Wilson Lake Newbie Trip 1998by Larry Soo
This trip was an attempt, on my part, to return to the original reason why I got back into offroading: exploring backroads. There are a limited number of hardcore trails in the Lower Mainland and I was getting tired of re-visiting them every few months. I was focusing too much on the trail and not enough on the scenery. With this trip, I was going to ignore the search for hardcore trails and focus on new trails and scenery.
Since the trail difficulty level was going to be relatively low, I posted an invitation on my web page for any "beginners" to come along. This netted me a total of two respondents: Brian West and his son, David; and David Pocock. The other participants were friends who I knew would be interested in this kind of offroading and who also had lots of free time on Saturday.
Our plan was to head along Hwy 7, just east of Mission, and then take the turn-off towards Dickson Lake. Shortly after leaving the pavement, we would climb to Dewdney Peak, then head back down, cross a stream, and then climb Nicomen Mt. After that, we would drive to Wilson Lake, which Dave Pocock had told me about.
Saturday morning, while driving to the Sumas McDonald's where we were to meet, Jeff phoned. His front track bar bushing had disintegrated and he was having a very difficult time finding replacement. He continued to phone every five minutes to let me know how his search was turning out. With each phone call, it seemed more unlikely that he would be able to join us. Jonathan was waiting for me when I arrived in Sumas. We grabbed some sandwiches for our lunch and then headed to McDonald's for breakfast and waited for the others. Oddly enough, everyone arrived on time (almost). Jeff phoned and announced that he had found a bushing which he would be able to modify to work in his truck. We decided that we would head up to Dewdney Peak, then Nicomen Mt. and then meet him when he returned to the main road (Norrish Crk Forest Service Rd) where we would all then head to Wilson Lake. Well, that was the plan, anyways.
Since this was an "easy" trip, Jonathan and I only aired down to around 20 psi and didn't bother disconnecting our sway bars. We only drove for about 10 minutes before locating the left hand turn-off which would take us to Dewdney Peak. The road was kept a steady grade as it made its way up the mountain. Our progress was punctuated by frequent stabs at the brakes whenever we encountered one of the many water bars cut across the road bed.
Half way up the mountain, we entered into dense brush. But dense in such a relative term. It was dense compared to the wide road which preceded it. It was positively sparse compared to the paint job torture which followed. After a kilometer, we were in brush so dense that it became extremely difficult to see the road. The scratching noises of branches sliding across my Jeep's sheet metal were replaced by thumps and bangs as larger and larger branches smacked my windshield frame. Yeah, it was getting bad. I thought about Mark and Dave in their nice, shiny SUVs. They were probably hating this much more than me. Ten minutes later, I found a great reason to change my opinion: hundreds of little red bugs started falling onto my Jeep and into the cab. The screams from Greg's Jeep suggested that I wasn't the only one enjoying this experience. Sometimes it's better to be driving an SUV with its nice, sealed, bug-proof interior. We were about to turn around when the brush finally thinned out and we could see the sky again. The road had levelled off for a bit and then began a descent. If we were lucky, this would lead all the way back down to the Norrish Crk FS road. We stopped to figure out where we were. The GPS coordinates indicated that the trail we were on would dead-end in a couple of kilometres. Mark volunteered to scout ahead while we waited. I didn't want to collect more bugs in my Jeep so I gratefully accepted his offer. Mark squeezed his 4Runner past my Jeep and continued on down the trail. By this time, Jeff was close enough to contact us via CB. He was on his way up Dewdney to meet us. We spent the next 15 minutes goofing around and cracking jokes before Mark radioed back, saying that he reached a dead end. Oh well. I contacted Jeff and told him to stop at the next big intersection and wait for us since we were about to turn around.
Around 1pm, we were finally one big, happy family. Jeff had hooked up with us and we were on our way to Nicomen Mt. To make the drive a little more interesting, I lead everyone down a parallel path which involved some mild stream crossings. Part way through the trail, Jonathan radioed a warning for everyone to watch out for a partially buried logging cable in the middle of the trail. I had passed over it a few seconds ago and didn't consider it to be a danger at all. I was wrong (as usual). A minute later, Jeff, who was the tailgunner, radioed that he spotted some fresh oil on the ground and that we had better see if one of our trucks had a leak. Greg was the lucky winner of that lottery. His (almost) stock height YJ was low enough that the skidplate welded to his oil pan caught on the logging cable. The plate was partially peeled off the pan, tearing a hole in the pan when one of the welds broke free.
A bucket was immediately thrown under the motor to collect the oil while we jacked up the Jeep. Seeing the size of the hole (about 1/8th of an inch), Jeff said that he could seal it using Quick Metal. This stuff is a two-part plasticene-like material which, when kneaded together, will harden within three minutes. Once the oil was drained, Jeff brought out an air hose, air grinder and wire wheel. Using his Ford's onboard air compressor, they used the wire wheel to clean the area surrounding the hole. After it was cleaned, the Quick Metal was spread over the hole. Ten minutes later, we filled the motor with oil and started it up. Even as the pressure and temperature increased, the patch held. Everyone made a mental note to add a package of Quick Metal to their toolbox. That incident ended Greg's offroading for the day. Looking at our watches, we decided we would skip the climb up Nicomen Mountain. As Greg headed for home, we headed towards Margaret Creek which would bring us over a pass and onto the Chehalis Lake road. From there, we would head towards Wilson Lake.
This would be new territory so I asked if Jeff or David would lead. Both begged off. While awfully polite of them (not wanting to usurp my status as leader), it was a foolish decision since I get lost very easily. Fifteen minutes later, after taking the wrong turn, I insisted that Jeff take the lead. Jeff has a lot of backwoods experience and he put that knowledge to use, giving us a running commentary on the various trails we crossed on our way to Chehalis Lake. We stopped briefly at the pass south of the peak of Mt Wardrop to admire the view.
Chehalis Lake is a popular weekend destination so it was no surprise when we encountered other traffic upon entering this road. Close to the lake, we came upon a Ford Ranger stopped on the side of a road. The driver had just punctured his second tire and had no spare. While he was in the process of asking Jeff for help, Jeff had already started unspooling his air hose. Figuring that Jeff must do this for a living, the guy fearfully asked how much the repair would cost him. Jeff made him promise to become a member of the BC Four Wheel Drive Association. Five minutes later, he had a repaired tire.
Having done our good deed for the day, we continued on towards Wilson Lake. Ten minutes later, my Jeep started making a very loud intermittent, squeak/squeal sound. Slowing down the Jeep seemed to make the noise go away. I was getting concerned because it seemed to be getting louder and longer each time. Not wanting to slow down the group, I quickly pulled over to check underneath my truck. The noise sounded like it was coming from the front so that's the first place I looked. The hubs were barely warm so at least the bearings weren't shot (my biggest fear). I continued my inspection, looking for any loose parts or signs of metal on metal wear. I didn't see anything out of place. Thoroughly worried, I got back in the Jeep to catch up with the group.
When we reached the trail head for Wilson Lake, we stopped to re-group. Jonathan discovered he had a flat rear tire so Jeff's air compressor got another workout. The interesting thing about Jonathan's flat is that it was caused by a 3" long screw which, before burying itself in his tire, carved a huge channel down the center of the tread, over 3/4 of the tire's circumference. Jonathan figured he now had an AquaTred mud tire. I used this time to continue looking for the source of the noise. Leaning against my front bumper, I noticed that my winch was loose. Could that be the cause of the noise? I tried wiggling it back and forth. Sure enough, it made a loud squeaking sound. Phew! I was very relieved that it was a simple problem. The only problem was that I had welded steel tabs over the mounting bolts to prevent theft. Once again, Jeff's air compressor came in handy: I used his die grinder to cut the welds and then used Brian's fine selection of flat punches to knock the the tabs free. Once I tightened the winch, the noise went away. By the time I was done, Jonathan had repaired his tire and was also ready to continue.
Taking the trailhead, we immediately began a climb up the side of Mt Fletcher. Within a kilometre, things became more challenging, requiring us to walk some sections before driving through. Dave managed to get one of his shock mounts caught on a log but aside from that, there weren't any noteworthy difficulties. There were some nice photo opportunities as we emerged above the tree line and found ourselves in the middle of a lush green valley. It wasn't long before we reached the end of the trail. We parked and walked five minutes through a stand of trees before arriving at Wilson Lake. The lake's mirror-smooth surface cast a perfect reflection of the surrounding alpine mountains. We couldn't have picked a better spot to eat our "lunch" (it was around 6pm). The clouds were starting to close in so we packed up and left as soon as we finished our lunch. The drive back down to the main Chehalis Lake road was uneventful. After airing up our tires at the first gas station, we stopped for some hot food at the Dairy Queen in Abbotsford before going our separate ways.
Although I didn't encounter any hardcore terrain on this trip, I still enjoyed the trails because of the beautiful scenery and the adventure of driving on new routes. That I was able to have a good time was a great re-assurance that I hadn't become hooked on offroading simply as a challenge of building up a 4x4.
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