Only a few pages of the 2007 calendar were to turn before favourable spring weather had us thinking about a return to Kennedy Creek. It was the first day of April when Chris and I began our early day hiking along the Cedar Mills Trail in Lynn Headwaters Park. The idea, this time, was simply to try and cover some ground we hadn’t the first time. Would we be April fools? Well, yes, but read on and find out how!
On reaching the Third Debris Chute, the first mission was fording Lynn Creek. A word to the wise and wary: you have to be comfortable with cold, fast moving water, especially when you do this in spring. Your trip can easily be over before it begins as sometimes it’s simply too dangerous! Techniques will vary. Sometimes I will leave my boots on and walk straight across and sometimes I carry my boots. I recommend hiking poles or finding a long sturdy branch to help with balance as well. Last but not least, put your cameras in a resealable plastic bag and pack extra clothing in case you end up going for an unplanned swim. A climbing helmet is also not a bad idea not only for the creek crossing but also for all the clambering over rocks and logs you’ll be doing!
Chris had reasoned that on this trek we ought to work our way up to about the 450m elevation mark then traverse north toward Wickenden Creek. This made sense as then we would cover exploring the belt of forest just below the one we had walked the first time. No sooner were our boots back on after the ford than we were faced with the unexpected fast moving waters of lower Kennedy Creek, but we managed to steeplechase that with minimal difficulty.
Once past the creek it was a matter of bashing our way uphill for about half an hour. On our first trip we had followed the crude flagged route that heads west up to Kennedy Falls after you cross Lynn Creek but on this day we were well north of that line. Morning mist drifted through the trees as the sound of the rushing torrents faded. Silence descended, and almost magically we were again among the giants.
Normally we think of ourselves as tree hunters, but on this excursion, as with the first one, the trees were more or less finding us! I was surprised by the sheer number of them as much as anything else. This was a stand of forest in which many trees had reached way over 400 years in age.
The quietude was interrupted from time to time by the rhythmic sounds of a nearby woodpecker building a home, and punctuated by the occasionally inane Simpsons’ banter that seems to follow Chris and I wherever we go. On we thrashed, in the direction of an unnamed creek not far south of the Wickenden drainage, with plenty of distractions along the way.
Another half hour passed, and we found ourselves in a steep creek gully that was peculiarly bright and open. On subsequent trips I discovered that avalanches are not infrequent there, as the gully is at the bottom of a chute that shows evidence of very forceful slides. For a moment, I looked uphill, where I could see the spiky tops of more ancient cedars, then downhill, where I could see the The Needles in sharp relief across the Lynn Creek Valley. Where to go next?
In proof of the old saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees”, suddenly Chris was on his way up the chute, saying “I think we have something here!” And so he did! It was a huge western red cedar, most likely about 500 years old yet relatively young in appearance judging by its trunk wear. Because of where it was growing it was difficult to say exactly what its diameter was was but it was definitely in the neighbourhood of 15 feet wide, perhaps more. What is likely is that if it reaches the age of the oldest trees in the park it will almost certainly someday be among the largest. Here are a few looks at this grand old specimen!
Well, that tree had certainly made our day memorable, but as it turned out the walk home delivered just as much wonder! We were now at an elevation of roughly 350m, and so opted to follow that lower line back toward the Kennedy Creek again.
Not to sound trite, but this was one of those days that has you really appreciating the wonders of nature. I advocate responsible forest management but I find it hard to understand that some people would only see this forest in dollar signs. In this day and age there is really no excuse for harvesting old growth forest. Thankfully, Lynn Headwaters Park has seen its last logger.
Midday gave way to afternoon, and we decided to stop for lunch near a tree both of us nearly walked past. Life was good.
Half an hour later we were making our way across lower Kennedy Creek again. The waters were flowing even harder than they had been in the morning, which is typical of creeks during the spring snowmelt.
We had just crossed the creek when I spied something odd lying on the ground and picked it up and showed it to Chris, who exclaimed “What? No way?!” It turned out he’d lost his lens cap on a previous excursion to the area and had been doing without it for some time. And they say it’s hard to find a needle in a haystack? Not for me!
A short time later we were crossing Lynn Creek again even as we planned our next adventure. Several hikers were having lunch on the other side and from their bemused looks they were no doubt wondering where in the world we had come from. It had been another successful day
In these days of public outcry over the destruction of British Columbia’s remaining old growth trees, it is no small twist of irony that one of the last bastions of remaining giants is relatively close to the metropolis of Vancouver. Tucked away in what is still a remote corner of the North Shore Mountains is the Kennedy Creek Valley. It lies within the boundaries of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park on the less travelled west side of Lynn Creek, with its headwaters at seldom visited Kennedy Lake.
It was only through subtle hints in Randy Stoltmann’s Hiking Guide to the Big Trees of Southwestern B.C. that my curiosity regarding the area was first piqued. On page 74, he stated “When this valley was logged before the turn of the century, hollow or broken topped trees were often left, and the steep valley sides were only partially cut over. In these areas, massive cedars up to sixteen feet (five metres) in diameter and 200 feet, 61 metres in height still live on into their second millennium.” Well, that was more than enough to get my undivided attention, so I soon decided I had to see what was there!
But first, maybe a little history is in order. It was near the turn of the twentieth century that the west side of Lynn Creek was harvested by Julius Fromme’s logging crews. They managed to forge their way as far as Kennedy Creek, but, perhaps because of the market conditions of the day, or just plain good fortune, the forest stretching north between Kennedy and Wickenden Creeks was not completely razed. As a result, much of the original forest between 400 metres and 700 metres in elevation remains intact to this day!
There is no easy access to its steep, rugged slopes. You must either hike in to Kennedy Falls on the rough track of the Cedar Trail, or ford Lynn Creek near the Third Debris Chute on the Cedar Mills Trail, that is, if it’s safe to do so. However you get there, you must be fit and well prepared for the experience, as it’s a strong test of all of your wilderness skills. I began by hiking the Westside or Cedar Trail to see the two monstrous Western redcedars that Randy had described in the aforementioned book, but beyond that, there was little more knowledge on which to base further exploration.
On several of my earlier excursions I also visited the beautiful Kennedy Falls, which lies at about 400 metres in elevation. For the ideal photo opportunity, it is best visited after heavy rains, though of course that can make getting around more difficult. While the falls are not exceptionally tall, the cascade and surrounding sections of Kennedy Creek always make the destination worthwhile. Seeing those spectacular trees on the Cedar Trail certainly whetted my appetite for more exploration, but I needed more information so that I’d know exactly where to look.
When I spoke to park employees they had little to say, really, but at the park’s Mill House there were photos of some of the park’s giant trees. In time, I discovered, the park officials are not that enthused about encouraging hiking on the west side of Lynn Creek, perhaps due to the inherent hazards. In many of those photos the face of one person seemed to show up frequently. That person turned out to be Ralf Kelman, a Vancouver artist, who is the son of a Seymour Valley logger. Ralf had grown up in the forests of Vancouver’s North Shore. He was, and still is, this province’s master treehunter, and over the years had been integral in finding numerous champion trees. I managed to contact him, and over a cup of coffee, he was kind enough to share a wealth of knowledge with me. Better still, he said, the valley had not been completely searched, though he cautioned that ground was far from easy to cover.
Finally, in 2006, Chris and I began our day by fording an icy cold Lynn Creek on a cloudy day in September. After that crossing , we hiked up the valley toward the falls, and then worked our way up the slopes on the north bank of Kennedy Creek. It didn’t take long before we made our first find, a grove of cedars all at least eight feet in diameter and all well over four hundred years old.
From there, we decided, we’d just continue upward until the stand petered out, then traverse north in the direction of Wickenden Creek. A natural bench presented an ideal opportunity for travel, if not necessarily an easy one. Fallen trees made it necessary to climb up, over , and around countless obstructions. The finds were frequent, with more cedars up to fourteen feet in diameter and several that were truly ancient. It was hard to believe, but we had basically hit the motherlode, as far as treehunting goes! Forests such as these, once ever present in southwestern British Columbia, are basically a thing of the past. I can still recall how elated we were to be there!
Soon we were upon the south banks of an unnamed creek in the drainage at about 550 metres in elevation. Once we crossed this creek we were in the midst of another grove, this one equally spectacular. By this time, we had seen so many big trees that we were taking the nine foot cedars for granted!
Since time was running short at that point, we stopped for lunch underneath a thirteen foot cedar which may have been the oldest tree we we found that day. I believed it to be roughly 700 years old.
We then opted to try heading uphill again to see what we could find. Our route was determined by the finds – sight big tree, hike to said tree, then on to the next one.
We had ended up, by now, at an elevation of 650 metres, and were just below an expansive boulder field below the end of Goat Ridge.
It was here that we made another grand discovery, a huge cedar spanning over fifteen feet in width, and well over 600 years old. Despite its seemingly unguarded position and exposure to winter avalanches, it had thrived well and its hollowed lower trunk looked to have been used as a winter den of sorts.
Soon time became short and we had to begin the trek home. There were some interesting finds on the way back too.
For both of us, this trip was tremendously rewarding in that we were making discoveries that few had made before us. As we hiked out of the valley toward Lynn Creek again, we both knew we’d be returning, and that’s why this story is only part one of a lengthy tale. Each time I revisit, it’s an exhilarating experience, for who can refuse a trip back in time without leaving your own era?
Imagine a journey back in time, if you will, to the year 1497, let’s say. A tiny seed cone from a western red cedar flutters to earth deep in the North Shore Mountains, in what would later be known as the Hydraulic Creek drainage, of the Seymour River Valley. It comes quietly to rest on an outcropping of granite, and in this protected enclave, somehow takes root and begins life as a tiny sprout. In a forest seldom if ever seen by human eyes, but walked by deer, bears, mountain lions, and squirrels, the tree is never wanting for companionship. Not fifty yards downslope, a sturdy young Douglas Fir already into its second century provides it shelter and shade.
Then, every year came the rains. The time passed, ever slowly, ever quickly. The tree grew vibrant and strong, and the forest that surrounded it in the many seasons that followed flourished equally well.
All began and ended as nature determined until the turn of the twentieth century, when men arrived in the Seymour Valley, wanting cedar for the shingle bolts that would be used to build homes. Life for the cedar, now a towering spire, would never be quite the same. In fact, its very survival became threatened.
Teams of loggers arrived in the forests, working their way up the valley in search of the harvest. Many trees fell to their crosscut saws, but somehow, that gnarled cedar atop the rock and its neighbouring Douglas fir survived. Some might speculate that it was because of a great fire that halted logging operations in the mid 1930s, or that they may also have been saved by the fall of timber prices and the Great Depression. In any event, luckily, they were spared.
Travel far forward in time now, to the 1980s and early 1990s. The forest was then under the administration of those charged with maintaining Greater Vancouver’s water supply. The area below the Seymour Dam had been designated an auxiliary watershed and eventually became opened to recreational use. Though logging had been strictly banned in the watersheds prior to 1967, once again it reared its ugly head in the years that followed. There were extensive plans to cut down the valley’s remaining old groves and, unbeknownst to the public, full scale operations were taking place north of the Seymour Dam within the watersheds. The area below the dam now called the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve then bore the more ominous name Seymour Demonstration Forest. It was not clear at the time as to how much of the forest would ultimately be saved.
Enter Ralf Kelman, the son of a North Vancouver logger who had grown up in the woods of the Seymour Valley. He had developed a love of the forest sometimes bordering on obsession, and had spent many a day hunting down remaining stands of undisturbed old growth trees. He certainly did not want to see any of these trees destroyed, and became involved with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee in order to speed their preservation. Together with Paul George, Will Koop, Chris Player, and numerous others, he strove to end logging in Vancouver’s watersheds. The conflict raged on for quite some time, with more exploration and mapping as well as the clandestine gathering of photographic evidence. The powers that be were very reluctant to stop the practice, but eventually, in 1994, logging was finally stopped within Vancouver’s watersheds. The ban did not actually become official until 2002.
During that time of conflict, the WCWC had published a map of the old growth tree groves in the Seymour Valley, and through my good friend Vida I was able to get a scanned copy of the map, so I set out to find what Ralf had already discovered. The very centrepiece of his finds was the Temples of Time Grove of Giants, which was just south of Hydraulic Creek. The Tolkien Giant and the Temple Giant, two of the trees on the map, particularly captured my imagination.
On a perfect spring morning in 2006, Matt C. and I visited the trees to find out whether they were all still alive. While I had visited many of the them before in 2004, the plan that day was to try and visit each and every one on the map. After a brisk bike ride to the Hydraulic Creek Bridge, we stashed our rides in the woods and began hiking. Matt, who at the time worked for the Seymour Hatchery near the Seymour Dam, was really looking forward to seeing the grove.
We began as I had several years before, by trekking steeply uphill to the Hidden Giant. It is a Douglas Fir that spans about seven feet in diameter, and could be as old as four hundred years old. If it remains permanently protected, it will surely become one of the finest remaining specimens in the valley.
From there we worked our way a little bit higher, as the sunlight filtered through the forest canopy. We could easily imagine how Ralf must have felt when he discovered these trees. Just thinking about the fact that they might well have been cut down shows how far the conservation movement has come in a relatively short time. Still, the balance between preservation and industry will always be a precarious one. Hopefully, compromises will be reached, and forests like these will survive for future generations to enjoy.
Our next stop was the Paul George Giant. Paul is well known for his environmental efforts, and also authored the book Big Trees, Not Big Stumps, which documents many of the efforts to preserve British Columbia’s forests. His namesake is a six hundred year old fir whose trunk measures about eight feet in width, and sits quietly overlooking the rest of the grove.
It has been a number of years since I was told that an official trail was planned to be cleared and marked through this grove, but that has not happened just yet. Should you wish to explore these trees you should be fit, sure footed, and experienced in off trail hiking. If you’re lucky, as I’ve been, you might also see wildlife such as black bears, deer, and pine martens. Cougars are also native to the area, so all normal precautions apply.
While you hike it also helps to have a keen eye for the little things, like this tiny frog that we stumbled upon, and a wide variety of mosses and fungal growths.
We soon found ourselves traversing through thickets and deadfall as we worked our way toward a small creek bed (Krisby Creek on the WCWC map) that would lead us to even more ancient Douglas firs. Here we found the tree called the Rosebush Giant, sitting in an isolated clearing that readily gathers sunlight.
Not too far away you will find the Hundal Giant and the Chittenden Giant, two more beautiful firs with deep, channeled, almost crenellated bark. A little known fact about the bark of these trees is that it may reach nearly a foot in thickness. With protection like that, a tree is capable of enduring many Pacific Northwest winters!
A little more time and persistence brought us to the monarch of this grove of trees, that six hundred year old leviathan known as the Temple Giant. It measures almost ten feet in diameter and towers well over 250 feet from the forest floor. It may have a chance, if it thrives, to become the biggest champion tree in the valley if it isn’t already.
Within sight of this leviathan, still wedged into the rock face just uphill, was the twisted bulk of the Tolkien Giant. It almost seemed to be watching us. I will describe our meeting with this veteran of five hundred winters, but for an important perspective, first we need to move forward in time once more…
Two more revolutions of the earth around the sun. Now it is the spring of 2008, and as the remnants of a spring storm fade into mist, I find myself once again cycling the Seymour Valley Trailway. On this day, my companions are Rich, Daryl, and Chris, tree enthusiasts all. We opted to use the more southern trailhead to access the grove on that day. There were few sounds other than our occasional banter, as even the birds were still hiding from the morning rains. We made our way slowly to the Temple Giant, which still stood tall and proud.
I stopped for a second, watching Rich approach the tree. I recall turning to Chris, who, like me, had been to visit the Temple Giant numerous times, and saying that something didn’t seem quite the same. I didn’t remember the tree sitting in a reasonably well lit opening in the forest. Chris agreed, adding that the tree had always been difficult to photograph because of the shade.
The explanation for our momentary puzzlement became apparent all too soon. Lying in bizarre symmetry, the perfectly split trunk of a great tree had come to rest on the hillside. As it had fallen, it had also taken out a number of younger trees, hence creating space in the forest canopy above. I soon realized that the Tolkien Giant had met an untimely end.
This was both unexpected and sad. I paused interminably, thinking. Though I’d only known the tree for a fraction of its five centuries, I felt as though I’d lost an old friend, and found myself looking back to the bluebird day on which I had last seen it. Matt and I had marvelled at what an unlikely looking survivor it had been. Its location alone, anchored steadfastly around and into the grooves of the rock face, was a classic example of the way nature wastes no opportunity.
Much as I felt the loss, I also began to see that its passing had made way for other denizens of the forest, and my eye was drawn to some nearby cedars I had not noted in years past. Nature always provides, however mysterious its ways, so to speak.
Our hike continued that day, as the mist cleared and the forest brightened somewhat. We visited most of the trees Matt and I had seen two years before, and made several more discoveries as well. Even the most familiar walk can be a unique experience. Here are some sights and scenes from the rest of the trek…
Though it was a shame to have lost one of the valley’s most spectacular trees, there was a most fitting way to end our day, a consolation of sorts. We made our way back toward the banks of Hydraulic Creek for a visit with the Hobbit Tree, another cedar halfway into its first millennium of life.
This tree, which can be easy to miss although relatively easily located, is at least nine feet wide and just exudes character. Rich was kind enough to pose with it for scale, just to give me an idea of its immense size. I hope that it still stands for at least a few more hundred years!
There was little left to do but stop, eat lunch, and take a few photographs of the creek nearby before heading home for the day. It had certainly been an eventful day!
While it’s important to remember that while these trees are currently protected, it wasn’t always so. A mere twenty years ago, after all, there was still logging in our watersheds, and only through diligence and commitment was that practice stopped. You can find out more about that history in the link below here. It’s rather a lengthy read, but a worthwhile analysis nevertheless.
In order to protect the best of our forests, our values of conservation must remain strong. In that sense, the message conveyed in the title of Paul George’s book remains as relevant as ever: Big Trees, Not Big Stumps.
*** Update: As of a visit to this grove in the spring of 2017, I can happily attest to the health of all the trees and that the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve remains committed to their preservation. ***
In memories of Easters past, there will always be one, for me, that stands out from the rest. Most recollections of this holiday are marked by the gathering of families and friends, feasting on turkey, and catching up on everyone’s trials and tribulations. Then, however, there was Good Friday of 2006, and the day that was spent climbing Mt. Bishop in the North Shore Mountains.
Weather had been variable that week, with days of sunshine interspersed with others of torrential rain. That’s typical of life here in southwestern British Columbia, where an April day can be as unpredictable as it is breathtaking.
Doug and I had made plans to tackle the mountain with a reasonably early start, with the idea that we might have adequate time to do some required trail maintenance along the way. We arrived at the trailhead at about 8 am, and early morning cloud had given way to blue skies. It was a welcome excursion for us both, life had been stressful of late and time in the hills had been in short supply.
As winter conditions were expected in the alpine, we packed ice axes, crampons, and snowshoes just in case. The trek began with a stroll to a grove of ancient cedars, which we had both seen a number of times. I never get over the novelty of west coast hikes, truth be told, and I’m one of those hikers that enjoys a repeat visit to any location. There is always something different to accompany the familiar, so to speak.
Trail conditions were excellent, though we did remove some deadfall and rocks, repair some ropes, and improve marking in some sections. North Shore Rescue uses the Bishop Trail as an evacuation route on occasion, and so it’s important that the route stays in good condition.
No snow was encountered until reaching nearly a thousand metres and we stood on the shores of Vicar Lake in just an hour and a half. It was a cinch to walk across the still frozen lake and soon we were making for the alpine, with only four hundred metres in elevation to gain before the summit.
As we broke into the clear on the ridge, we had a chance to witness something very peculiar. Heavy rains had formed deep runnels in the surface snowpack, giving it a grooved appearance. This is something you rarely see, and when you do it is usually under spring conditions. All of that made for interesting scenery as we bore down and dug in for the summit.
In another thirty minutes we crested the high point of Mt Bishop and enjoyed some lunch, more sunshine, and tremendous views with very few clouds. It was as perfect a day in April as it gets. On the way down we took turns climbing up and down the last pitch just to do some extra glissading before hiking back to the trailhead again for beers. It really had been a good Friday on Good Friday, better than good, in fact.
Here are a few more views taken at the summit. On a clear day it’s a beautiful place to be!
Happy Easter to you all, I hope you enjoyed the read!
Last Saturday, Doug, Alex, and I set out to search for some of the hidden mines in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park.
While not strictly a secret, it’s not commonly known that during the period of 1900- 1940, a number of claims were prospected in the Lynn, Norvan, and Hanes Creek drainages. From what I have read, it was mostly iron, copper, and zinc that were discovered, but no doubt more precious metals like silver and especially gold were the real objectives.
Doug had obtained a map from fellow North Shore Rescue companion Wally, who had visited the area some years ago with local mountaineering legend Howie Rode. Our plan was to hike the Headwaters Trail to the bridge at the 5 km mark, check out the camp near that location, and then climb up the creek draw east of the bridge in search of whatever we could find.
The first part of our trek was easy enough, a five kilometre hike on mostly flat ground. The trail was alive with dozens of runners on their way up to Norvan Falls, a popular weekend destination. Most of them would have little clue that the trail they were running on was once a thriving lifeline for both logging and mining operations. Today, Lynn Headwaters, a former watershed until 1981, is one of the jewels of Greater Vancouver’s wilderness parks.
The ore cart you see above is one of easiest artifacts to locate in the area. I stumbled upon it years ago while hunting old growth trees in the area long before I even knew about mining in Lynn Valley. It is only about ten metres off the trail at around the 4.7 km mark. All that remains are the axles and some attached hardware, as the decks have long since returned to the earth, so to speak. There is a nearby pile of ore tailings and supposedly a mine adit too but we were unable to find the actual minesite.
Within sight of the ore cart is another guilty pleasure of mine; one of the most unusual trees in the entire park! It’s a tree with a legend, too, as the story goes a group of loggers were in the process of falling it and another nearby tree, when an accident occurred that took the lives of two men. It was decided that they would leave the tree to stand, with all its cuts, and it still survives today. It’s well over 500 years old now, and truly defies adversity. I like to call it The Survivor.
Sometimes when I look at it I can’t believe it hasn’t toppled just yet, and I hope that day never comes!
There was a time when Western Redcedars between twelve and sixteen feet in diameter and up to a thousand years old were commonplace here. When the Cedar Mills Logging Company plied its trade here, the fallers were very thorough. I have hunted almost all of the park’s drainages on the east side of Lynn Creek and found very few ancient trees.
Now, back to our quest for the mines! We crossed the bridge upstream and began climbing up the south bank. The terrain was typical of the area; we needed to gain but a couple hundred metres but the grades were unforgivingly steep. You also had to be careful not to cliff yourself out, trap yourself in a sharp ravine, or get stuck climbing over deadfall. All good clean fun of course.
Not far up from the trail we found quite a few relics, like this shovel head, piping, and old gas can. The men who worked these slopes were tough and dedicated. Packing cast iron up mountains like this was no easy trick.
The hook we found, here at left, was I think used for logging purposes as you can see some wire rope cable is buried beside it. I thought it would make an amazing movie prop for a Halloween movie of some kind. What do you think?
Next we traversed north toward the next creek drainage at about the 500 metre level in search of a possible camp.Some coal burn remains were found as well as a number of cast iron rails and stove parts. Again, the act of lugging all those parts uphill and assembling them must have been an onerous task indeed!
There were also cast iron pipes found here, and some apothecary bottles. Alex, also a North Shore Rescue volunteer as Doug is, regaled me with tales of his youth in England that included digging for artifacts under cover of darkness. Hunting for hidden history had long been an avid interest of his. Europe, of course, offers centuries more to discover than our reasonably short recorded heritage here in North Vancouver.
Doug’s thought was to cross the next creek canyon because the map indicated several finds on the adjacent cliffs. This involved fighting our way up another steep spine and making a careful crossing over slick rock. We were all glad that there had been very little recent rainfall.
Less than five minutes away, we knew we were on to something when we saw this sign. While the guys approached from above, I climbed up from below, and saw what I thought was either a work platform or a cabin base.
The platform had long been covered by trees and dirt but there was a mound of tailings beside it. From above, Doug and Alex announced with excitement that they had found a mine!
Alex was the first to have a closer look. he discovered that there was a shaft opening beneath the floorboards that went down quite a way. This was not a place to trifle with, as by dropping a rock inside we guessed that it was water filled and well over ten feet deep!
The ground above the mine was extremely steep. We wondered aloud exactly why this spot had been chosen, of all places. It must have been those dreams of untold riches that drive men to prospect. It was something well beyond the modest possibilities found here, we were certain.
The timbers were in amazing condition, considering how long they had been abandoned, and you could see that they had been notched, perhaps to accomodate some kind of pulley system and or a winch to bring the ore up. Deep in the mine opening, on the right, there was even a partly finished scupture of a face.
It was, at the end of the day, some time very well spent. It was soon that we departed, recrossed the creek, and tried to work our way south to the creek canyon we’d started in. We gave up that venture when we realized we would not have the time to explore any more. So we plunged downhill, reaching the trail and its hordes of humanity in just minutes, hiking homeward on a perfect spring afternoon.
Well secluded in a remote corner of Mt Seymour Provincial Park is a 1508 metre peak that towers high above the Seymour Valley to the west and the waters of the Pacific Ocean to the east. That mountain is Mt Bishop, named for the first president of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (the BCMC ). It was first ascended via the Bishop Creek Valley from the shores of Indian Arm by a large party of climbers. One those was Fred Mills, a noted explorer of the North Shore Mountains and an early member of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC). A place that still sees few if any visitors, Bishop and its slopes offer an authentic wilderness experience, despite the fact that Vancouver’s city lights can be seen distinctly from its lofty vantage. Here then, is a blended tale of a two treks I have made there, and of Mr Mills’ historical expedition.
It was April of 2004. I was standing on the pedals of my mountain bike, picking up speed as I worked my way to the Mt Bishop trailhead, some 24 kilometres from my house, where the ride began. I had heard of a rough trail that had been blazed from the end of the Eastside Seymour Road in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve to the summit of Mt Bishop. The promises of massive old growth forest, subalpine lakes, and mountain meadows were running through my mind.
Soon after reaching the 13 km mark on the road, I came to an abrupt halt. My information had the path beginning at the 12.8 km mark, so logically, I needed to backtrack. Soon, I sighted the markers. I wasn’t certain exactly how I missed the conspicuous tree festooned with bands of flagging tape, but there it was!
After a short bikewalk I opted to stash my ride and commence hiking, but it was not long before I almost froze in my tracks. Something crackled loudly through the underbrush about fifteen yards to my right. It fell silent for a moment, then accelerated quickly through the forest cover with what sounded like a low growl, and then it was gone. I never did see what it was but I knew it was not a deer or a black bear. I concluded it may have been a cat of some kind, possibly a cougar or bobcat. My heart rate having returned to some semblance of normal, I continued onward.
Only several minutes later, I came upon a magnificent grove of western redcedar. The largest of the trees approached four metres in diameter, and two were significantly old specimens, well in excess of 700 years old. I lingered for a time in the presence of this greatness, then began hiking uphill again. Ropes were fixed on the difficult sections as the trail was as steep as its reputation!
My trek was to last but half an hour more, as suddenly it dawned on me I’d be late if I did not turn around. A brisk walk turned into a run, and then a hurried ride home. One thing was sure, though, I was hooked and vowed to return!
Flash back to the summer of 1908. To me, a year of significance, as my grandmother was born then in New York City and the house I now live in was built in that year. The Mills Party, for their part, made camp at the mouth of Bishop Creek, across from Croker Island, near the turn of the twentieth century. They ascended all the high peaks in the area, including Mt Jarrett and Mt. Elsay. Jarrett and Bishop were both climbers in this BCMC group, though Mills did much of the leading. The region was roadless then, so their method of transport was by boat from Indian Arm. After walking the ancient forest of cedars, they attained a hogback ridge that gave them passage to the alpine and the summit of Bishop. The other peaks were accessed from that region, and all climbers returned to camp that evening before returning homeward. It was, without a doubt, a full and successful day!
Fast forward to 530 am, July 30 of 2004, and another heinously early start for Doug and me, just two weeks to the day from our traverse of The Needles. Would today prove similar? Read on and discover….
As we arrived at the trailhead, it was by then 7 pm, and the rising sun was beginning to cast shadows on the fast awakening valley. The bikes having been locked away, it was time to walk through the aging giants that would give way to the upper valley. The Bishop Trail had originally been blazed by Denis Blair, Jim Sedor, and Moe Lamothe, avid mountaineers all. In the years since then I have been on quite a few treks with Denis, who it must be said has become something of a mentor for me. He has forgotten more about the mountains than I’ve ever known and is still climbing strongly in to his seventies, no mean feat here in the steep Pacific Northwest!
Later the trail was adopted by local climbing legend Don McPherson, who improved it while clearing the Indian Arm Trail, and finally by North Shore Search and Rescue, who planned to use it to evacuate injured hikers.
The jungle gym qualities of this trail were as immediately apparent to Doug as they had been to me several months before. The ever popular Grouse Grind, also built by McPherson, ascends 890 m over 2.9 kms, but the Bishop Trail climbs 1268 m over 3.25 kms, not for the faint of heart.
It was good clean fun and plenty of effort to make our way up that trail! Once we made it to 700 m above sea level and a fine view of Cathedral Mountain, the route was new to both of us.
In short order we reached a clearing which gave way to a broad basin with several subalpine ponds. We knew that the largest of them must be Vicar Lake, and that the worst of the battle was done. The peak lay another hour above the lakes, and its unmistakably rounded summit was now within sight.
We lingered for a while at the lakes, before taking once again to the woods. It was an ideal place to stop for lunch.
The forest was now an old grove of Mountain Hemlock dotted with sizable, silvery trunked Yellow Cedars.One in specific, named The Bishop Giant, was over eight feet in diameter,over 800 years in age, and in near perfect health.
As you can see in the two photos above, the upper section of the trail begins at this metal marker on the shore of Vicar Lake, from which you also have a fine view of Mt Elsay.
The next section of the route wound through ever thinning forest along Gibbens Creek until it emerged on the ridge, where the views expanded. The weather was warm, but not as oppressive as it had been earlier that month, so that the hike was quite comfortable.
Heather clad meadows and thick, stunted hemlock were the order of the day there.
There was little left to do but scale the granite blocks that led ever higher. The hiking here was not difficult, with only the occasional bit of scrambling to be done. The lower reaches of the trail provided much more of a challenge than the alpine reaches did, as it turned out.
In twenty more minutes we stood at the apex, Mt. Bishop was ours to share, if only for a while. We wandered around the summit and took a well deserved break!
We spent a relatively short time on the peak, eating the rest of the homemade pizza (thanks to my wife) and absorbing the absolute quietude, before traipsing back to the bikes again. Here are some summit shenanigans….
The clouds also made for some interesting photo opportunities!
As we began the trip back down the valley, more cloud cover rolled in, but no rains came with it. A little reluctant to leave the alpine, we took our time through the meadows.
In the intervening years since Mr Mills led the first ascent, this mountain has not changed substantially. On almost any given day, one would find it without the company of humans. At one time the wildlife population was supposedly more abundant, yet we found the tracks of many deer, mountain goats, and of several black bears on our travels that day.
It was about half an hour before we had made it back to Vicar Lakes again. Though gravity always makes descents somewhat easier, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll take less time.
What with all the obstructions, ropes, and rockbands the Bishop Trail has, it took us nearly as much time to return to the trailhead from the lakes as it did to make the same distance uphill. That’s not unusual for the North Shore Mountains, where there’s seldom an easy way.
By the time we reached the truck, over ten hours had passed. It had been a lengthy and strenuous day. Over 30 kms of biking and another 8 kms of hiking all told. A highly recommended trip, by my account.
We certainly appreciated that when Mr Mills and his party made their foray, they didn’t have a chance of completing their climb as a day trip. It likely took an extra day of travel by horse and boat just to establish their basecamp. Determination was needed in greater supply in 1908!
For some time I have wanted to kayak my way up the Indian Arm and recreate their expedition, and hopefully that day will come. Until then , when I walk up Mt Seymour or drive the Barnet Highway along the Burrard Inlet, the sight of Mt Bishop will always trigger fond memories.
As you examine the peaks of the North Shore Mountains from the north shore of Burrard Inlet, the highest mountain visible is one that very few actually know the name of. That mountain, and its broad, accompanying ridge, is called Mt. Burwell.
Once named White Mountain, by a member of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club who was in the first ascent party, it was renamed in 1927, as follows:
“Named by Greater Vancouver Water Board, after Herbert Mahlon Burwell (1863 – 1925). Born and educated in London, Ontario, where he received a commission as a Dominion Land Surveyor and an Ontario Land Surveyor . Arrived in Vancouver in the fall of 1887, and in the spring of 1888 joined the firm of Gardener & Hermon, which had been established in late 1886. In the spring of 1906 Mr. Burwell’s firm were employed by the City of Vancouver to take charge of their water supply. Mr. Burwell had personal charge of the new joint main on Capilano Creek, from the intake to the first narrows (sic), and built the intake and settling basins. In 1913 Mr. Burwell retired from the firm of Hermon & Burwell, but continued to practise as a consulting engineer until his death 30 July 1925, age 62. A great lover of the outdoors, Mr. Burwell wrote many articles about fishing on the streams and lakes of BC; he was an authority on that branch of sport.”
For years I had long wanted to wander this inviting granite playground at the furthest reaches of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. Thus it was that in early August of 2005 that Doug and I found ourselves stalking past the Lynn Headwaters gatehouse at the inhospitable time of 430 am and crossing over Lynn Creek. Hiking as briskly as that early hour allowed, we made swift work of the first seven kilometres, then turned uphill onto the Coliseum Mountain Trail. The plan was to ascend Coliseum and explore the ridge of Burwell to its end, then to return via the same route.
The trail, up to that point, had gained just 220 metres in elevation over seven kilometres, but was soon destined to change markedly, as over the next 5 kms we would be rising over 1100 metres more. It was time to wake up in earnest, as the sounds of Norvan Creek murmured in the background.
At about 650 m, we could begin to see the forest change from second growth cedar and hemlock to a rare grove of high altitude Western Hemlock. This tree, at lower climes, has a much shortened lifespan and therefore limited size, but in the ideal conditions at higher altitudes it can grow much larger. In the 1990s avid tree enthusiast Randy Stoltmann had stumbled upon a record hemlock here, and we hoped to pay it a visit ourselves. Fortunately, it was not too difficult to find, not far from Norvan Pools. We marvelled at the tree, called Norvan’s Castle, which is over nine feet in diameter and hundreds of years old!
Leaving the hemlock grove we climbed upward and across a rocky gully toward Norvan Meadows.
Norvan Meadows are somewhat deceptively named; they are not meadows in the true sense but rather an area razed clean by a considerable avalanche in 1998 that tore out a large section of forest. It was followed by a massive flood that took out the old Norvan Creek Bridge far below. Nature’s power can be devastating at times! The results though, are picturesque, if you ask me.
The track into the subalpine region continued, as we neared the turnoff for Norvan Pass, a familiar stop for us.
Some of the Mountain Hemlocks near the pass were definitely in the ancient category, perhaps as old as 400 years. The sun, too, had now burst into prominence and was doing its best to slow us down on that ideal summer morning.
Nevertheless, we kept up our pace, bolstered by a snack or two, in hopes we could attain the ridge as early as possible.
The sight of The Needles up close and personal brought us plenty of laughter as we recalled our scuffle of the year before. In real comparison, our hike today, though lengthier, would be nowhere near as trying.
Above the pass the terrain opened up considerably, giving way to great blocks of granite and far less vegetation as we approached Coliseum Mountain.
Our alpine start had certainly paid dividends, and meant we would see the summit of Coliseum Mountain at just 930 am!
Awaiting us was a sweeping field of etched granite slabs which dropped sharply into Coliseum Creek, well hidden below. This is the “snowfield” in the first photo I posted in this story, and it’s visible from many places in Greater Vancouver.
As a destination on its own, Coliseum is well worth the walk, with stellar views all around. To the east there are the peaks of the Fannin Range, Meslilloet, and the Five Fingers Group. You can also catch glimpses of the mountains of Garibaldi Provincial Park and Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park. To the west and south are the North Shore Mountains and even distant views of Mt. Baker sometimes. A northwest glance has you looking toward the Britannia Range, where Mt Brunswick holds court, at 1786 m in elevation. The northern vista is of course, dominated by Cathedral Mountain with Sky Pilot Mountain hovering over its shoulder. Here are some of my favourite images from on and around the summit of Coliseum Mountain.
Soon enough, though, we decided to press on, as there was a lot of ground yet to be covered. Next up, the summit of Mt Burwell, only another 100 m or so higher but we would need to do some meandering to get there.
We opted to try descending a bit off the east side and contouring up some beautiful blocks that would yield the next plateau. The rock here ranks among the best anywhere for scrambling, in my opinion. Routes are numerous, and you can make things as simple or as complicated as you like, really.
This was certainly the highlight of the day. I think I would have appreciated bringing overnight gear there so we could spend more time rock climbing but camping is not actually permitted there.
You actually did have to concentrate on the ascent, though, if only because of the distracting scenery. I really have come to love my home on the North Shore and these mountains are among the main reasons for that.
The rock formation at right here was almost parabolic, much like a skateboard bowl or half pipe for snowboarding. There was a great variety of shapes and sizes in the differerent outcroppings.
This tarn was particularly appealing too, with its view of Cathedral and a distant Mamquam Mountain.
The trip from Coliseum to Burwell’s summit took only half an hour, yet seemed longer, somehow. Once on the ridge, you have unobstructed views into the watershed of Capilano River and the sheer south face of Cathedral Mountain, with its rows of steep, vertical couloirs and cliffs. Were it not for my strong desire to leave places such as these unchanged as possible, I could envision building a cabin there and sequestering myself from the world.
Since we were hoping to get as far along the ridge as we could, we soon departed for the west summit of Burwell. At the same time, I was searching for a source of water because I knew I’d run out before we made it back to the valley below.
To get to the west summit it was necessary to descend slightly to the north before scrambling back up to the ridge again. That diversion chanced to reveal a mossy creek where I was able to stock up with the refreshments I needed.
The photo below features a fascinating rock formation that really intrigued us at the time. My friend Drew, who is an accomplished geologist, was able to explain what this actually was, as per his thorough explanation below…
“That’s an aplite dyke in granite. Aplite is a mix of feldspars. When granite solidifies, the feldspar stays liquid the longest. The quartz, mica, etc crystallize out, and solidify, and the solid granite has a smaller volume than the liquid granite, so the solid part cracks. Then the liquid aplite runs in and fills the cracks and cools and solidifies last. The aplite, because it cools last, solidifies fairly rapidly and so has small crystals, and is most resistant to weathering as a result so the aplite dykes tend to stick out of the granite like in your photo.”
The western summit summit of Burwell, at 1499m, had long been a fixation of Doug’s, as he could see it from his driveway at home. Naturally he was pleased to finally stand atop it, but no, he was not able to see his house from there!
Some time was spent lingering here, but not a great deal, as we knew the trip back was going to be a long one. In a perfect world, it might have been ideal to complete the traverse and exit via the Lynn lake Trail but there wasn’t adequate time for that. We settled, instead, for exploring a bit more of the ridge.
What goes up must come down, to borrow a saying, and the hike back followed a nearly identical track, with some very familiar views. We were now in the heat of the day, and I recall our pace slowing somewhat as we trudged along the ridge.
I confess sometimes to being no fan of downclimbing. I always savour the satisfaction of reaching a summit but occasionally I’d settle for a helicopter ride to get home. This was just such a day, but it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and plenty of cold beer was waiting at home.
I can recall the absolute quietude of the afternoon; the silence was broken only by the calls of ravens and once the distant whine of a small plane’s engine.
From the open land of the alpine we decended into subalpine forest as the Norvan Creek Valley welcomed our return, the trees providing some much needed shade.
In deference to the not so subtle marker on the tree above, getting home took us somehow longer than it had taken to make the climb, despite the fact that it was mostly downhill.
On the walk back from Norvan Falls, we encountered an eclectic folk singer on the trail, complete with guitar, then this still unidentified action figure at the signup board you see in the photo below. You never who or what you will meet on a hike these days!
Tired legs marked the end of our marathon trek, some 33 kms and 2000 m of elevation gain. It will be a decade this summer since this story unfolded, and it’s incredible how the time has flown by since then.
*** I’d like to dedicate this tale to the late Ben Mostardi, an athletic young man (of special needs) who met with a fatal accident in the Norvan Creek drainage in 2005. He had been on his way to a meeting with his running group but somehow took a wrong turn. He was 33…***
Travels and adventures past and present, from camping to hiking to searching for B.C.'s remaining old growth trees, and other thoughts on life