Stewart-Cassiar Highway (Hwy 37)
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The Road Chose Me Volume 2: Three years and 54,000 miles around Africa
Driving up and down the Alaska Highway in the Liard area is giving me headache inducing déjà vu, so I’m happy to turn off familiar roads onto the Stewart-Cassiar highway.
I drive for less than an hour and decide I like this road. I like it a lot. It’s narrow, windy, seems to have no line markings, has almost no RV traffic and is generally pretty unpredictable. I see a great camp site on the side of a lake and am executing a middle-of-the-highway three point turn when I see a big black bear amble across the road less than 20 meters from me.
Sweet, I think. I’m not camping alone.
The leaves are beginning to turn here, a clear sign I need to get moving south and escape winter. I set off on the gravel road to Telegraph Creek which comes highly recommended.
I flash past a sign that says “WARNING: Steep mountain road ahead. Grades up to 20%” before I really have time to read it.
20%? that doesn’t sound right, I must have read it wrong. Still wondering about this, a corner sign whizzes by, then a recommended speed sign of 10 km/h. Ten? I’ve never seen a recommended speed that slow, something must be going on here. I start to gear down and am happy I get into second by the time I get a glimpse of what is coming. When recognition sets in I double-clutch and push hard to notch first gear even though Jeep complains loudly. The corner is a full 180˚ hairpin and without doubt the steepest public road I have ever seen. Even in first gear I have to ride the brakes hard to keep my speed under control.
The highway continues in this fashion for the next 60 kms, hugging the Stakine River the entire way. The river has carved such a huge canyon it’s known as “The Grand Canyon of The Stakine”. The guys that built the road seem to have made it a personal goal to see how close to the edge they could build.
I have no idea what to expect in Telegraph Creek and order a coffee at the only building that looks like it’s for out-of-towners. I spark up a conversation with the cashier, Leaf, about Mt. Edziza and my desire to hike there. It is an extremely remote park on the other side of the river that encompasses a huge volcano, volcanic rock formations, glaciers and high plateaus. With the relatively recent volcanic activity there are also a few hot springs in the park that caught my attention in the first place. I’m pretty hiked out from my recent adventures, so at this point my interest level has dropped to half-hearted. I am told very few people hike in from this side due to an abundance of chest deep beaver dams, $30 one way river crossing and the steep elevation gain. My enthusiasm continues to fall, which I’m not at all sad about, in fact I’m kind of pleased.
It turns out the building we’re sitting in is the original Hudson’s Bay Trading Company building, the one that started it all for Canada. Leaf’s family moved here in the 70’s as part of a “back to the earth movement” – not hippies she says, “these are very hardworking people, they want to do everything for themselves”. Their house is the most beautiful log cabin I have ever seen, and constructed more precisely than most city buildings.
We talk long into the night, and Leaf’s mum Lynn is bursting with pride about the life and home she has created for her family. She’s a little annoyed she had to go to work for six weeks this year and assures me it will be less next year.
I can’t help thinking that most people would be elated if they got six weeks of leave time.
I drive south the next morning and I know that I am rushing, the one thing I said I would not do on this trip. I’m really excited to see my brother soon so I don’t care. I want to rush. I want to be hanging out with him right now. It’s raining now, the first continuous rain I have seen in two months. I’m cold and tired, so I pay $12 for a campground in Stewart that has a hot shower. In the morning I cross the border into Hyder, Alaska which bizarrely has no customs or government presence at all, I just drive straight on in.
Hyder is known as the bear capital of North America, so I make a stop at Bear Creek and wander down the boardwalk to see what all the fuss is about. I’m amused by the throngs of paparazzi with telephoto lenses jostling for position on any bears that might unsuspectingly show up for lunch. I wait all of 20 seconds to see a grizzly sow swim across the small pond 20 meters in front of us. Cameras go crazy and everyone “ohhhs” and “ahhhs” as if on command. The bear walks under the boardwalk and everyone sits transfixed in place, still staring where the bear used to be. I look around and start thinking about where the bear will re-appear. As I trace the route in my mind, I begin to walk; it must have gone under there, around that and behind this. Bam. The grizzly appears less than 3 meters away, strolling down the river looking for salmon. I’m the only person to have solved the riddle and so I walk down the boardwalk alone, parallel to the bear for 40 meters snapping photos and being thoroughly entertained by it’s behavior. Once she has had her fill, everyone else seems to realize and comes running down the boardwalk, just in time to see her disappear into the bushes.
I drive up a very windy, steep gravel road that has more glaciers per kilometer than anywhere I’ve been yet. I drive and drive until I’m in the clouds and can hardly see the front of the Jeep let alone any more glaciers. The view from the top is nil.
On Mark’s recommendation I continue along the road, dropping down into the next valley jam packed with glaciers until eventually hitting barriers where there is active mining.
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Thanks for the bear pictures. Sigh..this time last year we were in AK watching the bears eat salmon.
So I just StumbledUpon your blog today in my search for things related to Into the Wild.
Can I just say I want to do exactly what you do?
How can I finance a life of adventure at 20 yrs? Anyhow.
I don’t know if you travel overseas as well as down the Americas, but if so, check out the Devil’s Pool.
Zimbabwe I think?
I arrived to your blog because i was searching about Chris McCandless, last night i saw the movie with some friends, and it was quite an experience. What you tell us about being in the magic bus was very touching, really.
You’re also living a great adventure, an amazing travel, and from here, Chile, I send you all my best wishes. I’m an anthropologist so i also know a little bit about traveling and meeting new people and different cultures!
Please, when you come to Chile (to go to Tierra del Fuego) please contact me, at least in Santiago, you’ll have a place to stay! it would be really nice to meet you!
All the best,
The magic bus really is a special place with amazing energy. If you ever make it to Alaska, you have to get there.
Thank you so much for the invitation – I’ll contact you for sure when I’m in Chile (which I’m looking forward to every single day now)
Take care Lore, I’ll meet you down the road.
Thanks for the pictures! Great ones of the bear-excellent work. Hey just wondering- how is the Jeep running for ya? I miss my old Wrangler.
The Jeep is running great. The drain plug on the radiator has been leaking since I left and a while ago I tightened it.. well, I actually snapped it off! I ended up pulling out the whole radiator to get the little piece out that broke off. It was a nice sunny day though and I made a couple of new friends, so no problem
Otherwise, she hasn’t missed a beat. Perfect.
After a few weeks back in the Tirol/Austria, I think a lot about our adventures. How are you man? I saw all this wonderful pictures on your site – it defenitly goes on.
Roland an me are doing good. I spend lots of time with my girlfriend Michaela. We love to rockclimb and to be in the mountains. Next week we both will spend some days in Korsika, nice french island for swimming and rockclimbing. After these days we start working for Ortovox and I will ask her!! (you know what I mean).
I had a realy good time with you and lots of fun. The Halibut in Valdeze, Roli and the gun, river crossings, the magic bus, the bonfires and so on. Thank you for this HILARIOUS time!!
Dan, I deeply hope, that you are in a good shape and continue your dream going south. Take care of you and we will see us again my friend!!
……….what about your hairstyle?
Tommy! great to hear from you! I’ve been telling my brother about the funny stuff the three of us did together and I laugh and smile every single time! Roli is a riot!
It’s great news you are spending lots of time with Michaela and things are moving along (!!!)
I’m in really good shape and inspired to keep improving since hanging out with the two of you.
I will see you somewhere down the road, I know it.
All the best Tommy,
your friend Dan.
(hairstyle? it goes on….)
Great bear pics. So far your trip has been amazing to read about.
Take care of yourself out there in the wild!
Hi Dan! I’m loving your summer so sooo much. I just got home from a mini road trip but cant wait to do what you’re doing! Your bear pictures are so great, love them! When are you meeting up with your brother?? Will ya give him a big hug and say hi for me :D. Have a safe trip South! (AND DONT RUSH!!) lol. Talk to you later.
Thanks Katie – Mike and I are sitting here together right now We’ll be sure to post up stories and adventures of what we’ve been up to and continue to get up to.
Wow amazing bear pictures,Jacob thinks their fantastic and we spent a whole afternoon yesterday imagining we were that close to the bear and then pretending we were bears swatting for salmon.It was a funny sight to behold!Finished the day off by reading “we’re going on a bear hunt” to Jacob before he went to sleep.He’s still telling everyone about the adventures the man in the computer is having lol!It makes me smile so much when he does that.
I can still only begin to imagine how amazing your experiences on your journey so far have been and its an absolute privilege and a pleasure to be able to read about them here.Its inspiring.Anyways just wanted to say thanks again for sharing your adventures,we so enjoy reading about them.Keep living the dream.xxRhi and Jakes
A huge hello to you both, Rhieanon & Jacob. I also like to pretend I’m a bear from time to time, mostly so I think they won’t eat me Again your comment is very touching and has put a massive smile on my face.
Thank you for giving me the courage to continue
-Dan (aka The Man In The Computer)
Hello my friend! Just back from rockclimbing with Roli! We spoke about our good time together, with a big smile in our faces.
I also saw on your pics, that you wear the Ortovox-merino-shirt; I am proud that you wear it!
See you down the road man!
All the best from Roli and me,
Looks like an amazing trip. I was just in Hyder 5 days ago, and am soo jelouse of your bear pics, we only saw black bears. If you didn’t go up to the salmon glacier and brendan glacier you should really go up there. We just drove right past the mining camp and it was well worth the drive. Oh and the blue bus has the BEST seafood. Enjoy your travels.
Any ways now we’er going to follow your tracks into buhl crk h.s., thanks for the pics.
Enjoy, Dan and Kathy
Nice one guys. I did make it right up to the mining camp and the road was really fun. Jeep and I had a great time Enjoy Buhl Creek, it’s an amazingly peaceful place.