We were hoping we would see some Grizzly bears on our visit to BC but together we decided that, after all the driving required on this trip, it would not be worth it to travel a few more hours and spend a night further north in Stewart. There we would have an almost guaranteed sighting as the bears waited for the daily Salmon run. Fortunately, we had success with an excellent Black bear encounter on Highway 113 as we drove north to view the Nisga’a lava beds. This one did not seem the least bit concerned as it browsed the vegetation on both sides of the highway and also took its time as it crossed the highway in front of us (3rd photo). Although I had seen a few Black bears in New Brunswick on Canada’s east coast, I was quite happy to see this one because they are usually quite secretive and are not nearly as easily seen as Moose or Deer.
Black bears are found in northern Mexico, across thirty American states and every province or territory in Canada except small Prince Edward Island. A large male can weigh up to 300-kg (660-lb) but they are usually much smaller than that. Typical of most bears, they will eat almost anything from berries, grasses and insects to meat from deer or moose as well as any salmon they can catch. They have also learned to rummage around in any uncontrolled garbage dumps. Their only real enemy (other than humans) are Grizzly bears, but fortunately Black bears can climb trees like us when in an emergency situation! They are very fast when they have to be, able to easily outrun a human and have been known to attack and kill, especially females defending their cubs.
The north end of the lake, where we paddled to on our fishing trip, is also where two of the major tourist accommodations are located – the Waterlily Bay Resort and Lakelse Lake Provincial Park. Waterlily Bay Resort was first developed with cabins in 1950 by the owners of the property, with the original cabins subsequently replaced by newer units in 1988 (as seen in the background here). At $100+taxes per night, they sound quite comfortable, having a bedroom with either a double or twin beds, a sofa bed in the living room as well as a kitchen and bathroom. Lakelse Lake Provincial Park is located right next door, at the very northern end of the lake and features 156 camping spots open between mid-May to mid-September, 40 of which can be reserved.
Our fishing trip actually ended just off-shore from these locations, where Williams Creek and Blackwater Creek flow into the Grunchy’s Beach area. It was there that we saw large numbers of reddish-orange Sockeye Salmon in the crystal clear waters as they tried to make their way upstream.
These fish have a strange life, spending up to 3 years in the freshwater river where their parent deposited them as eggs beneath the streambed, as winter set in. Their eggs sacs keep them fed until Spring when they emerge from beneath the river/lake beds into the water itself. The next year or two are spent fattening themselves up and they then catch the following Spring run-off for an easy swim downriver and out into the salt water of the Pacific Ocean. After a maximum of 4 years growing larger in the Ocean, their 'clock' strikes again and the mature salmon return from the salt water to their birthplace home. Upon re-entering fresh water, they stop eating and live off their stored body fat, also changing shape and turning reddish-orange. Once they have spawned their eggs in the river/lake to start the cycle again, their lives come to either a quick natural end from depletion of their fat or they are taken as food by the many bears waiting to pluck them from the shallow river waters.
We could see their reddish shapes lurking below our craft but Sue and I had both run out of camera batteries by this stage! The lake water soon became so shallow close to shore that we all climbed out of our craft to drag them over the pebbles and through the bone-chillingly cold water to Grunchy’s Beach. Due to good planning, my brother had brought some cold beers along in the rear compartment of his kayak, so we all had a good break on the beach in the sunshine (with Sue and I enjoying a huge old log for a seat in the 2nd photo) before paddling back to the cottage.
Something I had never realized before was that there is a species of white bears that are not related to Polar bears - the Kermode bears of the central and north coasts of British Columbia. We came across this specimen inside the Terrace airport terminal building on our final night in town, as my brother took us on a tour of the city.
According to Wikipedia: "The kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), also known as the 'spirit bear', is a subspecies of the American Black Bear and is noted for about 10% of their population having white or cream-coloured coats. This colour morph is due to a recessive gene common in the population. They are not albinos and not related to polar bears or the 'blond' brown bears of Alaska. Because of their ghost-like appearance, 'spirit bears' hold a prominent place in the mythology of the Canadian First Nations and American Indians of the area. A male Kermode bear can reach 225 kg (500 lb) or more, females are much smaller with a maximum weight of 135 kg (300 lb). Straight up it stands 180 cm (6 ft) tall."
Our afternoon was spent heading north out of Terrace as we drove about 100-km (60-mi) north on Highway 133 (also known as the Nisga'a Highway) through the beautiful Nass River valley, to the area of a devastating volcanic eruption that took place about 250 years ago. Located there is the Tseax Cone (pronounced SEE-aks) where some of Canada’s most recent volcanic eruptions have occurred, due to the effects of the Pacific Plate sliding past the North American Plate. The eruption that caused the damage took place sometime between 1750-1775 when poisonous fumes were released and lava overflowed the cone and spilled out into the nearby Tseax River. The flows blocked the river, forming Lava Lake with the volcanic effects also killing approximately 2000 natives of the local Nisga’a tribe. The flow subsequently travelled 11 km (7 mi) north to the Nass River, where it filled the flat valley floor for an additional 10 km (6 mi), making the entire lava flow approximately 22 km (14 mi) long.
In this view, we have stopped at the beginning of the lava flow, taking Crater Creek Trail away from the highway parking area to have a closer look at the remnants of this lava flow where it poured out of its mountain location. Guided volcanic tours on this trail allow park visitors to hike 3 km through a scenic old growth forest and past a variety of volcanic features to a viewpoint overlooking the crater itself (however, to protect the special features of the area, unguided access to the volcanic cone is prohibited – so we were out of luck). The hike is rated as moderate with some hills and steep stairs. Despite the eruption taking place two and a half centuries ago, the local vegetation is only slowly taking root atop the flows. The lava beds of this flow are deep, towering 12 m (39 ft) above the road in places and are the final resting place of the native people who lost their lives in this event – hence the name Nisga’a Memorial Lava Beds Provincial Park. Even today, the loss of life caused by this eruption is the worst caused by a natural disaster in Canada’s history.
On our second morning in Terrace, our hosts took us on a drive further west on the Trans Canada Highway as both it and the Canadian National Railway tracks hugged the large Skeena River. This river has cut its way through the Kitimat Ranges of the Coast Mountains while heading for Prince Rupert on the Pacific coast. These Ranges are characterized by dome-like granite mountains with many sheer bare faces and numerous waterfalls, so we decided to do a bit of exploring by veering northward on a logging road that followed the banks of the Exstew River in one of the steep valleys. We passed one large open sandy area beside the river with a lone truck-camper parked there before arriving at a bridge over the river a short way further up. Almost immediately we came to a small waterfall fed by a stream flowing down the steep side of a 5200-ft heavily forested peak towering above.
It was quite a peaceful little place as we got out for a closer look at it. I strolled around the right side of its pool of water and managed to reach (2nd photo) a big old broken tree trunk that was left high and almost dry beside the waterfall. While perched there, I took a look back at our crew (3rd photo) where we had emerged from the forest after leaving the truck. After that pleasant little break, we headed back to the bridge where we again stopped for a better look at the Exstew River itself (4th photo) before continuing on down the main highway again as far as Exchamsiks River Provincial Park. From there, we were only about 90-km (50-mi) from the Pacific Ocean, but we decided to turn around and head back to Terrace because we had bigger plans for exploring northward.
This view of the ladies walking atop lava flow gives a good idea of the size of the area covered by the eruption when all its ejected material finally came to rest. The completely jumbled nature of the material is due to the fact that “lava tubes formed when the low-viscosity hot alkali basaltic lava travelling beneath the harder surface material eventually flowed out, leaving the harder crust as the roof and walls of the lava tubes". As can be seen, some of those ‘roofs and walls’ have now collapsed, creating a very rugged landscape.
The 2nd photo shows the carpet of lichens and mosses that has gradually taken root atop the lava flow over the ~250 years since the eruption took place. Because it takes these plants so long to gain a foothold, visitors are asked not to walk on them because of their delicate structure and also in respect for this naturally formed native graveyard. The 3rd and 4th photos show a typical ‘tree hole’ – caused when large trees were knocked down and carried away by the lava flows. The heat of the surrounding lava caused the tree trunks to burn, leaving the ‘ghost’ of a tree behind!
Altogether, it had been another fantastic day – so, just a few miles short of Alaska, we turned around and headed back for our last night in Terrace, before setting off for Regina in the morning.
A little history on the Park: “Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a (Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park) is the first provincial park within the Province of British Columbia established to combine interpretation of natural features and native culture. The park is included in the landmark treaty, the 'Nisga’a Final Agreement', between the Government of Canada and the Nisga’a Nation. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park is also the first provincial park to be jointly managed by a First Nation and BC Parks.”
As we neared the end of the lava flow, we arrived at the site of the Park’s Visitor Centre/Ranger Station, as shown here with its exterior solar panel for electricity. It is built in traditional Nisga'a longhouse design and is located not far from the campground. Although visitors will normally be able find interpretive displays and information about Nisga'a culture inside the building, there was not a soul around while we were there. However, that was not a problem because there were also nice display boards outside as well, such as the one in the 2nd photo describing aspects of the native culture. Being early September with the main tourist season wound down, there was not much to keep us there so we next headed for the final huge fan where the lava flow finally came to rest.
We continued our drive north as we followed the direction the lava flow took as it poured out of its valley. At the time of the eruption, the valley was quite heavily populated by the indigenous people who were caught in this disaster. Some decided to run upstream from their villages and some downstream, while others dug pits for shelter. However, in the end, the loss of life was high due to the effects of the poisonous smoke and carbon dioxide from the volcanic gases. According to Nisga’a legend, the cause of the disaster was a child who “took a humpback salmon and slit open its back, sticking fiery sticks in its back and making it swim. Again and again he repeated the process despite the elder’s warnings. Fish are very important to the natives and this lack of respect was a taboo that if broken would cause misfortune”.
During its 10-km flow northward in the Nass River valley, the lava bed actually changed the course of the Nass River from one side of the valley to the other. Part way along the valley we pulled over into a small parking lot beside Vetter Falls, one that had formed on this new Nass River watercourse as it flowed over the volcanic rock bed. As can be seen in the other photos, this area at the edge of the lava field had the much more typical lush rain forest vegetation that one would expect in British Columbia. After our pleasant little stop, we continued northward to the native cultural centre in this Memorial Provincial Park.
It was noon as we set off from the cottage for a paddle to the northern part of Lakelse Lake, with the sun already shining and the temperature eventually reaching 18 C. Sue and I were using their aluminum canoe while my brother and his wife set off in the much more maneuverable and faster kayaks (2nd and 3rd photos). We took our time as we paddled down the lake taking in the sights as we quietly slipped along. Our two boating partners were having a great time trolling their fishing lines behind as they paddled and (using worms for bait) they managed to catch a couple of nice Trout as well as some of those ‘trash fish’ over the course of the afternoon.
The final photo shows the view from our canoe to the two kayaks in the distance, while Sue sits on a black seat-cushion with a back-support that flips up. Our canoe carried a plastic bucket partially filled with water, to be used as the fish holding tank for any that were reeled in by the kayakers. Near the end of the fishing, the largest of the trash fish managed to escape his fate as Bald Eagle food when he gave one last massive twitch as the hook was removed and slipped back into the lake in a flash!
Between the cottages along the lakeshore and Highway 37 on the hillside above stands a large swath of typical BC coastal rainforest. I had seen trees everywhere I looked in BC but was not aware until now that it has the largest remaining intact temperate rainforest in the world. Experts are very interested in studying these unique forests because they have the highest biomass of any ecosystem on the planet. We certainly noticed the huge trees (Western Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock) as we went for a morning walk on a couple of the trails in these forests, with some of these trees being able to live for more than 1000 years and having diameters up to 9+ meters (30+ ft). The air felt damp, with mosses hanging in great abundance and also a variety of small plants and lichen covering almost everything. Some of the plants even have small hooked barbs around the edges of their leaves that will make you sit up and take notice if you brush up against them – almost like being in a jungle.
One of the first things we came across was the bottom section of an old abandoned log cabin, as shown here, with a set of stairsteps inside it! It might have something to do with the winter snow depths. As we continued our walk past some of the smaller trees (2nd photo), several large tree stumps soon appeared – remnants of past logging activities (3rd photo). We could see small rectangular holes that had been cut into the stumps so 2x4 planks could be inserted several feet above ground level as foot or platform stands for loggers to be able to use their hand or chainsaws as they began the laborious task of cutting into the tree on a straighter portion of its trunk, up and away from the root buttresses at ground level. It was quite an interesting walk, but by 10:30 AM we had made it back to the lakeshore where Sue and I sat to admire the view for a while (4th photo) before we headed out for a paddle on the lake!
We had great amusement throughout the day from a family of Stellar’s Jays that was living next to the cottage. Each morning one or more would be waiting outside on either tree branches or the deck table while waiting for someone to appear. They would sometimes fly up to the window ledge and peer inside as if to say “come on, move it!”. Even when we were sitting at the deck table, if we had peanuts in the shell, they were not shy about alighting to have a good look (2nd photo) – picking each one up in turn to check it out before flying off with the heaviest one!
From Wikipedia: “The Steller's Jay is a jay native to western North America closely related to the Blue Jay found in the rest of the continent, but with a black head and upper body. It is also known as the Long-crested Jay, Mountain Jay and Pine Jay. The Steller's Jay shows a great deal of regional variation throughout its range. Blackish-brown-headed birds from the north gradually become bluer-headed farther south. The Steller's Jay has a more slender bill and longer legs than the Blue Jay and has a much more pronounced crest. It occurs over virtually the whole of the western side of North America from Alaska in the north to Central America in the far south and east to south-western Texas, completely replacing the Blue Jay in most of those areas. As they are omnivores, their diet is about two-thirds plant matter and one third animal matter. Food is gathered from both the ground and from trees.”
It was a great pleasure to be amongst so much wildlife, which did not seem nearly as skittish as most I have come across (of course the quiet nature of the lake may have helped their mood). The 3rd photo shows a flock of what appear to be Merganser ducks calmly swimming past the cottage one morning.
Just after pulling back out onto the main highway between Terrace and Prince Rupert near the Exstew Rest Stop, we were able to see a distant waterfall cascading down the side of a mountain, thanks to Andesite Creek. It turned out to be John Little Falls (a closer look in the 2nd photo), named to commemorate the life of an 18-year old Canadian soldier from the area who died in a Prisoner of War camp 6-months after being captured during the fall of Hong Kong to the Japanese Army in 1942. This waterfall is actually on the backside of the same mountain that fed the ‘unknown’ waterfall we had just left! We went a bit further along the valley watching various fishermen trying their luck in the Skeena River and also a nice mountain glacial bowl (3rd photo), before returning to Terrace for lunch.
Fishing is one of the ways my brother and his wife enjoy spending their time while living lakeside. Some species of fish they catch are not edible but they keep a few of them anyway because those fish eat the eggs of the sport fish Trout they are really after. They have taken to feeding some of these ‘trash fish’ to a local Bald Eagle who keeps a close eye on their activities from his perch in a very tall tree along the shoreline by their dock. While out on the dock, a loud whistle will quickly focus the Eagle’s attention as motions are made to throw a dead fish as far out into the lake as possible. Invariably, the Bald Eagle will take its time before deciding to suddenly swoop down to snatch it off the surface of the water with its claws – as shown in this view from the dock. Later in the morning, as we canoed and kayaked to the northern end of the lake it appeared that our buddy was still keeping an eye on our fishing activities from a new perch along the lakeshore (2nd and 3rd photos). I’m not sure what sex this one was, but female Bald Eagles are larger than the males and can reach 5-kg (11-lb) in weight and have a wingspan of up to 2-m (over 6-ft).
From a BC website on Bald Eagles: “It belongs to the family known as sea-eagles, of which it is the only regularly-occurring member in North America. Sea-eagles have larger heads and heavier bills than the typical eagles, like the Golden Eagle. As you might expect, Bald Eagles eat a lot of fish, and they don't mind if that fish is not fresh. This most regal of symbols makes a very nice living from carrion, and from stealing the prey of other raptors like Ospreys. Bald Eagles also eat many seabirds, some of which are harried into exhaustion as they dive repeatedly to escape the eagle's persistent stoops.”
It did not take Sue and I long to start enjoying the beauty of the landscape in this part of British Columbia! This 8 AM view from the cottage deck of the effects of the morning sun on the sky, lake and surrounding mountains was a great way to start the day. The second photo shows what the lakeshore looks like in the afternoon sun, as we set off on a canoe/kayak fishing expedition out on the lake. After our day of hiking in the forest, followed by the fishing trip we really enjoyed some drinks on the deck as we talked about life while the beach bonfire crackled and the fading sunlight at 9:30 PM really provided us with a ‘sundowner’ (3rd photo). The next day was spent exploring among the mountains along the Skeena and Kitsumkalum/Nash Rivers west and north of Terrace. On our way back to Terrace just before 6 PM, we enjoyed a great view (4th photo) of a lively sky with strange clouds atop what I believe is Sleeping Beauty Mountain, as it towered over the forest and Kitsumkalum Lake.
Seven Sisters mountain range is a beautiful sight. One of many mountain ranges surrounding the Skeena Valley.
Located about 30 miles east of Terrace on Highway 16. There is a small pull-out spot on the highway where road travellers can stop and take photos like these.
The Seven Sisters is a provincial park, protected area. There is heli-hiking available to the area.
The Seven Sisters is aptly named for a row of rugged peaks, four of which reach above 2,500 m in elevation.