In search of the Carmanah Giant - Kelly Kurtz Photography

In search of the Carmanah Giant

June 6, 2014

Some people try to do the West Coast Trail (Vancouver Island, BC) in record time...we were aiming to do exactly the opposite. The following posts are probably not in chronological order and the facts may be true or slightly embellished, but they are as we remember them. Which may or not be actual reality. Some of this is my writing and other bits and pieces are from my trail mates entries into our communal log book, also known as the Captain's Log.

Upon emerging out of the dagobah system of mud on the south end (more posts to follow about that) we arrived at Carmanah, one of my favourite spots on the trail. We set up camp, lazed on the beach in the sun and wandered down the beach without our packs (how light and bouncy you feel after taking off the beast!) to go for dinner at Moniques. We were able to obtain some Beta from Dan regarding the whereabouts of the Carmanah Giant we decided to have a layover the following day and go exploring up a creek. Besides...dry boots are highly overrated

Wading up Carmanah Creek

We were told it is about 45 minutes up the creek, you have to cross back and forth across the river a few times, and the landmarks near it to watch for were a large fallen down tree across the river + a dried up granite waterfall. Tree should be on your right. It will have a rope around it and there is a sign. Check.

It was clear very quickly that we were going to be wet for a while. At first it was refreshing, but then it clouded over and the wind funnelled up the creek making it chillier than not. We were all on the look out for a fallen down tree and a granite wall but to no avail continued on up the creek. Wading back and forth trying carefully to maintain steady foot steps and not go for a plunge into the frigid water with my camera...yes that would not end well. Especially since I had a lot of good images on the cards that were in that camera...Are we there yet?

We got as far as we could go and it started to look like a sketchy canyon, something you had to swim to get into. By this point we had been wandering up the creek in the water for close to an hour and my feet were starting to get numb. Not fully, but mostly. We knew the tree would be on our left on the way back and after rounding the first bend there she was.

Spying the Giant

It didn't seem obvious on the way up as we weren't looking for the tree, we were looking for all the landmarks around the tree. But when we turned around it seemed oh so clear. There was a rope around the tree but it was black and covered with moss as well as lying on the ground as though the forest had been taking it back in the last 30 years. Yes, there was a sign, but you had to get under the canopy of the tree and clamber up the root system - it is by far the largest Sitka Spruce I have ever seen. The sign said it was 95m tall and 10'3" in Diameter. WOW. It was hard to tell how old the sign was and what the approximate growth has been since then but it was an impressive tree, no photo really does it justice

Yes, there was tree hugging

Did I mention it was a really really big fricken tree???

The lower Carmanah valley was declared a provincial park in 1990, as a result of the eventual discovery of the Sitka Spruce 'legendary giant' by conservationist Randy Stoltmann in 1988. The Walbran and upper Carmanah Valleys were added to the park in 1995, thereby completing the protection of the Carmanah Creek watershed and the southern portion of the Walbran Creek watershed. (http://www.vancouverisland.com/parks/?id=421)

Wading back out to the ocean

I had forgot how much feeling lacked in my feet until after we were finished hugging, photographing, ogling and admiring the giant. Body temperatures were starting to drop and none of us were feeling rather nimble anymore. In the group journal entry I wrote "Most of the team's feet and bodies were beginning to cool after wading through shin to thigh deep clear cold Carmanah Creek waters...A pretty great day to spend a "rest" day!"

Nichole began this entry directly under mine: "Understatement of the trip. Our feet were numb, knees wobbly, hands frozen and bodies close to hypothermia. The logic behind wearing mudd-buddies (gaiters) were beyond me. Within the first 3 minutes the water was pouring over the top. The sensation is similar to walking with concrete balloons on your feet."

She found the 2nd worse way to die on the West Coast Trail could be drowning by gaiter flood. Luckily no one did a full washing. Jeanine was close thought. The rest of us thought she was just taking the deeper route as there was no screech or "oh shit" , and she eventually turned around after wading waist deep into a pool that no longer allowed her to move forward. The following is her entry...

"I have learned I have a weakness for choosing the worst route while travelling in waterways. Yesterday, while hike swimming our way back from the Carmanah Giant with Kelly, we came to a place we call "Atroversiamo" (cross over in Italian) or continue through some slightly deeper water over slick, mossy sandstone. Kelly, with 10 years of hiking guide experience, 25 West Coast Trail trips and an ass that can squat with a 50lb pack on a slick mossy boulder field for a week straight, decided to cross over. I, on the other hand, figured I'd continue straight on the banana peel lane. Minutes later, as the smarter members of my sex tromped along on the opposite side of the river, while I forged forward. What could go wrong?

With cold numb feet and legs I am finding myself  sliding suddenly forward in a slope towards the middle of the river, water inching up to my belly button. I call out to my companions. I know they will sympathize with my current predicament when I ask, "Have you ever made a really bad life decision??"

I can tell you that this story ends happily with Jeanine backing out of her predicament and joining the rest of us on the other side of the river. My feet were no longer numb. Actually, they had absolutely no feeling left in them. I was delighted to emerge at the mouth of the river and promptly take off my soggy hiking boots, drain out the goldfish and proceed to warm my sensation less digits in the sun. Much better.

Reward at the end of the day

We were delighted to yet another amazing evening sunset with the majestic Carmanah Lighthouse being silhouetted by the burning sun that created this lovely image - one of my favourites from the trip. Also one of my first HDR images as well... I think I could get used to bracketing images. The end result is much more alive! I think this one is going to get printed on canvas soon...

Thanks for reading ~ KK