Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Getting back to nature

This is where we entered the bush. It looks innocent
enough doesn't it? What looks like a meadow
a small lake is no place for a family picnic.
It is actually 
dangerous marsh, and within this area
are black bears, 
grizzly bears and moose.
It was more of an expedition than a vacation. My friend, Monte, had purchased a quarter section (160 acres) near Aleza Lake, northeast of Prince George, British Columbia. He had yet to visit the land and was eager to see it, so we set off for the land last Monday. It was about a ten hour drive. The price was was very reasonable – in the general area, about an acre of farmland with all services would cost about the same. We knew that it was rough country, but from Google Earth, it looked like we could find an easy way into it. This was not to be the case: the aerial photographs seemed to be a few years old, and land that was cleared was now overgrown, at least one bridge was out and even old roads had grown over with dense underbrush. We heard from some of the locals that a female black bear with a cub had been sighted in the area and also an old male black bear had been showing up a lot. Black bears do not worry me a lot, and we had a whistle to warn the wildlife of our presence.

It was very difficult to find the access road we had been looking for, but we eventually got to it, and set off into the bush. We had to cross some marsh before getting to the remains of the road, but as the ground got higher, the road was easier to to travel on. After a while, the road entered dense brush that could only be crossed by foot or an all-terrain vehicle. We saw tracks and droppings of a bear and moose, Monte heard a growl from the bushes nearby and blew his whistle. It was probably a black bear. It let us carry on with no problems.

Eventually, the track we were following ended at a clearing and we saw a few other tracks leading in different directions. None of them seemed much more than animal trails and the low lying land was getting even marshier. Some of the grass was six feet high, and there were stinging nettles up to chest height. A bear, or even a moose, could hide in there very easily. The undergrowth masked some very wet areas and twice, I stepped into the mud and water. It was no fun. We soon realized that another route would have to be found and we turned back. We had traveled two kilometers and it had taken us four hours. If you walk fast enough, the mosquitoes do not bother you much, but when you slow down or stop for a rest in such country, then they become very annoying.

Eaglet lake, just after sunrise
That night, we camped at Eaglet Lake, a few kilometers away, and after dawn, I saw a bald eagle catch a fish and then stop on the shore further up the road to enjoy its breakfast. Monte wanted to go back into the same area but take a turn in the road to the west, rather than the east as we had done the previous day. From the map, it looked like that route might eventually get us to where we were going, but it was quite a
few kilometers and I was far from keen on going back. We were both exhausted from the previous day. Monte said he would be prepared to go back in alone, but I said I would go back with him as it was not safe to go back in there alone. It turned out that this was an understatement, but we did not find that out until we visited the general store in Shelley and spoke to the woman who ran it.

She told us that some time ago, two men got their truck stuck in the mud near where we were and one of them set out on foot to get help. He was never seen again, but parts of him were found – he had been eaten by a grizzly bear. The woman had warned the two men. She told us that it would be crazy to go in that country without a gun, and that if our vehicle got stuck, we should wait for someone to come along. I did not mention that we went in on foot, and where we were, no vehicle could get to us at all.

She was quite the character – very experienced in traveling in the bush. She said that she had come close to a grizzly herself. She had not seen it but had caught its smell and moved away very quickly.
She said a black bear smells like an old rotting stump in the forest, but a grizzly smells like a dead body. She was still upset that the two men had ignored her warnings.

Abandoned gas station at Willow River, the expedition
vehicle in the background. No cheap gas here -- the sign
dates back to the start of the Gulf War.
Outside, we spoke to a man who had seen a grizzly on the road a few days earlier. It was standing on its
Click on the photo to read the sign clearly
hind legs in an aggressive stance. He said there were some really huge grizzlies in that area. When we asked about access to the land, he suggested a farmer who lived on adjacent lot who had allowed his cattle to graze on Monte's land in the past. We happened to come across him about an hour later. He told Monte that on the next trip, he would take him in there. After we got back to Calgary, I found a better route, but it would take a boat to get close to the land. We were also told that it is better to     go in with a couple more people. The grizzlies would not attack four people, rarely attack three    – two people could be attacked easily, and one would be like wearing a target! Incidentally, Monte's land is known to the locals as “the land that it is impossible to get to”!

Any volunteers for the next expedition?


  1. Hi John, Monte has shared this on his wall and I was quite impressed with your adventures on this trip. Neesja answered my comment on Montes page and so I ventured into your earlier blog on the flooding in Calgary. My heart is sad for you and the loss of Winston. I believe in The Rainbow Bridge and Winston is well and happy and waiting for you there. I was also quite happy to hear that you are doing well and still close to Monte. Such long friendships are rare and should be cherished. I will venture farther in to your blog as soon as I have some time. Take care and be well. Nonni

    1. Thank you, Nonni -- and it's nice to hear from you. It must be more than forty years since I saw you last!

      All the best,


  2. Wow 40 years!!!! but yes you are right. Chris will be 40 in January. Hard for me to accept that my oldest baby is that old. Not so hard for me to think of Monte being that old LOL

  3. I just have one (daughter)_-- Jasmin. She will be 28 this year. I also have two grandchildren, Lily (4) and Henry (2). I started a family late. Sadly, my wife, Carrie, died of cancer just over ten years ago. She was a poet/artist --among other things. You can see some of her poetry here:


    I would say how old I am, but I never learned to count that high ;-)