Locating the headwaters of the Stikine, Nass & Skeena Rivers in north-western British Columbia

North-western British Columbia, east of south-eastern Alaska, is a vast region with the largest watershed being the Stikine the mouth of which is in south-eastern Alaska. Just east and south from the headwaters of the Stikine are major sources of the Nass and Skeena Rivers

The Edziza Plateau of north-western British Columbia is not far from the Alaska Panhandle and the town of Telegraph Creek near the Grand Canyon of the Skikine River. ‘Ediza’ is the largest landscape of active volcanism in Canada. The Edziza Plateau is entirely in the Stikine Basin.


The images in ‘edziza trip’ are from the south half of this satellite mosaic. Edziza Glacier is at the southern edge of the snowy peak (that is white and in the lower centre of this image) and is the greyer area in the centre of the image. Beneath the southern, lower portion of the Glacier are volcanic cones that have erupted in recent centuries. The light blue below the glacier on the small lakes in the moraines that were often photographed especially mid-way along the trip. Surrounding the peaks and the Glacier is an alpine escarpment.

Further east of Edziza Plateau is a much larger and generally lower complex of plateaus, peaks, and meadows called ‘The Klappan’ in the Tahltan language and often referred to as ‘Spatsizi’. Here the main stem of the Stikine begins as do some of the most remote headwaters of the Nass and Skeena. This vast mosaic of meadow, alpine and boreal forest supports relatively large and intact populations of grizzly, predators such as wolf and wolverine, and ungulates such as caribou and moose. Spatsizi has been likened in numbers of large mammals to the Serengeti of East Africa.

Spatsizi has numerous lakes with one of the highest and largest being Tuaton the tear-drop-shaped system in the centre left of this scene. Most of the photographs in the ‘crossing cold streams’ essays were taken near or above Tuaton Lake and further east around Klahowya, and Buckinghorse Lakes.

Stikine Prairie above Tuaton Lake, near the main source of the Stikine River, August 1981 photograph by Gordon Brent Ingram

Both 1977 and the 1981 field studies began at Tuaton Lake is at the far right (on the east side) of this map and composite satellite image and ended at Buckinghorse Lake is at the far left to the west. In this well-used map, the label for Buckinghorse Lake is partly obliterated with a crease with only ‘Bucking’ visible. In contrast to my shorter set of field studies in 1977, the 1981 work involved teaching and supervising students enrolled in Wildland Field Studies at San Francisco State University. With this work, we had a month to look at quite a number of valleys and ridges extending to the north of these lower valleys.

In recently reflecting on my 1977 and 1981 field studies in Spatsizi,  I was struck by how close this part of the Spatsizi Plateau is to the half-constructed, British Columbia Railway line to Dease Lake. The bed of the long cancelled, rail line is little more than a day walk (if a trail could be located) from Buckinghorse Lake (where the Beaver crashed on August 30, 1981). Today, the Spatsizi Plateau is under increasing pressure from Shell Corporation for natural gas exploration and “fracking.” But the rail line into this wilderness could have been, and could still be, an entre into ecotourism and ways to build a comprehensive conservation strategy for the plateau lead by the Tahltan Nation, headquartered in Telegraph Creek to the west, in cooperation with aboriginal governments to centred to the east and south.

Nearly all of the images from ‘crossing cold streams’ in 1978 and 1981 are of places within or near Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park. Nearly all of the images from ‘crossing cold streams’ in 1980 are of places within Mount Edziza Provincial Park. While these vast areas are nominally managed by the Province of British Columbia, they are part of unceded territories of the Tahltan Nation with eastern margins part of the traditional lands of the Caribou Hide people of the Sekanis. And the bulk of the stewardship of these lands continues to involve the knowledge and wisdom of these communities.

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