Twice a week, Jim, a spry outdoorsman known by many as the Octogenarian Mountain Goat (OMG—now that’s ironic!) sends out an email. It informs a steadily expanding group of Westside hikers where he’s heading for his next Wednesday or Saturday outing. Anybody is welcome to join, snowshoes in winter, hiking boots the rest of the year. Along with location, he outlines highlights including distance and difficulty, and reminds people to bring water, a snack, and if they want to hone their mapping skills, a GPS. Jim isn’t a guide, he’s just a hiker who likes company.
He’s also a dedicated custodian of the country he treks. While park caretakers and regional staff maintain our public spaces, thousands of kilometres of backcountry trails would soon become impassable if it weren’t for the efforts of community-minded users like Jim.
Take only photos, leave only footprints
He never heads into the backcountry without his axe, so brush and small windfalls are cleared away in the course of a normal hike. And anybody who walks with him is expected to carry out everything they packed in—plus the scattered garbage discarded by others.
But that’s not enough to keep the trails open. Last fall I joined Jim and a couple of his regulars, Rhonda and Phil, on a dedicated work detail to clear a favourite path that runs off the Jackpine Forest Service Road.
We alternated carrying the heavy packs containing the chainsaw and gas can as well as the garbage bag. For the first kilometre, Jim was cranky. Quads had been through, rutting the trail, but more importantly, they’d already cut the windfalls and he was itching to clear timber. But from the point where the trail narrowed to walking room only, there was plenty for us to do. Phil, intent on keeping Jim from too much heavy labour, fired up the chainsaw. Rhonda and I slung brush aside as it was cut and helped to roll the sawn logs out of the way. Jim grumbled that Phil was having all the fun and hacked off low-hanging branches with his axe.
By the time we worked our way to the lookout at Powers Creek Gorge we deserved our picnic break and the reward of a signature valley view. Although I came home that day completely pooped, I’ve never felt better about an Okanagan getaway. I wonder which trail Jim will have us clearing this spring?