Monday, November 05, 2007

Caching in Chilliwack Nov 4 2007

All photos for this trip can be viewed on my Flickr site here
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Ken and I took advantage of a sunny fall day to sneak in a few hours of geocaching in the Chillwack area of the Fraser Valley; specifically we would be in the Sumas Prairie region for most of the day.

If you don't know the area well, the Sumas Prairie during the winter is just like the prairies in Manitoba or Saskatchewan during the winter; cold, windy and dry. Every so often during the winter Hwy #1 is shut down as it is impassable due to poor visibilty and snow drifts. A few years back the highway was shut down for 6 days by snow drifts that covered the roofs of cars stuck on the road; stranded motorists were rescued and housed by the local farmers for several days.

However, it was not that cold today, just a bit breezy and cool on a sunny autumn day.

As Ken and I always like to start the day with a "find" instead of a "DNF" (Did Not Find), we stopped at the highway rest stop in Chilliwack to find a nano cache called "Muddy Cole".

The co-ordinates were pretty good and we had a good idea were to look and what to look for, but sometimes this "easy" caches just elude us. So it was again, as after 20 minutes of searching we called it quits and moved on to the next cache on the list; so much for the easy start!

The next cache was called "Gollum's Gulch"; so named as it is located on the bank of a small creek which flows through the fields on Sumas Prairie. We enjoyed the walk along the dike next to the creek as it afforded great views of not only the surrounding farm lands but the Coast Mountain range to the north.

In the creek we spotted a muskrat swimming across the waterway, and a King Fisher flew off from it's perch as we disturbed it's solidary watch for prey in the creek.

Even a Great Blue Heron kept a sharp eye on the creek from it's perch in an overhanging tree; it only flew away when we got too close. But not wanting to give up it's feeding spot it flew just a short distance away and landed on the pathway. At least unil we walked that way and scared it away completely.

The cache was found in short order on a widening of the creek bank, and we made our scribbles in the log book to show we had visted the cache location.

With the cache now back in it's hidey hole along the dike, we returned to the truck to drive to the next cache called "Split Personality"

This next cache took you to the crossroads of two of the older roadways that bissected the Sumas Prairie, long before the freeways and most of the other roads came into existence.

This intersection was the location of the first waypoint in a multi-cache; a multi-cache makes you go to multiple locations before leading you to the final cache hide.

Standing in the middle of the intersection of two rural roads instantly transported you to the middle of nowhere in Middle Saskatchewan where they assign not addresses but section of land numbers to where you live! There was nothing to see but flat land in all 4 directions!

From this location you needed to do some math questions by adding up street sign numbers and counting road names so you could find the co-ordinates to the next way point.

The next waypoint was a mile up the road where we would find a large sign; on the sign was a series of numbers and information about the local business. Again we had to do some math to find the next location, which, surprisingly turned out to be not too far from the first cache along the small creek.

So back we go to the same area as before only this time we approached the creek greenbelt from the north side as the walk appeared to be shorter from this new parking spot. Another enjoyable stroll down the dike alongside the creek brought us to another artfully hidden cache. A sign of the log book, a return of the cache, and then we almost got busted by a dog walker coming along the dike. Luckily he was more intent on talking about MrTJ's hound then he was wondering what we had been doing.......

Considering how you can see for hundreds of yards either way on the dike he sure snuck up on us!

Off we go into the small village of Yarrow to find a cache placed next to the local cemetery. Some of the local cachers have gotten together to create a series called "BC Spirit Quest" where they place caches next to pioneer cemeteries ; this is a great way of leading you to historical locations.
The cache we were looking for was placed just outside of the Yarrow cemetery and was called "BC Spirit Quest #02 - Kirchofstrasse".

The Fraser Valley has a strong Mennonite presence and these German immigrants knew the road as Kirchofstrasse or Cemetery Road.

The cache was found after a bit of searching in the area, a sign of the log book, and a replacement of the cache meant we could carry on to the next cache.

The next 3 caches were all in the same area near the Vedder River; these 3 caches highlighted the Blue Heron Reserve in the wetlands adjoining the Vedder River.

Many years ago the army dug out the wetlands in the area to use as a training ground for army personel for wet crossings. That is, any crossing involving a water way, marsh or bog that needed to be crossed would be represented on the grounds here for army troops to practice in various environments. Eventually the army signed the area over to the City of Chilliwack for custodial purposes; a society was soon formed to take on the challenge of looking after the 325 acre lands.

The first cache was located not inside the reserve but outside along a dike on the western edge of the reserve. From the cache location one only had to look up into the tall cottonwood trees to see dozens of large heron nests. As this was autumn and many of the leaves had fallen, the nests were easier to view. And the cache was easy to spot as well, which made for a quick turn around on our walk so we could head into the reserve to find the next two caches.

The heron reserve sports a relatively new information centre that is only 5 years old. Inside the centre you will find guide maps for the trails in the reserve, as well as books on local interest like "West Coast Birds" and "West Coast Amphibians". They also have a large hall like room with various stuffed birds and a raccoon, a deer , and a few eagles; all of which are found on the reserve.

The next cache was located on a viewing tower, this cache was called, surprisingly, "Tower".

Again this was a multi, as after you found the the first waypoint you had to get directions to the final cache location. Here's a secret: shhh....the final cache is located inside the information centre.

And I think it's a great idea; by making you go into the centre it makes you stop and visit the facility, to help you understand what the reserve is all about. All you have to do is ask the volunteer on duty to retrieve the cache from it's spot behind the counter and sign the log.

Cache logged and returned to the volunteer, we trudged to the south end of the reserve to find the last of the 3 caches in the area. In this case the cache was actually outside the reserve gates but located along the river side trail that is very busy with walkers, joggers, bicyclists and all sorts of folks during the summer. This time of year there was only the odd person for us to be concerned with, so the finding, signing, and returning of the cache to it's hide was done with minimal interuption.

The name of this cache is "Narnia #2" and it is one of a series of caches based on the Narnia movies. You also have to gather a clue from each of the Narnia caches to be able to find the final Narnia cache location.

For now, back through the heron reserve we go, past the tower and the information centre to MrTJ's truck ready to shoot on over to the next cache on the list.

If you want to visit the heron reserve you can click on the link here to go to their web site; just remember, no dogs allowed in the reserve, and check for winter hours.

"Cache, Cattle and Church" is cache in another series that highlights the Chilliwack community. In this case the cache brought us to a faded historical marker that marked the spot where the first church was built in the Chilliwack area in 1869.

Picture of Sumas Lake Before It Was Drained

As you drive along the 4 lane Hwy#1 through the Chilliwack Valley you may not realize, but just a short 100 years ago this entire area was a 10,000 acre lake that was one of the worst mosquito infested areas you could ever find. Each year during the spring freshet the Fraser River would overflow it's banks and add to the size of the lake; with the flood waters came much needed nutrients that made the Sumas and Matsqui Prairie areas such great farm land.

The Sto:lo First Nations people have lived in the area for over 5,000 years using the rivers as their highways and finding food plentiful in the surrounding forests and large rivers; Sumas Lake itself was a source of wild hay, fish and waterfowl for the natives. It was also a place ripe with hordes of mosquitoes which at times made the lake area intolerable.

Picture of the Sturgeon from this web site

But with the immigrants came experience, and the Dutch settlers were no strangers to draining large areas of land to create farmland. In 1919 a large scale project began to drain the lake and reclaim the land for the benefit of the immigrant farmers. The Sto:lo people were pushed off their land and the drained lake bed turned into excellent prairie land. So large was the lake that sturgeon were often caught in the flooded lake after the Fraser River overflowed it's banks. There has been more than a few tales of farmers plowing their new fields only to uncover still live 20 foot long sturgeon surviving in the mud while they awaited the waters to return.

However, our time in the low lands had ended and now we were onto higher things; in this case were were off to ascend Chilliwack Mountain in search of a cache called "Fraser Valley Tool Exchange". This cache had not been found for 6 months so we were not entirely sure it was still there to find.

The road to the cache took us up a steep winding road as we first ascended the south side of the mountain affording us panoramic views of the Fraser Valley and Sumas Prairie, then winding us around the mountain to the north side where we were treated no less spectacular views of the Fraser River and the Coast Mountain Range.

The other noteworthy views were of the houses that dotted the mountains; multi million dollar houses were affixed to small ledges of level land on the side of the mountain in any place that could assure the owners of fantastic views. Well, we thought the homes alone were fantastic, and the views off the back deck were eye popping!

The trail to the cache started at the end of the winding mountain road at a cul-de-sac: the trail itself looked like an old narrow skid trail from the turn of the century when the entire area was logged. About 500 feet along the trail we found the cache hidden in the forest, the cache was a large tool kit filled with tools that various cachers no longered needed and wanted to trade for some other tool in the tool kit.

As we ourselves did not need to trade, we signed the log and returned the cache to it's hidey hole. The one worrying aspect to this cache is that in the immediate area the trees have been cleared for another house or two to be placed on this section of level land. I'm sure in the near future this little bit of forest will be gone as well...

I took lots of pictures here of both the views over the Fraser River and the old skid trail, and as I was doing so I was remembering one of my favourite facts about the Fraser Valley. While some of the small mountains in the valley like Sumas Mountain and Chilliwack Mountain rise soar 500 feet or so above the valley floor, they are really much taller than you can see. Chilliwack Mountain is made of bedrock that reaches up from the floor of the Fraser Valley, but the real floor of the Fraser Valley is buried beneath a mile of river sediment that we see and drive on today.

Satellite View of the Sediment Load in the Fraser River

As the glaciers covered the land they gouged giant pathways along the earth where ever they moved; 10,000 years ago when the glaciers melted, the Fraser River, which at the time was a much larger version of itself, carried millions of tonnes of sediment down from the Interior Plateaus where it settled out in the slower waters as the river crossed what would be the Fraser Valley. A mile deep of sediment now covers the ancient bedrock of the landscape.

And just how big was the Fraser River when it did this? Well, picture this; stand on Cypress or Seymour Mountain in North Vancouver and you are on the northen shore of an ancient river. Now, get in your car and drive two hours south through Bellingham to the mountains just south of Bellingham, find the highest peak, and imagine now that you are on the southern shore of a mighty glacial Fraser River. Makes the present day Fraser River seem paltry doesn't it?

Anyways, let's segway back to the present day and get back to geocaching.

The last cache of the day was not too far away, only now we had to descend the mountain close to the river level. "Leaning Tower of Treesa" was the name of the cache tucked away in the confines of bluff where a small creek flows sharply down the side of the mountain.

Alas, just like our first cache, the last cache was to be a DNF; we searched for approx 30 minutes before this cache was declared MIA. After 6 moths of no visits, this cache, unlike the cache we just came from, did not want to make an appearance.

By now the sun was low on the horizon the and the autumn light was failing fast, so Ken and I decided to call it a day and began the long trek back to Maple Ridge so we could have a late dinner and enter our finds on line at
Another fun day in the sun hunting Tupperware in the woods.......