British Columbia

Group of friends discover secret camp in Golden Ears Park frozen in time

An unsanctioned camp in Golden Ears Provincial Park sat undisturbed and undiscovered until three men practising physical distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic stumbled upon the site.

'It was almost like one of those time capsules that you run into. It's been sitting there for 30 years'

The secret unsanctioned camp in Golden Ears Provincial Park was known as The Retreat. It was set up in 1986 (right) and abandoned in 1991, before being discovered the week of March 16, 2020. (left). (Carson Schiefner & Rick Senft)

Three B.C. friends, out for a recent hike together near Alouette Lake, discussed finding a fabled gold stash rumoured to be the in area around Maple Ridge, but came across a different sort of treasure.

Callum Gow, Josh Grossman and Carson Schiefner, all film workers in their early 20s, found a secret camp, fully supplied, that had not been visited in nearly 30 years.

"To be honest, that was more of a treasure than I thought I could ever find up there," said Gow.

Their adventure started last Friday when the men split off from their small group to explore an area on Mt. Nutt in Golden Ears Park Provincial Park. They wanted to put some physical distance between themselves and other trail users, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"We thought this would be a good idea to keep six feet away from each other," said Gow, who described a challenging scramble up the slope on hands and knees, working their way through the brush.

That's when the group spotted a flash of orange in the undergrowth. It was a tarp.

The men approached it, thinking that people may be camping there, but when they got close they saw that it hadn't been visited in years.

"And we realized what it was and we were like, oh wow, this is insane," said Schiefner. "It was almost like one of those time capsules that you run into. It's been sitting there for 30 years, just waiting to be found." 

Callum Gow and Carson Schiefner check out the stash at The Retreat after making the discovery in March, 2020. (Josh Grossman)

There was a rustic A-frame hut, covered in a tattered orange tarp. Under the shelter there were sealed boxes, full of camp supplies in great condition.

There was a radio, a three-burner Coleman stove, first aid kit, large bush knife, drum tobacco and Zig-Zag rolling papers, and — much to the amusement of the men in a time when people were emptying store shelves — a big roll of toilet paper.

There were camp supplies inside sealed boxes, much of it in great condition considering 29 years had passed since it was last seen. (Carson Scheifner)

"We found this journal — this log book that they used — I think it started out in '86," said Schiefner.

The log book revealed the camp had been used from 1986 until 1991 — a few years before the young men were even born.

The entries detailed New Year's Eve parties at the camp, day trips, and even the tragic deaths of two friends in a car accident in Washington State.

The friends photographed the camp, took a couple of items including the log book, and found their way out of the woods.

A page in the log book details a visit to the Retreat in January 1987. (Callum Gow)

Their fascination with the secret camp — known as The Retreat — didn't end with their visit. Gow posted the photos, including several log entries on Facebook. The post soon had more than 2,000 shares.

Someone recognized one of the names, and Gow managed to contact some of the original people who organized the site, including Bill Ripka and Rick Senft.

'Some of the best years I had'

According to Senft, who set up the camp, three of the original seven men have passed away, but the rest remain in touch and get together at least once a year. When he saw the post about his camp online, he was pretty surprised.

"Oh for heaven's sake — to see those pictures of the thing," said Senft. "I'd have to say, they're probably some of the best years I had."

Senft fondly remembers going on backwood adventures with the old group, which they called the B.C. Weirdness Federation, using the motto "onward through the fog," in reference to the heavy drinking that would take place.

Rick Senft cooks breakfast during a New Year's visit to The Retreat, while friend Derek Loyst sits beside him after a night of heavy drinking. (Rick Senft )

He said he had to sneak all the supplies past the park ranger to build the unsanctioned camp and that he never cut down a tree and was careful to keep the camp's impact on the local environment to a minimum.

'Life gets in the way'

Senft said times have changed, and it would be tough to get away with the same thing today, especially the campfires, due to oversight at the park and more traffic from visitors.

Backcountry camping in Golden Ears Provincial Park is only allowed at designated wilderness sites.

The log book reveals the decline of the camp — the final three years until 1991 each have a single entry, solo visits by Senft.

"It's just life gets in the way, you know?" He said. "I always have plans to go back and just check the place out."

But in 29 years, the memories of The Retreat have been hidden away on Mt. Nutt, slowly getting swallowed by the undergrowth.

Senft said perhaps the younger group of men wanted to head back up and make it their special spot.

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Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at