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!!
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