A R A M B L E ON
H O L L Y B U R N
R I D G E
Many moons ago beside an ancient sea,
by orogenous upheaval a mountain came to be.
Sculpt by growling glaciers; racked by sun and storm,
this progeny primeval evolved its present form.
Then came a time when brawny men hewed virgin timber stands,
seeking fodder for the mills on sylvan summit lands.
But certain savvy lumbermen whose motives were abridged
saw value everlasting in those trees upon the ridge.
You must step into these quiet woods to know the pure delight
of treading well-worn trails past cabins lit by lantern light.
Time no longer seems to matter inside this forest keep
where tranquillity induces slumber sound and deep.
This hardy log and timber lodge beside what’s called First Lake
was once a logger’s cookhouse that skiers schemed to take.
Later on, proprietors; folks who lived the mountain life,
welcomed all and sundry escaping city strife.
Now, suppose you want to navigate through alpine meadows fair,
if you’ll abide a confidence, there’s a way of wandering there.
Hikers count on numbered lakes to lead them to the crest,
where roaming eyes may contemplate whatever view seems best.
Over Capilano’s watershed, the Lion peaks repose,
guardians of the hinterlands as every climber knows.
Near Garibaldi’s verdant alp, the stark Black Tusk presides;
its landscape flush with colour ‘til winter storms collide.
Westward lies Sky Pilot by Britannia’s copper claim,
and countless other barren peaks too numerous to name.
There’s a broad expanse of summits that anyone may sight;
among them fabled mountains of mystery and might.
When heavy snowfalls come to stay and First Lake turns to ice,
Wonderment abounds here for those who pay the price.
Mention modern chair lifts and some old sport will say:
‘you guys got it easy, it was gruelling in our day.
To carve tracks on snowy slopes down winding mountain trails,
meant heading up to higher ground by tedious travail.
We’d slog all day with heavy gear for the invigorating thrill
of reversing our procession and careening down the hill.
From the glistening crest of Hollyburn it was onto Romstad Run
heading for the Telemark Trail, and the fun had just begun.
To see those icy diamonds fly gave rise to pure sensation;
while schussing through those sunny glades was unsurpassed elation.
The Pacific Mountain Highway, was a corridor of snow;
then along a narrow Wells Gray Run, the pace began to slow.
Finally, the Mobraaten gave us time to contemplate
the final destination; our ski camp at First Lake.’
Across the lake that rise you see was once the sole purview
of smiling, sun-bronzed mountain gods, who from sloping ski jumps flew.
As the dark of night descended, to the lodge did they retreat,
where salubrious libations made a rousing day complete.
Yes, that cabin where the trails meet is a ranger’s post.
If our man was here today, we’d surely raise a toast.
He was our forest ranger, who by all accounts stood tall,
an extraordinary woodsman and friend to one and all.
Ahead, the track leads downhill, towards a cherished site;
a gathering place and departure point where reveries took flight.
See those chunks of rusted steel and blackened lengths of wood?
They indicate the fateful site where a lodge called Hi-View stood.
It was a pile of modest grandeur, a welcoming place to be,
whether unacquainted strangers or regular guys like me.
This structure was a testament to men who by their druthers;
what to them the mountain freely gave, it would give to countless others.
How grand it was on Hollyburn when the days and nights were ours,
swinging upwards to the ridge on a chairway to the spars.
Then heading to a cabin on a cold and stormy night,
rewarded for the journey when our refuge came in sight.
There are scores of cosy cabins hidden in the woods;
many well concealed in their sheltered neighbourhoods.
Though to nature some gave way, their curious names remain.
Here or gone, it matters not, we recall them all the same.
Challenger Inn, Idlers Roost, cabins raised with pride.
Looking for Try And Find It? You’ll likely need a guide.
Trails of Hofman, The Ski Rockets, there’s plenty more to number,
and good ‘ole Sleepy Hollow, where surely one could slumber.
While Kwitchurbelyakin hints at wilful whimsicality;
Snuggle Inn suggests some cosy form of active physicality.
There was Norselander, Shiverless Knights and certainly that’s not all.
I wonder who was playing what over at Carnegie Hall?
Here’s to the Little Brown Jug, Hangover Hut and Loganberry Lancers;
names like The Tap Room and Sky Tavern deserve some simple answers.
If those merry bands of revellers were all prodigious drinkers,
are we bound to trust the rest of them were existential thinkers?
No one cared to say exactly who was this and who was that,
for prying or contentiousness was sure to cause a spat.
After dark on Saturday nights, folk were far from haughty;
there was lots of shady humour, with a propensity for naughty.
While a snort or two induced a few to sing the Woodpecker’s Song;
it was surely fun that kept the bonds of friendship strong.
For others these were quiet nights for rest and relaxation,
just playing cards, reading books or stirring conversation.
But, whatever the occasion, it’s befitting to remember,
these activities extended from New Year’s to December.
Say Skol to Sidewinder, Bear-Paw, and those no longer here,
Nordic, Ski Heil and Staggering Arms, give them all a cheer!
Hellzapoppin and Nomads evoke memories from the past.
After the Devils Club and Sno-Haven, we’re finally Inn At last.
This list is but a sampler of what many folks hold dear.
Now, since we’re dawdling down the trail, direct your queries here.
Why were all these cabins tagged with peculiar nomenclatures?
Well, suppose we put it down to owners’ nonconformist natures.
This trail we’re on? I think you’re wrong. It stems from mountain cabinese,
for oakum crammed between the logs to block unwanted breeze.
Oh, to glimpse a bobcat or a marten would surely be a sight,
but they’re nocturnal creatures who prefer to hunt at night.
That insistent little songbird sitting on your head
is a grey jay or ‘whiskey-jack’ who’s expecting to be fed.
Did someone say we’re sort of lost? For them it may be so.
In fact, they’re right, unless, like me, you’re certain where to go.
Now, here we are at Westlake where a rustic lodge stood proud.
In summer, it drew berry pickers, but in winter came a crowd.
A cacophony of shouters and countless flailing arms
signalled Suicide and Paradise were proffering their charms.
All day long a noisy mob came streaming off the hill,
to warm themselves while watching burgers sizzle on the grill.
With equipment jammed in snow banks just outside the door,
they’d klump around in leather boots across a rough plank floor.
When it’s warm like this, and a hike is on, that’s the trail to take.
It leads right past Blue Gentian to what someone dubbed Lost Lake.
And, on the way, there are waterfalls and trails that lead back down
to the vicinity of Ambleside in West Van’s snug downtown.
If a bruin and her cubs are seen on this gorgeous sunny day,
the better part of valour is to take another way.
Bears can be capricious, discrepant thoughts are in their heads,
they might pretend to wander off then charge at you instead.
The succulent fruit of blueberries is a hungry bear’s delight,
so to circumvent a nasty scrap, the best plan’s cautious flight.
You may have hiked for miles and miles to fill your little bucket,
but given the choice to stay or go, my advice to you is...chuck it.
Time to complete our circuit, so it’s uphill we must tramp
along the broad Grand National to First Lake’s old ski camp.
But there’s still one point of interest of which you’re not aware;
where comrades came in wintertime to each assume a dare.
Sheltered in that stand of trees a tilted trestle stood;
its skeleton an awkward maze of bolts and weathered wood.
It was raised by ski-mad daredevils, whose metier was fast,
but like other landmarks on the ridge, it was destined not to last.
One dark and windy night, a tree against it fell,
and, after that, slow collapse, there’s nothing left to tell.
So, on we trek along the trail to our final destination,
where beats the perseverant heart of our mountain congregation.
Now, we’ve done our ramble on a ridge called Hollyburn.
And, as the light is fading, homeward we must turn.
Oh, we’ll come back another time to hike or ski all day,
but for now we’ll simply say so long, and go our separate ways.
Have you thought about the human drama playing out right here?
The irony of happenstance seems more bittersweet each year.
In the woods are many memories, now given little thought;
remains of old log cabins that somehow came to naught.
Once the calls of recreationists resounded far and wide,
now their voices are diminished on this blissful mountainside.
Some may brand it foolishness to try and demonstrate
that a pioneering spirit is never out of date.
Yet, stout hearts and strong wills indifferent to the strife,
defend a place called Hollyburn for its timeless way of life.
A Rambling Commentary
A.G. M. F.
Why do uplifting thoughts stir the heart when a certain mountain comes to mind? For those who know Hollyburn, personal reflections not only represent artifacts of everyday life, they possess immense meaning. The period of time I’ve drawn upon for most of this meditative recitation embraces the years 1960 to 1965 when all the lodges and most cabins were intact.
What a privilege it was to be on the mountain then and my only regret is not having gotten to know more of the regulars who inhabited the ridge. In those days, a young fellow like me could immerse himself in the ethos of an era when pioneering values and the attendant way of life were still very much in evidence. It seems my generation was the last to know a simpler time before mass culture overwhelmed a post-war society still reflective of the 1930s. It seems that no matter how much we live in the present, there’s an innate desire tugging at our senses, one that urges us to go back and reclaim the past; to once again experience certain memorable moments. Yet, no matter how tempting it is to look over our shoulder, what we seek is in fact no more permanent than footprints smothered by a shroud of falling snow.
Attempts to faithfully replicate in concrete terms our past’s most yearned for aspects usually comes down to a triumph of affectation over reality. Yet, unlike so many ‘heritage sites’, the habitation on Hollyburn is no ‘Potemkin village’ with faux peasants in ethnic garb wandering around. It’s an active, vital community lately described as an “...85-year young, 100 cabin, 200 member strong living museum...” Authenticity has always been hard to come by, but on Hollyburn, a genuine sense of history can still be appreciated. Apart from seeing and touching material relics of another era, the only other activity constituting a vivid act of recollection is the application of language and imagery as a means of achieving what physically we cannot. Hence, I offer this nostalgic look back at a mountain community cherished by so many.
“A Ramble on Hollyburn Ridge” recalls those years when the mountain was truly a unique gathering place, one that those who experienced it will always treasure. And, what’s to be said about the ridge today? Well, to paraphrase a popular country song; the Hollyburn that now exists may not be ‘as whole as it once was’, but what remains is ‘still as true as it ever was’.