Well it’s December here on the west coast and finally winter has arrived in earnest. There has been snowfall in the North Shore Mountains lately like we haven’t seen in years. Trouble is, everyone has been set on enjoying it at the same time, so it took a little planning for Doug and I to figure out the best way to enjoy one of our favourite local haunts without having to brave the crowds.
Rather than join the throngs of humanity up at the ski resort area, we decided to take on a somewhat different approach. Knowing that the snow line was relatively low, we opted to begin our trek somewhat lower on Hollyburn Mountain. The destination? A walk through the old growth forest of Brothers Creek up to Lost Lake and West Lake. As it turned out, we had the best of all worlds: relative solitude, enjoyable weather, a decent navigational exercise to work through, and plenty of untrodden snow to play in!
The trek began on Millstream Road at the trailhead for the Brothers Creek Fire Road. It wasn’t as cold as we thought it might have been, so we were able to dress fairly lightly for a winter trek. After about half an hour or so, we were already in the midst of old growth forest at an elevation of about 600 metres.
It was a narrow escape for the cedars here at the turn of the twentieth century. In the early 1900s a full scale logging operation ran for quite some time, one of the first to use large steam donkeys as engines and incorporate the use of incline railways. However, a collapse of the cedar shake market put an end to all of that prosperity, and years later when it did resume easier sources were sought. The lands are now owned by British Pacific Properties and managed for public use.
Soon after, it was that this valley, then called Sisters Creek after the two prominent peaks then called The Sisters (and now called The Lions), was renamed as Brothers Creek. Logging has pretty much ceased since therearound 1912. Hiking there gives one the ready opportunity to see sections of ancient forest which are almost intact to this day. To see these trees clad in winter snow is especially worth the effort!
But beware, unlike its distant cousin the yellow cedar, the western red cedar is not built to hold snow and usually sheds it quickly and without warning. We had to pay close attention to falling snows, hence the title of this entry.
The old fire road makes its way up to a bridge that crosses Brothers Creek at about 720 metres and joins the Brothers Creek Trail that meanders the other side of the creek. Our destination though, was Lost Lake, one of the small subalpine ponds that dot the lower reaches of the mountain. There is a well marked route that leads into Cypress Provincial Park and on this day it had been trodden as far as the lake.
The silence was conspicuous once we reached the lakeshore, with nobody in sight and blue skies above the trees. We stopped briefly at the lake to reconnoiter our route, as from that point on we would be breaking trail in two to three feet of new powder snow! In the Lost Lake area, the silver fir and mountain hemlock dominate the forest, along with the yellow cedar.
Doug got out his GPS and we decided to head up the mountain to West Lake, once the site of an old ski lodge. My memory of the trail was a bit vague, but we both knew that it wound its way into the upper valley of Brothers Creek and then crossed over the creek into the West Lake drainage. As it turned out we ended up taking a partly new route to the lake, where we stopped for lunch. Before that we managed to step into a few big snow holes and managed a difficult creek crossing. Somewhere along the way I lost one of my snowshoe straps, which made walking a bit more difficult but not especially hazardous.
There was much to talk about as we hiked as we’ve had a long history with the area over the years. At one time you could hope to see a Northern Spotted Owl on these trails but as it’s very elusive that’s not too likely. I have, however, run into black bears and pine martens occasionally and have seen signs of deer, rabbits, bobcats, mountain lions, and even a wolverine. Woodpeckers, barred owls, and Douglas squirrels are commonly seen as well.
Once we’d had enough to eat we decided to make our way down the West Lake Road to the Baden Powell Trail. In summer that’s easy to do but it took some doing to find the junction where the trail crossed the road as the signpost was almost buried.
Once we got that out of the way it was clear sailing. We hiked down to the Crossover Trail with the intention of heading back to the Brothers Creek Fire Road. Travel was fast, with only a brief respite or two, including one at the bridge where the trail crosses Brothers Creek. Only weeks before, we had hiked this trail in the total absence of snow, so it was interesting to see it in such different conditions.
Before we knew it we were back at the truck once again headed for home, filled with new memories and images of a place so very familiar to us both.
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…
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