Is that a nymph I see in that pool?

East Charters River - Sooke Hills

The East Charters River – Sooke Hills

Last weekend Mike and I, along with Jan, Judith, and Alan, got out for a 14km hike that took just about the entire day — and what a well-seized day it was! After a convivial breakfast at our usual haunt (Cup of Joe), we headed west to the Sooke Hills. OurĀ  destination: Charters River off Sooke River Road. We parked outside the hatchery and set off on a lollipop hike (a hike with a small circular route at one end and an out-and-back at the other — see the map below for a “visual”).

We headed up the Grassy Lake trail – a wide and well travelled route – for about 3.7 km. Then followed a small trail off the right of the main track. This took us down to to the West Charters River (some maps call it the North Charters), which was easily crossed at this time of the year. If you check out the OpenStreets map of the Sooke Hills Wilderness , you’ll see this trail. It is called the Chimney Trail. From here we joined the Lower Rampart trail, but then carved our own way down the cliffs to the Charters River.

Although Mike had been here before, we were still a bit unsure about how to get down the cliffs, and indeed followed some false leads. But, we got it dialed in and had a fun scramble. The views on the Ramparts made the scrambling well worth it. We got to look back at some of our more familiar routes from a different vantage point. As well, this hike got us into one of southern Vancouver Island’s most seldom-visited provincial parks: Sooke Mountain Provincial Park. While on the Ramparts and in the East Charters River bed we were actually in the Park. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Sooke Hills, but this was the first time I’ve ever been in Sooke Mountain Park.

On the Ramparts - Sooke Mountain Provincial Park
On the Ramparts

Perhaps the high point of the day was not time spent up on the Ramparts enjoying the view, or the stimulation of route finding, but the time spent down in the bed of the East Charters River (some maps call it the South Charters). This is not something that could be done at any other time of the year: winter and spring have the river flowing wildly, and in fall the chance of a quick cloudburst is too great. But, even with reduced flow I still had to watch my footing as I scrambled up and around huge boulders and clambered over and under logs and trees. All of us took our time on this section.

East Charters River - Maidenhair fern and Red Cedar
In the river bed

The atmosphere in the river bed was green and still, with the river gurgling and springing from pool to pool. We stopped at one of the kettle holes Mike noticed last time he was here. Since we were taking our time, we decided to spend some time taking off our clothes and jumping in. The water was decidedly brisk, but the day was warm and I, for one, was ready for a dip. It was such a “BC moment” to find a secluded spot, shuck off the shorts and splash about. Classic summertime in BC!

I won’t offend anyone’s eyes with photos of the five of us snorting and blowing like baby Belugas (our ages combine to give 287 years of experience here on Earth — enough said), but rest assured, photos were indeed taken. Actually, the plants and flowers in bloom along side the Charters were the stars of the show. Delicate Maidenhair ferns turned cliff sides into lacy green grottoes, orange and yellow Sitka columbines nodded brightly at us from rocks and crevices, and many different types of Streambank alums peeked out from under trees and branches. Big Western Red cedar trees drooped huge roots into the water, keeping everything cool and shady. This part of the hike was less than a kilometre long, but it felt like walking back in time. The cliffs and boulders are made of basalt created more than 54 million years ago from underwater volcanoes. They tower above the river bed, but have a softness to their form — kind of like huge pillows. This effect is caused by the quick cooling of lava being exposed to seawater.

Jan, Judith, Alan, and Mary walking down the Charters River
Jan, Judith, Alan, and Mary

A few cautions about this trip:

  • Firstly, DON’T attempt it if there has been a very recent rain, or if the river is running high;
  • Secondly, DON’T rush the river bed. It can be very easy to turn an ankle here, or worse;
  • Thirdly, if the ages in your party of five add up to more than 280, be VERY careful about who you let see your skinny-dip pictures!

More photos from this trip:
Mary and Mike’s photos
Alan’s photos