Cathedral Grove is one of BC’s most iconic forest settings and a popular way for tourists to experience the feel of Vancouver Island’s tall trees. It also provides a spectacular gateway to an altogether less manicured woodland setting.
Mt. Horne, and indeed Horne Lake are named after Scottish settler and fur trader Adam Horne who discovered and mapped an ancient trading trail from Qualicum Beach to the Alberni Valley. This route provided the rough basis for what is now Highway 4. Parking at Cathedral Grove and walking carefully towards the Alberni Summit for around 200 metres, you will find a gated gravel access road doubling back on your right. This is the Western end of Chalet Road, which skirts the Northern shore of Cameron Lake. Although it is possible to short cut through the trails to this road, following this route on the outward leg minimizes the chance of taking a wrong turn and allows a slightly different and very attractive final leg back to your vehicle.
As you reach the chalets on the lakeside, look for a trail rising to your left. If you make it as far as the fourth chalet, you’ve gone too far so re-trace and look for the trailhead again with more care. The trail obliges an unusually steep start, and I would strongly suggest choosing a slower pace than one might at first think necessary. This is not the only steep pitch to be encountered on the route so stretching the calves, controlling the breathing and minimizing lactic acid in the muscles will minimize fatigue and therefore the risk of cramp and falls later in the day.
The surroundings are typical of a second growth valley side, with a good mix of evergreens, arbutus, maple, windfall and underbrush. Conditions underfoot have a significant effect on traction, with dust in summer, dry leaves in fall, ice and snow in winter and wet roots at any time necessitating awareness, caution and appropriate footwear.
After 20 minutes or so you’ll suddenly find the trail intersects the railway line to Port Alberni. Take a good look around and remember this point as it is a key junction on your return route. Turn right and follow the tracks for around 400 metres, looking on your left for a break in the banking. At this point you’ll see flagging tape marking this second section of trail, and a rope to assist with the initial steep pitch leading you back into the trees. As mentioned in previous trail features, do not count on the security of a rope you have not chosen as appropriate and fixed in place yourself.
Once more you’ll find yourself on an uphill grind until you come to a distinct saddle where the trail splits left (East) or right (West). The option on the right heads towards Mt. Wesley but our route follows left for another (much shorter) uphill trail. This brings you out on a substantial gravel road, built to service the antenna on the Southern flank of Mt. Horne, which you will follow uphill to your left. The fortunate trade-offs for this less attractive section are occasional peek-a-boo views over Cameron Lake and easy, well-graded walking that provides some relief for feet and legs.
The road eventually weaves along easier contours bringing the antenna into view. This is your cue to look out, once again, for a trailhead well marked with flagging tape. In this case, the trail will be on your right and leads into slightly scrubbier, smaller vegetation, typical of the higher elevations you’ve now achieved. This section is relatively well marked but care should always be taken to maintain orientation on the trails, especially if there’s a risk of cloud reducing visibility or snow obscuring the trail.
Keep following the trail uphill as it winds along and across the hillside, mostly in the trees, until it brings you to the final, rocky push up to the summit. The temptation, on reaching the high point, is to head straight to the summit cairn and enjoy the view. First, though, mark the point where you’ve accessed the flat summit area, or at least memorize the shape of the rocks around the top of the trail as the rocky nature of the final approach means that there is no eroded path or distinctive vegetation to identify the start of your return path. While Mt. Horne may not be the highest summit around, the views it offers, especially towards the Arrowsmith Massif and the Alberni Valley, are spectacular on a clear day.
The return route is as steep as the outward leg but, as is typical, it feels steeper and slippier on the way down. Hiking poles are always appreciated on such a descent, but care is the key factor. Feet, fatigued from their efforts, can be refreshed in the cold water of Cameron Lake before the final walk through Cathedral Grove and back to the parking lot.
Mount Horne- Getting there;
From the Qualicum Beach exit on Hwy 19, follow Highway 4 towards Port Alberni for approx. 16km. Pass Cameron Lake and park at Western side of Cathedral Grove parking lot.
What to bring;
Hiking shoes/boots or substantial trail runners with lugged soles.
Backpacks should be large enough to hold essentials PLUS any clothing that needs removed as you heat up.
Lightweight waterproof jacket and rain pants.
Whistle, food, water (min 1\2 litre recommended, preferably in a hydration bladder rather than a bottle), small personal first aid kit, any prescription medications, lightweight insulating layer such as a microfleece, sun screen, bug spray, sunglasses, a hat with a brim or peak, headlamp or small flashlight with fresh batteries and a spare set. Good route knowledge or compass/map/gps plus the ability to use them is essential in case clouds come down. Check the weather forecast the day before and adjust clothing/ equipment choice if required.
Not essential, but worth adding to the list- Hiking poles, camera, mini binoculars, small mat or tarp to sit on.