Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Watson Lake YT to Fort Nelson BC

Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow.  Yup, that was a 5 wow day, up there with the Whitehorse to Skagway and the Haines to Haines Junction mountains drives.  After all the rain last night, I got up at 5.30 when I heard a break in the rain and packed up everything while I could. Then I had breakfast, and after that, everything just kind of got ……….better !!  The shower facilities were really good, the laundry was warm and dry to sit in and wok on my blog, the internet worked (well, as good as any recently) which made skype possible, and then the sun came out !!  I drove out of the campsite at about 9 am, still with the roof on, and hadn’t even got into 4th gear on the road when I saw my first bear for the day, climbing a bank just beside the road.  Yes, it was all looking promising after such a miserable night last night.  I drove the 12 miles into Watson Lake to fill up with gas, and while there took the roof off, and also managed to get a really good jam filled donut from the bakery attached to the gas station.  Better every minute. Even managed to get some cash out of an ATM with only a $2 charge, which was also good !  So off down the road to Fort Nelson – a 350 mile drive on a road that I had never driven before.

Soon after leaving Watson Lake I spotted my 2nd black bear, and then not much further down the road, my first brown one. The sides of the road are lush grass with lots of wildflowers, and about 30 metres wide each side, and the bears just love lying in there and munching.  Even when you can’t see a bear, you can see trails where they have trampled the grass down. This brown bear munched besde me for a while, then just as I drove off, he decided to cross the road and hopped over a concrete safety barrier and disappeared down the bank the other side ! Grass is always greener ???

 We may have left the mighty Yukon River behind, but there are several big rivers running beside the Alcan Hwy much of the way to Fort Nelson.  After the initial rolling hills we crossed the Coal River, and then the Liard.  At Liard there is a great campsite with hot springs there that the personnel building the highway set up their base camps around. After falling into disrepair once the Alcan was completed, they have been resurrected and are now a major tourist attraction.  Once again, the highway was full of big RV’s heading north , as well as a lot of motorbikes - And the busy period doesn’t start till July !!!

 We saw a herd of bison grazing beside the road, still looking a bit mangy because they are still shedding their winter coats.  Then I took a detour down to Whirlpool Falls on the Coal River, and that was quite a sight with a lot of driftwood piled up from earlier high floods, and the water racing down through a narrow cutting, forming whirlpools on the way down.  It was from this point that the road started to get really scenic – As we climbed up the Muncho Pass with a summit at 1100 metres. The road was just great, winding up and around the hills and forests, with glimpses of the river or smaller lakes every so often just to keep you awake !  There were also frequent animal sightings, and it seems to be the same people you meet each time you stop to take photos because you are all travelling at about the same speed, even though you get well spaced out on the road, so you end up chatting quite a lot too !!.   But wildlife all the way – and at last a mother brown bear with two cubs, grazing together by the road.  They couldn’t really care less about us all up on the road, maybe just 20 or 30 metres away and a bunch of us sat and watched them for maybe half an hour before mum gathered her cubs and took off into the trees.   Not long after that we saw a bunch of mountain goats on the road, seemingly licking the water up from puddles and cracks in the road !!

We then drove through the dramatic Muncho Pass with big boulder strewn river beds (currently dry) coming down off the mountains – They are over 100 yards wide in places so must be quite a sight when flowing – Especially since they cross the road and carry on down the other side into the river / lake !!!  Road might be impassable for a while !!   Then you suddenly come across the dramatic blue- green Lake Muncho itself, the colour caused by silt particles from surrounding glaciers that are in suspension in the lake and reflect the predominantly blue-green colour.  Once again, the photos just cannot pick up this colours accurately, although in a couple of the pics taken across the lake rather than up and down it, there is enough colour to give you an idea.  But in real life, it is just absolutely stunning.   Filled up with gas there and got chatting with a very nice Vietnam Vet and his wife who were on a Harley with a big trailer to carry all their stuff  and heading north – Not camping though !!  He was asking about road conditions, especially on the Dalton, so I was able to help him out a bit.  Once he realised Elsie had made it up the Dalton, he was a lot happier !!

 Muncho Lake goes on for some distance,  and I saw some more mountain goats beside it – Especially one old ram who posed beautifully for me in front of the lake !!!  Then not far down the road, I found a nice big moose beside the road. Moose might be the most dangerous animals when they get angry, but they are also very timid and usually by the time you get level with the moose all ou get is a shot of his bottom as he heads into the trees, where he stops and turns and looks at you !!  But this one I finally got a decent photo of as he crossed the road in front of me – Before disappearing into the trees and offering the customary butt shot !!   Next I spotted a porcupine – I was just taking a general view photo and realised the small black lump on the left was a porcupine, so stopped quickly.   He ran off quick smart – They are pretty timid too.  Normally I have to quickly turn my music off, and then kill the engine so you can coast up to the animal, while simultaneously taking general pics with the little camera in case they run away, but also switching on the bigger camera and winding down the windows – Oh, and driving at the same time !!  So there is a lot to do when you are the only one in a car, and if some of my shots are a little blurred sometimes, maybe you now understand why !!   A lot easier when there is a passenger to take the photos !!!!  Anyway, finally got a bit of a shot of a porcupines face !

And then not 200 yards down the road, I came round the corner and there was a big old moose standing in the middle of a small lake beside the road, having a drink.  I actually over shot him and had to do a U turn and go back !  But he had half his head under water for about 30 seconds each tie, so he must have been pretty thirsty ! I managed to get a few shots of his head, and then a big truck came round the same corner and when he saw me beside the road, put his noisy compression brakes on, and scared the moose, which are the photos of him splashing.   Anyway, now two decent moose shots !!   See what I mean about the day just getting better ?  It was also war enough that even with the roof off I didn’t need my thermals on – must be the first time on my entire trip, I think !!  I even had to put some sun tan cream on !

And then I found a oose with his new antlers growing !!   First time I have seen that too !  What a day !

 The road beside Lake Muncho was great – Good surface, but winding along the very edge of the lake, with steep cliffs up on the left.  At one point I suddenly saw a few small stones roll down and onto the road, looked up to see if I was about to get covered in an avalanche – But it was just a couple of mountain goats clambering around on the cliff, and kicking the odd stone down on to the road.  I sat there and watched them leaping around for a while – They are just SO surefooted – Amazing to watch.    And there are all sorts of amazing campsites all along this road – They would be great if you were in a small van or something and had some facilities with you to make it easier.  Another place I would really like to come back to – But not in Elsie !!!

 Then we came to Toad River !!   Really big river and lots going on there with rafting and cycling and hiking etc, but the reason I put the photos of the Toad signs in there is that the Aussie ELises guys often call me Mt Toad – I think because I like to drive !!!  So I thought these signs were rather appropriate, guys !!!  And ironically, knowing Mr Toad’s penchant for speed in his cars, the very next river is called Racing River !!  Did someone have a sense of humour when naming these rivers round here ?

 After that, we climbed up to about 1400 metres to cross Summit Lake Pass – Once again a great road winding up the hills – And suddenly there is Summit Lake -  Nothing like Muncho lake in size or colour, but still really pretty – And at the far end of it this really nice camping spot right beside the water – With just two vans there !!!   Yup, there are some beautiful places round here, and with the right vehicle you could really have some great fun up here.

 On the other side of the pass is the most dramatic view for as far as the eye can see over forest and hills. Totally different from the other side, but just so beautiful, and almost impossible to take photos of !!!  Then the rod rolled down through this greenery towards Fort Nelson, and as we got closer, we got back into bear territory again, seeing several, but by now, unless they are right beside the road, hardly worth stopping !!  How quickly we get blas√© about these things !!

 Coming into Fort Nelson I was pretty tired after some 8 hours in the saddle and 350 miles.   But they were great miles, and until I was coming down the hill and knew I was nearly there, I really wasn’t feeling too stiff or tired at all.  Nevertheless, I was glad that almost the first place I see on my right coming in to town is a camp site !  So I drove straight in there, pitched my tent (to let it dry out a bit after  the last couple of wet nights), and then ate in their little restaurant as I just couldn’t face cooking tonight !!

 It is warm here – Was 22 deg C when I pulled in, which really took me by surprise – The temp rose quickly as we came down off the Summit Pass into town. 

 So, a great day – up with the best of them.   Scenery AND animals, and a great road to drive on as well.  Strongly recomend people driving this part of the Alcan if they are going north or south – It really is a stunner – Easily the best bit of the Alcan – Unless tomorrow’s leg to Fort St John is as good !!   We shall find out in due course !