Cape Scott

Earlier this summer I made the long journey up to the northern most point of Vancouver Island and spent 5 days exploring the area in Cape Scott Provincial park. I have never explored the much of northern Vancouver Island but it has always been a place I have wanted to see more of. Cape Scott is an interesting mix of natural beauty and history. It is the site of a number of separate attempts at early settlement and later on a top secret radar instillation that is now home to a lighthouse. After a lengthy drive on winding roads to get to Port Hardy you turn off for the final part of the journey to access the park, 65km of gravel roads that passes through the the small town of Holberg before reaching the trail head. From the trail head there are a number of options but we decided to setup a base camp at Nels Bight, a 2400 meter long sandy beach about 17km from the parking lot that includes a ranger cabin. This central location provides a good starting place to explore the beaches in the area.


Hiking through lush forests en route to Nels Bight

Nels Bight is a stunning beach that offers stunning views and a fantastic place to watch the sunset. Over the next 2 nights we experienced very different weather patterns, our first night was clear without a cloud to be seen. Waking up the next morning we got to see something a little different as a heavy cloud had rolled in, while the it was sad to loose the sun the fog and cloud made for some unique photo opportunities.

The sunsets on a beautiful evening at Nels Bight

The sunsets on a beautiful evening at Nels Bight

Fog and clouds shroud Nels Bight

Fog and clouds shroud Nels Bight

Under the cover of cloud we made our way towards Guise Bay, Experiment Bight with the Cape Scott lighthouse before returning back to base camp at Nels Bight. Guise Bay was one of the more stunning beaches that we got to see, had it been warmer out it would have been something you could almost imagine as being tropical.

Looking over Guise Bay from the sand dunes between it and Experiment Bight

Looking over Guise Bay from the sand dunes between it and Experiment Bight

Guise Bay was the site of a number of building from a secret radar station at Cape Scott operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, the current site of the lighthouse was also used for this installation and in fact the lighthouse sits on the same foundations as the old radar dome. Signs of these prior uses are clearly visible, some more than others such as the old plank road that leads from Guise Bay to the lighthouse. The lighthouse is somewhat utilitarian and is not what one would think of when you think of a lighthouse, it is simply a light mounted on a short tower located on the highlands of the cape. Experiment Bight is separated by a small band of sand dunes from Guise Bay, these sand dunes are not something that is commonly found on Vancouver Island so it was neat to explore them on the way over to Experiment Bight.

Looks out towards Guise Bay through a gap in the sand dunes between Guise Bay and Experiment Bight

Looks out towards Guise Bay through a gap in the sand dunes between Guise Bay and Experiment Bight

Flowers grow in sand above the high tide mark at Experiment Bight.

Flowers grow in sand above the high tide mark at Experiment Bight.

By the time the sun was setting it appeared that the fog and clouds that had hung over us all day was starting to clear making for a very different sunset compared to the previous evening.

Twilight as the last of the sun shines through a break in the clouds

Twilight as the last of the sun shines through a break in the clouds

After a day of fog and cloud we once again woke up to beautiful clear sunny skies, this morning we packed up camp and made our way over to the less popular Nissen Bight for the night. The relatively short hike over to Nissen Bight passes through the main Cape Scott settlement area which has a number of remains of attempts to tame the area by settlers in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s although some did stick around until the 50’s most had left with the onset of World War I.

Old tractor at an old homestead site

Old tractor at an old homestead site

Nissen Bight and Fishermans Bay are very close to each other and can be accessed by a short trail or tide permitting over the beach. Nissen bight offers a less populated camp site although the water source is some distance from the main camping area. Nissen bight is also the start (or end) of the North Coast trail.

Sunset as viewed from Fishermans Bay near Nissen bight.

Sunset as viewed from Fishermans Bay near Nissen Bight.

After a night at Nissen Bight it was on to our final camp destination at San Josef Bay before heading home, although it was a long day of hiking it was easy going as it is mostly flat (or downhill) the whole way. San Josef Bay is a stunning white sand beach which has some unique sea stacks and caves between 2 bays. The sea caves and 2nd bay are only accessible when the tides permit, there is a steep overland route but it looked rather difficult. It should also be noted that while San Josef Bay does have a water source it is located at the 2nd beach which may be cut off due to the tide to keep that in mind when planning (we collected water at Eric lake). San Josef Bay is a popular location for day hikers or less adventuress hikers as it is a short few kilometers from the trail head so expect it to see more crowds than other beaches in the park.

Sea stacks at San Josef Bay

Sea stacks at San Josef Bay

Cape Scott is an iconic hike and is well worth the journey to get there. It offers an amazing selection beautiful natural sites with some neat history which is not something you experience at most hiking destinations. While the hiking is relatively easy the distances getting out to the beaches near the cape are long and depending on the conditions can be a challenge in that regard.


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Favourites from 2014

Looking back on the previous year it has treated me pretty well. While I did not venture to far from home as I have in other years it did not mean I did not get to do my fair share of exploring. These trips just reminded me of the amazing place I get to call home. A big thanks to everyone who came a long on trips or helped out over the past year, here’s to hoping that 2015 will continue deliver these wonderful experiences. In no particular order a few of my favourite photos from 2014.

A "supermoon" rises over Pipers Lagoon

A “super moon” rises over Pipers Lagoon

A ice cave at Century Sam lake

A ice cave at Century Sam lake

Home under the stars in Marble Meadows, Strathcona Provincial park

Home under the stars in Marble Meadows, Strathcona Provincial park

The "heaven" tree in Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park

The “heaven” tree in Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park

Snow falls near the summit of Mt. Becher

Snow falls near the summit of Mt. Becher

A great blue heron waits in the snow

A great blue heron waits in the snow

A thick blanket of fog obscures the view from the Lantzville Foothills.

A thick blanket of fog obscures the view from the Lantzville Foothills.

Looking up through the fog and the tree canopy on Mt Benson.

Looking up through the fog and the tree canopy on Mt Benson.

A Rough-skinned newt near Nanoose

A Rough-skinned newt near Nanoose

Low tide in Lantzville

Low tide in Lantzville


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Century Sam Lake

Century Sam lake is a spectacular alpine lake located in the shadow of the Comox glacier. While the hike is steep at time it is relatively short. Unfortunately access to the trail head can be a pain. The first hurdle is that it is accessed via private logging roads controlled by TimberWest and generally the area is gated off. Access can be checked through their website, you want to check the status for “Comox main”. The last hurdle that is the last KM or so of road is in poor shape and has a number of large washouts which will require a decent 4×4 vehicle to get past. If you do not have a vehicle capable you can walk but this will extend your hike somewhat.

Assuming you can gain access to the trail head there is a lovely hike starting relatively flat following a creek through some mature forest and a few slide paths before getting into a step section of forest that you will make your way through until you reach the lake at the top. While the lake is stunning one of the other attractions is a snow cave which is often formed in the snowfield just beyond the lake.


Crossing the steam near the trail head

The lake is filled from a snowfield and the Comox glacier (I assume) which sits above the lake which gives it that stunning “alpine” lake colour from the particles suspended in the water.

Looking down onto Century Sam lake

Looking down onto Century Sam lake

One of the big draws of this hike is the “snow cave” that is formed in the snowfield at the far end of the lake. While this is a stunningly beautiful feature use extreme caution if you decide to explore inside of it, there is no knowing when/if it will collapse.


Water coming down the side of the surrounding mountains with the snow cave in the background


Melt water pouring out of the cave entrance, notice the collapsed snow and ice


A large ice arch formed in the remaining snow and ice

Inside the cave while eerie and ominous is a pretty amazing place once you get past the constant deluge of cold water falling from the ceiling.


Looking out towards the entrance of the cave


A fellow explorer standing in one of the cave entrances


Melt water carves it’s way through the ice and rock towards the cave entrance

Century Sam is a trip well worth taking assuming you are able to gain access to the trail head. It is one of the more unique hikes I have done on Vancouver Island and given the relative ease of the hike given the nature of the scenery it is certainly very rewarding. The trail is usually in good condition as it is maintained by Comox District Mountaineering Club and is well marked for the most part.

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Marble Meadows

Marble Meadows, just a short boat ride and a mere 1400m of steep switch backs and you will arrive at your destination. Approach challenges aside Marble Meadows promised spectacular alpine views into the heart of Vancouver Islands mountains and Strathcona Provincial park. While the approach was as grueling as expected the views did not disappoint.

We started off by making the 1km journey across Buttle lake to spend the first night at the Phillips creek before starting the seemingly never ending uphill battle to our campsite at Limestone lake in the morning. The area around Phillips creek was stunning and was a welcome surprise and other than the many mice around the camp site is was one of the nicer ones I used considering the relatively easy access.


Looking down Buttle lake from the mouth of Phillips Creek


Looking down Phillips Creek towards Buttle lake

The next day it was an early start to tackle the 5.5 hour grind up to out campsite at Limestone lake. We gained about 1400m of elevation but until you get to the meadows you really don’t get any rewarding views other than the switch back just above and below you. Limestone lake is one of 3 lakes in the general area and like most alpine lakes was quiet beautiful. As soon as we dropped our packs it became immediately apparent that we traded the amazing views for an unbelievable number of bugs who from what I could tell have never eaten before. Bugs aside it was a stunning place and after camp was setup it was time to take in our surroundings for the next few days.


Reflections in a nearly calm Limestone lake


The last of the sun touching lighting up the ridge above camp


Twilight tones outline the mountain ridges surrounding camp

The following morning we decided to tackle Marble Peak that over looked our campsite. This involved a number of increasingly exposed scrambles but with each one the views of the area only got more spectacular.


Scrambling up a small gully on Marble Peak


One of the more rewarding views on the way up Marble Peak


Another exposed scramble with the 3 lakes in the background, Limestone lake is the smallest one on the left

Not one to sit around camp, especially with all the bugs around it was time to do a bit more exploring before the sun set. While it seemed we missed some flowers there was still some colour left in others.


The sun slides behind a stand of trees by camp with a small patch of wildflowers in the foreground.


Golden light illuminates the stalks of wildflowers


Looking down onto another group camped at Globe Flower Lake

One of the more spectacular things to see when in the alpine is the stars. Away from the lights of the city you get an unobstructed view of the stars and it always blows me away just how bright they are. If you get the chance to spend a night or two in the alpine away from the glow of artificial light do yourself a favour and get up to take in the all night sky has to offer.


Home under the stars

The following day we spent some exploring the limestone area we had seen from the trip up Marble Peak. While it was fascinating to explore the area and examine the various rock formations and fossils it was not overly conductive for photos. Fortunately we had another nice evening to take in the surroundings near camp.


The sun sets over Marsh Marigold Lake with the Golden Hinde in the background

The following day was a relatively quick (and easier than the approach) hike back to Phillips Creek and a nice boat trip back across the lake while it was still nice and calm unlike the journey over.


Boating back from the Phillips Creek trail head

Marble meadows like all the hikes I have done in the alpine of Strathcona provided some spectacular views but it certainly makes you work for them. It seems that Marble meadows is really just a hint of all the other adventures that are hiding just over the next set of hills. Looking into the heart of the mountains  in Strathcona is both alluring and beautiful, it tends to draw you further in the more time you spend exploring the never ending adventures it seems to offer.

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Last night there was a so called “supermoon“, a supermoon is when the moon is (slightly) closer to earth due to the shape of it’s orbit in conjunction with it being a full or new moon. While not totally uncommon this phenomenon only occurs about once every 14 months.

To take advantage of this I went down to Pipers Lagoon as I figured it would offer some of the best views in Nanaimo. It seems that a number of other people had the same idea and there where a number of other people and photographers who had the same idea.


The moon rises over horizon.


As the moon rose the tide receded leaving exposed rocks behind.


Once up the moon continued to dazzle


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