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.

A Review of the Driftwood Canyon Fossil Beds

by Tony L’Orsa*

Sheila and Lynn are celebrating having lived beside the Driftwood Canyon fossil beds for more than forty years and I have been asked to present a little of our current understanding of some of the stories that the fossils tell us. A few million years ago, the spot where they are living would have been beside or in a lake, rather than beside a creek.

The Driftwood Canyon fossil beds are a remarkable natural library. The pages of this library are thin layers of sediments that were deposited annually and upon which were imprinted the records of a few of the happenings at that place and time. That place was a freshwater lake and the time was about 51.77 million years ago, during the Eocene Epoch on the geological time scale. The age was obtained from uranium-lead dating of the mineral zircon found in a layer of volcanic ash. The exceptionally well preserved fossils here offer us a few glimpses into a little-known part of Earth’s history.

Figure 1: Pages of history in the Driftwood fossil beds. The rocks shown above represent thin layers of mud, fine-grained silt, and local bands of volcanic ash that settled on the ancient lake bottom now exposed at Driftwood Canyon.
Image by A. L’Orsa.

The formation of the ancient lake now exposed by Driftwood Canyon approximately coincided with the onset of basaltic volcanic activity in this area about 51 million years ago. In this general area, there is some evidence that basaltic flows locally blocked river valleys and formed lakes. Basaltic mountains, such as China Nose Mountain near Houston, are remnants of some of these volcanic events and have their own stories to tell. Driftwood represents the most northern of dozens of fossil-bearing lake and swamp exposures of similar age that have been discovered southeasterly from here, through the Cariboo (Horsefly), Kamloops (McAbee), Falkland, Princeton and down to Republic, Washington. This discontinuous and time-restricted accumulation of fresh-water sediments, with many fossils in common, represents fragments of a relatively warm upland ecosystem, now collectively referred to by researchers as the “Okanagan Highlands” (including Driftwood). In addition, there are extensive lake deposits of similar age in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, which also contain many superb fossils.

The early Eocene was an interesting time in Earth’s history. Earth was experiencing one of its several “greenhouse” climatic events. The climate was much warmer and wetter, and there was probably no permanent ice at the poles. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are estimated to have been much higher than they are today.  Average temperatures were apparently a little warmer than in southern coastal British Columbia at present. Fossils of palms and members of the walnut family indicate an even warmer climate at lower elevations. Many of the trees listed below also grew in the High Arctic at this time, where exceptionally well-preserved fossil forests have been discovered, as well as fossils of alligators, turtles and many mammals. The “greenhouse” conditions peaked about 50 million years ago and then the temperature started to decline. By the end of the Eocene Epoch, Earth was rapidly cooling down to the “icehouse” conditions that we consider “normal” today.

Plant fossils that have been reported from Driftwood Canyon include alder, birch, cypress, elm, false larch (Pseudolarix), ferns (especially the floating fern, Azolla), fir, ginkgo, hemlock, oak, pines (note Pinus driftwoodensis), redwoods (Metasequoia and Sequoia), sassafras and spruce. Some of these tree groups still grow in the area, but many others now only grow naturally in warmer and moister climates in Asia (e.g. dawn redwood, false larch and ginkgo) or farther south in North America (e.g. oaks and redwoods).

Two examples of fossil tree leaves from Driftwood Canyon are pictured below, followed by pictures of their nearest living relatives. These pictures help to remind us that these fossils, although they may now appear rather dull, were once live, green and vibrant plants living in a lush lakeside forest.

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia sp.).
Photo by Ken Pugh.

Dawn redwoods were common in western North America in the Eocene, but gradually became extinct, or so it was thought. In the mid-1940s, a Chinese forester found a few “living fossil” dawn redwoods in a forest in southwestern China, apparently on the verge of extinction. Seeds and seedlings were collected and now these trees can be seen in gardens and parks around the world, including in southern British Columbia.

 

The only known surviving dawn redwood species (Metasequoia glyptostroboides).
Image: Public Domain.

Ginkgos are another easily identified, but rarely found, fossil at Driftwood Canyon. They represent a “living fossil” that can be traced back more than 200 million years. Ginkgos are locally common in the sandstones of the Skeena Group that probably directly underlie the Driftwood Canyon fossil beds and outcrop in places downstream along Driftwood Creek. Although these trees had an almost worldwide distribution some 200 million years ago, for many years they too were thought to have been extinct in the wild, but they had been preserved in temple gardens and other cultivated places in the Orient. Recently they too have been found growing wild in a few Chinese forests. Extracts from the leaves have long been used in Chinese medicine.

One half of the leaf below can be seen at the Bulkley Valley Museum in Smithers. The other part is in a private collection.

Ginkgo adiantoides. Identified by Glenn Rouse, UBC. Scale in millimetres.
Image by A. L’Orsa.

 

The last known surviving ginkgo species (Ginkgo biloba). This young tree is growing in Halifax.
Image by Judi L’Orsa.

 

The scientist who has been at the center of plant fossil research at Driftwood Canyon in recent years is David  Greenwood, a specialist in plant fossils at Brandon University. He is the leader of the Okanagan Highlands Project. For more information on his work, click here for his website.

Insects reported from Driftwood Canyon include lacewings (note Pseudochrysopa harveyi, named in honour of Gordon Harvey by Bruce Archibald), March flies, crane flies, snakeflies, mosquitos, water striders, bees, wasps, gnats, earwigs, ants and termites. Some of these species are only found in warmer climates today. Bruce Archibald, Simon Fraser University, has recently been studying the insects from Driftwood Canyon and other Eocene sites. His website is here.

March fly Plecia (?) from Driftwood, private collection.
Photo by Ken Pugh.

 

Fish fossils found at Driftwood Canyon include the important “dawn salmon” Eosalmo driftwoodensis first described by Mark Wilson, who teaches at the University of Alberta. It is the oldest known fossil member of the salmon family. The dawn salmon has since been identified at a few other Eocene sites in British Columbia and at Republic, Washington. Other fish fossils found at Driftwood Canyon include suckers (Amyzon) and members of the bowfin, mooneye and trout-perch families.

Mark Wilson has not only worked on the fishes at Driftwood and other Eocene and older fossil localities, he has studied Eocene insects and he has studied the environments of deposition in Eocene lakes. To visit Mark Wilson’s website, click here.

Eosalmo driftwoodensis. Identified by Mark Wilson, University of Alberta.
Bulkley Valley Museum collection.
Image by A. L’Orsa.

Bird fossils are very rarely found, but an important discovery was made in 1968 by Patricia Pedley who split a piece of shale and found a fossil bird of the “rollers” family (Coraciidae; Primobucco). These birds have been found at other Eocene localities, especially in the Green River shales of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. They are extinct in the Americas, but members of this family still exist in warmer parts of the Old World. Most of the living species are in Africa.

Fragmentary fossils of a member of the hedgehog family and a tapir have recently been described by Jaelyn Eberle and others, and represent the only mammal fossils reported from Driftwood Canyon to date. Click here for a review of the article.

Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park was established in January 1967, after pioneer Driftwood farmer, Gordon Harvey, donated 14 ha of his farm to the British Columbia Government, which added 9 ha of Crown Land, to cover the key outcrops of Eocene fossils exposed by Driftwood Creek. This is a Class A park and removing fossils from the park without a permit is contrary to the Park Act. However, it was Gordon Harvey’s wish and understanding that fossil collecting by the public would continue, and there were no serious attempts to enforce the rules until recently. We have to follow the rules, but there may be a way to permit public collecting provided that important fossils are recognized and preserved for study. A good solution to this problem has been developed in Republic, Washington, at the Stonerose Interpretive Center (http://stonerosefossil.org/fossilhunting/visitors-information/) where limited supervised collecting is allowed and school children are encouraged.

Fossil discoveries at Driftwood and other places continue to make important contributions to our understanding of the development of life on Earth. Now, with the Earth possibly on track for a change back to a greenhouse climate, fossils can help us understand probable responses of plant and animal communities to that projected change. There is more work to be done and a few rocks are eroding off the cliffs every year, providing easy access to new samples. However, with very limited budgets and other interesting fossil sites calling for their attention, institution-based scientists can only do so much here. Fossils left weathering on the ground are not contributing to science.  Supervised fossil collecting by hobbyists and students might not only inspire potential new scientists, but might well bring us the next important discovery.

 

Books of Interest

Ludvigsen, Rolf, editor, 1996. Life in stone: a natural history of British Columbia’s fossils: UBC Press, 310 pages.

Tidwell, William D., 1998. Common fossil plants of western North America, 2nd edition: Smithsonian Institution Press, 299 pages.

 

*Tony is the elder son of Fortunat and Harriet L’Orsa who moved to Smithers in 1935. Both he and his younger brother, Joe, were born in Smithers. Tony is a geologist and has long had a special interest in the fossil beds found at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park. Thanks for this wonderful article, Tony.

Gordon Harvey – tenacity and transience

When we first arrived in Driftwood Canyon, Gordon Harvey had just died (December 1976) but his house, a shed, a bathhouse and a log barn were still standing.

Stories about Katherine, Peavine and their son Gordon Harvey are layered into Driftwood history. Peavine had a claim on Harvey Mountain (named after him) and any hikers going up the Harvey Mountain Road trail passes by the remnants of his cabin at one of the switchbacks. Gordon, in his memoir below, speaks of his father’s booming voice and real estate savvy. Wet’suwet’en stories speak of how he used that voice to intimidate them during the years when they were being steadily evicted from their homesites along the Bulkley Road (now the Telkwa-Moricetown Highroad).

Katherine played piano at many parties and was known to be pretty feisty. Some say the way she heated her house burned down three of them – if you’ve ever tried to saw logs into woodstove-sized lengths with a swede saw, you’ll understand her preference for opening the door to the woodbox, shoving in one end of a log, leaving the door open and just pushing it further in as it burned.

After his parents’ death, Gordon continued to live on the family property, another one of the valley’s eccentric bachelors. He told his family’s story in Bulkley Valley Stories, published in 1973.

Memories of Driftwood Canyon

My father, C.G. Harvey, arrive in Hazelton in 1907 where he entered the hotel business. He was one of the “Big Three” with “Black Jack” McDonell and Jack Sealy. He was also engaged in the land promotion business. Happy Turner wrote: “he was a good one to spy out the land and in no time, was on speaking terms with every section post in the district. He is still pushing in a tunnel on Harvey Mountain with a true prospector’s optimism.” He located, for Jack  Sealy, a large ranch in the Driftwood Creek area, which is now the even larger Bill Morris ranch. [This has since been split into several properties.]

Prior to coming to the Valley, he prospected in the Kootenays, California, Mexico and the Yukon.

My mother was born in London in 1882. In 1908, she came to  Canada, working in the law office of R. B. Bennett who was M.P. for Calgary West and later Prime Minister of Canada. On she moved to Vancouver and then north to Prince Rupert and up the Skeena by river boat to Hazelton. There she worked in the office of District Mining Recorder, S.H. Hoskins, father of the retired Ford dealer, Os Hoskins.

In 1912, she and my father were married and carried on the hotel operation until 1914. Then that summer they rode horseback to Smithers with me, their six month old son, strapped to the saddle.  When we reached the Sealy Ranch, the young foreman, Bill Kirton, recently arrived from England, took us by wagon over a rough mining road to our property on Harvey Mountain – on the way to Silver King basin. Sometime later dad broke his leg at the mine and we found him in the cabin administering his own first aid. He had taken apart a section of stovepipe and was using it as a cast. We pulled him out on a hand sleigh to receive medical help.

My mother and dad carried on mining operations under the most primitive conditions with hand drill, shovel and wheelbarrow. I worked in our mine when I was eleven. They stuck with what he described as the only “mine in the Babines” – others were only prospects.

How did my father get the name “Peavine Harvey”?

On one occasion, he was preparing exhibits of Bulkley Valley produce for the PNE at Vancouver. Included was a sheaf of our famous timothy hay and some wild huckleberries.

The night before he left, some “friends” stole into his hotel room and made some changes. In place of timothy, they put in a bundle of local peavine hay and replaced the berries with a box of rabbit manure. He didn’t discover it until he arrived at the PNE in Vancouver.

“Peavine” Harvey will be remembered for his booming voice – he was hard of hearing! A stenographer who worked for the Government Agent, Mr. Bryant, said the whole building vibrated when Peavine greeted the staff in the office. My mother, a bit of a woman about five feet tall, was an accomplished musician. She played background music on the piano for the silent movies, run by Wiggs O’Neill and held in the old town hall. We kids used to sit on hard wooden benches to view the weekly Tarzan cliffhanger.

I went to Driftwood school where Edna Vickers, 19, taught us. I was quite in love with her and informed my parents I’d be marrying her when I grew up. I  hadn’t figured on Roland Sykes beating my time – she walked out of my life when I was 13. In August ’72, they were back in Driftwood where many of us students had a reunion.

Gordon donated the land for the park.

Driftwood Canyon now has electricity – I paid my first bill in January, ’73. If you follow Babine Road to Sealy’s corner and turn west you will see a sign by the old school that reads, “Fossils”.  About two miles up, you enter a provincial park, “Driftwood Canyon Park”, which includes the fossil beds, crown land above it and the virgin wilderness to Silver King Basin. I have owned the original “Peavine” Harvey homestead since my father’s death in 1945. I have my private park, called “Lone Pine Park” whose visitors book contains five thousand names of people who seek the quiet beauty of Driftwood Canyon.

 

 

Ten years ago, visual artist Perry Rath and I (with the wonderful help of Dorothy  Giesbrecht) collaborated to make the weather from the west, a collection of my poems and his paintings. The paintings, many of which came from his In the Skin of This Land series, layer paint, photographs, maps and other texture to create an image that reflects the complexity of the ways we inhabit the land.

Perry’s partner, Taisa Jenne, lived with her family just up the road from us for many years and so he came to know Driftwood Creek and the Babine Mountains from the first days he arrived here.

Right at the turn onto road to the Jenne house stood the remnants of the Harvey home – a tumbling down barn and a tilting bathhouse. Using the old photograph from our collection and one of his own taken at the time, layering paint over topographical maps, Perry made Driftwood Vestige.

 

When BC Parks gave Driftwood  Canyon Provincial Park a facelift, designer Tom Grasmeyer created some beautiful interpretive signs along the path to the fossil beds. One of those signs acknowledged the ways in which the creek and the canyon have been a source of inspiration for many of us. Posted on a platform above the creek, it includes an image of this painting and one of the many poems I’ve written after a walk along the creek:

still waters

under the heel of its turn
the creek
digs a hole
swallows turbulence

the current does not diminish across its surface
but some aspen leaves
september golden
pause
and spiral
slowly
down

how much
I wonder
does depth
slow you down

if the creek and leaves are right
barely

a few cool seconds to linger
over the intricate arrangement of creekbright stones
submerged in water’s endless exhalation

                                                                       one breath singing in the long song to the sea

The creek is vibrant reminder of both transience and tenacity. The Harvey house is long gone and the old log barn has finally fallen. No more space for timothy or tractors. No more room for pirate treasure hideouts. By the time this summer’s grass is fully grown, it will have all but vanished.

 

Silver King Basin

lynn-going-into-silverking-1976-001Cleaning out some old files at the turn of the year, I came across this old photo of Lynn Shervill packing a new airtight wood burner into what was called the foreman’s cabin in Silver King Basin in the fall of 1976. The photo was taken by Steve Whipp, the reporter I replaced when I moved to Smithers in January 1977.

I think the log bridge crosses Driftwood Creek at Sunny Point – in the background it looks like the road descending from left to right.

 

It was just a few months later in January 1977 that Lynn took me into the basin, a ten-mile ski that started out gently but climbed steeply for the last stretch before we emerged into the basin itself. I hadn’t skied more than once or twice before we went. I borrowed long skinny skis and an oversize backpack from Steve and set out, convinced I could do anything. I don’t remember much about the trip in except feeling pretty good about things by the time we reached Sunny Point, the easy first half. Suffice it to say that we finally got to the foreman’s cabin a couple of hours later than Lynn anticipated. I was exhausted.

 

lynn-on-the-trail-338x600

 

The trail we followed up Driftwood Creek was one of three main prospecting routes into the Babines, as far back as the late 1800s. By 1905 several claims had been staked in the Driftwood drainage, including those of C.G. ‘Peavine’ Harvey after whom Harvey Mountain is named. In 1914 Peavine, his wife Kathleen20170204_114616_hdr_resized and infant son Gordon moved to their homestead on Driftwood Creek just up the road from our house. One of our snowshoe trails follows that old road, still visible as it leaves the hay fields and descends down to the creek near the old Harvey homestead.

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One of Gordon’s rakes, abandoned on our neighbour’s property in what was Gordon’s hay field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the Driftwood route into Silver King is a popular skiing and hiking trail into what is now the Babine Mountains Provincial Park, it was probably even busier in the 1920s. As Joe L’Orsa wrote in his unpublished history of the Babines, “In the words of Axel Elmsted, who was one of them, ‘The hills swarmed with old fossils.’ The Oldtimers, short on both modern-day geological techniques and clairvoyance but long on energy and elbow grease, dug innumerable trenches, tunnels, shafts, and pits, often on a little quartz stringer or bit of copper stain.”

The Lyon Creek Trail was once called the Gale & Lifton Trail and is thought to follow an old Wet’suwet’en route to hunt marmots in Ganowka Basin. A new trail was built to the Harvey mineral claim from the wagon road up Driftwood Creek, now known to hikers as Harvey Mountain Road.The McCabe Trail was built from the wagon road below Sunny Point along the back side of Harvey Mountain by Red McCabe on a trail grant under the provisions of the Mines Development Act.

The claims in Silver King Basin were among the earliest staked. According to L’Orsa,  a working adit was driven in at 4960’ in for 252’ where it “hit promising mineralization.” From the basin, the wagon road followed what is now a footpath zigzagging up the northeast wall over Hyland Pass to the Cronin mine. Exploration activity continued in the basin into the 1980s, hence the foreman’s cabin.

foremans-cabin-600x597

This is what the foreman’s cabin looked like in the summer of 1980. Sam?, Sheila and Daniel on his first trip to the basin.

By 1977, the foreman’s cabin was the most weather-resistant shelter left; there was an old cookhouse and a bunkhouse – the cookhouse by this time was full of packrat stink and porcupine quills and the bunkhouse was so big and drafty it was impossible to heat in winter. It was cold that night and my new sleeping bag wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

In the morning, we explored the basin on skis – how nice was that without an oversize pack? – and then headed back down the trail. Anyone who has skied the trail knows about all the little divots along the way – seepages that melt the snow and form dips in the trail that are exciting for some, but were disastrous for me. I spent quite a bit of time either face down in the snow with the pack shoving me deeper in or face up like a beetle on its back, legs scrambling for purchase. The snow was deep. It was hard to get up. By the time we reached Sunny Point and the gentler sections, I was ready for a gentle cruise back to the car. No such luck. The trapper’s snowmobile had turned the track into an icy moguled death run for the unskilled. I seem to recall finally removing my skis and walking.

What’s truly a surprise after that inauspicious introduction to back country skiing is that I eventually married the fellow who took me in there. He was such a natural athlete he never thought to show me any technique to slow down or make even the gentlest turns. The only way I really knew how to stop on skates was to run into the boards; the only sure way I could stop on skis was to fall. And perhaps that’s why, now, my preferred winter footwear are snowshoes.

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Silver King Basin holds the headwaters, the beginnings, of Driftwood Creek. It also feels like the place where my life in this part of the world began. Where the stream that carried me from the coast east to Ontario and finally to the northwest set a new course, creating for me a confluence with Driftwood Creek, with Watsonquah (the Bulkley), with the Skeena.  With home. So maybe it isn’t such a surprise I married Lynn. He was the first to take me into the mountains, into those mountains. I’ve never lost that feeling, felt for the first time on that trip into Silver King. A love for high places, for their loneliness and often desolation. For the way they remind you just how precarious and precious our tenure is. Here’s what I wrote the evening I got home:

sheila-in-cabin

Sheila in the foreman’s cabin, July 1977

It was worth it, as are most efforts which result in a high clear place where the wind blows from the top of the world and carries nothing but the air with it. It is eerie and lonely, almost frightening as I remember it from this warm house with the radio chirping away and my impatiens plant blooming. Skiing down into a vast white bowl, over marshes, creeks, boulders and a million varieties of mosses. Sinking not at all into the smooth white crust which covers the entire basin. The cabin was cozy with orange firelight flickering over golden walls of unfinished wood. But I couldn’t sleep – a funny scary feeling about all the things that could go wrong.

We have been back to Silver King Basin many times, though the foreman’s cabin is long gone. Over the years hundreds of visitors inscribed their names on the walls of the old buildings and wrote notes in the log book each new place holds. An elegant log building now provides luxurious shelter for folks who make their way in there, as they do in all seasons. And the basin is even more beautiful now as more and more of the old mining debris has been removed.

silverking-from-dc-headwaters-1977

The headwaters of Driftwood Creek above the mining buildings in 1977.

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Lynn looking across toward Mount Hyland from Silver King Lake.

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Sheila at the outlet of Silver King Lake, July 1977.