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Friday, August 30, 2019

Sleeping Beauty Mountain Been Berry, Berry Good to Us!

With blue-stained fingers and lips, 
the victorious huckleberry hunters 
traipse into the kitchen 
with buckets of tiny, intensely flavored, 
bluish-purple berries.

We read this on a website discussing the pleasures of hand-picked huckleberries.  We know that pleasure first-hand!

But we get ahead of ourselves.

Our goal today was a beautiful hike in the area, representative of this northern British Columbia region.  Several resources suggested we climb the Sleeping Beauty Mountain Trail in Sleeping Beauty Mountain Provincial Park.  As an added benefit, it was just nearby our campground.

 We started a 10-mile drive up gravel forest road --

-- and eventually reached a parking area, where we left Dusty the Jeep to wait for us to return.

It was a mile's hike further up a rough gravel forest road to reach the park boundary and the official trailhead:

Once we started on the official trail, it did not leave any doubt of its intentions.  We started straight UP at a rate of perhaps 900 feet per mile.  We climbed and we climbed.  Along the way, the trail was sprinkled with a wide variety of types of mushrooms and fungi.  This was only one of them:

Limestone or granite cliffs (we couldn't tell which) stood tall above our trail, as Kathy demonstrates in the photo below:

It wasn't long before we got a view to the south, across the Skeena River and -- in this photo -- to the west across the Kalum River:

Here is another fun guy we spotted as we climbed.  This one was remarkable for the dewy droplets on its haunches:

After over 2 miles of climbing, we finally reached a huge ledge with alpine wetlands, meadows and ponds.  It was amazing how many bushes of wild blueberry and huckleberry were scattered along the trail!

We reached a point on the trail where a wetland stream bed climbed up to a ledge --

-- and we followed it.  This was not a trail but an undulating ribbon of wetland plants that are colored a beautiful orange-brown, different from the surrounding green ground cover:

We eventually reached our lunch spot, which gave us a view northward up the Kalum River Valley, and we had bonuses of orange wetland plants and a few small kettle ponds:

This is a view of Kalum Lake and Kalum River from where we ate our lunch:

There were so many berries!  While the plants along the lower reaches of the trail looked picked over, we found an abundance of huckleberries and wild blueberries up where we ate lunch.  We decided to make our return hike a berry picking festival.  It wasn't long before our hands were stained purple from our picking:

By the time we returned to the mile-long forest road at the bottom of our hike, we had filled two Nalgene bottles with bush berries and were eagerly anticipating the things we could make with them:  berry sauce for our salmon, berry pancakes, berry Sourdough scones or muffins.  Perhaps even berry pie!

Just in case you think we exaggerate, here is a photo of our day's take -- two full Nalgene bottles, 2 quarts of huckleberries and blueberries!

Kathy promptly bagged them into one-cup portions and shoved them in the freezer.  We can't wait to try them!

Visiting the Nisga'a Nation

Hi Blog!

On Tuesday, August 27, 2019, we left rainy Meziadin Lake behind. Our next stop was Terrace, BC. One of the things we most wanted to do while in Terrace was visit the Nisga'a Nation. The Nisga’a are an indigenous people of Canada. They reside in the Nass River valley of northwestern British Columbia. The name Nisga'a is from Tongass Tlingit, where it means "people of the Nass River". The Nisga'a Highway leads from Terrace all the way to the coast, where it passes four Nisga'a villages.

Our first stop was along the shores of Kitsumkalum Lake. Just past the viewpoint sits the tiny community of Rosswood which was off the BC electric grid until 1999 and only received phone service in 2001. Rosswood has a long history dating back to when a young pioneer named Annie Ross ran a post office for the bustling community of 300 in 1909.  The pioneer settlement was built on Kitsumkalum territory at the north end of Kitsumkalum Lake.

We crossed the border into the Nisga'a Nation as we approach Lava Lake.

Thousands of years ago, a glacier moved through this valley, gouging the depression that holds New Lake. Just 250 years ago a volcanic eruption caused molten lava to flow west down a creek bed to the north, damming the stream flowing from this lake, raising the level of water by 30 meters, enlarging the lake, which is now known as Lava Lake.

From the shore of Lava Lake, we drove over to Crater Creek. We hiked along a 600 meter trail to an overlook.

From our vantage point, all we could see was lava. The source of the eruption was almost 4 kilometers up the valley. The amount of lava pumped out covered an area six miles long and two miles wide. The lava was over 40 feet deep in some areas. That's a lot of rock!

The lava flows changed the course of several rivers and steams. Most of the time, the Tseax River flows under the lava. However, in times of high water, like we had with the last week of rain, it can flow over the land and through the forest.  This was a particularly special event, because the water was such a brilliant glacial powder-blue:

The next stop on our tour took us to Beaupre Falls. A short hike took us to a viewing platform where we could look down on the falls.

The valleys in the coast forest are full of extremely tall trees. Loggers were the first white settlers in this area. The remnants of their work can still be found today.

Vetter Creek flows over a small lava shelf before is disappears under the lava, trapping fish. The steelhead, confined to this short stream, develop snake-like bodies with large heads. Locals call them "Phantom Fish." We tried to spot some in the shallow pools, but with the recent rains, the stream was too cloudy to spot them.

We did stop at the Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park. However, there were no park rangers on duty. The Visitor's Center has interpretive displays about the Nisga'a people, culture and history. Over 2000 Nisga'a lost their lives during the eruption, as two villages were buried during the event.

We made a quick stop in Gitlaxt'aamiks for gas and snacks before heading over to the location of the tree cast.  It is one of four villages that can be found in the Nass Valley, and we visited all of them on this day.

During the eruption, moten lava solidified around trees which created hollow tubes after the tree burned.  You can see the dark, round hole in the photo below, which is the near end of the tree cast:

The village of Gitwinsihlkw, the second of the four villages we visited, is famous for its old suspension bridge. For years, the village was accessible only by this bridge.

For most of the day, we had the sites along the Nisga'a Highway all to ourselves. That was until we tried to get a photo in the middle of the bridge -- where we were joined by three other couples. As we tried to take our selfie, they bounced the bridge so much, all we got were blurry photos. Here's the one shot we got without company.

After our hike on the swaying bridge, we drove over to the third village of Laxgalts'ap to tour the Nisga'a Museum. The museum houses cultural treasures acquired in the 19th century.

Many Nisga’a possessions were mistaken as idols and destroyed by Christian missionaries who established themselves along the Nass River. Others were given away or sold to private individuals or museum collectors. The treasures in the Ancestors’ Collection were returned to the Nass Valley from museums in Ottawa and Victoria as part of the Nisga’a Treaty.

The final part of our drive took us down the Nass River to where it empties into Nass Bay and joins Observation Inlet, on its way through the Portland Inlet to the Pacific Ocean.

The Village of Gingolx, the fourth and last we visited, sits at the Mouth of Nass, making it the seafood capital of the the Nass Valley. The villagers fish for each of the types of salmon, crab, halibut, snapper and shellfish. We had the pleasure of having dinner at U Seafood U Eat It! During dinner, Charlie, a local elder, told tall tales, related the history of the name of the village, Gingolx, drummed, sang and danced. It was an amazing experience.

Totem poles, or pts'aan, are a significant part of Nisga’a culture and identity. Totems display family crests, commemorate histories, people and events, and mark territory. Totem poles are expensive to commission because only skilled artisans can create them.  When totems are raised, celebrations ensue. Chiefs tell traditional stories, hold a feast and thank the carver.

This totem pole sits next to the Gingolx Young Center:

We were lucky to be at the right place at the right time, as one local resident was coming home from work.  He invited us in to take a peek inside. The large open event area was surrounded by amazing local folk art. Unfortunately, the lighting wasn't good enough for photos.

After dinner, we drove out Fisherman's Road. What's not to love about an old wooden bridge?

At the end of Fisherman's Road is the small harbor which protects the local fishing fleet.

We drove over 110 miles before reaching the end of the road. At this point, we were closer to Hyder, Alaska than our campground in Terrace, B.C.! The 2.5 hour return trip was uneventful. We just took in the beautiful scenery of Nass Valley.

To the Nisga'a who made us fell so welcome we say T'ooyaksiy niin! Thank you! We had a wonderful day.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Fishing Again on Meziadin Lake

The first thing you need to know about us is that things don't come into focus for us until we've had our morning coffee.  This morning we needed to get out and fish before the rains came, and so the coffee had to come with us and wait until we got on the water.  And the result was inevitable:

With caffeine in our arteries and hydration in our tummies, we could turn our attention to paddling out to our fishing grounds -- a stream inlet south of our campground along the eastern shore of Meziadin Lake.  In contrast to our last fishing paddle yesterday, it was foggy and misty withal, although still, with the waters calm, and no rain -- yet:

A stray log sticking up from the lakebed in our campground's cove was marked by some yachter with a cheery Canadian flag (see our prior fishing blog for a better view of the flag), but it acted as our guide to leave the cove.  "Red right returning."

Yep, those old familiar low clouds (or some might say, mist, or fog) was decking the far shore, just as it has done every day here except yesterday:

The water had a milky emerald color to it this morning.  One amazing thing about this lake is that it has had a different mood, and the water has had a different color, each day:

For such a large lake, Meziadin Lake has been the most reliable in being as still as glass every morning, subject, of course, to the risk of rain drops plopping into the scene:

Of course, with the water this still, it was easy to see the trout rising.  On the one hand, this told us exactly where they were feeding and got us excited; on the other hand, it made it particularly frustrating not to catch any.  Here, Kathy posts herself strategically at the stream inlet.  Rises, rises, everywhere, and not a fish to catch.

We got about 1.5 hours out on the water before it started raining.  These drops were our warning to start paddling the 15 minutes or so back to our campsite, or we would get drenched:

Our tally today:  Kathy 0, David 1 little 8-inch trout, who, mercifully, was too small to keep and was released back to his fishy life.  As we paddled back to camp, the fog, clouds and rain steadily closed in:

You heard about the neighborhood fisher in our prior blog about fishing here on Meziadin Lake.  As we were paddling back past the very spot where we had seen the elusive guy yesterday, we wondered if we would see him again and -- as if on cue -- he appeared, perhaps 100 yards away, starting a paddle across the cove with yet another fish in his mouth.  David was determined to get closer to get a better photo this time, and so, after catching this insurance photo of the fisher --

-- David started paddling to intercept the mammal's path.  However, the fisher would have none of it.  He sped up.  David sped up.  He sped up faster.  David sped up faster.  Finally, in exasperation, the fisher dove underwater with his fish and SLAPPED the water with his tail, just as a beaver might, to warn David away and inform him forcefully that his fish was his own, and not ours.

Message received.  So no fish, and no fisher close-up.  Ah, well, there's always another day.

Paddling to Bear Glacier

We had quite a few things on our bucket list for this trip to Alaska, after having been here in 2016 to scout everything and having decided to return with our motorhome, Jeep and kayaks.  One of the items was to camp at Meziadin Lake, which we knew we wanted to do for at least a week in order to embark on all of the attendant adventures we knew we would find here.

Another bucket list item was to return to Bear Glacier, along Highway 37A from Meziadin Junction to Stewart, B.C., and to paddle up to its toe across Strohn Lake, which is partially fed by runoff from the glacier.  On August 25, 2019, we had enough promised good weather to permit us to try the paddle.  No matter how good the weather was down at Meziadin Lake, the weather up at Bear Glacier, at Windy Hill Pass, would undoubtedly be colder, and possibly much wetter.  We picked the best weather and headed up to try.

By the time we got to the boat ramp at Strohn Lake, the weather was already threatening.  Large rain clouds were being pushed up the canyon from Stewart on Portland Canal to the west, and the heavens could open up at any time.  But we were determined, and decided that we would complete the paddle, even if we got sopping wet.  We dressed as warmly as we could, with rain gear, and let into the lake:

This was perhaps the trickiest launch we have tried, because, for whatever reason, the boat ramp meets the lake right beside the outlet stream, which is not a small creek under normal circumstances, and had risen to muddy, raging "white" water after the recent rains.  The current at the outflow into the stream was obviously very strong, and we needed to be careful to put our kayaks in far enough upstream from the outflow to avoid getting sucked down backward as we tried to paddle against the current.  But we thought it through correctly, and we were able to paddle up the shoreline a safe distance from the outflow current.  From there, we started our paddle across the lake toward Bear Glacier:

The upper end of the lake still showed blue skies peeking through the increasing clouds, which was cheering.  The glacial nature of the valley could not be denied from our vantage point:

The thing about distances in the wilderness is that things always seem closer than they really are, because it's difficult to judge their size and so figure distance.  We had a paddle of perhaps a mile to get across the lake, and, slowly, we got closer to Bear Glacier.  We could now hear the roar of the water flowing out from under the glacier and through a braided alluvial outflow plain into the lake:

We realized that the outflow current, too, would be too strong for us to approach head-on, so we picked the shoreline on one side and paddled until it grew too shallow to paddle further, then beached the kayaks. 

Even here, we were still almost another mile from the actual toe of the glacier.  We decided to hike as far as we could toward the glacier.

We eventually reached a point where the shoreline shrubbery made it difficult to pick our way further.  Because it was cold and the lake bottom here was very silty with risk of quicksand spots, we didn't want to wade the shallow water, even though we could have done so with our water boots.  Furthermore, even if we got through the vegetation, it was now clear that the bare rock and scree would have been treacherous to climb to get close to the glacier.

So we called it here and decided to take our photos with Bear Glacier.  First Kathy --

-- then David --

-- and, finally, the obligatory selfie with that glacial wonder:

The shoreline opposite us was dark volcanic rock, scraped bare by the glacier with loose scree from the glacier's retreat.  We thought about paddling over and walking about, but we could not have gotten closer to the glacier without trying to climb steep, slippery rockface.  That's okay, we'll admire it from here:

We even took this short video so that you can appreciate the scale of the glacier and lake and the roaring sound of the outflow stream.

Here's a photo of Bear Glacier from our closest point.  Some of the blues in the ice come through, but the photo just doesn't do justice to the powder blue color we could see:

We spotted the "ice cave" in the glacier's toe which marks the outflow of melted water streaming down to the lake:

The sun came out briefly just in time to give us a good look at the jumbled, dramatic seracs decorating the surface of the glacier where it dipped down over a cliff ledge and curled around the near slope:

Happy in the success of doing what we had dreamed about, we turned and looked back across Strohn Lake to the highway and a few RV's that had stopped to admire the glacier on their way over the pass.  It was time to paddle back --

-- but not before Kathy spotted a mini iceberg floating downstream to the lake in the glacier outflow.  She grabbed it (I admiringly point out that she did this bare-handed, braving the icy water to hold a frigid iceberg):

The outflow plain also contained an endless number of rocks that had not been picked over by casual tourists, and it was easy to find some gorgeous ones.  Kathy picked just one -- this beautiful red jasper or jade piece that, somehow, she will fit into the little wooden bowl that holds her rock collection:

With many more rewards than we had anticipated, we climbed back into our kayaks and started our paddle back across the lake, just as the heavens started warning us that they were about to open the spigot.  We did pause just long enough to turn our kayaks and spend a few minutes admiring Bear Glacier again --

-- before completing our paddle and braving the rains to strap them back on the Jeep for the short drive back to our campground.