With apologies to my oldest followers, I’m reblogging this post from four years ago.
Pictures were taken with my tiny Olympus camera before the days of my Nikon. Only this first photo is different, taken by my friend, Ken Johnston.
A few years ago, the Captain and I went on a camping trip west of Williams Lake in BC with another couple to fish the highly esteemed Chilko River.
I knew it was grizzly country but in spite of my ursaphobia I didn’t want to miss out on this adventure.
The Chilcotin Plateau on our way to Chilko Lake and the Tatlayoko Lake area was scenic and spectacular. Real cowboy country. Near the horse corrals of Chilko Lake Lodge we parked our trailers side by side in a designated camping area.
I kicked aside hoof trimmings with sharp tacks still sticking out of them. Didn’t want to step on them later.
We fished some of the many smaller lakes in the area, as well as the Chilko River, for which we needed a special licence (and a promise that we wouldn’t sue if we got frostbite on the river). It was June, and sunny, but the temperature was cool at this altitude. Chilly and cold.
“Hey! Maybe that’s why it’s called Chilko Lake—‘chilly cold lake.’” I thought I was being witty, but all I got was eye rolls from my shivering companions.
I’m not petite, but with many layers of coats, sweaters, and life jacket on, I’ve doubled in size.
“We should try to find a better spot to launch the skiff,” the Captain said. “There’s a good place right around here. Saw it last year. The main road runs parallel to the river. Somewhere, there’s a trail between the two.” Moments later he spotted it. A narrow road had been pushed through the dense woods. It might have been passable with our four-wheel-drive truck except that large boulders had been strategically placed to prevent vehicle access. We got out and walked through the woods.
“I don’t mind a hike, but what about grizzlies?”
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about them. They’re all up in the hills this time of year.”
Why didn’t that reassure me? “And you know this, how?”
“I just know.”
I shrugged my shoulders and strapped on my bear spray. “Okay, let’s go.”
“The river’s got to be just around the bend,” the Captain said. In the next twenty minutes he would repeat this phrase many times.
My neck felt rubbery from swiveling to check behind me. “Are you sure about the grizzlies?”
“No grizzlies this time of year. I told you, they’re all up in the hills.”
This sounded very familiar. It was the same thing he had said when we were stranded in grizzly country on the coast the day we got cut off by the tide. “You always say that.”
“No really, they are,” he said. “It’s too early for grizzlies.”
The launching spot we eventually found was nowhere near where we hiked that day through “non-grizzly country.” We fished the river and were amazed at the huge fish that remained, for the most part, elusive. Three things stood out for me on those days on the river:
1. The scenery was spectacular.
2. It was cold enough to freeze your goosebumps.
3. Blessedly, there were no grizzlies on the river (which is why I liked being in the boat).
After several days at the horse ranch, the forecast of heavy rain marked the end of our stay.
We packed up and started for home. Outfitted with walkie-talkies in each truck, we led the way, chatting occasionally to our friends who followed behind in their rig.
The roads were turning ugly in places as the downpour dampened the clay gumbo under the gravel topping. We were getting out just in time.
That’s when it happened.
“Did you see that?” I pointed to the road in front of us, then turned to see where the two grizzlies disappeared into the trees. We pulled over to the side to peer through the woods. The trees were so close together I wondered how a grizzly could fit between them, especially at a gallop.
“Two grizzlies just ran across the road in front of us,” the Captain said into the walkie-talkie.
“Oh yeah? Well, you’ve got a flat tire,” our friend said.
“Ha, ha! Very funny,” we answered into the mike.
“No, I’m serious. Your back right trailer tire is flat. I’m parked right behind you and believe me, it’s flat.”
“Is he messing with our heads?” I asked. “Right where the grizzlies went into the woods?”
“I’ll check it out.” The expression on his face when he came back to the cab told me it was bad news. “We must have driven over one of those hoof clippings with the tacks. You take the shotgun and stand right there while I change the tire.”
My neck felt prickly but I couldn’t wimp out and leave the Captain to be grizzly bait all alone, so I stood there with the shotgun. Our friend stood guard with his rifle — brave soul –, and his wife stayed in their truck — smart woman.
After a while, I got bored. The gravel on the roadside looked soft, and the grizzlies—a mother and a teenage cub I would guess—were really moving, so they should have left some tracks. I wandered a bit, looking up and down the ditch for the tracks.
“Here!” the Captain called. “Just stand there with that shotgun. I don’t trust those buggers.” No more pooh-poohing my ursaphobia now. I should have felt some “I-told-you-so” satisfaction but all I felt was jumpy nerves.
At last the spare tire was on and tools put away. I did a quick check for overlooked tire irons and such. And that’s when I found it—the grizzly track I’d been looking for—right behind the newly changed tire.
“Oh my God! It’s exactly right here that they went into the woods!”
As we drove away, the Captain scrunched his face up. “Ahem … I didn’t want to tell you earlier,” he said, “but a rancher near Tatlayoko Lake lost some livestock to grizzlies last week.”
“All up in the hills. Hah!”