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Wilderness Adventures - April, Week 3/2006

This is about a remote area in west central British Columbia, Canada called the West Chilcotin. Surrounded by numerous glacial mountain ranges, alpine lakes teeming with wild Rainbow Trout, and full of wildlife. Living here goes from no running water or electricity to spacious log homes with all the conveniences and without the smog!
If you would like to see pictures of wildlife, mountains, lakes, exciting snowmobiling, events and more, and read stories like 'Lake Monsters' - just go into Archives on the lower left side of this page.
You can search this site for a subject of interest to you at the bottom of this page. Check out the Picture of the Day.

21/04/2006 5:10 PM

A Trip To Bella Coola

Our trip to Bella Coola today brought a little of everything, including some interesting history.
The day did not start out well. Although we woke up to bright sunshine, there was also about two inches of snow on the ground. A quick phone call to the highways guys confirmed that there was no more snow than that on Highway 20 west to the top of the hill. Quite often two inches of snow here can translate into six or eight inches at the top of the Bella Coola Hill. That can mean nasty mud going down the hill itself and make for an unpleasant trip. However, the surrounding mountains freshly topped with snow made for great pictures against a bright backdrop of blue, so the trip down was quite nice. The Chinese food from the little restaurant in Bella Coola was excellent and way too much as usual. We met several Anahim Lake folks down there at the clinic for one reason or another.
One of the people that ended up in hospital and was going to be medi-vacced out to Vancouver today was Archie, one of the best snowmobile riders around and someone I have pictures of from a few months' blogs ago. We talked with him awhile and I guess he had come down a hill in 'jump' mode on his snowmobile but when he landed, the snow gave away beneath him with enough force to fracture his back. That occurred Monday and he finally gave up with the pain in his back and a couple of Anahim Lake fellows down in Bella Coola to help Archie pull out his sea going fishing boat and replace the prop took him to the hospital.
Snowmobile season might just about be over but fishing season is just starting and Archie isn't going to be too happy if he's laid up for awhile. I jokingly told him he might have to lay flat in a hospital bed for five weeks and wear a metal backbrace for six months like I did after breaking my back. He didn't look too happy at that prospect at all. Somehow, I don't think Vancouver General will be holding him for long.
A young fellow hanging around town had just come out of the hospital this morning and was looking for a ride back up the hill to Anahim Lake. We offered to bring him home and soon learned that although his father's family was from the Nazko Indian tribe, his mother's side was Ulgatcho and his grandfather was Peter Alexis. For those of you that read "Grass Beyond The Mountain" written by Rich Hobson about he and Pan Phillip's settlement of the Blackwater country, you will remember Peter Alexis. He was one of the first Ulgatcho natives that Pan and Rich ever met and although they were considered an extremely warrior like tribe (since their ancestory is partly Blackfoot) and not friendly to whites, Peter and his family were instrumental in Pan and Rich's acceptance into the country by the natives. Peter also was a huge help to them in many ways over the years and was known as a fine horseman.
This grandson of his, Erin John, said Peter passed on last fall and he told many stories about riding to and around Peter's ranch on the Blackwater. He told of when he was quite young riding with other members of his family on half broke horses, along with Peter Alexis who was in a wagon and driving a quiet team, when their small dog brought a grizzly beer back to the party. Erin said the animal charged toward them scattering horses and riders into the bush, then stopped and stood full height before the team where Peter calmly shot the animal before it could do more damage.
Peter Alexis sounded like a very happy go-lucky man in the three books written by Rich Hobson and as though he had a very special family. Young Erin talked of many people in his ancestoral family who's names were mentioned in the books. He was a very interesting, articulate young man who not only has a good command of English, but amazingly, also speaks the Carrier and Chilcotin lanuages. Very unusual in this day and age when few of the young people can any longer speak their native language. Erin said his grandfather insisted he learn Carrier, and that sounds just like the man in the book!
20/04/2006 6:56 PM

Oh Blah!

Old man winter is just not letting go this spring. Take a look at the picture on the right. Does that look like April 20th. to you? I mean, c'mon, that's the kind of dreary weather you expect to see in the middle of winter, not this time of year. Well, actually, that isn't strictly true. We could have 8" or 10" of snow on the ground not only now but well into May as has happened many springs before.
We woke up to yet another good skiff of the bright white stuff this morning and it's been halfheartedly trying to snow all day. It's gotten a little more serious about it this evening but the flakes are small and the ground is warming up so it doesn't start sticking until after midnight. The moisture is actually good right now, especially if it's going to be a dry summer. But sometimes you just kind of get tired of winter and decide it's time for summer. I want to look out the front windows and see blue, blue water and hear floatplanes taking off and watch the ospreys and eagles over Nimpo Lake and go to sleep listening to the loons call each other. Usually after a few months of that you start longing for the lake to become quiet again and start freezing, and suddenly you look out the window one evening and watch fat, furry white snowflakes silently blanketing everything.
I'm not sure what it would be like to live in a place without distinct seasons. Here you always know what time of year it is. Well, with the exception of late spring snow falls and early fall snowfalls, the odd rain in winter (very unusual but becoming more common) and hard frost in July. We've had snow every month of the year in this country as well as hard frost, but it's a generally cooler climate here anyway.
In spring it's muddy, in summer it's green, in fall it's red and gold and in winter it's white. Just that simple. Or as many describe the four seasons here, start of winter, lots of winter, less winter and poor sledding. That's a joke. Honest!
Seriously though, what's it like in a place like the Caribbean or Hawaii? Even a state like Arizona can have distinct seasons depending on where you are but it must be quite different in the warmer climate zones. How different Canada must seem to people from ever-warm countries. Heck, I know Americans that think Canada is perpetually buried under snow.
I know that my grandmother in the southeastern States never forgave my parents for moving up to Canada. She felt it entirely unfair to us kids to have to learn a totally different language, (no, we still spoke English even if we did add an 'eh' here and there over the years) drive a dogsled to school and have to wear winter jackets and mukluks year round. I think she watched that old Mountie movie too many times. In the meanwhile, many of us wish we got more snow in winter. Especially for the winter sports enthusiasts. And in my opinion, it wouldn't hurt places like Vancouver and Victoria one bit to get a lot more snow than they do. Perhaps then they would consider outfitting their vehicles with winter tires so that our insurance rates don't go skyrocketing every time they have a little skiff of snow down there and start playing bumper cars. There, I've had my beef for the day! I feel better already.
We're off to Bella Coola again tomorrow. Perhaps I can get some good pictures of something or other and we'll get to see some glorious green!

19/04/2006 6:16 PM

Power Outage

Sometimes you just have to put up with some inconvenience. Especially if you happen to live in a community that relies on diesel generators for its electricity. Mind you, the generators may not have had anything to do with the four hour power outage today and the same may have happened anywhere that there is high wind and a high incidence of Mountain Pine Beetle killed trees.
We have had some very high winds the last couple of days and as our infested pine trees along the power lines grow weaker, especially when the ground is water sodden from snow melt, more of them blow over. Fortunately for me, my partner bought me a really good quality emergency battery backup for my computers for Christmas. As a result, I had time to save what I was doing on the computer and shut it down using the backup. Unfortunately, the power was out for most of my normal work day and I got absolutely nothing accomplished in the office today. I did get to read up a little more on the new laptop and got to go for a great walk today. For once I didn't have to feel guilty about being away from my computers.
While much of the snow in the woods has melted, there are quite a few large 'potholes' full of water, many of them with live pine standing in them. Normally pine can't stand for long in such places or it will kill them since they don't like wet feet. But now that so many are dying, they have to be less able to draw water up through the roots. This begs the question, "What happens when most of the big trees are gone?" I find the possiblities fascinating. Though the loss of entire forests is sad, will it be devastating? Or will it herald a new ecological era?
It takes a long, long time to grow a fairly small tree in this country. As a result, there is very little litter on the forest floor. In fact, most of this area is almost parklike because there is hardly any undergrowth. There is the odd bearberry or soap berry bush, an anemic wild rose here and there, the low growing kinnickinnick, and some moss growing in most of the pine forests around here. The only litter on the forest floor is pine needles. It takes forever for a fallen tree or stumps to rot so the topsoil layer in this region is quite thin with raw clay only a few inches down.
This raises the concern of what stops the soil from washing away once the trees are gone? The protective canopy provided by the pine trees prevents a hard downpour from doing much damage, but where there is a trail or road going through the woods you'll see piles of pine needles and sand that have been washed up in little dams by hard rain and runoff. For the short term, erosion on even gentle hillsides may be a serious concern. However, over the long term we should see a quick population of the now 'empty' forest floor with aspen and low bushes as the water gluttonous pine die off.
It's likely that we will see existing meadows expand and new ones form with more ground water available and the surrounding countryside is bound to change drastically. We joke that we might be growing wheat like the prairies soon. I really hope that the surrounding country doesn't change quite that drastically!
But it might.
Will this become grassland country and become a huge boon to local ranchers? Will the newly increased moisture available to aspen and willow create monster stands of the same? Spruce likes wetter ground than our lodgepole pine and we may end up with lots more of them.
We are on the eastern edge of the huge Coastal Mountain range and are usually considered an arid region. But fewer trees are bound to mean more wind. Will higher winds pick up that extra moisture normally used by large pine forests and carry it away? Perhaps we would become more arid, much like the Yakima area east of the mountains in the State of Washington.
Perhaps there will be little change, but I doubt it. The pine forests have been and are devastated by the pine beetle. There will be change. What will be interesting is, how big will the change be?
I keep wondering what caused a lush tropical forest covering most of central Canada and the US to disappear? Well, the inland sea it surrounded disappeared so that might be the reason. But why was it eventually replaced by thousands and thousands of square miles of prairie grasses? Why not drought tolerant trees? Maybe someone knows the answer and I just haven't read it. But I bet no one knows exactly what is going to happen to this region or the rest of British Columbia affected by the pine beetle.
And that's what I find fascinating! All that conjecturing we get to do for the next few years!

18/04/2006 8:37 PM

Bella Coola

We had to make a quick trip down the hill to Bella Coola today. The weather was actually pretty good and the road to the top of the hill wasn't in nearly as rough a shape as it was last year. They still have to continue the road improvements after breakup is over, of course.
It was a real breath of fresh air to hit the valley floor and see the willow and poplar trees just budding out this morning. There was some green grass and lots of bushes were greening up. The forsythia was a bright splash of yellow everywhere, and early as it is, we saw one azalea in bloom as well as some crab trees. By the time we headed back up the hill this evening, the green had just popped out! The trees that had just a flush of green buds had in one warm day gone all out in leaf. Even weeping willows, one of my favorite trees, probably because it won't grow up here, were draped in graceful new green leaves. Just amazing.
As I mentioned before, it's a habit of many Anahim Lake and Nimpo Lake residents to pop down the hill into the Valley at about this time of year just to get away from the snow and mud of breakup and see what green looks like again. Tulips and daffodils, decidous trees and bushes, and bright blooms on trees is a real change for us up on the plateau. It's only about a two hour drive to get clear down to the harbour at Bella Coola and well worth the time and effort just to get a change of scenary.
Many of the lower mountains looming over the valley are clear of snow but the massive peaks behind are still draped in heavy snow cover. The Atnarko and Bella Coola Rivers are still quite low and many of the creeks are barely running so spring runoff hasn't started yet. Nor do you see much in the way of the massive waterfalls all along the valley wall this early.
Didn't see too much in the way of wildlife down in the park today, probably because it's a bit early for bears to be out. We did see one small red fox though. We also saw the first osprey of the year fishing down on the Dean River at the outlet of Nimpo Lake when we returned home this evening. And a whole bunch of ducks were lined up on the edge of the ice there just like they would be in a shooting gallery at the fair.
It was a good day but didn't leave me a lot of time to write today. See you tomorrow!

17/04/2006 12:26 PM

Rock, Rumble And Roll

Nimpo Lake has its own special sound this time of year. We woke up this morning to the sound of the lake rumbling steadily, and you could even hear it over the sound of those crazy blackbirds.
Do you remember blowing over the top of a coke bottle when you were a kid? That's about as close as I can get to the sound the lake makes in the spring. The nights have been below freezing this past week so where the lake was opening up close to shore it has frozen over again with a thin layer of ice and the thawing of the ice in general has slowed considerably. But you get more drastic temperature differences as a result. Now when the sun starts warming the top layer of ice it seems to cause the ice to crack in hundreds of places with the resulting rumbling sound. The wind also seems to be moving whatever open water there is so that standing near the shore you can see the water slosh up under the ice. Ice cracking and settling is probably also the cause of considerable wave movement underneath. Just think, how many tons does a large sheet of ice weigh and what a wave it must cause when it suddenly drops an inch?
Last night we heard a mighty 'woomph!' and suspected that it might be the ice cracking just off of our point. Sure enough, today you could see a wide crack running from our point to the eastern shore where there's stress between the lake main and the narrower part of the bay.
The water in the creeks running into Nimpo Lake is very high and probably much warmer than the lake water. This must also cause quite a turmoil under the ice. I find the whole dynamic with a lake freezing and thawing completely fascinating and wish I knew more about it. Many biologists or scientists in some field have probably done studies and have an answer somewhere in some dry scientific tome. Where to find it and do I have the time to wade through the thing to find my answers? Naw. It's way more fun to speculate on what's actually happening with lake ice when it's rumbling like some giant underwater monster that's been awakened from a deep sleep.
It's nice to hear Nimpo Lake sing anyway. It's been awfully quiet this year and it seems more alive when it's making noise. I just wish I could do a better job of describing the sounds to you folks so that you would feel like you were here, but I must have been asleep in Creative Writing class in school.
Anyway, it sure doesn't look like we're going to break any records for early ice out this year! It might easily be the first week of May now and that's more the norm of years past. It's only been the last couple of years that we've had an unusually early breakup. I wonder how you can judge whether there really is global warming over our very short life span?
As you will probably have noticed, this is the start of a new week so if you missed any articles from last week you can find them at Wilderness Adventure April Week Two .
I've been having a lot of fun with the new Picture of the Day page as well but the pictures do change nearly every day and there is no past record of them so if you don't catch them, they're gone forever! Not that it's a big deal but it does give me an opportunity to show off the West Chilcotin with pictures I have taken or that have been kindly donated by others in a larger format than the space to the right allows.
I really hope you've been enjoying them.

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The purpose of this web site is to draw attention to a remote area of west central British Columbia. It is a beautiful area that relies heavily on tourism. The search engines don't know much about the West Chilcotin, Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake or any of the other small communities in the region and I hope to change that! Even as large as this site will eventually be, there just isn't enough room or time in the day to fully describe this incredible country but I am going to try scraping away at the tip of the iceberg, so join me!


Follow the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!
Road to the Bella Coola Valley.
 
Snowy scene.
 
Red trees in Tweedsmuir.
 
Deep Valley.
 
Blackbirds on the railing.
 
Fresh snow on the lake
 
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