Friday, July 27, 2012

Big firs, smaller furs and feathers on Vancouver Island

Why did I get the feeling I was stuck in the intro to the old Friendly Giant TV show for kids?

Probably because I was looking up  ... w-a-y up.

But of course, that's what you do when you visit Cathedral Grove - you look way up into the towering Douglas fir trees that make up the grove. Some of them are more than 800 years old. To put that into perspective, they have been around for almost 300 years before Columbus landed in the Caribbean. They have been around since the Magna Carta was signed. They have been around as long as people have been jumping in boats with paddles. They have been around almost as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs' Stanley Cup drought. (Well, okay, maybe they're a little older than that...)

While it may be difficult to wrap our heads around something that old, it's certainly not difficult to see these Doug-firs are some big honkin' trees. One of the largest is more than nine metres (that's 10 yards) around at the base, the distance of one first down in football.

As for the height...let's just say that even if the aforementioned Friendly Giant teamed up with the Jolly Green Giant and Giant-Man, and they formed a human ladder by standing on each other's shoulders, they would still not be able to put the star on the top of most of these Christmas trees.

Although it is a grove, and it's located away from some of Vancouver Island's larger cities, with all the tourists that frequently visit the site, it certainly does not boast a cathedral-like ambiance, at least in terms of quiet and meditative qualities.

Walking through Cathedral Grove
It actually reminded me of rush hour in downtown Vancouver, there was so much traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian - just more trees. And it was barely summer season (the long weekend in May, to be exact). 

Despite all that, it is spectacular to see.

I spent part of a day there with Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours as part of the company's Spirit of the Animal Ancestors tour. (This tour has since been dropped, and replaced by the very similar Ancient Forest Grove Nature Ecotour)

Following a pick-up at the Quality Resort Bayside located in Parksville, it was a fairly quick drive, just 25 km west on Highway 4, and we were there.

We had an aboriginal guide, Tom, who took us through the forest and explained what the area had meant to his people, sharing stories from his culture.
After we were finished having our breaths taken away, we headed back the way we'd come - but not all the way back. First, we paid a visit to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association, a wildlife rescue-and-rehab facility located outside of Parksville, on Leffler Road in Errington.

Heron diorama in the nature museum
There we saw some display dioramas in the facility's museum of nature as well as many of the animals they were in the process of rehabilitating, including a black bear, some eagles and a rare white raven, in enclosures outside the museum. (No parrots, though - saw them earlier in the day at the World Parrot Refuge .

Again, because we were early in the season, we did not have the opportunity to watch any of the live raptor shows which take place during the summer months.

Then it was time to leave, and say good-bye to the eagles, hawks, ravens - and let's not forget Rusty the Rooster...

A happy ending for this healed bald eagle.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Enjoying the great outdoors ... comfortably

I never thought I'd be thinking this - never mind putting it in writing - but as I've passed the 50-year-mark in my life, I actually think I would prefer sleeping in something other than a tent while enjoying overnight outdoor adventures.

There. I've said it.

But although I'd prefer to sleep on something softer than the ground and with washroom facilities that I DON'T have to step outside to use, I'm not quite ready to go all "hotel-chic" yet.

While I have certainly enjoyed glamping, the destinations that offer this option can be pricey - certainly pricier than pitching a tent and cooking over a campfire in a provincial park (although even that is getting more expensive, these days).

There area other alternatives to camping and glamping, though.

Canoeing Quiniscoe Lake

For example: if you want to spend time hiking in Cathedral Provincial Park in the British Columbia interior, you can choose to camp there, as the park provides both vehicle access and walk-in campsites.

Or, you can stay in cabins at Cathedral Lakes Lodge.

The lodge is rustic - we're not talking five-star accommodation, here - but it provides quick and easy access to several trails in the park and even an opportunity to do some canoeing on the lake.

It also provides simple but hearty home-baked fare for hungry hikers staying there. The staff can also help you plan your hikes. And at the end of the day, you can enjoy a soak in the hot tub in the main lodge, relaxing and soothing your muscles after a day of trekking up and down mountain trails.

(Take note, if you stay there, they do shut down the power generators at night, so if you require something like a CPAP machine, you'll have to bring a battery pack or make special arrangements with the staff to leave your room "on" at night, which they will do for you.)

The lodge itself provides transportation to and from a pick-up point 20 minutes from the town of Keremeos. The road is steep and rough enough you will not want to take your own vehicle from the Ashnola River to the lodge. In other words, "Don't make a fuss, leave the driving to us!" is a good catch-phrase to follow.

As for the hiking itself...

Cozy time!

You can choose from trails that offer a variety of distances and difficulties, taking you to some incredible alpine viewpoints of lakes, forests and mountains.

You can also encounter a variety of wildlife; while staying there for three days, we saw several pikas, squirrels, some mule deer and many different birds, including Canada jays (whiskey jacks), woodpeckers and birds of prey like eagles.

Glacier Lake
The trails are all well-marked, so there's very little chance of getting lost. However, you are very high in the mountains, so be prepared all kinds of weather. 

We visited there in September, and alternately experienced rain, snow and warm sunshine on successive days. But the views were certainly worth braving the elements...

Regardless of what your hiking level or experience is, you'll certainly appreciate being able to wind up your day, curled up by a roaring fireplace in the evening without having to chop the wood or start the fire yourself.

That's especially enjoyable at Cathedral Lakes Lodge, as there are no televisions or telephones there to distract from the experience!

And then there is that bed you're climbing into, instead of a sleeping on a camp cot or an air mattress....