At the moment, I am trying to mentally and emotionally process the difference. I have traveled and worked in mountains all my life. The big named ranges in the US are familiar to me: The Cascades, The Sierras, The Bitterroots, The Bighorns, The San Gabriel Mountains, The Colorado Rockies, The Smokies. All magnificent mountains in their own right, each with a distinct personality. Here I am unsure of the ranges, the names are not even on the scale of map I am using for British Columbia.
I have finally decided it is the glaciation that makes the difference. Huge sheets of ice, miles thick, extending hundreds of miles in all directions once covered these mountains and it shows. Continental glaciation from 10 to 100 thousand years ago has rounded even some of the highest peaks, and huge piles of glacial debris line the river valleys. More recently, alpine glaciation has carved jagged ridges, peaks, and hanging valleys. Avalanche chutes scar slopes that are close to 100 percent, rising at least 1000 feet from where we are driving along the highway to the top of the ridge.
Big. Such a small word for such a concept. These mountains are big, and they go forever. We have been driving for days now through the bigness of British Columbia, with not just miles, but hundreds of miles of breathtaking landscapes around every curve.
Again, the big word isn’t really “big” enough to describe the power and size of the Skeena River, the Bulkley River, the Bell-Irving River. The “creeks” we cross on one lane wooden platform bridges are as big as many rivers at home. Huge glaciated mountains, small glaciers resting in the summits, powerful strong rivers, wild creeks milky from glacial melt, and forests. Miles and miles and miles of forests, lodgepole, northern spruce, sitka spruce, fir, and into the subalpine firs of the higher mountains, all shades of green.
We are traveling through all this magnificence on a highway only completed with the building of the Nass Bridge in 1972. At the moment we are about 175 miles north of the Yellowhead-Cassiar junction and have yet to see a speck of gravel or a single construction zone. The pavement is smooth as glass, with newly painted yellow lines everywhere except for the few areas of fresh chip seal road. Even the minimal extent of chip seal is solid and smooth, they just don’t have the lines painted yet.
We woke this morning to utter silence. Surprisingly, with the late night sunset, the sun wasn’t up until 6am this morning. We woke about 5 and after hooking up the Protect-a-Tow were on the road by 7:30. Not before a moment of entertainment, however. As we sat sipping our morning tea in the dim light, a pick-up drove up and parked not ten feet from our rig. We watched for a moment while a man got out and stood on the highway side of his truck looking around a bit strangely. I finally opened a window and asked if he needed to get past our rig and he said, “No, I’m just taking a whiz”. Mo and I laughed in astonishment. Why now, and why here? There are ten miles in either direction of us with plenty of places to stop. Did he just need to mark his territory near our truck? Was he checking to see if anyone was around the rig? Was he just oblivious? Too too funny.
Even though Mo drove yesterday, she asked if she could drive again today. She knows that I want to be taking photos, and day before yesterday I made the mistake of shooting a couple of shots while driving. Not a good plan. I promised I wouldn’t do it again, but she said she would rather drive than have to sit doing nothing except letting Jeremy crawl around on her lap. So Mo is driving and I am finally taking some time to write. It’s hard to do, however, I keep thinking I will miss something, but magnificence just keeps showing up no matter when I look up, and after awhile I suppose that one more gorgeous glacier on a gorgeous mountain will eventually become redundant.
The bears haven’t read the Milepost, I guess, because so far, except for the two young ones we saw last night, there haven’t been any wildlife sightings on the highway. The sky is such a brilliant gorgeous blue, with tiny puffs of cloud very far away over some of the mountains. The temperature is about 63F, and every few miles we see another more perfect boondock site or another lake. Ever few miles or so we see another rig, and have passed a few loaded logging trucks coming south. One unloaded truck flew past us while we were stopped at the Bell-Irving rest stop, but we have yet to encounter any of the big aggregate trucks that ply the highway.
We stopped in for a drive-through of Meziadin Provincial Park and Meziadin Lake, a place where we originally planned to camp last night. It was lovely, $16. Canadian for no hookups, but sites right on the lake. Manicured, a bit crowded, and nice. There is a tiny store and supposedly there is WiFi there. We were glad to have camped free at our silent roadside stop. A bit beyond the Bell-Irving River we came to the Mehan Lake rest stop. There were picnic tables and trails around the lake, and a spot where we could have launched the kayaks. Instead, Mo thought she wanted to keep driving, and we know there will be more lakes along the way. We will see what happens next.
Note: first fairly bumpy chip seal road at mile 208.
Much later: I am so glad that we didn’t take the time to kayak Mehan Lake. We continued up the highway enjoying the changing scenery and at mile 227 the sign for Kinaskan Provincial Park invited us to drive in and take a look. We certainly didn’t plan to stop this early in the day, after all, it was only noon or so and we had only driven 175 miles since we left. We wanted another boondock night, both to save money, and to enjoy the solitude.
Kinaskan Lake had other plans for us, though. The park was nearly empty, with site after site nestled along one of the prettiest lakes I have ever seen. The sun was shining, it was in the mid-70’s, and a lakefront campsite with free firewood beckoned. We couldn’t resist. We had our very only kayak launch just feet from the car, and decided that a relaxed afternoon of boating and relaxing shouldn’t be missed. Huge clouds were threatening a shift in the weather, it could even be raining by tomorrow, so I didn’t want to give up a gorgeous day on a gorgeous lake when we had the chance.
It has been perfect. We set up, and decided that the lake was so smooth we wanted to go out right away. A couple perfect hours out on the lake exploring yielded another loon pair, and I practiced with my 200 lens, still unable to get close enough to really catch that great red eye. We then we came home and decided to make an afternoon supper. After steak on the grill and yummy salad, the gorgeous lake beckoned us again and I said, “Maybe we could just go out and float around and enjoy the reflections?” The paddling was so incredibly perfect, we decided instead to cross the lake, about 2 miles according to the paddle garmin, and we found a beautiful rocky cove on the far side. On the way back, we passed another loon, and later closer to shore, another one serenaded us with his magical call. The stillness and the reflections on the lake of the wild clouds was incredible.
It only took half an hour to cross the lake, even with me stopping every little bit to take photos. On our earlier kayak I took the big camera with all the lenses in the Pelican case, but this time I just took the baby camera. This evening has been spent deciding which photos are keepers and which need to be ruthlessly culled. It’s only 8:30 and I had visions of waiting for sunset after ten, but something tells me that a few hours of kayaking and a couple hundred miles of riding is enough for one day. Mo built a hot sparkly campfire with the free wood provided just across from our site. It was hot, dry wood and lit immediately, of course we had a couple of fatwood sticks to help it along. I think I won’t make it to sunset and as soon as the fire dies down I am going to draw the shades against that gorgeous bright sky and go to sleep.
Miles driven today from stop 12 to stop 13: 175
Some truly gorgeous photos that you may not want to miss are linked here
Tomorrow: Northern part of the Cassiar Highway