Lynn Valley’s secret Forest

In this page I account my mission (in progress) to map the big trees past and present of Lynn Valley, North Vancouver.

Shaketown illustration

Lynn Valley contains phenomenal trees, including the world’s thickest diameter western hemlock. Lesser known, at the north end of the valley is a hidden labyrinth where consistently wide giant cedars comprise a grove rivalling just about any other cedar forest in BC.

Those who enter Lynn Valley, will find themselves in a valley irreversibly affected by its logging history. Most of the valley’s old-growth cathedral forests were systematically clear-cut from one end of the valley to the other in the 1920’s.

With the felling of the great trees, came the loss of valuable ecosystem services the forest provided, such as carbon storage to regulate global climate, habitat for bears and marbled murrelets, and cedar trees traditionally used in First Nations carving. The declines in natural capital that occurred here should not be understated. In fact, it may be that the tallest tree in the world, a 125 m tall Douglas-fir, once grew here but was logged to provide timber for a growing city. It’s hard to reconcile such a loss but it’s worth considering that at the time, these forests fuelled the livelihood for a booming population, which probably imagined that the resource before them was inexhaustible.

The unfolding of the valley’s history is writ large on it’s present forest if one looks hard enough. Lynn Valley is a place of hidden secrets. The pressing matter today regards the remnant patches, which have never been fully explored and mapped. Nobody knows exactly what is out there.

lynn waterfall

A secret spot arrived at by descending 50m into the Lynn Canyon seen following heavy rains. Photos by Ira Sutherland.

Over the years several local outdoorspeople have reported finding remnant tracks of old-growth forest past Kennedy Creek. Among those, including Randy Stoltmann, Ralf Kelman, as well as recent efforts detailed here by Mick Bailey provide alluring reports of undocumented monumental cedars. To contribute to these efforts I’ve undertaken a mission to map the valley’s remaining big trees. I’m also interested to survey the second-growth Douglas-firs at lower elevations to make an assessment of how they are recovering, which might inform predictions of the historic Douglas-fir heights in this area. If we are able uncover what is left, then we can help piece together the history of this valley’s biggest trees, and of pressing concern, we can monitor the status of these rare trees into the future.

So I have three objectives:

  1. Locate, photograph and map the largest hemlocks in the valley.
  2. Find the largest remaining red-cedars, in particular by exploring North of Kennedy Creek
  3. Assess the recovering Douglas-fir and predict the potential height historical tree’s may have obtained.

This is a big project, and I expect that the finding the largest hemlocks will be the easiest, predicting historical Douglas-fir height will be the toughest. Why not start in the middle: I’m currently in the initial phase of Objective 2.

Objective 1) Locate, photograph and map the largest hemlocks in the valley.

Far up the valley on route to Coliseum Mountain, somewhere between 500-700m is the world’s largest Western Hemlock. The tree is recorded in the BC Big Tree Registry.  There is also a GPS coordinate given so it’s pretty simple plan: First, I’ll consult Ralph Kelman, the person who discovered this tree, to ask if it’s accurate, and then I’ll go find it.

Objective 2) Find the largest red-cedars.

There is an interesting hiking trail (as detailed by Outdoor Vancouver) on the west side of Kennedy Creek, which leads to a giant cedar and then to the scenic Kennedy Falls. The trail is increasingly popular, and for good reason. It follows the remnants of a historic skid trail (a road of wooden plans used to skid logs from the forest to the mill), such as that it feels like you are walking back into time. Well, you are, because at around Kennedy Falls the trail enters steeper terrains and visibly below your feet, it is collapsing downslope along the cliffy terrain. Not too much further along you arrive beyond where the fellers lead by Julius Fromme reached, These lesser explored parts of the valley are covered by a contiguous tract of old-growth —the largest contigiuous tracts of publically accessible old-growth in the immediate vicinty of Vancouver.

Large cedar

This well known red-cedar can be accessed quite easily. Just follow this guide.

Every now and then hikers far astray into this part of the valley, and emerge with wild claims of 5 meter wide cedars. 5 meters wide? There are no documented trees in the Vancouver areas over 4m! Could it be true…

These reports come from credible sources such as big tree searcher Ralf Kelman, and the late conservationist Randy Stoltmann who wrote several hiking guides to big trees in BC. However, these last refuges have not yet been mapped out. I took my first trip in there during winter 2011, but I didn’t make it far along the tough snowy terrain. But, look at this dead cedar I did find, and this one was not reported by the famous big tree searchers:

Lynn valley snag with map

I found this dead tree in 2011 at a random location surrounded by second-growth. I measured it’s DBH: I think it was ~5.5 m, which would make it wider than any known red-cedar around Vancouver today.  Not bad for a first recon trip into the valley.

This year, I’ve begun a plan to map out the five most astonishing groves of the valley, but until then here’s a photo story highlighting my exploration I am doing in the upper reaches of Lynn Valley.

On October 23, 2015, I spotted what appeared to be a massive red-cedar using Google Earth imagery:

GE view of big tree

A few days later, I hiked in with friends to locate it using GPS and the red-cedar is 1.8 m in diameter and 50m tall. More notable than its size, the tree had beautiful form (see below)!

The more interesting aspect of this tree was that it grows among much larger trees on open talus slopes, which I have never seen before:


many large redcedars grow at higher elevation in this open talus slopes covered in vine maple (Acer circinatum)

We continued on, and began to descend into an area of deeper forest towards a grove of large trees I had spotted on Google Earth. What we saw, is that the further we went in the larger the trees seemed to grow…

Perhaps, the most impressive tree we saw was actually just on the other side of Kennedy Creek. The tree looked over 4m in diameter, was shaped like a hollow cannon broken off at about 40m.



Huge red-cedar just across Kennedy Creek from the trail terminus and about 150m up from creek to the left of an old clear-cut.

Objective 3: Measure heights of the recovering Douglas-firs, then predict the potential historical tree heights.

While the 125m tall tree is a well known claim, it’s also widely disputed, and others say it’s height was simply exaggerated.

In progress… but see


One response to “Lynn Valley’s secret Forest

  1. Nice pics of one of my favourite places!

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