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Trail and tribulation in Powell River

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Make it to the top of Tin Hat Mountain and you will be rewarded with 360-degree views of more than two-dozen lakes. Plus you’re half way to finishing the trail! Photos courtesy Eagle Walz

Connecting Sarah Point, near Lund, to the ferry terminal at Saltery Bay, the 180-kilometre Sunshine Coast Trail now ranks among the greatest hiking trails in the world, according to Explore Magazine’s Top-50 list. Not only is it more than twice the length of the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, it’s Canada’s longest hut-to-hut hiking trail, and it’s free!

The trail’s mix of old growth forest, mountain peaks and sandy shoreline, attract thousands of visitors from around the world each year. Fifteen beautifully constructed huts en route provide overnight accommodation on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“It’s beginning to be seen as an economic driver in Powell River,” says Eagle Walz. “It’s the biggest recreational tourism resource we have.”

Walz is a trailblazer, one of a handful of outdoor enthusiasts who in 1992 realized that accessible old growth on the Upper Sunshine Coast was fast disappearing. They formed the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS), a non-profit committed to setting aside protected areas on a trail sufficiently unique to lure locals and tourists alike.

Eagle Walz in his element, hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail. Walz is a co-founder of the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society, the non-profit behind the trail’s creation and upkeep.

PRPAWS mobilized volunteer work parties and began connecting the bushwhacked paths, deactivated roads, and disused railway grades left behind by a century of logging. In some places that meant constructing bridges – some 120 feet long – to ford creeks and rivers. They found enduring allies in a group of bloody old men, otherwise known as the BOMB (Bloody Old Men’s Brigade) squad. Comprising mostly retirees, many of whom practiced their trades at Powell River’s paper mill, the BOMB squad helped build bridges and huts, and are still counted upon for help in the trail’s never-ending maintenance.

The first time I interviewed Eagle for a story back in 2000, he was fending off criticism from a variety of sources over liability issues and the environmental concerns about sensitive wildlife areas. Walz and his cohorts had run into a host of jurisdictional challenges, too. Crown forest land, private land owned by logging companies, and Tla’amin Nation land are among the eight jurisdictions through which the trail crosses.

Seventeen years ago, he addressed those questions with a question of his own: “Would the trail have been built if we’d settled all these issues first?”

When I caught up with Eagle earlier this year, that question at least, appeared to have been answered. “You couldn’t start this trail now and try and make this happen,” says Eagle. “But that doesn’t mean the logging companies won’t stop logging. Western Forest Products, with their tree farm licence, they are the biggest interest. We manage to work together and eke out considerations. I only wish it would be a bigger buffer along the trail than we get most of the time.”

That buffer can be from 10 to 30 metres, sometimes more. Occasionally, the trail must be relocated in places. Overall, says Eagle, compromise and varying levels of protection ensure the trail’s viability.

“Our vision is that in 100 years, we’ll have no more logging near the trail,” he says. “It will be designated an old growth trail to be enjoyed by future generations. It needs someone to be the champion for it. We’re hopeful the younger generation will take over and certainly a lot of younger people are using it. People of all ages.”

Perhaps more challenging to PRPAWS is pressure on the trail from non-hikers.

“Mountain biking is very popular here, as it is everywhere else. The pressure is always to turn something into something else. But a multi-use trail wouldn’t have the same appeal as a single-use trail. We’re struggling to remain a hiking trail only because that’s what’s given us the edge in the market place. That’s what is bringing people by the thousands from all over the world to Powell River.”

In the meantime, trail maintenance keeps Eagle busier than ever. Ten years retired as a teacher, Eagle says he has time to enjoy the trail, but it’s usually when he’s part of a work party. The day I call him, he’s about to leave on just such a mission – a five-night trip to Confederation Lake, a steep section of the trail in Inland Lake Park, north of Powell River.

Eagle Walz takes in the view from the hut atop Tin Hat Mountain.

It’s a favourite spot, he says, before adding: “I think usually where I’m working, I like that part the best.” Eagle’s other cherished locations include Tin Hat Mountain with its 360-degree views of more than two-dozen lakes; and Mount Troubridge, popular for its magnificent stands of Douglas fir and yellow-cedar old growth.

When Eagle’s not on the trail, he’s writing about it – though not in the way he might have envisaged in 1972, when he moved to Powell River to write poetry: “I write hundreds and hundreds of emails,” he says in a deadpan voice. “That’s basically the extent of my writing.”

  • Visit http://sunshinecoast-trail.com/ for everything you need to know about planning a trip, including the definitive guide to the trail, written by – who else? – Eagle Walz.
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YIR1

It was already late December

When I found the time to write

I was going to do it in November

But ‘going to’ became ‘might’

Too busy staging cat selfies to write ... until now!

Too busy staging cat selfies to write … until now!

Now the pressure’s on

Another deadline, I fear

The hours have all but gone

And 2016 is drawing near

cy and ryan

The graduates

2015 was fast

It didn’t walk, it ran

But one memory that will last

Our boy became a man

boys

A fart joke never gets old.

Ryan finished school

With a vision to refine

And ever since the Fall

He’s been studying design

Ferring's travelling A-Team.

Ferring’s travelling A-Team.

He got to share 18

With guests from far away

Ferring’s travelling A-Team

Nan and Grandad came to stay

Birthday boys. 102 candles between them! You do the math.

Birthday boys. 102 candles between them! You do the math.

He still can’t get a beer

19’s the age to be

But that’s another year

So he bought a fake ID!

Our summer was so hot, we went to ... Las Vegas.

Our summer was so hot, we went to … Las Vegas.

We sweltered in summer heat

And here the forests burned

The grass died beneath our feet

But the rains have since returned

Taking no chances with Emma's first driving lesson.

Taking no chances with Emma’s first driving lesson.

Emma learned to drive

Now she wants a car

But her savings took a dive

When she travelled to afar

Walkies with Nanny.

Walkies with Nanny.

Two weeks in the UK

Emma got spoiled rotten

So much packed into each day

Will not soon be forgotten

Just push a little harder!

Just push a little harder!

London shopping, up the Shard

The Thames and fun upon the river

The set of Harry Potter starred

Butter Beer and no damage to her liver

Up on the roof of the Downtown Grand in a cabana by the infinity pool. Like bosses.

Up on the roof of the Downtown Grand in a cabana by the infinity pool. Like bosses.

We visited the U.S.

Despite our dollar in a slump

We like it in the U.S.

Despite that tosser Trump

Can't even go to my bedroom without Donald Trump showing up ... tosser.

Can’t even go to my bedroom without Donald Trump showing up … tosser.

There’s other stuff we did

But I’m running out of time

It’s best goodbyes are bid

And I post this up online

So be well this joyful season

It’s time for me to go

If for joy you need a reason

Here’s a picture of J. Trudeau.

You're welcome ladies.

You’re welcome ladies.

The Missing Link: Connecting the Coast to Squamish

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Yellow sections on this Google Earth map indicate about 10 kilometres of work needed to complete a trail connecting Sechelt with Squamish.

Yellow sections on this Google Earth map indicate about 10 kilometres of work needed to complete a trail connecting Sechelt with Squamish.

The map looks straightforward at first. As the crow flies, little more than 50 kilometres separate Sechelt and Squamish. Then you notice contour lines, crammed together like intense low-pressure systems, numerous splashes of white, indicating icy peaks, and deep blue streaks showing alpine lakes and ocean inlets. In between are green valleys that never seem to quite connect. Old logging roads, new hydroelectric projects, powerlines and pipelines present an extra layer of complexity revealed by Google Earth.

A cursory Internet search turns up more than 100 years of failed attempts to build a road system between the Sunshine Coast and “the mainland”.

So when Geoff Breckner tells me he’s about 10 kilometres away from completing a 75-kilometre trail connector, I’m interested.

If successful, the trail would reveal a side of the Sunshine Coast unfamiliar to most residents, including a series of spectacular waterfalls between Pokosha Pass and Clowhom Valley.

If successful, the trail would reveal a side of the Sunshine Coast unfamiliar to most residents, including a series of spectacular waterfalls between Pokosha Pass and Clowhom Valley. All photos courtesy Geoff Breckner

“With 10 capable guys and permission it could be finished in a week or two,” Breckner tells me by phone from Squamish. “But there are channels to go through, rules to be followed … funding.”

Breckner is recovering from major back surgery. When his doctor advised him to exercise he began hiking into the backcountry near his home in Squamish. The 53-year-old estimates he spent 200 hours during the last two summers working on the Squamish end of the trail.

A self-described “mountainbiking nut,” and “bush rat,” Breckner grew up in Deep Cove when the sport was still a novelty. He opened Pemberton’s first bike store, High Line Cycles, in 1994. A trail connecting Squamish with the Sunshine Coast makes a lot of sense, he says.

“I thought this was a great place for a bike trail. I knew there were logging roads up there and I researched as much as I could, checking out the feasibility of a route to Sechelt.”

Geoff Breckner’s tent at the south side of Pokosha Pass, near Mount Jimmy Jimmy.

Geoff Breckner’s tent at the south side of Pokosha Pass, near Mount Jimmy Jimmy.

Visit Breckner’s Facebook site ‘Squamish to Sechelt Trail’ and you’ll see a Google Earth image of the proposed route. From Upper Squamish and the Ashlu River Road, the route first heads north over existing trail through 4,000-foot Pokosha Pass before heading south, then due west following Clowhom Lake to Salmon Inlet, skirting the Tetrahedron Provincial Park, and on towards Sechelt via the Coast Gravity Bike Park.

About 55 kilometres of double track roads, and 20 kilometres of single track trails make up the route, says Breckner. The 10 kilometres still to be cleared comprise three sections of one kilometer, four kilometres and five kilometres.

“Once complete, it would be a long ride – two days for most people, but I hope to have a hut or shelter so people don’t need a tent and can travel light,” says Breckner. “The main problem would be lack of use, rather than overuse. The more use the better, to keep trail maintained and established.”

Breckner has received numerous offers of help from this side of the divide. Doug Feniak of Tillicum Bay is among those pledging assistance.

A self-described mountainbiking nut, Geoff Breckner rarely goes anywhere without his ride.

A self-described mountainbiking nut, Geoff Breckner rarely goes anywhere without his ride.

Feniak grew up riding with Breckner in Deep Cove. “It was a dream of ours when we were young, to be able to ride from Squamish to the Coast,” says Feniak. “We hiked into the Tetrahedron in August, looking for the best way. It’s super steep into Thornhill Creek but it shouldn’t be too bad after that because it’s old roads covered with Alders.”

Trails are in the Feniak family’s blood. Wife Jessica Huntington and son Linden both build trails, the latter professionally. Daughter, Holly, was 2012 downhill mountainbike Junior World Champion.

Doug says he expects to have a group working on this end of the trail in the fall.

“It would certainly be good for tourism here and I could see the B.C. Bike Race using it,” says Feniak.

Long-time local trailbuilder, Richard Culbert, says a trail to Squamish is “common sense”.

Culbert built the trail to the summit of Mt. Elphinstone, opening it on his 70th birthday. Now at 75, he’s busy clearing a trail up 4,700-foot Polytope Peak, which connects with Rainy River Road and Port Mellon due south. He believes that a trail from Squamish stands a better chance of completion if it veers south to Port Mellon, rather than to Sechelt.

Salmon Inlet from the top of Gray Creek Forest Service Road, looking north across Thornhill towards Clowhom valley. It's about 60km from here to upper Squamish.

Salmon Inlet from the top of Gray Creek Forest Service Road, looking north across Thornhill towards Clowhom valley. It’s about 60km from here to upper Squamish.

“The trail I’m working on is about a kilometer from a logging road, which appears to connect with this route,” says Culbert pointing at a printed version of Breckner’s route. “It also avoids Thornhill Creek [near Salmon Inlet] where the road is covered in alders.”

Warren Hansen concurs. “That gap after Salmon Inlet is some of the most rugged terrain I’ve ever walked in,” says Hansen, forester/area manager for Chartwell Consultants and an avid trailbuilder. “A lot of that area was logged in the 60s and 70s, so we’re talking about logging roads half a century old – many of which have been heavily deactivated and are covered in alder.

“I admire following an idea, but I worry about the sustainability of it,” adds Hansen. “The skeptical side of me thinks that there won’t be enough people using it. It will need to be on a lot of people’s bucket lists to make it sustainable.”

Hansen identifies with Breckner on one level.

“I believe in unfettered access to crown land. You live in the city, you can’t do this and that, but you have spoon-fed amenities. In a rural environment you don’t have those amenities, but you do have unfettered access to crown land. You can hike it, bike it, pick mushrooms in it, build trails. So you use it as you see fit, knowing that one day, it might be logged.”

Perhaps the person most excited about a possible connection is Bjorn Enga. The Granthams Landing-based filmmaker is the founder of Kranked, an online store for electric-assisted mountainbikes. They may upset purists, but bikes capable of climbing mountains in minutes, as opposed to hours, are catching on, says Enga.

“I’ve been riding on the Coast since 2000, and it’s an amazing coastline,” he says. “Suddenly, I’m thinking how much more I can see up there riding an e-bike. Imagine how phenomenal it would be to offer overnight tours with a fully charged battery for the next day.

“The Sea-to-Sky Corridor could become the e-bike capital of the world.”

Enga is helping Breckner with route planning and believes that trail completion is a matter of when, not if.

“Geoff goes way back to the start of mountainbike culture, before the glamour of the parks,” says Enga. “He’s done the hard part and one way or another, the trail will happen.”

In the meantime, some adventurers will continue to blaze their own trails. It seems as though everyone on the Sunshine Coast knows “a guy” who knows a route to Squamish. But their identity can be as elusive as the route.

More falls in the backcountry between Squamish and the Sunshine Coast.

More falls in the backcountry between Squamish and the Sunshine Coast.

Not so, Todd Lawson and friends, whose epic three-day trek from Lake Lovely Water, Squamish, to Sechelt via Clowhom Lake and Salmon Inlet, was featured in a 2014 issue of Mountain Life magazine. The trio packed inflatable stand-up paddleboards for the trip, which featured untold hours of bushwhacking through endless alder roots and Devil’s Club – an experience Lawson described in the story as “torture”. (He also wrote of the route, “It looked good on a laptop.”)

A different hazard awaited Denis Rogers of Sechelt, and fellow Coasters Mark Guignard and Al Jenkins, who hiked to Squamish in 2004 after being dropped by boat at the head of Narrows Inlet.

“It took us five days,” says Rogers, whose group followed a route from the head of Tzoonie Valley to a 4,800-foot pass, and then down to Falk Creek and a logging road leading to the Ashlu River and Squamish beyond.

“The third day was an interesting one,” recalls Rogers. “I fell in a lake and broke my watch, and Mark, the only one of us who didn’t bring bear spray, had an encounter with a black bear. Mark was about 20 yards ahead of us, picking his way through the boulders, when we shouted to him that a bear was taking an interest in him.

“The bear started down towards him, but then turned back. We suggested that perhaps the bear had been deterred by an offensive smell.”

Some hazards you won’t find on any map.

Creature comforters

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SPCA branch manager, Cindy Krapiec, with Chicklet.

SPCA branch manager, Cindy Krapiec, with Chicklet.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

–          Mahatma Gandhi

At three feet tall and 200 pounds, Jiggy is hard to ignore: especially when he’s hungry. He’ll nudge you if you’re in his way and he’ll wag his tail when he’s happy. Only a cruel person would say he waddled. He sashays.

Jiggy is a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, formerly known as Jerry. A while back, Jiggy achieved local notoriety on the Sunshine Coast when the SPCA sought a permanent home for him. That search ended in West Sechelt where Jeri Patterson provides a home for some of the Coast’s unwanted animals.

“Two Jerrys would have been too weird so I renamed him Jiggy, but a lot of people remember him as Jerry,” says Patterson. “He’s considered a farm animal and most rescue properties prohibit farm animals – chickens, pigs, etc. My property is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve so after several foster homes, he came here. Now he’s home!

Jiggy - not a hungry pig to be truffled with.

Jiggy – a hungry pig not to be truffled with.

“All of us want to be made to feel special. Animals are no different.”

Patterson loves animals. Thankfully she’s not the only one who cares. Volunteers up and down the Sunshine Coast care for unwanted animals. Some open their homes, taking in abandoned cats, dogs, bunnies and the like. Others help by knitting toy mice or by raising money via yard sales, recycling, trivia nights and sponsored dog walks. Their work is essential because on the Sunshine Coast, the number of abandoned pets is rising.

It’s a pattern repeated during economic downturns, says Patterson. “When you see food banks so busy you realize that some people are barely able to feed themselves, let alone their animals,” she says. “It’s cheaper to help people keep their pets than to care for them in a shelter.”

In 2013, the local SPCA attended more than 50 investigations of possible animal cruelty, many of them requiring multiple visits. January 2014 has already been record-setting with 13 cruelty investigations. In Gibsons the same month, 37 stray dogs were reported by the district’s animal control officer.

“Thirty-seven strays is a massive amount for a community of 5,000 people,” says SPCA manager Cindy Krapiec. “I think most animal lovers and pet owners are aware of the extent of the problem with unwanted pets, especial through social media, but otherwise people have no idea.”

Happy Cat Haven volunteer, Marcia Timbers - aka The Cat Whisperer.

Happy Cat Haven volunteer, Marcia Timbers – aka The Cat Whisperer.

Together with her three staff, Krapiec run the SPCA in Wilson Creek, fulfilling the organization’s mandate of ‘speaking for animals’ by caring for abandoned creatures, investigating possible cases of cruelty, and educating the public about spaying, neutering and animal care. They receive no money from the government and rely almost entirely on fundraising. Far from being beleaguered though, Krapiec considers herself lucky to have “stumbled into” a job that brings something different every day.

“Even after three years, the learning curve is massive,” she says. “We spend a lot of time speaking with potential adopters, meeting animal owners and following up on cruelty cases. We try to educate first to find a solution. Litigation is a last resort.

“There’s a lot of science-based research to provide the best care for animals and that’s constantly changing, too.”

And then there’s the “never-ending” cleaning at the Solar Road facility, which last year handled 447 animals, including 196 dogs, 178 cats, 17 puppies, 36 kittens and 11 rabbits.

Krapiec acknowledges the extraordinary network of volunteers working alongside the SPCA, from business and community fundraisers to front-line animal rescuers like Clint Davy and the Gibsons Wildlife Rehab Centre, Violet Winegarden and the Happy Cat Haven, and Pam Albers of Pawprints Animal Rescue.

Violet Winegarden in her element at the Happy Cat Haven.

Violet Winegarden in her element at the Happy Cat Haven.

Then there are the veterinarians. “Local vets absorb a ton of cost,” says Krapiec. They are also among the first places she calls when homes are needed for abandoned pets. At the end of the line are people like Meghan Graves.

“I have no shame about calling Meg with a litter of animals,” laughs Krapiec.

Graves is a registered animal health technologist and the office manager at Sechelt Animal Hospital. She’s also vice-chair of the SPCA’s community council, which meets monthly to organize fundraising, community relations, and advocacy. At home with her husband and two young children, she’s fostering two rabbits (in addition to one she owns) in her living room, along with two dogs, Winnie and Gunnar, plus five cats – all abandoned at some point.

“You end up doing stuff like that,” says Graves. “All staff at the clinic fosters or have fostered. It gets very personal. It’s never ending.

“There are not many jobs where you take this kind of work home with you. You stay up all night long. It’s like having a newborn, or multiple newborns.”

As for the family dynamic, Graves admits that Winnie and Gunnar don’t get quite so many walks now she has two young children. “But they get story time now, which they both seem to really enjoy!”

Smooshie refuses to say 'cheese'.

Smooshie refuses to say ‘cheese’.

Violet Winegarden can surely relate to a home full of animals. On a tour of her Gibsons home I lose count of the number of cats but Winegarden – who knows them all by name – estimates there are 55 to 60. Outside there’s an HIV pen for Laredo, Clancy, Blue and Rebecca. In a neighbouring pen are Chamberlain, Whiskers, Tiger and half a dozen more all crowding around Marcia Timbers, a Happy Cat volunteer to whom Winegarden refers as “the cat whisperer”.

“Violet works harder than anyone I know,” says Timbers. “Her phone never stops ringing from people asking advice about spaying or neutering.

“So many people say they just want their cat to have a litter. There’s no reason for a cat to have a litter,” Timbers adds, exasperated.

Inside the home, Winegarden shows me the Seniors Room for cats as old as 26; the Forever Room for sick cats like Bijou, (“27 pounds, fat and happy,” says Winegarden) who are in their final days; and the Adoption Room for healthier cats. In between is the kitchen where two cats take up residence in my camera bag as other cats wander in and out.

Amid the clean litter boxes, medical equipment and bags of cat food I notice a Governor General’s Award hanging on the wall. Since 1992, Winegarden and her band of volunteers have cared for more than 7,000 animals. During that time she’s witnessed the effects of unspeakable acts of cruelty. She’s bonded with countless cats, including one that used to play the piano with her. And with the help of Dr. Justin McLash of the Sunshine Coast Pet Hospital, she’s ensured that cats are spared unnecessary suffering.

black cats

“I can tell when cats are going to die,” she says. “We shouldn’t have to suffer to die.”

At 85, Winegarden continues to rise at 5 each morning for long days of cleaning, caring, fundraising and managing a sanctuary with monthly expenses of $12,000. I’m tempted to ask why, but during the course of a long conversation that afternoon, I don’t have to.

“I think I was born this way,” she laughs. “I’ve been in trouble over animals all my life. I just don’t see animals as any different from us. We’re all the same beings on earth. We’re here to be together.”

It’s hard to imagine one person taking over Violet’s work, just as it’s difficult to contemplate the Sunshine Coast without the SPCA and other pet-rescue organizations. Jeri Patterson knows as well as anyone that SPCAs do close down. After Chilliwack SPCA closed, Patterson, once a resident of Agassiz, got involved with cat and rabbit rescue at her licensed kennel at the request of the municipality’s animal control officer. (Surrey’s SPCA has also closed.) She continues to look after animals from that jurisdiction.

“People need to know this about the SPCA: If you don’t value it, you may lose it.”

  • There are numerous ways to help those helping abandoned animals. Visiting http://www.spca.bc.ca/branches/sunshine-coast/ is a good place to start. So is spaying and neutering your pets. If you witness animal cruelty, call 1-855-622-77221-855-622-7722.
  • Drop off grocery receipts and Canadian Tire money at Happy Cat Haven collection boxes at IGA, Super-Valu and Clayton’s stores. Or drop off cans and bottles for recycling at Happy Cat Haven, 760 School Road, Gibsons, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Yard sale items can also be dropped off. To volunteer, call 604 886-2407604 886-2407.

Written by nevjudd

April 5, 2014 at 10:10 am

Men of Steele

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Next time we'll bring snowboards and deckchairs.

Next time we’ll bring snowboards and deckchairs.

My friend Tom and I had been planning a trip to the Tetrahedron for about 10 years. This weekend we finally did it. In hindsight, hiking to Mount Steele cabin would have been easier when I was 36, not 46.

At the base of 5,114-foot Mount Steele, the cabin is one of four two-storey cabins in Tetrahedron Provincial Park, each built to accommodate 16 people – first come, first serve. The others are at Bachelor Lake, above Edwards Lake, and between McNair and Chapman Lakes. The cabins are connected via a 25-kilometre trail network and are maintained by the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club.

Lower Mainlanders enjoying lunch at Edwards Cabin.

Lower Mainlanders enjoying lunch at Edwards Cabin.

We set off on snowshoes from the trailhead up Grey Creek Forest Service Road. In true Sunshine Coast fashion, the Tetrahedron is not signposted from the road, despite being a Class A provincial park. That might explain why there are only three other cars in the parking lot on a sunny January weekend.

Six thousand hectares of mountains, lakes, streams, wetlands and forest, the Tet, as it’s fondly known, has long been cherished by the backcountry enthusiasts who can actually find it. We finally meet some of those enthusiasts about two hours into our hike at Edwards Lake. They’re a group of 12 skiers and snowshoers from the Lower Mainland who are planning to stay at Edwards Cabin. We stop for lunch with them there before pushing on at 1 p.m.

So far we’ve been hiking for about two hours. There’s been no new snow for a week, temperatures are above freezing and the sun’s out. The sign at Edwards Cabin says it’s just three more kilometres to Mount Steele Cabin. It doesn’t mention the elevation gain of 1,300 feet, but that much is obvious from the contour lines on Tom’s map, which look like an intense low pressure system; that and our occasional glimpses of Mount Steele – white, jagged and way up there beneath the bright blue sky.

Downtime at Edwards Lake. We opted not to test the ice.

Downtime at Edwards Lake. We opted not to test the ice.

The climb begins almost immediately, as does the sweat, pouring off me and soaking me from head to toe. The steeper it gets the happier Tom becomes. He shouts encouragement and I try to ignore the chafing of 20-year-old longjohns and the borrowed 40-pound rucksack on my back. Following tree markers, we zig-zag our way through amabilis fir, mountain and western hemlock, yellow cedar and white pine while Tom yells to me about his merino wool base layers. “Not a drop of sweat,” he shouts. “This material wicks all the sweat away!”

I don’t say anything. I’ve stopped talking to Tom.

After an hour of this I’m resting every 10 steps. I’m eating snow to try and and conserve my water. We appear to have cleared the forested section but that brings its own problems. We can’t see any more tree markers. So Tom checks his map and his compass and we decide to climb one of Steele’s lower open slopes, figuring the cabin will surely become visible as we ascend. But with no more markers in sight, we get cold feet – actually, mine are soaking wet. (Tom’s aren’t. He has merino wool socks … or something.)

So we descend, covering the same distance in 10 minutes that took us 30 minutes to climb. It’s 3:30 p.m. and for the first time all day, I have one eye on the time. The sweat is freezing on my back and it will be dark in 90 minutes. After some searching though, Tom spots a marker and we’re off again, climbing in a different direction toward a ridge that he swears will take us to the cabin. From the ridge we’re treated to views of the Tantalus Range and the markers continue to guide our way.

Mount Steele cabin, as seen from the top of Mount Steele.

Mount Steele cabin, as seen from the top of Mount Steele.

Just before 4, I hear Tom from up ahead. “I can see the cabin!”

Thank God he’s not lying, I think as I catch up a few minutes later.

There it is, its red roof standing out against so much white. We savour the last few steps. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a location quite so beautiful. We have the place to ourselves. According to the guest book, we’re only the second visitors this year. An hour later at the metal kitchen table, we’re eating curry and naam bread cooked on the wood stove, washed down with a couple of beers. The cabin is well equipped, with mattresses in the attic, firewood in the basement, a kitchen counter with utensils and a couple of sinks. We melt snow for water and turn the stove down to a slow burn. Pretty soon the entire cabin is toasty warm.

It would seem impossible to put a price on such an amazing place, but the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club came up with $10 a night, which seems more than reasonable. More than a quarter of a century ago, the club used to be known as the Tetrahedron Ski Club. Back in 1987, the club mobilized more than 200 volunteers, 45 businesses, schools, community groups and several levels of government to build the Tetrahedron’s cabins and trail network.

Beer, curry, mates - just another Saturday night.

Beer, curry, mates – just another Saturday night.

The cabins were built at Sechelt airport before being disassembled and flown by helicopter to be reassembled on site. Forestry company, Canfor, and the Sunshine Coast Regional District donated timber, Sechelt Creek Contracting provided logging service, Airspan donated some air time, Gibsons Building Supplies provided crane trucks and the Outdoor Recreation Council pitched in with chainsaws. For one of the few times in Sunshine Coast history, one great idea united governments, businesses, and local volunteers – in the midst of a recession, no less.

For all the day’s exertions, I can’t sleep. After midnight I set up my tripod outside and try and capture Mount Steele by moonlight with varying results. Fog covers Georgia Strait but I can see lights twinkling on Vancouver Island. There’s no bite to the breeze blowing and I feel like the last person on Earth. I may be delusional. I go back to bed.

The moon over Mount Steele. Sometimes not sleeping isn't so bad.

The moon over Mount Steele. Sometimes not sleeping isn’t so bad.

In the morning under clear skies we hike to the top of Mount Steele. It’s difficult to reconcile this rugged terrain and such epic landscapes with the place I call home. For me, the Sunshine Coast typically conjures images of rainforest and beaches, not jagged peaks and frozen lakes. But then visiting this place would surely alter anyone’s perceptions.

Tom vows to bring his snowboard next time. I’m thinking a deck chair. We pack up, sweep up, and head out for the descent to civilization. Yesterday, it took us six hours to get here. Today we’re back at the car in just over two hours.

I relish every step of our tracks with a smile.

  • For more information about the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club, visit www.tetoutdoor.ca
  • Four-wheel drive and chains are essential for visiting the Tetrahedron. For more information about the park, visit www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks
  • There can be a significant avalanche risk on Mount Steele. Before heading out, check with www.avalanche.ca/cac/bulletins/latest
  • For more on the history of the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club, visit my earlier blog post here.
  • If your fitness is kind of sketchy and you’re inexperienced in the backcountry, consider taking Tom with you. I couldn’t have done it without him.

Urine Review

with 2 comments

 

It's fair to say that the coffee kicked in early on the Pemberton slow food cycle this summer.

It’s fair to say that the coffee kicked in early on the Pemberton slow food cycle this summer.

Twas a month before Christmas

When Leah turned and said

“Here are the cards for your poem

Now I’m off to bed”

So I searched for a highlight

Picking just one is a toughie

Like hugging Rob Ford

Or trusting Mike Duffy

 

Good kids, all of them.

Good kids, all of them.

Our year was terrific

With adventures galore

Life by the Pacific

Is exciting for sure

 

Ryan turned 16

And started to drive

Each night we thank God

We’re all still alive

Emma hit 14

An important milestone

Becoming the last teen on Earth

To own an iPhone

In the summer we cycled

In Canada Back East

The sights were amazing

The heat was a beast

 

Ryan and Jordan ... on a budget.

Ryan and Jordan … on a budget.

We visited the Marshalls

In Hunstville so scenic

And confirmed that they’re still

Irritatingly photogenic

 

Sickeningly photogenic. Again.

Sickeningly photogenic. Again.

Through Quebec City we pedalled

Up hills steep and cobbled

The sweat was intense

My groin somewhat troubled

 

Toronto was flatter

Cycling old railway track

It’s a cosmopolitan city

Except for the mayor, who smokes crack

Good kids ... all of them.

Good kids … all of them.

Ziplining above Whistler

In fear and in dread

Is how Leah and I marked

22 years wed

You wouldn't believe how hard it is to photograph this on self-timer.

You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to photograph this on self-timer.

We had visitors, too

Cousin Steve and his clan

We all hit the beach

And worked on our tan

Turns out there's another Leah!

Turns out there’s another Leah!

Brother Keith arrived next

So nice he could stay

I leant him my coat

Cos it rained every day

 

We went to Osoyoos

And drank lots of wine

The rain turned to snow

But we got home on time

Queasy riders.

Queasy riders.

Nan and Grandad came to visit

For three weeks this Fall

With cards we slipped pressies

In Grandad’s holdall

HE'S GOT A KNIFE!

HE’S GOT A KNIFE!

And now we look forward

To a promising New Year

England in Rio

And Three Lions to cheer

God bless Wayne.

God bless Wayne.

I wish you the best

For a year full of light

God Bless Wayne Rooney

And to all a good night

Brewed Awakening: A tale with a hoppy ending

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From left, Matt Cavers, Amos Harding, Monte Staats and Matt Thomson of the Gibsons Homebrewing Network are tireless in their pursuit of the perfect brew.

From left, Matt Cavers, Amos Harding, Monte Staats and Matt Thomson of the Gibsons Homebrewing Network are tireless in their pursuit of the perfect brew.

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Benjamin Franklin

Jeff Hay-Roe’s brewery is a tribute to improvisation. On a long dining room table adjacent to the family kitchen sit a mash tun, a plastic fermentation bucket, a glass primary fermenter, a copper manifold, a grain mill, a strainer and a few packets of malt and hops. Outside is a kiddie pool, but we’ll get to that later.

“My set-up is pretty ghetto, but it works,” says Jeff, who estimates his brewery cost about $200. He started brewing from kits 10 years ago, but switched to brewing from scratch about three years ago. “My family is very supportive of me in my hobby. It’s only a couple of the kids that seem to not like the smell on brew day, but my wife likes it and most of the kids don’t mind it.”

That’s probably just as well. Jeff has nine kids.

Perhaps inspired by a wider appreciation for craft-brewed beers across B.C., (or perhaps because of the price of them) Jeff is among a growing number of homebrewers here on the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere. In an interview shortly before his death this summer, Dan Small – an icon of Vancouver’s homebrew scene and owner of Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies – had this to say about homebrewing in B.C.

“Man, in the early 90′s people just didn’t know or care anything about beer. It was tough trying to convince Kokanee drinkers to make stout. Things are much, much better now.”

On the Sunshine Coast, a thriving homebrewers’ network has quickly formed ties with the Coast’s newest craft brewer, Persephone Brewing Company in Gibsons. Persephone allows homebrewers to meet and brew on the premises and employs some of its members.

To understand the appeal of homebrewing, Jeff Hay-Roe’s two-storey Gibsons home is a good place to start. Brew day comes around once a month. For about six hours, the kitchen and dining room are requisitioned and the stove is monopolized to boil 30 litres of fluid; that’s the fluid previously separated from a porridge-like mix of grains and water with the copper manifold Jeff designed himself; the same fluid that’s been held at a high temperature for an hour so the enzymes in the grain can convert the starches to sugars. That would be the grain Jeff grinds from kernels in a converted mill operated with a drill connection, not a handle.

Prolific homebrewer Jeff Hay-Roe with his award-winning London Town Brown Ale.

Prolific homebrewer Jeff Hay-Roe with his award-winning London Town Brown Ale.

“We’ve got a stove-type burner on our barbeque, so I often boil kettles for people out on the barbecue on brew day,” says Jeff.

Hops are added to the fluid boiling away in two pots on the stove, starting with bittering hops then flavor and aroma hops towards the end. An hour of boiling turns 30 litres of fluid into 24 litres of wort. “Six litres evaporate in my kitchen each time,” says Jeff.

“After the boiling’s done it’s important to cool it down immediately,” says Jeff.

A lot of people use coiled immersion chillers, says Jeff. “I put mine in a kiddie pool of cold water.”

Once cool, the wort is poured into the fermenter where yeast performs its magic and fermentation occurs. About 10 days later, Jeff bottles his brew, usually a batch of 70 bottles (each 350mls).

“I always have about eight varieties in the fridge,” says Jeff. “I always like to have a pale ale, a Belgian Blonde ale, a southern English Brown Ale …”

Jeff’s resourcefulness is by no means at the expense of quality. Earlier this year, his London Town Brown Ale won a contest run by Vancouver’s Alibi Room, Howe Sound Brewing and VanBrewers, a non-profit group of homebrewers in the big city. He won a night at the Howe Sound Brewery, participated in brewing a 2,300-litre batch and saw his beer sold in Sunshine Coast private liquor stores.

He’s won prizes for his Belgian Blondes, too. But he readily admits that he’s entered beers in other competitions without success. Winning’s satisfying, says Jeff, but so too is the brewing and the tasting.

“The process I really do enjoy,” he says. “I love the creativity; it’s interesting to see it all happen. You start with something resembling porridge; then there are the different smells all the way along and it ends with something sweet.”

So this horse walks into a bar ...

So this horse walks into a bar …

Sharing the fruits of his labour is rewarding, too.

“On Fridays I’ll take some to work and at 4:30 we stop working and have a beer. For a while, I was bringing it to church and we’d have a drink afterwards.”

Matt Thomson and Matt Cavers of the Gibsons Homebrewing Network can relate to those motives. I meet them on a sunny October Saturday at Persephone where they’re brewing barley wine with fellow homebrewers Monte Staats, Amos Harding and Dion Whyte.

The group converge around a stainless steel mash tun where maintaining a specific temperature is vital.

“This is industrial chemistry,” says Matt Thomson, who gives me a crash course. “In the mash, enzymes in base grains convert starch to sugars. At the lower end of the temperature spectrum – 148 to 149 Fahrenheit – you’ll get more fermentable sugar, meaning a dryer, crisper beer.

“At the top of the mash range, close to 158 Fahrenheit, are more sugars that the yeast cannot eat – non fermentable sugars. Higher mash temperatures mean more sugars left and a sweeter beer.”

After a few minutes with the guys, I’m reminded of Jeff’s enjoyment in the process. Besides evaporation there’s enthusiasm and camaraderie in the air. I get the feeling that even a failed barley wine wouldn’t deter this group from trying to brew another. (For the record, it was a delicious success.)

“I produced my first batch, using a recipe from John Palmer’s How To Brew, in March 2007,” recalls Matt Cavers, who’s a full-time brewery assistant at Persephone. “It was miserable stuff. I boiled the specialty grains and extracted loads of astringent tannins from them. I fermented it way too hot, and as a result it tasted like bananas. Still, I drank every bottle, and my beer has only been getting better since.”

Trial and error, it seems, is part of the appeal. So too is pride in one’s own work, says Matt Thomson.

“Homebrewing is growing because it’s part of a natural reconnection to wanting to make things,” he says. “Making beer is satisfying, both in terms of process and product. It helps that most people love it, and certainly it helps that there are cost savings.

“But a really strong driving characteristic that I observe in homebrewers is wanting to be able to share something of value that they have made with a basic tool kit in their own kitchen, or backyard because they believe in it. It’s that sense of pride in something you’ve made on your own.”

Jeff Hay-Roe sees parallels in other crafts. “My wife Jacquie is more of a beer sampler than a beer drinker, but she can appreciate brewing because she’s a knitter,” he says. “Both have a long and rich history of making beautiful things from scratch.”

I’ll drink to that!

  • The Gibsons Homebrewing Network is happy to welcome new members. For details, email Matt Thomson at mthomson@gmail.com

 

Beer's good for you. My Dad told me so.

Beer’s good for you. My Dad told me so.

Written by nevjudd

December 19, 2013 at 7:06 pm