Trekking Tales: Nature’s surprises in Wells Gray Park

When friends came for a birders’ convention a couple of years ago, we had part of one afternoon to introduce them to Wells Gray Park

When friends came for a birders’ convention a couple of years ago, we had part of one afternoon to introduce them to Wells Gray Park. Fortunately Spahats Falls is close enough to reach easily and to spark a desire to return for more. Walking in and gawking across that sudden, steep canyon at the lava layers opposite us, we became aware of a chirping sound. A bird or a squirrel? We peered through the bush in the right direction, but saw nothing, though my old boyfriend was convinced it was a bird. After taking photos of the falls, we were on our way back and noticed another couple kneeling and peering around where we had been. When they got up to move on, I couldn’t resist asking what they had found. Young and bright-eyed as they were, they had spotted a hole in the tree, if you looked in exactly the right place through the branches. Better yet, a wee head came out! My friend thought it was either this kind or that, but was pretty sure it was “that”. Checking a well-thumbed bird book when we returned, he confirmed his guess. I was able to show other visitors the birdie’s home that spring. Once Mom (or Dad) showed up for feeding time! Each time I return, I point those holes out to anybody who will look and listen, but never again have those birdies reappeared. Walking on the Flatiron Trail later that spring with local friends, we had a similar experience. We had hiked in to the falls on Hemp Creek, which involved some wonderful bushwhacking up and away from the trail. Coming and going, we enjoyed the flower show of paintbrush and much more but it wasn’t until we were retracing our steps that the presence of baby birds caught our attention. This time locating the hole was less challenging. One of the parents was not happy with our being there, and fluttered back and forth protectively until we left. I hung back to watch from a bit further away. S/he watched me suspiciously, but eventually settled down. It was the first of three such nests we would see on that hike, ‘tweets’ from within drawing our attention each time. High and mighty though it is, Silvertip Falls is perhaps one of our park’s lesser-known delights. Its top is hidden, appearing around a bend as it drops from the Trophies. Heading up for an early morning hike in late summer, a group of us approached its base thinking we mightn’t see much because we were driving through fog. Suddenly we were out of that low-lying mist, and, as we rounded the last corner near the trailhead, the falls appeared above us. Sun shone on that splashing, spraying water, which drops so steeply over the rocks for hundreds of feet (meters!) For a January snowshoe outing we turned off Clearwater Valley Road onto Road 10 which accesses both the Trophy Meadows trail and Silvertip Falls, leaving our vehicles there. Other outdoor adventurers were unloading backpacks and skis. “We’re putting skins on and heading upwards,” we were told. “We’ll camp up on the Trophies – somewhere – just for overnight, unfortunately.” We wished them well and hoped they would find sunshine above the fog that again enveloped us. We crossed the road, donned snowshoes, and enjoyed an easy walk on crusty snow to Spahats Falls. Approaching the viewing platform, we could hear the water falling. But that was it! We stood right beside that deep, fog-filled canyon, listening to an invisible waterfall.