By Angela Heidt
There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting away from it all; in winter, this sensation heightens. Sound is muted by soft snow blanketing the ground and clinging to the trees and, while not alone, it is not hard to feel like the rest of the world has simply dropped away, save for the occasional trill of birdsong or the sound of wood being chopped across the valley. Cross-country skis or snowshoes are applied to eagerly-booted feet, ready to embrace a woodland adventure. Surrounded by nature and enveloped by the mountains, a tour through the woods of the Cariboo, Chilcotin and Great Bear Rainforest is just what one needs to reconnect with nature and feel the embrace of peace and serenity. Take a deep breath and embark on the trail, while the stately evergreens keep silent watch, and all distractions disappear.
Traverse along the trail and through the trees, taking in sights and sounds bereft of man or machine. Notice the contrast of grizzled tree trunk against emerald pine needles and pure white snow, then watch as the trees melt away to reveal a vast, open space, surrounded by hills and snowy peaks. The frozen lake stretches out for what seems like forever, without a trace of disruption on the surface, save for a few animal tracks that wind across the surface, a reminder that we share this serene space with a host of creatures large and small. The windswept area provides a perfect place to stop and contemplate, or even drop a line to catch a fish or two while enjoying the scenery. It may be cold, but the brisk air reminds one of life, of warm blood pumping through veins, of the changing of the seasons and that the chillier months are as equally enjoyable as the rest of the year.
Discover a plethora of trails and systems to explore at leisure, from the Bull Mountain XC Ski and Snowshoe area 16km north of Williams Lake (boasting 28 km of well-groomed trails) to 108 Mile Trail Network of 30 skiing trails if you head south. Continuing south, enjoy 99 Mile Houses’ network of 45 km of ski trails plus some snowshoe trails (run by 100 Mile Nordics), while to the southeast, 26 km of cross country ski trails offering breathtaking views of the Marble Range and 51 Creek Canyon at the Big Bar Cross Country Ski Trails outside of Clinton. Most established trail networks offer lit trail loops for those wishing to explore after dark, and often rentals are available nearby for those without their own equipment – but it’s always wise to find out in advance.
At these established trail networks, skiers and snowshoers nod hello as they don their gear, chatting amiably about the remarkable conditions and sharing insider tips on the best routes to explore. While on the trails, a mule deer may cross by, intent on finding forage amongst the trees, or a glimpse of smaller creatures including mink, fox, marmot and snowshoe hares may be possible for explorers paying attention to their surroundings. Those willing to hunker down and be patient in popular wildlife haunts may be rewarded with the sight of wolves, moose, bighorn sheep, even lynx during the winter months – particularly in the Cariboo Mountains region. Even when wildlife is not evident, carrying a camera offers the opportunity to capture exceptional winter scenery that leaves photographers breathless in more ways than one.
As feet glide or track through the wilderness, discover places that few see during the winter months, including remote (but rewarding) ice fishing holes, blissfully snowy scenes, or even a local favourite campfire spot just waiting to be relit to warm up and take a break. Packing a few snacks and a thermos of cocoa is highly recommended to allow the extension of exploration and to sustain the contemplative feeling. Discover the Bowron Lake Chain with a guided ski adventure for scenery that few experience, complete with a glimpse of the Northern Lights for those who are fortunate (and prepared for a late-night trek). Alternatively, find remote trails in the Chilcotin, including the Nimpo Lake Community Trails and Tatla Lake Trail System, or Tweedsmuir Ski Club in the Bella Coola Valley, where one can enjoy a ski or snowshoe in peace.
With so many trails ready for exploration, it might be difficult to stick to just a few, so plan accordingly to allow time to get the most out of a winter visit! When it is time to head back to civilization, leave transformed with a long-lasting memory of sparkling snowflakes and winter wonder to last throughout the year.