Wading Third Canyon Creek in hiking boots. (Photo courtesy of Kay Knox)

Trekking Trails: A long and arduous journey across canyon creeks

Wading the canyon creeks in hiking boots

Maybe our hike on Friday, April 30 doesn’t quite fit that definition, but three days later my leg muscles were still complaining!

“It’s a moderate hike of seven kilometres,” states Roland Neeve’s guide book of Wells Gray Park. “Estimated time is 2.75 hours.”

No worries…

With vehicles left at First and Third Canyon parking spaces, down we went beside gurgling First Canyon Creek. And I mean down!

“My legs are wobbling!” I announced when we were still only part way down. “I need to stop for a sip or three of water,” I said for an excuse to pause. Others readily agreed on both counts. “We’re probably on the first wagon road going to Upper Clearwater,” I was told.

I could barely imagine the struggles of horses, wagons behind either pushing or dragging, zigzagging their way to the Clearwater River back then. Still a distance above it, our alert leader announced, “I hear the creek again.”

Soon after, we were at a junction with the Clearwater River Trail. A right turn showed a decent, though aging, bridge across tumbling white water. Just in case, we crossed one at a time. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that we had just passed a sign saying: “Trail Closed”! We carried on nevertheless, knowing we had two more creeks to cross.

The sky was blue, the sun beaming through trees both deciduous, showing bright green new growth, and conifers, occasionally crinkling in the light breeze. And the trail was relatively flat, but definitely long. Jackets were stashed in backpacks. Snack time was soon, a good idea as we pondered what challenges lay ahead.

Second Canyon Creek was not especially wide or fast-flowing, the reason we were tackling this route early in the hiking season. But nature’s stepping stones did not tempt this ole gal. While others got boots wet, or not, on the rocky traverse, I chose the only other alternative.

Three old boards, say two-by-six, stacked and securely held together, stretched from bank to bank. These I straddled and bumped my way across while we wondered if they would hold my (not dainty!) weight. Since the chuckling water was perhaps a metre below my boots, a collapse would have been nasty.

All went well – except for the appearance of my hiking pants which had scooped moss off those elderly planks with each shuffle! All across? Not quite! One doggie was certainly not going into that stream, despite the younger doggie coaxing it by running back and forth on the other side. It took many calls from its mistress and male muscle to eventually yank her over.

Two canyons passed and one to go. What will it be like?

The enticing but lengthy flat trail threw in a few hills, just to keep us in practice. As in so many parts of Wells Gray Park, lava that had flowed down the steep hillsides in the past provided us with new scenery. Fortunately the surface was still clear, thanks to the efforts of those early pioneers. Tiny flowers added colour in many sections: purple violets, pinkish kinnikinnick, yellow dandelions and white strawberry blossoms. Clearwater River looked inviting, but it was still below us, so we resisted that invitation.

Time was passing pleasantly, aided by brief rests, but ahead of us we knew was the last creek, not to mention getting up to the other parking lot. A pile of fairly new lumber greeted us as we reached Third Canyon Creek.

“Anyone got a hammer?”

Nature had not provided helpful stepping stones this time, just slippery-looking ones offering dangerous footing, and the nearby lumber was a long way from being a bridge. Nothing for it but to wade across — or turn back. NOT!

Everyone helped everyone else, hiking poles also serving to reach out and/or provide support en route. Cautious doggie allowed herself to be “propelled” across once again. Now in squishy boots, we were still on the flat for a bit before the trail turned right and up. While it is a shorter zigzag than the one we came down on, the whole slope is at least as steep, one part with such an incline I couldn’t imagine coming down on it — with or without a wagon in tow!

“Very steep…” acknowledges Neeve.

Ever mindful of legalities(!) we observed social distancing, probably getting spread out over at least half a kilometre. When views of sides of the parking lot appeared eventually, there were sighs of relief, cheers and grins of satisfaction. The fact that we had to circumnavigate part of it to actually reach the welcoming vehicle did not dampen our spirits.

Since I have already told you we had just completed a “closed trail,” I will just mention briefly that somehow all hikers and dogs were then squeezed into that one pickup. This returned us, oh so quickly, to where we had started – 4.5 hours earlier.

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