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Walks with Dave: Mt. Norman

David Manning

Image by David Manning

Trailheads: South Pender—Ainsley Pt. Road and Canal Road

Both these trails end at the summit of Mt. Norman . With spectacular views, this hike is worth the effort and best done on a clear day. For our walk here we will begin at the Ainsley Point Road Trailhead.

This 2.4 km round-trip trail in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, mostly an invigorating uphill trek, climaxes at a lovely bluff viewpoint, the highest point on Pender at 244 meters. Bring lots of water. Dogs must be leashed at all times. You might consider leaving pooch at home since it scares wildlife and will also distract you from personal observations along the way.

Before we start, Take One—that is, take about one minute of quiet to centre yourself, remembering that our focus will be on each step, on each thing we observe for the entire walk. We’re not going to allow our minds to stray elsewhere or, if it does, we’ll bring it back to the walk.

This entire trail is an old logging road. As you walk try to picture what this area looked like before being logged. At the yellow gated trailhead, look to your right and see in the distance an obvious snag. There was an Osprey nest at the top, but it and the top of this snag came down last winter. Perhaps the birds will build another nest here one day.

Early on, near a pond on the left, you’ll see the results of a tremendous wind. Soon thereafter you’ll reach a junction where another trail goes to Beaumont Park. Our trail to the summit levels out here and there is a restroom up a slope to the right.

Soon the trail steeply ascends again. Can you find what I call Twin Maples, two Bigleaf Maple trees on the right with a fine collection of burls? The exact cause of burls is unknown, but they are likely caused by some form of stress. As you continue up it will be easy to take your time and look around. What understory plants do you see? Sword Fern? Bracken Fern? Salal? Oregon Grape? Blackberries? Which of these is most abundant? What trees can you identify? Any Redwood trees?

After an old logging road going off to the left (can you find it?), the steep trail levels off for about 100 meters, giving you a chance to catch your breath. It becomes steep again with only a couple of minor leveling off sections before reaching the top.

Before you arrive at a trail junction near the summit, on the left you’ll see where a pileated woodpecker has been working on a cedar tree. Can you find it? This bird has tufts of feathers to help keep wood dust out of its nostrils. An historical name for this magnificent woodpecker, the biggest one in North America, is the Great God Woodpecker.

Image by David Manning

Now you arrive at the junction where the other trail comes up from the Canal Road trailhead. Shortly thereafter you will reach the Mt. Norman viewpoint platform with its fantastic view.

Enjoy! You might see Bald Eagles and hawks as well as other birds; in spring and summer there will be Turkey Vultures and swallows. I once saw two Ravens sporting in the breeze, flying in tandem, talking. Last time I stood here, I excitedly watched two warblers—Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s, foraging in the nearby Douglas-fir trees. Both these warblers can be seen year-round on Pender, although uncommon in winter.

Image by David Manning

Two signposts here will identify:

1) various landforms in the distance, including five islands that are also part of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve and, 2) various plants that grow in this sensitive coastal bluff ecosystem.

Stay on the trail and platform to protect this area. In front of you below the deck is a Bigleaf Maple tree, in summer covered with lichens and leaves, in winter with lichens only. Can you see any Arbutus trees? What is the primary tree species on this bluff?

Image by David Manning

Down on the right, across Bedwell Harbour and still on Pender, is a sore sight—a clear-cut right down to the shoreline. After plundering the land for profit, the owners put the property up for sale, a sad observation of disrespect for the land, leaving all residents here with a less habitable island home.

Image by David Manning

This platform is a great place for a snack if you’ve brought one. Consider sitting on the provided benches for a short meditation. Be still. Close your eyes. Feel your body sitting on the bench under you. Feel the aliveness in your hands. Listen to the wind—what causes the sounds that you hear? If you detect no wind, listen to the silence out of which all sounds arise. You may receive some inspiration and a higher view of things as you sit. In fact this might be the best part of your day! Open your eyes and continue being alert to everything around you.

Image by David Manning

My latest visit here found me sharing the viewpoint with two couples, one having boated to Pender from North Vancouver, the other from Victoria. A third couple drove from Whistler to a family cottage here. A local Penderite also arrived at the platform after a pumping ascent in 24 minutes. He mainly walks this trail for health, always quickly, and claims to have hiked it at least 400 times!

When you have your fill of this wondrous viewpoint, make your descent back down. You may notice little side trails off the main trail created by our Black-tailed deer. Another sign of deer presence can be seen on sword ferns—note how most of their frond tips are missing, nipped off by these browsing herbivores. If it’s a sunny day on your descent, watch how the light filters through the trees, enlightening everything it falls upon. Magical!

Back at the trailhead, Take One again to reflect on your walk and give thanks that Parks Canada purchased this land, a fine place to stretch our legs and hearts.

Mt. Norman, Walks with D
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