Andy Grikis – A Week with Wade Davis

I’ve dreamt of going to the Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park ever since it was established in 1975. But when I discovered that Wade Davis – an ethnographer, author, and explorer-in-residence for the National Geographic – would be leading a week-long tour of the Spatsizi country, it was an easy decision to sign up.

Next morning, Saturday Aug. 13, I was picked up by the Collingwoods, who operate a lodge on Laslui Lake, and taken by floatplane to the lodge. At the lodge, I was assigned to a cabin, which was very cozy and complete with duvet bedding, carpet and wood stove. Wade Davis and his wife Gail Percy arrived later in the day and introductions were made. Later that day we saddled up and went for a ride up the valley and were introduced to the Spatsizi wilderness.

Wade is a very personable character that loves to spin a story and has a great memory for detail. Even that first evening he regaled us with stories of his youth when he was a park ranger in the Spatsizi. Later during the week he would tell us stories of his experiences in Haiti while researching the pharmacology behind the creation of Zombies. His book “The Serpent and the Rainbow” describes explorations there, although I do not remember him writing about the incident when Voodoo practitioners detained him for trespassing on a secret ceremony. Dragged in front of the Voodoo witch doctors and threatened with death or worse, he poured some moonshine rum on his arm, lit it on fire, and offered the Voodoo secret handshake, that he had learned earlier, to the head Priest. This broke them up and they then invited him to join them in the celebrations.

Sunday, Aug 14, we took a boat ride to the end of Laslui Lake and the headwaters of the Stikine River. We hiked in to the Fountain Falls and had a sandwich lunch around a warm fire. The weather was cool with frequent light rain, but because of the cold, there were no pesky flies or mosquitos. One of our small group of 5 tried fly-fishing and caught a trout, which was promptly cooked over the fire and devoured with great relish.

Monday, Aug 15, we took the horses through the woods along muddy paths to the foot of Mount Terraze, home of some 50 or more mountain goats. Then we proceeded to hike straight up for some 1200 feet to the alpine meadows. Since the foot of the mountain was already at the 4500-foot level, I found that I was huffing and puffing trying to keep up.  I really felt that I was pushing my physical limits, but in the end, we arrived at the alpine area and were rewarded with a spectacular vista of mountaintops and a large herd of goats.

Wade is some 12 years younger than me and quite fit, so he did not seem to have any problem hiking up the mountain.

Tuesday, Aug 16, we flew the small floatplane to the upper Stikine meadows and hiked on the flats. The vistas are awesome, with towering mountains in the distance and the Stikine winding along the valley bottom meadows. I returned to the lodge weary but spiritually renewed. The meals were 5-star, prepared by Heidi, who had been the owner of the best restaurant in Smithers, until she decided to retire. The lodge had asked her to cook and she gladly accepted just so she could spend time in this pristine wilderness.

Wednesday, Aug 17 we flew again to the upper Stikine, which at this point is no more than a fast flowing and shallow creek, and embarked in canoes for the trip back to the lodge. I was paired up with Wade’s wife Gail with a warning from Wade that she was a lazy paddler who often wanted just to drift and enjoy nature’s beauty. She was actually a good paddler and we navigated the fast shallow Stikine without trouble. Rain met us as we entered Laslui Lake, and we were soaked by the time we arrived at the lodge. But after a change into dry clothes and a glass of wine we were ready for another fabulous dinner and more stories and anecdotes from Wade.

Wade had just finished his newest book: “Into the Silence”, an epic about the Great War (WW2), Mallory, and the conquest of Everest. Wade was always carrying the manuscript in his hand and reading and re-reading paragraphs to improve the text. We asked him to read a passage from the book and he obliged. Wade’s prose has a natural storyteller’s flow and he has the ability to build vivid pictures in the mind. It was another memorable end to a memorable day.

Thursday, Aug 17 was a day for visiting an old burial site and learn about the early days in the Stikine. Wade Davis gave us a colorful recount of the characters and history of the first whites to explore the country. Later that day we took the boat to the far side of Laslui Lake and did some more horseback trekking into the meadows above the lake. That evening Wade continued with anecdotes of the area, including Greenpeace’s misadventures and efforts to halt guiding and hunting in the area.

Friday, Aug 18 we flew to Hotleskwa Lake, an 8-mile-long lake under Mount Terraze. This trip is usually short enough for horseback, but the weather had been deteriorating so the decision was made to fly. The Collingwoods had left a boat at the lake so we took the boat to the end of the lake for a hike. The scenery was spectacular, but unfortunately we did not sight any of the usual grizzlies or moose that roam there. The wind and rain came, so we all collected firewood and made a good bonfire to stay warm on the beach. We took the boat back to the floatplane. Wade and some of the other guests elected to hike back to the lodge, but I felt cold and tired so I flew back with the floatplane. Good thing too, because Wade took a wrong turn and took over two hours slogging in the bush to get back.

Saturday, Aug 19 was to be our departure day back to Smithers and civilization, but the weather closed in and with the mountains shrouded in low clouds, the small floatplane could not come to pick us up. So we sat around the lodge, drank coffee and chatted. It was a nice windup to a great week in the wilderness. Getting to know Wade Davis was a great bonus.