An open invitation to do the Hut Lakes and Starvation Lake trails netted only two confirmations: Andrew Bauer in his BJ42 Land Cruiser, and Robin & Dave in their Suzuki Samurai.
I met Rob & Dave at the Cypress Bowl turn-off and we made it to the Hut Lake trail head around 10:30am. We aired down, locked in the hubs and began the crawl to Lower Hut Lake. We had all done the trail before so it was an uneventful cruise to Lower Hut. We met a bunch of teenagers camped there who had crammed themselves into and onto an early Bronco the previous night. By the pile of empty beer cans, I surmised that they had done a fair amount of drinking as well. They had also cut down a few young trees (about 2 inches in diameter) for firewood. Pretty stupid move but they were young and ignorant, I guess. It bothered me that they would drive all the way from Vancouver to camp here and yet were too lazy to forage for dead wood. It reminded me of another time I was here and found that some hikers had cut some small trees to build a lean-to shelter. Idiots.
Boy, I'm spending a lot of time on the soapbox, aren't I? To continue with the story, I slowly pulled my Jeep up to the rock and crawled up and over. Low air pressure and front and rear lockers will do that. Dave was next in the Samurai with its single rear locker. He couldn't get enough traction and after a few hearty attempts, he took the bypass. It was a good decision since the Sam could've rolled if he tried to use more speed. Andrew was last and his front and rear ARB'd Land Cruiser went up just as easily as my Jeep.
We got back onto the main trail and headed for Upper Hut Lake. Coming around a uphill left-hand bend, I took a bad line and caught my rear diff on a rock. I had a lot of difficulty getting off of it and had to get out twice to assess the situation. I was surprised that it was so difficult. Dave, having seen what I did, proceeded to catch his diff on the very same rock. Not to be outdone, Andrew did the same. We all made it through under our own power but it sure was weird that we all took the same wrong line, too.
Next up was the Median. This looks like a traffic island with two sunken trails passing it on either side. My habit is to take the lower trail and run one side of my Jeep along the top of the median to maximize the off-camber tilt. For me, it's fun. I had done it many times in the past but this time, I was having a lot of difficulty keeping my forward momentum. I was gently rocking back and forth to get moving again to no avail. Then Andrew & Robin asked if I had a locker in the front because my passenger side tire wasn't turning. Hmmm...I wonder if I fragged a u-joint. I asked Andrew to try to lock in that hub. He tried, it turned, and I had 4WD again. Doh! I then remembered that I had only locked in the driver's side hub when I was airing down. Once locked in, I was easily able to drive through the rest of the obstacle.
Dave decided that, since I had so much fun on it, he would give it a try, too. The difference in track width between my YJ and their Samurai became readily apparent. Taking the same line, the Samurai was in imminent danger of flopping over onto its side. But because it was so light, Andrew and Robin were able to prevent it from flipping by pushing up from the passenger side. Andrew took the same line and, just like on the big rock at Lower Hut, he made it look easy.
We crunched our way through the (sharp) rock garden and were soon at the entrance to the Trench. I climbed up the entrance, into the Trench, and then took the hard line (which I initially thought was the easy line) on the left and ran into difficulty. Part way up I lost traction with three tires clawing against the rock and the front passenger tire turning in the air. Thanks to some careful spotting by Dave, I backed down a bit, corrected my line and made it out.
Dave and Robin were having a rough time of it climbing into the Trench. Erosion had washed away some of the smaller rocks and dirt, leaving a rock obstacle near the bottom that was presenting a near vertical face. The Sam's 31" tires were too short to allow for a controlled climb over it and into the Trench. They had to resort to rock stacking in order to get the tire over the obstacle and YES, they unstacked the rocks afterwards. Once in the Trench, Rob took the smart line and stayed to the right, resulting in an easy exit from the Trench.
Andrew's experience was more entertaining. First, as he approached the entrance, he stayed too far right and caught a dead tree with his roof, pulling it down onto his hood. We spent a few minutes clearing the debris before Andrew made a second, successful attempt. Once in the Trench, he started having difficulties climbing out. He wasn't following the line he picked and we soon discovered why. One of his power steering hoses has split, depriving him of power steering. Time for another rest stop while Andrew wrestled with various pulleys to remove the power steering pump's belt. Once he got it off, he didn't have to worry about pumping steering fluid onto the ground. Of course, without power steering, his Land Cruiser was now extremely difficult to steer. Backing out of the Trench was not a good idea so Andrew decided to try going forward and climbing out. If he had difficulty steering, we would have to winch him out. It took a couple of tries but he climbed out under his own power. We then turned our trucks around and headed back down the trail. Andrew did surprisingly well without the power steering, making about the same time going down as he did going up. When we reached the pavement, he headed home while Robin, Dave and I went left to try the back way into Starvation Lake.
There used to be three routes into Starvation Lake: down from Hwy 99, down from further north on Hwy 99, and up from the Cheakamus River. The second route has been closed for a long time; the first route was closed recently. The last route is still open but is also the most difficult. It has gotten much worse from when I first drove it four or five years ago. Specifically, I'm referring to the boulder just below the railroad tracks. Here's the scene: you've just rounded an uphill, right hand corner when you spot what appears to be a small rock slide. The rocks average about 10 inches in diameter and they have sharp edges. Bending right and then left under these rocks is the loose dirt trail. As it bends left, there is a near vertical rock wall on your right and a very sizable boulder on your left. The boulder, like the rocks, is made up of sharp angles and sits at least 3 feet tall. There used to be smaller rocks piled before and after it so you could drive your passenger onto the rock. Not anymore. You either have stupid amounts of clearance under your rocker panel or you have to squeeze by on the right. Oh yeah, this all takes place on an uphill slope.
I was in the lead so I had the opportunity to make a fool of myself first. I was confident that I could squeeze past so I wasn't too concerned about the rear of my Jeep hugging the rock wall. I got the front end past the boulder but as I was running it up the wall to allow the rear to clear the boulder, the front slipped sideways and I came within an inch of denting my rocker panel. Ok, time to regroup. I backed down and to take a line further to the right. Uh oh. I was able to back down but was now having difficulties moving forward. Rocks kept kicking out from under my tires before they could bite hard enough to move the Jeep. I backed up some more to find a better starting point and managed to trap myself. My rear bumper was up against a rock so I couldn't go any further back. I still didn't have enough traction so I couldn't move forward, either. Hosed.
I chained up the front axle to limit droop and starting jacking it up. Once the tire was high enough, we slipped some rocks in to fill-in the hole, hoping that they wouldn't get spit out like the others. With the Jeep back on all fours, I gave it a shot and almost made it. I convinced Robin and Dave to give me a push while I tried driving out. Success! Now I could finally get back to trying to sneak past that boulder. Following Dave's spotting directions, I stayed far to the right and made it through with a few inches to spare. Then it was Robin's turn. He drove through on his first attempt without breaking a sweat. I was humbled. The Samurai's narrow track made this obstacle a non-issue.
From there, we crossed the tracks (after killing the engines and listening for oncoming trains), crawled over a short stretch of rock garden, and followed the perimeter of Starvation Lake. We stopped to admire the view from an ad-hoc wharf before turning our attention to the route to Hwy 99. Its dominant feature is a steep, rockstrewn climb starting from Starvation and ending at a knoll overlooking the lake. Like the vicious, man-eating rabbit in Monty Python's Holy Grail, there is an innocuous-looking set of rock steps which is incredibly nasty. It looks so simple that you are compelled to throw your truck at its diff-eating rocks over and over again, not comprehending how you can be having so much difficulty. But that's not how I described it to Robin and Dave. They had never been here before so I simply said, "ok, you guys can lead for a while."
Sure enough, the Rabbit Steps (my name for them...who knows, maybe it'll catch on) ensnared yet another victim. Dave crawled the Sam up to its base, confident that he saw "the line," managed to get his front wheels over and then slide sideways, unable to make any more forward progress. Re-read the previous sentence twelve more times. That would describe the next half hour rather accurately. I'll have to admit, those guys were very determined. After Dave got his fill of Robin's backseat driving, Robin took his turn in the pilot's seat and...well, just re-read that sentence another dozen times. The rear diff shield was white from the repeated blows it sustained on the rocks. Needless to say, a fun time was had by all.
They parked the Sam and let me have a go. Re-read that sentence four or five times. Then I found a line which looked like it would work and lo and behold, it did! With my Jeep over the Rabbit Steps, we hooked it up to the Sam and pulled it over and continued on to the knoll. The panorama from the knoll was fantastic and provided a great bird's eye view of Starvation Lake. We BS'd for quite a while before turning the trucks around. Heading down the Rabbit Steps, the Samurai slipped sideways off some of the rocks and with a very loud BANG, slammed into some rock fins. Robin stuck his head out the passenger window repeatedly to look at the rocker panel. The Samurai had suffered a severe dent in the rocker panel. Severe enough to make it difficult for Robin to open his door. Doh!
We passed by the lake, crossed the tracks and stopped. There were some other guys just below the boulder, trying to
After that, it was a quick dinner in Squamish and then having a 2-vehicle convoy back to the city. I really enjoyed 'wheeling with these guys. Never met 'em before but they're the kind of people you can rely on in the bush. Good humoured and they think before acting. Likewise, I've 'wheeled with Andrew before and he's always been helpful when breakdowns occurred. Too bad it was his turn for one today. This trip also made me appreciate once again the benefits of a small group of similarly equipped vehicles. We made extremely good time through all the obstacles without having to rush. Big groups can be fun but small groups can be just as entertaining.
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