PUBLISHED: 2:28 PM on Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Mount Edziza Traverse

Barbara Turley photo
  Without a rope, falling into a crevasse was a serious safety concern.
One hundred fifty miles east of Juneau, in northern British Columbia, is Mount Edziza Provincial Park.

There are no roads and only a couple of trails accessing this wilderness park. Colorful volcanic peaks are the reason for this area's park status.

Edziza Park treks and guided horseback trips usually begin by floatplane to Buckley Lake, located at timberline north of Mount Edziza, and end 60 miles later at Modade Lake, about the same elevation south of the mountain.

I noticed on the Internet that the outfitter wouldn't take anyone over fifty years old. That ruled us out.

No problem-we actually preferred to hike the extra 4? days, 39 miles, and 4,950 feet elevation to start from the road in Telegraph Creek and end on the Cassiar Highway. (Actually, we would end on the opposite side of Kinaskan Lake from the Cassiar Highway.)

We calculated that this 100-mile hike should take 10 days.

On our way to Telegraph Creek, we stopped at the B.C. Parks Office in Dease Lake and got a Mount Edziza Provincial Park brochure (hereafter referred to as "the brochure"). Their address is B.C. Parks; Box 118; Dease Lake, B.C. VOC 1LO. (205) 771-4591.

We left our car at Telegraph Creek, got a boat ride across the Stikine River, and started to hike. We planned to hitchhike the 150 miles from Kinaskan Lake back to Telegraph Creek. Perhaps less miserly 50+-year-old recreationists might come up with another plan, but ours worked.

Two days of hiking up through thick deciduous, then evergreen forests brought us to Buckley Lake where the topography and vegetation changed. We then had scenic vistas most of the time with glacier-covered Mount Edziza in full view.

Passing by several prominent cinder cones, we reached the edge of a large lava field. Though it has been more than a thousand years since these rocks hardened, they still only have some lichen for vegetation.

The trail goes close beside the lava flow in some areas. The angular rocks are jumbled one on top of another. Some look like carved stone monuments. Others are more like crested dinosaur heads.

Barbara Turley photo
  Bare, rugged lava covers huge areas.
From Eve Cone, we left the area of lava flows and entered a type of topography called "basalt plateaus;" wide, flat areas that rise toward the mountain.

The groundcover is like tundra, but drier. We started seeing caribou in this area. These were the sub-species "Osborne Caribou."

They're darker than barren ground caribou. As we approached one of the rock faces on the mountain, we encountered a group of stone sheep. We were thrilled to get a close look at this kind of wild sheep that is found only in Western Canada.

We crossed one of the glacier lobes at 7,550' elevation, hiked between two big, red cinder cones, and came to a half-mile-wide lava flow.

The brochure says that "hiking or taking shortcuts through the lava beds is not recommended because it is very difficult and potentially unsafe."

We found it to be rather tricky, but very interesting. We could imagine that we were walking away from our downed spacecraft on an unknown planet.

The hike from there up to the next pass was a tedious trudge.

The brochure says in bold print, "Note: you should not attempt to hike this pass if the weather is bad," but it doesn't specify what constitutes "bad weather."

Our weather this August day was strong wind with mixed rain and snow falling. However, the view from this pass was beautiful. There were long ridges with jagged black crags on them, hillsides of red rocks and hillsides of yellow.

Below these was vivid green vegetation, and lower still in the deep canyon bottom, the dark green spruce forest and Mowchilla Lake in the distance.

Day 9 brought us to Kinaskan Lake, the end of our backpacking journey. We got there mid-day, which gave us plenty of time for the final challenge of this route - getting across the lake. It's a big lake, but it narrows down to a channel only 130 feet wide at one point.

A strong current flows through this narrow neck. Less than a mile below this point is the lake outlet (the large, uncrossable Iskut River).

Kim had given plenty of thought to how we were going to get across. I'd given some thought to hoping that someone in a skiff might be handy. The wind was blowing choppy waves on the lake, the low clouds were threatening rain at any time, and there wasn't a boat in sight.

Kim gathered a few small logs, tied them into a frame, and lashed our inflated Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads and then our packs (each inside a good garbage bag) onto the frame. He tied one end of a 225-foot nylon string to the frame, the other to his belt, and walked 100 feet up-current along the shore. While we'd been doing all this, rain started falling.

I was glad the gusts of wind were rippling the water in the direction that we would be swimming. Kim took the bundle of ice axes and other things tied to a single log, waded into the lake and began swimming, kicking vigorously with his feet while pushing his floating bundle in front of him and trailing the string behind. With the current pushing him, he came ashore directly opposite me.

For swimming, Kim and I each wore a cotton shirt, polypro long johns, and our leather boots. I also had on my rain pants. After Kim looped the string around a stump upstream from where he was, and signaled to me that he was ready, I waded into the lake, dragging the frame with me until it was floating. I then got behind it and pushed. It floated so well that the packs would hardly have gotten wet even if they hadn't been in garbage bags. I even was able to keep my arms and shoulders out of the water. I propelled myself along as best I could with my legs.

Kim walked upstream along the shore, pulling on the string. This caused me to pendulum almost directly across the current to the opposite shore. I was very relieved how quickly the crossing was over once we'd started it, and also how successfully it all went. I hadn't been scared we were going to drown or loose things, but I had thought I was going to get more hypothermic than I did. We were delighted with how well the pack-raft had worked.

After we'd gotten into dry clothes, it took awhile to get everything untied and all the strings and cords put away. It was about 5:30 p.m. before we were all packed up and hiking again on the last little bit of the way to complete this trip to the Cassiar Highway. After twenty minutes of standing by the road, we began to realize a couple of things that might be important to anyone planning to do this trip at that time of year. First, there isn't much traffic on the Cassiar Highway. Secondly, in late August, most travelers are headed south. Nevertheless, after only about half an hour of standing there contemplating the flaws in this part of our plan, we got lucky and got a ride.

The brochure states, "Few hikers frequent the area, and those that do have skill and stamina. This is no place for the ill-equipped or the inexperienced." We would agree. This trip, with some puzzling trails, glacial stream crossings, stormy weather, and 12,850 feet elevation gain, could not be called "Backpacking 101."

However, for us it was a very enjoyable vacation, and by no means an endurance trial. We highly recommend trekking in the Mount Edziza area for those who are properly equipped and physically and mentally prepared.