Hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail, hut to hut

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      This year’s record-breaking stretch of dry weather raises an interesting question: can there ever be enough sunshine? Not if you live on or near a place called the Sunshine Coast, especially when enjoying the outdoors tops your list of needs. Eventually, all good things come to an end. While the blessings of autumn last, make plans to explore one of the Lower Mainland’s most ambitious undertakings, the 180-kilometre Sunshine Coast Trail.

      In late September, the Georgia Straight journeyed to Powell River to assess the latest improvements to this community-inspired initiative. Decades in the making, the Sunshine Coast Trail, or SCT, sprang from a desire to protect some of the last remaining stands of old-growth forest on the Malaspina Peninsula around the northern terminus of Highway 101. Because of intensive logging over the past century, as little as two percent of the original forest remains intact. That scary statistic inspired a handful of outdoors lovers to band together in 1992 to form the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society, its purpose being to set aside protected areas connected by corridors across private property and Crown Lands.

      Chief among those concerned with the vanishing natural resource was school teacher Eagle Walz. The Straight met up with Walz to explore a newly built section of the SCT that runs through Haywire Bay Regional Park beside Powell Lake. “The trick when we began 20 years ago was to find mossy, overgrown logging roads and use them as trails. The old guys knew what they were doing and chose the best routes,” he explained.

      Bit by bit, the SCT began to take shape, first as simply a rough hiking trail, then fitted with a series of campsites, and, more recently, a network of nine shelters. “The huts have certainly boosted our trail into prominence, particularly among the young families who are attracted to the Upper Sunshine Coast mainly for three reasons: easy access to nature, affordability [house prices are a fraction of the cost in Vancouver], and, once you’re here, this place just grabs you.”

      Hut is perhaps too diminutive a term for what Walz and friends have built. Thanks to a $1.6-million grant from the Island Coastal Economic Trust, the finishing touches were just being applied to the crown jewel atop Mount Troubridge: a two-storey, fully winterized cabin with room for eight hikers. “We want this to be the last trail left in the world that’s a hiking trail after mechanized modes of transport have subsumed all the rest of the trails. This is an exclusive hiking trail; we built it that way so there’s nothing to attract the gorillas [four-by-fours] who draw the bike crowd, followed by ATVs. There’s got to be room for all of us.” Walz’s advice to anyone other than hikers: “Build your own trail.”

      No person is more appreciative of hiking trails than ultrarunner Ean Jackson. When reached by phone in North Vancouver, Jackson, chair of a grassroots sports association called Club Fat Ass, told the Straight that he first discovered the SCT nine years ago and has returned annually with family and friends. “The second time I visited, I ran the whole thing in 48 hours, a crazy gong show. Each section has its own sense of wonderful beauty. I especially like the northern section around Sarah Point, where you’re surrounded by mossy tunnels. And it’s a completely different world at altitude, looking down at Saltery Bay and Earls Cove on Jervis Inlet from Mount Troubridge.”

      Most of those drawn to explore the SCT won’t attempt to match Jackson’s feat. Here’s a modest suggestion: over the course of a visit, try on a bite-sized portion reached via one or more of 10 main trail-access points. A particularly picturesque section leads beside Jervis Inlet between the B.C. Ferries slip at Saltery Bay to the trail’s original hut at aptly named Fairview Bay, a three-hour ramble with a full pack, less if travelling light. (One of the beauties of a hut system is not having to bring a tent.)

      “Cabins have been Eagle’s vision from the beginning. He’s always maintained that hut-to-hut routes are the cat’s ass for Europeans,” enthused Jackson, a fact confirmed by Walz, who cited a group that had just visited from the Netherlands.

      Along the way, fall colours brighten the well-marked trail as it leads through various stands of forest, from deeply grooved Douglas firs to smooth-skinned arbutus in shades ranging from creamy flesh to purple-swirled auburn. Sword ferns carpet the understory while dozens of varieties of lichen speckle boulders like a painter’s palette. Rather than sleep in the loft at Fairview Bay’s cheekily labelled “chateau”, a strategically placed wooden pallet above the tide line offers a bed frame for stargazers (or observers of this weekend’s [October 20 and 21] Orionids meteor shower) on a fall night after the last rays of sun have faded. Heavenly.

      ACCESS: Powell River sits 177 kilometres north of Vancouver on Highway 101 via ferries between Horseshoe Bay and Langdale, and between Earls Cove and Saltery Bay. Allow five hours. For information on sailing times, fares, and reservations, contact B.C. Ferries: 1-888-223-3779; www.bcferries.com/. Details on the Sunshine Coast Trail are posted at www.sunshinecoast-trail.com/. For information on Powell River, visit www.discoverpowellriver.com/. Guidebooks include Walz’s The Sunshine Coast Trail (End of the Road Press, third edition) as well as the newly published Sunshine Coast Trail map. For listings of free outings with Club Fat Ass, visit www.clubfatass.com/.

      Comments

      1 Comments

      Jacob Ketler

      Oct 19, 2012 at 5:27pm

      Thanks to Eagle as always and thanks for the great write up Jack! Drop by next time you're up my way!

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