Mick Bailey - Hunting Giants in British Columbia

Hello! Who are you and where are your outdoors roots?

It was in the 1980s, when I moved from Montreal to Vancouver, that I really began to get involved with nature. The west coast of Canada is a true adventure playground, so hiking came first, but exploring places seldom visited soon caught my attention!

Searching for the remaining stands of ancient forest in southwestern British Columbia became my greatest passion, when I wasn’t running trails or climbing mountains.

When I first moved to the coast, the towering trees were the first thing I noticed. The heady aroma of Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Western Hemlock seemed to be everywhere. I enjoyed looking up into the canopies of these giants, where eagles perched.

After some time, I began to absorb some of the local history, which of course is steeped in logging culture. Photos in museums were sobering, and I soon understood that most of the forests I had seen so far were second growth cultures. How many trees, I wondered, had survived the previous century?

It was then I began systematically walking each creek drainage in the Seymour River and Lynn Creek valleys, just to see what I could discover. I had some leads, provided me by the books of the late Randy Stoltmann, and was fortunate enough to acquaint myself with Ralf Kelman, who is perhaps western Canada’s best known tree hunter. He had done considerable work, but one man can only cover so much ground, and he wasn’t getting any younger, or so he joked.

The information he shared with me helped guide the next decade of my life searching the forests. It’s something that has become ingrained in my personality, I guess you could say. I believe that the next giants are hiding there, awaiting discovery. Are they endangered? Are they protected? Can they be saved from logging? Only time will tell that story!

For nearly three decades, I explored the Coast Mountains every chance I had. While I’m solitary by nature, and enjoy doing solo trips, I’ve also made a lot of friends just by getting outside. Over the last five years, I’ve rediscovered my love of writing and have been retelling my stories, both past and present, on my website.

You might have noticed there are two people in this summit photo. That’s because it’s hard to tell my story without including Doug, my long time hiking and climbing partner. We’ve spent countless hours outdoors, supporting each other when we’ve needed to, and enjoying the good times along with the, errrr, more trying experiences!

I also have a core group of friends that I’ve done quite a few expeditions with over the years too. Friends made in the mountains are friends made forever!

My wife Jan, an avid kayaker, has always enjoyed outdoor living too. We always made a point of introducing our kids to the wilderness right from the beginning, and that’s paid off in a big way. To this day they both enjoy camping and hiking, and my daughter, who’s now a teacher, also instructs climbing in her spare time.

What’s Your Story From The Mountain?

If ever there was a trek that was life-changing for me, it was when Doug and I traversed The Needles in 2004. It was a day that tested our skills and endurance, and served to bond us in so many ways.

The Needles are a trio of summits in the North Shore Mountains that, while not high in altitude, do make for difficult hiking, especially on a really hot day in mid July when you run out of water! They can actually be seen from the city of Vancouver, so they are close to a major city, yet could not be more isolated in nature. You can read all about that adventure on my site, it’s called Welcome to the Jungle. It seems like nothing we’ve done before or since has been anywhere near as hard!

Here is an excerpt:

“There are times when I write about a trip in the mountains that I struggle to find the right words to tell the tale, and then there are the stories that almost write themselves, and this one is definitely the latter! It all began innocently enough, with an email from Doug.

The heady aroma of Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Western Hemlock seemed to be everywhere.

He had studied his maps and came up with the idea to traverse The Needles, an obscure group of wooded summits north of Lynn Ridge and deep in the heart of the North Shore Mountains. They were steep, largely unknown to most, and shrouded in mystery. They still are. A look at the maps over an Okanagan Spring Ale or two at Doug’s place was enough to hook me on his idea.

In retrospect, I now know I can be talked into just about anything by cold beer, as if there had ever been any doubt about that!”

Through hiking/climbing/running, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

Testing myself physically has always been a part of my life. Much of my youth was spent boxing, and playing baseball and football. I’ve also spent years many years pursuing the martial arts, which has helped to keep me grounded and focused.

I think what helps me to push my limits is my ability to concentrate on goals. Like my son, I also fall on the autism spectrum, and my challenge has always been communicating with and understanding people. I’ve never had that problem with nature, so I guess that’s why I’m at my best in the forests and the mountains.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that nothing is worth doing without keeping a good sense of humour, and for that reason, most of my friends enjoy a good joke. There’s enough real stress going on in the world, so I try not to take myself too seriously. The laughs are what get you through hard times!

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

My favourite item I take with me on every trip is always my camera! Over the years, I’ve taken thousands of photographs, and I’m very particular about documenting my adventures visually.

If ever I left home without my camera, I’d soon be driving home to pick it up! Landscape photography is a longtime interest of mine.

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

My advice to beginning hikers is to start slowly, and learn from mentors if you can. It’s one thing to have the ten essentials with you, but another to gain the knowledge of those with greater experience.

This is essential where wilderness navigation and climbing are concerned. Knowing how to read a map, assess hazards correctly, and using gear properly all help ensure safety. You might want to start by joining a local hiking club, for a start.

As well, consider training to increase your fitness, because no matter what you tackle, it’ll be much easier if you’re in shape! Over the years I’ve had my share of setbacks, and you will too, just make sure you take the time to rehabilitate your injuries properly.

“There’s a thin line between knowing when to push yourself and when to pace yourself, and with time, you’ll learn where to draw that line.”

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or people to your outdoors journey?

I’m an avid reader, especially of books about mountaineering and the outdoors.

Climbers like Chris Bonington, Doug Scott, and Joe Simpson are a few of my favourite writers, but my biggest inspiration has definitely been Randy Stoltmann. Randy was an irreplaceable figure in the conservation movement here in British Columbia, and a legendary hunter of big trees. He died in the early 1990s in a skiing accident, but accomplished a great deal in his 32 years.

Where’s your next adventure?

The next great adventure in my life promises to be a grand one! You see, after many years on Vancouver’s North Shore, we’ve now moved to Vancouver Island. Getting to know our new home has been incredible so far, and it seems like there’s a discovery around every corner! I’ve even joined a local hiking club, the Island Mountain Ramblers.

Where can others learn more about you?

Most of all, I hope that you enjoy life outdoors and that your journeys are both safe and rewarding! You can follow my exploits online at BC Treehunter and see my photos on Instagram and Flickr. You can also follow me on Facebook.  I’ll leave you with this quote by John Muir, arguably the poet laureate of nature, with whom I could not agree more :

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

Want to share your Story From The Mountain?

Hey, I'm Greg Kamradt, the founder of Terra Mano.

We interview awesome hikers/mountaineers/climbers/photographers and share the stories behind their ambition. By sharing these stories, we want to help others become inspired to reach their goals.

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