It’s been a couple of years since we set in motion our ambitious plan to Traverse The Coast mountains of BC and Alaska. I wanted to share a write up I did for MEC after our trip was all wrapped up. I’ve been hearing whispers of other groups making plans to head out into the Coast Range for their own extended traversing ambitions. It would be an added bonus to our trip if we inspired another group to transit the range by means of human power. We received the gift of inspiration from a group who made the trip over a decade before us so we would be in essence just passing the torch or inspiration along. Here is a link to the route we travelled. The only significant gap in our trip was the section of mountains between the Skeena and Nass rivers. One of these years I would like to return to the section of trail we did not attempt.
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
Winter wonderland had left for another year and that was an un-ignorable fact for us in Terrace as we contemplated our approach to the remaining coast mountains north of us. Warm air creating unstable air formed thunderstorms which washed away the snow at an incredible rate. Once again we would have to adapt to the hills and their seasons, just like the Billy Goat sheds its fur and the Rock Ptarmigan changes it’s camouflage.
The hard decision to hitch hike ahead just over 100km had to be made as the mountain conditions were far less than favorable immediately north of Terrace so our self propelled journey would have to continue after a day of “hitch” hiking to the abandoned town of Kitsault(www.kitsault.com). We were fortunate to receive a warm welcome from Kitsault’s neighbor town across the bay, Alice Arm. Wray, Brenda, Hank and Sandy were super friendly locals who took us in for a couple days. We certainly didn’t need more down time from traversing but they were just such nice people we couldn’t say no to their company and hospitality. This was the start of what is known as the Boundary ranges of the Coast Mountains. The character of these mountains seems to be more heavily glaciated with the existence of incised canyons or gulches as are sometimes labeled on the map. However these canyons don’t always appear on the topographic maps which was very intimidating for us because sometimes we would have to detour quite far from our ideal path just to get across a small stream. Since we aren’t following any trails or known travel routes most of the time it felt as though we were hoping and praying our route would work out and we wouldn’t have to back track to substantially. A common theme for people that are lost is to get far to low into creeks and drainages often ending in waterfalls with no hope of climbing back out the way they came. I kept repeating the mantra “they always go to water to die” again and again to remind myself to stay high whenever possible. Crossing the Cambria Icefield was quite easy as the spring snow had set-up to be quite firm giving us fast walking conditions. Before we knew it we were back in the world of the trees and Mosquitos. Walking the highway into Stewart I noticed an Alaskan Amber Ale in the ditch. Sure enough it had its cap on. I yelped in excitement and asked the others to gather round and listen for crack of the cap. It was still good and tasted even better. Then I found another and another. In retrospect I don’t think my blood alcohol level dipped below this point for the entirety of our brief stay in town. Whatever clean Livin was going on in those hills we wanted none of it while we were in town. Our host Ryan Boyle made us feel right at home serving us Irish whiskey on glacier ice.
Our friend Chris Ho joined us in town originally planning to ski with us over the Franck Mackie Glacier. Chris doesn’t yet have a packraft so our amended route plan down the Bowser River meant Chris could just join us for a night at the Happy Valley Cabin. Not long after launching we realized how strong the spring freshet was. The full force of the river was unleashed in a raging brown frothing mass. Eddy’s were few to none and the river was full of debris. Infact 5 minutes after pulling out we witnessed a massive bank collapse that totally diverted the flow of the river. This firmed our decision to walk the river instead of risking a lengthy swim without dry suits and helmets and for that matter bankalanche transceivers.
There is alot of precious metals in this section of coast mountains meaning there ain’t notin that ain’t bin prospected in this neighborhood. One operation that invited us in for lunch called Bruce Jack is touted by locals to have the biggest gold deposit around. Judging by all the multimillion dollar machines they have running around on the glacier roads and a state of the art 150 person camp built I would say they have probably found a bit of the shiny yellow rock. Soon we would be off of the Glaciers for good. The Unuk river was another example of a tremendous canyon we had to cross. Not wanting to take any chances on finding a suitable place to cross we skirted its headwaters. We saw our first moose, grizzly bear, black bear and a family of Goats within a couple days of each other which was the most wildlife than we had seen all trip.
Our reception to the Eskay Creek mine was quite friendly as we ran into two friends Chris Ho and Eric Ridington doing some weather station maintenance in the area. The folks maintaining the now abandoned mine invited us in for diner and said they didn’t want us camping in the area as they had a mating pair of grizzly bears in the area and the male didn’t like competition, So hot showers and fresh sheets in a warm bed seemed to be the only compromise. The next day they drove us beyond the grizzly bears to what we all assumed would be a safe spot. It wouldn’t be 20 minutes longer before I would come face to face with a snorting, swearing, vein pounding man by the name of Bill Leonard. He introduced himself by asking where the Fuck we came from. I started to explain but he wasn’t interested in the answer to the question he asked. I tried to explain to him that we are travelers passing through with plans to float the Iskut river. He starts stating that he owns all this land and that we cannot pass through so that our only option is to get in the back of the Mounties squad car that he just called. I desperately try to reason with him asking if he could just look at the map’s with us we would gladly skirt around his supposed property. The situation turned quite ugly when he started personally insulting me. I raised my voice to match his and that is when he charged at me with his fists clenched. I have not been in a physical fight since my teenage years so it is not something I can say I was ready for. I just stood there, an easy target strangely loose ready for the imminent blow to my chin. I am so thankfull that at the last possible moment he stopped his attack pausing for what seemed an eternity nose to nose chin to chin eyes locked. Adrenaline pounding I felt a mix of rage and sorrow for this pathetic man. In his tiny world intimidation and fear is how he gets what he wants. We are different beasts after Nearly 5 months of living with adversity everyday his affect was moot on us. The situation ended by him getting back into his Alta Gas company truck and peeling out spraying us with as much dirt at us as he could. We would later here that the Native Tahltan people of the area originally pronounced the river as Iskoot meaning “river that steals mens souls”. That gave me the best explanation to this awfull situation as I guess I could hope for. Bill Leonard is an empty man the river had claimed him. My opinion of the Talhtan people is esteemed. I have always viewed them as protectors of the land in regards to their fights against coal bed methane and the red chris mine. On a previous trip in the area I was taken on a moose hunt as elders shared with me there traditions and stories. Continuity being very important to them and story telling being the assurance of continuities in their culture. I want them to know what a monster they have partnered with in “Clean Energy”. So it went we passed by their mega projects and launched our boats in the lower reaches of the Iskoot canyon despite Mr. Leonards empty threats. Keeping the oral tradition alive we wanted to give warning to everyone down stream of what was going on up river. Trappers, fisherman, locals, tourists and now the readers of this blog. The Northwest Transmission Line (NWTL) is a major installment in B.C’s north. Ground truthings definition is to travel the land and see what is happening as opposed to what is supposed to be happening. We have seen the NWTL from its start in Kemano traveling through the Nass valley to it’s Terminus in Bob Quinn. Speculators say that eventually the line will be carried into Alaska. With the doubling of Kemano’s output the Forest Kerr, McLymont creek, Volcano creek, and Long Lakes Premier facility all coming online in the near future all this power is going to have to go somewhere and Bob Quinn, B.C population 50 doesn’t seem like it needs all that power. Green energy is a term that is now lost on me.
So our trip came to an end in Wrangell, Alaska which was 4-6 weeks short of our intended destination of Skagway. Our groups dynamic had changed for the worse. Amongst us we had an insiders language of using British accents when things were jolly and fantastic. When we weren’t having a smashing time the accents were dormant. We hadn’t talked about the queen in weeks or even had a proper cup of tea. We all knew we had outworn each others company. It seems that in trying to talk about this trip with people everyone wants to know how much suffering we endured. Nothing was harder for me than to see our group unable to communicate effectively to the point where we were useless at decision making. What brought us such strength at one time was now our undoing. It wasn’t that hard to stop the trip pre-maturely and get back to our separate lives because the price of continuing was more than anyone wanted to invest to see it through. Upon reaching home I realized how bad things were when I picked up a brochure on depression and I matched all the criteria.
1. Feelings of sadness
2. Noticeable loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
3. Significant weight loss
4. Difficulty sleeping
5. Lack of interest or concern about what’s going on around you.
6. Feelings of restlessness
7. No energy
8. Feelings of worthlessness
9. Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
10. Unexplained aches or pains
11. Do your symptoms last most of the day?
12. Do you experience your symptoms nearly every day?
13. Have you been experiencing your symptoms for at least 2 consecutive weeks.
14. Have you found that your symptoms have interfered with or impaired your ability to take part in or carry out, Social activities, work activities, family activities, other activities in day to day life.
Will all that to stomach I can honestly say being off the trip I am doing much much better.
I have had only a few people that I have idolized in my life. John Clark the coastal mountain explorer is one of them. He would consequlivly spend up to half a year in the mountains year after year after year. Alot of that time was solo and I now I see why. Group dynamics can be extremely tenuous and require alot of maintenance. This trip was a trip of a lifetime. To be associated with such strong mountain travelers and to have all the support from family, friends and people along the way was truly a blessing. The time has now come to move onto life’s other challenges whatever they may be. My simple hope in writing this blog was to share our triumphs and failures and to document our experience of living in the mountains for a long time. To you I say get out there and do something not because it is easy but because it is hard, your going to learn a few things. Thanks for tuning into my blog you can watch my video from the last leg of our journey here. http://vimeo.com/70259850
Here is a link to our route which you can view in google earth. https://www.dropbox.com/s/suv6o0r68yr2nf2/TraverseTheCoast.kmz
“A mountain is the best medicine for a troubled mind. Seldom does man ponder his own insignificance. He thinks he is master of all things. He thinks the world is his without bonds. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Only when he tramps the mountains alone, communing with nature, observing other insignificant creatures about him, to come and go as he will, does he awaken to his own short-lived presence on earth.” – Finis Mitchell
Tags: Altagas, Bill Leonard, Bowser River, Craig River, green energy, happy valley, Iskut river, knipple glacier, Mcylmont creek, run of river power, Stewart, Tahltan, Unuk, volcano creek, Wrangell
We have made it to Terrace. We would like to invite any outdoor enthusiasts to get together tonight June 8th to talk about our trip so far and where we are going from here. Ryanbougie@me.com location and time TBD.
The following is a report prepared by Conny Amelunxen, an avalanche forecaster with Baumann Engineering based on a flight over the Southwest Coast Mountains on March 4, 2013, after the major storm.