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Wilderness Adventures - July, Week One/2014

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 some great contributed stories and ongoing blogs, just go into Archives on the lower left side of this page.

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18/07/2014 3:30 PM

The Record Breaking Weather

I just added the date above and realized that it has been exactly a month since I wrote the last blog although it was actually posted a little over two weeks ago. I kept thinking about getting another one written, of course, even feeling guilty when I didn’t. But the couch has beckoned me on most evenings after a hard day’s work and won out over sitting at the computer for several hours.
Probably the biggest reason for exhaustion at the end of the day has been the unbearably hot weather. I’m sure most of you in BC and up and down the west coast of the US know exactly what I am talking about.
In the last blog I wrote that we had gone down to Mission for a couple of days and then side tripped around by the Duffy Lake Road past Pemberton to get home. We worked full speed for a couple of weeks around here and then headed down to the Kootenays for about ten days rather than going to the Yukon for a month as we had previously planned.
After a long day on the road from Porteau Cove on the Coast back to Williams Lake the back way, I decided my back wasn’t up to a trip to the Yukon and back in the time we had and Slocan Lake is always a great place to go for a trip. Sadly, it rained a good part of the time that we were there so we didn’t go for the number of walks or hikes I would like to have gone on but it was still a really welcome break from the work here. Besides, we thought we were getting away from the mosquitoes here but they never did show up so I guess we didn’t need to leave after all other than needing a little vacation.
Unfortunately, by going south I missed my opportunity here to transplant a whole whack of perennials that I have to get moved before we can even think of starting on building the new outdoor room. The cool rainy weather would have been perfect for doing the job. That is definitely not what we have had for the past two weeks.
We had to get home in time for guests coming to the cabin on July second and spent the next three or four days playing catch up on lawns, watering, and all the other chores that come with being gone. Just about the time that our guests were gone and I could get down to the tedious business of moving some very large, very well established plants and shrubs, it got hot. Furnace hot!
I don’t know if we broke any records for our area but I know that records fell all over the province day after day for high temperatures, particularly the last week when BC suffered through an official heat wave.
On the seventh of July it was still 26C or 79F at supper time and it just got warmer from there. It ranged from 28C to 32C or 82 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit day after day for the next week until just the last couple of days when we’ve had a slow cool down with a major weather change today. It didn’t actually take me that long to adjust to the higher temperatures and blazing sun, and I continued to work outside very day, albeit much slower. But the nights are what get me. I am miserable if it’s hot for sleeping at night and although we were lucky because it cooled down for a good part of the time at night, much better than in 2004 during the Lonesome Lake fire, we still had a couple of too warm nights.
At least this time we have good blinds on all the front windows as well as the ones on the western side and I admit that they do the job much better at keeping sun and heat out than those classy sheets we had nailed up in 2003 and 2004 during the hottest part of those summers.
Even with the blinds, though, keeping this house cool is a pain in the behind and involves all kinds of timed steps to do it because the place is built with wall to wall windows facing south to attract heat in winter, not keep it out in summer, and of course we very much miss the huge pines we had all around the house that we lost to the mountain pine beetle in 2006. That made a huge difference!
So now we’ve developed our little routine of closing all blinds and all windows early in the morning so that it looks like a morgue in here. Then at about five when the inside of the house had hit 26C or 79F, I would start the furnace fan which would bring the cool air from the basement up into the rest of the house. That would keep it livable in here until ten at night when it would be the same temperature if not a little cooler outside than in the house. All windows and doors would be opened up while the temperature dropped steadily outside and we put a fan up in our bedroom door to draw the heat out from inside the house through the loft. However, that meant all that heat that had accumulated near the 21 foot ceiling had to be depleted through the bedroom before that room would be even close to comfortable for sleeping. It worked most nights but by the last night or so of the hot weather, every surface in the house had just acquired too much heat in the past week and I ended up grabbing a couple of hours on the couch before venturing back up to the sauna we called a bedroom.
I don’t know why we don’t get an air mattress and set it up in the basement for these occasions. I guess because we just don’t get enough hot weather for the discomfort to stick in our little pea brains for any length of time. I’m just thankful we live where we do. I can’t imagine what it would have been like in other parts of the province where the nights don’t cool down. I guess those people probably have air conditioners…..
Most days we had clear air here and sometimes a slight breeze, but for a couple of days we had a little smoke haze in the air, and four days ago it rolled in and just settled over us like a blanket. I swear, the smoke magnifies the sun and the heat because it was truly stifling that day, with a blood red moon that rose that night, but by the next morning the smoke was gone. However, I don’t believe the Cariboo or a good part of the central province has been so fortunate.
The day after the smoke cleared I noticed multiple smoke plumes north of the Itcha Ilgatchuz Range which we can see from the back of our house. We looked on the map and going by the reports on the news, we were seeing smoke from forest fires that ranged from Chelaslie Arm about 150 miles north and west of Prince George to the Euchiniko Fire about 60 miles northeast of us and due west of Quesnel. A wind out of the north was what brought the smoke down on top of us and once it switched out of the west again, it cleared out here. Since then it’s been very windy and you could see the smoke plumes blow up every evening and all day yesterday with big black billows in one spot where a fire had hit fresh timber. From there the smoke would settle on the horizon and you could see great swaths of it going east. I can’t imagine what the air quality in Quesnel or Williams Lake has been like in the past three days but it must be just brutal. We did see a news item today showing Prince George at 9:00 a.m. this morning and the smoke was so thick and low, pressed down by heavy cloud, that people had their headlights on to drive and it looked like the middle of the night on the streets.
We had a cool down yesterday with a little cloud moving in by late afternoon and today has been between 10 and 15 degrees cooler than the past week. Very little sun, spitting rain, and high winds keeping that smoke at bay.
I had high hopes with the change in the weather of being able to start on the perennial transplant again for the first time in a while but both the plants and me would have gone sailing to Inuvik in this wind. The result is that I no longer have an excuse to not write a blog.
We have had a few developments around here in the past month including a couple of bears being around which has interfered with my going for the regular three mile walk in the morning.
I had been seeing little signs since late May but I carry bear spray and bangers anyway so didn’t think too much about it. Then about three weeks ago just after we got back from down south, I was walking on the road part of my route when I saw where the wild Indian horses had skidded to a halt and their tracks dove over the side of the road into the ditch and off through the woods. "That's odd." I thought, but it wasn’t until I came on a great dump of bear scat the other side of a little rise just past that point that I realized a bear had probably popped up over the hill and startled the horses into running. The sign was fresh that morning so I stopped to check my spray and clear the end of the bear banger before proceeding down the road and then around by the back trail. I had the wind in my face and only Cat was with me so I kept a pretty clear eye out and made a little bit of noise now and again.
I still didn’t worry too much about running into a bear after that because as long as you keep the wind going in front of you and make some noise, they’ll be long gone before you have a hope of seeing them. Then I got a phone call a couple of evenings later from a gentleman inquiring about properties that he had been looking at while here a few days before.
Once he figured out where we lived from our conversation he described encountering a bear in our bay. He had been down here fishing in a boat and saw a shadow in the trees near shore. He went in to have a closer look, realized it was a grizzly, and as he went to back off, the bear bluff charged him. He said the bear came into the water and started swimming toward him so he backed the boat out of the bay and cleared out enough to watch the bear cross to another shore. He thought it possible that the bear had intended on going into the water anyway and he was in the way, hence the charge, or the bear may have smelled the fish in his boat. He said it wasn’t in the best of shape so it’s possible it was hungry. That would fit with my estimate that the bear had not even come out of its den until well into May when I found the plug along the side of the road. That would put it way behind on the calories list.
I spoke to him at length just to get an idea of his knowledge level regarding bears and there was no question that he knew what he was talking about. He had worked for Ministry of Environment out in the Chilcotin and Bella Coola for years so he had extensive knowledge of grizzlies and blacks and their general behavior. That kind of worried me.
There is no question that we have grizzlies around here but they are rarely seen. They seem to want even less to do with people than people want to do with them so they’ll normally be long gone before you even get in their vicinity. That a grizzly would bluff charge a human being is highly worrisome and I thanked him for the warning. I also haven’t gone out walking since without Andy. I figure with the two of us and a dog a bear is highly unlikely to come near us. Since then the hot weather pretty much precluded any chance of walking until this morning when we both went out with one dog. However, several people have reported seeing a black bear on the road and around this area lately so I would expect the grizzly is gone. While sometimes you will see both species in the same general area, it is not likely that a black bear would be here if the grizzly still was because grizzly will often kill a black in its territory. More than likely, the grizzly will be headed toward the Atnarko headwaters or down into the Bella Coola Valley now for the salmon run. At least that’s what I hope.
Normally I would never worry that much, although I would keep a cautious eye out on the back trail if I knew there might be an aggressive bear around. But prior to this I’ve always had River and at least one if not two other dogs. With bears it’s not so much about a dog protecting you as that bears see numbers and size as being a disadvantage to them.
But Mocha, the Lab, died a couple of springs ago and River, the Rottweiler, whom I’m confident would protect me with his life and has the size to prove it, is finding three miles a day just a bit much now. He’s 14 and still in wonderful shape but he can’t do the walk every day and lags farther and farther behind on the rare occasion he does. That leaves the Catahoula, a breed that is commonly used here for cougar and lynx hunting, but I have no confidence in her at all when it comes to protecting me from a bear. First of all, she has no clue what a bear is, she’s not a big hound, and I’m pretty sure she places a much higher value on her own skin than she does on mine. That would definitely be a case of all you have to do to protect yourself from a bear is to run faster than the next guy, and she can definitely outdistance me.
So now if I want to go for a walk every day I can only hope I can continue to talk Andy into going with me so that to the eyes of a bear there are three creatures on the trail, start packing my rifle, or just go on the assumption that the grizzly is gone and the black bear is too smart to stick around when it sees me. I’m hoping for the first and once the salmon runs begin in full down in the Valley then there shouldn’t be a lot to worry about anymore.
In addition to bears hanging about, we’re getting other wildlife around here that doesn’t normally belong including a small whitetail herd of deer that has moved into the area in the past couple of years and this year at least one of the does has twins with her. Whitetail deer have been unheard of here before, although they’re common down in Tatlayoko Valley. All we have ever had was the rare Mule deer, and of course, moose and caribou. The neighbour is not happy with seeing them in her yard and I dread the day they find mine. The tracks have come up to our gate but not through so far and at least one hangs out at the neighbour’s corner on a regular basis. Deer in our gardens is one injustice we have not had to endure so far in this part of the country compared to many other places, including in the towns and cities, but it looks like they are on their way in.
The wild Indian horses have also become a nuisance to the point that most of us have had to build fences around our properties and install gates this year. We’re lucky because we live on a peninsula and our meadow is wet, I didn’t have a lot of fence to erect this spring, but I expect there will come a day when the horses will figure out that the meadow dries out in the fall and we’ll have them coming in to check out the lawns in which case, I guess I’ll be building more fence. I’m trying to convince the locals of the tastiness of horse meat but I don’t have anyone convinced quite yet. Too many more destroyed yards though and I might have yet.
I’m beginning to suspect that the horse herds with so many young foals this year, and the newer whitetails, are what is drawing in the bears this summer and the wolves this past winter but I could be wrong.
On the upside, the day we returned from our trip down to the Kootenays we saw mama loon in our back bay with a couple of fluffy little babies, dad nearby keeping a close watch and setting up a ruckus whenever we got anywhere near them. He’s a pretty aggressive loon which is probably why he still has two babies left and the pair in the front bay seem to be down to one.
The other day I could hear him setting up a row in the back bay long enough that I went to take a look at what was bugging him.
A swimmer with a life jacket on was on her back swimming from across the other side to our side of the back bay where the docks are stored. She was propelling herself by kicking her feet and beating the water in exactly the same manner as the male loons do when fighting over territory. It was too much for the male. He kept making runs at her over the water beating it with his wings trying to scare her out of his territory while mama loon slowly made her way toward our shore with babies in tow and away from the action.
The loon would thrash his way toward the swimmer and on one occasion, it looked like he went right over top of her. I saw her rear upright looking a little stunned and not sure what had just happened. Then she rolled back over and apparently oblivious to the whole situation, continued on into our little bay, which really, really teed off the male, but other than continue to try to scare her out of his area there wasn’t much he could do. I give him full marks for being willing to take on a creature more than eight times his size in order to protect his family and territory. Presumably that same determination is what has kept the bald eagles from getting either of the two babies, though not for lack of trying.
We’re still shaking our heads over the miracle of lack of mosquitoes this year. It’s utterly unheard of but I can tell you, it has been very welcome. We attended a little gathering at the other end of the lake last Sunday, the night of the super moon and in honor of our good friend, Henry Sparks, who died of stroke at 5:30 a.m. that day. We sat around a fire and were bothered hardly at all by mosquitoes. We also had a fire the week before for our cabin guests and some friends, again with few mosquitoes until nearly midnight when it cooled down enough for them to come out. A couple of times we have had reason to be outside in the evening and other than about two nights ago when we went for a walk at the wrong time, we have encountered almost nothing for bugs.
Sometimes in the shade away from the wind and sun you’ll see the odd one but it’s been a pretty amazing summer so far and unless the heat these past 10 days set them back and they’ll come out yet in cooler weather, I think we’re over the hurdle for this year. How nice it would be if all our summers were like that! We have had several hot summers in a row now and a lot of the ponds and sloughs that developed after the beetle kill have dried up this year. The lake is the lowest we have ever seen it and there has been nothing for rain for the past two months. With so much of the mosquito breeding grounds dried up, I hope that means that next summer will be just as good. It would be so nice to get back to normal, which means lots of mosquitoes but not as unbearable as they have been for the past four years.
Fire bans went on this week so I guess we don’t have to worry about bugs around a campfire in the evening now anyway. No more campfires until the end of September or until the weather changes. Since a long, hot summer has been predicted for this year, I don’t think that will change. But that's okay, we’ll just have lots of camp fires in October. Or maybe our outdoor room will be finished by then.
Nah... maybe not. It's a big project and the beams are only just now being cut for it down in Bella Coola. But next year for sure! Then camp fire bans won't matter, nor will mosquitoes in the evening.

Last month's blog is at June Week Two.

Anahim Lake Highway cam looking West.

Nimpo Lake
Anahim Lake Highway cam looking West.

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!
Monstrous forest fire plume over the mountains.
Forest fire plumes 150 miles away form over the mountains.
Male loon thrashes the water near a swimmer also thrashing water with her feet.
Woman swimming in the lake with loon making a run past her.
Heavy haze from forest fire smoke lies over Nimpo Lake.
A pair of loons and two babies on still water.
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