Salmon Encounters on Indian Creek

When I plan a backpacking trip and am working out where to camp each night my main consideration is “Where can I take the best pictures?” I think about the best views and which angle of light I want. And so my camp sites and hiking goals each day are based upon trying to be at the right place at the right time.

Capturing images of wildlife is not as easy to predict. Bear, goats, deer and marmots are all doin’ their own thing. One never knows when you’ll cross paths, so I simply hope for a magical moment and that my camera will be ready!

This summer I hiked the Copper Ridge – Whatcom Pass Loop, in North Cascades National Park. I planned camp sites atop Copper Ridge and Tapto Lakes. But the most magical part of the trip was my encounter with salmon spawning in Indian Creek at its confluence with the Chilliwack River.

The trek began at the Hannegan Pass trailhead.  We hiked up into the park and out along Copper Ridge. Silesia Camp, atop the ridge was unbelievably stunning.

The Chilliwack River
Salmon in the Mist

The long descent down to the ford of the Chilliwack River provided a wonderful opportunity to observe striking changes in flora. Pine forests slowly transformed into rain forest as we neared the valley bottom. The forest was wet, humid, different…

Then come the two fords. First up was the Chilliwack River. My sore aching feet welcomed the cold fresh water. Then I hobbled across a short section of wet forest and arrived at Indian Creek.

The creek was full of salmon, bright orange in color, hovering in the crystal clear water. Here Indian Creek was about 10 meters across, its banks enveloped with dark green. The sky was a narrowing strip overhead.

Looking upstream, back towards the North Cascades, the creek was choked with fallen trees. The river bed was composed of soft silt and brightly-colored stones, adding to the illusion of the salmon practicing a form of Jedi levitation.

The view north, towards Canada was equally alluring and the confluence of the two streams created an opening, through which I could see the sky, blue with dark clouds gathering.

Indian Creek
Indian Creek

I felt like I had been transported to an entirely different point of the globe. Time seemed to stand still. There was a fallen tree stretching out in the middle of the stream and I made my way there. A birch provided some support as I tried to balance myself to marvel at the majesty of the fish. Some seemed playful, darting here and there, others were simply hanging out, languidly gliding in the waters.

As I wandered around the banks I sensed some motion upstream. Looking up, I saw a huge bear, weighing perhaps 800 pounds, along the right side of the creek. I froze, as did the bear. My racing heart slowed after a few minutes, my thoughts instinctively considered flight. A millisecond later I was calculating whether I could capture a good shot of the huge bear.

The allure of photographing such a magnificent creature snacking on salmon easily won the moment. My partner, seeing our visitor, lets out a scream, and the bear bolted, back into the forest.

I stood still for a while, reviewing the image of the bear in my mind…wow, what a fantastic place!

The night brought horrific storms, heavy rain, incessant thunder and lightning enveloping our tiny tent. But there in the deep gash of a valley we were protected. With all the noise I wondered if our giant furry friend might come visit us, maybe hungry for some of our food, but I realized that he was likely very well fed and not interested.

The early morning fog was thick across the water. We lingered for awhile. The crisp, fresh air and cold clear water had sharpened my senses. I was quite happy to be alive!


Andy at Clear lakeAndy Porter discovered his love of the outdoors when, at the age of 16, he completed a month-long Outward Program in the Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho. Since then he has hitchhiked many miles, criss-crossing the US; trekked in the Andes; lived in the steppes of Siberia and now makes his home in the northwestern corner of Washington State.


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