Vanderhoof claims that it’s the geographical centre of BC, implying that the geographical centre is distinct from the normal centre. They have a number of big signs to that effect. Wikipedia claims that there has long been debate about how the geographical centre of various regions should be calculated, and the different methods can give very different results. Presumably the town council of Vanderhoof is in favour of the method that makes them the centre, because of tourism dollars. Most people visiting BC don’t really care what they see, as long as they make it to the centre.
If there were two of them, would they be Vanderhooves?
These are the kind of things you think about when you’ve been driving forever and you’re only in Vanderhoof. The last time I’d driven this far was so long ago that most VOCers weren’t even in elementary school.
Devlin’s been wanting to ride the ferry from Prince Rupert for two years now. I’d agreed to do the heinous drive as long as we had an interesting mountaineering objective along the way. We’d decided to do Stupendous Mountain, because John Baldwin’s guide said that it was stupendous.
Last Monday we received the permission slip for the New Westminster elementary schools bobsleigh competition. It was on Friday, and I was picking Devlin up after school on Thursday and driving to catch the ferry in Prince Rupert Friday morning. I asked Devlin about the competition, and he started telling me about how his group’s bobsleigh was going to be called the New Unsinkable Titanic and unlike the other bobsleighs it was going to be aerodynamic—ship-shape, as it were. The competition involved two members from each team going inside the bobsleigh while two other members pushed it across the ice rink. I asked Devlin if he was sad about missing the competition, and he said that he was. I asked him if he still wanted to do to Prince Rupert, and he said that was more important to him, but he was clearly torn.
On Wednesday night, after he and his team had built the bobsleigh, he spent a fair bit of time talking about and was clearly proud of it, but Prince Rupert was still the primary goal.
Before we left I’d been looking at the few snow stations around the area. 50 cm in Heckman Pass. 2 cm in Bella Coola… Didn’t look good seeing as the route had a marathon bushwhack starting at 200 m, but I’d already paid for and reserved the ferry tickets in October, the weather was great and Devlin would have felt totally betrayed if we didn’t go for it, so there I was in Vanderhoof at 1:00 am with 618 km left to drive to Prince Rupert.
Fortunately I had a big tub of olives and another big tub of feta, which at least punctuated the boring stress of driving through the night with spurts of tastiness.
The sun was just rising as we pulled into the ferry dock. I pulled out the sleeping bag and napped for a while until we loaded the ferry. Devlin had the schedule for the bobsleigh race memorized and kept an eye on the clock so that he could tell me when the kids were arriving at the rink, when the New Unsinkable Titanic would be racing, when second heats started and when the finals started. He explained that his teacher had given them the dual goal of trying to make their team win but also to help the other teams in the class win, and that he would be happy if his class won. Full points to the teacher for encouraging cooperation between the teams.
Docks by Prince Rupert.
The ride from Prince Rupert to Bella Bella was on the Northern Expedition, which is a hugely tall ship. The ferries to Vancouver Island are shaped like a block of butter and are mostly car space, such that the packing fraction of humans upstairs is too high for my tastes. The Northern Expedition has three decks of sleeping rooms. In theory I could have paid for a room, but I figured that once it got dark I’d be able to sleep on a chair for free no problem.
The whole ship is kind of disconcerting because it’s way fancier than we are. It kind of feels like a cruise ship, and we’re bilge rats. Adding to oddness, the ferry was damn near empty. Now that I think about it, it’s probably almost all for pleasure, and the summer is the traditional time for that.
On the ferry ride, I was out taking pictures regularly and I’d try to get Devlin to come out and look at scenery. He didn’t give a hoot about the scenery. Why on earth did he want to go on a 14-hour ferry ride if he wasn’t going to look at anything?
“Because I just like ferries.”
That didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but he seemed happy, so oh well.
Princess Royal Island.
One thing that I really liked about the ferry was that it had plans for all the decks in a picture frame in one of the stair wells, where it was clearly labelled as a Ro-Ro Passenger Ferry. I imagined it being pronounced Roo-Roo, which made me happy. (When I got home I looked up what it meant. I’d encourage you not to, because the truth is not nearly as cool as an inexplicable Roo-Roo.)
We arrived in Bella Bella 1:00 AM, Saturday morning. Vanderhoof was only 24 hours ago, but it felt much longer.
Sunset on the Northern Expedition.
Two years ago, on our disastrous Mt. Pootlass attempt, we rode the Nimpkish, which is the smallest ferry in the fleet. Devlin was all fired up about it and since it was being retired in 2018 and being replaced by the Northern Sea Wolf, it was our last chance to ride it.
Somehow we were on the Nimpkish again, and the ticket was free. Turns out that the Northern Sea Wolf was a repurposed used ship, and there were mechanical problems that delayed the launch by more a year. This was a bit of a brouhaha, since by the time they realized that it wasn’t going to be ready, they’d already sold tickets that people had built their 2018 vacations around. They kept the Nimpkish in service, but since it’s less than half the size of the Northern Sea Wolf, more than half of the people who had bought tickets had their vacations ruined.
To make up for this, they made tickets on the Nimpkish free for the rest of its service. I don’t think this helped anyone who had their vacation ruined, as they probably did something else in 2019, but it was great for me.
There’s only one ferry dock in Bella Bella, so to facilitate vehicle exchange between the Northern Expedition, which goes from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy, and the Nimpkish, which does the Bella Bella–to–Bella Coola route, the Nimpkish docks, unloads, backs out and floats around while the Northern expedition comes in and does its thing, and then comes back to pick up the cars that got off the Northern Expedition.
Watching the Northern Expedition load up in Bella Bella.
We were the only non–BC Ferries vehicle on the sailing from Bella Bella to Shearwater. I think there weren’t any foot passengers, either, but I didn’t go upstairs to find out. I just slept in the car.
We arrived in Shearwater at 3:45 AM. To give the crew a chance to sleep, they stop the boat for 11 hours in Shearwater, so I drove a couple hundred metres, parked where it looked like I wasn’t on someone’s lawn and slept in the car again. The next morning we walked around Shearwater, which is a neat place. The island is almost totally empty, but there’s a Heiltsuk Nation community which appears to support itself partially on tourism and partially on light marine industry, which is a good mix. There’s tasty food available, but it isn’t filled with resort people and has a laid-back blue-collar feel. Shipyards are way more interesting for kids to climb around on than playgrounds designed to be too boring for anyone to possibly hurt themselves.
Whale bones at a Shearwater restaurant.
Stud link anchor chain.
When we boarded the Nimpkish there were a reasonable number of foot passengers. I think all the Bella Bella people decided that it was much better to take the Bella Bella–Shearwater Seabus in the morning and get on the Nimpkish there than it would be to ride the ferry all the way and have an 11-hour layover.
The ride on the Nimpkish changes dramatically depending on the orientation of the channel it’s going through. The channels are all steep and and narrow, so if the wind is across the channel, it’s very calm, but if the wind is along the channel the wind blasts through the vehicle deck and the waves hit the windows on the passenger deck. There were only four vehicles on the ferry: ours, a truck that got on in Ocean Falls, a BC Ferries pickup and a BC Ferries terminal tractor. They put all the vehicles to the back of the ferry to keep them out of the salt spray, but it didn’t stop my mirrors from getting entirely encrusted with salt.
There were lots of load binders on hanging from the wall.
If a vehicle was getting tippy, they coud slot the chains into the yellow plus and lash the vehicle to the deck with the load binders.
After Shearwater, the next stop of Ocean Falls, which is a strange place. It used to hold a pulp mill, and at one point the hotel there, the 400-room Martin Inn, was the largest on the coast north of San Francisco. When the mill closed, the town of 5000 almost deserted, and there are 28 residents there now. The Martin Inn is still there, with all the windows broken and plants growing out of it.
In order to accommodate the Northern Sea Wolf, a new $8 million ferry dock was built. That’s $285,000 per resident of Ocean Falls.
Arriving at Ocean Fall’s fancy new dock.
There’s a dude on the dock at Ocean Falls who takes down the little fence at the end of the dock when the ferry arrives and puts it back up when the ferry leaves. The ferry docks in Ocean Falls a few times a month. I wonder what he does the rest of the time.
The town now has a fish hatchery, a hydroelectric plant that’s big enough to run a town of 5000 and a pulp mill, and as of last year, a Bitcoin mining operation to use of all the excess hydroelectric capacity.
The only other non–BC Ferries vehicle got off at Ocean Falls. We both thought it was neat that a vehicle actually got off in Ocean Falls.
After we left Ocean Falls, it got dark and the seas got high again. Devlin tried to run around the deck with his jacket off without getting splashed. It was only a minute before he came back soaked.
Sunset from the Nimpkish.
The wind kept picking up as the night went on, and as we went downstairs to the car we found the deck covered in frozen spray. A gust of wind sent Devlin coast-to-coast down the deck of the ferry into the back of the terminal tractor, which he didn’t like so much.
We drove to the road Baldwin’s guide told us to drive on and found it covered by 6″ of crusty snow. It wasn’t clear if we were going to get stuck, but I guess if we did we could spend some time digging. After a stressful drive we got to where we were supposed to and went to sleep in the car, for the third straight night.
Monday morning we started the hike up Stupendous Mountain. Despite there being a reasonable amount of snow on the road, the bushwhack started devoid of snow. The first couple kilometres were a shockingly pleasant trudge though brush-free old growth, but when we got to second growth at about 600 m, things really went downhill. There was not enough snow to be particularly useful for skiing but enough to really slow down hiking. Depending on where we stepped, it was anywhere from zero to two feet with a breakable crust on top. After thrashing around in this on foot for a while, we thrashed around on skis.
It was hard to find a better bushwhack when we were still in the old growth.
Things got worse as we got into the second growth.
More coniferous fun.
The fundamental problem was that it had been too mild for most of the winter, resulting in a really high snow line, and then there was a bit of snow during a cold period, which put a suboptimal thickness over a wide range of elevations. Instead of the usual progression of no snow, a brief band of the wrong amount of snow and then lots, it was an interminable thrash.
“I don’t see how we could possibly make it.”
“Truth is I don’t either.”
We discussed the merits of trying to at least get a few turns in versus turning around and saving two vacation days that we could redeem under more optimal conditions. Devlin wanted assurances that we’d come back a different year, which he got, and then decided to turn around.
We had lunch after we decided to turn around. Devlin’s hair is thoroughly bushwhacked.
We went back on Highway 20, which has some amazing stretches of totally snow-covered, rock- and tree-free slopes. Maybe when we return to Stupendous Mountain we’ll have a week booked off to fool around elsewhere on Highway 20.
We got back about 2:00 AM. At school Devlin found out that a bobsleigh from his class was the overall winner for New Westminster and that The New Unsinkable Titanic was one of three bobsleighs shown on CTV News. He was pretty stoked about that.
Stupendous Mountain will still be there when we get back to it, but it’s too bad he missed the bobsleigh. Oh well. There’s the popsicle stick bridge competition this coming weekend that he will be at.