Monday, November 7, 2011

Hiking without dogs - Kinsol Trestle

Kinsol Trestle, Fall 2011

Once upon a time I was an avid hiker and backpacker. A serious accident in the mid-nineties put end to that, and most of the walks or gentle hikes I've done since have been with the dogs. Recently, those walks have been reduced to slow gentle strolls along the beach as my old dogs can no longer do anything more.

Saturday, after taking Sadie for a walk along the shore line, taking Charley for her little crawl around the block, and checking out a local art show, I decided to capitalize on the fall weather and head for the hills sans canines.* Being a weekend, I was pretty sure my destination would also attract enough other hikers, walkers, cyclists, and equestrians to keep me safe from bears, cougars and two legged beasts. I stuffed some supplies in my daypack and headed out for the Cowichan Valley Trail (part of the Trans Canada Trail system) and Kinsol Trestle, near Shawnigan Lake about forty-five minutes south west of here. The weather inland was overcast and misty, but not sufficiently wet to deter me.

The Trans Canada Trail is 16,000 kilometer trail (many parts still under construction) which winds through every province and territory. Once completed, it will be the largest trail of its kind in the world.

The Cowichan Valley Trail section is 120 km, much of it on former railway beds, making for flat, easy walking through beautiful forests, alongside lakes and rivers, and connecting community to community. The trail accommodates walking, cycling and horseback riding - no motorized vehicles (thank goodness). **

Kinsol Trestle, also known as Koksilah River Trestle, is a wooden railway trestle crossing the Koksila River. The original trestle was completed in 1920, at 144 ft high and 617 feet long - the largest wooden trestle in the Commonwealth and one of the highest railway trestles in the world.

It's a long way down!

In 1979, the last train crossed the aging structure, and a year later it was abandoned. In 2007, the Cowichan Valley Regional District looked at restoring the trestle and the community rallied to the challenge of raising funds, finding partners, and volunteering. The newly restored trestle, true to its original roots in structure and material, reopened to the public this summer, connecting north and south sections of the Trans Canada Trail on Vancouver Island.

I started at the south end, as that is the designated 'public access' end, though I have since found out the north end is just as accessible and certainly closer for me. After an easy 20 minute walk in, on a wide, flat path through towering evergreens, I reached the trestle where volunteers were busy doing some restoration projects on the ground and paths around the base of the trestle. A film crew was also present - they have been following its restoration story from day one for a TV promotional documentary about the Trans Canada Trail. (One day you may see my smiling face on TV, as they grabbed me for an impromptu interview! )

I also ended up chatting with the videographer for about half an hour, and learned much more about the fascinating area than I could have ever learned online - from the thrill of seeing a herd of elk just over the hill while they were in a helicopter filming the five cranes lifting the timbers for the trestle, to the significance of the Roman numerals carved into the old timbers, construction marks bearing information of incline and curve so the finished structure would enable the trains to make the 3% grade hauling a full load.

Roman Numberals in old timber tell a story

While the new construction currently sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb in the wilderness, the steel used was specifically designed to discolour to look old, and the newer timbers used where the old ones were not restorable will soon age to blend in better with the surrounding timber. Ground cover will re-grow, and the paths to the bottom will hopefully protect the slopes and riverside from human damage.

The towering trestle, from part way down.

After photographing it from every angle, and climbing to the bottom and back up not once but three times (each time seeing a better place to shoot from or something else worthy of shooting), I was tempted by a sign on a more rustic trail – one which had been used as a bypass trail during construction. I followed this for a while, enjoying the beautiful river, trees, sound of birds, and occasional chat with other hikers.

Rain forest

Fall scene on Koksilah River

A wee little river for such a huge trestle!

Towering evergreens of the Cowichan Valley

I returned to the trestle and headed along the Cowichan Valley Trail north to the road where I would park if I approached the trestle from the Duncan end, then backtracked south again to return to my car and head home. Four hours of outdoor tromping has me eager to do more of the same, or to haul the bike out of the shed and cycle the trail as far as time allows.

While walking with the dogs will continue to be my first priority in the outdoors, I think the Elder College walking and gentle hiking groups will have a new member when the spring program commences in March.

It was an amazing day.

* Dogs are allowed on the Cowichan Valley Trail and Kinsol Trestle, but are supposed to be kept onleash. Sadly, not everyone honors this, and while I was there a black and white lab cross failed to return to its owner and is still missing today.

** The information on the trails and trestle was paraphrased from the signs posted in the area. More information can be found at and at the CVRD website.


Dom said...

Looks like a very cool hike.

Anonymous said...

Jean,thank you for the very informative post. I am new to the Island and look forward to exploring the Kinsol Trestle area on foot and by bike. My father, an avid cyclist, will also enjoy the trail when he visits. Thank you very much!

Anonymous said...

Sound like a geat adventure. If you want to go again and want company????


Pauley, the Mr. or the Mrs. said...

Beautiful! Oh can't imagine taking your pup with you & not having him when you leave :(