Length: 4.0 hrs, 25.2 km
Technical difficulty: 3/5
Ascent: 1286 m
Highlights: Crabapple Lake, Empress Mountain views.
Summary: This track climbs to the top of Empress Mountain, the highest point in the Sooke Hills via the Harbourview Rd gradual climb. It is 90% rideable, and is quite scenic around the Crabapple Lake portion. The return trip along the west side of Crabapple is a change from the way up, but the lake is not visible.
To begin, travel from Victoria towards Sooke along Highway 14. Shortly after you see Sooke harbour, past the Ayum Creek bridge, take the next right and travel up the hill to the end of the hill to the park entrance and parking lot. The track starts beyond the gate along Sooke Mountain Park Road (who knew it had a name?), and climbs steadily on non-technical gravel. After 2.3 km, there is a main spur going to the right which is a nice ride / hike to the top of Mt Manuel Quimper.
Continue along the main road through mostly 50-100 year old second growth, and the occasional swampy area. There are a number of mountain bike single tracks along the west side, if you’re so inclined on the return trip.
The track continues along the base of Mt Manuel Quimper and then turns east along a valley between Quimper and the two Rampart peaks to the north. South Charters River (hard to believe it’s a river), runs parallel and indeed the track crosses at 6.6 and then again at 7.7. In between at 6.8 there is a crossing of Clapper Creek.
Interestingly, there are sections of pavement along the track. At 8.9, there is what appears to be a dry creek bed as the track veers to the left. Past the creekbed, rather large boulders belie that this is indeed a path. It’s short, and soon the track levels out again and becomes rideable. There are two small spurs going off to the right at 10.1 and 10.7. I haven’t explored them. At 10.9, there is a rather large Douglas Fir which some people seem to make a big fuss over:
I guess those people haven’t seen the Red Creek Fir
At 11.1, there are the foundations and remains of Eric Bernard’s cabin.
He was a logging entrepreneur living in Sooke, with a getaway log cabin at Crabapple Lake.
The track circles around the north end of Crabapple with just one other view of the lake from a rocky outcrop as the track climbs. At 12.5, take the right and go up a very steep and rocky 500m. The track is rideable until 13.7, where there is a fork. Ditch the bike here and take the left fork, unless you are adventurous, and want to continue along a very difficult (lots of windfall) track going back towards the Potholes via Peden Lake. At 13.9, you can go up to the left to the top of Screen Hill, otherwise, stay on the path until 14.1 and climb the small path to the right which will take about 15 minutes to get to the top.
If it is clear, you will have an amazing view of the surrounding mountains, a clear view of Sooke and the Straight of Juan de Fuca, and a clear line of sight to Victoria. Otherwise, you might see this:
Returning, take the same route, except take the right at 16.8 and skirt along the west side of Crabapple (you won’t see it). At 18.5, take the left to go back to Harbourview, otherwise you can go to the right and check out Shields and Grassy Lake, and return along the gully of North Charters river. For this alternate return route which might add another half hour, click here.