My left heel still has a tinge of wild blueberry ‘blue’ from the day we portaged to Kidney Lake and found a big patch of them. It’s because my foot slipped off a log which I was balancing on while trying to reach the tasty little wild treats. I ended up with a strong case of purple heel which made my mother-in-law believe I was bleeding, an bad scenario while deep in the wilderness and out of reception.
We were on Turner Lakes chain canoe route in Tweedsmuir Park (one of the largest parks in Canada at 989,616 hectares!), having started our trek a few days before…
Day 1. It’s 9am and the cars are loaded up. We’re starting on our drive to Nimpo Lake, a good seven hours drive from Kamloops. It’s a crisp sunny morning that smells of new adventures to come.
We stop at the Sugar Shack in 70 Mile for a taste of Quebec – some go for poutine, my husband and I for coffee with maple syrup and cream, a far cry from our usual black pour-over morning brew, but when in Rome… (aka at the Sugar Shack…).
We take our lunch under an overcast sky by the Fraser River and then we pile into the car for more driving. Next stop is Bull Canyon Provincial Park, where Poppy gets to chase milky turquoise waves on the smallest beach, but joy does not depend on beach size.
We make it to Nimpo Lake around 8pm and the cabin we had initially reserved is locked with no attendant nearby. ‘It’s the Wild West’ my husband reminds me, and I shrug. We’ll find a way, right?
And we did. The owner of Tweedsmuir Air (we have our flight booked on one of their float planes for tomorrow) happens to have one of the cabins on the property available. Cabin number 8.
I love it from the second I step in. It’s cozy, charming and clean and it has a small bathroom equipped with fresh towels, soap, and shampoo. All’s well when it ends well.
We take showers, share a delicious pasta meal, and fall asleep under a night sky streaked with blue clouds and distant loon cries. Asking for more would qualify as a capital sin.
Day 2. We get up at 6am and get our three big waterproof bags ready. The early morning sky promises a beautiful day and we’re there for it. We walk to the main lodge and wait for our flight into the wilderness.
Early morning coffee on the patio tastes perfect, and we chat with other travelers whom we will meet here and there during our adventure. The dog does the rounds, greeting everyone as if she’d been waiting to make their acquaintance all her life.
Come 7.30am, we load our gear into the 5-seater plane, and the pilot goes over the safety procedures. We climb aboard and take off with a roar after we glide over the dark-blue waters of Nimpo Lake.
We get dropped off at one of the Turner Lake beaches where the rustic cabins are (you can count on them for good shelter if the weather turns dramatically) and get to meet George, the friendly and very knowledgeable park operator who outfits us with two canoes, life jackets and paddles. Oh, and answers to all the questions we throw at him.
‘Watch out for wolf scat on the trails,’ he says as we are ready to float away. It’s not fresh and wolves are not usually seen in these parts, so there’s a question without a clear answer yet. George smiles a lot and we’re all charmed by his easygoing manner. He lives in one of the cabins and gets to know all the backpackers and he also guides many who fly in for day hikes.
We start paddling. The wind picks up and a drizzle starts pinching our cheeks. We get to the first portage and unload all our gear.
We start on the path carrying the gear bags, and 500m or so in, we take a rest by the creek. We filter water for drinking (we used a 1L BeWell Katadyn filter, which works great and was fast enough too) and then the guys head back to bring the canoes.
Following the windy path through the forest (fun times for the guys as they navigate their way with canoes on their shoulders!), we get to Cutthroat Lake, load up and paddle some more to a smallish … No Name Lake (yes, really), then after another portage we find ourselves on Vista Lake.
It makes sense that someone once looked around and named it that. Snow-capped peaks guard the lake, and the dark blue lake mirror we glide on is hemmed with trees on all sides. Somewhere in between some of the trees there is a silvery metal square that tells paddlers where the next trail starts. We all become champion squinters. There it is!
Another couple of shorter portages take us to Junker Lake where we will camp. By now the wind has picked up and the drizzle has evolved to rain. We had consulted the weather (somewhat obsessively) for a few days before coming, and it was, as weather is, all over the place: rain, sun, rain, sun. And rain again. Clearly, it’s raining.
We find the campground and choose two forested sites for our two small tents as the beach ones are quite windy. Dinner tastes perfect (we have dehydrated camping meals which are light and tasty) and we complement it with Rooibos tea. It’s still raining.
Come 9pm, we slip into good, restful sleep, under the incessant but calming pitter-patter of rain.
Day 3. I wake up early and listen to the drizzle that’s still drumming on the tent. I am in my sleeping bag, warm and cozy, and get to read my book for a while before the rest wake up. My choice for this trip is Grizzly Heart – Living Without Fear Among the Bears in Kamchatka by Charlie Russell (I love bears to a fault and have been looking forward to reading this one for a while).
I feel a bit discouraged by the rain. The small puddle in one corner of the tent does not help either (note to self: always makes sure the tent fly is properly set up on all sides!). But hey, adventure is what we’re here for so onwards it is. Actually, outwards.
We go for a walk in the woods. Poppy takes her time to sniff the moss along the trail, slightly unsure of the new surroundings. Yes, it’s bear territory and she knows how to keep black bears away, but a grizzly is a bigger challenge (literally) than any of the black bears we’ve come across.
It’s still drizzly, but far off in the distance, we spot slivers of blue. There’s hope yet. By the time we finish our coffee, having planned our day trip to Widgeon and Kidney Lakes, the sun is smiling at us through the clouds, and we smile back.
Three and a half kilometers one-way of lake paddling (which will feel like seven), here we come. The views are spectacular and that’s part of the ‘fuel’ we run on – nature beauty. The Coast Mountains stand tall and enticing, with age-old glaciers sticking out their frozen tongues down slopes.
The first portage trail takes us to a white sandy beach on Widgeon Lake. We lie on the warm sand for a little while, taking in all the wonder in big gulps. The dog celebrates solid ground by chasing the waves, grinning widely with a watery mane around her.
Does it get any better than this? We’re tempted to stay a while longer, but there’s the itch to discover what lies ahead.
We have another two and a half kilometers to paddle to Kidney Lake and daylight is precious. The wind continues to wrestle with our canoes, but we press on. Our common refrain is ‘the wind will make it easy on the way back’. (Spoiler alert: it was!).
The next portage trail cuts through a beautiful, green moss-and-lichens-hanging forest where you’d almost expect a fairy or two to pop up and greet you. There’s red-capped mushrooms, plump and pretty, along the trail, some with mysterious bite marks. Yep, fairies and gnomes everyone.
We reach the driftwood-filled shores of Kidney Lake, stepping with care over what resembles a giant game of pick-up-sticks. We snack on rye-and-sunflower bread and wild blueberries. Poppy decides she also likes blueberries. A first.
We all vote to turn back from here. It’s been a good day. We still have to make it back over the two lakes and we want to make it back with daylight to spare.
We find our tents dry and we’re loving the cloudless evening sky. We eat dinner and make plans for tomorrow.
Poppy snoozes under her sleeping bag (we got her one because it packs tight) and we sit around, relishing the well-earned evening rest over cups of Rooibos tea.
Day 4. It’s a sunny morning, which counts as an invitation to take it easy. Poppy and I find ourselves a cozy patch of morning sunshine to read.
My husband returns from a morning fishing session with a trout and a big smile. He has been looking forward to fishing here since the day we started planning the trip. We get the coffee and tea routine started, by filtering water from the lake and then heating it up on the tiny but mighty camping stove.
We take our coffee to the beach. By now everyone else took off on their next adventures. We’re alone, the sun is shining, and time is ours to do as we please.
It’s a luxurious thing, given that too often when we find ourselves rushing through days with the distinct feeling of time tightening around our feet as we’re trying to take another step.
This glorious morning was the exact opposite. A wild and exquisite flight of the soul if you will.
Bliss is now a red beach on a back-country lake, four people taking it easy, and a dog snoozing in the sun.
An hour later we’re all packed up and ready to head back to Turner Lake where we’ll set camp for the night.
Day 5. It’s early and the lake is still sleeping under a thick layer of fog.
I had woken up in the middle of the night and got to see the stars. The Milky Way draped like a runner across the dark sky table and there was another set of stars, reflected by the sleepy lake. My feet stayed glued to the spot until the eyes had their fill of wonder.
Witnessing mystery and beauty that no words could do justice to, I get reminded that we stand to lose so much if we let this world unseen by many be changed by our present ways of life.
We make it a leisure day. Reading, snoozing, swimming, paddling, reading some more and chatting. The day is shorter than we’d wish for, but we make the most of every moment. As the sun sets, I catch a glimpse of my son playing his guitar by the lake and I record a few precious seconds from a distance.
Sleeping is easy and delicious, and I doze off wishing to wake up once more to see the stars. Come 1am, I am standing barefoot on the lake shores, breathing in the night. It smells of stars and mountains and night whispers that can only be heard in places where silence lives unencumbered. That’s here.
Day 6. We start the day early. The guys take a canoe and paddle their way through the lilies, gentle to not break any.
They come back with a big fish my son caught and once again, breakfast is trout, trail mix and coffee and if you’re not sure whether you’d like it… allow me to be bold: you will. Fish for breakfast may seem like a stretch, but it’s not just the food and the coffee, you see. It’s the place. It’s the print on your mind and heart that mix with the food, and the shared experience, that make it exquisite.
We clean up and pack up our gear and then it’s back to the loaded canoes. Poppy gives me the look of ‘Are you crazy? Why would we leave? It’s a place we all enjoy…’ Solid point, I know. And I share the sentiment completely. We leave behind a slice of paradise that want to see again.
This camp goes in the memory book as my favourite. I love the soft nature sounds that trickle in as the fog lifts in the morning; the way sunlight filters through the trees as the day grows and how it twirls around the lily pads; the star glitter that fills the sky and the lake on clear nights… I tell Poppy we’ll be back. She knows I’m good for it.
The guys build a sail out of the light tarp we’ve brought along, and the wind seems to want to help, but no. It changes its windy mind, inline with the nature of winds in general: finicky. It’s a breeze and not a gale, but it blows against us as if wanting to have the last word.
We paddle for a good two hours and by the time we reach our next camp, and the last before pickup tomorrow, Poppy is ready to jump ship. Which she does, literally, when we’re close to shore. Some dogs are just not canoe dogs. She’s one of them. That she does it nonetheless, just to be with us, is heartwarming.
The camp is nice but nowhere near the one we left behind. Or maybe it’s the tinge of regret that comes with having to leave tomorrow.
We have an afternoon coffee on the dock. It’s warm and pleasant and I let myself befriend the camp with the reminder that gratefulness should come before the regret of leaving soon.
We spend part of the afternoon hiking to two viewpoints to see Hunlen Falls, one of the tallest unbroken drops in Canada at 260 meters. A sight to behold made utterly intimidating by the sheer cliffs upon which you stand to admire the view. In fact, you’d have to lean forward to see the bottom of the falls, which is where things get tricky.
I have a deeply seated fear of steep edges like that, and it shows. I’d rather not have any of us near the edge, and once the obligatory photos are taken, I am ready to go. We also get a view of Lonesome Lake which sits below the falls and was adopted as a homesteading place by Ralph Edwards in 1913.
Ralph and his family helped bring back the almost extinct trumpeter swans (caused by over-hunting). They spun wool to make clothes and made their own shoes. Oh, and he build his own airplane.
Also, George told us, the Edwards family kept a bountiful garden, and Ralph would fly fresh produce to all the fishing resorts in the area. The cabin burned down during the terrible 2004 wildfire.
Day 7. I wake up shortly before 7 and sneak out of the tent, followed by my furry bodyguard. We sit on the dock and take in the view. The fog floats on the lake like a blanket of dreams soon to be lifted.
We go for one last hike to another viewpoint of the falls, one that George recommended.
We see the river melting into the 260-meter veil of water, making it look that much more impressive.
Back in camp, we sit on the dock and share a cuppa with George. He tells us that our flight is delayed an hour or two. No one’s upset.
Once on the plane, I get to see Hunlen Falls once more, a mighty perpetual silvery ribbon, and the Turner Lakes chain. The lakes look like puddles from up high. There’s undulating creeks that crisscross the park, and the many small, isolated lakes that are most likely known collectively as No Name lakes. Talk about a frontier territory that still holds so much mystery.
The showstopper is Blue Jay Lake, which is an intense baby blue, and I later learn you can hike to it (and camp) from Bella Coola.
A few minutes later we descend towards Nimpo Lake and get off the plane. Our pilot gets to see a lot of happy faces and now he’s got five more to add to that collection. Plus Poppy, who is all too happy to be on solid ground. A trooper of a dog, nonetheless, given the trust she puts in us as we jump from cars to planes to boats and then repeat.
Lunch at the local eatery, some fresh fruit and veggies at the local store and we’re heading to Bella Coola for two more nights. Yes, we get to drive ‘the hill’ (it’s not as scary as some may have you believe but do drive slowly and watch for incoming traffic around the narrow portions).
Next stop: Belarko bear viewing platform! Bears!!
There’s none when we get there, however, we get to see one female grizzly, a youngster, snorkeling as she looks for salmon. The salmon run is just getting started so not too many bears yet, but seeing one is more than none, so there.
Hagensborg and Bella Coola are worth visiting, rain or shine (we had both). We get to see beautiful big cedars, go on a guided tour of the petroglyphs and walk around the wharf in the rain. Our last night of camping is a rainy one but we’re heading home the next day and if the tents are soaked, so be it. (They were.)
There are a few synonyms for magical. Thrilling, delightful, enchanting, astonishing, breathtaking….
However, labels are often intimidating and limiting. Our vacation was a gift of learning, of togetherness, and of discovering a little bit more about the beautiful province which we call home.
And for all that, we are grateful. And ready to do it all over again!