On Saturday, March 14, I led a small group on a snowshoe trip to Lake Helen Mackenzie. It was two families, me with my two children, and Jes with his son Trace. It was Hemingway’s first-time wearing snowshoes to walk, even though the conditions didn’t require it. We had very sunny conditions but cold air that kept the snow very dry and the sky clear.
I’m a prisoner to my work schedule, and my summer vacation kicks off in the final weekend of June. However, since meeting Phil, I’ve come to participate in an annual pre-summer trip known as the Birthday Hike. This annual prelude-to-summer trip has brought us to some of the best places on Vancouver Island.
For two days, starting June 22, 2019, we set our sights on the three peaks which rise high along the ridge, on the west side of the Elk River Trail. The ridge is among the best Island Alpine I’ve had the pleasure of hiking; its near-pristine nature is protected by the awful bushwhack of Butterwort Creek on one end and a gnarly few steps on the other. It’s the type of terrain that is only visited by the crazy few who would seek out these diminutive objectives over the many giants of the Elk River Valley.
Total Distance 28.6 km
Starting Elevation: 312 m
Maximum Elevation: 1826 m
Total Elevation Gain: 2421 m
Friday, Aug 16: At 8 am, nine of us met at the resort at Great Central Lake to catch the Della Falls water taxi. Due to our numbers Doug, owner of the water taxi, had arranged for two boats so we could all arrive at the same time.
The party of six Ramblers set off from the well marked parking area on Western Mine Road. From there the group started the trail that climbs and weaves its way into the alpine. The relatively gentle gradient that gains 1,100 meters to the ridge crests at kilometre 8. The trail is dispersed with a few rolling treed areas that offer some relief from the grade as well as an impressive view point over looking the Myra Falls mine site.
My summers are hectic. I pack my days full of hiking in the mountains and coasts of the island. Often, I’m thinking about what to pack on my next trip while I’m unpacking my gear from a trip I’ve just finished. So come September, I’m ready to head back to work and the normalcy of weekly routines that it brings. But not before I squeeze in one last hurrah, on Labour Day. This year, we picked Marble Meadows as the destination for the weekend, and it didn’t disappoint. It was just what I needed after a summer of rained-out trips and the loss of a friend on a mountaineering trip.
Marble Meadows is a unique treasure within the boundary of Strathcona Provincial Park. But before you start shouting, “Uh, Matthew, there are many treasures in the park!”, let me qualify my point. It’s one of the few places you can stand on the top of a mountain and see exclusively unlogged landscapes, turquoise lakes, and the many types of rock found on the island. It’s a backcountry destination well-known by hikers and fossil-hunters for its rolling terrain, well-booted track, and the millions of fossils visible on the surface of the exposed limestone. You get the point: Marble Meadows is worth a special note.
Once you’ve done enough hiking on Vancouver Island, you will realize that most of the great hiking requires that you drive down a section of industrial gravel road. And that’s if you’re lucky; a good number of these places require walking stretches of road as well. Mount Mitchell is one of those.
Located along the Strathcona Provincial Park boundary, between the Norm Creek Valley and the south arm of the Oyster River Valley, this rocky feature creates a jagged protrusion of that boundary to include the area above 1200 metres into the Park. Below that, the terrain is stripped bare, and roads are visible throughout the surrounding valleys.
Aside from the tragedy of the lost forest, the roads give fast access to the start of our route. In previous years when the gates were open, Mount Mitchell was considered a daytrip. In those days you could access the route either via the Oyster River gates off Highway 19, or from the Boliden-Westmin Road along the Buttle and Park mainlines. However, times change, and so do permissions and road conditions.
Total Distance: 44.9 km
Starting Elevation: 232 m
Maximum Elevation: 1842 m
Total Elevation gain: 2548 m