The Retreads at the huge Avatar Cedar. The group also visited the San Juan Spruce and the Red Creek Fire on their Big Trees hike.

Retreads do Big Trees and Scout hikes

Cowichan Lake hiking group does two hikes in the area.

In our last article we said we were headed on a big tree hiking trip. I studied the Ancient Forest Alliance maps on their web site, and I as hike leader, did a trial run to make sure we could follow directions. This is because each hike has volunteer leaders who should know where they are going.

When Retreads assembled at Saywell Park ready for the Big Tree trip and did their sign in and count they divided 14 people into 3 4X4 vehicles. When we arrived at the San Juan Spruce beside the river and opened doors there were now 15 people. One had managed to sneak in at the last moment.

The San Juan Spruce is a huge tree that divides into two stems. It is said to be the largest spruce in Canada with a 12m (38ft) circumference, height of 62.5M (205ft) and volume of 333 cubic metres.(a phone pole is 1 Cum) Growing out of the side at ground level is an imposter, a Broad Leaf Maple that seems to get along quite well with the spruce. This tree is located off Bear Main just after crossing the San Juan River on a long logging bridge. No need to hike here, unless you wished to look at the other trees or visit the camp ground toilet.

Next we headed 11 km over a variety of logging roads until we reached a parking turn out at the entrance to a path that would lead us up to the Red Creek Fir. This journey justified using 4X4 vehicles and we wondered how it would feel to trundle huge loads of logs out over roads like this, day after day.

Up the path for about 20 minutes and there we stood in front of the gigantic Fir Tree. We actually made a hand holding ring around the tree and discovered it was a 14 person tree. We stood in awe looking at this huge tree and then assembled and took a group photo. On the way down we stood briefly and admired three huge cedars that had somehow missed the lumberman’s axe. Then back to the vehicles and on to Avatar, our third stop.

We went past the Port Renfrew turn-off, along about 8 Km of deteriorating black top road, across the high bridge over the Gordon River and a short distance further to arrive at the new Avatar sign boards. We headed carefully down steps until we found a place for a lunch stop. We spread out on old logs and rocks and enjoyed a sandwich and the solace of this intriguing forest.

On our feet again and further down the hill following little blue flags and the occasional bridge. Volunteers have been working with the Ancient Forest Alliance to create steps and paths that will make the visit safer and protect the roots of the trees from so many visitors. It is now much easier to visit these trees than it was a few years back on our first visit. We remember that well because it was a rainy day and Avatar took on an ethereal if somewhat muddy feeling.

After a stop at a huge and somewhat gnarled red cedar and another group picture, it was up to the road and on up the upper side of the grove past some huge trees to the most gnarled cedar. Both the upper and lower visits take about a 30 minute hike, plus the time gawking at and photographing the trees. So the big tree trip involved about 3.5 hours of driving and 1.6 hours of hiking. Was it worthwhile. The consensus was yes, it was well worthwhile.

Our next hike was an “invite your neighbour” affair. It provided an opportunity to increase the number of people able to visit and learn about corners of our valley. We parked on the Woodland Shores Road and headed up the road to the new Boy Scouts Camp. Over the ridge with a 240 m climb, a brief rest and the on along a logging road following the north arm of the lake. Eventually after a number of ups and downs, we reached a cul de sac or turn-around and had a coffee break. Unlike hikes in more populated countries, we did not find a coffee shop or pub here although we did when we came back to town.

Going along the road we looked out through the trees across the North Arm and noticed that all of the Creekside homes appeared to have a beach. Suddenly we understood this is because the lake is really very low. Visitors seemed to enjoy this walk through the forest and one commented she was pleased to be able to hike safely in our group which had 25 members that day.

We welcome new hikers. Our hiking schedule is available at the Arena or the Visitor Centre or from the Retreads pages in the Arena website. You can call Willa Suntjens at 250 749 4144 for more information.

-Submitted by David Kidd