Monday, 8 March 2021


The Fernie ammonite, Titanites occidentalis, from outcrops on Coal Mountain near Fernie, British Columbia, Canada. 

This beauty is the remains of a carnivorous cephalopod within the family Dorsoplanitidae that lived and died in a shallow sea some 150 million years ago.

If you would like to get off the beaten track and hike up to see this ancient beauty, you will want to head to the town of Fernie in British Columbia close to the Alberta border. 

Driving to the trail base is along an easy access road just east of town along Fernie Coal Road. There are some nice exposures of Cretaceous plant material on the north side (left-hand side) of the road as you head from Fernie towards Coal Creek. I recently drove up to Fernie to look at Cretaceous plant material and locate the access point to the now infamous Late Jurassic (Tithonian) Titanites (S.S. Buckman, 1921) site. While the drive out of town is on an easy, well-maintained road, the slog up to the ammonite site is a steep 3-hour push.

The first Titanites occidentalis was about one-third the size and was incorrectly identified as Lytoceras, a fast-moving nektonic carnivore. The specimen you see here is significantly larger at 1.4 metres (about four and a half feet) and rare in North America. 

Titanites occidentalis, the Western Giant, is the second known specimen of this extinct fossil species. The first was discovered in 1947 in nearby Coal Creek by a British Columbia Geophysical Society mapping team. When they first discovered this marine fossil high up on the hillside, they could not believe their eyes — both because it is clearly marine at the top of a mountain and the sheer size of this ancient beauty.

In the summer of 1947, a field crew was mapping coal outcrops for the BC Geological Survey east of Fernie. One of the students reported finding “a fossil truck tire.” Fair enough. The similarity of size and optics are pretty close to your average Goodridge. 

A few years later, GSC Paleontologist Hans Frebold described and named the fossil Titanites occidentalis after the large Jurassic ammonites from Dorset, England. The name comes from Greek mythology. Tithonus, as you may recall, was the Prince of Troy. He fell in love with Eos, the Greek Goddess of the Dawn. Eos begged Zeus to make her mortal lover immortal. Zeus granted her wish but did not grant Tithonus eternal youth. He did indeed live forever — ageing hideously. Ah, Zeus, you old trickster. It is a clever play on time placement. Dawn is the beginning of the day and the Tithonian being the latest age of the Late Jurassic. Clever Hans!

Hiking to the Fernie Ammonite

From the town of Fernie, British Columbia, head east along Coal Creek Road towards Coal Creek. The site is 3.81 km from the base of Coal Creek Road to the trailhead as the crow flies. I have mapped it here for you in yellow and added the wee purple GPS marker for the ammonite site proper. There is a nice, dark grey to black roadcut exposure of Cretaceous plants on the north side of the dirt road that is your cue to pull over and park.  

You access the trailhead on the south side of the road. You'll need to cross the creek to begin your ascent. There is no easy way across the creek and you'll want to tackle this one with a friend when the water level is low. 

The beginning of the trail is not clear but a bit of searching will reveal the trailhead with its telltale signs of previous hikers. This is a 2-3 hour moderate 6.3-kilometre hike up & back bush-whacking through scrub and fallen trees. Heading up, you'll make about a 246-metre elevation gain. You won't have a cellular signal up here but if you download the Google Map to your mobile, you'll have GPS to guide you. 

If you're coming in from out of town, the closest airport is Cranbrook. Then it is about an hour and change to Fernie and another 15-minutes or so to the site.

You will want to leave your hammers with your vehicle (no need to carry the weight) as this site is best enjoyed with a camera. This is a site you will want to wear hiking boots to access. Know that these will get wet as you cross the creek. If you'd like to see the ammonite but are not keen on the hike, a cast has been made by fossil preparator Rod Bartlett and is on display at the Courtenay Museum in Courtenay, Vancouver Island, Canada. Fernie Ammonite Palaeo Coordinates: 49°29'04"N 115°00'49"W