The title of this article is a misnomer for two reasons. 1) It didn't occur on a single day, although it did occur on a long weekend that included Canada Day; 2) it wasn't intended as a exploration trip but that's how it turned out. It was entirely coincidental but also very fitting that it happened on the Canada Day long weekend.
Our original plan was to do the Windy Ridge Trail. For a variety of reasons, it is notoriously difficult both from a navigator's standpoint and from a driver's standpoint. It is also a long trail and even reaching it requires that you drive a long way from the nearest gas station or paved road. Consequently, it requires a lot of time, equipment and very reliable vehicles.
We began our trip by leaving home Friday evening after work. It was raining on the south coast and the forecast for the Windy Ridge area (ie: Lillooet area) was for a 60% chance of precipitation on Saturday, and 40% on Sunday. By the time we reached Lillooet a few hours later, the roads were bone dry and we could still some stars twinkling through the thin cloud layer above us. We stayed in a motel that first night so we wouldn't have to strike camp in the morning, thus saving us some time and enabling us to get an early start. It was a good idea but we squandered our advantage the next morning.
Saturday morning we awoke to clear, sunny skies. After packing, we had breakfast at Lou's cafe which is on Main St in Lillooet. The food was great but the cook was a bit overwhelmed by our numbers (me and Sue; Bill, Carolyn and their daughter, Reah; Armin and Marion; Dave and Pam and their kids, Michael and Amanda; and Steve and Lainey and their son, Jared). It took a noticeably long time for our food to arrive but as I said, it tasted great. After that long breakfast, we did some last minute grocery shopping and then bought gas...and then two extra gas tank and even more gas. As I mentioned earlier, doing the Windy Ridge Trail requires a lot of driving. We had a spare 5-gal. can of gas for each vehicle, plus the extra two 5-gal. cans that Armin just bought (his carb wasn't tuned right and was using more fuel than normal). In fact, in preparation for this trip, those of us with short wheelbase vehicles had built external gas can carriers a day or two before leaving (mine wasn't even painted). After a lot of discussion over the merits of taking the Yalakom Rd straight to the Windy Ridge turn-off vs. following the Bridge River to Goldbridge for one last fuel-up, and then heading north on the Hurley, through the Mud Lakes, and then reaching the Windy Ridge turn-off, we decided to take the Yalakom.
The road out of Lillooet took us along the Bridge River which we would follow until reaching the turn-off to the Yalakom where the road would become gravel. Bridge River was coloured torquoise-jade, typical of most rivers that are fed by mountain snow packs. Its expanse covered the floor of a wide valley with walls of loose, dry dirt. The valley was fairly straight so the views behind us and ahead of us extended for several kilometres. The scenery was spectacular. What better way to spend a Canada Day long weekend than to be enthralled with the natural beauty that our country holds in abundance?
Near Moha we took the right turn-off which put us on the Yalakom Rd. which, naturally, followed the Yakalom River. The road became gravel at that point so we left more room in between vehicles so we could see and breathe easier. Although we left Lillooet later than planned, we still stopped every now and then to take snapshots of the views and once to play on a river-crossing cart. Although we had the goal of reaching the Windy Ridge Trail, we still wanted to enjoy our trip. Besides, we had to make it enjoyable for the kids, too.
The Yalakom would bring us up the east side of Poison Mtn and then curve around its north side before continuing north-east where we would reach the Windy Ridge turn-off, just north-east of the Mud Lakes rec. sites. But things did not go as planned. When we stopped at a fairly major t-intersection and consulted the maps, we couldn't make sense of our location. If we were at the intersection we thought we were at, it didn't make sense that we were currently pointing south. Dave brought out his GPS, took a reading, and we still couldn't figure out where we were. The indicated position was no where near any of the roads on the maps. We decided to head back to the last intersection to figure out where we were, hoping the GPS position at that location would help. It didn't. More confusion ensued. Then we drove back to the last t-intersection. Eventually, we decided that the road system we were on must be new and somewhere along the way, it stepped on the original road in such a way that we couldn't even tell when we left the old roads (which were on the map) and got onto the new ones which weren't. This made it very difficult to locate the turn we wanted. By this time we had lost another hour (and precious fuel). It was finally decided to go back to the last known (on the map) position and take the slightly longer way to reach the Windy Ridge turn-off. Somewhere along the way we ran into a man and woman in a Dodge Ram. The guy was cutting up a blown-down tree that had fallen across the road. We'd passed through here a few times (when we were in confused mode) and easily drove around it. This guy somehow drove his passenger-side fender into the tree before taking his chainsaw out to exact revenge. Not surprisingly, he smelt of beer. I spoke briefly with his passenger who was doing the navigating. She was also confused by the new roads but was happy to be out in the bush, enjoying the scenery.
Back on the "known" part of the Yalakom Road, we continued east and were able to locate ourselves on the map. The road became much narrower and the forest closed in around us. The washboards disappeared and the dust was minimal. The cooler temperatures also meant mud puddles but they weren't too bad and we really enjoyed this part of the trail. I think by this time, the Yalakom Rd and turned into the Poison Mtn, Churn Crk Rd. We reached an old mining camp and stopped for a while to poke through their old core samples. Continuing on, we reached a main intersection in a very windy clearing. It was where the Poison Mtn and the China Head roads met. We continued along the Poison Mtn Rd which finally arrived arrived at the turn-off to Windy Ridge. By that time, it was after 6pm and becoming very windy. The goal of being part-way along the Windy Ridge Trail by the end of Saturday was no longer achievable. It was decided that we should head down to the Mud Lakes to camp for the night. Besides being sheltered from the winds, it would also be much lower in elevation and therefore warmer. One good thing about the winds, though - they kept the mosquitoes away. Up to that point, mosquitoes had been curiously absent. Of course, most of the day had been in fairly dry terrain where there wasn't much standing water which was where the mosquitoes would be. But as we began the winding descent toward Swartz Lake and the Mud Lakes recreation area, it became cooler and I fully expected to be attacked by swarms of bloodsuckers. After reaching the valley floor, we had to make a number of creek crossings before reaching the first campsite. A couple on an ATV were parked near the road so I asked them about the other campsites a little farther south. They reported that there were still spots available. While we were talking, I suddenly noticed about 50 mosquitoes floating around us...big ones, too. I asked about the mosquito situation at the other camps and was told that this camp was bad but the others should be fine. I thanked them for the information, quickly zipped up my windows, and continued on.
The road hugged the west side of the valley, leaving plenty of room for the stream in the middle which alternated between being wide and narrowing, depending on the dam projects the resident beavers had planned. At the last beaver pond, the dam walls were about 2 or 3 feet above road level, which meant we were driving below the water level. For whatever reason, the beavers decided to let the water overflow the dam right where it met the road. This resulted in a stream of water than flooded the road way and caused some serious erosion. Although it was easily passable in 2wd, I wondered how much worse the road would become as the months went by.
When we reached the next campsite, it was just as the ATV'ers had said: there was an available camp and there were no mosquitoes! The site was right on the lake with two tables and a nearby outhouse. We quickly parked out vehicles and began setting up camp. Our neighbours were a group of about a dozen guys from Burnaby. Their camp consisted of various tents, tarps, pickups, and green Kawasaki dirt bikes. One of them came over to say "hi" and told us that they've been camping at Mud Lakes for a week every year, for the past 10-12 years. While they take their yearly bachelor trip, their wives go to a spa resort for the same duration. I told Sue and Carolyn about this and they immediately loved that idea. You'd think that a bunch of guys would be pretty noisy at night but they were actually very, very quiet.
The road from the Mud Lakes back to the main road along Bridge River/Carpenter Lake was excrutiatingly long and no fun if you didn't have air conditioning. It was hot enough that you needed to have the windows open but dusty enough that you wished you could close them. Loose bolts were helped out of their holes by the bajillions of washboard ridges that jackhammered the trucks. At long last, we reached pavement and headed west along Carpenter Lake. At the end of the lake, we turned south and into Goldbridge to re-fuel ($.88/L) and buy ice-cream and other frozen treats.
After Goldbridge, we made a brief stop in Bralorne. Bralorne is one of those tiny villages that make you wonder about the people who live there. What do they do? Why do they live there? Do they like it here? It seemed to be a town that was barely clinging to life. Some of the houses we passed were abandoned while others were obviously well cared for. The community swimming pool hadn't seen water for many, many years. I was surprised that there was a pool there at all.
A few minutes outside of Bralorne, we drove past Bradian and reached the Pioneer Mine where we spent about an hour exploring the few remaining buildings. The walls that were standing the last time I was here had since crumbled into so much firewood and concrete rubble. Some of us clambered up the slope to snoop around the building that received the ore from the carts. It too was ready to topple so we had to be very careful while walking around inside. By the way, I would highly recommend that you NOT enter any of these old buildings. The heavy winter snows place tremendous strain on the buildings and they all eventually fall down. We were lucky but you may not be.
The trail from the mine to Anderson Lake that we were going to explore dead-ended not far from the mine. A turn-off took us above the mine to some trestles and other buildings but it was also a dead-end. So much for Plan A. Plan B, which we made up on the spot, was to head back to Bralorne and then take the Hurley Rd south to Pembertown Meadows and then Pemberton. So back we went, through Bralorne and then to the Hurley...where we were stopped by a barricade that warned that the road was washed out. Being the tough guy fourwheelers that we are (and being gluttons for punishment), we decided to go around the barricade to see if we could pick our way through this so-called "wash out." Bill was in the lead, driving the Cherokee. After about 15 or 20 minutes, he radioed to us that he had found the wash out and that it was passable. That was an understatement. It was 4 ft wide at the very most and shallow enough that you could easily walk across without getting your pants wet. We drove across with impunity and wondered why they would bother erecting a barricade for that little stream. We surmised that it must be for the benefit of car drivers who would have difficulty making the crossing. Fully impressed with how our mighty 4x4s could make short work of a wash out that closed a road, we continued on our way. Of course, your know what happens next, don't you? About 30 minutes later, Bill radioed that he found what he thinks is the real wash out and he doesn't know if it's passable. Naturally, we all wanted to have a look so we asked him to stay put and wait for us. When we got there, it was obvious that this must be what the sign was referring to. It was about two vehicle-lengths wide and the water was flowing very fast through a gash in the ground that used to contain a culvert. There were steep banks on both sides. We had 'wheeled much more difficult obstacles than this before, but the fact that no one had crossed it before (there were no tracks that we could see) made us cautious. The water level wasn't too deep so the speed of the water flow wasn't that much of a concern. The short 4x4s (CJ7, Early Bronco, Jeep YJ) were locked front and back, had winches, had lots of ground clearance, and had 35" or taller tires. We were certain that they could get through. The real question was whether the two SUVs could, too.
We prepped the bank on our side by breaking away the edge so it wasn't a drop-off. Then Armin proved that it could be done by easily walking his CJ into the stream and up the other side. With a winch-equipped 4x4 on the other side, we could now turn our attention toward the SUVs. Steve's 4Runner was stock with 31" BFG ATs and a Detroit locker in the back. Bill and Carolyn's Cherokee had a 3" BDS lift and 31" BFG ATs with open differentials. We decided to send the SUVs across first, just in case repeated crossings knocked any rocks loose and made the crossing more difficult. Bill went first. We hooked Armin's winch cable to the Cherokee just in case and sent Bill across. He carefully picked his way to the opposite bank while Armin wound in the winch cable to help him up. Only when he was fully on the other side did he discovered that the winch hook slipped off and he actually climbed up the bank under his own power. Steve went next and this time we didn't bother hooking up the cable. He also made it without difficulty, as did the rest of us. Although it wasn't a difficult obstacle, it was exciting because we were the first to cross it and we were able to traverse a road that had been closed to "regular traffic." In short, it was a cheap ego boost, and a nice treat since we couldn't do Windy Ridge and our Plan B route from the Pioneer Mine dead-ended.
After that bit of fun we were back to more driving on dusty, washboarded roads. Many km later, as we were nearly at the pavement, Armin reported that he broke an upper front shock mount. A brief stop was made to remove the shock. Within the hour, we arrived in Pemberton. We gassed up again and bade farewell to Steve & Lainey and the Lippmanns. It was after 7pm and they were rushing off to find a campsite. Meanwhile, we enjoyed dinner in Pemberton and made it home by midnight.
Although the trip didn't go as planned, I still had a great time. I had an opportunity to discover new trails in this wonderful country of ours and I had the company of some great people to share it with. Happy Canada Day!
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