I see the scorched trees before we land.
The infernos of last July surrounded this B.C. community of Williams Lake. Including, as I can clearly see, either side of the runway where I’ve just touched down.
Central BC’s Cariboo is big country, however, and while stands of charred trees are visible in spots, there are many millions of wilderness hectares that remain untouched.
Quesnel Lake is one such area. Three-armed and enveloped by steep slopes of conifer forest, this major Fraser River tertiary is considered the deepest fjord lake in the world. Anglers join backpackers and grizzly gazers during spring, summer, and fall.
In winter, heli-skiers migrate to Silvertip Lodge for access to 1,440 square kilometers of tenure. Yes, the Cariboo is big country.
Like most operators, Silvertip saw its summer operation stymied by the July fires. Outfitters and guides who rely upon the seasonal influx of visitors were also hit hard by the lack of access. Hundreds of reservations were canceled. Every outfitter has a “Summer of ‘17” story to share. One example: renowned bear whisperer and EcoTours BC proprietor Gary Zorn postponed the launch of the much-anticipated Glamping with Grizzlies experience to next spring.
I meet Gary on the Mitchell River, a tributary that flows into the North Arm of Quesnel Lake, where he is leading two National Geographic photographers out scouting for bears.
“Our bear and wildlife watching is completely all natural, no viewing platforms, and we observe unhabituated animals. The diversity of this area, along with one of the province’s largest grizzly populations, is virtually unlimited.”
Gary goes on to list regular wildlife sightings: wolves, owls and lynx in winter, calving mountain caribou and moose in spring, as well as mountain goats, grizzly sows with cubs, and, my current fantasy species, wolverines!
EcoTours BC guests observe this fecund diversity in all four seasons. Trekking up the river among grizzlies during the salmon spawn, snowshoeing to howl with wolves, or seeking wintering moose habitats are just a few of their guided wilderness adventures.
Standing knee deep in the serpentine Mitchell River it’s easy to imagine the landscape transitioning like a child’s pop-up book through the seasons, the lynx turning white, the massive bear prints replaced with equally impressive wolf indentations.
At this very moment, I stand among hundreds of spawning sockeye, their flesh rouge as a Parisian dancer’s blush. My inconsistent cast fools one healthy rainbow trout after another.
Later on, Silvertip Lodge beckons me away from a planned tour for a few hours of reading, writing, and napping in the great room that overlooks an expansive lawn. Beyond is the water and several glacier-blanketed peaks. The temptation to forego an amazing excursion in favour of some R&R is one of the few conflicts I encounter in wilderness lodges. Silver tip’s well placed jars of freshly baked cookies doesn’t help.
These timber four-star lodges can change you. Not only because the WiFi is often (thankfully!) spotty, but because living a simpler life suddenly makes so much sense.
This may also explain why so many isolated lodges are owned by individuals who, having made handsome livings elsewhere, pour their savings and souls into these operations.
Built in 1967 for fishing and hunting, Silvertip Lodge, located at the southern end of 100-km Quesnel Lake, was exclusively a heli-ski accommodation until recently.
There is now a strong summer operation of hiking and fishing that keeps growing. Summer guests can arrive either by air or by boat. Winter guests are flown directly from Williams Lake. They then board an eight-passenger Bell 212 helicopter in search of 1,500-meter descents through dependably dry snow.
I have yet to explore Wells Gray Provincial Park, a vast wilderness that spans 5,400 square kilometers in the heart of the Cariboo Mountains. The park is less than a day’s hike from Silvertip’s backdoor, but I only make it halfway, distracted by the many crystalline waterfalls that tumble along the creek amid the old-growth cedars that thrive here.
Though it’s still mostly dry when I visit, the autumn rains will eventually turn to snow, filling pockets in Silvertip’s tenure with upwards of 30 meters of virgin powder. The grizzlies will have dug in for winter, and the choppy water will transform to ice so thick it serves as the Bell 212’s helipad.
The seasons will change again, the 2017 fires will grow more distant, and the local outfitters will prepare once more to showcase this amazing wilderness they call the Cariboo.
Interested in booking a trip of a lifetime next summer? Look no further.
For the best fishing guiding outfit in the Cariboos, please contact Doug at https://caribooriverfishing.com/