Yukon Notes

View of downtown Whitehorse from Airport

This is a view of downtown Whitehorse from the airport. Just over 20,000 people live here (Except on Sunday afternoon when the only international flight arrives and the population expands by 2.5%). You can walk to downtown: it takes about 15 minutes and you just follow the fence around the end of the landing strip. The trail pops you out in the midst of the city.

Confused? Well, the first sign that the Yukon’s not going to be like everywhere else you’ve been is the flight up. Mountains in BC

Mountains in BC

Definitely sit on the western side of the plane because the landscape is littered with mountains and glaciers and alpine lakes. If you’ve ever looked at a map of British Columbia or Alaska you might have wondered why there are almost no towns; flying over the landscape makes in abundantly clear that this is inhospitable – but breathtaking – terrain.

Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon and where we went for a wedding, is nestled in a valley along the Yukon river and between a couple of smallish mountains. The image below, taken from the top of Grey Mountain (keep going right in the image at top) shows why you can’t see the downtown from the airport: the airport sits on a plateau. Glaciers eroded this landscape 12,000 years ago; one day the airport will crumble into the valley.

On top of Grey Mountain

If you go, I highly recommend the walk from the airport. It’s somewhat surreal to walk out of an airport and then almost immediately be downtown (and, if you do walk, don’t make the rookie mistake of walking down trails on the sand bluffs; there are stairs if you just keep looking).

When you get downtown, there are a few signs that this town is different from other towns you’ve been in. For instance, the local architecture:

Yukon Building

Woodcutter's Blanket

But don’t mistake the few wooden buildings as meaning that this town is rustic. Whitehorse has some surprisingly highbrow tastes. Those two moose are clashing above a remarkably good cocktail bar (Woodcutter’s Blanket); several places offer great coffee (I recommend Baked) and oddly you can get a remarkable selection of French foods and cheeses for a place that is just north of 60 degrees. The local grocery store had a better selection of asian noodles and vegetables than my Seattle Safeway (editor’s note: that’s not saying much).

Inside Woodcutter's Blanket

But you don’t go to the Yukon for the coffee and cocktails; you go for the wide open spaces and the wilderness. There’s only one road in and out of Whitehorse. You can go south to BC or west towards Alaska (the western road challenges you by branching; a spur leads off to Dawson). We headed west and went to Kluane National Park just outside Haines Junction:

Yukon map

The map above doesn’t capture the scale here: it’s 150km to Haines and another 50km to the trailhead at the end of Kluane Lake. There’s basically nothing in between and the roads are straight; you check the needle and find you’re going 150km/hour without even noticing. With no buildings or signs near the road you don’t have a sense of how fast you’re driving.

Kluane is home to some of the biggest mountains and glaciers in Canada and almost no one visits it. Wen and I hiked all day and didn’t see a single other person.


Tip of Kaskawulsh Glacier

Aspen turning color against mountain

The colors of the park are beautiful: harvest colors play off each other. Golds, greens, blues and browns abound.


Aspen turning color

Colorful Rock

Colors of Kluane


Even in Whitehorse you can get close to wilderness. There are over 700km of trails and they start about 1km from downtown. I spent the entire day running along the river and up the mountain; I saw perhaps 10 other people (and most of those were on the top of the mountain).

A note for runners: if you want to go for a long run do the following:

  • Run south, out of town, across the Lewes Boulevard bridge
  • Follow the trail along the Yukon river, going past Schwatka Lake
  • Keep going past Miles Canyon (but stop and check it out), still following the trail
  • The trail follows a bluff inland from the river, between it and Chadburn Lake; at this point you transition to mountain bike trails. Free maps are available at the tourist center; don’t go out without them
  • The trails will take you around several copper-colored lakes, all the way up to the top of Grey Mountain, which has a runnable alpine terrain
  • Unfortunately, it’s an out-and-back at the summit. Somewhere there is a trail that connects it back to Whitehorse but good luck finding it. I tried to and quickly realized that this was going to mean bushwhacking through nearly impenetrable terrain (i.e., when it’s night and you’re shivering in the wilderness, you’ll clearly remember exactly the moment you made the bad decision that got you there).

On top of Grey Mountain

On top of Grey Mountain

Trailing Running near Whitehorse

Trailing Running near Whitehorse

A beautiful place to visit. Get yourself to the Yukon if you can!

Paris Notes

Wen and I went to Paris and it rained. Not a gentle mist or a light sprinkle (we live in Seattle; we don’t notice that). No: pounding sheets of rain that soaked you to the bone and swelled the Seine to levels not seen since 1982 and forced the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay to close.

But despite that we were able to see a lot of the city and have a fantastic time. What follows are various notes and observations.


One of the things that makes Paris so fascinating is that while it is an old city (dating back at least 2,000 years) but the city everyone loves was built in the blink of an eye: basically 1860 to 1920 or so. Paris is a network of stone buildings that connect a series of monumental edifices. While the monuments accumulated over the centuries, the connective tissue of five storey limestone buildings with mansard roofs largely went up over sixty years.

It’s this physicality of this web – proudly not a grid – that makes the city so beguiling. The web makes buildings project onto each other at odd angles. Unlike American cities there is no straight road stretching off forever; every road appears to drive into a building.

The homogeneity of the building materials, this lack of perspective  plus the nature of the light means that you lose a sense of depth. The streetscape becomes a continuous ribbon that only breaks when you walk around a corner and the edges of each building shift relative to one another, reminding you that the world is three dimensional. I could spend all day walking around and soaking in the effect.


More so than many cities, Paris rewards walking. If you are willing to walk just a little further, you’ll find something vastly unexpected. A 60 foot samurai warrior lit up in a courtyard. A famous architect’s atelier. A flower blooming against a hotel. An elevated park where trains used to run. Covered passageways that transport you through buildings. Parks hidden inside hospitals. The bustling cafe that the locals eat at versus the plain cafe on the corner. Some of these are in guidebooks but most of it is on you: the more you explore, the more you will be rewarded.


Once upon a time, young lovers would come to Paris and demonstrate their love by clipping a lock to the edge of a bridge. Thousands of couples followed suit and a few years ago, there were so many locks on the bridge that it’s railings collapsed.

The authorities, smart people that they are, rebuilt the railings but covered them with plexiglass, making locks impossible to add. But young love is not so easily thwarted and now Paris has several locations that are overflowing with locks.

As you walk the Seine you now see lots of bridges and railings vying for the right to let you eternally seal your love (and don’t worry if you don’t have a lock-the touts will sell you one for a Euro).


This is a great example of unintended consequences and they abound in Paris. Another favorite of mine is the unintended consequence of 10 minutes of free parking at the airport.

The departure terminals force all traffic into one lane, creating awful jams. But enterprising Uber drivers know to veer off and head for the parking lot. They’ll kindly drop you off at the elevator and then they rip off to get out before they hit the 10 minute cap. Sure, you’ve got to take the elevator up a few levels, but it beats sitting in your car for an extra 10 minutes.


Speaking of traffic, Paris should be a hotbed for transport innovation – except that it’s not. Fun fact: the idea for Uber came from the fact that on a crummy night in Paris at a tech conference, the future Uber founders couldn’t get a taxi.

The city should be a playground for new transport ideas. The air is terrible (you have to wash your face after walking around all day), the traffic is terrible (one lane roads + delivery trucks means inevitable delays) and parking is a joke (people just bumper car their way into small spaces; alternatively, people just park in the intersection and force traffic to go around them).

But despite this, the self-driving car, the mass market electric car and Uber all come from California. The only significant transit innovation from Paris is a bike sharing scheme. While impressive, it only hints at a solution to the city’s transit issues.

In fact, the city is trying an electric car sharing scheme. But one look at it tells you that it will be an uphill battle. The cars are filthy: an unwashed silver that has turned to dun; each car is literally streaked with birdshit.


It would be easy to wave this away by saying that Paris is a testament to the past. It’s streets are frozen in time and so we shouldn’t expect it to lead the way.

But this would be unfair to the French. They remain a creative, forward looking group. La Defense builds up to the sky and every few years a new, iconic modern building (most recently the Fondation Louis Vuitton; photo below) demonstrates the limits of design and construction technique.


I think the reason why Paris didn’t invent any of the above is illustrated by the differences between the two types of people who ask you for money on the streets. The first are the sans-papiers: refugees and other folks who are busking on the corner and, one imagines, have had a tough, unfair life.

But the second group – chomeurs (people on social assistance) – are more complex. These are people who are well dressed and otherwise undistinguishable from everyone else. And they’ll walk up to you and simply demand money: monsieur, donne-moi un petit piece. We watched in awkward awe as one guy went down a train and patiently asked every single person individually for some cash.

My hypothesis is that this is an outcome of the ridiculous youth unemployment that exists in France. Apparently one in three under 35s are unemployed. You don’t need to continue that for too many years before you risk a lost generation.

As a tourist you only see a few signs of this crisis. The above-mentioned beggars, twenty-somethings drinking in parks and ubiquitous posters urging a national apprenticeship program:


But where did the crisis come from and what does it have to do with electric cars? We asked a few French friends and they told us that the unintended consequence (there they are again!) of rich social benefits is that no one wants to hire. See, the social contract is such that if you hire someone, you need to pay their unemployment for a while after you let them go.

So imagine that you’re a small business owner and you come up with a new idea to expand. You hire someone to develop it (you pay salary plus development costs; no revenue yet). You launch. It fails. Now you’ve got cost (salary) but no revenue. So you have to fire the new employee or else you risk your entire business. Except that when you fire them you still have to pay their benefits. Now your entire business is at risk.

This might not sound like how it really works, but when you talk to  folks, you learn that it is. A small business owner friend can’t expand as fast as he’d like to because of employee costs (scarily, if you hire a bad employee and fire them for poor performance you are also still on the hook for their benefits). Another friend can only get jobs “on contract” and expects to be fired after a few renewals (because at some point the employer needs to formally hire her or they’ll be violating contract law). The result is an economy that doesn’t take risks and grows slower than it could (if at all). And that’s why normal-looking people ask you for money on the streets of Paris and you don’t see two-seater, self-driving electric cars whizzing by.


Paris is a series of frames. Everywhere you go, moments are framed by doors, archways, windows, passageways and trees. Shots compose and decompose as you walk; blink and you miss them.



The English language manifests itself in ambiguous ways in Paris. They’re the words you’re familiar with, just not in that context.

Example: you’re in a McDonald’s (yeah, I’m embarrassed) and the song’s chorus is “I’m fucking amazing.”  Alternatively, you’re sitting on a cafe and the hip hop on the speaker system states that “this is for all my niggers in jail.” The locals are oblivious.

Related are the ridiculous English names of stores. Fashion stores called “Ice Club,” “US Marshal” and “Gentlemen’s Club.” (Hey honey, just going to the gentlemen’s club to get a, uh, suit). “Digital Smoker” vape shop. “Speed Rabbit Pizza.”


While I mock the use of English in Parisian  storefronts, Parisian stores are actually beautiful things. Each store appears to focus on doing one thing well (you can be a  butcher, a baker or a cheesemonger – but don’t you dare be all three). It feels like generations have been sent figuring out how to best merchandise each store’s wares so that they are maximally appealing. You could make a beautiful coffee table book of Paris’ stores.



If you visit Paris, be sure to spend some time people watching. The old woman walking down the street with twelve baguettes slung over her shoulder. The cheesemonger wearing a beret and sitting in his shop with a look of infinite  tristesse. The old man sipping wine before noon in the café while he pores over the paper. The two girls sitting on the terasse smoking furiously (it’s the national sport) while sipping coffees and wearing matching tan trenchcoats.

And soak in the silly things that French men do. Scooters (the emasculating push varieties, not Vespas) abound. Hoodie and scarf. Driving down the street on your motorcycle cranking “I just called to say I love you.” It’s these details that a culture make.

Oh, and sometimes the tourists get in on it, too. Nothing says “I’m a North Korean general’s princeling” like this backpack:


Paris wasn’t just built with stone; all that stone is held up by iron. Old banks and department stores have soaring iron atriums. The passageways between streets are capped in wrought iron windows. Market halls and even churches have metal ribbed vaults. A fantastic French steampunk story awaits writing.


Paris has been very unlucky in that it has been the victim of two recent terrorist attacks. This manifests itself in soldiers outside synagogues and national monuments, clear plastic garbage bags with “vigilance” printed on them and apparently arbitrarily locked doors (if you ask a local why, they just answer vigipirate – the ominously named government program to increase readiness). Train stations have posters explaining how to a survive terrorist attack . Major stores check your bags before entering and wave you down with a wand – but the latter is just theater; the wands aren’t on and won’t buzz on a metal belt.

A map is essential to Paris; GPS makes it even better. We travelled the city using an offline version of Google Maps as data roaming charges are usurious. For your  convenience, offline Google Maps include cached versions of popular places.

But Google picks these places based on an algorithm that likely uses search frequency as a proxy for popularity. One macabre aspect of this is that the sites of the terrorist attacks are cached as “popular” places. Algorithms don’t have feelings.



The Parisian sartorial color palette is muted.  Black, charcoal, navy, brown, grey: this is the country of existentialism, after all. No bright colors for you. And you can’t look cool smoking in a neon orange shirt.

But there is one additional permissible color for men: red – but only as pants. Wendy’s trip was made when she overheard two men in red pants talking about the difficulty of maintaining a yacht in St. Tropez.



The poor quality photo below absolutely fails to capture the wondrous example of urban life that is a Parisian square. This photo comes from Place Gustave Toudouze on a middling Friday night in early June.

Five cafes overflow with families, friends, lovers and the odd tourist all having a drink and maybe a meal. Kids run around the square, squealing with delight. A kiosk vendor sells magazines and candy to passing folks.

I suspect that the French don’t even notice how vibrant it is (and this is probably a square that most would consider mediocre or mundane) but I highly recommend you camp out at a table and split a bottle of red wine with someone while watching the street life unfold.



No trip to Paris would be complete without seeing how the other half lived. There are several historic mansions where an old banker/industrialist/socialite collected art over a lifetime and then donated it to the state on the condition it remain a museum. We visited  the Musee Nissim de Camondo to imagine what it would be like to be a early 20th century banker obsessed with the pomp of the 18th century.



The food & drink were great. Obligatory photos below. A few fun places we visited were:

  • KB Cafeshop – finding good coffee in Paris is remarkably hard. This place meets the bar. Still has outdoor seating for people watching
  • Du Pain et Des Idees – exquisite bakery in the 10th. They are home to the banana pain au chocolat and a slew of slightly-larger-than-bite-sized meat & cheese-filled pastries
  • Gut de Brioche – these people do one thing: brioche. And they do it well. So well that they’ll charge you 7 Euro for a brioche and you won’t complain after you take the first bite
  • Cannibale – splendid old cafe that has been turned into a fun bar. Go there in the afternoon and drink a Spritz (Aperol, prosecco & soda water – where have you been all my life?) while listening to some good music
  • Yoom – most people, understandably, go to Paris for the French food. But that would ignore the (literally) world of options available to you. Moreover, when the French apply their attention to detail to other nations’ cuisines, tasty things happen. This dim sum joint is a great example of that (and some of the best dim sum I’ve ever tasted).



When you’re walking Paris, be sure to look out for the street art. The entire city is a canvas. Go down alleys and look around corners to find silk screen blowups in unanticipated locations. You’ll find that the same cast of characters follow you around the town.

A few good places to look: along the Canal Saint-Martin/Bassin de la Villette (hint: this is also a good running spot, so go for a run and bring your camera) and Rue Denoyez in Belleville.

IMG_9884 IMG_9883 IMG_9882 IMG_9885


That’s it. Let me leave you with some additional photos. Can’t wait to go back one day.IMG_9897IMG_9551IMG_9650

Portland in 2015


Portland in 2015 is a city of charismatic pedants. And that’s not a bad thing. Everyone seems to be making something. And they want to tell you about it. Plus they’re really into it. They don’t make a lot of things, rather they make one thing and are trying to do it really well.

Maybe it’s ice cream and they’re doing almond brittle with salted ganache. You can have as many samples as you want because they want you to. And that’s why there’s a line up of 100 people at 10:30 at night.

Or it’s espresso. Actually, it’s coffee. Because they roast their own beans and they’re so confident of their beans that each can be used for espresso. After all, espresso is technically a style of preparation. If your beans are as good as theirs, you don’t need to roast a blend for espresso preparation.

Perhaps leather? The family’s been doing since before anyone was living in Oregon and handing it down to the kids with every generation. Why would you ever wear anything other than leather and how come you don’t need a saddle that’s so well made that you can give it to your grandkids?

Maybe you think that bamboo should be harvested in America and you want to build a $100 million plantation and factory? That’s just a vision right now but you’ve transported bamboo up from Louisiana and you’ve build a showroom that includes a bathroom where the floor, ceiling and walls are all bamboo. You even convinced some guys to open up a bamboo-theme coffee shop in your showroom. And it’s amazing

Like whiskey? Want to know why it’s called whiskey vs. whisky? Can you savor the difference? We can help. And we’ll send an old-timey-dressed-but-with-perfectly-coiffed-tasteful-facial-hair-20-something-male to your table to both explain and pour something for you. He’ll serve you from a cart because… Well, because that’s what you do when you’re a pedant: you don’t just tell, you show.




The hostess has high cheekbones and brown or black hair. It’s definitely not blonde and it’s definitely not flat; it’s got a braid or a twist or curls – but it has not been flattened. She’s wearing bright red lipstick that contrasts with her pale skin. A complex pattern that may or may not be organic and possibly even alive is navigating down her shoulder but stopping tastefully before her elbow. Her dress is flowing but neither long nor short; it is made out of something natural and has thin straps. Your hostess is part of a tribe that appears wherever busy restaurants exist at the confluence of young people, cheap urban rents and good public transportation.



Everyone in Portland seems to be making something. The charismatic pedantry referred to above is a form of charming hucksterism for what is being made. What’s interesting is that the making seems to be about rediscovering the old and taking the good from it. Portland recycles the best and razes the best.

You see this everywhere. Glass and steel are superimposed near brick. The new wraps around the old.


The family leathermaker uses Square to take payments. That incredible coffee is prepared by a guy who has graphs showing different roasting profiles. The local makerspace is doing things with wood that defy description. CNC milling machines grind out new designs from old materials.




And Portland is definitely not archaic. The evidence of old does not dictate an absence of new. In fact, it’s the opposite: the city is a juxtaposition of the best of the new style with the best of the old. The tension over which will ultimately win is what makes the city so fun to explore.



And Portland remains weird. It’s the sort of place where your Uber gets stopped by naked cyclists at 10pm on a Saturday. And no one’s angry about that, in fact, everyone’s kinda sortof proud that it’s happening. Because even if you don’t know one of those naked cyclists and would never join them, you’re happy to be in a place where people feel inclined to do so and act on it.



I’ll be back in 2016.



Seattle’s Hidden Dystopia

We’ve spent the past few weeks in temporary accommodation in an anonymous condo. After nearly a month of its bland tastefulness we’ve finally found a place to stay and on Monday we moved in. Our movers did a good job but they squirreled boxes and packing materials away throughout our place; today I gathered it up for disposal.

Now I could have waited for recycling day, but I’m (more than) a little type A and wanted this stuff out of my house now. Consequently I decided to take it all to one of Seattle’s two garbage transfer stations – basically dumps in the city.

The one I chose is conveniently located near the popular Gasworks Park and just down the street from a cute bakery/cafe. You drive up, pay a fee, slowly wind down a road alongside a warehouse while passing aesthetically planted trees. You loop about, pause outside the warehouse for your turn and then enter the bowels of hell.

The building is barely lit and its insides are stained black from the exhaust of a never-ending flow of trucks and their gift of garbage. Light streams in through grimy windows mounted high on the walls, bringing to mind a medieval dungeon with a tiny barred window at the top. Beeps and honks come from constantly moving trucks; machines grind and compact; the sound of Diesel engines is everywhere.

An entire half of the building is devoted to the disposal of non-recyclable waste. Trucks back up to a concrete pit and crews heave their wares downwards. An old sofa sits between building waste and what appears to be a hundred copies of an old record. Shredded garbage bags all ooze something gray, a bouillabaisse of slime. Pigeons flit about, pecking at any rotting gifts and a lone worker drives a bulldozer through it all.

What makes it all the more surreal is the mist. Falling from the ceiling like a thinly veiled waterfall. Millions of droplets gleaming individually as they pass through the grimy light, falling earthwards to trap dust and odor.

And then you pack up, drive out into a bring summer’s day, turn left and look at all the people having fun in the park. A uniquely bizarre experience.


Hunting Canada’s Biggest Trees

One of the reasons Wen and I moved to the West Coast is that the outdoors here are superlative.

Mountains! Ocean! Rainforest!

We’re happiest putting Cam in a backpack and hiking into the bush or exploring somewhere new.

Being from out East, we’re still pretty amazed by how large the trees can grow to be out here, so we decided to go on vacation to try and see a few of Canada’s biggest trees. Conveniently, a remarkable number of them can be found in a triangle between Port Alberni (A), Bamfield (B) and Port Renfrew (R):

We headed out for a few days making our home base in Port Alberni (which elicited confused reactions from our friends; nobody ever goes on vacation to Port Alberni).

The warmup act occurred just outside Port Alberni at Cathedral Grove. Once logging land owned by the H.R. McMillan – and now a park bearing his name – it’s a copse of old growth trees, some of which date up to 800 years.

Trees at Cathedral Grove

Trees at Cathedral Grove

Trees at Cathedral Grove

Beautiful – yes; but just a tease for the casual tourist on their way to Tofino and a clue that if you’re willing to go a little bit further, you might find something much, much better.

The much, much better stuff is found in and around Carmanah Walbran provincial park.

This park is both really close to civilization and incredibly remote. It’s only 90 kilometres or so from Port Alberni; similarly far from Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew (there’s only one entrance to the park; you have to drive all the way around it from Port Renfrew to enter it). It’s also only accessible via logging roads.

That means that you’re driving with your headlights on so you can see through the clouds of dust raised by passing trucks. That means that unpredictably, trucks hauling logs will just appear around a corner; they have the right of way-and momentum. That means one lane bridges without railings.

That also meant that our little Prius probably wasn’t going to make it. Especially up the last 30 kilometres or so, which consisted of a tire-eating climb up a mountain, suddenly appearing potholes that were a foot deep and finally roads that were so overgrown that alder slap both sides of your vehicle.

I needed something more powerful. Fortunately, there was a Budget Rent-A-Car in Port Alberni and they were able to rent me that most red-blooded of vehicles, the Ford F-150 with a crew cab.

For comparison purposes, I took a photo of it next to the Prius:

Ford F150 and Prius

I’d never driven a pickup before. It was like floating on air. I hit a speed bump and it felt like a crack in pavement; as we ploughed ahead on logging roads, potholes were the equivalent of a fly hitting the Prius’ windshield. The car was a masterpiece of over-engineered convenience; but Cinderalla’s carriage was also a pumpkin – it cost $88 to fill up the half a tank required for driving about 360 km (what a tax you pay in return for owning truck…).

With the F-150 I felt comfortable heading into the land-not-known-by-Google-Maps and we eventually found our way to the park:

Directions to Carmanah Walbarn

There’s only one way into the park. Ironically, it passed through a clear cut. Apparently this area was unprotected until the 1990s when public protest and uproar led to the creation of Carmanah Walbran and an increase in size to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (for anyone who protested – thank you).

As I mentioned, the road was so lightly travelled that alder trees completely cover the road at points and slap your car as it passes. Consequently, it’s strange when you enter the park and suddenly find yourself surrounded by the infrastructure of the province. There was a formal sign. Outhouses. And free trail maps that give you an idea of how unexplored the area is:

Carmanah Trail Map

The part consisted of three valleys and only part of one is actually open. There were a few kilometres (an easy days worth) of trails; the rest was backcountry for the truly hardy to explore.

Perhaps the best indicator of the park’s remoteness is how empty it was. We arrived after noon on a Saturday and were the only people in the parking lot; one more car showed up later in the day. As we hiked my face accumulated cobwebs; we literally had a rainforest to ourselves.

Much of the hiking was along a boardwalk; we were there on a bluebird day but it was still moist and humid. There are so many large trees that we started taking them for granted (hah! – that one’s only five feet wide) and only noticed the small ones as a sort of natural disappointment.


The park had some standout trees. The “Heaven” tree was a sitka that lorded over you. The Randy Stoltmann Commemorative Grove (Randy was a young conservationist integral in establishing the park) was a perfectly silent grove of massive trees next to a little river; a fantastic place for lunch:

Giant Sitka in Stoltmann Grove

Further up the valley were The Three Sisters: three giant trees right next to one another; there was a platform in the middle where you could hang out and look straight up.

Three SistersA few more shots of the park; alas the biggest tree was a supergiant that fell across the tracks a long time ago:

Massive Tree in Carmanah Walbran

Massive Trees

Giant Tree on Boardwalk

It was a spectacular park – one day I hope to come back and explore the Walbran Valley – but not home to Canada’s largest tree. Fortunately, that tree – the Cheewhat Giant – was nearby, just down the road near Cheewhat lake.

The next day we came back to find it.

This proved to be a little tough.

It’s no secret that it’s near Cheewhat Lake, but nobody’s encouraging you to go; keeping visitor traffic low is part of what’s enabled this tree to survive for 2,500 years.

There’s a trail, but it’s very casually marked. You slowly drive along the road and look for a cairn. It’s the only cairn, but then it’s also a 29km road; you need to know roughly where you are (i.e., have a GPS or preload your smartphone) or you’re going to be in for a long day.

Once you find the cairn you start on what’s initially a pretty rough trail.

The tree is safe in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, but sadly the valleys surrounding the park are constantly being clearcut. However, since this is a rainforest the clearcuts don’t stay clear too long; alder quickly grows on them, meaning that the “trail through a clearcut” was actually more like this:

Overgrown Trail near Cheewat Giant

As you can see, at least it was flagged. The clearcut does get a little more open after a while and we started to see some signs of old growth. That’s a few hundred years of tree in this stump:

Old Stump near Cheewat Giant

We then entered the remaining old growth forest (there are actually markers saying it’s a national park) and the atmosphere changed.

It got quieter; there were only a few birds.

The alder was mostly gone; this was an old forest of tall trees and ferns. For thousands, if not millions, of years, the forest has been collapsing on itself and regrowing. It oozed history.

We rappelled down some ropes and saw the first clue that this was a different type of forest from what we were used to. This massive tree fell over and pulled the forest floor up with it; ferns now grow on the underside of its old roots:

Ferns on Fallen Tree near Cheewat Giant

As we went deeper, the trees got bigger. Finally, we arrived at some truly spectacular giant trees that defied proportion; we could sense that the Cheewhat Giant must be nearby:

Giant Trees Near Cheewat Giant (1)

Giant Trees Near Cheewat Giant

And just a few minutes later, there it was. A Parks Canada plaque officially confirmed it:

Cheewat Giant

For comparison, that blue blur in the photo above is Wendy. The tree was about 20 feet in diameter; it was a living wall of wood that dates back to just a few hundred years after the founding of Rome.

It was fairly awe-inspiring to sit underneath it; instead of waiting, our son insisted on being walking in front of it dozens of times:

Wendy and Cam at Cheewat Giant


From below, the tree wood stretched well beyond what we could see:

Cheewat Giant (1)It was only by hiking below it that we could get a fuller sense of its true size:

Cheewat Giant (2)It was a special place and a unique one in Canada; I’ve been to several rainforests but this is the most ancient living place I’ve ever visited.

A great trip tree-hunting; next time I’ll have to look out for these.