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Wilderness Adventures - July, Week 5/2006

Normally about the Anahim Lake and Nimpo Lake region of the West Chilcotin, this summer Wilderness Adventures will include the Alaska Journel for 2006 since that's where I'll be! Don't forget to roll over the pictures on the right for more information.
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.

8/1/2006 10:10 PM

From Little Atlin to Burns Lake

Although I have no internet connection tonite I'll catch up on our travels in this last article. We proceeded on Saturday to Little Atlin Lake, only a few miles from Atlin to friends of Andy's. Jack and Beryl recently purchased an acreage on Little Atlin that included a beautiful grassy meadow, two creeks and frontage on the lake. We whiled the afternoon away in terrific conversation and took the invitation for a wonderful supper and to park in the meadow for the night. Sweet, sweet silence. No highways, or other campers, people talking or fourwheelers or motorbikes. Only the sounds of whispering meadow grass, lapping water and loons. What a great sleep!
Our hosts took us down to the lake the next day and showed us how to properly pan for gold, using real gold nuggets that they insisted we keep after successfully keeping from losing them into the water. Since they've been gold miners for years it was super to learn from the experts.
I was actually quite sad to leave that area because I really liked the surrounding country. It reminded me very much of Nimpo Lake with a lot of pine forest and aspen, scarce cover on the forest floor, sandy soil and lots of rock. I suspect the weather is very similiar to ours at home with Little Atlin in the rain shadow of the Coastal Mountain Range.
We headed to Beaver Post that afternoon and arrived at a great new RV park there with terrific restaurant and gift shop. Our hosts from Little Atlin had let us know that the owners were from the same town as Andy and that he would probably know them. From Beaver Post we made our way to the Cassier Highway which is the alternate route to the Alaska Highway. That way we weren't going to be travelling over the same road as we had on our way to Alaska. Unfortunately, that first stretch of road is a mess and we finally landed late in the evening truly exhausted. Where there is pavement there are frost heaves, chuck holes and broken pavement. The rest is gravel and most of it was a disgrace. Recent rains had made even worse a road that hadn't seen a grader since spring, I'm sure. The road was rutty and so full of potholes there was just no way of dodging them all. Still, we weren't making too bad a time and expected to be at our destination by supper when we came on the local road maintenance crew digging out and replacing culverts. Nice though she was, the flag girl fibbed to us telling us it would be at least a half hour, possibly more, before the ditch would be filled in enough for us to cross it. Had I known it would be well over an hour I would have gone ahead and cooked supper there while waiting in line. By the time we finally got into the provincial park campground at Kiniskan Lake, we were dragging our butts. I think even the dogs were tired of bouncing.
Kiniskan Lake is a beautiful little lake and I don't think I've seen a campground better maintained. Even the wood that I bought from the camp host for the standard five bucks was a monster bundle that would normally amount to two and a half bundles anywhere else. We had an awesome roaring fire for the evening while we listened to the loons sing out on the lake.
This morning I woke to the sound of a Beaver taking off of the lake and literally thought for a moment that I was home or was dreaming I was home. It took a few minutes to realize that I hadn't, by some magic, been transported to my bed in Nimpo Lake but that I was still on the road and a few days away.
We tried fly fishing for rainbow trout off of the dock in the morning because some young fellows got a few fish there the evening before. No success but it was fun trying. Judging from everyone's catch though, the lake doesn't produce large fish but to hear my Mom tell it, they're the best tasting of rainbow trout anywhere!
According to the MilePost, we had more gravel to face today and believe me, we weren't looking forward to it. We were surprised to see that the first hour of road south of Kiniskan looked to be brand new but according to the maps, shortly after the Bell II Crossing we would hit gravel. We stopped at the lodge there for lunch and then braced ourselves when we headed out. Still new road! We congratulated ourselves on our good luck so far (upon which Andy hurriedly grabbed for our wooden toothpick holder so that we had wood to touch so as not to jinx ourselves) and Andy speeded up. The highway continued to be in excellent condition clear to Smithers, and though a little rough in spots after that, it was still really good.
On the way we saw some beautiful high valleys, higher mountains with lots of snow on top, glacier fed streams and not a few large rivers, including the Stikine. Either yesterday or today, (I'm not sure of anything anymore) we passed a gorgeous little lake called Aeroplane Lake next to the highway. The colors are remarkable and be sure to keep an eye out for it if you ever go the Cassier Highway.
We had chosen to stay overnight at Kitwanga but the going was so good for a change that we decided we would go on to Smithers. Again, the highway was so good and it was early enough that we continued on to Burns Lake and a KOA campground there.
Smithers is a neat looking little town and the surrounding countryside is remarkable. Coming in from the north you cross the Bulkley River and are torn between eyeballing the massive mountain with glacier overlooking the valley, and all the great farms and fields along the highway. It was a nice change to see wide open farm country, cattle and horses with freshly cut hay rolled up in tidy round bales on the fields.
We stopped at a rest area on the south side of Smithers and read an information panel there about the pine beetle. We didn't see any sign of the infestation and kind of wondered why they would have such a detailed sign with pictures at that spot. Shortly after we understood why. The further south you go the more you see the telltale red trees. By the time you reach Burns Lake, whole mountain sides are covered in beetle killed pine and I would say the area has been hit as hard as we have been in the Chilcotin. You can see how evident this is in the picture at top right. The one saving grace for this region is that there is so much deciduous growth at the lower elevations that it camouflages the beetle devastation quite a bit. It's only higher up on the flanks of the hills that you see the pure, dark red of a complete kill.
My final word on the Cassier Highway is that it would be well worth taking and probably nicer than the Alaska Highway if the highway could be improved from Kiniskan north to Watson Lake. It's a real shame that the British Columbia government can't get off the stick and put a little money toward tourism that benefits the north rather than throwing every last dollar into improvements for the 2010 Olympics.
We're parked in Burns Lake tonite and headed to Quesnel tomorrow. By tomorrow afternoon we will have come full circle by arriving at Bill and Anita's place, our friends that willingly gave us a parking spot and a great supper nearly two months ago when we set out on this trip. I'll try to get this uploaded tomorrow or day after and then it will be a day or two before you hear from me again.
I may do some side trip articles on our travels in the near future. Cool things we saw or stories heard that I didn't have time or forgot to tell you before. Or I may just get right back into the Nimpo and Anahim Lake area again. For right now, I just want to hear our own loon calls and sleep in our own bed at home.

7/28/2006 9:19 PM

In Atlin, British Columbia

We had a remarkable day today. It finally cleared up and we started seeing more and more blue sky. By this afternoon we could see the country around us. The Atlin area truly is stunning...all of it! The lake is spectacular, the mountains are spectacular and we really like the town. We drove out Discovery Road to Surprise Lake and several creeks along the way were the source of vast gold deposits at one time. There are still claims being worked to this day, albeit with pretty large machinery.
Along the way we saw a pretty little red fox cross the road with a rabbit in his mouth but of course I didn't get the camera out in time. On the way back on a rutty, rocky trail from trying some goldpanning we saw a nighthawk flitting back and forth on the road in front of us and so we stopped wondering what was up. He would perch on a branch then start flitting across the road in front of us and then suddenly there was a second, smaller bird. Finally, they both landed on a deep bed of moss on the forest floor and she scooted around as though she was sitting on eggs. I think the male may have been trying to distract us and then gave up. Or maybe he was just chasing mosquitos. It was nice to see them up close though because although I've heard them at night all my life, I have never seen one still or that close up.
At Suprise Lake you could see that a good part of the creek bottom had been dredged a hundred years ago. Much of the area was overgrown with aspen, willow and pine so it was a long time ago but trying any goldpanning under the circumstance seemed pointless. There's some pretty big, expensive machinery reworking the old tailings piles from the dredges and hydraulics because so much smaller gold was missed back then.
We toured the museum in Atlin this afternoon and that was super interesting. Lots of great machinery and even some inventions that I suspect are unique only to Atlin sitting outside of the building (check out the picture on the right for the snowmachine propellation invented and used in Atlin) and some good photo displays with explanations inside. I think that Andy's sister would have found the extensive display on schooling in the area very interesting indeed.
I did find out that just before the turn of the century there was an 82 ounce nugget found on Spruce Creek, described as being about the size of half a loaf of homemade bread. So I was wrong, the 36 ounce nugget pulled out in 1981 wasn't the largest in the world as I had previously thought.
There is a very interesting phenomenon just across Atlin Lake from us. It's a light brown mass of stone dripping down the side of Atlin Mountain like melting chocolate icecream called a rock glacier and behaves very much like a real ice glacier. This 'glacier' really does have some ice in it resulting from refreezing of the melt water from seasonal snow that percolates downward from the surface and underneath the rock 'glacier' are the buried remnant of an ancient ice glacier at the head which has been covered with rock debris. Although there are other rock glaciers in this area and southwestern Yukon, this is one of the most active rock glaciers in North America, and the long season of freezing and refreezing continuously provides a source of shattered rock fragments to grow the 'glacier'.
Tonite I managed to connect with a fellow across the street that makes gold nugget jewelry and sells from his workbench for half of what the jewelry stores sell his work for. The man does awesome work with local Atlin gold and I picked out a pretty darn nice gold nugget necklace whom my Sweetie has purchased for me as a birthday present.
Overall, we've had a wonderful day and as I sit here by the fire with the laptop and watch the awesome lemon yellow sunset over the mountains slowly fading to orange with only a ripple on Atlin Lake, I can't think of another place we've seen in our travels this summer that's quite so beautiful. There isn't a cloud in the sky tonite and it's chilling down fast. This is just the weather we were hoping for before leaving here and making our way back toward Little Atlin where we'll visit with a friend of Andy's.
Don't forget to check out the picture of the day for a really nice shot of Atlin Lake. It can't begin to do it justice because the lake is so huge, but here's a little window on a piece of it at
Picture of the Day.
We got pretty lucky at this campsite out on the lake. We managed to pick up a Wi-Fi signal last night and tracked it down at the library. Judging from the four different directional antennas transmitting the entire town must have that capability, which is really awesome. However, I doubt I'll be so lucky in the next few days so you may not hear from me for a little while.

7/26/2006 7:24 PM

Atlin Bound

By this afternoon we were back in British Columbia. Of course we'll have to go back to the Yukon in order to get to Nimpo Lake but for now, we're in our home province.
We left Carcross this morning heading to Atlin. We passed Tagish Lake which looks like it would be an absolutely gorgeous lake color wise if the sun had been shining. Even so, the lake is very pretty and surrounded by high hills and mountains. We turned just before Jake's Corner and headed southeast toward Little Atlin Lake. It too is a really colorful and beautiful lake that would be outstanding if the sun had been reflecting off of the water. The country began to change as soon as we left Tagish Lake behind becoming more and more similiar to our neck of the woods. Lots of open pine forest, some spruce and aspen with a ground cover of kinnickinnick underneath. Mountains, some of them very close, bagan to rear up on the horizon and there were several lakes along the highway
Atlin itself is quite a neat place. The little town sits right on the massive 300 square mile lake, the largest freshwater lake in British Columbia, with the Coastal Range right across the lake from it. There is a massive mountain rearing up just south east of the town that you assume is across the lake. Nope, it's on the lake! I believe our camp host told us that the island was about 19 miles long and 15 miles wide and according to the MilePost, Birch Mountain at 6755 feet is the highest point on fresh water anywhere in the world. Too cool! But for now, we're calling it Harold's Island after a really good friend that told us all about this incredible sight and you can see it on your upper right.
Atlin itself should be a bustling little tourist trap much like Skagway or even Dawson City but it isn't in the least. In fact it's a very quiet little town where the people are all friendly, and there are quite a few old buildings here and there with discreet signs on the sides describing what the building was used for at one time. One was a grocer, another a morgue, a madame's house of ill repute, etc. I haven't come across a 'trinket' store or gift store yet, although I'm sure there must be one somewhere. I wouldn't mind looking at some gold jewelry, especially since Atlin was an extremely rich gold producing area at one time, and in fact, a large nugget was pulled out by a couple of fellows in 1981 that weighed in at just over 36 troy ounces.
I think what keeps things so quiet in Atlin is the gravel road to get here. The first 40 miles of the Atlin Road is excellent gravel and the last 18 is chipseal, although it looks like Highways is in the process of upgrading the first few miles from Jake's Corner and our camp host figures the entire road will be paved within five years. From my point of view it will be a real shame. Suddenly it will be wall to wall tourists with all the locals catering to them, and the little town will lose a lot of its realistic feel. On the other hand, I can see the point of view of many of those people that live here and rely on the scarce tourists.
We are sitting on a breakwater on Atlin Lake with the clear, clear water only a few feet from the trailer door and massive mountains rising straight up before us and yet there are only a few of us with trailers here. All of the provincial recreation sites we toured are devoid of travellers. Selfishly, I would love to see it stay that way forever, but guess that isn't to be.
(Thursday, July 27)
We woke to rain this morning and it's been overcast most of the day which is a real shame because we saw enough of the spectacular scenery yesterday to know we're missing lots today.
We checked out the real estate office flyers on the front of the building today, and drove around a lot of streets. The hillside climbs quickly behind Atlin and some of the houses up there must have one of the most breathtaking views in the world. We drove down Warm Springs Road that follows Atlin Lake past the huge mountain island where several lakes and a couple of gold bearing creeks lay along the road. We also walked through an old cemetary on Discovery Road and read the many fascinating epitaphs on the old wooden grave markers and many of the graves were surrounded by decorative and carefully wrought wooden fences or 'cribbing'. One poor fellow pictured up on the right was buried in 1909 died by accidental gunshot wound on the SS Gleaner, a ship that plied the waters of Atlin and on which he served as a waiter. Another poor kid, only 16 years old was shot when mistaken as a bear. He was buried in 1940. Too many people died very young as well as many babies and children. Gold was discovered in the area in 1898 and markers in the graveyard started at 1902, probably about the time the settlement became a more stable entity and an official cemetery came into being.
It's still raining tonite, something that we assume is fairly unusual because the undergrowth would be much thicker if this weren't normally a pretty dry area. Hopefully, it will clear up tomorrow so we can go exploring again.

7/25/2006 6:24 PM

Goin' To Skagway

Surprise!! I'm back! We got lucky with the park in Carcross. It actually ended up having Wi-Fi so I guess I'll be uploading much sooner than expected. However, after this we're heading for Atlin in British Columbia and I have no idea how long it will be before I am back online again.
We left Whitehorse this morning and headed down to Carcross. The highway follows a wide sweeping valley with scrub and alpine hills rising up on either side. Trees consist mostly of pine, spruce, aspen and willow with sparse undergrowth and sandy soil. On the way we saw a very special lake called Emerald Lake and it's very deserving of its name. A multi-colored lake, the pale green areas are caused by a layer of shelled creatures once living on the ocean floor and mixed with clay, scraped from mountains, and dropped by glaciers along the shores of this tiny lake. The valley in which it sits is surrounded by towering mountains and I envied the owner of the attractive log house sitting on Emerald's northern shore.
A ways down the road we arrived at a desert designated the smallest in the world. Once these fine sand dunes formed the bottom of a glacial lake and now the continuing winds from Lake Bennett prevent most plants from taking root in the sand.
We dropped our trailer at Carcross and continued south toward Skagway. Along the east side of the highway you follow first Nares Lake and then Tagish. Both are mostly just different arms on the same lake, as is Bennett. Bennett is the lake that the Klondikers were attempting to reach after they climbed White Pass with their ton of goods required by the Northwest Mounted Police. If they survived the climb, they then had to build rafts or boats of some sort with which to cross the lake and then make their way up the Yukon river.
We had just gotten by those first beautiful green lakes when the highway started to follow along another lake called Tutshi. It was fed by a green glacier fed river and that color was reflected in the lake's waters. Soon you begin to climb into some spectacular and unusual country. The MilePost calls it a moonscape with stunted trees spotted here and there. I call it beautiful if nearly impossible to live in. Rugged, lichen covered boulders lay everywhere after being split by glaciers and freezing and thawing and tumbled down the mountainsides into the valley below. Stunted trees, what I call 'shintangle' have found a foothold in the boulders here and there and the whole landscape is dotted with lakes from tiny to a reasonable size, most of them fed by waterfalls tumbling down from the snow higher up. It's very unique country and even before you begin to climb you can see how difficult it would have been for miners to walk over the boulders much less bring horses through them.
After passing the Canadian Customs building near the summit you begin dropping down the rainy side of the mountains. Here there are more trees and thicker undergrowth, sheer walls of rock smoothed by waterfalls and deep valleys with rivers gushing in the bottom. When we went to Skagway we missed a lot because of fog but it was getting quite sunny on the way back and the snowcovered mountains that reared up behind the already steep walls were quite a surprise since we hadn't even realized they were there on the way down.
At one pullout Andy took the camera to the edge to catch some pictures beyond the steep dropoff when one of the White Pass passenger trains came through hugging the cliff wall across the valley. It was quite a sight and you could see why building the railway through there would have been such a monumental feat.
At one point you cross a deep gorge over an unusual cabled suspension bridge moored only on the south side. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the information on the interpretive boards or in the MilePost but if memory serves me correctly, we read about the Moore Creek bridge in the museum at Faro. Loaded ore trucks left Faro every 20 minutes for Skagway for years. According to the signage, a specially designed cable bridge had to be built over the 110 foot gorge that would be strong enough for the trucks and would stay where it was supposed to! Apparently, that gorge is the dividing line between two tectonic plates or faults and the land mass on the north side is sliding along the land mass of the south side, so the bridge is anchored entirely on the south side which is considered more stable. Now, I never expected to see that bridge in the picture at Faro and didn't pay as much attention to the information as I probably should have, but I think the above is correct. If it's not, please don't shoot me for having a lousy memory.
We finally reached Skagway and just before we crossed the bridge into town you could see towering cruise ships. We drove out onto the dock adjacent to one of them and let me tell you folks, those things are humungous! I've never seen cruise ships up close before and certainly never four at one time. They not only dominate the docks with their size, they dominate the whole harbour! Unbelievable looking things! Just to show you how much of a tourist I am we counted rooms on each deck on the side of the ship facing us as we sat in the parking lot trying to estimate how many people one of those ships could carry. It turned out we weren't too far off in our estimation. When we went for a bite to eat the waitress told us that there were about 9800 people in town that afternoon from the cruise ships. And you can bet it was packed. We must have arrived just before people started to disembark because the town didn't seem at all crowded as we made our way to the docks but once we came back into the main downtown area it was wall to wall people. There was no question of checking out any of the stores in this touristy little town because neither of us can stand to be around crowds like that. It might have been a different story entirely had the ships not been in and I'm sure we would have explored the quaint town further but as it was, we just skedaddled back up the hill after our lunch.
All in all, the drive to Skagway is a well worthwhile one. If you're pulling a trailer I would definitely suggest dropping it at the Carcross RV park just because you'll find the drive down the Pass much more relaxing if you're not worrying about your brakes the whole time. We were down and back in less than four hours but you can always book a hotel room, cruise, flight or ferry trip in Skagway, stay a couple of days and then return up the hill for your RV as many people do.
As you will probably have noticed, I had to start a new week because of the picture overload so I guess there really is going to be five weeks in July! If you would like to follow last week's travels just go to July Week Four and don't forget to check out the Picture of the Day.
Don't forget to roll over the pictures on the right for more information.
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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!
Red beetle kill above campground.
 
Mountain and glacier.
 
Wood slat screws.
 
Highest point in fresh water in the world.
 
Rock glacier on the side of the mountain.
 
Wooden painted headstone.
 
Cribbed graveyard.
 
Red supports for bridge over gorge.
 
Lakes, islands and mountains.
 
Sand dunes and trees.
 
Emerald Lake rainbow colors.
 
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