At the beginning of the week my daughter and I were in the mood for a bigger adventure than our recent forays onto a few of the many fantastic trails in my area. Feeling boosted from our unplanned Mill Hill jaunt a week earlier we both believed we were prepared. Even the weather cooperated.
One of the negatives of hiking with anyone is time. I tend to wake up early – rarely sleeping past 6:30; my daughter stays up late reading or online, this means she is rarely up before 9:30. Despite knowing we needed probably a few hours from start to finish we decided to go with our usual flow of the day rather than feel pressured to be ready by a specific time. (This only works if you know the average time to cover the selected destination and back) We picked the Gold Mine Trail at Goldstream Park. Barely 30 minutes from downtown Victoria and only ten minutes from my front door. Park information showed 8.5km, average 4 hours return, difficult or, as the website states, strenuous.
Despite visiting Goldstream Park (designated in 1958) many times when my children were still children and excited to visit the river during salmon spawning I was not aware an additional extensive parcel of land had been designated for the park in 1994 and 1996 through the Commonwealth Nature Legacy and Crown Land on the other side of the highway that now includes an extensive, yet carefully laid out and managed, campground nestled at the base of trails. Not exactly the other side of the mountain – that is on the original side of the park – it is a relatively new place waiting to be discovered.
A gold mine tunnel – on Gold Mine Trail – stunning waterways, side trails to waterfalls, a Hidden Spring, massive trees, tiny, delicate flowers, furled ferns, and steep trails greeted us. The air was silent and still, we had managed to traverse ancient trails on a perfect day, protected from the sun, the slight breeze barely rustling the leaves. For at least an hour we did not even hear any birds – that was rather eerie. Eventually the guttural call of ravens in the distance penetrated the silence. I discovered a dead pigeon down a slight embankment, surely the dropped dinner of an eagle. Pigeons do not tend to live in the Westcoast forests. A lone garter snake, very healthy looking, lazed in the dappled sun, completely comfortable in his domain.
It is important to always be prepared, we had to cover portions of two other trails before reaching the Gold Mine Trail. The beginning of Prospector’s, a section of Arbutus, then Arbutus Ridge, before finally the trail we wanted. We think this may be one reason the 8.5km ended up being 12km! There are two options to begin at Gold Mine Trail if a parking space in one of the lots off the highway can be accessed – any left hand turn off the Malahat section of Island Highway without traffic lights is foolhardy. We had prepared to be gone for at least six hours. The first time to notify family where we were going and when we expected to be back to the car.
Never hike alone on the difficult trails, we did meet with a couple of people who chose to disregard this. Do they not read signs? Bears and cougars live in these woods. There are very dangerous drops if footing is lost. One very short length, perhaps eighteen inches, is particularly frightening, barely twelve inches wide with a slight slope towards a ravine on one side and an extremely solid tree on the inside that is too wide to hug gave me pause to wonder what the hell I had embarked on. Hiking with someone might not prevent a fall but it could mean faster rescue. I always carry a whistle with my keys, not too helpful when in my bag but better than nothing. We had decided to take only one bag for my daughter to carry in order for me to use my walking stick. Upon reflection we decided that for any hikes of more than 10km we need a pack each. Back to the trails. Despite steep switchbacks, an extensive, thick web of tree roots, natural and man made steps, we were bewitched enough to keep going a little further whenever one of us felt that last climb was enough.
The little discoveries, a broken down footbridge and the embedded sign on a tree pointing the other way, an old cairn, the giant tree fallen (it seemed too convenient to have been felled by nature – although definitely possible. I should have taken note if the very long, younger tree laid parallel to the path extended that far) then sawn through to open the way. We discovered uprooted, massive 600 year old Douglas firs, Arbutus wrapped around still standing tall, unyielding firs, and yes, a tunnel that was one of a few gold mine entrances. I had already wondered if we were following a trail where over equipped and exuberant miners had passed, or even earlier, local First Nations: “Goldstream is located on traditional fishing grounds of local First Nations. Old mining shafts and tunnels are all that remain of the gold rush that Goldstream River experienced during the mid-19th century.” (BC Parks) A plaque provides only a hint of a possible gold rush in the area. A quick peek inside the tunnel shows signs of braver than me recent visitors with graffiti covering most of the moss covered rock walls for as far as my phone flashlight could penetrate the dark.
Our destination was Niagara Falls, close to the now disused railway trestle, which meant that as we came close to the side trails to Hidden Spring Falls and Miner’s Spring we chose to not visit these. However, at the start of our hike we agreed that if either of us needed to turn around we would. By 1 3/4 hours of nearly continuous trekking I knew my energy was flagging and we would still have to return. We stopped for a snack, ALWAYS take food, and NEVER leave garbage. Two notes here, do not wait to have a snack and take more water – this is one reason we decided two packs are important. Replenished we walked for another 15 minutes before I said it was time to turn around. Niagara Falls will be there for another time and we could always try that nasty left hand turn.
Exactly four hours from when we left the car we were back. I sent a message saying we had returned like the good hikerI am trying to be, drank a bottle of water – always stored in the car fry emergencies – before heading home. We also discovered we did not have to take the highway now that the area where we live has drastically expanded. We are fortunate to live in such close proximity to the real wilds of the island.