NORTHERN BC, YUKON AND ALASKA August 6 – September 7, 2012
After arriving in Castlegar on August 4, after a week at the Kootenay Mountaineering Club Hiking Camp at Carnovan Lake in the southern Rockies north of Elkford, I had a day to load my camper and get ready for this adventure. On August 6, I drove over Kootenay Pass to Cranbrook, turned north to Radium Hot Springs and then drove through Kootenay National Park. Marble Canyon must be one of the more astonishing canyons anywhere. Tokkum Creek goes over a big waterfall and then through a deep, twisting, very narrow gorge. With walkways and several bridges, one gets a great view down into the canyon. This portion of the park was involved in a huge fire in 2003. The burned trees, fireweed and small pine trees form a surreal backdrop to the canyon.
After getting kicked out of the parking area behind the Lake Louise HI Hostel, I went down the street by the LL Recreation Center and was not bothered. I woke up early to the sun just hitting the glacier covered summit of Mount Temple (I climbed it in 2006) and started the drive up the Icefields Parkway, probably the most scenic highway in Canada. Having done this trip many times, I stopped at the Crowfoot Glacier turnout, Peyto Lake, Athabaska Falls (the Athabaska River eventually joins the MacKenzie to flow into the Arctic Ocean) and the Columbia Icefields before arriving in Jasper. I walked the touristy main drag, bought groceries and headed west into BC to arrive at Mount Robson Provincial Park to pick up my camping permits for the backpacking trip up to Berg Lake. I planned on taking 2 days to hike the 21 km up to the Berg Lake Campground, hike around for a day and then take 1 day to come back down. This trip along with the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay NP (I hiked it over 4 days in 2006), and the West Coast Trail (did it in 3 ½ days in 1977 and over 7 days in 2005), are the three premier backpacking trips in BC and probably Canada. Mount Robson, at 3954m (12,972’) is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. It was first climbed in 1913 by a party led by Conrad Kain.
I slept illegally at the trailhead and actually avoided detection for once. I am quite determined to not stay in campgrounds and thus must be content with being woken up and told to move frequently. After a shower and relaxing breakfast, I got going. With a bare minimum of clothes and food, my 50 liter Deuter backpack was at its maximum. Weight is always a challenge when backpacking alone as there is no one to share the tent, stove, fuel and pots. Backpacking is hard work.
Because of the height of Mt Robson, this area gets a lot of rain creating a temperate rainforest primarily of cedar and hemlock with a mossy floor. It is a relatively easy 11.3km walk to Whitehorn Campground gaining 1200’ beside the rushing Robson River and Kinney Lake. I passed a stream of day hikers in the intermittent heavy rain and lightning. This river is in the headwaters of the Fraser River. The water is milky blue because of all the glacial rock flour carried in it. As the Fraser does not have a lake on its entire course to the Strait of Georgia, some of that rock flour is carried the entire distance. When I kayaked around the north Gulf Islands in June, that sediment was noticeable in the currents of the Strait of Georgia.
On day 2, I woke to dense fog. After 1 km flat walking along the river, there is a stiff 4km climb to Emperor Falls along the Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls. The Robson River falls 1800’ feet through a gorge producing huge waterfalls. Another 5 km along the river and its broad alluvial plain brings you to the Berg Lake Campground with its “chalet”. Across Berg Lake two huge glaciers cascade down the north face of Mount Robson. As ice calves off the glacier into the lake, the valley reverberates with loud roars, often several times an hour. On day 3, I did the most popular hike in the area, 2400’, and 10km up to Snowbird Pass. A sign on the trail marks the terminus of the Robson Glacier in 1911, now 1.5 km from the present foot. Circling around the east side of Mt. Robson, the trail climbs over cliffs and moraines high above the massive glacier. It then goes along a gorgeous creek through a meadow and then scree to the saddle at the pass. On the other side is a huge flat glacier filling the entire valley. The other common day hike in the area goes to Toboggan Falls, a deep cave and through Mumm Basin. On day 4, I walked the 21km back to my truck and drove 3 hours to just past Prince George.
Driving west on Highway16 towards Prince Rupert through Vanderhoof, Burns Lake, Smithers and Hazelton (unfortunately, my old friend, Lois Aylen who lives in Hazelton was not home), I turned north at Kitwanga on Highway 37 heading towards the Alaska Highway. At kilometer 150, I turned SW to drive the 59km to Stewart and Hyder, Alaska (situated at the end of Portland Inlet in Misty Fiords NM). Stewart with 700 people is the lifeline to Hyder (pop. 57) whose only access is via Stewart and floatplanes from Ketchikan. Hyder uses Canadian dollars and is policed by the RCMP. Besides a couple of bars, the main reason for stopping is the bear viewing at Fish Creek Bridge, 5km north of town (I saw no bears but lots of large chum salmon swimming upstream), and the huge Bear River Glacier, 11km north. Because of the heavy rain obscuring most views of the glacier and the rough road, I turned around at Fish Creek. The drive in and back out to Highway 37 was the real highlight. Big mountains with hanging glaciers and multiple waterfalls lined the road.
Highway 37 continues through a broad heavily forested valley with large mountain ranges on either side. Wildflowers and fireweed line the ditches and there are many lakes. At Dease Lake, I decided to not drive the 110 km to Telegraph Creek. The main attraction on this road is the Grand Canyon of the Stikine and Edziza PP, a large park with many volcanic features. 2679 km from Castlegar, I crossed the BC/Yukon border and 3.7 km later turned east on the Alaska Highway to drive the 21 km to Watson Lake, buy gas and get some groceries. The signpost forest here has over 71,000 signs on posts from all over the world (most from NA and Europe). It is amazing how many signs have been stolen from their hometowns and brought all the way to Watson Lake. I have been surprised at how little traffic is on the road. Most are large motorhomes, many with US plates, often travelling in convoys.
272 km from Watson Lake (and except for a few “resorts”, no other community) is Teslin (pop. 482), a Tlingit community with 2 great museums. The George Johnston Museum showcases a Tlingit man far before his time. He brought a new 1928 Chev to a community with no roads and photographed the community. His exquisite black and white pictures document the culture before the coming of the white man (in fact everyone had an English last name from the days of the Hudson Bay traders). The building of the Alaska Highway over 8+ months in 1942 changed this community forever. The Tlingit Heritage Centre has 4 great totem poles and a lovely community building. The museum part is small with examples of new carved masks and beadwork clothing.
At kilometer 272 is the turnoff to Atlin, BC, 100 km south. Atlin Lake is the largest natural lake in BC at 135 km long and up to 10 km wide. Across the lake are stunning mountains lit beautifully at sunrise. Founded in 1898 because of placer gold mining, the town is a sleepy place. The silence at night was serene.
Whitehorse is the capital of the Yukon. On the Yukon River just downstream from the 10 km long rapids, it marks the start of the navigable section of the river. The rapids are now under Lake Schwatka formed by a hydroelectric dam just south of town. It is an easy walk along the river and long fish ladders to get to the dam. Worthwhile tourist tours are of the SS Klondike (a paddle wheeler that plied the river between Whitehorse and Dawson between 1929 and 1955), the Beringia Museum (this area in NW Yukon extending across the Bering Land Bridge into Siberia was a vast glacier free grassland formed when the last Ice Age lowered sea level 125 m; it was filled with large mammals; (their fossils and valuable mammoth ivory are most commonly unearthed during placer mining) and the Yukon Museum of Transportation.
As it was Discovery Days in Dawson Creek, I decided to take this route to Alaska. It is 523 km from Whitehorse on the Klondike Highway. The only real town on the road is Carmacks. Commemorating the discovery of gold in 1896, Discovery Days features a fastball tournament, craft fair and the town. Parks Canada offers many attractions: a 90 minute walk around town to see the post office, Red Feather Saloon, a house of ill repute, and the British North America Bank, all authentically restored. A separate tour is of the Palace Grand Theatre reconstructed in 1961 to its past splendor. The Robert Service Cabin was toured and a great lecture given about his colorful life style. Some of his 2000 poems were read – their immense popularity was that they appealed to everyone. Many owed their story to the years he spent in Dawson City from 1907-12 where he worked as a bank clerk. He became a very rich man eventually retiring at age 35 to Monaco. Gold dredges brought in 1905 spelled the end of placer mining for many years. Of the 24 dredges that operated, dredge #4 was the largest, operated from 1913-1959, and was a great tour. Water was brought from the Tombstone Range, it ran on electricity, and produced as much as 800 oz of gold per day with very cheap operating costs. The environmental effect was devastating as evidenced by the huge tailings piles that fill every valley around Dawson. The Commissioners Residence was the elegant former government house. Because of building codes, all of Dawson looks old. Several buildings dating from around 1900 not built on cribbing to prevent permafrost melting are sagging remembrances of the past.
After taking a ferry across the Yukon River, the Top of the World Highway runs 106 km to the Alaska border, following a high ridgeline with huge views in all directions. After the border the good gravel road follows the Richardson Highway 175 km to the Alaska Highway just east of Tok, Alaska. The small gold mining town of Chicken is on the way. Named Chicken as they couldn’t spell ptarmigan, there is not much here other than the typical tourist stores, restaurants, gold panning, and campgrounds. The Alaska Hwy ends at Delta Junction, 1478 miles from Dawson Creek in Alberta, but the highway continues on another 100 miles to Fairbanks. It passes through the town of North Pole which gets millions of letters to Santa Clause at Christmas and has a huge statue of him on the highway.
Fairbanks (pop 32,000) is the second largest city in Alaska. Founded because of gold, its economy is now based on the military (Eielson AFB is SE of town – as I passed, 4 very sleek jet fighters took off – spectacular), the University of Alaska, mining and the Alaska oil pipeline (800 miles long from Prudhoe Bay to the ice-free port of Valdez, built over 3 years and finished in 1977 at a cost of $8 billion, the largest private venture in the world). 82% of Alaska’s income is from oil and the pipeline is only carrying half as much oil as it can – only that much is left. Every Alaskan, no matter the age, receives money (usually between $1,000 to 1,500/year, from a fund based on oil revenue. Pioneer Park is a large, free park filled with old log cabins moved from all over and some good museums. The tourist highlight of Fairbanks is the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska. There is an art gallery, many movies, and a wonderful museum with great displays. The other good tourist attraction here is the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum with 70 vehicles. All the rivers I’ve seen in Alaska consist of very wide gravel plains with water forming narrow channels and dead wood.
Denali National Park is a huge 6 million acre park with Mt Denali, at 20,320 feet, the highest peak in North America. Of the world’s great scenic mountains, its most notable feature is the sheer independent rise of its bulk. It begins at a base of just 2000’ and rises over 18,000’ of rock, ice and snow (Everest by contrast rises only 12,000’ from its base on the Tibetan plateau). It is surrounded by the much smaller mountains of the Alaska Range. It is only 120 miles south of Fairbanks on Highway 3 on the way to Anchorage.
There is only one road through the park; the 102 mile unpaved Park Road which is closed to private vehicles after 14 miles. It is celebrated as all that is wild in Alaska and is one of the best places in the world to easily see wild animals roaming free including grizzly bear, moose, caribou and many others. They are all seen from the windows of a bus. Shuttle buses provide all the transportation to six campgrounds along the road and for the multitudes of people who spend one day entering the park.
For $46 and a $10 park entrance fee, I took the 6:15 bus for the 4 ½ hour ride to Wonder Lake Campground 95 miles down the road. On the way we had several stops including one at the Eielson Visitor Center. The scenery was magnificent. Soon leaving a spruce forest, the road enters an alpine environment with small stunted trees and low bush all starting to turn color as fall approaches. Greens, yellows and reds contrasted against polychrome mountains, all bare of snow except for the mountains around Denali. First views of Denali appear after 9 ½ miles and sporadically after until it is constantly visible near Wonder Lake. Only about one-third of the time is the summit not obscured by cloud, but we had great views of the south peak in the morning. We saw 3 grizzlies (2 very close to the bus), a moose, a caribou and a red fox, quite a thrill especially for all the critter starved Europeans and southerners.
After a 265 mile drive to Anchorage (pop. 292,000), the largest city in Alaska, I went the next morning to the premier attraction, the world-class Anchorage Museum. It has a large Alaskan art gallery, the Alaska History Gallery with life-size dioramas that trace 10,000 years of human settlement, and its flagship exhibit, the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Centre with more than 600 Alaska Native art objects. I spent all day here.
After Anchorage, I had to make a decision about where to go next. South is the Kenai Peninsula. The most enticing trip would be to go to Homer with great art galleries and the ferry to Unalaska half way along the Aleutian Islands (a 7 day trip out and back costing $662, but leaving only twice a month with the next trip departing on September 4 – it is now August 26 and that is just too far away). The tip of the Aleutians is only 750 miles from Tokyo and 1500 miles from Anchorage (it was invaded by the Japanese in World War 2). Another possibility would be to take the ferry from Homer to Kodiak Island with the opportunity to see the largest brown bears fishing for salmon but that is very expensive involving flights and the best season to see them is in July. The other great choice would be to go to Seward to see Kenai Fjords NP and its huge glaciers. The drive is on a 127 mile scenic byway. I decided to do none of them. I’ve seen lots of glaciers and think the opportunities to kayak are not great as the good trips all require an expensive water taxi.
I drove back toward Wasilla and Palmer, the location of the Alaska State Fair held for 12 days ending on Labor Day. With all intention of going, I lost interest in that too as I saw all the midway rides and multiple vendors selling knickknacks. Palmer was settled during the depression by 200 families of farmers brought in for a new beginning. With fertile soils and one of the best growing areas in Alaska, it has a vibrant farming culture. The record cabbage at the state fair last year weighed 127lbs! The road back to Canada initially went through the impressive Chugach Mountains with one huge glacier filling an entire valley. Eventually the land became flat for hundreds of miles and the return of Alaska style bush, mostly spindly black spruce forest. At Glennallen is the turnoff to Valdez in Prince William Sound, the terminus of the Alaska oil pipeline, and the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The sound has almost completely recovered from that disaster. The road was an adventure unto itself. Frost heaves produce thrilling roller coaster rides and pavement is suddenly replaced by gravel. With no warnings, it was frankly dangerous to travel over 70 km/hr. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be pulling a trailer. The St. Elias Mountains appeared to the south with huge snow and glacier covered peaks. It froze last night for the first time and fresh snow-covered the peaks. At Tok I rejoined the Alaska Highway that had just as many frost heaves as the last road. Gas costs in Alaska peaked at $4.59 just before crossing back into the Yukon. The road continues along the south edge of the very large Kluane Lake.
Haines Junction is the highway junction to either Whitehorse or Haines, Alaska. It is the gateway town for Kluane National Park, in the St. Elias Mountains. Along with Wrangell-St. Elias NP in Alaska, Tatshenshini-Alsek PP in BC, and Glacier Bay NP in SE Alaska, they form the largest contiguous protected land area in the world. 80% of Kluane is a snow cap and most of the available hiking occurs along the narrow edge. It is also the home of Mt Logan (19,551’ or 5,959m), the highest mountain in Canada and second highest in North America. It has the largest base circumference of any non-volcanic mountain on earth. With fresh snow blanketing the top of the peaks, the views from Haines Junction were stupendous. I stopped at the huge, new Da Ku Cultural Center housing the National Park headquarters, Visitor Center for the town and the First Nation center (had a very nice display of beaded artifacts made with moose skin). The 150 mile drive south to Haines was truly stunning with large, jagged peaks and glaciers. It followed the Chilkat River, where up to 4,000 bald eagles congregate in November. As the river does not freeze, the salmon spawn very late providing a feast late in the season.
Haines (pop. 2500) sits in a lovely setting on Lynn Canal between high glacier covered peaks. This must be one of the most expensive towns in the state as all food comes from Seattle. A loaf of bread was $7.50 and gas $4.70. I climbed Mt Ripinsky (3610’) situated between the Chilkat River and Lynn Canal. The 3.9 mile trail took 4 hours up and 2 ¼ hours down mostly through mature forest. The Chilkat flows into the Pacific here. The delta is a huge mudflat with narrow braids of water. The views from the top were world-class especially across the Chilkat with a sea of high mountains. The highlight of Haines was a flightseeing trip over Glacier Bay National Park with Mountain Flying Service ($199 for a 1.3 hour trip). His plane was a beautiful 5 seater, the Front – Bush Hawk, made in Canada. We flew over both the East Arm and the West Arm with a sea of dramatic jagged, multicolored peaks and glaciers everywhere. The moraine formation was fascinating as the glaciers pick dirt and rock from the sides of the mountains then move it across the ice forming streaks of rock running down. When first seen by Vancouver in 1794, there was no bay but now Glacier Bay is 60 miles front the inlet. Kayaking to the bay is impractical. Only 11 glaciers are tidewater (ie end in the bay). These leave mats of floating ice. Many, especially in the east arm, had receded well away from the water. We flew a long ways up the John Hopkins Glacier to see a recent huge landslide that covered the glacier with wall to wall rock extending a long ways down the glacier. The views were much more extensive than that obtained from a cruise ship. Only two ships per day are allowed to make the trip to Glacier Bay.
On September 1st, I boarded the Alaska Marine Highways ferry to go to Juneau, the capital of Alaska. It started to rain in the afternoon and the peaks on either side of the inside passage disappeared into the cloud. Reachable only by sea and air, all the towns in SE Alaska have their own charm. It is a slender 540 miles of rainforest, mountains, glaciers and a thousand islands. History: Peopled by the Tlingit tribes, they had developed an advanced culture with large clan houses and a bountiful harvest from the sea. The Russians arrived in 1741, left and then returned in 1804. Their only interest was the fur trade. They leased the entire SE coast to the British in 1840. The US purchased all of Alaska for $7 million in 1867 and gold was discovered first at Juneau in 1880. $21million worth was removed in a few years. The Klondike gold rush of 1897 was the last major gold rush in the world and 40,000 gold hungry stampeders invaded the area. Just as the gold was petering out, the salmon industry was taking hold with canneries in every town. With WWII and the construction of the Alaska Highway, large military bases around Anchorage and Fairbanks were built. The sphere of influence then shifted to the mainland. Juneau was returned as the capital in 1982. The SE remains lightly populated and residents make their living from fishing and tourism, mainly from cruise ships. With Alaska’s mildest climate, the average summer temperature is 20°C and 60 to 200 inches of liquid sunshine fall per year.
Juneau (pop. 32,275) draws almost a million cruise-ship passengers every year. The only state capital that can’t be reached by car, it is easily the nation’s most scenic. The city center is a maze of narrow streets, old storefronts and new buildings, held together by a network of staircases climbing up the sides of Mts Juneau and Roberts. The waterfront bustles with cruise ships, fishing boats and floatplanes. While the downtown clings to the sides of the mountains, the rest of the city sprawls over 3100 square miles to the Canadian border making it one of the largest cities by area in the US. Entertainment is minimal, and good restaurants rare. In a state steadily becoming more right-wing, it is a refreshing haven of liberalism. After a four-hour ferry ride, arriving at 11:30PM, I parked in a bank parking lot to sleep and in the morning headed into town. Driving through city from the ferry terminal, 14 miles from downtown, the houses form a narrow strip between the ocean and mountains. A cruise ship was at the dock and scores of people were in town heading out for tours. I walked along the main street past several historic buildings almost all with jewelry stores (all owned by the cruise lines) – the rest were souvenir and knickknack places and a few bars. Stores owned by locals proudly display signs stating that fact. I went to the Alaska State Capitol and toured the House of Representatives and Senate chambers. St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1894, is a small octagon with a gold onion dome. Sunday AM service was in progress and I found the service fascinating with all its singing, unique communion and sermon about living your religion and spirituality on a daily basis. The natives preferred this church over the other Christian ones as it was much more accepting, and encouraged their language rather than suppressing it. The congregation stands throughout the service. The Alaska Museum is one of the best in the state with the usual displays. There were excellent dioramas.
We boarded the ferry with an eventual destination of Prince Rupert. With 50 crew, there were only 48 passengers. The charm of this boat is that it makes several stops in SE Alaska – Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan. It departed at 5:15PM on our way to Sitka where we were slated to arrive at 3AM (9 3/4h). Under heavy overcast and frequent rain, the views of the surrounding mountains were poor. Thinking that I would be constantly outside or next to a window looking at the view, this was disappointing. I had not booked a cabin and had the option of either sleeping on the floor of the rear lounge (could not sleep in the chairs) or in the solarium outside, a covered area with infrared heaters. It was also possible to pitch your tent on the deck just outside the solarium (fasten it to the deck with duct tape and use rope to connect it to one of the railings). I opted to use the solarium and had a restful sleep despite the lights. At 3AM I got up to see Sitka but there was only the ferry terminal far from town.
Sitka (pop. 8880) fronts the open Pacific on the west shore of Baranof Island. On the western shore across Sitka Sound is Mt Edgecumbe, an extinct volcano with a cone similar to Mt Fuji. Sitka is the heart of Russian influence in SE Alaska. Russian history is the main attraction for tourists with St Michaels Cathedral, the beloved Russian Orthodox Church. A Russian cemetery, the blockhouse, the Bishop’s House and many artifacts in the museum round out the Russian remains. The Science Center with five aquariums, the Totem Trail with 18 Tlingit totems and a Raptor Center are also in town. Many hikes, great kayaking and whale watching are available.
After 2 ½ hours at the ferry terminal we left for the 11 hour trip to Petersburg (pop. 2950), a Norwegian influenced community. With a fine harbor, abundant fish, and a ready supply of ice from the nearby LeConte Glacier (35 miles east, it is NA’s most southerly tidewater glacier), it was settled by Norwegians in 1897, and a cannery was built. It now has Alaska’s 6th biggest fishing fleet catching 55 million lbs of salmon, halibut, black cod, shrimp and crab for the 4 canneries and 2 cold processing facilities. It lies across Frederick Sound from a spectacular glaciated wall of alpine peaks including the Devils Thumb on the mainland. The waterfront is lined with very attractive, affluent appearing houses, weathered boathouses, canneries on pilings on the water, thousands of gulls, and a boat harbor bulging with vessels. With no timber industry (making its economy healthier) and no cruise ship traffic, it does not pander to tourists.
So far, we have seen only one orca, a few porpoises, and sporadic humpback whales (a mother repetitively slapped one fin and its calf breached completely out of the water twice). There was one brief view of a snow-capped peak and a glacier through the cloud. One of SE Alaska’s premier kayak adventures is from the Native village of Kake to Petersburg. The 90 mile paddle through remote, narrow, windy waterways would be a thrill. I hope sometime in the future to come back to Alaska with no vehicle, my kayak on wheels, and do some long trips. The Alaska Marine Highway ferries would become my base. They have great food, showers, and allow camping on board. Now that I understand the geography and how the ferries work, I believe it would be an outstanding trip.
3 ¼ hours away is Wrangell (pop. 2370). One of the oldest towns in Alaska, it is the only one to have existed under 3 flags and 4 nations – Tlingit, Russian, British and American. From 1860 to the 1890’s, it was the jumping off point for 3 gold rushes up the Stikine River and was a lawless, ruthless place. Wyatt Earp visited once for 10 days, but it’s most famous visitor was John Muir of Sierra Club fame, in 1879 and again in 1880. Eventually fishing and lumber took over, and when the timber industry crashed in the early 1990’s, Wrangell was thought to be a dying community. It has stabilized with a dive fishery for sea urchin, sea cucumber and geoducks and a commercial shipyard. Cruise ships visit only once/week. There are a dozen totems and 50 petroglyphs on rocks often submerged at high tide. Kayaking is difficult due to strong tides and currents. It was dark when we arrived and little could be seen. The Stikine River starts 400 miles away in the interior of BC. Above Telegraph Creek, the Grand Canyon of the Stikine has difficult whitewater, but below is 160 miles of navigable river and a great rafting trip.
We left in the dark for the 6 hour trip to Ketchikan (pop. 13,470), the most southerly city in Alaska and only 90 miles from Prince Rupert. Called the ‘thin city’ as it is several miles long and no more than 10 blocks wide, it clings to the steep slopes like a bathtub ring. Founded as a cannery site in 1885, salmon was it’s mainstay and now contributes 30% to its economy. The sawmill closed in 1983 and its pulp mill in 1997. The first stop for cruise ships from the south, up to six stop daily from May to October disgorging 650,000 passengers per year. An average 162 inches of rain falls per year, the residents never use umbrellas, and rain rarely interferes with daily activities (or else Ketchikan would cease to exist). Once home to 30 brothels, it was known as the only place in Alaska where ‘the fishermen and the fish went upstream to spawn’. Prostitution was made illegal in 1954. The ferry arrived at 3:30AM and departed at 6:45AM, at least allowing views of the town.
The trip to Prince Rupert took 7 ½ hours and seemed to be in open water far from land. That may be a function of the weather obscuring everything. I have spent much of the time sitting comfortably in the dining area, my computer plugged in working on this travelogue and articles for my eventual web site (more to come later), and soaking in the limited view out the big window. I have also talked to lots of people. One young fellow, a recent law graduate from LA, rode his Ducati motorcycle (with a tiny windshield) to the Arctic Ocean at Barrow, Alaska and is now riding back home. An older couple from Alaska on their way to Albuquerque to spend the winter, could not get their heads around the right-wing conservative politics dominating this circus that is the American election. Another lovely couple my age from Juneau on their way to explore the Rocky Mountain national parks of Canada, appreciated the many ideas about great backpacking trips and hikes. An older couple from Monroe, Colorado on a holiday, both had very interesting stories. She was a left leaning woman in a very right-wing town with many difficulties living in that community and in the radical USA. We shared identical thinking on a range of things. Her husband was an excommunicated Mormon, now an atheist, and full of interesting things about LDS culture – it is definitely a cult.
By far the most interesting was a man in his 70s who must be the most unusual person on this crazy planet (along with his wife back in Tasmania). A transplanted American who has lived in Tasmania for 30 years, they live the most basic lifestyle possible. More than off the grid, they have no electricity and thus anything to do with electricity including of course phones, computers, appliances, solar panels, wind turbines or water generation. They did not use any light source including kerosene lamps or candles, but have recently acquired a solar-powered flashlight (his wife had issues when he brought this extravagance home)! He cuts all his firewood by hand. They do not read or listen to the radio and their main pastimes are a garden, getting water from a nearby stream, cutting wood and doing yoga and meditating. They sold 100 acres of their 400 original acres to a land conservancy and he says received a lot of money. They do own a 20-year-old Subaru that they drive about 3000kms per year. I guess the latter separates them from uncontacted people in the rainforests of the Amazon or Borneo. It was unbelievable – what people you meet when you talk to everyone!
Prince Rupert was socked in with a light drizzle – what a surprise. With 36 hours to kill, I lived in the Safeway coffee area mooching electricity and internet, getting a ton of work done. The sun finally appeared and I was able to recharge my depleted batteries after 3 days of no sun. As one has to turn propane off on the ferry, all my food had defrosted in the freezer. PR has an interesting populace. The white folks have a certain roughness – I don’t think I have heard fuck said so many times by young people in Safeway, the expletive was at least every third word. The city is surrounded by Indian Reservations and Natives dominate the town. I have never lived in a city close to a res and a visible Indian population ( not Southern Saskatchewan, Medicine Hat, Victoria, Castlegar, nor Courtenay) and am embarrassed to see my prejudices. From my experiences working in the Arctic so many times, I need to appreciate their cultural context – loss of original hunting and fishing, residential schools, alcoholism and simply another world view.
The ferry to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, left at 6:30AM for the 16 hour trip down the Inside Passage. With initial cloud and dense fog, it turned out to be a beautiful cloudless day. The views were of low, forested mountains with intermittent higher mountains and inlets. The beautiful new ferry, the Northern Expedition (made in Germany with the interior in Denmark, and put into service in 2009 – why are these things not built in Canada?), cruised at 35km/hr and I am ensconced in the cafeteria working on my computer next to a big window all alone. We saw a few humpback whales, 2 remote light houses and cruised slowly by Bella Bella, situated in an unimpressive setting.
Having now ridden both the Alaska and BC ferries through the Inside Passage, I now know the logistics of a kayak trip with no vehicle, using the ferries to get from town to town – where to sleep, the available food, how to get a shower, the geography, where to go. I have been dreaming of such a trip for years and can’t wait to put it on the agenda, maybe next year. The ferries with my over 7’ tall and 24’ long vehicle have cost $920 for Alaska, and $1070 for BC. I doubt I will do that again as my gas would have been about $700. It seems that the majority of the passengers are European (German, Swiss, Dutch), many with rented motorhomes. We arrived in Port Hardy at 10:30PM and I got home the next morning. Total kilometers driven from Castlegar to Courtenay: 6,970.