Heathen Hiking and the Beauty of Gerd

As a young Germanic teen my first acquaintance with the native gods of my ancestors came via the Red Thunderer; called Thunor by my English ancestors, but better known today via the Old Norse form of his name, Thor. Not only had Thunor remained the most popular of the gods in popular culture, but there was a direct connection to him in the prairie thunderstorms that frequently raged overhead. Indeed, my maternal grandfather, a Churchgoer of (West) Polish ancestry himself, used to say in reference to the thunder that, “the Old Man is cracking his whip again”, which to my heathen ears always sounded like a reference to Thunor (or Perun?) and the belief that the sound of thunder was the rumbling of his chariot as Redbeard drove it overhead.

Around the age of 18 my immediate family and I relocated from the Manitoba prairies to the shores of southern Vancouver Island. Little did I know that we don’t get thunderstorms here. Sure, there have been some rumbles in the far distance, and the odd and isolated crack of thunder over head, in the two and a half decades since I first landed on these shores, but … even if you put them all together they wouldn’t even come close to what we had on the prairies. And it left me heart-sick for a time. But of course, southern Vancouver Island had it’s own charms that struck me from the moment I got off the ferry; the moderate winters, an abundance of trees, the sight of the mountains in the distance, the smell of the sea and proximity to the coast. Really, it was love at first sight. And so it didn’t take to long for the rationalization to grow in me that the reason why southern Vancouver Island doesn’t have thunderstorms is simply because Thunor loves it so much. And/or it was under someone else’s protection.

Indeed, it was here on southern Vancouver Island that I first understood and had my first inspiration regarding Ingui-Frea’s love for the nature-spirit Geard.

Over the past year my wife (a relatively recent migrant from the prairies herself) and I have taken to hiking this beautiful land we’ve come to call home. And that in fact, as opposed to the usual, is what this blog entry shall be about; the sharing of some of our experiences and pictures from our various hikes here about … in celebration of the beauty of Geard.

This first pic is from our very first hike (Sept. 2015) in East Sooke Park … looking south from the top of Mount Maguire (268m), out over the park itself and the Straight of Juan de Fuca, toward the mountains of Washington state.

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This next one gives you an idea of the kind of terrain and elevation changes we were eastsooke2regularly dealing with that day; minus the number of tree roots that covered most of the trails and demanded your constant attention. That is my son sitting at the top of the pic there, while mi’lady struggles with this (end of the day) ascend … itself one of many. To make this day — which carried us all the way down to the Juan de Fuca and then back — even more toilsome (but no less fulfilling!) … we had only purchased our hiking boots the night before! And we covered at least 12 km that day. If you ever thought Thjalfi got off easy after committing his act of sacrilege against Thunor, well, a hike like this will give you a lightweight idea of the type of terrain he frequently ranges through on his many journeys … and no matter the season or the weather at that!

 

 

 

This one’s from our 2nd hike, from Goldstream up to the summit of Mount Finlayson (419m). As this pic demonstrates, we always seem to find “the interesting” way from point A to point B on these hikes (but always make it to point B nevertheless!).

goldstream

At the height of Mt.Finlayson we met the acquaintance of a fellow hiker … an old gentleman of, I believe, Dutch background who had been hiking the area for at least a decade and whom I suspect was one of the mysterious “elves of Mt. Finlayson” as they are known hereabouts. He guided us to a number of interesting viewpoints at the summit, to one of the caches that exist around the mountain (and island) — containing small random items that a person might find useful on a hike, eg. energy bar, light, matches, bus ticket, gum, etc. — and finally showed us the easy way back down. Many thanks, Edwin (as he called himself)!

We soon returned to Goldstream to explore around it lower elevations. This next pic shows Mt. Finlayson in the background (and my lovely wife in the foreground), and it’s companion shows of Goldstream itself.

goldstream1

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I would show off the Goldstream Trestle, but why, I ask, give free publicity to one’s arch-enemy??? Okay. I guess now that I’ve piqued your interest I’m obliged. But how is it my arch-nemesis? Well, understand, I am “fine” with heights. I mean, sure, heights scare me, but that is why courage exists, right? You man up and get’er done. But the Goldstream Trestle is … different. Here is a pic I snapped of it from atop Mt. Finlayson … back when I imagined it would be fun to hike out to and walk over.

goldstreamtrestle

I’ll beat you yet, Goldstream Trestle!!! Just like my wifey did our first time out. :/

Here is a nice pic of our first hike along the Gowlland Todd range. You can see Mt.Finlaysson, where we began the day (and would end it), standing proudly in the distance near the top center of the pic. We covered about 20km that day.

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This next pic was taken from Pickles Bluff in John Dean Park (280m). It looks southeast across the rural lands of Saanich Peninsula. I think it is a really nice shot, and was the saving grace of this otherwise unspectacular, ho-hum hike.

johndean

This next one is from our Mount Wells hike, and is another example of our ability to find the most interesting ways around. In fact, we didn’t even go up Mount Wells on this hike, but ended up going up it’s neighbour, Mount MacDonald (439m) by accident. And then we lost the path to get back down, but found this interesting and rather vertical path instead. You can see my wife there, sitting just beneath the horizontal log on the left. Do you think she’s a keeper, guys?

mountmacdonald

This next one is from our Sooke River hike. I recall the rocks having been very slippery that day. Fortunately, our obligatory offerings to the land wights, combined with some common sense, quick reflexes and a bit of team work, kept things within the realm of “embarrassing mishaps easily shrugged off”. No one got dunked. No one was injured.

sookeriver

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sookeriver1

Nice shot from our return trip to East Sooke Park in March of 2016. This time we entered over the appropriately named “Endurance Ridge” trail head, made our way down to the (eastern) coastal entrance of the park, along its coastal trail, and then back out over Endurance Ridge for a total of some 18 km. This pic was snapped early in the day from atop Babbington Hill (228 m)

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This next pic is a nice shot from, less a hike, and more a power walk, we did from Horth Hill, near the northern tip of the Saanich Peninsula all the way back into the city of Victoria … covering about 40 km that day. The view is from the shores of the small township of Sydney.

horthhill

Here is one from another power walk (with hiking spurts) of some 30 km along the island’s famous “Galloping Goose” trail. This scenic little rest stop was in Roche Cove Park.

rochecove

And here is a pic of downtown Victoria as seen from the southwest. It’s a very peculiar view, ie. the mountain in the background, taken from the southwest

victoria

This next one was an interesting hike along an old flowline that carries on from the resivior at Mount Wells all the way out to the Sooke Potholes. I was able to deal with the (significantly) lower trestles that the flowline at times passed over, incidentally.

flowline

And this one is from a hike we went on with some of the guys from work. Here we were about half way to the summit of Heather Mountain (1338 m), about an hour or so drive up island. Above this point we climbed into a rain-cloud, which made things interesting, but which dampened our hopes (haha) of getting some shots of the breathe-taking scenery from the peak.

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And here we are (below) at the summit of Empress Mountain, which, at 682 meters, is half the height of Heather Mountain, but which is nevertheless the tallest elevation within the Greater Victoria region. This was our second attempt to reach Empress Mountain after we lost the trail on our first attempt a week earlier and really had no reasonable means of progress with the amount of daylight we had. We covered about 26 km on this hike.

empressmount

While we have come across our fair share of deer and rabbits on our hikes, and certainly spotted a number of turkey-vultures, hawks, and even the occasional bald eagle — with one of the latter gliding by about 15 to 20 feet over head on one occasion! The Mighty Eagle Lives!!! — this time out we had our first run-in with a black bear. And it’s an interesting experience to be sure! I had heard something rustling in the bush as we made our way back to civilization, and I was, for a moment or two, quite sure that there was an intersecting trail coming up and we were going to run into some fellow hikers. But I quickly got a sense that it might be otherwise and so picked up a couple of sizable rocks as we continued down the path. Of course, it wasn’t so much an intersecting trail that we were approaching but a dried up creek bed and no sooner did I look down it then I heard a big commotion in the brush and saw an adolescent black bear leap up a tree. Yes, thats right! I tree’d a bear! My wife wanted to stop and get some pictures (of course), but that lasted for as long as it took our furry friend to let out a loud huff of impatience and slide and inch or two back down the tree.

bear

And this brings me to our return trip to the Gowlland Tod Park; which began at 8am in the morning, carried us up the interurban trail to it’s northern entrance, and then was intended to carry us back down south to Bear Mountain (neighbouring Finlayson) by sunset. However, we decided to head south, not along the summit trail, which we had hiked before, but rather along the “Rabbity Trail”; which runs along the shores of the Finlayson Arm and

finlayson-arm

Finlayson Arm, looking north

is NOT called “rabbity” because of anything to do with speed. Rather, the trail itself, which hugs the steep slopes of the range, hops up and down and up and down and up and down for it’s entire length. Moreover, while it is fairly well marked along it’s northerly length — and, as it turned out, along it’s southerly length — it’s middle grounds is a no-man’s land of “your best guess is as good as mine”. Not that we were ever lost, understand. I mean, south along the coast is south along the coast. It was all a matter of, beyond the lack of any well defined trail, obstacles and their impediment to progress; coupled with only so much time in the day. It’s not a place where you’d wanting to be wandering around at night even with a head lamp. The range slopes right down to the water at a pretty impressive angle after all, and the margin for error is simply to high, and the progress too slow, to bother wit the risk. And

finlayson-arm1

these guys followed us for a couple of hours. Interesting conversationalists! 😉

so, at around 8pm that evening, twelve hours after our day began, with about half an hour of daylight left, we decided to look for a decent spot to spent the night. And after a quick search we found an outcropping of rock that would do. It was about 10′ x 10′ and covered in moss; half of which I tore away so as to have a place to build a fire. And after two abortive attempts — as a born and bred city-boy, this was my first outdoor fire, etc. — the sense of impending panic gave way to patient resolve and before long we had our fire going … which not only afforded my lady with enough additional warmth to get a few hours sleep, but gave me a focus for my attention as I “stood watch” for the night. Apparently this made me “magical” <blush> and indeed, I had plenty of time to contemplate the sheer luxurious practicality of a simple fire. And you know, despite the many spooky noises I heard all around me that night, some straying pretty close to camp and certainly around the nearby area I was gathering wood from, and despite the lack of a good supper that evening or breakfast that morning, the experience is mutually regarded as our best hiking experience to date. Certainly, it could have been colder, we could have run out of water, and it might have rained early that morning — as was the forecast, and which would have made it incredibly difficult to hike out the next morning — but the word serendipitous seems quite appropriate here. As it was, having back-burnered some stress over how we were going to proceed the next morning (having lost all signs of the path heading south), we picked found the path within ten or fifteen minutes after setting out and it continued on, southward and well-marked from that point forward, until we finally made it to Bear Mountain, at about 9am … 25 hours after we’d set out. We must have covered about 35 km in total.

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Finlayson Arm, looking south

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This of course emboldened us to strike out for a planned over-nighter a couple of days later, during the Perseid Meteor Shower of 2016; this time with a tarp for a shelter, some cord and a few spikes for shelter (should we have needed it), and a few simple camping luxuries not the least of which was FOOD! For this we struck out for Scafe Hill (165 m), a few kilometers north of Thetis Lake and well away from any light pollution.

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scafehill

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sunrise the following morning

And so it has been a year of hiking for us; in which time we walked the length of the Saanich Peninsula and been every where between downtown Victoria, the western edge of East Sooke Park and Horth Hill, navigating two successful over-nighters in the process, one of which just happened to be impromptu. I think we’ve earned our “Regional Explorers” merit badge!

meritbadge

And you know, when I sit back and reflect on why it took me so long to get out and hike this breathe taking portion of the world that I have now lived in for so long, I need but look to my love … to know it would not be the same without her at my side … the very personification of the spirit of the land.

Hail the sea-shore! Hail the Ingvaeones!

 

 

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