Published in the North Island Eagle, July 2017
Norm and Patricia Tatlow of Victoria had the opportunity to visit one of Canada’s geological wonders as a start to their 8-day exploration of North Vancouver Island last week.
“We live on this Island, and we thought we should see the rest,” said Patricia Tatlow. “There is more up here than people think.”
“The main show is what’s off the pavement,” said her husband Norm Tatlow.
Jim Overland, their host at Port Alice’s Inlet Haven Bed and Breakfast, took them on a portion of the Alice Lake Loop backcountry tour, including Devil’s Bath, Eternal Fountain, and Link River/Alice Lake Campground.
Vancouver Island has the largest concentration of caves in North America, with 4% of the Island as karst, a landform created by water action on soluble bedrock (locally limestone) over thousands of years. The Alice Lake Loop tour highlights some of Canada’s best karst systems, which includes cenotes (pronounced say-no-tays) or sinkholes (depressions formed from by the collapse of ceiling rock and overburden above a cave), swallets (an underground flowing stream), blind valleys (where water is unable to flow out of the valley on the surface, usually caused by a collapsed cave passage or an ancient surface stream that has sunk underground), and disappearing and reappearing springs and streams with complex underground drainage systems and caves.
The Tatlows first stop was to Devil’s Bath, one of Canada’s largest ceynotes), a flooded sinkhole 359 metres in circumference and 44 metres in depth, connected to the Benson River 200 metres North-west through a system of cave passages. A viewing platform above Devil’s Bath provides interpretive signage. A trail West of the parking area (labelled as dangerous on the site map) leads down to the Benson River bed and cave.
North-West of Devil’s Bath (follow the signs at the junction of South-East Main and Alice Main), the Tatlows observed the Eternal Fountain, a waterfall appearing out of a ledge and disappearing into a sinkhole. The blind valley feeding the Eternal Fountain is composed of a large network of underground fissures and passages. Wooden stairs lead to a short loop trail through the woods to view ‘karst windows’ or sinkholes. Information signs recommend staying on the designated trail, as the dense growth can hide unmarked sinkhole hazards. Along the trail are huge stumps, remnants of old growth forest logged in the 1960s.
“Old growth and new growth, the whole forest area – that part is pretty special,” said Norm.
A quick stop at the Link River/Alice Lake campground revealed private lake-front, river-front, and forest campsites, and a lone sailboat on the lake.
The Alice Lake Loop tour is accessible from Alice Main Road from Port Alice, Port Hardy Main off Highway 30 North-East of Marble River, or from Keogh Road North of Port McNeill. For more information and a map, visit www.vancouverislandnorth.ca/things-to-do/nature/parks/alice-lake-loop-tour or www.rdmw.ca
When traveling in the backcountry logging roads, explorers are reminded that logging trucks are active Monday to Friday, and gravel trucks are hauling seven days a week. Drive cautiously and yield right of way to these oversize industrial vehicles.
“It’s pretty unusual for a B&B to give guided tours to their guests,” said Norm. “We really appreciated the opportunity to have a local take us out.”
Along with the sights and amenities, the Tatlows have enjoyed meeting the North Island locals. “Everybody’s so friendly! Every person we meet is friendly here,” said Patricia.
They were pleasantly surprised that during Saturday’s planned power outage in Port Alice, the community centre was open for the community market, using a generator. They also enjoyed a walk and visit to Dan Nordin’s Artist Gallery on Marine Drive.
On the remainder of their North Island exploration the Tatlows planned to visit Port Hardy, Alert Bay, and Telegraph Cove.