Windy Ridge Trip Report
Author: Larry Soo
Date: September 1996
CAST OF CHARACTERS
INTRODUCTIONThe Windy Ridge trail is north of Whistler, BC, roughly north of Carpenter Lake. It's origin lies with earlier settlers and ranchers who established a narrow trail through the Camelsfoot Range. As such, the trail is long, twisty, and infrequently used. Members of the Lionsgaters 4x4 club have been making a concerted effort to explore the trail and its offshoots and demonstrate to forestry officials that it is a viable recreational trail which should not be allowed to be destroyed by logging interests in the area.
To that end, two forest district officials, Paul Georgison and Mike Gatenby, accompanied us to see the trail in person.
PRELUDEAs always, preparations for this trip were left to the last minute and I was frantically trying to get my Jeep ready. Since Windy Ridge isn't a technically difficult trail and involves a LOT of driving, I was originally considering riding shotgun with Rob Bryce in his Comanche. However, the weather was forecast to be sunny and warm all weekend so I figured that this would be the last decent camping weather of the year. All that was standing in my way was my broken motor mount. After replacing both mounts on Monday evening, I decided to adjust the rear brakes the following night. That's when I noticed that the driver's side rear cylinder was seized. After several trips to the parts store and a failed attempt to rebuild the cylinder, I finally installed a new cylinder and brake line an hour before Mark and I departed on Friday night. Mark was also busy that week. We had completed the installation of an ARB air locker during the weekend so he spend the subsequent week nights routing the wiring, air line, and mounting the compressor (not much room under the hood of a V6 4Runner!).
By 10pm, our two-man (and two-vehicle) convoy was headed towards Carpenter Lake. Rob Bryce was originally going to come up with Mark and I but the thought of setting up camp after midnight did not appeal to him. Instead, Rob joined the Hansens and other Lionsgaters would meet us there at 9:30am, Saturday. Some of the Lionsgaters were already in Lillooet, some staying in motels while others camped at the Hydro campsite.
By 2am, after a really bad wrong turn (my fault), Mark and I camped in the desert terrain (British Columbia has a wide variety of terrain and ecosystems) 20 minutes outside of Lillooet.
DAY 0 - 1 (The Hansens' Tale)Re: Dave, Rob and Pam
The alarm went off at 4:15 a.m.! Maybe we should have travelled last night with Larry and Mark and slept in - 7:00 a.m., not much we can do about it now. We left home about 4:00 a.m., gassed-up and went to meet Jeff Franchuk at Taylor Way and the Upper Levels Highway. Jeff was there waiting for us when we arrived about 5 minutes late. We introduced ourselves (none of us had met Jeff before) and decided to head out. The drive to Pemberton (in the dark) was uneventful. There is virtually no traffic on the road at that time and we made really good time. We again gassed-up and headed off to Gold Bridge and Carpenter Lake. It was a beautiful morning (now that we could see) and we arrived in Gold Bridge about 8:45 a.m.. We topped up the tanks again (no more gas stations until late Sunday) and headed out to the turn-off to Tyaughton Lake where we were to meet up with the rest of the group. We arrived there shortly after 9:00 a.m. and tried contacting the rest off the group on the C.B.. No luck. We waited, and waited, and waited. Finally at 10:15 a.m. they arrived and we carried on.
DAY 1This was truly unusual weather. We woke up to clear skies, still air, and a temperature which felt like sleeping in a bedroom with the window open. It was a nice way to ease ourselves into the new day.
Arriving in Lillooet, we spotted some of the Lionsgaters at the local Forestry office. After a brief chat, Mark and I continued on to Carpenter Lake where we made last minute preparations (I disconnected my swaybar, he jury-rigged an in-cab switch for the ARB). Shortly after we were done, the Lionsgaters from Lillooet drove past and we all convoyed to the Tyaughton Lake turn off where Rob, the Hansens, and the rest of the Lionsgaters were waiting for us.
Most of us topped-up our tanks at the nearby "town" of Goldbridge because Windy Ridge is a LONG trail. Spare gas cans were in abundance. The only people who didn't really need to worry about gas were the Sleeps (*diesel* Land Cruiser) and Rob Bryce (his Comanche had a 90L fuel tank). For the V8 CJs with their small tanks, extra gas was a must.
The drive north along the Tyaughton Lake road was an easy one. It's a fairly wide logging road so the only problem was dust and I was the only one without a full soft-top or hard-top! We then took the road which continued north toward the Mud Lakes. Our plan was to follow the original trail and avoid as much as the logging road as possible. The first old section dropped sharply left off the main road and down a sidehill before eventually reaching a creek crossing. Entering the creek wasn't too difficult (only slightly off camber) but getting out was another matter. The exit bank was very steep and none of us could crawl out. We all had to use momentum. Susan had the most difficulty. Her big red, open-diff'd, 'Cruiser wagon with three of their kids and all their camping equipment was severely gravity-friendly. She gave it a few valiant attempts but was only able to get the front wheels over the bank. John gave a strong tug with the CJ7 and that was enough for the big 'Cruiser to clamber out of the creek.
Jeff also had some difficulty with his big Ford. Jeff hadn't been offroading in ages and came along on his trip at the last minute. He contacted the author of a local 4x4 guide book who referred him to Pam Hansen, who invited him out and so there he was. With some coaching from John Edgar (the trip leader), he eventually climbed out under his own power.
The rest of the group made it up with moderate to no difficulty.
Shortly after the creek crossing, Doug's Samurai suffered from a broken main spring. While the majority of our group waited at the next intersection with the main road, a handful of people worked on patching the Suzuki. Here's Doug's view of the incident:
...we headed down an embankment to cross a shallow stream and then up the other side. After getting all the trucks across (there were 12 of us) we continued around the corner and up the hill when I noticed a clunking noise coming from the right rear corner. Hoping to discover I had picked up a tree branch, I pulled over and got out to inspect, only to find, yet again, one more time, a broken main spring. After determining that not one of the members of the group had brought a spare (what kind of Boy Scouts are these people anyway?) and being approximately 6 hours from the closest parts dealer, it was necessary to improvise repairs. A little ingenuity can go a long way when you're stranded in the bush.The creek crossing reduced us to an even dozen vehicles. From then on, we alternated between the old trail and the new road as they criss-crossed their way to the Mud Lakes. We stopped for lunch at the large field at Mud Lakes North. This was the demarkation point between the easy and the difficult trail.
The valley narrowed at this point and we wound our way up and down the left side before following the lazy zig-zag of the road as it made numerous crossings through the creek which formed the crease in the valley. The area had all the side effects of beaver home improvements but we saw few of their dams.
Finally, we crossed Churn Creek, climbed out of the valley and reached the fork which either took us to Poison Mtn. or the more challenging (and less traveled) Windy Ridge (WR) route.
Albert takes the turn off towards
Windy Ridge. (The sign on the right
warns that the trail is impassable)
WR immediately gave us a preview of the upcoming conditions by plunging us into a cool, damp forest. The trail twisted through shallow but slippery mud slops, dark brown puddles of water and over protruding tree roots.
We left the cover of the trees when we entered the first of the cut blocks. The terrain had changed since the last time I had seen it a few months ago. The logging company had removed a lot of the debris which previously hid the old WR trail.
[Pam adds: On our first trip through the WR trail, it was impossible to find the trail through the 2nd cut block; logs were piled on the original trail and there was a great deal of debris. On our second trip on the August long weekend, we were able to find the original trail through the second cut block but we had to walk the trail and clear it of debris before we were able to drive it. On the September long weekend, the trail through the second cut block was again covered with debris as a result of the logging company scarifying the the cut block. Again we walked the trail, cleared it, and then drove through.]
Near the end of the block, where the WR trail resumed, we saw two built-up early Broncos parked side-by-side with their drivers nowhere in sight. Upon closer inspection, I recognized these Broncos as belonging to Graham and Chris! These were the two Bronco guys who disappeared from out Vancouver Island Trip near the beginning of this month (Rob phoned them a few days later to see what happened to them: they got separated from their group and made their way back to the camp went home the next day)! And now, here they were again. What a coincidence! I assumed they were hunting on foot somewhere nearby so I left a note thinking they'd be just as surprised as we were about this chance encounter.
I had lots of time to look at the Broncos and write a note because the group was stopped while John et al was examining a particularly muddy and water-logged portion of the cut block. We would have to traverse a series of blackish-brown, water- and mud-filled pits. And while we were at it, we also had to avoid chunks of submerged and floating logging debris. Replacing a punctured tire in the middle of a two-foot deep trough of mud soup just didn't appeal to my sensibilities. There was some concern that the unlocked rigs were going to have trouble but everyone made it through. Immediately after the mud troughs I saw Albert stop to check his engine compartment. I couldn't see what he was doing but when I saw a 3-foot long, 4-inch diameter piece of wood come flying out from behind the hood and heard him start to curse, I figured we'd be stopped for a while. That chunk of wood had floated or got kicked up into his engine compartment where it bent the oil filter and caused a drop in oil pressure. Albert and some of the other guys managed to patch it up and after watching the engine run for a while, it was deemed "repaired" and we were able to continue on our way.
I drove all of 50 feet before I got high centered in the middle of a straight but muddy track. The trucks with tires taller than 31" did ok and the smaller-tired trucks were straddling the ruts. And myself? By the time I realized I was going to have problems with ground clearance, I was already quite a ways in and there were at least half a dozen rigs backed up behind me. So I gave it a shot and got stuck. Jeff pulled me back with his big Ford and I gave it more go-pedal which was enough to get me past the deepest ruts and onto the firmer ground.
A little further on, in one of the trail sections between the cut blocks, Mark's 4Runner also succumbed to the mud. I volunteered the use of my snatch strap since it was already absolutely filthy from when I used to pull myself out. With a few big tugs, Pam's YJ was able to free the 4Runner and we were on our way again.
After crossing the last cut block and a large logging road, we entered into woods alongside a marsh. The trail was extremely tight and off-camber in many sections. The short wheelbase vehicles had no problem although some of us had to do 3-point turns in one or two areas. The longer rigs had to work harder. I knew Jeff and his F150 would have a particularly difficult time so I frequently turned around to see if he needed a spot. After I cleared one particularly tight section, I turned around to see his truck stopped and a rain of pine needles falling on his Ford. Obviously, he had hit one of the trees. It looked quite funny from where I was and I couldn't stifle my laughter. Rob Bryce and I spotted for him and, with the exception of a mildly massaged passenger door, he got through unscathed.
We continued to thread our way through the trees until we the road finally dropped over the bank on our right and ran alongside the marsh. It quickly widened and became a regular, easy-driving dirt road...until we reached the sign: DO NOT PROCEED ANY FURTHER. LANDSLIDE AT BOTTOM OF HILL.
This was the "two-minute warning" signal that we were about to reach Windy Ridge. Leaving the trees, we found ourselves on the spine of a ridge which dropped down into the valley floor. The road travelled along the right side, starting with a sandy, mildly off-camber section which soon turned into a very off-camber slope as the road went further down and around a corner. I've been on steeper off-camber side slopes before but this one was unique because if you happened to roll, you've got around 300-ft of "down" time before you have to worry about "decceleration sickness". It was a L-O-N-G way down and like the first time I saw it, it gave me the willies.
John Edgar was in the lead and wanted to re-assure us that it was perfectly safe (when dry) so he parked his CJ7 in the middle of the side slope. It was leaning a fair bit but not so much that it looked dangerous. As usual, it's just a case of your butt-inclinometer saying "WE'RE GONNA ROLL!" when the vehicle-inclinometer is saying "NO PROBLEMO." Of course, I should also point out that the CJ7 he was using actually belonged to Dave Scoular (he has two) so one does have to question John's integrity. ;-)
One by one, we made our way very SLOWLY down Windy Ridge. Each descent was accompanied by the clicking of shutters and the glowing red lights of video cameras set on RECORD.
I should stress that this section of the trail can be extremely dangerous when the ground is wet. Before we went on this trip, John made it clear to me that the ridge descent would be cancelled if the ground wasn't dry. So, DO NOT try to go down the ridge unless the ground is perfectly dry.After some minor stream crossings we reached the corral which would serve as our campsite for the night. It was situated in the fold of a narrow valley, beside the standard "babbling brook". The ground was flat, grassy, and...mined with cow patties! This was definitely a night when the boots stayed outside of the tents.
A tent city was quickly erected and the smells of BBQing steaks and hamburgers began to waft in the air. Dave Scoular cut up some firewood to add to the supply which Rob Bryce had brought along and a communal fire pit was soon in operation. Some time that evening, a pair of motorcyclists came down the trail. It was Phil and Graham, the Bronco guys! I think they were just as surprised to see us as we were to see them. We chatted for a while before they had to leave to beat nightfall. By 11:00pm, we were dredging the bottom of the joke barrel so we called it a night.
DAY 2Keeping to the threat he made last night, John woke us up at 6:30am with a serenade from the CJ's horn. Some of us were already awake so we didn't get the same thrill as the sleepers. The departure time was for 8:00am so we had just enough time to do the coffee and breakfast thing before packing up camp. Steve and Sue had a folding table setup and were serving breakfast to their four kids. I was astonished that they managed to finish breakfast, break camp, and have their truck completely loaded before I did. Talk about organization! Throughout the weekend, I was amazed at how well they managed their kids and how well those kids behaved. It was obvious that they've spent a lot of time together in the woods.
Shortly after hitting the trail, we came across the first difficult section of the day; a mud-slicked, offcamber section beside a creek. The first and only victim of this section was the Land Cruiser station wagon. It slid down into the creek and had major difficulty getting out. We spent a bit of time moving rocks after some advice from the spotters, Sue was able to free the 'Cruiser by backing out and then taking a higher line. Learning from her example, we all took the higher line.
The next point of interest was the Yodel camp, a line cabin used by Empire Ranch. Because we were trying to stick to a tight schedule and hadn't yet spent much time on the trail, we didn't stop to visit the cabin. The vehicles near the front of the pack took the perimeter route which went along the outside of the camp's fence while the others went through the camp. Unfortunately for the longer vehicles in the front, they didn't quite understand John's warning that the perimeter would be very difficult for long wheelbase vehicles. We had to do some very tight forward/backward spotting to maneuver the long Toyotas and Comanche through a tricky stand of trees. Some sections were tighter even than the tightest sections of the Shoestring trail in Washington. Just before he reached the end of the perimeter trail, Rob's Comanche slid sideways and got the passenger-side front wheel wedged between the support leg of a fence and a tree. The driver's side was so close to a tree that Rob couldn't open his door so he had to climb out the window to evaluate the situation.
Rob's Comanche gets a wedgie
I thought for sure that we'd have to winch him out but John got Rob to slowly straighten the wheels and inch backward about a foot. He was then able to turn his wheel enough to just sqeeze through without any portion of the vehicle coming into contact with the trees and/or fencing.
Once past Yodel camp, we took the route which would take us north across the Camelsfoot Range to Black Dome Mtn. The first leg of this road was tremendous fun. The road started upwards and twisted its way along a series of small ridges. The combination of curves and smooth-packed dirt made this feel like a rollcoaster ride so we picked up our speed to enhance the effect.
The fun ended all too soon as the trail levelled off and turned into another muddy track which skirted along alternating sides of a marshy meadow. At one of the wetter mud pits, Mark was having a lot of difficulty getting through. Just as John was backing up the CJ to tug him through, Mark discovered the source of his problems. That jury-rigged ARB switch he wired-up yesterday morning consisted of the control wires and switch snaking through his firewall and laying about near the passenger seat. The 4Runner's bouncy ride jostled the switch just enough to flip it and disengage the rear locker. Flipping it back on, Mark was able to easily drive the 4Runner out of the mud. Sue and Steve also had some problems in this area but all that was ever required was a short pull from the tug 'em strap.
Having thoroughly covered our vehicles with mud, we finally reached the Fairless cabin (so named because it's near Fairless Creek) used by the Empire ranch hands. We had a short lunch break and John brought out some maps to show us where we were and how we got there. Few of us visited the cabin since it was occupied by birds, as evidences by two large birds' nests and mucho guano, and the ammonia stench from their droppings was overwhelming.
Leaving the camp, we headed up the north side of Black Dome Mtn. The route we planned to use to exit the mountain had been blocked so, like the last time I was here, we had to ask one of the mine's employees to let us through their gate. But before we did that, we stopped to feed one of the silver foxes which had become used to the human presence and, more particularly, their generous nature. Finding the mining camp was extremely difficult due to the network of roads on the mountain top and the fact that the area was socked in by low clouds. Reverse lights and spot lights were left on so we could more easily keep visual contact with the vehicles behind and in front of us. After some confusion, we managed to re-group at the main road heading to the gate while John drove down to the camp to get someone to unlock the mine's gate.
Lost in the fog
That episode marked the end of the trail riding. The rest of the day consisted of a L-O-N-G gravel road cruise through the Empire and Gang ranch lands. We split up outside of Clinton. One group took the Fraser Canyon back to the lower mainland while the other group took the Sea-to-Sky highway instead.
[Rob adds: I decided at the last minute to travel back with the Sea-to-Sky group in hopes of catching a ferry to the island. After about an hour of doing the math in my head, I decided that too was impossible. But...I had Larry's extra gas! I was feeling really guilty, hoping he could make it out to Clinton before running out. But I had to chuckle since I also had Larry's lunch for the day! Pam made it to Lilloette, so I figured Larry could make it to Clinton, which he did.]
EPILOGUEAnother coincidental meeting:
Hours later, when the Sea-to-Sky highway group was passing a Squamish gas station, they heard Phil Gough (an offroading buddy of ours) radioing them. Phil's transfer case tail housing on his YJ had grenaded while climbing out of Starvation Lake. One of his companions had seen the 4x4s driving by and figured that that was the group I was with. So Phil was calling them, trying to locate me in the off chance that I had some spare drive shaft & transfer case parts.
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