WHIPSAW - OCTOBER 1994Author: Larry Soo
Location: Southern mainland B.C., Canada between Hope, Princeton, and Merritt
Dates: July 1-3, 1995
This wasn't our first time up to the Whipsaw area this year. We had gone up there earlier during the heat-wave and endured dust and black flies. We had camped at the half-way point which was Wells Lake. We neglected to bring a fishing road so, naturally, it was possible to walk across the lake on the backs of the thousands of jumping fish. We vowed to come back and "do it right."
The "Whipsaw" is a trail which crosses two mountains as it winds its way from the Hope-Princeton Highway to the tiny village of Coalmont. Our little group consisted of four vehicles: Robert Bryce - Jeep Comanche, Bill Soo & Michael Ty - Ford Ranger, Clay Howey & Mark Dietelbach - Nissan 4x4, and Larry Soo (me) & Susan Gratton. As per our usual procedure, we left Vancouver two hours later than we planned. Robert's Comanche had to be picked-up from the shop with its newly-installed 4.10 gears and LockRight locker. The day before, Bill had 4.10 gears installed as well. The Whipsaw would be an excellent testing ground.
We setup camp near the trailhead, about 2 1/4 hours east of Vancouver. Fall had fallen so the night was chilly. The fact that I had forgotten to pack my trusty air mattress bothered me to no end. The next morning we set out for the trailhead(s). Since this was Robert's first time through the Whipsaw, I thought it would be fun for him to take the Friday Creek approach. The main feature of this route was a breath-takingly steep, uneven, curving descent. The downside (pardon the pun) to this route was that it required driving through thick brush...the kind where you can't really see the road but, since the brush directly in front of you was shorter than the surrounding area, it must be the road. Bill and Clay had already done this route before so they elected to avoid the scratched paint and take the standard approach.
FRIDAY CREEK APPROACH
Before we got into the dirt, I took advantage of the flat pavement to disconnect my Wrangler's sway bar. Less than half a kilometer off the highway, the trail started twisting its way uphill through the trees. After crashing through the brush for about half an hour, the road started heading back downhill. The rate of decline increased quickly, as did the thickeness of the brush. Sue thought it looked neat, the way the saplings fell before us, like rows and rows of dominoes.
Although I had driven the main curving the descent before, it was still caused me a lot of butt-pucker. But this time, I dispensed with the precaution of safety strapping my Jeep to the trees. As before, my progress down the trail was punctuated by nerve-wracking incidents of sliding three or four feet before coming to a stop. I was glad I had installed a set of Slickrock sway-bar disconnect bolts yesterday. The wheels were able to articulate and follow the ruts rather than leaving wheels hanging in the air like last time. Once I had gotten to a level area, I radioed Robert to come on down. I figured I'd have plenty of time to walk back around the corner and get a couple of nice pix. To my astonishment, Rob was almost at the bottom of the steepest section. His new 4.10 gears allowed him to idle down the road with a look of utter boredom (actually, he was grinning). He later told me his truck slid a bit near the top but to me, he made it look easy. I started wondering about the financial logistics of tossing my auto tranny in favour of a granny-low manual.
Our rendezvous point with Bill and Clay was an abandoned ore mill. They had taken a wrong turn before figuring out the right route and met us 15 minutes late. We found a slew of core samples and rats' nests in the main shed. My brother, Bill, who was always willing to seize an opportunity, made use of the outhouse which was perched on a plank, hanging over a steel drum. After pelting the outhouse with rocks, Bill emerged, seemingly non-plussed and we hit the road.
Did I mention that I had never met Robert before this trip? Up till now, we had only conversed via the 'net. He was different from us in that he really enjoyed playing in the mud. At the first mudhole we found, Robert entertained us by making a couple of runs.
We no longer condone this type of mud running on the Whipsaw!
When we first did this trip, we (well I guess 'I') were/was not aware of the fragile ecosystem.
Please refrain from deviating from the main Whipsaw trail!
I had parked my Jeep along side the mud trough to get a better view. It looked like fun so I hoped in my Jeep and started to drive to the end. I had gone a couple of feet when I heard and felt a terrible banging from underneath the Jeep. It felt like I was sliding along a pile of rocks without the benefit of wheels. The Jeep's forward motion quickly ended as the rear end started bouncing to the right, moving us sideways down the small grassy slope beside the mud run. This episode ended after about one or two seconds (it seemed much longer), with the Jeep leaning to the right, with the left-rear tire in the air. I got out and, with great trepidation, looked underneath. Sitting under the left side of my rear axle, with what looked like a malicious grin, was a huge rock. It was over a foot in diameter and had mashed my muffler and put a dent in the driveshaft as it molested the underside of my poor Jeep. A few feet away was the hole from which the rock was dislodged. After some gentle jacking with a Jackall (Canadian version of the Hi-Lift), we pulled out the rock and set the Jeep on all fours. The shaft was dented but was it bent? We used a couple of jacks to lift the rear and and put it in gear. A very small amount of off-centre movement was detected, but nothing too serious.
If it isn't already obvious, the lesson from this story is that you should ALWAYS LOOK AROUND THE PERIMETER OF YOUR VEHICLE BEFORE DRIVING OFF!
The ruts, holes, and rocks in the road had been jostling us constantly for the past hour or two, so it was great relief that we arrived at Wells Lake. It's shaped like an hourglass with a very tight constriction. How tight? We drove our trucks through it (the bridge had long since disappeared). Pooh-poohing their concerns of it being too windy, I convinced everyone that we should camp between the two lobes of the lake.
As per my custom, I brought along my Mossberg pistol-grip shotgun which I use for bear and serial-killer-raving-lunatic protection (there is a grisly story about an entire family which was executed one-by-one while they were camping in the interior of BC but I won't get into that). Michael wanted to try it out so I told him to hold the fore-grip REAL TIGHT. "It'll kick back and the front'll try to jump outta your hands." I also told him to keep the butt-end far away from his face. Off he went into the woods to shoot at a stump. Ka-Boom. A few minutes later I see Michael walking back towards us...with blood running down from his upper lip. Uh-oh. Looks like someone had his face too close to the butt.
A LAPSE IN JUDGEMENT...SO SUE ME
Just as we were getting comfortable and thinking about cooking some dinner, the wind started to pick-up and chill us to the bones. It was getting damned cold and I had to admit that perhaps this campsite wasn't such a great idea after all:
"Gulp. Ok, maybe perhaps we shoulda camped at the north end, in the shelter of the trees. Hey, wouldn't it be funny if we got all our stuff packed-up and then someone drove in and took the other campsite first? Hee hee."
Luckily, that didn't happen. We set-up at the new campsite in record time. In fact, we set-up so fast that we had at least ten minutes before this group of three trucks arrived at the lake and, not being able to use our campsite, had to camp at our recently-vacated wind-blown sight. Phew.
A month-and-a-half earlier, we camped here and saw thousands of fish jumping in the lake and endured heat and dust. On this night, it began to hail. It hailed off and on through out the night. I had forgotten my beloved air-mattress. I brought my summer-weight sleeping bag instead of the mummy bag. I didn't bring long-johns. In the morning, we were greeted by a thin white coating of hail and ice over all our equipment. I didn't stop shivering until an hour after we got the fire started.
DEPARTURE - FALCON HILL
The Whipsaw is well known for "Falcon Hill". So named (by me) for the plaque which some intrepid explorers posted on a tree way back in the early seventies. Apparently, these guys drove a Ford Falcon through the Whipsaw. (Since the Falcon guys were, and since I moved away from Princeton, all the sections on the Whipsaw trail had deteriorated greatly.) Under the plaque was the snapped driveshaft of some un-named 4x4. This is just another part of the Whipsaw route except that it's steeper, longer, and more sandy than other sections. This is where many 'wheelers turn back. In fact, we had met two of them yesterday. But the combination of LockRights and wet weather had made the hill very do-able. Clay, in his bone-stock Nissan climbed it like a champ.
BANGING INTO ROCKS
This seemed to be the day to smash into rocks. Bill, who was running stock-height tires in his Ranger, seemed to be particularly suited for this function. At one point, he hit a rock which protruded only four inches from the earth. I guess the fact that it was in the crowned part of the road and his I-beam suspension was in the process of bottoming contributed to this truly weird impact. It was quite solid, though. The rest of the rock (at least another ten inches or so) was buried. I'm able to estimate the depth of the rock because Bill hit it so hard, he moved the rock back about three inches...while it was still underground. I have to admit, that I-beam-encased diff is pretty darned tough.
The bouncing also took its toll on Rob's Commanche. A banging noise from the front end was quickly diagnosed as a busted sway-bar link. Oh well, at least he had better articulation after that. A few minutes with some wrenches and we had removed the pieces and continued on our way.
AIR-UP IN TULAMEEN
We eventually got down from the mountains and aired-up the tires in Tulameen. A short westward drive over frequently travelled gravel roads took us to the Coquihalla Hwy where Bill lead us along a bypass route around the tollbooth (a savings of $10 per vehicle).
The bypass route took us upwards and westwards until we were running parallel to the Coquihalla along a pipe-line road. The view from there, high above the highway was spectacular. Eventually, the road descended and, just before the last major turn towards the left and back to the highway, we saw that the pipeline continued straight up a moderately steep grade so we decided to see if this would also connect to the Coquihalla. Sue and I were tailgunners so we watched as the group slowly proceeded up the hill. I noticed a small road to the left which entered the woods and suspected that it would probably take me to the top of the hill without having to crawl behind everyone else. So, without anyone noticing, I went racing into the trees. Branches whizzed past and slapped at the Jeep as we zoomed through the twists and turns. Suddenly the road veered to the right and we popped-out into the sunlight and, to my great pleasure, right beside Bill who did a classic double-take. He said we scared the crap out of him; caught him totally by surprise. We were running out of time so we were all quite happy when it turned out that this road also deposited onto the Coquihalla.
RACE TO THE FERRY
After a poorly-served meal at Ricky's in Chilliwack, we had to race back to the coast. Robert wanted to catch the 9:00pm ferry back to Vancouver Island and we had exactly ONE HOUR to get there. I knew it wouldn't be enough time but what the hell, we gave it our best shot. Bill took point with his radar detector and we made it home in record time. Unfortunately, Robert missed the ferry's deadline for embarking by a few minutes and had to wait three hours for the next one. At this point, I think it's important to stress that we were going quite fast and that Robert should be give some kind of medal of courage for driving without his swaybar hooked-up.
It was a great weekend and, despite the damage, we had a great time. It was the first time we had met Robert face-to-face since, until then, we had only exchanged email. I guess we didn't bore him or offend him (at least not TOO much...I did, at one point, jokingly call his Commanche "butt-ugly") because he's joining us on a rock-crawling trip up to the Clear Creek hot springs in November.
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