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Gerry Feehan

Hawaii Five-O’s by Gerry Feehan

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Standing on an active lava flow is ill-advised. But our guide Steve demonstrated the art carefully, with a brief clamber onto the quickly cooling pahoehoe.

We were on the Big Island of Hawaii. Ten of us, five couples in our fifties (the Five-Os), were sharing a charming three-floor oceanfront home in Kona. Although we spent much of our two-week stay lazily floating in a private solar-heated pool watching humpback whales breach, spinner dolphins spin and surfers hang ten, we also took time to explore the many wonders of Hawaii’s largest, youngest chunk of land.

Posing papaya enjoys the view

It is labelled the Big Island for good reason. All the other islands of the 50th state could fit easily within its landmass. Driving from Kona on the western leeward side to Hilo on the wet eastern side is a three-hour drive one-way. But that’s where the lava is and it doesn’t flow uphill. So we hopped in the rental cars and made the overland foray.

Their motto is “go with the flow” … so we did.

There are few places on earth where one can view lava freshly vented from a magma chamber, oozing inexorably toward the sea, creating new planet. The Big Island is one of those magic spots.

Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of the Volcano, is tempestuous and unpredictable. As placation she insists on an offering of gardenia, plumeria or an equally entrancing native Hawaiian blossom. So said Steve as we embarked at twilight on our trek across twenty-year-old lava toward the fresh, gurgling stuff.

There are two types of lava, each easily recognized by its remnant trail. A’a’ flows are jagged and brittle, settling in an upright, dangerous posture. Our path was over the more subtle, titanium-coloured pahoehoe lava, defined by its often ropy, luxuriant and more accessible texture. Pahoehoe wanders hot and plentiful, vented from deep in mother earth’s mantle. A’a’, pushed methodically downhill, builds like windrows graded from a winter street. I prefer pahoehoe. It’s much more forgiving if you trip and fall.

Steve and his partner Ken purchased 23 acres of oceanfront Hawaiian land a decade ago. Recent transports from Montana, they intended to milk goats on their new abode. Lava had not invaded this parcel for 5000 years. But their nanny-milking ambitions were destroyed within three months of move-in when Pele unleashed her fickle fury on their whole tract of Hawaiian soil.

So they gave up the goat and took up lava tours. Their motto is “go with the flow” … so we did. They are a knowledgeable, informative and respectful team. We dutifully followed our guides across terra incognita. Ken led. Steve took up the rear.

The group begins their twilight traverse across pahoehoe lava

Twilight in the tropics is brief. After an hour slowly meandering across the shiny titanium landscape we halted. Utter blackness had descended, but beneath us the darkness evaporated. We stood mesmerized atop newly borne earth — the fresh molten evidence under foot, like a glowing red spider-web. And to our left and right fresh molten rock slowly flowed by, like incandescent rivers.

I proffered Pele’s floral gift directly into the path of the creeping molten stone. The flower wilted and disappeared beneath the hot rock’s onslaught. Nearby a large Koa tree caught fire, exploding in light, whistling and popping like Canada Day fireworks.

The author a little too close to the lava for comfort

When Steve stepped up onto pahoehoe that, seconds earlier, had been a red-hot sinuous mass of 1100°C flowing stone, we stood back, aghast. Fortunately, Steve is light on his feet. After a moment atop the smoldering lava he hopped back to safety, the bottom of his boots smoking faintly. Goddess Pele loves to see soles burn.

Steve prepares to pose atop the cooling lava.

Headlamps illuminated for the hike out, we carefully retraced our steps through a minefield of sharp lava. In the night sky the island’s persistent vog had evaporated. The Milky Way lay crisp and clear above us. We were one with the universe. Well not actually one. But pretty darn close.

Mahalo

The beachfront house at night.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.

 

 

Vancouver Island by Gerry Feehan

 

 

 

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Gerry Feehan

Vancouver Island by Gerry Feehan

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Let’s face it. April in Alberta sucks. Beneath the snowy mantle cold and clean… lies a bunch of dead brown grass. Meanwhile on Vancouver Island, spring is in bloom. The cherry trees are in full magenta majesty. The land is bright with magnolia and rhododendron blossoms and colourful tulips punctuate the evergreen grass. Hummingbirds flit amongst the flowers, sipping spring’s sweet nectar.

I’m not stupid. Last year on the first of April my wife and I packed our cozy little motorhome and headed for the coast. Avoiding the customary Vancouver to Victoria ferry route, we elected to travel up the Sunshine Coast, on the mainland to Powell River, before heading over to the Island.

I use the word ‘mainland’ loosely since, although technically attached to the continent, there is no direct road to Powell River. Getting there entails travel by ferry—two ferries actually. After departing Horseshoe Bay in North Vancouver, the first stop is Gibson’s, made famous by the old CBC series The Beachcombers. We combed Molly’s Reach unsuccessfully for Bruno Gerussi and Relic before navigating the steep road up and out of town and onto the Sunshine Coast Highway.

Soon we were serpentining through massive stands of hemlock, western red cedar and Douglas fir. We encountered the sea again at lovely Sechelt where we enjoyed a quiet hike through a towering old-growth forest—and a lively overnight stay with Sechelt friends. In the morning we followed the meandering road to Saltery Bay where we boarded our second ferry for the leg to Powell River.

We had hoped to avail ourselves of some Sunshine Coast tourist amenities—perhaps a day trip to Desolation Sound, a floatplane into Princess Louisa Inlet or a zodiac ride to Sechelt Narrows—but none of the operators had yet opened for the year.

Unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions, this became a recurring theme during our April trip to the wet, er I mean, west coast. That it was quiet was just as well. Highway 101 (which apparently originates 15,000 road miles away at the tip of South America) terminates at Lund, BC. And I mean, terminates. Had there been a couple more cars parked in front of the historic Lund Hotel, I’d still be trying to turn the motorhome around.

After retracing our path south to Powell River, we caught the late afternoon ferry for the run over to Comox on the Island. Our arrival was inauspicious. Rain poured down through the night. In the morning the windshield wipers were flapping time all the way to Port McNeill. Literally flapping. They were broken. But when we pulled into town the sky cleared and we enjoyed a lovely, crisp evening. The town was deserted. We had the world’s largest burl, a Port McNeil must-see, to ourselves.

For the uninitiated, a burl is an abnormal outgrowth on a tree, like a wart, or a giant blemish. This particular burl is six meters in diameter and is estimated to weigh 30 tonnes. That’s one big zit.

A few kilometres up the road is Port Hardy, which bills itself as a salmon fishing mecca. But the charters were all in dry dock. The run of spring salmon had yet to arrive. And the orcas that eat them were nowhere to be seen. So forget whale watching.

Perhaps this whole ‘Vancouver-Island-in-April’ thing was not such a great idea after all. But of course, it was. Sure, we got a bit wet here and there and, yes, some of the more touristy things weren’t yet open for business, but there was the quiet solitude, gorgeous hiking, camping in peaceful remote forests—and spring’s bright blossoms.

I unfurled my fly rod and spent a delightful day wading the Marble River, near Port Alice, casting every manner of lure onto those pristine mountain waters. Alas, I didn’t land a thing, despite digging deep into my fly box for the finest of flies. Clearly, the fish of Vancouver Island are either blind—or very stupid.

We had the Island’s campgrounds to ourselves

Pursuing more quiet isolation, we headed for Telegraph Cove, located on a dead-end road just south of Port McNeill. We phoned ahead to see if the campground was open but the pre-recorded message simply thanked patrons for ‘a great season’ and offered an encouraging ‘see you in the spring’.

We weren’t optimistic. We resigned ourselves to a night of boondocking in some remote pullout. Still, we pressed on and pulled into the cove just as the setting sun glimmered red on the calm, gorgeous bay of the tiny hamlet.

Telegraph Cove

Look up ‘quaint’ in the dictionary. There’ll be a picture of Telegraph Cove. The small harbour is surrounded by cute, rustic lodging; converted fishing shacks and charming motel units hang precariously over the water.

At the end of the pier stands the iconic rust-red Telegraph Cove Lumber & Trading Co., which now houses the Whale Interpretive Centre. Everything was shut fast. I peeked through the smoky windows of the local cafe. In a far corner, tables and chairs were upended and neatly stacked. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an older fellow, with a hitch in his gait and a sharp tool in his hand, appeared. ‘Can I help ya?’ he inquired, hoisting a hacksaw. I looked at Florence and shivered. It was reminiscent of The Shining.

‘We were hoping to find a spot to camp for the night,’ I mentioned nervously. ‘No problem,’ he said. ‘we’re not officially open yet but you’re welcome to pull in anywhere and hook up. No charge.’ He pointed up the hill toward a steep gravel road leading into the forest and a sign that read, ‘Camping.’ I turned to thank him. He was gone.

Still, we slept peacefully that night, lullabied to sleep by the rhythmic swaying of giant Douglas fir. In the morning we moseyed down to the boat ramp, intending to launch our inflatable kayak. The wind was gale-force. Outside the harbour entrance, the roiling sea was grey and angry. And we’d been warned that even on calm days, navigating the tide at Telegraph Cove can be challenging.

Deflated, but not defeated, we stuffed the limp kayak back into its lair in the rear of the RV and pointed the wheel toward Tofino on the rugged west side of Vancouver Island… where we would soon encounter a real adventure on the ocean.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.

Heavenly Valhalla by Gerry Feehan

 

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Gerry Feehan

Heavenly Valhalla by Gerry Feehan

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In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the place where slain warriors dwell under the leadership of god Odin. The einherjar blissfully hang out in the netherworld, patiently awaiting the arrival of Doomsday. Not my idea of a fun place to winter. Luckily, the Valhalla we visited last March, a quaint mountain lodge tucked away in BC’s Selkirk Mountains, is rather less bleak—and a lot more heavenly. This was our first destination-vacation in over a year and we were giddy with excitement—with a touch of trepidation thrown in. A physically demanding three day ski touring adventure was on tap. From our home base in Kimberley we enjoyed the leisurely drive—and a peaceful ferry ride across Kootenay Lake—to New Denver on Slocan Lake where we checked into the hospitable and very unique Adventure Domes cottages.

adventuredomes.ca

In the morning, at our designated pick-up spot on the north end of Slocan, the March snow had deteriorated into that ugly freeze-thaw meringue typical of a strengthening spring sun. Hmmm, how would the skiing be? While we helped load gear into the snowcat, I wondered out loud if it were wise that we’d chosen a slot so late in the season. ‘Ha’, laughed the driver, ‘you’ll find it a little different 1000 meters up the mountain.’ And indeed, one very steep hour later, we emerged into deep soft snowy white winter. Heavenly Valhalla.

That Valhalla Mountain Touring (vmt.ca) was even operating is a testament to the perseverance of owner Jasmin Caton — and the dedication of the whole Valhalla staff, given the stringent conditions wrought by this rotten pandemic.

Every guided backcountry ski tour begins with terrain orientation, where the guests gather outside in the snow to practice avalanche training, mountain rescue techniques and the use of a transceiver beacon to rescue a dummy. We had packed all the necessary gear, but some were borrowed—and apparently outdated. Dan, our lead guide, politely asked me to hand over the ancient probe which I was ineptly attempting to assemble. ‘This is a good example of something not to use when attempting to locate a submerged body; probably more suitable for British mountaineering in low snow-pack.’ I nodded but failed to mention that I had indeed obtained the feeble tool from a British acquaintance who had proudly lauded its efficacy.

Lunch.

In her 10 years of backcountry ski guiding, Jasmin has never had a serious accident to contend with. (On the Kimberley ski hill the day before we left, we watched the ski patrol haul down three stretchers.) Jasmin jokingly complained that she’d never had to use the assortment of fancy gear she hauled up the mountain every day. That would change during our stay.

After orientation we tucked back into the cozy lodge and, as eyeglasses de-fogged, a feast of appetizers appeared, courtesy of chef Annie. These treats did not remain in view long. All 9 guests quickly gobbled up the delectables, storing up calories in anticipation of the weight-loss program which would commence in the morning: climbing 1500 meters up a snowy mountain for three straight days.

My wife Florence and I are relative newbies to ski touring and, although we had put in a respectable amount of pre-arrival training, we were pooped by the end of day one. So after another remarkable meal—Annie’s signature lamb-chops—it was early to bed, where we slept the sleep of the dead.

I assume you’re familiar with the adage, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ Well, the maxim certainly applies to ski-touring. I pride myself (erroneously as is now apparent) on being in pretty good shape for my vintage. As we gathered gear, donned equipment and shot the breeze in the breezeway on day one, I noted the advanced age of some of my fellow guests and, inwardly smirking, thought, ‘I hope that old gal doesn’t hold us all up.’ And… no she did not. As it turns out, neither did I. Utterly exhausted, I had begged off the last climb of the day and trudged morosely back to the lodge, watching my geriatric friend tirelessly scurry uphill for another run down the pow.

Day two dawned with a mess of fresh snow. We devoured breakfast, packed our pre-made lunches, strapped on skins and strode out across frozen Shannon Lake. As we exited the lake and began a steep ascent to the mountain summit a kilometer above us, Dan stopped, shushed us all and steered off the intended track. A huge yellow-white mountain goat was demanding the right-of-way. The big billy regarded us for a moment, then diverted directly uphill, striding tirelessly through the deep untouched powder. We watched mouths agape as the mighty creature slowly became a speck far up mountain.

At every hard-earned turn, the view is spectacular.

It was toward the end of day three—our last—when Dan’s radio crackled an urgent message. Someone in the group below had been hurt. We were only a few hundred meters from the notch where we were to perform our final transition: strip off skins, buckle boots, set heels, point skis downhill, hoot with pleasure.

Dan instructed us to stop immediately, huddle up and prepare to descend. ‘Stick together and ski carefully,’ he said, ‘the last thing we need now is another problem.’ 20 minutes later we came upon the other crew. Jasmin’s mother Lynda had had a nasty spill. Her leg was badly broken. Jasmin had assembled her mom’s skis into a makeshift toboggan, used poles as a splint, wrapped her in the insulating warmth of some spare coats and hauled the bundle up to an access spot where a VMT snowmobile and sled met us.

Jasmin jumped aboard and disappeared down the bumpy logging road to rendezvous with an ambulance on the highway far below. The lodge is isolated from the world. There is no margin for error when an emergency arises. The professionalism and expert training demonstrated by the whole VMT team in this serious situation was remarkable.

Later that evening, as we finished dinner and reposed by the roaring fire, Jasmin stepped into the lodge to reassure us that her mom was doing fine. She provided an update on the weather and outlined the plan for the following day. She smiled, non-plussed and said, ‘Well, at least I finally got to use all that stuff I pack.’ Then she ducked out the door. Her two-year-old twins, Spruce and Indigo, were waiting in the staff quarters, ready to spend some quality time with their mom. Just another amazing day in Valhalla.

Jasmin enjoys a well-deserved break.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.

The Oregon Coast by Gerry Feehan

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