Nicola Anderson is a photographer, writer, and adventurer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada—the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
It was amid the second wave of the pandemic in the fall of 2020 that, low on inspiration, I decided to book a trip to the Great Bear Rainforest on the coast of British Columbia, part of the the largest coastal temperate rainforest in the world. Our destination would be a new remote camp called Firvale Wilderness Camp, complete with dreamy A-frame cabins and geodesic dome tents.
Seven months later, we embarked on the 13 hour, 1,000-kilometer road trip from Vancouver to Nuxalk Nation, Bella Coola. The farther north we drove, the more wildlife we encountered: a black bear atop a birch tree, a cow moose camouflaged along the side of the Chilcotin Highway, and, to our surprise, a pair of white pelicans. The route also took us past forest fire damage from years past, where torched trees still stood for miles on end.
"Called the Freedom Highway, the road is dirt with hairpin turns, no guardrails, and avalanche warning signs around most corners."
Researching the drive leading into Bella Coola, I encountered blog articles explaining drivers' experiences "surviving" "kilometers of terror" along the "impossible" road. Called the Freedom Highway, the road is dirt with hairpin turns, switchbacks, no guardrails, and avalanche and grade warning signs around most corners. From the Chilcotin Plateau, the road drops 5,000 feet to the Bella Coola Valley floor. We were relieved to reach its bottom and to finally be close to our destination. The bloggers weren't wrong after all.
Nestled in the heart of that valley, the Firvale Wilderness Camp is in no shortage of noteworthy views—there are waterfalls in the distance, trees for days, and glacial ice fields atop mountains in all directions. Our five-day adventure included a paddle down the Bella Coola River, a float-plane flight over the Monarch Ice Field and Hunlen Falls, a tour of the now-defunct Tallheo Cannery, several hikes, and a full-day sailing trip to local hot springs (which just so happen to be perfectly situated on an inlet of the Pacific called South Bentick Arm).
During our sailing trip, the captain paused at an island and gave us a hand-drawn map. Following its instructions, we took a twenty-minute hike down a dirt path covered in bear droppings until we reached a forest. (Although it wasn't grizzly season, we managed to catch sight of two of the hulking animals during our stay.) Nervously, we bushwacked our way to a clearing, and standing in front of us was the biggest tree we had ever seen.
Known as the Big Cedar, the ancient tree is said to be over 1,000 years old. It takes more than twelve people standing hand-to-hand to surround its circumference. Carved into its massive trunk is the date 1854, which denotes the year that most of the area's old-growth was logged. Standing at the base of one of the few remaining specimens, awe-struck and speechless, was easily the most significant moment of the trip. And a reminder that we must protect the remaining stands of old-growth from more short sighted clearcutting.