Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Epic hike to end the summer

We're blessed on Bowen with a small set of hiking trails which offer challenges to folks of all abilities.  Many of these are marked and official, and there are a few that are not official.

Yesterday Caitlin and I marked the end of summer with perhaps the most challenging hike possible on Bowen, the Mount Gardiner circuit.  It's an epic six hour trek that probably got us upwards of 1000 meters elevation in total.

We bagen at 1pm at the gate on Hiker's Road, on the north side of the mountain.  Climbing up a road for about 20 minutes takes you to Handloggers Trail (marked as the Midlevel trail on the map).  It's a 200 meter climb right out of the chute, but once on Handloggers heading west around the mountain another 120 meter climb takes you to a fantastic lookout over Killarney Lake and Mount Collins.

From there, the trail climbs a bit more before bending around the mountain and opening up views to the west, over Keats Island, the Paisley Group and the Sunshine Coast.  At 1.5 hours into the the trip you join the Bluewater reservoir trail, a high flat section of older growth Douglas fir and beautiful mossy forest floor gives you a chance to rest the legs for a bit until you join up with the Handloogers trail proper trail and begin steadily to move down the hill.  Some of the down hill sections are challenging, going on extending descents along cobble strewn creek beds, which were thankfully dry this season.

The Bluewater section of Handloggers crosses some impressive canyons and gullies as it makes it's way around the western side of the mountain.  After about 1.5 hours of this you arrive at the split and a decision point about whether head down to the Laura Road trail head, or complete the second half of the trip, which is far more gruelling.

At 4pm we headed up towards the South Summit of Mount Gardiner.  Having lost about 220 meters in elevation, we now headed almost straight up to recover it and more.  The 1.5 hour climb takes you up two impressive gully systems with some great views across the south part of Bowen Island, Apodaca Ridge and the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island.  You gain 440 meters in a little over a kilometre, which makes for a steep ascent in some places.

The trail comes out at a lovely flat saddle between the two peaks of Mount Gardiner.  From her eyou have the choice to climb to the summits, but yesterday we were pressed for time and we could feel the weather changing, so we decided to head back down again towards Skid Trail on the south flank of the mountain.  The section off the top is really steep and switchbacks take you back and forth along contours with blufftop view points opening over Sung Cove, Apodaca Ridge and towards Vancouver and the Lower Mainland away in the distance. You are now in the business of losing 600 meters or so of elevation, and the knees are knocking pretty hard by the time you get down to the Skid Trail.  The forest is all cedars and the forest floor is bereft of ferns and salal.  In the murky distance are Dangerous Dan Cowan's mysterious bike jumps.

It takes a little over 1.5 hours to go from the saddle back to the starting point, but Skid Trail becomes a friendly lovely way out.

It has been on my bucket list all summer to complete that circuit.  I estimated six hours and we were right on the dot, with time for one wrong turn that was easily corrected.  The legs feel good this morning which was a surprise, perhaps aided by a little bit of celebratory Laphroaig.