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Mount Becher:
The Strathcona Trail and Cabins

by Lindsay Elms

Mount Becher Cabin 1934From downtown Courtenay it is difficult to pick out the non-descript summit of Mount Becher, however, the ski-runs of Forbidden Plateau give the general location away as it is the most notable mountain feature after the Comox Glacier. In the 1920's the mountain was known as Quartz Creek Mountain and access to it was via the Strathcona Trail that began in the village of Bevan located just off of Lake Trail Road between Courtenay and Comox Lake.

It was the early explorers and mountaineers who established the trail as they slowly extended the search of the rugged and beautiful mountains that form the backdrop for the Comox Valley. Beginning at the carpark outside the Bevan Hotel these early pioneers hiked down to the Puntledge River and crossed it via a floating bridge they built from logs.

An early account of hiking the Strathcona Trail comes from a report of a trip up Quartz Creek Mountain in 1926. On April 2 (Good Friday), a party of about a dozen men had made preparations to go up the newly constructed Strathcona Trail to the top of Quartz Creek Mountain, however, at daybreak there was little or no visibility and the party decided to postpone the trip until Easter Monday.

Lunch En Route to Mt. Becher 1926Monday morning dawned clear and the party, led by Clinton Wood and comprising of Cecil (Cougar) Smith, J. Murray Mitchell, Geoffrey Capes, Fred Wood, Ian Inglis and the ornithologist Hamilton Mack Laing, set out from Bevan under promising weather. Although a great deal of snow had fallen in the previous three days the men took turns at breaking the trail through the snow. Two hours into the climb the mountaineers arrived at a magnificent viewpoint at about one thousand metres.

From the Comox Argus newspaper of May 27, 1926, the following description of the ascent by the mountaineers from this viewpoint is described:

After leaving this vantage point, the trail winds through a most delightful natural park area unique in its absence of undergrowth and windfalls, broken by long stretches of open meadow lands and save for the blazes on the trees, untouched by human hand. Two hours of very easy travelling takes one by a very uniform grade to an elevation of 4,000 feet where a truly splendid panorama of the East Coast of Vancouver Island and West Coast of the Mainland can be seen. A short half hour's climb from this point and the mountain top is reached where at an elevation of 5,000 feet one can gaze to their heart's content on some of the most magnificent scenery on Vancouver Island, nay in the world.

Eventually they all reached the summit under a deep blue sky. The views to the east, over Comox and the Georgia Straits, and to the west over the mountains of Strathcona Provincial Park, proved exciting and ultimately inspired many of these men to return time and time again to the slopes of what is now known as Mount Becher.

Summit of Mt. Becher 1926In the late 1920's, early 1930's the Comox Logging Company pushed a railway grade logging road up the lower slopes of Mount Becher from the bottom of the mountain near the Medicine Bowls on the Brown's River. Clinton Wood used this road to carry supplies up to build the first Forbidden Plateau Lodge at the end of the logging road situated one hundred and fifty metres below the site of the lodge that was burned down in 2002.

As the mountaineers were now able to drive to the lodge the lower section of the Strathcona Trail from Bevan was soon abandoned. When construction of the Forbidden Plateau Lodge was finished, the Courtenay/Comox Mountaineering Club decided to build a cabin higher up on the slopes of Quartz Creek Mountain at a site half an hour below the summit. Clinton Wood had evaluated this site as a potential location for a backcountry cabin in 1926. He proposed that the cabin would serve as an ideal location for future winter sport activities such as snow-shoeing, skiing and tobogganing.

The building material, wood stove and supplies were carried in by members of the mountaineering club and by packhorses to the cabin site. It was a three-room cabin with a bunkroom that could sleep six to eight people, a kitchen in the middle and a storeroom on the other end. For nearly fifty years this cabin served the mountaineering/skiing community as well as guests who for five dollars could have their equipment carried in by packhorse from the Plateau Lodge. This was the first ski-hill on Vancouver Island and although it did not offer the same facilities as the later ski resort of Mount Washington, it provided an opportunity for many outdoor enthusiasts to get out an enjoy some winter skiing, from a cabin high in the mountains, without having to leave the island.

Packhorses with supplies for Mt. Becher cabin 1930'sThe Strathcona Trail continued on from Mount Becher to Paradise Meadows and several other cabins were built along the way. One was built on McKenzie Lake and another at Kwai Lake. All of the original cabins have gone and at Kwai Lake, BC Parks have built a campsite were the cabin used to stand. The trail that is used today from Mount Becher to Paradise Meadows is still part of the same Strathcona Trail built by those early pioneers in the 1930's, however, its ultimate destination was never achieved. It was originally hoped that with government assistance the trail would continue through the pass between Mount Albert Edward and Alexandra Peak to Buttle Lake, a distance of roughly thirty-eight kilometres from downtown Courtenay, giving access to the mountains of Strathcona Provincial Park.

Today Mount Becher is the most accessible mountain from Courtenay for both summer hiking and winter backcountry skiing. Hikers begin at the site where the Forbidden Plateau Lodge once stood and hike up the ski-runs to the trail behind the operators hut at the top ski tow. The trail has been well worn from years of travel by pack-horses, saddle ponies and untold hikers. In summer a rough trail continues over the top of Mount Becher and down the Boston Ridge to connect at one of the switchbacks on Plateau Road. As for the old Mount Becher cabin, it was dismantled and burned down around 1980 when it became too much of a hazard as the aging timber was literally rotting.

Mount Becher Cabin   Mount Becher Cabin
Splitting firewood for Mount Becher Cabin 1930's   Sid Williams carring in a wood stove for Mount Becher Cabin 1930's
Elizabeth Guilbride outside Mount Becher Cabin late 1950's   Harry Winstone skiing fht slopes of Mount Becher  late 1950's


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