Beware of grizzly

Beware of grizzly

September 2022

The Stewart – Cassiar Highway is described as one of the most beautiful routes in northern Canada. To get to the beginning of this road, we first had to drive back quite a bit on the Alaska Highway. On the way to Whitehorse we had not made a stop in the town of Teslin because it was raining then, but now we wanted to visit the Tlingkit Heritage Center. A center built for and by First Nation people. Through an exhibit of mostly garments and masks and a film, we learned how these people used to live and how they try to keep their culture alive. Much has changed for them since the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942.

Just before Watson Lake at the junction of Highways 1 and 37 we filled up with diesel and left the Alaska Highway and not much later the Yukon Territory. From now on we drove definitely south and began following the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. A little surprised, we drove past a black bear. We thought they would have been on their way to their winter home by now. At bright green Boya Lake with its many islands, we hiked first along the shores and then through a forest. The trail eventually ended at a large beaver lodge. Impressive how the beaver are able to build something like this. Probably it was also feeding time for them since they did not show themselves. We decided to drive a little further and light our campfire at Good Hope Lake. One of the many other clear lakes in this area.

A rainy day…and then there are two options. Either take it real easy and hope the weather is better tomorrow, or accelerate and just drive lots of kilmeters because what else can you do? We chose the latter. We made it a typical road trip day. In the “last frontier” feeling village of Dease Lake, we grabbed a breakfast sandwich and a coffee at the local gas station. At one of the many lakes along the route we ate our lunch during which our thoughts slowly shifted to the grizzly bears of Hyder/Alaska. The towns of Stewart and Hyder are famous for two things, watching bears feast on salmon, and glaciers. It was another 300 kilometers to Stewart and at an average speed of 70km/h it was still over four hours of driving. A long day that was rewarded with a super overnight spot at Clements Lake 20 kilometers before Stewart.

Bear Glacier

The next morning we drove on to Stewart and saw how high the water in the river actually was. Clearly beyond its banks and the road was also flooded. A big amount of water must have fallen from the sky recently. Hyder is on dead-end Highway 37A and is a piece of Alaskan no-man’s land with 60 inhabitants that can only be reached via Stewart, Canada. Well, the border is drawn here, so an official border crossing is also needed. What immediately strikes you after crossing the border is that Hyder has seen its best days. A few well-maintained houses can still be found, but most are for sale and that is not a good sign. Even the saloon has apparently had to close its doors. If it wasn’t for sale, then there was nothing left to make of it and nature had taken over.

Speaking of nature…after one passes the last house, nature takes over anyway. We soon entered the Tongass National Forest and were accompanied by a swarm of bald eagles that have paired up along the river. Food in the form of salmon swims past them here so a perfect spot for them. Two kilometers down the road we drove into the parking lot of the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site where, after getting out, we were immediately asked to go up the wooden walkway and close the door behind us. That sounds pretty serious, and after we walked on through the ticket office not much later it became clear why.

The Fish Creek is one of the rivers where salmon return each year to reproduce and this is well known to the bears that live here. Even without a bear, it was a beautiful setting and it remains an impressive sight to see so many fish in a river swimming upstream. Through the bushes, we suddenly saw a grizzly crossing the road who was obviously intent on finding his breakfast in the river. We were standing at a safe distance a few feet away from the river and directly in front of us it happened. What a fantastic experience this was again! The ticket was valid for the whole day, so after an hour we walked back to the car and would come back this afternoon to see if his siblings had gotten hungry too.

So Hyder is officially in the USA. Not that Hyder can do anything about it, the border was simply drawn that way in the past. In this region, one can get a good look at a number of glaciers. The ‘Salmon Glacier’ is the most beautiful of them and a must-do if one visits this region. To get here, one must follow the gravel road from the Fish Creek Observation Site further into the fjord. The more elevation gain, the more potholes there are in the road. The funny thing is that at one point the road officially crosses the border with Canada again, so the Salmon Glacier is in Canada. Here, however, they apparently decided not to set up another border post.

The ‘Salmon Glacier’ is an impressive pack of ice! From the viewpoint, one can clearly see where the glacier begins and where it makes a nearly 90-degree turn to the right before continuing to flow as the Salmon River into the Pacific Ocean. The panorama is overwhelming, but the dimensions are difficult to estimate. The other side seems relatively close. Eddy tried to fly the drone to the glacier, but after a kilometer and a half the other side had not been reached. Beautiful images we got anyway. 

Near Fish Creek, we cooked our dinner and once again visited the Observation Site. Even before we reached the entrance, a grizzly approached us! In the narrow creek it was relatively easy for the bear to pick out the right salmon. What an extraordinary sight after all.

Driving further south along the Stewart Cassiar Highway the next day, we slowly had to start deciding whether or not to take the Inland Passage by boat. A subject that has occupied our minds for quite some time. The Inland Passage is an impressive ferry route that follows the fjord landscape on the west coast of Canada and would also be an ideal way for us to start our trip on Vancouver Island. Except that this trip is expensive and the weather forecast was pretty bad for the coming week. The fork on the highway to Prince Rupert, the departure point of the boat, was just after the town of Kitwanga where we would spend the next night. During our campfire we finally decided not to do it and drive all the miles toward Vancouver. We couldn’t have it all….

The Kitwanga region is known for its totem poles. Many First Nations still live here and try to keep the old customs alive. The totem poles scattered here and there tell a story about the people or about a person and because of the impressive carvings are special works of art worth visiting. Kitwanga was also our final destination on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, All Rights Reserved.

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