Small Frye episodes - Small Frye’s Big Adventure: Part Eight

Cattails are common in moist areas such as low-lying swamps.
Cattails are common in moist areas such as low-lying swamps.

Stories by Mike Frye - edited by Leonard Lea Frazer

We find out that we are not as good as the goats on the cliffs! Climbing a steep glacier, we enter a Garden of Eden, what a lovely spot of nature! Finding paradise, and feasting on fish and berries. 

The day broke clear and sunny and we were excited about our first encounter with the mountain cliffs and high passes.

We could see the pass from our camp high above us. It didn’t look too bad as far as we could see. After having a hefty breakfast, we packed up and took off up the gentle slopes leading to the high pass. It was a gentle slope all the way. However, we found it was a lot farther to the top. The first hour the hiking was enjoyable and, as we climbed, we could see about ten goats or more on the right hand side of the slope on some very steep cliffs. The mountains on the left side were less rugged. That was the way we headed, keeping to the left, but the top of the mountain seemed to recede as we travelled. At noon we were nowhere near the top and had no timber to protect us from any storm that may come up. We did not stop long; just ate a bannock that we had prepared for lunch. We continued on again in the direction of the elusive pass that seemed to get farther away as we travelled.

As we got higher we soon were trudging in snow up to our ankles and, having leather shoes, we found it quite miserable. Next, we came right out on a clear glacier where the snow was frozen and most of the time we were travelling on ice. Our sharp caulk boots were very effective in this area.

Having made good time, soon we were at the very top. On the far side all we could see was a beautiful valley sloping to the North West with a stream running through it and could smell the fragrant perfume of a million wild flowers drifting to us through a rugged pass that seemed to be studded with huge boulders. We had to go where we could find some wood for a fire. So, down we went.

Where we stood looking, the terrain was like a ridgeback, sloping off on both sides, with no possible means of getting to the far side without ascending a one-sided chimney formed in the steep slope to the valley below. This chimney was steep and rugged with boulders crowding the way we had to go. We crept, one foot ahead of the other. If we had made one slip, we would have dropped two thousand or more feet down that steep, slippery chimney to be pounded to death by the rocks and sharp boulders.

We were getting worried as the farther we went the worse it seemed to get but, thank goodness, at long last we came to the bottom of the chimney only to be faced by an overhanging ridge of snow and ice. Up and down that ridge we went trying to find a way up and over but we could not find a way out. Looking back up that steep chimney, Violet seemed to shudder. "It’s hard to believe that you and I got down that terrible climb." Glancing at the steep overhang ahead of us, she said, "Well Frye, it has been one very exciting day but now, my mountain man, just how do you figure to get us out of this? My mother said there would be days like this but I didn’t believe her."

I told her that we would overcome that dilemma if I had to chop my way out with the hand axe. The top was only about fifteen feet above us and solid snow and ice, so I at once started cutting a stairway up through the ice. She put her pack down and pawed the ice as I cut it and we soon had a good start but the farther we got in, the farther she had to paw the ice. However, within an hour we had made a good ten feet and both of us crawled out and finished the bannock and some raisins, but still no hot drink.

We took a good rest and went at it again and at last my axe went right through into daylight and we had a hole to climb out onto a very steep glacier. We went back and got our packs and had a terrible time dragging them up that hole behind us but at last both of us were out on the slippery slope. There was about five hundred feet of steep glacier and we knew that we only had two hours more daylight ahead of us. I let Violet go ahead with a rope tied around her stomach and we slowly made our way down to the end of the steep glacier and onto bare ground. After fighting that steep and heart-breaking snow and ice the bare ground was like heaven to us.

We watched for a level place to camp and it was near dark when we did find a spot large enough. It was not the best camp in the world as the terrain was steep. We dug some pine needles and dirt out from under a tree and making a fire we were not long in getting a meal cooked. Both of us were dog tired and ready to hit the hay. We were looking forward to entering that lovely valley we had seen. We could not make a very big fire as we only had a place to hold it on the steep side hill so we let it go out as soon as we had eaten and got into bed. No joking or horsing around that night, I can tell you!

Although we had spent a most uncomfortable night on that steep side hill, we were well rested and ready to move into that lovely little valley we could see in the distance.

Both of us were up and had a good breakfast, packed and on our way, just as the sun burst up over the far rim of the distant hill.

We both knew what the name was of the high peak that we had by-passed. Looking back, we could see it as the sunshine turned it to gold and crimson. This mountain was named Andisike Peak and was 2,379 m. high and stood out among the rest of the lower peaks, a grand sight, but we were glad that it was behind us. For that day at least, we could look forward to pretty fair travelling.

We found our route a lot easier than climbing although we figured we would have to climb out of that valley again to get to the altitude that we wanted to travel in. Nevertheless, we looked forward to seeing the valley and were delighted to reach the verdant bottom land. When we reached the lovely little creek it seemed to run off in an eastern direction toward Morris Lake.

Stopping for lunch on the shore of the stream, we were disappointed to find no fish at that point. However, we had not gone far down along the shore when Violet, in the lead, stopped and pointed out two lovely mountain trout working their way up a ripple.

"There's our dinner, Mike. Should we get them?" Apparently I had nothing to say about it one way or the other, as she already had her fishing outfit out and soon she had hooked a two-pound trout. She set the hook and, as the ground was clear of brush, she gave him a good fight for his life. Up and down the shore she went with him, he was definitely not going to give up easy and finally succumbed to her prowess as a good sportswoman.  She dragged him out onto the grass beside her. Violet at once put him out of the fight and, as I sat down watching her, she cleaned him at once. Though it was early in the morning, she soon had the fish sizzling in the pan while I made a pot of Hudson Bay tea and some bannock.

If any two people enjoyed life, we did that day after the rough and trying ordeal of the day before. Slowly travelling along this small stream, with the whole country abounding with wildlife and the air full of the aroma of wild flowers and tundra and the birds just singing their hearts out - all looking forward to the promise of summers ahead. As we progressed, at times knee-deep in mountain flowers and wild berries, we were happy. We had a right to be as we had everything that two healthy, vibrant young people could wish for.

That was the day we were to witness a drama of life and death. We had come to the edge of a small clearing, possibly two or more acres, and had just sat down on the grass for a rest when Violet let out a low gasp. "Look ahead there, Mike. See that doe. She is in trouble."

I saw her at once. Her fawn was being attacked by a coyote and the mother was doing a wonderful job of protecting it. The coyote would take a run at him every time he could but the doe would bluff Mr. Coyote and slash him with her front feet. We knew very well it would be a matter of time before the coyote could get the fawn and we were ready to protect it but we were not quick enough. Just like a streak of lightening, the coyote struck and hamstrung the mother. Although we shot the coyote we were not in time, as now we had to kill both the mother and the fawn as neither would survive. To us this was a terrible thing for us to do but we had to and really, we had no business to interfere at all and it bothered both of us for a long time afterwards.

But that day we were blessed to find a swamp just literally crowded with cattail (Typha Latifolia). This is very common in any moist areas such as low-lying swamps or ditches and marshes. Its very spongy, dark brown spikes are four to eight inches long and are the source of the pollen grain. If you get these young shoots in the spring, you will be delighted with them either cooked or eaten raw.

It’s best to try to get them as they are around a foot high. The young flower stalks can be taken out of their sheaths and are delicious cooked. Picking this young flower before the pollen has been shed and mixing it with equal amounts of flour; you can make excellent cookies or bannock. I know that the pollen can be used the same way. Of course you can get a greater content of flour, in the fall, after the cattails have turned brown. Their root stalks are very high in starch content and can be used to obtain excellent flour.

We at once set our packs down and Violet got out a bag and we picked a good supply to last us for some time and we had a big feed of the tender shoots for supper.

Our camp for that night was under a big spruce tree with the bows hanging right to the ground and near the small creek with a splendid view of a small clearing in front. I soon had some of the boughs cleared away to give us a good entrance to the spruce needles under the tree with plenty of room to store our food and rifles in out of the weather.

While I was busy making camp, Violet took off down the creek with her fishing pole. She had been gone for some time and I started to wonder what was keeping her. Building the fire up so it would last, I took off downstream after her. I had not gone far when I saw her standing up to her knees in the creek, patiently casting out to a large crystal clear pool. Every time she tossed the hook, I could see a huge trout leap out of the water near her cast and fall back in with a splash.

I never let her know I was watching. I sat back under a tree and watched her match wits with that big fish. She was so entranced with her sport that she did not see me nor did she see a huge grizzly that came slowly walking down along the shore also looking for fish. I waited till he was too darn close then I gave a yell and threw a rock in the water ahead of him.

This set up a chain of circumstances. Violet let out a scream and started for shore and at the same time the trout decided he had been playing games too long and struck her hook with a bang. When he hit her hook, he upset her stride to shore and she sat down in the creek still holding onto the line and the battling fish. The bear took off as if all hell was after him, smashing through the low brush. He was soon long gone from that part of the country.

Violet held onto the tight line and she had her hands full for a few minutes. Back and forth, up river and down river he took off but she held a tight line and soon he had to give in and, belly up, he drifted into shore. At last she had him. He was a beauty, at least five pounds of fighting game fish. Too much for one meal, so, now we would either have to smoke him and stay right there or eat him. Being lazy, we did the latter.

To be continued . . . 

From March 22 & 29, 1978 - Robson Valley Courier