The importance of wild rivers hits home to me again on a rainy September weekend as I explore my way deep into a notch valley of the Incomappleux River. I am searching for one of the last remaining stands of old growth cedar and hemlock in the upper Columbia Basin. It’s the last stop on my 6,000-mile search for beauty, begun in January, 2016. I may have (inadvertently) saved the best for last.
Fed by glaciers, the milky water flowing out of the valley inspires wonder and awe. Bridge washouts have made this place less and less accessible over the past decade. Some say that can only be a good thing. I am not so sure. Why must human contact with wild places be a source of doom? How else can we learn to love and value, than to see and feel the miracle of a landscape allowed to thrive?
A now unmaintained logging road constructed in the 1980s is the only way in. Bridge washouts mean abandoning any motorized vehicle. Accompanied by a friend and guide I strap on a pack, then follow the decaying road as it undulates further and further north, through a scrappy landscape of recovering clear cuts. The road ends in a moss-covered clearing and shortly after that, the surviving groves opens up into a wonder that photographs can only suggest.
Foresters estimate several trees in this grove are around 1000 years old. Many are over 500. Rare purple mushrooms, lichens and other plants have been discovered here. While the California redwood parks I explored in January host many trees of this age range and even older, in this northern climate, deep in the Canadian mountains, millennial survival is that much more remarkable. The gushing river and narrow valley have combined forces to create a uniquely temperate place that protects trees from the effects of fire, excess cold, deep snow and, in this case, even from logging.
I’m still not entirely clear why the logging road comes to an end just short of the grove where accumulated time still holds sway. I do know that a B.C. company holds the forest license for logging these grand old trees, meaning that this place could become another clear-cut just like the ones through which I walked to get here.
All day, the rain has thrummed on my hat brim, soaking my boots and drenching my gortex jacket. Still, I carry joyfully on, drinking in the moist silence and with it, a cup full of sweet water from one of the forest’s remarkable spring-fed pools. The source burbles up through a bed of crushed quartz, staining the floor of the pond an electric blue, making each raindrop sparkle like a crystal when it hits the water’s surface.
I have fallen in love with the Incomappleux river basin. Early the next morning, as dawn rises, I hear the hoot of a wise old owl echo through the trees. Wisdom is what we all need, to guide us into a better future.
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