Are you looking to stretch your legs, get some good exercise and spend some time in nature? Would you like to watch the salmon spawn, walk through a lush ancient rain forest and treat your eyes with a magnificent panoramic view of Victoria and lower Vancouver Island? Mount Finlayson in Victoria BC’s Goldstream Park is the premier mountain to climb in the region. Locals consider this climb to be a personal challenge to anyone who lives in the area, if you are physically able, at some point you need to summit this mountain in order to prove to yourself that you can rightfully call Victoria BC your home.
Okay, Mt. Finlayson is not the jagged and menacing peak of the Matterhorn, but the mountain does appear prominently in the Victoria area and also comes with its fair share of climbing challenges. Mount Finlayson is not for the faint of heart, you need to be in moderate to good physical shape to tackle this climb. You also need to be prepared. Make sure you wear polyester clothing because you will work up a big sweat and wet cotton will give you bad chills even on warm days. Bring a litre or more water for you personally. Pack a healthy snack for when you reach the summit like a sandwich or fruit and cheese, you’ll need the energy for the descent, all in a back pack of course. Wear your watch and/or bring a cell phone for emergencies. Climbing in a group is recommended, but the mountain sees many daily visitors so if you are going solo and find yourself in trouble someone surely will be along shortly, as long as you are on the main trail. Children under 10 should not come with you.
On a side note, if you find yourself heading up for a hike from October to December, stop in at Goldstream Provincial Park and watch the salmon swim up stream to spawn. There are several great nature trails all along the river with many unique salmon viewing opportunities. There is also a nature house where you can browse their book store, learn about the salmons life cycle and about other animals that inhabit the park.
Okay, enough time spent watching the salmon, you have a mountain to climb. About 200 meters from the small bridge that crosses the Goldstream River you will come to the trail head for the Mount Finlayson hike. Take note of the map and recommendations, you will also see other information about cougars and bears in the area and what to do if you encounter one. The Mount Finlayson trail is frequented regularly by people and their dogs, this alone will ensure a cougar or bear sightings should be very remote.
Your hike begins in the lush green rain forest canopied by towering Douglas Fur and Cedar trees, the forest floor is covered in soft green moss and giant ferns, kind of fantasy like. Your first steps up the trail is not forgiving, it looks like a well maintained trail but it is steep. You’ll notice a set of stairs off to your right hand side, you can take them if you want, they just take you around a slightly longer way and it meets up with the main trail after a few hundred meters.
Mt. Finlayson, Finlayson Arm, Finlayson Rd. and others were named after one of Victoria’s founding fathers, Roderick Finlayson. Originally employed in Lower Canada by the Hudson Bay Company he eventually got a posting to what was called then Fort Victoria. He saw Victoria emerge from a barren landscape, to a small HBC outpost to a bustling town when the Cariboo gold rush came. He received praise from Sir James Douglas siting his “energy, perseverance, method and sound judgement in all his arrangements. . .”. What better quote to remember when climbing Mt. Finlayson!
The steady slope continues for about 15 or so minutes when you come to a steep gully. At the bottom there is a small stream running through it with a small wooden bridge for your crossing convenience. Scaling this gully is a very unique experience, on either side the only way to get into and out of the it is to climb the exposed root systems of trees. Its natures ladder. On the other side, however, after scaling up the root system the trail turns very steep with loose rock, this is were you need to start being careful and watch your footing.
From this point on you’ll start to see orange trail markers, some with directional arrows, some are faded and harder to see and some are signed by future “artisans”. Its important to pay attention to these, in some rocky places it can be hard to see which way the trail is going. On the way back pay very close attention to the markers, people commonly go off trail on the decent.
As you hike higher up you’ll notice you are leaving the dark, green and lush rain forest and entering a semi arid environment. You’ll see Garry Oak, Arbutus trees and you will now start to get more spectacular views of the Bear Mountain community and some surrounding areas.
After traversing the semi arid forest area for another 15 minutes, things start getting rocky, now is the time for firm grips, firm footing, centering your gravity, concentration and don’t look down. This is the most unnerving leg of the hike and the longest too. You will be scrambling (scrambling is climbing using all four of your limbs), there will be climbing up rocky crevasses, some rocks are smooth, flat and steep, be very careful, they can be slippery when wet. Some parts of the trail you will be between a rock wall and a few feet away is a steep cliff.
All this being said, it is safe, there is some margin for error and people aren’t dieing in droves from climbing mishaps. What to expect; you will get some sort of scrape in some way, you will be sore the next day and the usual bad injury is a bleeding scrape, a sprain or possibly a fracture. Search and rescue are rarely ever called to Mount Finlayson, when they are it is usually for someone who stayed too long or went up too late in the day and can’t find their way down. Once it is dark, you CAN NOT see the trail and it is far too dangerous to descend. You should not attempt a summit later than noon, depending on the time of year. Also, if it is raining hard, windy or snowing, stay off the mountain.
Near the top, the scrambling will end and it is just a semi steep hike to the summit. At the top you will see a surveyors bench mark, a detailed map of Goldstream Park and one of the most amazing views money can’t buy. You can see downtown Victoria, the Highlands, the Trans Canada Highway with toy like cars driving on it, a trestle across the valley (that you can hike to as well, via Little Niagara Falls), Mt. Baker, Strait of Juan De Fuca and the majestic Olympic Mountain Range. Did I forget to tell you about all the nature too? Bird watching, the flora and fauna, dainty little flowers dotting the hillside and Sitka deer prancing off in the distance. With your physical sacrifice comes a great reward, there are so many special things on Mt. Finlayson and there is only one way to get those precious experiences, you have to climb it.
The way down. No where near the exertion as the way up, but you need to be careful in different ways, your chance of falling and slipping are greater, you need to go slow and pay attention. IMPORTANT! When you are back into the scrambling phase there comes a part where it is easy to go off trail, pay close attention to the markers. You will know you have gone off trail when you get to a 3 meter high brownish cliff with some thin trees in front of it. Those trees are your friends, use them to repel down the cliff and carry on down a slight path that will eventually take you to the main trail by the big boulder (you’ll know what I mean when you see it). This off trail “trap” is more difficult than the main trail, keep an eye out those orange markers.
All in all, Mt. Finlayson makes for a great 2-3 hour hike. Come experience for yourself the challenge, great views and fresh air that await you. Mount Finlayson is about a 20 minute drive north of Victoria BC on the #1 Trans Canada Highway at the Goldstream Park turnoff.