The path into the park is wide, soft and cushiony under foot from the thick layer of fallen needles. It’s brisk first thing in the morning but pleasant. Pass Witchcraft Lake, which is strewn with dead tree trunks giving it its eerie look, we come to the trail on our left that will lead us up to the first vista. The entrance path was short lived because this one is straight up, dry, narrow and dark. Every now and then, we climb over rocks and dead trees, all the while going up. I am huffing and puffing in no time, stripping layers as I climb. But that’s me, it takes me a good 20 minutes to get into a rhythm.
The trail and one of many vistas
The trail continues with somewhat of a switch back that helps us side-wind the mountain as we climb but not by much. You can tell the trail has been well used. As I grab onto trees to help boost my way up, I can feel the worn-out bark’s soft smooth surface, like leather. We come to the first vista and a chance to catch our breaths. I know we have only done a third of the climb, but the views of the Strait of Georgia and the city of Nanaimo seem so far away. There is some cloud and a bit of fog in the Strait.
I am grateful to have my “sherpa”, Chef Smokin’ George. He has been climbing this mountain since an early age, is always well equipped when he hikes and keeps me entertained with his boisterous laugh and stories. He warns me of what’s to come. My breathing is rhythmic now but the legs are starting to feel the hurt. I’ve made it half way but the hardest part of the climb is yet to come. As George puts it, “the calm before the storm”. Sure enough, after a few more vistas with views more impressive then the last ones, we carry on, up, up, up. While resting, a young guy literally runs by us, followed by a young girl with her dog. Can people be that fit?
View at the top
My inner voice is talking to me and negative thoughts are filling my head. “Enough, this is my challenge. I have waited way too long to do this and I am going to make it to the top and relish the experience and the accomplishment”. At times, I am on all fours, climbing the rocks and using every tree to help me move forward. George is ahead and knows we are close. His encouraging words, “you are almost there” is what I needed to put me in overdrive for the last 300 meters. Et voilà, I am at the top. Ta Da ♫! 1,019 meters (3,343 feet) elevation.
The 360degree view from the top is spectacular and I am ecstatic! We can see for miles; Nanaimo and beyond, the small surrounding communities, the new developments, the clear cutting and the spectacular mountains in every direction. I packed some snacks and a special sign and for 20 minutes or so we basked in the sun, the wind, the view and the feeling of complete freedom at the top.
On the way down, I took the lead. People who hike with me know that is a no, no because 1) I get lost and 2) I like to do a loop rather then hike back the same way in. Sure enough, I zigged instead of zagged. George clued in quickly that the trail looked unfamiliar but let me carry on.
The orange trail. Whiskey Jack looking for food. George and me.
I was following the orange-tagged route. It took pretty much the same amount of time to come down as it did to go up and just as strenuous but this route was steeper. Our knees and quads were screaming, not to mention our toes shoved to the very tip of our hiking boots. I told him it was all part of the adventure of discovering a new trail. Truth be known, I didn’t have the energy to back track up part of the mountain. All in all, the hike took us close to 3 ½ hours and we covered roughly 7 kilometers. I’m thrilled!
Benson Park – Photo taken from RDN