Some of the wonders of Deception Pass are obvious, such as the power of the waters churning through the Pass itself, the historical treasures of the CCC structures, the cathedral forests of old growth at Hoypus and North Beach, and the beauty of the diverse beaches ready for exploration and discovery.
Some of the wonders are hidden, little known, or inaccessible to most people.
Known to mostly just a handful of locals, the Heilman Valley, or Naked Man Valley, offers hidden treasures worth discovering. One of those treasures has had park neighbors beating a path to its base for years to marvel at its majesty.
Thanks to the hard work of the Skagit Whatcom Island Trail Maintaining Organization, that wonder is now easier to find, though still requiring an effort to get to it. The Big Cedar lives up to its name: the trunk is over eight feet in diameter at arm-encircling height, meaning it is over 26 feet in circumference.
Situated near the head of a small valley, the tree has been protected from storm winds above, and nurtured by dependable water in the soils below, allowing it to grow strong through several centuries.
We first thought the tree might be on private property. But as we explored the area, we came to realize it was inside the park boundary, though not by much.
We also realized that the tree offered an alternative route for those hiking through the Heilman Valley. The Pass Lake Trail loops around not far to the south of the tree. And the Ginnett Trail traverses the valley just to its east. Connecting these two trails with the short side trip means hikers can now take the East Pass Lake Trail to Ginnett, and return via the Big Cedar Trail and West Pass Lake Trail to make a large loop that doesn't re- quire retracing steps.
Trail routing took years of time and thought for permitting as we wanted to first and foremost protect the natural environment, and certainly not put the Big Cedar itself at risk.
The trail building took a handful of work parties to remove deadfall along the route and lay out the bed of the simple trail. Many hands didn't make the work any easier but it shared the workload among so many different volunteers that it went faster. The members of SWITMO deserve a round of thanks for all their hard work invested in making this trail.
The valley is steep; there are a couple areas that will get your heart pounding a little as you climb up from below. If you are lazy like me, I find it easier to take the West Pass Lake Trail into the valley, go downhill to the Big Cedar, and then hike back out the East Pass Lake Trail. Either way you have to go up a steep hill or two somewhere along the way, though.