Out There: Getting back to the spring side of Creston Valley hiking

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(Above) Hikers cooling off at Holly Falls on the Creston Mountain Trail. (Below) A glacier lily on the Balancing Rock Trail.

(Above) Hikers cooling off at Holly Falls on the Creston Mountain Trail. (Below) A glacier lily on the Balancing Rock Trail.

March 29 was a good day to go hiking the Balancing Rock and Creston Mountain trails. The parking area at the trailhead was just about filled to capacity. Over two dozen people took to hiking up the two to two-and-a-half-hour route. Most went to Holly Falls and over half went to the “Trail’s End” sign at the top of the Creston Mountain Trail. A few did the Balancing Rock Trail and Fern Forest Trail loop, returning along the highway to the bottom of the Balancing Rock Trail. One can also return from the Fern Forest Trail through the former Summit Creek Park along a trail (Trans Canada Trail) over to the viewing tower, continuing on under the highway viaduct and to the bottom of the Balancing Rock Trail without walking along Highway 3. This whole loop takes a person through a variety of scenery and wildlife habitats.

The two trails used to reach the rocky overlook at “Trail’s End” on Creston Mountain are, generally, in quite good condition, without any ice or snow. Recently a small volunteer crew of community hikers took to the trail with a chainsaw and cut a number of windfalls off the trail above the Holly Falls Trail exit, making it much easier to negotiate. There is a soggy section on the lower part of the Balancing Rock Trail and a short section of the Creston Mountain Trail has some water running over it. In previous years, this spot has been much wetter from water coming down from Holly Falls. As always, the several overlooks near the trail, present a dangerous situation, especially in wet conditions, to those venturing off the trail and close to the edge.

Proceeding above the refurbished boardwalk over the swamp up the Creston Mountain Trail and past a series of switchbacks, one may reach the first overlook in about an hour from the Balancing Rock Trail start. From this overlook, continuing on, the Holly Falls Trail exit could be a 20-minute hike, less for some and more for others. The trail to Holly Falls is marked by a white sign hanging far up on a tree trunk on the left of the trail junction. It’s less than a five minute walk to the falls.

The falls has probably less than half the water flowing over it at this time of April as in previous years. Other years, the mist from the falls has extended out 30 feet from the cliff, giving the face a refreshing bath. The waterfall decreases to some trickles after May depending on the amount of rainfall. It often starts again in late fall. But any time of summer, it is always cooler by the falls and the rich green hanging gardens of moss are an attractive scene.

Spring flowers have emerged along the Balancing Rock Trail section of the route. The first I noted was a lone glacier lily accompanied by several plants in bud. Near the rock, I saw one more hiding in a sheltering clump of brush. By the time you read this, there will certainly be a lot more, showing their brilliant yellow six-petalled flowers. (Remember, three or six petals is a characteristic of members of the lily family). The most flowery spot, at my time of visit, was by the bench under the ponderosa pine tree. Around the base of the pine was a carpet of spring beauty (five white petals with pink veins).

Just before the bench is a scattering of Geyer’s biscuitroot, a very low parsley-like plant with white, carrot or Queen Anne’s lace-type flowers. The biscuitroots are in the parsley/carrot family. Later you may see some yellow-flowered, low-growing native parsleys. One of them may be three-leaved parsley. An interesting habit of this group, which sometimes makes them less easily recognized, is that after the flowers pollinate the flower stems extend high above the plant where the seeds, when they mature, will be scattered farther by the wind.

The Balancing Rock Trail, and, if you wish, the Creston Mountain Trail, continuing on up from the swamp, is a worthwhile hike to take. Or you can make a walk out of it by going a little slower, allowing a little more time. One may start up at nine, be at the “Trail’s End” lookout by noon and have lunch in a “dining room”, with a spread before you that would be the envy of many. For the trip down, to make footing a little safer if you need, haul that hiking pole out of your pack or pick up a sturdy stick. The steepness of the trail, up or down, is not all in the incline but also in the rate you want to take it. So allow ample time. The hike up can be done in over an hour or up to three hours. Allow the same time to come down. (If you want more details about this hike see the March 25, 2013, and Nov. 24, 2014, editions of Out There.)

Now, a bit about ticks. Tick season is now certainly in gear, at least in the sunnier and drier spots along our local trails. They are probably most plentiful in open, grassy, shrubby areas on south- and southwest-facing slopes. I think specifically of the Rotary Connector Trail between the Mount Thompson Forest Service Road near kilometre 4 and the pack trail to the southeast above Sullivan Creek. A friend of mine recently picked up, I thought he said, 15 ticks on his jacket. There are at least two kinds of ticks in our area, probably the winter tick and the deer tick.

There is no need to quit hiking! It is not necessary to let them spoil your outing! Needless to say, the most important thing is to remove them from the clothing and from the body while at the same time not making them “cough up” into your system by squeezing the body. Remove the head and the “beak” at the same time with the body. There are various ways to do this. If you need information on this you can do a Google search or contact the BC Center for Disease Control. (I often drown a tick in an upturned vial of some form of alcohol for five minutes, which weakens their hold and the front end comes out quite easily).

And, four essential items to take with you: ample water, food, clothing to suit the weather and a friend!

Your presence is also “requested” on the Lady’s Slipper Trail! Happy hiking and walking!

Ed McMackin is a biologist by profession but a naturalist and hiker by nature. He can be reached at 250-866-5747.