Roland Neave keeps on Exploring Wells Gray Park with sixth edition

Wells Gray Tours owner expands comprehensive roads and trails guidebook

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      One of Roland Neave’s favourite hikes in B.C.’s Wells Gray Provincial Park is the short trip to Moul Falls.

      It’s the 35-metre-high waterfall pictured on the cover of the brand-new sixth edition of Exploring Wells Gray Park (Wells Gray Tours), the guidebook that he originally authored in 1974.

      “It’s a waterfall that you can get behind, so you can really experience it up close,” Neave, 63, told the Georgia Straight by phone from Kamloops, where he lives.

      Neave is the owner of Wells Gray Tours, which he started in 1972 by offering bus tours of the 540,567-hectare park, north of Clearwater. The company now has offices in five B.C. cities and sells travel packages for destinations around the world. Neave owns a house and 120 hectares of land next to the park.

      He wrote the first edition of Exploring Wells Gray Park as a Simon Fraser University student, and it spanned around 100 pages. The latest revision expands the book to 393 pages and adds hundreds of colour photographs.

      The book is subtitled The Complete Roads and Trails Guide to Canada’s Waterfalls Park, but it also covers the human and natural history and geology of the area. One interesting box tells the story of what became known as the “Wells Gray murders” even though they happened outside of the park in 1982. Another box features Neave’s father’s account of the first ascent of Garnet Peak, one of the highest summits in the park.

      “I wanted to put in a whole variety of things, and the blue boxes are meant to be stories that you can read separately away from the text,” Neave said. “But then they’re positioned close to the place where something happened or where you can see a viewpoint related to that perhaps.”

      The book's cover photo depicts Moul Falls.
      Wells Gray Tours

      Exploring Wells Gray Park includes a list of the 40 named waterfalls in the park. The tallest and most famous is 141-metre-high Helmcken Falls, which Neave first saw in 1966. Neave mentioned that Spahats Falls and Dawson Falls are two other spectacular waterfalls.

      “All these waterfalls are quite different, but most of them were brought about from the same geological origin, which is the lava flows,” Neave said. “So Wells Gray has been inundated by volcanic eruptions over the last 500,000 years, and erosion by glaciers and rivers since then has created all these precipices that you find the waterfalls on today.”

      According to Neave, B.C.’s fourth largest provincial park has something for everyone. There are roadside viewpoints, short walks, day hikes, backpacking routes, and remote summits.

      Asked to recommend a day hike, Neave picked Trophy Mountain, because it rewards hikers with wildflowers, little lakes, and fabulous views of the Clearwater and North Thompson river valleys. The book describes several attractive hikes in this area.

      “Starting in late June, when the snow goes, it’s only a 45-minute walk from the end of the road up into the Trophy Meadows, which has colourful flowers as far as you can see,” Neave said.

      The author's children, Heather and Fraser Neave, at Dawson Falls on the Murtle River.
      Roland Neave

      Many visitors earmark just one day for the park, and they typically drive the main road to Helmcken Falls and Clearwater Lake. Over the years, the book has grown in size because Neave wanted to include more information about the area and give people more reasons to follow its roads and trails.

      “Probably 95 percent of the tourists use that [Clearwater Valley] road,” Neave said. “But there’s just so much else to the park than that one road. So it’s trying to get people off the beaten track, trying to get them to stay for more than one day.”

      Neave decided a year ago it was time to update Exploring Wells Gray Park once again. (The fifth edition came out in 2004.) He spent last summer retracing the park’s roads and trails, and the revision ended up being a nine-month project.

      In the book’s afterword, Neave writes that he “almost promised” his wife, Anne, that the sixth edition will be the last. On the phone, however, he won’t rule out a seventh edition.

      “If the time comes and the demand is there, I might look at doing it,” Neave said. “Each edition takes about eight to 10 years to sell out, and by that time I’ll be over 70. So trekking up to a mountaintop is going to get a bit slower for me.”