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I lace up my hiking boots, but where to go? Should I ramble in the still, sombre forest surrounded by moss, ferns and giant trees? Or should I walk along rocky beaches communing with sea stars and barnacle encrusted rocks? Or should I climb to a viewpoint and gaze upon a panorama of islands sprinkled on the waters as though by the hand of God? I decide to set out on a quest and seek out the very best hiking trail in this gaggle of islands.

Stream along Chris Hatfield trail, Salt Spring Island BCOn my island of Pender, walking trails are abundant and I know them well. My favourite is George Hill where I’m soon labouring uphill, through moist forest and then a meadow and onto the summit. I sit next to a spindly Garry oak, watching ferries and the distant snow-capped mountains on the mainland. Ah, wonderful.

At Galiano Island, the choices are many, but the Bodega Ridge trail draws me. I stroll along humming and happy passing ramrod-straight Douglas firs, which are like battalions of tall, slim soldiers standing at attention. But interspersed here and there in their ranks, mockingly, are gangling arbutus trees, chaotic like hippies. What a blessing to be alone, immersed in nature.

Couple gazes at ferry at Roesland, Pender Island BCMy quest continues. Disembarking from the ferry at Mayne Island, I check the trail map and head for the Halliday Ridge hike in Mount Parke Regional Park. The deep forest and views from the top are wonderful, but best is hearing a loud rat-atat-atat and then seeing a pileated woodpecker, its red head a blur as it attacks an old log, sending wood chips flying.

Saturna Island is next, and soon I am at the top of Mount Warburton Pike. Gazing at the isle-dotted Salish Sea, I can’t argue with those who judge the Pike the finest lookout in the Gulf Islands. I meander south-east along the Brown Ridge trail wrapped in sunshine and peaceful solitude. The walk is special for the trail was made not by humans but, most unusually, by resident feral goats, whom I can see grazing here and there farther down the hillside.

Another ferry carries me to Salt Spring Island where I seek out the Chris Hatfield trail in the northern edge of Ruckle Park. I sit beside a pond, where reflections of towering trees and a split-rail fence glisten in the water. I continue deeper into the lush rain forest, passing trees whose branches are festooned with beards of bright green moss. Under a tree are a shovel, several buckets and a sign inviting hikers to dig up gravel, fix part of the trail farther along and return the empty pail on return. What a clever idea! At Yeo Point I sat with my back against a sun-warmed boulder gazing at passing boats and ferries. Following a creek upstream, the gurgling of water grows louder until I see rapids swirling and tumbling down moss encrusted rocks, surrounded by ferns and tall trees.

Enjoying view of the Salish Sea from George Hill, Pender Island BCI return home having hiked many great trails. But I think I’ll have to do it all over again, for I can’t decide which one is best.

Teeing up at hole 2, Pender Island disc course

Hidden away in the forest deep in the Magic Lake area is one of the finest — and least known — treasures of Pender Island: a disc golf course.

On a recent weekend the forest resounded to thumps, clangs and happy shouts as I arrived to play. With its hilly contours and stately Douglas firs, western cedars and gangling arbutuses, the course is considered one of the most picturesque in North America.

Disc golf is just like regular golf but instead of hitting a ball, you throw a plastic disc that looks like a Frisbee. Starting in the tee box, you keep throwing down the course until your disc lands in a chain basket or strikes a pole covered in metal so it makes a ringing sound. The objective is to take the minimum number of throws. The top players carry more than a dozen discs, using different ones for driving, putting and curving around trees, which have an annoying habit of getting in the way. Novices play along just fine with one or two discs. The game is totally casual. There are no waivers to sign, no tee-off times; you just show up and start to play. Best of all, it’s free (except for tournaments)!

Sign for Hart Memorial Disc Golf Course, Salt Spring Island BC

Sign for Golf Island Disc Park, Pender Island BC

Disc golf is played around the world and is particularly popular on the west coast. Courses are also found on Salt Spring Island and Mayne Island.

I joined three friends and started. With many errant shots my score climbed embarrassingly quickly. But it was a lot of fun.

After the game, I nursed a bottle of amber fluid and thought I detected the smell of a well-known BC product wafting through the forest. What a wonderful day!

                       Hanging tone pole at Hart Memorial Disc Park, Salt Spring Island BC

If You Want to Play

– Pender Island: Disc Golf Island is in Magic Lake

– Salt Spring Island: Hart Memorial Disc Park is at Mouat Park

– Mayne Island: Disc park is at Dinner Bay