Thursday, August 27, 2015

Directions to the Red Creek Fir

The world's largest remaining Douglas fir is known as the Red Creek Fir, and it's enormous: 73.8 metres tall (242 feet), and 13.3 metres around (nearly 44 feet in circumference). Not many people have seen it, however, and this post is meant as an encouragement to get you out there.

The tree's location is no secret, since the Ancient Forest Alliance has had directions to the Red Creek Fir on their website for a long time. Most of the route follows logging roads, which of course are varyingly bumpy, dusty, and travelled by huge trucks uninterested in your possible right of way, but that's predictable. The trouble is, though, that the AFA's directions are sketchy at some key points, with phrases like "Continue a short ways past the bridge" and "down hill for quite a ways." Their page links to photos of each junction, and I found those essential the first time I went out there (in 2010), but there are two problems. First, you'll have no cell coverage in the Renfrew area, so you'd have to print off the photos in advance, and second, there have been significant changes in road conditions and undergrowth since the AFA's photos were taken.

When Junior and I drove out there yesterday, as a result, I kept an eye on distances and times. To be honest, I was doing this only for future reference, but it's clear that there aren't many people driving out that way. Spiders had nearly closed the road with cobwebs, mushrooms were growing in the middle of the road, no tire tracks near the damp areas: the road's still readily passable, and in the summer you don't need 4WD so much as a short wheelbase, but I think it's a very rare trip even for your more dedicated treehuggers, like me. That's a real shame, because the Red Creek Fir is truly a remarkable tree, and more of us should see it as a destination. (Spend some money in Port Renfrew, too, if you're going out there!)

Without further ado, then, here are what I'd call clearer written directions to the Red Creek Fir, if you're coming from Victoria. Steps 1-5, plus 7, are taken almost verbatim from the Ancient Forest Alliance site, with links to their pictures (thanks, AFA! Please don't mind...), but the rest of the steps are amended, with all distances being my references:

  1. Drive to Port Renfrew along the West Coast Hwy #14.
  2. Immediately upon reaching Port Renfrew turn RIGHT downhill onto Deering Road.
  3. Cross the long bridge over the San Juan River and stay to the right on Deering until you cross a second single lane bridge and come to a “T” in the road.
  4. Turn RIGHT at the T and start heading towards Lake Cowichan on the Pacific Marine Circle Route.
  5. Travel along the Pacific Marine Circle Route for approximately 12 km. where you will hit a major fork in the road. Turn RIGHT at the fork. You will now be heading onto a gravel road.
  6. Watching for signs put up to guide you to the tree, keep to the RIGHT on this road for 4.4 km, until you cross a bridge over the San Juan River at the San Juan River Recreation Site. (The San Juan Spruce, in the middle of this site, is Canada's largest Sitka spruce, so be sure to stop there.)
  7. Approximately 2.2 km past the bridge, turn RIGHT onto Bear Main.
  8. After roughly 3.6 km on Bear Main, bear RIGHT onto Mosquito Main. (Depending on road conditions, Mosquito may be better maintained than Bear, so you may think you're still on Bear unless you notice a sign -- which may or may not be present anyway.)
  9. Keep your eye out for a small road to the RIGHT about 800 metres down Mosquito. This is the Red Creek Main, but there likely isn't a sign. (When we were there, a handmade sign with an arrow was propped against a rock on the ground, but I wouldn't rely on that. Also, the AFA photo is seriously misleading, as the road is in nowhere NEAR that condition now.)
  10. Continue down this road about 3.2 km to an intersection that's somewhere between a T and a Y: turn RIGHT. (This section of road is seriously bumpy, with significant potholes and outcroppings: we took 19 minutes to drive this 3.2 km stretch, or 10 km/h.)
  11. The parking pullout is about 1.1 km down this flat stretch. The entrance to the trail is about 20 metres further down the road past the pullout, but it's easy to miss. (If you drive past it, as we did, you could find yourself going for about another 2 km down an increasingly narrow road with increasingly tall brush in the middle of the road. Definitely best to avoid this.)

San Juan Spruce, in 2010
Most writers, incidentally, say that you need four-wheel drive to get to this tree. You'd definitely be better off with four-wheel drive, especially if there's been rain at any point in the last couple of weeks, but this was my second trip with two-wheel drive, the first time in a Mazda MPV and this time in a Nissan Cube. You'll have to drive very slowly and carefully on some stretches, picking your way around hazards, and for God's sake don't put yourself at risk of bashing your oil pan like this guy or going over the edge, but when the weather has been dry for some time (not all that common, in that area), you could manage it in a range of vehicles.

Timing for us, in a 2WD Nissan Cube with excellent intentions but precious little ground clearance:

  • Step 6: 4.4 km, 8 minutes
  • Step 7: 2.2 km, 7 minutes
  • Step 8: 3.6 km, 9 minutes
  • Step 9: 0.8 km, 2 minutes
  • Step 10: 3.2 km, 19 minutes
  • Step 11: 1.1 km, 7 minutes
The Ancient Forest Alliance posted a YouTube video about this tree in June 2011, if you're still on the fence about whether to visit (which you totally shouldn't be!):

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