18 September: campsite to Chilko Lake
The morning ground was frosty and there was a chill in the air as the crew stirred. The bright sunlight shone through the yellowing aspen leaves and created a kind of luminosity that I’d never seen before. These Aspen were of a variety called trembling Aspen because of the way their leaves shook nervously in the breeze. The swamp – more like a small lake – was so still it was hard to tell the difference between hill and reflection. The only ripples on the water were caused by ducks giving water dressage demonstrations and geese showing off their water-skiing prowess.
Another adventure begins, I thought to myself, and the world suddenly became much simpler again. Gone were the ads, busy highways, condensed housing, and the television culture of any built-up area.
Pack up, tidy up, mount your wagon: We’re off. Next stop, Lee’s Corner for a breakfast of coffee, scramble and scones. Lee’s Corner is the kind of cowboy cafe that you see in films and comes complete with its own props of stuffed cougars, mounted heads of a variety of deer, maps and photos of the ‘old country’, and a stoic ‘yup’ cowboy to serve you free coffee refills with your breakfast. Here, as in the old days, visitors (you could almost see their capes, cowboy hats, and six-shooters) arrive in a cloud of dust, refuel their mounts and their own stomachs before disappearing wordless into another cloud of dust. You could just tell that they were off to lasso a hundred head of cattle without even swallowing their chewing tobacco. The only thing that spoilt the illusion was the skinny English guy with big ears who was standing next to a 35 foot canoe and the cowboys’ mounts which were pickups with six litre V8 engines, automatic gears, and air-conditioning.
We left Lee’s Corner and headed Southwest. Our own cloud of dust was substantial and was to leave us with a few inches of Chilkotin mud to carry back to Pitt Meadows.
As we drove, the trees rushed past us and the mountains waited in the distance dominating the skyline. The peaks, faded due to the haze, were dotted with small spots of snow against the grey background of the rock and the whole scene was back dropped with a bright blue cloudless sky.
We had a rest at the side of a river that was flowing with white water (not rough water, really, white water): the Taseko river. The water was white with glacial deposits and really looked out of place. ‘White water? That’s milk, isn’t it?’ I thought to myself.
The road to Chilko became rougher and rougher and in the last five miles we could walk much faster than Chris could drive. The road was very dusty and damaged with ruts and craters, and littered with boulders and tree roots. At least it was dry – in the wet the road would have been a tad dangerous for a person towing a 400 pound loaded trailer; V8 engine or not.
The lake appeared and we all drew a collective deep breath – what a sight! A large mint-green mirror surrounded by huge jagged peaks of a colossal proportion. I felt as if I was the size of a very young little thing amongst very very big and very very old things. The mountains lined up like wise elders and looked down on us waiting to judge our behaviour before deciding whether to impart great wisdom to their new disciples. We got out and walked ahead of Chris in the truck and the dust cloud. The earth smelled like freshly baked fired clay and was hard and uneven under foot. There was patchy forest on either side of the track which looked dense enough to hide a wolf here or there. I crept ahead taking point for a hundred metres or so before Reg paced passed me and jogged off his last meal into the distant and out of sight. Another hundred metres and we were ambushed by a grinning Reg – he’d set up his camera and tripod on a strategic corner in wait for Chris to bump his way in front of the panorama already composed for us. The Toyota, and the Canoe complied and paused dutifully for a moment at the bottom of a rut waiting for Reg to take his photo.
The campsite was beautiful – and almost deserted. There was one other vehicle at the site and the occupant was quiet and thankfully had only a small camper. The site had a toilet and there was plenty of fresh water in the “pond” next to the site (Chilko Lake itself, of course – real mineral water). Our site overlooked the water and within easy reach of canoe and paddlers was Duff Island: a small island half way across the lake. Duff was unfortunately out-of-bounds because of the bald eagles that were nesting there.
We followed the usual routine and one or two started the evening meal while the rest of us sat in camp seats around the roaring campfire. No signs of bears yet but there were a number of smaller animals such as squirrels, loons, eagles, a Clarkes Nutcracker, and later a Great Horned Owl. Perhaps I’ll hear a bear tonight – I think they are more active after dusk, unlike me.