Heathen Hiking and the Beauty of Gerd II

I was hoping to limit this blog entry to (the highlights of) our hikes for 2017, but noticed my last “Heathen Hiking” entry left off in September of 2016 and didn’t included the handful of hikes that rounded out the year. These included a return to East Sooke Park, albeit to the Aylard Farms area in the southeastern section of the park, a trip up Mount Brule in Sooke’s Sea-to-Sea Park, a father-son expedition up the Sooke River with a stop at the old resort ruins, our first trip out to Mary Vine Falls near the Sooke Potholes, and of course one of our most epic hikes to date which saw us on the ferry over to Salt Spring Island in a marathon 40 km hike that carried us up Bruce Peak on the southwestern portion of the island, over to the its west coast, and then looping it (which required some pretty crazy bushwhacking at times) north along the coast and finally back around to Fulford Harbour just as the sun was setting and a real west coast rain began to fall. Our thanks to little Domo the dog, who insistently befriended us as we moved into the thick of it and guided us through some of the more uncertain stretches of the hike!

There are so many good images to share from those hikes, but with 2017 still ahead of us, here at two. This first is from my “Sooke River ruins” hike with my son,

sookeruins

And the second is from atop the aforementioned Bruce Peak (elevation 709 meters),

brucepeak

It was cool to be up above the clouds and the fog bank that was rolling in … almost reminiscent of the prairies in that you could see miles upon miles of uninterrupted miles upon miles. But speaking of the fog bank that rolled; it was quite the sight to see and to be honest, as my imagination played on the imagery it presented — in an apocalyptic, natural disaster sort of way — it even frightened me a bit … the sheer magnitude of the phenomenon! But really, you would have had to have been there.

Such was the end of 2016.

In 2017 we went on some 22 hikes that carried us a combined total of 543 km (337 miles); which is about the distance between the city of Victoria on the southern tip of Vancouver Island here to Port Hardy, the last stop as one nears the northern tip! And the year began where it left off; with my (now) fiance and I catching the ferry over to Salt Spring Island to tackle its southeastern coast and then onward out to Ruckle’s Park at its eastern extreme.

We had spotted a fair share of bird’s of prey over the past year, eagles no exception, but all year I had longed to spot a bald eagle perched a top a tree for a really good picture. This was my “dream shot” as far as eagles went, but right at the beginning of the day, atop Reginald Hill, my fiance spotted two bald eagles about 200′ off, perched atop a tree the apex of which was basically eye-level with us! And you know, it really is like they say, “When something appears to good to be true … it can’t get any better!”

eagles

They have some really BIG trees on the Vancouver island here. This is not one of them.

bigtree

While we expanded our range this year, breaking new ground on Salt Spring Island, heading as far out west as Sombrio Beach and as far north as Mount Provost in Duncan, the hills and mountains north of Sooke are a gift that just keeps on giving. Being a mere hour bus ride and then maybe a 5km walk to the nearest trail head, the place is basically in our backyard and offers a vast expanse of official parkland and “unbounded” back-country to be explored.

sooke

Some bemoan the blocking off and tearing up of the old roads that used to run through these hills — and now serve as speedy hiking arteries for penetration into more remote areas — reasoning that such has limited access for families that might enjoy a day out at some of the small lakes that dot the terrain. I on the other hand appreciate the fact that, while there certainly are some very nice places that families have convenient access to (eg. Thetis Lake), there are nevertheless some places that there is no convenient access to; Sheild’s Lake for example (image below). The lack of convenience keeps those predisposed to convenience, to doing whatever is the easiest as a matter of habit, away, which in turn helps preserve the (certainly relative) “sanctity” of such areas. It makes a difference (IMO) when you have to actually work to get there, cultivating an attitude similar to “pride of palace”.

sheilds

Sheild’s Lake (no, I don’t keep mis-spelling that) is a beaut; nestled high up in the Sooke Mountain area, in fact due norther of Sooke Mountain, and hedged in by hills and mountains that rise up, amphitheater like, on all sides.

Lay the foundation for another Uppsala-style hof anyone?

Seriously though, it is a favourite spot for locals who, first, are actually willing to make the 10+ km hike in, loaded with gear and mostly uphill, and want to enjoy some back-country camping … away from all the rules to be sure, but all things considered, closer to common sense nevertheless.  We would return within the week, loaded with gear, to do exactly that.

sheildscamp

We would also return to Salt Spring Island, my son in tow, one more time in 2017 to explore Mount Erskine; due east of the town of Ganges on its western coast. The main attraction was the “fairy doors” that dot the park, built into the sides of random rocks and trees along its trails. The hike itself was only 13 km and thus a little on the slack side from what we are used to, but the fairy doors were interesting and in terms of the main viewpoint atop Erskine — looking north along Vancouver Island’s eastern coastline — it paid BIG for relatively little effort.

erskine

Our longest hike to date would have been the epic Bruce Peak (Salt Spring Isle) hike of late 2016 that I mentioned at the beginning of this entry. It measured out to be 39.9 km and carried us to an elevation of 903 meters. It was long. It was grueling. It was filled with uncertainty as the day wore on and the clouds grew ever darker. Man. Did I mention how much I appreciated that dog, Domo, who found us??? We made it back to Fulford Harbour just as the last light of day faded and the heavy rains began to fall; not to mention as the last ferry rounded the bend into the harbour headed towards the docks. Sigh. What an adventure! But in terms of at least distance, it was doomed to be outdone.

Around mid-May we decided to tackle what was less a trail hike and more a roadside marathon walk out to French Beach some 20 km west of Sooke; which itself measured in at 43 km over a 12 hour day. We saw some very nice sights as we hit a number of different points along the West Coast highway that day, but the sweeping vista …

french

The highlight of the day however was completely random and had to be marveled at with the naked eye alone or risk being missed out on altogether.  We were on the return journey back to Sooke and had decided to “pull off” the road and down a trail into bush for a brief rest-stop. A turkey vulture swooped into the trees from the branches above, and then was immediately followed by a golden eagle … within about 100′ of us! And let me tell you, this bird was BIG, making the turkey vulture look like a mere crow in comparison. Its wing span was well over 6′ and probably closer to 7′! It was SO big that, much like the aforementioned fog bank rolling into Fulford Harbour that day atop Bruce Peak, I actually felt a twinge of fear at the sight! Although unlike the fog bank, no imagination was necessary!

Oh! Speaking of twinges of fear, I mentioned in my last Heathen Hiking entry my confrontation with the Goldstream Trestle and the discovery that I had a fear of heights. Well, I finally made it over the sucker this year! I needed my fiance to hold my hand while I did it mind you (lol), but I made it over nevertheless! The old train-tracks carried on from there for a stretch until we came to a rock on which someone had written the words “turn back”. And so like all of the wise and intelligent people portrayed in your typical found footage movie, we “pressed on”. And soon after we came to a second (daunting) trestle. Word had it that some distance beyond this the tracks would pass through a tunnel, but in all honesty, I was already emotionally drained from my first trestle crossing and, quite simply, was not up to the (further) challenge. Which of course has the merit of leaving me with future challenges (of this nature) to surmount!

We’ll meet again Goldstream Trestles! And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! 😉

Anyway, while French Beach had been the furthest westward we’d trekked on foot, we reunited with a couple of guys from our Heather Mountain hike of 2016 to hit the old Priests Cabin and from there hike from the seal grotto out to Sombrio Beach, some 36 km west of French Beach.

sombriogroup

As one of our immediate goals is to hike the Juan de Fuca trail — a 47 km coastal hike that stretches from China Beach near the town of Jordan River to Botanicla Beach in the west near Port Renfrew — this hike would give us our first real taste of the ruggedness of the coastal trails.

sombriotrail

While we have had plenty of experiences at this point with trails that turn into creeks with the onset of, ahem, “winter” and the associated mud-traps , the mud traps along this stretch of the Juan de Fuca were quite significant and entirely unavoidable.

Sombrio Beach itself was “recently” featured in a B-movie called “Dark Cove”, about a group of campers who head there for a weekend of fun and wind up with a dead body on their hands. They decide to hide in a crevice, the “Emerald Cavern”, that leads to a hidden waterfall.

Having watched this movie a couple of weeks earlier, it was cool to visit the spot and be, like, “Hey! This is where they hid the body!!!” lol

emeraldfalls

emeraldfalls2

With the opening of the new “Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail” — that runs northward from Mount Wells near Goldstream to connect Victoria with other regional trails further north — French Beach didn’t remain our longest hike of the year; which itself carried us along this new trail to the northern extreme of Shawnigan Lake, and from there east to the coast and then south again to the Mill Bay Ferry and which all tolled measuring in at 44.3 km. That said, the majority of the hike felt very tame, if still fulfilling in its own right. It also gave us a taste for exploration even further afield.

This led to a trip up island to the nearby town of Duncan, where we got a hotel room and tackled a hike out and to the top of Mount Prevost on our first day, and then a hike out to and around Stoney Hill Park on the next. The Prevost hike stretched some 31 km (19 miles) and carried us to an elevation of 788 meters (2585 feet) in temperatures that reach up to 32 Celsius (89 F). Fortunately we were sparred the brunt of the sun on our way up, but the effort was certainly worth the reward and it represented our second highest “climb”; though it still fell well short of Heather Mountain. And “Heather Mountain” is not likely to survive 2018 as my fiance and I head out to Valemount, British Columbia for our honeymoon and what promises to be some pretty spectacular hiking!

Anyway, this is Mount Prevost as seen from the outskirts of the town of Duncan …

prevost

And here we are at the top …

prevost2

And a better view of the, well, of the view …

prevost3

Those are the mountains of Salt Spring Island in the distance there, directly ahead of us and stretch off to the left of the picture. The smaller mountain in the foreground is Mount Tzouhalem. We would be heading out to the otherside of that on the ‘morrow bound for Stoney Hill Park; which I had spied on our first trip out to Salt Spring late in 2016. The park sits atop this wall of stone in the background there, which I wanted to go to since first spotting it.

stoneyhill

And now here’s the view from the otherside, dominated by Mount Maxwell with the stretch of shore I’m standing on in the last pic. a little bit further off the rightside of this pic. Erskine is a little further (north) off the leftside of the pic, fyi.

stoneyhill2

This hike stretched for some 34 km, a lot of which was on pavement and which, combined with the previous day’s Prevost hike, had me limping pretty well the entire way back to our hotel room in the 32 Celsius heat of the day!

I boast rather than complain!

Our next hike would see us heading back out along the “Rabbity Trail” that runs along the shores of the Gowlland Tod range back in the Victoria area. This was the site of our first and entirely impromptu over-nighter. This time we came prepared for the night and set up a crude little camp, under the stars, about 3 hours down the trail head from Mckenzie Bight beach and right on the water. Here we were greeted by a pod(?) of seals who could be heard splashing about and snorting as they emerged for the rest of the night. If not for the fire-ban the province was currently under, and a lack of water shoes to protect my feet, I would have jumped in and swam with them. And I might return next year or thereafter to do exactly that!

gowlland

Here are a couple of the seals that were so curious about us and our music. I counted at least 6 in total …

gowlland2

We would spend one more night camping out in 2017, only a few days later at Island View Park on the eastern shores of the Saanich Peninsula, but by that point the smoke from all of the fires burning in the province was beginning to drift over the island, kinda killing the appeal of “getting out there into the fresh air”.

Nevertheless, it was a good years hiking. In fact, 2017 became our year for eagle spottings. And it wasn’t just eagles. While we had an encounter with an adolescent black bear last year, we had an enoucnter with a big momma and her cub just this past November on our last trip out to Mary Vine Falls while heading back in, ie. going the opposite direction wasn’t really an option. Fortunately, it was salmon season and we soon ran into three other hikers who were themselves heading back in, and so mamma bear soon lost interest and wandered back into the bush with her cub.

sookebears

Some of the scenery from that same day …

sooke2

And of course, having mentioned Mary Vine Falls on at least a couple of occasions by this point, here they are …

maryvine

 

2 thoughts on “Heathen Hiking and the Beauty of Gerd II

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