Tag Archives: Old growth

Chester’s Grove, Back to the Future

“I’m not sure I remember that being there!” That comment, uttered by yours truly a few weeks ago, is one I seem to make more often these days. The thing is, I think I’m getting to the point in life where some memories seem crystal clear, while others seem so nonexistent they might as well be a figment of my imagination. In the end, I’ll settle for the ability to get to where I’m going and a safe return, with the all important opportunity to reminisce. After all, that’s one reason why I’m writing this story right now!

Frosty fall mornings tend to remind me of my tree hunting escapades. The autumn season, with its diminished sunlight hours, has often been my time for exploring the forests. My other passion, mountaineering, seems better suited to longer days. So it was this November that Duncan and I were rolling along Highway 18 recently, bound for Port Renfrew. Our destination? The Lens Creek Trail and Chesters Grove, a resplendent group of Sitka Spruce and Bigleaf Maple on the banks of the San Juan River.

78892531_3278225808888902_3641170739794542592_o
Duncan takes a break in the Cowichan Valley, along the highway formerly known as Harris Creek Main

This wasn’t my first occasion to visit these trees, and, relevant to my introduction here, I was neither convinced I could locate them again, nor was I certain they were even still there. It had been nearly thirteen years since Chris and I, thwarted on our first attempt to see the vaunted Red Creek Fir, had enjoyed them back in February of 2007. As it turned out, the two visits certainly had their similarities, but so too, their differences.

That first excursion was in the throes of west coast winter. Fresh snow had fallen several days before, though the route was relatively clear of obstructions. After parking near the Lens Creek Bridge, we hiked a reasonably easy path, noting the wreck of an abandoned car near the road head. As per the title of this story? Well, I can’t boast of a vintage 1982 DeLorean but at least this tale will take you back in time, and you get a beaten up 1986 Honda CRX, so hopefully that covers my artistic license?

76726981_3244968338881316_4608207584543899648_n
This is an old 1986 Honda CRX, wait until you see what happened to it in thirteen years!

Soon after that, the trail crossed a small creek, one that years later I would have no recollection of at all. What followed, by my account, was a walk down to the San Juan River on an old road that would take us another fifteen minutes. One of the few distinct things I recalled was that there was a decaying old yellow truck in the bush beside the road, likely of 1950s or 1960s vintage.

383942408_16a4cc5585_o
The old truck as we saw it back in 2007

The path through second growth trees to Chester’s Grove was a short one that had us among the giants soon thereafter, where we enjoyed what remained of a unique forest. In this coastal riparian zone, the Sitka Spruce is often the dominant tree, accompanied by Bigleaf Maple, and the occasional Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock or Douglas fir. Growing conditions on the San Juan River are ideal for these natives of the coastal rainforest. The humid climate and warm winds of the Pacific are ideal for growing large Sitka Spruce, which have been known to reach diameters in excess of fifteen feet and heights of up to 190 feet. Nearby trees, such as the Harris Creek Spruce and the San Juan Spruce, have reached enormous size!

IMG_1015
The Harris Creek Spruce, which was preserved in part with the help of logging companies many years ago
05o
Good friend Chris I. with the San Juan Spruce at the nearby San Juan Recreation Site. This tree has suffered considerable damage in recent years but remains a remarkable specimen.

While examining these spectacular trees back then, we could not help but be reminded of the past glories of Port Renfrew. While it remains a memorable place, it is nevertheless a shadow of what existed before the advent of logging. These lands, which are unceded Pacheedaht territory, were, and still are to some extent, a natural wonder.  In this new era, greater attention will have to be given to preservation, as valley bottom stands of old growth have become increasingly rare on Vancouver Island. I’ve not been able to find much about the history surrounding Chester’s Grove, but I was once told it was named for well respected Pacheedaht elder Jack Chester. On thing that is certain is that the San Juan Valley has a decided magic to it, which I’m sure you’ll savour as I take you on a walk through these trees!

P1010051
Chris H. looking for that perfect photograph back in 2007
P1010031
Picea Sitchensis, the Sitka Spruce
P1010058
Sitka Spruce cones
385109846_df6cd18f61_o
The moss clad limbs of a giant Bigleaf Maple
117766
Me and a forest giant…Photo by Chris H
384329100_75406cc202_o
It almost looks like Chris is running here, but really he’s just high stepping through dense undergrowth
385056409_aa7548cb42_o
Chris measuring a huge Sitka Spruce
385929608_e1ee33ecd1_o
The riverfront
385929606_1c0f70f6ca_o
Stillness and winter waters

When Duncan and I arrived nearly thirteen years later, some things had certainly changed, while others had remained the same. Those two vehicle wrecks along the trail have deteriorated considerably, to put it mildly!

77220830_3244969658881184_493466350463746048_o
That 86 Honda CRX is not looking too good now, crushed under the bulk of a Bigleaf Maple tree!
77217131_3244900328888117_7811386011988000768_o
Meanwhile, the old pickup truck, made of sturdy American steel, is finally just beginning to fall apart

When you follow the original road which the Lens Creek Trail uses you’ll note it is joined from the left by a newer road, and you’ll want to bear right at this junction and continue on toward the river. Parts of that road, beyond the junction, had been regraded in recent years, and yet another spur had been cleared that parallels the Chester’s Grove Trail. That spur continues on, terminating at the river, beside the grove itself.

79080614_3278225845555565_1228480596502642688_o
We went down to the river first before hiking the trail. The trail roughly follows the bank above the river’s edge, beneath the trees that you see here.
P1010016
As you reach the river you will see this sign marking the trailhead on your right, attached to a big “double” cedar
76991664_3242916719086478_8438737389400096768_o
Here is the new spur that has been cleared. The trail runs to the left of this road and intersects it just as you reach Chester’s Grove
77010408_3242917179086432_7078621444048945152_o
I am standing at the riverbank where the road ends taking this photo, with the grove to my immediate left.

It seems likely that there is some harvesting planned for the sixty year old second growth forest that grows beside the grove. Naturally, Duncan and I were hopeful, upon seeing this, that the trees of this grove would be left to stand. Despite that obvious concern, I know of no plans to log Chester’s Grove and it’s been my understanding that the trees there do have protected status.

Just as Chris and I had done years before, Duncan and I then wandered the grove, battling our way to as many trees as we could. They were as grand as ever! The Sitka Spruce there range between nine and thirteen feet in diameter, and the surrounding Bigleaf Maples must be an incredible sight when all in leaf. This grove is also thickly matted with underbrush, and so those expecting a groomed trail might be a little disappointed. Your efforts will, however, be well rewarded, just be careful where you place your steps, as footing can be somewhat challenging!

 

78986837_3278225942222222_4221600102009012224_o
Duncan enjoying a forest moment
78656519_3278226005555549_9156824516490428416_o
Me and a shadowy spruce…photo by Duncan
78794856_3278226332222183_5737277147186200576_o
The entire grove is carpeted in countless sword ferns
74235486_3242916942419789_4392160052266401792_o
These trees are as old as five hundred years!
70435338_3242919499086200_4306405412384538624_o
I’m just going to call this “zenning” out
79311700_3278226128888870_1010780605622779904_o
This beauty, roughly twelve feet in diameter, is Chester’s Grove’s oldest resident
74602882_3278226185555531_824439927612637184_o
The canopies above support a wide variety of plant life
75196343_3242916875753129_3481773156136386560_o
Duncan and a forest giant
74967126_3242916732419810_4723342936056528896_o
Primeval forest
79092576_3278226045555545_1116372063062327296_o
Ferns and mosses

 

Once again, we were drawn to the river, where we gained a different perspective. It was easy to conjure up ideas for future exploration, as more towering spruce dot the riverbanks as far as the eye can see, while the hoof prints of elk mark the sand everywhere! Unbeknownst to me at the time, I later read that a mere forty metres upstream there are reportedly a pair of record sized Black Cottonwood trees. They are said to rise sharply on the opposite bank, towering over the maples beside them. According to reports,  both are nearly six feet in diameter, of considerable age when you realize that half that girth generally denotes a tree that’s over a hundred and fifty years old!

75418166_3242917075753109_602161389926088704_o
Reflecting at riverside
79361700_3278225882222228_5276941272500666368_o
River rock
75650565_3242917125753104_4957457656286543872_o
Contemplating future explorations!
78147483_3242920079086142_3950003120582426624_o
Blues and greens
79713933_3278226258888857_7211139833878544384_o
My shadow and a lot of elk tracks!

I have to say I was elated to see these trees again, and as I now live on Vancouver Island, it will be a whole lot less time consuming to visit them in the future. There was a certain joy in sharing them with someone new, as Chris had once done with me years before. I’m determined to continue searching out the secrets of the San Juan Valley, and I’ll no doubt be sharing those adventures here. If you’re interested in seeing these trees, I highly recommend the experience, for who can resist such a journey back in time?

74610977_3242916682419815_3224158616835588096_o
Taking a last look at the San Juan River
Screen Shot 2019-12-06 at 6.41.32 PM
This is an older map of trails in the Port Renfrew area, which includes the Lens Creek Trail. Some get consistent use, and others have fallen into disrepair, so it’s important to carry a map and GPS to ensure navigational success

*******Author’s Notes*******

During my research about Port Renfrew, this publication, dating back to 2005, has excellent notes on local history , among other things. I thought it quite interesting and so I’m sharing here as recommended reading.

I’d also like to acknowledge the Ancient Forest Alliance, who work so hard to preserve Port Renfrew’s old growth.

Most of all, I’d like to recognize the Pacheedaht First Nation, on whose lands I have enjoyed many adventures, and who have always been welcoming to me. When you’re in the area, you might want to consider camping at the Pacheedaht Campground near the Gordon River.

*****************************

78874837_3242917282419755_3845463526403473408_o
Why not one more look at the San Juan River?
78796717_3242917292419754_3867425004152946688_O
While we never did see an elk at the river, we did manage to spot one on the way home as we drove back to Lake Cowichan!

 

The Cheewhat Lake Cedar

I had wanted to see it for years, and finally did so in autumn of 2012. Located in a quiet corner of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island, the Cheewhat Lake Cedar was, for many years, the second largest of its kind. In 2016, that was to change, when Olympic National Park’s Quinault Cedar, in Washington, was damaged irreparably in a devastating windstorm.  The Cheewhat tree, at that time, then became the world champion Western Red Cedar.

8132754808_aae266d0af_z
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

The tree was rediscovered in 1988 by the late Maywell Wickheim, a resident of nearby Sooke, British Columbia and one of Canada’s most dedicated big tree hunters. I say rediscovered, because local First Nations people almost certainly made its acquaintance before, as not that far from its massive trunk lie the remnants of a dugout canoe that was never quite finished. Wickheim, for his part, was said to have hinted of an even larger specimen in the general area, though if that is so, he never did disclose its location. To those of us who scour the forests for big cedars, that mere possibility evokes the same kind of zeal that drives men to find lost gold mines, albeit without the prospect of great financial reward!

8132735973_90bf49c511_z
The trunk of a fallen giant near the Cheewhat trailhead on Rosander Main

It takes more than a little preparation and plenty of driving on logging roads to reach the roadside cairn on Rosander Main, where a winding trail will lead you into a stately grove of ancient Western Red Cedars near Cheewhat Lake. Directions to the tree are relatively well known, and access has improved somewhat over the years, but a vehicle in good condition with four decent tires and a sturdy spare at the ready are still strongly recommended. The trail itself, while not especially well marked, does have a well worn footbed that is reasonably simple to follow for experienced hikers.

8132853280_b9dc66d423_z
Overturned cedar and its roots on the Cheewhat Trail, now home to many forms of life 

 

8140617768_0a82cdd9f5_z
On the trail
8132782078_3eedc3090f_z
Some folks find this tree and think they have found the Cheewhat Lake Cedar. As amazing as it is, keep going, you have a ways to go and much more to see!
8132811715_05ba712022_z
Ancient tree just uphill from the Cheewhat Lake Cedar. It’s over 17 feet in diameter and might be 1500 years old!

As you draw closer to this giant, you’ll be truly inspired by the surrounding forest. The understory supports a great deal of biodiversity, and in ideal conditions the natural light through the canopy is nothing less than enchanting. When you finally reach the Cheewhat Lake Cedar, it makes a momentous impression, to put it mildly. Its diameter at breast height is a staggering 5.96 metres, which is over 19.5 feet in width. The tree is thought to be as old as 2000 years by some, though there are disagreements regarding its age. It has endured for many centuries, without a doubt, and is at the very least a national treasure. Should you be fortunate enough to visit, be sure to treat it with the utmost respect, as trees like these are both precious and irreplaceable.

8132791130_f6b7f752cc_z
The base of the Cheewhat Cedar
8131916289_b891f45792_k
A true giant
8140589447_4e5e132322_z
Sign of designation
8140593349_d2189a031c_z
Twenty centuries of growth, perhaps!

8131907307_897453291c_z

8132828992_92f53df93d_z
The tree was rediscovered by the late Sooke resident and tree hunting legend Maywell Wickheim in 1988

8140572971_ee1b224933_z

 

As we all know, British Columbia’s ancient forests have almost entirely disappeared from the land. It’s time now to protect what remains and transition to harvesting second growth timber sources. The sobering reality is that the future of our wilderness depends entirely on our will to preserve it. The Cheewhat Lake Cedar gives us both hope, and a chance to appreciate what nature can accomplish!

8131898229_947313c96a_z
Doug with the champion of all champions, the Cheewhat Cedar!

 

 

 

A Visit With Coastal Giants

 

You hear it from everyone who has visited the west coast of Vancouver Island. They rave about the tall trees, the crashing surf, the unforgettable sunsets, and countless other charms. Wilderness adventurers of all experience levels come from far and wide to visit its forests and beaches year round.

10433559033_2ffd20b5c0_k
October surf at Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Tofino, B.C.
27
Adventure guide Duncan Morrison with a massive Western Red Cedar in Eden Grove , near Port Renfrew

British Columbia’s future may very well depend on how our province chooses to protect its natural world. It has become clear that times are changing. To those who reside here, one crucial question must be asked: If nature is really our greatest resource, why are we in such a race to destroy our future legacy?

67401919_3018538984857587_1851169464792383488_n
Who could disagree that nature is what makes British Columbia special? Our mountains, rivers, and forests need to be preserved for future generations!

 

The answer would seem simple, but conflicted interests make it complicated. We are at a crossroads: No longer are industries based solely on the extraction of natural resources  a reasonable base for a thriving economy. The truth is, they have reached the point where they are destroying that very foundation. In my mind, the only way to shine the light in a different direction is to spend more time bringing attention to the natural world. That then, is primarily what this story is all about. This province needs to save its earthly splendour, and what better place to start than the windswept shores of Vancouver Island’s Pacific Coast?

53362533_2777587032286118_5631593171856130048_n
Imagine that all ancient cedars were preserved for everyone to enjoy, like this giant in North Vancouver’s Wickenden Creek

The month of March brought with it unseasonably warm and dry weather this year, so it seemed like decent timing for a visit to Vancouver Island’s wild west coast. Set in the heart of unceded Pacheedaht territory, the forests near Port Renfrew still hold many hidden secrets which I hope to explore. Fortunately for me, I had an ideal tour guide for the mission, in the person of Chris Istace. “Stasher”, as he’s known to many, has spent plenty of days wandering the coast, and is one of the first good friends I’ve made in my new island home. Our plan, basically, was to visit many of the trees on the map seen below here, and to walk the Botanical Beach area. Here is a link to the fine story about this trip that Chris wrote up a while back, I highly recommend his website!

port-renfrew-big-trees-map-front1-1024x660
Map courtesy of the Ancient Forest Alliance . Consider donating to their tireless efforts in saving B.C.’s remaining old growth forests

We met early in Chemainus before heading toward Lake Cowichan, where we’d grab a coffee before reaching the coast via the old Harris Creek Mainline. The last time I’d driven that road was nearly a decade before, when it was still unpaved! Much had changed, but some things had remained the same.

P5250003
Back in 2007, this fellow manned the Harris Creek Gate. Not sure where he is today!

The ride left us plenty of time to discuss a wide variety of topics, especially the preservation of British Columbia’s ancient forests, which we both have been very vocal about. The interior of Vancouver Island is an absolute statement on how not to manage those forests and you get a front row seat to view that devastation on the road to Port Renfrew! At the very least, we as citizens ought to have more say in what happens to our forests, and there are a lot more valid questions. Why can’t we change the way we log? Why can’t we begin transitioning to a lumber economy that focuses on processing more second growth timber? Why have we been exporting raw logs and all the processing jobs that go with them? Why is there no willingness by government to protect the finest of our forests from clearcutting? To be succinct, I am not in favour of abolishing logging at all, I just feel it’s high time to change the model on which the industry operates.

Ancient-old-growth-forests-of-Vancouver-Island-1024x770
The map tells the tale well. Orange is already logged forest, green remains unprotected. Over 92% of the prime valley bottom timber on Vancouver Island has already been clearcut. It’s clearly time to protect the rest!

 

31
These forests, in their intact state, have considerable value in terms of ecotourism dollars,  which generate long term and lasting employment. Harvesting the trees is a one time opportunity, and even when second growth harvest is factored in, the cashflow realized is far less than income realized through tourism. We need to make decisions that benefit the environment!

 

It was also a chance to learn a bit more about each other’s backgrounds. We have each managed to find our way westward, but through markedly different routes.  Chris has previously lived in Alberta and Estevan, Saskatchewan, whereas I moved to Nanaimo after living in Montreal, Edmonton, and North Vancouver. What I’ll say, to summarize, is that the love of outdoor living brings a lot of people to Vancouver Island!

01
Harris Creek Canyon

The morning air still held a chill, as we reached  Harris Creek. There we took a break and Chris showed me several of his favourite spots along the creek. The rushing waters of the canyon made for an ideal place to clear the mind, and we were happy to linger there for a while.

01a
One of Chris’s favourite stops along Harris Creek

Our next stop was the nearby Harris Creek Spruce, a massive Sitka Spruce which is likely about five hundred years old. It’s quite fortunate that the logging companies decided to preserve it, for it holds so much life upon its aging limbs. The tree is surrounded by a picket fence, to protect its root system, and nearby there is a beautiful stand of Bigleaf Maple trees. I had first visited the tree back in 2007, and was heartened to see an old friend once again.

01c
The sign that marks the short trail to the Harris Creek Spruce
01i
The original old growth forest here was logged in 1893, but the Harris Creek Spruce was spared. Logging has been prohibited in this area since 2012 now.
01f
This tree is vibrantly alive and growing happily beside Harris Creek
01j
I processed this in black and white in order to show the tremendous intricacy an ancient spruce has. They are always covered in mosses and lichen and support a veritable community in their network of limbs!

Port Renfrew was the next destination, where we would spend some time hiking the shores of Botany Bay and Botanical Beach. It wasn’t quite possible to arrive there at low tide, which would have been ideal for viewing the many tide pools, but nevertheless, we had a lot of fun.  There is nothing quite like exploring the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, with its pounding surf and wind blasted Sitka Spruce providing the backdrop. The geology alone is quite interesting, and of course the biodiversity you find in each and every tide pool is unique and fascinating. Quite commonly you’ll see black bears wandering the shoreline foraging for food but we weren’t lucky enough to spot one that day.

02d
Beautifully striated rock layers in Botany Bay
02
Enjoying the Pacific surf!

02i

 

02j
Mussels
02k
By now you might be asking if you can have too many photos of the surf? The answer, by the way, is no, of course not!

Sometimes you need to go the extra mile to get yourself a really good photograph too. Have a look at this sequence and you’ll see just what I mean.

02c

02a

Soon we scrambled around the point and onto Botanical Beach, where we wandered just a bit longer before moving on to the next attraction. I never tire of these coastal beaches, and even the sound of waves triggers so many pleasant memories.

02l
Powerful coastal storms deposit scores of trees on the beaches every year. Be sure to remember to never turn your back on the ocean, especially when seas are rough!

02h

02g
If you ever get to know Chris you’ll soon find out he’s a big advocate of sustainable and smaller housing solutions. This one looked great, and even had a swing, but alas, it’s also in a provincial park!

 

Our whirlwind tour continued as we stopped for a bite to eat, then headed over to Avatar Grove. The trees there were preserved through considerable effort by the Ancient Forest Alliance. On the way up we actually ventured off the trail looking at several trees that get less attention, one a venerable Douglas Fir.

03A
Chris spotted this big Douglas fir just off the trail, so we bushwhacked in for a closer look!

 

The Ancient Forest Alliance, with the help of many volunteers, built trails through both the upper and lower groves and did a commendable job of campaigning for the preservation of these trees.

03A16
Communing with nature on the Upper Avatar Grove Trail
03A1
Walking these groves has you feeling like a much smaller part of nature. I have often felt people see themselves as too important, and many could do with more experiences like this!

The upper grove is most known for the burled and twisted Western Red Cedar affectionately called “The Gnarliest Tree in Canada”. I’m not sure whether it can lay claim to that title but it is certainly quite the sight, with its heavily burled trunk and twisted branches!

03A10
Chris getting set up for a photograph
03A6
Massive burls!
03A4
It’s quite likely this tree is over 600 years old

03A12

Back on route, we visited the rest of the trees in the upper grove, and met a number of other folks paying their own respects as well. It’s notable that when left standing, forests like these drive both spiritual and economic interest in a region, which is a unique combination. Ancient forests are undoubtedly places where people find their souls.

03A3

03A7
Afternoon light in the forest
03A8
These trees are an irreplaceable resource

03A11

 

The lower grove was our next objective, and though Chris had been to Avatar Grove a number of times he had not happened to see it yet either. I found it to be quite a revelation, in part because you could could hear the Gordon River running in the background, as filtered sunlight shone through the trees. There was a subtle breeze to go with it all, and as it turned out, we may have spent more time there than in the upper grove!

03Bj
Welcome to Lower Avatar Grove
03Ba
The base of another ancient cedar
03B
Magnificent cedar in Lower Avatar Grove
03Bb
Composing the shot
03Bd
So many things in nature defy description

 

03Bc
Chris filming a very subtle moment as a faint breeze blows through some hanging moss. Sometimes it is the smaller things you appreciate the most.

 

03Bh
The process of the nurse log assisted tree is perfectly illustrated here

 

What I’ll call the high point of the day, at least in my mind, came with a visit to Big Lonely Doug, which stands almost alone in a clearcut off Edinburgh Main.  Its stark existence, ironically, brings to mind that there is a campaign going on to save the trees in nearby Eden Grove merely a few hundred yards away. Keeping stands of old growth forest intact should be our goal, and in British Columbia that has been a difficult task to accomplish.

04z1 copy
Getting to Big Lonely Doug involves crossing a spectacular bridge over the Gordon River on Edinburgh Main
04j copy
Cross section of a big cedar stump on which you may stand to get a good look at Big Lonely Doug

The story of Big Lonely Doug is an interesting one, to say the least! Apparently, on a winter morning in 2011, a logger named Dennis Cronin was walking through a stand of old-growth forest in the Gordon River Valley near Port Renfrew. He was supposed to  survey the land and flag the boundaries for an up and coming clearcut. Soon he would soon stumble upon one Canada’s largest Douglas firs, no doubt worth a considerable sum in the timber market. Cronin, for reasons of his own, marked the tree with a ribbon that instructed the fallers to leave the tree standing, and that is just what they did. Everything around the tree was levelled and removed, leaving the now solitary fir alone in the cut block. Ironically, the tree was even used as a spar, as cable was wrapped around it in order to help haul other trees out of the cut block. Some time later, environmentalist T.J.Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance, an organization committed to preserving old growth forests in British Columbia, happened to find it while out searching for big trees in the valley.

04l copy
Chris on his way down to the tree
04
This is one of British Columbia’s largest Douglas firs!
04r copy
Many centuries have passed since this fir was born!
04f
Chris and Big Lonely Doug

 

 

If ever there was an apt metaphor for the destruction of British Columbia’s ancient forests, that Douglas fir was a textbook example. A towering giant, set in a field of destruction, the tree would soon be given a name: Big Lonely Doug. It would gain tremendous popularity, embraced by Port Renfrew, which calls itself  “Tall Tree Capital of Canada”

 

The sheer scale of this Douglas Fir is something to behold. I had seen countless photos of it and closely followed its story, but as they say, seeing is believing! Chris had seen the tree before, but was no less impressed. I’m not at all surprised that author Harley Rustad was inspired to write a book about this tree!

 

 

 

Just looking at Big Lonely Doug and all the stumps in the clearcut, I could not help but imagine what has been lost in our forests. Time is definitely running out to save them! We spent the better part of an hour just taking it all in and working for the ideal photo opportunity.

 

 

 

BNCImageAPI_5ca0000a-d49c-4fca-9141-078c9b08e92d_800x
Highly recommended reading! (Image property of Walrus Books, House of Anansi Press, and Harley Rustad )

 

04w copy-Panorama
The indelible mark of a wire rope cable on its trunk seemed sadly symbolic
04b
Chris and Big Lonely Doug

04y copy

04n copy

04v
It stands alone!

Before we headed homeward, we decided to make one more stop. It had been years since I had been to the San Juan Spruce, which was British Columbia’s largest Sitka Spruce up until several years ago, when a storm destroyed part of its upper canopy. I lamented the fact that I’d not taken photos of it back in 2003, as I didn’t have a camera with me at the time. It remains, nevertheless, still an inspiring tree, set as it is right beside the San Juan River, in the middle of a forest service campground!

05a
The San Juan Spruce
05h
The tree has suffered damage but remains spectacular!
05e
The nearby San Juan River
05m
A curious hollow in the main trunk
05f
This is where the damaged limbs came to rest
05c
There are several Bigleaf Maples nearby that have reached enormous size
05o
An amazing tree, well worth seeing

The drive home seemed somewhat faster than I expected, but then again, all things come to an end, relatively speaking. As we parted ways in Chemainus, I was already contemplating a return trip and some new explorations. You can never get enough of coastal British Columbia!

As I write this, the current state of preservation of old growth trees here on Vancouver Island is still of pressing concern. Already, very little ancient forest remains here, and neither the incumbent New Democratic Party, the current opposition B.C. Liberal Party, nor a plethora of logging companies have any desire to change the situation. Only British Columbia’s Green Party, part of the coalition government at this time, is supporting a moratorium on old growth logging. What is really needed here is a paradigm shift, for lack of a better phrase. The tired rhetoric of  seeing old growth forest as a decaying resource that might as well be harvested or it will lose value is simply an excuse for justifying environmental destruction. Why not consider change?

04c
Well, maybe one last look at Big Lonely Doug

 

************************ Author’s Note***********************

If you’re also interested in supporting the preservation of our forests here in British Columbia, consider investigating these sources and contributing, if you can, to the fine work they are doing:

Eden Grove, an Endangered Paradise

01
Gordon River Valley

They nicknamed it Eden Grove, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, which, in theological lore, was intended to be the paradise where mankind had its hopeful beginnings. Some years ago, Ken Wu and TJ Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) happened upon this spectacular grove of trees in the heart of Vancouver Island’s Gordon River Valley, not far from Port Renfrew. As the raven flies, it is located on Edinburgh Mountain, just minutes from the iconic Big Lonely Doug, the now legendary Douglas Fir which has only recently been designated for protection by the Government of British Columbia. Eden Grove (not  an official name) falls within the traditional lands of the Pacheedaht First Nation. It is about thirty hectares of prime valley bottom ancient forest. Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar are the showcase species, including one cedar that’s well over twelve feet in diameter! Many of the specimens there are likely 500 to 1000 years in age, but forests as rich in biodiversity as Eden Grove can take up to twice that long to fully evolve.

24
Especially for the uninitiated, there’s nothing like wandering an ancient forest. One can immediately tell it has been centuries in the making!

Recently, I had the opportunity to tour this grove with local adventure guide and tree enthusiast Duncan Morrison. A resident of Sooke, just east of Port Renfrew, he’s quite knowledgeable about the area and keenly interested in saving its ancient forests. We met in Lake Cowichan and drove out to the coast from there, with the clearcuts visible from the now paved Harris Creek Main a sombre reminder of past forest management decisions. I had been looking forward to visiting these trees since earlier this year, when I visited Avatar Grove and Big Lonely Doug in March. We arrived in late morning on a warm summer day in August, and it was something of a relief when we dropped into the cool shade of Eden Grove.

03
The first tree to greet you in the forest is this beautiful Douglas Fir, which is very close to 8 1/2 feet in diameter and certainly over 500 years in age!
04
This trillium will live on again to bloom next spring

The rough route through the grove was actually well trodden in places, a surprise to me, as I had thought it a relative secret. We met a number of like minded people enjoying their opportunity to travel back in time, as it were, while sunshine filtered through the canopy above.

05

It took just a minute or two to reach one of Eden Grove’s largest cedars, which measures a healthy 39 feet around! I could hear the calls of many birds there, though we saw very few. The mosquitoes and flies, though, were another story, as they found us right away!

67897292_3030087767036042_7597062994979192832_n
Duncan with one of the finest cedars in the grove. This tree, likely over 600 years old, is nearly 39 feet in circumference and has a diameter of about 12 feet!

It is not just the trees here that are at stake. Among other species, these lands are also known to provide homes for cougars, black bears, Roosevelt elk, marbled murrelets, Queen Charlotte goshawks, and Northern red legged frogs. Watch this video that the Ancient Forest Alliance put together, it really emphasizes just how crucial habitat like this is to wildlife. You can also read about a most interesting tree climb that took place in Eden Grove back in 2016, when the AFA teamed up with expert tree climbers Matthew Beatty of the Arboreal Collective and Damien Carré of Expedition Old Growth to ascend a giant Douglas Fir in the endangered forest.

67064009_2987539331290886_8195322883858235392_o
As the AFA’s camera recorded, the grove is sometimes home to black bears, so be mindful of proper behaviour if you encounter one there. Make sure that you leave no trace, and give all animals plenty of space when you see them
11
Witches Brooms, as you see here, are caused by stress that is brought on by pests or disease.  Mites, aphids, and nematodes, fungi, viruses, and bacterial organisms are among the many causes . Mistletoe is the most common culprit where western hemlocks are concerned.
06
In an old growth forest, there is magic around every corner
09
Thuja Plicata, the Western Red Cedar
68600694_3030095790368573_5517459814738821120_n
Savouring the forest vibes    Photo by Duncan Morrison

Fifteen minutes into our hike brought us to the marking for the planned logging road into the grove. It looked as though it would lead into Eden Grove from the general direction of the clearcut that’s home to Big Lonely Doug. Much as I’d like to say it was hard to imagine a road there, it was not, as I’ve seen it happen many times in other places.

12
The potential road bed

There are times when I photograph a forest that I have to make a concerted effort to show its beauty, and then there are the times when it comes easily. On this excursion, it definitely was the latter, as Eden Grove delivered in every way. Walk with me, I’ll let the images speak for themselves, with a few captions…

07
Moss covered branches and the morning light
13
Duncan hanging out with another ancient cedar
14
Straight and true, this spire is one of the many cedars in Eden Grove which exceed eight feet in diameter

15

16
Chicken of the Woods
17
The radiance of light
18
Shadows and burls

We meandered on, toward one of the more interesting sights in the forest. There are two ancient cedars that stand together, in more ways than one! For now at least, the larger of the two steadfastly supports the other, which leans to the right at a considerable angle. Duncan took to calling them The Arch.

19
But first, a moment of meditation
20
The Arch
21
Pillars of The Arch at ground level
22
It’s quite a configuration

The understory is diverse and alive with greenery. There are more than a few fallen giants now providing their nutrients to the forest as they decay, completing their own circles of life. These downed trees also provide shelter for small animals, amphibians, and insects.

23
Life is vibrant on the forest floor

Eventually you swing gradually to the right and follow the top of an embankment, which is where the cut block boundary has been marked. The hillside beneath is packed with ferns, but above them all, there are a few more unexpected delights.

25
Lush green hillside cloaked in ferns!

A most peculiar cedar with a radically twisted trunk is sure to get your attention. I have taken to calling it “The Corkscrew Cedar”.

26
The Corkscrew Cedar

The magic continued, more than enough to keep two enthusiastic tree hunters more than busy. Duncan knew the route was soon to end, so we took a break for a few minutes for a bite to eat and discussed what to do next. He was hoping to go for a quick swim in a nearby creek, while I was preoccupied with bushwhacking to a cedar we had spotted across a steep ravine!

27
Cannot get enough of this place!

During our brief stop, we were looking straight at what I am calling the Boundary Cedar, which sits right along that line of falling boundary tape. I suspect it to be in the nine foot diameter range but we did not measure it.

29
Note that the tree has actually been blazed and painted
30
The falling boundary tape

As anyone who has read the Old Testament might know, not everything went well in the Garden of Eden, and B.C.’s forests, metaphorically, have also been forever changed by those tempted by avarice. Recently there has been heated discussion about preserving the remaining old growth forests in the province of British Columbia, but the oldest of habits die hard. Logging company Teal Jones, which holds the timber license for Eden Grove, has even made a recent announcement that they are closing all of their mills that process second growth timber on Vancouver Island. Their intent, in the future, is to exclusively log profitable stands of ancient forest, and that has the clock ticking loudly toward the destruction of Eden Grove. Indeed, they have already begun logging in several other sections of the valley, and it may not be long before the grove becomes yet another clearcut!

32
Duncan stands with the Boundary Cedar.

Roughly ten yards from our lunch spot, we located the largest tree in the grove, which I’ll call the Eden Giant. It’s quite a sight, at nearly 40 feet in circumference and close to 13 feet at its widest diameter! It would not surprise me if it were well over 800 years old!

67776453_652035535306379_5245270303919046656_n
The biggest tree in the grove is nearly 40 feet in circumference and quite close to 13 feet diameter on its widest face. You can’t replace nearly ten centuries of growth. Let’s save it instead for future generations! Photo by Duncan Morrison
33
The Eden Giant
34
It was an honour for me to see this tree in person!
36
The bark of the Eden Giant

Having seen much of what the forest had to offer, we finally decided to hike back to the logging road. I also took a few, errrr, maybe a lot more more pictures! The end of the route is well enough marked, so that you know where to turn around.

39

38
Early afternoon light fills Eden Grove
40
A last look at the Eden Giant
41
The burled base of the Corkscrew Cedar
43
I am still trying to figure out how this tree grew in such a twisted fashion!

44

45

46
Revisiting The Arch
47
The forest as it was meant to be seen. Our thanks to the Ancient Forest Alliance for bringing attention to Eden Grove!
48
The magic of the afternoon light in the forest

On the way into the grove, as I mentioned earlier, we had sighted a cedar that was on the opposite side of a dry creek bed that I just had to see! Getting to it involved clambering over some fairly precarious ground. Duncan, having recently had knee surgery, wisely chose to wait for me as I made my way to it. At first I thought that it was dead, but closer inspection revealed that it is still clinging to life, with just one strong limb still growing.

50
I haven’t come up with a definitive name for this tree yet!
51
This shot shows the delineation between dead wood and live tree
52
I loved how the burl above has created a little planter for hemlock seedlings!
53
Reaching skyward!
54
Enchanted?
55
I would estimate this tree to be about 11 feet in diameter. It might be 600 years old but I do not believe it will survive too much longer

I was glad to have made the detour across the ravine, but just as stoked to be back on the easier ground again! It was around this time we ran into a couple of hikers and chatted about these trees. It’s always encouraging to meet like minded people!

56
The straight and true trunk of that second largest tree in the grove. I thought to call it Adam but maybe that doesn’t quite fit with no Eve nearby to keep it company
57
Cedar reaching for the sun!
58
Another look at the Douglas Fir near the logging road, such an impressive tree!
59
Did you know that the bark of ancient firs has been known to grow as thick as one foot? That’s a lot of protection against the elements!

When we got back to the road, Duncan headed off to enjoy that refreshing swim he’d been thinking about, while I got sidetracked photographing the unnamed creek nearby. Maybe it should be called Eden Creek! There’s even a small waterfall nearby but I took no picture of it as a number of people were swimming there. Seems like Duncan wasn’t the only one thinking about cooling off that day!

60
The creek below the falls
61
Beautiful light!
62
The rock was beautifully polished

The British Columbia New Democratic Party (BCNDP) campaigned on a promise to review and increase the protection of our fast shrinking ecological treasures, but in reality, their policy has been “business as usual”. All they have done to date is to designate a mere 54 significant trees for preservation, many of which were never expected to be logged. Unfortunately, while Forest Minister Doug Donaldson and Premier John Horgan refuse to implement a moratorium on old growth logging, the timber companies are, if anything, stepping up their activities. It is as though they have decided,  that now is the time to escalate their efforts, rather than decrease them. Coastal temperate rainforests have been under attack for over a century now, and the crisis has risen well past the point of no return. Additionally, government policies and some of their definitions have only served to confuse the facts and end up distorting the truth. They have included countless stands of relatively unproductive timber in their inventory of remaining old growth forests in British Columbia, perhaps in order to inflate that number.

02

The reality is that valley bottom stands of ancient forest are disappearing as fast as they can be cut, at a rate of roughly 34 football fields per day in British Columbia alone! On Vancouver Island, almost 94% of the valley bottom ancient forest has already been cut. We hear the government say that they know, as do the timber companies, that logging these forests is the best way to manage the resource. But is this true? Let’s consider the numbers. Cutting down an old growth forest certainly does bring revenue and jobs, but it also removes a highly desired income source from the eco tourism industry. Much of the planet is becoming very conscious of nature. People want to see the ancient forests, the wild, storm blasted coastal beaches, and the roaring waterfalls! Port Renfrew, once exclusively a logging town, has already seen that writing on the wall. Its business sector has realized the value of the natural world, which they well know can only bring added value to their community. They are even billing the town as ” Tall Tree Capital of Canada”. Studies have shown that the sustainable value from ecotourism far exceeds that of a one time clearcut even if subsequent second growth harvest is factored in. That does not even take into account that many timber companies cut and ship raw logs to foreign countries for cash. When that happens, jobs are actually lost, not created, and in B.C. that questionable practice has gone on for decades!

63
The nearby Big Lonely Doug and his clearcut companions. Can you see the people at right in this image?

So what is the ideal solution?  Harley Rustad, the author of Big Lonely Doug, has previously suggested that Big Lonely Doug and Eden Grove be designated as a provincial park (story here). What an excellent idea! Honestly, I’d like to see ALL of Edinburgh Mountain’s remaining old growth be saved from the chainsaws, but we do need to start somewhere!

BNCImageAPI_5ca0000a-d49c-4fca-9141-078c9b08e92d_800x
A compelling tale, highly recommended reading!     ( Image is the property of Walrus Books, House of Anansi Press and Harley Rustad)

There are precedents for similar commitments in our province already, such as Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area, which opened in 2016 as our newest provincial park. I made a recent visit there myself and I was thoroughly impressed! It’s important to note, however, that 25% of its forest was logged before it attained protected status, so now, as then, time is of the essence.

66605208_1136828336525562_7993829793156038656_o
Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area was designated a provincial park in 2016

Canada ought to become a world leader in conservation, and saving our ancient forests would be an excellent step on that road to future success. Logging companies persist in spreading the notion that forests are a renewable resource, and that in a few decades the trees will grow again. Yes, it’s true, they will grow, and the forest will regenerate to some extent, but places such as Eden Grove will actually take many centuries to resemble what they are today! Considering climate change, that process, in fact, could take even longer, or it may no longer be possible. We have plenty of second growth and less productive older forests that could be cut instead, so it’s about time the logging industry changed its business model. Eden Grove should remain as it was intended to be, a paradise that only nature could have created.

67744238_3032155346829284_5083634346514972672_n

*******

Human intervention has already changed Edinburgh Mountain forever, but there is still time to save what remains of this unique place. I ask that once you have read this story,  please share it widely to garner public attention. Feel free to send it to your local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in British Columbia, and/or  your Member of Parliament (MP) in Canada. Most importantly, share your concerns, along with the story, with Doug Donaldson,  who is the B.C. Minister of Forests, and John Horgan, the premier of B.C. (both pictured below).

You can also share this story with friends, conservation organizations, media outlets, newspapers, and any other sources that may help to spread the word worldwide. If you do share the story, please do so respectfully, as a constructive discussion needs to take place in order to further this cause.

35
Let’s ensure that future generations can enjoy Eden Grove in its natural state. Take a step, and get involved! The future of places like this depend on the efforts of many people!   Photo by Duncan Morrison

I’ll leave you with a video that Duncan sent to me that was made in Eden Grove by some friends of his, I hope you enjoy the musical interlude!

 

*******Author’s Notes*******

*While the Ancient Forest Alliance and other organizations have campaigned for the protection of Eden Grove, neither the BCNDP nor Teal Jones have yet responded positively.  Edinburgh Mountain’s ancient forests truly need to be preserved for our future generations! Consider supporting the AFA’s tireless work to save old growth forests in British Columbia in this campaign, and in others, by clicking here   

*Though he still remains in an advisory capacity, Ken Wu has since left the AFA in September of 2018 and now heads up the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking the Dreamweaver Trail

I’ll call him “A”, and ultimately, it was his vision. His brainchild was to build a unique trail joining several challenging obstacles on the east side of Mosquito Creek Canyon to connect with a substantial log crossing on Mosquito Creek. From there, a serpentine path would twist its way through a superb grove of Western Red Cedars on Grouse Mountain that had somehow escaped the crosscut saws of early twentieth century loggers. It would eventually meet with the well worn Lower Grouse Mountain Highway (LGMH) Trail, which could then be used to access other paths. That trail would come to be known as Dreamweaver (click here for map)

One of the old wooden signs that used to mark the trail. It has since been removed, I have been told

Our unnamed trail builder was a  highly skilled woodsman with an impressive array of carpentry skills. The evidence shows that he is also someone who seems to like to tackle a difficult project. In other words, the perfect person to battle the route’s obstructions. The crux of the matter was a sharply sloped hillside high above Mosquito Creek bisected by a jagged ravine which had been worsened by decades of flooding. There was also the usual problem of massive fallen trees, not at all uncommon in this canyon.

60334410_2883195231725297_1392496708818042880_n
Deadfall and other resultant chaos is common in the Mosquito Creek Valley, which is very steep sided and in a constant state of change

But were those downed trees really a problem?

“A” certainly didn’t think so. There was a massive log that spanned the hillside, but it was not quite safe for passage, at least not for most hikers. So what was the solution? In time, he figured it out! He would build a bridge using that fallen giant as a base.

In actual fact, that bridge had two incarnations because he wasn’t happy with the prototype. The final version would even be bolstered by wire rope cables. There would also be a sturdy cedar plank deck and some handrails at one end.  The result, after all those trials and tribulations, was a secure bridge that could withstand all but the absolute worst of Mosquito Creek’s propensity for natural disaster. It was a complex process into which he put his heart, soul, and determination. Days of work were required, as well as plenty of ingenuity, to get the job completed. A chainsaw, winch, plenty of physical strength, and the occasional friend also proved helpful.

So was he successful? Absolutely! The Kwai Bridge, as he named it, has stood solidly for the last seventeen years that I know of! Once this feat of engineering was mastered, then the next stage was to find a way to cross the oft raging waters of Mosquito Creek Canyon.

60397261_2883262575051896_7442609936585981952_n
The Kwai Bridge is truly one of a kind and quite a feat of engineering

Once down on the banks of the creek, “A” once again found a similar solution to the problem of crossing Mosquito Creek’s main tributary. There was another fallen old growth giant admirably wedged across the waters! It could be used to bridge over to a series of big logs on the west bank of the creek! He set to planing it flat and etching it for improved traction. With all of that accomplished, all that remained was to choose an entry point into the forest above, where the track would continue its way into that splendid grove of cedars hidden nearby.

The crossing of the creek used to be quite simple as you would simply stroll across this downed tree that “A” customized

I have never had the chance to thank him personally, but the dedication he put into this project can only described as a labour of love. The North Shore Mountains have had more than their share of iconic trail builders, and Dreamweaver’s creator certainly takes his rightful place on that honour roll. Soon after it was built, the trail became a fast favourite of mine, and in the rest of this story I’ll try to show you why!

As the map shows, the trail actually begins in the maze of old skid roads near the top of St Mary’s Avenue in North Vancouver, where it makes use of a variety of different tracks which get it into the Mosquito Creek Canyon. For the purposes of this story I simply describe the trail from the point at which Dreamweaver intersects the Mt Fromme Trail, because I generally skip the conventional access and begin quite near where the Kwai Bridge is located ( I hike in via the Mt Fromme Trail which begins near the water towers at the top of Prospect Drive). 

60076481_2883197161725104_6573948656326541312_n
Crossing the Kwai Bridge

When some local officials first saw the Kwai Bridge ten years later, there was a lot of disdain for it. In fact, though, despite its unorthodox construction, it has proven its worthiness over and over again. When you cross it yourself, take the time to linger and appreciate the effort it took to make it a reality, as you gaze down the sharp defile into the canyon.

Once you are across the bridge, your journey into the old growth forest begins! There is a nice group of cedars to wander among before the trail makes its way downhill to reach Mosquito Creek’s log crossing.

60417867_2883197995058354_3899918016590118912_n
Among the old growth trees you see once you cross Kwai Bridge

The next segment of your excursion takes you across a slide slope that released about twenty years ago, with its origins half a kilometre uphill from the creek. The trail here becomes crude, with loose gravel, rock and exposed earth. New trees and foliage are struggling, with modest success, to reestablish growth on the rough hillside.

60142832_2883262825051871_3879588587758419968_n
The slide path you cross on the way down to Mosquito Creek

Once you’re down on the banks of the creek, you’ll be looking to cross it, then head slightly downstream on the opposite side. If waters are high, you might find that fording the creek is now necessary, because that sturdy downed tree that makes the crossing has shifted somewhat over the years during storms.

60524251_2883196321725188_9197283512145674240_n
The log crossing in 2018

In heavy rains, Mosquito Creek is not the place you want to be! In fact, further down the canyon the District of North Vancouver has even had to construct some elaborate cages of wire rope cable in order to catch and control debris torrents. Despite its proximity to North Vancouver, there have also been a disproportionate number of hikers that have lost their way in this canyon. Be well prepared if you go hiking there, and allow plenty of time so you don’t get caught out by darkness.

60224735_2883196748391812_89215812291788800_n
Mosquito Creek, just behind the log crossing
60007823_2883195998391887_3784016524516261888_n
Golden reflections

The trail is sparsely marked once you reach the west side of the creek and enter the woods, so pay close attention to the footbed. The forest soon works its charm wonderfully as you hike upward once again. On a sunny morning I cannot think of a place I’d rather be, as every step adds to the enchantment.

88579
Follow along yet another log as it leads you down stream to where the path climbs uphill
60094236_2883197371725083_2246281227386486784_n
Looking back at the crossing from the west side, with the slide slope in the background
60254982_2883197265058427_6376092372131905536_n
Climbing into the forest above, hearing the roar of the creek nearby

The silvered and spiky treetops pierce the upper canopy as the sounds of woodpeckers and songbirds fill the air. The forest takes on an entirely different character; Douglas Squirrels chatter loudly, laying claim to their territory, and the sounds of ravens and eagles are often heard echoing above.

60287349_2883195305058623_939340073831235584_n
Old and sun bleached Western Red Cedars

It isn’t unusual to see a deer, pine marten, or a black bear, and, on more rare occasions, even a bobcat or cougar. Barred Owls swoop silently in the treetops above sometimes, in search of prey. The creek itself is home to the Coastal Tailed Frog, a blue listed species in southwestern British Columbia, and the feisty Pacific Water Shrew.

60342510_2883195458391941_2101541675619844096_n
Mosquito Creek welcoming committee!
60530597_2883262668385220_8933954918289506304_n
Morning mist on Dreamweaver
60511778_2883262945051859_5757341550765932544_n
Doug winding his way through the forest

The trees in this grove are centuries old, as wide as eleven feet in diameter, and the forest supports a diverse and mature understory which is wonderful to photograph. There are also immense boulders and several small brooks that trickle through the  glades. It’s hard to believe that you’re so close to civilization when you walk there, and it’s very easy to lose yourself in the moment. Places like these must be preserved for future generations to appreciate!

60400881_2883196118391875_517040992159793152_n
Gateway!
60445731_2883198138391673_4075394927012347904_n
Woodpeckers are very busy in this forest
60151406_2883197008391786_710743617777434624_n
Skeletal remains and blue skies
60111079_2883196911725129_2532933323316002816_n
If you do this hike, try to choose a sunny day!
60470040_2883197425058411_5867019897220890624_n
Three Rocks, as I like to call this formation

60230199_2883197068391780_7474435631364440064_n

60020408_2883197981725022_1437759058458181632_n
Chris with one of the oldest cedars on the trail

You gain a few hundred metres in elevation as the track continues, and by the time you reach LGMH , you’re suddenly among the second growth trees again. Soon after that you will also encounter the signs of human detritus along the trail.

60098840_2883195951725225_4473379232453492736_n

60518258_2883197555058398_3891901820909387776_n
Twisting giant in the shade
60146691_2883196255058528_1914672308610400256_n
Western Red Cedar, Thuja Plicata, over 400 years old
60300521_2883195515058602_2323306470793281536_n
Several trees in the grove were about to be cut, but thankfully remain standing today. This tree is about 500 years old
60294952_2883262845051869_4273133121081180160_n
What’s this? Classic beer bottles and an old kitchen knife

In terms of expediency, taking LGMH back down to the toward the top of Skyline Drive is the most efficient return to where you began, if you take my preferred route. Eventually you will reach the Baden Powell Trail and follow it down to the Mosquito Creek Bridge, (which isn’t far from the top of Prospect Drive). The Baden Powell Trail then loops back to Dreamweaver, and all of the other trails that connect to it.

60098558_2883262285051925_8033791105180893184_n
I call any old kitchen items I find in the woods Ted Oliver Cookware, in honour of a certain good friend of mine. You’d be surprised how much of this stuff can be found in the North Shore Mountains!

Of all of the places in the North Shore Mountains I’ve hiked, the Dreamweaver Trail takes you through some of the most idyllic forest you’ll find anywhere. Hopefully you get the opportunity to explore the Mosquito Creek Valley more closely, though I do have to happily warn you that one visit probably won’t be enough. Just to prove it, here are some more images that showcase Dreamweaver’s beauty!

60236594_2883196808391806_9167785371814068224_n
Tower of strength
60596403_2883262598385227_6243287993314967552_n
The forest as it should be seen, natural and mostly undisturbed by man
60059222_2883196581725162_7518156594551455744_n
Please do not remove the markers on this trail! They help ensure hikers do not get lost and also help search and rescue people find them!

To close this out this diatribe, I’ll leave you with this 1976 music video by Gary Wright. I think it’s reasonable to assume his song just may have inspired the name of this trail. In any event, the music does seem to suit a walk through the wilderness, if you ask me. I  played it while browsing the photos in this report and it somehow it just sounded right. I’ll let you decide if you agree!

The Magic of the Blue Cedar Grove

The Blue Cedar Grove. It’s a title that stirs the imagination, kind of like The Golden Spruce, I remember thinking, when I first read the words. I never did remember to ask Ralf Kelman exactly why he’d chosen such a name, but as soon as I saw it on the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) map, I knew that I needed to see these trees!

The first trip I made to this grove was hardly a day filled with great inspiration. It was a one of those spring days when it’s hard to anticipate what way the weather is going to turn. In short, I guessed wrong. Only half an hour into my bike ride up the valley, light rain began to fall, escalating into a torrential downpour by the time I had left my ride to hunt for the trees. I did decide to press on, but it seemed the further I walked the harder it poured! I made it as far as a soaking wet, moss covered boulder field before I conceded defeat.

58381014_2850352065009614_8759178727486652416_n
The only find on a very rain soaked day was this fine four hundred year old cedar
57882532_2850352258342928_6642488491760418816_n
A day when you could not keep the water off your camera lens!

 

The high point of the day was returning to my truck to don dry clothing, devour a sandwich, and drink a thermos of hot chocolate laced with Grand Marnier! ( I highly recommend that last part if you haven’t tried it before, just don’t drink and drive. Take a very long nap, like I did. )

It was four years later in 2008 that I finally returned. On that occasion I chose perfect weather, with the sun shining warmly on my birthday, no less! In a scant twenty minutes from where I left my bike I reached the grove, which certainly did not disappoint.

57467893_2850338881677599_107153077483601920_n
There it was, the moss covered boulder field where I had begun my retreat several years before!

58373903_2850338955010925_6004803749451661312_n

Tall and towering cedars, draped in moss, set the scene. The forest floor and understory were a carpet of innumerable greens, though it was far from easy to decide where to place your next step.

58373336_2850339708344183_8969183051800117248_n
In this case, moss grows on the east side of this big cedar!
58057774_2850342071677280_6724398779430076416_n
If you like marked trails with few obstructions, avoid hiking with me!
57620749_2850340385010782_1566518011873984512_n
Fallen giant on the forest floor
57540166_2850328938345260_8743060015872475136_n
An explosion of greenery!

58003907_2850338725010948_1292496074732208128_n

57821893_2850342505010570_5287744571244019712_n
Spectacular place to spend an afternoon

I was quite surprised to also find a number of very nice Douglas Firs interspersed here and there, and along the creek a number of massive Bigleaf Maples held court, shading me from the midday sun. Nearby, a quizzical deer observed me clambering about, no doubt wondering what in the world I was doing there!

57584295_2850329208345233_3445013312733970432_n
Douglas Fir aka Pseudotsuga Menzieszi
58749450_2850329441678543_8091839005525540864_n
Bigleaf Maple on O’Hayes Creek
58383896_2850329185011902_4035367322167279616_n
The sheer volume of their foliage is overwhelming!
58570767_2850329715011849_8512091037064232960_n
Bigleaf Maples are highly underrated if you ask me

57613189_2850329465011874_2006676903297024000_n

After enjoying the grove, I was soon drawn uphill, following the dull roar of water that I could hear in the background. When I found the source of the noise it was a surprise to me. A winter avalanche had roared down the creek canyon right down to an elevation of 500 meters. By the month of May the snows had melted out and the creek had created a cavern beneath them, leaving me something highly unique to explore. I dared not venture inside it, though, as I could hear the creaking and groaning of shifting ice echoing from within.

57485269_2850328618345292_197523638977560576_n
Just a shot here to give you an idea how steep and rough these creek valleys are. These are the nearby cliffs at Jack’s Burn, where you can sometimes spot mountain goats
57821749_2850338321677655_4011320199708934144_n
O’Hayes Creek as seen from a helicopter. Credit to Doug for this photo, which really gives you a different perspective!

Some years later I was to learn that this creek was highly volatile indeed, as during heavy rains the entire couloir released and stripped out the creek bed right down to earth. You can still view the scars of that event in Google Earth images, another five years after it occurred! Here then is the walk up the canyon as I viewed it that day…

57437577_2850330378345116_5560455869050650624_n
O’Hayes Creek
58373016_2850330318345122_8519578655414812672_n
Over the years quite a few huge boulders have tumbled down this creek gully
57558636_2850329691678518_5456588170965549056_n
Those are The Needles in the background
58689271_2850329708345183_4864890700057018368_n
I got to see this rock tower from above on the day we traversed The Needles several years before
58542900_2850329901678497_3844711387435630592_n
The canyon walls
57694929_2850329911678496_1768541329173774336_n
A truly unique place, and one I’ll never forget!
57908920_2850330095011811_1330346749633495040_n
The ice cave back in 2007. For scale, the opening is, or was, seven feet at its tallest. I did not go inside!
58379979_2850330171678470_1528968431360016384_n
The sounds emanating from within were intimidating to say the least!

Having finally run out of time, I descended the gully once again, vowing to return. The next decade, however, would have a lot to say about whether that was going to happen, but suffice it to say that I was a very happy hiker on that sunny afternoon in late May!

57538134_2850329988345155_1267471890163695616_n
This territory is about as rugged as it gets!
57578709_2850330105011810_7303502701852098560_n
Cliffside cascade

 

58586786_2850330298345124_1768250018721955840_n
I could not resist another look back at a truly incredible place

58372789_2850329855011835_1002665930636918784_n

57811483_2850329021678585_8847863720475361280_n

58766093_2850338445010976_4271112377623117824_n
The end of a great day, heading back to my bike

In 2018, I would finally return again, on another absolutely resplendent day. I knew that soon I was to be moving away from the North Shore Mountains, and the Blue Cedar Grove compelled me to visit one more time. The day of discovery was a rewarding one, as I found several sizeable  Pacific Yews , hiding in plain sight as they always seem to be. One of them was so twisted and gnarled that I named it “The Elk”, for its upper branches that gave the appearance of antlers.

58374214_2850344548343699_7552112872281604096_n
Introducing “The Elk”, one very interesting Pacific Yew!
58113339_2850343975010423_8082019838408523776_n
The base of “The Elk”

I will never forget having lunch on the banks of O’Hayes Creek that day, warmed by the sun as countless birds sang nearby. It may seem trite to say I feel as though I’ve developed a bond with this place over the years, but I can’t think of any other way describe it. It is, without a doubt, one of the Seymour Valley’s special places. Here is a guided tour of what I experienced that day.

58430297_2850339418344212_6173249424748183552_n

58543841_2850341315010689_2054234320251387904_n
Shadows in the forest
58461495_2850341261677361_8457132592594944000_n
This cedar tree had a very long piece of bark that seemed to have stripped from the trunk

58639060_2850346351676852_4406568499313377280_n

57972790_2850329051678582_6840860610117238784_n
Spiky treetops usually mean old growth trees!
58381413_2850346311676856_4291136241006542848_n
Any time you find a yew around two to three feet wide you have yourself a very old tree
58375621_2850345471676940_1126236761127649280_n
When a giant falls it can either be quite a roadblock or a highway for escape!

57678117_2850328645011956_4114652435631308800_n

57503903_2850342598343894_6039913792836468736_n
Rattlesnake Plantain
57936063_2850345488343605_3245358128732045312_n
Timeless beauty

58382999_2850328688345285_429296502519627776_n

57612567_2850340535010767_1416356106845814784_n

57555449_2850330501678437_5736122067271548928_n

57503432_2850351458343008_1707925351918731264_n
Little things!
57486535_2850343898343764_7502316480285900800_n
Partners

57543654_2850351118343042_8561590419186515968_n

57451009_2850352145009606_7174717970042585088_n
Sunlit Alder trees
57485567_2850328935011927_5058109476133928960_n
I call this cedar “The Moose”
57592747_2850341735010647_2261862252044877824_n
Tilting panorama of a cedar tree

Imagine, if you can, the Seymour Valley in the late 1800s. It was a land almost completely undisturbed, abundant with wildlife, and blanketed with one of the finest coastal temperate rainforests this land had to offer.

57471841_2850329061678581_9042707097996754944_n
Western Red Cedar, aka Thuja Plicata
58594817_2850349961676491_5301027998852448256_n
Towering Douglas Firs

With the influx of settlers and the further displacement of indigenous peoples, however, everything changed. Much of the valley bottom timber was harvested, and the majority that remains many years later is in the stages of recovery. There are, however, places that do remain relatively pristine, and I’ve made it a passion of mine to search for them. The Blue Cedar Grove certainly possesses that magic in abundance, a place that always fills me with gratitude. Should you take the time to seek it out, I’m sure you’ll agree!

57572714_2850343055010515_149340432403267584_n
Blue Cedar Grove

The Kennewick Cedar

“I think we’ve got something here!” I turned abruptly, just in time to see Chris clambering swiftly up the steep gully we were crossing. From my vantage point, I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew he was absolutely serious. I followed along, and as he disappeared from sight into the brush, suddenly his source of excitement became obvious. There, on the south bank of the gully, was one of the most impressive Western Red Cedars I have seen, before or since!

55869242_2818225178222303_7656442558523899904_n
Me and the Kennewick Cedar…Photo by Chris H.

The tree rests on the edge of an unnamed tributary about halfway between Kennedy and Wickenden Creeks, hence the moniker, somewhat borrowed from the Washington city of the same name. It took us quite some time to decide how to actually measure this giant, just because of the way it sits on the bank, but its diameter may well exceed fifteen feet! That ranks it in the top six we have seen in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park and far and away the largest Chris and/or I have discovered there. I returned to the tree again six years later with Doug in the spring of 2012 to find it still in excellent health!

56304268_2818225694888918_1592025710975778816_n
Looking skyward!
56213644_2818225844888903_1795112887379820544_n
A vertical panorama

What’s even more remarkable is that for its size its wood gives the appearance of a younger tree, and none of its towering leaders have yet been broken by storms. I believe that it is less than five hundred years old, which augurs well for record future growth, should it survive well. Perhaps more than any other tree, the Kennewick Cedar could perhaps truly inspire future generations of tree hunters in the region, because as I’ve said before, there have to be more giants out there just waiting to be discovered!

55935429_2818225544888933_6145720818979569664_n
Chris with the Kennewick Cedar

A Walk in the The Giant’s Rock Garden

You know, when you’re open to possibilities, sometimes the day you envisioned turns out to be a whole lot different than you planned, and the story that follows here is a prime example of that. While it’s been the better part of a year just getting my act together enough to write about this day, I still thought it worthwhile to share, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

This trip began in the parking lot of North Vancouver’s Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (LSCR). That’s where Steve and I readied our bikes for the ride up the Seymour Valley. We stuck to the Seymour Valley Trailway  for the first half hour, before branching off toward the Spur 4 Bridge, and eventually to the road that climbs along the east side of the Seymour River.

50227021_2707741962603959_8149912091558412288_n
Seymour Valley from the Spur 4 Bridge

 

The idea was to search for a grove of ancient Sitka Spruce which had evaded both of us, previously.  Well, spoiler alert, we still haven’t found it yet! As I recall that day, it took a while for me to get my biking legs going, but our usual joking around helped to pass the time quickly!

50293438_2707742019270620_3514951787087921152_n
Steve showed me this saw blade along the Homestead Trail on our trip back, but I had to post it sooner in the story! He has a knack for finding things

The remote places of the Seymour Valley have certainly become an avid pursuit to me and I truly enjoyed exploring my backyard during the years I lived nearby. It might surprise you to know that there are still many tracts of rarely explored wilderness that are relatively close to the hustle and bustle of North Vancouver traffic. Steve has also spent dozens of hours trekking the valley’s obscure drainages and has managed to discover many things that have escaped my eyes. Truth is, when terrain is rugged you can only cover so much ground, so there is always something new to see even in places you’ve been before!

Once we reached the likely marker on the road, we spotted an old logging spur that seemed to head down to the riverbank and I decided we should explore it. You know, had I brought a map that day, we might have spared ourselves an extra half hour or so of thrashing about spindly second growth timber and brush before it dawned on us the suspect spruce grove was actually on the opposite side of the road. Mea culpa! At any rate, with that little diversion now behind us, it was back to the road and we carried on for a little while longer. I’ll explain more in the caption on the map below…

50048302_2707817812596374_2481620713375531008_n
The supposed spruce grove is allegedly off the right hand road on this map just north of Wyssen Creek. I took us on a wild goose chase off the left side of the road, hence the confusion. We actually ended up beginning our entirely different adventure by heading off to the right at roughly the 9km marker, north of our original quarry.

In just another ten minutes we were shouldering our bikes into the woods and stopping for lunch. We were very much at home in this wild, rugged enclave, which I  called “Camp Rock”, for obvious reasons. We took the time to enjoy it well before moving on. There had still been no signs of the mythical spruce grove, so instead we decided just to head uphill into a tract of forest we had not been before.

50306235_2707742359270586_8597693794017607680_n
Camp Rock, where we stashed our bikes and stopped for lunch

Well satisfied, we left our bikes behind and began climbing, with the sounds of the Seymour River gradually fading into the background. The first hundred meters of travel were painstakingly slow and difficult. There were plenty of fallen trees to hurdle and the footing was typically unstable. The only noise now came from branches crackling underfoot and the many birds busying themselves with their daily tasks.

50045940_2707742079270614_5608746183519371264_n
This is why tree hunting takes patience, endurance, and a sense of humour!

Our first finds were several old growth cedars that had managed to establish themselves on very steep ground. Some were as wide as five feet and likely 300 years old or more.

50466395_2707741905937298_5480376706327904256_n
Healthy old growth cedars early on in the hike

 

You have to be creative when you’re bushwhacking this type of ground, clambering over rocks, walking up and along fallen trunks, and sometimes ducking under them.

49820711_2707741705937318_1478181349322915840_n
Steve finds an elevated highway!
50220971_2707740785937410_3113070640639246336_n
As the sun began to shine through, the grove became more picturesque by the minute!
49503020_2707742372603918_1044263745460633600_n
Verdant and healthy

High cliff bands to the east of us soon had us moving a bit further north of our original line, and the forest seemed to gain character and diversity as we climbed. The usual stumbles and falls aside, I could see that what was ahead looked especially intriguing.

50670702_2707741982603957_8979707418187399168_n
This might just be my favourite photo of the day, but there were many more

You could now discern those cliff bands emerging from the shadows as the sun began to illuminate the forest. While we could see a way we might be able to climb above the bluffs, instead we chose to hike beneath them and explore the cliff walls.

50230620_2707741645937324_505315658427269120_n
The cliff bands were very rugged. This portal would have been the only easy way to gain the ground above them, but we had other ideas

What caught my eye at first was a number of old cedars that looked like they had fallen from above and were now leaning against the granite walls! It was all at once, beautiful, improbable, and chaotic!

50163262_2707741005937388_655687432737390592_n
Here I am looking up at several inverted trees leaning on the wall above me. I didn’t linger long here!
49818020_2707740759270746_5312421670915407872_n
This is the reverse of the previous image!
50069622_2707742245937264_3846978584707072000_n
These trees have thrived in a not so forgiving environment!
50108011_2707741375937351_6459451429579915264_n
True survivors!
50342201_2707741339270688_3083571228997320704_n
A close look at the cliff face
50620490_2707742099270612_2691215967823855616_n
Steve contemplates our next move
49408025_2707742219270600_1103954277522472960_n
Water streaked walls
50115427_2707740929270729_5055554833881235456_n
Another cliffside view

Well, the hike had certainly been enjoyable up until this point, but after moving down from the cliffs and just 100 meters further north, it soon became clear that we were in the presence of something truly unique. Nestled beneath those vertical cliffs was a rugged bench strewn with massive moss covered boulders, some as big as small houses, others the size of cars. Ancient, broken topped spires rose high into the forest canopy above, some growing atop the boulders, others surrounding them. Somehow this idyllic grotto had escaped the hands of human destruction and remains relatively undisturbed. The superb biodiversity we discovered there was remarkable too. I have taken to calling it The Giant’s Rock Garden. I could describe it some more, but better still, here is what it looks like!

50676819_2707741852603970_4465156165377982464_n
Some very large granite boulders here!
49784212_2707741835937305_4407342031513321472_n
A five hundred year old cedar growing atop a house sized hunk of granite. You don’t see this every day
50127152_2707741472604008_7578242186295115776_n
It was on such a grand scale that you could not really get an overview. Instead, it was much like wandering a maze
50115502_2707741495937339_4580965985669873664_n
Many of the boulders were grown thickly with mosses and other understory plants, and beneath the rocks were enclosures ideal for animals to take refuge in
49948375_2707741255937363_1721160083187957760_n
A truly enchanted forest, so fragile that we were loathe to climb the boulders least we damage the plant life
50309847_2707741075937381_7235587015360643072_n
Another spectacular cedar

 

More time was spent wandering about taking photographs, and thoroughly examining our surroundings. I know I must have been quite distracted at the time, because somehow I managed to miss a nasty branch that sprang back at me and gave my eye a hard whiplash. As I write this almost a year later it has only now properly healed! A word of warning to all of you would be tree hunters: On that day, I didn’t have my sunglasses (with clear or amber lenses) with me which I normally wear while bushwhacking to prevent such accidents. Don’t forget to wear your own eye protection!

50112138_2707741452604010_2462872966380126208_n
Just a perfect day for forest exploration

Our day was already a great success, but where to go now? Steve suggested we head northward, into an area he had previously explored while hiking the year before. I was quite certain I had been there too on several occasions, but I had not approached it from the south. Along the way we rediscovered several very old Pacific Yews. There are a great many of these trees in the groves along the Eastside Road and it’s always a treat to find one!

50074624_2707741735937315_4319975876952326144_n
The ever present Pacific Yew, often inconspicuous and not as large as its forest companions, but highly unique

Soon, the sounds of a creek could be heard, and we emerged into a broad, well lit clearing. Now we could see the gigantic group of Bigleaf Maples that tower above the creek there. On their map, which I reference here, the LSCR calls this Squamish Creek , and the drainage we had begun our walk in is called Wyssen Creek. In any event, the trees there are truly magnificent.

50272796_2707741249270697_8738961496085626880_n
Bigleaf Maples like these are often 400 years old!
50091114_2707741772603978_174946430421565440_n
Quiet cascade on Squamish Creek, below the peaks of the Fannin Range

Each Bigleaf Maple is much like its own separate ecosystem in the sense that they support such lush plant life. Even among tree hunters they are often overlooked, and undeservedly so if you ask me.

50151402_2707740959270726_2641036121147965440_n
Each massive trunk is loaded with life
50655440_2707741569270665_2704853846198321152_n
Looking into the upper canopy, four centuries of growth and still thriving
50247457_2707741152604040_5447485507472719872_n
These trees are hard to photograph but I love to try!
49389989_2707741585937330_2242799890105106432_n
So many trunks, so little time
50099094_2707741042604051_2073793575547568128_n
My idea of golden!

There are actually several cascades to enjoy there if you follow the creek further uphill, and the rugged valley above them all  is still just waiting to be explored!

50091177_2707741352604020_6082027922858704896_n
I have not explored much of the forest above the cascades. You never know what might be up there!

We took another short break before hiking back down toward the road again, greeting several more ancient cedars en route before emerging at roadside.

49949308_2707740792604076_2652579644619882496_n
This cedar survives even though half of it was sheared away by a falling tree. Nature is tough and resourceful

It just so happened then that when we found the road we were looking right at the Bigfoot Cedar, which is found near the 10 km marker. This tree is at least ten feet in diameter and could well be over 500 years old!

49938010_2707741172604038_3066913584886841344_n
The 500 plus year old Bigfoot Cedar
50279691_2707742179270604_2488227202005467136_n
The foot of the Bigfoot Cedar

The trip back was a fun one, as we rode back to the Spur 4 Bridge again and eventually out on the Fisherman’s Trail, before walking our bikes up the short and sharp grind that is the Homestead Trail. It had been a rewarding day with great company, and one I’ll always remember!

As I look back fondly on this day it dawns on me that this was my last trip into the Seymour Valley before I moved to Vancouver Island last summer. Well, you can take the boy out of the valley, but you can’t take the valley out of the boy! A part of me will always remain there, and I know I’ll always be compelled to return!

The Heart of Wickenden: The Forgotten Forest, Part Three

The spring of 2007 was to feature a lot of sunny weather, so I was able to make several more forays into the wilderness west of Lynn Creek. The next trek, near the end of April, was with Doug. For a variety of reasons he’d been unable to join Chris and me on earlier jaunts so he was quite enthusiastic about getting a first hand look at what we’d discovered.

P4290006 copyA
Lynn Creek in morning

Once again, after walking the Cedar Mills Trail, it was a crossing of Lynn Creek at the Third Debris Chute that opened the adventure of the day. That was relatively benign…

P4290007 copy
Doug drying out after the crossing

Of course, on hikes like these, not everything goes according to plan. It had been exactly four weeks since l’d last forded the lower tributary of Kennedy Creek, a mandatory exercise after you make it over Lynn Creek. Conditions were, how do you say, a little different this time?

P4290010 copyA

 

P4290011 copyA
Doug searching for a way across

Somewhat compelling, to say the least, but the only real danger was getting wet, so with a little determination and adroitness, we found a way. Today’s plan was to make our way toward the unnamed creek valley north of the Kennedy drainage where Chris and I had found the Kennewick Giant. We had seen tall spires above us in the canyon on that day and I wanted to know exactly what lay in wait there. As before, we chose a line moving generally northwest to the desired area, which was roughly 550 metres in elevation.

P4290017 copy
The first finds came quickly
P4290018 copy
Another old cedar, roughly seven feet wide and three hundred years in age

As this was now my third trip into this valley, it was particularly rewarding to introduce another hiker to this land of giants. I can still recall how much Doug enjoyed the visit, and that memory still stands out as I share this tale today. It is now time for others to discover this special wilderness that is so close at hand, yet still so well hidden.

Another hour passed, and eventually we arrived at the steep creek gully and began struggling upward on unstable ground. It wasn’t hard to see where we wanted to go, it just seemed like it took a long time to get there. Suddenly we found ourselves in an open clearing full of salmonberry thickets, a few in bloom with their bright pink flowers.Tall cedars lined both sides of the gorge, true survivors all.

P4290024 copy
Hummingbird Meadow
P4290023 copy
Another three metre cedar in the glade

The next thing we knew the air was alive with unusual sound. Having been on so many treks to the mountains, my inclination was to clear out right away as I figured I’d stepped on a ground nest of of wasps! Our healthy fear soon turned to laughter when it donned on us that we had stumbled upon a bustling community of hummingbirds! Not just one or two, but more than we could count. It was not possible to get a decent photo, but this is the type of bird we were looking at, though mostly listening to…

Anna%27s_Hummingbird_b13-44-004_l copy
Anna’s Hummingbird, copyright Audubon Gallery

To this day I call this glade Kingdom of the Hummingbirds, as I’ve never seen so many of them in one place before or since. Some of the cedars nearby were up to nine feet in diameter, modest in size compared to some of our recent finds but still most likely well over four centuries old.

P4290029 copyA
Trees in this location have survived living on very exposed ground below an avalanche/ rockslide runout
P4290030 copyA
Spiky topped cedars!

P4290028 copy

We spent quite some time clambering about this unique grove of trees and were about to press onward when I spotted something unusually hulking just downhill. From where I stood, at first, it looked like a record setting tree, but upon closer examination it was actually two trees each at least nine feet in diameter that were so close together they had appeared to grow as one. Their photo, pictured here below, is framed and hangs on my living room wall today!

P4290025 copy
When I measured these trees, the total diameter was well over eighteen feet. I call them The Wonder Twins. The tree at left could be over 600 years old, whereas the one at right is more likely a couple of hundred years younger. Appearances can be deceiving!

After a little more searching we carried on, choosing to traverse at an elevation of roughly 500 metres with the intent of reaching Wickenden Creek. Within this valley were other gems, I’d been told, even including an old cabin and a mysterious tunnel! We didn’t locate either of those, but there were plenty of trees to be found!

P4290033 copy
Sunshine and spires
P4290031 copy
A 500 year old cedar, half shattered, lurking in the shadows
P4290035 copy
A relatively young giant, already three metres in diameter but perhaps only about 400 years in age
P4290019 copy
Doug  meets another big cedar

This forest was not easy to negotiate, but an open understory allowed for steady passage, and in another hour we were dropping down toward Wickenden Creek, with our thoughts focused on lunchtime by then. As we scuffled into another sketchy ravine, something caught Doug’s eye. It was a one of a kind tree, a mature cedar well over five hundred years old. At some time in its tenure, the main trunk had fractured and it had grown three distinct reiterations, all uncommonly vertical for a broken topped cedar. We would visit this tree again a number of years later and discover that one of its columns had been toppled in a storm by another falling tree. Doug called this cedar The Triplets. It kind of saddens me to think we might have been the only people to see it with all three leaders intact. Nature is powerful!

P4290040 copy
The Triplets
P4290042 copy
Wickenden Creek at last! A couple of weeks later I would explore a bit of its upper canyon with Chris
P4290050 copy
Cool, clear waters

After our break, we began to work our way down Wickenden Creek. The hope was that there would be more discoveries. Travel was relatively easy on the gravel bars of the creek, where the waters retreat underground for a spell at around 400 metres in elevation. It was here that we decided to head north before descending all the way to Lynn Creek.

P4290054 copy
Wickenden Creek’s lower reaches

Just steps from the creek bed we were stoked to happen upon yet another cluster of old growth cedars. Many of them were eight feet in diameter, and several were considerably larger than that.

P4290057 copy

P4290060 copy

Minutes later, we made the trip’s best find of all, a robust old cedar that measured almost fourteen feet wide. I had not expected to find a tree like that at relatively low elevation, yet there it was. We later found out that Chris had stumbled upon this giant on a solo jaunt just the week before. He had been equally impressed!

P4290059 copy
Here is Doug doing his turn of the 20th century pose with the Wickenden Giant. Back in the day, portraits were to be stoic in character, I understand
IMG_1878 copy
Here I am struggling to get a measurement on the tree. Doug is on the other side, having walked around it to hand me the reel. It took him a while to get around the whole tree! Photo by Doug

Regrettably, it was now time to begin hiking homeward, but the forest still held some  surprises. Here are they are, the pleasant ones…

P4290067 copy
Sunlit forest
P4290074 copy
Doug enjoys a fine view of The Needles

… and the, well, not so pleasant ones…

P4290063 copy
Any forensic experts out there?
P4290062 copy
My guess was deer, but I’m not sure about that

Soon after, we reached the banks of Lynn Creek, but there were some obstacles to deal with there. Thickets of young trees, common in riparian zones, proved to be formidable opponents, if only for a short time. While thrashing about, we also picked up an old trail. It was an extension of an old North Shore Hikers route marked in 1981 that was rumoured to follow Lynn Creek’s west side, but had fallen into disuse. The trademark red paint blazes gave it away. I knew of the route through Ralf Kelman, and I had rediscovered it several years before, but at that time I had lost the track about a kilometre south of Wickenden Creek. On that day I had even found the trail builder’s camp, complete with with remnants of lunch and a couple of empty cans of spray paint!

P4290109 copy
Just a little bit of bushwhacking, with The Needles standing guard in the background

Folklore had it that this trail eventually crossed Lynn Creek, and continued on the east bank at some point. I was intrigued, had we found a new way back? Also, what about crossing Lynn Creek?

And then I saw it! At first I thought I was imagining things, but there it was, in pain sight! What we saw was that a huge Douglas fir had fallen across the creek, creating the perfect natural bridge!

P4290092 copy
It’s like it was custom made
IMG_1926 copy 2
If only everything was this easy!
P4290095 copy
The creek crossing

It turned out that not only was the log there, but that it was marked as part of the old trail, which meant it had been there for almost thirty years. When I returned in 2010, however, someone had stripped the log of bark, oddly enough, so now it is somewhat scarier to cross. The entire area is quite scenic, offering fine views of the surrounding mountains and  it seems as though it might make a great campsite, though camping is not permitted within Lynn Headwaters.

The only thing left to satisfy my curiosity was to try and find the continuation of the trail, so we followed along the east bank of Lynn Creek in search of a sign.

P4290108 copy
One last look at the crossing

In just moments, we had found the trail again! After following it for about a while it petered out, so we simply joined the Norvan Falls Trail at about the four kilometre marker. From there it was a routine stroll home, but it had been an eventful day!

P4290116 copy
When you see this mark on a North Shore Trail, it’s generally the trademark of the 1980s North Shore Hikers

Of all the forests I have walked, those in the Kennedy and Wickenden valleys have given me the most joy. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m sure in no small part that it’s because I have been able to find something so untamed and unique that was also so close to home. As North Vancouver develops ever so quickly, the difference between civilization and wilderness has been becoming much more pronounced. May never the two merge, and may Wickenden remain forever wild!