Off to see white bears

No, we are not that northerly yet. 😉
They are called Kermoda bears, also know locally as ghost bears or spirit bears. They have a recessive gene which makes them white or off-white in color. All natural! It’s like with redheads in humans.
Regular Black bears also have color variations, as they come in a variety of colors, among which are black (obviously), brown, grey, cinnamon, blue and for the Kermoda bears we can add cream, and various shades of white to the list.

Unfortunately, there’s only a small population of these bears, and of those only 10% is actually white, and we didn’t see any of them.

This part of British Columbia is very rich in Indian culture, and quite a few Forts Nations tribes still call this land home. The people live their lives pretty much the same way as their ancestors, but with the help of modern amenities like motorized vehicles, running water, electricity, modern fabrics and modern tools.

We started our little tour today with a view of fishing indigenous people at Moricetown Canyon, where the river is forced through a small canyon of bedrock which gives the people the best chance of catching salmon (we are in the salmon season tour now!) with catchpoles and fishing nets from a rocky outcrop, just like they did generations ago. Catching is done selectively and only as much as they need, so it is granted by the province for them to keep their catch, as regular fishermen, both commercial and leasure fishermen are not permitted to keep the salmon they catch.

After watching some pretty big salmon being caught, we carried on driving and headed for New Hazelton where the local suspension bridge was rumoured to be worth a visit. It actually is quite an interesting bridge, as it’s really narrow and only suitable for light loads. When walking on it the bridge flexed and moved with every car entering it. The signs told us it was way better than the old one, as it would violently sway under the loads and was not suited for any vehicle at all!

The trip continued on to Terrace, but on the way we actually ran into some more wildlife! First a couple of black bears; a mother and her two cubs! All black, black bears by the way. 😉
After this, we also ran into what seamed a  rather large domestic cat. What stood out though, was the fact it only had a really short tail and was pretty bulky for a cat. Too flabbergasted to take a picture we finally figured out what had scurried across the road: lynx! Nice!

The drive from Smithers to Prince Rupert is awesome in many ways, take the massive river system you encounter the final 75km, where the river broadens and mingles with the sea, and you drive right alongside it on sea level. Really picturesk. Throw in some more stunning scenery and 5 hours driving turns into a festive pasttime.

Tomorrow we are going to board a boat. For quite some time actually. And *really* early. We are supposed to check in at 05:30 am!

Covering the distance

Today was a pretty dull day actually. We started off this morning on high spirits with a good breakfast and the prospect of some driving and some nice activities.
Unfortunately, the latter has bot proven to be right. Nor has the first for that matter.

The drive itself was good, yet dull. I mean, call us spoiled, but after nearly 4000 km of pine forests and small lakes, you get the point. Today the road was scarcely used and from time to time we passed through small communities about the size of your average street with nearly all businesses closed down and buildings in shambles. Not too pretty to the eyes, but a realistic image we’ve encountered before and probably will hereafter.

We were looking forward to the activities we though of; small hikes, interesting natural phenomena and good views all around. That was until we stopped in Houston where the nice ladies from the Visitor Center looked at us sheepishly when we told them we wanted to hike and had a cleancut message for us: not here.

So we went on.
And found out that even though the landscape was good and getting better, the hiking was next to impossible. Only very short hikes (10 minutes or less) or very long and strenuous (6 hours +) were available. That’s is not for us.
To top this, we went out to a site reportedly giving access to fossil beds and good sightseeing options where we found out the beds were inaccessible, protected and not viewable as they were 30 meters up on a steep hillside littered with rocks and gravel. It had a nice wheelchair accessible road though! Equality! 🙂

Finally, we went out to a suggestion by the guy from the Smithers Visitor Center: a 2 hour return hike to a nice viewing point which overlooks the majority of the valley and gives nice views of the adjourning snow capped mountains. This was a good trail over some private property, but well worn and easy to follow.
A good end to a weird day.
Maybe we are getting tired, maybe we are spoiled. Let’s hope tomorrow is a better day.

Unfortunately, no pictures today.

Hills and lakes

This post might also have been called ‘Rushing for Gold, part 2’ as we are still driving over the Cariboo Wagon Road, or Gold Rush Route. Now stopping at Prince George for a well deserved break, todays journey has been quite long, strenuous and quicker than anticipated.

TomTom and Google both told us, today would be a full 5 hour drive, when we would drive without stops and in a straight line. This would mean missing out on some stuff on the way, and was simply not acceptable for us. So we told ourselves we would simply start off, and see when we’d arrive where and go from there.
Soon, it turned out both TomTom and Google were grotesquely overestimating the durations, as we covered the first 3.5 hours in just 2.

This got us going; to Barkerville. A 4 hour drive (160km return) to a gold rush town from the late 1800’s which pretty much was preserved in that state by continuous occupation up until the 1970’s.

Barkerville is the town where the 1860 gold rush stated with a certain gentleman Barker struck gold. And a very rich strike that was. In todays money it would be around 70 million EUR! This sparked an influx to Williams Creek and soon all land there was claimed. Mining over there still takes place today and a very large deposit has been proven to be there by the current claim holders.

The town has been actively occupied from around 1860 to 1972, and acquired by the province of British Columbia in 1954. The last of the original inhabitants left in 1972 and now no full time residents remain. Still, a few houses are privately owned and used as housing for a period of time each year. That is, while the park is open to visitors! Weird.

In Barkerville, all houses are on display and staffed by employees who are age correct dressed for 1870 and participating in a simulated regular working day back then. In the meantime they are teaching us visitors what the life back then was like. Very entertaining, and a joy to see how much the employees love their job. Very enthusiastically yelling everyone about ‘their’ Barkerville and it’s rich history.

Luckily for is, the drive to Barkerville wad not 2 hours one way as predicted but 2 hours return, which left us another 2 hours drive to Prince George.Oh well, we are here now. 🙂
Tomorrow, another busy day while travelling to Smithers.

PS: we spotted our very first Moose today! Yay! Also a very placid black bear who allowed us to take a very good look at him while he was fouraging. Lovely!

Pictures will follow soon!

Rushing for gold!

Canada was pioneered by pelt hunters, loggers and gold miners, and the major route for the latter category of people was from Lilleoot to Prince George via highway 97, then known as Cariboo Wagon Road.

This road was constructed in the mid 1800’s as the main road north in the gold rush after a Mr Barker struck gold in a place now known as Barkerville. Along the road lodges and guesthouses appeared, which were commonly named after the number of miles since Lilleoot. We stay the night in 100 Mile House, nowadays grown into a small town doing just that what the old guesthouses did back then. We are staying in a hotel built on the location of the original 100 Mile House, which burnt down in the 30’s.

After a very short drive this morning, we drove on to 108 Mile House Heritage Site, to glance in the past by visiting about 10 restored historic houses, among which the original 105 Mile House, built in 1867. The other buildings are either from the 108 or 105 Mile House sites and of lesser historical value. It is really good to see there still is that much attention for the local history, even if it is quite recent by our standards.

We also readied ourselves for a long haul tomorrow; we’ll be driving off to Prince George which is about 5 hours from where we are now. I’m looking forward to it though!

Offroading

After we got up quite late, at around 8 am, we started our day with some sandwiches and a drive from our hotel to Wells Gray Provincial Park.
After having driven to all easily accessible falls yesterday, today would be a day filled with hiking and trails to get our legs working again, and to see all beauty of the park on foot.

We started off with a trail to some alpine meadows which should be brimful of flowers by now, according to the local weather and season.
The trail is called Trophy Mountain and is only accessible through some secondary road. Yes, that would be ye olde gravel again.
What we didn’t know was that it would be a 15km drive on this dirt road and that the dirt would get worse every kilometer. In fact, it did. We went from a very wide, nearly three lane and well maintained dirt road to a barely two lane wide poorly maintained road to an unmaintained, abandoned forest service road about 1 vehicle wide. Signs told us that we should proceed with extreme caution and that cars not equipped with two-way radio should expect oncoming traffic at any time. This backroad is about 10km long…

After ‘quite an interesting ride’ we arrived, fully shaken and not stirred, at the parking lot to access the trail. We were quite happy with the 3.5 litre 250bhp AWD car we were given as it cruises up with ease. It was just the shaking, rattling and imminent leak in a tire which got to us.
All in all, you should still go to the Trophy Mountain trail, as the rewards are bigger than the price. But one must come fully prepared! The journey to the trail is 40 + 15 km from Clearwater, and the last part is really hard core. 😉

After this ordeal, we went to a watchtower on a hill called the Green Mountain to overlook the vastness of the park. Peering into the abyss one can spot a ridge of three snow capped peaks in the distance. These peaks are the half way mark of the park. One is able to access the park to about halfway these peaks by car, about half this road is paved. The rest of the road is dirt, and beyond this road only trails exist to to the peaks. After that, it is just untamed, wild ruggedness. And some more trees. 😉

Going back in time

Today was another day of moving for us, we left cosy Jasper and headed out on highway 5 to Wells Gray Provincial Park. In particular, we left for Clearwater but that is so tiny, the Provincial Park is the only reason for its existence.

Clearwater is basically built right next to the highway, with our hotel literally metres away from the leftmost line on the tarmac. All visitors come just for one thing: British Columbia’s roughest and wildest part, Wells Gray Provincial Park. It has an incredibly large area of remote and virtually unreachable parts that most of that is only accessible by long boat trips, week-long hikes and helicopter. To make things clear: it basically has only 1 road, of which only half is actually paved. The length of that is about 50 km, the rest is ‘secondary’ road. We would call that a dirt road. And that is all. Nothing else, apart from small hiking trails and a complete absence of guidelines on how the trails go. You’d need a very detailed map to get around the place.

With all this in mind, it is quite remarkable the park is as busy as it is, but it is mostly visited by adventurous hikers because of the rugged nature of the park. We are not like that and will definately stick to the easy trails as we *really* dislike bumping into a bear while on foot.

After arriving at our hotel too early, because of the transition from Mountain Time (-8) to Pacific Time (-9) and because the 4 hour trip took us 2.5 hours as of the awful weather during the drive. With weather that bad, going out really would suck, so we stayed in the car and just drove through it. In Clearwater, all was well and with a healthy 26 degrees a nice place to be compared to the cold trip at 7 degrees…

We started our day off with a drive up the park and visits to three falls in total. All three really different but equally beautiful. We started off with Spahats Falls, and went on to something described as BC’s own Niagra Falls: Dawson Falls.  The most amazing one was Helmcken Falls, where the river has a free drop of 142 metres. Now that is high!

Tomorrow, there is some hiking planned. We will not be doing anything where bear encounters are a possibility as we are not adequately equipped but easy and well tread hikes will have to do. Did you know they sell something called bear spray (which is pepperspray on steroids) and it costs a whopping $40 CAD per can?

Taking a walk in the Park

Yet another day in Canada’s finest of parks: Jasper National Park. The brochures describe it as the gentle giant. Next to Banff NP it is larger but also a little less developed and more “rustic”. Which means there are less signs, less described trails and, unfortunately, less bears.
Today though, we did see one black bear, which is quite a rarity as the population is much smaller compared to Banff NP, where encounters occur that often in order for very strict bear-rules to apply to hikers on trails: there are numerous trails where hiking in groups of 4 is mandatory!

We started this day off with a drive over highway 93a, the old version of 93, towards highway 16 to get to the road which would take us to Maligne Lake. This meant driving about 30 kilometres over a road which is commonly used by all kinds of game, including elk, bears, mule deer and the likes. Before you reach Maligne Lake, you pass Medicine Lake. This is a little smaller and is only an overflow to the Maligne River; with small amounts of water flowing through the river the lake ‘disappears’ to a stream.

At Maligne Lake, we took a hike to several other tiny lakes (Loraine Lake, Mona Lake) somewhere on the forest, which was a great way to start off. A lovely walk!
After this, we drove to Maligne Canyon to check out the awfully narrow gorge in which the river flows. It is at parts over 30 metres deep and mostly about 5 to 20 metres wide. A really weird gorge to see, but very picturesk!

With those activities done, and having walked about 8 kilometres over rough terrain, we were pretty knackered but dedicated to go see the next highlight: Edith Cavell Mountain. This is a huge 3.5 km mountain with a glaciers at its base. You can even walk up to it and experience the glacier and the melt lake for yourself. This added another 2 km to our itinerary, and made a total of 10km on foot. Wow.

Tomorrow, we are off to Clearwater and Wells Gray Provincial Park, but first: sleep!

A very scenic drive

Driving from Banff to Jasper is a treat. First off, we started on the highway 1a again, like the days before. This time, the catch wasn’t as grand as before, but every animal you encounter is by chance anyway. Our luck probably was completely used up by then. 🙂

Arriving at the end of highway 1a you encounter Lake Louise, after which the most scenic route of all scenic routes starts: Icefields Parkway, or highway 93.
This highway was specially constructed to offer the best views on the mountains in the Rockies as possible and I can safely say, they have succeeded in doing just that. What an amazing drive!

It lasts for about 230 kilometres and is usually a 4 lane divided highway so the drive is pretty easy, yet still the road winds and curves through the small valley between two mountain ranges. (I don’t remember which ones though…)
Halfway through the road, at about 105 km from Jasper, the Columbia Icefield Experience can be found. This is a company offering you a busdrive to and on the Athabasca glacier, at the lowest point of the Columbia Icefields. These fields stretch for about 325 square kilometres, and are thus really really big by any standards. The tickets to the glacier will not come cheap, but the drive and the experience both are really great! We have had a blast, on quite possibly the best day to go. The day before, it rained cats and dogs, and the week before that it even snowed up there!

Of course did we stop frequently while driving on the highway to take pictures of all awesomeness on display, and the most notable stops include: Bow Glacier Lake, Peyto Lake and Sunwapta Falls. All three include a short or a little longer hike from the road to the location of our interest. All really worth the time!

More mountain goodness

After the apparent successes of yesterday we were hoping another early start would yield an equal result.
How wrong were we!

Let me remind you: yesterday’s yield was 5 bears and a lot of wapiti. Today’s list is like this: 3 bears (of which 1 mother and her cub) quite a few wapiti and mule deer and 2 wolves. I’m sorry? Yes. Wolves. 2 of them. One per sighting. AWESOME!
Unfortunately for us, the bears were all black bears (some very brown ones!) so we still haven’t seen any grizzlies yet. Maybe later.

The wolves we saw were both grey wolves, and one actually was grey. The other one was black, but still a grey wolf as that’s the only spicies of wolf living in Banff National Park.
All animals we have encountered in the past two days were spotted while driving on highway 1a.
As we were not completely sure what species the bear family was, we went to the National Park Service building in Banff. We passed the question to the ranger, and he determined with some help that the bears we saw actually were black bears. We now know the most determining factor of bears are their claws, but unfortunately for him we have not seen them.
His reaction to us spotting several bears and a wolf was disbelief which only grew bigger after we told him we also saw a second wolf and more bears!

The rest of the day we spent doing some smallest stuff like visiting local falls (Bow River Falls, near Banff) and trying to get on the gondola to Sulphur Mountain. This didn’t quite work out as the locals also had their day off and were trying to make the most of the lovely weather.
We did go see the lower and upper falls of Johnston Canyon, which is located between Banff and Lake Louise.

Tomorrow is a moving day for us. First we pack our bags and leave this hotel to drive up to Jasper via Canada’s most beautiful road, or so we have been told. We are just hoping for clear skies and no rain!

image

image

image

image

image

The early birds catch the … Bears!

This morning meant a really very early start in the morning. Around 6, we left the hotel to get a cup of coffee to start the day well. At 06:15 we checked in at Tim Horton’s to get our caffeine inside the bodies.
All was needed to start the day around dusk on highway 1a which takes you from Banff to Lake Louise. This highway is the old highway, from before the current highway 1 which is completely fenced in while it travels through Banff National Park. The old one is mainly a two-lane undivided road (one each way).

This road comes highly recommended for wildlife sightings, as it is one of few traversable roads in the park, and all animals are free to cross it or courage around it. And that us just what they do.

This morning, we have spotted a total of 5 black bears (amongst which a mother with her cub) and 5 wapiti. The latter are also known as elk.
Also, during this 60 km drive, we’ve spotted loads of chipmunks, quite a few golden mantled ground squirrels and even some pika!
We are pretty fond of those numbers, and felt the awfully early start of the day was well worth it!

Besides all animal spotting and paperazzi work, we also visited some amazing sites in Banff National Park. Among which are: Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Vermillion Lakes and the Hoodoos.
Especially Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are worth visiting as these contain probably the blueest water you’ve ever seen!

We actually spent quite a while at Moraine Lake, as its scenery and wildlife are truly mindboggling. Unfortunately for us, it sits in prime bear territory, which meant we couldn’t walk one of the desired trails as it was neatly mandatory to travel in groups of at least four people and to carry bear-repellant. We know that stuff as mace or pepperspray. We came prepared, but not to that degree!

All in all, it has been a fantastic day, with awesome animal encounters and prime locations inside Canada’s finest National Park.
Tomorrow will probably more of the same, and I’m still hoping to encounter my personal favorites: wolves and a hoary marmot.