Around the Coast Mountains
Welcome to Mark B Cunnington’s blog for my expedition of discovery around BC’s Coast Mountains. I’m taking this trip to satisfy a dream I’ve had most of my life to immerse myself in the nature of my home, the northwest coast of North America. I also want to make a nature documentary about this region and use this to draw attention to the threats still facing many wild areas here.
The Coast Mountains region supports a wide diversity of ecosystems and landscapes because of its varied geography and the meeting of a moist maritime climate from the west with a polar continental climate from the east. All along the length of our left hand border, the coastal areas are divided from the interior by a continuous and almost impenetrable mountain range. Few roads cross it. Only ten rivers manage to cut through it. What binds it all together is the forests, the wildlife and the waterways.
What makes these ten rivers special is that they begin in relatively “flat” terrain in the interior, to the east of the mountains. As they flow westwards through the mountains, the terrain gets more dramatic and many of these rivers receive glaciers in their lower courses, rather than in their headwaters, which is the opposite of most rivers. This is due to the large snow catchment zones (and heavy precipitation) in the high elevations above which funnel ice down to the valley bottoms before it has a chance to melt.
With a burgeoning population and increased demand for natural resources, the ecological integrity of this region is also under continued threat. Energy development for natural gas targets entire watersheds. Other areas face the prospect of poorly conceived mine proposals or oil pipelines (and oil tankers). We do have many great protected areas here to enjoy and take care of, for which we have the hard work of previous conservationists to thank, but this system is incomplete. British Columbia and Canada do not have a comprehensive set of protected areas sufficient to maintain dynamic ecosystems with healthy and diverse populations of apex mammals. There still remains much pristine unprotected and threatened wilderness, and it is as important now as it has ever been that what is at stake be brought forward to the people of Canada and the World.
The first part of my trip in 2010 was a kayak journey up the Inside Passage from Richmond, BC to Prince Rupert, BC. Places I was particularly looking forward to visiting are:
- Long Lake and Smith Inlet behind Cape Caution (nice grizzly habitat),
- Hakai Recreation Area with its myriad inlets and islets meeting the open ocean,
- Princess Royal Island and Helmcken Lake (white kermode bears and healthy wolf populations),
- Quaal and Ecstall Rivers (two separate rivers which almost meet up, making for a spectacular river journey through the mountains west of Kitimat),
- the mouth of the Stikine River, and nearby Shakes Lake with its tidewater glacier.
Unfortunately I only made it halfway in 2010, which was still quite a trip though! IN 2011 and 2012 I could only get a few weeks off from work, so I did short sectons and made it to Bella Bella by then end of the 2012 season. Eventually I’ll get to Prince Rupert and start the bike ride back down the other side. On this part of the trip I will ride the backroads and wilderness trails along the eastern side of the mountains through the Chilcotin to discover the forests, lakes, rivers, history, and people living sustainably in this region.
The year after that, I plan to do the Alaska leg, with a kayak journey up the coast from Prince Rupert to Skagway and a bike ride back down the other side along the Cassiar Highway. I also plan to make a descent of the Taku River from Atlin. The Taku is one of the last remaining unprotected wild rivers in BC. It is a large river that empties into the Pacific near Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Amazingly, this valley remains unroaded. This probably has a lot to do with the large tidewater glacier at its mouth which would cut off road access. It supports large runs of salmon and is important for local fisheries and wildlife.
Here is a table of contents for the trip:
Rivers Inlet to Bella Bella
Mereworth Sound to Rivers Inlet
Telegraph Cove to Port Hardy
Richmond to Telegraph Cove
July 18 – Sayward to Telegraph Cove
Here are some of my favourite / most memorable photos from the trip so far: