Where No Car Has Gone Before: Google Trekker in Inland British Columbia

A grizzly bear cub enjoys a healthy snack in Khutzeymateen, British Columbia. Clint Fraser, 2016

A grizzly bear cub enjoys a healthy snack in Khutzeymateen, British Columbia. Clint Fraser, 2016

Gideon Scanlon

Throughout this summer, staff members of Northern BC Tourism have been shouldering a heavy burden.

Weighing in at more than 50 lbs, they have been hiking a Google Trekker unit through much of the province's most inaccessible areas, and across all manner of rugged terrain.

Google Trekker is, perhaps, best described as the backpack (or, rather, back-breaking) cousin of the Google Mapper Cars. While the cars have been successfully mapping the world's roads for Google Earth's Streetview since 2007, it was not until the emergence of the Trekker in 2013, that the project was able to go 'off-road.'

In the three years of its operation, Google -- or Alphabet, as it has been known since last year -- has been loaning out units to governmental and NGO groups.

"We thought it would be a great idea to volunteer, so applied for it in the winter of 2015," says Blane Espy, the team's media relations officer. "When we got the call that we could use it this summer, we were all thrilled."

Espy, who believes that the project could help raise awareness about the beautiful, though remote areas of his home province, is thrilled by the opportunity to allow anyone to visit the province's best-kept secrets from their homes.

"This is a great opportunity for anyone who is curious  about what is up there, for anyone who is planning a trip, and for anyone who would otherwise never be able to see these incredible sites."

Even for the most rugged-of-adventurer, who have already been to the covered locations, the coverage may be able to provide new glimpses in the otherwise familiar locations.

"We got to see so much more than the average hiker," says Tasha Peterson, the team's social media expert, and frequent bearer of the box. "While the average traveller might be too tired to see everything after a five-day hike to the locations, we got to use planes, and arrive with fresh eyes."

Flying may sound like cheating to the most purist of outdoorsmen and  women, but, with the machine on loan for only three-months, the team is trying to cover as much ground as possible.

Khutzeymateen's visitors enjoy the scenery from the safety of a boat.  Clint Fraser, 2016

Khutzeymateen's visitors enjoy the scenery from the safety of a boat.  Clint Fraser, 2016

 

"Northern B.C. is vast, and we wanted to showcase the highlights of all four corners of the province's north," says Peterson. "We have had so many different 'must see' locations.

Despite the sheer scale of their project, the team has successfully covered a huge amount of territory. Among the sites covered  hundreds-of-kilometers of trek, few stand out more prominently in Peterson's mind than Salmon Glacier, near the border with Alaska.

"It was breathtaking. I have been promoting the site for years, but had no idea about how large it actually was." 

From there, the team took a brief trip into Hyder, in Alaska. There, at the local Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site, Peterson marched the unit across the boardwalk, all the while stalked by a curious grizzly.

"He seemed really curious about the project," she says. "I was pretty confident that the park rangers, and the boardwalk itself would keep me out of trouble."

For Clint Fraser, the team leader who trekked much of the publically accessible areas of the Kuzymateen Grizzly Preservation, there were no such protections.

"He ran into a few grizzlies, but I think he managed avoided any trouble."

With three weeks remaining on the loan, the team is proud of it work, but recognizes that there are some things  they will not be able to cover.

"I really wish we were able to cover Mount Edziza," laments Peterson, "but perhaps there will be a next time."

You can check out the team's progress at Clint Frasers blog.

 

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