Monday, June 25, 2012

North to Alaska: leaving the RV route

A paddle on Maligne Lake
On our way out of Jasper we took a detour out to Maligne Lake, a long, skinny water body that extends to the foothills of stunning snow-covered peaks and glistening glaciers. A great days paddle took us about half way down the lake and back - unfortunately we weren’t geared up for an overnighter, but very rewarding nonetheless. A highlight was a couple of loons that popped up next to us, only meters from the kayak - very impressive, sophisticated looking birds.
Out on Lake Maligne
I know what you're saying - "not more bear photos"
...but they're so cute!
National Geographic Channel on the road 

As the number of mosquitos increases so to does the number of RVers, mostly on a circuit from Vancouver through the Jasper / Banff Rockies. Who can blame them? If I had two weeks vacation, it’s what I’d do. But, on those occasion’s where we stayed in the major parks that the majority of RVers frequent, an odd phenomenon became apparent - it seems that they had all substituted their National Geographic channel on the big screen at home with the big screen of their windshield, and were now watching telly on the road, and you can’t deny, it’s a good show! Now, the cool thing about most of the rented RVs is that you don’t have to get out of them to get from the drivers seat to the living quarters or to the toilet / shower / bed. Consequently, at the end of the day the vans would roll into camp and no one would emerge! A quick migration from the front to the rear of the van, dinner in, and off to bed without entering the natural world! So we sat by our campfire, enjoying the great outdoors whilst others viewed it through their windows without the hassle of their clothes smelling of smoke. Hmmm....

Anyway, enough of being judgmental, we have now moved on to Mount Robson, the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies which revealed itself to us in glimpses as the clouds scudded across it’s face. Whilst it may be the highest point in Canada, at just over 4000m, its not all that high but it is formidable, and every year it thwarts the attempts of most parties that try to conquer it. 
Rather than do battle with the clouds, we retreated down valley and put the kayak in on the Fraser River for an afternoon paddle, a river that flowed fast enough with sufficient swirls and eddies, sweepers and log jams to ensure we didn’t become complacent. 
Next morning we cycled to Lake Kinney at the base of Robson and then, as the rain set in, made our way further northwards. Discovered that if you don’t fill up the propane tank, you run out of gas so dined out that night in a local diner with the truckers, the policeman and a group of men who looked like they were having a conference dinner after a local lumberjacks forum. 
Heading north on Christine’s Birthday 

As we turned north onto the Cassier highway we finally started to feel  (as the sign proclaimed) that we were on our way to Alaska. Mind you, there was still a fair bit of BC, not to mention all of the Yukon that we still had to traverse, but the  lure and legend of Alaska is strong and wields its influence well south of its border.
We also felt that we were moving into country that was recognisably home to First Nation peoples.  In South Hazelton we stopped in at a museum and recreated ‘Ksan village, thinking initially that it may be a bit contrived, but were quickly disuaded of this view as we discussed the issues, challenges and opportunities with the lady who curated the museum and the younger woman who showed us through the village. Coming from a family lineage of village chiefs, they clearly felt the importance of maintaining their cultural traditions with the added benefit of a strong western as well as indigenous education.  As a group, they seem to have struck an effective balance, capitalising on western business opportunities while maintaining their traditional training and education.

Not all however saw their future in the area and a chat with  a young guy at the gas station revealed that many were looking to get out of town and get a job on the mines. Other conversations about housing issues, social welfare, employment, substance abuse etc revealed many parallels with aborigines in Australia and for that matter, disenfranchised peoples in general. But indications of strong local leadership and the reclaiming of identity and pride certainly give some cause for optimism at least locally if not more broadly. 
Along with chocolate-coated almonds, Christine’s birthday treat was lots of bear encounters along the way and a happy birthday song from a Loon on the lake by which we spent the night. 

Being an illegal alien - into America without permission
On the main street, Stewart
A spectacular detour off the Cassier Highway took us into Stewart, via a winding road that took us below towering snow covered peaks; massive suspended icefields with jagged ice cliffs where masses of ice had been torn away to plummet to the valley floor below; cascading waterfalls  and icy blue-green glaciers which come down almost to the road.
Stewart is a somewhat dilapidated town, but in a homely way, a mixture of run down houses and some closed shops but enough bustle to give the sense that they were gearing up for the tourist season and for the brief salmon fishing season. A kilometer or so to the west of Stewart, one get’s a premature taste of Alaska where a thin strip of US land separates a large portion of Canada from the Pacific coast. The town of Hyder on the Alaskan side is even more dilapidated in a more dejected way - empty houses and a general feel of disrepair. In spite of some signage suggesting all is generally well in town, if the bears didn’t come here to fish it’s hard to imagine Hyder staying on the map. Logs floating in the estuary conjure up images of what was probably once a thriving logging port where, prior to roads and trucks, millions of logs were floated down the fiords to southern markets.
Bed-time view - Salmon River
Our attempt to drive up to Salmon glacier was thwarted by avalanche  warnings so instead we camped on the banks of the Salmon River in the warm afternoon sun with avalanches cascading, one after the other, off the mountain range across the valley. Having given up our US entry documents on crossing into Canada, we figured that we were probably illegally in the US but while Canada had a customs post to check people coming back into Canada, the US didn’t really seem to care if people drove down the dead end road without valid documents. 

1 comment:

  1. love the read mate!!!!!! cannot believe you have seen so much already!!!!!