I love to snowshoe. Getting out in the wilderness, to where the silence is thick, and the forests are heavily laden with snow. Your snowshoes give you the ability to go just about anywhere you please, places which in the summer are thick with brush are now covered in a carpet of snow, and rushing streams now slowly trickle through icy panes.
I had the opportunity to head out with ‘Canadian Snowmobile Adventures‘ on their Medicine Trail Tour, our guide Luke Kolla took us deep into the Callaghan Valley for a spectacular journey. After a 20 minute drive from Whistler Village, you arrive at Canadian’s caboose area where you strap on your snowshoes. The dog sled kennels are close, and a beautiful husky comes over to greet us, I truly feel we are experiencing a bit of Canadian history.
Two totem poles loom over the trail head, they were made by the Coastal Salish people and transported here to guard the entrance. From here onwards the trail gets narrower, we are entering the old growth forest. Luke is a fountain of knowledge and as we move through the forest he points out trees, animal tracks, and goes through the history of the area. A bob cat trail winds in and out of our own foot falls, nocturnal by nature it must have caught Luke’s scent when he went out to pack down the trail in the early morning. Giant red cedars tower over us, and berry bushes litter the floor. Luke mentions that bears must consume 30-50 thousand blueberries in order to prepare for hibernation, they are impressive vegetarians who like the occasional salmon.
We get to the ‘Witching Tree’, an old cedar which was struck by lightning burning it through its core. Moss covers the charred wood, and you can see where a bear has made its bed at the base. Litchen hangs from the branches, it is a highly oxygenated area and this slow-growing symbiotic combination of fungi and algae grows well. Lichens first appeared about 400 million years ago. Many species indicate many functions in the working of the forest ecosystem, and many linkages with other forms of life. Some lichens, like the leafy Lung Lichens are natural fertilizers, aiding the growth of trees by capturing nitrogen from the air. Lichens can provide up to half the nitrogen requirement of a forest. Throughout the world, healthy lichen vegetation has come to stand for a healthy environment.
The forest we stand in is ancient, Western Hemlocks, Yellow and Red Cedars, Fir, and Yew trees all had their usages to the Native Americans. The Yellow Cedar wood is used to make paddles, and masks, its bark woven into blankets and rope. Red cedar is resistant to decay and is used as a building material. Both of these trees have medicinal purposes, the tea of the twigs and branches from the yellow cedar is simmered until the water in the pot begins to turn brown. It is then used for fevers, rheumatic complaints, chest colds and flu. With the red cedar there are various preparations such as poultices for skin disease and treatment of rheumatism, as well as chewing leaf buds to treat toothache. Be sure you know exactly what you’re doing before experimenting with this!
As we start heading back along the trail I begin to truly value our time out amongst the trees. We often forget, with the business of our lives, that these natural paradises exist just steps away from us. We stayed on the trail so as not to cause excessive damage, the more I heard about the are the more I felt a need to share and yet protect this wonderful place.