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Wilderness Adventures - January, Week 4/2007

This is about a remote area in west central British Columbia, Canada called the West Chilcotin. Surrounded by numerous glacial mountain ranges, alpine lakes teeming with wild Rainbow Trout, and full of wildlife. Living here goes from no running water or electricity to spacious log homes with all the conveniences and without the smog!
If you would like to see pictures of wildlife, mountains, lakes, exciting snowmobiling, events and more, and read stories like 'Lake Monsters' - just go into Archives on the lower left side of this page.

You can search this site for a subject of interest to you at the bottom of this page. Check out the Picture of the Day.

27/01/2007 7:11 PM

On Nimpo

Finally got to go out on Nimpo Lake today. Boy, I've missed that!
Andy and I took a run across the lake on snowmobiles today to see if there was any overflow and there wasn't a bit! That meltdown we had with the pineapple express for a few days compressed the snow on the ice enough for it to lose all of its insulating value. Now with cold night temperatures, it's pretty much frozen everything up. I was a little concerned that we might not be able to chunk up enough loose snow with the tracks to keep the machines cool, but other than right out in the middle of the Main Arm of of the lake, it was okay.
As we rounded the point on the other side of the lake that I usually ski to, Andy scared up a cow moose and her calf, that was only around 20 feet away. They were a bit panicky and headed the other way when I passed them. They ran along the shore for a ways, but I looked back a few times and they had stopped after just a short distance and were watching us. I didn't realize that Andy hadn't even seen them until we stopped a little farther down the lake. With a helmet on you have no peripheral vision and since they were basically right next to him and hidden by the point as he went by, he wouldn't see them. The only reason I did was because they had turned back in front of me to get out of his way. They couldn't have been too upset. I saw what I'm pretty sure were the same two moose later in the afternoon through the window of a friend's dining room down at Wilderness Rim Resort. There were all kinds of dogs barking at each other, people and machinery and it didn't seem to phase the moose in the least. The calf watched me as I went to the truck to get the camera then went back to watching whatever momma was doing when I went back inside.
Andy watched four moose cross the lake this morning, two of which were probably the cow and calf. They were too far away to get a good picture of them though.
After we came back on the snowmobiles I went out for the first ski of the season. Conditions on the lake are brutal for cross country skiing, but the sun was shining, the air was crisp and it was just beautiful. I skied back over to the other side where we had scared up the moose earlier in the hopes I would see them again, this time with a camera in hand. No chance of that though. The surface snow on the lake is so crunchy that I was making way too much noise. From the numerous trails along the shore line over there it looks to be a favorite haunt. There were six piles of droppings, at least two of them today's, in the space of only a hundred yards so they've been hanging around there quite a bit.
I saw two sets of moose tracks that meandered down our main road to the highway on my way to Nimpo today. They were probably made yesterday and covered nearly a mile. Either a small number of moose are doing a lot of moving around each day, or there's a pile of moose in the country! I don't remember seeing this many since the late 1980's when most of them were wiped out by out-of-town hunters after the mill put in a bunch of logging roads. It's nice to see so many moose but it won't last long. February and March are the favorite time of year for the natives to hunt moose from the back of snowmachines. Since there is no limit on the number of animals they can take, they hunt indiscriminately and this year, they won't even have to go very far or spend much fuel.
We went down to Bella Coola yesterday. It was a good drive with the road being a bit slippery up top but lots of dirt showing on the Hill itself. They've sure got a pile of snow through the Pass but you can tell it settled and melted up there as much as it did down here, or you wouldn't be able to see over the snow banks. Highways had to hire a fellow with a CAT to push back the banks because the grader no longer could, and he's been at the job for weeks.
It was a bit of a shock being down in the Valley in midwinter like this. The sun was shining on the mountains, the temperature was around freezing and the day absolutely glorious. But once you hit that Valley floor, you don't see much sun. Places here and there get a bit when the sun peaks through a notch in the mountains, but it doesn't last for long. We were in Bella Coola itself for several hours, and sunlight never touched the town. There, the valley is too narrow and the surrounding mountains too high, to allow the sun to shine on anything but the opposite hillside this time of year. It just made me itch to get back up the Hill. You can see the sun on the wall of the valley, but you can't feel it. I don't know how people down there handle it.
Most of the original settlers are Norwegian, and it's said that one reason they settled in the Bella Coola Valley was that it reminded them of their fjords at home. Andy mentioned that those same fjords may have faced the same direction and had as high a mountains as the Valley and if that's the case, the lack of sun was probably something they were quite used to. Many of their descendants still living in the Valley may not be bothered either, especially if they were born and raised there.
I wouldn't want to say too much bad about the Bella Coola Valley because it's a wonderful place to visit in spring and summer, both for us up on the Plateau and for the tourists, but I've decided I could never live there in the winter without the sun. They would be carrying me away in a tightly laced white jacket within the first month. Gotta have that sun!
Speaking of which, it looks like the whole province gets a break for the next few days. We've already had sun for a few days and a good strong high pressure system is going to keep it here from the looks of it. Clear days and very clear, cold, nights are the norm right now and I'm enjoying it immensely. The air is still pretty crisp, even at midday, but that sun has a lot of heat in it now compared to the poor watery orb in the sky that you see around the shortest day of the year in December.
A great day was topped off with a spectacular sunset backdropping the mountains this evening. Looks like our winter is finally back to normal!

25/01/2007 4:39 PM

The Life Of A Snow Flea

I'm really hoping that I never do anything so bad that I have to be reincarnated as a snow flea. Can you imagine how bad your karma would have to be?
I've been noticing the last few days on my walks millions of tiny snow fleas. No....snow fleas, like ice worms, do not form the basis of fictional stories to be told to greenhorns for the perverse pleasure of the oldtimers. Both do exist and although ice worms supposedly only exist on glaciers (I think I disagree with that statement), snow fleas exist everywhere. Even your backyard.
The problem with snow fleas is that they are so tiny, (1/16 of an inch) they're virtually impossible to see except on snow because they are so dark in color, they look black. Snow fleas aren't actually fleas, but a creature that can be dated back to long before dinasaurs walked this earth.
On warm winter days you will see groups of them, looking much like fine ash or dirt particles, laying around on the snow. Well...not just laying. Many will actually be springing around just like fleas, especially if you put your finger down into the middle of the group. For some insane reason, these little creatures actually like to come out onto the snow in winter by burrowing up from the leaf mold beneath. Once it gets much below freezing though, you won't see them much. Although I did see a mass of them in a fresh moose track today that was pressed about twelve inches into the snow. It must have been much warmer in the track than it would have been up on the surface of the snow.
No, I didn't take a picture. I know you're probably getting tired of pictures of tracks rather than of the real thing, but if track soup is all you've got, then that's all you've got. I've been religiously carrying a camera on my walks the last two days and of course, haven't seen a single animal. That's karma.
It was a stupendous day today. It finally dropped below freezing last night and didn't get that much warmer today. But it was a gloriously clear sunny day with pleasant temperature and not a breath of wind until later this afternoon.
The snow has hardened up enough in the cold to make for good walking and at least we aren't losing any more of it to that pineapple express.
My moose have made a liar of me. Here I spoke earlier about almost all of the animal tracks being pretty close to home on the back trail. Nothing fresh today until I went on a trail I haven't been on for a few days and at least a mile from home. There a big bull meandered across the trail a couple of times going from meadow to meadow. Once I hit the road and started back home I had begun to formulate the theory that even though a benign walk in the woods does little harm to the animals, they are still wary enough to move out of an area a human seems to be moving around in on a regular basis. That is until I got nearly to our driveway.
By now Andy had come out to meet me because I had been gone so long studying tracks and mucking around with snow fleas and such, that he had begun to worry I had slipped and fallen somewhere. I was just pointing out to him where I had seen the lynx when not a long stone's throw from our driveway entrance were fresh moose tracks. From the look of the two different sizes, it was probably the cow and calf and not only had they wandered on the road and snowbanks but had bedded down right next to the road. Probably last night. I know the tracks weren't there yesterday and it's very possible that our neighbour drove right past them before first light this morning. So much for my theory that my walks in the woods were moving the animals away. It also explains what the dogs were bellowing about just after dark last night.
Andy drilled the ice on Nimpo Lake out in front about 75 feet from shore just now. 18" of clear ice and way more than we expected there to be. Neither of us can figure out how ice can grow when the water underneath it is above freezing and the overflow on top of it is above freezing. It's a mystery to me. Even more so than snow fleas.

24/01/2007 8:18 PM

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Now I try hard to not sound like too much of a complainer, especially when it comes to the weather. But sometimes I think you can get just too much of a good thing.
This is the third straight day with high winds and high temperatures, and it's really kicking butt on our snow.
I think we all wanted to see a day or so of above freezing temperatures to settle our snow a bit, melt ice, bring some snow off the roof of buildings as well as off the trees. What we didn't expect three days running, were temperatures ranging from freezing to plus 7C or 46 degrees Fahrenheit and winds gusting to 20mph.
Yesterday I drove past a meadow near where the Dean River exits Nimpo Lake. Prior to our melt, you could barely see the tops of two large buckbrush willows out in the middle that I'm sure have often been mistaken for moose in late evening. By yesterday afternoon you could see the top two feet and today I expect you can see more yet. I kow that around the yard here some tree wells around the base of the trees have melted right to the ground. It's starting to look a little harsh among the trees along the house. Although we still have snow to spare, we won't have for too many more days at this rate.
A cooler high pressure system is supposed to be coming in from the Pacific in a day or two. I hope the heck it hurries up and gets here! This weather has caused problems in more ways than one. I just drove past the Nimpo Lake Community Hall and noticed that the snow load on the roof had knocked over the chimney for the oil furnace and knocked the chimney cap to the ground. Since there was still a lot of snow up there, the chances of water leaking down the chimney are pretty good. I had to come booting it home to let Andy know before the furnace was turned on tomorrow for dance class. He and the neighbour went over to remove the snow and put the chimney back in place. I'm afraid a few summer residents may come back in the spring to find leaky roofs or similiar damage to their cabins because of our weather.
I went for a walk in the woods today, this time taking a camera and so saw nothing, naturally. Just at the entrance to the trail across from our drive, the lynx had walked on the same trail I walked yesterday. Maybe he wanted to check out those three strange things he saw go that way. He left some pretty good sized tracks. Even if you take away the big circle left by the fur on their feet, the toes and pad were easily as big as our biggest dog. Told you he was fat.
There were fresh moose tracks crossing the trail just up from that today. I noticed a multitude of trails crossing the path a couple of days ago, but only one was fresh. Oddly, like the lynx, most of the moose sign zig zags back and forth across the trail quite near to home. Once you get a mile away, there is very little movement and I really don't know why that would be. The trail across from our driveway is the junction point for several ancient trails coming from different directions, so perhaps that's why.

23/01/2007 7:29 PM

Short Note Of Excitement

Today I got to see a creature I haven't seen close up in a few years.
I was taking the dogs for a walk late this afternoon, actually using a ski pole because our driveway is so slippery with this melt. I stowed the ski pole at the entrance and started down the main road. I hadn't gone far when I looked up and noticed a lynx sitting on the snowbank at the edge of the road, calmly watching me. Mocha, who had gone on ahead as usual, was about fifty feet from me with the lynx about fifty more feet beyond her on the opposite side of the road. The Lab was sniffing around the edge of the road and had her back to the lynx so I grabbed River's collar right away and quietly called Mocha. When she came back I grabbed her by the collar and stood in the middle of the road talking to the lynx. It studied me for awhile longer, then got down off its perch, stepped down onto the road and sauntered down the middle of it away from me as though it had not a care in the world. Finally, it crossed to the other side and disappeared over the snow bank.
My intention had been to walk down the road but the last thing I wanted was for the dogs to take out after it. They are fearless and it's not because they're brave. It's because they're really, really dumb. Actually, to give them their due, neither have probably ever seen a lynx before and just from they way they perked up their ears and watched the lynx while I held them, I think they thought it just another dog, albeit quite a large one.
I turned the dogs around and held them until we got to the trail into the woods across from our drive and let them go there. As I entered the trail I turned once to look back at where the lynx had disappeared and saw him sitting under a tree just off the road, watching us.
The trail parallels the road for a way and it was necessary to keep close tabs on the Lab when we came to where the lynx had come out of the woods and continued on to the road. She had seen it, now she could smell it, and she really wanted to go see what it was. Not a chance dog. Not only do I refuse to allow my dogs to chase wild or farm animals, it's possible that a lynx would do some cosmetic surgery on the dog if cornered. And this, was a very large lynx. Not that I've seen a huge number of lynx in my lifetime, because I haven't.
We had lynx up in the woods where I was raised as a kid, and throughout my lifetime I've seen them from a vehicle driving down the road, from a snowmobile, or very rarely, a glimpse or shadow while hunting moose. I have also seen them dead both in photos and as pelts.
Although I've seen little sign in this particular area, apparently there are a lot of lynx in this country. Trappers relied heavily on them when the price of every other fur dropped and I still remember bundles of pelts being brought into Darcy at the Trading Store in Anahim Lake, where he would sort through them and barter with the trapper that brought them in. Darcy has sold out but I think the present owner is also a fur trader.
Lynx is also very valuable as a hunt animal and more than one outfitter brings in hunters for lynx every fall and winter. This winter, with all the early snow, has been a little tough on the outfitters though. It's just too deep to hunt in. That same deep snow may also be why Andy saw what he was sure was a lynx on his way to town the other day. Perhaps they too have been pushed down out of the higher elevations by deep snow.
This was the first time that I've had an opportunity to actually study a wild lynx for a few moments. I was really surprised at the size of this one. Most lynx I have seen have always seemed long and lanky. This thing was a furry butterball by comparison, and as I mentioned before, it was big! I'm sure I'm not exaggerating when I say it stood the same height if not slightly higher than our River dog at the shoulder. Weight would be impossible to determine because there was no question that its fur was very thick but since the largest of the four species, the Canadian Lynx, can go to 65 pounds, then that wouldn't seem unreasonable at all for this bird. Of course it's always possible that it was a pregnant 'she', explaining its obvious 'fatness' but since they're just going into their breeding season, that seems highly unlikely.
We've all noticed that this seems to be an exceptional year for hares and there were a lot of grouse around this fall. Given that these are the staples of the lynx diet, I think our buddy is just plain fat. Supposedly, the lynx range extends over about 18 square miles in a normal year. That would certainly explain why you don't see this secretive animal very much. However, when there's a high density of prey, and kit survival much higher than usual, then you're probably much more likely to see a lynx at the end of your driveway...I guess.
The funny thing about seeing the lynx today was that I saw what I thought might be cat tracks on the trail yesterday with the rounded toe and no claws. Nah, I thought, they must just be melted out dog tracks. In any case, I was kicking myself all the way home and I told Andy to not allow me out the door again without a camera, no matter where I was going. As he so pointedly responded, "There is a reason why they come with a strap to go around your neck."
Well, picture or no, all I can say is, this sure is a cool place to be in winter!

22/01/2007 10:29 AM

Monday Morning Blues

Our snow is melting. I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. I had hoped that we would get some warm temperatures to settle the snow a bit, but I didn't expect to lose a foot in less than 24 hours!
On Saturday night it snowed a bit and then our temperatures started to climb so that when I went to bed, they were actually higher than they had been all day. On getting up it was a glorious day with sun shining and the temperature just above freezing. Seemed like a good time to get the deck completely clear of snow again and let the left over frozen spots thaw and finally dry out.
I was so optimistic about finally seeing warmer temperatures and the calm day, I actually pulled something out to fix out on the barbeque on the front deck. That was a mistake. By suppertime the wind was howling and even though temps were above freezing I couldn't keep enough flame under the barbeque to even heat the meat up until we hung a tarp over the railing.
All day I watched lumps of snow plop off the trees and sift down through the branches, while great avalanches of snow came roaring off of the roof.
I was really happy to see the trees finally clear. They had still been fairly loaded with snow after the last big snowfall and there was some concern that the next big wind storm would start snapping them. That was the good part.
The bad part was waking up this morning and discovering that our beautiful snow had dropped about a foot and I'm not sure that's an exaggeration. I think we were all keen on seeing a bit of a warm up to settle the snow, providing a base and just making it easier to get around. I didn't expect to see it drop so much in such a short period of time. It was a bit of a shocker to get up this morning and see so many things exposed that we haven't seen in awhile. There's still lots of snow, but with above freezing temperatures and a wind to carry away the moisture, too many days of this will take it down in a hurry!
If we get the cold weather predicted for a couple of days from now, the moose, caribou and deer will be in deep, deep trouble. The snow will freeze over building a crust that the predators can run on freely, while the big game will break through with each step. How quickly the tables have been turned from being a disadvantage to wolves and coyotes, and soft deep snow being of a great advantage to the big game. I think that those are just the conditions that cause such large losses in our wild animal herds and there isn't a single solitary thing you can do about it. The only thing the animals can do under those circustances is stick close to human habitation because wolves won't.
It sounds like a few of the guys have gotten together and finally repaired the line going up onto Little Kappan, or TV Hill, as it's called. The power line that provides radio and television to the area snapped under the load of our first snow months ago leaving the community without that communication system. Deep snow, lack of extra line and many other diffiiculties have prevented its repair prior to this, but not for lack of trying. A snowmobiling friend from across the border called the other day on the hunt for a breaker of the proper amperage after helping to make the repairs. That was all that was needed to test the line but I don't know if they found one or not.
TV Hill was going to be the location of a new wi-fi tower this spring and our community association wanted to use the radio station up there for an early warning system in case of a building fire or forest fire. But you need electricity for all of that. Kudos to those guys that managed to repair the line.
Above on the right is a picture taken by friends of ours that were visiting over Christmas and used to live at Nimpo Lake. Should you come out to the Chilcotin, you will pass the Native graveyard just before Redstone on Highway 20. Even the time worn colors of some of the crosses and fences really stand out in the snow.
Last week's articles are at January, Week Three.

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The purpose of this web site is to draw attention to a remote area of west central British Columbia. It is a beautiful area that relies heavily on tourism. The search engines don't know much about the West Chilcotin, Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake or any of the other small communities in the region and I hope to change that! Even as large as this site will eventually be, there just isn't enough room or time in the day to fully describe this incredible country but I am going to try scraping away at the tip of the iceberg, so join me!

Follow the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!
Fading sunset highlights the mountains.
A young moose stands with his mother.
Faded paint on graveyard crosses.
Wolfgang Henstchel took this picture of a graveyard cross.
Clouds roll over the mountains.
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