Alexander Mackenzie and his expedition party, including First Nations guides, crossed the Rocky Mountains in the late spring of 1793. With information they obtained from a local man they met along their route, they were able to make their way to a fork of the Fraser River on June 17, with the understanding that it would take them all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Believing that they were travelling the Columbia River, they began to descend the Fraser’s course but soon realized that it was too rapid and treacherous for canoe travel.
On June 23, Mackenzie decided to abandon the Fraser as a route to the Pacific and returned to a point upriver. Based on further information from the local people, the expedition then focused its attention on finding an alternate river path. They took a stream west. The party was forced to build a new canoe and then to cache it as they faced a short overland journey. Although guides to introduce and interpret for the expedition accompanied Mackenzie, the party lived in constant fear of the inland First Nations peoples, who followed their path with interest and, at times, showed that they were not welcome.
Borrowing canoes, the expedition embarked on the Bella Coola River, which they paddled to its end where it meets the Pacific. The expedition was happy to see the Pacific Ocean, and Mackenzie inscribed his name on a rock to mark the occasion. According to Mackenzie’s journal, the expedition continued to interact apprehensively with the First Nations peoples, and the men were so nervous that they only stayed a few days at the western terminus of their journey: they sighted the ocean on July 20 and were set to return eastward by July 22. British Captain Vancouver was sailing in the area that same summer, and the two expeditions missed meeting each other on the Pacific beaches by about six weeks. Ultimately, Mackenzie determined that the rivers he had travelled in 1793 and 1789 could not be the legendary “River of the West” that would suggest a Northwest Passage.