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Trails leading to Hollyburn Ridge - Summer 2013
Hollyburn Hideaways
A.G.M.F.

 

By late spring of 1961, reaching the heights of Hollyburn Mountain from downtown West Vancouver had assumed a greater purpose than in the past.  Whenever my friends and I decided to hike, we’d shoulder Trapper Nelson packs before trudging up well-beaten trails leading us towards sheltered cabin sites. Surmounting steeper ground, the glare of open skies gave way to shady colonnades of old-growth forest.  From that point on, an easy ramble took us over Westlake’s slash-covered slopes to a realm of welcome reprieve upon Hollyburn Ridge.  Once there, a typical sojourn involved the four of us working on “Mildew Manor” (*), our cabin that was nearing completion in mid-autumn of 1962.  Otherwise, our time was spent roaming a maze of trails linking roughly 150 cabins to the welcoming presence of three mountain lodges. (*) See “Youthful Days on Hollyburn Ridge”, Part I

While our outlook was usually bright, when storm-clouds shrouded Hollyburn, gloom came creeping like shapeless mist through dusky woods.  This was reason enough to convene in our cabin’s warmer confines to see what turn the weather would take.  As rain pummelled the roof one dreary, windswept afternoon, we sought comfort around our ‘airtight’ stove’, while an ominous rush of turbulence redounded through the forest.  Caught in the midst of a forceful gale, aging fir and hemlock trees encircling our cabin swayed and bowed to the onslaught.  Later that night, as I lay in darkness conscious of wind gusts still surging though the treetops, it seemed like nature meant to signify that colder weather and drifting snow would shortly be upon us.  And sure enough, once winter’s frigid rule held timberland firmly in its grip, snowflakes often swirled so furiously there was nothing but a blur of white beyond our porch. Then when least expected, the entire cabin would suddenly shudder as slabs of snow slipped off our roof.  Dull moments were rare indeed for the denizens of Hollyburn Ridge. 

Given so many episodic weather events, we were well attuned to the vagaries of our local climate, yet undeniably taken aback by a heretofore unheard-of occurrence.  In October of 1962, nature’s malevolence wreaked its fury on local mountains when a devastating storm struck British Columbia’s lower coast (**). Even so, we rarely felt imperilled when the forest stirred, since the boys of “Mildew Manor” (++) were not to be deterred from visiting nearby friends, or dropping in on acquaintances that were hopefully in a sharing mood with whatever libations might have been on hand.  Such was the irresistible lure of Hollyburn nightlife.  Despite what the weather gods decreed, we’d single-mindedly hit the trail intent on ferreting out merrymakers to mingle with someplace on the mountain, even if it took us a while to figure out who and where. (**) See “Youthful Days on Hollyburn Ridge”, Part Part II

Having found our way around The Ridge, one of the main objectives was not to miss out on whatever was happening or might be going on.  Thus it became our ritual to drop in at Hi-View, Westlake, and Hollyburn lodges.  Being impressionable young lads, we rarely passed up a chance to rub elbows with the rough-hewn bunch of friendly folks who usually met up at these congenial gathering places.  Fortunately, the more I got to know members of Hollyburn’s cohort of cabineers, the implication was clear: they welcomed anyone willing to learn the ways of the woods.  Accordingly, as a wayward youth with ideas of my own, these interactions eventually gave rise to a different outlook on my part.  I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend more time. So, immersed as I was in Hollyburn’s easy-going lifestyle, and pondering where I would go from there, a nebulous notion of taking a path less travelled gradually took hold.

 

Quickened by the cadence of another kind, Pollough Pogue’s path through life eventually led him to Hollyburn Mountain, where he and his family were to become regulars.  Pogue was truly a ‘lover of nature’ after the fashion of those who found themselves in thrall to flora and fauna. He was among a vanguard of recreationists who came to know this mountain during the nascent years of cabin-building when an increasing number of hand-built strongholds emerged from the forest floor all over Hollyburn Ridge.  He recorded his singular perceptions about hiking, skiing, landscapes, and the vicissitudes of life while roaming these and other sylvan heights.  Perhaps his most discerning piece written in mythical style invoked ‘a spirit of the mountains’.  Entitled A Higher Lunacy”, this article appeared in the Vancouver Province newspaper around 1926.  Pogue was an archetype of sorts for others who followed in his footsteps to find a welcoming community and refuge on Hollyburn. 

Cut from different cloth than Pogue, Frank “Paddy” Flynn was a feisty fellow who came to know every nook and cranny of Hollyburn Ski Camp, and each twist and turn of this mountain’s challenging ski runs descending from its crest. During the winter of 1926/27, eleven-year-old Frank joined other locals bunking at the newly-opened skiers’ lodge.  Five years later, Frank and a pal were building their own log cabin.  It still stands today on its original site located a few minutes down the Main Trail from First Lake, then a short tramp through a barrage of Hollyburn’s ubiquitous blueberry bushes (See Frank’s story: Many A Notch in Time".) An avid outdoorsman, Frank roamed Hollyburn for some twenty years before leaving Vancouver in 1948.  He died on April 3rd, 2017, at age 102, having lived just long enough to see a rebuilt Hollyburn Lodge.  Right to the end, Frank’s recollections of his Hollyburn days remained vivid; every account full of keen remembrances despite the intervening years.  He was one of the last of the old-timers who experienced a rugged mountain lifestyle in that “golden age”: a record of which is currently preserved in Hollyburn Heritage Society’s archives.

 

Someone I greatly admired was Swedish expatriate Oscar Pearson: a man deeply committed to Hollyburn Mountain.  An engaging character much beloved by locals who knew him, Oscar was a mainstay of the cabin community.  On many a day when I stepped off my chair at the upper terminus of the Hollyburn Aerial Tramway next to Hi-View Lodge, Oscar would be there assisting customers and fulfilling his role as Hollyburn’s unofficial ambassador by welcoming riders to The Ridge.  If there were a few empty chairs directly behind mine, I’d linger long enough to chat with Oscar. The two of us mainly engaged in pleasantries since we were decades apart in age, I being 16 or 17, while Oscar was likely in his late sixties.  He remained a robust figure with a full head of grey hair despite advancing years, his vigorous demeanour reflecting decades of outdoor activity.  Oscar was the kind of person with whom people felt an immediate kinship.  That relationship was especially true for those folks who actively roamed The Ridge.  Most intimates knew Oscar was one of Hollyburn Ski Camp’s original founders when the facility opened beside First Lake during the winter of 1926/27.  Since then, he’d spent most of his years living and working on the mountain. Consequently, every meeting with this man meant an encounter with a living evocator of Hollyburn’s historic past.  Sadly, my youthful inability to engage old-timers like Oscar in deeper conversations meant not now being able to share untold tales of yesteryear as recalled by others who found sanctuary on Hollyburn.

Heading up the mountain never failed to induce a buoyant mood, no more so than on dark hibernal days when winter’s frigid mantle fell fully upon Hollyburn’s forested heights and nearby North Shore mountaintops.  It was then that members of the skiing fraternity congregated on snow-laden slopes to spend precious hours racing through deep powder on long, undulating runs.  Entranced by nature’s brilliance, skiers paused atop Hollyburn Peak to survey snow-draped summits surrounding this lofty vantage point.  Given the time it took to reach the mountain’s crest on foot; it wasn’t long before delight gave way to resignation, as a pale sun’s dismal rays all too soon turned minds to thoughts of seeking shelter.  Overtaken by the brisk chill of nightfall, locals found their forest havens, there to while away the waning hours in sociable diversions.

 

What a wondrous sight it was to behold: finally catching a glimpse of one’s cabin after slogging along an ill-defined, snow-covered trail in bleak, bone-chilling darkness.   Scattered midst lofty stands of evergreens were scores of Hollyburn cabin sites where weary woodland dwellers strove to bring their darkened hideaways to life.  Inexorably drawn to the flickering glow of embers crackling in stove grates or rough stone hearths, family and friends found comfort in casual companionship.  Even lessor mortals like the four of us who normally spent most of our day frantically clutching unruly rope tows, beat a hasty retreat: thus to recline around our trusty ‘airtight’ stove.

Elsewhere on the mountain, locals inhabiting heritage cabins communed in nature’s true embrace. With lanterns flared and fires stoked, contented cabineers delighted in the pungent scent of wood smoke, while minding the sputtering crackle of pitchy fuel aflame in the radiant heart and centrepiece of their snug log abodes.  It took a stand of timber to provide the means by which such sturdy shelters could exist, those trees having been felled with skilful, calloused hands, each gnarly log precisely hewn, neatly notched, and deftly laid to rest.  And as long as any cabin lasts, those logs sustaining it will endure as chronicles of time; forever bound to the place from whence they came.

 Although our cabin was not much more than a rudimentary shack, this arduous, two-year project upon which we had embarked, provided all of us with an immense sense of satisfaction. For whatever reason, no other achievement ever seemed to surpass in kind that which we as a group of high school youths managed to accomplish during those years on Hollyburn Ridge.  Simply put, just like so many others before us, we discovered the act of claiming a quiet site in the forest, and constructing a basic habitation thereon from materials found mostly close at hand, constitutes an elemental human act from which great intrinsic benefit is derived.  And although our framed cabin was only partly built of logs cut nearby, its mere presence midst these sylvan heights meant we had - by virtue of honest hard work - earned the right of membership in a group of Hollyburners who typically occupied traditional log cabins.

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The Ridge has always been a ‘home away from home’ (+) for those who wholeheartedly embraced Hollyburn Mountain’s lodge life and cabin culture.  Though many of this community’s landmarks have vanished due to the inclemencies of montane weather and acts of human dereliction, there are cherished touchstones of another time yet standing. Not only has a new Hollyburn Lodge been raised from the dust of days gone by, but those weathered woodland dwellings still intact attest to the craft and dedication of those who created them. Today’s official heritage site and its tenacious cabineers represent an enduring vestige of coastal British Columbia’s pioneering era that was by its very nature destined to decline as Vancouver came of age.  Given this diminution, I know how fortunate we were to have known those people, places and events that made our time on Hollyburn Mountain so memorable. 

(A. G. M. Flower, Summer of 2017)

(+) Watch archivist Don Grant’s video homage to “The Old Red Lodge” entitled: Hollyburn Lodge through the Seasons and Generations".

(++) “Mildew Manor” AKA “Tickety Boo” still stands after 55 years.