Tag Archives: Vancouver Island

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

 

Heathen Hiking and the Beauty of Gerd

As a young Germanic teen my first acquaintance with the native gods of my ancestors came via the Red Thunderer; called Thunor by my English ancestors, but better known today via the Old Norse form of his name, Thor. Not only had Thunor remained the most popular of the gods in popular culture, but there was a direct connection to him in the prairie thunderstorms that frequently raged overhead. Indeed, my maternal grandfather, a Churchgoer of (West) Polish ancestry himself, used to say in reference to the thunder that, “the Old Man is cracking his whip again”, which to my heathen ears always sounded like a reference to Thunor (or Perun?) and the belief that the sound of thunder was the rumbling of his chariot as Redbeard drove it overhead.

Around the age of 18 my immediate family and I relocated from the Manitoba prairies to the shores of southern Vancouver Island. Little did I know that we don’t get thunderstorms here. Sure, there have been some rumbles in the far distance, and the odd and isolated crack of thunder over head, in the two and a half decades since I first landed on these shores, but … even if you put them all together they wouldn’t even come close to what we had on the prairies. And it left me heart-sick for a time. But of course, southern Vancouver Island had it’s own charms that struck me from the moment I got off the ferry; the moderate winters, an abundance of trees, the sight of the mountains in the distance, the smell of the sea and proximity to the coast. Really, it was love at first sight. And so it didn’t take to long for the rationalization to grow in me that the reason why southern Vancouver Island doesn’t have thunderstorms is simply because Thunor loves it so much. And/or it was under someone else’s protection.

Indeed, it was here on southern Vancouver Island that I first understood and had my first inspiration regarding Ingui-Frea’s love for the nature-spirit Geard.

Over the past year my wife (a relatively recent migrant from the prairies herself) and I have taken to hiking this beautiful land we’ve come to call home. And that in fact, as opposed to the usual, is what this blog entry shall be about; the sharing of some of our experiences and pictures from our various hikes here about … in celebration of the beauty of Geard.

This first pic is from our very first hike (Sept. 2015) in East Sooke Park … looking south from the top of Mount Maguire (268m), out over the park itself and the Straight of Juan de Fuca, toward the mountains of Washington state.

eastsooke1

This next one gives you an idea of the kind of terrain and elevation changes we were eastsooke2regularly dealing with that day; minus the number of tree roots that covered most of the trails and demanded your constant attention. That is my son sitting at the top of the pic there, while mi’lady struggles with this (end of the day) ascend … itself one of many. To make this day — which carried us all the way down to the Juan de Fuca and then back — even more toilsome (but no less fulfilling!) … we had only purchased our hiking boots the night before! And we covered at least 12 km that day. If you ever thought Thjalfi got off easy after committing his act of sacrilege against Thunor, well, a hike like this will give you a lightweight idea of the type of terrain he frequently ranges through on his many journeys … and no matter the season or the weather at that!

 

 

 

This one’s from our 2nd hike, from Goldstream up to the summit of Mount Finlayson (419m). As this pic demonstrates, we always seem to find “the interesting” way from point A to point B on these hikes (but always make it to point B nevertheless!).

goldstream

At the height of Mt.Finlayson we met the acquaintance of a fellow hiker … an old gentleman of, I believe, Dutch background who had been hiking the area for at least a decade and whom I suspect was one of the mysterious “elves of Mt. Finlayson” as they are known hereabouts. He guided us to a number of interesting viewpoints at the summit, to one of the caches that exist around the mountain (and island) — containing small random items that a person might find useful on a hike, eg. energy bar, light, matches, bus ticket, gum, etc. — and finally showed us the easy way back down. Many thanks, Edwin (as he called himself)!

We soon returned to Goldstream to explore around it lower elevations. This next pic shows Mt. Finlayson in the background (and my lovely wife in the foreground), and it’s companion shows of Goldstream itself.

goldstream1

goldstream2

I would show off the Goldstream Trestle, but why, I ask, give free publicity to one’s arch-enemy??? Okay. I guess now that I’ve piqued your interest I’m obliged. But how is it my arch-nemesis? Well, understand, I am “fine” with heights. I mean, sure, heights scare me, but that is why courage exists, right? You man up and get’er done. But the Goldstream Trestle is … different. Here is a pic I snapped of it from atop Mt. Finlayson … back when I imagined it would be fun to hike out to and walk over.

goldstreamtrestle

I’ll beat you yet, Goldstream Trestle!!! Just like my wifey did our first time out. :/

Here is a nice pic of our first hike along the Gowlland Todd range. You can see Mt.Finlaysson, where we began the day (and would end it), standing proudly in the distance near the top center of the pic. We covered about 20km that day.

gowlland

This next pic was taken from Pickles Bluff in John Dean Park (280m). It looks southeast across the rural lands of Saanich Peninsula. I think it is a really nice shot, and was the saving grace of this otherwise unspectacular, ho-hum hike.

johndean

This next one is from our Mount Wells hike, and is another example of our ability to find the most interesting ways around. In fact, we didn’t even go up Mount Wells on this hike, but ended up going up it’s neighbour, Mount MacDonald (439m) by accident. And then we lost the path to get back down, but found this interesting and rather vertical path instead. You can see my wife there, sitting just beneath the horizontal log on the left. Do you think she’s a keeper, guys?

mountmacdonald

This next one is from our Sooke River hike. I recall the rocks having been very slippery that day. Fortunately, our obligatory offerings to the land wights, combined with some common sense, quick reflexes and a bit of team work, kept things within the realm of “embarrassing mishaps easily shrugged off”. No one got dunked. No one was injured.

sookeriver

sookeriver2

sookeriver1

Nice shot from our return trip to East Sooke Park in March of 2016. This time we entered over the appropriately named “Endurance Ridge” trail head, made our way down to the (eastern) coastal entrance of the park, along its coastal trail, and then back out over Endurance Ridge for a total of some 18 km. This pic was snapped early in the day from atop Babbington Hill (228 m)

eastsooke4

eastsooke5

This next pic is a nice shot from, less a hike, and more a power walk, we did from Horth Hill, near the northern tip of the Saanich Peninsula all the way back into the city of Victoria … covering about 40 km that day. The view is from the shores of the small township of Sydney.

horthhill

Here is one from another power walk (with hiking spurts) of some 30 km along the island’s famous “Galloping Goose” trail. This scenic little rest stop was in Roche Cove Park.

rochecove

And here is a pic of downtown Victoria as seen from the southwest. It’s a very peculiar view, ie. the mountain in the background, taken from the southwest

victoria

This next one was an interesting hike along an old flowline that carries on from the resivior at Mount Wells all the way out to the Sooke Potholes. I was able to deal with the (significantly) lower trestles that the flowline at times passed over, incidentally.

flowline

And this one is from a hike we went on with some of the guys from work. Here we were about half way to the summit of Heather Mountain (1338 m), about an hour or so drive up island. Above this point we climbed into a rain-cloud, which made things interesting, but which dampened our hopes (haha) of getting some shots of the breathe-taking scenery from the peak.

heathermountain

heathermountain1

heathermountain2

And here we are (below) at the summit of Empress Mountain, which, at 682 meters, is half the height of Heather Mountain, but which is nevertheless the tallest elevation within the Greater Victoria region. This was our second attempt to reach Empress Mountain after we lost the trail on our first attempt a week earlier and really had no reasonable means of progress with the amount of daylight we had. We covered about 26 km on this hike.

empressmount

While we have come across our fair share of deer and rabbits on our hikes, and certainly spotted a number of turkey-vultures, hawks, and even the occasional bald eagle — with one of the latter gliding by about 15 to 20 feet over head on one occasion! The Mighty Eagle Lives!!! — this time out we had our first run-in with a black bear. And it’s an interesting experience to be sure! I had heard something rustling in the bush as we made our way back to civilization, and I was, for a moment or two, quite sure that there was an intersecting trail coming up and we were going to run into some fellow hikers. But I quickly got a sense that it might be otherwise and so picked up a couple of sizable rocks as we continued down the path. Of course, it wasn’t so much an intersecting trail that we were approaching but a dried up creek bed and no sooner did I look down it then I heard a big commotion in the brush and saw an adolescent black bear leap up a tree. Yes, thats right! I tree’d a bear! My wife wanted to stop and get some pictures (of course), but that lasted for as long as it took our furry friend to let out a loud huff of impatience and slide and inch or two back down the tree.

bear

And this brings me to our return trip to the Gowlland Tod Park; which began at 8am in the morning, carried us up the interurban trail to it’s northern entrance, and then was intended to carry us back down south to Bear Mountain (neighbouring Finlayson) by sunset. However, we decided to head south, not along the summit trail, which we had hiked before, but rather along the “Rabbity Trail”; which runs along the shores of the Finlayson Arm and

finlayson-arm

Finlayson Arm, looking north

is NOT called “rabbity” because of anything to do with speed. Rather, the trail itself, which hugs the steep slopes of the range, hops up and down and up and down and up and down for it’s entire length. Moreover, while it is fairly well marked along it’s northerly length — and, as it turned out, along it’s southerly length — it’s middle grounds is a no-man’s land of “your best guess is as good as mine”. Not that we were ever lost, understand. I mean, south along the coast is south along the coast. It was all a matter of, beyond the lack of any well defined trail, obstacles and their impediment to progress; coupled with only so much time in the day. It’s not a place where you’d wanting to be wandering around at night even with a head lamp. The range slopes right down to the water at a pretty impressive angle after all, and the margin for error is simply to high, and the progress too slow, to bother wit the risk. And

finlayson-arm1

these guys followed us for a couple of hours. Interesting conversationalists! 😉

so, at around 8pm that evening, twelve hours after our day began, with about half an hour of daylight left, we decided to look for a decent spot to spent the night. And after a quick search we found an outcropping of rock that would do. It was about 10′ x 10′ and covered in moss; half of which I tore away so as to have a place to build a fire. And after two abortive attempts — as a born and bred city-boy, this was my first outdoor fire, etc. — the sense of impending panic gave way to patient resolve and before long we had our fire going … which not only afforded my lady with enough additional warmth to get a few hours sleep, but gave me a focus for my attention as I “stood watch” for the night. Apparently this made me “magical” <blush> and indeed, I had plenty of time to contemplate the sheer luxurious practicality of a simple fire. And you know, despite the many spooky noises I heard all around me that night, some straying pretty close to camp and certainly around the nearby area I was gathering wood from, and despite the lack of a good supper that evening or breakfast that morning, the experience is mutually regarded as our best hiking experience to date. Certainly, it could have been colder, we could have run out of water, and it might have rained early that morning — as was the forecast, and which would have made it incredibly difficult to hike out the next morning — but the word serendipitous seems quite appropriate here. As it was, having back-burnered some stress over how we were going to proceed the next morning (having lost all signs of the path heading south), we picked found the path within ten or fifteen minutes after setting out and it continued on, southward and well-marked from that point forward, until we finally made it to Bear Mountain, at about 9am … 25 hours after we’d set out. We must have covered about 35 km in total.

finlayson-arm2

Finlayson Arm, looking south

finlayson-arm3

finlayson-arm4

This of course emboldened us to strike out for a planned over-nighter a couple of days later, during the Perseid Meteor Shower of 2016; this time with a tarp for a shelter, some cord and a few spikes for shelter (should we have needed it), and a few simple camping luxuries not the least of which was FOOD! For this we struck out for Scafe Hill (165 m), a few kilometers north of Thetis Lake and well away from any light pollution.

scafehill1

scafehill

scafehill2

scafehill3

sunrise the following morning

And so it has been a year of hiking for us; in which time we walked the length of the Saanich Peninsula and been every where between downtown Victoria, the western edge of East Sooke Park and Horth Hill, navigating two successful over-nighters in the process, one of which just happened to be impromptu. I think we’ve earned our “Regional Explorers” merit badge!

meritbadge

And you know, when I sit back and reflect on why it took me so long to get out and hike this breathe taking portion of the world that I have now lived in for so long, I need but look to my love … to know it would not be the same without her at my side … the very personification of the spirit of the land.

Hail the sea-shore! Hail the Ingvaeones!