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Wilderness Adventures - Nov., Week 2/2008

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' about the Lakesounds just go into Archives on the lower left side of this page.

Rolling over an image will give you its description.
Check out the Picture of the Day.

13/11/2008 7:57 PM


I'm delighted to reprint something Floyd sent me regarding wolves. While a lot of people may not agree with his sentiment about wolves, unfortunately, they really are not the heroic wild animal that many environmentalists would have us believe. When prey is short, then perhaps a wolf pack does utilize everything on a kill as biologists would like us to believe. But when there's a large pack around, cattle, sheep, goats, and wildlife are vulnerable to brutal and wasteful attacks. Wolves will often only eat a small amount on a kill, then move on to kill another animal. There's been a long standing war for centuries between ranchers and farmers in North America and wolves and there's good reason for that.
Floyd has been in the Chilcotin for a long, long time and knows a lot of the country better than most anyone, especially from the air. So I would consider him an expert on this subject.
- "Wolves
I had to write down my thoughts on wolves, even with the danger of the greens putting out a contract on me.
In the last 40 years I have watched what they can do to the moose, caribou, and livestock around the west Chilcotin.
For the first 20 years that I was flying they were controlled pretty well by the local ranchers and guides protecting their stock and game animals. I have heard, and read, that wolves only kill the old and weak of the game animals. As soon as I read something like that I know that the writer knows absolutely nothing about wolves or how the packs hunt.
Wolves hunt and kill just like a pack of dogs, and will kill as long as it is easy even though they are not hungry. I have seen where they have killed as many as 20 caribou, and not eaten any. If the snow is deep and crusted on top the wolves can run on top but the caribou break through.
Any rancher will develop a deep hate for wolves after he finds one of his cows with her bag chewed off and tail missing. He would have to shoot the cow, but maybe get even if he has some poison, preferably some strychnine.
The decline in the moose population in the last 20 years has more to do with predators than hunting, because there are far fewer hunters, and fewer people eating the Queen's beef than there were in the 60's and 70's.
Wolves are almost impossible to shoot unless you get real lucky or use an old Indian trick Andrew Squinas told me about. When I was buying fur I stopped at Andrew's, and he had 3 wolf pelts so I ask him how he got them. In Andrew's words (I SEE 13 WOLFS DOWN LAKE WIND BLOW TO ME SO I HOLD MY DOG AND TWIST HIM EAR SO HE WHINE. KEEP TWISTING HIM EAR TILL WOLFS COME RIGHT UP TO ME. GET 3 BEFORE THEY GET TOO FAR AWAY)
Wolf pelts weren't worth much, about 1/3 as much as a coyote, so they weren't hunted very often. Last year (2008) in early summer, I counted about a 50% calf crop in the Itcha Mt. caribou herd, and by fall out of around 200 head of caribou I only counted 4 calves.
One of the best ways to control wolves is to go after them in the winter when they are traveling the lakes. If conditions are right, they travel the packed trails and lakes, so if you have a good pilot and good shooter using a shotgun with SSG or 00 buck you can do a lot of good.
I have heard some people say hunting from an airplane doesn't give the wolf benefit of the fair chase rule, but shooting wolves from an airplane isn't hunting, it's predator control, so fair chase has nothing to do with it. The notion that it is "unsportsmanlike" is simply not applicable. The game animals bring many thousands of dollars into the economy of the Chilcotin through hunting, besides providing food for the people. I believe the most cost effective way to control predators is to put a bounty on them, and let the people that have the means to eliminate them, do the job and make a few bucks in the process.
Most times the government doesn't even have to get involved in the program or spend taxpayer's money. The ranchers and guides would usually put up the money for the bounty or have the ability to do the job themselves. Some of the local people have been able to run wolves down and get them with snow machines if you can catch them out on a large meadow or lake. I have learned from personal experience that it is best to have someone with you when doing this.
Over the past ten years the Americans have started to reintroduce wolves into some of their wilderness areas and parks. I am told the reason is to reduce the elk and buffalo population in a more natural way. The problem with this theory is that the wolves don't stay in the places where they want them, but invariably end up in some rancher's herd of cows. Even if they stayed in the parks they would eventually reduce the other game to near zero population without predator controls of some kind.
I know a lot of people will disagree with all of this but I believe this to be the truth, from 40 years of observation ranging over most of central B.C." -

Thanks Floyd!
The picture up on the right is one that Floyd sent to me of a native, Marvin Paul, with a large wolf at Tshaca Lake.
Andrew Squinas' trick of getting a dog to yelp would definitely work at bringing in wolves. Killing dogs seems to be one of their favorite past times and my sister and brother-in-law still have the pelt of one that tried to do that with their dogs hanging over the back of their couch. I'll tell you the story some day.
I firmly believe that any time you get a vacuum in nature, the ecological balance suffers. While wolves are only one species, the prey they kill is many and when they wipe out whole populations of wildlife, I think that it has to have a dire effect on all other wildlife in that area. Some people say that's the natural course of events and that's the way Mother Nature works. However, I find it odd that we interfere with Mother Nature and earth's balance every day for profit and our own gain, and yet predator control is a no no. The world is an amazing place and humans, especially well fed and well feathered humans with too much time on their hands, have to be just about the most unbalanced species on earth. Just my opinion, of course.
We had a weather change today with bright sunshine, high, cold wind straight out of the northwest, and shivering temps. It never got more than one degree above freezing today and it was dropping pretty fast this evening the last time I looked.
We had a skiff of snow this morning meaning new tracks showed up well on the back trail. There were the usual little critters, some fox tracks, as well as the tracks of a coyote that wandered all over the trail. At least his track kept the dogs thoroughly fascinated and out of trouble for most of the walk.
I heard the lonely call of a loon out on the lake this afternoon, meaning there's still one around, anyway. Perhaps not for long, though. I also heard two Eagles screeching in his vicinity so unless he's good at ducking, they'll get him. Or wait like last year until a loon gets trapped in the ice and then finish it off.
I've got a lot on my plate right now so I may not write for a couple of days. If not, have a good weekend, everyone!

12/11/2008 7:25 PM

More Wind

We had some pretty harsh winds today that actually started last night. It was raining and blowing so hard that it was actually 'throwing' the rain at the front of the house. Half the time it sounded like someone was throwing pebbles at the windows. The temperature never did go below 3.4C or 38F in the middle of the night and it was really mild today reaching a high of over 8C or 47 degrees Fahrenheit. If you could get out of the wind it was downright balmy but that was a trick in itself.
The wind just howled the first half of the day. I didn't even bother to start my computer up because I figured there was half a chance the power would go out and I had other work to do anyway. I went to the post office this morning to send out a package and spoke to some other ladies there. We all agreed that last night was pretty wild and we weren't really into a repeat of that last wind storm. We were lucky, though. The wind didn't reach half the speed it did during that nasty wind storm.
As a result of the wind we couldn't get that tree down today that's still tied to the cabin but Andy did get a smaller one propped up with a board this afternoon. Hopefully it will set down some better roots next summer. If it makes it until then.
I didn't bother taking my camera into the back woods today to get pictures of those wolf tracks. I figured last night's rain will have obliterated them and it pretty well had. Nor were there any fresh tracks today. I'm actually hoping that they don't hang around the country through the winter. It will be hard on the wildlife that come down from higher elevations to get out of the deep snow and away from the predators.
I'm guessing that with wolves down this low, they've already eaten themselves out of a wildlife population at higher elevations, explaining why no one saw much in the way of moose while hunting this fall.
It would seem predator population have gotten out of hand in many places in British Columbia. My mother went hunting with two friends up the Cariboo River country a few weeks ago and got fed up pretty fast with the situation. It was not pleasant trying to hunt in country thick with grizzly bears and wolf packs. Apparently, of the many hunters they spoke to, all agreed that of all the cow moose they had seen, not one had a calf with it. It bodes ill for future moose populations.
One fellow was chased on an ATV by a grizzly and did not even have time to pull his rifle from his scabbard. All he could do was go hell bent for election until the bear tired. Another hunter spent an extended time up a tree, and all of the successful hunters found they had to hunt in pairs. Once they shot an animal, one had to gut and skin it while the other stood guard with a rifle. None dared to turn their backs on grizzlies that had begun to associate gunshots with the dinner bell.
I know that Bella Coola has had a real problem with large black bear and grizzly populations the last couple of years but thought that the numbers had gone down somewhat this year. Apparently not. Bears have begun to come into the town site proper and one ancient old boar had to be shot because it was wandering from house to house looking for food. A dangerous situation when you have children playing in your yard. At least they should den up soon. I know that all three dogs were sticking pretty close to me on the back trail today down near the gun range and didn't really look like they wanted to hang around the area. River had his nose up for awhile so he caught wind of something, although who knows with him. He might just as easily have smelled someone roasting a hot dog over a slash burn three miles away. His stomach is definitely priority one!

11/11/2008 7:08 PM

The Wolf Track

I hope you all had an opportunity to spend a moment in remembrance today. The Canadian television channels dedicate quite a bit of time to Remembrance Day and they air ceremonies throughout Canada. We watch the BC channels that carry a ceremony in Victoria and in Vancouver and were delighted to see that the turn out was excellent, even in the rain.
Andy switched back and forth between American channels before the eleventh hour to see if any ceremonies were being carried on air in the States, and found nothing. I was really surprised to see that. Perhaps everyone goes to ceremonies in person and there's no one left to watch it on TV? Or maybe those of us in Canada make much more ado about this day than other countries. We do like our bagpipes and 21 gun salutes!
We've had a skiff of snow for the last two mornings but it still made it to 6C or 43F and nearly made it to that yesterday.
This morning started out being a surprisingly pretty day with above freezing temperatures and sunshine. It didn't take that long for a stiff breeze to start up and ominous clouds to roll in though. It threatened to rain all afternoon but never did.
Andy went to help a friend clear fallen trees off of our back trail today. No one had been all the way through to the other end of the lake yet and we use that trail for snowmobiling in winter before the ice is on Nimpo or if conditions on the lake are too poor to snowmachine on it. Andy started from this end while Henry started from the other end and Andy was cutting his 29th tree when he met Henry.
If that's anything to go by, then our first snowmobile trip out this winter may have to be a work party. If we have to take chain saws and there's any chance we'll be slowing or stopping in bad spots, then we're going to have to go out before the snow gets too deep or we'll be stuck until spring!
Before Andy left we had to drop another tree on our lawn. For some reason or other, trees that had been leaning a bit after that windstorm are now leaning more since the wind yesterday. This one was actually a danger to the house and the only reason it hadn't gone over was because there was a scrawny little spruce in front of it holding it up. It was a nice, healthy, green tree but that wind must have been too much for it. We've got other leaners that are looking worse for wear now too, and Andy has one tied to the cabin to keep it from going over on the wood shed. After yesterday, suddenly its roots are popping up out of the ground. Some of the bigger trees are just going to have to come down, but hopefully we can push the smaller ones back straight and tie them off to another tree. Maybe their roots will recover and go a little deeper into the ground in the spring. If not, then as my partner says, we'll have a ball diamond big enough for the New York Yankees to play on!
Andy thinks that the ground may have been frozen more during that wind storm than it is now. We've had a lot of freeze/thaw cycles and loads of moisture since. In that greasy clay, the roots of the trees may not have the support they had before.
I got away a little later today for my walk than usual which may have been fortunate because temperature conditions were good earlier in the day for setting the perfect track. I had already made the circuit down to the gun range and back and was on the last leg of the back trail when I saw the paw print. I'm thinking, "Holy crow, that is one humungous track!"
There was no question but that it had to be a wolf track because we don't have a dog in the country big enough to make a track like that. It wasn't there yesterday when I came through so it was made today after this morning's skiff of snow and after the snow started softening up. As I kept walking I was excited to find more tracks just as clear as the first, so it wasn't my imagination. I measured one and my hand was the length of the animal's paw with my fingers extending only a 1/4 inch beyond the claw marks. There was a good inch of space between the front of the pad and the middle toes and its track was quite wide as well. I had River step in the snow next to one of the tracks and the wolf track was at least twice the size, and River is a good sized Rottweiler cross.
I just could not believe what I was seeing as I kept walking, not because I haven't seen wolf tracks before, but because I have never once seen one on the back trail. I think it's indicative of just how out of control our wolf population has gotten.
As I got to the bottom of a hill I could see a distinct difference in the size of the tracks on occasion. There are lots of tracks in the snow from three dogs and me going over the same trail every day, so it's not like I had a clear trail to follow all the time. But it soon became apparent that there were two animals, one with a track still much bigger than our dogs' but not quite as big as the largest tracks. Andy and I hopped on the ATV when I got home and went back out for a look. I just wanted confirmation that it was a wolf track and I wasn't out to lunch, but Andy agreed that no dog could possibly have made the track, and that there probably were two of them. As he said, you don't see a single wolf very often.
I have to try to remember to take my camera tomorrow and something to measure with besides River's foot.

09/11/2008 6:38 PM

Chilcotin Witch Doctor

We have so many great stories from the Chilcotin's past, many of which I worry will be lost, which is why I'm delighted to reprint yet another story that Floyd sent me Saturday.
Frances Cassam was an old Indian I knew for years that lived in the Blackwater at Blue Lake. He lived with his wife Mary and his son William and Rose Cassam but not in the same cabin.
The first time I saw Frances was when John Blackwell and I brought the David Brown tractor and wagon in from Nazko. William had given us directions from Blue Lake up past Tissy Lake and on to the Home Ranch where Pan Philips lived. At that time there was nothing at Tissy Lake just the trail by it. About half way between Tissy and Home Ranch we met this old Indian coming down the trail on a horse that looked to be over 30 years old and on his last legs. Frances was tall, skinny and one of the ugliest Indians I had ever seen, with several fingers missing and just one eye. I think he had lost them from having T. B. back in the 1930's when the epidemic swept through all the Indian tribes in the Chilcotin. We stopped to talk to him but he couldn't speak enough English for us to get much out of him except that he was hungry and wanted something to eat. After a while he started going through our camp gear and found a can of beans which seemed to satisfy him, and he mounted up and headed on down the road. When we got to the Home Ranch Pan told us that he was a witch doctor which I didn't believe at first, but found out later that he was a real witch doctor, and the Indians would usually go to him when they were sick instead of the white doctor or nurses.
The next time I saw Frances was at the Anahim Stampede where he was camped with his whole family. He was stirring a big five gallon can of boiling water that was almost black with about ten squaw fish cooking in it... heads guts and all. He asked Lora and I if we wanted to eat, in his words (UH EAT). We declined as gracefully as possible.
Pan told me of the time Frances was attending to a very sick person doing his chants and little dance. He had all the bad spirits out of the sick person and was backing out of the tent when Pan tripped him so he fell over backwards letting the bad spirits escape so they could go back into the sick person. After the patient died Frances said it was Pan's fault for tripping him and letting the bad spirits escape. Pan also told me that Frances could do more work in one day than William (Frances' son) could do in a week. Pan would hire them for haying and fence building, and sometimes for cowboying. I once seen a picture of Frances and Mary taken back in the 1920s in Prince George where they were all dressed up in suit and fancy dress in a buck board pulled by a set of matched work horses. In the picture they looked like well to do bankers.
Over the years I flew Frances around many times, sometimes to go to someone's place to work his magic spells if someone was sick. He would chant and do a little dance then get the evil spirits cupped in his hands so he could take them outside to let them go. Sometimes if the ground wasn't frozen he would bury them. He always blessed the airplane with a chant and dance so it couldn't fall down. Mary, his wife, would always put her coat over her head when we were flying. And not look out until the plane came to a complete stop.
One time when we lived on the airstrip at Anahim, Frances tied his team of horses to a tree in the hot part of the summer, and didn't return for two days. I told Jim to take the horses to the creek and water them. One of the horses was so thirsty that it drank too much water and died. Frances always said I owed him a horse because we had killed it by letting it drink. Most of the Indians were cruel to their animals, including their cows, dogs, and horses." - Thanks Floyd!

The last is worthy of note since the aboriginals in the area really do treat their animals differently than we latecomers do. Two of our dogs are rescue dogs and came to us emaciated. Andy's late wife was sure that the one, River, had just been thrown off the bridge and through the ice on the Dean River by two natives when she arrived on the scene. He was drowning.
The natives often get puppies because they're cute, but once the animal grows up, it's often left to its own devices, including scrounging for food. While most of us can be faulted for over 'humanizing' our animals, the natives do not. To them, horses, cattle and dogs are just animals. Bears, ravens and other wild animals were treated as totems and with much more respect than the domestic animals settlers brought.
There was a time that it was not uncommon in the Chilcotin for cattle to be left out in winter with horses to fend for themselves. The horses would paw the snow and ice off of the meadows, and the cattle would follow to feed. There were generally huge losses but they were accepted. Cattle are not treated that way now but even though we have laws in place, it is still not rare to see the Indian horses fending for themselves in winter. And numerous Indian dogs are shot and killed every year because they're hungry, and so they pack up and become dangerous.
As I mentioned before, stories of the past to me are important pieces of Chilcotin history and I value any that come to me. In the case of Floyd's story above, I never even knew that our particular native bands had witch doctors or shamans. I know that they have Elders and used to look to them for leadership and advice, but I wasn't aware they had shamans. I should have known they would, of course, because most North American native cultures do, but I guess our early buckboard doctors and nurses replaced them long ago.
I'm afraid I don't have the time tonight to change out the Picture of the Day so that will stay the same as it was yesterday.
09/11/2008 6:51 PM

Fishing Day

We had a great day, today! It never got above 3C yesterday and it was a bit of a mucky day because it rained part of Thursday and all of Friday night, but today it got to 7C or nearly 45 degrees Fahrenheit. There was really heavy fog over Nimpo Lake this morning that every once in a while would lift ever so slightly, brightening things up and then thicken again like a heavy blanket. You knew there was some sunshine up there somewhere, it was just a matter of whether the soup would clear off or not.
Finally, to the east, the fog billowed up in great puffy clouds and you could see a brilliant blue sky through it. Since it was so calm I told Andy we should go fishing, without ever knowing whether that fog would lift. At only one degree above freezing, it was going to be awfully cold out there if it didn't!
By the time we launched, the sun was peeking through. I got a fish not far from the dock which we immediately lost since we had forgotten the net. Back for the net we go so we lost some time there. Still, it turned out to be a glorious day! Bright sunshine and clear skies until mid-afternoon and we brought in our limit of ten fish in pretty short order. Once they started biting our lines were getting hit constantly and when they did hook on, they hooked on deep so we didn't lose any.
We noticed that there was a hatch of the same little bug there was a week ago when we got eight fish in an hour and the water was calm. If a ripple came up for a moment, the fishing died off until the water flattened again, then bang....away we would go again!
At one point in time just circling around in the bay in front of our place, we both got fish on at the same time. I asked Andy, "What the heck do we do now? This has never happened before!" He let his fish play around at the end of his line while I reeled in for all I was worth, fully expecting his to be long gone by the time it was his turn. Andy netted mine and then landed his well hooked fish. Strong fighters though. Both of us had fish break the line and hang onto the fly either after they were in the net or in the boat. And slimy? Man, you can sure tell the trout have their winter coats on!
Our neighbours must have found our boat going in circles with the net in the water all the time irresistible. First our neighbours about four places down came out to do some fishing and then our closest neighbours came out just before we came in. The only hearty souls as crazy as us and willing to freeze their butts off for fish.
We finally had to come in after a couple of hours because it was just too cold. Andy would just get his line reeled out when he would have another fish on so there wasn't much time passing between the times he was getting his hands wet in damned cold water. Coming back to the dock right in front of our place, I got the last one so we had hit our limit anyway.
Andy cleaned fish and I filleted when I came back from my walk so now we've got a pretty mess of fish down in the freezer for the winter as well as several jars of smoked trout. I was talking to a friend down at the other end of the lake and we talked about what a spectacular day it was for November. She commented that she'd considered it such special day she wrote it down on her calendar.
However....funny how there's always a however.....
The weather is supposed to take a drastic turn. There's one rotten system after another hooking in from the Pacific for the rest of the week and our temperatures are supposed to take a nosedive, so that's probably the last of the fishing for us this year unless we do some ice fishing. Time to move part of the dock anyway. Actually, it has to come out of the water so that Andy can fix the barrels under it. That ice that pushed up into our bay crushed the barrels last spring so that they no longer provide any stability to the dock. Instead of walking out onto a gently floating dock all summer, you were going for a wild bucking horse ride.
Walking in the woods yesterday and today was a bit of a challenge. With the combination of melting snow, frost coming out of the ground, and moisture from the rain, it's a mucky proposition everywhere. It's a great time to burn though and I noticed all around the lake today that a lot of people were taking the opportunity to burn their slash piles accumulated after that wind storm. We've got a huge one to torch off too but we won't do it until March or April when there's lots of old snow on the ground because it will burn for a couple of days.
We noticed that the baby loons are still on Nimpo Lake trying to grow big enough to leave, I guess. Several did flybys looking like fighter jets in formation just over the surface of the water. Andy says they're using ground effect to keep them up. From the size of a couple that we've seen, they may not get big enough fast enough to fly south before freeze up. I sure don't want to see a repeat of last year when that one froze into the ice overnight.
I have a great little story about the past sent to me by Floyd yesterday, but I will wait and post it tomorrow since I've run out of room for today.
It's the start of a new week, so last week's articles can be found at November Week One.

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!
Native stands in front of a log cabin with a wolf pelt.
Yellow and pink clouds in the sky.
Sunrise through the mist over the flags.
Everything is covered in a heavy rime of frost.
Morning color over the flags.
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