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Wilderness Adventures - August, Week 2/2006

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.

21/08/2006 9:19 PM

The Beavers

Back to that time of year again where we're fighting off beavers. Nope, not the flying kind, the four legged kind. The fall is the worst time for beavers looking for a new home and stashing a feed bed before winter hits. Kits are kicked out of the lodge at two years of age I believe. Whether that's in spring, summer, fall or all of those seasons, I don't know. I think that beaver can have two litters of young a year, so when they're kicked out may depend on when they were born. This time of year after young beaver pair up, they're building their lodge, and they're looking for food. Finding young, tender aspen, their very favorite food, is tough for them now because most aspen have been cleaned out around Nimpo Lake over the years by beaver past. For the last few years we've been protecting our older aspen and have lots of new, young trees coming up. Unfortunately, that makes our peninsula a delicious looking banquet for every beaver at the south end of Nimpo Lake.
The last two years haven't been too bad for fighting off beaver because two winters ago the folks at the other end of Nimpo Lake brought in a trapper. The beaver had so devastated the aspen forest down at that end of the lake they had changed the entire landscape with hundreds and hundreds of young and old aspen dropped in a mish mash along Nimpo Creek. They had so many dams on Nimpo Creek that the Rainbow Trout were no longer able to enter the lake for spawning in the spring. Long discussions with B.C. Fisheries resulted in that particular agency telling the locals to look after the problem themselves. Unfortunately, the trapper didn't wipe the beaver population out by any means. Just slowed it down a bit. Apparently the beaver are back and just as bad. They've got dams clear back to Gus's Meadow and water backed up all along Nimpo Creek to a depth of four feet. It might well be part of the reason why the lake has such an incredibly low water level right now. That many beaver means a larger population of young moving down Nimpo Lake looking for places to build lodges and aspen to cut down for a food supply. In the last couple of nights we've lost two trees and the neighbour lost one.
Many people not familiar with the devastation beaver can do to your yard in a few short nights think the animals are cute, cuddly and industrious. They are the latter (see devastation) but don't fit the description for the rest. The beaver is the largest living rodent left on earth. Or rat, if you prefer. When cornered they can be vicious. For that matter, they can be vicious when not cornered, known for taking chunks out of the family pet if it ventures too close. I've always had to laugh at Canada using the beaver as its National Symbol. Great... a rat that is attempting to turn all of Canada's land into flat, barren farmland. How ironic. But then again, the Americans treasure the Bald Eagle, a scavenger second only to the vulture. In any case, we're doing our best, as are all our neighbours, to fight off the little horde that's in tree attack mode right now, and we're not doing a very good job of it. Since that means being outside sundown to dusk the articles might come a little later than usual for the next while.

20/08/2006 5:05 PM

Fishing Sunday

Today was just about the best Sunday you could ask for and even better for fishing! I realize I haven't written for a day but a huge influx of fresh fruit from the Okanagan Friday evening has resulted in fruit preparation and pie baking. Besides, the weather has continued to be just incredible. The plop, plop of jumping fish eventually got the better of us and yesterday evening, when I usually write an article, we went fishing. We got bites and lost some but I did get one beauty for the freezer. We went out for a couple of hours today but since it was the hotter part of the day, we didn't do as well as I had hoped. We both got one on the line but couldn't keep them. Mine may have been good sized from the feel of it but I didn't fight him long enough to tire him out so he flipped off the last time I brought him near the boat. I should know better than try to yard a Nimpo Rainbow Trout up to the boat. They're fighters and can slip off a fly if you don't play them out first. My mistake. Unfortunate because I want some fish for smoking but it's not happening as quickly as I had hoped.
It's not often we take time out to treat ourselves to some fishing and I don't know how much time we'll have this next week. It is so incredible to glide slowly around the lake watching the loons, eagles, grebes and what not floating or flying. Fish of all sizes jumping all around the lake and the boat. The small ones can really fly, some going up four feet and jumping from one spot to another on the lake for up to ten feet.
It's Sunday, so there were lots of floatplanes taking off and landing on Nimpo Lake today, both charters taking people up for flightseeing or to go fishing on a remote lake, and summer residents that come in with their planes and tool around the mountains and alpine lakes.
Even though places like Penticton in the Okanagan have been under a very heavy layer of forest fire smoke, yesterday evening was the first time we saw the faint haze of smoke on the horizon. Today the air was clear as a bell, as usual. This evening we're finally getting some high, hazy 'normal' clouds so there may be a weather change coming. Sure didn't look like it on the weather forecast last night, though. It looks like full sun and high temperatures for the next ten days.
I'll keep this short this evening because I still want to go for a walk on the back trails this evening, and I'm gunning for more fishing. We might run out of daylight, though. See you tomorrow!

18/08/2006 4:51 PM

It's All About The Roads

Continuing with yesterday's topic on vacations, I think the condition of the road you travel is of primary consideration. With the big fancy rigs that most tourists drive or pull now days, a highway in poor condition can be pretty hard on the motorhome and the driver. Once we started hitting permafrost in central west and northwestern Yukon Territory, we started hitting some really brutal roads. And from there into Tok, Alaska, and from Tok to Glennallen, it just got worse. Much of the permafrost in these areas is under black spruce swamp. When a road is built over permafrost it loses its insulating layer and the permafrost begins to melt under the road, especially in the summer when road traffic drives heat down through the pavement and into the ground. Unfortunately, the ground does not thaw evenly, hence, frost heaves.
For those of you from the South who have never encountered a frost heave, you just don't know what you're missing. Where the pavement has enough give to bend with the movement of the ground, it bends. Where it doesn't, or where it bends too much, it simply breaks and collapses. So you end up with a road that resembles a rollercoaster. Throw a few twists and bends into the pavement, have a frost heave higher on one side than the other and put it a little bit diagonal and you have one bouncy ride. It's the kind of bounce that can break hitches and a whole lot of stuff in your motorhome and if you're going to Alaska, you're going to find several hundred miles of it. That stretch of the drive is extremely exhausting, no matter how slow you go, for both the driver and passenger, because all you can do is hang on and hope nothing important breaks.
Besides that stretch of highway, both the Dalton Highway and the highway to Chena Hot Springs are even worse and we only went down each for 20 miles before getting fed up and turning around. Whatever was at the end of either of those roads didn't seem to be worth seriously damaging our RV.
The road from Chicken to the Canadian border is gravel and not in that bad of shape. From the border to Dawson City is pretty bad with broken pavement and bad, bad chuck holes. Where they've pulled up the pavement and gone back to gravel is in excellent condition for the most part.
We all deal with frost heaves, including here in the Chilcotin, but in a part of the country where no matter how much they build up the road and repave, it's going to heave, it would seem that the road builders would be much better off staying with gravel. At least with gravel, you can grade the heaves out of it and you can put calcium on it to keep down the dust and flying rocks. I realize that most tourists going to Alaska probably don't want to have anything to do with gravel roads, but really, properly maintained they can be very good driving and a far cry from what exists there now. However, I imagine that Alaska operates under the same constraints as we do in British Columbia. A government that won't put money toward the highways.
If you're planning a trip to Alaska, it's definitely going to be worth your while to invest in a copy of the MilePost. Although not strictly accurate when describing roads because the editors have to go by what shape they were in the fall before publishing, it's still a pretty handy guide for warning you where to expect construction and poor roadbed condition. Actually, as an overall trip planner, I'd say don't leave home without it. It covers everything. The only downside of it is that it does not list every RV Park or other accommodation throughout Alaska. It only lists those outfits that have advertised with them but it will often mention how many other RV parks, motels, etc. there are in an area and approximately where you might find them.
I'm going to sidetrack from the vacation comparison just to fill you in on what's happening in the Anahim Lake and Nimpo Lake area today. Our weather for the past two weeks has been absolutely glorious with lots of sun and only high, skiffy cloud. Unlike the Okanagan where they've been under a blanket of smoke drifting up from forest fires across the American border. Actually, British Columbia has been hot and dry for the last few weeks but has surprisingly few forest fires. So few that many of our firefighters have been loaned to the Americans. You would think conditions would be perfect for thunderheads building up and the resulting lightning strikes, but oddly, that hasn't been the case at all.
Last night was another clear night with just a sliver of moon and millions of stars so bright and clear you felt like you could reach out and touch them. We're fortunate to have such clean, clear air. It was so quiet that you could hear fish plopping all over the lake in the dark and every so often the loons would set up a chorus.
Man, it's good to be home in Paradise!
17/08/2006 6:34 PM

The West Chilcotin Vacation Paradise

Continued review of the Alaska vacation versus the West Chilcotin.
As we drove north earlier this summer I commented that northern British Columbia was quite beautiful. I had never been north of Dawson Creek and was surprised and pleased to see that the northern part of the province is just as pretty as the rest but I had my mind set on seeing Alaska and probably didn't pay as much attention as I should have.
There is no question that many parts of Alaska are breathtaking. The mountains in particular, skipped the foothills and seemed to sweep right up from the ground and towered around us everywhere. Denali, or Mt. Mckinley is exceptional...if you see it. While on the riverboat in Talkeetna the Captain turned the boat and stopped on the river for awhile so we could see Denali. All you could see was a sliver poking through the clouds and the tour guide told us we were very fortunate because less than 30% of the people that go to Alaska to see the mountain actually get to see all or part of it. Check out the
Picture of the Day. It wouldn't show up on the right of this page because the air wasn't clear and there's not much to see. There is no question that it's a fantastic mountain and we honestly have nothing to compare it to here other than Mt. Waddington, the highest mountain entirely inside British Columbia's borders. It can be seen from many vantage points around Nimpo Lake on most days.
We did travel several of Alaska's highways in the hope of seeing Denali again but never did succeed in seeing it in its entirety. I would imagine that the best time to see that mountain is in the winter when the skies are cold and clear.
Alaska's coast is very pretty and Anchorage, Seward and Valdez all sit in valleys surrounded by mountains. Homer is a little more open but it too has mountains. Most are reminiscent of our own Bella Coola valley that sits on a sixty mile long inlet making it a highly protected harbour while huge mountains and glaciers loom over the valley on all sides.
On the Chilcotin Plateau you will find all kinds of country from rolling ranching country to forested foothills protecting the base of several of our mountain ranges. I found Alaska a bit disappointing because when the country was spectacular, it was spectacular but the rest of it seemed to be made up of black spruce swamp on permafrost and muskeg. Many of you that followed this blog on our travels probably noticed that I complained of the black spruce many times. Called Dr. Seuss trees by one Alaskan fellow, I can't think of a more apt description for the stunted, twisted floppy black trees. I have a personal dislike for black spruce because I've had to hunt in it and not only do I find it ugly, but it's downright creepy. I know, I'm weird, but I can't help it. Anyway, it was a huge disappointment to see mile after mile after mile of the stuff. Finally, one day as we were driving along I was reading an Alaskan travel guide that we had picked up at one visitor centre or another and came across this little tip box called Black Spruce 101 and here's what it said. "Few movies about Alaska are actually filmed here. So when you see an 'Alaskan' scene, you're often viewing the huge trees of British Columbia. Visitors are frequently surprised when they see black spruce for the first time. Gnarled and twisted, the exact opposite of the perfect Christmas tree, (see British Columbia) the black spruce is a tough little tree. They grow in swampy permafrost soil, and are relatively old for their size. They have a symbiotic relationship with forest fires. Only after a wildfire do their conses open to drop seeds on the ground." I looked over at my partner and said, "For Pete's sake, what are we doing here?" Hollywood's been lying to us all these years and what I thought was going to be the magnificent Alaskan country as seen in so many movies during my life is actually the magnificent country of my home province! Ironic to say the least.
I guess my other surprise in Alaska was to learn that most of the State is at a very low elevation, mountains being the obvious exception. The second highest pass on a highway in Alaska was actually 300 feet lower than where we live on Nimpo Lake. It wasn't what I was expecting at all and it's no surprise that so much of it is swampy. Still though, there were some exceptionally beautiful places in Alaska and we really enjoyed them. Hatcher Pass is extraordinary and the Denali Highway (which crosses over from the Richardson Highway to the Parks Highway) was gorgeous alpine country. However, those two roads are closed in the winter because both areas receive a huge amount of snow. Alaska and the Yukon also have the Yukon River and that's a hard waterway to beat in anyone's books! It's a beautiful river, especially when it's still that beautiful, clean green around Whitehorse and before it picks up all the silt and becomes muddy by the time it reaches Dawson City. But we're pretty lucky here because we have the mighty Fraser River and numerous glacier fed rivers including the pale green Chilko, Atnarko, and Bella Coola Rivers.
When we arrived home back in the Chilcotin I could only look around in awe of my own part of the country. It's beautiful country and in my opinion, competes easily with Alaska but we live here and so we take it for granted. It isn't until you come back and look at it with fresh eyes, and try to look at it from a visitor's perspective, that you realize how much we undersell our area. If we promoted it half as well as the Alaskans promote their state, we could enjoy the company of quite a few more travelers.
We spoke to a lot of fellow travelers in Alaska and discovered that most Americans reach Alaska following the Alaskan highway out of Alberta and almost completely bypass British Columbia. In fact, it would seem that few Americans ever get an opportunity to see our province because many are from the southern or eastern States and rather than cut clear west and come up through B.C. they cross kitty corner into Alberta, a small part of British Columbia and then into the Yukon Territories. And of course, for the few that do come through British Columbia, very few venture out into the West Chilcotin where the really big mountains are! (I'm sure there are some Rocky Mountain fans that will disagree with me on that point.)
I guess the question now is...how better to promote British Columbia to those folks heading to Alaska on vacation? Heck, folks, it's way cheaper and just as nice to spend your holiday in this province and you don't have to fight your way over those brutal roads on the way to, and in, Alaska. Oh yeah...gotta cover the subject of the roads...
More on that tomorrow.

16/08/2006 8:26 PM

British Columbia/Alaska Vacation Comparison

I realize I'm probably going to ruffle a few feathers with this comparison. Probably because it's going to look like I'm bashing the States and after all, Canadians bashing Americans does seem to be a favorite past time of the Canucks. However, I'm American, I've just been to Alaska, and I figure I can state my opinion with an open mind.
Since I have just had the experience of driving 8000 miles through the Yukon and Alaska I think I can do a pretty thorough comparison. However, since it's a big State and we covered a lot of ground in the two months that we were gone, this will probably end up being a series of articles.
My first statement is really going to ruffle feathers, but here goes. If you are going to vacation in Alaska, you had better have deep pockets. Really deep pockets! We found travelling the State to be an extremely expensive venture. In many large centers we found the price of a gallon of milk ranged between six and seven dollars USD and the price of fuel, after you took into account the smaller American gallon and the exchange rate, to be only a little less than the price of fuel in Canada. Vegetables were outrageously expensive as were most dry goods and although I realize that transportation of goods to Alaska is expensive, the milk was locally produced in the Mat-Su Valley as was some of the veggies. The only thing we found to be reasonably priced was eggs. Meat wasn't even affordable except in the very large cities and even there, we bought little. I'm glad we took some with us.
I realize that Alaska is probably extremely dependant on tourism but if they call Florida the 'palm' State for everyone having their hand out, they haven't met the 'two-palmers' in Alaska. We were shocked to discover that a tourist gets charged for everything! Even to walk out to a glacier! The State Parks people acted as though they had created the glaciers rather than nature and had the right to charge for it. There was an interpretive center and a trail of sorts overlooking the glacier but I found the former unnecessary and the latter would have been formed naturally by people walking to see the glacier, just as we have trails in this country created by people and horses going to check something out.
When we got into Dawson City just inside the Yukon border we drove up onto Midnight Dome where you have a fantastic 360 view going for miles. I mentioned to my partner that with that kind of view, had we been in Alaska there would have been a gate at the bottom with a toll booth. Laughter. "Yep, you're right!"
There are many things in Alaska we chose not to see because of the expense and many other things we did or saw only because we had the Tour Saver Coupon booklet that allowed one of us to go in for free. We considered ourselves to be very fortunate because we could actually afford to go where we wished or see what we wanted to. That we chose not to in some cases was more a resentment out of being gouged than anything.
When we got back to our little piece of the Chilcotin I thought, "Wow, we're just not charging the tourists enough here!" However, we would like to keep our tourists rather than shoot ourselves in the foot with overinflated prices as I suspect Alaska is doing. One RV Park operator expressed concern that visitors were down 30% this year and he was really worried about how much those numbers might fall off next year with the higher cost of fuel. You can't control the price of fuel but I think you can control the pricing on attractions that bring visitors to Alaska. Like Alaska, Anahim Lake and Nimpo Lake have very high food and fuel costs due in part to the transportation distance and the small population. But the rest of our vacation costs are very reasonable in comparison. Accommodation is way cheaper, as is camping and the use of boats and motors. I'm not sure what British Columbia's non-resident fishing licenses cost but I do know that it cost us less than $50 for annual licenses for both of us in the Yukon while Alaska wanted $300.
RV parking in sardine can 'gravel pits' averaged us around $30 a day in Alaska while I know for a fact that you can stay at the Vagabond right on Nimpo Lake on lovely green lawns or park among the trees for $22 a night with full hookups. Oh, and the showers are free!
If you take into account the exchange on the dollar, an American can visit here for even less than what it would cost a Canadian.
On the downside? We don't have a Denali or Mt. McKinley but what we do have more than makes up for it!
Tomorrow I'll do a scenery comparison.
Check out last week's articles at Aug Week One.

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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!
Floatplane taking off of the lake.
 
Mountain across Anahim Lake.
 
Mountains in winter.
 
Mineral deposits in the Rainbow Mountains.
 
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