Flash Back Fridays


By Ellen Steese, The Christian Science Monitor, June 1985 (selected passages below)

“I always wanted to be a circus acrobat,” the white bearded man says, hopping up onto the horizontal cable slung some three feet above the forest floor.

The rock-climbing class at Strathcona Park Lodge – a wilderness resort in the center of Vancouver Island – doesn’t start out by having much to do with rocks. In the beginning you find yourself wobbling stoutheartedly across swaying logs, the cable just mentioned, and an assortment of rope ladders and logs that are mercifully stationary but placed at a daunting height from the ground.

Fortunately, stout hearts are what we have here. I have joined up with a visiting group of hikers from the Appalachian Mountain Club, middle-aged and older but as spunky as they come. They’ve taken up rock climbing for the first time in their lives.

Jamie showing someone the ropes at the Lake Bluff.

Jamie showing someone the ropes at the Lake Bluff.

One by one, with expressions of great determination under their protective hard hats, they assault the cable, with only a rope attached to a distant tree for balance.

The most common way of falling off is by abruptly pitching over backward. But really, pitching over backward is not that bad when a comrade throws his or her harms firmly around you as you go tumbling by. Almost everyone makes it a very respectable halfway across.

Next the group takes on what could be described as the ‘Army boot camp part of the course. “It’s all just a matter of clipping and unclipping,” says our instructor, Paul, with a grin, as he attaches his safety harness to an overhead cable. He steps casually about, 12 feet above the forest floor: up a tree, along a log, along two parallel logs, a downward log. Then he takes a fairly long jump, negotiates a rope bridge, and finally climbs something called a spider’s web – a ‘ladder’ of swaying ropes.

Once again, our group follows and comes out victorious. And as each person disengages himselffrom the spider’s web, those watching on the ground applaud.

Mr.[Jim] Boulding and his wife, Myrna, have owned Strathcona Park Lodge, in Strathcona Provincial Park in the center of Vancouver Island for 27 years. Mrs. Boulding’s father once owned the land now covered by Vancouver Island’s man- made Upper Campbell Lake, and the government gave them the lakefront property in trade.

The Bouldings, both former teachers, describe their resort as an “outdoor wilderness education center.” It combines facilities for tourists, a school for training teenagers in outdoor skills, and a summer camp for younger kids.

Jim Boulding, a big man who is never without his signature floppy felt hat, is someone Hemingway would have admired: an athlete and woodsman whose specialty is outdoor survival skills. This became an interest when “we realized that we were living in this vast country without being sensitive to it,” he says.

Strathcona offers courses in wilderness survival as well as sailing, hiking, and mountaineering. Occasionally subjects like pottery making, quilting, fly fishing, log cabin construction, and identification of native plants are also covered.

The west coast of Vancouver Island is almost unpopulated, so that’s the coast most used for day trips. “It’s open ocean, and you have to know what you’re doing,” Mr. Boulding says. An understanding of the history of the area is also required of Strathcona’s guides. “It’s just stupid to paddle along the coast and not understand the Indian culture,” he says.

Because of the various aspects to Strathcona, “we can take different members of the family in different directions, Myrna Boulding points out. “We have a lot of sin- gle parents – divorced fathers with their kids, women who can’t take the kids camping on their own.” She adds, “Most resorts don’t want families; we welcome families.”