Grizzly Den A Hike in Sugarbowl Provincial Park

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From a Quiet Childhood to Intrepid Explorer (ok, maybe not)

I grew up in a small town in southern New Mexico. My parents were Nebraskans, born and bred. Their idea of a hike was to drive to a picnic area in the region, eat some lunch at a picnic table, and then stroll down a level trail for fifteen minutes or so. They were not used to steep trails, mountains or thick forests, never mind bears and cougars. When I got married, my husband was much more interested and experienced with outdoor activities. As I joined him for some of these activities, my learning curve was high.

We moved to Prince George, British Columbia, in 1973, and remained there for 28 years. Located in the geographic centre of the province, it is surrounded by beautiful mountains, forests, and hiking trails. It didn't take us long to learn that the greatest benefit of living in the area was to go out and enjoy the wilderness.

We had already gone on quite a few camping and canoeing trips when we lived in Ottawa. In Prince George, we had many of the same choices, depending on the season: hiking, camping, backpacking, canoeing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing. We were never attracted to the motorized versions of traveling through the bush, but we quickly learned of places to go and we were eager to try out the popular hiking and skiing trails.

Of all the trips we took, the hike to Grizzly Den is perhaps our most memorable. It was one of two major hikes we took with large, heavy backpacks as well as an overnight tenting experience. To learn about our other major backpacking and tenting trip in Alberta, and one overnight canoe trip in Quebec, check out Two Outdoor Adventures.

Sugarbowl — Grizzly Den Provincial Park

Early on in the hike — I walk through a lovely meadow at the beginning of the trail.

Sugarbowl — Grizzly Den Provincial Park "is located on Highway 16 approximately 95 km east of Prince George, British Columbia, and includes an area known as the Grand Canyon of the Fraser. The park protects some old growth cedar-hemlock, and provides habitat for grizzly bear, martin and caribou. ... The area includes a developed trail system that offers popular alpine backcountry recreation opportunities ...." 2

To arrive at the Grizzly Den Trailhead, we travelled east along Highway 16 to Hungary Creek (about 90 km from the Yellowhead Bridge in Prince George). Less than a kilometre past Hungary Creek, there is a road called the Hungary Creek Forest Road. One follows that road for about 13 kilometres where the Grizzly Den Trailhead parking lot can be found.

Our hike was to be two days — up the first day, sleep at the top, and return via Raven Lake the following day. We would carry heavy packs — food for two days, changes of clothing, our tent (big enough for three people), first aid, cooking gear, sleeping bags, and everything else one might need on a two-day hike. Although there is a cabin for hikers and skiers at Grizzly Den, one is expected to be prepared to stay in a tent if the cabin is already occupied. We were planning to use our tent, regardless of who might be in the cabin.

The Climb to Grizzly Den

The trail up to Grizzly Den goes through a spruce balsam forest, wet meadows, across several creeks, and then ascends by 1050 metres (3500 feet) to the Grizzly Den cabin. From the cabin, one climbs another 600 metres (2000 feet) to reach the peak and the cairn. It is a two-to-three-hour hike and perhaps longer if you are carrying a heavy pack. If you are attempting a day hike, it is possible to get up and down in one day.

As we began to climb, we found snow on the trail. But it was a pleasant spring day, and it didn't take long to get warm.

We were climbing this trail with friends — a husband and wife, their two adolescent sons, and their Norwegian elkhound named Heidi.

The first part of the trail is along level terrain through a thin forest, but fairly soon the steeper ascent begins. My husband and I were both carrying big packs, and our ten-year-old son was along with us, also carrying a small pack.

We started early in the day. There were seven of us and it didn't take long for us to develop quite a bit of space between us. Everyone went at their own pace, checking out the view now and then and enjoying the scenery.

After climbing a fairly steep and snowy portion, I took a rest.

The climb to the cabin and the area where we would pitch our tents took about three hours, but we weren't in a hurry and we took our time, including stopping for lunch and occasionally just relaxing (as in the photograph at right).

We reached the cabin and chose a place in the meadow nearby where we could pitch our tents (each family had their own). So far, we hadn't seen any grizzlies, but there was still time for that to happen. My biggest fear in hiking in British Columbia is running into bears. Despite the fact that encounters between bears and humans in the bush is relatively rare, it does happen, and usually the bears come out of it a little better off than the humans. As well, grizzly bears are considered far more dangerous than black bears — but I didn't want to run into either.

After pitching our tents, we wanted to use the rest of the light to climb to the peak.

Reaching the Peak

As one might expect, there was quite a bit of snow on the peak. We reached the top in less than thirty minutes. Our friends remained at the tent area, watching our gear, and waited for us to return so that they could go up and also place a rock on the cairn.

Paul and I put another rock on the cairn when we reached the top.

The view from the top was spectacular. Looking in any direction there was nothing but mountains and forests. And it was a beautiful day as well.

But perhaps the most fun of the entire hike was the slide down from the peak. Yes, you're right. We climbed it several times and then slid back down.

My husband, Bob, and our son, Paul sliding down the peak. Great fun!

A Night on the Mountain

There were several things that made our night a little more interesting than other hiking and camping trips.

First, there was a porcupine in the out house which gnawed at the walls inside for almost the entire night. We would just begin to drop off to sleep and the gnawing would begin. After a few minutes, it would stop and we were convinced that it would get quiet — but it continued all night.

There is more to the story of the porcupine but I didn't put it here because I didn't see or hear it. However, my son did, and his story is here.

We pitched our tents close together. You can see the peak behind the tents. Our tent was the one in front with the blue rain protector — my son is just going in. Our friends' tent was the taller, peaked one and our friend is walking beside it.

Our friends' dog, Heidi, did not like that pesky porcupine, nor did she much care for all the other sounds and scents she was hearing and smelling. She laid between our two tents and periodically growled and/or barked throughout the night. When she began to growl, our friends would scold her: "Heidi! No! Stop it!" Needless to say, she didn't stop. Eventually, she joined our friends in their tent. She got quieter then.

Our tent was pitched on a slight incline and we also spent the night trying to avoid sliding down on top of each other.

On to Raven Lake

We awoke somewhat tired, prepared and ate our breakfast, took one more climb to the peak to look at the view, and then returned to pack our gear and begin our trek down. It was in the morning of that second day that we saw three grizzlies in the distance — it might have been a mother and two cubs. They were far away from us, but we could tell they were grizzlies. Fortunately, they were travelling away from us.

On this part of our journey, we were still seeing new terrain. Instead of returning down the Grizzly Den trail, we followed Pats Pass to Raven Lake. We knew that "the Raven Lake trail [can be] very wet, slippery, and steep, especially in winter. The slope opposite to Raven Lake cabin is subject to occasional avalanches." The walk across the pass to the lake was easy enough, but the descent from Raven Lake to the trailhead is extremely steep, descending about 450 metres (1500 feet). Hard on the knees, no matter what your age (and I was glad that we had not climbed up it the previous day)!

Once at the trailhead for Raven Lake, we had to walk down the road to reach our car which was parked at the trailhead for Grizzly Den. A memorable trip and one that remains with me to this day.

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Here are the other personal articles I have written about my life:

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. 

  2. This description of the park comes directly from the BC Parks website. For more information about the area, see the link