Thursday, September 07, 2006

Labour Day 2006: Day 2 - Ancient Cedars Loop

Saturday dawned bright, beautiful, and early. The kids popped out of their bags like Gary Larson's African Rake Snake and started giggling and hooting to wake Cain. Thankfully we did not yet have any neighbours in the site closest to our tent.

We were going to make oatmeal, but dad had brought a box of champorado. If you're like me and never heard of this, it's a kind of sticky-rice porridge that takes waaaaaaaay more time to cook than porridge. At least, it did that day.

When we had cleaned up after breakfast, we piled into our van and Dad's jeep and set off to find our day's objective: the Ancient Cedars loop trail just north of Whistler.

According to Jack Christie in The Whistler Book, "Core samples taken from wester red cedars on Cougar Mountain indicate that many are well over 600 years old -- with some approaching the millenium mark. And though the Douglas firs on the periphery of the cedar grove are much smaller, they are about the same age. Proof that size isn't always a good indication of a tree's age." The guide book goes on to say that you can tell you've reached the ancient cedars: the trunks swell to 3 m (9 ft).

With that in mind we drove south on Hwy 99 until we got to the turn-off to Cougar Mountain. We drove up a packed gravel forest service road and then passed through what seemed to be a private compound onto a more narrow and rugged gravel road. We drove for a few minutes, wondering if we had misread the directions and put ourselves onto the wrong road. A large tour-van came down the road and slowed as they came up to us. The driver rolled down his window and we asked him if we were on the right road to the Ancient Cedars forest. In an unmistakeably Australian drawl he replied that he did not think so and that the road we wanted was further north. He told us the road ended at some stables further up and suggested we ought to ask there girls there. Dispappointed, we decided to find a turn-around in the road so we could find our way again. About 10 minutes later, on our way back past the private compound we spotted a map board beside a trailhead close to the road. We stopped and I found that we were on the right road - 16 Mile Creek Forest Service Road. The private compound belonged to an adventure tour company that was licensed to use the recreation area where the trail was located. I guess the driver was summer hire who wasn't terribly familiar with the local geography beyond where he worked. So we turned around and made our way back up the road.

About fifteen minutes later we passed the stable the driver mentioned turned a corner and found the trailhead.

The kids were raring to go, excited that Gumpa was along for an adventure. Each of the older three M's partnered up with a grown-up and we set off. Melissa took the lead, practically pulling her mother and Maribeth (in the pack on Cheryl's back) up the trail. Michael tagged along with me and Megan. Madeleine was Dad's hiking partner for the day.

We made our way up the trail, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of a boreal forest in the late summer / early autumn. The trail made it's way through several switch-backs, quickly climbing the slope. It (and carrying Megan) quickly left me out of breath. Melissa, on the other hand, continued to fly up the trail.

After about forty minutes the trail flattened out, came over the brow of a hill, then broke out of the forest into a wide valley. The view was gorgeous. However the reprieve didn't last very long. The trail quickly had us panting up the side of the valley again. After another switch-back we found a very welcome bench and had a water break.

About 10 minutes later we finally reached the Ancient Cedars Loop. A small bridge crossed a creek at the start of the loop and we stopped to let the twins out of their backpacks to walk with us.

The cedars were indeed huge. There were a few pairs of trees whose trunks had grown together, having a combined girth that would take at least 10 adults holding hands to go all the way around.

The walk back out was relatively uneventful. In the heat, Maribeth fell asleep in the pack on my back.

We also stopped at a viewpoint on the highway above Nairn Falls and took pictures of the Green River just before it tumbled into the canyon. Cheryl was a wee bit concerned that I myself was going to tumble into the canyon taking those pictures, but I was very careful.

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