By Sharon Brooker
There is an area in B.C. that has intrigued me since my youth when the brother of a good friend went there to be a cowboy and stayed. He told his sister that it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. That area is the Chilcotin.
Finally, after many years, I went there this summer and discovered a place that has some of the most outstandingly beautiful areas I have had the pleasure of seeing. The people that live there are also outstanding in their kindness, warmth and down to earth goodness.
My first stop was at the Chilcotin Lodge in Riske Creek, which is the oldest hostelry in the Chilcotin (currently celebrating its 75th birthday). It has been so well maintained and refurbished by the owners, Ria and Hennie van der Klis that you would swear it was much newer and yet it still has the ‘40s feel. Its original charm and warmth are evident, but there are modern conveniences (no outhouses) for the comfort of guests. While there, I took a drive to Farwell Canyon and was quite taken by the hoodoos and other formations of the canyon created by the Chilcotin River.
My next stop was Tatla Lake where I took a side trip south to the spectacular Tatlayoko Lake, which is nestled between the Nuit and Potato Ranges in the western Chilcotin. It is a glacier-fed lake with a beautiful aquamarine colour. It is part of the Homathko River drainage system that flows to Bute Inlet at the coast. Back in the 1800s Alfred Waddington wanted to build a road to the gold fields. The road would have started at the head of Bute Inlet and continued north past Tatlayoko lake into the Chilcotin plateau and further on towards the Cariboo goldfields. It all came to not when the workers were attacked by local natives. So the area around the lake was saved and is still a wild area on the edge of the Coast Mountains.
The next stop was Anahim Lake where I stayed at Eagles Nest Resort on the south side of the lake. The view from the dining room is lovely — it consists of the lake and all the wonderful birdlife flying and prancing around as well as the old volcanos of the Itcha and Ilgachuz ranges. Another interesting area is Anahim Peak, which is an old volcanic cone in the Anahim Volcanic Belt. You can hike in these areas or go by horse back. You can also try fishing, either in a local lake or in the Dean River — a world famous destination for trout. You can travel to the multi-coloured Rainbow Range where you can hike in from the trailhead just off Hwy. 20 west of Anahim Lake, ride in on horses or fly above in small aircraft. These mountains were formed by volcanic activity and are multi-coloured due to the different minerals from the volcanoes.
While in Anahim I went on a flight over the mountains. We were scheduled to fly over the Rainbow Range, fly by Hunlen Falls, and finally over the Monarch Icefields. Due to a strong blustery wind we had to cancel the Rainbow Range fly by but I did get to see the other two attractions. It was a bumpy flight but thoroughly enjoyable.
Next stop was the Bella Coola valley that is reached by continuing west on Hwy. 20 and descending down (The Hill), which from Heckman Pass to sea level is a drop of 1,524 metres. The steep part of the hill can be rather daunting if you are not familiar with shear drop offs, but the road is reasonably wide and if you take your time it is easily travelled.
Once in the valley you are in a different climatic zone — here are the large cedar trees and green, thickly-treed forests. The surrounding mountains seem to rise straight up from the valley bottom. Here you can hike the many trails around the town or go into Tweedsmuir Park to hike. There is, of course, ocean fishing and exploring. Nearby is the spot where Sir Alexander MacKenzie reached the Pacific and became the first European to cross North America by land.
My next destination was the Nemiah Valley in the more southern part of the Chilcotin. I drove up ‘The Hill,’ which was interesting. The only problem with this kind of road is that you can’t steal glimpses of the surrounding vistas; it does demand your full attention. Once we hit pavement I headed for Hanceville (formerly called Lee’s Corner) and turned south. The road was paved for a short while and then we were back on the gravel. It is a pretty drive to the valley and it kept getting better as the mountains that border the area came into view. This valley is on the east side of Chilko Lake. This lake is the largest high-altitude lake in North America (It is 84 km from north to south), covers an area of 20,032 hectares) and is exceedingly beautiful. It too is glacier fed and has the aquamarine colouring. It is a wild looking lake with jagged mountains coming down to the water. You don’t see cabins along its shores, although there are some houses along part of the eastern shore. The Xeni Gwet’in have lived there for untold years and protect their land from logging and mining or any industry that would destroy their world. It is a beautiful area with fishing, hiking, horseback riding and many other pursuits one would like. The people I stayed with (Tracy and Jon Tanis) at the Snowy Mountain Outfit were extremely hospitable and knowledgeable about the area having lived there for over 30 years. I felt totally at home and comfortable. They, of course, have horses, and for the first time in over 45 years I went riding. I was surprised that after three to four hours on a horse there was no pain. We saw wild horses as well as lovely country.
After this last stop it was time to head home.
If anyone who reads this missive is interested in checking out the Chilcotin I would strongly recommend that you do. It is so different from many holiday destinations as the people are real, they are down to earth and want you to enjoy your stay with them. And the country is absolutely beautiful.
I give it an AAAAA rating.