Alaska Part 6: The Gnar Cassiar

The Cassiar Highway is one of those roads that feels more alive than a few hundred miles of asphalt; the southern half being rain forest and fjord-ful while traveling north brings grandiosity and desolation. Glaciers sitting between some of the most prominent mountains and wildlife concentrated in every valley’s stream made it seem as though I had entered another world.

My Saturday started by backtracking 40 miles to the Cranberry river where my fishing license allowed for me to try and snag a salmon, I sighted a fox and later a bear right from the highway (by the end of the day bear sightings were boring).  Using some of my limited fly-fishing knowledge and newly purchased flies, I gave it the old college try. It took me about 20 minutes before the barb on the hook smashed off on some rocks and another 40 after that before the fly came completely off in the heavy underbrush that lined the river. Not even a nibble was returned to the other end of my line. All the same, it was a very enjoyable morning excursion and the start of a spectacular day.

In my conversation with Pepe the day before, he mentioned a road that cut to the coast going to the Canadian town of Stewart and Hyder, the southernmost town in Alaska. From the moment I took a left at the Meziadin junction my jaw didn’t come off the floor. Turquoise rivers filled with minerals flowing directly from the last ice age’s glaciers cutting through granite canyons; some terminating in waterfalls hundreds of feet tall into emerald forest. And at the bottom of these streams were the salmon on their last (legs?)…fins swimming against the current to spawn and expire while bears and seagulls picked them apart.

I drove 19 miles of dirt and pothole to reach the overlook of the Salmon glacier. Probably not worth the wear and tear the van endured, especially considering that about 2000 miles still lay ahead, but it became a much more complete sensory experience, wincing every time a tire plunged into a deceptively deep puddle. I had begrudgingly forked over $5 to view the bears and salmon earlier in the day from the viewing scaffold set up by the forest service, and unsurprisingly, no bears were around. By the time I had finished my drive up to the glacier, I re-entered the viewing area and a big male was sloshing around the river lazily looking for an easy catch. There it was, a mighty grizzly bear, and nothing but fascination filled the hordes of people crowded along the railings to get a better glimpse. I had to admit it was very cool, and I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d feel if I met one of these face-to-face.

Finding an unoccupied forest service road of the thousands along the roadway wasn’t difficult, and after finishing dinner I went for my evening beer and hike. I had seen 5 bears that day but couldn’t help but stand amazed at the views every time I turned around; and it just kept on getting better as the sun set. It was a fantastic to finally sense being truly alone, getting northy, getting cut-off from the rest.

The next day was full of mileage as I had to get to Whitehorse, the only real city in the area with reliable internet, for work on Monday (it wasn’t until Monday morning that I learned it was labor day). But a drive can still be just as inspirational as a hike, if not to become grounded, but to become inspired to return.

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3 Responses to Alaska Part 6: The Gnar Cassiar

  1. Tricia LeJeune says:

    Oh man, you are so lucky! I know you are making your own luck, but still! I just got Part 6 today, had not seen the others. Hallelujah! Love going through Alaska vicariously with you. Makes me want to go back up there. It’s such big country, hard to explain unless you’ve been there! Love your drum kit! Pretty hilarious packing’ that around with you all over Timbuktu! I would actually like to go there too! haha I bet your parents love getting to see your trip and how you’re doing!
    Did I say you were lucky, oh yah…….I did!!!!

  2. Tricia LeJeune says:

    Are you staying up there through the winter?!?!?

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