I can hear the yells of the early explorers as they winch their sternwheelers through this narrow section of the Fraser River. And then I remember that I’m a century late and I have nearly five kilometres to walk before I’ll be near the river.
I’m about to enter the Fort George Canyon Provincial Park to explore the trail and the historical site of the canyon that used to see the traveling sternwheelers. The trailhead resides at the edge of the park, about an hour’s drive west from the city of Prince George.
It’s an easy walk along the first few kilometres through pine, spruce and birch trees, marked in many places by interpretive signs about the surrounding natural features. Examining the trees, I notice markings resembling claws, and sure enough, one of the trail signs confirms that bears dig their claws into the trees to stretch or sharpen their claws. I double check that I’ve brought my bear spray and hurry forward, listening hard for anything large in the forest around me, but thankfully hearing only the birds chirping.
Along this section of the trail, I pass several large middens – mounds of discarded pine cone scales left by the resident Red Squirrels of the area. The middens are so big in this area that the squirrels are likely to live in them, too. One of the furry residents hurriedly crosses the path ahead of me, perhaps on his way to protect his food supply.
Reaching a bench at the top of a bluff facing a beautiful view of trees for miles and distant mountains, I decide it’s a good place for a quick break. This is the point where cross-country skiers who use the trail in the winter usually turn back, and looking forward, I can see why. The trail descends steeply and is shadowed by thicker bush. I haven’t winded myself yet, but I think I’m about to, especially with the sun rising higher in the sky.
The final stretch of the trail is so steep that I find it easier to run or hop down in places, rather than walk. I scramble down rocky hills and through mini valleys walled by rock faces before I finally emerge into the sun and can see the river rapids, the cliffs and the large rock formations sticking out of the water – clearly a huge risk to the early boats passing through here. In the late winter or early spring, when the river is low, hikers can walk right out onto these rocks, but now the water is rushing around them.
Sitting in the sun on the sandy beach, eating the picnic lunch of bread, sausage and cheese I’ve brought along, I look at the steep cliffs lining the river, where boat passengers in the early 1900s would have portaged while the sternwheelers were guided through the narrow waterway and the dangerous rapids. Knowing only my modern way of living, I can’t begin to imagine the difficulty of those trips.
After restoring some energy, I start walking up the steep trail back into the forest. Here comes the hard part, I think to myself. Of course, the trip out takes longer than it did in and I stop for many breaks. Finally, tired but inspired, I reach the parking lot, where my modern-day vehicle is waiting to take me home.