For Nathan Davis, backcountry hiking is all about taking the time to disconnect from a busy world to reconnect with nature. Cell phones, deadlines, expectations, worries – it all melts away when he throws on a 40-pound backpack and heads into the mountains.
Nothing compares to his time in the wilderness.
“Hiking is my wellspring for creativity. It gives me hope and connection to this beautiful place,” Davis says. “It’s my church. My spiritual place.”
Davis typically plans four big hikes per year. This summer, one of those included a trip with a couple of old hiking friends into the Crazy Creek watershed in the Chilcotin. “I enjoy hiking the west and south Chilcotin for its wilderness, its timelessness and its absence of anyone.”
The Crazy Creek watershed is nestled in the Niut Mountain Range just west of Tatlayoko Valley. To get there from Williams Lake, you drive about 240 kilometres west on Highway 20, and turn left at Tatla Lake. A gravel road extends into the Taylayoko Valley where the trail begins.
Carrying enough food and supplies to last five days, Day 1 saw the trio travel 10 kilometres by foot, starting in an old growth Interior Douglas fir forest which Davis, a registered professional forester, estimates to be over 400 years old. As they climbed, the forest transitions into green, healthy lodgepole pine and then, eventually, opens up into a sub-alpine forest of crumpholts and open meadows covered in grass and dotted with scrub bush.
An avid photographer, Davis’ pack is filled with his hiking essentials: tent, sleeping bag, extra socks, dried food, a good book and assortment of lenses and a professional Nikon camera body. He stops often to capture the surrounding beauty.
“I get inspired by the big and the small.”
One stop of significance along the way up on the first day was the discovery of several sets of moose antlers arranged and left on a look-out spot, something he guessed could have been left there decades ago by hunters.
“There’s a lot of history up there,” Davis said of the remote area. “You could feel the past in that place – there’s memory there.”
All told, the gruelling climb on Day 1 is about eight hours and 1,100 metres to a small, picturesque glacier lake called Jenny Lake, which the group made their base camp.
Day 2 saw Davis continue to climb further with lighter day packs to reach into an environment of towering rock and melting glaciers, about three kilometres west of Niut Mountain.
It was there, during one of this summer’s intense heat waves, that Davis noticed the obvious lack of animal sign, dried up lake basins, no bugs and a daytime temperature of 30C over 2,000 metres.
“It’s just unheard of,” Davis says of the hot temperatures and environmental changes they witnessed, including a glacier he estimates has retreated one kilometre in the last 20 years.
“It was a bit bewildering. All the projections have predicted this but you don’t really understand it until you start to see it. We don’t expect our kids’ kids will see that glacier.”
On Day 3 the group headed north along the rim to gain access to the alpine overlooking Jenny Lake, which revealed the Crazy Creek drainage looking south.
The final day of the trip was a restful one, reserved for relaxation, reading, resting and taking in the environment around them.
“We just took in the beauty of the day and let ourselves be. No internet, no nothing.”
Davis has been hiking since his late father introduced it to him when he was 14 years ago.
Though he misses his father, he feels he’s with him on his hiking trips which makes his connection to the wilderness that much more powerful.
He keeps all his mountain trips and moments close to his heart, seared deep into his memory through the challenge of the trips themselves, so that he may recall them throughout the year and bring himself back to those special places as he navigates the busy, modern world.
“It’s sacred time.”
For more features from the Cariboo Chilcotin, check out the 2021 edition of Casual Country 2021.