by Judith Belton
Today I summited. No, I didn’t climb to the top Mt. Kilimanjaro. I didn’t drive over the summit of the Malahat. I merely reached the top of Mt. Baldy, above Shawnigan Lake. I use the phrase “I summited” because it was the one thing that kept me going as I hiked my way up the mountain from the trailhead at the foot of Strathcona Heights.-Hawking Rd. To get to this point you take the Shawnigan-Mill Bay Rd. turn left on Sylvester, right on to Baldy Mt. Rd. and left on to Hawking. Hawking will curve to the right and
change to Strathcona Heights. Follow this road to the end. As soon as you start walking down the gravel access road past the gate at the trailhead you will go down, which seems counter to what you are trying to do (ascend) but the trail goes down, up, down and around to the back of the mountain, before you reach a dirt trail that goes up.
My husband and I “did” the trail a couple of winters ago, when snow was on the ground and pools of water on the ascent were frozen over. We walked along a stone-and rock-fall road and enjoyed seeing the groves of sinuous Arbutus trees along the way. We stopped short of the summit on an ascending trail, when we decided we’d had a decent exercise session and seeing all the way to Duncan, as well as the whole of Shawnigan Lake, just wasn’t worth the extra time and potentially frozen fingertips.
On this trip, I was more motivated. The weather was gorgeous. The air was fresh. Beneath me to the west and south, all of Shawnigan Lake sparkled blue and reflected a clear, cloudless sky. The information I had from the Internet, termed the route I was using “simple and easy for beginners.” A couple of weeks ago, when I told my husband (and occasional hiking partner) that I wanted to go up to the top of a number of mountains in the Cowichan Valley, I said I wondered if I should go to one of those indoor climbing gyms to get in proper shape. Together, we laughed at my ludicrousness. Of course, I remembered that conversation when I was climbing on all fours up the final ascent of Baldy Mountain.
At that point as well (when I was feeling grateful to the invasive non-native plants – broom – that were providing my hands with pull-ups as I crawled up the mountain-face), I was thinking about that word “summit.” What does it really mean? How far do you really have to go? Is it acceptable to go just so high as to see the top of the mountain in the distance? Can you take a peek when your lungs are bursting and then scramble back down again?
No. The simple answer of course is that summit means the very tip-top of the mountain – the place at which you can go no higher! I found, after a lot of deep breathing and with the help of a sturdy walking stick, what the summit of Cobble Hill means: watching a bald eagle high above you float, almost motionless in the air’s updrafts; feeling the wind cold and strong on your exposed skin and knowing that by the time it reaches the land below, it will be a mere whisper of air; hiking almost the entire time on the summit in sunshine, glorious sunshine, whereas the trail below was mostly shaded by trees; seeing thick, moss-covered rocks and boulders and feeling the wetness through your gloves’ fingers, realizing that up here at the summit, the streams, rivers and pools on the trails below begin as an idea of water, a suggestion of moisture; seeing two Douglas fir snags, broad and tall, that surely serve as eagles’ refuges; seeing arbutus trees right at the top, surrounded by groves of manzanitas.
Judith Belton is a Cowichan Valley writer and former newspaper reporter. She lives in Mill Bay and loves to run all over the valley and the Island.