Early Saturday morning I drove my in-laws’ grey Mazda pick-up away from the farm and into the hills. It was raining, and I was on my way north to Prince George, a place I’d never before seen. I love driving and I love seeing new country, and when that new country is BC country then it’s just plain romantic. Not only is the geography compelling, but also the stories that go alone with it.
The Fraser Canyon, for example, is a granite-stricken wrinkle in the earth’s crust through which the Fraser River is squeezed. It begins in earnest after the small town of Yale, which is twenty or so minutes north of Hope on Highway 1. Yale was as far as the old steamboats would go; after that point the gold miners had to find their own way.
The first miners to the area were shown by the natives how to make their way through the canyon. Where the river was flanked by high, straight cliffs, the natives had made a network of vines and ropes along the faces of the cliffs, to provide hand- and footholds. Unfortunately for many miners their guts couldn’t give them the nimbleness of the natives, and they died falling into the seething river below. Later miners found ways other than the Fraser Canyon into the interior, and it wasn’t until the Cariboo Wagon Road was built in the 1860’s that the canyon became more navigable. You do have to qualify “navigable,” though, as this old picture shows:
Eventually, at the town of Lytton, Highway 1 leaves Simon Fraser for a while and follows David Thompson instead. Here you move slowly from the severe coastal ranges to the pine and sage hill country of the interior plateau. It’s ranch, mining, and rainbow trout country, and it’s entirely comely.
From Quesnel it’s only another hour or so to Prince George, so I decided to take the Blackwater road instead of Highway 97. My Cariboo/Chilcotin Backroads Mapbook told me that the road was paved, so I figured it would be an easy but long scenic detour. It was long, and at times scenic, and it was paved for the first and last 10 km or so, but the intervening 120 km turned out not to be paved. That was okay for the first 65 km as the road was straight, wide, and in good condition. You could drive comfortably from 60-90 kph. But near the Blackwater River the road forked off to the right and there was a sign. It said, “EXTREME CAUTION. NARROW, WINDING ROAD AHEAD.” Now I’ve driven hundreds of kilometers of forestry service roads in BC over the years, and I couldn’t recall ever seeing a sign that said that. I thought maybe this would be one of those roads that eventually gets nicknamed a combination of interjections and profanity, but this was my route so I took it. The first kilometer or two did involve some slippity corners, and there were some ravines around, but I think the sign was there mostly to adjust your sense of confidence from the relatively speedy main road. I made it fine.
One of the reasons I wanted to drive this road was that it crossed the Blackwater River. I’d been told some years ago that this was one of BC’s finest trout streams, but I’d never fished it. Too far. I had emailed Pastor Jim to see what the river conditions were like around Prince George, and he’d said “High and muddy.” So I wasn’t surprised to find the Blackwater eminently unfishable:
A couple hours after it began, the Blackwater road ended at Highway 16. A left-hand turn there would take you to Houston, Smithers, and eventually the coastal town of Prince Rupert. I turned right and drove into BC’s northern capital from the west. You come into Prince George down a hill that leaves you with long, long views to the east. Way out there I could see snowy peaks, the first I’d seen since the Fraser Canyon, looking almost maternal with their grand gaze toward the setting sun. I had some time before I was expected at Pastor Jim’s place so I grabbed some food and continued driving north on the 97. I saw that the Salmon River was indeed high and muddy, and I drove on up to Summit Lake. I was surprised to see that there was still some ice around:
I was back on time to meet Jim and Nallely, the kids, and their new dog. Jim set me up in a townhouse with Leon Verhelst, a young guy from the congregation here. I managed an hour or so of post-drive decompression before falling off to an early sleep. Aside from all the practicum work, I do have some plans to trek farther north yet, maybe up to Mackenzie on Williston Lake. Maybe east, too, towards McBride into the Rockies.