Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Chilcotin - Atnarko Holiday

I can't believe how long it's been since last I wrote. Life just putters right along.

Back in mid-October, on what is known in Canada as Thanksgiving Day weekend, The Husband and I decided to forgo a turkey dinner and bust a move out of the valley. We were ever-so-slightly squirrely, and decided to make the complete drive to Bella Coola (having gone only to Anahim Lake on bikes in August) before winter set in.

And so off we went. It's just over 800 km from our place to the coast by this route, over mountains and through valleys, crossing mighty rivers and vast rangeland.

A damp, unsettled sky over the Coastal Mountains
 We left home in inclement weather, After a night at Williams Lake and a very early start west from there, we found fresh snow at higher elevations but not enough to hinder us, just make things 'interesting'.

Highway 20 to Bella Coola is one of only three routes by which one can drive to the Pacific Ocean in Canada. That's a testament to the rugged mountainous terrain in which we live.

The road is famous (or infamous) for the stretch that was constructed from Anahim Lake to Stuie, especially the first 21km or so coming east out of the valley. About 50km in total is gravel, which is nothing special for those who travel rural roads. What is special is that those 21km were dug out of the mountainside by volunteers using Cats in 1953 I think it was. It took them a year. The BC government told them the road couldn't be built, but they proved that wrong. Of course 'road' is a loose term.

It's much improved from those early days but still not for the faint of heart.

You can see the road cuts on some of the gentler grades, far ahead.

Yes, the sign says 12% grade. That isn't the most extreme slope -
 it is 15% in some places, and even 18% for short stretches at the western end. 
One of the 11 switchbacks on the route, and no, those aren't guardrails ahead - they're rocks.

There are no guard rails, and the drops are a very, very, very long way down, and steep. This is no place to be a distracted driver. We've travelled logging roads worse than this, and roads in gumbo clay soils, which is many times worse. The reason I find this road interesting is that it isn't a logging road - it's a numbered provincial highway!

There are no services for long stretches of road, so we always have supplies like fuel.
And we aren't in a hurry, so a picnic lunch along the way suits us fine. Goat cheese and sausage on crackers and a nice bottle of red - perfect.

Bella Coola River

Bella Coola itself is a small, primarily First Nations community on the inlet to the ocean. The Atnarko Valley from Tweedmuir Park to the town has about 2000 people in total. The valley is narrow but surprisingly rich in diversity.

It is located in what is known as the Great Bear Rainforest. We were just a little too late to see the grizzlies in town, come to feed on the migrating salmon, but a few were still lingering in the area, scrounging fruit from trees.

Raven with two salmon - male and female - facing the river and welcoming the salmons' return.

Another of the many totem poles in town.

Tallheo Cannery across the inlet from Bella Coola Harbour, glaciers on the mountain behind.

Bella Coola Harbour

The rainforest is noted for the ancient giant cedar trees that live there. Unfortunately, many of these were logged, but some were spared. This one is just east of the municipal airport, down a short forest trail.

It's hard to appreciate its size until you provide context: The Husband is 190cm tall.

Mountains north of Hagensborg.

Thorsen Creek. There are ancient petroglyphs further upstream but we didn't see them.

Grizzly track on the trail along Thorsen Creek. 

Gumpy grizzly boar in a bear trap. Despite two doses of tranquilizer, he was still rampaging around
and threatening to pop the trailer off the ball hitch.

Mount Saugstad, south of Hagensborg.

We stopped often along the valley, poking along back roads and park trails. It was the most relaxing few days we'd enjoyed in a long time.

Dragon fly, dopey from the cold temperature and warming on The Husband's finger.

Doesn't it have a fearsome face?!
Back home through the Chilcotin we hoped to enjoy breakfast at the Kinikinik restaurant in Redstone. Unfortunately most of the 'tourist' places are closed this time of year. Perhaps next summer.

For Cheryl - one of the fences you asked me about.
Much easier than trying to pound fence posts into the rocky ground.

Just north of Cache Creek, on the west side of Highway 97 are these fabulous 'painted' rocks, stained by iron and other mineral deposits. I always stop to gaze at them if on this road.

And once again, we returned to the dry Interior. Quite a contrast from rainforest to the high semi-desert country, and all within a day's drive, albeit a long drive. Maybe one day you can come along!

The Thompson Plateau.


  1. What a beautiful country you live in. I would be tempted to take that trip regularly. And a little cabin overlooking Bella Coola Harbour would be perfect.

  2. It's very wet there, in the Great Bear Rainforest. We're going back next September - come with us!