A Very Small Bit of Bedwell Valley History
Strathcona Park has a long history of commercial exploitation. Corporations have always done the damage, but governments have always been to blame. it’s simple. Corporations aren’t supposed to protect parks, governments are. If government doesn’t open the doors, corporations can’t move in.
In the Bedwell, the government opened the doors to mining and logging, then dumped the valley from the park, saying it had low park value because it had been logged. The Strathcona Blockade of 1988 forced them to put the Bedwell back. Since then, the valley has been slowly healing itself. In a few hundred years it’ll be as good as new. It simply requires us to leave it alone.
This isn’t happening. The government has been working to open the Bedwell Valley to yet another commercial operation. This one, (Clayoquot Wilderness Resort) is owned (according to Google) by Richard Genovese and “the Genovese Family Trust.” Google describes Richard as a “venture capitalist” originally from Toronto and Monaco. I’ve tried to learn more about Richard and the Genovese Family Trust but I’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful. I find this disturbing. Why is it so hard to learn anything about who and what our government seems so determined to allow into Strathcona Park?
Volunteers have worked hard for years creating the Bedwell Centennial Trail as a practical model of a low-disturbance trail suitable for the Bedwell Valley. Now the government has granted a permit to Clayoquot Wilderness Resort to build a high-impact, high-disturbance commercial trail. This is being fought in court.
It remains to be seen whether the commercial trail will ever be built. The financial powers behind the resort may finally realize (even if the government doesn’t) that the project makes no practical or financial sense, and, if it’s built, it’ll clearly be harmful to the park. West coast rain forest valleys are poor locations for luxury dude ranches. The resort has already suffered major flood damage, and it’ll suffer more.
Major erosion is constant. A horse trail along the river will disappear in chunks, exactly like the old logging roads and bridges. The river’s been working for years to eliminate all signs of destructive human activity in the Bedwell, and it won’t stop. The valley is sending an obvious message. I believe we should listen. Hello, government? Hello?
Some Points About the Trail
The trail begins near the parks camp site (tent platforms) on Bedwell Lake. From there, it basically follows the left side of the Bedwell River (going downstream) until it crosses over to the right side on the Gayle McGee bridge. It then stays on the right side of the river all the way to the head of Bedwell Inlet.
The Bedwell Valley is rough and wild. Snow often stays late into the summer at higher elevations and the trail crosses one semi-permanent snow slide. The Bedwell River and the creeks feeding into it can rise very quickly during any large rainfall, so beware. Thankfully, they usually fall equally quickly once rain stops.
In general, the last few weeks in August and the first week or so in September are usually the best times to plan a trip down the Bedwell, because water levels are at their lowest. In times of high water, almost any creek may rise enough to stop travel. In low water, all creeks (except possibly K2 Creek) should be safe to wade. Sam Craig Creek generally appears to carry less water, and should be easy to wade almost any time from late July into early September. K2 Creek, You Creek, and Ashwood Creek are currently spanned by logs or log jams, which might change or vanish during any winter.
The trail basically goes where the country allows it to go. Sometimes rock bluffs or other obstructions funnel travellers ( both two legged and four) into one route. Often the trail follows the elk, which have been travelling up and down this valley for centuries. There are muddy sections, rocky sections, steep sections, and marshy sections. The valley was logged up to about where the snow slide crosses the trail, so the trail intermittently follows old logging roads (where they exist) from this point down.
At present, the trail and route are marked with ribbons, all the way from Bedwell Lake to where the trail joins the old logging road just downstream from the “Living Bridge.” The trail has been brushed out and almost all windfalls have been removed, except where the government wouldn’t give permission to do this between Ashwood Creek and Sam Craig Creek.
Bedwell Climate and Topography
The Bedwell Valley is similar to most valleys in Strathcona Park in that it’s narrow and steep, particularly in the upper sections. The Bedwell River flows from Bedwell Lake (at the height of land) entirely through mountains which face the Pacific Ocean. These two factors (narrow and steep, facing the Pacific) guarantee major precipitation and rapid runoff.
With sufficient rain, the Bedwell River can become a fearsome torrent in a very short time. Rises of eight feet and more (particularly lower down on the river) aren’t uncommon.
Why the Troute Stays Most of the Way on the Left Side (Going Down) of the River
1) The troute avoids all potentially dangerous Bedwell River crossings. It crosses the river only once, closer to the ocean on the existing Gayle McGee bridge. Also, the more dangerous side creeks are on the other side of the river. The creeks on the left side are much easier to cross.
2) The troute is often safely above the reach of the river which is so efficiently destroying the old logging road which follows the flats on the right side.
3) By going higher, the troute often avoids areas frequented by elk and other animals, lessening human disturbance.
4) By staying higher, the troute passes through several areas of old growth timber which escaped logging. We can truly appreciate what the valley was like before it was logged. Going higher also gives us some wonderful views of the valley and mountains, different vegetation, and one encouraging glimpse of our destination, the ocean.
The Trail Guide
The troute actually begins near the BC Parks campsite and tent platforms on Bedwell Lake, reached via the Bedwell Lake trail.
The Bedwell Lake Trailhead is reached by turning left off the pavement (which goes to the mine on Myra Creek) onto a gravel side road shortly after crossing Thelwood Creek near the head of Buttle Lake. This is the Jim Mitchell Lake road, which is where the historic Strathcona Blockade began in January, 1988. The road is a very steep industrial road, built by the mine to reach their hydro dam on Jim Mitchell Lake. The road may be in poor condition, requiring at least front wheel drive, possibly more.
The times given in the guide are from recent trips done by reasonably fit people of varying ages and abilities, with reasonably heavy (40-55 pound) packs, travelling from alpine to ocean, not vice versa. Obviously, the times may not match your times. If you’re faster, no problem. If you’re slower, especially a lot slower, you might think about allowing yourself more time, or perhaps choosing another trip.
The first leg, from the Bedwell Lake Trailhead to Bedwell Lake, should give some idea of how fast or slow you are compared to the times given. I think it’s important from many perspectives, including safety, to find and maintain a pace which is comfortable for you, not someone else. A few strong people will run all the way to the beach in one day. Most won’t. I think a good, reasonably moderate time from Bedwell Lake to saltwater might be about four days.
An Attempt to Explain “Troute”
From now on, in the actual guide, I’ll often use the word “troute” to refer to what I’ve so far called the Bedwell Centennial Trail. To me, a troute is somewhere between a route and a trail. Sometimes it’s more of a trail, sometimes it’s more of a route, and sometimes it’s something in between. I also call troutes “gentle trails,” because a good troute moves through the country as gently as possible. I think the Bedwell Centennial Trail qualifies as a gentle trail, or troute, especially since we originally created it in hopes of protecting the park from the threat of a hugely brutal commercial horse trail.
My Thoughts on “Gentle Trails” or “Troutes”
In general, I don’t think wide trails suit many areas in Strathcona very well. A narrow trail can easily (and gently) go many places a wide trail can’t. In a park like Strathcona, if we decide our trails must be wide, we drastically limit where the trail can go. A narrow trail can wiggle through intricate obstacles where a wide trail can’t. This means that wide trails often must force their way through, while narrow trails are usually able to work with the country, not against it, and to make use of natural features rather than blast them out of the way.
Wide trails, especially on steep side hills, often demand total destruction of important root systems which work to hold everything in place. Wide trails also often remove the “duff,” or accumulated needles and other small forest debris which holds up amazingly well under human feet. What I call “gentle” trails, or “troutes,” don’t usually disturb root systems or duff at all. This helps immeasurably to diminish or eliminate the erosion problems which turn many of the wider trails in Strathcona (Forbidden Plateau, Bedwell Lake Trail) into little more than mud holes and rocky creek beds.
Gental trails (troutes) are easy to build and easy to maintain by volunteers at little or no cost. In the past, they’ve usually been planned, sited, and built by people who understand the park, and what suits the park’s special conditions.
These “gentle” trails create little disturbance, and they only last as long as they receive regular use. If people don’t use them, they fade away into the landscape, unlike the huge, deep scars of wide trails (very obvious on the Forbidden Plateau) which continually grow larger and get worse.
Wider trails take a lot of time and effort to build, and they cost a lot of money. If they’re poorly sited (which is often the case, since their size makes this almost inevitable) they’re often almost impossible to change. Not so with a troute. If, after a few years, a better location is found for a shorter or longer section of a troute, it can be relocated quickly and easily, and the abandoned section will simply disappear.
Troutes, or gentle trails are gentle on the land. Because gentle trails bend to the land, they aren’t sidewalks. They aren’t intended to be. Sidewalks work better in cities. Gentle trails are intended to be easy on the park and to provide us with a practical way to move unobtrusively and respectfully through sometimes difficult country.
Is there a better way for us to experience our park?
Bedwell Trailhead to Baby Bedwell Lake – about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Pretty much all uphill.
Map 1: Trailhead to Bedwell Lake
Baby Bedwell to Bedwell Lake tent platforms – about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Some uphill, some down, packed snow often covering sections of trail in late July/early August. Horrible steel stairways, often badly mutilated by winter snow.
Bedwell Lake tent platforms to K2 Creek crossing – about 1 hour. Creek crossing somewhat intimidating for many, but not for Tat. Two yellow cedar logs laid across the creek at the very brink of a high waterfall. Logs apparently still sound, but no guarantee. This is no place for heroics. Most cross by straddling the logs or crawling. Braver people may help more timid people with their packs. The distance across is short, and improvements here (or a permanent solution, like a bridge) would be relatively simple, and it may come to pass. Meanwhile, be careful. So far, hundreds have survived.
K2 Creek Crossing
K2 Creek to Elk Flat – about 30 minutes. I’m not sure if this time is correct, but it’s what I’ve got written down. The troute veers away from the river and then returns, at what I call the Elk Flat. Camping is possible here beside the river, but snow often lies later on this flat than in areas where the ground is steeper.
Elk Flat to Appreciation Falls – about 1 hour. There are several points of interest along this part of the troute. Toward the lower end of the Elk Flat is what I call “Vitality Bridge,” where a creek crossing has been created by the living roots of trees. Soon after crossing Vitality Bridge, the troute trends steeply downward, as does the river, which can be heard roaring off to the right.
Watch for a side trail which leads to “Cliff Hanger Falls.” No sign at the trail turn off, but one at the falls. Further down, “Appreciation Falls,” (short side trail, no sign as yet) was named in appreciation of all the volunteers who worked on the Bedwell Centennial Troute as part of the effort to stop the government from opening the Bedwell Valley to commercial exploitation. Also simple, honest appreciation for a beautiful park, a beautiful valley, and a beautiful wild river.
Appreciation Falls to Upstream Edge of Snow slide – about 30 minutes. This snow slide is replenished every winter by avalanches coming down the slopes and gullies of Big Interior Mountain. It currently seems to stay all year, and the slide covers the Bedwell River in this area until well into summer.
Map 2: Bedwell Lake to Ashwood Creek
The snow is compacted and moderately steep, but can normally be crossed safely, using normal care. Warmer weather generally makes for softer snow and better footing, whereas colder weather could mean frozen snow. Another good reason to plan this trip for the warmest, driest part of the year, centred usually approximately around the last two weeks of August and the first week or so of a warm, dry September.
The snow slide
Bedwell River disappearing under the slide
From Upstream Edge of Snow slide to Start of Old Logging Road – about 1 hour. At the point where the troute comes out of the timber at the upstream edge of the snow slide, the view opens up. Immediately ahead is the snow slide, with the Bedwell River (either covered or uncovered, depending on how much snow has melted) low down on the right. On the far side of the snow slide is a strip of maples (which stands out in this region of predominately coniferous trees) which I call the Elk Pasture since it’s an area favoured by the elk.
Between the snow slide and the maples is a strip of brush, mainly salmon berries. Our goal is to reach the Elk Pasture (nice walking) while avoiding thrashing through the thick salmon berries. To do this, we follow the elk, as we’ve been doing pretty much all the way from Bedwell Lake.
A tongue of relatively clear ground interspersed with boulders extends upward on the far edge of the snow field. The troute crosses the snow field to the upper part of this rocky, bouldery tongue, (delicious wild strawberries in season) and then heads downhill to where the elk trail leaves the tongue and finds its way through the salmon berries to the maples.
The elk trail stays to rockier areas across the salmon berries, and it’s a good trail, quite well defined. There should also be ribbons, and perhaps a few cairns. If you’re carrying a roll of marking tape this would be a good place to use some of it, to help others keep to the straight and narrow. It’ll help the park, too. Ribbons and cairns disappear over time, and when people get confused they start making extra trails, which confuses more people, who make more trails leading nowhere…
Once in the maples, the troute goes down, running roughly parallel (but not too close) to a creek which the troute eventually crosses. This creek is normally pretty tame (one step across) but a good rain can quickly turn it into a snarling monster. After crossing the creek, it’s a short distance downhill to the beginning of the old logging road.
From the Start of the Old Logging Road to You Creek – 50 minutes. This road is straightforward. Except for a few washed out sections, it’s a simple trudge down the road to You Creek. You’ll pass some huge old stumps dwarfing the puny second growth stems, another reminder of what an amazing place this valley must have been before they destroyed this part of the park for money. Oh well, just another few hundred years…
You Creek has good camping. The creek should be easy to wade across in times of low water. At present (and probably for years to come) a big log spans the creek just upstream from the old road crossing. There’s a beautiful waterfall a short distance up the creek. Someday, there may be a cable car crossing here.
You Creek Crossing
You Creek to Ashwood Creek – about 2 hours. The Bedwell River has been changing course from one side of the valley to the other for thousands of years. A short distance downstream from You Creek, the road has vanished into the river, forcing the troute to climb up a muddy elk trail. It then parallels the river until it strikes an old spur which leads back down to where the old road is still in place.
The road is gone in several places between You Creek and Ashwood Creek. The troute detours where necessary. The last section of road before Ashwood Creek is still in pretty good shape. There’s a fork toward the end of this final section, with the troute heading up the left fork for about ten minutes to the Ashwood Creek crossing and campsite. The right fork once crossed the river on a bridge which has long since disappeared.
There’s very good camping at Ashwood Creek. The crossing is on an old log jam which could wash out any year. The creek should be easy to wade in any sort of low water.
Ashwood Creek marks the start of the middle section of the Bedwell Centennial Troute, which the government wouldn’t give us permission to brush out. It’s a short section (about 2 hours and 30 minutes with day packs) between Ashwood Creek and Sam Craig Creek.
The Ashwood crossing is well marked, but this might be another helpful place to hang some fresh flagging tape if you have it. A side creek comes into the Ashwood at this point, and the troute follows the creek for a short distance, then heads uphill into a notch to avoid bluffs along the river. This notch is actually a sort of narrow slit which runs up one side of a hill from Ashwood Creek and then down the other side to a small marshy lake. From the lake, (which I call Sundew Lake) the troute returns to the river.
Ashwood Creek Crossing
Ashwood Creek to Sundew Lake – about 1 hour. The Ashwood side of the notch has been logged, and the way up is choked in places with felled logs left to rot. The other side, going down to Sundew Lake, for some reason wasn’t logged, and it’s probably the only sizeable stand of old growth timber remaining in the Bedwell Valley. The entire valley was once like this. These old trees have seen plenty, and they deserve all the appreciation and respect we can give them. Somehow, trees like this feed our spirits. If wilderness parks have a real purpose, this is it. For whatever reason, money, stumps, and commercial operations didn’t quite make it here, so these ancient beings still exist to feed something in us we’ll never understand.
Map 3: Ashwood Creek to Sam Craig Creek
Old growth Yellow Cedar
Sundew Lake to Sam Craig Creek – about 1 hour and 30 minutes. From Sundew Lake, the troute goes a short distance downhill to the river, and follows elk trails (elk troutes?) along the river all the way to Sam Craig Creek. In this section there are wonderful views of the Bedwell River in it’s many different forms. There are rapids, quieter sections, and places where the river somehow squeezes through closely packed collections of gigantic boulders.
There are several gravel bar campsites with beautiful alders and grassy areas. Blaney Creek actually splits into a swampy maze of several creeks, and the troute weaves a torturous way through. Nearing Sam Craig Creek, the troute leaves the river and moves slightly uphill to avoid a thick brushy patch of second growth. A short elk trail leads back to the river and from there the troute follows pleasant alder flats to the mouth of Sam Craig Creek.
There are no convenient logs across Sam Craig Creek, but it’s an easy wade in the summer.
From Sam Craig Creek, the troute stays beside the river for a short distance, then goes up and over a short, steep section and back down to a beautiful gravel bar campsite on the river. Sam Craig Creek to gravel bar – about 30 minutes.
Gravel bar campsite to old logging road near “Living Bridge” – About 3 hours and 50 minutes.
Heading out from the gravel bar, the troute goes through an alder flat, then starts to climb to avoid bluffs ahead on the river. The climb is steep, because the troute is squeezed into a gully here by bluffs on the upstream side as well. I call this “the Deer Gully” because this is a deer route. It leads up from the river to a sort of rolling plateau with two marshy lakes or ponds, which I call “the Beautiful Ponds.”
Map 4: Sam Craig Creek to Living Bridge
From the Beautiful Ponds, the troute follows elk trails back down to the river. There is at least one good gravel bar campsite with swiming opportunities on this section, before the troute climbs again to avoid another section of difficult ground beside the river. It then descends almost to the river (chance to fill water bottles before dry climb to top of bluffs) before making a final longer and steeper climb (with a very small area old growth near the top) to pause on some bluffs with a good view up and down the Bedwell Valley, including (from the right spot) a view of saltwater in Bedwell Inlet.
From there, the troute descends to join the old logging road near a creek about a 15 minute walk downstream from “the Living Bridge.” The creek may appear dry, but water can usually be found in rocky pools by following the creek a short distance up from the road.
From where the troute joins the old logging road to Gayle McGee Bridge – 1 hour and 15 minutes. Basically this is just a trudge down the old logging road through salmon berries and occasional wash outs to the Gayle McGee Bridge across the Bedwell River. Just below the bridge is an excellent camping area beside the river.
Gayle McGee Bridge to salt water – 3 hours. This is just a trudge down a dusty road to saltwater, a wharf where you’ve hopefully arranged for a water taxi from Tofino to meet you, and the unlikely spectacle of a dude ranch for the wealthy at the mouth of the Bedwell River.
Map 5: Living Bridge to Bedwell Inlet
Bedwell River, Mt Mariner
Gravel bar campsite
For more information, including a GPS map, see this Comox District Mountaineering Club page.
Best wishes and good luck!