By Jensen Shields
I find it easy to assume that the vast Kootenay backcountry is a portal to another time.
Not even all that long ago, the Ktunaxa peoples roamed the forests, using connecting water ways to fish, hunt and trade. As you walk through the outdoors you think to yourself, "This is what they saw. This is what they smelled and felt."
But that's not entirely true.
British Columbia has seen massive deforestation for the sake of industry and growth. Entire habitats were lost including wetland and old growth forest.
Though its footprint is relatively small, Ka Papa Cedars Trail gives the Creston Valley a taste of what our ancient forests once used to look like.
Difficulty: Spring / Summertime? Easy. Fall / Winter? Hard
Time: 3 hours including travel time from the Creston Visitors Centre.
Highlights: Circle trail around Old growth Cedar Stand, Walking bridge over Char Creek
Where: Location made easy thank to Trails For Creston Valley Society. Just follow this link.
The Trailhead can be easy to miss. Small signs live high up in the trees. There's plenty of space to park. The location is near the Char Creek Forest Service road.
Just a hop skip and a jump away from the Town of Creston, my friend Jesse and I found ourselves parked off the shoulder of Highway 3 near the top the Kootenay Pass.
After giving a quick glance at the Trailhead information board we set off on this circular loop of a path that only takes about an hour to wander, even at the laziest of paces. One of the first features we saw was a steel bridge. This structure looks like it will last a few lifetimes. Thanks to organizations like the Columbia Basin Trust, RDCK Areas B & C, J.H. Huscroft Ltd, Dave Jackson Construction, Home Hardware Creston, Pyramid Building Supplies... the trail is bridged and secured through this choke point.
The newly install bridge over Summit Creek allows visitors to easily access this trail from Highway 3
Now that we've passed over Summit Creek and through the threshold, Jesse and I had to make a choice. Do we go left over to Ralph's Grove? Or do we...
It's easy hiking with people who know what they want.
Signs are at every single fork in the path so you wont feel lost. The backdrop of each sign is actually an image from the works of local Creston artists like Sandy Kunze, adding a nice uniquely local touch to the trail.
Rather than dealing with steep slopes there are steps. Fallen trees have also been cut to clear the way. The paths themselves are almost a metre wide at all times and there are a few benches here and there so that you can take the time to sit and enjoy the mountain silence.
As Jesse and I continued our leisurely stroll in the woods we couldn't help but notice something going on below our feet. Every single step had a satisfying crunch. It was only after lifting the ground up that we saw one of nature's curious phenomena.
The Needle Ice stays affixed to its forest floor bed when lifted off the ground and flopped over.
The crystalline product of moisture freezing and escaping the porous ground conjures up images of Kal-El's Fortress of Solitude. 80% of the path was covered in needle ice but hidden under a layer of pines, sticks and moss. Is this a safety hazard? Well duh, of course it is! Pack your boots and be careful when going down slopes as the ground will break, creating a magic carpet ride of ice and dirt.
If you enjoy hiking in the winter and come across terrain like this or perhaps some straight up ice and snow, pack some microspikes with you. These puppies are great for keeping a sure foot on icy terrain and easy to remove when you get back to solid ground.
Once the big cedars come into view, you are reminded of another era. These larger than life trees look like they belong in the Lord of the Rings or the forest moon of Endor. Luckily there are no Ring Wraiths or Ewoks, only the faint memories of what you imagined the forest looking like as a child.
Ralph's Grove is also home to many mushrooms, all frozen solid and enormous. The Mycelium below connect the mushrooms, thus forming large ring patterns that Jesse was able to find. My eyes were transfixed above, gazing at the ponderous canopy of these ancient and dying trees.
No scientific photo is complete without a person for scale.
Okay maybe I'm being a little over dramatic here but I did feel a sense of sadness in Ralph's grove. B.C. is a fire-based ecosystem where it's not a matter of if, but when the forest floor will burn and purge. It was strong cedars like these that would stand tall and survive such purges. If you were to count the rings in a cut section, you can see with your own naked eye when a forest fire licked the sides of these behemoths. I'm not saying there weren't ever any crown fires, but usually that happens when a burn doesn't happen in a long long time.
Unfortunately it would be man, not fire, that would spell the end of the old growth forests.
These thoughts grew to a conversation with Jesse about the importance of nature conservation. We understand that forestry plays an important role in the Kootenays. But it's sites like these as well as important watersheds that need to protected. Not just for the survival of bears, birds and ungulates. But for us too! B.C is a big place. There's room for Provincial and National Parks and industry. There's room for sustainability and the sharing of ideas.
We shared our thoughts while situation on one of the many benches that look like they were built out of one massive logs, keeping its natural look. Snacking on spicy asian rice crackers and sharing a beer, we also made sure to leave no trace of waste. Pack in. Pack out.
Also remember that this is bear territory. Don't be afraid to make some loud mountain calls while beating your chest like a Sasquatch! Stay on the path, not only so that you don't get lost, but to preserve the forest floor. Let it grow.
This is one of Creston Valley's newest trails and I hope to see it grow. So much work went into it thanks to Trails for Creston Valley Society.
Hey I want more!
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