May 2006 News Letter Alaska Via Cassiar Journal | Page 2 | Page 3 | Wyoming Antelope | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6
It was 8:30 when I rolled out of Division Lake and today will be a good day, I will finally make it to the Cassiar Highway, hwy 37 and headed back north towards Alaska and much new scenery I had never seen before. Over coffee at a road side stand, I surveyed the map closer, and I still had quite a ways to go to the turn off. At least afew hundred miles, and through the towns of Vanderhoof, Houston, and Smithers, then it was another 30 or 40 miles to the intersection of 37 at Kitwansa, which is just a spot in the road and a gas station. The scenery along the way just kept unfolding breathtaking vistas of the Canadian Rockiest for mile after mile. I finally arrived in Smithers around 2 PM, grabbed a hamburger and gas, and watched a parade that was going on. Seems the towns Jr. Hockey team had won their championship, and the town was to be known as Hockeyville because of it. According to the locals it was quite the honor.
I arrived at the intersection of 37 just at 4 PM, topped off my tank, and looked at the posted map that showed fuel stops along the way. It was 737 K (426 miles) to the intersection with the Alcan Highway just west of Watson Lake. A person does not want to run out of gas.
North To Alaska Sign
By 5 PM I crossed the bridge over the river and I was on my way. I hadn't driven 5 miles and came across a black bear, but by the time I got the camera out, the bear had went into the brush and wouldn't come back out. He looked to see if I was there several times, but just stayed just out of camera range, so after a half hour or so, I continued on.
The first 50 miles or so was not what I was expecting, it was brand new blacktop complete with yellow lines. It finally played out into a perma coat road which is basically a sealed oiled road, but it was really good, About like most paved farm roads in Texas. You could drive 70 mph on it if you wanted to, which I didn't. I was always looking for wildlife.
The new Forest Service map had several camping possibilities on it, and I finally settled on Bonus Lake. Just as before, it was stocked with firewood, and I was the only one there. I had come nearly 100 miles, and had encountered six cars going the opposite direction. Hardly a busy highway.
The mosquitoes once again were bad, so I built a fire to smoke them away from me while I set up camp and fixed dinner. It had been a long day and I was tired so after dinner sleep came easy. Once again my rifle was my room mate.
I got started today a t around ten AM, the damned mosquito's around here are the most persistent I have ever been around. Bug spray works OK, but they keep buzzing around your face so I broke down and put on a head net and that made it tolerable enough to make coffee, and finish packing up while it perked. Today would be one of those days that took me wherever it took me. No plans, no itinerary, just wander north and enjoy the beauty God has given me the privilege to view on this perfectly sunny day.
I just piddled around most of the day, drive some, explore some old logging roads that were on the maps. North of Bonus lake about 50 miles was a junction of one of the old main logging roads that had been abandoned. It led far into the bush, with many branches that circled around intertwined like the web of a spider for hundreds of miles, but I dared not explore them all for gas would be a problem. At the first branch some 30 miles in you could see for many miles to the east just virgin wilderness. No roads, no people old growth Douglas Fir stands some as much as 4 feet thick at the stump, and some 80 feet tall. It was so thick, sunlight barely penetrated to the ground, so moss and mushrooms were everywhere. It seemed as though a lake or stream would appear every mile or two. It was gorgeous, but the roads were not in the best of shape as they as stated were deserted. Someone had gone in and cut out the fallen timber that had blocked the road in several places earlier in the year.
Pictures along the Cassiar Highway
By early evening I had reached Dease Lake, and since it was Sunday the gas station had closed at 6 PM,so I dared not go any further as it was 118 K to the next gas, and I didn't want to chance it. I set up camp at the local Dease Lake RV park. It isn't really tent friendly, but at least it had a shower so I cold rid myself of the bug spray and the last several days crud I had accumulated.
After I set up camp I went looking for a wireless connection to check the mail, but there was none I could access. I did meet the local computer guru who ran a business there, and he would let me borrow his in the morning. I wish I had found him sooner, he was babysitting a friend of his campground on the lake just five miles away, so he invited me out to have a beer and take a look around. It was new and not finished yet, but it has all kinds of possibilities. It sits at the bottom of a hill right on the banks of Dease Lake. He had a look at what pictures I had taken, and suggested I check out a new fox den just a half mile from town on my return to town. He also suggested I stick around an extra day and make a journey to Telegraph Creek, an old mining, river trading post town some 120 K to the west down a really good dirt road. The scenery was supposed to be outstanding, and the old community a throw back to the turn of the century, there was also to be much wildlife to observe on the way in . I said I would consider it. It was well after 10 PM when I headed back to camp and I was able to locate the fox den and took a couple pictures of the little guys, but it was a little on the dark side, so I would return in the morning to have another go at it.When I got to camp it was to late to cook so I just made a sandwich, took a hot shower and hit the sack.Man that shower hit the spot, I slept like a baby.
I was up with the chickens today, there was a little chill in the air, but it was sunny and bright. If I hurried the morning sun would just be reaching the fox den. I made a quick cup of coffee and hurried back to the fox den. I waited about 30 minutes, and as the morning rays of the sun hit the entrance to the den, one at a time they emerged for a minute of two at a time. Their mother was on a hunting trip, with this litter, which totaled 8 pups she would have to stay hunting 24/7, I had seen her leaving as I arrived. The pups were cute and maybe one foot tall at the shoulder, so they had been born early this spring. It wouldn't be long until momma would be taking them hunting on their own.
I spent a couple hours watching and taking pictures. the den was a hundred yards or so from the road, so the pictures weren't as good as I would have liked, but every time I tried to get closer they retreated back into the den.
After returning to camp and fixing breakfast, I thought about the side trip to Telegraph Creek, and decided what the hell, nothing ventured nothing gained and if I didn't go now, I probably never would. After packing up and getting gas it was around 10:30 when I set sail for Telegraph Creek. Supposedly it should take about 2 hours and a little to make the trip, so I should get there for lunch. He had told me the little general store there made the best pies in the country, and I should try them for lunch.
He was right the road was pretty good, you could cruise along 50 if you wanted, but there was always that one pothole that would get you sideways if you weren't aware of them. I hit a couple of them and got all out of shape and almost lost it, so to hell with it slow down and live a little longer, besides you could pay more attention to the scenery at a slower pace so I cut it back to 35 . I hadn't gone about 10 miles, and encountered a grizzly bear cub. I stopped the car and was setting up a tripod when he took off back into the bushes. I decided to wait him out. About 10 minutes went by, and he stuck his nose out of the bushes behind me. The rustling of the bushes had alerted me, but again I was to slow, and he set sail with a beller, I guess I scared the crap out of him. He went into the brush about 50 yards and shinnied up a tree. I was tempted to get a little closer, but common sense told me stay the hell out of there, momma bear had to be around somewhere, and I sure didn't feel like a confrontation this morning. After afew minutes, I gave it up and headed on down the road.
He had told me the first third or so of the trip the scenery wasn't much, and he was right. It was mostly brush intermingled with large fir and lodgepole pine. The area had been logged sometime in the last ten years or so as the new trees they had planted were but about 6 to 10 feet tall.
As the road continued on it got more interesting, and rougher, and began to climb gently into the mountains, at least it started out gently. After an hour and a half, I crested the top of one of the mountains, and holy crap, the road made a 90 degree turn and it was like 1000 feet straight down. The road down was very steep, narrow, and kiss yourself on the way around switchbacks, but the scenery was spectacular. It was as though you had ventured back into another time. I am used to driving in the mountains on logging roads, but these guys who built this one didn't pay much attention to engineering standards that I was accustomed to. Some of the grades were posted at 18 and 20% . The first one was a doozie, the road went out on this point. There is a river on each side 1000 feet below you, and when I got to the end it made a corkscrew 180 degree turn to the right and down at 18%. I was in first gear, and still had to ride the brakes all the way down the hill . Within a half mile that 1000 foot elevation would disappear, to a 90 degree turn onto a bridge. If you lost the brakes, it would have been really ugly as you would have to argue with a sheer granite cliff at the bottom of the hill if you missed the turn.
Telegraph Creek Scenery Pics
I think the term fell off the mountain is a more appropriate term to use than I drove down the mountain. The road went down at about the same angle a gunship would take making a rocket run.
I stopped on the other side of the bridge and took a break. I got a beer out of the cooler and sat on the tailgate of the truck to drink it. I was glad I was down, I also thought how fortunate that no one was coming up the hill, or I think I would have had a heart attack. Which made me think, going back up this thing I am on the drop off side if anyone is coming down the hill. I preferred not to think about that yet.
Well, I was in for rude awakening number two, I was not there yet. No sooner had I got to the river at the bottom than it was back up to the top again, on even worse road, and it was even steeper than that I had just went down. Somehow it didn't seem as bad since I had survived the first one. Once again it was back to the bottom and the river, then once more back up to the top. This grade was marked 20% and going up in first gear traction was lost a couple of times as the tires broke loose.
Finally, I could see the village, down at the bottom of the next ravine as it emptied out onto the river.
Telegraph Creek is just as it was described to me. A n old time trading post that hasn't really changed over the years. There are many old buildings from the gold rush days, and since it is on Indian land it is a fishing village during the salmon runs. The river was running high, and the native fishermen were grumbling about it when I made the general store for lunch.
Over lunch I talked to the owner about the road in,and he said it is better now than ever. Two tandem semi trucks a month come down it to re supply the village. I thought I would puke. The drivers must all eat a bottle of valium to settle their nerves before each trip in there. According to the owner of the store they had never lost a truck, which to me seems hard to believe.
The pies also were just as described. A fresh apple one had just come out of the oven as I finished lunch, so I had a piece of it, smothered in old fashioned frim fram sauce and home made ice cream. It was nothing short of phenomenal.
I spent several hours prowling around the old buildings and taking pictures, and to my surprise the Royal Canadian Mounties actually have an office there 80 miles from nowhere.
Somehow leaving and driving back didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, although I did just stop and let anyone who wanted to pass going either direction have the whole road. I stopped several times on the way out to take scenery pictures, as I wanted to remember this little excursion into the past, and I guess to show you guys too.
The trip back to Dease Lake was uneventful, and wildlife wise was kind of a disappointment outside of a head on collision with an unsuspecting grouse which would just wind up being road kill dinner, no sense wasting it, but it gave me a first hand look into what it was like 100 years ago. To those of you who venture this way it is worth the ride in, just leave the motor homes in the campground and drive something else.
I made it back to Dease Lake before 6 PM so I gassed up and headed on down the Cassiar Highway towards Watson Lake, where the Cassiar would intersect the Alcan Highway. It was still a couple of hundred miles away, and I had no idea where I was going to stop for the night nor at the moment did it matter. I would just enjoy the rest of the evening puttering along the highway.
Loon Lake Along the Cassiar
I stopped at a rest area to BBQ the grouse about nine and was just finishing it off when a couple of ladies I had met the previous day at a gas station a couple of hundred miles south of here stopped in to take a break. They caught me up on their days events, they had went and looked at a ranch to buy out there just off hand, and had managed to kill their entire day in Dease Lake. They were both social workers form Vancouver BC, both in their 50's and were on a month long trip to the Northwest Territories and some little village on the Arctic Ocean. They had done their homework better than I on this leg of the journey, and they whipped out a brochure from Jade City, some 50 miles or less up the highway. It has a free campground, so that would be the destination for today. They to were in no hurry, and were documenting every step of the way in a journal and in pictures to the extreme.
I had been in Jade City for over an hour when they finally showed up, and it was only 32 miles from where I had left them. We sat up and talked far into the night, chit chat about everything and anything over a couple of beers, and at 2 AM it was lights out and the end of another great day.