As I noted in one of my previous blog postings
, this has been an unreal winter here on the West Coast of BC. Back-to-back-to-back storms in November and December wreaked havoc up and down the coast. Wind, at times gusting up to 100 knots (185 km/h) coupled with heavy rain brought down trees by the thousands, knocking out power to over 250,000 people in southern BC. Roads were forced to close due to flooding and trees across them, people had their houses and cars crushed by falling trees, the list goes on...
Unfortunately, the parks on the west coast were damaged much worse than most of the urban areas. Almost everyone has heard about the damage that Stanley Park in Vancouver (Stanley Park photos here
) sustained during these storms, but not many people know about the severity of damage to the West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on the west coast of Vancouver Island. For those of you that are unfamiliar with it, the West Coast Trail is a 75km trek through some of the most scenic coastal temperate rain forest in the world. Over 5000 hikers complete the trail every summer, some traveling from as far away as Europe, Asia, and Australia.
I am fortunate to have had a working relationship with Parks Canada already, and they were quite excited to work with me on a documentary project of the storm damage, and the restoration of the West Coast Trail. I made my first trip to the West Coast Trail back in 1997, and have been back to hike the trail at least once a year since then, now totaling 11 trips. On Tuesday February 30, 2007, I made my way out to Bamfield to photograph the damage, and meet up with a crew from the Quu'as West Coast Trail society working to clear the trail.
I met up with Eddie and Kevin from Quu'as at the Pachena Bay (Bamfield) trailhead and we started hiking south towards the Pachena Point Lighthouse. Eddie and Kevin were planning to stay the night at the Lighthouse, and then continue on Wednesday to check on the Quu'as cabin at Tsocowis Creek to see how it fared during the winter storms. The damage was apparent almost instantly. Within the first kilometer, I noticed trees down that had been standing the previous year I was there. They started in small groups, 3 down here, 2 over there, 1 leaning over there... As we moved further along, the trail started to disappear underfoot. The well trodden trail that had been there for years was nearly completely covered with spruce and hemlock boughs blown down during the storm. Some parts of the trail felt as though you were walking on a big sponge because there was so much material underfoot! By kilometer 2, it was very apparent that the trail had sustained some very serious damage. Complete stands of trees were blown down. The trees that were down were getting larger. We passed a large hemlock, which had some steps cut in it so trail crews could get over it easily. Eddie noted that it would need to be removed (As it turns out, that Hemlock stumped a professional faller that Parks had hired. He pinched 3 chain saws trying to remove it!) and we continued. By Kilometer 4, we were basically walking through 1 continuous blowdown. Trees were piled 3, 4 and 5 high, stacked on top of each other like toothpicks. Trees were completely uprooted, their root balls upwards of 35 feet high. Some trees were snapped completely off 40-50 feet in the air. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be here during these storms. I can assure you, no one would have survived a hike through there during that wind...
By about kilometer 4.5, we met up with Lonnie, Gord and Wilfred from Quu'as who were working with their chainsaws to clear the trail. Eddie and Kevin had a quick chat with their buddies, and then packed up and disappeared into the maze that lay beyond us, the uncleared portion of the “Trail” that I honestly couldn’t identify. I haven’t heard if they made it out alive...
Lonnie, Gord and Wilfred finished their lunches, and then fired up their saws and went back to work. It was truly amazing to watch these guys work. They made quick work of a tangled mess that looked as though it would take all afternoon to clear. I moved around as best as I could, trying to capture the hard work, and the surroundings that warranted them to be there. The lighting was quite difficult on Tuesday, harsh, spotty sunlight, so I did my best to balance my exposures. The big project this day was a 6-7 foot Western Red Cedar that lay straight across the trail. Gord took this on as his afternoon project, and you can see the “size” of this undertaking in the photo here
(pun intended!). By the time they had it clear, it was time to head back to the trailhead.
The Quu'as crews are out in full force, working 6 day weeks to have the trail open for May 1. For what it’s worth, they have my respect. They are working as hard as possible to clear the trail. I spoke with Joe Cooper, the Backcountry Operations Manager for the West Coast Trail, and he said that they are making very good progress, and so far are on track to have the trail open by the start of the season. Here are some quick stats on the damage to the trail:
- about 2000 trees down on the trail (80-100 is normal in a winter)
- cable cars down at Klanawa and Carmanah
- Suspension bridge at Logan Creek is down
- Landslide at km 12 near Michigan Creek
- Lots of other “Smaller issues” to be dealt with.
If you are planning to do the trail this year, things are looking up. Though the damage is severe, I look at it more as an amazing event that shows the raw power of nature. When you’re walking through the forest near Pachena Bay, stop and look at the trees that are down there, it is absolutely mind-blowing!
Make sure to bookmark www.joshmcculloch.com
and check back for updates on the West Coast Trail.
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