The MacKenzie TrailText by Dave Blair
Photos by Pamela Blair
(editor's note: This trip took place in 2005, but since it took a while for Dave to write it, we're posting it in the 2006 section of our Trip Reports)
For Pamela and I, this was our first big holiday since going to England and Scotland in 2003, and it started for us on Friday, August 12th, with a long hot drive from Abbotsford to Vernon, via Merritt, Nicola Lake, where Oliver had a dip, Kamloops, and then finally, on to Vernon. We stayed overnight in Vernon Friday night, and left Willow, our 11 year old Husky, with Pamelas parents. Willow still likes to be out and about, but is getting a bit too old for the harsh bumping of an offroad trip. Looking back now, we would have likely ended up with some serious problems, as it was a very bouncy trip and even very hard on Oliver, our 2 year old border collie.
On Saturday morning we departed Vernon early, then had breakfast with my brother and sister-in-law in Kamloops. Headed up highway 5 through Barriere, where we had a short stop just short of Little Fort, at the farm wher I original purchased this truck 8 years ago. The previous owner, Mickey, was really excited to see how far the truck had come and that it was being driven daily.
We proceeded up the big hill on highway 24 westbound, which slowed us down to 2nd gear for about 15 km. We didn't overheat, but the footwell got hot enough (even with the door vents) that Pamela had to splash my toes with water because the felt like they were burning up. When we got to the top and drove for a bit we found another lake for Oliver to dip in, one of his favourite activities. After a long day, we arrived in Williams Lake around 5 PM and stayed at a low budget motel, resting up in a normal bed and having a real shower for one last night before the offroading starts.
And dusty it was. The first 70 Km west from Quesnel were on a main logging road and, even separated by a kilometer between each truck, we were all eating dust. The open cab on our truck didn't help a whole lot. Finally, we reached the turn off for Titetown Lake, and with that a reduction in speed to about 5 mph, in low range, which effectively reduced the dust to nothing. This is close to the Mackenzie Trail head, and where the fun really starts. It was now around 4 PM, and we had about 18 Km to get to Kluskoil Lake, which is where we planned to spend the night. After fording the narrows at Titetown, the trail immediately got narrower and much more primitive. Those of us that had been on the trip in the opposite direction 3 years before recalled that the last kilometer or so dwon to Kluskoil was rather rough, but the rest of the trail was pretty good. Well, 3 years later, and the main trail leading from Titetown past Kluskoil was rougher and muddier than the road down to the lake itself. This was a real surprise to both the newcomers and the returnees, and the last of the trucks finally made camp at the lake as it was getting dark around 8 PM. Just as we were setting up tents and preparing supper, a thunderclap rattled our teeth and it poured down rain for a half hour. What a way to start the first night's camping!
Day 2 - Kluskoil to the Indian Village
After the rain and storm of the night before, things quietened down for our first might of camping on the trail. The next morning we woke to drizzle and an assessment of damages from the previous day's rather rough start. We decided to get repairs done before breaking camp, which seemed to be the order of the day every morning afterwards.
I took a time out to fish off the dock early this morning, catching numerous squaw fish and throwing them back. Oliver thought this was great fun and really got into it.
Stuart had pranged a tree with the right front corner of his freshly restored 109, bending in the bumper about 6 inches and crushing some sheet metal against the tire. The wing had been pulled out on the trail the night before to allow him to continue, but now was a good time to bend it straight, with a little more finesse. Mark, Kris, Dave and Phil rolled up their sleeves. A suitable tree was found as an anchor point, and with careful positioning of a chain and gentle reversing, the dent was gone and the bumper straightened in no time. I was surprised at how accurate a job it was as you could hardly see where the damage had occurred.
Next on the list was Dave's roof rack on the Red Range Rover. I had loaned Dave and Peter an aluminum roof rack, sans mounting brackets to use for the trip. Dave had a set of mounting brackets and crossbars already, so mounted the rack on the crossbars. What we didn't know is that the cast upright supports on the crossbars were made of some kind of cheap cast pig iron and had decided to snap in half as soon as the trail got bumpy.
This caused the rack to drop down directly on the Range Rover's roof, and the remaining inch or two of upright to nicely leave some gouges whenever it bounced up and down. A trailside repair had been done the night before by inserting a small log, then tightening a strap over the back of the rack to keep it from bouncing. Now it was time to make the repair more permanent. Mark to the rescue... He brought out his chainsaw and sacrificed a small plywood tabletop to make two triangular brackets which held the cross bar of the roof rack and sat nicely in the rain groove of the Range Rover. A bit of strapping and reinforcing and all was in order.
We also were astounded at how much smoke Stuart's 109 was putting out. We knew the 2.5TD is more prone to smoke than a TDI, but he was fogging the whole place. A committee examination under the hood concluded that the air cleaner was not big enough to allow proper volume of air through and therefore a significant amount of unburned fuel was making its way into the exhaust. As we were about to close the hood, Mark also noticed something that was far more of a culprit -- that the plastic turbo hose had come off the intake manifold, thus rendering the turbo ineffective and allowing the engine to breath unfiltered air along the dusty trail. Having no recourse but to just plug it back in, we crossed our fingers that no permanent damage was done. This significantly reduced the smoke, but Stuart still has to work with Alan to increase the breathing on his engine.
Pamela, Oliver and I went for a morning stroll down to Chinee falls, where I was able to toss the line in a few times before it was time to leave.
At about noon we were all loaded up and ready to roll. The stretch from Kluskoil Lake to the park boundary seemed to go on forever. Much rougher and muddier than last time, but certainly the trail was passable.
As we were getting close to the Pan Meadows crossing, our first actual crossing of the Blackwater River, I got a call on the CB that my battery powered welder was required back down the trail. Somehow the viscous fan in Dave Tebbutt's Range Rover had decided to part company with its shaft and had ended up kissing the radiator, but, thank goodness, had not embraced it any further. During the process the threads on the end of the shaft had been buggered and now the nut -- not the original one -- would not stay on, which in turn allowed the fan to stray again at will. Mark and Peter put it all back together and were ready for a spot of welding by the time I got back down the trail to them. Mark got the honours and a few zaps later the fan will not come off the shaft -- ever.
The ladies along with us got a kick out of the road warrior style welding goggles and had to do a fashion show for the cameras with their rather unique fashion statement.
About an hour later, around 4 pm, we arrived at Pan Meadows Crossing with Phil and Bill already there ready to cross. Phil crossed with ease, defining the route for the others. When it was Bernie's turn he decided that it would be more fun to flood his engine in the middle, so he had to wait for Stuart to hand him off some WD40 before he could proceed. Of course Mark had to use the opportunity of a water crossing to pressure wash the undercarriage of his truck by crossing at as high a rate of speed as possible.
Once across it was discovered that Bernie had taking on water in his crankcase, so a quick side of the road oil change was undertaken. We were a fair ways down the trail by then, which is the byway between the old native village and the river crossing. This is the obvious route when heading westward, but I recall it being a major undertaking to locate the start of this trail last time heading eastward. A huge volume of trees had blocked the trail but had been cut away enough to allow ATVs to get through, so it was slow going, as we squeezed through narrow gaps and low overhangs. Phil was in the lead, and I was second. My roof rack made me at least 2 feet taller than Phil's Defender 90, so there were a number of slow downs to lift trees. We found out rather quickly that the chainsaw was back with Kris, who was back with Bernie doing the oil change. So our primary method of tree clearing was to lift them up or bend them back and drive on.
We came to one spot where there appeared to be three trees fallen, hanging at about the 8 foot level. Two were about 6 inches round and one was about 3 inches. I eased under them, just touching the gas cans on top, and Pamela got up on the hood to lift a wee bit to get us through. However, several things happened at once that brought us to a dead stop. I was easing forward with Pamela assessing from the top of the hood, when the 3 inch tree snapped. It had actually been holding up the other two trees which immediately came to rest on top of our truck. Pamela bounced forwards and landed butt first in the spare tire -- an embarrassing position that I was gracious enough not to photograph -- and the trees crushed one of the plastic jerry cans. It was full of fuel, but was crushed and twisted quite badly. It didn't leak, but I think it was a close thing. I am told these jerry cans are rated for dropping out of aircraft, and that actually may be true.
After some rather colourful conversation, it was concluded that we had to get a chainsaw to cut away the trees. I called on the CB to see if any of the trucks other than Kris had a chainsaw, and a few moments later Dave Tebbutt trotted up with what looked like a tobacco tin. Opening it up we saw a chain, but where was the rest of the saw? It didn't take long to figure out that we were the power behind the saw as there was a length of string and a small wooden handle attached to each end of the chain. Wrapping it around the tree trunk, and exerting a fair amount of energy Peter cut through the first tree and Phil and I shared the second tree.
We still had a number of miles to go and it was getting close to twilight. The forest along this trail was so tight that there was simply no place to stop and set up camp, so we kept plugging until we reached the abandoned native village at sunset. A quick wander around for those who hadn't seen it before. Certainly was creepier in the limited light than in daylight, but not the photo op it was last time since the light was waning.
We decided not to set up camp at the native village, as it was at the crossroads of several regularly used fuel routes and we figured we didn't want to have a confrontation with anyone about where we were camping. And, a few of us wondered about the ghosts floating around this creepy spot.
So, about a mile further down the trail we camped in a meadow on the side of the road. On the previous trip we had used this spot as a lunch spot. This day's drive seemed never to end and a few of us -- self included -- were a bit grumpy by the time we threw camp together. But a good night's sleep would fix that.
I was up with the sun the next morning. The dew was thick and not quite frost, and fog rolled over the meadow around us. It was a very refreshing morning and Oliver and I decided it would be a good time to toss the fishing line in the water again. We had about a half hour of peaceful relaxation sitting on the log bridge fishing. No fish were harmed during the process, much to my chagrin.
We all got under way by 9:30 or so as there were no major repairs required. Bernie's bumper needed some reattaching and from then on he had to get tugged with a strap attached to the frame. It seems that the movie folks he had purchased the truck from had attached the bumper for looks rather than strength, so Bernie will be doing some rebuilding and reinforcing when he gets home.
The trail today skirted the north side of the Blackwater River as it widened into various flowing lakes and narrowed again. We would go past the active Kluskus native village, and also end up on portions of the trail that we hadn't gone through the previous time.
It didn't take long, however to perceive a change in the trail conditions. Yes, there were the regular mud holes, and the tight trees, and fallen branches, and innumerable potholes, but to add to the fun a new feature of the trail presented itself: side slopes. Since the trail was running parallel to the river, on the slope above it, there is some natural side sloping going on. But since last trip, it had become obvious that the primary vehicles driving the trail were ATVs, and ATVs tread quite differently than larger trucks on a dirt road.. ATVs are faster, and tend to take the path of least resistance on any trail. Due to their narrower track, one tire ends up on the hump in the middle, while the other ends up in the track on the low side. This erodes the low side even lower, while not wearing the high side. Thus, after months or years of ATV use, the side slopes along the way end up being amplified.
We started encountering side slopes around 20-35°, which is a rather uncomfortable position. Add a high load, mud and bumps to that and you have a recipe for clenching the butt cheeks way too regularly. In several places Pamela had to get out, and her regular routine was to lean out the window or open the door on the high side — not that it helped, but it gave her a bit more confidence that at least she might be able to exit the vehicle if it decided to go over.
From my viewpoint, it was tense, but one can get used to just about anything. However, there were a few spots where I was sure we were going to tumble, so I didn't hesitate to stop, call for big guys to balance the high side, then proceed. I heard later that one of these spots where I had called for help had weighed in on Bernie's Tipometer at 42°, and I'm told you go over at 45°.
Our morning departure started with a photo opportunity on a log bridge. We encountered a number of these bridges — three or four stringers stretched across a gap, with loose 4-5" logs laid across it. Occasionally a log will be nailed into place to keep the other ones from jumping around too much. One has to be careful that the logs are not rotten, but otherwise they are quite safe. This particular bridge was long, by log bridge standards, about 100 feet, and curved, and there was an earlier bridge along side it, which was beginning to rot. But it made the entire crossing appear like a highway compared to the road around it. All trucks except Mark stopped to get photos. Mark, as usual, was scouting the trail ahead.
As the morning progressed we drove past several dilapidated and rolled over vehicles, standard fare for this trail, and a rotted out mid 50's pickup truck with Cariboo Ranch, Big Lake stenciled on the doors.
Another water crossing, some serious side slopes, some slippery sections, a few tugs and winching, and it looked like we were approaching some kind of civilization again. There was even a road sign, indicating a mileage of 53 miles(?) to Nazko. We think this was a bit of trail humour, but it certainly could be accurate.
We arrived shortly before lunch at the inhabited Kluskus Native village, only to find that no one came out to check on us. We saw a few heads pop up in the window of their main lodge, and as we gave up and left saw another fellow working on his pickup truck. Some of us ended up taking a wrong turn on the way out of the village and found themselves at an interesting dead end — a pickup truck graveyard. The trail is awfully hard on vehicles and many of them appear to end up here.
An hours or so later we met a fellow on the trail. There were also some rare signs of life, such as signs pointing to various side roads and ranches. The fellow was riding an ATV with his son on another one behind him. He was very friendly and pointed us to where an airfield crossed our path, and told us to take a right turn and go down to the lake. This was Tsacha Lake, according to our maps, and there appeared to be a fishing lodge on it. When we got down to the lake, sure enough we had arrived at the Mackenzie Trail Lodge. Although currently closed to clients, this lodge caters to fly-in visitors providing them a remote catered fishing experience. The owner and his wife were in doing a couple of days of maintenance, and they were quite surprised to see 9 Land Rovers roll in. Just as we were beginning to visit with them, there also appeared 4 or 5 ladies on horseback, who had ridden in from the northwest. They made negotiations for a night's accommodation, and in the meanwhile we did a bit of exploring.
One thing was quite obvious — the main bridge that crossed the creek to the lodge was out. Manny told us it was a vehicle too heavy that finally did in the bridge. All three of the stringers were broken and laying in the bottom of the creek. Our negotiations for accommodation went a little different that the horse ladies. We offered to rebuild the bridge in exchange for our choice of camping spots and we would stay for two nights, thus giving ourselves a bit of a rest before proceeding west. Manny discussed it with his wife, agreed and we took the long route around to the beach on the other side of the collapsed bridge. Although it was rainy, it was really nice to be setting up camp before dark, and to know we could relax for a few hours and unwind from behind the wheel.
Once the rain let up, Mark and I got in his canoe and tried our hand at trout fishing in Tsacha Lake. We hated to admit defeat, but by twilight we were back in empty handed. After dinner we discussed bridge building strategy and the plan was to start the rebuild at 9 AM sharp. So Mark and I had our own strategy meeting, not being happy that the fish had eluded us earlier in the evening. We were going to get up at 5 AM and give it a try for a few more hours.
Everyone fell into their beds quite early as we were all bone tired from the trials of the trail.
A quick gulp of some breakfast, cleaning the fish and putting them on ice and we were ready for the day's real project. This was to be a day off of driving, but we had agreed to rebuild a fallen bridge for the lodge owner.
This commenced with Peter and I dismantling the existing cross logs and laying them on each bank. The ladies arrived soon after and their job was sorting the cross logs, and hammering back the 6" spikes for reuse. A few were rotten, but most were in good shape. The biggest challenge was we didn't have enough spikes as we hadn't really prepared for this activity in advance. When we asked the owner for nails and tools, he had only bee able to provide a few gyproc nails, about 1.5 inches long, which really didn't cut it for 4-5 inch thick cross logs. So we came to the conclusion that every third log would get nailed, and the two logs in between would lay loose.
The rest of us teamed up, using Kris' D90, to pull out the three old stringers out of the creek and clean up the banks at both ends. Mark and Bill were sent out on a search for new stringers, of which they found two large enough beetle-kill logs up above the airfield and dragged them back to camp with Mark's 110.
We couldn't find a large enough third stringer so opted to chop a beetle-killed tree right down at the lodge. Only thing was, it had a twist at the base of its trunk, so presented some falling challenges. As well, there was an outhouse/sewer shed to its right at the 2:00 position, and three cabins on the left, about 10:00. After stringing a line as high as we could up the tree, which was attached to Kris' truck about 100 feet away, Peter, Phil and Dave T proceeded to notch it and back cut. After everyone was clear, Kris gave it a tug. Even with the line pressure helping to set the direction, it came down within about 6 inches of the outhouse, but in so doing cleared out a bunch of weeds anyway.
After lopping off all the dead branches, and trimming the ends, Kris dragged it across the stream with his D90 and into place as the third and final stringer. Bit of trimming and balancing and we were ready to reassemble the cross timbers.
Peter headed the crew hammering the cross timbers back in place, as all the rest sorted and brought up timbers from both sides. It didn't take long before it was actually looking like a bridge again.
To finish it off, Kris and Mark used their chainsaw to trim the ends of the cross timbers to the same length, with the 2-3 foot end pieces dropping into the stream. We didn't want the logs to float out into the lake, so while they were doing this, I was sent down to the stream mouth to catch the pieces and toss them onto the bank. If you can imagine, a robust (fat) guy like me chasing about 60 of these log ends as they were floating past. I caught all but two. Oliver, our border collie, was in there and retrieving all the short pieces, which were about 3 inches thick. I was surprised at how fast he caught on and made himself useful.
The owner was pleasantly surprised at how fast the bridge went up and before long had line up other tasks he was hoping we'd do. We did a couple of more jobs, such as draining boats, and dragging an old wharf out of the lake for the winter, but spent most of the afternoon laying low and relaxing.
Art Pye, the part time caretaker for the lodge, was stringing yarns about the lodge, the area, and the Mackenzie Trail, keeping us all interested and giving us lots to think about.
This was followed by a nice campfire, and we turned in for the night, prepared to continue our trip the next morning.
By 9:30 we were all packed and lined up at our new bridge to head westward. The new bridge with Land Rovers going over it provided a photo op for everyone, after which we proceeded up towards the runway. It's half mile of smooth surface was just too tempting after the torturous miles on the previous days. We raced down the runway 4 abreast in 4th gear low range. Great fun, but over rather quickly as we all converged, speed-shifting downward on the cow path at the west end of the runway.
The next few kilometers were the typical endless rough terrain, with mozzies sneaking in the cab and biting us every chance they could. We had a bit of a disadvantage here as we were the only open-cabbed truck and we were constantly dousing ourselves in Deet to keep the bugs at bay.
A short diversion around the end of Tsacha Lake turned out to be longer than expected. We intended to take a quick look at the other recreational lodge on this lake, the Blackwater Lodge, which was about a 2 km detour in and out. However, within about a half kilometer, and in the middle of a rather rough spot, I discovered that the 4WD on my truck had stopped working on the front axle. This discovery was the result of getting abysmally stuck in a spot that I should have gotten through with no problem. Dave T and Peter stayed back and dragged me out of the predicament, while in the meanwhile getting themselves a bit stuck, but we finally both made it to the lodge where the rest were waiting and having a tour around. Phil, Kris and I tore down the front hubs to try and decipher what was happening. It became obvious that either the spider gears had failed or a halfshaft had failed in the front axle. It was decided that rather than try and tear something down that we didn't have parts to fix, we should reassemble, keep the hubs locked in and continue onward, provided I didn't hear any untoward grinds or growls from the front end. by keeping the hubs locked, at least everything turned at the same pace as the energy from the transmission, so less chance of serious damage.
At around 11 we left the Blackwater Lodge, back through the muck and to the main trail.
It takes a significantly different driving style to drive in two wheel drive on 4WD roads. Anyone who's gone fishing in an old F250 Ford knows what I'm talking about. You can get a long ways before getting stuck, but you gotta be a bit creative about it. So what we did was set up Phil and Deb in the D90 in front of us, and he would drive through the bad spots first, with me watching his approach and his path. When he got though to the other end of the bad spot, usually about 50 yards or so, he would pull up and let me give it a try. I would go through following his path, except at about 3 times his speed, and more often than not it got me through. In all Phil had to tug me out due to no 4WD about a dozen times. Other tugs would have happened whether I had 4WD or not, as all of the trucks had to be tugged through various spots. One of the biggest challenges was if I was pushing to get through the last few feet of a mud hole and Phil hadn't moved up far enough. More than once there was a desperate toot of the airhorns to get him to pull further ahead. The other unfortunate side effect was the resultant wheel spin that kicked up mud from the tires to the back of Pamela's head! Of course this resulted in me getting a huge bruise on my arm as she hit me again and again through every mud hole. Finally after a few hours of this we came up with the plan to wrap a towel around her before I proceeded, which kept her clean, but Oliver still was the recipient to regular mud clods.
The loss of 4WD did not slow our progress much, as I'm a rather determined individual and we got to be pretty quick attaching a line for Phil to tug if it was too much to get through.
Around 1PM, we came across an old ranch and hayfield as the day progressed and the road led through the hayfield. Perhaps due to my 4WD problems I was a bit hesitant, and while the Defenders all headed through the hayfield I saw a small trail to the left that seemed to skirt the field. Good decision for us and the 3 trucks that followed us, as those in the hayfield took a couple of hours to clear themselves of the mud holes that had developed where the road had been. This was followed only about 200 metres later by a rather delicate crossing of a collapsed bridge, perhaps this could be a future bridge building project for the club!
Around 3 PM we arrived at the Pan Phillips Fishing Camp. We enjoyed tea with the Phillip's and great conversation. Just before dinner we proceeded towards the Lampert ranch, having decided not to detour southwards to the Home Ranch on this trip. A few moments at the Lamperts that quickly turned into an hour, and we headed across the Blackwater bridge and set up camp at the edge of another hay field.
Oliver was very tired and grumpy that night, and immediately when the tent was erected he dived in for a two hour nap. The rest of us enjoyed trout from our early morning fishing the day before, and ended the day with hot showers courtesy of Kris.
With all the innovations Kris had come up with, like the hot shower, I figured I had to get in the act, and thus was created Dave's Beauty Salon, taking the drivers side defrost hose and rerouting it to the passenger side. With the engine idling, and the heater on high, with all heat vents plugged off, it was like a superheated blow dryer on high speed. The girls enjoyed being able to wash their hair in the shower and actually dry it off afterwards.
Certainly this was one of the most eventful days in terms of the type of terrain covered, and the points west of here are the most remote on the entire trail so we looked forward to a good nights rest to prepare us to tackle the real outback.
Day 6 - The Longest Day
Another bright morning, albeit somewhat white due to a heavy frost and a bit of fog around the fringes. It didn't take long for the sun to clear the frost away. The surrounding several hundred acres of hay fields cleared of fog quickly as well, revealing one of the few wildlife spottings of the trip. A bull moose was lurking at the edge of one of the fields, about 400 yards away. Over the course of the trip we were constantly amazed to see the lack of wild animals. It's hard to say for sure whether it was the time of year or the dead pines or what, but compared to the earlier trip we took, there was a distinct lack of wildlife along the route.
Our goal today was to get as far as we could westward, with no exact destination in mind. The previous trip, it had taken us 2 days to get in to this point, so we anticipated another 2 days to get out to Gatcho Lake, the unofficial end of the trail as at this point the trail proceeds into Tweedsmuir Park and is inaccessible to vehicles. From Gatcho, our recollection is a southward run of about 70 KM down to Anahim Lake and the (gravel) highway.
We had a rather leisurely breakfast and decided we'd also make a "real" lunch stop around 1 PM or whenever we found a suitable spot. No rush for today. As we proceeded away from the civilization provided by the ranchlands, we came across a few horses, which may have been wild at some point, but were now stabled in an old barn — obviously one of the local ranchers was trying to put them to use. We then came across a trappers cabin, same one we had inspected in our previous trip, and had to stop and check out. It was eerie as nothing had changed in the past 3 years. The door was still open, the breakfast table looked like they had just eaten and not wiped up yet, in fact it looked like they had just gone out to the barn and would be back anytime. Just a bit thicker of dust layer, and a couple of notes from various visitors, but this abandoned place was pretty weird. Following that, the trees started thickening up and we continued along the wagon trail westward. We passed several lakes and the spot at the east end of Eliguk lake which we had camped in the previous trip, last time with a huge rainstorm soaking down all the gear. We thought we were making pretty good progress, as we were barely at noon and yet had done close to a full day's travel compared to the previous trip. All the regular hurdles of continuous mud, side slopes, rocky road and bugs we took in stride. We're getting pretty used to the routine now.
Then things changed. There is a spot where the wagon trail comes down one side of a small gully, then turns sharply northward and over a hillock, about 100 feet high, then down the other side and through a side slope of about 200 feet, followed by a rather deep and twisty — but short — mud hole. This brought us to a stop as every truck had to winch up the first slope, and carefully maneuver along the side slope, thus resulting in not having any momentum for the muck. Stuart's 109, like all the others, winched up the first challenge, but due to several trucks going before and making the side slope a bit slick, he slipped off the edge and into a 2 foot deep muddy marsh. Still on the side slope, and in danger of rolling over on the drivers side, Bill and Bernie rushed over planted themselves on the right front wing and remained there to counterbalance the angle while Mark, Phil and I hooked up winches and did a rather long drag to dislodge Stuart from the muck. It gave us memories of the previous trip as both Mark and Kris got stuck in exactly the same spot going the other direction. It's just a bit deeper now...
Of course, due to my 4wd not operating, I drove as far as I could, then was winched the balance of the way.
So much for a nice lunch break. We were covered with mud now, and it was about 3 PM. The forest now thickened to a point where there really was no place to pull off, anyway. We simply had to push on through in hopes of finding a clearing and a place to pitch camp for the night. Shortly after — which interprets to mean several kilometers of mud, rocks and side slopes — we came to the east end of the huge meadows. Last trip we had crossed these meadows along a trail which ran along the southern edge through about 8 KM of continuous smooth meadow. Now Mark, on the first 100 feet of this same trail, broke through and got stuck axle deep in muck. Bernie followed suit, then we all stopped and noticed that even standing on the ground in our boots we were sinking through the sod and developing a sticky growing mud base on our boots. OK, time to extract and find another route. All truck moved back, and Phil, Kris and Bill used their rigs to tug out Bernie and Mark. Its now 6 PM, and we can't camp here because the ground is so wet and there is no place to set up tents.
While the rigs were being extracted, several (bored) women decided to take a walk so they and the dogs went off exploring. In doing so, they stumbled across another higher road in the bushes to the north side of where we were by about 100 yards, and a very overgrown trail joining the two. Some GPSing revealed that this was the George Krestinuk wagon trail, pushed through in the 1920's, but it hadn't been used for years, obvious because of the overgrowth and fallen trees. However, according to the maps we had, this trail proceeded a few kilometers northwest, then turned southward to our eventual destination, Gatcho Lake. So we had our new route, and we'll just find a camping spot along the way. It's obvious we had to avoid the meadows road as the water table is now so high that it is almost swamp again, not the drained meadow it once was.
With Mark in front on trail-breaking duty, chainsaw at ready and used constantly, we started down the Krestinuk wagon trail. The going was slow as the trees became thicker and thicker. It was almost as if you couldn't see off to the left and right because the trees were so thick. Many places the trees were dead, but during the course of their life had grown from sapling when the trail was originally blazed, to thicknesses of 1-2 feet. The trail was narrow enough when it was first pushed through for wagons, but the growth of the trees had narrowed it even further. Every one of us was side scraping unavoidably over and over again as we progressed. Not only did eveyone's mirrors get folded in, but most of us lost a lense or two as the folded mirrors got crushed againts the body. I also pushed in both fresh air vents on my lower doors as we squeezed through the old dead trees. This went on for about 3 hours, at a speed of about 1 km per hour. Adding to this was every few hundred feet the trail would dip down into a soft spot as it went close to the meadows and we would have to extract ourselves from the mud. It was getting dark now, around 9 PM, no place to camp, no place to turn around, we hadn't had our restful lunch and we were all tired and getting a bit cranky. Accourding to the GPS, we were about 3 km from Gatcho Lake. We decided to push through as we recalled there was a reasonable camping area there.
But, what was a tough grunt of a day got worse. At one point the wagon trail crosses very close to the meadow for about 300 yards and it was nothing but a mud bog. Mark had got himself in, and with high beams could see the other edge, about 100 yards away. We knew if Mark was stuck, we'd all be stuck behind him, so it was time to formulate a plan. It's dark, raining now, the only way to get from one vehicle to another is walking through 18" deep ruts filled with water, or slip-sliding on the broken up middle hump. We're tired from continuous winching, and did I mention hungry? Most of us had resolved to opening our coolers and eating along the way — obviously we weren't gonna get lunch now. That was one of the few comic reliefs we had that night.
It was concluded that the best course of action was to link all our trucks together via our winch cables, and winch one forward while the others freewheeled out their line. That way, we only had to march through the hundred feet or so of muck one time each rather than every move forward. Mark at the front was using trees, stumps and whatever he could grasp for anchors, and the rest of us winched from truck to truck. In the process of pulling my line out and dragging it to Phil's truck I got a boot stuck in the muck and came up with a socked foot, slipped and fell, dipping myself from the chest down in the goo. I was able to get my boot back, but it was full of mud when I slipped it back on. Just something to add to the ambience of the evening.
Each winch forward gained us about 60 feet, then we stopped and acted as an anchor for the truck behind us. Once all trucks were moved forward, the back truck, Kris, called his brother Mark at the front, and mark would reattach to the next anchor point, we'd all set to freewheel, and go through the process again. It took about 6 of these rounds, each taking about 20 minutes to get through the gap. Now it was close to midnight. Both drivers and passengers were snoozing in their seats, aroused by the call on the radio that it was their turn. After we got through this, it was kind of a blur as everyone was dead tired. Phil had been able to latch onto a GPS track from the previous trip as we got closer to Gatcho Lake, which was a good thing as the forest had opened up and there were numerous unmarked trails that we had no idea which was the right route in the dark. By feel, GPS and radio we all followed Phil through what felt like a maze of turns and twists and finally brought us to Gatcho. Phil had gotten pretty confident due to his GPS waypoints and I think the only thing that kept us all awake was how fast he was trucking through the dark and us trying to keep up. We got all the way up to third gear, low range!
Suddenly we rolled into a corralled clearing and we recognized the compound of trappers cabins that are on the north end of the lake. Without further though I pulled up to one of the cabins, rolled out our bedrolls and Pamela, Oliver and I crashed for the night. It was fairly clean, and except for a curious packrat several hours later we slept well. Others took the route of a good stiff drink for relaxation, but for all of us in the morning the previous night felt rather surreal.
Day 7 - The Shortest Day
The primary activity the next morning, beyond breaking camp, was pouring the last of our fuel into the Series IIa. All the gas powered trucks were down to reserves. So far I had used up 30 gallons for about 350 KM and I had one 5 gallon jerry can left. We set out about 10:30 after waving at a float plane who was dropping off adventure fisherman to this remote, supposedly roadless lake. If anyone actually saw the road, they would still say it was roadless, as its little more than a couple of rough ruts. South of the lake by about 10 KM the rutted trail joined a larger and firmer path and about 20 KM later joined the Dean River Main Road and the Beef Trail Road. This winds down to Highway 20, just west of Anahim Lake, bordering Tweedsmuir Park. We actually got to shift into high range somewhere on this road. When we stopped at Highway 20 we were surprised at the heavy layer of dust that had accumulated on all of us. Oliver looked like an eskimo dog, and it took days to get rid of dust blowing out of everything.
At Anahim Lake, everyone filled up with fuel and civilized goods like native trinkets, Indian sweaters and of course beer for the cooler. About half of the group chose to head back towards Williams Lake and points south, while the other half opted to head westward to Bella Coola, eventually visiting several museums and memorials to Alexander Mackenzie and then boarding the ferry to Port Hardy and home.
Since this trip, in August of 2005, there has been an effort to promote and maintain trail access to this area by the 4WDABC, NCOAS and RoverLanders clubs. At time of this writing it appears that the corridor of this trail has retained its current limited road access, however, there is another sub-committee forming that will do further evaluation of the impact of tourism of all types on this trail. I look forward to attending those sessions in hopes of maintaining future access for motorized recreation.
Mackenzie Trail - Land Use
Vanderhoof LRMP Meetings, Friday, November 25 & Saturday, November 26, 2005
A quote I found in Michael Crichton's recent book, State of Fear, sums it up nicely:
In the pursuit of formulating a Land and Resource Management Plan, there appear to be many voices, each with their own agenda, and their own set of fears and sensitivities.
Kudos to the staff of the various ministries involved, and especially to Romona Blackwell & Traci Leys-Schirok, for taking on this virtually insurmountable task.
Our area of interest, to put it in perspective, is the Alexander Mackenzie/Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Trail corridor, which runs through not only the Vanderhoof Land Management District, but also through the Quesnel and Chilcotin LMDs. Thus, we are only a minor interest in the district, perhaps 1/16th of the overall picture for the Vanderhoof project.
The primary item that came out of this meeting was that there is a joint-district committee being established with stakeholders to discuss future use of this corridor, and that will be held in a separate set of meetings.
The balance of the two day meeting was not a waste, as it did reveal to me much of how the various interests interact with each other. It appears each group has its own set of rights, limitations and some sort of a trump card to be played in the event the group does not get its way.
The two groups are divided reasonably evenly between government based, and public based.
Romona displayed an excellent example showing a single Hectare of land, and all the different levels of demand on it, using a MasterCard style "Priceless" comparison. In the example, the resources under the surface, mining, oil, gas, were valued very high; surface resources such as forest similarly valued; various licenses and tenures for guide outfitting, ranching, grow ops [:-)] fishing camps, recreational activities, each had their own value, and as a final point, "Getting out in the back country where it's quiet and I can relax" or something to that effect, was PRICELESS.
I had never thought of a single piece of land with so many interests in it. Even land that is privately owned is still subject to a number of the factors above. We then had the Ministry of Environment, wildlife branch, present an overview of how they manage the wildlife in the area. What came out of this, at least for me, is a quick synopsis of some of the interest groups, their desires, and their capability to effect change or maintenance of current conditions. Keep in mind that this is my bias coming through, and each of these groups would also have their own point of view as well.
I've probably named all the ministries wrong, but their names seem to be changing on a regular basis anyway, so you'll get the idea.
Ministry of Environment, Wildlife
Ministry of Natural Resources, Oil, Gas
Ministry of Forest and Range
Ministry of Tourism, Sport and the Arts
Guide Outfitters, association and individuals
Mackenzie Trail Use — my thoughts
In the previous Land Management Plan (1997), motorized access to the trail corridor was a point of conflict between the Guides, Ranchers, First Nations on one side of the issue, and the Federation of Wildlife on the other side of issue, wanting to maintain motorized access. The truth of the situation was that the Guides, Ranchers and First Nations did have and do use motorized access for their own purposes. There were supposed to be permits issued for these people to access, and others, such as individuals or groups like ours, could not get a permit. However, it is not clear if permits were ever put into place, what government body looked after issuing the permits, or who would enforce the permits. As a result, it is my opinion that our limited use of the corridor over the past 4 years has been somewhat under the radar. So long as we didn't say to much about it, they wouldn't either. I am told there are several in the no-access camp that are quite happy to see groups like ours, doing trail maintenance and treading as lightly as possible, but others have also warned that we are not wanted and could be chased off with bullets flying if we're not careful. That seems to me a good reason for being involved with the Mackenzie Trail access committee in the future.
I feel that the corridor should remain open to motorized vehicles, but would suggest that portions of it be closed during most of the year, opening only during the dry season. Due to beetle kill, the pine forests are not drawing water out of the land and low lying areas are wetter than usual. Thus closure of low lying areas for the next few years could also be considered, but not if it is a mechanism to get final access to the trail closed. I am in complete disagreement with Quads driving on the heritage trail where it leaves the main wagon trail, and also of any new trails being blazed, since this is a heritage site. But without groups like ours keeping the trail open and maintaining it, there will be no trail left for our children or grandchildren. Some might want to keep it open only to walkers or horseback riders, however, my firsthand experience is that there are very few recreational walkers or riders using the trail right now. In two traverses of the entire length of the trail I have seen one walker, a gentleman from Germany walking on his own, and three horses this year, some local women from Vanderhoof riding part of the trail. This, to me does not constitute enough usage at peak season to allow any maintenance of the trail or make it worthwhile to keep it open as a heritage site.
Next phase, I hope we as a club can be represented in future trail discussions and perhaps we can take an active part in trail maintenance, while balancing the needs and interests of the other groups with our own.
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