October high water

Tuesday morning, I was sitting in my office listening to the rain pound the roof. It had been going on long and hard enough to make me nervous. Then, mid-morning, it started snowing. Huge clumps of wet snow.

Better than rain, I thought, until I saw the way the silly trees that hadn’t dropped their leaves were drooping under the weight. Branches breaking.

Two and a half inches of snow later, it started to rain again. Really rain. I heard rumbles of rocks slipping and sliding somewhere out there. Maybe a tree dropping a limb, or falling.  The creek roaring.

I couldn’t help myself, and threw on my rain gear, opened my umbrella and went out to take a look. Shook wet snow as best I could off the larch, off the mountain ash. Hauled broken willow branches off the driveway. Went over to the creek and watched the muddy water swirling like it was spring.

Bruce McGonigal, who worked for many years with water management in Smithers and still keeps careful track of what’s happening with our creeks and rivers, sent out this report:

Wet and then more wet. And then yet more.

In case you were wondering…….yesterday we were overwhelmed by some rather substantial rain. And those conglomerate snow flakes…big enough to bring down a goose.

I did a visit to Environment Canada’s met. site for Smithers Airport this morning….

69.4 mm recorded over the 24 hour period for October 24th. Previous record rainfall was recorded on same day in 1966 at 24.1 mm.

There you go, in case you were wondering – Smithers area smashed the previous rain fall record in a rather substantial way.

Today, the sun is shining and the snow is melting. The creek is settling down. Rumour has it, though, that there’s fog down in the valley.

Ben Nelson – the Cataline of the Babines

Thanks to Lynn Shervill for writing this piece and to the BV Museum for the older photos.

 

In the Winter 2014 issue of Mining Exploration Magazine local mining historian Tony L’Orsa mentions some of the colorful characters who scoured the Babine Mountains east of Smithers for viable ore deposits, men like Jack Mackendrick, Joe ‘Kicker’ Kelly, Peavine Harvey, Axel Elmsted and J.J. Herman.

Working conditions for these men, some of whom worked through the winter on their claims, must have been dreadful, not to mention the rigours of accessing those claims via horseback or on snowshoes. One of those prospectors, Martin Cain, actually died when he got lost in a snowstorm while trying to get to a claim near the Little Joe Lakes and another died in a blasting incident at the Cronin mine.

The challenges that faced those men were somewhat relieved by a man who actually lived on Driftwood Creek at the site of what is now known as the Silverking Ranch.

Ben Nelson at his cabin on Driftwood Creek (Photo courtesy Bulkley Valley Museum).

J.J. Ben Nelson, Danish by birth, emigrated to the Bulkley Valley from the United States where it is thought he worked for the US Army as a horse wrangler. The date of his arrival is unknown but the Bulkley Valley Museum has a photo of his pack train in Smithers circa 1914.

Nelson worked as a prospector but was best known as a horse packer, supplying all of the mining camps in the Babines with food, tools and building materials. His pack trains were also used to bring ore down from the various Babine mines to the rail line.  According to the late Joe L’Orsa’s history of the Babine Mountains, Nelson was also responsible for naming Lagopus Mountain and Valhalla Basin.

That same history also records the fact Nelson, along with fellow prospector Ralph Dieter and a policeman, brought Martin Cain’s body out of the mountains by horseback. That was in 1938.

Ralph Dieter, circa 1983

The next summer Nelson, along with Ralph Dieter and fellow prospector Joe Murray set off on a journey from which only two of them would return. Joe L’Orsa told that story in an Interior News article from 1989.

[They] left Driftwood with a string of packhorses following a lead that gold had been found near Chuckachida Lake in the headwaters of the Stikine River many years before. The route lay up the old Telegraph Trail from Hazelton to Blackwater Lake, through the famous Groundhog Range, across the Skeena River at Jackson Flats and north to Table Mountain.

They finally stopped [at what might have been] the Spatsizi River. Ben Nelson camped here and Joe Murray and Ralph Dieter returned to Smithers for supplies. Murray went back with … Gus Hildebrandt, returning afterwards to bring the horses [home].

Nelson spent the winter in Hildebrandt’s cabin in the Groundhog, then started out again in March pulling a sleigh carrying about 250 pounds of supplies, mostly mining steel. On April 12 he met P.M. Moncton, a surveyor who was involved with the proposed Alaska Highway, and Ed Borders, a young man who was hiking from Alaska, at the headwaters of the Spatsizi River. They camped together and had a long talk.

Ben asked Borders, who was headed for Hazelton, to send a message to Joe Murray asking for a plane to meet him at Chuckachida Lake around May 1. He then headed down the Spatsizi River with a map drawn by Moncton who knew the country and explained the best way to get to Chuckachida Lake and where the Stikine River should be crossed.

On April 31 Caribou Hide Indians found a note on the door at Hyland Post, abandoned at the time. It said that Ben Nelson had lost everything—provisions, clothing, even his guns—when his raft capsized on the Spatsizi River.

The Caribou Hide people did not find Ben, but did see his tracks at Sanabar Creek, only about 30 miles from Chuckachida Lake and the Toodoggone area.

When Joe Murray flew in to meet his partner he found no trace.

Subsequent searching by the provincial police and others failed to find the missing man and a mystery was born.

Only a few years ago [from 1989] Ralph Dieter was approached by a Native Indian man who told him that many years before, he and his father had met Ben Nelson. They gave him some food and gave directions how to get to their camp.

When they returned they found Ben dead and buried him beside the trail.

Forty years later, the Dupont Baker gold mine, and subsequently the Cheni mine began production not too many miles from Chuckachida Lake.

Ben Nelson, Ralph Dieter and Al Fletcher working a mineral claim, circa 1936 (Photo Courtesy Bulkley Valley Museum). Al Fletcher took over Nelson’s packing operation after his disappearance.

 

The McCabe Creek probe

Lynn and I have, for many years, hiked with friends who are up for almost anything—and who will set out under almost any circumstances because you just never know. That fog might lift, that threatened rain might not materialize, there might be an inversion that raises the valley bottom -25° to something more pleasant.

The view from Harvey Mountain looking down at the junction of the creeks.

Here at the cusp of winter, it’s especially hard to adjust. To stuff the down jacket, the warm mittens and the toque into a day pack that’s already fat enough. To be sure to carry a headlamp because it gets dark so damn early. But good hiking companions won’t quail when you ask them to join you on a little bushwhack, a little probe. Karen Diemert and Jim Pojar took the bait when we told them we wanted to try to find an old cabin built in 1936 by Al Fletcher* and his brother Edison on the banks of Driftwood Creek just below its confluence with what we have now named McCabe Creek.

You won’t find that name on any map, but if you’ve walked along the north side of Harvey Mountain you will have seen it. It is created when a triplet of creeks—one that runs out of two little lakes on the south end of Hyland, one that runs out of Copper Lakes on the McCabe Trail and one that runs down the headwall between the two—join forces to make its way through some wet meadows to join Driftwood Creek below Silverking Basin.

Morgan Hite map showing McCabe Creek’s junction with Driftwood Creek.

Our Gilbert Road neighbour George Loset—George has done more solo exploring of the Babines than almost anyone alive—directed us to drop down to Driftwood Creek where Valhalla Creek crosses the Silverking trail and follow the creek upstream. When he was last there, close to 40 years ago now, he found an old horse track and Fletcher’s cabin, its roof caved in but otherwise intact. He also snowshoed up into the meadows, a route he said the prospectors took in winter to avoid the avalanche chutes crossing the McCabe Trail. That was the route, he said, that Ralph Dieter, Ben Nelson and a policeman took when they packed out the body of Martin Cain, who died on a snowshoe trip into Little Joe where Axel Elmsted was “living a hard-working, solitary life … working in the tunnel alone.”

It seemed like now or never. We could still drive to the summer parking lot, there was just a skiff of snow in the bush and that could all change in a week or two. Plus there was a little window of clear weather.

Karen follows the old horse trail.

Valhalla Creek crosses the Silverking trail just above the four km marker. We were ready to get soaked in the underbrush, but the descent was dry—our boots sank into the frozen moss, the few deadfalls were easy to skirt. Just a few minutes and we were there. We stuck close to the creek until a tangle of downed trees sent us higher where Jim spotted the remnant trough of the trail outlined by the snow. We found a few blazes on the trees, but nothing clear enough to guide us when the trail lost itself in the underbrush.

When the current road was driven into Silverking in 1946, the old trail was likely only used if Fletcher was trapping or perhaps guiding hunters—in 1949, he was given the first guiding license in the Babines and his third client killed the goat that set the Boone and Crockett record and is memorialized near the junction of Highway 16 and Main Street. Now that the mountains are protected, signs of the older uses—the mineral workings, cat trails and sawdust piles—are disappearing back into the bush. As is Fletcher’s old cabin.

We had dropped back down to the creek after losing the trail and there it was, an insignificant heap of logs, the sawn ends still visible, a few lengths of stove pipe and one lamp. A small flat spot near the creek but high enough to survive any big runoff events. Dark though.

One success. The confluence, George had told us, was nearby. Steep banks and more deadfalls sent us up away from the creek. We were getting ready to give up and look for a good lunch spot in the sun dappling the moss when Driftwood Creek made a hard turn north. A beautiful little esker, all green moss, led us back down and sure enough, there was the tributary joining the main flow.

As we stood there, jubilant, two dippers flew down Driftwood Creek and paused, chattering and bouncing at the confluence. The first we’d seen in months.

It was enough. Those alluring meadows were on the other side of a very cold creek and a rocky scramble up into who knows what. We already had a few hours of hiking remaining, first finding our way up to the Silverking trail and then back down to the summer parking lot. Another time perhaps.

 

*Al  Fletcher was our neighbour for several years. He lived on the ranch his parents, Eli and Laura, homesteaded in 1913. The year he built the cabin, he also registered a trapline, one that had been registered in 1926 to Peter Bazil or Wah tah K’eght—and the trapline, which followed Driftwood  Creek up into Silverking, was in his territory—now that of the current Wah tah K’eght, Henry Alfred. That’s another story I hope to chase down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hans Tugnum

Every June, we used to walk along the ridge above Driftwood Creek from Hans Tugnum’s gravel pit on Gilbert Road to our place—often with Gisela Mendel and Nancy Leighton. We were always on the lookout for clematis, warblers and bears; the clematis likes the brush under the spruce trees, the warblers like the sunny slopes and the bears like the anthills. We didn’t really know Hans and Emily then (though one of his foster daughters, Brenda, became friends during my writing of Canyon Creek: A Script as Elizabeth and Jack Joseph were her grandparents). But Hans is one of those neighbours you realize you can go to when you need to check the facts about local history. Since researching his story about Driftwood Creek bush mills, Lynn has spent time time with Hans and, if you’re a local history buff, you’ll recognize many of the names that come up in his story below.

 

Hans Tugnum

The headwaters of Driftwood Creek are located at one end of a glacier in a col high above the old mine workings in Silverking Basin. The other end of the glacier drains into the Reiseter or Twobridge Creek watershed. Within these two watersheds Hans Tugnum, who emigrated at age six from Switzerland to the Bulkley Valley with his family in 1936, has spent more than 80 of his 87 years.

Hans’ parents, Conrad and Walburga (Wally), bought property at Glentanna where the Telkwa High Road and Snake Road intersect, a site by then rich in Bulkley Valley history. Prospector Danny Moore built a roadhouse there in 1904 and George Duhamel, a Yukon Telegraph lineman, built a second roadhouse—Glacier House—about a quarter mile closer to Moricetown on the High Road.

An adjacent property, the Chapman ranch, was staked by Peavine Harvey in 1903, owned by mining promoter James Cronin (Cronin mine) and operated by Charlie Chapman for whom Chapman Lake is named. The land was later purchased by Mike Mesich, father of Emil, Tony, Tommy, Steve and Kitty Mesich.

Conrad bought his property (Lots 861 and 862) from the Lapadats and lived in the roadhouse built by Danny Moore. He dismantled that place and built a new, squared-timber home in which the Bill Brandsma family now lives. According to Stories of Swiss Settlement in the Bulkley Valley, Conrad had a mixed farming operation that included hay, grain crops, pork and dairy and beef cattle.

Other neighbours over the years at Glentanna included George Sharp, Matt Mackenzie, the Sturzeneggers, the Veenstras and Hark Vandermeulen.

Hans, along with brothers George and Florian and sister Margrit, fed or milked cows before and after school, cut firewood and helped in the kitchen. During the day they attended the Glentanna school. According to Hans, he started school in 1937 under the tutelage of Della Herman (nee Carpenter). She was followed by Florence Lundstrom and a series of other teachers including June Fletcher (Al’s wife and Della’s sister) and Anna Morris (nee Edmonds).

Some of Hans’ classmates included Johnny and Annie Lapadat, Helen and Irene Oulton, and Ernie and Otto Zust.

“Many of the kids, like the Malkows and the Lundstroms, had to walk three miles or more to school,” Hans said. “On the weekends we went exploring, hiking, squirrel hunting or horseback riding. There were very few cars then so mostly we just visited with one another.”

Hans quit school when he was 15 and stayed working on the farm until he was 25.

“Then I partnered with Hark Vandermeulen and we ran a sawmill on crown land up Twobridge Creek.”

For much of the next 10 years Hans lived either in the bush or at a property on Dieter Road and ran sawmills, one of them located off Old Babine Lake Road near what is now the Rabbit Road. He said a typical operation consisted of a bunkhouse and cookhouse, the mill and about eight employees. “Between Houston and Hazelton,” he said, “there were at least 100 bush mills.”

Just about the same time he started in the sawmilling business Hans married his wife Emily. “I met Emily in 1951,” he said. “We were on and off, mostly off, for the next five years. But I was persistent and we got married in 1956. We lived at Dad’s for about three years and then in the bush after that. She was my camp cook and a damned good woman.”

Together they raised six children—one of their own, two adopted children and three foster children.

The view from the ridge walk from Tugnum’s along Driftwood Road.

Hans quit the sawmilling business in 1966 after being injured in a car accident. In 1973 he bought his current property which borders Driftwood Creek just off Gilbert Road, spending time with his growing family and close friends such as the late Oscar Pederson, who started coming to the valley from Saskatchewan in the 1940s to work in the bush mills, and with Ronnie Gilbert, who was born in the valley.

Ronnie, Hans and friend Bev Brinkhurst built a snowmobile trail from Ronnie’s house on Dieter Road all the way to Smithers Landing on Babine Lake. According to Hans it took the “old guys” about eight hours to make the trip “but some of the younger guys could do it in five or six. We’re too old for that now and the trail is overgrown anyway.”

A director of the Bulkley Valley Credit Union for many years, Hans is now working with the Smithers Co-housing Association.

“The idea for that,” he said, “is to get back to the way it was … visiting, helping each other. To have a sense of community again.”

Thanks to Lynn Shervill and Hans for this story.

The song of C’ede’i Kwe

I started this poem a few years ago and set it aside, as I often do. Yesterday I sat in at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Smithers. Heartbroken at the stories, I was also proud of the Witsuwit’en welcome to the participants, proud of their healing spirits. We are so lucky to live in their territory. Somehow the music C’ede’i Kwe/Driftwood Creek makes as it forms the boundary between the territories of Wah tah K’eght and Woos seems to speak of both gifts and great loss. Of what passes and what remains. I offer this in the spirit of healing.

 

 

Around here, the creek across the road
sings the prettiest.
From the bedroom window it’s a blur of sound
but if you move closer –
say down to the picnic table in the canyon’s park –
it has a rise and fall
that seems to follow the rise and fall
of your breathing,
the pulse in your throat as the sun heats up your face
and the hand moving this pencil.
It soothes the chitter going on inside your head when you’re trying not to think,
trying to be here, be now,
as they say,
and not to wonder if that prickle on your ankle
is a late-season ant or fly or cranky wasp
disturbed by the arrival of your restless feet
under the table.

It’s like that in this small park.
Mostly refuge, mostly haven, mostly peace.
Until the sudden chaos of field trips or family picnics,
kids heaving boulders into the creek.
Burnt picnic tables, an overturned outhouse.
Lovers leaving crumpled tissues, an empty bottle.
That time there was the little black dress,
a rag on the morning grass, the police searching the underbrush
for the woman who picked it out of some closet
and slipped it on. What could she have been wearing
when she left this place?

When you go down to the shaded gravel bar
and crouch to listen,
individual songs emerge.
You close your eyes and try to single out
her voice. One clear chord
still echoing between the canyon walls.
You wait, watching for a sign.

This gravel bar has somehow survived
forty seasons’ floods and ice.
All the children tossing rocks into the water.
Another variation on the theme of kerplonk
that makes our grandson raise his hands in glee
aha, he crows, aha
his small body stretched tight, quivering
in wonder at the chorus he makes
with a handful of pebbles tossed high
to fall into the creek.
It’s a wonder there’s anything here but sand.

Tonight
I’ll pack up my songs
and drive into town to sing, join voices
and sound a charm against the pain that sometimes happens
just across the road. Against the coming winter
when the creek sinks deep under the ice
so quiet, so still, that even the dipper has to look hard
to find an entrance into the concert hall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, Sept. 18, 1982

Thirty-five years ago, a plane crashed just a few metres below Danny Moore Creek near its confluence with Driftwood Creek. Local pilot Emil Mesich and his four passengers were killed.

An excerpt from the accident report explains what happened:

Two company aircraft, each carrying a party of hunters, departed the seaplane base on Tyee Lake near Smithers, bound for separate camps located relatively close together. The Otter was bound for Tatlatui Lake, 260 kilometres to the north. DJA, the larger of the two aircraft, was loaded with equipment belonging to both groups. As well as the pilot and four hunters and this equipment, it also carried two 200 litre fuel drums. The pilot was to drop off his passengers and then fly to the other camp. He did not arrive. An ELT signal was heard by the pilot of the smaller aircraft on his return flight to Tyee Lake.

Harry Kruisselbrink photo

Apparently, the Otter had crashed ten minutes after takeoff.

As well as the 55-year-old Mesich, four men from Illinois were killed: Dan Bonaguidi, 42, Steven Bonaguidi, 38, and John Marconi, 41, and Jay Ford Blunck, 42.

My husband Lynn and Richard Overstall planned to fly into Twobridge/Reiseter Lake that weekend. But the weather wasn’t great, so they decided instead to hike into Silverking Basin, where there was a cabin. I remember piling the boys, who were three and four years old, into the car before heading to town. As Lynn and I said goodbye, a float plane flew overhead. Lynn commented on how low it was flying and we watched it for a moment.

Later that day, I got a call from Jim Shorter, a neighbour who was also a pilot. He asked me who Lynn and Richard had flown withhow he knew their plans was just another small town mystery. I told him they’d changed their plans; he told me a plane had crashed in the Babines. It was one of those moments: fear, anger, fear, relief, fear. I hadn’t seen them set off up the road with their packs. Had they perhaps changed their minds? AngerI was mad at Jim for what felt like a fishing expedition. What if they had been on that plane? What the hell would he have said? The anger surprised me. Held back the fear for a while, but I needed to see those two walk out on Sunday afternoon to finally settle.

I’ll let Lynn tell his story:

In the late summer and early fall we see float planes from Tyee Lake pass over our place almost every day, ferrying hunters and fisherman to and  from Spatsizi and Tatlatui provincial parks. On the day of the crash I was splitting firewood while waiting for Richard to arrive. That’s when I heard the Otter, louder than usual, and flying lower … much lower. Odd, I thought, and then went back to swinging the splitting maul.

Richard arrived about 15 minutes later and we headed off up Driftwood Road. I can’t remember now how far one could drive up the road then—maybe to Sunny Point but no further. Anyway, it could not have been more than an hour after hearing the plane that we were well on our way into Silverking and, more importantly, passing Danny Moore Creek.

We spent an uneventful, but chilly night in the old Silverking bunkhouse, built by Ernie Hann in the 1930s, and headed home late the next morning. A short while after re-crossing the Danny Moore Bridge, about three km above what is now the summer parking lot, we saw several vehicles, including an RCMP truck, parked on the road. We heard the whine of a chain saw uphill through the trees on our right. We immediately headed in that direction but within about 100 metres got turned back by the RCMP. All the member would say was there had been a plane crash in the bush just above us.

That’s when I told Richard about the low flying Otter from the previous day and we both wondered if it was the same plane.

Harry Kruisselbrink, a long time search & rescue volunteer took this photo at the crash site. The broken trees are signs searchers look for when a plane goes missing in the bush.

That question was answered later the same day … Emil had intended to fly up Driftwood Canyon and over the head wall at the end of Silverking Basin. When he realized he couldn’t get the necessary altitude, he tried to turn around and that’s when everything went sideways. The plane sheared off the tops of several trees and plummeted to the ground. Everyone on board was killed. But it did not catch fire.

And that’s probably the thought that has stayed with me more than any other over the years. If the plane had caught fire it would have been about the same time Richard and I passed by the crash site. We would have come upon fire and smoke and much worse had we climbed to investigate.

That’s one of the reasons the crash still gives me the shivers.

Ted Turner photo

Another reason is because Emil Mesich was flying the plane that crashed and killed our beloved neighbour Sunny Biniowsky in November 1979. She and her partner, Fred Seychuk Sr., had moved up the road just a few months after we moved into our place. They’d escaped Toronto with Sunny’s two youngest children and decided to make a life in Driftwood Canyon, a choice that greatly added to our own enjoyment of creekside life.

 

Rabbit stew and plonk with wonderful friends. From l-r Gregory, Sunny, Fred, Ilya, Fred Jr. Sheila and Lynn. Ted Turner took the photo. Both Freds still live in Driftwood Canyon.

Sunny was planning to fill in for the teacher at Takla Lake and had flown in to check it out. I will never forget sitting on our couch with her boys while Fred and his son went to find out what had happened. Watching their pain as her death was confirmed. The reason for the crash was heartbreaking:

This is the story from the Prince George Citizen:

SMITHERS, B.C. (CP) – A single-engine plane carrying four persons crashed in northern B.C. Nov. 26 because the pilot misjudged the weight of a case of empty beer bottles and overloaded the craft, a coroner’s inquest ruled Monday.

The Cessna, owned by Smithers Air Services Ltd., crashed at Takla Lake, 130 kilometres north of Fort St. James, killing Horst Kratz, Lee Arnold and Sonia Biniowsky, all of Smithers.

Coroner Wilfred Carpenter and the five-member jury found that Emil Mesich, 52, the pilot and lone survivor, erroneously estimated the weight of a case of beer at four pounds when the actual weight was seven pounds.

Evidence showed 397 empty cases were picked up from a lake resort. The plane’s nose dipped shortly after take-off and the craft stalled and crashed.

The jury recommended that each charter flight be equipped with portable scales, that the centre of gravity for each flight be computed accurately and that sufficient cargo restraints be provided and used.

Unfortunately the jury’s recommendations were not followed on the 1982 flight and the few times I have flown into the northern bush, I have never been weighed, nor has my gear.

Planes are such fragile things. Skin stretched over a framework, over switches and valves and wiring as complicated and breakable as our own.

The people who fly these planes face tremendous pressure from their clients to get their passengers and freight into hard-to-reach places. Every takeoff and landing carries its own risks and many pilots have lost their lives because of it. Emil certainly did. As did, several years later, Jim Shorter, who was also a long time resident of the Driftwood Creek watershed. His wife, Eileen, still lives on the beautiful property between the Driftwood Creek bridge on the Telkwa Highroad and Malkow Lookout. We know so many who have died in small plane crashes, people who care deeply about the land they’re flying over, people who are dearly loved and much missed.

 

Harry Kruisselbrink photo

Indeed, it is often the dramatic terrain these planes traverse that gets them into difficultywho knows if Emil wanted to show off the beautiful passage that Driftwood Creek has carved on its way out of the Babines or if the hunters wanted to catch a glimpse of goats on the headwall in Silverking Basin, the place they like to frequent in the fallthe one that proved too high for Emil that day.

If he’d gone around through McKendrick Pass the flight might have been uneventful.

Gisela Mendel took us up to the crash site many years later, the bright yellow wreckage still clearly visible. You could still see where the trees were clipped as the plane tried to turn. It was so quiet there, painful to imagine the roar of the engine, the trees splintering, the wings tearing and the final impact. And then, because there was no fire, nor any survivors, the quiet returning as the broken branches settled, the hot metal cooled, the tick, tick, tick subsiding into the usual fall sounds: the trickle in the nearby creek, a nuthatch’s nasal squawk, a jay’s screech, perhaps some wind groaning through the sub-alpine fir. And just a few metres away, two men passing on the road into Silverking Basin.

Harvey Mountain Trail – making connections

Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017

It’s impossible to stay indoors when the weather is like this – warm, bug-free and with the added pressure that you know it can’t last. So Lynn and I head up Harvey Mountain Trail to walk one of my favourite Babine Mountains loops. As we begin our climb, I think about how these trails start off steep, with no gentle warm up. For a few minutes the loudest sound is my heart pounding as it overcomes its initial surprise that I’m making such inconsiderate demands. Soon things settle down and I hear a creek on my right. It fades in and out of earshot as the trail switches back and forth and you never see it unless you go looking for it further up. I don’t know of any name for it, unless it’s the Harvey Creek Joe L’Orsa refers to in his history of the Babines.

The air has the heavy smell of September – vegetation turning into next spring’s compost. Brilliant clusters of bunchberry. The columbine gone to seed, scraggly daisies in the gravel.

We hear a woodpecker enjoying a Sunday brunch, golden-crowned kinglets at one sunny turn, a hawk screeches once, twice, and then falls silent. Lynn scares a ruffed grouse and her chicks out of the thimbleberries. We come to the first viewpoint and look back down the canyon toward a valley choked with fog. The morning flight from Vancouver circles, looking for an opening.

The packrat hotel

Rounding the corner of the next switchback, I catch of whiff of packrat. Always right here, at a rocky outcrop. And as you walk through the smell and beyond it along a straight, relatively level stretch of relief for your heart, you come to the remnants of Peavine Harvey’s cabin. When we first hiked this trail, you could step inside the cabin – now there’s a jumble of tumbled down boards, a few metal scraps, and fireweed poking through the debris.

The remnants of the cabin

This is where you can finally see the creek, but you have to go look for it. If you don’t make the switchback turn you’ll see a small trail leading over to what there is left of it this time of year.

Dry rock where the trail crosses it at the base of a steep cliff. Up above, the creek is a trickle, a little riff and gurgle before it disappears again. If you keep going along the base of the cliff, you’ll come across old evidence of the work Peavine put in over the years, but the main adit is a pile of rocks.

According to Joe’s history of the Babines, Peavine Harvey was already digging into the flank of this mountain as early as 1905. “The Pack Train claims were owned by C.G. ‘Peavine’ Harvey, Chas. (‘Charlie’) Barrett [Barrett Hat, Barrett Station all named in association with nearbyBarrett Lake, in turn named after Charles Barrett, early settler and c1900 owner of the Diamond D Ranch], and Jno. Charleston, and were what later became known as ‘The Harvey Mine’.” By 1909, he had excavated “41 feet of tunnel, four open cuts and a shaft 35’ deep.”

In 1914, Peavine moved his family to the land either Eli Fletcher or Peavine himself originally pre-empted. Joe writes, “Between 1915 and 1918, C. G. Harvey shipped approximately 25 tons of ore.” In 1919, a “new trail to the Harvey property, from the wagon road up Driftwood Creek, was constructed….On the Harvey Group, at that time owned by C. G. Harvey and W. J. Larkworthy, considerable work was done, including a shaft sunk to a depth of 40’.”

In the early days, I suspect it was pretty much all men and pack horses coming up this way. And the “new trail” Joe writes about was likely built with crosscut saws, pickaxes and shovels – it’s hard to imagine. Shipping ore? Pack horses or wagons? I remember Ralph Dieter telling us how he’d run/walk to town and back for the mail. It was really faster than horses, he said. Later mechanized activity turned this into a road and as you’re hiking towards the top, it goes straight up into the alpine where remnant tracks are still visible. I suspect these last tracks come from activity Joe reported for 1971-72. “Driftwood Mines cut a grid and did other work on Harvey Mountain. The project was then abandoned.” Peavine had died in 1945 and I never heard word that Gordon did any mining.

Before logging began in the 1950s (see Driftwood Creek Bush Mills), the trail was not the industrial corridor I thought it must have been from the amount of prospecting that was going on. Joe’s history refers to a letter his mother, Harriet, wrote after her return to the family home in 1964:

“Take for instance the Driftwood Creek road above Harveys’. Twenty-five years ago, this was probably the most beautiful forest road in the Valley, winding along the edge of Driftwood Creek and bordered by towering evergreens. “Sunny Point” was a tiny Paradise and a stopping place for many.”

Once on top of Harvey Mountain, the history all falls into place. Looking back and down, I can see, visible above the morning fog, the big hayfield just above our house, a hayfield that Eli Fletcher was cutting over one hundred years ago. I can see the route Gordon, Peavine and Katherine followed with Billy Kirtin into the canyon.* I can trace the creek all the way to its headwaters above the Joe L’Orsa cabin in Silverking Basin.

I can also see signs of activities that precede any of the settler community.  The rugged outcrops, dizzying goat descents, their dustbaths, their scat and a few scraps of goat hair caught in the vegetation. The crackling of the lichen the caribou preferred when they lived in these mountains. The horned larks flocking up before they leave.

We wander across, eat lunch looking down on Number Six Lake, and nap in the sunshine before we start the descent.

A creek trickles and bubbles down through scenic grottoes, the crackling lichens from up top giving way to mauve gentians, stalks of fireweed gone to seed, ratty little fleabanes, shabby monkshood. Brilliant hellebore. As we follow the creek we leave, for an hour, the Driftwood watershed. This creek drains into Lyon Creek, Ganokwa Creek, Canyon Creek. We circle around the mountain, see the town is now as clear and sunny as we’ve been all day. We walk down, back once again to Driftwood Creek. We’ve been out for six or seven hours and haven’t seen another person all day. Heaven.

*The Harveys show up many times in this blog: check out Gordon Harvey – tenacity and transience.