Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Canoeing: Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit (1)

Hard to believe it's been four years since my wife and I completed the Sayward circuit as part of her annual birthday celebration trip. Since this year's birthday fell on a Tuesday during a really busy work week, we're left with memories from 2010 until we can find a few days to sneak away again. Another visit to the Sayward Circuit may be just right.

June 15, 2010: Things weren’t looking very good when, fewer than 50 kilometres from our launching point for the Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit, my wife and I hit the heart of a big-box mega-complex.

Alas, this was the surest place to invest in the fishing equipment that would reward us with countless gut-busting lake-side feasts. Toting shinny new rods and lures as well as a few last-minute grocery items (including one kilo of rice crackers), we continue the drive north.

The scenery along the 30-minute drive from Campbell River to our launching point on Mohun Lake wasted little time shedding aside Campbell River's heavy and historic industrial mantle. In exchange, we were greeted with the Sayward Forest's modest backwoods landscape.

We entered the Mohun Lake camping compound at the lake’s south end and were greeted by a woodsy caretaker who offered us a photocopied map of the route.

Mohun Lake Campground: leave your car here and rest assured it will be there when you return.

“You guys have a map?” he asked, only minutes before we were to set off on our four-day paddle.

Given that the map had fewer than half of the route’s actual established campsites and scant detail about the portages along the way, it likely causes canoeists more grief than good.

'Woodsy' then made sure to catch us up on tales of those who came before us.

There was the couple that chose to turn back after getting mixed up in a beaver damn-strewn swamp. There was another group that decided, mid-journey, to pack it in and hike back along several kilometres of dusty logging road. And then there was the group of spirited youngsters who wrapped their aluminum canoe around a rock at the circuit's lone set of rapids.

We grabbed the map and asked for some tips.

The attendant couldn’t really say what lay in store since he hadn’t actually been to the lake’s other end in years, let alone to any of the circuit's other 12 lakes.

Probably time for a new map. We had already packed this one, released in early 2010.

It almost made the trip too easy, almost.

Friday, July 11, 2014

'A stupendous mass of rock'

It's hard to miss Mt. Arrowsmith; the peak and its surrounding massif stands out in a mantle of snow for much of the year, offering an impressive sight for anyone driving along the island highway.

Mt. Arrowsmith was one of the first mountains I climbed after moving to the region nearly 10 years ago - cannot believe how time has flown by. Having settled from the province of Quebec, I recall being amazed at the trail's steepness and the massive trees that manage to thrive along the slope..

I've since climbed the Judge's Route with friends from "back east" who express the same amazement at the trail's intensity.

"Ma t'en calisser une," as we say in La Belle Province.

Judge's Route, Mt. Arrowsmith, May 2014
After hiking elsewhere on the West Coast, I discovered Arrowsmith's steepness is pretty much the status quo for island peaks, which confidently strike skyward out of the Pacific Ocean.

I've climbed the peak half a dozen times now, mostly on the popular Judge's Route. The latest trip, in May 2014, took about six hours. Tempearatures in the valley below were well into the twenties - quite hot for May in these parts - and the sizzling, sunny weather followed us to the summit, yet there were still some pretty expansive snowy patches along the way.

"A steep, formidable climb when viewed from below, it is in fact a very aesthetic line which does not require technical skills," writes Lindsay Elms of the JR in his chapter devoted to the mountain in Beyond Nootka.

Judge's Route, Mt. Arrowsmith, May 2014
Arrowsmith offers a range of climbs for all skill levels, including the Unjudge's Route, Lost Gully and the dizzying Nose routes. Whatever path you choose, the mountain is sure to offer a challenging mountain experience in every season.

Despite an elevation of only 1,817m (5,962 ft), Arrowsmith looms large in the history of Vancouver Island mountain life. The earliest recorded ascent was an apparently thirst-quenching slog from the nearest road access that entailed a river crossing, porters and an overnight near the ridge. Back then the mountain lacked the easy access offered by the logging roads that now dissect the area.

"The next morning we were up at daylight and went about two miles climbing over the ridge of the mountain and up to the main peak - a stupendous mass of rock, about as big as 10 St. Paul's Cathedrals," wrote Dr. James Fletcher of his 1901 ascent.

In the late 1800s, many mountain folk thought Arrowsmith had to be Vancouver Island's  highest point. There was clearly much they hadn't seen, but the peak still stands as a stupendous mass that can inspire and challenge alpinists of all abilities.
Summit platform, Mt. Arrowsmith, May 2014


Elms, Lindsay,  Beyond Nootka: A Historical Perspective of Vancouver Island Mountains: Misthorn Press, 1996.