It. Will there be bears? Let the adventure begin!
In the spring of 1893 one of Canada’s greatest explorers embarked on a cross country trip to eventually reach the Pacific Ocean. We may hear more about the exploits of Lewis and Clark south of the border, but in 1894, Sir Alexander Mackenzie was the first to cross the continent by land, and with only eight others accompanying him. He beat the other expedition by several years.
His trip was extremely difficult and if you’d like to experience some of the route you can hike the Mackenzie Heritage Trail in British Columbia’s Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. This park has some of the most exciting scenery available almost anywhere on the continent, with massive mountains, explosive waterfalls, lazy skyblue lakes, and spectacular views.
At the south end of the park is the Atnarko River which runs into the Bella Coola River. Both rivers are prime areas to view bears, as well as bald eagles. Tweedsmuir Park Lodge commands a beautiful location below the cliffs and is just a few steps from the Atnarko River. What a great combination, a beautiful place to lodge, and a handy location to book a float trip.
The McKenzie boat shoved off and drifted into the current. The valley walls seemed incredibly close, a result of their great height, and the narrow meandering river whose curving path prevented us from seeing too far ahead. We were hoping to see the great bears, but we were intensely watching the water for signs of salmon. Sylvia was the first to spot one, which turned into a small school of less than a dozen.
That was good news! Then I saw a bald eagle waiting in the trees. More good news, but still no sign of bears. But why the interest in the salmon and the eagles? The bears don’t walk down to the river for a drink, they come when the fish arrive. The bald eagles will be first to come. They seem to know when the salmon are on the way, and there will be many eagles when that happens. And then the grizzlies come fishing.
I have seen entire families of grizzly bears in the water. One may sit lazily in a spot where the rapids are strong. His quick eye will see an upcoming fish. A great paw reaches over into the water, and a salmon becomes lunch. Another bear will make a run up the river, splashing and making a lot of noise. The salmon is so confused by this it becomes an easy target. Another meal! A different bear stands on the bank, and suddenly leaps into the river, capturing his fresh meal.
On this river drift, the fish were scarce, only one bald eagle, and absolutely no bear. We were too early. The oarsman said we were seeing the first of the run and the river would soon be filled with fish, just not today.
It didn’t matter that much. We were floating on a river in the midst of amazing mountain scenery. The day was pleasant, and only the gurgling water passing by the boat made any sound, although sometimes the gentle quacking of a mother duck leading her ducklings across the river interrupted the solitude.
We drifted slowly past the bear viewing platform of Tweedsmuir Park Lodge, slipped around a curve in the river and saw a huge bald eagle cross over to