Float plane. Woodland Caribou. Artic-like tundra. Old cabins. Interesting Insects. Those are just some of the things we experienced on a recent backpacking trip in the interior of British Columbia.
Take a read, or just look at the photos of this trip log in the Itcha Range of the Itcha Ilgachuz Provincial Park, which we accessed via float plane from late July to early August of 2022.
Thursday, July 28th
We left Pemberton valley around 530 am, a later start than most trips, but I went to bed around 1:30am, so not much sleep happened anyway. We made it to Williams Lake by 10:30-ish, visited the grocery store, and gas, and got Karamia’s Donair for lunch, our preferred meal option amongst the slim pickings in terms of healthy food. By 11:30am we were off to Nimpo lake, arriving around 3pm.
Stewart’s Lodge and Cabin was the destination, and easily found off the main road, and where Tweedsmuir Air departs from. We had told Stewart our rough time estimation, and he communicated with Trevor that basically, they would fly us to Itcha Lake whenever we got there. So once in the office, we chatted for a while, discussed where the cabins might be, packed our backpacks, and brought our bags down to the dock around 4pm.
Kent was our trusty pilot both ways, and we both much appreciated his professionalism and willingness to answer our questions. It is my first float plane ride, and Trevor not being much of a fan of floatplanes, we can now gladly say we had a fantastic experience, smooth and calm, just like we hoped, mostly thanks to Kent I believe.
ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM, before I knew it we were off into the air, over Nimpo Lake, and banking towards the north. It was a smooth flight before, over, and after the Itcha mountains. We flew over the three cabins to scout them out, and spot the trail leading from the lake towards the cabins. Kent also flew around the lake to scout for any rocks in the lake that could cause a potential “wet landing” as he called it.
PLOP PLOP, SWOOSH, and we were on Itcha Lake. One plane ride donezo. Kent dropped us off at an overgrown camp, with a hefty population of mosquitos. So after he flew off we walked to the nearest cabin, easily done by finding the 4-wheeler track, just a short bushwhack from the lake, about a 30-45 min walk. We stopped many times to document nature, so it’s probably a shorter walk in reality. That will be true for most times in this or any other blog of mine.
After gawking over the cuteness and ample supplies available in the cabin we set up the UV light, collected water, and made dinner with the propane stove. All was going sooo smooth, cooking and sleeping in a cabin with foamies, WHAT A TREAT! So we thought. . .
We thought we’d get an early night, laying our noggins down around 8pm. Inside the cabin it was warm from the recent high temps, so we opened the screened windows. One or two mosquitoes were circulating, which we thought a few smacks would take care of. Wrong. One hand smack against the bunk, lead to two, then three, then ten. The mosquitoes kept growing and growing in numbers. What the heck! We wouldn’t be able to sleep with so many mosquitoes, and hiding in our sleeping bags wasn’t an option because it was too hot. So the windows were shut. But that didn’t help, they kept coming. Annoyed, hot, and exhausted at this point, we set up the tent in the cabin and threw the foamies inside, and tried to sleep, but now with an extra layer of insulation (the tent), it wasn’t the restful sleep we had hoped for.
Friday, July 29th
We didn’t sleep great. . .surprise, surprise, so 4am came around too quickly. Trevor brought the moth bag into the tent, and a total moth bananza-chaos ensued. The mosquitoes? Tons were still flying around the cabin, where the eff they came from still remains a mystery.
Maybe we should have deduced from all the writing on the walls that this cabin is mainly a winter cabin, as most visits were from December through February.
Around 5:50am we left the cabin and walked on the trail towards the other two cabins. The first one we came to was an A-frame, a ranger cabin that looked in fantastic shape besides a blown-out window in the door. Poking my head inside it was extremely clean, the rats hadn’t figured it out yet, as the pillows on the bunks looked brand new.
The Kettle cabin was next, and currently, it’s more of a rat palace, but definitely sleep-able with a good sweep.
At first, we took a trail towards Kettle lake, but we quickly turned around as it went nowhere. So we turned around and took a small trail, marked as a no ATV trail near the leaning outhouse. The trail was great! Only a few windfallen trees, but the mosquitoes were bad, it was hot with a rain jacket on–absolutely necessary for bug protection.
Around 8:00am we made it to the antler cairn, unofficially marking the beginning of the alpine. Along the way to camp, we stopped at a few buggy lakes to document plants and pollinators. One highlight was finding a few clicks on mountain avens. By 4:30pm we reached an unnamed lake underneath Mount Downton.
We set up the moth light on the nearby rocky hillside and hid food on a slope between rocks, which was overkill in hindsight. A nice wind helped keep the bugs at bay through the evening, finalizing when the sun went behind the peak’s ridge around 8pm.
Saturday, July 30th
For our first day trip, we left camp around 5:30am. We headed towards Mt Downton and crested over the pass on the south side. A lone mountain goat appeared, and descended down the pass, heading where we just were. The morning light on the snow with this peaceful goat slowly making his way was quite the sight. It wasn’t long before we saw another herd of mountain goats on the ridge (nannies and calves, less than 10 in total).
After walking the snowpack for insects we headed up the backside of Mt. Downton. We hung out at the summit (7,792′), and found a jar in the cairn with a summit log, with the first entry being from 1951! How cool!
After munching down a snack and documenting the hill-topping species we descended towards the adjacent red hill, then descended down into different drainage. We saw two herds of mountain goats.
But the best wildlife moment of the trip came when we spotted a herd of five adult Woodland Caribou and one calf walk over the pass beneath us. We watched them from the hillside above, they never saw us (to our knowledge), which is always the goal when watching wildlife. We walked down to the same snowpack the caribou herd just crossed over, and perhaps they left a bit of luck, as it was a very good snow-pack for insects.
After photographing a few of the bugs we found we walked down the valley (heading North/towards Itcha Lake), and accidentally startled one goat herd. Sorry guys! We then continued the process of walking around Mt. Downton. It was a tough slog on a hot day with lots of mosquitos. On the way, we passed a First Nations hunting blind on the way near the rock fall.
Got back to camp around 5:30pm, and started the evening activities with a dip in the lake, followed by whatever methods to escape the bugs.
Sunday July 31st
On our second day trip, we left camp at 6:10am after Trevor photographed a bunch of bugs in the tent. The winds were high, which helped to keep the bugs down while making breakfast.
We started out towards the peak beside/behind the lake, then down a “goat gulch” and over to another plateau. A big snowpack on the north side of a pass was our goal, which we walked on for ~2 hours. When scanning for trapped insects I saw two groups of caribou (one lone adult, and one adult and calf).
We hiked over that pass into another drainage, walked on a small snow patch, and then hung around two small lakes, attempting to catch dragonflies, and also flipped rocks for spiders.
Afterward, we hiked back up the big long gradual hill, down another drainage with Mt Downtown at the north end. After a bit of humming and hawing, we decided to go back up the same goat gulch as we did in the morning, as it was the most direct option back to camp.
Almost within reach of the lake, we were camped on, a caribou came very close to me. Trevor initially saw it on a snow patch beneath us. It seemed lost, wandering aimlessly, moving its heads side to side all the time. Lost or also sick of the mosquitoes? Not sure. After trundling up the hill a bit, it changed direction and went back down towards the lake. This silly guy trotted beside the lake a little later and within a stone’s throw of the tent. I was surprised by the dark coloration of his coat, but also its long snout. I had imagined they’d be a lot larger too. But what a beautiful animal.
Back at the tent, the wind was decent but the bugs were many. So we retreated to the tent for dinner. Trevor photographed the whole evening, which we ended with a cuppa tea.
Monday, August 1st
Monday we woke up around 3am to very windy conditions, the tent was swooshing and swaying quite a bit, so we got up at 3:30, packed up, and left camp at 6.
What I haven’t mentioned is the whole trip, and even the day before we left Nimpo we were aware that the weather was going to turn to rain around August 1st, or in the next day or two into a few solid days of rain. We’d been getting weather reports via inReach daily, which we found to be very accurate, but sometimes a little ambiguous. So we thought it was best to head down from the alpine in case the heavens decide to crack open. At some point this day we messaged the float plane boys to ask if they could get us out the following day, and they had a slot in the early afternoon, so we took it. No point potentially staying in a tent, in the rain for a whole day if we didn’t need to. We also explored a lot of areas from our base camp, so we left the alpine feeling very satisfied.
We wanted to take a slightly different route back to the lake, so we went over Itcha Mountain. It was freeeeeezing up there, at least for me. I sweated a lot going up and probably didn’t put my puffy on soon enough. So I mostly crouched behind the cairn to avoid the mucho rapido wind while Trevor galivanted around, finding a few interesting specimens of insects, spiders, and mosses.
Down the other side and crossed the wide open tundra-esc landscape. The route included a bit of swamp and dwarf willow bushwhacking, but connected with an old ATV track, eventually reconnecting with the antler cairn from day two.
Around 3pm we reached the cabin we stayed in before, but there were two large horses there, so folks were obviously staying there, so we continued onto the lake. We camped where the float plane dropped us off, which was indeed once a thriving campsite, it even had a newly installed bear box. We commandeered an old table, setting it up for bug photography and cooking, as well as resurrecting the old fire ring.
Tuesday, August 2nd
The fire was reignited in the morning, which was lovely as Trevor photographed moths and I packed up. We decided to walk the dry meadow ecosystem, a unique feature of the park. Then continued to walk the length of the lake’s spit, which loosely separates the lake into two parts. Apart from one section where we walked through a few feet of water, it’s quite narrow in most spots but contained some interesting finds.
Once on the other side of the lake, the bush got nasty, and I temporarily walked in the water to avoid some deadfall. Surprisingly this turned out to be quite an effective method, so we walked in the water along the shoreline in our boots for a couple hundred more meters. Along the lake we saw a moose, temporarily lost our small camera, and eventually got fed up with walking in the swamp. So we beelined it back to camp. It worked out perfectly because the Nimpo boys messaged us that they were going to pick us up an hour early because a weather system was coming in. Fine with us!
Kent picked up at 1:15pm, and the flight was smooth even with a bit of rain, probably smoother than the ride in. After returning and confusing some fishermen as to why we would be catching insects and not fish with our nets we chatted with Stewart and one of his sons, then left for home around 2pm.
A few interesting finds
All our observations are up on iNaturalist, but we haven’t had the chance to really comb through and figure them all out. So here are two interesting finds so far.
Reindeer Warble Fly
The larvae of this species are skin-penetrating ectoparasites. They inflict reindeer and caribou. They can be numerous in hunted animals, and therefore were a traditional food item of the Inuit.
Mystery insect mass on Artemisia norvegica, not really sure what this is. Any ideas? Insect egg casings?
Kendal’s Click Beetle
This click is a new species of Elateridae for us. We found it on snowpack on our first day-trip day. It can be found transcontinentally in the boreal regions.
Undescribed Gall Midge Species
Potentially an undescribed species of gall midge on Creeping Sibbaldia. No scientific literature or references describe this. Undescribed species of gall midges are pretty common though.
Ooooo what an odd-looking creature!
This trip was incredible, and definitely left us interested in exploring the Ilgachuzs. The Itcha range really feels like an island of mountains in BC’s Interior. We definitely felt like the only ones in the whole area until we came down from the alpine on the second to last day. We also felt like this part of the Chilcotins is still in the area before its known mainstream, perhaps what the South Chilcotins was like 20 years ago. Rugged, wild, and I hope it stays that way.
This trip we broke a few pieces of gear, way more than usual. My hiking shoes busted open at the toe area, my headlamp wouldn’t hold a charge (even though it’s rechargeable), Trevor accidentally popped his sister’s sleeping mat, the zippers on our tent were malfunctioning, so only one side was operational, and the zippers on Trevor’s rain jacket have all become useless.
I was recommended the book Grass Beyond the Mountains, Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier by Richmond P. Hobson apparently about the Itcha range & history. However, from the novel’s description can only confirm it’s about “uncharted territory of the British Columbian interior.” Has anyone read it? Sounds intriguing for sure!