We missed seeing much of the landscape in and around Howe Sound last year because we were traveling with a large group and had a precise schedule. An unusually powerful summer storm hit the region as we traveled through. It caused flood damage across British Columbia and Alberta, but we mainly saw rain and very cloudy conditions. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Extremely, teeth-gratingly disappointed. My choice of travel locales on this trip was governed largely by the desire to see Howe Sound and the Sea to the Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler.
I reveled in the beauty of the storm-free weather as we boarded the ferry from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island to Horseshoe Bay in Howe Sound on the mainland. The water was sparkling in the sun, and views were practically unobstructed in all directions. We crossed the Strait of Georgia, the northern arm of the Salish Sea, and entered the mouth of Howe Sound. It was my first time seeing a glacial fjord (even though I was there the previous year).
A glacial fjord is simply a drowned glacial trough, a long coastal inlet that is lined by steep cliffs. Glaciers can erode valleys below sea level if the ice is thick enough, but many fjords formed by flooding caused by the rise of sea level that followed the end of the last ice age. The term is Norwegian, and of course Scandinavia is famous for spectacular fjords. But Howe Sound is no slouch when it comes to incredible scenery. And there's a hint of danger, too...
In 1958 at Lituya Bay in Alaska, a quake-generated rockfall produced a gigantic spash that erased trees, rock and soil from the opposite slope to a height of 1,720 feet (520 m). The tsunami moved seaward with heights of between 100-300 feet, removing entire forests and killing several people unlucky enough to be in fishing boats at the mouth of the bay (although several survived the wave and provided eyewitness accounts of the extraordinary event).
|Photo by Mrs. Geotripper|
The existence of several important transportation corridors, both rails and highways, in Howe Sound has highlighted the dangers of mass wasting. There simply isn't much in the way of flat ground for the placing of rails or asphalt, so engineering problems abound. The original two lane highway was widened and straightened to ease traffic during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Problems with falling rocks and debris floods are constant, with an average of 405 events each year, and a death toll (since 1906) of 50 lives, although 37 of them were due to a single event, a horrific debris flow in 1921.