One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to hike to more waterfalls and find more big old growth trees. Last weekend I did a hike that has both an awesome waterfall and a big old growth cedar. Two birds. One stone. Oh yeah! Also, it was a really beautiful hike. So where did we go? On the North Shore there is an obscure trail that is sometimes called the Big Cedar Trail and sometimes called the Cedar Tree Trail. It’s not on all the maps and not that many people know about it. Recently the trail has been getting some buzz online, and the trail seems to be getting hiked more often. The highlights are a 600 year old cedar tree and Kennedy Falls, a good sized torrent flowing down a rock face. Outdoor Vancouver has released a trail guide for this trail that is quite comprehensive so head on over there if you want trail directions and stats. I won’t duplicate that info here.
To get to the trail you travel through the lower Mount Fromme area, which is mountain biking heaven. There were lots of people around on the mountain bike trails, but once we turned off onto the Big Cedar tree trail we were pretty much alone. The trail follows an old logging road for the most part so it’s often fairly straight and flat and surrounded by a pretty uniform second growth forest. There are a couple of large gullies we had to climb into and out of through, and the trail is not maintained so it was a bit of a scramble down a few short but steep slopes. There was also quite a bit of blowdown on the trail that had to be navigated over, under and around.
After a little over an hour of following the old road turned trail, we came around a corner and there it was: The Big Cedar. Apparently it’s about 600 years old and is 4 meters in diameter. It’s BIG! This whole area was clear cut nearly 100 years ago but this tree was spared, likely because it branches into several trunks instead of being one continuous (useful) piece of lumber. We stopped for lunch next to the tree and spent some quality time gawking at it’s enormity. It is hard to really appreciate how big this thing is without seeing it in person.
From the Big Cedar, a little trail heads north west to Kennedy Falls. At first the trail is a barely worn footpath up into the forest, but it soon turns more northwards and picks up an excellent old skid road that made for much faster walking (where it wasn’t obliterated by the usual North Shore gullies and deadfall that is). After about 45 minutes we reached the falls. There was lots of mist coming off the waterfall, a cold wind coming down the gully and no sunshine in this tight river valley so while the rest of the hike had been in dappled sunshiny warmth, once we reached the falls we had to bundle up a bit. We spent some time checking out the falls (and trying to take photos in the blowing mist) before heading back to the Big Cedar.
Once back at the Big Cedar it was decision time: do we return the way we came (about 5kms of slightly challenging hiking) or do we take the easy way out, (about 4kms of flat, easy trail)? The choice sounds simple, doesn’t it? Take the easy way out, obviously! Well there’s a catch, and it’s a cold and potentially dangerous one: Lynn Creek. Despite it’s innocuous sounding name, Lynn Creek is actually more of a river and an unbridged crossing of the creek was what stood between us and the easy trail. That’s right, we were contemplating fording a river in February.
That might sound crazy but there were a few things working in our favour: There is a well marked trail heading downhill from the Big Cedar to the river bank and there is flagging on both sides of the river indicating the best place to cross. We were prepared and were carrying hiking poles and neoprene water shoes. It was a fairly warm, sunny day so the cold temperatures of the river would only last for a few minutes. And I had read reports of others crossing the creek in the previous month without incident.
We arrived at the river bank and had a look. The area of the ford was wide, shallow and not very fast moving. The water was definitely cold, but crossing was doable. Plus we had come all the way down the hill from the Big Cedar (a whole 50m of elevation loss) and didn’t want to climb back up the hill. So across the river we went. Oh it was cold! But really it wasn’t that bad. The water was just below my knees at the highest and only in one section was the current a factor.
Soon we were on the other side, changing back into our hiking shoes and heading down the wide and flat highway of the Cedar Mills trail back towards the Lynn Headwaters parking lot and our car. As we dodged dog walkers, trail runners and families with small children, we realized all these people didn’t know what amazing things you could see if only you crossed the river: a beautiful trail, a huge old growth cedar and a great waterfall. Yet few even bother.
If You Go:
The Outdoor Vancouver trail guide is your best resource for trail info and directions. I’d also recommend the North Shore Trail Map by Trail Ventures. It only shows the trail as far as the Big Cedar (it doesn’t show the trail all the way to Kennedy Falls) but it’s still quite helpful for the Lower Fromme portion.
We’ve found that the best place for hikers to park to access the lower Fromme area is the parking at Lynn Headwaters. You hike west up the Baden Powell on a big staircase from the Lynn Headwaters access road to get to the Fromme trails and don’t have to deal with all the neighbourhood parking restrictions around Mountain Highway. (As of 2016 there is also a new parking lot at the top of Mountain Highway. Unfortunately the lot is really popular with mountain bikers and fills up really early. As well, you can only park in that lot for 3 hours – not enough time to do this hike. So I still think parking at Lynn Headwaters is the best option.)
Be prepared for the challenging conditions of this trail. It is not maintained and sparsely marked. It has some sections that require route finding around the deadfall. A few of the scrambles down into the gullies look a bit scary at first as they can be steep, but they are all quite manageable and not dangerous. We ran into another group on the trail who were quite daunted by one of the gullies.
If you choose to make a loop and cross Lynn Creek be sensible about it. We were comfortable doing it because we have quite a bit of backcountry river crossing experience and felt capable of judging the conditions. We were prepared and brought neoprene water shoes as they are better for gripping the slippery rocks and they keep your feet a bit warmer. You can cross in your hiking boots as well, but then they will be wet for the hike out. Some people like sandals for this kind of thing, but I find that the current moves them around too much. We also brought hiking poles as four legs are better than two.
You need to be smart about river crossings. Don’t cross in times of high water. Choose an area of river that is wide and shallow where the current isn’t running as high. On this trail both sides of the crossing are flagged. Cross facing upstream so that the current doesn’t buckle your knees. Use your hiking poles and move in a side ways shuffling motion so that you always have three points of contact with the riverbed. And if you don’t feel comfortable with the conditions or your abilities, turn around, go back the way you came, don’t cross. Be safe about it.
Have you done this hike? Would you cross a river in February? Tell me in the comments.
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