Safe yet playful river rafting, spectacular alpine walking, wildflower meadows and waterfalls, comfortable cabins to stay in, congenial new friends: check! Destinations, dates, and companions are a mystery until the last minute, as tour companies scramble to work around an evacuation alert for Clearwater and a two-week wildfire-related closure of Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Going with the flow
“I should have taken French instead of German,” says Doug. French is the lingua franca on our river raft. A family of four from Belgium and a family of five from the Netherlands are on the tour with us, along with bilingual skipper JB. Our driver Robert, co-owner of Riverside Adventures, is originally from Quebec City. It’s all good, though. The safety talk is given in English as well as French; the smiles and giggles do not need translation.
We signed up for a half-day rafting experience on the Clearwater River in Wells Gray Park. The North Thompson River is where our rafting trip actually takes place, because Wells Gray is closed due to wildfire risk. We miss the Clearwater’s canyon scenery and more challenging whitewater, but we gain a chance to float down the original path of the Overlander Party on the North Thompson. Between wavy sections JB tells stories of early explorers and history, and the young people practice the famous Titanic pose.
“Until the situation resolves itself, we have moved our hut hikes to Monashee Chalet,” writes Tay, one week before our scheduled July 23 departure on the Seven-Day Hut-to-Hut Hiking Adventure. The revised hike will take five days, two days shorter than the original seven-day traverse in Wells Gray Park.
We are in the neighbourhood (camping in Jasper National Park), so we decide to go with the revised trip, rather than re-schedule for a later date. Tay sends a Garmin map with a dot showing Monashee Chalet’s location, deep in the Monashee Range near Blue River, British Columbia.
Nine of us board the van at the Wells Gray Adventures headquarters in Clearwater and head north towards Jasper. Mark is our guide and driver, with Gavin as co-pilot. Five ladies are the other guests. Extra-interesting people, all, and fit — but happy to hike at the pace of us older, slower folks.
After a bumpy one-hour ride up the dirt Foam Creek Forest Service Road, we reach the trailhead, where the mosquitoes are thrilled to see us. About two hours of hiking brings us to the alpine and the remote and rustic Monashee Chalet, built by pioneer Adolph Teufele, who had the dream of this great getaway for family and friends. The chalet is on Rock Rabbit Lake, surrounded by high glaciated peaks of the northern Monashee Mountains. Hail and a cold wind make us grateful we brought long underwear.
Marmots and more
Day two we enjoy a six-hour, nine-kilometre hike through aptly-named Marmot Meadows to the summit of Robson Ridge. There is off-trail terrain here, with moderate elevation gain and patches of snow. A few glissades occur, most of them unintentional. Doug slips and bruises his backside. No bones are broken, but he is limping by the time we return to the chalet. Popcorn, the perfect comfort food, is soon on the table. A sandwich bag of snow is applied to Doug’s back pocket; thanks are owed to Lois for this nursing intervention.
Good news arrives on the inReach satellite communicator: Wells Gray Park will re-open tomorrow as a result of recent precipitation and cooler temperatures. Our group votes to hike out in the morning and proceed to Trophy Mountain Chalet.
Among the wildflowers
A mama grouse is sitting motionless right on the trail, and she won’t budge. We tiptoe around her, retracing our steps to the van, then drive onwards to the Trophy Mountains trailhead.
The four-kilometre, huff-and-puff trail goes up through mature forest and into lush meadows of alpine flowers. It is pure alpine from here to the Trophy Mountain Chalet, which sits at 2153 metres (7,000 feet). The hike in takes almost three hours, because Doug is limping quite a bit.
Trophy Mountain Chalet is clean and bright, with solar-powered lights, a composting toilet, and a small shower with a foot-pump. If you have ever lived in an RV, you will feel right at home with these utilities.
On day four we hike up to a viewpoint, then promptly turn around. The rest of the group climbs a few peaks in the range, then swims in an alpine lake. Doug’s bruise is deep purple now and spreading, so we opt to take it easy. We re-visit the flower meadow and photograph the rainbow of colour. Doug spends the afternoon investigating the cabin’s construction and mechanical systems.
Canada’s Waterfalls Park
With 39 – or is it 40? – named waterfalls within its boundaries, and hundreds more in the wilds, Wells Gray Park is known as a land of waterfalls.
Our hike out from Trophy goes quickly, because it is all downhill. Mark takes us to three of the park’s most famous waterfalls: Dawson, Helmcken, and Moul. Dawson is a shallow, wide falls stretched across old lava beds. At 141 metres, Helmcken is the fourth highest waterfall in Canada; a viewing platform is just steps from the road. Moul is a ninety-minute walk (return), longer if you continue to the base, where you might get wet.
By mid-afternoon it is time to start our drive home to Victoria. On Mark’s recommendation, we stop for pie at the High Five Diner in Little Fort. Cathy has coconut cream, and Doug chooses apple. Yum!