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Western Canada - Part 1 - July 2017 - BC to Yukon

Route: Vancouver - Squamish (Brackendale) - Blue River - Prince George - Smithers - Prince Rupert - Stewart - Dease Lake - Watson Lake (Yukon) - Whitehorse (Yukon)

Vancouver is on the Pacific coast of Canada and surrounded by mountains and forests. It’s the biggest city in western Canada and has been ranked in the top 25 of the world’s best city to live in. It has a relaxed feel about it and was an ideal place to spend a few days to get over our jet lag.

From Vancouver we started our journey north. First stop was Brackendale, just north of Squamish, and still on the Pacific coast. Squamish sits at the mouth of the Squamish River, as it empties into Howe Sound, and is sandwiched between the snow capped Coastal and Garibaldi Mountain ranges. Its location provides stunning views in whichever direction you look.
An apartment in Brackendale was our base for our week of exploration in the area. With good weather we managed to visit something different each day. One day it would be the leg-shattering climb to Chiefs Peak, for the view over the Squamish valley and Howe Sound. Then the next to the spectacular Shannon Falls, to see water plummet of the mountain down almost onto Highway 99. We also managed some beautiful hikes around lakes, along hidden creeks, through dense forest and even out along a sand bar at the mouth of the Squamish River.

We were also lucky with the wildlife, several good sightings of Otter, a Bald Eagle with a kill, a pair of Peregrine Falcons, numerous waterfowl and even an inquizitive chipmunk intent on stealing our lunch on the top Chiefs Peak.

For something different we hiked the “Trash Trail” near Whistler, so named, as part of the area was once a rubbish dump. The trail took us through forest and alongside the Cheakamus River, before arriving at our goal, the train wreck site. Decades ago a train derailed south of Whistler, near what is now Function Junction. Seven train cars were left scattered next to the Cheakamus River. Since then the train cars have been transformed into forest art, now covered in paintings and verses, all hidden away amongst the trees.

At the end of our stay in the Squamish valley we had planned to travel north along the 99 then up the 97 to stay in the William Lake area. However, this had to be cancelled as our host there were evacuated from her house due to wild fires. This year British Columbia is suffering badly from wild fires. They happen every year, but the number and size this year is particularly bad due to a very dry spell and careless people. After monitoring the local news we decided to skirt round the worst of the fires and try to head north on route 5, with a stop at Blue River. The journey to Blue River was a long one, passing a few minor fires on route, and from Kamloops onwards, having a smoke haze and water dowsing helicopters for company. Although the big fires were on the other side of the Cariboo Mountains, wind was blowing the smoke in our direction.

We had one day in Blue River and attempted two hikes, both failing due to swarms of mosquitoes at both locations.

Our journey then continued northwards to our next destination, the town of Prince George. Prince George is the forth-largest town in British Columbia, but not one of its most attractive. We had six nights in there, more than we had intended, but forced on us by the wild fires in the Cariboo Valley (where we had hoped to stay). In fact we weren’t the only ones suffering this way, 8,000 Cariboo residents had been evacuated to Prince George when the fires got too close to their homes. During our stay in town we met a few evacuees, talking to them put our minor inconvenience into prospective. During our six-day stay, we kept ourselves busy, helped by having two nice places to stay. We managed to do three local hikes, visit the art gallery, shop on the local market, have an evening at the Drag strip, as well as working on our latest photo book.

Outside of the Brighton Speed Trials, which is on public roads, we had not been to a Drag meeting before. This event was held at the Nitro Motorsport Park, just outside of Prince George in the woods. It is a permanent, professionally run Drag Strip, not dissimilar to Santa Pod (UK’s professional strip in Bedfordshire) but smaller and a bit more laid back. Although there were no Dragsters at this event, a small entry of Nitro Modified Vehicles, motorbikes and private cars kept us entertained for a couple of hours. On top of this, it was fun to be at this local run event and be involved in all that goes on. Just for the record, 9.1 seconds was the fastest over the quarter mile, by a big old American Nitro Modified saloon.

Our route from Prince George was west, back towards the coast. After an overnight in Smithers, nice little town with the Hudson Bay Mountains as a backdrop, we continued our journey to Prince Rupert. The road from Prince George was a bit uninspiring, but as we got closer to Smithers the forest thickened and the mountains appeared, making the drive much more interesting. On this stretch we made a number of stops to explore the local surroundings. The first was Twin Falls, here a short hike brings you to the waterfall cascading from a glacier high up in the Hudson Bay Mountains, very impressive.
This was followed by Moricetown Canyon where the Bulkley River squeezes through its narrowest point and has been favourite fishing spot for the Wet’suwet’en people for many years.
It was then on to the single lane suspension bridge at Old Hazeltown. This current version was built in 1931 and spans 140 meters across the Hagwilget Canyon, 80 meters above the Bulkley River.
Our final stop, other than some amazing scenic viewpoints, was the Totem Poles at Gitwangak. Dating back to 1875, around a dozen still stand where than were originally put, other than that, little is known about them. There was also a very unusual church tower in the village.

Finally we reached our goal, the town of Prince Rupert, after a very enjoyable drive. For both our days in Prince Rupert, it rained. This gave us an opportunity to do indoor activities.
An informative few hours were spent in the Museum of Northern BC, learning about the First Nations in the area and how they interacted with the arrival of Europeans. We also found out that ownership of Kaien Island, where Prince Rupert is located, had been disputed for many years between the United States and Canada. It was only when Canada established a sizable settlement there that the dispute was finally settled in their favour.
We also had an interesting tour of the North Pacific Salmon Cannery Museum, just down the road in Port Edward. Salmon had been caught in the Skeena River, then processed and canned there since 1889, only ceasing operations in the late 1990’s. The site was more than just a Cannery though; it operated as a town for 5 months of the year, for over 100 years. There were workshops, houses, shops, a restaurant, and a post office, even a bank.
The rain did ease for a short period though, which gave us a chance to stretch our legs. Just outside of town was the Butze Rapids trail, a path that winds through second and old growth forest and reminds you that the town is surrounded by woodland.

The day we left Prince Rupert was dry and quite bright, which was good as we had a long drive to Stewart. The day’s drive got more enjoyable as we progressed, with dramatic scenery, on the aptly named glacier highway into Stewart, the most spectacular. Highway 37A into Stewart cuts through a canyon with glacier capped mountains on either side, finally arriving in town with 1000’s of miles of wilderness beyond.

Stewart is a small town of 700 people, right on the Canadian border with Alaska. In fact it was this border crossing that was our reason to visit. Just across the border is the tiny Alaskan town of Hyder. With a population of around 70, and no transport links to any other part of Alaska, it relies heavily on Stewart. So much so, it operates on Canadian time, uses the Canadian Dollar not the US and provides its children with a Canadian education, schooling them in Stewart. All these quirky things aside, what interested us was Fish Creek, just outside of town, and where we made for as soon as we arrived.

When the Salmon are spawning, Fish Creek attracts a lot of bears, so much so the US Forestry Service have built a platform and provided wardens for people to view them safely. We had been told the viewing was good this time of year, but never expected to be so lucky on our first visit. Five separate sightings of Black Bear, with one catching a Salmon, and one Grizzly Bear strolling up and down the creek catching Salmon as he went. On top of these great sighting, there Bald Eagles overhead all the time and even a Marmot turned up to display itself. What an afternoon, one we won’t forget. We returned to Fish Creek the following day and had more great sightings.

From Stewart we started a 1100km drive into Yukon and to its capital of Whitehorse. To make the journey more enjoyable we made two stops on route, at Dease Lake and Watson Lake. The first day the wildlife was just as prolific as Fish Creek, with four Black Bear and one Grizzly Bear sighting. The second day only provided us with one Black Bear sighting, we were getting greedy now. And day three a female Moose in the distance. The scenery, however, was spectacular almost all the way.

Personal Observations

Vancouver buses allow up to two bicycles to be transported. Not inside, but on a bicycle rack fitted to the front of the bus. So boosting their green city credentials.

The Yukon locals say they have four seasons a year, June, July, August and winter.

Posted by MAd4travel 17:52 Archived in Canada

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