Day 5 – Sunset Lake, BC to Hyder, Alaska
Before I continue I must apologize to my readers for the delay of this article, I did not anticipate the lack of available internet on our journey.
Sometimes staying at free BC rec site, such as Sunset Lake, with no host or management and close to a town the locals use it as a party place. This Friday night was one of those occasions of loud music and boisterous voices. The noise woke me several times through the night, at one point one of the obviously disgruntled campers started his chainsaw, making it scream at full throttle. The noise didn’t phase the partiers they continued till the wee hours.
The morning brought clouds, intermittent showers and cooler temperatures,13C (56 F). Our first stop Houston, BC for diesel ($1.04 per liter, $4. per US gal.) and a picture with the largest fly rod in the world situated at the visitor’s center. Allyson wanted to stop here for a picture as her dad had done some 50 years before. The Bulkley River is noted for its incredible steelhead trout fishing.
A good day for traveling, occasional showers followed by mostly sunny skies in the afternoon. The highway meandered through rolling hills of dense forests, pristine lakes and winding rivers.
Smithers is our next stop for supplies, the largest town on our route before turning north. Situated halfway between Prince George and Prince Rupert, Smithers is a service area for most of the Bulkley Valley. A stop in Smithers for a few groceries and a visit to the BC government liquor store was routine except for Ralph’s new free hat, black with Caribou written across the front.
The three of us noticed the free hats as we entered the liquor store but required to buy a case of Caribou beer to receive a free hat. Henry and I bought some wine and left the store followed by Ralph a few minutes later sporting a free hat but no Caribou beer? He explained, “I just asked for a free hat and the clerk gave me one”. An occurrence like Ralph’s would definitely not happen in a city or the burbs. Rural areas like northern BC are much more relaxed and casual, it seems rules are more of a guideline.
Our choice of red wines are brewed in BC available in cheaper 4-liter boxes (equals 5 – 750 ml. bottles), we affectionately refer to these wines in boxes as cardboardnet. Copper Moon, Peller Estates, Jackson-Triggs shiraz and cabernet, less than $40 per box, expensive by US standards and about $8 more than southern BC liquor stores.
While in the Smithers liquor store I spotted a less expensive cardboardnet, Summerset Rouge, $28 per box, $12.00 cheaper than the group’s favorites. I was chastised by the group for my cheap choice and had to promise not to buy this terrible wine again. I’m not sure what the fuss is, as most wine drinkers know after the first couple of glasses your pallet is numb and cannot taste the difference between a good vintage and a below top shelf specimen, but I must bend to the majority.
While in Smithers we were treated to spectacular views of 8000 ft. Hudson Bay Mountain and the blue-white hue of melting alpine glaciers. The barren jagged peaks protrude far above the tree line while white waterfalls carve their way down to the Bulkley River.
We continued along Hwy 16 with an unscheduled stop at Moricetown, to take in native fishermen netting salmon. The Bulkley River narrows to a raging torrent where natives fish with dip nets catching migrating salmon as they jump through the narrow passage. This is the salmon’s fall migration through the white water to spawning areas throughout northern BC.
The natives have fished this spot with dip nets for thousands of years, a very successful method judging by the amount of fish caught. The fish are distributed to the tribe for food, provincial laws prevent natives from selling their catch.
After Moricetown a short drive brings us to Old Hazelton and the historic Ksan Native Village. BC, as well as the rest of Canada, enjoy rich native heritage and history, although a great deal of the history has been lost.[caption id="attachment_4307" align="alignnone" width="300"] Ksan Village
The Ksan Authentic Native Village
After turning north off Hwy. 16 towards the Ksan Village the road takes us over a single lane suspension bridge several hundred feet above a picturesque canyon. Crossing the bridge looking down through the steel bridge at the raging water creates an unsettling feeling. I presume this kind of bridge deck is used to prevent snow accumulation.
The Ksan Village is housed in several separate buildings featuring artifacts and structures dating back thousands of years. My first impression was the Asian facial features resembled by the people in old photographs and drawings. Proof, I guess, of their migration thousands of years ago across the Bearing Sea from northern Mongolia. The village is worth the stop the museum is free or a small donation, the village tour fee is $15.
We retraced our path back to highway 16. and a stop for a quick lunch and a walk across the see-through deck of the suspension bridge topped off the morning.
A few kilometers farther along highway 16 at Kitwanga, we turn north onto Hwy 37. Continuing on Hwy. 16 from Kitwanga another 250 km, would end at Prince Rupert on the BC northern coast.
After the turn north, the feeling of heading into the BC wilderness is unmistakable. The road seems deserted as we wind our way along the well maintained paved highway. Fall colors are beginning to show.
As the skies clear and the temperature warms to the high 20’s C (70’s F) the views of distant glacier filled mountain valleys enhance our afternoon drive. The highway is windier with more hills than previously although not drastic, the drive is still very pleasant and manageable.
Our route takes us north to Meziadin Junction, a ‘T’ intersection with gas pumps, a restaurant, and several non-descript construction site type buildings. Definitely not a picturesque tourist stop, no settlement in the area was evident. A right turn heads west toward the ocean terminating at Stewart, BC and Hyder, Alaska. Turning left heads north on 37.
Our fears of higher fuel prices as we travel north is coming true, diesel at this stop is $1.20 per liter (almost $5. US per gallon). Our tanks were still about half so we opted to forgo filling up and take the chance of cheaper fuel in Stewart, BC, our final destination today.
The drive to Stewart, BC and Hyder, Alaska is a 60 km. (40 miles) detour on Hwy 37A west from our route north. Stewart and Hyder sit at the end of a hundred kilometer long fjord jutting inland from the Pacific, marking the border between Alaska and BC.
The scenery along the route is spectacular with high mountain peaks and multiple glaciers flowing towards the narrow valley. One glacier, in particular, makes its way to the highway edge and an aqua colored lake at its base, breathtaking.
Glaciers along the highway to Stewart, BC
Our intended destination was another BC Provincial Rec Site (free camping) Clements lake, however, after arriving we find it full except for a small parking lot area. We probably could have fit, but the group opted to continue to Stewart.
Clements Lake at the foot of a massive mountain is breathtaking. It struck me odd to see a couple of cyclists washing clothes in the lake. It amazes me the number of hearty souls who brave these remote routes with only a tent and supplies carried on a bicycle. Not my kind of traveling.
We arrive in Stewart and Rainey Creek Municipal RV park about 4:30 pm the cost was reasonable, $23 for hook ups and $19 for dry camping. Before we decided on Rainey Creek Allyson checked out the camping prices in Hyder, Alaska on her phone. The group quickly decided against Hyder at $48 US for hookups. The dive to Hyder later that evening revealed a less than desireable RV park.
It was happy hour, everyone enjoyed a glass of wine before the short drive to Hyder and our goal, to be Hyderized. Ralph agreed to uncouple his pickup and ferry the group across the border into Hyder a much-anticipated experience, in fact, I think most of us envisioned this as a highlight of the trip.
During happy hour we decided on dinner in Hyder rather than back at camp, the common theme for this night was leftovers.
Driving through Stewart it was apparent this town had seen better days. The buildings including houses and commercial buildings were old, some dilapidated and some deserted. We guessed the town’s past successes were fishing, logging, and maybe mining even though evidence of active logging was visible.
As we crossed the border into Hyder, Alaska there was no indication we had crossed into the United States except for a building with a Canadian flag on our left presumably Canadian Border Agency we would stop at on our return.
A block or so from the border was the not so obvious center of town, in fact, we almost drove past it. The open sign on the souvenir shop caught our attention, Ralph pulled into the empty gravel parking lot.
Our neighbors back at the campground had warned us that downtown Hyder was nothing more than a few dilapidated buildings, a couple of souvenir shops, one closed, and a restaurant (where Hyderizing happens).
The girls wandered into the souvenir shop while us men headed for the restaurant bar. The half a block stroll revealed several deserted falling down buildings, like Stewart, indicating a depressed area.
The Glacier Inn
The restaurant bar was even more of a let-down, old and poorly decorated as a Chinese restaurant with little of the historic atmosphere we had envisioned. The only feature worth noting is the walls plastered with hundreds of paper currency from many foreign countries defaced with the poster’s name and date.
Downtown Hyder, Alaska and the Glacier Inn (home of hyderizing)
We sat, ordered an Alaskan beer and waited for the women to arrive. The Glacier Inn bar restaurant was 3/4s full, 4 or 5 occupied tables. After the women appeared the over-worked waitress appeared at our table with menus. As she took the lady’s drink orders, someone mentioned, “once dinner was finished we wanted to experience the Hyderizing ritual, the waitress nodded saying, “when I have time”.
A round of burgers was the group’s choice after the waitress indicated that was the only item on the menu today. The food although very good was pricey, $11US, for a burger on homemade buns and home cut fries.
After dinner, the group bellied up to the bar for the highlight of the evening, hyderizing.
The tradition was simple and quick, 5 of us took the plunge (not Lynda). The same waitress set up 5 small shot glasses and 5 larger glasses filled with water. “A chaser she exclaimed, just in case”
Just in case of what, was my thought?
She filled the shot glasses from a bottle hidden in a brown paper bag. Then the rules, “Don’t smell IT, don’t sip IT, down IT, use the water chaser if you need to. If IT comes back up, you buy a round for the house. The five of us glanced around as we mentally prepared ourselves for the ritual.
Lynda readied my camera as in unison we threw back the clear 160 proof rot-gut. I’m not sure if I immediately went cross-eyed but I know my sight blurred and tears streamed down my cheeks.
My whole self-focused on the wretched burning of my insides, from my throat to the bowels of my anatomy. After a minute my blurred eyesight returned, it was over. All that remained was a gripping lump in my stomach. Let’s just say, I have had experiences with my neighbor’s homemade concoction and various other hard to drink potions but this was by far the most infamous.
We received our official business card size hyderized certificate and stood for pictures in front of a weird looking green frog-like creature painted on a wooden wall, the hyderizing symbol, I presumed.
After hyderizing, the group decided against the 10-minute drive to the bear viewing area on the river. Our camping neighbor had informed us the stink of rotting fish was unbearable even though there was a chance to see a magnificent grizzly munching on rotting fish. The reason, as BC residents we see bears frequently,…….. but not grizzlies, not taking the drive was a mistake I’m thinking.
We headed back to the border where the Canadian border guard asked us the usual silly questions, like, where have you been in the US. Henry, usually the quietest of the group, bluntly pointed out the obvious silly question commenting, “where do you think we have been?” causing an uncomfortable hush inside Ralph’s pickup. The ride back to camp was jovial as we laughed at Henry’s impromptu comment.
A campfire was lit and more wine consumed as the group rehashed the day’s experiences. The consensus, if it wasn’t for the scenic drive the trip to Stewart and for sure Hyder could be skipped.
Early to bed with a 9 am departure, more adventure to come……..SOON!
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Thanks for visiting.