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Rugged Barkley Valley worth a hike

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The late 1960s were a turbulent time and no year more so than 1968. That summer several prominent Americans, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. were gunned down. At the Democratic Convention in Chicago in August, then-mayor Richard Dailey, Sr., unleashed his police force on peaceful anti-Vietnam war demonstrators in a naked display of brutality.

Baby boomers who witnessed these indelible events found themselves in the embrace of an "assassination generation" psychosis. Small wonder that clusters of disillusioned youth banded together and headed for the hills. While North American society seemed hell-bent on flame out, pockets of isolated tranquility offered the promise of sanctuary and reconnection with the natural world.

One such group, originally based in the Fraser Valley, made its way north to the secluded Barkley Valley southeast of D’Arcy. The U-shaped valley rests among the Coast Mountain’s Cayoosh Range. Historically called Lawlaton , a N’Quat’Qua word that connotes a paradise where food and game are plentiful, the valley took its post-contact name from a miner, Tom Barkley, who prospected here in the early 1960s. Perhaps the religiously-inspired Fraser Valley group may have found comfort in the fact that this was a place of spiritual significance within the traditional N’Quat’Qua territory.

Lord knows they can’t have taken much solace from the sight of Tom Barkley’s dilapidated cabin. It had fallen victim to an avalanche, a common winter occurrence in the steep-sided valley where carpets of snow pour down with the suddenness of unleashed frozen whitewater. The group hunted, fished, kept cattle, logged with horses to build their homes and barns, and must have enjoyed some happy summer days getting back to the land. Today, their stoved-in log cabins stand as mute testimony that it was the winter that did them in. According to long-time D’Arcy resident Frank Rollert, who occasionally hauled in stove oil for them, the winter storms of 1969-70 were so extreme that the group found itself up against the wall and had to be escorted to safety by the RCMP.

Times have changed but it’s still not wise to adventure there between December and April. If you’re interested in sampling paradise yourself, it would be wise to seek out the obscure trail that leads into the Barkley Valley in the next few months. At the moment you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Over the past several years the Forest Service and a local group, the Cayoosh Recreation Society, have taken the valley under their wing. With their stewardship, a series of interpretive signs have been put in place along the well-worn route that inform visitors of the history of the valley and its unique natural features.

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