A group of friends – including a pair of South Surrey men – came across something they didn’t expect to see while hiking in Golden Ears Provincial Park earlier this month: a campsite essentially frozen in time.
On March 20, a group of five 20-somethings who work together in the film industry went for a hike in the park, which is just north of Maple Ridge, when three of the hikers – Semiahmoo Secondary grad Josh Grossman, Callum Gow, of Maple Ridge, and South Surrey’s Carson Schiefner – decided that, after a pit stop for lunch about halfway up the Mount Nutt Trail, they’d veer off course a little, leaving their two female companions to relax near a lake.
After a long, steep climb – “We had to crawl on all fours, and push and pull each other up,” Grossman told Peace Arch News – the trio made it to their destination, which was the top of a giant boulder they’d wanted to ascend.
It was on the way down when they made their discovery, noticing a tattered orange tarp in the distance, peeking through some branches.
“We tried to find an easier way back down, and that’s when we saw this orange tarp, and we were like, ‘Oh, what’s that?’” Grossman, who is the son of PAN reporter Tracy Holmes, explained.
“We thought it was just a (current) campsite, maybe someone who decided to get off the beaten path for the weekend or something, and that’s when we noticed the tarp was absolutely torn apart.”
The tattered covering was attached to a series of logs that had been stacked to create an A-frame structure. Inside, were boxes of other camping supplies, all packed into worn, water-damaged boxes.
Among the items found were cooking supplies, an old radio, bug spray, matches, a flashlight and an old military ammunition case, which contained first-aid supplies as well as a small logbook, where the original campers detailed their adventures. The book was marked with the word ‘Retreat’ along with a year: 1986.
As well, the trio discovered a wooden sign with a large ‘R’ carved into it.
“We weren’t sure if we should look through the stuff, or if it was (still) someone’s camp and they were maybe nearby, but then we realized how torn up it all was, and that’s when we realized what it was,” Grossman said.
“You open up some boxes and most of the stuff is still in pretty good condition. There’s some water damage, some rusting, but that’s to be expected after 30 years in the bush.”
After about an hour rummaging through the rustic time capsule, the three men found their way back to their other friends at the bottom of the slope. As a way to explain just how remote the campsite was, Grossman estimated that he and his friends had gone “a good 40 minutes” off the main Mount Nutt Trail, which itself is not an easy trail to locate, he said.
“The only way we found our way back was by listening to the creek and following it.”
After returning home, Gow posted about the group’s adventure – complete with photos of the decades-old camp – on Facebook, and the post went viral. It’s currently been shared more than 3,000 times.
News of the long forgotten camp eventually found its way, via Facebook, to the sister of one of the original campers, Grossman explained. The camper had since passed away, but through his sister and the magic of social media, Grossman and his friends were able to connect with two men, both now living in Kelowna, who had frequently camped at what they called ‘The Retreat.’
From the two men, the Lower Mainland trio discovered that the campsite was frequented by a group of seven friends – three of whom have since passed away – from 1986 until the early ’90s, though visits dwindled in the latter years, as indicated by entries in the log book which, Grossman said, they are mailing back to its original owners in the Okanagan.
The original group only found the remote site, they told the young hikers, by accident. During a hike of their own, one of their dogs had got off its leash and bolted into the brush. The group chased after it and eventually found the spot.
“The notebook just told a story – it just felt like it was a real mystery, right out of a movie. It just didn’t seem real,” Grossman said. “But it was just seven guys who liked to go camping and go explore.
“Everything was well taken care of – it was definitely a place they cared about.”