Alexander Supertramp And The Great Northwest ~ Final Chapter

Atnarko BLOG

We awoke to the music of the Atnarko River, its rhythm throbbing with life. It’s a wonderful joy to wake up so excited about exploring a beautiful place that you’ve never been before. At first light, I ducked through the small camper doorway and scampered down the steps, Camera in hand and bear spray on my hip. Bears before breakfast? We only had one neighbor in the campground, a couple who we had met the previous evening. They were in a hard sided truck camper and pulled a trailer with a canoe and what looked like every camping gadget imaginable. I had beat them to the punch and I stood all alone on the banks of the river. The low morning sun streamed through the forest, illuminating the mist that hovered the surface of the water and the Salmon that spawned below. All alone, I stood there and marveled at being in one of the worlds most beautiful places without throngs of tourists.

Salmon Run

Salmon Run

Tagging Salmon

Tagging Salmon

During our four day visit to the Bella Coola Valley, we quickly became acquainted with a cast of characters whom we would bump into repeatedly while searching for Grizzlies. In no time at all, we were on a first name basis with the couple I previously mentioned, then there was the young couple from Vancouver and a German Couple who had been there for a week and had not seen a bear. We also got to know the river guides, the forestry agent and few other locals who completed our network and steered us toward places to go and things to see. From everything we gathered, it was determined that we were a week to ten days early for the full swing Salmon feeding season.

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Our Bear Guide, Fraser

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“Root Bear Float”

Ultimately, I didn’t find in Bella Coola what my mind was expecting, it was better. While we didn’t find Grizzlies around every bend but we did have encounters that we will always remember. We had discovered the absolute magnificence of a very remote coastal rainforest that is filled with glaciers, waterfalls and old growth forests. A Valley that rivals Yosemite, Yellowstone or Rocky Mountain National Park, only here you have a highway almost all to yourself. This is one of those places that you just know you will go back to.

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The long, long, long drive home to Colorado took us through Jasper and Banff where the smoke from Washington State Wild Fires was so thick that photography became a waste of time. While not quite as thick, the smoke persisted almost all the way back to Denver. We had been gone for 20 nights and had driven almost exactly 5000 miles. The summer of 2015 will always be remembered as the summer of Alexander Supertramp and the Great Northwest.

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Ft. Mcleod in Southern Alberta

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Smokey Sunset in Southern Alberta

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Sunset over the Bighorn River in Montana

Alexander Supertramp And The Great NorthWest – Part 5 ~ The Hill

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The Hill

A person wanting to drive a vehicle to the coastal mountains of Canada has only three choices. We had already tread the well kept pavement of Highway 1 out of Vancouver to the interior and made our way north to Williams Lake. There is also Highway 16, the heavily travelled Yellowhead Highway to Prince Rupert which was a few hundred miles north of us. It was our intention all along to head West on Hwy. 20, the third alternative which would take us to our destination, Bella Coola and Grizzly Bears feeding on Salmon.

The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is a huge swath of wilderness, perhaps the most remote area I’ve ever travelled to, including Alaska. Highway 20 is called the Freedom Highway, perhaps because if is over 300 miles with very few signs of civilization, or perhaps because a long stretch of it is free from pavement, guardrails, passing room and reasonable inclines. Soon after leaving Williams lake, I learned the hard way that even trying to do 50mph was unwise due to the likelihood of a Deer, Moose or Bear jumping out in front of us. At one point, after a brief distraction of some sort I looked up to see an elk as tall as my hood standing dead center with my trajectory. The loud scream of my locked tires sliding on pavement seemed to last forever and everything moved in slow motion. For an instant that seemed like an eternity, I accepted that our trip had been prematurely ended with the slaughter of a beautiful beast and the demise of Alexander Supertramp, what a bummer. Somehow, some way the giant creature vanished as quickly as he had appeared and we were continuing down the road like it never even happened.

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Nimpo Lake

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Alexander Supertramp at Nimpo Lake

We made it roughly halfway to Bella Coola before dusk and found a campsite at Nimpo Lake where we watched the sunset, ate dinner and went to bed. We went to sleep that night to the calming melody of a loon and the melancholy cry of a real life lone wolf, sounds that don’t exist where we come from. At sunrise, I stood on the shore and took in the beauty of the deep blue lake and the surrounding mountain ranges in the Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. A float plane taxi’d across the lake in the cool morning air then lifted into the azure blue sky for a morning of sightseeing. After a breakfast of instant oatmeal, we lowered the top of our mobile bungalow and headed down the road with a long trail of dust streaming in our wake.

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Tweedsmuir Air

The two thousand foot descent into the Bella Coola Valley is affectionately known as the Hill. Over two thousand miles into our journey and it had all boiled down to a one lane dirt road with 18% grades and spine tingling switchbacks. This section requires one foot on the brake, two hands on the wheel and an earful of advice on how to drive from your spouse. To be fair, I would not have been a happy passenger either. I was glad to be in control. To make matters worse, we had watched a number of youtube videos from “The Hill” and had worked ourselves into somewhat of an unnecessary anticipatory frenzy. Obviously we lived to see another day and I can now say that I drove “The Hill” twice, once down and once up.

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There’s a good reason this pic sucks!

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Switchback

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Freedom Highway

Just like with the Elk, when we arrived at the valley floor the paved highway resumed and it was the Hill never happened. Over the course of the next four days, we would become very familiar with the final twenty mile stretch of highway to the coast as we drove it daily in search of Grizzly Bears. But as we saw it for the first time there was a heightened level of appreciation for the mountains and glaciers and rivers. Before the sun set that first night we stood along the banks of the Atnarko River and waited for our first Bear sighting. Sure enough a 600 lb. Boar was “snorkeling” his way down current toward us and with Bear Spray and my camera in hand, I trembled as clumsily began taking pictures. Grizzly Bears feeding on Salmon..Check. We camped for the night along the River, cozy and warm within the confines of the hard and soft sided Alexander Supertramp. Every now and then the peaceful sound of the river would be interrupted with a ”Shhhhh…did you hear that? what was that?”

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“Who Sees Who?”

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“Power”

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“Atnarko Sunset”

Alexander Supertramp And The Great Northwest – Part 2 ~ Washington

“Cutting Chase”

When Tammy and I began the process of plotting out the course of this journey back in mid-July, our plan went something like this. Take the fastest route possible from Denver to Portland, spend a day or two exploring the Columbia River Country before zipping on to the Seattle area for two nights to visit a long lost Cousin and an old college friend, two visits that were long overdue. From Seattle we would go to Vancouver Island for three or four nights, then proceed up the Adventure Coast of British Columbia to the end of the road at Bella Coola.  Grizzly Bears eating Salmon or Bust!  Our route back to Colorado would likely be through Jasper and Banff, Alberta. All in all, we had ambitious plans for our 20 day sojourn.

You already know that the wild fires diverted us straight to the coast of Oregon. The best laid plans oft go awry don’t they? After breaking camp at the Kathy Bates rabbit sanctuary, we headed north on 101, anticipating a leisurely coastal drive with lots of stopping. As we progressed however, we began to realize that we had become a little too numb in our coastal euphoria. Dinner had been planned and prepared at the home of our host in Kingston, Wa., and we were anxious to get there. We were trying to fit a seven hour drive into six hours and we kept moving at full pace across the Astoria Bridge into Washington State and then on up the wooded Olympic Peninsula.

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“Good Conversation”

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Gamble Bay Sunset

We arrived at the home of Bruce and Laura at dusk and right away we felt welcomed by their Family and Friends. We ate, drank and visited around a warm fire in the back yard until well after midnight on that perfect late August evening. We were mesmerized by the tranquility of their waterfront property on Gamble Bay and we had our own private campsite in paradise, a level spot for Alexander Supertramp, our tiny condo on wheels. Not surprisingly, we decided we wanted to stay forever but would be lucky enough just to spend one more night there.  As the voice on the GPS says, we found ourselves “recalculating”.

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Stars Over Gamble Bay

The next morning, Tammy and I walked on to the Shelton to Bremerton Ferry for the 30 minute trip the mainland.  We would meet my Cousin Danny for lunch.  Born less than a month apart, Dan and I were very close growing up. It had been roughly 25 years since we last met and there was a lot to catch up on. I think we were both a bit shocked how much our lives have changed since we last were together, and it felt awkward to say goodbye again so quickly. Somehow, the visit with Dan, just as with my old college friend Laura was a wake up call. It comes with the realization that we aren’t close to a lot of people in this life and we can’t afford to delay the re-connects that really matter.

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Gamble Bay Touch ‘N Go

After catching the afternoon ferry back to Shelton, Bruce handed us life jackets and rowed us out to the “Aksala” (Alaska spelled backward). He paddled vigorously I might add, as the transfer boat was leaking at a fairly steady pace. Bruce and Laura have had many adventures aboard the Aksala, up and down the coast from Alaska to Mexico.  Aboard the Aksala we set out on a private evening sail up Gamble Bay to the edge of the Straight Of Juan De Fuca. It was really special to vicariously experience the life of marine navigation, watching Bruce play the role of the Captain, and Laura the Skipper. That short evening cruise was a bucket list moment for me and I still smile inside when I re-live it in my minds eye.

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“Alaska Backward”

Visit Laura and Bruce, Check! Visit Danny, Check! The next morning, we drove to the north tip of the Peninsula, where we were first in line for the Ferry to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

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Leaving Washington State