If you go down to the woods.......If you go down to the woods…….

We have been looking to organise a camping trip to Northern Canada for many years but have never managed it, so when Charlotte said she wanted to do something really special and different it was the obvious choice.  Planning a trip these days with modern airline restrictions is always fraught with problems especially when trying to squeeze camping gear and camera equipment into their luggage allowance but with a little creative packing and ingenuity anything is possible.

With all our luggage in one piece and safely stored in the back of our hire car we left Calgary and started our journey north. The plan was to follow the Trans Canadian Highway from Banff to Whitehorse then continue on to Dawson City and the Yukon, camping enroute. To see photos from the trip click here.

In a country as vast as Canada its reasonable to expect that wildlife will avoid coming close to people so if we wanted to see anything we knew we would have to leave the car and head off into the woods. How wrong can you be! We were leaving Lake Louise, looking forward to the delights of the Icefield Parkway, when, to our utter astonishment, we found ourselves side by side with a large light brown grizzly bear, happily munching  shoots on the grassy verge. A few cars had stopped and even in this land of the bears, they were surprised by the sight. We were in a state of complete amazement and excitement. This was the first bear in the wild that Charlotte had ever seen and the realisation that there was nothing more than flowers between the bear and us was mind blowing. This fully grown female was just nonchalantly ambling along, stopping only when there was something good to eat. She seemed indifferent to the small audience she had attracted, only looking up when three motor cyclists roared past obviously disturbed by the noise – I know how she felt.

We followed slowly like a pair of kerb crawlers, watching its every move with camera clicking through the  car window. Someone had phoned the ranger and we could see a white truck blue lights approaching on the opposite side of the highway. On reaching our location the truck suddenly shot across the central reservation, performing a perfect u-turn. A large highway sign above our heads lit up with the words ” Bears in the area”. The ranger (Smith), with dark glasses, leapt out of his truck and armed with a set of wire cutters prepared to cut the fence. He was hoping to give the bear an escape route, however the grizzly had other plans. On seeing him she suddenly turned towards the immense wire barrier and forced her huge frame underneath it and quickly disappeared into the dense forest. She knew it was time to go. The ranger was relieved when we told him what had happened, a not unreasonable reaction considering he was just about to meet it head on.

Throughout our trip we had many encounters like this. The snow on the mountains has been late melting this spring forcing the bears down into the valleys. They love the lush grass at the side of the highways so are willing to expose themselves to the dangers of passing traffic to get their fill. During our trip to Dawson City Charlotte counted 38  bears, from tiny cinnamon coloured cubs to huge lone males, mostly they would be grazing, but we also observed them swimming, stalking and climbing. To see a beautiful creature living in its wild state is a wonderful and unforgettable experience. The sheer incongruity of the bear on the highway, like a jewel in the mud, will stay with me for ever. A reminder that we share our planet with species who need space just as we do. It is a joy to see them outside the confines of captivity and thriving in an environment shared with people.

Would I recommend exploring Canada with a two man tent? Absolutely, I can’t wait to go back.

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