Thursday, November 26, 2015

Old Trails and New Adventures

It has been a while since I hiked up the Escarpment Way trail and over Richard's Mountain. I don't recall going there at all this fall, nor in the hot days of summer.  And yet it is one of my favourite trails. So when my friend Sally asked me to take her on some of the hikes in our area, Escarpment Way was high on the list. We headed out there last Friday, a sunny but crisp day, cold enough that there was ice on the few puddles we encountered:

Ice on the puddles

One reason I like this hike so much is that it offers such variety of ecosystems.  We begin in shady forest on a narrow path through trees, across rocky outcroppings, around  a bog, up needle-covered trails, over and under fallen logs.  On mossy rocks and in the shade of  bush we see brightly coloured mushrooms, like these little ones catch a few rays of sunlight:

Mushrooms in sunlight

Then we come out to an old municipal forestry road, now overgrown with grasses and small shrubs.  When I first hiked this trail, about seven years ago, they had just logged this part and were busy replanting.  Those trees are now well established, most being six to ten feet tall.  Sadly, the plastic cones that were placed around the young trees, were just heaped in piles when they were removed from the saplings, and never hauled back out. And so, amid the undergrowth, we see piles and piles of non-biodegradable plastic.  For shame!

Plastic cones from reforestation,
left to mar the landscape.

But even this cannot mar the day, for just a few meters further on we look across the valley to Quamichan and Somenos Lakes and the City of Duncan and the hills of Glenora.  The woodsmoke from outdoor burning and indoor woodstoves leaves a haze across the vista, but it is still a beautiful view:

View looking south

We head down the other side, where the old forestry road feels more like a rustic country lane lined with beautiful trees...

Down an old forestry road

...and soon we are into an area with a rainforest feel - boughs laden with moss and lichen, multiple little creeks, rotten stumps, deep dark forest.  Crossing one creek, I look along its length to see another shaft of sunlight illuminating a fallen tree suspended above the water:

Fallen tree above a creek

We reach the end of the main forestry road, and decide to continue on down.  Eventually we reach a road on the other side of the mountain, rooftops of houses and barns visible through the trees.  As we head  back up, we noticed what seems to be a well traveled forest trail - too wide to be a deer trail, too level and well cleared to have occurred just by chance.  So, in the spirit of adventure we decide to 'see where it goes'. Ha!

(Lest you worry, I always carry emergency supplies - cell phone, first aid, matches, snacks, water, windbreaker, whistle, etc - when I head out on a hike).

The trail heads north east, then swings directly east - and up.  And up.  And up.  And becomes narrower. And more rugged and uneven.  And boggier.  And steeper.  Did I mention this trail went UP?

We see what appears to be a crest above us, and hope that our rapidly-disappearing trail will either connect with a secondary forestry road we passed earlier, or at least give us a clear view of the road we had walked down from the point where we photographed the views.  So we slog on.  Ever upwards. Always saying things like "Let's just go to that tree...that rock....that see what we can see from there."   Altogether now:  

The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
To see what she could see.
And all that she could see,
And all that she could see,
Was the other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
Was all that she could see.

Now that I've planted that earworm in your head, I'll tell you that no matter how high we climbed, we never saw anything but more trees.  Even when we seemed to be AT the top, we could not see any roads or trails below us. Just trees.

Nothin' to see here!

Some of those trees were pretty interesting though, like this one which seems to be a smooth shell of  half a tree with two very, very long roots , one on each side, leading to newer growth above.

Eventually we ran out of trail completely and decided the safest option was to go all the way back down to the houses and return back up the way we came.  Which may well explain why my back and hips have been sore ever since.

As we headed back up our original route, I noticed this sign,  placed there some months before:

We had notice the dead Scotch Broom along the trail, so I was not surprised that pesticide explained its death - it is an invasive weed here which has become problematic and is killing off natural vegetation.  While some groups have been hand-pulling and machine-pulling it in an attempt to eradicate it, the municipality does use pesticides where it deems appropriate.  Nor was I surprised to see they were spraying for tansy ragwort, another invasive species.  What did surprise me - and distress me, even more than just the pesticide use itself did - was that they were also spraying to kill off...... alder and arbutus!   Arbutus is a unique tree, only found within a few miles of the coast, and is Canada's only native broad-leaved evergreen tree.  In most coastal areas of BC, including much of the island,  arborists, naturalists, and environmentalists are doing their best to encourage its growth.  It is a hardy tree that survives drought, grows on rocky and windblown surfaces, has a built in survival system for storing water and even for self-pruning.  It provides a dense strong wood, has lovely white flowers in spring, and produces edible red berries that the birds love. It can live as long as 500 years, grow 100 feet tall and ten feet around.  And it is beautiful - perpetually shedding its bark to reveal orange and red trunk beneath.  Why in the world would we be killing it?

A lone arbutus catches the sun
on Richard's Mountain.

Photo of shedding arbutus,
taken last summer.

Perhaps it simply doesn't grow fast enough for those who exploit the forest and hope to clearcut the mountain again in the future - arbutus takes up space and makes logging less profitable than the fast growing evergreens planted just a few years ago. How sad.

As we headed home, tired and perhaps a mite discouraged by the thought of pesticides killing the forest and its critters,  we were still able to find beauty, like these red Oregon grape leaves that added splashes of colour among the dead and dying foliage.

As we cut across the top, I realized I had not noticed the stump that my late friend Bonnie used to sit on, the place were we spread her ashes over a year ago.  I had to hunt for it, though it had always been right beside the trail in plain sight.  And then I found it, overgrown with dying Scotch broom,  the green and red of Oregon grape provided beauty to a somewhat desolate scene.

Bonnie's Stump

I hope in the spring, Bonnie's tree stump will once again be surrounded by greenery, and continue to give her, and those who pass, wonderful views of our beautiful country.  Because, clear cutting and dead end trails and plastic cones and pesticides aside, it is a beautiful place to live.


Marie said...

Thanks for taking us on your hike up the mountain, it is sad to hear of the pesticide killing off the vegetation and those lovely arbutus trees, how does one stop "progress"? Once again, lovely pictures.

Gesine McHarg said...

Thanks for taking me on your walk through your wonderful forest. Have seen a bit of them, but mostly from a train on the mainland. So very sorry to hear about that beautiful arbutus tree. It is so lovely. Hope they are leaving some. Not everything in life needs to make a profit.
Just love your journeys. Thanks for taking me there.

Ferretlady Blogger said...

Your adventure greatly interested me as my dogs and I got lost on this trail about 2 weeks ago. We were up for an adventure such as yours and took a trail we had never taken. We ended up going round in a circle for about half an hour and rather than continuing to guess where we were, took the main trail down Richards Mountain and called my husband to pick us up to take us to me car back at the top of Escarpment way. It was a grand adventure but the dogs were not impressed.
I am disturbed to hear about pesticides being set out to kill arbutus. As you noted in your blog, the arbutus are beautiful and mage stick. Their colour and shedding bark is magnificent.
Thank you for your blogs. 😊

Wendy Hamilton said...

WTF?... The municipality is intentionally "poisoning" Alder and Arbutus trees!....My head almost exploded reading this. Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised --thought I heard it all.
Developers together with government just wont be happy until they've succeeded in destroying every aspect of natural beauty and wild life there is, deemed in their way.
Arbutus trees are unequivocally among the most gorgeous, exotic and rare (already threatened) trees there are here on the west coast (or the planet!!).. Shocked to hear this... I'd like to know more about the area & who's behind the gross decision to use pesticides to destroy them & everything else in their wake in a forested area....So sickening & senseless.

Wendy Hamilton said...

ps. re Scotch broom.. A very pretty plant in bloom, in my opinion, & brilliant to see in spring along the roads...(It's the grass thats invasive & a pain in my opinion) I leave scotch broom to grow in my landscape amongst the plants & Arbutus tress...It's not hard to thin & pull out ...(not nearly as invasive as pesticides)...I actually heard they where spraying it one year right here on SSI on Beddis road...Idiots!