Live, Laugh, Adventure

……and take lots of photos along the way!

Spectacular Century Sam Lake

I’m sitting on a warm rock with the sun peaking over the towering mountains around me.  For what seems like the hundredth time my gaze is drawn to incredible aqua-marine color of the lake in front of me.   If I were on my computer I’d accuse someone of increasing the color saturation a little too much but no, this is real.  The lake gives way to a gorgeous meadow at the end of which sits a pocket glacier complete with snow cave.  I think, as I tend to every time I come here, what a special place this is.  Can I really have breakfast at home, come to such a unique place for lunch and be home in time for dinner?  Yes, yes I can.  Such is hiking on Vancouver Island.

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Century Sam Lake and it’s nearby glacier sit nestled in a steep valley just below the Comox Glacier on Vancouver Island.   It is one of the more unique hikes on the island and certainly a favorite of mine.

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Access to the trailhead (same trailhead as the Comox Glacier trail) can be challenging.   The gate at Comox Lake is often closed and even when open a 4×4 vehicle with reasonable clearance is required to navigate the rougher sections of the road.

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From the trailhead it’s about a 2 hour, 3.5km hike up to the lake.  Overall you only gain about 400m elevation but it is deceptively steep since most of that elevation is gained in just the final 2km of the hike.

The trailhead is easy to miss.  It’s just a trail off the logging road at a relatively non-descript location.  Having a GPS track is a big help finding it (see the link at the end of this post to download).  There isn’t a huge amount of room to park but there are a few places to pull off.

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Near the trailhead, a well placed log provides access over the creek.  Completely non-scientific testing indicates that the log is quite sturdy.

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The first section of the trail winds through forest.

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This section has some of the most unique mushrooms I’ve ever seen.  Yes they are blue.

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Emerging from the forest you traverse an open section near an old slide area.

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The foliage in this section can be quite high but the views are great.  The Comox District Mountaineering Club seems to do regular maintenance on this trail (thank you!) but given the rate that the green stuff grows in our rain forest this section can get overgrown.

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The final 2km of the trail wind their way quite steeply through the forest.  This part will get your heart pumping.

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Near the lake the forest opens up to give some great views.

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20140713_5D3_7235-1There are also a good number of blueberry bushes along the trail but watch out for the local wildlife which often relies on them as an important source of food.

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To reach the lake you need to cross Comox Creek which can be a little tricky depending on the water level.

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Once you reach the lake, take some time and soak in the views.

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There is a large rock outcropping which provides great views and is a nice spot for lunch.

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From the ‘lunch spot’, you can head further down to the meadow and the glacier.  The meadow is a great spot for photos.

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The meadow is lovely, but the real prize here is the glacier.  Although it changes constantly through melting and freezing there is usually some sort of snow cave extending under the glacier (often all the way to the back).   Photo opportunities abound.

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An important word of caution:  Entering the snow cave is not without its perils. The cave is constantly changing and melting will cause chunks (some very large) to drop from the ceiling unexpectedly potentially causing serious injury or worse.  Have a look at the photo below and keep in mind that those large chunks came from somewhere (hint: look up, look way up)!

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One other important note if you plan to head into the snow cave:  No matter what the weather outside, it’s really cold and wet in there!  I’ve been there in +25c conditions outside and been chilled inside even with rain gear on.  If you plan on spending any time inside bring extra layers and rain gear.  If you plan on taking photos in the cave a good rain sleeve for your camera is nice (a plastic bag will do in a pinch).

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Getting There

GPS track from the Island Highway to the gate on Comox Lake

GPS track for the logging roads from Comox Lake to the trailhead

GPS track for the trail

 

Back in the Saddle for a Jewel of a Hike

Mount Arrowsmith and its backyard neighbor Mt. Cokely are 2 very popular places for day hikes on Vancouver Island.  There are a variety of routes up both mountains.  I have hiked on the old ski hill up Mt. Cokely many times and stood on the top gazing down on the beautiful Jewel lake surrounded on 3 sides by Mt Arrowsmith wondering if a hiking route into the lake existed.

I recently had the opportunity to explore such a route to the lake as we hiked the Saddle Trail.  This trail starts on the logging road below Mt. Cokely and takes a steep and direct route up a narrow valley up to the saddle between Mt Arrowsmith and Mt Cokely.  The start of the trail follows an Alder overgrown road.

At the end of the old road the steep uphill starts.

Before long the steep rocky section gives way to some more open forest and some meadows.

As you hike further the gully begins to open up.

Before long you get glimpses of the top of the saddle.

We hiked up near the end of July and the wild flowers were in bloom.

When you arrive on the saddle you are treated to views of Mt. Cokely on the left and Mt. Arrowsmith on the right.  Walking straight ahead you get a fantastic view East down the other side of the saddle.

From the saddle a number of routes are possible.  Turning left you can scramble up some rocks (warning: there is some exposure on this route) and either head back down the ridge to the logging road via the Rousseau Trail to the left or up to the summit of Mt. Cokely to the right.   If you head right from the saddle you will start heading up Mt Arrowsmith.  Note that rock climbing equipment and experience is needed to reach the summit of Mt Arrowsmith from this direction.

Instead of heading up Mt Arrowsmith we descended to Jewel Lake (also known as Emerald Lake).  There was no obvious trail down until we got closer to the lake.  We just chose what looked to be a reasonable way down the steep rock.  The route down (and coming back up) was fairly strenuous, steep and had some sketchy footing in some sections and lots of sharp scree (collection of broken rock fragments).  Good hiking boots are recommended.  It took about 1/2 an hour to descend down to the lake.

Once at Jewel Lake it was difficult to know which way to look.  Beauty abounds in whatever direction you turn.

Four legged companions and those with a high tolerance for cold may enjoy a dip in the lake.

There are lots of pretty little areas to explore around the lake most of which have some pretty spectacular views.

The outlet of the lake is nice area and has views out over the Coastal Mountains.

The lake is a great place for lunch or just a snooze in the sun.

After reveling in the beauty of the lake there is a price to be paid in the form of a steep and slippery ascent back up the loose scree.

The descent back down from the saddle affords great views of Port Alberni and the surrounding area as well as some nice wild flowers if you time your visit right.

Trail Notes:

Getting there: From the Island Highway 19 near Qualicum or Parksville, take Highway 4 west towards Port Alberni.  Drive along the south shore of Cameron Lake, through Cathedral Grove Provincial Park and over the low pass, Alberni Summit. Just west of Alberni Summit watch for a left turn onto gravel and signed “The Connector”. Set your odometer to 0 here. You are on Summit Main. Drive down Summit approximately 2.5 km to its junction with Cameron Main and turn left. Proceed along Cameron until it crosses the Cameron River. 10.5 Km from highway 4 turn left onto Pass Main at its junction with Cameron Main. The road ascends quite steeply and is much narrower and rougher than the valley main line.

Proceed uphill on Pass Main and at 15.9 km from Highway 4 you reach the top of the last of a series of switchbacks. Beyond the switchbacks is a straightaway that leads to a hairpin bend protected by concrete crash barriers at km 17.8. Park here for access to the Arrowsmith/Cokely Saddle route. This spot is known as “The Cut”.

It takes about 1.5 hours from Nanaimo to the trailhead.  The logging road in from the highway is generally good.  Although a little rough in some sections its drivable by any 2 wheel drive vehicle (except when blocked by snow).

The Trail:  It’s about 1.8km (450 elevation gain) from the trail head to the top of saddle.  It took us about 2 hours but we had some serious photographers along and we spent quite a bit of time shooting various locations.  Without stops it’s probably about 1-1.5 hours up.  From the top of the saddle down to Jewel Lake is about 1/2 hour (.5km, 150m elevation).

Starting Elevation: 1050 m

Max Elevation (at the Saddle): 1500 m

Trail Difficulty: Moderate.  The route is well marked and fairly obvious from the trail head to the saddle.  The route down to Jewel Lake from the Saddle is less obvious and takes a bit of route finding.

Suggestions: Bring a camera!  What’s the point of all that pain if you can’t show your friends the beauty you’ve seen?  Hiking poles help a great deal with all the uphill on this trail.  Good hiking boots are a plus on the trail down to Jewel Lake as protection from the scree.

GPS Track: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=4943337

 

Ammonite Falls

I often wonder how many people live their lives in the Nanaimo area not ever realizing they have a spectacular 60 foot waterfall in their back yard?

I know I had lived here for quite a few years before I heard of it.  When I did first hear of it I found it somewhat difficult to find information on how to get there.  Since then I’ve visited dozens of times, photographed it from numerous angles and explored at least 7 different ways to get there.  I hope that sharing this information and a few photos with you will encourage you to visit.

I’ve heard some people say that Ammonite Falls are 60 feet tall.  I’m not really sure of how accurate that is but based on the photo below I think it might be pretty close.  If you look carefully about 1/4 of the way up the waterfall you will see my son standing behind the waterfall so that will give you a sense of how tall they are.

Ammonite Falls is named for the fossils that can be found in the sedimentary layers of rock in the area.  An ‘ammonite’ was a snail-like creature similar to the modern Nautilus and was common in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic oceans.  A rock impression 1 meter across made by an ammonite fossil was recently found by hikers in the area (see news article).

One of the easiest and fastest ways to get to Ammonite Falls is from Jameson Road off of Jingle Pot Road.  See here for directions.

If you want a longer and slightly more difficult but more interesting hike you can try coming in from Dumont Road.  Drive past the Black Bear Pub on Dumont Road to the intersection with Biggs Road.  Turn right and look for an open parking area to your left after several hundred meters. Park here and take the right most trail (the ‘jail trail’).  Follow this trail until it intersects another major trail.  Turn left and within 20 meters look for a trail heading off to the right.  This trail heads down very steep switchbacks to Benson Creek. Cross the creek and go up the other side and continue down the trail.  This trail will end at a gravel pit.  Keep to the right side of the pit for 200m and look for where the trail reenters the forest (very hard to see).  Follow the trail through the forest to where it ends at the fire pit near the falls.  See here for a GPS track.  If you want a side trip walk upstream around the corner after crossing Benson Creek to visit Flynn Falls.  It’s not as impressive as Ammonite Falls but still fun to see.  This route in gives you a great hike through some nice west coast forest.

No matter how to get to the falls you will need to climb down a steep muddy section to get to the base where the best views are.  There are ropes to help you go down and up again.  If it’s been wet I bring work gloves because the ropes will be muddy.  It’s not so steep that you have to fully rely on the rope but it’s a nice aid down.

Photographing the falls can be a bit challenging since there are often obstructions in the way.  There are some nice shots possible from about half way down the rope but you have to be prepared to hang on the side of the steep hill to get them (see the first photo above).  You can shoot wide from across the stream.

However, if you try and shoot close from that angle the trees tend to get in the way.

I think some of the nicest shots are possible from the other side of the pond at the base of the falls or from downstream of the falls.

Farther downstream there are some other compositions possible involving moss covered trees and the creek.

If you are a photographer this is a target-rich environment.  By visiting in freezing weather the whole scene changes as the spray from the falls coats everything in ice.

For even more variety take some time to visit the area above the falls.

The safest way to get above the falls involves either coming in from the top of Dumont Road or taking a side trail quite early on the trail in from Jameson Road.  I don’t think you can safely get up there once you are at the falls.

Its a bit of work to get into Ammonite Falls but to have such a spectacular natural wonder so close is a rare treat.  I’ll leave you with this 360 degree full panorama of the falls: click here to see it.  Once it loads just click and drag your mouse to look all around.  You can even look up and down.  Enjoy!

 

Vancouver Island: Mt Becher

Vancouver Island is blessed with gorgeous scenery and seemingly limitless hiking opportunities.  One of the easiest and most accessible places to view that beauty is Mt. Becher.

Mt. Becher is located about 20 km West of Courtenay and Comox.  The easiest way to access the mountain is via the now defunct Wood Mountain Ski Area (known locally as the old Forbidden Plateau ski area).  This area has been used for backcountry and local family recreation since the 1920s and the tradition continues today.

Winter on Mt. Becher

Mt. Becher is gorgeous no matter what time of year you go but there is no doubt that it’s pretty special in the winter.  The lower slopes near the parking lot are popular with families for some winter fun sliding, snowshoeing or skiing.

The real gem though lies in continuing on past the old ski area and into Strathcona Park.  With some fresh snow this area turns into a winter wonderland.

After you hike up the fairly steep hill from the parking lot the terrain levels out and winds its way through the forest.

As you hike higher the views of Mt. Becher start to open up.

There are some steep sections but with care they can be traversed safely.

A little over 3/4 of the way up there are some spectacular views of Boston Falls and Boston Lake.

After the Boston Falls lookout there is another steeper section to hike as you ascend towards the summit.

At this point the views of the mountains to the west really start to open up.  On the other side of these mountains (not visible) is Buttle Lake.

The most distinctive of these mountains is Mt. Albert Edward.

After this enticing view there is only one more uphill section to endure.

You’ll know when you reach the summit as it provides a wonderful view of the Comox Glacier and the surrounding mountains.

It is a wonderful feeling to come over the last rise, know you’ve made it and be rewarded by the spectacular views.

The summit is a great place to stop for lunch.  After lunch its worth taking some time to wander around the summit area and ponder the views from different directions.  You have 360 degrees to choose from!

If you look to the North, the Mount Washington Ski area should be visible.

If you have a 4 legged friend who’s up for the hike its a great place to bring them.  I think this is one of my dog’s favorite hikes.

As you make your way back down the mountain keep your eye out for some of the views out the other direction.  As the light fades over the Salish Sea there are some great views of the Coastal Mountains on the mainland.

A word of caution:  The photos above all show the beauty of the mountain on lovely sunny days.  Keep in mind that Mt. Beacher is a backcountry destination and when the weather turns bad navigation can become quite difficult as friends of mine have found out first hand.

Photo credit: Jason Connelly

Mt. Becher in the Summer

As spectacular as Mt. Becher is the winter, it does afford some great summer hiking as well.

The trail up from the parking area is obvious and while somewhat steep, walking is easy.

As you ascend turn around occasionally to admire the views over the Salish Sea.

When the snow melts (which can be into July or August) the wild flowers appear.

Once past the old ski hill the trail up is pretty clear.

As in the winter, the Boston Lake overlook makes a very scenic spot to stop and admire the view.

If you have the time I highly recommend a side trip down to Boston Lake.  Look for a sign on the trail.  Its steep and there are ropes to help, but it only takes about 10 or 15 minutes to get down.  The lake itself is very pretty and has a lovely emerald green color.

There is even an area to camp at one end of the lake if you want to stay overnight.

Continuing on to the summit you may encounter some trees misshapen by the harsh winters.

Just after the Boston Falls overlook keep your eyes open to left of the trail for the remains of an old cabin.  Posts on the internet seem to indicate that it was built in 1928 by members of the Comox District Mountaineering Club and burned down in 1985.  However, the date on one of the footings is 1938 so I’m not exactly sure when it was built.

As you approach the summit what was a smooth open plain in the winter looks very different.

Even in August there can be pockets of snow left.  You also can get a peak at the Comox Glacier.

As in winter, hitting the summit yields your reward for all that sweat left on the trail up.

If you want a more ‘immersive’ photo experience click on this link to view a full 360 degree panorama taken at the summit.

Winter or Summer, Mt. Becher is one of the most spectacular and accessible areas to view the splendor of Vancouver Island.

Getting There

Travel North on Highway 19 (Island Highway) from Nanaimo until you pass the first exit to Courtenay/Comox (don’t turn into Courtenay, stay on the highway).  Turn right at the lights at Piercy Road and after a few hundred meters take another right on Forbidden Plateau Road.  Follow this road all the way to where it ends in the parking lot of the old Forbidden Ski Area.  Although the road turns into gravel it is very well maintained and passable by any 2wd car.  The lower slopes of the old Forbidden Ski hill are very popular with families and they seem to keep the road well cleared in winter.

It takes between 2 and 4 hours to travel the 6km to the top depending on your level of fitness and how often you stop.  Its about 1.5 to 2 hours back down.  Here is a map of the route up.

You can download the GPS track: GPS Track
More details on the route up can be found here: Detailed Route Description

 

 

Palisades Pack from Ruffware: A guest blog

Today’s post is from Guest Author, Chase Collicutt:


My Dad and I like to hike almost every weekend. However, our approaches to hiking are very different. Dad seems to require all manner of accessories to have a good time. When we head out he has to put boots on, several layers of clothing, camera, GPS, poles, water, lunch etc etc. The list seems to go on and on. The only thing in that list that interests me at all is lunch. My approach to hiking is considerably simpler. I just jump off the bed and I’m ready to go.

A few weeks ago Dad took me to the local outdoors store. I thought this was pretty cool until he started strapping on a Palisades Pack from Ruffware. Now I’m as open minded as the next dog but it seems to me that this was breaking some sort of fundamental rule in the cosmos: Human carries everything so dog is free to frolic through the woods and have fun. By my way of thinking, this is pretty well how nature intended things to be.

After I got the pack on, however, I started thinking that all those girl dogs on the trail might just dig a good looking accessorized hound like myself.

My first real test of the pack came when Dad planned a trip up Mt. Becher on a gorgeous sunny day. As we started up the hill I ran ahead and posed in front of some green hills and blue sky. Now Dad’s kind of camera crazy so I knew he would take some photos for my blog.

As we got further up the mountain we started to get some great views.

Entering the forest again the path began to get steeper.  This is not a problem for a fit dog like myself but I did have to slow down and wait for Dad here and there.

Breaking out of the trees things opened up and allowed some views of the local mountains.

It also provided a few of the photo opportunities I was looking for to show off my new pack.

While I’m not normally one to blow my own horn, I do think I look particularly handsome in that last shot.

As we neared the summit I was getting pretty hot so I took the opportunity to have a little dip.

Those of you who know me also know that I’m not much of a water dog.  However, this looked just too inviting.  Notice, however, that I don’t actually get my tummy wet.

The views at the top were pretty stunning.

The Comox Glacier was spectacular.

While Dad was taking photos I snuck away for a short nap but it wasn’t long before he caught me.

On the way back down we had some further opportunities for photos.

I thought I looked quite regal in this one.

He seemed to like this one but personally I thought I had a bit of goofy expression on my face.

Here are some other photos including a few action shots on the way down.

Happily, we did manage to meet up with some other girls with packs on.  I was happy to have mine on so I fit in well with them.

We took a short side trip to Boston Lake on the way down.  It is a very pretty place.

As we neared the end of the hike Dad insisted on running.  I have no idea what he was thinking since it kicked up all kinds of dust.

Other than that it was a pretty spectacular hike and I’m happy with my new Palisades Pack from Ruffware.  Check out their website if you want one of your own.

The Taro Fields of Kauai

Taro is a traditional form of food sustenance and nutrition in ancient Hawaiian culture.  It is a root vegetable grown in large flooded fields.  The edible tuber is cooked and mashed into a smooth starchy food called Poi.  I’ve never eaten any but reports are it looks like sticky purple pudding and seems a little like eating paste.  I gather its an acquired taste.  My interest in it was limited to photographing the fields where they grow.

The first time we headed up to the North Shore the large taro fields before Hanalei immediately caught my eye.  I quickly made plans to drop my wife at the nearest shopping opportunity so I could head back out with my camera.

Its possible to get down low and close to the Taro and get shots of the field extending out with the mountains as a backdrop.

Throw in a few clouds and you have the potential for some dramatic shots.  Here a farmer walks among his crop.

I spent some time watching that same farmer use a tractor to prepare a field for planting.  It almost looked like the tractor was magically floating on the water.

One of the best views of the Taro fields can be seen at the Hanalei Valley overlook just off the highway on the way to Hanalei Bay.  While I was truly captivated by this view and spent more than a few minutes photographing it other visitors were not so taken.   I watched a car pull off into the overlook, drive slowly past as a woman held a video camera high out the window and then speed off down the highway.  Seriously folks, slow down and smell the Taro.  This ain’t the mainland!

While the overlook is a great place to take it all in, its also a great place to push in and photograph the details.  The well defined grid of fields makes for some great shots based on patterns.

While the North Shore is filled to bursting with spectacular scenery, don’t forget to spend a little time to check out the Taro Fields.  Its worth the effort.

Kauai’s Waimea Canyon vs Arizona’s Grand Canyon

Kauai’s Waimea Canyon has often been called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and having stood on its rim overlooking its beauty I can certainly see why.  But how does it actually compare to the real Grand Canyon in Arizona?  Well, I visited Kauai in 2010 and recently returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon so I thought I would have a go at comparing them.

Waimea Canyon (WC) is 10 miles /16km long while the Grand Canyon (GC) is 277 miles/433 km long.

WC is 3000 feet / 900 m deep compared to 5200 feet / 1600 m for GC.

WC is 1 mile / 1.6 km wide while GC is 18 miles / 28 km at its widest.

Okay, clearly GC is longer, deeper and wider but how do they compare visually?  How about I show you some photos of both canyons and let you judge?

Waimea Canyon

Grand Canyon

Which one is more spectacular?  I’ll leave that up to you.  However, I do know that both are so big and so beautiful that its very tough to make images that do them justice.  Even when I was standing beside them gazing out they somehow didn’t seem ‘real’.

Vancouver Island: Bedwell Trail

Strathcona Provincial Park lies to the South West of Campbell River and dominates central Vancouver Island.   It is the largest park on the island and the oldest in BC.  It spans almost the width of the island extending from Clayoquot Sound on the West Coast to within 13 km of the sea near Comox on the East Coast.  Contained within this rugged wilderness park is the highest peak on Vancouver Island (the Golden Hinde), the highest waterfall in Canada (and one of the top 10 highest falls in the world: Della Falls, 440m), glaciers and a fantastic variety of alpine and subalpine beauty.

One of the ‘easiest’ (relative term) ways to access this backcountry masterpiece is the Bedwell Trail.  The trail to Bedwell Lake is 6 km one way and gains 600 m in elevation making for a fairly strenuous trail ascent.  There is a designated camping area at Baby Bedwell lake and a variety of side trips or longer hikes from there are possible.  I just did the hike as a day trip.

From Campbell River, take Highway 28 West to the bridge over Upper Campbell Lake/Buttle Lake. Do not cross the bridge, but take the road down the East side of Buttle Lake. Follow Buttle Lake road south to Jim Mitchell Lake road which is on the left just after the Thelwood Creek Bridge.  Follow this dirt road about 7 km to the trailhead.  The road doesn’t typically require a 4×4 but it is gravel and somewhat rough so low slung cars might have some problems.

When you turn onto Jim Mitchell Lake road keep an eye to the left for some beautiful scenery.

The trailhead is an obvious parking area with a BC Parks map posted.

The first short section of the hike is relatively flat and crosses a stream using a very well maintained bridge.

Its not long before the trail turns uphill and starts the ascent.  Most of this trail is uphill and will get your heart pumping.  Parks Canada has done a lot of trail engineering, including some metal staircases, to make the trail safe and lessen the impact of hikers on the area.  The lower section of trail is in the forest but it’s not long before the trees thin out and you begin to get views of the surrounding mountains.

As you finish the climb you hit a relatively flat area with boardwalks and wetlands.

Just before Baby Bedwell Lake you encounter a small pond with a tantalizing view.  This is a teaser for what’s to come.

 

When you reach Baby Bedwell Lake the views are even nicer.

There is a designated camping area here with the most spectacular views from your tent that I’ve ever seen.

From Baby Bedwell the trail continues uphill with some nice views of Mt Tom Taylor and it’s glacier.

Its not long before you come to a viewpoint overlooking Bedwell Lake.  The payoff for all that sweat you left on the tail up is this view of prime Vancouver Island alpine. Big Interior Mountain is on the left and Mt Tom Taylor is on the right.

Trail Notes:

Driving time from Nanaimo to the trailhead: about 2.5 hours

Round trip distance from the trailhead to the Bedwell Lake viewpoint and back: about 12 km

Hiking time: about 3 hours up, 2 hours down but you’ll want to spend some time at the top enjoying the views.

Starting Elevation: 250 m

Max Elevation: 975 m

Trail Difficulty: Moderate.  The route is well marked and all the trail engineering makes walking fairly easy but this trail has a long continuous steep section making it strenuous.  Assess your level of fitness before attempting it.

Suggestions: Bring a camera!  What’s the point of all that pain if you can’t show your friends the beauty you’ve seen?  Hiking poles help a great deal with all the uphill on this trail.

GPS Track: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=1038880

Trail Map: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/strath/strath_bedwell_fee_area.pdf

The Colors of Kauai

In most of my blog posts I’ve picked a location and tried to paint a picture of that place in your mind with words and images.  This post is different.  Kauai is the most colorful place I have ever been to.  Here is a taste of those colors in images from all over the island both above and below the water.

Only when the world runs out of color will I start shooting Black and White.

 

 

Vancouver Island: Glorious Green Mountain

What makes a place magical?  I’m not really sure but whatever it is Green Mountain has it in spades.

This is by far one of my most favorite places to hike on Vancouver Island.  Is it the views over the mountains extending as far as the eye can see?  I suppose that’s part of it.

Is it the rare natural meadows?  They certainly make it easy to enjoy the views while hiking and they are not found in very many places on Vancouver Island.

The bright splashes of fall color certainly don’t hurt.

Whatever this mountain has it certainly draws me back again and again for some spectacular hiking.

Access to the mountain can be difficult.  The access roads are on TimberWest private land and both the gate at the end of pavement on Nanaimo River Road and at 2nd lake must be open to get in.  Contact TimberWest for status of the gates.  Access is often further hampered by snow.  During the winter this area can get significant snowfalls and usually gets enough to prevent driving anywhere near enough to snowshoe or hike in.  This varies widely year to year.  Depending on the snow pack and weather I’ve seen access as early as February and as late as June.

Even if the road is clear of snow a 4 wheel drive is required.  It doesn’t take much of a 4×4 (I’ve see SUV’s, Pickups, Delicas etc all make it up) but it does require the traction and clearance of a 4×4.   There are 2 spots in the road where this is needed.  There is a washed out area at 730 m

UPDATE 2016-09-19:  The road has now been fixed almost all the way to the top.  The washouts are gone.  The road, while still a bit rough, is passable by a 2wd to within 500m of the trailhead.  If you want to drive the last 500m (fun!) you will still need a 4×4.

In winter this washout becomes even more challenging.

The other area requiring a 4×4 is just short of the parking area for the trailhead at 1100 m.

If you can manage to make it in, you’re in for a treat.

From the area where you park the hike starts with a short walk to over a deactivated road to the base of the natural meadows.   There is no real trail as such, you just make your way up the meadows.  As long as you are walking uphill you are heading in the right direction.

There are lots of Elk trails that you can follow up through the clearings.

The meadows are home to a variety of colorful plants and fungus.

If you are looking for wild flowers the best time to visit is in the spring after the snow has melted.  Timing your visit is somewhat difficult since its hard to determine the level of snow melt in the backcountry without frequent visits.

About half way up the mountain there are the remains of the old A-Frame cabin from the days when Green Mountain was a ski area.  All that’s left now is rubble. Here’s a few photos from 1963 when the ski area was operational: photos.

Before long the summit knoll is clearly visible.

As you hike keep your eyes open for wildlife.  Its not unusual to see Roosevelt Elk on your way up the meadows.

While I often see Black Bears on the road up I’ve only ever seen any on the mountain itself once.

To reach the summit you have to cross a steeper section that involves a bit of scrambling but its not technical or very exposed.

If you are quiet as you approach the summit knoll you may get lucky and see some Vancouver Island Marmots taking in the sun on the southern slopes.  If you do see some please be kind and don’t disturb them.  They are Canada’s most endangered species and need all the help we can give them.

To access to the summit knoll you thread your way through some gnarled trees.

Its like entering a secret garden.  Once you are though there is a small pond area enclosed by trees.

Climbing a few more meters you reach the actual summit.  Its a great place to have lunch, take in the views and add your own rock to the summit cairn.

If you wander around a little on the summit you can see some views back towards Nanaimo.  In the photo below the closest lake is Heart Lake with Second Lake in the distance.  To the left of Second Lake is Mt. De Cosmos and to the right is Mt. Hooker.  Visible directly behind is Blackjack Ridge with Mt Benson and Nanaimo behind that.

If you can time it just right Green Mountain is also a great place to snowshoe, backcountry ski or snowboard in the winter.  If you’re too late or too early in the season, however, there is likely to be too much snow on the road to get close enough.

In addition to hiking up to the main summit there are a couple of other interesting destinations on Green Mountain.  To the south there is prominent rock outcrop.  I don’t think it is a named location but we call it Green Knoll.  Access this area by heading to right on the saddle below the main summit.  The final ascent onto the outcrop involves all 4 limbs but no real exposure.  Here is a photo of that outcrop in the winter.  Its the steep dropoff on the left side of the photo.

Looking back from Green Knoll gives a great view of Green Mountain summit.

Another interesting destination is the North summit.  Access to this area is via the Sno-Bird trail which branches off the main road up at about 800 m.  This area is far less visited but has some fantastic natural meadow hiking.

The views on the way down are just as nice as on the way up.

No matter which area of Green Mountain you visit it makes for a fantastic and unique experience.

Trail Notes:

Driving time from North Nanaimo to the trail head: about 1.5 hours (shorter from central or south Nanaimo).  A 4 wheel drive vehicle is required to negotiate the road and both Nanaimo Lakes logging road gates must be open.

Driving Directions:

Round trip distance from the trail head to the top and back: about 5 km depending on which route you take.

Hiking time: 2-4 hours depending on how fast you hike, how often you stop and how much you explore.

Starting elevation: 1100m

Max elevation: 1477m

Trail Difficulty: Easy (with a couple of short Moderate sections)

GPS Track Download: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=2761322

Suggestions: bring a camera (the views are worth it!), hiking poles are nice but not required.  Although navigation on the mountain itself is fairly easy since its all open walking, a GPS with the above track loaded on it is a great help in sorting out which logging roads to take in.  There are a number of roads and branches heading off in different directions and they all look similar enough to make it easy to get lost.