The storied Atnarko River offers a view of Stupendous Mountain, a peak named by explorer Alexander Mackenzie.
The boots of pioneers, animal hooves, and wagon wheels have all left their marks on the Tote Road. On a late summer day, I set out to add my own imprint to the venerable supply route— the original land link between the Interior and Central Coast regions—that’s now a popular trail in Bella Coola’s eastern ambit.
I’m not only tracking the province’s pathfinders though: The Incredible Hulk also rambled along here in a Marvel Studios production filmed in 2007. Much like the shape-shifting antihero, the Atnarko River normally traces its way beside the road at a quiet pace that masks a darker side. Swollen by October storms, the waterway can do an about-face, ravage its banks, and wash away bridges, such as a span across Young Creek that was recently replaced. “HULK SMASH!” indeed.
I’ve been invited on this eco-walk in Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park by Doug Baker, a valley naturalist and hiking guide. We’ve set off with Peter “Swede” Mattsson, co-owner of the historic Tweedsmuir Park Lodge in the nearby settlement of Stuie, for company. Our destination—the Robson pioneer homestead—lies halfway along the 11-kilometre route. Early on, Baker’s sharp eye spies a corroded tin can. “What was garbage yesterday are historical relics today,” he notes while appraising its faded label. “Who remembers ‘It Hasta be Shasta,’ the cola company?”
Coast Mountain peaks soar above the crowns of black cottonwoods and Douglas firs that line the trail. Unlike midvalley cloudrakers like Stupendous Mountain, the ridges of nearby Mount Marvin and Caribou Mountain slope gradually rather than plummet to the valley floor. Mattsson maintains that the skyline in the 55-kilometrelong Bella Coola Valley is more impressive than the Rocky Mountains. “Here, we’re only at 180 metres elevation and look up at 3,000-metre peaks. In Banff, you’re already at 1,463 metres.” He adds that the scenery is even more beautiful in fall when frost turns the aspen leaves gold.
Hay fields framed by split-log fences foretell the appearance of our destination. Garlanded by wild roses, the chink-walled Robson cabin plays second fiddle to the old post office cabin. Situated about 400 metres west, the post office gained notoriety as the Hulk’s refuge.
What would green-skinned star Edward Norton make of the silver-tipped grizzly mom and cub that suddenly appear from the huckleberry bushes on the opposite riverbank? He’d probably freeze in his tracks in amazement, just like me. As the sow eases her way into the river, the yearling makes like a comic book hero and launches off the bank after her, Supermanstyle. The duo noiselessly emerges, shakes off, and then pads up a talus slope—a magical memory to tote for a lifetime.
Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park (bcparks.ca) is located 400 kilometres west of Williams Lake on Highway 20, midway between Anahim Lake and Bella Coola (bellacoola.ca). The park’s 11-kilometre Tote Road begins on the south side of Highway 20 at the foot of “The Hill.” Park at the Young Creek Bridge or near the entrance along the highway and proceed on foot. Be bear aware; explore in a group.