Sunday, November 28, 2010

Seizing a "Snow Day" in the Sooke Hills

On Saturday, Nov 20th we woke up to snow in the hills and decided to head out and seize the day with a winter frolic. The Usual Suspects (Jan, Alan, Mike, and me) gathered and off we went. There was a bit of discussion about where we should frolic -- Mt. Work, Mt. Wells, Jocelyn Hill, Mt. Manuel Quimper, Braden, Sugarloaf -- any of them should provide a chance for a winter romp. We settled on Mt. Manuel Quimper in the Sooke Hills and started off. We felt sure of a snowy treat, especially as we drove by the Mt. Wells and Braden trailheads. These areas were caked in snow -- the trees were laden and the peaks were rimmed in white. But, as we approached Sooke the snow disappeared -- I didn't want to go to Quimper any more -- I wanted to return to Mt. Wells. Everyone agreed, so back we went. But Mt. Braden called louder than Wells -- and I'm glad we stopped, listened, and climbed because it turned out to be a peak experience in our much-loved Sooke Hills.

Here, even in the deep coastal woods, the snow made its way down to the forest floor. Patterns of salal and sword fern embossed the snow banks and the trees seemed illuminated with new, reflected light. We made our way to Veitch Creek and crossed on a tree and rope bridge, probably laid down by some Sugarloaf climbers tired of getting their feet wet. From here we made virgin steps along the Veitch Creek path to the base of Braden.

Jan and Mike on the lower
slopes of Braden
We elected to go up the well-known southern route that goes by the waterfall, across the flower field, around the fallen Douglas Fir giant, and up onto a series of basalt ledges to the summit. But, snow turns the old and familiar into the new and unusual, and there were lots of stops to examine scenes we would have passed by without a thought in summer. Consequently, it was 1:45 before we got to the top. In these days, when the light goes by 4:30, this winter wonderland gaping would leave us little time for lollygagging.

We spent a happy half hour on the summit, enjoying the sun, staying out of the wind, playing the "what mountain is that" game (it never gets old), and planning future outings. But soon it was time to leave and we had a decision to make -- should we explore a more northerly route down the mountain, or take the south-west route? All of us had travelled the SW route several times, but only Mike had explored the northern path, and that was some years back. Time, knowledge, and calculation of available light made the decision for us -- we took the familiar SW route.

Looking south from the summit
It was the right choice; even on the familiar track we had some backtracking and route-finding. Fortuitous, as it turned out, because we found a new tea stop rock with outstanding views, came across a geological survey marker, and enjoyed the late afternoon light on the hills. We made it to the bottom of the mountain by about 4:10 pm and legged it back to the Veitch Creek crossing. The distance to the crossing was only about 2.3 km, it was getting dark and I wanted to get across the rope bridge in the light. But, our need to hurry didn't cause us to pass by two American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus -- so why isn't it Mexican Dipper?) plying the upper reaches of the Veitch. None of us had ever seen Dippers on this creek, so it was well worth a look and listen to see these aquatic songbirds dip and swim through the rushing water.

We crossed the tree-rope bridge with no problem and made it back to the car just as a full moon came peeking over the ridge of Mt. Helmcken. On the ride home we all agreed that, no matter your age, playing outside in the snow until it's too dark to see is exactly how you seize a day!

Our route:

View Snow Day on Mt. Braden: Nov 20, 2010 in a larger map

A final picture from Alan's images:
Braden Summit