A bear at breakfast

Throwback to that time a grizzly bear dropped by for breakfast. Thankfully it took no notice of us, which is good because our bear spray was in the tent, 100 m away! Lesson learned: keep bear spray with you at all times.

The beginning of our third day saw us sat at the edge of the trees sipping away at our respective caffeine delivery systems, gazing out over the meadows and up to the peaks and ridge-lines to the west lit up by the morning sunshine. We were packing away our food when some movement caught my eye; a bear in the far meadow.

Not just any old bear either but an adult grizzly, snout down and browsing the meadow in search of food. We froze. This was our first grizzly sighting in the backcountry, and we were just two people. Looking wide-eyed at each other, we discussed what we should do. Our assessment of the situation had us thinking that we shouldn’t alert the bear to our presence and we were relieved to notice that it wandered off into the forest along the trail leading to the horse cabin below Spruce Peak.

That should have been our cue to go and get the bear spray but for some reason we didn’t. We used this time to stow our food, hoping that our knots wouldn’t be tested by a hungry grizzly. Five minutes later the bear reappeared, continuing its path along the edge of the trees and – more concerning – closer to our tent, although still the other side of Eldorado Creek.

The bear still hadn’t sensed us so we opted to remain quiet and hidden by the trees. After briefly going out of sight it reappeared, now heading back the way it came, much to our relief. Over the next few and exceedingly long minutes, it retraced its steps through the meadow, until it heard a sound which stopped it in its tracks and began to look around, ears pricked up.

That sound was a mountain biker descending from Windy Pass (our intended destination for the day), whooping and/or hollering loud enough for his voice to echo off the sides of the valley. For a moment the bear paused before beginning to run. We looked at each other and voiced our thoughts, “where is it running to?”. At first we thought it was going towards the source of the sound but we were relieved to note that the bear was actually just heading for the nearest tree cover. We followed its path across the meadow until it disappeared among the trees – the very trees that we would have to walk through to get to Windy Pass no less!

With the bear gone from sight we felt we could relax a little and continue getting ourselves ready for our day’s hiking. We never saw the bear again though we did find where it had dug up the ground in the meadow right next to the trail. Paw prints and claw marks were clearly visible in the disturbed earth. We were fine with that and had no desire to encounter the bear at any closer range.

After that morning, the bear spray came with us to breakfast. Always.

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Memories of summer

On a soggy day at the beginning of November it’s nice to be able to look back at those sunnier days on summer trips. Our backpacking trip to the Southern Chilcotins was the highlight of our summer, especially this day up on Harris Ridge – even though we got chased off by a thunderstorm that chucked hail pellets and snow at us for an hour!

It’s been pretty wet over the past few days; it feels like autumn has finally caught up with us as the first hints of snow are decorating the tips of the North Shore mountains. Summer seemed to come and go quickly this year but we did get out on some memorable trips, not least of all our week in the Southern Chilcotins.

While we enjoyed travelling through the landscape, it’s our two days of day-hiking that stand out as our favourites, and especially the second of those days on which we hiked up and along Harris Ridge.

After a bit of hard work we ended up on the broad expanse of the ridge, walked to its end, and sat down for an early lunch with the view above. The sun came and went, and we waited as long as we dared to get this shot as the storm clouds rolled in our direction.

This view was one of our favourites as we looked down into the meadow where we’d camped for two nights – the same meadow we watched a grizzly bear patrol while we cleaned up after breakfast – and up to Windy Pass with its endless views to the west. It’s possible to gain the ridge from those meadows although it looks quite steep from down there.

We tried to outrun the weather but it caught up with us as we began our descent back to the tent, pelting us with hail that turned the landscape white for a time. As I said, a memorable trip…!

Winter in July

Flashback-Friday to four weeks ago and a thundery summer hailstorm that turned the surrounding landscape white while we huddled under a tarp.

We suspected that we’d be in for some wild weather as we watched the sunlit snow pellets float towards us on the wind. For the longest time it looked like we might escape as we watched heavy showers drift either side of us. But as we retraced our steps back down to Camel Pass, a clap of thunder had us scurrying down towards the treeline as fast as we could safely scramble. The thunder got closer and we walked faster as hail began to fall.

We made it to a small clump of spruce trees, stashed the metal items in our possession several metres away, and pulled out our never-before-used Siltarp to provide some cover against the now-stinging hailstones. Then a flash and crack of thunder right overhead. We’d definitely made the right call to get off the ridge: thunderstorms in the alpine are no joke.

The tarp was our shelter for the next hour as a mix of hail and snow fell all around us, decorating the landscape in a thin coat of white. Our sunflower butter and apple chip wraps included pea-size hail pellets for a little extra crunch. As it finally tapered off and ended, we picked up our gear and walked the rest of the way back down to our tent, marvelling at how the scenery had changed in such a short time. By the end of the day it had all melted, but for a few hours we had a bracing dose of winter in July.

Flowers, flowers, flowers

Wildflower Wednesday Part 1: a selection of flowers from our trip to the Southern Chilcotins. Glacier lily, paintbrush, moptops, Menzies larkspur, western anemone in flower, white bog orchid, white paintbrush in the snow/hail, columbine, Columbia lily, and a double feature of pink monkeyflower and broad-leaved willowherb. Good times!

Wildflower Wednesday Part 2: flowers from our trip to Phelix Creek. White and pink heather, kalmia (bog laurel), spreading phlox, alpine marsh marigold, a meadow of arctic lupine, rein orchid, alpine mitrewort, wood betony (bracted lousewort), one-sided wintergreen, and the find of the year, glaucous gentian. We only found two of these flowers, about 40 metres apart. To this day I do not know how we managed to spot these among all the heather and other greenery!

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Wildflower Wednesday Part 2: flowers from our trip to Phelix Creek. White and pink heather, kalmia (bog laurel), spreading phlox, alpine marsh marigold, a meadow of arctic lupine, rein orchid, alpine mitrewort, wood betony (bracted lousewort), one-sided wintergreen, and the find of the year, glaucous gentian. We only found two of these flowers, about 40 metres apart. To this day I do not know how we managed to spot these among all the heather and other greenery! #wildflowerwednesday #wildflowers #phelixcreek #whiteheather #pinkheather #woodbetony #bractedlousewort #onesidedwintergreen #phlox #spreadingphlox #glaucousgentian #reinorchid #alpinemitrewort #arcticlupine #alpinemarshmarigold #kalmia #explorebc #beautifulbc #beautifulbritishcolumbia #coastmountains

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What can I say? We saw lots of flowers on our two backpacking trips – it was wonderful! And these are just some of the species that I photographed with my phone; we took many more with our other cameras. I was pleased to be able to find enough flowers on the second trip that I hadn’t photographed on the first too, even though there was a fair bit of overlap (as you might expect). Not much else to add, really; I think the IDs in the text above are in the right order. If not I’ll edit them later 🙂

Exploration

The South Chilcotin Mountains provincial park is absolutely stunning and one of the best backpacking areas I’ve ever visited. I cannot wait to plan more trips there! But it’s not a place for beginners – do not venture into this area without significant planning and experience. Most of the park has no facilities so you must be self-sufficient and practice your best leave no trace skills.

So many photos to choose from, I picked this one of Harris Ridge with the Dickson Range as backdrop to get me started. Wow!

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The South Chilcotin Mountains provincial park is absolutely stunning and one of the best backpacking areas I've ever visited. I cannot wait to plan more trips there! But it's not a place for beginners – do not venture into this area without significant planning and experience. Most of the park has no facilities so you must be self-sufficient and practice your best leave no trace skills. So many photos to choose from, I picked this one of Harris Ridge with the Dickson Range as backdrop to get me started. Wow! #backpacking #hiking #southchilcotinmountainsprovincialpark #southernchilcotins #bcparks #explorebc #beautifulbritishcolumbia #beautifulbc #leavenotrace #lnt #tripplanning #mountainmonday

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“Wow” doesn’t even begin to describe how it felt to explore this small part of the Southern Chilcotins. It felt vast, endless, remote, and yet approachable, unlike many of the more jagged mountain ranges and deep valleys of the Coast Mountains. Our five days here was some of the most enjoyable backcountry time we’ve had in a while, probably since Cape Scott in 2016.

And that was despite the mosquitoes (which were horrendous in one valley, merely annoying elsewhere), getting caught in a hailstorm with thunder and lightning, and getting rained out on our last couple of days which had us cut our trip short by a day. The hiking was excellent, the trails were easy going (for the most part), and the flowers were endless. So many flowers!! The meadows were just filled with every type of flower imaginable, including a few new ones for us that we’ve yet to identify. I can’t wait to go back!

I was surprised by the complete lack of facilities at any of the suggested camping areas: I think I expected we would encounter campgrounds, or at least established camping spots. In reality we had to make it up ourselves, and use our backcountry knowledge and experience to decide on good places to camp. We ensured we ate about 100 m from our tent, and hung our food (our Ursacks were invaluable) a similar distance away.

One of the highlights was seeing a grizzly bear wandering through a meadow as we ate breakfast. At only 200 m away, it felt awfully close, especially as our bear spray was 100 m closer to the bear than we were! But we soon learned that the bears want nothing to do with people as the sound of a mountain biker’s voice startled the bear into running for tree cover.

The hike up to Harris Ridge (seen in the photo) was definitely the best day of exploration, following the high ridge to its end with views that covered all the valleys we’d hiked through to get to where we were at that moment. Plus we could see nothing but mountain range upon mountain range in every direction. So much to explore, so little time…