I have travelled this path 100 times and I can only hope that I am lucky enough to do so 100 times more.
4:30am...I'm awake...the birds are chirping...the mountains are calling...I must go. Three cameras, one fruit bar, water, my sneakers and I am out the door.
5:30am... red tread on the dirt. I am trekking steadily up the rudely steep approach. It is an ugly place to begin a hike to such a beautiful summit. Past the trash of forest parties, around the remnants of an old ski lodge and over the washed out ruts of 4 by 4s, I hike quickly to leave it all behind.
I pass under Chair 6 and pause for the first view, but there is nothing but fog. The chair lift disappears into mystery after only four seats in either direction. I was ten years old the last time I skied these slopes with my sisters. I remember wishing I could glide as effortlessly across the hill as my Dad could...in his jeans, of course. We were Forbidden Plateau skiers...kids of old hippies having the time of our lives in borrowed gear and hand knit toques. We left the 'hot doggers' to battle it out on the big ski hill to the north-Mt Washington. We got our fill of the slopes, right here, on our little piece of heaven also known as Wood Mountain.
No snow would be seen today. Mid May and the snow level is higher than I have ever seen it on the Island at this time of year. The mountains are already calling and spring has skipped to early summer right before our eyes.
The top of the Forbidden ski hill merges with the boundary of Strathcona Park and I step through the entrance to Vancouver Islands Eden after a short 25 minute climb. The Park was created to protect our Island's most pristine mountains, rugged ridge lines, remote alpine lakes and fragile mountain meadows. I consider this a sacred border- one that should be treated with big respect. Respect for the environment, for the status of the Park and for the untamed attitude of the wild beyond. Not everyone agrees, it seems. I follow a disappointing set of monster tire tracks into the Park, up the main trail and right to the edges of the first alpine meadow and pond. Education is the answer. But I'm sure a physical barricade at this Park entrance wouldn't hurt either.
Although I am not in love with the first 30 minutes of this hike, I am in love with Mt. Becher. The less than pristine approach does provide remarkably easy access to the sub alpine, just a short drive from town. I can't help but reminisce every time I walk this path. I have travelled it countless times and the moments flow around each bend, boulder and root as I pass them again on the climb up. I remember the faces, the incidents, the laughter and the solace. From my first dance with hypothermia during an overnighter with my Dad to winter wonderland snowshoing and bike-run adventures with friends...this mountain holds many of my stories in her cracks and craigs.
My first hike to the top was in the same era as my last ski to the bottom. After the lodge burned down and the ski hill closed, we continued to play on Forbidden Plateau as a family. Every summer, we would load the VW van and drive up from Victoria to spend our holidays at the Alders Beach Resort in Merville. It was during one of those summers that I earned my first summit to the top of Mt. Becher. I will never forget that first hike to the top. I was finally old enough to join my family for the annual hike up 'the mountain'. I had heard about 'the mountain' for years and was thrilled to be considered grown up enough to join the adults. I am sure it took all day. I am sure it took many stops and many sandwiches to get me to the top. I remember struggling to keep up with my 70 year old, super hiker, Dutch relatives and their endlessly long legs. I remember feeding the Whiskey Jacks. I remember the sun on my face at the summit. And I remember the first feeling of reaching the top of something much bigger than me.
Trekking and running onward, I am finally beyond the reach of monster trucks and litterbugs. I am welcomed into the sub alpine by twisted hemlock and fir trees draped with lichen, the 'old mans beard' of the mountains. Fourty-five minutes into my trek I reach the turn off to Mt Washington via the Forbidden Traverse. In a few hours I could be on the deck of the pub at the ski hill... Not today, though. Today I have one thing on my mind. I can see the top from here, only fifteen minutes away now, and I am anxious to reach my peak. I started the climb at dawn and humped up my camera for a reason. I am driven upward with the vision of the sunrise striking the mountains and it's magic morning light.
"Why did you go so early?", I was asked later that day, by perplexed friends who wanted to get to the bottom of me. "What drives you to do that?" they asked. "The sunrise." I replied. So simple and not likely the answer anyone wants to hear. I simply and passionately love a sunrise in the mountains. A sunrise earned with my two feet. A sunrise without a single sign of a city or a town or a car or even another person to take away from the magic. Why does the mountain sunrise do it for me? That is another question all together...
I reach the edge of the rocky summit and my legs know the final few steps to the top by heart. I turn to look back over my shoulder, knowing there will be a show stopping view waiting for me. It never disappoints. And today...it is better than I expected. An endless sea of pillow top clouds covers the world below me. The foggy ceiling below, has become a puffy white floor that catches the gold and pink morning light. The sun is rising above the cloud floor now and I turn to race to the top. Swift steps, I am trying to beat the sun more than the clock. I am once again that 10 year old girl who is about to reach her peak after hours of anticipation. I can't wait to see the view I have painted in my memory...
And there it is. That light, though. This is why I am here. The magic, morning, mountain light. There is nothing else quite like it. And no way to truely explain it. You will just have to set your alarm early one day and go up to see it for yourself.
Mt Becher: 11k round trip and approximately 600m of elevation gain to the top.
60 minute run to the top. About 2 hours up as a hike. Closer to 3 or 4 with the littles or slow movers. Then you have to get back down;). Technical sections are few and far between, but be prepared to use your hands to help you scramble up a few spots. Mostly easy walking over varied, uneven and loose terrain. Views to die for from the top. Excellent choice for a first mountain summit, once you have some flatter hikes under your boots. Cell service right to the top. Start your climb from the base of Forbidden Plateau ski hill, by the old burned out lodge.
Take a hike;)