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Viewpoint: Exploring the Shuswap’s prime hiking trail at Albas

Shuswap Passion by Jim Cooperman

By Jim Cooperman

Special to the Observer

Although one section is in a deplorable state, the loop trail at Albas is by far one of the best places to hike in the Shuswap, because of its features and its history.

Celista Creek flows out of Humamilt Lake, which is a top paddling destination as well, and when it nears the lake, it descends a steep rocky hillside creating a series of waterfalls that are a wonder to behold anytime of the year.

The trailhead is near the lake, close to where there is a foot bridge over the creek. There is a small parking area and a sign with a map of the trails. Typically, one hikes up the creek on the west side past the series of waterfalls, then crosses the bridge at the top to hike down the east side, where the wooden steps and retaining walls have rotted, and hikers have taken short-cuts resulting in erosion. One must also take care not to walk near the edge of the undercut embankment where there is a risk of plunging down to the creek below.

The largest and most majestic falls are at the bottom and from there the trail climbs steeply up the rocky hillside over exposed tree roots and a small, wooded bridge. There are guardrails to prevent hikers from getting too close to the steepest sections. At the top there is a pool where two boys lost their lives swimming there, as they were swept over the falls. We have seen people jumping off the cliff into this pool despite the risks. In low water the creek passes under the rocks before plunging over the cliff.

In a gulley that is close to the bridge at the top, there is a large, cast-iron pulley and the remains of the old penstock that piped water to the waterwheel that powered a sawmill located at the bottom near the lake. The mill was owned by the Arrow Lakes Lumber Company, that also operated sawmills in Kamloops and Revelstoke. To supply the mill with logs, the company built logging camps and a dam at Humamilt Lake, as well as a flume to carry the logs next to the falls. Behind the beach near the mouth of the creek was the main settlement where there were approximately 15 houses, a bunkhouse and a warehouse.

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When the first post office was established, the sawmill community was called Celista Creek, but confusion resulted as there was also the community of Celista on the North Shuswap. In 1917, the Post Office inspector arrived in the sternwheeler, the Andover, to settle the dispute. When someone walked into the cabin and remarked, here comes Al Bass, who was a local trapper, the inspector immediately suggested, “We have it all settled. We will call this place “Albas.”

After the prime timber was logged, the community became known as “Trapper Town.” A Salmon Arm Observer article described how Mr. Larson and Mr. George M. Smith took the Maude Annis steamship from Sicamous and arrived in Albas with food, traps, supplies and four ponies for the 1921-22 winter trapping season. Alongside their gear were goats and crates of chickens for the Wallensteen farm at Humamilt Lake.

Although there was no need to register their trapline then, they had to ensure it did not overlap other traplines. They were forced to travel far into the mountains over the old gold trail to the Columbia River and found the old corduroy section still passable. Despite the high prices for furs, they only made about $900 that winter, and thus Larson turned to steamboating and carrying mail to make a living. Over the next few years, he witnessed the decline of Albas and in 1925, the post office closed.

Four years later, the community revived when R. W. Bruhn established a cedar pole camp there. Bruhn began his logging and sawmilling career when he took poles out of Anstey Arm in 1917 for the large, U.S.-based B. J. Carney and Company. In 1925 he established the first sawmill at Canoe, known as Shuswap Lake Timber, and employed 12 men. For his Albas pole production, Bruhn rebuilt the Humamilt Lake dam and the flume next to the falls. He also cleared the four- and one-half miles of stream bed to minimize log jams.

Other great features at Albas are the campground and pebble beach where there is a marvellous view of the lake. On the north side of the creek, there is an outstanding sandy beach, which is also one of the most popular destinations for houseboats. Hopefully, BC Parks will one day soon rebuild the trail to make it safer, given that it is well used in the summer.
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