It was in September of 2014, just last year, when we last visited North Cascades National Park in northwestern Washington.
On the first day of a two week camping trip, we decided to stay at the Goodell Creek Campsite. It was surprising to discover that the site was nearly vacant at the time, and as I wandered the trees alongside the Skagit River, I felt that peace that comes only with solitude in nature.
There were numerous towering Douglas firs scattered among the forest, many as wide as seven feet in diameter and well over three hundred years old. Dense canopies of big leaf maple filtered the sunlight and the papery leaves that signal the onset of autumn had just begun to fall. As the afternoon passed, the sun made several brief appearances, as did the very lightest of rains. It was a truly enjoyable day for us all, sitting by the campfire and listening to the sounds of the river and the calls of birds.
Roll forward in time to August of this year, when I happened to be watching a Seattle news telecast two weeks ago. Goodell Creek was on fire, another victim of the record setting drought the Pacific Northwest has been enduring. Immediately, my mind recalled vivid images of this magical place. I don’t know yet what the extent of the damage has been, but I do know that Highway 20 has been closed in the area and that after two weeks the blaze remains largely unconfined. The nearby town of Newhalem, home to the families of many Seattle City Light employees, is also in danger.
Time will tell whether the forest and campground have survived, but I am sincerely hoping that they have. Many thanks to the firefighters who are battling valiantly to save the park. Sometimes, when you really experience a place, you leave a bit of your heart there forever. I’ll always remember Goodell Creek for that reason.
Update: As of 2017, there has been some good news. Firefighters managed to put a stop to the blaze and I hope to visit again soon!
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….
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