This was supposed to be a very special trip for me. First, I have been dreaming about traveling North for many years. Second, I took my vacation during my dad’s visit. I have not seen him since I moved to Canada two years ago. Is there a better way to spend time with your dad, who is just as passionate about traveling by car as me, than taking a two-week trip together to some of the world’s most amazing places?
So I was about to go north. But which way to go?
The fastest way is to take Coquhalla Highway up to Kamloops, and then Highway 97 to Prince George. But that was not what I wanted. I wanted to go slow and see places, so I opted for Highway 1, also known as Sea to Sky Highway. It is amazingly spectacular road that twists between Pacific Ocean and mountains. I cannot tell more how I am in love with this road. And I really wanted to show it to my dad.
Day 1. Vancouver – Ten Mile Lake Provincial Park. 620 km.
I wanted to make an early start this time, but as always, tiny last minute stuff kept us in town all morning and we were able to leave only by 10 am.
The weather was not really cooperating, dark clouds and drizzle did not help much to switch my mind from crazy rush at work that I had a day before to relaxed and slow pace of vacation. I have driven Highway 1 before up to Whistler, but after it, it completely changes. First, the section to Pemberton is more or less similar, but then it is very different. It narrows down to a small regional road, first going between farms, then rapidly climbing up a mountain, with very steep hills and sharp corners. Some of those were so narrow and twisty, that I even had to downshift to the first gear. No surprise there are almost zero trucks or campers. But still it offers things to see, spectacular lakes and rivers. It goes like that up to Seton Lake and Lillooet.
A section of a road of about 10 km has just undergone repairs, and there was a lot of gravel left on the surface. This section was closed for free traffic flow, and everyone had to follow a pilot car, just one way traffic at a time. I don’t clearly understand the reason for that, it did not feel that absence of a pilot car would change anything. Later, I have seen similar road conditions, both with and without pilot cars. Still some things I need to get used to about traffic in Canada.
After Lillooet, the road continues north via grassy highlands and deep canyons. It was raining hard with low dark clouds. I did not expect to see such scenery in Canada. This is how I imagined Scotland!
It was interesting to travel this section of Highway 1, views are great and it is a new experience, but I would not take it again on my next trip north. It is great to travel just for please of exploring this particular road, but if this is just your gateway to other places, there are just too many things that slow you down.
Going past lonely ranches and first nation settlements we got to Highway 97 intersection, also known as Cariboo Highway.
The next section of the road, Highway 97 up to Prince George follows approximately the route of original Caroboo Wagon Road. It was built in 1860s, before Canada as a country was created, to carry supplies for miners in gold-rich Cariboo region. It still has many references to that period of its existence. For example, there are municipalities along it that are named “70 Mile House”, “100 Mile House, which refers to original road houses constructed along the Cariboo Wagon Road.
It offers somewhat highway-ish experience, you can travel pretty fast, but there is not much to see. Scenery is still nice (just as anywhere in Canada!), but it’s not as exciting as others. Having traveled it for next couple of hours we pass the town of Quesnel and decided to look for a place to stay overnight.
This is the moment when excitement went over the roof! The decisive moment of my journey. It was either a good experience, or a bad one to ruin the whole idea of traveling this way. So I decided to put excitement aside and started to look for next campgrounds on our way. Luckily, the next campground, just 10 minute drive away was at Ten Mile Lake Provincial Park.
I think that things happen for a reason, and after checking the campground I was happy to discover that I totally loved it! Nice lots in a middle of a forest and next to a nice lake. I was looking forward to spending the night there! That was a good sign for future of me traveling this way. I am not the person to give up after the first failure or difficulty, but first impression is very important.
I must admit that I have never camped or slept in a tent before. I was just from a different part of the world and had a different lifestyle. But our evening went really smooth, we had great dinner and enjoyed fresh air.
First night ever in a tent is often associated with bad sleep. I was not an exception. First it was hard to get asleep, new sounds, smells, and totally new feeling of sleeping exposed. During the night I woke up to the slightest sound, and they were abundant! I did not set up my tent exactly right (first timer!), I was afraid of bears (I had a bear spray under my pillow, just in case) and in addition, it started to rain and wind picked up! I had all the range of new experiences for the night.
Day 2. Ten Mile Lake Provincial Park – Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, via Hyder, Alaska. 920 km.
To my great surprise, I woke up feeling rested. Maybe it is all fresh air. We continued our drive north in the morning, starting road trip as true Canadians, with a morning coffee with muffins at Timmie’s. We turn west in Prince George and follow Highway 16, the Yellowhead Highway.
The scenery changes rapidly here. Very soon mountains started to appear on horizon, reminding me of feeling that I had when I have seen the Rockies first after Calgary. We were getting closer and closer to mountains, with excitement growing just as fast. I love mountains and driving through them.
Here was the first of the most anticipated points for the trip. The beginning of the Stewart-Cassair Highway. It is a scenic route that goes through some of most isolated areas of British Columbia. It attracts travelers from all over the world.
First, my feelings were somewhat strange. All the highways I have traveled so far in this trip were quite remote with very little traffic. But here it felt extremely desolated. Sometimes it took over 15 minutes to see other car. Over a hundred kilometers between any signs of civilization, including gas stations. And, obviously, no cell phone coverage. I had some crazy images before my eyes – my car burning in a ditch with hungry bears looking from woods. It was so much unlike everything I have seen before. Also, it was my very first big trip with the Subie, so I just started building my trust.
After about 100 km the car did not explode and bear did not eat me. I relaxed and started enjoying it. After about two hours we reached Meziadin Junction. Here I wanted to make a detour via Alaska to see the Salmon Glacier.
It was 5 pm, and getting late, so we decided to check the Meziadin Lake Provincial Park campground, located just one click from the junction. The campground was awesome. But there was a strong ice-cold northern wind. After staying in the campground for 10 minutes we realized that we were not really enjoyed it, and the Salmon Glacier that we wanted to see so much was less than 100 km away!
A short hop there and back, and we would be back by 8 pm (funny people, now I know). So to the glacier we go!
We travel 65 km of spectacular highway 37A, the Glacier Highway, that takes us to Stewart, BC. An old mining town with a population of about 500 people. Here is where is gets really interesting. We wanted to go and see the Salmon Glacier that is located in Canada, but the only road that can take us there, crosses into Alaska, at ghost town of Hyder, then continues through American soil before crossing back into Canada. I can travel into US, but my dad don’t have US visa. I wrote to US border agency before our trip to clarify how it works. I was pleasantly surprised that US don’t have any border security at this point, as the only road goes back into Canada and it is not possible to go anywhere in Alaska from that point, unless you are super outdoor ninja. So to be safe, I reconfirmed that my dad was allowed to cross into US to see a glacier in Canada. On our side, there is a border crossing, obviously, and our border guards were not surprised with this.
The 18 miles that go to the glacier seemed like a nice walk from pictures on the Internet. In reality, it appeared to be an old mining road with lots of loose rocks, gravel, and potholes, climbing up rapidly. I wanted to treat Forester very nice, I did not want to make any damage with it having only 4000 km on clock. So it took almost an hour to climb all the way up on the first gear with walking speed.
How surprised I was to discover that it was not possible to reach the viewpoint. Because of the snow! In mid-June! The snow has not melted yet and the road was not cleared. But anyway, the point that we reached offered a great view of the glacier!
This moment I want to, and will remember for a long time. I was at some remote mountain somewhere in a middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature of unbelievable beauty, I have seen someone else more then an hour before, I got there all by myself, I drove there with my car! This is definitely worth something. And it was so amazing to see something well beyond the beaten path. Yes, it could be reached with almost any car, but I was thinking about next step, about how many more amazing places there are that you can reach only with 4×4… An overlander born here?
We drove back, an upon reaching Stewart, I realized that I did something contrary to the spirit of my trip. I hurried. Hurried to see the glacier and now I was hurrying back to the campground, hoping there will still be spots available. I wanted to spend more time in Stewart, to explore it properly. But, it will be in my to-do list for my next trip to this area!
The way back was full of bears. First, we have stopped at the Bear Glacier, and then we have seen a real bear! A big brown bear was wondering lazily in a middle of a road.
We arrived back to the campground after 10 pm, found a decent spot and went to sleep after a quick supper. I was thinking about how much I have seen already in this trip and how much still lays ahead of us!
To be continued…