Trail hiking in Canada’s BC Mountains is the exercise of the gods. There’s something particularly magnificent about a craggy mountain top, a painted cliff or an iceberg filled lake that you have discovered for the first time. It is spectacularly inspiring to reach the great divide and have a view that stretches a thousand miles without another person in sight or to photograph a Dall sheep on a steep outcrop of granite. What could be more fascinating than to discover a mother grizzly teaching her cub to fish for salmon or arctic char at a crystal clear waterfall?
It is hard to choose between the panoramic mountain top views, tranquil lakes, thick west coast rain forests, spectacular waterfalls, and breath taking alpine scenery you will find along the hiking trails of British Columbia or the migrating herds of Caribou, arctic fox and soaring Peregrine falcons you will find hiking in the arctic tundra of the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
As long as there have been hiking trails, people have felt compelled to explore them whether it’s to test themselves or to be awed and inspired, to be with friends or to be alone. For years I thought there is nothing better than challenging days of hiking culminating in relaxing evenings around the campfire sharing gourmet backcountry fare and great stories with like-minded adventurers.
I once thought that nothing could match the sense of accomplishment of being able to carry on your back everything you need to enjoy a full week in the wilderness and finding your way with an old fashioned map and compass. Then I was introduced to Michael Wigle.
Michael Wigle (http://mwigle.zenfolio.com) is one of the most respected nature writers and photographers in British Columbia. His photos have appeared in BC Outdoors magazine and the book “British Columbia”. He also co- wrote Bella Coola, Life in the Heart of the Coast Mountains so when he offered to take me into the Great Bear Rainforest, the most pristine and beautiful 2.7 million acres of old growth forest on Canada’s west coast to photograph Grizzlies and Black Bears up close, I was absolutely hooked.
Michael is an amazing photographer that believes the only way to save our wilderness is to have more people love it. He says people protect what they love and if you experience the Great Bear Forest even once during the salmon spawning season you will never let anything happen to the rivers that flow through it or the animals that call it home.
The forest is a temperate rain forest and is home to an estimated 6,000 to 14,000 grizzlies. British Columbia has some of the highest bear concentrations in North America. Its floor is covered with giant sword ferns, devil’s club and tangles of huckleberries, blueberries, raspberries, salmonberries and thimbleberries.
Bears love berries and salmon so he was confident that since it was the fall spawning season we could find some spectacular opportunities to get very close and photograph the Grizzlies and Black bears when they were intent on their fishing and getting fat for the coming winter. Whenever the rivers are full with spawning salmon the bears and bald eagles are not far behind and in addition the forest itself would provide some spectacular shots with waterfalls cascading from the glaciers and the Coast Mountain Ranges rising all around .
We will drift down the river in a non motorized Mackenzie river boat and not disturb the bears to safely get up close and personal. Then we will disembark and literally walk the trails in the footsteps of the bears and investigate their day beds, claw marks on trees, tufts of bear fur, and of course lots of bear scat.
There are more than 20,000km/12,000mi of coastlines, 25,000 lakes and tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams in the BC area. In the Bella Coola Valley the rivers are teaming with all five species of salmon. Tweedsmuir Provincial Park is the largest provincial park in British Columbia. The scenery is stunning and encompasses the Coast Mountains, pristine river valleys and the remote Chilcotin Plateau.
There are plenty of Grizzlies, Brown bears, Black bears, Wolves, Mountain Goats, Moose, Cougar, Moose, Mule Deer, Mountain Goats, Cougars, Wolves, Coyote, Red fox, and River Otter. The Atnarko river has a multitude of small rapids and falls where we could watch the bears scooping salmon from the river. It flows from Charlotte Lake to its junction with the Telchako River where the Bella Coola River begins. The Atnarko is approximately 100 kilometres long and flows through the southern end of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. The river has cut a fairly steep-sided valley through a landscape characterized by a complex geology of volcanic activity, sedimentary folding and granite intrusions. .
If you want adrenalin pumping awe inspiring vacation you couldn’t do any better.