CANADA - The Backwoods of BC, Bears and the Magnificent Salmon Glacier.

Monday, Aug 27, 2012 at 05:00


Sunday 26th August
Salmon Glacier
British Columbia

We were woken by the distinctive early morning calls of the loon (and possibly a wolf or coyote howling). Pentz Lake was shrouded in mist giving it an eerie feel in the pre-dawn gloom. Al had spent the night camped on the jetty and as per usual was up at the crack of dawn. While sitting quietly by the fire pit, he was visited by a small back bear who had no doubt been drawn by the interesting smells emanating around the camp area. I took a refreshing dip in the lake before breakfast again finding the water surprisingly warm. Suzette looked much better this morning but Gaby is still poorly. It’s a blessing actually as we’ve never had it so quiet! It was jaffles for breakfast and then on the track at a leisurely 9:00am. We back tracked to the Helen Lake Forest Service Road and followed that deeper into the hills of BC. It was a great drive. The track was in good condition as it wound through lush forests, mountain valleys, past beautiful lakes and up along steep cliffs where the track was undercut through the bedrock. The route was punctuated by scenic camping areas, one at Mitten Lake was particularly picturesque. The only downside being the need to keep a watchful eye for oncoming timber jinkers.

We hit highway 37 just as huge glacier capped mountains came into view to the north. It wasn’t long before we spotted a good sized black bear sunning itself in the scrub by the road. We pulled over for lunch at Nass River and then turned onto Highway 37A for the 70 kilometre westerly run to Stewart. It was a beautiful and sunny 20 degrees.

It was an amazing and picturesque drive as we wound our way down brought the narrow mountain valleys and into the broad glacial valley that holds Stewart. Stewart sits at the head of a 95 km fjord and was initially a logging and fishing port. It also provided a way for getting the riches of this mountainous area to the outside world. Stewart is a small town nestled against the precipitous cliffs of the surrounding mountains. It is very neat and tidy with a couple of small grocery stores to serve the 700 residents and throngs of tourists that come this way. We picked up a few last minute supplies and headed to the tourist info centre. Al had a frantic search for his passport before we headed off across the border into Alaska and the dusty town of Hyder. Hyder still has that frontier feel to it being ramshackle, dust covered and rough. The aptly named "Run Amok" campground says it all. This appears to be home to the many itinerant workers in the nearby resource, fishing and timber industries. "The friendliest ghost town in Alaska" the sign proclaims

We called in at the bear viewing area at Fish Creek, 3 kilometres east of the town to be greeted with boardwalks along the creek and a $5 entry fee. The downside is with so much mining activity about, the traffic on the roads has frightened the local bear population into moving elsewhere to feed or arriving at times when people and traffic are not about. Being advised by the volunteer attendant that the best times to view the bears was between 6:00 am and 10:00 am, we decided to head up to Salmon Glacier and secure our campsite. It was a rough and dusty drive as we negotiated the pothole infested Granduc Mine road higher into the Boundary Ranges. The was a lot of Mining activity in the area and due to the high gold prices currently being experienced, the local gold mine had been reactivated with lots of excavation and infrastructure placement going on. In quite a few places the streams had been channelled and diverted and even dammed in one location. How the hell you lease out to mining in a national park beats me (Hmmm Rudall River,…Uranium…Canada… it’s all coming back to me!). Eventually the foot of the glacier came into view deep in the valley below us. It snaked roughly upwards into the distance to the east.

A about 2800 feet elevation, there was a strong smell of petrol about. Vikki pestered me to stop despite me telling her that it was actually in the air around us. The smell was certainly strong though and a little further down the track, Jaydub and Scottie had stopped for photos. As I pulled up to join them, I could see a trail of liquid on the road ahead of me leading to a sizeable puddle on the ground beneath Jaydub’s vehicle, OUCH! Petrol was spewing out from underneath. Quickly shutting down, we were under the car and soon had the problem identified as a fuel line near a filter coming adrift. Soon fixed, we thankfully only had a short distance to the Salmon Glacier car park. What a view it was that greeted us. Our camp location was actually to be the parking area right above the glacier, the river of ice fanning out below us. There were a few fellow tourists present and a million of the most voracious mosquitoes I'd encountered in a year or two. We are at 4300 feet altitude and the views of North Americas 4th or 5th largest glacier (depends on who you talk to) a thousand feet or more below us were spectacular to say the least.

It was a bit like a scene from a David Lynch film (think Twin Peaks!). Only in one of his offerings had I seen such an odd collection of characters in the one spot. Our first visitor was a strangely quiet man standing there holding “Bear fight” DVD’s. He spoke in a halting whisper that had you straining to hear. Apparently he comes here every year from the eastern side of Canada to sell the DVD’s made up of footage of the local bears shot over his 30 odd years of visiting the area. A family of brethren types were also present with dad and 15 of his 17 kids present all belonging to the one set of parents I might add. He was evangelising to some young bloke and it was funny to see the 7 sons of varying ages all fanned out in a line standing in identical poses from youngest to oldest. As dad’s pose shifted, so did theirs to match his. Praise the lord and all that. Also present was some roughly clad bear of a bloke staggering around with a huge beer stein in his hand. While we now know this bloke to be named Ryan, we'll just address him as "Larry the loser" for now. He appears later in the story for sure. Anyway Larry eventually staggers over to a nearby ATV and drunkenly throws a huge donut and speeds off down the mountain in the opposite direction. “No good will come of that” I couldn't help but think to myself. As he departed the evangelist could be heard saying;

“I’ll say a prayer for you Ryan, I’ll say a prayer for you!” I hope he’s got a direct line to god, this bloke will need it.

To outwit the ferocious local mozzies, we set up Scotties screen house over a camp table, a plan that worked exceptionally well. Bear-bait cooked for Scott and Gaby while Suzette cooked for Vik and I. A pleasant evening spent watching the sun set over the Glacier and enjoying the odd glass of red. We also spent some time chatting with the young bloke Dale, the victim of the evangelising. A nice young bloke who’d just finished doing forestry work for a couple of months in the Yukon. The moon rising later in the evening was simply spectacular and really lit up the glacier and surrounding peaks.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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