Thursday, August 23, 2012

BC trip Hike 1: Stein Valley Nlaka'pamux Heritage Park

The lovely view from our room at the Holiday Inn morning of the trip
      We began or trip by flying into Vancouver and spending a few days exploring there. We hiked in two large parks, Stanley Park and Pacific Spirit Park, saw the Museum of Anthropology went to Granville Market and ate some awesome meals. We enjoyed the city quite a bit and found it easy to get around on their mass transit system.
     We rented a compact and fuel efficient car (Toyota Yaris) for eight days and began our explorations of the province. We started by driving up BC-1 for 260 km (about 3 and a half hours northeast to the dry BC interior. While most are familiar with the dramatic rainforest and Alpine Lakes, the dry interior reminded me more of the not so distant rockies than anything.

     The hike started with a cable ferry across the roaring Fraiser River. Just days earlier the ferry wasn't running due to spring run off. Once over the river we were on first nations land and were greeted by some obstinate cows not really interested in letting us pass. We drove about 10 km on dusty roads past ranches teeming with beautiful horses, cows and dogs and well worn houses and farm buildings. We reached a well developed and signed trailhead with an expansive view up the valley. Stein is a curroption of a native word meaning hidden as you can't really see the mouth of the valley from the Fraiser.


The start of our Stein Valley Journey. Little does she know...

      We began our hike damn well exhausted. We had not truly recovered from our jetlag, had urban hiked around 15 miles over the past two days and Jeanette was still battling a bad cough she had picked up after Camp Bisco. We were a site for sore eyes. They hike was pretty though and blessedly mild both in difficulty and weather. There was some rain in the forcast but nothing more materialized then a few fat drops. It was very dry and I was sweating pretty good from the heat. It was definetly a weird climate for those used to the Adirondacks. The subtle differences in vegetation and landform were really cool to notice. Nothing was completely alien but everything seemed slightly shifted or intensified. Trees bigger, different bark, even a slightly different raspberry-type berry. It kind of felt like we were tripping. 

       We purposefully took as much time as we could, more like strolling than hiking and reached the Devil's Starcase Campsite 3.3 miles invery grateful to take off our packs. The campsite was completely and looked like it could accomodate at least 20 tents. There was a really nice pit toilet and a large steel bear vault with a very tricky closure. If I could barely manage I felt good abour our chances with the grizzlies.

     We got the tent set up in no time and before settling down to read for a while before bed, Jeanette went down to the river to take it all in for a few. We had both relaxed and I knew the river would be a pretty spot so I decided that now was the time. Squirrelled away in my pack was a 70's era Kings Massana turquoise Navajo bracelet made by Dorothy and Donny Smith, a husband and wife time active from the mid 60's to the late 80's. She was about to leave as i made my way down. She smiled and decided to stay for a moment and looked back at the river. The rocky, rooty and uneven proved a bit more of a challenge than I had anticipated and it took some effort and fanagling to get down on one knee. Just as I got situated she turned around with barely a moment to make a slightly perplexed face before... "Jeanette Carioto, moon of my life, will you marry me?"

Kings Massana Turquoise and Red Coral "engagement" bracelet

The start of our next big adventure
         We hugged and cried for several minutes and then both kind of chatted in a happy haze. We had packed in some beautiful meatloaf and beet salad from the Whole Foods next to our hotel and settled in for our engagement dinner at our kindly provided for dinner table. At this point in the night while camping Jeanette often reads for a bit in the tent and I'll go explore the area around the camp site. I almost always find something cool to look at or make friends with some bird or animal. Just west of the campsite was a large talus slope. I climbed up to an inviting rock about 150 ft upslope and snapped some pictures, taking it all in. The cliffs, the river the trees...this was a truly beautiful and peaceful place. The Stein River Valley is one of the few intact watersheds in British Columbia and mid week we had it all to ourselves.

At the dining room table looking over the hike

After dinner explorations

The Stein River is impossibly blue
           The next day we began or hike by immediately climbing "The Devils Staircase", a section of switchbacks clinging high on the slopes of the valley. Though it wasn't exactly brutal hiking we took our time and enjoyed the dramatic and peaceful views. That morning at camp we had seen a huge raptor and think it may have been a golden eagle. High up on the hillside we saw a bald eagle far below us.

High up on the talus slopes above the Stein
       After getting off the staircase we reached our primary destination of the day. Thankfully I had read three different guide books because the intersection was completely unmarked. As one account from a guidebook said, turn right and step over the fallen log, following the path to the base of the cliffs. Here we had reached the largest petroglyph site In Canada. The First Nations people still living nearby had sent off their adolscent boys butt-ass naked into the Stein for their vision quest coming of age ritual. Here sleep deprived, fasting a exposed to the elements they had drawn on the cliff walls using a mixture of red ocher and water. Jeanette and I are anthropologists and this was a truly special moment for us. We marveled at the often very accurate representations of animals, warriors dancers, the sun and intricate geomoetric shapes and patterns. Each step we took along the cliff edge we discovered more glyphs from our kness to high above our heads.

One of the first we saw

the rock was covered when you took a step back

one of many human figures
      After poring over the drawings for a long time and also sitting back on a rock to take in the total picture we eventually started to make our way down the trail. Now back close to the river again we made our way through several different types of forest. Towering pines surrounded us in one particularly lovely stretch that would give any stand of white pines in the ADK a run for it's money. It was one of my favorite places on the trip. Since this was part of a large Northville-Placid type through hike we didn't really have an end destination. At the site of an old prospectors camp we rested and turned back.

The cliffs at the edge of the Cantilever Range soaring above us

These are "culturally modified trees". Though these trees exist elsewhere in the area, the first nations people living outside the valley chose to come here again and again to collect bark some 5 miles from the nearest house or road.

Looking deep into the Stein River Valley

ever rushing waters
  We returned for another long and relaxing night and camp still buzzing from our engagement and our stunning trip exploring the wonders of this sacred valley. I returned to my perch and thought about all I had to be grateful for, all that had happened this year and all of the brightness in our future and felt peaceful and at ease in my core. The next day was fantastically pretty and after a leisurely breakfast we headed back to the car. Our next step would be to drive due west, north of some of the tallest mountains in BC and head south down through Whistler to stay in Squamish and hike in Garibaldi Provincial Park the next day. This drive was jaw-droppingly beautiful and rugged as anything I had ever seen. We twisted along hillsides far above the Fraiser River and witnessed an ever-shifting mountainscape unfold before us.

waiting for our ferry to return

One of many views driving between Lytton and Squamish


  1. I'm so happy to read more about your adventures... the photos and narriative make it so much more real!! And, yep, I'm crying reading about your engagement story :) love you guys soooo much and love being able to live at least a teeny bit vicariously through your recountings of these incredible journeys at the edges of civilization!

  2. Fantastic story. I'm surprised by how much it looks like california yosemite area

  3. Thanks so much for the kind words guys! We love you too so much Randy! Sathi, it seemed like it resembled so many places more than itself if that makes sense? Totally a trippy place to be