by Lisa Fehr
On Saturday, April 25, a group of seven runners - led by David Marlor - set out to conquer some of the Sooke Hills as a training run for the upcoming Sun Mountain Race (25k/50k/50mile) taking place on May 16. Harriers in the group included Andrew B., Colleen A., Sean F. and Lisa F. (also present - non-Harrier pals Cathie D. and Christine M.). Leaving the mailboxes at the Sookehalla*, excitement was high. Five runners were planning a half marathon distance, and the other two aimed to do a full marathon on the trails.
A couple of side trips down little trails led to the waterworks gate and other little-known places. Trillium flowers abounded. The runners crossed a creek on a log bridge, and several other “bridges” in various states of disrepair. The camaraderie of the group provided an interesting contrast to the solitude of the wilderness. On Sooke Mountain Road, at kilometre 13, they paused for a group photo, then the five half-marathoners turned back to complete their 22k on the trails. Lisa and David carried on, next wading across the fast-flowing Charters River. The trails took them up a 260m climb through rough, loose rocks with the sound of the river rushing below on their right. A 1950s derelict truck, abandoned and now a defacto way mark, hinted at days gone by. Passing Grass Lake, Shields Lake, and Crabapple Lake, there were pauses for snacks and photo ops. Large sections of the trail were flooded (some of them quad-deep), making for some wet running. Despite crossing over a dozen of these sections, there were moments of raw beauty that can only be found on remote trails. Standing at the base of a tree, a bald eagle flew from its nest only about 30 feet away from where they stood. Cloud formations changed as they watched. Sunshine, showers, and wind all visited as the birds and frogs and squirrels all made their presence known.
Reaching the base of Empress Mountain (the highest peak in the CRD at over 600m), a decision was made to check out a different trail than planned. It was rougher than expected, with many deadfalls and very rocky footing, so for a short time, there was more hiking than running - but it didn’t matter. As they climbed, the clouds cleared away and by the time they reached the top of Empress Mountain, the skies were perfectly clear. Dropping their packs, they stopped the Garmins and just took in the epic views in all directions. It was incredible. From the Sooke Basin, to downtown Victoria, the Olympic Mountains, the Strait… it was all there. They took in the view, snacked on pretzels and M&M’s (and a small flask!), then grudgingly headed back down the mountain to finish off the run. With the wind in their hair, they glided down a long, winding downhill section, the only sound their feet on the dirt trail.
The Garmins said 43km by the time the trail left the forest, and as they popped out at the road, their speed picked up and they raced to the finish line (the cars). Covered in sweat and dirt but with smiles on their faces, they agreed it was among the most epic runs they had done (to date!) and that they would need to go back again soon.
-submitted by Lisa Fehr
* Ed. note: Sookehalla refers to the fast, four-lane section of Hwy 14 just outside Victoria. The mailboxes there are becoming a popular starting-point for Sooke Hills adventures.