373293163741184_n
Dustin vanishes into the ancient forest of Mountain Hemlock, Silver Fir, and Yellow Cedar

The path began by leading us up through a considerable stand of untouched old growth forest, while following roughly along a creek that drains the upper bench below Klitsa. Sections of the trail were quite muddied but we were quite lucky that much of it was frozen solid, at least on the way up. Once we arrived at the small lake that sits at about 1050m we took a break and studied the route a little bit more. I knew that the trail was soon going to be traversing a fairly wet subalpine meadow which you get to by working your way north, along the lake’s eastern shores. Once past the lake, the climbing would begin in earnest as we wove our way along the route toward the alpine.

MH70743245_2961226337224895_8095560135126024192_n
Cool morning temperatures persisted as we arrived at the lake
71567609_3134611046583713_6436890275611672576_n
Jim and Mary take a break

Pretty soon the path began to dry out somewhat as we entered the alpine, eventually reaching a junction with the less often used route that comes up via the Brigade Lakes Trail and the Gibson-Klitsa Plateau. From what I understand, that track is an equally worthy objective but it does come with a good deal of bushwhacking in the upper lakes basin. I know I’ll want to spend some time there as there are apparently a great number of ancient trees to be seen! The Brigade Lakes Trail is much more readily accessible if you don’t happen to have a high clearance vehicle, as you can park at the Taylor River rest area on Highway 4. It was actually built by a group of loggers on a forest service project who felt the area was so special that it ought to be saved, believe it or not! As a result, much of the Gibson-Klitsa Plateau became part of an old growth conservancy, though currently there is some concern about a road boundary marked on the lower reaches of the Brigade Lakes Trail. It would be a shame to see any of this wilderness damaged!

71687062_3134611203250364_1766200902709936128_n
The mountains of southern Strathcona Park appear, with Mt Gibson the slope at right here
71226597_3134611216583696_1460455357867360256_n
We were lucky to get a such a perfect day for hiking. As I’m still a Vancouver Island novice, relatively speaking, if anyone wants to message me regarding peak identification please feel free to do that!
71215743_3134611306583687_983610028327960576_n
The sun making its appearance over the ridge

 

Once past the junction, you begin to see the lakes below, and the higher you climb, the more mountains appear! The footbed is relatively well worn, and cairns appear here and there, along with the occasional flagging tape.

71242514_3134611249917026_7109940805132877824_n
The Brigade Lakes Basin, with its completely undisturbed forests
71527700_3134612093250275_7993249504419643392_n
The crux, if you will, of Klitsa Mountain. The ascent route swings slightly right of centre then we used the left trending ramp to gain the summit

Klitsa soon made a more prominent appearance to the east, and before long the summit block was before us. We had reached an open clearing that was clearly marked on both sides of the trail, but we weren’t quite sure where the path went from there. I looked up to the left at first, as my friend Chris had cautioned me that the right hand side was harder to climb and more exposed. He and Shane had climbed it earlier that month in a virtual whiteout and ended up with a little more fun than they bargained for, though they’d managed it well. We hesitated for a minute or two and looked around , but as it turned out we rediscovered the path basically straight ahead of us, after which it trended strongly to the left. In different conditions, there may have been several gullies worth ascending but since we had ice to contend with we were content with the easiest possible line.

The last 100 metres were a bit more of a grind, but that was mostly because we’d all been pretty active the day before. Dustin, for example, had spent the previous day hiking up Kings Peak in Strathcona Provincial Park, which was an all day affair. Mary had climbed Mt Maxwell on Saltspring Island, while Jim and I had been active trail running. Jim, also an avid skier, kept busy contemplating all the possible lines up for grabs once the snows fell there!

71693967_3134611446583673_3277062512159227904_n
Jim contending with the loose rock before the final ramp
MH71144518_2961226880558174_3581135326153801728_n
Enjoying every minute of the views, though I am unfamiliar with most of the peaks 
71290398_3134611336583684_3088771472320102400_n
Mary and Dustin nearing the summit, which was first ascended by surveyors back in 1927

There was loose rock to contend with while we lost ourselves in the views, but the walk was neither hazardous nor exposed. A relatively easy scramble soon had us on the summit, where we enjoyed little if any wind and ideal temperatures. I was about as happy as I could be, as this was a mountain that had really captured my imagination! This was a mountain where the ocean on both sides of Vancouver Island could be seen, which was a new experience for me.

MH71188698_2961227567224772_5641734109333028864_n
Mary on the summit of Klitsa Mountain with Sproat Lake below
71187004_3134611619916989_408652179570688000_n
Dustin sharpening the pencils in the summit register
71931303_3134611796583638_6694403719972257792_n
Jim on the summit, with Peak 5040 across the valley, where he’d been recently

From the summit, the entire Alberni Valley was laid out before us. You could see Sproat Lake and the Taylor River below, as well as Highway 4. In the distance Arrowsmith loomed prominently and beyond, the Salish Sea.  Across the valley to the south is Nahmint Mountain and as you look westward peaks like 5040, Adder, and Steamboat can be seen, as well as countless others. Northern views are dominated by the mountains of Strathcona, notably Nine Peaks, Big Interior and Septimus. Since I’m an Island novice, about the only one I was sure of was the Comox Glacier! According to Mary, on the clearest of days one could also see Elkhorn and the Golden Hinde but if my photos captured either I’d not have known what I was looking at!

71228469_3134611829916968_7598500297194864640_n
Survey marker
71150894_3134611493250335_1161523284718649344_n
Mt Porter with the Beaufort Range behind
70999998_3134611596583658_2690713555434471424_n
You could just see the Pacific Ocean on the west side of Vancouver Island
71166302_3134612126583605_559660820221394944_n
 Highway 4 down in the valley below, as well as the Taylor River
71198143_3134611953250289_1145137164145655808_n
Mary’s well travelled pack in the foreground with a sea of mountains beyond!
71097874_3134611666583651_1752373152421249024_n
Old jar lid at the summit cairn

As stoked as we were to be there, after about half an hour we decided to begin the hike homeward, after all, we did have a long way to go! Before we departed, everyone took another good look around, as though imprinting the views to mind. It was a place I would return to in a second!

71480564_3134611483250336_291255175589396480_n
Sproat Lake and the Alberni Valley, with Arrowsmith at right and the mainland well beyond
MH70928070_2961227963891399_3300265729378484224_n
How about one more photo? 
MH71150473_2961227667224762_6788560604375285760_n
Dustin, Jim, and I taking that last look…..Photo by Mary
MH71160825_2961227453891450_2273298946795241472_n
Bidding adieu to the summit…Photo by Mary

The walk down went uneventfully, with the added benefit being that much of the ice had begun to melt, though the trail lower down was all the muddier. We didn’t mind, though, because it could not have been a better day to be outside! We made such good time we decided to take another break on the way down.

71152761_3134612296583588_1909843275016044544_n
Pretty nice place to chill for a few minutes

 

71513611_3134612323250252_8172178610770149376_n
Mary arriving back at the lake again
71405568_3134612453250239_4552180904398684160_n
The lake was just as beautiful in the afternoon light
MH72044104_2961228173891378_8646883225530007552_n
Blue skies!…Photo by Mary
71638545_3134612273250257_976804021287256064_n
Dustin discovers the ice in a pond he’d broken in the morning has managed to refreeze while we climbed the mountain!

Once past the lake, it was just a matter of trekking through the woods again for about an hour to reach the truck. That in itself was a treat, as there aren’t too many undisturbed old growth forests left here on Vancouver Island. It’s quite likely many of the Mountain Hemlocks exceeded 400 years in age!

71314117_3134612516583566_4477961429982380032_n
Following Mary through the ancient forest, which was also littered with the occasional massive boulder
MH71890603_2961226193891576_7140607455741870080_n
Amazing afternoon light. on the Brooke George Trail…photo by Mary
71106372_3134612529916898_490593652997881856_n
Dustin found this growing on an old hemlock
71676006_3134612646583553_1439810102910517248_n
We’re almost back at the truck, and even a bit reluctant to leave! The Brooke George Trail is well worth your effort!

All told, it was a very memorable day on the trail. We completed the hike, which probably had close to 900m of vertical gain, in roughly five hours car to car, I think. As relatively quick as that was, the same could not be said for the drive back, which was as long as it had been that morning. The roads, however, were all in excellent condition, so we had few complaints!

On the ride home, we decided to stop in at Bigfoot Burgers in Whiskey Creek for a late lunch. Dustin and I had wanted to eat there on an earlier trip to Mt Cokely but hadn’t managed to do so. This time around we were pretty determined to get those burgers, but the restaurant was closed for a staff party, of all things, so no luck there! At Mary’s suggestion, we made our way to Coombs Old Country Market, better known as “Goats On the Roof”. There’s a restaurant there that served us up some pretty decent burgers and fries, I’ll say! One unusual thing about the place is that it’s also well filled with wood carved art, much of it for sale. There were many pieces that were naturally or culturally significant, and quite a few that were rather ornate or even a bit risqué. One in particular featured a tiny little stool on which the backing had been crafted into a phallus, of all things. We all had a bit of laugh over that, and a few other pieces. I had joked that “My wedding anniversary was the following day, and there were some pretty decent carvings of life sized bears there, hmmmmm.”  “Well, I do have a truck with plenty of room,” said Dustin. It was a fitting and fun end to a fine day out. In the end, I recommend both the mountain and the restaurant, you can’t go wrong with either! (No, I did not buy the bear)

 

*** Author’s note: Some thanks are in order regarding this day in the mountains. Thanks to my friend Chris Hood, who first piqued my interest in this mountain. He was to summit it himself two weeks later, and I wish I could have shared that day.

Thanks as well to Chris Istace, whose invaluable information provided about the trip he and Shane Johnson had just done a couple weeks before helped us to have a successful outing.

Finally, thanks to my hiking companions on the trek and to Dustin for driving, you all helped make it a memorable day! ***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Standing Down

The annals of mountaineering, especially those of social media offering, are so often filled with the stories of success. That is, you plan the trek, face the adversities, and eventually stand triumphant and heroic on the summit before staring down the descent. The truth, however, is that sometimes victory eludes you, yet in defeat there is often a story worth telling. If you have the courage to look back on the bad days, you might even get a laugh or two out of the spanking you’ve taken. Whatever the case, the most important thing is to keep on going back to the mountains. They are always worth the effort!

52
Doug, Steve, and Wally on the summit of Seven O’Clock Mountain. There’s always a reward in reaching summits!

Here then, are a few excerpts from my three and a half decades of history in the hills, some rather inglorious. The mountain has a way of finding you when you’re not having the best of days, you know.  As long as your ego isn’t too closely shackled to grabbing the summit every single time, and even if it is, you can still learn a lot from your misadventures.

21557716_2103247233053438_746168493317889723_n
Ted and Alan happy to have made the top of Mt Callaghan. We were still one helluva long walk from the beer!

What follows here is a retrospective of some climbs on which I ended up turning around, and the variety of related reasons for those retreats. I was surprised to find, to my chagrin, that there were a few more of them than I thought there were! Most of the real epics were concentrated in a ten year period that I’d characterize as the most trying time in my life, yet those same years were crammed full of discovery and elation as well.

342853444_93a2a08853_o
Remember, it’s all about the determination, as you can see Doug demonstrating here!

First up? Mt Elsay, the avalanche… It was late one spring when I finally had my first experience setback in the mountains. I was close to my 39th birthday, and was feeling pretty immortal back then. I was, after all, at the peak of fitness at the time, having finally quit destroying myself playing baseball, and freshly off successful knee surgery. In many ways I felt unstoppable! Spoiler alert, I wasn’t.

72141846_1195164807358581_6560646756063772672_n
The Coquitlam Divide from Wes’s Staircase, taken on a successful ascent of Mt Elsay later in 2007

That trek basically ended for me almost before it started. No sooner had I descended Wes’s Staircase on the Elsay Lake Trail, than a haunting mist obscured the entire valley. I continued on for a spell, knowing the route well, but almost immediately I froze in my tracks. There was a deep rumbling off the eastern slopes of Mt Seymour. It sounded powerful, so I stood and waited a minute or two to see what had happened. When the clouds drifted away momentarily, I could see a massive runout of wet snow that had carried with it the twisted limbs of small trees and continued on well over the trail I had intended to walk! This was an omen, had I been five minutes faster it’s possible I might not be telling this tale right now! It was a timely reminder that nature couldn’t care less how much you want to reach a summit. Though my wife sometimes begs to differ, I can sometimes take a hint! I turned around, and didn’t return again until over eight years later to climb the mountain.

69417941_3134957426549075_7020375099035353088_n
Tim Jones Peak, Mt Seymour and Mt Elsay. The eastern slopes here hold danger sometimes. I think this experience subconsciously kept me away from Mt Elsay for some time

In 2006, I only missed out one summit, and that was the rock tower of Ben Lomond in the Britannia Range. Simon, Alan, Denis, Chris, and I had planned on climbing Ben More, Ben Lomond and Red Mountain in one long day. On our way up Ben More, I felt something pop in my left hip, which I had injured the year before on Mt Price. I knew right away it was going to be serious, but I badly wanted to stand atop the high point of the Seymour Valley. Though I did manage to summit Ben More, by the time we reached the base of Ben Lomond, I could not move my leg high enough to kick steps into the precipitous snow slope. Frustrated, I sat down with Chris, then chipped off a piece of snow with my ice axe to stuff in my pants. Chris, meanwhile, was suffering with a painful foot injury. We were not happy campers! This was the first time I ever had to sit idly and watch other people climb a mountain and I didn’t like it.

71263302_3134993539878797_5386957624291885056_n
Left to right, Alan, Denis, and Simon descending Ben Lomond

It made me kind of nervous to be a spectator, but of course Alan, Denis, and Simon pretty much pulled it off without a hitch. When they came down, it was time to climb the less technical Red Mountain, which I had decided I was going to do come hell or high water. It hurt like hell, but I did it.

71655679_3134993223212162_1396218920750284800_n
Simon, Alan, me, and Denis on the summit of Red Mountain in 2006. I do some of my best smiling when I’m in pain, but this is still a great memory!

Meanwhile, we watched from afar, cheered, and celebrated as Chris got up off the snow and proceeded to climb Ben Lomond! After that, we all walked out, and I returned the next summer with Denis to finally climb this peak. It was all I had hoped for! It was, however, the start of a ten year battle with that serious hip injury. Hip flexors are difficult, as they may heal, but in the process, they often tear again frequently. It took me a decade to properly rehabilitate from the injury, but then, I never stopped hiking, so maybe that is why. I resorted to taking up yoga to help the healing process, and it worked better than anything else I had tried.

71306624_3134993049878846_6774080027647541248_n
Denis and me on the summit of Ben Lomond in 2007. All smiles here!

July of 2008 on Cayoosh Mountain was the best of times. Ted, Denis, and I spent the night camped out having more than a few beers before starting out the next morning for the summit. The conditions were ideal, but we were going to have to move fast to avoid the high temperatures of midday.

71822887_3134956679882483_3487733664505135104_n
Ted on the way to Cayoosh Mountain in 2008. You work hard to climb mountains, and this peak was no exception!

It had been a big snow year and we knew the route could become dangerous if we tarried. As it turned out, I basically managed to louse that up by getting us off the right path. We passed the correct gully and instead I led us to a ridge we cliffed out on. That meant we had to double back before ascending the correct line, which we did, eventually.

72490488_3134956963215788_1855771466415472640_n
Denis in the Cayoosh Valley, Joffre Group in the background, in 2008

Once we reached a steep bowl below the sub summit, however, I knew our day was done. The snow had become too isothermic, and was now too unsafe to cross. The only sane decision was to walk away. We haven’t returned yet, but maybe someday we will. That one’s on me, boys!

71314556_3134957296549088_6883158208257458176_n
Cayoosh Mountain lived rent free in my head for a few years, then somehow it became a fonder memory. Still haven’t given up on this one!

Later in 2008, Chris and I were attempting Tulameen Mountain in the Cascades. We began, sans helmets, by climbing a very sketchy gully and veritable shooting gallery of falling rock that I began calling the Jingfest Couloir. With that bit of Russian Roulette out of the way, it was a question of digging in and making our way through a big field of shifting rock and up the southwest ridge of the mountain.

71181990_3134958279882323_2713848048882024448_n
Tulameen Mountain, so close and yet so far! It’s just in behind the southwest summit, which is in the foreground here

On that day, the weather had looked unsettled, and then suddenly we could see a storm moving very quickly up the Fraser Valley. This was not good! We were only another hour from the summit of Tulameen but our position was much too exposed.  The next thing we knew there was lightning, and more threatening clouds, and we were scampering back to the cover of the woods below! It took a while, but we struggled back to the truck in one piece, none the worse for wear. Chris often tells me he’s a magnet for bad weather. I’m not sure about that, but on that day it was a funny enough explanation!

P9170044 copyA
Chris in Kennedy Creek with one of his better finds!

 

A different fate struck on Castle Towers in 2009, where Doug battled vertigo gamely and scrapped his way up to the west summit on a perfect summer day. The week before he’d been down with the flu and an ear infection. Climbing the true summit, just a half hour away, just wasn’t going to happen. While I took summit photos, Doug took a seat just below the cairn trying to gather his bearings.

67401919_3018538984857587_1851169464792383488_n
Castle Towers west summit, looking at Garibaldi, 2009

He offered to wait while I attempted it alone, but we were a long way from civilization and if anything had happened to me I was not sure he was in the right shape to walk out alone. I made the only decision that I felt right about, and we enjoyed the west summit for a good thirty minutes more before beginning the long walk back. In the end, this trip was among the finest we have ever done together, and over a decade later I still talk about it!

19840022472_ec7e72e61e_z copy
Charming summit shot, all smiles and no pain, brother! This is me and Doug on Coquihalla Mountain in 2015. Reaching summits has never seemed to be our biggest concern in the mountains. We seem more concerned with good jokes and cold beer, which I think is why we’ve been successful

The year 2009 also brings to mind one of the more strange and happy days of my life. In September, Chris and I drove up to the North Creek Valley near Pemberton to have a go at Hemionus Mountain. As we hiked up the south ridge on that cold and sunny day, we were treated to some phenomenal scenery. Just as we reached a high sub summit with a commanding view, we made the mistake of sitting down.

71660878_3134956089882542_3222600269556613120_n
The North Creek Valley is alpine perfection, if you ask me

I had slept only an hour and a half the night before and Chris had been doing a lot of trekking the weeks before as well. Though we might have had the summit, instead we just kicked back, relaxed, and let it all sink in. This was the first time I’d ever done that on a mountain trip, and it was outstanding! We laughed a lot, and then strolled back down after a while. Some of my friends were a little incredulous, wondering why we would drive all that way and not at least try a little harder. I just shrugged, to us it had seemed right. Still does.

Then there was Ring Mountain, a dormant volcano in the Squamish Valley. I set out with Doug, Denis, and Chris on a spectacular spring day in 2010 with the goal of standing atop this tuya. The year before, Doug, Chris, and I had approached it from the Callaghan Valley, and due to a lot of faffing around on the wrong side of the mountain we had already spent a fair amount of time on the objective.

21430342_2103047173073444_2097768294268503347_n
Chris approaching Ring Mountain in 2009. I guess we are both 0 for 2 on this mountain, come to think of it!

I was to fail again that day, as despite Doug’s stellar efforts at breaking trail I simply did not have the strength to follow.  What I didn’t know at the time was that I had previously picked up a very devious intestinal parasite which only affected me especially in times of hard physical effort. With it came chills, shuddering, fever, nausea, and sometimes the complete and random evacuation of my bowels. That day featured all of the above. While Doug and Denis reached the summit, I waited below, cursing my fortune. In fact, I was damned angry! Chris also had to turn around on that day, but it was more a matter of time constraint, not for lack of strength. Current score: Ring Mountain 2 Mick 0.

71204532_3134956506549167_668421993590161408_n
This view of Ashlu Mountain was as good as it was going to get for me on my second attempt at Ring Mountain. I sat in the snow for over an hour while my head was spinning

Only months later, I would make an attempt of Mt Bardean and Mt Ratney with Gerry and Sabine that turned out to be all too familiar. In those days I was pushing the envelope on every trip, and surviving on the absolute minimum of sleep.

71116662_3134957549882396_3656784479218827264_n
The summit of Bardean was only half an hour away, but I would not see it that day

My wife and I raise a son with autism, you see, and for the better part of about 20 years, we lived in a partial state of exhaustion. I made it to within just 150m of Bardean’s summit that day, but could go no further.

71229433_3134957176549100_7163059169648443392_n
A pretty nice place to take a nap, if you ask me

It wasn’t as bad as all that though, because I enjoyed a 90 minute nap in an idyllic alpine meadow while Sabine and Gerry climbed the two peaks. I’ve not managed a return yet, but would love to try again!

2955642477_19d0c28abd_b
Illal Mountain October 2008, Gerry’s wearing the red toque!… Photo by Silvia Bakovic

Curiously enough, since 2010, every summit I have attempted has been met with success and for the most part with far less difficulty. As time has passed, I don’t get up mountains with the quite the same speed I did in younger days. Who does? What I do is finish off the efforts with a combination of persistence and well, more persistence. I live by two important mantras: “Just put one foot in front of the other” and “Those beers down at the truck aren’t gonna drink themselves!”

79059
Me ascending the steep gully below the west ridge of Chanter                                                Photo by Simon C

 

384940
Hey, in the end, it’s all about the tailgating! This is Denis, me, and Ted after climbing Mt Gillespie in 2012

 

 

 

 

 

Gemini Mountain, Welcome to The Island

It had taken us the better part of two years to sort out our move to Vancouver Island, but having finally done that, I wanted to climb a mountain here! Recently I’d joined a local hiking group called Island Mountain Ramblers , and while checking out the trips they had planned, I discovered one I had to join! Gemini Mountain, deep within the Nanaimo River Valley, sounded like a place I needed to see!

island-mountain-ramblers-logo
A very reputable Vancouver Island group, the Island Mountain Ramblers have been active since 1958

There is limited access to the valley, which is controlled by Timber West, the landowners. It was only possible to hike there in autumn months, according to Matthew, our trip organizer and current club president. The twin summits of Gemini Mountain were ideally located and, if the weather was in our favour, might serve up some beautiful views. The only catch was that we’d be in there during hunting season, but at least the area we were to hike was off limits to the hunters. While that sounded a little scary, of course there were no problems!

bugsbunny
Neither hunters nor wabbits seen on this day!

Eight of us met at Harewood Mall, and from there drove a long way up the Nanaimo Lakes Road to reach our destination. We stopped at a checkpoint along the way, where you need to report in to let Timber West know where you’re headed. It was at least another half hour before a while before we turned onto the K15 logging spur. A long climb led us steeply up that road to where we’d begin our hike.

A30714799977_ae367d45da_k
The view from where we parked

The Nanaimo River Valley has a lengthy history of logging, and there are still a lot of active haul roads within its watershed. Despite the piles of logging slash burning at roadside as we climbed, you could still see that the valley maintained its strong feel of wilderness. Somehow it seems to have transcended all the harvesting that has happened there.

B43837626910_54f596f7eb_k
Green Mountain, seen here, was once the site of a ski resort
C44930748654_1d4d83608c_k (1)
Mountain Hemlock draped in Old Man’s Beard

After gearing up, we began our hike at about 1200m in elevation, with cold winds urging us on.   Our leader knew the route well having been there before, but there were few markers to show us the way. The forest, a mix of Mountain Hemlock, Silver Fir, and Western Hemlock, was quite enchanting.

C45605113952_3a3586c69d_k (1)
Enjoying the forest walk

 

Soon the trees became more widely spaced, and we entered some attractive subalpine meadows, then heather covered slopes led us to some dense coastal brush. The mist and clouds were constant companions, and would only leave us for short breaks throughout the day.

45605116972_569cd49793_k
The subalpine meadows

45605118452_d30f348a6d_k

We were soon approaching the first of Gemini Mountain’s two summits, and after a short bushwhack, we were there! As we arrived, the clouds would clear, making good on the promise of those spectacular views. I had been hiking for many years in the same familiar ranges of the Lower Mainland, where I was used to being able to identify most of the peaks around me. Here on Vancouver Island, however, the surroundings were entirely new to me, so there was a great sense of discovery that had me quite enamoured.

44930777594_6eb02b6099_k
The view from the first summit
44741047185_df945babb3_k
Decent rewards for only an hour of hiking
44930873494_a8e1bb62ca_k
Atmospheric conditions above the clouds

 

After a short break, we began hiking over to the second, and highest summit. This involved trekking over the shoulder of the first summit and weaving our way down to a col between the two. On the ridge, we passed by  bedding and grazing sites of elk herds, and followed their paths quite often. We’d have to return the same way we came, because both sides of the col were lined with steep cliff  bands that would prevent us from taking any  shortcuts.

44930769954_c1ee2e1cb6_k
Back inside the clouds

44741049275_18dc7cd868_k

44741052305_15000ee817_k
The sun, trying to make an appearance
43837670010_e86aa3a306_k
Morning skies

The col was a beautiful and rugged place! Soon the skies parted for at least half an hour, as we rose above the clouds. The ground sloped sharply into a valley below the col, and in the distance the road we had driven up to the trailhead became visible. There was a sea of mountains to gaze at, but most of them were unknown to me.

45655870561_872516ffde_k
The cliffs at the col, which I recommend avoiding
44930804724_deca1d783f_k
The main summit of Gemini Mountain as you see it from the col

Soon we left the col and crossed over on a ramp to the base of some steep bluffs. Here we waited, before climbing up to a bench just below the summit. That was the biggest challenge of the day, as the rock was a little unstable in places. While we did that, the skies would clear even more, which had everyone feeling more cheerful.43837671200_6faf4179b0_k

43837673810_eee94495ba_k

43837677730_ffa43ad6f1_k
A look back at the route we descended into the col from the first summit

44930808644_aa651b07b9_k

45655872521_8a9d72270e_k
Getting closer to the summit

44741080115_1b7b3fd18b_k

43837696600_2a12a00f83_k
Looking back down to the valley below
31783180888_0b157c335e_k
The first peak of Gemini Mountain, where we had just been
44741096665_3f70a23e42_k
Stunted alpine trees

30714870947_cbb4596fb6_k

 

Our trip leader Matthew, along with navigating, had his two year old daughter in his backpack. He also had his five year old son walking the entire route with us. He did well, and the only help he needed was a boost or two on some of the steepest sections. It reminded me of hiking with my kids when they were young, trying to share with them that fascination with nature, which they still seem to have to this day!

IMG_4780 copy
Matthew and his kids

After we climbed the bluffs we then headed up to the summit proper, at 1525m in elevation. The summit plateau was fairly broad, with panoramic views. There were also some alpine tarns that were just beginning to freeze over. I was very happy to be atop my first peak on Vancouver Island!

44741098155_d7d3b81f9e_k
Gemini mountain, 1525m elevation
31783210938_054fd5981d_k
That’s the mainland of British Columbia over there
31783221098_73f19bcc20_k
An icy summit tarn
31783212688_f5ddb5197f_k
Atop one summit looking over at the other

Pretty soon the weather began to arrive in earnest. The winds now began blowing more briskly as we took a short break before the hike back. Many peaks could be seen in the distance, including Mt Baker down in Washington state.

31783222778_662af23f2c_k
Ever changing weather
31783224778_0e907a13ed_k
Clouds have a way of being you it’s time to leave!
44741102975_791da9e86e_k
Mt Baker is in this photo somewhere

31783218568_556e82dad1_k

Light rain began to fall as we walked down to the col, then back up  to the first summit, and finally back down again to the logging road. It seemed like much longer than a five and a half hour hike, yet at 3 pm we were back at the vehicles and rolling down the road to the gate shortly after.

44930880554_f7aeb197cf_k
A last look at one of the tarns!

If anyone out there on Vancouver Island has thought about hiking this mountain during the limited opportunity, I’d highly recommend it. As well, if you’re looking for a hiking club on Vancouver Island, join the Island Mountain Ramblers, you’ll be glad you did!

 

Hosers, Flowers, and Castle Towers

Doug’s Ford Explorer rolled slowly to a stop. It was an ideal summer morning back in 2009, and there was plenty of excitement in the air. We were finally going to climb Castle Towers Mountain! The plan was simple: We would hike along the ridge lines below Helm Peak after leaving the trail, then work our  way to Gentian Pass. From there, we would push on to set up camp on Polemonium Ridge and find our way to the summit the following day. You may have heard that this part of British Columbia is overcrowded and a bit too popular for your liking. While sometimes that is undeniably true, likely even more so today, I think this story might just change your mind a little. If you’ve ever had any doubt that spending a couple of days hiking in Garibaldi Provincial Park is a good idea, then be prepared to dismiss those worries!

67435169_3018530461525106_79426241794408448_n
Castle Towers at 2676m in elevation, is one of the more beautiful summits in the Garibaldi Ranges. It can be seen from Garibaldi Lake on a clear day

With full packs, the grunt up the Helm Creek Trail took plenty of effort, but we were still elated to be there. Doug had put a lot of planning into this trek, and now it was time to put our boots to the trail. It seemed a relatively short couple of hours for us to make it up to the Helm Creek campsite, and some overnight campers were still lingering there as we arrived at Helm Meadows. The momentary envy we felt for the coffee they had was all but extinguished when I told Doug I’d packed some beer along for the walk!

IMG_5380
The beautiful ancient forest on the Helm Creek Trail
IMG_5381
Western Red Cedar
IMG_5382
Rugged Helm Creek greets the morning sunshine

If by now you’re wondering about the catchy title to this story, well, here’s an explanation of sorts. So, exactly what is a hoser? See the actual definition below, but the word has come to mean any typical Canadian in many circles, and it’s also a nickname that got attached to the two of us by friends years ago. The flowers and Castle Towers? I’ll let the photos answer that question!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Hosers? You decide

To elaborate, I offer the following:

Hoser: (n) Canadian hockey derogatory term that is similar to the American “idiot” or “loser”. It is derived from the pre-Zamboni days in hockey, where the losing team would be stuck with hosing down the ice after the game. It was popularized again by the characters Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis played on the SCTV comedy show of the late 1970s and 1980s.

gwn
They even made an album! Copyright SCTV, using only to explain genre, eh!

 

67815491_3018609968183822_521741992779055104_n
Lupines in bloom, Helm Meadows

The next phase of the operation was to circumvent the Helm Glacier so that we could arrive at the col above Gentian Pass. To do that, we climbed steeply toward  Helm Peak and simply meandered along the ridge some 250 metres below its summit. The clouds and sunshine put on a real show for us as we walked, and although the weather looked unsettled it ended up clearing just as we had hoped. The views, at least, were a welcome distraction, as the slope we had chosen to hike up was steep and lined with heather.

67570734_3018609618183857_5069886486912958464_n
Helm Peak, notorious for its crumbling rock and exposure, especially near the summit!

 

67399405_3018535421524610_6786361555349929984_n
Pyroclastic Peak and Mt Cayley on the distant Squamish Cheakamus Divide

Spectacular views of Gentian Peak, Black Tusk, and many of the peaks of the Garibaldi Ranges made their appearance one by one. Though we were beginning to feel the heat of the day and the weight of our carry, it hardly seemed to matter. Gazing at all of the lakes, with their varied shades of blue and green, I could not have imagined a better place to be on a summer day.

67359986_3018531041525048_118681538505211904_n
Cinder Cone, one of the many volcanic features in the valley
67293723_3018539598190859_4510880936967012352_n
Gentian Peak and Panorama Ridge behind Helm Glacier, Mt Price at centre
67959134_3018540098190809_5421368051863912448_n
Panorama Ridge
67404197_3018530624858423_1668358966431711232_n
Black Tusk
67362250_3018540111524141_622416855125983232_n
The Garibaldi massif behind Gentian Peak, with Helm Glacier in the foreground
67364637_3018600554851430_9154092603757559808_n
One cold looking swimming pool!
67428531_3018530418191777_5064908143075524608_n
Guard Peak and Garibaldi

Once we reached the col, we virtually stopped in our tracks. There it was, Castle Towers! The very first time I had hiked to Garibaldi Lake I had been drawn to this high, glaciated, triple summited tower, and now we were getting a closer look. After a brief diversion examining a weather station there, we continued on.

67579099_3018600971518055_3980002629626363904_n
Castle Towers is an imposing sight!
67529269_3018539481524204_2118092770181644288_n
Weather station
67356597_3018535401524612_1556101161403023360_n
Gentian Peak, Garibaldi behind

It is here on this climb that you get an idea of the punishment you’ll endure on the return, because at that point you drop at least 250 metres in elevation to reach Gentian Pass. As per mountain terminology it isn’t strictly a pass so much as it is the Gentian – Polemonium Col, I suppose, but the name seems to have stuck. It took us another three quarters of an hour to reach the short expanse of meadow below, with its fine views of Castle Towers and the nearby Spearhead Range. By then we were in no mood for the up and coming hike up to Polemonium that was to follow, so we decided it was dinner time.

67476047_3018609094850576_2775228229668044800_n
Dropping down into Gentian Pass
67817961_3018530408191778_1366061056262144000_n
Local marmot offers greeting
68344679_3018601488184670_8813454263565942784_n
We weren’t looking forward to this climb on the way home

Doug broke out the stove and cooked up tasty dinner of rice and chicken with Indian spices, which was so good at the time I can still recall it a decade later! Meanwhile, I iced down some beers in a creek nearby and broke out some Snickers bars for dessert. After we ate and drank, we took ourselves a short nap, which really helped Doug as he hadn’t been feeling that well the week before the trip. Still, it was only with great reluctance that we shouldered our packs again and made for the ridge above. It seemed like every step took a minute, but eventually we reached our destination.

67365863_3018535598191259_1506194023675592704_n
Dinner is served!

Polemonium Ridge was a revelation! It was a broad plain of multiple levels, and featured endless vistas of the surrounding peaks. Though I don’t remember saying much at the time, I do recall being very thankful to be there! For lodging, we had brought two lightweight bivouac shelters that were braced with our hiking poles, and of course sleeping bags. We placed camp in a carefully located position, in case the winds kicked up, then set to exploring the ridge for a spell. Garibaldi Lake loomed below us, no doubt buzzing with campers, but from our perch we heard only faint summer breezes and the calls of nearby marmots. This was a real mountaineer’s camp, complete with some aging remnants left on a previous expedition or two. I even found an old pair of aviator sunglasses that date back to the 1970s which I still have today!

67359748_3018603461517806_9157814064070524928_n
Sardines, anyone?
67299417_3018539558190863_5948050309300355072_n
Polemonium Ridge
67568427_3018535734857912_4943347799660953600_n
Gentian Peak looks very different from Polemonium Ridge
67586024_3018535581524594_443052015753363456_n
Garibaldi and Guard Peak from camp

 

67950799_3018602344851251_6864238812894068736_n
Camp on the ridge!

The sunset was a grand show, as the alpenglow danced across the nearby peaks and a fiery orange glow hung over the Tantalus Range and the Squamish Cheakamus Divide. We spent the time letting all of that sink in and talking about trips past and future, and the fact we were then out of beer! Shortly after the sundown, we turned in, wanting to take advantage of the cooler morning conditions as we knew we’d be climbing in the shadows. Sleep came easily, it had been a long day!

67879037_3018530554858430_7578773658433224704_n
Garibaldi and The Table
67317682_3018539701524182_7806177853040492544_n
Garibaldi Lake
67574383_3018539834857502_4575697405122445312_n
Sunset over Tricouni Peak

I awoke early, as I always do in the mountains, having never been one to lie in a few extra hours when there’s a sunrise to see. I found myself thinking about my father, who had passed away the previous November. He had a lot to do with teaching me about the joys of early rising, being of the belief that it was particularly sublime to be awake while most of your corner of the world was ensconced in slumber. I will always think of him in the wee hours of the morning.

67902859_3018539628190856_117224556749389824_n
Sunrise
67289570_3018530914858394_4795541843108429824_n
Castle Towers and its namesake glacier
67359261_3018530744858411_2442740440324112384_n
First light
67411397_3018539814857504_2133553428381564928_n
The Table is a tuya, which is a volcano formed under thick layers of glacial ice
67573350_3018539524857533_8409971906064678912_n
Good morning, Castle Towers
67504218_3018530771525075_4517564726418341888_n
Getting ready to leave camp

Breakfast came next, then we cached some of our gear which we’d pick up on the descent. No sense carrying too much weight, right? Cool morning air accompanied us as we climbed further up the ridge and searched for the gully that would give us passage to the west flank of Castle Towers. It turned out that it wasn’t too difficult to locate, the crux being all of the loose rock that we had to contend with. We were well distracted by the views of the hulking mass of the Garibaldi massif and it’s volcanically created lake in the valley below.

67403682_3018604951517657_5566676222940807168_n
The loose gully you descend off the summit of Polemonium Ridge
67465583_3018604938184325_579029078321922048_n
Looking toward the route up to the west summit
67494221_3018538788190940_1959301764754702336_n
Garibaldi!
64322188_3018608034850682_3341008682501537792_n
The land of ice and snow!

Pretty soon our objective stood before us, and next we scaled yet another pile of randomly placed rock to bring us to the foot of a snowfield. According to our information, the snow here was supposedly in decent shape for kicking steps, so we’d opted not to bring crampons and ice axes with us. Big mistake! Doug, with his sturdier footwear, was able to lead successfully up the steep pitch to make it just barely possible for us to cross the snow. I followed behind, trying to very carefully place my steps. Since there was some exposure, this took us some time, but in time we made it up intact. Lesson learned? A serious mountaineer brings ALL the necessary gear, and that way if you need it you have it with you!

All that was left to do was to finish the climb to the west summit, where we could examine the rest of the route. That consisted of  a fairly large boulder field, which never gave the feeling of walking on secure and solid ground. Nearly every rock moved regardless of its size, and that made for one very nervous ascent, but we just kept on moving until we arrived at the top.

67270893_3018538964857589_8913218906378731520_n
Ascending the loose boulder field
67455340_3018607648184054_7081400257824686080_n
A most spectacular view! Keep scrolling, you’ll see it again in a moment
67416268_3018606044850881_8460019472042819584_n
Our blurry entry in the west summit logbook

The west summit of Castle Towers is a spectacular vantage point. Not only could we see Garibaldi across the valley, but many of the more rarely ascended peaks in the park, such as The Sphinx, Isosceles, The Bookworms, Phyllis Engine, and many more. We could even see the Tantalus Range and could make the distant peaks of the Squamish Elaho Divide. Mt Price and Garibaldi Lake stood out in especially sharp relief, and seemed close enough to reach out and touch, as did the Castle Towers Glacier!

67501809_3018607271517425_2643338773374435328_n
Mt Price and Tantalus Range behind Polemonium Ridge and Garibaldi Lake

This was a day on which I was going strongly, but I could soon see that Doug was now grinding out every step. It turned out that he was dealing with a case of vertigo which was disturbing his sense of balance, despite his determination. When we finally reached the cairn of the west summit, it was time to reevaluate our situation. Doug decided it would be best if he rested for a while, while I finished the task and made my way to the central and true summit. While that looked relatively straightforward, my concern for his well being prevented me from doing that. Had I met with an accident, I could not have been sure he was going to be alright on his own, and since we were in a very isolated location,  I opted to stand down. While I felt was the right decision, it wasn’t necessarily an easy one, but whatever disappointment we felt soon faded away as we focused on the incredible views!

67326817_3018539344857551_754402321118527488_n
Phyllis Engine, Mt Carr and more. Sky Pilot flowers growing in the foreground
67401919_3018538984857587_1851169464792383488_n
Garibaldi from the boulder field
67405255_3018539368190882_8962274145932935168_n
Castle Towers Glacier

We savoured the moment as best we could, as soon we’d be on the clock again, and heading homeward. We’d need to pick up the rest of our gear that we’d left at camp on Polemonium Ridge as well, and were expecting a long walk back to the parking lot! For a minute or two, we could hear nothing but the wind whistling through the vents in our helmets. I love that sound!

67322973_3018539358190883_5027266946614165504_n
Phyllis Engine and Mt Carr again, plus more rarely explored territory!
67333912_3018538871524265_5024017043645530112_n
Mt Price and Garibaldi Lake. The Burton Hut is right near the lakeshore but not visible here

Feeling somewhat fresher than before, we now backtracked down the boulder field, with all the more caution. It may have been even more unnerving on the descent, as even car sized boulders shifted underfoot. I remember laughing uneasily, referring to it all as “geologically recent”, mostly because it was!

67572870_3018607024850783_8808276001885782016_n
On the boulder field!
67399915_3018606431517509_9103241092916051968_n
Wedge Mountain zoom

When we reached the hardened snowfield for the second time, I had even come up with the idea of using a sharp rock to improve the steps, but the sun had shifted, serving to slightly soften the snows. It turned out nature had helped us out somewhat, and we were soon back on the endless rubble that would lead us back to the now familiar gully, then up to Polemonium Ridge beyond. It wasn’t quite as easy to climb as when we’d descended it, mostly because we kept finding rocks to dislodge, but thankfully it was a short, sharp, section of suffrage.

Our loads would get a little heavier, and as we retrieved our gear and stopped for another snack on the ridge, Garibaldi Lake shimmered below in the distance. It was at that moment we joked about calling for a helicopter ride home, but part of earning your keep in the mountains means you’ve got to do that walk back to the truck!

67273231_3018539974857488_8631235598813757440_n
I still miss this campsite, a decade later!
67481149_3018535754857910_8668032305920475136_n
Gentian Peak

As we left Polemonium Ridge behind, we turned to stare once again at Castle Towers. Would we try again for the summit? I knew I definitely wanted to. We still have not. It was one of the most ruggedly beautiful places I’ve seen in the Coast Mountains, not far as flies the crow from civilization, but it may as well have been a thousand miles from the closest human. It’s that very feeling of isolation that fuels my love of the mountains, and most of these words are but faint praise when comparing them to being there in the moment.

67623542_3018530851525067_8680859702491348992_n
See you later, my friend

Next, however, came the drop into Gentian Pass, steep as it was, followed by the climb back up to those ridges above the Helm Glacier. We were trudging along so slowly at one point that I’m sure I recall some of the resident marmots mocking us! Despite their imaginary taunts, we soon found ourselves overlooking the Helm Glacier and its sprawling valley below. Turning one last time to Castle Towers, with a quick nod of respect, we were off yet again. It would be over an hour before we reached the well groomed trail at the Helm Creek campsite, and several more before we made it to the parking lot. It was Doug who rebounded strongly toward the finish line, as I began to fade, as much mentally exhausted as anything.

67588430_3018608791517273_1904867654187876352_n
Spearhead Range
67465086_3018539158190903_3176817713477582848_n
Rugged territory in Gentian Pass
67618016_3018535724857913_889839759701049344_n
Polemonium Ridge from Gentian Pass

The hike back was something of a blur, so I’m glad I took plenty of photographs. All I really recall was that it was dark when we finally finished the trek! Here are some more looks, in no particular order, at this wonderfully scenic place.

Author’s Note: I must have been tired and delirious because I forgot that just before we reached the parking lot we stopped to retrieve some very cold Heinekens Doug had stashed from a nearby creek. Doug actually checked the GPS track he had and found a waypoint called Beer Creek. It makes me happy to know we weren’t deprived of refreshments after all that walking!

67375787_3018539964857489_1678636088731631616_n
Black Tusk in all its glory!
67613368_3018530588191760_5912265535143280640_n
Summit block of Black Tusk
67273410_3018530704858415_2624455674779664384_n
Wide open spaces
67404584_3018539171524235_6708739998683758592_n
Panorama Ridge
67693362_3018538851524267_5753134316766887936_n
We really enjoyed all the colourful lakes and tarns!

 

As popular as Garibaldi Park has become over the years, there is still land in the park that is as isolated as it is difficult to reach. Castle Towers Mountain is, in spirit at least, the gateway to this wilderness, so don’t pass up the opportunity to experience it. The harder you work, the greater the rewards!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area

 

When discussion turns to the great remaining stands of ancient Western Red Cedar, most people are referring to the trees found on the western coasts of British Columbia and Washington. Even among those interested in hunting down those fast disappearing giants, precious little attention is paid to the few surviving rainforests of British Columbia’s interior. If you have never been to one of these rare and beautiful sanctuaries, then this story might just pique your interest!

67221464_1136828993192163_1517882686977343488_o
Inland temperate rainforest is becoming increasingly hard to find in British Columbia

High in the upper Fraser River Valley, about 110 kms southeast of Prince George and 93 kms northwest of McBride is a surprising grove of trees just off Highway 16, near the outpost of Dome Creek. Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area ,close to Sugarbowl Grizzly Den Provincial Park and Protected Area, is also host to a most unusual climate. Here, all of the right conditions have combined to create something truly magical. You see, this cedar and hemlock forest has somehow managed to exist without any natural disturbance, including a complete lack of fires, for at least a thousand years. It has the added distinction of being further from an ocean than any of this planet’s other inland temperate rainforests.

66764850_1136827076525688_3600361438016700416_n
A giant reaches for the misty sky

The quest for the conservation of these trees was a determined one. It was a University of Northern British Columbia graduate student named Dave Radies who first brought wider attention to this incredible place. The forest had already been been marked and surveyed for logging at that time. This story, thankfully, was to have a different ending! After consistent lobbying and a barrage of media publicity, the provincial government agreed not only to preserve the trees, but to designate the land as a provincial park! Thanks to the efforts of the Caledonia Ramblers, an extremely dedicated local hiking club, trails were built, and later interpretive signs were posted so that future generations could appreciate these cedars for years to come. Substantial parking space was also created to accommodate the expected increase in visitors. Cooperation between local First Nations and British Columbia finally led to the official opening of Ancient Forest/ Chun T’oh Whudjut Provincial Park and Protected Area in 2016.

66663942_1136826139859115_1898611192507662336_o
This sign welcomes visitors
66735393_1136828783192184_1514302148836327424_o
Every inch of this forest serves its ideal purpose

There are a variety of hiking choices in the park. You can choose a boardwalk section that is wheelchair accessible that can be seen in half an hour, the forty five minute Big Tree Loop, a sixty minute trek to Tree Beard Falls, the ninety minute Ancient Forest Loop, and even a 15 km hike along the more rugged Driscoll Ridge Trail, whose western trailhead is  five kilometres west of the park on Highway 16. Not having an entire day to work with, I experienced a good combination of all but the last option! I took a great deal of photographs, and have arranged them, for once, in no particular order. Should you ever visit this park, I think you’d enjoy the opportunity to discover it yourself, as I did!

66619989_1136828029858926_2046094588426321920_o
Sunshine and splendour near the Driscoll Ridge Trailhead
66579972_1136826793192383_7346970425177407488_o
The sound of running water was a constant companion, and yes, so were the mosquitoes!

67386374_1136829099858819_8163101794390507520_o

I can only ponder what it must have been like for First Nations people to discover this woodland paradise. Everything about it seems as venerable as it is verdant. The understory is alive with mosses, lichens, ferns, and many other plants. Rising above the forest floor are tall groves of spiny Devil’s Club, always a challenge to the forest explorer, and a look skyward reveals not only the spiked tops of the ancient cedars, but also their ever present coastal companions, the Western Hemlocks. This forest, being inland, is subject to winters that are colder and lengthier than seen on the coast, thus growing seasons are shorter and trees take longer to reach larger girth. Other than the man made structures that have been constructed to preserve the fertile and fragile ground, not much has changed here in the last twenty centuries or so!

66745979_1136827399858989_1917626683469332480_o
Beautiful scenes around every corner. This is forest as it’s meant to be!
66465732_1136827183192344_3661827986300076032_o
The base of Treebeard

66600305_1136827906525605_5824860627092373504_o

67229622_1136829703192092_2087612345059639296_n
The largest tree in the grove reaches nearly sixteen feet in diameter and is well over a millennium old!
66816006_1136826489859080_6093425516226805760_o
Wondrous biodiversity!

Wildlife in the area is considerably varied. At lower elevation, black bear and deer are commonly sighted, as are moose. Above the forest, high on the Driscoll Ridge Trail, you’ll find Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine Fir growing, where grizzly bears, mountain caribou, and even wolverines can sometimes be sighted.

67064009_2987539331290886_8195322883858235392_o
Black bear sightings are common in the area. They are generally peaceful, but be sure to take all the normal precautions should you encounter one

When I hear logging companies talking about trees like these, they speak in terms that confound me, focusing only on harvesting them for cash value before they reach the end of their lives. What they fail to understand is that aging trees, and those that fall to the ground, are the life blood of the ecosystem, allowing for maximum biodiversity and wildlife habitat. That is why what little remains of apex old growth forest needs to be preserved, not cut down! Surely there is room in our resource based society to at least protect the finest of old growth stands that still remain. If not, they will exist only as posts and beams in some grand architectural design, or worse, be shipped off as raw logs to some foreign land to be processed.

66692331_1136829276525468_271604626468372480_o
Many of the trees still display paint from when the cut block was surveyed. It’s an important reminder that other forests are not so lucky

66881562_1136828489858880_7189538901453701120_n

Every once in a while, a superb place like this gets discovered and then preserved in its intact state. While most would agree that it doesn’t happen often enough, at least when it does, I believe it sets an inspirational example of what we should be striving for as a society. We need to preserve nature in its intended state and save its very best for all, instead of destroying it for our own purposes. That’s a vision that I know that I can embrace.

65020321_1136827539858975_1589038453847228416_n
These forests deserve to be celebrated and respected
66675587_1136829496525446_8439348808059453440_o
I hope you enjoy seeing this forest as much as I did!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fissile Peak: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back


“Whose idea was this anyway?” The question was Ted’s, as we traipsed up the old road to Singing Pass. The answer from Denis came quickly: “I believe this was your idea. You getting old or something?” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I know it included some pretty good back and forth! That was unsurprising, considering the two have been hiking and climbing together for decades and were into their sixties at that time. As funny as I found the banter,  I just wasn’t awake enough to laugh, though I wryly kept asking “Are we there yet?”

It may have been a lengthy approach, but I was still more than curious about the destination. Fissile Peak, part of the Overlord Group, boasted volcanic rock and fine views of the Overlord Glacier. It was also quite close to Russet Lake. Surprisingly, this part of Garibaldi Provincial Park is relatively quiet once the snows recede and the skiers pack it in for the season. You’re unlikely to meet too many other hikers on most days. The previous year, Ted had climbed Whirlwind Peak and Overlord Mountain, so he was keen to complete the trifecta by ascending Fissile.

Soon enough,  but not soon enough, we were passing the old mine adit at trailside and Cowboy Ridge was now within our sights. Just like that, we were out of the trees and following easy switchbacks to the broad plain above. Some of Garibaldi’s grander summits were already front and center, and the icefield of the Cheakamus Glacier shone brightly in the morning light.

Default

Two Summer Days in the Mamquam Valley


The sound was as loud as it was clear! The distinctive grunt and snapping of jaws left little doubt as to its source. Motioning silently to each other, we beat a hasty retreat down the alder choked logging spur, hightailing it back to the Mamquam Forest Service Road. Chris and I had no question that we’d run into an ill tempered black bear, even though neither of us had seen it. So ended our ill fated assault on Pinecone Peak!

2619631647_de69dc04c0_z
Actual black bear, possibly similar to what was heard. The sound was enough to get rid of us!

This story had its beginnings in the third week of June 2008, when we had decided to set out to climb the aforementioned mountain. Armed with some decent route descriptions and trip reports from good friend Simon, we had made our way deep into the Mamquam Valley in Chris’s trusty Ford, under deceptively clearing skies. The road was still wet from spring torrents as Chris displayed an array of evasive manoeuvres to avoid obstacles better left to four wheel drive travel. In addition to running some damn fine bookstores ( visit him at one of Vancouver’s Pulpfiction Books locations ), he can also flat out drive a logging road! Up until that ursine encounter, it had been a fairly pleasant outing. We had even taken the time to stop and look at the many creeks bursting with meltwater as the skies seemed to part above, hinting at a bluebird day. Optimistically, I felt that the weather would take a turn for the better, after all, how often does the forecast turn out to be wrong these days?

Rushing waters were the order of the day!

 

The M-22 Spur, bear not included!

Alas, we were duped by the weather gods! It was just as well, I suppose. Ominous clouds had begun gathering above and the rain then began to fall, lightly at first, then harder, and harder still. What to do now? Well, we wandered about the valley, hiked up a few logging spurs, located the M-110 logging spur that led to the Pinecone Lakes Trail and Peak 6500, then spent a little more time perusing the area. Some considerably large stumps of Western Red Cedar were one highlight of the morning, along with several piles of shotgun shells and views of misted forest.

Wandering a cut block above the Mamquam River

Clouds hung low in the morning silence, a deer hopped through an opening in the clearcut and soon disappeared. We marvelled at the endless determination of the road builders, and wondered aloud how many more piles of spent shotgun shells there might be in this valley. Good thing none of the local Leroys were around that day!
A stroll up yet another spur netted a really rare find- an old Zenith cabinet style  colour television with, you guessed it, another nearby cache of shotgun shells!

 

A moody day
Colourful array of spent shell casings

 

A misty forest scene
Is this thing on?

As my friend Tracy later said “Wow, that TV’s seen better days!! I bet it remembers this Coke commercial, or this Big Mac commercial, and, of course, Mikey.”                 Televisions like these sure do bring back fond memories, don’t they? In my mind, I almost could imagine Adam West (R.I.P.) and Burt Ward in an episode of the old Batman series playing out on screen! Bam! Sock! Thwack!

batman60s
The only real Batman (the late Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) ***Not for profit, All rights reserved***

 

Alive with greenery!
Chris heading for one of those big cedar stumps
Bearberry

From there we bushwhacked back through the clearcut, admiring the surprising biodiversity, and the general aura that showed us that the Mamquam Valley was a special place, despite the obvious human disturbances.

We finished our foray with a wander down to the banks of the Mamquam River itself, enjoying the sounds of the roaring current amid the din of the pouring rain, while I vainly attempted to keep my camera dry just to try and land a few decent photos!

Thuja Plicata, the Western Red Cedar
The Mamquam River

 

Another raging creek

It hadn’t exactly been the kind of alpine excursion we’d daydreamed about, but it had nevertheless been a memorable day!  I’d characterize it as unexpectedly eventful, at  minimum.
Soon enough we were enjoying our lunch in a Squamish cafe, drinking coffee and telling more tales, a little wet but certainly none the worse for wear. An ironic denouement, at least for Chris, considering his profession. We’d come to buy, but settled for browsing, in the end, though we enjoyed it well!

Default

The weeks rolled by swiftly, and soon, summer was almost over. Doug and I seized the opportunity to head up the Mamquam Valley again, before the days began to shorten. On this occasion, not only was it not raining, but the chance of precipitation was basically nonexistent! We were determined to find the M110 logging spur and hike up to Peak 6500, sometimes known as Seed Peak. The mountain sits in the same cirque as Mt Gillespie, in an alpine playground full of tarns, beautiful granite blocks. There are even remnants of a pocket glacier, whose demise seems inevitable.

Here are a couple of views from the road as we drove up the M 110 spur….

The Mt Garibaldi massif, as seen from the M-110 logging spur. It’s the closest volcano to the Greater Vancouver area, and it’s right on the doorstep of Squamish!
After winding our way up all those logging roads, finally we managed to reach the trailhead to Peak 6500. Both the road and the trail had been brushed out and reflagged, making our passage somewhat easier. The track began with a beautiful walk through subalpine forest to a plateau, then followed with a steep scramble up to Peak 5700, which has an outstanding view of the surrounding Coast Mountains!

The more we meandered, the greater was my affinity for this place. Should you decide to visit it yourself, please remember to treat it with the utmost respect. Be sure to leave no trace by packing out what you pack in, and take great care not to damage the fragile environment!
Default

One of the sections of fast melting glacier in the basin
Default

As day trips go, this wasn’t a long one by my standards. It was about seven hours car to car including all the alpine sauntering, but the drive up will take you at least a couple of hours, so an early start is recommended. One thing I can assure you is that you won’t be disappointed!

A view from the summit cairn

 

 

In Search of the Cabin Lake Fir

You can see it on a signboard at Cypress Provincial Park, where it’s featured as one of the trees discovered by Randy and Greg Stoltmann. There’s a a picture of a magnificent Amabilis Fir deep in a snow filled gully, with one of the brothers posing beside it back in the late 1980s. Randy, who passed away in a skiing accident in 1994, is even today a legendary tree hunter and conservationist. It would have been interesting to have met him, indeed, his legacy still burns brightly.

Randy Stoltmann (1962-1994). Without his efforts there might not be a Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park. Now it's time to finish the job and protect the entire Walbran Valley
The late Randy Stoltmann, who, along with brother Greg, discovered the Cabin Lake Fir

I’ll admit that I’d been hunting old growth trees for many years before I ever went looking for a record Pacific Silver Fir ( the other namesake of the Amabilis Fir ). The tree occurs in cool forest glades at lower elevations, often less conspicuous in the company of the larger Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir, and Western Red Cedar. True giants of the species, however, are generally found at higher elevations where they are similarly overshadowed by Mountain Hemlock and Yellow Cedar. In a sense, they sometimes seem to be hiding in plain sight!

39737612681_ccc596981d_z
Typical stand of Pacific Silver Fir ( Abies Amabilis ) which you’d often find at elevations of 300-500 meters in Southwest B.C.
The cones of Amabilis Firs are very distinctive and aromatic.

It was actually in 2004 that I first heard about the Cabin Lake Fir, when talking to Ralf Kelman, B.C.’s preeminent big tree hunter. Over a decent cup of coffee, he told me, among other things, a tale of a November trek to see the tree back in the late 1990s. Accompanying Ralf on that excursion was Washington state tree expert Robert Van Pelt,  who was hoping to measure the crown spread of the tree with then state of the art laser technology. Typically for Ralf, not known for preferring early starts, the trip began a bit late in the day. While they did manage to locate, photograph and measure the tree, there were some adventurous moments extricating themselves from the steep approach gully and subsequently, hiking back to the parking lot in Cypress Provincial Park. Darkness, sleet, and poor visibility didn’t help them much either. The day ended with more than a few beers at an east end Vancouver drinking establishment where all finished the day both dry and more than a little happy!

It was my frequent partner in exploration Doug who finally convinced me that we had to rediscover this tree some eight years later. He reasoned that we ought to approach it by following a direct contour line off of one of the Black Mountain ski runs. Doug also thought that we might just have the chance to find some of the large Mountain Hemlocks he’d also seen marked on some maps. It didn’t take too much effort to get me hooked on his plan. I later learned, years later, that due to the destruction of Washington’s Goodman Creek Fir, the Cabin Lake Fir had since become the largest known of its species. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were now hunting for the world champion Amabilis Fir!

A rocky gully behind the northeast end of Cabin Lake leads you to the tree, not recommended for inexperienced hikers

We chose a decent spring day for the hike, and though the terrain was steep and time consuming, travel was reasonable. The forest was well spaced, and indeed, full of the beautiful Mountain Hemlocks the park is well known for!

50960014_2731006863610802_5327740041143779328_n
One of the larger Mountain Hemlocks I have seen in Cypress Provincial Park
50962049_2731006823610806_6987651296530530304_n
These were not the Mountain Hemlocks on Doug’s map, but nevertheless they were great finds
51057078_2731006836944138_2034685862502989824_n
Untouched and unlogged, just the way I like to see a forest!
51356438_2731007003610788_8484733920749813760_n
As we approached the couloir we were looking for, the forest opened up somewhat

We soon managed to work our way close to a broad chute fortified with high walls on the side we found ourselves on . It was first necessary to climb safely into the chute so that we could explore the area, which was at roughly the elevation we expected to find the Cabin Lake tree. The light soon began to shine more brightly as we kicked our way into the snow slope and gradually worked our way down. We were glad to have brought our ice axes for the descent.

51737891_2731006993610789_4838981889664483328_n
Doug using his ice axe to dig in on a steep traverse we made to get down into the gully

We didn’t see it at first. Curiously, the next thing we noted was that the snows below us were covered with a fine layer of fallen moss and lichens – the kind you often see draping trees in the high mountains. I’ve heard it called Old Man’s Beard.

50914610_2731007563610732_7350983745698004992_n
Where had all of this come from?

While we were both pondering exactly where that carpet of foliage had come from, a towering spire appeared almost right in front of us, just downslope. It was clear we had found the source of all that fallen plant life, it was the Cabin Lake Fir itself! In its company were a number of young Silver Firs, perhaps seeded from the cones of their parent nearby.

50988180_2731007883610700_6496599864443404288_n
This tree has lived for hundreds of years! You can see the mosses hanging from every appendage
51311795_2731007616944060_7545925701308776448_n
In contrast, the mature trunk of a mature Silver Fir at right, and a relatively young tree at centre here

To some, it might seem like hyperbole to assign mythical qualities to a simple being such as a tree, but the Cabin Lake Fir most certainly had a peculiar aura. It  grows in a  location quintessential  for its survival and it’s doing exceptionally well. The tree is ideally situated to acquire all the necessary nutrients, water, and just the right amount of sunlight. Simultaneously, the steep rock walls nearby shade it from the midday sun and protect it from high winds. It is even evident that the slides and avalanches which take place in the couloir follow a path well away from the tree.

51392145_2731007463610742_6667896581980684288_n
Doug and the Cabin Lake Fir, both good friends, one a lot older!

We spent quite a while in the presence of this grand old spirit of the forest, taking ample time for photography and lunch, before packing up and climbing out of the gully to Cabin Lake, as we wanted to be certain to chart the entire route. I was certainly happy that Doug had been so insistent that we make the trek that day!

51048609_2731007136944108_7663581116292399104_n
You can see this tree is loaded with character!

 

51549845_2731007756944046_5851699615732072448_n
Towering in the mist
51658211_2731007313610757_4582282633664266240_n
Getting that all important location
51085263_2731008076944014_5472597343733809152_n
Lunch with the World Champion Cabin Lake Fir!
50946162_2731007980277357_7739038086750797824_n
The Cabin Lake Fir!
51050960_2731008170277338_2917282941543383040_n
This photo was taken on the walk out of the couloir. If you are approaching the correct gully from the lake when it is snowed in, this is what you should be looking at
51210438_2731008573610631_7595060659750961152_n
You will also see this iconic pair of Mountain Hemlocks just before descending the gully. I call them The Happy Couple

Two years later, we would return in autumn, descending that same gully downward from Cabin Lake, with the bluffs of Black Mountain looming above. Paul, who was along with us on that day, was also keen to get a look at the tree.

50790038_2731008300277325_1106507536795697152_n
The well known Cabin Lake. Most folks don’t get too far beyond its shores and the nearby summit of Black Mountain plateau
51217567_2731008346943987_6970221430185132032_n
Tour Guide. I hire only the best ones!
50999223_2731008333610655_6112988130187411456_n
The ponds were just beginning to freeze on that early November day

If you are taking notes on the approach and how it might look once the snow melts, after you leave the lake behind you should find yourself in a blocky, granite boulder field that is very distinctive looking . Just carry on downward, with bluffs on your right, as you descend toward the gully.

51083585_2731008436943978_6951741147983118336_n
Doug and Paul getting ready to head toward the gully

50614962_2731008220277333_2684691779357245440_n

50988240_2731008470277308_1640540115363168256_n
A look at the boulder field. some of the rocks are huge in size
51607296_2731008450277310_5970189212148826112_n
Yep, we’re heading down there!

The tree was no less magnificent on that occasion, and the weather was about the same as it was for our first visit. Fog and mist made getting an ideal photo something of a challenge. All agreed, though, that it was a tree worth revisiting!

51533400_2731006966944125_5853040792284692480_n
A different angle shows the broken top of the Cabin Lake Fir
51286849_2731007923610696_8673832964196401152_n
Still straight and true!
51398906_2731008013610687_6480799611769323520_n
Centuries of bark

In the end, it seemed fitting once again to walk in the footprints of the Stoltmann brothers, and my only regret was all of the years I had waited before searching out the Cabin Lake Fir. To paraphrase the immortal Warren Miller: “Get out there and get it done. If you don’t do it this year, you will just be one year older when you do!”

****IMPORTANT UPDATE***

I have recently learned that the Cabin Lake Fir has died, as reported in the summer of 2015, not long after our last visit. Here is a link to the BC Big Tree Registry that documents its demise in two very telling photos. It was a privilege to have made its acquaintance and it truly magnifies my concluding paragraph in this story. Had we not made the effort to see the tree when we did, we would not have seen it alive at all. It will have to live on in memory alone, once the largest and perhaps the oldest known tree of its kind! It was, at least, the world champion for about seven years!

51182309_2731008720277283_8375868465575100416_n
Heading back to Cabin Lake on the walk home

 

 

51166575_2731008680277287_5221484757853929472_n
An artistic rendition of the Cabin Lake Fir, emphasizing the shadows. It was a grand old tree, I will miss it a lot

***In memory of Warren Miller (1924- 2018 )***

84bcb586-012e-11e8-97df-295a7fd15d8d-780x522

 

 

 

 

How Callaghan Made Our Day!

Mt Callaghan, a worthy destination in a scenic valley beside a beautiful lake. I’d been that way before, so why not again? As much as you plan a nice, easy trek on a well walked trail and a pleasant scramble to a summit with panoramic views followed by some tailgating and a refreshing swim in a lake, sometimes, you know, the mountain gods have other ideas.

21371352_2103047203073441_844896217825735142_n-1
Mt Callaghan, back in 2009 on a bluebird day

On Wednesday, Alan, Denis, Ted, and I met up in the pre morning darkness to head up Mt Callaghan. After a quick stop for breakfast in Squamish, it was off up the Callaghan Valley Road and then on to the Callaghan FSR for the trip up to Callaghan Lake, where the trail begins.

I should have known it wasn’t going to be an easy day. I once had a high school teacher named Callaghan who was a pretty tough guy that kind of helped straighten me out back in those days. We called him Dirty Harry! That was back when when discipline was, how do you say, a lot more rampant. On several occasions he threw me up against lockers, a blackboard, and he cured me of leaning back constantly on my chair by kicking it out from under me. Yes, those were the days…Am I rambling? Sorry, back on point…

bb0d52e0cbf7ecbb2c82a9f6a61aeefd--things-to-watch-lobby
Dirty Harry Callahan. That’s what we called my science teacher and what Denis was calling the mountain by the end of the day

Our first obstacle was the logging road. Instead of bringing the truck we took Al’s car which didn’t quite have high enough ground clearance. He did a masterful job of driving much of the road but we were stopped by a waterbar over six kilometres from Callaghan Lake. That meant over an hour walking on the road that we’d be repeating later. Dirty Harry had landed the first shot!

A21317686_732957396912660_7918484105717456758_n
The sun attempts to rise through the smoke from BC and Washington’s many wildfires this season. This was as bright as it would get all day

Between catching up with Alan, with whom I’d last climbed with in 2006, and the usual array of stories from Ted and Denis, the long hike on the road and then on the lengthy trail to Ring Lake went off without a hitch for the most part. The trails were reasonably well groomed and the scenery, though muted by the thick smoke, was as pleasant as I’d remembered.

21430543_732957693579297_1011661746311593645_n
Denis crosses the big bridge over Callaghan Creek
21430126_732957810245952_7713477362893444935_n
The creek, still running pretty briskly!
21369472_732960306912369_2257379020421839816_n
Some of the tarns were mighty dry. This is normally a very wet area
21369171_732959103579156_7731516940142232407_n
Pond near the Journeyman Lodge with some nice reflections

By the time we reached Journeyman Lodge we stopped for a quick break. It was locked up when we got there, obviously closed for the season.

21432774_732960286912371_6232138991150010824_n
Here’s a picture of the l….what the …? Photobombed by Blair yet again. This has happened to me more than a few times before
21369155_732960376912362_1721020535177594839_n
And here is the lodge, closed until the snows return

This valley is hemmed in by some formidable mountains, but none were visible save for faded outlines on a canvas of hazy skies. It would have been an exceptionally hot day without the cloud and smoke cover, which actually served to lower temperatures somewhat while raising the humidity. We hiked onward past Conflict Lake, where you begin to cross a broad meadow and the trail begins to climb.

21430418_732960413579025_5247168728395414156_n
The marshy shores of Conflict Lake
20170906_175906
Me, Denis, and Ted on the march through the f*****g meadows, as Ted put it. Photo by Alan

 

21369250_2103046706406824_1534588978292642836_n
This is Conflict Lake back in 2009. That’s Mt Callaghan in the background. On our trek we weren’t able to see it until we were right below its slopes
21463185_2103046863073475_727102720643160815_n-1
The mountain again, from the big subalpine meadow, in 2009. Much of the upper half of this view was invisible on our hike. Summit of the mountain is at centre in this shot

 

21462642_732960580245675_7919798226512283821_n
Nice view of the creek after you get past the big meadow. Quintessential Coast Mountain scene if you ask me

We pressed on past the meadow and up the ever steepening path at a pretty spirited pace, working our way up past the trail’s signature feature, a nifty wooden ladder that helps you up the slope after the creek crossing.

21433010_732960773578989_28221907510015417_n
Alan tackling the ladder

Once you’re up the ladder, the trail ramps up again as it works upward, heading for Ring Lake, but first you get to cross a boulder field that’s alive with the whistling of marmots. That was where we stopped for a break, and as soon as we did the hordes of insects found us again. There were plenty of bugs but not too many were biting us, luckily.

21369510_732960906912309_6777603147079901516_n
Spot the marmot!

We then crossed the boulder field and headed back into the woods again, finally working our way up into the bowl where Ring Lake resides. Normally, when you arrive there, it’s one of those Sound of Music moments as it’s really a spectacular place to hang out, but on this day it was hardly visible and the smoke cast an eerie orange glow. At the time that REM tune “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” was running through my head.

21462533_732969816911418_2284145719196044481_n
Ring Mountain and Ring Lake looking kind of sinister today
21430342_2103047173073444_2097768294268503347_n
Now here’s the glory of Ring Lake as Chris saw it here in this 2009 photo

Ring Mountain is a tuya, which is a volcano that repeatedly erupts under cover of thick sheets of glacial ice. When that ice melts the unusual looking volcano is revealed.

21369385_732961623578904_2648634442719726907_n
Alan making his way toward the ascent as we head up to tackle the slopes above
21463164_732965860245147_6595295677652968298_n
Conference before the climb, just to see if anyone has any different ideas on the route
21369644_732965763578490_7155346494437034815_n
Great water source, I refilled twice at this spot!

 

Once near the lake we began angling up toward the summit of Mt Callaghan, choosing to aim for a gap in the face at the top of a steep run of rock and heather. It was slow going and shifty ground. Alan led up through the gap, followed by Ted and myself, with Denis bringing up the rear. Right about at the time Ted was moving through the gap, I looked up and heard something clatter and a nasty rock half the size of a volleyball zinged past me at waist height from above about thirty feet to my left. Right away I shouted “Rock!” to Denis below, but he barely had a chance to react before it passed just ten feet to his left while he was looking in the opposite direction! He never even saw it! Too close for my liking. It threw a scare into me for a minute or two, and also at that point I was dealing with my first ever sore back on a climb. It didn’t persist too badly and so I resolved to pace myself a bit because my legs were feeling strong and so we then moved up to join Ted and Alan who were waiting at 2050m.

21371215_732966143578452_2121136401343839317_n
Denis battling up to 2050m. This was as far as he could make it on this day

 

Denis was also not having his best day. Sometimes when you’re not quite right the mountain finds you. Being the only one in our group who’d already climbed the peak, he just decided to walk back down to the lake and rest up while the rest of us went for the summit. We would have to go without his comedic stylings for a few hours but were sure he had made the right decision.

Before that, though, we took a bit of a respite and examined the route. Alan figured it made good sense to head up through a gap in the ridge in front of us to see if we could access the summit block from there and Ted agreed. That worked well, giving access to a cirque above, where we had a decision to make. Work up to the right on rock and snow to examine what was beyond or try a nastier looking mixed gully accessed by crossing some snow on the left? Right it would be, as Alan scouted above and reported it would go all the way to the summit block!

21462853_732960963578970_9208158714091303663_n
View of Powder Mountain across the lake in the smoke and haze
20170906_135513
Alan got this shot of Ted and I crossing the rock of reasonable quality below the summit block
21430441_732968903578176_3963214114562439853_n
Working our way up the mountain was a careful process. This was just below the summit block
21430273_732966373578429_923120729815376455_n
And there it is, the summit block, so close and yet so far, as they say
21314819_10159311001765344_4971212469927465238_n
Alan took this photo as he got to the summit. That is Ted in front as I am coming up behind
21462445_732966800245053_936978512527657816_n
Just below where I was when Alan took the previous photo I was at this spot when a big rock flipped over and crashed off one of my shins and into the other. I got cut up and bruised but all things considered I got lucky. This mountain was fighting back today!
20170906_143203
Alan’s shot of Ted “The Hammer” Oliver just metres below the summit!

Not too long after that we all made it to the top, where we were glad to stop and enjoy rock which was not moving! The summit crests right at the edge of what becomes the Pemberton Icefield. Even through the smoky sky the views were pretty inspiring! We were all stoked to have earned some time at the top of Mt Callaghan.

21557716_2103247233053438_746168493317889723_n
Ted and Alan happy to have made the top!
21317809_10159311085960344_7424328180849975095_n
Here are all of us on the summit, photo by Alan. One of the many subpeaks of Callaghan in behind

The next half hour was spent refueling and, for me, bandaging my cuts and stretching out my lats. While I did that Alan and Ted decided to climb a nearby pinnacle for a good photo opportunity or two. It had a simple and safe approach as the guys said but looked like quite the dramatic perch, with its head shaped like a howling wolf. I resolved to call it “Coyote Ugly” or “Bark at the Moon”. Ted also had a good name for it but I’ve forgotten what it was.

21369636_2103242799720548_1582508689076254811_n-1
Alan on the move up the pinnacle
21371108_2103243729720455_7131714187766321164_n
Tricky step at the top
21370895_2103243659720462_4847135304849626662_n
Alan atop the pinnacle, with the icefield at left
21430057_732966686911731_2439645359115548243_n
That subpeak that loomed behind us in our group shot looking somewhat ghostly
21314761_2103246916386803_6136025537546626176_n
Now Ted gives it a go and gives the thumbs up!
21430557_10159320168370344_556274923337973393_n
Here is a nice shot Alan got of me just after I took the shot of Ted

There was time to enjoy the summit, but not too much time, as the days are getting shorter and we did not want to be walking the trail with headlamps later on, so a few more shots for good measure and we were away!

21557606_732967963578270_2293244259158635284_n
Callaghan summit and its slightly shorter and hard to access tower, which nearly became the true summit after 3m of rock were lost off the main summit in a landslide some years ago
21432702_732966703578396_4515620979616498312_n
So, while Denis was unable to make the top today, it should be noted that when he climbed it with Jim Sedor in the 80s (?) it was actually 2412m high, not the present 2409m
21430250_732968420244891_8605337320443692273_n
Typical coast mountain summit rock, encrusted with good old black lichen. This could be anywhere in the range

The descent went reasonably well, save for us getting sharp rocks stuck in our shoes and encountering plenty more of the same moving rock. It took until around 430pm before we were back in the meadow below again.

21317856_10159311001705344_1715168299753564985_n-1
Alan’s shot of the pinnacle and icefield as he reached the summit earlier. I loved this view!
21371021_732968496911550_3615712880690170773_n
Rugged rock of Callaghan
20799229_732968900244843_2110084546138166027_n
On our way down, working our way down to the lake again!
21317787_732969886911411_8298184173391645216_n
Getting closer, but it’s slow going!
21371153_732969866911413_7227029477866000964_n
Returning to the creek for water again!

It was good to discover that Denis was feeling much better when we made it down, as now the race with daylight was on! It was going to be a long haul back to the car. But first a last look at Callaghan and a few words…

21369395_732970000244733_7984593733088981567_n
It’s still watching us, we better move on, lads!

A quote from the movie Dirty Harry, because some of you may know I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood’s films even if he does spend too much time talking to freaking chairs these days!

Dirty Harry: “Uh uh. I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

clint-eastwood-dirty-harry-make-my-day
“Go ahead, make my day.”

As we marched out along the trail, we concocted a scenario in which Alan would quickly roust us up a ride from someone camping at the lake so that we would not have to walk the logging road again. Well, for all his charms it was not to be. As he returned to us on the road we asked what happened and he replied “Arrghh, they told me to f**k off”, followed by “Nahh, there was nobody there!” and roars of laughter ensued. Somehow or other, mostly because I had not turned on my GPS right away on the walk up, we had duped ourselves into thinking it was only three kilometres to the car, not six plus.

No such luck on that score, so we walked the road as dusk fell quietly. On the stroll back we discussed some of the unusual phenomenons of modern day Japanese culture, courtesy of Ted, and a tale of young Nazis being forced to recover two million land mines off the beaches of Denmark, I think it was, as Denis described. Numerous times Ted, ever the fatalist, wondered whether the car had been stolen and how it wouldn’t be so bad walking to Whistler as long as the thieves left us all the beer! Geesh!  At about 845 pm we hooted and hollered joyously at the sight of Alan’s car and cracked open some Stellas as we celebrated the day!

But…all those ready to beer up please step forward…not so fast retreads! You see, there was still the matter of getting Al’s car off the logging road unscathed and since it was now pitch dark we decided to do that before having a few more beers. I rode up front with Al to scout, and Ted described his ride down the road here:

“Bumping down the pitch black Callaghan FSR, sitting on a cold cooler of beer in the open trunk to provide weight to get over cross ditches. Between sips and various profundities being pondered, I asked my friend [also in his seventies]” Is this really how we should be spending our doddering old age?” My response to that later was “Hell yes it is!”

Once the danger was cleared, a few more rounds were had, with the Nacho Cheese Jalopeno Doritos and Beef Jerky that Al had remembered to bring. The beer selection was diverse, and the jokes were flying left and right. If we know you at all or have even just heard of you, you probably got mentioned, but I’m sure it was in a good way!

I’ll let Alan sum up the apres slog best, as follows:

“TNT beer, Stella, Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee, Alexander Keiths, Bowen Island Lager. F**k we had a great selection too bad we couldn’t have swam in the lake and drank em all. The pitch black tailgate was time well spent though!”

When it was all said and done, Callaghan had made our day, and I guess we were kind of lucky too. Thanks for the day out, lads, highly entertaining as always!

Postscript: I couldn’t resist adding these last two shots. It’s one thing to drink beer in the dark, but it’s another to post about it online. Thanks Alan for these photos and the others I used in the story. Two photographers on a trip with these guys is a bonus!

20170906_214656
Shot of my cooler and its soon to be depleted contents!
20170906_213723
Not too often you see a pitch black tailgating shot, which Alan pulled off with the help of two headlamps