More than 500 workers carved over 70 tunnels to carry water from Cain to Poncebos for a hydroelectric project. The project started in 1915 and was finished in 1921. Eleven workers died. Of course we didn’t know any of this when we started out. All we knew is that we were going to hike into the famous Cares Gorge, in Picos de Europa, Spain.
The Spectacular Gorge
The Cares Gorge (Garganta del Cares) is a cleft running through the heart of the Picos de Europa mountain range. Carved by the Cares River, this massive rift reaches more than 1000 metres (3300 feet) deep in places. It stretches 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) in length.
Portions of the Cares River were diverted in the early 1900s for a hydroelectric power. Some of the water from the Cares flows through a canal that is built into the mountainside. The maintenance path for the canal is now an extremely popular hiking path through Cares Gorge.
It is possible to do the hike in either direction. Because we based out of Arenas de Cabrales, we started at Poncebos. The six kilometre (3.7 mile) drive snakes high into the mountains. After one false start, parking too early and crossing over the canal before the bridge and tunnel, we found the trailhead.
It is a steep, rocky climb up to the pass. Near the summit, old stone buildings speak to another life. It is also here that the first signs of the canal appear. At the summit, interpretive signs tell the story of the canal’s construction. Who knew?
Down, down, down – the path levels off as it hugs the cliff above, below and on top of the leaky canal. Stone retaining walls and short tunnels help maintain the grade. We catch occasional glimpses of the fast-flowing, blue Cares River far below. There are numerous side trails – goat tracks for the most part – veering off down into the canyon. The views continue to make us stop again and again for photo after photo.
Should you consider doing even a portion of this walk if in northern Spain?
Without a doubt!
Tips for Hiking the Cares Gorge
Be prepared for hundreds of people if on a weekend.
There are no washrooms or trash cans along the route, use Leave No Trace principles.
Sporadic signposts help mark distances.
Weather can change without warning, pack an umbrella and windcoat.
Don’t forget your camera.
To get to the trailhead, take route AS-264 to Poncebos from Arenas de Cabrales. Drive across the bridge and through the tunnel and watch for the sign “Funicular de Bulnes.” Take the right fork of the road here and continue uphill to the gate and trailhead.
Get a hiking guidebook:
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At first glance, my notebook tells a rather negative tale of wind and rain and mud-sucking portages. A closer look suggests that canoeing the twelve lake, 116.4 kilometre (72 mile) Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit might just be for the birds.
Did I mention I like birds?
The world-renowned canoe circuit is home to loons, osprey, bald eagles, kingfishers, common mergansers, harlequin ducks, nuthatches, woodpeckers, warblers, chickadees, white-throated sparrows – the list goes on. There are also black bears, moose and mink in this rugged wilderness area. It is situated on the western slopes of the Cariboo Mountain Range, about 120 km (75 mi) east of Quesnel, B.C.
Getting Set to Paddle
Rather than hauling boats from Alberta, we rented from Bear River Mercantile. It is perfectly situated at the head of the Bowron River for our takeout at the end of the circuit.
Sandy and Dick own the business and are knowledgable outfitters. They are also keepers of history. The mercantile is also a museum, devoted to the history of Wells, Barkerville and the Bowron Lake area. It has a diverse collection of artifacts, as well as an impressive collection of old Bowron Lake photographs.
A Touch of History
During the heydays of the gold rush, Bowron Lake supplied fish to feed hungry miners. Bowron Lake was named after John Bowron, the first Gold Commissioner in nearby Barkerville. In the early 1900s, locals trapped and guided to make a living. Frank Kibbee was one of the first settlers to build a home on the shores of Bowron Lake in 1907. Other families began farming along the Bowron River. Lodges were built around the lake.
By the early 1920s, there was growing concern for the health of wildlife populations in the region. A 620 square kilometre (240 square mile) wildlife sanctuary was established. The protected area increased in size over the years and eventually became the 139,700 hectare Bowron Lakes Provincial Park in 1961.
The Path of the Paddle
We sat through the park staff orientation talk about weather, safety, leave no trace ethics and then set about sorting gear for the weigh in. Only 27 kilograms (60 lbs) of gear is allowed in the canoes on portages in order to keep the trails in somewhat good shape. Anything else goes on your back.
The canoe circuit runs counter-clockwise in a roughly rectangular shape. It starts with Kibble Lake and goes onto Indianpoint, Isaac, McCleary, Lanezi, Sandy, Unna, Babcock, Skoi, Spectacle, Swan before ending on Bowron Lake. Beyond the lakes, the circuit includes about 10 kilometres (6 mi) of portages and a short paddle down the swift Cariboo River.
It’s uphill right off the get go – and we push, pull and find our rhythm on our way to Kibbee. Loons are everywhere – nesting, calling, fishing, flying. A short paddle, another portage, a little help to a young family of canoe trippers to manouver their load up and over a bridge and we’re back in the water on Indianpoint Lake.
It’s a short paddle to our first campsite – in time for Happy Hour, dinner, a couple of card games and a crackling fire. We head tuck into sleeping bags listening to one final song from a Swainson’s Thrush before darkness descends.
The next five nights and six days would find us alternately setting up and taking down rain tarps. It would find us drifting by thundering waterfalls, grunting as we pull the boats through another portage, and uttering sighs of content as we sit by the evening fire listening to the call of the loons.
We angled for trout and kokanee, caught glimpses of mink cavorting on the shoreline, discovered bear tracks, and saw osprey dive into the lake.
Nothing beat the experience of watching a kingfisher play whack-a-mole with its catch, hearing a mother moose and her calf stroll by our campsite in shallow waters just offshore and counting the endless parade of young mergansers tagging along behind mom.
The Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit is an ultimate wilderness experience.
If You Go:
Additional information about the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit can be found on the BC Parks site.
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Most people have heard of the California ‘49ers. Many know of the Klondike stampeders heading up to the Yukon in 1898. But what about the gold fever surrounding Barkerville, British Columbia? It lies smack dab in the middle of the western gold rush timeline.
Connecting to the Past
I have three reasons for having a soft spot for the Cariboo gold rush story. One, because I lived in the Cariboo as a child.
Two, because my grandpa – William Hill – worked the old slag heaps in Barkerville, searching for overlooked gold in the 1930s. He also searched for gold in the nearby abandoned mining town of Quesnelle Forks in 1940s.
And because, three, we chose that abandoned mining town, at the junction of the Cariboo and Quesnel Rivers, as the site of our wedding.
Since we were driving by Barkerville – on our way to paddle the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit – with friends who had never heard of Barkerville’s epic tale, we just had to make a little detour and show it off.
William ‘Billy’ Barker was a working-class English prospector. He started in the California goldfields in the mid-1800s. As the gold played out, Barker joined the thousands of other miners who headed north to what is now British Columbia.
The goldseekers followed the Fraser River inland in search of rich ore. Eventually, Billy and many other miners found their way to Cariboo.
William ‘Dutch Bill’ Dietz made the first strike. William’s Creek – which runs through Barkerville – is named after him. A town grew up around the strike. It was called Richfield. Billy Barker tried his luck a little further downstream of Richfield.
On August 17, 1862, Billy and his seven partners found gold at 52 feet. Billy’s mine-shaft was the deepest around. In just two days, the miners pulled out over 1700 grams (60 ounces) of gold.
The rush was on.
Most of the gold was found during the first five years of Cariboo gold rush. William’s Creek and two of its tributaries produced $30,000,000 of gold between 1861 and 1898.
Barkerville became the heart of the Cariboo when a 650-kilometre (404-mile) wagon road from Yale, B.C. was built to haul gear in and gold out of the goldfields. It was finished in 1865. Barkerville was the final stop along the road.
Barkerville is the largest living-history museum in western North America.
Today, the tourist attraction features over 100 restored buildings.
There are stagecoach rides, live theatre, old-fashioned photo studios and guided tours.
Watch for costumed interpreters roaming the streets, playing the roles of historic characters.
Barkerville: By the Numbers
1868 – The town is destroyed by fire and quickly rebuilt
1894 – The town’s namesake dies a pauper in Victoria, B.C.
Posted in one of the cooking shelters at Sheep Camp, we found a sheet of paper with historic packing list suggestions for men and women planning to hike the Chilkoot Trail through Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon.
Read the lists below and – after you research to learn that oakum is tarred fibre used to plug cracks, that mackinaw is a water-repellent woolen cloth and you stop laughing at the fact that women were advised to bring both house and knitted slippers – you will appreciate why the Chilkoot Trail became the world’s longest museum of discarded gear!
Gear for Men – as listed by Pierre Berton in his book, Klondike, p. 245
Three suits of heavy underwear
A mackinaw suit
Two pairs of mackinaw trousers
A heavy rubber-lined coat
A dozen pairs of wool socks
Half a dozen pairs of mittens
Two over shirts
Two pairs of snag-proof rubber boots
Two pairs of shoes
Two pairs of blankets
Two pairs of overall
A suit of oilskin clothing
Five yards of mosquito netting
400 lbs flour
50 lbs cornmeal
50 lbs oatmeal
35 lbs rice
100 lbs beans
40 lbs candles
100 lbs granulated sugar
8 lbs baking powder
200 lbs bacon
2 lbs soda
36 yeast cakes
15 lbs salt
1 lb pepper
½ lb mustard
¼ lb ginger
25 lbs evaporated apples
25 lbs evaporated peaches
25 lbs evaporated apricots
25 lbs fish
10 lbs pitted plums
50 lbs evaporated onions
50 lbs evaporated potatoes
24 lbs coffee
5 lbs tea
4 dozen tins condensed milk
5 bars laundry soap
60 boxes matches
15 lbs soup vegetables
25 cans butter
In addition, one must bring these items: steel stove, gold pan, three nest of granite buckets, a cup, plate, knife, fork, two spoons, two frying pans, coffeepot, pick, hand saw, whipsaw, whetstone, hatchet, two shovels, three files, draw-knife, axe, three chisels, twenty pounds of nails, butcher knife, hammer, compass, jackplane, square, Yukon sled, two hundred feet of rope, fifteen pounds of pitch, ten pounds of oakum, and a canvas tent.
Gear for Women – as suggested by Annie Hall Strong in The Skagway News on December 31, 1897
1 pair house slippers
1 pair knitted slippers
1 pair heavy-soled walking shoes
1 pair arctics
1 pair felt boots
1 pair German socks
1 pair heavy gum boots
3 heavy all-wool stockings
3 pair summer stockings
2 pair summer stockings
Moccasins can be purchased here of the Indians. The tall bicycle shoe with extra sole would make an excellent walking shoe. In the way of wearing apparel, a woman can comfortably get along with:
1 good dress
1 suit heavy Mackinaw, waist and bloomers
1 summer suit
3 short skirts of heavy duck or denim, to wear over bloomers
3 suits winter underwear
3 suits summer underwear
1 chamois undervest
1 long sack nightdress, make of eiderdown or flannel
1 cotton nightdress
2 pair arctic mittens
1 pair heavy wool gloves
1 arctic hood
1 hat with brim broad enough to hold the mosquito-netting away from the face
1 summer dress
some sort of gloves for summer wear; to protect hands from mosquitoes
1 piece of canvas, 5 ft x 14 ft
1 rubber blanket
2 pair, better 4 pair, all wool blankets
1 feather pillow
A ready-sewed tick will be very nice to have, for it can be filled with dried moss and makes a good pioneer mattress.
“An old miner would no doubt laugh me to scorn for suggesting a little satchel or handbag, but the comfort derived from the hundred and one little extras a woman can deftly stow away in it will doubly repay the bother of carrying it.” – Annie Hall Strong
Yup, I always take a little handbag… of course mine is called a backpack.
Overloaded and frantic to reach the goldfields near Dawson City in the Yukon, Canada, the stampeders of 1897-98 abandoned much of their gear along the Chilkoot Trail – especially during the first 41 km (26 mi) of the trail from Dyea, Alaska to Lindeman Lake, British Columbia.
Time and nature have had a lot of time to remove all traces of this crazy rush. Will there be much left to discover as we wander along the stampeders trail close to 120 years later?
They Called Them Cheechakos
Many of goldseekers taking the Chilkoot Trail from Dyea to Lindeman Lake and beyond were ill-prepared. They struggled get themselves and their gear up the trail, over Chllkoot Pass and down to Lindeman Lake where they could build a boat to go a little further. Old-timers called them Cheechakos. Cheechako is a Tlingit word for greenhorn.
Each stampeder was required to haul one ton of goods up to the scales at Chilkoot Pass. It took the average stampeder three to four weeks to pack his goods from the water’s edge at Dyea to shores of Lake Lindeman.
Interpretive signs warn that “your load may be lighter, but you face some of the same hazards. Weather can be extreme, especially on Chilkoot Pass. Start this hike only if prepared for severe conditions.”
In 1897, Pat Finnegan and his two sons established a ferry service. They later built a corduroy road – a road made of tree trunks laid down side by side – through the boggy areas approaching the Point and operated it as a toll road.
In the summer, this point eight kilometres (5 miles) from Dyea was the northern terminus of the wagon road. In the winter, stampeders could pull their sleds up the frozen riverbed. Finnegan’s Point was a convenient place to cache their gear and go back for another load. Our loads were lighter and we weren’t ready to stop for the night. We continued down the muddy trail to Canyon City.
Hundreds of tents crowded this ravine in 1897. It was the first major stop for most stampeders. Canyon City was a good place to cache goods before the steep climb out of the canyon. By spring 1898, two freight companies were building power houses for aerial tramways and stripping hillside to fuel boilers and build log houses.
Within a year Canyon City would vanish. Before heading on to Sheep Camp, we took the spur trail across the swinging bridge to see signs remaining from the site of all the 1897 action. Rusted chunks of metal, pieces of glass bottles, decaying cabin logs and the rusting hulk of a boiler were found.
This tramway – which only ran during the last few months of the gold rush – was powered by the 50-horsepower steam boiler that was too heavy to take out when Canyon City died out. If you could afford the 7 ½ cents per pound freight charge, you could send your supplies over Chilkoot Pass via a tram. Most stampeders had to carry their loads from cache to cache.
Tripping Along From Pleasant Camp to Sheep Camp
The trail from Canyon City to Pleasant Camp was described by one stampeder as “the worst piece of trail on the route, fairly muddy, with many boulders and with some short, steep ascents and descents in and out of small gulches.” For us, it was a little less muddy than the first day’s slog, but it did climb!
From Pleasant to Sheep – it was a transition from rock to muddy puddles for our crew.
Sheep Camp to the Scales to the Pass
The tramways that carried the wealthier stampeders’ supplies from Canyon City to Crater Lake paralleled the stream of men who had to shuttle loads on their backs. The brush has long since grown back around Sheep Camp, probably hiding a wealth of discarded supplies, but the occasional piece of rusted metal can still be seen. Tumbled piles of wood – the remains of the tram towers – can still be spotted on the hillsides.
A distinct change comes about at the scales near the foot of the climb up to Chilkoot Pass. It was here that stampeders re-weighed their goods. Professional packers could be hired to carry loads up to the pass, but they would sometimes charge up to a dollar a pound. Every ounce made a difference. As a result, the area became littered with excess gear.
It took forty, 50-pound trips to carry the required ton of goods to the top of the pass. Climb up, unload, slide back down, reload, and wait. At times it took up to half an hour to break into the human chain of stampeders inching their way up the slope. With our single loads, most weighing under 50 pounds, it seemed relatively easy to pick our way through the boulder field to the summit.
After the pass and the final tram station above Crater Lake, the flotsam and jetsam of the goldrush era dwindles. The downhill leg of the journey on the Canadian side of the pass was little less punishing that the climb up.
It’s Canada’s 150th in 2017. What better time to celebrate our country’s past than now?
British Columbia’s Mount Robson is a blast to my past.
Many years ago – who’s counting? – I spent a summer working on a youth crew in Mount Robson Provincial Park, B.C.. We did a little trail work and hiked a lot. We sang along with the soundtrack from “Grease“, packed external frame packs badly, jogged down for morning polar bear dips in Moose Lake and became park advocates and history buffs.
What’s in a Name?
Mount Robson Provincial Park is the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system (formed two years after Strathcona Provincial Park). The park was named for the peak. Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 metres (12,972 feet).
Until the arrival of European trappers and explorers, the peak was known as “Yuh-hai-has-kun” or the “Mountain of the Spiral Road” – a name given to it by the Texqakallt, the earliest known inhabitants of the upper reaches of the Fraser River. The named refers to the mountain’s many layered appearance.
How it came to be named “Mount Robson” is a little vague. In the earlier part of the 19th century, the North West Company sent hunters and trappers into this same area. One of these people was Colin Robertson, who worked for both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Robertson camped near the peak in about 1815. This spot became the campsite for subsequent hunting parties and the peak was named – or sort of named – after him.
Fur trader George McDougall is credited with the first written reference in his journal. He called the peak “Mt. Robinson” in his journal in 1827. Explorers crossing the Yellowhead Pass in 1863 referred to the peak in their journals as “Robson” and “Robson’s” Peak.
The first attempt to climb Mount Robson was in 1907, but it wasn’t until 1913 that W.W. Foster, and Albert H. McCarthy summited the peak with their guide, Conrad Kain.
More than just a big peak waiting to be conquered, Mount Robson Provincial Park is the headwaters of the mighty Fraser River. It borders the renowned Jasper National Park. Mount Robson Provincial Park is more than 100 years old. It was established on March 11, 1913. The park was designated as a part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.
History – you don’t always have to hike too far to find it, even in this relatively “young” country.
What is your favourite Canadian historic hike?
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“A wise traveler never despises his own country.”
Some historical journeys are shorter than others. Just off the highway near our home town, down a winding gravel road, is a piece of the past called Glenbow Ranch. In a meadow beside a river called the Bow is a weathered grey building. You can’t drive up to it. You have to purposefully travel down a path, back down in time, to a place that now only spirits call home. The ramshackle building, once a post office and school, is all that remains from a townsite that was home to 150 people in the early 1900s.
Visiting the Past
The closer you look at the site from a perch up on one of the hills at Glenbow Ranch, the more you see. Scanning the fescue grasslands it becomes easy to visualize herds of bison moving through as they grazed the prairie. Look closer and you’ll see tipi camps of the native tribes that depended on the bison for their survival. This land has a history dating back thousands, not just hundreds of years.
Settle in and you will see a change. The bison are gone and cattle from the historic Cochrane Ranche have taken their place. Move ahead slightly in time and watch as a ribbon of wood and steel is built through the valley bottom. By 1891, Glenbow became a water stop for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s steam engines. Twelve years later, a CPR station would be be built here.
Becoming a Townsite
Take your gaze up on to the hillsides and you’ll see remnants of another era. In 1907, the sounds of quarrying rang out across the valley. Sandstone blocks, hewn from these hills were used in the construction of Alberta’s Legislature Building in Edmonton. A growing population meant a demand for a postal service and in 1909, the post office building was open for business.
When the quarry closed in 1912, a brick-making plant was opened and soon 100,000 bricks a day were being manufactured. The wooden frame of the post office building was originally painted green and then faced with brick. Glenbow bricks – still visible in a few of the older homes in the nearby town of Cochrane – were yellowy-orange to red in colour.
End of an Era
Unfortunately, these bricks tended to crumble easily over time and the brick plant had a short lifespan. In 1914, the brick-making plant was closed. The post office and store stayed in business in 1920 before shutting down forever. The last Glenbow residents moved away in 1927.
The property became part of Eric Harvie’s ranch in 1934. Glenbow Ranch remained a private ranch for over 70 years until the park was established.
Isn’t it amazing what you can see when you look back in time? Some historical journeys are shorter than others; some are found in our own backyards.
If You Go:
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, established in 2008, is one of Alberta’s newest parks. You can find a park map and directions online.
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