Friday, September 21, 2012

Sick day: Midweek foray to 50-40 Peak

With a sunny and hot high pressure system permanently parked over much of Vancouver Island this month, it was only a matter of time before something was going to give. In my case, an invitation to hike 50-40 Peak from a local hiking group was simply too great an opportunity to pass up, even if it meant a ditching an already understaffed office on a Thursday. Some days are just too nice to spend inside. Besides, I really was in need of a little something the Japanese call shinrin-yoku.

 Forest bathing, as it's translated in English, basically involves visiting a forest for relaxation and recreation. The bathing component refers to the human body's supposed immersion in a wealth of atmospheric substances emitted by trees and foliage known as phytoncides.

Apparently, the effects of bathing in the forest air showed some positive effects in enough studies that, in the early eighties, the Forest Agency of Japan recommended regular jaunts through the forest as an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Since then, it's become a recognized relaxation and/or stress management activity in Japan and other parts of the world.

Breaking through the treeline.
Even though people in Canada have been hanging out in the woods for all sorts of worthwhile reasons since day one, shinrin-yoku made the headlines when it was featured in the Globe and Mail newspaper in May 2012.

The lower slopes 50-40 Peak's Cobalt Lake Route, accessed at the 10-kilometre mark of Marion Mainline off Highway 4, offered some ideal forest bathing terrain. After a quick skip along a steep and steady  huckleberry-lined trail through teen-aged second-growth forest, the trail sides a creek that runs through an impressive stand of towering yellow cedars and hemlocks. Don't let summit fever prevent you from taking a moment to breathe in those phytoncides.

The big timber eventually gives way to sub-alpine vegetation and the occasional rocky outcrop with great views across the valley to Cat's Ears, Triple Peak, Pogo Peak the Pacific Ocean and countless other Vancouver Island high points.

Attainable in only 90 minutes at a comfortable pace, Cobalt Lake is a worthwhile goal in its own right. Great views, a comfortable lunch spot and a chance to play in the September snow. Only complaint was the bugs who realized we'd arrived in the neighbourhood. by the time I'd unwrapped my sandwich.

Cobalt Lake in September.
Above Cobalt Lake, the trail climbs through a last thicket of forest to reach a wonderful ridge with more great views towards the mountains of Strathcona Park and beyond. Form here it was a matter of negotiating our way through a series of small scree fields and gullies to the summit ridge. The trail isn't always obvious, but a good look around should get you back on track. On the way down, we got sucked down a narrow and steep gully that required plenty of root swinging between footholds. The terrain above Cobalt offers something a little more than any old walk in the woods and the alpine flower show made it especially worthwhile.

The views from the top are spectacular but bright sunshine and temperatures easily approaching 30C on the summit ridge, it wasn't long before I found myself wishing for another dose of shinrin-yoku in the cool moist forest below.

Nootka Lupine