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 4 ~ Whistler and Beyond

Goodbye Vancouver Island

Goodbye Vancouver Island

We left Vancouver Island on a full ferry, crossed the Straight of Georgia and connected with the Canadian mainland at Horseshoe Bay. Seeing Vancouver was on the trip checklist and we found ourselves on the winding four lane road heading directly into the city. Something didn’t feel right. Really seeing and experiencing Vancouver would require at least on overnight stay. Before we even got a glimpse of the skyline we grabbed an exit and came about back toward what we craved most, to get into the wild.

Hello Vancouver (almost)

Hello Vancouver (almost)

Arriving at Horseshoe Bay

Arriving at Horseshoe Bay

The Sea to Sky Highway followed the shore of the Howe Sound for 28 miles where we found ourselves being drawn into the parking lot of a tourist gondola at Squamish. We were in the land of Fjords and Glaciers and the idea of getting a birds eye view was irresistible. I grew up with Gondolas in the ski town of Vail, Colorado. In fact I was in high school in 1976 on the day that two of the cars fell to the ground. Details of three dead and nine critically injured were broadcast over the school intercom and every since that day I have been cautious about trams. The Sea to Sky Gondola was a good experience. Tammy and I had a car to ourselves on the ride up. We snapped “selfies”, gawked at the scenery and yawned to pop our ears as we quickly gained over 2400 vertical feet. After eating lunch on the observation deck, we strolled across a cable suspension bridge and through the forest, taking in our first up close views of the precipitous and glaciated coastal mountains.

Sea to Sky

Sea to Sky

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There was a long line at the upper tram terminal for the ride down which we were able to circumvent as the lift attendants were in need of two for a car that was loading. We were kept company by a pair of grim faced women who said nothing the entire ride down and a family of four who I judgmentally guessed could not speak English. It turns out they were from Toronto and as Canadian as maple syrup. When we told them that we had driven from Colorado and we were heading 12 hours north to see Grizzly Bears, they asked “Why do you want to do that, Eh”. All in all, the day was incredible. After all of the tough times we had been through in the previous year, it was good to just feel like we were two kids on a date.

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A couple of hours later, we found ourselves driving through the villages of the Whistler Ski Area, contemplating a place to park for the night. It was interesting to see what Canada’s world class resort looked like, how it felt in comparison to Vail and the large Colorado resorts. It didn’t take much of that however and we found ourselves heading on down the road in search of “The Wild”. We ended up pulling into a rustic campground at sunset, parking Alexander Supertramp next to a picnic table and a river. For the first time on our journey, we had escaped civilization and the masses of humanity, we were finally alone.

Alexander Supertramp in the Wild

Alexander Supertramp in the Wild

“Nocturne”