If you happen to be out for a nice summer bike ride in the Seymour Valley this year, keep an eye out for a marker at just past the 6km mark on the Seymour Valley Trailway. As you head north it will be on your left, on the uphill side. Just a minute or two off the road is the massive stump of an ancient Western Red Cedar, on what is called the See More Stumps Trail. There are a number of these behemoths in the valley, where once stood some of the most impressive forest stands that British Columbia had to offer. This particular stump nearly measures five meters in diameter, and if it stood today, would be more than eleven centuries old!
An excellent article by forest ecologist and tree hunter Ira Sutherland has more information on the Super Stumps of Seymour Valley and on the topic in general. There are two fine photos of the See More Stump as it looks from the outside. In the first photo he is seen measuring the stump with a friend. In another photo later in the piece, you’ll also see a photo of Ira standing atop this spectacular stump!
When I visited the stump, I then wanted to see if I could present it from a different point of view. This giant reminder of the past has now given life to the forest around it. A group of Western Hemlocks now gain sustenance from its remains and are well rooted into the stump they began life in. The stump also supports a community of lichens and mosses! What I did was to take the time to climb into the hollow of the tree and photograph the forest canopy above it from the inside. I think it provides a pretty unique perspective, don’t you? Once again, the resourcefulness of nature shines through. Nothing is wasted, and everything has a purpose!
***Thanks to Ralf Kelman, B.C’s best known tree hunter, for the information generously shared with me about the Seymour Valley back in 2004***
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 first 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.
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…
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?
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.
As this was 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 a special wilderness that is so close at hand, yet still so well hidden.
Another hour passed, and in no time 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.
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…
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.
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!
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!
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 four 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!
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.
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.
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!
Regrettably, it was now time to begin hiking homeward, but the forest still held some surprises. Here are they are, the pleasant ones…
… and the, well, not so pleasant ones…
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!
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!
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.
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!
Of all the forest enclaves 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 is 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!
Only a few pages of the 2007 calendar were to turn before favourable spring weather had us thinking about a return to Kennedy Creek. It was the first day of April when Chris and I began our early day hiking along the Cedar Mills Trail in Lynn Headwaters Park. The idea, this time, was simply to try and cover some ground we hadn’t the first time. Would we be April fools? Well, yes, but read on and find out how!
On reaching the Third Debris Chute, the first mission was fording Lynn Creek. A word to the wise and wary: you have to be comfortable with cold, fast moving water, especially when you do this in spring. Your trip can easily be over before it begins as sometimes it’s simply too dangerous! Techniques will vary. Sometimes I will leave my boots on and walk straight across and sometimes I carry my boots. I recommend hiking poles or finding a long sturdy branch to help with balance as well. Last but not least, put your cameras in a resealable plastic bag and pack extra clothing in case you end up going for an unplanned swim. A climbing helmet is also not a bad idea not only for the creek crossing but also for all the clambering over rocks and logs you’ll be doing!
Chris had reasoned that on this trek we ought to work our way up to about the 450m elevation mark then traverse north toward Wickenden Creek. This made sense as then we would cover exploring the belt of forest just below the one we had walked the first time. No sooner were our boots back on after the ford than we were faced with the unexpected fast moving waters of lower Kennedy Creek, but we managed to steeplechase that with minimal difficulty.
Once past the creek it was a matter of bashing our way uphill for about half an hour. On our first trip we had followed the crude flagged route that heads west up to Kennedy Falls after you cross Lynn Creek but on this day we were well north of that line. Morning mist drifted through the trees as the sound of the rushing torrents faded. Silence descended, and almost magically we were again among the giants.
Normally we think of ourselves as tree hunters, but on this excursion, as with the first one, the trees were more or less finding us! I was surprised by the sheer number of them as much as anything else. This was a stand of forest in which many trees had reached way over 400 years in age.
The quietude was interrupted from time to time by the rhythmic sounds of a nearby woodpecker building a home, and punctuated by the occasionally inane Simpsons’ banter that seems to follow Chris and I wherever we go. On we thrashed, in the direction of an unnamed creek not far south of the Wickenden drainage, with plenty of distractions along the way.
Another half hour passed, and we found ourselves in a steep creek gully that was peculiarly bright and open. On subsequent trips I discovered that avalanches are not infrequent there, as the gully is at the bottom of a chute that shows evidence of very forceful slides. For a moment, I looked uphill, where I could see the spiky tops of more ancient cedars, then downhill, where I could see the The Needles in sharp relief across the Lynn Creek Valley. Where to go next?
In proof of the old saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees”, suddenly Chris was on his way up the chute, saying “I think we have something here!” And so he did! It was a huge western red cedar, most likely about 500 years old yet relatively young in appearance judging by its trunk wear. Because of where it was growing it was difficult to say exactly what its diameter was was but it was definitely in the neighbourhood of 15 feet wide, perhaps more. What is likely is that if it reaches the age of the oldest trees in the park it will almost certainly someday be among the largest. Here are a few looks at this grand old specimen!
Well, that tree had certainly made our day memorable, but as it turned out the walk home delivered just as much wonder! We were now at an elevation of roughly 350m, and so opted to follow that lower line back toward the Kennedy Creek again.
Not to sound trite, but this was one of those days that has you really appreciating the wonders of nature. I advocate responsible forest management but I find it hard to understand that some people would only see this forest in dollar signs. In this day and age there is really no excuse for harvesting old growth forest. Thankfully, Lynn Headwaters Regional Park has seen its last logger.
Midday gave way to afternoon, and we decided to stop for lunch near a tree both of us nearly walked past. Life was good.
Half an hour later we were making our way across lower Kennedy Creek again. The waters were flowing even harder than they had been in the morning, which is typical of creeks during the spring snowmelt.
We had just crossed the creek when I spied something odd lying on the ground and picked it up and showed it to Chris, who exclaimed “What? No way?!” It turned out he’d lost his lens cap on a previous excursion to the area and had been doing without it for some time. And they say it’s hard to find a needle in a haystack? Not for me!
A short time later we were crossing Lynn Creek again even as we planned our next adventure. Several hikers were having lunch on the other side and from their bemused looks they were no doubt wondering where in the world we had come from. It had been another successful day!
In these days of public outcry over the destruction of British Columbia’s remaining old growth forests, it is no small twist of irony that one of the last bastions of remaining giants is relatively close to the metropolis of Vancouver. Tucked away in what is still a remote corner of the North Shore Mountains is the Kennedy Creek Valley. It lies within the boundaries of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park on the less travelled west side of Lynn Creek, with its headwaters at seldom visited Kennedy Lake.
It was only through subtle hints in Randy Stoltmann’s Hiking Guide to the Big Trees of Southwestern B.C. that my curiosity regarding the area was first piqued. On page 74, he stated “When this valley was logged before the turn of the century, hollow or broken topped trees were often left, and the steep valley sides were only partially cut over. In these areas, massive cedars up to sixteen feet (five metres) in diameter and 200 feet, 61 metres in height still live on into their second millennium.” Well, that was more than enough to get my undivided attention, so I soon decided I had to see what was there!
But first, maybe a little history is in order. It was near the turn of the twentieth century that the west side of Lynn Creek was harvested by Julius Fromme’s logging crews. They managed to forge their way as far as Kennedy Creek, but, perhaps because of the market conditions of the day, or just plain good fortune, the forest stretching north between Kennedy and Wickenden Creeks was not completely razed. As a result, much of the original forest between 400 metres and 700 metres in elevation remains intact to this day!
There is no easy access to its steep, rugged slopes. You must either hike in to Kennedy Falls on the rough track of the Cedar Trail, or ford Lynn Creek near the Third Debris Chute on the Cedar Mills Trail, that is, if it’s safe to do so. However you get there, you must be fit and well prepared for the experience, as it’s a strong test of all of your wilderness skills. I began by hiking the Westside or Cedar Trail to see the two monstrous Western redcedars that Randy had described in the aforementioned book, but beyond that, there was little more knowledge on which to base further exploration.
On several of my earlier excursions I also visited the beautiful Kennedy Falls, which lies at about 400 metres in elevation. For the ideal photo opportunity, it is best visited after heavy rains, though of course that can make getting around more difficult. While the falls are not exceptionally tall, the cascade and surrounding sections of Kennedy Creek always make the destination worthwhile. Seeing those spectacular trees on the Cedar Trail certainly whetted my appetite for more exploration, but I needed more information so that I’d know exactly where to look.
When I spoke to park employees they had little to say, really, yet at the park’s Mill House there were photos of some of the park’s giant trees. In time, I discovered, the park officials are not that enthused about encouraging hiking on the west side of Lynn Creek, perhaps due to the inherent hazards. In many of those photos the face of one person seemed to show up frequently. That person turned out to be Ralf Kelman, a Vancouver artist, who is the son of a Seymour Valley logger. Ralf had grown up in the forests of Vancouver’s North Shore. He was, and still is, this province’s master treehunter, and over the years had been integral in finding numerous champion trees. I managed to contact him, and over a cup of coffee, he was kind enough to share a wealth of knowledge with me about Kennedy Creek and much more. Better still, he said, the valley had not been completely searched, though he cautioned that ground was far from easy to cover.
Finally, in 2006, Chris and I began our day by fording an icy cold Lynn Creek on a cloudy day in September. After that crossing , we hiked up the valley toward the falls, and then worked our way up the slopes on the north bank of Kennedy Creek. It didn’t take long before we made our first find, a grove of cedars all at least eight feet in diameter and all well over four hundred years old.
From there, we decided, we’d just continue upward until the stand petered out, then traverse north in the direction of Wickenden Creek. A natural bench presented an ideal opportunity for travel, if not necessarily an easy one. Fallen trees made it necessary to climb up, over , and around countless obstructions. The finds were frequent, with more cedars up to fourteen feet in diameter and several that were truly ancient. It was hard to believe, but we had basically hit the motherlode, as far as treehunting goes! Forests such as these, once ever present in southwestern British Columbia, are basically a thing of the past. I can still recall how elated we were to be there!
Soon we were upon the south banks of an unnamed creek in the drainage at about 550 metres in elevation. Once we crossed this creek we were in the midst of another grove, this one equally spectacular. By this time, we had seen so many big trees that we were taking the nine foot cedars for granted!
Since time was running short at that point, we stopped for lunch underneath a thirteen foot cedar which may have been the oldest tree we we found that day. I believed it to be roughly 700 years old.
We then opted to try heading uphill again to see what we could find. Our route was determined by the finds – sight big tree, hike to said tree, then on to the next one.
We had ended up, by now, at an elevation of 650 metres, and were just below an expansive boulder field below the end of Goat Ridge.
It was here that we made another grand discovery, a huge cedar spanning over fifteen feet in width, and well over 600 years old. Despite its seemingly unguarded position and exposure to winter avalanches, it had thrived well and its hollowed lower trunk looked to have been used as a winter den of sorts.
Soon time became short and we had to begin the trek home. There were some interesting finds on the way back too.
For both of us, this trip was tremendously rewarding in that we were making discoveries that few had made before us. As we hiked out of the valley toward Lynn Creek again, we both knew we’d be returning, and that’s why this story is only part one of a lengthy tale. Each time I revisit, it’s an exhilarating experience, for who can refuse a trip back in time without leaving your own era?
A couple of weeks ago, when we were passing through Mt Revelstoke National Park, I managed a short hike on the Ancient Cedars Boardwalk. As my treks go, it’s a relatively effortless one, but I like to stop there every so often to enjoy this forest. It’s a stand dominated by western redcedars, and while few of the trees exceed six feet in diameter, it’s notable that they are nevertheless very old, some perhaps five hundred years in age. You see, because they grow at a much higher elevation and experience a high volume of snow, they take considerably longer to reach mature size. Parks Canada did a fine job of building this trail for all to enjoy, in the process also protecting the fragile understory, where delicate ferns and thorny Devil’s Club can be found, among many other types of plants. It’s not uncommon to see woodpeckers, squirrels, hummingbirds, deer, or even an occasional black bear in the area. The boardwalk is just half a kilometre long and suitable for almost all ages and abilities. Here is a link to the parks website if you are interested in the park trails…
With a few precious days off and a rare chance to get our whole family together, we headed off to Vancouver Island two Saturdays ago for a short camping vacation.
The idea was to catch an afternoon ferry over to Departure Bay from Horseshoe Bay then hang out in Nanaimo for the first night. There’s a nice private campground at the mouth of the Nanaimo River called Living Forest Campground that we like to stay at there.
The boat ride over was relatively uneventful and pleasant, so we arrived in Nanaimo at around 230 pm. With some time to spare, we stopped in at Petroglyph Provincial Park for some exploration. We had driven past the park sign for years without ever visiting , and I’m quite glad we finally did. In addition to the petroglyphs, there are also some bouldering possibilities there. We were there for about half an hour, and enjoyed the stay immensely. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/petroglyph/#
My daughter has an innate talent for climbing just about anything, so of course she ran up this face to a tiny ledge and scrambled up from there! Naturally, the slide down was twice as much fun, so she did it again and so did I!
The views at the campground did not disappoint. We were able to see not only the Nanaimo River and Gabriola Island but much of Nanaimo Harbour as well. The blend of the estuary’s natural scenery and the industry beyond gave us plenty to look at, and we passed the rest of the evening drinking cold beverages and listening to the calls of barred owls by the campfire before turning in.
The campground has a number of trails that give you a fine view of the river delta and the area is well known for its birdwatching opportunities as well.
The following day we awoke to overcast skies and headed south along Highway 1 toward Victoria before swinging west toward Sooke on Highway 14. The spring rains hit hard late Sunday morning, as we arrived in Langford to fuel up.
Sunday’s destination? French Beach Provincial Park. It has become a family favourite of ours over the years. Set in a beautiful forest of cedar and Sitka spruce, it features a cobblestone beach that crashes and rattles when the Pacific surf crashes its shores. If you’re lucky, you can also catch glimpses of migrating gray whales in March and April.
Along the way, my wife and daughter got a chance to stop off at a local meadery called Tugwell Creek near the town of Shirley to sample its wares.
Mead, if you’ve not heard of it before, is an alcoholic beverage, wine to be specific, made with honey! Tasty stuff, and something to do while you wait out the rainstorm, which by now was hitting us in full stride! We pulled in at French Beach by mid afternoon, and after a very wet hike on the nearby trails, we spent the rest of the day drying out.
These rocks below are the cobbles that generate the signature sounds of French Beach, especially on days of high surf and brisk winds. This place as as unique for its sound experience as it is for anything else.
Sometimes it rains so much on the coast that attempting to have a campfire is almost an exercise in futility, and this Sunday was just such a day. We amused ourselves by drinking, reading, creating dinner, and playing games, all good fun!
Monday morning dawned with much improved weather, and upon seeing some sunlight, I made for the beach that morning. The tide was at ebb, but the waves were much higher and the beach clattered with its all too familiar sounds. I was able to see across the waters to the Olympic Peninsula and Washington state, in the United States.
While there were no whales in sight, the odd Harbour Seal popped its head out in curiosity. Seas were calm, and birds could be heard when the surf receded. Listen, if you like, to the sounds of French Beach in the video below…
I returned to camp and ended up going back to the beach again with my son, who had just awakened. We spent another half hour there before breakfast. He has a natural love of being near water, even to the point that he often prefers to walk in the rain.
This photo below had me thinking back to a time when he couldn’t peer through an outhouse window six feet off the ground. Time flies, and your kids grow up fast!
We eventually decided to head north toward Port Renfrew, with the idea of camping on the beach at Jordan River. Unfortunately, the CRD has temporarily closed the area to camping while a dam above the town is being assessed for safety reasons. Some time was spent on the beach watching surfers and paddleboarders out on the break.
Since the sunshine was holding true, the choice was made to reverse directions and retrace our steps toward Nanaimo again. This time the plan was to stay the night at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park near Parksville. Though this meant a little longer on the road, it would also make for a more relaxed return trip the next day as the park is not all that far from Departure Bay. On the way back toward Sooke we stopped at Sandcut Beach Regional Park, which is not too far from French Beach, and my daughter and I hiked down to the shores.
It was an ideal cruising day for the trip around the horn, as the sunshine persisted. We even pulled over to pick up some farm fresh eggs in Sooke along the way. On this Monday, even the people driving the Malahat near Victoria didn’t seem to have their usual frenzied sense of urgency, and we hit little or no traffic until we arrived in Nanaimo.
It was about 4 pm when we rolled into Rathtrevor Beach. Once there, I tended to splitting some firewood and we took turns walking the beach and trails. Rathtrevor is a special place to me, as I always see something interesting that I hadn’t before, whether it be animals, trees, or distant mountains.
The park is noted not only for its beach but also for its forests of old growth Douglas Fir. There are very few low elevation fir forests that remain intact on Vancouver Island as most of them have been harvested long ago. There is considerable biodiversity and wildlife that lives on there despite the area’s popularity in the summer months. The beach and its reasonably sheltered waters make it ideal for watersports like kayaking and canoeing too.
I had not noticed on my last visit, but you can see the hulking mass of Tantalus Mountain, 2605 metres tall, visible in the distance.
I was particularly interested in seeing what the sunset had to offer after dinner and a couple of very cold beers, so I walked back to the beach just as the sun was beginning to set.
I had already known that Rathtrevor was an epic place to catch the sunrise, but I certainly was more than contented with the sunset too. It was a very quiet scene, silent but for the odd call of the occasional owl. It’s very obvious why the people of Parksville enjoy this place so much as it’s one of the island’s most beautiful parks. More beer and laughter ensued late into the night, but that wasn’t going to deter me from getting up early to see the sunrise!
It’s 6 am Tuesday morning, and I’m rolling out of bed trying not to wake anyone, a normal occurrence on our road trips. As someone who craves solitude, something I take naturally to but that was well reinforced spending mornings with my father while younger, there is really nothing quite like the sun’s first rays. A mere five minute walk had me on the beach to begin the day.
This, however, was no ordinary sunrise. The whole time I was there, the natural world virtually paraded before me. First, there were the calls of loons, followed by herons swooping by above. Then came the sounds of eagles, woodpeckers, and songbirds. Canada Geese flew across the waters at intervals as did Brants, and the entire time I was serenaded by the barking of sea lions.
It was soon evident that there were sea lions everywhere, perhaps as many as fifty, from where I was observing. I later was to discover that there was a run of herring going on, so of course the food source was what was drawing all the attention. When I returned to the beach later with my son, we also spotted a killer whale breaching in the distance and a few harbour seals, and not long after that a sizable pod of dolphins also showed up to the party. It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in some time.
Reluctantly, I headed back to camp for breakfast, and the girls set out for a walk on the trails for a while before we left for home. As I write this today, with the rain crashing down here on Vancouver’s North Shore, it reminds me of how much I appreciate sunny spring days here on the west coast. This trip was well worth the time. Here is another image taken on the deck of the ferry, looking toward Mt Garibaldi, the closest volcano to Greater Vancouver. Until next time…
Time now for the conclusion of this chronicle. The sundial moves forward yet another year, to May of 2009, and, you guessed it, we’re chilling again at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal. It’s way too early to be drinking anything but coffee, but it’s another bluebird day, and this time we’re going to find that tree, right? The Simpsons imitations are flowing freely, and I’m doing my best Troy McClure ( credit here to The Simpsons, all rights reserved, and the late great Phil Hartman )…
” Hi, we’re tree hunters Mick and Chris, you may remember us from such failed Red Creek Fir expeditions as last year, and the year before that. Will we be third time lucky? ”
This time, though, as far as I was concerned, it was going to work out just fine. I had contacted my friend and fellow hiker Scott, who lives in Victoria, and had been to see the tree before, in 2005. The plan was to pick him up along the way and head out to Port Renfrew on Highway 14. Morning sunshine provided some fine views on the boat ride to Nanaimo.
It was smooth sailing to Nanaimo, and trouble free driving to Victoria, where we met Scott. He’s what you’d call a true Vancouver Islander, in that he loves the lifestyle there and sees little need to venture to the mainland very often. I can’t say as I blame him, as I certainly enjoy my time there too! Much of the drive was spent catching up and discussing prospective climbs in remote regions of The Island, especially the isolated northern ranges, which I’ve not visited at all.
We had planned in advance to approach via the new logging spur, so we crossed over the San Juan River and then doubled back over the Lens Creek Bridge. Hopefully, this time, the tree wouldn’t see us coming and hide, you know, like it did the last time.
The new spur lands you at about the 13 km mark on the old Red Creek Main, and in Scott’s memory the trailhead was quite close to where the roads intersected. It was decided we’d try to spot the tree from the vehicle at first but when that proved fruitless, we jumped out and began to scrutinize every tree and rock for signs of disturbance. After about ten minutes of searching, suddenly we heard a loud holler from Scott, he had found the trail! Chris drove back and parked in a clearing with a pile of old culverts. If you go, pull over on driver’s right, the trailhead is on the same side of the road just upriver from where you’re parked. We rebuilt the cairn, which had been dismantled, and found some flagging tape to do some marking where the path begins.
Ironically, the tree is a very short stroll from the road, and the last time we visited we were, unwittingly, not much more than 150 metres from where it stands, As an added bonus, you get to see three very old Western Redcedars that are just downhill from the world champion Douglas Fir. They are called The Three Sisters, appropriately enough, and all are over 400 years old.
I clearly recall the elation I felt on the hike in, as we’d already devoted over 40 hours on three separate excursions in the quest to see this forest giant, after all! At that point, though, we’d probably have crawled there on broken glass, I recall Chris saying, only half jokingly. It had been since the early 1990s that I had first read about the tree, and I had been sure it would prove almost mythical in stature.
The next thing I knew, Scott called out excitedly. “It’s still here!” And so it was, though it had lost a limb from its ancient upper canopy, perhaps in the great storm of December 2006. Scott was just as impressed as he’d been when he first visited, and as for us, I’m not sure if we were more in awe or just dumbfounded that we could finally see it!
The tree is almost 14 feet in diameter, and is the world”s largest member of the pine genus as well. Its future status is reasonably ensured, but nearby logging has made it somewhat vulnerable and exposed to rough coastal windstorms. Still, it has managed to survive a millennium, so perhaps it will survive another.
Huge valley bottom specimens such as this are the rarest of the rare, and it’s not likely very many remain. We need to make every effort to preserve trees like the Red Creek Fir for others to see.
This image below is a five frame vertical panorama that I took of Scott and the tree. It really puts into perspective just how immense it is. I had never seen a fir over 10 feet in diameter before and to see one 14 feet in diameter was remarkable. It’s about 240 feet in height, but the top leaders were blown off years ago so it’s possible this tree was once close to 400 feet tall. We could actually get close without trampling the root system as we were basically standing on the fallen limbs.
We spent quite a while clambering around and looking at different aspects, here are a few more.
The broken limb that had crashed relatively recently nearby was as big as a young second growth tree all by itself.
You could certainly build a few houses from the timber if this giant were ever to fall, but I hope that that day never comes to pass!
Now it was time now to head home, but I found it especially hard to leave. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that now we at least knew where to find it, but it almost seemed like we should spend a week there, considering how long it had taken to see this tree.
It was a happy trek back to Victoria, where we brought Scott home. How does a guy from Toronto end up living near the corner of Yonge St and Toronto Ave in Victoria? I’m calling that a strange coincidence, to put it mildly. We bid adieu, and continued on the highway back to Departure Bay, this time with a sense of accomplishment. If you read this, thank you Scott!
So, what were we going to do now, with this mission impossible finally accomplished?Well, we’d probably find something else to obsess with, after all, it’s what we live for! Time for yet another ferry ride to close out this epic. I couldn’t wait for the cold beer that I knew awaited me in the fridge at home, hours away!
Thanks to all of you who actually took the time to read the whole tale. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. Until next time…..
The months rolled by, the pages of the calendar turned, sometimes slowly, sometimes swiftly, as life goes. Now it was May of 2008. Chris and I had resolved to try again on a spring day to find the Red Creek Fir and so, there we were again, somewhat livelier, in line again at 5 am for the ferry to Nanaimo. Filled with laughter and optimism, how could we possibly fail? [sarcasm/] Well, keep reading, for more insight into that rather unlikely scenario [/sarcasm].
We spent much of our time that morning on the wind blasted deck of the ferry, identifying distant peaks and planning future treks. The rest of our time was taken up watching the trials and tribulations of a very confused fellow passenger. He had had great difficulty in listening to the traffic employees direct him where to park when boarding, and later he arrived late to his car, having forgotten exactly where it was. He became thusly known as “Dude, where’s my car?”, after the title of a recent movie neither of us had actually seen. I could certainly relate to his struggles, as I’ve had plenty of trouble finding my truck in mall parking lots over the years and I’m hopeless at finding my keys!
Soon enough, we were on the road again, intent on taking Highway 18 to Lake Cowichan so that we could save time by driving the Harris Creek Main across the island to Port Renfrew. Here are some scenes from our trip along the road, including a stop to see the Harris Creek Spruce, 400 years old and over 12 feet in diameter.
In due time, we’d arrived at the point of reckoning, as we crossed the bridge over the San Juan River.
A mere five minutes more, and we pulled into the entrance of Red Creek Main, with about 12 kms to go until we found the tree.
Not without some mildly harrowing moments negotiating a washout or two, Chris managed to skillfully pilot us to where the trailhead supposedly was. Somehow though, things seemed altered from the original description. There was a new spur that came in from the hill above on the right that appeared to be the new road in, and the old road had been extended for what looked like a km or two at least. We opted to walk the road, searching for any sign of a trail, but we could not find anything promising. We did not have either a GPS or a set of coordinates for the tree to go by, so then we drove up the hillside to see if the tree was visible from above, even engaging in some fruitless bushwhacking for a while. I’m not sure whether it was just collective mental exhaustion or just plain inability to think logically, but we just could not figure it out at the time. By this time Angry Chris had made his appearance and he was NOT happy with the Red Creek Fir gods! The score, after the inevitable capitulation that followed, was Red Creek Fir, 2, Chris and Mick, 0. Shut out again, and none too pleased!
Now what? Well, Plan B suggestion for the day was to explore the new spur, called Red 100, to see where that led us, and then possibly to see if we could head down Gordon River Main and locate the Braden Creek Canyon. You see, Chris has an obsession with canyoneering. For the uninitiated, that’s a sport where you don a wetsuit and pack dry bags and climbing gear in order to descend a creek or river whatever best way you can. I’ve now tried it once, and so I can understand how he got addicted, but that’s a tale for another day.
We caught all the breaks on the next part of our day, and in half an hour we had found the Braden Creek Spur, and we got out to scout the upper canyon. This was well worth the time, and almost assuaged the considerable frustration that was renting a room in our heads by now. Here is a look at Braden Creek. I’m still not sure or don’t recall whether Chris has descended it yet or if he will any time soon, as he’s living in Utah as I write this.
So, what was left? A long ride back to Departure Bay, to catch the ferry to Horseshoe Bay again. We began to relate to how the 1982, and especially the 1994 Vancouver Canucks must have felt when their dreams were dashed, but no, we were not going to quit! This was far, far, far, from over. Like Homer Simpson gunning for that last remaining doughnut, we vowed to return. God willing, for our own good and the good of our wives’ sanity. Who knows, maybe we’d even succeed next time?
Yet another lengthy day came to a close 18 hours after it began, and the sunset views on the boat ride home put it all into perspective, our problems being, on a world scale, really rather trivial at best…
There are times that a wilderness excursion is but a simplistic jaunt, that is to say: you make a plan, you follow that plan, and everything goes as planned. Here then, is a trilogy or an epic of sorts, describing that what can go swimmingly for some can somehow become an exercise in perseverance for others.
The principals? Myself, and good friend and fellow tree enthusiast Chris. Chris is that guy you know who has been pretty much everywhere you’ve been and a lengthy list of places you’ve never heard of. We’ve both spent a lot of time hunting for big trees in B.C., Washington, Oregon, and assorted other locations. The objective? Vancouver Island’s Red Creek Fir, the world’s largest Douglas Fir, residing some 13 kms from Port Renfrew on the reputedly heavily damaged Red Creek Main. We won’t have to actually discover this leviathan, as its location has been very well known since 1976, all we’ll have to do is find the time to get there! Ha, if only it had been that easy….
This story begins in February of 2007, with the two of us struggling to remain awake at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, waiting at 5 am for the ferry. Chris wondered aloud if we might not be wasting our time. There had been an epic windstorm in December of 2006 -the one that levelled scores of trees in Vancouver’s Stanley Park – and those gale force winds had hit the west coast of Vancouver Island at gusts of over 140 km/hr. Still, we were enthused, as the tree had lived for 1000 years and so we hoped it had survived.
Due to the recent snows we decided to take Highway 1 to Victoria and then drive Highway 14 to Port Renfrew. It was an idyllic winter day, as the skies had cleared and were now blue and inviting. Some 5 1/2 hours later, we were at the head of the Red Creek Main and began our journey down the old rail grade logging road, but not for long….. “Whoa, what’s that?” Chris exclaimed. In front of us was a number of full sized trees that had fallen across the road. While I’d brought a chainsaw and some fuel for just such an occasion, we’d have needed most of the day just to clear them out, and who knew what lay beyond? As conditions were, a 24 km hike was definitely out of the question.
Due to time constraints, we now had to opt for Plan B, to cross the San Juan River for Lens Creek and a hike to see Chester’s Grove, a beautiful stand of Sitka Spruce. This was a hike that did not disappoint in the least! However, the final score that day was Red Creek Fir, 1, Chris and Mick, 0.
After parking at the Lens Creek Bridge, it was a mere 15 minute stroll to the trees, with views of the river and a truly primordial group of trees that I was elated to see.
Chris had been there before, and this time we managed to measure several of them; the largest were over 13 feet in diameter and easily 500 years old. Enjoy our walk through the grove through these images…
With time passing quickly, it was time to hike back to the Jeep, and begin the long trek homeward on the highway, and finally the ferry, and then the highway again. What began in darkness at 430 am with an endless stream of Simpsons imitations ended in darkness at 930 pm with more of the same. Were we smart enough to shelf our pursuit of the elusive forest giant? Well, no, you must be thinking about two much smarter guys, because we’d be back for another try! Read on if you will, to the next chapter of this expurgated trilogy….
It was May of 2004, and I found myself biking up the Eastside Road in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, a favourite destination of mine. At one time, not so long ago, this valley was home to magnificent stands of old growth forest. Now, though much has been lost, the area’s timber is protected for future generations to enjoy. That day, I was in search of the Eagles Nest Grove.
A cool spring morning warmed gradually, with morning mist occasionally drifting in. There was much to lose myself in as I climbed the steep incline near the 8 km mark. The grove, according to an old Western Canada Wilderness Committee map, was roughly three more kilometres away. Discovered by noted tree hunter Ralf Kelman, the Eagles Nest Grove was named for the sizeable nest atop one of the larger Douglas firs.
On my way to the grove, I decided to pay a visit to Rolf Lake, now called Lost Lake. The lake is nestled at the bottom of the Rolf Creek Valley, which has its headwaters high above in the snowfields of the Seymour-Runner Col. If you’re lucky, you’ll see Pacific Newts basking on the shore there, and sometimes a deer or a black bear.
After a brief sojourn rambling about the lakeshore, I stopped for lunch and then continued up the Seymour Valley. Once I reached the 11 km mark, the familiar screech of young eagles broke the early morning silence. I stashed my bike quickly among the trees, and made off in search of the sounds. In no time at all, I’d found the grove without the use of the map I’d brought, instead, nature had guided me there. The grove was relatively small, but I was glad it had survived the saws of nearby logging. Many of the trees were between 300 and 700 years old, and the understory was alive with tremendous biodiversity. Nearby, Douglas Squirrels chattered their warnings and a Downy Woodpecker busied herself foraging for insects. It’s a treasured place that sees few if any visits, and it’s the kind of refuge that is at the very root of my love for nature. “Well worth the 38 km bike ride,” I thought. In that moment, it donned on me that it was my birthday. I could not have imagined a better present for the occasion. Here then, is more of what I saw…
A world of thanks here to the WCWC, Chris Player, Will Koop, Paul George, and especially Ralf Kelman, for their work on the map that helped me to rediscover this time forgotten place.
UPDATE: I paid another visit to this Seymour Valley grove in the spring of 2017, about 13 years later. It remains largely intact, with some changes, and I made some new discoveries too. Look for that in an upcoming story!
Travels and adventures past and present, from camping to hiking to searching for B.C.'s remaining old growth trees, and other thoughts on life