Having left Watson Lake we headed north for a while and then turned south west on the Stewart Cassiar Highway. Now the name “highway” suggests, in my mind anyway, a tarmac surface with lines, barriers and warning signs! None of it here. Stewart Cassiar Highway has tarmac nearly to the edge of the road, but not quite. It’s finished in a gravel “hard shoulder” area, narrower than a car and then, along much of its length, is a sheer drop into a valley or lake. The road will allow two cars to pass each other with little to spare, however it is open to all vehicles including those, now infamous, 100 foot articulated log carriers that like to travel at 65 mph with gay abandon to any road conditions or other users.
All that being said it is an unbelievably picturesque route and I wouldn’t have taken any other road. Our intended destination was Boya Lake Provincial park. Being a Provincial Park wild camping is limited but an authorised campsite is provided at decent rates. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/tachila/
We arrived and secured a spot right next to the lake with fantastic views. The sunset was unbelievable and I nearly exhausted the camera batteries trying g to get that perfect shot. During the day it was pleasantly warm but as soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped dramatically. The trees were turning orange and losing there leaves, it’s definitely on its way.
We went out walking the following day up into the hills locally. Fortunately there are trails from the site, clearly marked to prevent those with less of a sense of direction (saying nothing !) getting lost. The area is fantastic and the first thing we came across was an eagle perched up in a tree looking over the lake. (I managed to secure a better picture this time).
A little further and we came across, what we both agreed, was Bear poo. Now I wouldn’t normally dwell on this type of subject but I have been asked by one of our “followers” (I wouldn’t want to embarrass Tiny!) to investigate and establish whether Bears poo exclusively in the woods as suggested by the well known saying! This is our first evidence, although rest assured there is more on the way.
We continued and came across evidence of Beaver hard at work and numerous dams. On the way back we saw another Bear with her cub on the edge of the lake. About 100 meters from where we were camped. We spent as couple of nights here as it was so great and views of the Northern Lights were forecast, unfortunately the premonitions did not come to fruition and it was bloody freezing outside anyway. A warm bed was a better choice that night.
Back onto the “road” and onwards to Stewart, a small town on the border to Hyder, Alaska, on a west coast inlet. We had travelled across the width of Canada, coast to coast.
There is no border post Canada into USA (Alaska) as you cannot travel beyond Hyder, further into Alaska, by road anyway. The town hosts about 60 permanent residents and little else. It is a bit of a ghost town. It was suggested to us that we should stop in the first bar and get “Hyderised”. This involves being given a shot of a clear liquid that you have to down in one without smelling or tasting the juice! It hits the stomach like a fireball and just about stays there. The dregs are then poured on the bar in the vicinity of a match which instantly bursts into flames, not unlike meths and probably about as healthy! All of this shenanigans allows you to be presented with a small certificate and have a photo taken with an animated frog. So here it is.
This is not the main reason for entering Alaska. A short drive out of town brings you to Fish Creek, an inlet from the sea where Salmon come to spawn and then die. The stench was truly unwholesome as we exited the truck and towards a viewing area controlled by US Rangers. This fish migration results in a fast food outlet for Bears and the viewing area is set up above the waterway. The creek is strewn with dead and dying fish, hundreds of them and the bears travel from far wand wide to dine, but not on that particular day as we saw nothing. The add insult to injury the eggs which are laid by the dying Salmon are then attacked en masse by gulls.
All was not lost, as we left we stumbled upon The Bus restaurant, in Hyder Town, where a very nice lady prepares freshly caught fish, in batter, with chips. We had heard of this establishment and it is rated very well. We were lucky to get a seat. (The food was excellent, it was the last day of the season and the place was closing for the winter, we were the only customers). To top it all they had a picture of a real bear on the wall that had also been fishing. Just for the atmosphere. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g31017-d4835207-Reviews-The_Bus-Hyder_Alaska.html
Upwards and onwards, next stop Salmon Glacier and an extremely challenging road, up a mountain, passed a gold mine, to get there.
To Jasper, and the more well known of the National Parks in Canada.
Before we leave Stewart an update on Bear poo. It seems that Stewart and the surrounding area have more than their fair share of Bears in residence and we saw quite a few. This is probably due to the lack of people, the wilderness nature of the area and the vast amount of food, fish and berries. The latter very evident as there is bear poo everywhere. It litters the roads and green areas in plenty. We have considered the evidence at length and in our opinion bears poo exactly where and when they want to. And who is going to tell them otherwise. Investigation complete and question answered Dave! (And anyone else who may share your warped thinking!)
On route we stopped at the Lava fields close to Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park. An interesting, if a little bleak, area. Lava rock is fascinating but it went on for miles and miles. We camped overnight in a local Provincial campsite run by the indigenous people. A pleasant forested area. We were about to leave the following morning when we were approached by one of the locals and asked if I could give a hand erecting a new building close by. Naturally I agreed and we went to a small construction site where a new wooden “carving” building was being erected for the locals artists. Obviously first I had to have the site safety briefing and be issued my high vis vest, steel toe cap boots, gloves and hard hat. Next was to ensure my first aid certificate was up to date and that I had completed my lifting heavy weights at work course. I obviously joined the Union to ensure fair and equal treatment and had a welcome interview with the site boss. In fact what happened is we cut straight to the boss who said, “Let’s get on with it”!! and we did.
We arrived on the outskirts of Jasper Park and found a wild camp just off the highway. There is no wild camping in the National Park and it is patrolled by Ranger Smith and his colleagues. (Who, in our experience, are a group of very nice young ladies. There are probably guys there too, but we didn’t meet any). As we pulled into our chosen venue down a steep hill we found it was already occupied by a camper and not too large. We snuggled in with the original, pioneering campers, and were soon friends. Don and Becky, of Victoria Island, Vancouver, hosted us at their fire and a few beers were passed throughout the evening. Thanks guys.
The following day we headed into Jasper proper and spent the next three or four days between there and Banff. The scenery is quite unbelievable. Hunting is banned within the parks so wildlife wanders at will wherever they like and have little fear of humans. https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/jasper https://www.banfflakelouise.com/.
There is much to see and naturally Mandy identified, and headed straight for the hot springs at Miette, way up in the mountains. The water was a balmy 40 degrees, very pleasant, and they have created actual pools to relax in. Bath time again, we are keeping very clean this trip! https://www.hotsprings.ca/miette-hot-springs
There are also numerous waterfalls and rapids that come down from those springs and many others. These flow into picturesque lakes.
Catching the area just after the main holiday season was very much a plus. It was quite busy, but I understand it is rammed in the holiday season. Camping in the basic (Pit toilet) sites was plentiful, cheap and in fantastic locations. I could put up hundreds of snaps, but you need to come and see it for yourself.
We took in some of the towns which are very tourist driven, but again, as it’s the end of the season they were quieter, and every store seemed to have a sale on, Xmas presents obtained. (Is this going to spoil the surprise? Well, no, they are too expensive to send!! sorry).
We didn’t really stop in Lake Louise as this was the busiest place we had seen in months, not even sale prices would drag Mandy into shopping area, we looked around but then pushed on.
Calgary was on the horizon and a chance to meet up with some friends, Adrian and Gail, with whom we have worked previously and who had since emigrated to Canada. There was also the opportunity to find some bits and pieces we needed from the “Big City” while we were passing through.
“Passing through”, an interesting phrase that suggests arriving and leaving a place in a fairly short period. In reality I was in Calgary nearly three weeks. Some things were developing at home (UK) and there was a “requirement” for Mandy to “sacrifice” herself and travel home for two weeks, to see all the family, help our daughter into Uni, travel into town (London) and meet all her friends for drinks/updates and generally enjoy herself. I remained in Canada, ordered a new windscreen (The screen was relatively cheap, the shipping at great expense, many thanks Ben at https://www.leylandexports.com/), had it fitted (https://www.darylsserviceglass.net/ in Cochrane), serviced the truck (Me), fitted new fuel pipes (Me) and got a ticket for no seatbelt (Also me, but with the help of a “Peace” Officer. Welcome to Canada Mr tourist). Generally I was working really hard!
In reality I need to thank Adrian and Gail for their generosity, hospitality and with whom I pretty much resided throughout. They fed me, kept me, offered sympathy when I got the ticket (NOT), and ferried me around all over. I also managed to squeeze in a Calgary Flames Hockey game (They won), a couple of meals and a few beers downtown. Work hard, play hard!
I disappeared off into the mountains by myself for a few of days but a 6 inch snowfall and temperatures down to -8° C, resulting in frozen pipes, soon put paid to that and I was soon back in my comfortable bed in Calgary. Well, it could have been dangerous and I could have caught a chill, or been eaten by a wild animal. And I didn’t have a wifi signal!
Mandy returned after her mission, “holiday”. She maintains that she spent all of her time tidying and cleaning, but how much mess can one teenager make ? I think not. It turned out that this break worked out well. Our generator had suffered a fatal circuit board error and ceased to be. Being 240v it is not possible to buy one in North America. Mandy, having travelled home very light now had ample room to bring a new generator back to Canada as her hold luggage. She also brought some vital necessities back for Adrian and Gail, Yorkshire teabags, Dairymilk Chocolate and the like. They continue to survive in the wild lands.
More snow was forecast and it was time for us to get back on the road. The idea was to keep ahead of the weather but as it turned out the white stuff was following us with intent. We headed south to the US border.
Just before we crossed in America we decided to get the truck cleaned incase the authorities wanted to inspect it. I pulled into a large ish car/truck wash. It looked a bit low so Mandy was despatched to see us under the roller door. “Yup come on, you’re fine, yup keep coming, no problems” CRUNCH “What the F*** was that” the roller door was hanging off of it’s rollers forlornly. The roof rack couldn’t be seen from the ground apparently! We really didn’t need this. I phoned and spoke to the owner who said he was on his way over (2hrs away) to sort it. He apologised to us and was sorry that it had happened. He told us to get on towards the border, he would be in touch. Where else would this happen?
We found a correctly sized vehicle wash and scrubbed up the truck. Pristine we headed for the Border and the in-depth search, questions and other formalities that we had been told to expect entering the US. NOTHING! We pulled up, “do you have alcohol?”, “yes”, do you have drugs/weapons?”, “no”, come in and pay $6, you’re in. The truck remained outside, alone, un-inspected and feeling very left out!
We drove over the line and into more snow, ice, bad roads and no phone signal. The Canadian signal literally died at the border. We were on our own and on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. There is strictly no wild camping here. We managed to get to the town Browning, it was very slow and bloody freezing. We were getting worried about where we were going to stop, fortunately the manager of the local Casino let us stay in their car park, it was -16°C that night. Everything froze.
Welcome to the USA.