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They might be giants


Searching for peace in the Elaho

A mere three hours drive from Vancouver is a multi-day hike that will take you through some of the most pristine ancient rain forests remaining in Canada, yet relatively few people have been there. Journalist Robyn Cubie put on a backpack and went to find out why the Elaho Valley remains one of British Columbia’s best-kept secrets, despite all the media publicity over it in recent years.

Losses sustained : one pair of hiking boots and one pair of socks (melted), one injured toe, skinned shins, a bruised backside from falling off a log bridge, three bee stings, annoying slow leak in two-litre bag of red wine (Australian).

Victories attained : sightings of black bear and moose in the wild, the successful completion of a 22 km wilderness hike, a luxurious soak in natural riverside hot pools, a glimpse into another world where time stands still under the peaceful watch of the ancient forest giants and towering glaciers…

It is easy to couch the Elaho in terms of battles. After all, it is conflict that has largely brought this ancient coastal rain forest in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland to public attention. It is a series of battles that have been fought physically, verbally and in the offices of high government; by armies with opposing philosophies, ideologies and ways of life. As with all wars, it has turned ugly at times, with violence, threats and even a grandmother being thrown in jail.

The most high profile confrontation has been between environmentalists and the logging industry. To put it simply, one side wants to cut down trees for money while the other wants to leave them standing. However, as with any conflict, the issue is seldom that clear cut.

The battle is also about communities clinging to a traditional logging way of life, about individuals desperate to stop further human exploitation of the natural environment, and about a dispossessed people trying to reclaim what they say is their aboriginal birthright. Throw in the tourism industry and its interests in preserving wilderness areas for the purpose of drawing visitors, and you start to get a picture of the complexities involved. However the first step towards gaining any understanding of the issues is to experience the product itself – namely the Elaho Valley.

The day dawned bright but cloudy when Whistlerites Cavan Dykeman, John Meyer and I loaded up the truck and headed south. We turned off the highway at Brackendale and followed the forestry-logging road some 90 km northwest to the start of the Elaho-Meager Creek Trail – a 22 km passage built in 1995 by volunteers from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee as a tribute to Randy Stoltmann, who first proposed setting aside the Elaho as part of a greater protected park (see insert).