The Azure Lakes and Jagged Peaks of Northern British Columbia

IMG_6135Friday July 27th, 2018

It was a late morning, not waking up until 5:30 am and Simba was shivering. I was very glad that there was no dew on things this morning. Since I was planning a very short 142 mile drive today (a semi-rest day),  I eased into the day with the dogs all wrapped up, Simba on my lap and Kili at my feet. It was around 54 but we still have Florida blood. I took my time breaking camp (as usual Kili does not want to leave a campsite and will try and keep me from rolling up the tent – guess he does not have the wanderlust I have. Made the final visit to the pit toilet – I mention this because I am starting to notice all of the pit toilet “architecture’ and variability. The one here at Mountain Shadow Park believe it or not brought on a wave of nostalgia.  It reminded me of the pit toilet we had at our summer cabin in Michigan when I was a child. So naturally I took a picture of it.

 

We took a nice walk down to the lake and then finished packing up camp.  I went to use the wifi up by the office/house as I could not get the signal at the campsite.  So I started my hour and was kick off in about 10 minutes.  I went to complain to the management and it showed I had use my 100 MG. I have come to understand that data availability is a precious commodity in these remote areas.  Since I had only sent three text with a couple of pics I was puzzled.  The owner looked on my IPad and I came to find out that I had the automatic update buttons on so in that short time the apps were updating in the background using up the allotted data. One can learn something new every day the hard way.  They were nice enough to let me use their signal to send the last three texts I wanted to send to let family know I was ok. She did sit by me the whole time though so I couldn’t go crazy with their data.

So we got on the road around 10:30 for a leisurely drive up to Boya Lake. This road continued with its steep grades, tight curves, no center line or shoulder and numerous gravel breaks in the pavement to watch for. 

 

Since I was not pressed for time to get to the destination, I found myself in the mode of stopping way to often to take yet another picture of the beautiful azure lakes and many hued mountain slopes. I was able to stop lakeside a couple of time and take short shore walks.  There were many many turnouts but most were never in the spot where one could capture,  what would have been in my minds eye a never to be forgotten picture, so I restrained myself somewhat and committed the view to emory rather that digital recall.

I had planned to stop in Jade City which upon arrival appeared to be a one family tourist attraction, selling jade products from the jade mined in the Cassiar Mountains. There was not even a convenience store or gas station. There were many lakes with certainly some interesting names which would not particularly entice me to stop such as Gnat Lake (pics) and Mud Lake.  A rests area  that I just had to stop at was named Rabid Grizzly – and  fortunately not populate by the carnivora ursus.  The mountains though quite varied, from some that look like hump backed whales to jagged multicolored peaks. 

As on the previous day, what I thought would be  thriving little communities where really one building and a gas pump.  Shortly before I I got to Boya Lake there was a warning of no fuel stops for many miles so I thought it best to fill up, get ice etc.  The Hope Lake “store” had a single pump with gas in a large above the ground tank. Mileposts said it was an unreliable source but there was gas on this day.  However the inside of the store was as larger than most 7-11’s but it had 1 shelf with a few items and naturally NO ice for the cooler. 

Just when I was beginning to think I did not need a reservation for the provincial parks in Canada I was very glad I had one at Boya Lake.  This is an aquamarine jewel of a lake and my campsite was shaded on the lake with a view of the lake through the trees.

But more importantly I arrived around 3:30 and by four thirty the steady stream of traffic in their massive RV’s looking for sites in the park was amazing to me in that this area which seems very remote from any populated area. They kept coming and by 5:30 there were  not even any of the less desirable site for the taking. It was a beautiful afternoon and the boys and I hiked a 1 mile nature trail with wonderful views of the lake.

Even with all 44 sites filled I felt like I had my own little island of natural beauty.After writing this it is now about 9:45 and the sun has not yet set so this will take some getting used to.  There are no blackout curtains or shades in a tent.

Driving the RV Highway to Iskut

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Thursday 26th

The alarm this morning was another train roaring “through” the park  at 4:50 .  It was a toasty 55 out this morning, though I still opted for the hoody. First morning dew of this trip making for a damp roll up of gear. Simba and I hung out all wrapped up in blanket and I played Candy Crush as I had no cell service. I actually am doing quite well without the latest politics revving my system up!   Today I was headed to Iskut and had a reservation at the Mt. Shadow RV Campground.  There did not appear to be any provincial parks at a reasonable distance so this was my first foray at one of those private RV parks. The driving goal was more modest at 328 miles. Having perused the map the previous evening, I could see the Rocky Mountains were to the east-though quite a distance and the Cariboo Mountains to the west. This gave me hope that the driving today would have much more differentiation in the form of peaks and valleys.  I was so enthralled as I began driving north to have the terrain become rugged, with jagged peaks, crevices with snow pack, barren summits and deeply forested faces.

I got my 3rd morning coffee, ice and gas in Smithers (7-11). The towns seemed to be getting smaller and smaller the farther north I drove.  At this point the Hazelton Mts. were to the West and the route crossed  the Skeena River.  I had been reading about several things in the Mileposts, the bible for traveling to Alaska, that gives extremely detailed accounts of every town, gas availability, location of litter barrels, rest areas etc.  Somehow I had expected to see big signs a la USA for the interesting things I had wanted to see but I was long out of town on the Cassiar Highway (37)  at Kitwanga before I realized there were no signs for the identified Totems, Hell’s Canyon Bridge  and other places of note I had thought about seeing. etc.  In contrast, that has also been one of the most refreshing aspect of today’s drive.  There are almost no advertisement billboards and signs.  

The towns now were few and far between. I gassed up at the Meziadin Gassbar as roads signs stated there would be no more gas for the next 65K.  This junction was the town:  one station, convenience store, cafe, and sani-dump. 

I was merrily on my way and excitedly realizing and that this was mostly rugged unpopulated territory and for much of it no power lines in sight.  The road was well maintained  and I drove for a couple hundred miles with minimal signage, the only signs being warnings to watch for caribou, bear, wildlife , cattle, and a few small signs when approaching a town.  I was heading into the Cassiar Mountains on a 2 lane, rolling and curving highway flanked  by towering lodgepole pine and shimmering aspen and again bordered with many  lacing of wildflowers.  There were also many bogs with their unique ill formed scraggly trees and the mountains were strong and grand and craggy and adorned with icy glacier fingers reaching down the slopes.  The highway crossed several rivers but I recall a couple which still had wooden decking and  Bell 1 and Bell 2 with metal grating with the  waters appearing icy cold and rushing.

Unfortunately, there still was a smokey haze put not a heavy as the previous day and the farther north I got the brighter it became.

I am glad i knew where I was going because there was no cell service the whole way – and besides I have a GPS in my car, though I usually use iMaps through CarPlay. The  further north I drove the road began to get narrower, with no shoulder and no center line.  It  was a lot of fun to drive as there was very little traffic and I could take the curves right down the  middle. I began observing the nature of the other vehicle on the road.  There were a few logging trucks and just a few other semis.  The rest of the traffic I was passing or oncoming was huge RV’s, large pickup trucks pulling RV’s,  smaller pick-up trucks pulling mini-RV’s, camper vans, trucks pulling boats, RV’s pulling cars, a few local trucks servicing the area, and almost no normal cars!!!,  That was quite a surprise but then there are few services, almost no sign of house etc. I mused that perhaps I had missed a sign that indicated that this highway was for local traffic or recreational vehicles only. 

I decided to gas up at Iskut (a First Nation Community) before I headed to the resort.  It was was a very small community, the school appeared dingy and old, there was one convenience store and gas station. Kluauchon Center store,   I decided to buy ice  and took the last two bags which looked like they had been there a while and were in the bottom of the ice cream freezer. In retrospect I am glad I did because there was no ice to be had between Iskut and the Boyd Lake, my destination for the next day..  

I head to Mt. Shadow RV Campground  I had driven by many that basically looked like an RV parking lot so I had a bit of trepidation. The online ads looked inviting.  It did turn out that the camping/tent spots were great. Shaded and clean (the RV area was like a parking lot, all lined up in 2 rows ). They advertised showers. wi-fi etc.  Turns out the showers were 2 loonies and you got 100MG of wi-fi or one hour whichever came first.  I decided to wait til morning for the wi-fi and text I wanted to sent to let family and friend know all was well.  So with camp set up and and dinner accomplished,  the boys and I took very lovely hike down to the head of Lake Kluachon Lake  It was quite swampy and not lake to dive into so here is yet another day that am continuing to ripen though wet wipes are helpful.  The dogs don’t complain.  

Vibrant Wildflowers, Lakes and Logging in British Columbia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWednesday  July 25th

My eyes popped open it turns out quite early that morning.  I awoke and it was quite light out so I was grateful that Simba had let me sleep in a bit.  I checked the watch and it was all of 5:00AM.   Seems I forgot how the farther north one goes in the summer the longer the days.  But having a close to 500 mile driving day,  I climbed out of the tent and discovered it was a chilly 49 degrees.  The good news was that the new tent sleeps warmer than old Coleman tent we inhabitated previously. 

Simba climbed out so I fussed with his breakfast and my coffee…after  quickly finding another layer of warm clothing.  I sat down to enjoy my coffee  and since there was no cell service, thus no access to the news of today’s political chaos agenda. That was good for a chilly  morning in the woods.  I could see that Simba, born and living in Florida for 14 year, was shivering even with his doggie coat on so I snuggled him close to me in my little backpackers chair. What a sweet sweet feeling it was out here in the semi-wilderness.  Kili popped himself out of the tent about a 1/2 hour later and turned right around and went back in.  He refused to come out until I dragged him out after I had broken down everything else down in the camp, including the tent fly.  By now I had settled Simba in the car with the heat going and KIli seemed to welcome that. But I was stalwart and didn’t cheat with car heat!! 

Once on the road it was a long day of relatively tedious driving, 477 miles from Big Bar Lake Provincial Park to Tyhee Lake Provincial Park. I was heading to Prince George via the Cariboo Highway (97); then north on the Yellowhead highway (16)  to Kilwanga and then up  the Cassiars Highway (37) to Tyhee Lake Provincial Park. The first challenge after getting on the road by 8:30, was to return to the highway via that 20 mile dusty gravel, washboard, cattle guarded road. The day was gray with everything again having a fine scrim through which to view the landscape.  It was a smoke haze caused by forest fires hundreds of mile afar. I was somewhat surprised by the landscape of the next few hundred miles. It has been a few decades since I studied geography and I doubt I learned anything specific about British Columbia terrain but I envisioned the entirety of my travels through British Columbia jam packed with awe inspiring rugged mountains and dense forests. I remember visiting Emerald Lake and Yoho National Park in the Rocky Mountains, in eastern British Columbia years ago.  However,  this route was quite in contrast to that recollection, with some lower peaked or rounded dome like mountains, hills, broad valleys, and the gray haze muting everything. It was quite hilly with moderate grades. Though the elevations of the mountains was about 2000-3000 feet above sea level, the mountains seemed  distant and nondescript. What was noticeable was large areas that have been infested by the pine bark beetle and there are massive stands of trees looking light ghostly skeletons.  They mostly target older Lodge Pole Pine and have devastated about 25% of the forestland which covers about 2/3rds of BC. The highway  continued to followed the Fraser River Valley.  There were  numerous lakes and many lovely views of Lac la Hache, an 11 mile long lake skirting the highway.  Another inserting natural feature are the basin bogs, swamps, marshlands  and lakes throughout.  The trees  are mostly sub alpine fur, Spruce, trembling Aspen, and Birch. The roadsides  were abloom with vibrant wildflowers creating quite a  breathtaking ride at times. I soon began to really appreciate the unique beauty of the forested hills, clear blue lakes, wetlands all flanked by an array of  magenta fireweed and purple and white lupine,  plus a variety of other white, yellow and red wildflowers

I stopped at 100 mile house (area an original post house on Cariboo Hwy) The name intrigued me, but the town really was not particularly unique. I was grateful for the 7-11’s big cups of coffee and of course gas and ice.  I had tried, on the previous day, to get coffee at  a couple non-familiar brand places and could not find  a big cup of coffee. So as much as I hate to use USA franchises when out of the country, I gave in and you can be sure they had the same big cups they have in USA. Happily on the  road, driving along it was clear that the major industry is forestry and you could see how it dominates the economy in Quesnel, with its massive lumber, pulp  and sawmills – and for miles either side huge piggy-back semis hauling logs. I skirted St. George and settled into making time and distance through a valley driven by forestry and agriculture and summer tourism, thus tailing both trucks laden with logs and hay bales and RV’s. 

I was grateful that all of the BC highways traveled  have a generous amount of passing lanes so I never got too antsy to make that pass at 80 miles per hour because there would be opportunities in 1-4 miles.  Another thing to really appreciate about these highways was the frequent turnouts, litter barrels, and rest areas with well maintained pit toilets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI arrived at the campground by 6:00 after 470 miles, and managed to get set up and meals accomplished by 8:00.  The park is on Tyhee Lake and is clear and blue and a very swimmable temperature.  Since the dogs were not allowed on the beach, I opted not to go in, though I think I didn’t really want to so they became a good excuse.  I took  our usual nightly walk around the campground. The park service attendant came around selling wood so I bought a bundle and I opted for the first campfire of this trip.  I can’t say that it was particularly satisfying. The wood was hard and did not burn well, it smocked and smoked some more, giving all of my clothing the post campfire burnt wood stench and it put out minimal heat. Lots of work for little reward.  Around 10:40, just as I was settling in, I heard a distant train whistle.  But soon it was not quite do distant and then it felt and sounded like it was roaring through the campground. 

Flashing Lights, Construction & Gravel Roads in Scenic British Columbia

IMG_5978Tuesday July 23rd:  It seems as if I have lost my knack for a quick camp break down.  Of course I did choose to dawdled over my Starbucks Via and oatmeal — not exactly gourmet but on a sunny brisk 49 degree morning in the woods it was quite scrumptious.  Though awake by 5:15 we were not on the road until 8:45.  I wanted to stop by park information center and store but came to discover it did not open until 9:00 am. So it all worked out well since this was the only area in the park that had cell service and I could complete a couple of calls.   The drive out on Cascade Loop Highway was a rerun of the lovely drive going in and then it was onward north to the border and British Columbia!  I probably have used my speed control 90% of the time and been following the posted speed. When I checked my review mirror driving through the US border crossing towns of Lynden-Aldergrove, I saw those ominous flashing lights behind me –  so I pulled over and so do the flashing lights!!!  How ironic that I get pulled over for speeding the last day before I leave Florida, the east and southern embarkation point of my journey and just a couple of miles from home going 45 in a 30 mile zone AND here at the very border of this country in the western and northern most point before I cross into Canada, I get tagged for going 43 in a 25 mile zone. Now I have NOT changed my driving habits one iota so I would bet money that now that i am driving a bright orange Jeep, Lady Spitfire, I  am a clay pigeon for cops. In neither case did I get ticketed fortunately (I imagine they don’t expect to find a gray-haired 74-year-old lady driving such a flashy car!) The officer did admit that the speed charge was quite abrupt and though I was slowing down I clearly didn’t slam on the brakes fast enough.  So a few hundred yards ahead was the border and after all my fussing about getting the right rabies certificates for the dogs, the agent didn’t even bother to check them.  

I got on the TransCanada Highway 1 east at Abbotsford to Cache Creek.   Disappointingly,  the first part of the drive, could have been any place USA (or Canada) except for a few more Tim Horton signs at interchanges. It was a limited access 4 lanes highway up to Hope BC. I “towed the line” not knowing if there was any wiggle room before police officer will stop one for a ticketing in BC. Thank goodness my speedometer could be switched over to kmh. There I split off heading to Cache Creek. Before long I was sailing along at 110 KM (legal) and the scenery started popping, mile after mile through the Cascade Mountains. Many mountain peaks rose 2000-3000 meters above this two lane well maintained road, climbing and descending and rounding many curves— beginning with the Fraser River of Fraser Canyon.  Because of winter damage to so many of the roads, this day began the first of many delays for road repair. Fortunately none of delays lasted more than about 10 minutes.

The mountains seemed to have significantly more varying shades and appeared to be  based more of sandstone than the US Cascades.   As I drove farther north, the height of the range diminished and there was a wider valley and some minor peaks. The route followed the Fraser and Thompson rivers and I was quite taken aback when soon the vegetation in the area began to look more like desert with the temperatures in the low 90’s.  This is not the British Columbia I envisioned. This whole area was arid desert with sagebrush and other typical desert vegetation.  I later found out that Cache Creek had been described as the  Arizona of Canada with hot dry arid summers cold dry winters. I enjoyed the views of the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railway tracks and could see many trains snaking their way through this valley.

I traveled via British Columbia Hwy 97 north to Clinton and headed down a 20 mile gravel road to Big Bar Lake Campground.  I had made a campsite reservation without fully realizing the length of the gravel road. I soon realized after a bit of teeth jarring and fish-tailing, this road  would not allow the speeds of an asphalt  highway.  The anticipated arrival was  about 45 minutes later than I would have guesstimated. Try as I might to pick up the pace, it became harrowing on the curves and skiddish on the straight-a-ways, so I settled into the posted speed of 35mph give or take 10-15 mph faster. In fact I thought I did recklessly well by doing it in half-time.  I was extremely grateful that I do not wear dentures as I am sure they would have been  jarred loose on this washboard gravel road.

I thought I had a lake view campsite but the number I had written down was only a partial view (#12.)  It was not a bad site but after setting everything up and having dinner (and battling the pest of the day in the form of mosquitos) I came to find out that I took the wrong tent site (the one I had a very hard time finding) and indeed should have been on the best  lake side site.  As nice as it was it wasn’t’ worth the effort of moving tent and all the gear! A sunset walk by the lake was a peadful and soulful way to wind down this day. 

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I quickly found out that sometimes the good old-fashioned paper maps and a hard copy of reservations and itineraries etc. is a very good idea.   Since everything was on my computer and the documents only accessible through the Cloud from my iPhone or iPad, I was out of luck knowing where I should be when there was no service — which is most of the time in these nether regions I am traveling through.  Nevertheless despite no lake view we slept well!!