10/12/2010

Getting High For Big Trees - Climbing Mt. Quimper




 When you look down from the top of Mt. Quimper you look over an area that has been logged since the mid-1800s when Walter Grant set up the first water-driven saw mill in the Sooke area. When Grant returned overseas his holdings went to the Muir family who built a more powerful steam powered saw mill in 1855. It was the beginning of the end for Vancouver Island's big trees.



Barely a century and a half later, over 96% of south Vancouver Island's most productive forests have been affected by logging. These forests were in valley bottoms where conditions are optimal, and trees grow the largest. These areas are also the most accessible so the largest trees were the first to be cut down.

Considering that history, I decided to start looking at steep slopes and mountain tops in the Sooke Hills Wilderness (Sea to Sea Green Blue Belt) to see if I could find some original trees that escaped the fate of forests down below.

Looking southeast from Mt. Quimper

I started with the 4.3 km (one way) hike up Mount Quimper, which is a rocky knob on the front line of the Sooke Hills. This 546 meter hill gives the hiker a spectacular panoramic view over the southern tip of Vancouver Island.  Even if I didn't find old growth I would at least be able to enjoy a great view.

Several sizable trees on the way to the summit provide cool shade and a place for lunch
Steep hillsides and mountain tops are the most difficult to log, and this fact has protected a few remnants of the once-mighty Douglas-fir forest (although previously inaccessible trees are increasingly being heli-logged in some parts of Van. Isl.). Individual survivors, and small clumps of old growth persist in places throughout the Sooke Hills. I hoped I might find some going up Mt. Quimper.

Big Douglas-fir near the top
 The hike starts at the parking lot at the end of Harbourview Road in Sooke. Presently the CRD is doing upgrades to the Mount Quimper area so I imagine signage and trails will be upgraded. I hiked before the construction began. There was no signage at all, but I still found my way to the top of the mountain using nothing more than my GPS (Gregg Positioning System).

I hiked past the gate on Harbourview Rd. and watched for any obvious trails off to my right.  I found one a couple of kilometers up the trail, and followed it. After a few minutes on this trail I found a side trail on my left that climbed more or less straight up a steep slope.

The trail I was on, an old logging road continued ahead. I chose the steeper path, looking for a more direct route to the top. The trail was a direct route to the top, and soon I found myself on the summit enjoying fantastic views of both trees and the south island landscape.

Tall forest near top with one large, gnarly-branched ancient
Most of the hike is through second growth forest. There are occasional large trees on the bottom portion of the hike, but the mid-section is through dense bush and small closely spaced forest. For the most part the view is obstructed until higher on the mountain.

When the side trail leaves the logging road and starts to climb Quimper proper, the real tree treats begin.  Along the trail to the summit there are some interesting, twisted and stunted Douglas-fir that are most likely very old.

The trail passes through rocky outcrops and grassy areas. These are interspersed with patches of forest, which I was grateful for on the hot, sunny day that I was hiking. The cool shade of the forest was in stark contrast to the open spots where the relentless sun was beating down and the temperature soared.

Wind-snapped giant Douglas fir - this tree could take hundreds of years to decompose

In the patches of forest on Mt. Quimper there are a few impressively large trees. Growing conditions become harsher as the altitude increases, and the old trees are smaller up here. Still, there are several large, old trees that draw ones attention.

There is also an amazing forest of dwarfish, almost bonsai, Arbutus kept small by their location in an open patch near the top. Also taking advantage of the more open hot, dry exposures are Pine trees, which are also of a stunted stature.

The biggest trees on Mt. Quimper are the Douglas-fir, including one tree that was toppled by the wind. The huge wind-snapped trunk lays on the ground, a testament to the harsh winds experienced up here during winter storms coming off the Pacific.

It makes one thankful for our homes, mostly made out of trees, to protect us from these same storms. I hiked down the mountain in half the time it took to ascend, rode my bike back home, and started to look at other peaks to explore. Now that a large patch of forest and hills in this area is protected, one can feel good about this being old growth forest of the future.

Getting There

Harbourview Road is in Sooke, a short drive east from the middle of town. It is about 40 km from Victoria. Drive to the end of the road where you will find a parking lot. The trail to the top of Mount Quimper starts here. Enjoy the trees and the stunning view.


View Hiking Mount Quimper in a larger map

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