3/14/2011

Sooke Hills: Harbourview Hillclimb

Excellent views can be had from the Sooke Hills - this view is looking out over Sooke basin, Juan de Fuca Strait, and the Olympic Mountain Range in Washington
Harbourview Road in Sooke, BC provides access to a wide expanse of hilly, forested back country terrain, and a selection of scattered ancient trees. With new parklands in place, self-propelled is the mode of travel here. A newly upgraded parking lot is found at the end of Harbourview Road. From there the gated gravel road leads the adventurous into a rugged natural area with endless tracks, trails, and climbable peaks.

A drought tolerant Arbutus mixed in with big trees species
The area has a long history of resource extraction, and much of the area is 2nd and 3rd growth forest. But there are still spectacular trees to be found.


The Sooke region's 66 cm of annual precipitation is drier than further up the west coast. Tofino, an area that can be wet any time of year, receives over four times as much moisture.


The south island's lower rainfall is due to the rain shadow caused by Washington's Olympic Mountain range. This is reflected in the variety of plants and trees found in the region.

In the Sooke Hills the higher you climb the more the valley bottom big trees give way to smaller species such as arbutus, hairy manzanita bushes, alder, fir, cedar, and pine. Over the annual summer drought the sun beats down on plants growing on exposed slopes during strings of blue sky days.

Douglas-fir can also be found at elevation. They are usually the largest trees in these cloud scraping forests. Few are as large as their valley bottom cousins. Due to the harsh exposure up high, trees are comparatively smaller than down below, so even small trees can be of great age.

Section of the Flowline trail - be very careful as pipe is slippery
Years of experience are shown by the unique character older trees display. Deep furrows, large, twisted limbs, girthy trunks, and moss/lichen-flecked bark are indicators of old age.

The four main mountains in the lower Harbourview area all have trees of note on them. I can attest to the nice trees on Mount Manuel Quimper. It is an impressive moderate hike with a variety of trees of interest, including banzai-like arbutus near the sun-baked summit. Empress Mountain, Mount Shephard and Ragged Mountain are other good candidates for a strenuous tree hike and good view from elevation.

There are many minor peaks in the area that are also harbouring interesting trees. I found one such peak on a hike along the flowline from Harbourview Road heading West on the mossy pipe.

Hilltop big tree



After a couple of kilometers of nice forest I left the pipe and struck off uphill. Following old roads, trails and wildlife corridors I found my way to the top of a hill southwest of Quimper. (see map below)





The view was great and there were two large, twisted, weather-beaten senior Douglas-fir trees that stood out from the much smaller trees surrounding them.



The Sooke Hills are a biological "hot spot" of diversity for mosses, liverworts, and lichens, and it looks like many of them like to grow on the trunks and branches of old trees.

Usnea, a common type of lichen, also called Old Man's Beard

I didn't see any wildlife on this hike, but this is an area frequented by cougar, black bear, and gray wolves. Make noise while you hike, let someone know where you are going, give yourself lots of time to return to your car at the end of the day.

Bring lots of water. Be prepared to take care of yourself - help may be a long time coming if you run into trouble. If you are not comfortable route-finding it may be best to stick to the main road. People frequently get lost in the warren of old roads and trails through the hills.

Nice branching pattern on this hilltop Douglas-fir

Getting There

The map below shows the approximate route described in this post. To get to the tops of some of the more major peaks accessed by Harbourview and Sooke Mountain Park Roads, check out this excellent web page at Summitpost.



View Sooke Hills: Harbourview Road in a larger map

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