Hiking in the Mist

Sombrio Beach
By Brian Payton
  |  Gorp.com

A one-and-a-half mile walk to the west end of Sombrio Beach brings back memories of my first attempts at surfing. I have been to this particular spot many times before, back when it was a well-kept secret I wouldn't dare write about. But now the area has been proclaimed a park and the cat is well and truly out of the bag. This isn't such a bad thing. But popularity comes with its few benefits: the place is now protected, and there are maintained trails, rest rooms, and visitors are always welcome.

There'll be no surfing this placid afternoon. The tide is out and the swell is weak, but we do see a few sleeping surfers; their wet suits hanging in the trees above, their minds cutting bottom turns off the shores of Dreamland.

We wander past a couple of weather-beaten beach shacks. Although most were removed when the park was established in 1994, a few of the driftwood and shingle structures remain on a piece of private land. These last holdouts are the remnants of a community of a dozen or so who left behind the comforts and restrictions civilization to live year-round on this beach. Some have been squatting here since the seventies when the rough old logging road kept out the curious. Today, surfers' tents and day-trippers' blankets fill in the space between.

As we pass this changing beach colony, Curtis-Ray spies a cougar crouching in the grass. Vancouver Island has the highest destiny of these felines in North America, but as the cougar's habitat shrinks, and humans venture further into what remains, cougar/human conflict escalates. Every couple of years a cougar finds a human victim, usually a child. I look at where my friend is pointing and see a large house cat on the hunt for mice. I take a few steps toward the beast, crouch down, and get an ambivalent response to,"Here kitty, kitty."

The west side of Sombrio Beach is a jungle. It is incredibly dark and dense, filled with the rotting stumps of the immense trees that once dominated the area. Some measure over 45 feet in circumference. Notches are visible halfway up where loggers once wedged planks to make platforms for sawing. This area was first logged in the mid-1800's and now second and third generation trees stand on the old stumps, gripping firmly with exposed roots, stretching up into the light on the pedestal of their ancestors.

Later this afternoon we pass through a thin ribbon of old growth that hugs the shoreline. It contains Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar as big and majestic as when Juan de Fuca passed by this shore in 1592. Although Vancouver Island is home to the world's largest remaining stands of old growth temperate rainforest, fully two-thirds of the island's old trees are gone. About half of the wood that comes off this coast ends up pulped for newsprint, it's usefulness measured in days. Wandering among these ancient trees, some alive for seven or eight centuries begs the question: What on earth are we doing?

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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