Monday, June 30, 2014

Iskut River Hot Springs


My 1570 km trip up North to the ISKUT RIVER HOT SPRINGS started not with a bang but rather a whimper. My caring wife of many a year,  tired of constant rantings about hot springs, lovingly helped to load my old SUV full to the brim and waived me good bye.

All went well, until just a couple of hours drive past Prince George, in the middle of nowhere between towns, the beast, otherwise known as Ford Escape 2010 version, sputtered to a slow stop and died at the edge of the road. Like all males, I strutted to the front, lifted the hood and stared at the engine. I know nothing about car repairs, so after a reasonable amount of time staring at the innards, I slammed down the hood, firmly shut.

I contemplated my situation. Impossible to go home so early, my loving wife might not understand, nor was I strong enough to push the car to the next village. I did the only sensible thing, I left the car by the side of the road and unloaded all my stuff. There was enough gear for a full scale expedition to Mount Everest.
I couldn’t believe my eyes how a few camping and hiking essentials multiplied into a moving truck's worth of inventory. I piled things into a neat row at the side of the highway so as not to inconvenience the other drivers.
The huge pile of stuff made for a nice place to sit on and have a much needed lunch. I unwrapped a cheese and salami sandwich and uncorked a bottle of Okanagan 2012 Chardonnay. Coming prepared for all situations I even had a crystal wine glass for the occasion.

The glorious weather added to my good feelings; after the second glass of wine, I decided that hitchhiking to my destination might be the right answer to my problems.

I was terrified of the idea of begging for a ride from strangers. After all, at almost seventy years of age, dignity was important. I bravely stuck out my thumb in the direction of ISKUT RIVER HOT SPRINGS.

I stood by the side of the road for the next four hours facing my right hand and thumb towards all vehicles passing by. Absolutely no one stopped! Cars, vans, motor homes, 18 wheelers, all sped right past as if I didn’t even exist. Little did they know I would be glad to serenade them with stories of my love of Hot Springs.

Then it happened. A small motorhome slowed down. The passenger slowly rolled down the window about an inch. Wanted to know if he could take my picture? What a weird request, I thought. He had a foreign accent, probably a tourist to Canada. I told him it would be fine if he took my picture if he gave me a ride to the next town. He rolled up his window, discussed things with the driver, and decided that they could take me and my belongings as far as Terrace. They were indeed tourists, their first trip to Canada. Now it was me that would have wanted to take pictures.  The driver wore fake alligator cowboy boots, a pink checkered shirt, a tan coloured suede vest with foot long fringes dangling from the arms and a heavy jade necklace around his neck. He introduced himself as Gunther. The passenger wore a pure white shirt and matching white pants, definitely ironed just that morning. His name was Hans. They were on their honeymoon from Berlin, Germany. I was allocated the place in between them, in the  front. They spent the first two hours bickering, in German, amongst themselves, on either side of me. When there was a momentary lull, I took my chance and interrupted with my introductory  "Hot Springs 101”. I regaled them with my knowledge of how hot springs are formed and how wonderful they were for soaking and to rejuvenate tired bodies. I went on and on, and on. Perhaps a little too long. I think Gunther had enough of my stories. He suddenly pulled over to the side of the road and unceremoniously dumped me and my belongings, and left me there. Didn’t even wave good bye. I was shocked!

I looked on the map. Smithers was the nearest town. 

A Highways Dept. Maintenance truck pulled over as I rearranged my luggage. Yellow light flashed on top of his vehicle. I was hopeful, the truck looked big enough for me and all my goods. He lumbered out of his vehicle, his huge pot belly leading him. Are you having a garage sale, he inquired? I didn’t have time to answer him when he added "Get all this garbage off the side of the highway or I’ll take the whole pile to the dump! " He yelled at me! For good measure he stabbed the air in front of me with his index finger to make a point. I was impressed! He left. I laid down by the side of the road on my memory foam mattress and opened a book to read. It was appropriately titled; Pierre Berton, Prisoner of the North.

I almost fell asleep when a car pulled up, I jumped up. Instead of offering me a ride. It let out a large black Labrador dog, a guitar with peace stickers all over it, a well used dirty back pack, and a long haired young male. Surprised to see me, he muttered a subdued hello. Took up the pole position and stuck his finger out in a classic hitchhiker’s pose. I smirked and returned the greeting. This is WAR, I thought. Even if I was lying down on the job, this was my territory. We threw imaginary darts at each other’s eyes. We exchanged a few pleasantries. He was from Quebec on his way up North to pick chanterelle mushrooms. I wished him good luck, knowing full well I had a better chance for a ride then him. In a few minutes he disappeared into a red Honda that stopped in front of him. How dare he? I was beginning to feel sorry for myself, my ego slipped a few notches.

I ignored the semi-trailer that pulled over, they were not known for giving rides to hitchhikers. It had Texas license plates. The driver was coming all the way from Dallas and was very tired and sleepy. He told me if I entertained him and kept him awake I would get a ride all the way to my destination. We threw everything unto the trailer bed and rolled into the night. I knew my Hot Springs stories would come handy sooner or later. I didn’t need much encouragement. I kept up the one-sided chit chat about the beauty and glory of my Hot Springs finds. After a while he started to nod off. How rude. I didn’t even run out of stories. I switched to hockey. He woke up. As promised, he dropped me off with all my gear at the junction of Hwy. #37 and the  Galore Creek Mine road.

The moment he roared off, the vast forested country was dead quiet. I was alone. The only thing in front of me was a now empty mining office building.This was to be  the start of my hike. There was enough light for me to put up my tent by the side of the building and rest for the night, in readiness for next day’s hike. Sleep was slow in coming.

At daybreak a terribly loud bang awoke me. I stayed flat in my tent. Fear shook me. Three more gunshots echoed next to my tent. I waited for the next bullet. No more. I slowly got up and stuck my head out from my tiny tent. Two Duck Dynasty camouflaged hunters stood over a bleeding dead bear. Not 10 short steps from my tent. The bear looked like a lump of brown fur. The two killers smiled from ear to ear. You are damned lucky we were here, they told me. The bear was circling your tent ready to do you in. I was in no mood for idle chatter. Quickly packed my hiking stuff. Hid my excess things in a shed and began my hike. In about 20 meters I passed a tree with two little bear cubs in the branches. 

I forcefully pounded my walking sticks into the ground as I started my 17km hike down the mining road. It was easy and uneventful. I camped for the night by the Iskut River. The next day I crossed over to the West side, turned away from the road and started my 6km bushwhack following the river upstream.

My full stomach, wonderful weather, healthy outlook, and great expectations lasted about 15 minutes into the hike. I tried to follow the river's edge. There was a steep ledge that dropped off directly into the cold swift river. I tried to straddle the embankment, the slippery scree sent me dangerously close to drowning in the rapids. I decided to follow the river a few meters inland, where the thick foliage of the prickly avalanche plants held me back. Next, I encountered thick lush vegetation composed of impenetrable alder. The foot of the mountain valley started immediately straight up beside me. On paper this was to be so simple: just follow the river for 6km up stream. No big deal. I tried to use the few feet between the river and the sheer cliffs to advance my journey. I bogged down. Couldn’t move forward or backwards. I was a prisoner of the foliage. I sat down and cried. Why the hell am I here? What am I trying to prove? Turn back! Please turn back! I heard some one saying. Instead, I continued. Hour after hour the same. Bushes clamped around my legs like an angry 2 year old. The jaws of life held me firm.

Advancing very little by the end of the day. I pitched my tent in a minuscule clearing and cheered myself by assuming that no bear would consider bothering me in this dense bush. Next day I continued my journey up river in a slow but determined fashion. The weather turned chilly even though I was constantly struggling and sweating. The sweat turned into a freezing cold envelope around my chest. I battled for most of the day. Inching my way to my destination. The only consolation was that I couldn’t get lost as long as I followed the river. The sky turned dark, rain threatened. I set up my tent in time. For good measure I stretched a large tarp over my tent to keep the expected rain from touching my tent. Had supper of freeze dried lasagna. Sleep came fast. But the pitter patter of rain drops on the roof put an end to my dreams. The cosy cocoon of of my sleeping bag kept me warm much of the night. The rain that started out gently turned into a downpour. The tarp began to accumulate water and slowly drenched the tent and threatened to inundate me at any moment. Getting up in the semi-darkness to pee and to deal with the situation was not a pleasure. I noticed the bottom of my sleeping bag was getting soggy. The down was like a sponge, in no time the entire contents of my home were under water. Water was entering from all areas. I dug out a survival blanket from my pack and lined the inside of the sleeping bag. Morning came slowly. The rain stopped. I squeezed all the water from my sleeping bag. After a miserable breakfast I continued my struggle in the bush.

On the third day in the Green Hell the forested area widened between the river and the mountain, which made progress not easier but gave more terrain. This was the day I expected to be near the Hot Springs location, according to the GPS directions. The springs were supposed to be in a one km square  in front of me. I zig-zaged between the river and the base of the mountain. I advanced very slowly. Then on the afternoon of the third day of bushwhacking I found it. There it was, a small clearing. Hot water streaming out of the sheer cliffs. Dainty wildflowers of all colours. Heaven! There was no other way to describe the beauty of the area. I screamed my head off with delight and danced an impromptu jig. I was beyond ecstatic, paying no attention to the grizzly bear footprints in the meadow. An unforgettable sight! Well worth the effort! I BAGGED ANOTHER ONE!

                                                                 The source at Iskut Hot Springs:

1970 Meager Creek: 

                                                                         2013 Portage Brûle:

Recent Hot Springs visits include; Blue River, Deer River, Portage Brûlé, Sheemahant, Atlin, August Jacobs, Beta Pool, Cantung, Frizzel, Kinbasket, Meager, Nash Creek, Sheslay, Aiyansh, McArthur, etc.

On the bucket list for this year; Coal River, Greyling River, and?

You are welcome to contact me at:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Deer River Hot Springs

Ever since I saw a trip report on Deer River Hot Springs by a guy called Dan, I was intrigued by this destination, especially since hot springs are my weakness.

Armed with maps, books, detailed descriptions, and wishy-washy directions, I undertook the 4000 km drive up north to the elusive springs. Before putting on the backpack I stopped off at Liard River Hot Springs to get my blood pressure accustomed to hot water. Next day, I was on the trail, full of excitement. I marveled at the great views of the mighty Liard with dozens of buffaloes sunbathing on its shores. At the end of the day, I slept in an abandoned cabin provided by some hunter of long ago. Next day, with the trail deteriorating a bit, I got to the end of the official trail at the banks of the Deer River. It came as a hell of a surprise that the river was a monster and that it had no bridge or a way to cross without drowning. I decided to camp by the shore and look longingly to the other side. Next day I packed up my gear and my pride and went home.

A month later, I could not stand it any more, the urge got to me again. This time I flew up to Ft. St. John and took the Greyhound to the beginning of the trek and took a different route. Yes the 13 km walk was still part of it, then I tried to cross the Deer River 6 km up river. However this time the Weather Gods were not on my side, it rained non stop and I was soaked to the bone and I still had to cross the nasty river, hypothermia was beckoning and bear tracks around my tent during the night spooked me. Next day I turned back again.

The 3rd week of August was to be another window of opportunity, again I flew up north to Ft. St. John, this time hitchhiked to my starting point and took a different route. Bushwhacked 16 km to my not so friendly Deer River and had a heart to heart talk with it. It was going to be it or me! Oh yes, it was raining again. I dipped my toes into the ice cold glacier melt waters and full of determination got in deeper and deeper and finally crossed to the other side!

Then, my real journey started. I had no idea how far to go. The Hot Springs Of Western Canada said 13 km, the geological people said about 16 km, the Back Roads Of BC book said 31 km up river. I was not surprised that there were no trails or signs of any other hikers ever being in this area. This is when I began to wonder what was I doing here in the middle of the forest with the nearest settlement 1000 km in the direction that I was heading toward.

Soaking wet, I began following the river. Since there were bear footprints everywhere I decided to make as much noise as possible, shouting to imaginary friends and talking to all the trees. Progress was very slow, I had the choice of face high bushes slapping me in the face or wet tree branches poking me. As I was slowly bushwhacking my way I realized there would be no place to put up a tent that night because of the thickness of the vegetation. The only area big enough was a small gravel area in between one of the branches of the Deer River. My desire to succeed overcame my reluctance and I pitched my tent on fist-sized rocks.

Needless to say I did not sleep a wink. At daybreak, I unzipped my tent door and stared a bear right in the face, about 15 metres from me. I had to make a quick decision, should it be the camera or the bear spray? The camera was in the bottom of the backpack and the bear spray directions were in French. I sensibly opted for the Bear Banger, I loaded the unit and it went off with the loudest explosion I ever heard, I almost pooped my pants. I never saw a bear run so fast in my life.

Making a breakfast fire in the rain was out of the question, I know all the TV Adventurers can do it in pouring rain, but not me. I ate freeze-dried spaghetti made with cold water, ugh. Very crunchy.

I continued following the river for another day, wondering why am I here all alone, perhaps going in circles, my GPS gave no clues, just a bunch of squiggly lines. Towards the end of the day I got tired of fighting the bushes and decided to follow the river’s edge for a while. Bad move, as a sheer wall of 3 meter high white cliff trapped me, a cliff that looked out of place in terms of colour and texture. It was white and smooth. At one place it dripped water, I touched it and was surprised by its warmth! I quickly backtracked and went on top of the cliff.

A stunning sight greeted me. A plateau with stunted trees and clearings, and a large lake with crystal clear water steaming away all in front of me. I screamed with joy, I could not believe the stunning beauty of the area.

A river of hot water, waterfalls, and a lake.

I quickly undressed and literally swam in the lake and did several laps. When reality caught up with me I realized this was a small micro climate, with songbirds, plants, and small animals not normally found at this latitude. Bear, moose, and deer foot prints all over. Obviously they liked the therapeutic effect the hot springs offered.

By luck the weather cleared and sun radiated off the lake. I could not imagine a more beautiful site. Not one sign of other humans’ previous visits.

Now I understood why no one is willing to give out the coordinates. I think the desire to keep the area pristine overrides the desire to tell. I camped on the plateau for the day and a night, terribly afraid of the bears. Next day I headed back, impossible to retrace my way I more or less followed my instincts. I found my river crossing again and this time full of confidence I re-crossed the Deer River. Sopping wet but happy.

Not bad for a 66 year old fart!!

Questions and comments can be directed to:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hi there

Hi there,
This is my blog about my trip to Deer River Hot Springs.  More info and pictures to follow.

Here is a sample shot.