Author: Larry Soo
Dates: June 21-23, 1996
INTRODUCTIONWe originally attempted a variation of this trip a little over a month ago. It was entitled, "Mines, Mines, Mines" because we would be visiting three old mining settlements, Ogden, Bralorne, and Pioneer. This time, we should have renamed it, "Mines, Mud and another Mine."
Bill & Carolyn & Luna the Dog
THE PLANDay 1: Friday after work, leave Vancouver and head north along the coast to Whistler, Pemberton and then camp somewhere in the Pemberton Valley.
Day 2: Head north up the Hurley River road. South of Gold Bridge, take a detour to examine the old mining towns of Ogden, Bralorne and Pioneer. Return to the Hurley River road and proceed north to Gold Bridge, which is at the west end of Carpenter Lake. From there, head up along Relay Crk and then northeast along Mud Crk. This will take us up to Mud & Swartz Lakes where we'll follow an unmarked cart track up north and then swing east, north of Red Mtn. This is known as the Windy Ridge trail. From there, we'll hook up to an established trail which will bring us back to the main network of ranch roads.
Day 3: Follow the main gravel roads to the highway and home (expect to get home around 4 or 5 pm).
Well, at least that was the "plan."
Day 1Due to local highway construction projects and strikes at the two major food outlets, we left Vancouver at 8:30p, Friday evening. No big deal. We would be driving along well known roads and setting up camp at the trailhead. After 3 hours of driving, we setup camp about 1 km along the Hurley River road.
Day 2The temperature was already warm by the time we woke up, cooked breakfast and packed up camp. We were on the road by 10am. The snow drift which had forced us to turn around a month earlier was gone so the road to the old mining towns was clear. We came across a rolled Toyota 4Runner. The newspaper in the back had yesterday's date so it must have happened the night before. I guess the driver got a ride to the nearest town.
Sue posing in front of the Bralorne general store...before we broke up
I enjoy poking around ghost towns so I was pleased to see many old buildings still standing at the three towns we went to. They were all about 5 minutes apart so the mining must have been very productive in this tiny area. There is a small but modern mining camp operating on the site of the old Bralorne mine. Some of the row houses built by the old mining companies were still occupied. I wondered what it would be like, living in a house where all the neighbouring houses are abandoned.
The "suburbs" of Bralorne & Pioneer Mine
The Pioneer Mine seemed to be the largest of three and most of its buildings were still in good shape. We spent half an hour here, exploring the rock pulverizing mill, the vault, and other structures. Having worked at a gold mining camp up north, Bill was able to explain the functions of many of the buildings.
So far, this had been a very rewarding trip. The scenery around here was quite beautiful and reminiscent of the area around the Kootenays, near southeastern BC. My criteria for a good offroad trip is that it either had to have great scenery, great history (ie: artifacts), or be really tough. Up till this point, the first two criteria were met. Later that day, the third would overwhelm us.
We rejoined the Hurley road and made our way to Gold Bridge where we re-fueled. The Windy Ridge trail route is a long one and extra fuel was highly recommended. We brought 6 gallons of extra gas as well.
Heading east along the north side of Carpenter Lake, we were in good spirits. The weather was forecast to be warm and sunny all weekend and it certainly looked that way, too. The valley floor was unusually flat, with a slow, shallow winding river which eventually opened up to become Carpenter Lake.
The valley at the west end of Carpenter Lake
About 1/5 of the way along the lake, we turned north, towards Tyaughton Lake and Relay Crk. Just before the half way point along Relay Crk, we turned north east along the Mud Crk road. This was a narrower, old logging road which eventually took us to the Mud Lakes. At the Mud Crk turn off, I started to record the coordinates of each branch in the trail. John Edgar, the publisher of our local offroading magazine, The Backroader, had asked me to provide some coordinates to help map the area. In fact, it was from him that I got the idea and the information for following the Windy Ridge trail. After skirting along the north end of the lake we came across a huge, grassy field with picnic tables and clean (non-smelly!!) outhouses. This, we decided, would be an ideal first-night campsite for future trips to this area.
Up to this point, the route could have been taken by any two wheel-drive vehicle with adequate ground clearance. Once we had passed the field, the road started to get interesting. The valley in which the lake was situated was populated by beavers. One of their dams had flooded a portion of the road and required a 25m water crossing. It was only hub-deep but it was a pre-cursor of things to come. Once out of the water, the road snaked its way up the west bank of the valley, giving us a view of Swartz Lake, far below us. Near the north end of the lake, the trail dropped down the steep walls to run along the valley floor.
The trail zigzagged back and forth across the valley, occasionally intersecting the branch creek from Churn Crk, which feeds Swartz and the Mud lakes. The first crossing was fun but each time the trail wound back across the stream, it got deeper, and deeper, and deeper.
One of the many water crossings
Finally, after a crossing where water was flowing over my front bumper, the trail began a steep climb up the north east side of Buck Mtn. As soon as the trail leveled-off and we could see the valley below us, there was a turn-off to the north, just as John had described. If we continued east, we could hook up with the Poison Mtn to China Head Mtn traverse. This was listed in my Fourwheeler's Companion book as a class 6 route ("Difficult and perhaps dangerous to the vehicle...Anticipate a point of no return and some route-finding problems....don't go alone."). This was the route I had intended for a group of approximately 15 HUMMERs which was passing through here the following weekend. However, since their leader wasn't able to pre-run this trail with me, this became a trip where we could attempt a more difficult path with more unknowns. We were going to go north, to travel the Windy Ridge trail.
As all horror stories do, this one started off with an ominous warning, courtesy of the BC Forest Service:
ROAD TO YODEL CAMP IS IMPASSABLE DUE TO LAND SLIDE.
John had said that there were sidehills involved in the Windy Ridge route so I figured that's what the sign was referring to. The tricky part was that the WR trail is not marked on any map. It's an old cart track which is too narrow and covered with trees to be noticeable to the cartographers. To further complicate matters, logging companies have clear cut four large blocks through which the trail meanders. Besides not being able to see the trail on a map, we would have to hunt for its continuation at each clear cut.
As soon as we started on the WR trail, we were surrounded by a dense forest, traveling along a winding, muddy track. The trunks were bare since most of the foliage was high above us in the canopy. It was dark, damp, and cool. After a kilometer of that dreariness, we were happy to finally break out and drop into a clear cut. Of course, that little emotional high quickly faded when we realized that, to get to what we thought was the continuation of the trail, we would have to drive through a series of black, water-filled mud bogs. And to make things interesting, we also had to watch out for large chunks of logging debris which blanketed the hundreds of acres we were standing in. Bill just barely made it through the first bog so at the next series, which was deeper, I spent a lot of time creating a drive-around by moving debris so he could avoid the worst parts. Things could have been worse if it started raining while I was working...so it did. I guess I mis-judged Bill's wheelbase because he couldn't follow the line I planned for him, so in the end, he just blasted his way through the bogs.
The Windy Ridge trail has a wonderful assortment of mud holes to satify the most discerning palate
He continued his warp-factor method of bogging until he reached the edge of the cut where it indeed looked like the trail continued. He radioed his findings to me and I took off after him. A few minutes later, as I neared a marsh, Bill radioed that he was stuck and needed help. This marsh was a flat expanse of wet earth, a couple hundred meters wide, which was flanked on both sides by trees. He had followed a straight trail skirting the marsh but gradually sank deeper and deeper until he was sitting on his differentials. Fortunately, there was an alternate path (which Bill didn't see) so I was able to easily drive around him in order to get in front so I could pull him through. Once he was out, the trail turned into the trees again, before changing directions and putting us back onto a short marsh section and finally, into another cut. This one was smaller and easier to find the trail continuation. The third cut was even bigger and we had to briefly explore some alternatives before determining which was the real McCoy. We were having fun because we were getting the hang of this clear cut navigation and we seemed to be out of the marsh area. A few minutes later, as I was creeping over a log to enter the trail, I heard the sickening, flatulent pop of a $150 tire getting its sidewall destroyed. After throwing on my 1/4 tread, Cooper Discoverer spare tire and paying last respects to my BFG MT, the trail started looking very...well...malicious. Normally, a flat tire is not a problem for us because we can fix them with plug kits and our air compressor. A punctured sidewall, on the other hand, is unfixable and left me with no backup tire and we were far from finishing this trail.
Ten minutes after taking this picture, I punctured my sidewall
For a change of pace, the next obstacle was not mud, but a large, dead tree which had fallen across the road. We didn't have a chain saw and my little, collapsible bow saw was not going to have much of an effect on a trunk with such considerable girth. So out came the block and tackle, choker chains, and tree saver strap. Sue and Carolyn walked ahead, clearing the trail of pointed sticks (to borrow a phrase from Monty Python) similar to the one which molested my tire. Meanwhile, Bill and I spent at least half an hour at it, winching the tree over as far as we could before the winch started moving the Jeep instead of the tree. We had to use the bow saw to cut the branches which were digging into the ground before finally clearing the path. And while we were working, the mosquitoes began to congregate. The cloud of mosquitoes was so bad that I ended up gagging on one which flew down my throat.
Bill worked hard to thread his Ranger between the trees...
After crossing a wide logging road which joined two clear cuts, we entered into a particularly twisty and narrow maze of trees. I was pretty paranoid about destroying another tire so Sue spotted me through some areas where sharp, skinny sapling stumps were waiting to tear at unsuspecting tires. After she guided me through the last section before we had to cross another logging road, I waited to spot for Bill. That's when I saw the tree trunk-shaped dent in the passenger side of his pickup's box. Carolyn said his trucked kicked to the side and slammed into a tree. Ouch. I was beginning to wonder if the trail was going to get much worse before it got better.
...but the trees won
The next logging road was marked with a sign stating that this road was for industrial-use only, from May to December. John had warned me about this, which was why we were sticking with the old trail rather than speeding along the big roads. This appeared to be the last of the logging areas that we would have to pass through. After driving up and over the main road, we drove along a bank which followed a marsh, heading in a northeast direction. The trees were even closer together here and I was forced to make some 3-point turns to follow the track. I have no idea how Bill was able to avoid further damage. When we weren't concentrating on threading our vehicles between the trees, we had to contend with off-camber sections which threatened to dump us into the marsh; and six-to-ten inch, narrow stumps which looked awfully sharp to my tender tires. Sue and Carolyn did a lot of walking in this section, spotting us through the nasty parts. We were able to breathe a bit easier as the track dropped into the marsh area, sparing us further torture in the land of the crowding trees. This signaled a transition to mud bogs which were much deeper than those in the first clear cut.
Usually, when we go offroading, the sight of the lead vehicle coming to a stop signals a challenging obstacle. This generally causes me to start salivating because I, like most of the guys I offroad with, actively seek challenging obstacles. Well, by the time we got into this marsh, Windy Ridge had already taken its toll on my spirit and broke the Pavlovian conditioning. We got stuck several times, each time either snatching or winching our way out. It was getting tiring and the mosquitoes weren't letting up. After all, they THRIVE in these mucky areas. In some places, my tires were completely buried in mud.
Eventually, we gained some elevation and got away from the bogs. The ground became distinctly drier and the trees thinned out. We found ourselves approaching a ridge and stopped to read another BC Forest Service sign which said something like:
DO NOT PROCEED ANY FURTHER. LANDSLIDE AT BOTTOM OF HILL.
We parked the trucks and Bill, Carolyn and I walked ahead. Sue was getting pretty tired so she waited in the Jeep. It must have been close to 9pm because dusk was settling in. I find myself walking along a very high, downward sloping ridge. The trail followed the side of the ridge and was severely eroded. It had a side slope of at least 25 degrees. What made it terrifying was that it was hundreds of meters above the valley floor below. It looked like a giant version of Lion's Back, covered with loose soil and grass. I caught myself visualizing driving along this trail and was very afraid. The only tracks were from dirt bikes. I knew we wouldn't be able to follow them because, well, we would be dead before we even made it halfway.
Looking to my left, I saw another, less-used track! It was the drive-around which was steeper but well away from the ridge's edge. I had driven down steeper inclines on Vancouver Island but this was much longer. Still, it was the only sane alternative (besides turning around, of course). Traction was good so the descent went off without problems. I was under the impression that once we had passed this obstacle, it would be a short drive to Yodel Camp. That's where I was planning for us to camp. Passing this section also placed us on a cart track which was indicated on the map so we had the somewhat secure feeling of knowing that we were now on a known trail. We verified this with the GPS.
Descending along Windy Ridge
It continued to get darker as we climbed a hundred meters above a series of lakes. Looking down to the right, Sue spotted a beaver making his way through the water. As we stopped to clear a small rock slide and some of the rocks landed in the lake below us, she could hear the beaver slap the water with its tail before diving. Bill was in the lead so he had to stop often to get out and clear rocks and small logs off the trail. Every now and then we would have to use the bow saw to cut through larger trees.
We came across some junctions where the correct route was fairly obvious but were stumped at one particular fork. According to the map, we should take the right, downhill path. But the left, uphill path appeared to be more well-traveled. We took the lower path and I started to keep my eye on the track display on the GPS. As the trail began to look narrower and less used, I began to worry that we were following the wrong path. Countering my fears was the GPS moving map display which was drawing a path which looked very similar to the trail on the map. So it seemed to be getting worse even though the GPS said we were doing fine. A couple of times we had to carefully creep around corners which were badly eroded by stream bends five or six feet below. At one particularly worrisome off-camber area, we had to dig a rut in the uphill side of the track to minimize the sidehill angle. As we drove across, we could feel the vehicles slide slowly as the outside edge of the trail started to crumble. By now, it was pitch black, we were driving up and down mountainsides, and we were all getting stressed out. We had been driving for at least twelve hours and the exhaustion was beginning to show. Sue and I broke up quite a few times that night. I think she would have walked home if she could. And then the galvanizing moment arrived. We descended along some switchbacks till we were above a creek which we could hear in the darkness below. Bill had stopped his truck. A bad sign. We were stopped in front of a downhill off-camber section which looked like it hadn't be used in a long time. We couldn't see any bike tracks. That could mean two things:
Zombie-like, we grimly re-traced our route back to the main fork and headed up along Black Dome Mtn. The road improved dramatically. We had to saw through a large tree which also indicated that this road had definitely not been used recently. It seemed that we were on the right path before but that this one would be easier. I pretty much went into a trance as we continued on up the mountain. To maintain our sanity, Sue and I started to talk about the first things we would do when we got home. A long, hot shower topped the list, along with take-out food and sleeping in our own warm, cozy bed. Our spirits finally got a lift when we got close to the peak and hooked up onto a major road heading north east. Minutes later, we spotted a dynamite shack situated above a T junction. We had reached signs civilization! We tried the left road which headed north and down through a large mining camp. It looked like it was in the start-up phase because there were very few lights on and very few trucks . No one was around. Not too surprising since it was 2am at that point.
We continued down until we reached a dead end near a large shaft cut into the hillside. Argh! Bill said the exit must be the other let of the T junction so we turned around. We climbed up and then started downhill on the other side. And that's when we reached the locked gate.
I was about 30 seconds behind Bill. Carolyn radioed me, saying that I had better get there fast because Bill seemed to be losing it. Later on, she told me he screamed when he saw the closed gate, jumped out of his truck and nearly scaled the 8-foot fence in one jump. He read the sign facing away from us.
PRIVATE ROAD, NO ADMITTANCE
On the off chance that we were on the right track after all, I said that perhaps there's an older trail which will take us around the fence. We went back to the T junction where I spotted a smaller trail going past the dynamite shack. This showed some promise as we plowed through some snow drifts and began a slight descent. There was a very harrowing section where we had to drive along the side of the mountain top. To our right was a steep wall of loose, sharp rock, rising 50 meters above us. To the left was a six inch high berm made up of those same sharp rocks. Beyond it was inky black nothingness. The road, also made up of sharp rocks, was covered with a bank of snow on the right side. We had to drive off-camber, with half our trucks in the snow and the other edging up against the berm, in the dark, hoping that whatever was holding up that berm was not going to collapse.
The road disappeared when we reached a vast, barren moonscape of rock. We headed right and downwards where we found another trail. Luckily, I was going slowly because my front wheel suddenly dropped into a ditch which went into a mining pit. I was able to crawl out of it and we continued on for another hundred meters before we were stopped by tank traps. These huge mounds of dirt obliterated the road. That was it. It was just about 3am and we were beat. We retreated to the moonscape and setup our tents between the trucks. I had a granola bar for dinner. Sue didn't eat at all. Luna, our German Shepherd who had been sleeping through our entire ordeal, spent the rest of the night (morning?) playing around and rooting for food.
A cold, grey day on Black Dome Mtn.
We awoke to a cold, grey sky. While puttering around the camp, preparing breakfast, I noticed that my driver's side leaf spring was bent near the spring hanger. (Monday morning, while getting ready for work, I realized that I must have bent the spring when my front wheel slipped into that ditch.) We were going to head back to the off-camber section where we turned around, and try to finish the trail. Fortunately, the mine's camp cook, Dave, and his wife, Maureen, put an end to that insanity by coming over and offering to let us through the gate. Apparently, they were able to see us across the mountainside from their trailer. He told me to drop by the kitchen to get him once we were all packed up. He also told me about some foxes that lived near there.
A wild fox shows how to manipulate humans for free food
I was a bit sad that we wouldn't finish the trail after coming so far. On the other hand, my Jeep was wounded, I had no spare tire, and I was bagged. We drove down to the camp and watched Maureen feed one of the resident foxes which hung out behind the trailer, expecting handouts. On the way to the gate, they also showed us the foxes' den but the kits didn't want to come out. I don't blame them. It had just started to rain and a few seconds later it was coming down in buckets. Once past the gate, we had a 150Km drive along gravel roads before reaching the nearest gas station. There was lots of dramatic scenery as we traveled along the desert terrain. After gassing up in Clinton, we made the 3.5 hour trek back home.
It was a VERY long weekend and by far the most gruelling day of fourwheeling I've ever experienced.
THINGS WE DID RIGHT
THINGS WE DID WRONG
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