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Sun Oct 31, 2021, 01:02 PM

The little-known hiking trail that built Canada

t was used by First Nations, fur traders and early westward-migrating settlers. Now, local communities are hoping it could become the world's next great long-distance hike.

Predating the Silk Road and the Amber Road, Canada's Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Trail is a narrow, little-known footpath that's been worn deeply into the earth by 6,000 years of walkers. From time immemorial, this 279-mile trail which starts at a glacier-fed fjord near Bella Coola in the Great Bear Rainforest, climbs east over mountain ranges and then fans out across what's now known as British Columbia has been an overland trade route. Over the millennia, it's seen the exchange of goods such as jade, copper, basketry, food, hides, obsidian and the highly valued commodity the trail was named for: the nutritious oil or "grease" of the small eulachon fish that continues to be a delicacy among First Nations people.

Taking my first steps on the ancient pathway in the Bella Coola Valley, I half expected to feel something transcendent; echoes of the past perhaps. In 1793, this was the last section of the route that carried the first European, Alexander Mackenzie, from Montreal across what's now known as Canada to the Pacific Ocean constituting the first known transcontinental crossing of the Americas north of Mexico. This "great road" as Mackenzie called the trail in his journal, "was very good and well traced". It was also well populated. And as I hiked, I imagined encountering one of the Ulkatcho families he wrote of, who were heading "to the great river to fish"; or maybe a group of young Dene men on a trade journey.

Climbing upward, I left the valley's monumental cedars behind and entered a forest of stunted trees and bright green moss. By my thousandth (or so) uphill footstep, the forest around me had thinned and the past felt ever present. Stepping out of the woods and into a clearing, Mackenzie's 228-year-old words predicted the view: "Before us appeared a stupendous mountain, whose snow-clad summit was lost in the clouds."

A hiking trail is a little like an unfolding story. And, like many stories, my hike had a prologue. I'd been sitting on a beach in the Broughton Archipelago, 200km south of Bella Coola, after spending the day spotting orcas and visiting long-abandoned Mamalilikulla First Nation villages. Sifting my fingers through the sun-warmed sand, I'd come up with an unexpected prize: a small, glassy shard of obsidian. Digging back in, I was soon inspecting a growing pile of volcanic glass. A kayaking mate declared the obsidian was from the area's many overland "grease trails", a term I was only vaguely familiar with.

The next Appalachian Trail?

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Reply The little-known hiking trail that built Canada (Original post)
Jilly_in_VA Oct 2021 OP
pandr32 Oct 2021 #1

Response to Jilly_in_VA (Original post)

Sun Oct 31, 2021, 01:06 PM

1. New bucket list entry

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