Allan Lynde hadn’t long distance hiked since his early 20s. Five decades later he reignited his love for hiking with a solo trip along the Hudson’s Bay Company Heritage Trail.
Restored as a hiking trail in 2016, the 74-kilometre trek across the Cascade Range between Hope and Tulameen was originally used by three First Nations – Stó:lo, Nlaka’pamux and Similkameen – to trade, hunt and gather plants.
With the establishment of the international boundary along the 49th parallel in 1846, the Hudson’s Bay Company was prevented from using fur trading forts along the Columbia River and looked for a new route to bring furs between the inland trails to the newly established Fort Hope and boats waiting along the Fraser River. That route would be the brigade trail, opened in 1849 and in use for over a decade before gold fever overtook the fur trade.
Lynde found out about the trail by accident – when at a rest stop west of Hope he noticed the trail mentioned on a map of the road network. “And of course, we can’t go through Hope without stopping at the Blue Moose…so we were in there and we picked up the visitor’s guide for 2018,” he said. “(My wife) Michelle…was looking through (it). ‘Oh, there’s even an article about the Hudson’s Bay trail, you should consider walking it.’ So the more we got into it, the more interested I became.”
Preparing for the trek 50 years after he did his last long distance hikes, Lynde said the biggest difference is the gear. In his early 20s he grew up in Milton, Ontario and spent a lot of time hiking the Bruce Trail and at the Niagara Escarpment – as locals called “the Mountain.” Lynde’s longest hike was a few hundred kilometres along Georgian Bay in Ontario with his future wife Michelle, with him lugging an aluminum frame Kelty backpack.
“That was the latest technology then,” he said of the pack, which would have a sleeping bag and tent tied underneath. They overnighted in a small wall tent made from Egyptian cotton.
“In the back of my mind I’m sort of living in the past, as far as the technology goes that was a bit of a learning curve there,” he said. In preparation for the HBC trail, Lynde happened upon the Youtuber Carley, ‘The Last Grownup in the Woods.’ Her videos on doing the trail solo helped him plan his own hike.
When he started off from the Peers Creek trail head on July 24, 2018, his pack weighed 43 pounds. “So that first day, it was a long one,” Lynde said.
Thinking he would likely encounter some fellow hikers on his six nights, and seven days walking the 74 kilometre trek. Not yet at kilometre one, Lynde encountered a woman in her late 20s who had hiked in from Tulameen.
After congratulating her and moving on upwards into the mountains, Lynde didn’t encounter another hiker until he was about to cross the river that ends the hike at Tulameen. Nobody, save for a few trigger happy overnighters who were equally surprised by his presence at the Sowaqua Creek campsite on night two.
“Just as I’m drifting off I hear a great gunshot, that sort of frightened me and I thought ‘jeez, they don’t even know I’m here. I’m hoping they don’t start firing random into the bush,’” he said. Another shot ran out, ricocheting off of the valley’s mountainsides. “At that point, I just screamed at the top of my lungs ‘What the hell are you shooting at?’ And then there was a long pause…’Oh, a target.’”
The history of the trail, displayed on ‘incredible’ interpretive signage, intrigued Lynde greatly. With the trail open for two years before his trek, Lynde noted the signage was in ‘pristine condition,’ with no graffiti. “It was just like it had just opened up, so that was really a treat,” he said.
The first few days of the trail were “just about survival, getting up on top,” he said. Passing Conglomerate Flats Camp and seeing hoof marks on the trail, he said, his mind went through a transition. He began thinking of the trail’s history as late 1800’s pack trail.
“At that point I’m walking downhill, I wasn’t fighting for every breath so my mind shifted from that strenuous mode to being open enough. All of a sudden it was just acceptance of where I was and what I was doing,” Lynde said. “The shift had gone from me to the trail itself.”
Lynde began to think of Similkameen Chief Blackeye – who showed his hunting route to HBC employee A.C. Anderson, what would later inspire the trail built in 1849. Lynde wondered as he walked, of what Blackeye thought of the Europeans arriving in his territory.
Lynde also wondered about the ingenuity of the Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning volunteers, and how they were able to transport building material up the steep portions of the trail.
“The other thing that I really got a kick out of were the washrooms,” he said. The washrooms, “basically a large blue poly tank with a toilet seat on top” and are “all mounted in areas where you just have the most amazing views,” he laughed.
The second portion of the hike, with most mountains and elevation changes behind him, Lynde was able to make more mileage. River crossings were a concern as he planned his hike, but he was able to get through all unscathed.
After having spent days in the relatively untouched nature, entering into the final stretch of the trail into areas used by ATVs and other off-road vehicles was jarring Lynde said.
“The terrain had just been devastated by off-road vehicles, there was a thick layer of dust on everything, any little bit of a pond or water area was just turned red colour because of the dust,” he said. Passing Lodestone Lake and heading up into the section with a view of Olivine Mountain clear-cutting was evident. “Such a contrast, it just felt like we were abusing mother earth. That was the message that I was getting.”
After having kept all his belongings intact throughout the hike, on the last day of his hike ahead of the final river crossing he lost his glasses. A last sacrifice to the trail.
“I would love to do it again,” Lynde said of his experience on the trail.
Prepping the HBC trail amid COVID-19 restrictions
The Hope Mountain Centre is usually out doing maintenance on the HBC trail in April, starting with the annual boulder toss at the Peers Creek end. This section, a former logging road deactivated in the 1990s and later used for the start of the trail, is beset by boulders. “As expected, there’s a fresh and mighty crop of boulders sitting on the trail, waiting for us to roll them off,” Kelly Pearce, program director with the centre, said.
Pearce said the organization has had to cancel volunteer events for the entire spring and summer, but the boulders will be cleared – likely by small groups of friends working together safely – and with the help of a company clearing fallen trees the trail will be ready for summer hikers.
The late summer situation of the Peers Creek section is unclear, as logging is planned in and around the first four kilometres of the trail. This could happen around August or September, Pearce said, and could prove awkward for hikers coming from Tulameen if they meet a logging truck on the to-be-widened road.
Working with BC Timber Sales, Kelly said there is a plan to move the trail to the south side of Peers Creek. The route, which has already been mapped and includes some pockets of old growth, will also include a 200-metre buffer (100 metres on either side of the trail) protected against logging.
“What we’ve basically got is a skinny park running up the valley bottom of Peers Creek,” Kelly said. The hope is to build the new section in the spring of 2021. And with this new trail start, boulder tossing each spring will no longer be necessary.