May 2006 News Letter Alaska Via Cassiar Journal | Page 2 | Page 3 | Wyoming Antelope | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6
By 8 AM I was on the road again headed towards Missoula. I hadn't made my mind up on where I was going from there, but I planned on cruising around Missoula some, the fairgrounds and afew other places I used to hang out with friends. Needless to say I was shocked, Missoula was a bustling city now, not just the sleepy little town I had grown to know as a young man. I managed to find the fairgrounds, which looked the same as it did, but I couldn't find anything else so after an hour I headed north towards Kalispell and possibly Glacier Park, or to Libby to visit old friends before I headed north into the panhandle of Idaho and the Canadian border.
I was leaning heavily to go through Glacier and take pictures, but in the back of my mind I really wanted to go to Libby, and drive the Silver Butte Road over to Thompson Falls just one more time. It was nothing more than a dirt road 40 miles long, but all sorts of wildlife reside there. Deer, Elk, Moose, Bears and all sorts of birds can be encountered if you take your time and be observant. It had been my life in the 70's. I worked for a rancher, C.W. Wade breaking and training his young thoroughbreds near the Highway 2 Intersection and Silver Butte Road for years and knew the area like the back of my hand. In the fall It was my job to take Mr. Wades friends hunting, so over the years had guided many a hunter into the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness there.
Flathead Lake along the way to Kalispell
Earthquake Lake Earthquake Slide area that created the lake
When I reached Kalispell I broke for lunch, still undecided. When I got to the center of town, I just headed to Libby. Heck with Glacier, I would catch it on the way back down from Alaska this fall. From Kalispell to Libby is 88 miles on Hwy 2 a two lane road that works its way down a scenic valley to the west. Along the way the highway passes the Thompson Lakes and numerous other lakes, all of which are loaded with trout and pike. The last several miles the Fisher River runs next to highway 2 until it intersects the Yak just east of Libby, both are excellent trout streams in early fall when the water level drops and the temperatures cool.
Thirty miles east of Libby on Hwy 2 is the Silver Butte Road turnoff. When I got there I was like a kid with a new toy. Finally, my most favorite place. I had many fond memories of that old dirt road. One spur goes to Allen Peak and a microwave tower. Once up there I had got between a cow moose and her calf and she literally ran over my truck to get to her baby. She tried to jump it, but missed and just caved the cab in, breaking out all the windows. It also put me up the tower for a couple hours until she settled down and left.
I had traveled just four or five miles when I found a sign. "Road Closed, Private Property Ahead". I couldn't believe it. How can you close a forest service road?
I was dejected with that turn of events, but as I turned around, at Silver Bow Outfitters a young lady met me, Donna Clemence, and we started a conversation about the road and why it was closed. It was a rotten deal, but it seems a foreigner had moved up there, and through a technicality got it closed, and then he promptly died after the deed was done.
Len Howells, an old friend it turns out owns Silver Bow Outfitters. He had lived in the area when I was there many years ago, so I had met him on many occasions during hunting and fishing seasons. He was at some volunteer fire dept meeting and would be really late so I decided to go into town, stay there for the night, and return to see Len the next morning.
Much of the 30 miles along the Fisher River looks just as it had always looked, but as I got closer to Libby it was apparent that Libby had sprawled to the east a couple of miles, they now had casinos on every corner, although they are just slot machine video poker affairs.
Fireman's Park is the place to camp in Libby. It is almost in the center of town, and is dry camping but has bathrooms, and water. Tents are 2 bucks and trailers are 5 so that is as good as it gets and it's close to everything. By 10 PM I had got situated, the tent pitched, dinner cooked and was soon on my way to bed.
Day 17 was another gorgeous day, sunny and bright, the birds chirping and by 6 AM I was on my way back out to Silver Bow to visit Len and see what he and Donna had planned for the day. I know they had planned to go up to Allen Peak and clear trail. If that happened I would just jump on a horse and ride up with them to help out. I arrived at 6:30 had some coffee with Len and talked about old times, the trail clearing trip was off for the day so we went and looked at the horses, and just shot the bull for a couple hours. I finally had to get on the road so by ten , I was on the way back to town to break camp and get moving.
I was soon underway and headed west on hwy 2 headed through Troy and on to Bonners Ferry Idaho, there I stopped to buy cigarettes to mail to myself in Canada and to Wasilla Alaska, enough to last the entire summer. Alaska and its $60 a carton bullshit would break a rich man. $19 in Idaho plus shipping ($1) made it a bargain.
I arrived at the border crossing at Creston in early afternoon. I remembered the last time I crossed the Canadian border and the hassle they gave me, so this time I had a passport. To get one the State Department had to do a background check, so this time it should be a breeze. I was wrong again. They started in right where they left off last time and stated the passport didn't mean crap.
So why did I bother to get one?
It was to end this same bullshit on every trip across the border I thought, but apparently they were going to continue on with the "We Hate Americans " crap as usual.
I did have guns with me and had to register them and pay a $25 fee that is good for 2 months, which means I get hit on them again on the way home, which was no big deal. Next time I cross the border I have to hand them my complete police report, that should fit on one side of one page since I don't even have anything as serious as a DUI. Those people never cease to amaze me. When I was young I crossed the border every week with the same record I have today and it was never a problem. After wasting a couple hours at the border I was once again underway and headed north on Hwy 95
My goal for the day was to reach Banf National Park to spend the night. To get there, I still had to cover a couple hundred miles, and it would be close. The road is just two lanes and the speed limit is only 50 mph, so it would be close to make it. It winds its way along the west side of the Rocky Mountains and passes through Fairmont Hot Springs Resort , which is nothing spectacular, and on to Radium Hot Springs, where highway 93 takes off to the east and the entrance to Banf NationalPark
Picture at Dusk above Radium Hot Springs
I didn't make it to the Park, at 11 PM I called it quits at Sinclair Pass. There was a Provincial Campground there, and that would just have to do. I thought it odd that I was the only one there. Here it is June, tourist season and no people. I set up camp, got a bite to eat and was soon fast asleep.
I woke up early, I knew I would start encountering wildlife this morning, as I had seen a couple of deer on the way in to the camp site, so by 7 AM I am up and around, breakfast cooked, coffee made, kind of a drab cloudy morning, yes it would be a good day I thought......wrong.
Disaster has struck, sometime during the night a very large fir tree had fallen across the road into the campground, and I was stuck. No way around it, no way to move it, and no chainsaw. It left me little alternative but to walk out to the highway and flag someone down and send an SOS to the Park Service, which on the map seemed to be about 5 miles north, to come extract my ass out of the campground. By 9 AM still no help, but a stroke of good luck had arrived, a semi driver with just the truck and no trailer had stopped in to take a nap...and he had a chain, so he pulled the tree far enough along the road so I could squeek by and escape my entrapment.
By late morning I was on the road again, much to late to find much for wildlife, but the scenery was breathtaking. Today I would call a black and white day, even though the mountains were springing patches of green, the light effects made everything appear to be black and white. kind of eery, but beautiful in its own way. It rather fit the personality of the Icefield Highway as it is called
Ice Fields Lake Icefields Glacier
As I suspected Banf National Park didn't reveal much in the wildlife dapartment, but as I entered Jasper National Park it would be different. It seemed Mountain Goats and Dall Sheep were around every corner, there was many beautiful vistas and watrfalls to break up the drive, but still there was no traffic. I was wondering if maybe the high gas prices had kept all the tourists at home. The last time I traveled this section of road, one lone bear could cause a 20 minute traffic jam. There was nothing like that taking place and there was ample opportunity.
I finally exited the park around 5 PM and drove on to McBride B.C., restocked on a few groceries, and was directed to a Forest Service campground just off the Frazier River where I would spend the night. It was just like any other Forest Service site. A place to park, furnished free firewood, and a good place to pitch a tent right on the river. The mosquitoes were pretty bad, and all I had with me was Avon Skin So Soft. Those bugs thought it was a new kind of food group. It didn't even slow them down, so I went back in to town for something with 40% deet. That would stop a B-52 let alone some mosquito. That did get the job done and I was fast asleep by midnight, even though it was still a bit light. I can tell already the clock in my head is due to get screwed up again as the nights will stay more light as I proceed north.
This morning is a mess. It rained during the night and everything is wet, actually it is still raining. I cooked a bit of breakfast and drank coffee hoping it would quit, but no luck, it just kept on at a steady drizzle. I will have to pack it up wet and dry it out later weather permitting. By 10 AM I was underway and headed towards Prince George B.C. The truck was due for an oil change, and Wal-Mart was there so I would get it done, dry the tent out, and do a little shopping for groceries. It was almost 80 degrees and sunny when I got to Prince George so drying the tent out was a snap. There was a 2 hour wait on getting the oil changed so it shot most of the afternoon waiting on them to get done and buying groceries. Gas is getting higher, it was 1.11 a liter last time now we are up to 1.18 which translates to 4.48 a gallon, and it would only get higher as I went farther north.
After staying at a Forest Service campground the night before, I made an effort to find a Forest Service office and aquire what maps I could that would show the areas I would travel through, or at least find one to look at. I lucked out as just outside Prince George was a Fire Camp with aircraft and smoke jumpers, as some forest fires were happening not far away. They had a map they gave me, so that was a stroke of luck. It only covered about 100 miles of where I was but that would do for now. I was told to stop in Dome Creek just up the road 50 miles and should be able to get the maps I needed for the next sections, although the area along the Cassiar Highway is not terribly well mapped as the major portion is still virgin untouched wilderness with few roads if any. There was a small lake with a campground just off the highway a half mile, Division Lake, and trout were rising everywhere. One man was fishing from a float tube and he had several in the 2 to 3 lb class, but since I didn't have a fishing license I chose to pass. Fishing would be more than plentiful when I got to Alaska.
It was already dusk when I arrived so I set up camp and started a fire to knock the chill. Bears were in the area so I did keep a loaded rifle in the tent with me just in case. Better safe than sorry. I fixed dinner, spent some time mapping out the next days adventure, then was off to bed