July 31 - August 2, 1999
Some photos contributed by Craig Blanchette and Wes Rempel
SATURDAYIt was Chris' fault (I've always wanted to start a story with that line). His Jeep's motor was getting long in the tooth and was struggling up the Coquihalla Highway's mountains. It seemed like an eternity but we finally reached the Orchard Park shopping mall in Kelowna a mere 45 minutes late. By "we," I mean:
Waiting for us were several of the Kelowna BC4x4 list members including Tyghe, Vic, John, Kerrie, Terry and Craig. The "Vancouverites," consisting of Wes Rempel and Norman Heu (and his girlfriend, Helen), had arrived the night before and were also waiting for us. Just to make sure we really screwed up our schedule, I went shopping for groceries and asked Vic to pick up some beer for me. Over half of the group left for the trail while we did our errands. The shopping plus some other stuff ate up loads of time. We were at the trailhead at 2pm, a bit later than the planned time of noon. On our way there, Mark's brother, Paul, who lives in Kelowna, had also joined us.
When we reached the trailhead, I was surprised and somewhat embarassed to see that the half of the group which had left before us was there, waiting for us in the scorching sun. More time was spent airing down and kibitzing before we finally got rolling. A short time later, the first breakdown occurred. Kevin's really nice, 302 FI powered Bronco was suffering from a fuel starvation problem. Craig stayed behind to help him out while the rest of us continued on toward the KVR railbed. We stopped again when we reached the powerline trail to admire the view and wait for Kevin and Craig. After several minutes, we decided to continue on. While heading down one particular section, I came across Rob in his big black Chevy. It appeared he had driven over the side of the trail into a grassy section for no reason at all. The phrase, Tread Lightly was a foreign one to him, I thought. Later on, I had found out that Rob had misjudged the trail and his right tires went over the edge. He narrowly averted a rollover by steering into the lean which was when he ended up over the side. Not a bad save for someone new to offroading.
The first photogenic obstacle was a longish uphill section littered with loose rock and heavily rutted on its downhill side. Paul's yellow Toyota had nearly bald mud tires so even though he had his rear ARB engaged, he had to take the bypass. He was surprised to see me crawl up the climb until he realized I had a front AND rear locker in my Jeep. Basically, the trucks with aggressive tires and a rear locker made it up without a problem while the others made it while providing great entertainment. Kerrie was working his Ranger hard and finally found the perfect line by driving on the high side to avoid the rut. It was a tricky line to get onto but it worked...and produced a lot of dust. Come to think of it, most of the stuff Kerrie drove through created a lot of dust. Hmmm. Wes followed Kerrie's line and made it up without a problem. Mark chose the middle path and after some negotiating, he also made it through. Norm opted for the bypass and nailed some pretty large rocks while doing so. But given his mild tire treads, it was the right choice.
We continued on and after a wrong turn correction, we were on the old KVR railbed. What followed was an easy cruise along the railbed, taking in the scenery and enjoying the late afternoon weather...and trying to leave enough space between you and the lead vehicle so you don't choke on the dust. At long last we reached the Audra Tunnel. A neatly stacked, six-foot wall of huge concrete blocks suggested that we shouldn't drive into the tunnel. We parked, dug out our flashlights and went in on foot. The Audra Tunnel is several hundred metres in length and curves to form a C-shape. It was closed due to rock falls although it is still passable all the way through. Walking beneath its tall support beams was an unnerving experience because it made me think about the tons and tons of rocks they were supporting. It was even more unnerving when I walked over the fallen rock, in the sections where the beams had collapsed leaving nothing but several tons of rock-which-could-fall-at-any-moment looming over my head.
It was a relief to reach the other side. Kerrie and Craig were already there and reported seeing a huge rat when they went through. We took a few pictures and began the return journey. Near the middle of the tunnel, we saw the flickering flashlight beams of other visitors headed toward us. It was a pretty cool sight that one of us likened to an X-Files scene.
With the trestle checked off of our todo list, Vic led us to the campsite. He had been told of "the perfect campsite" so that was our destination. We finally reached the turnoff to this shangri-la around 8:00pm and it was getting dark. To his dismay, Vic found that the trail in was heavily grown over and was eventually blocked by a large log. Reluctantly, he gave us the command to turn around and head back down the trail. Some of us had turned around and were headed back down the trail when we encountered Colin & Shawna Learning who were coming to visit. I got out and told Colin about the campsite quest and he suggested turning around again and continuing up the trail towards Crawford Lake. After some confusing exchanges on the CB, we turned around again and headed up towards the lake. Along the way, we went through a long series of four- to six-foot high berms which provided great entertainment. It was like a dirt rollercoaster. A little while later, after passing a sand hill, we came to a stop. This was where we would camp for the night. It was a crowded, semi-flat spot beside the road and the last possible place to camp before leaving the tree line. By this time, it was past 9:00pm and the end of a long day for many of us. Camp was setup, meals were eaten and only a few stayed up for a beer or two around the fire. The saving grace of this campsite was the thick grass which made for an exceptionally comfortable sleep.
SUNDAYThe next morning we made breakfast and packed up camp while waiting for the rest of the group, including Paul Gagnon, to meet us with us. I watched Terry Mitchner hammer on his Land Rover's tow bar for a while. Last night on the berms, the bungee securing the bar in the upright position snapped off, allowing the bar to swing down like a pole vault. It speared the trailer hitch into the ground, causing the little 88" Land Rover to vault over the bar. Terry used a similar technique to "repair" the bar. He drove part way over a berm and then reversed, pole vaulting over it again. This morning, he was hammering on it, trying to straighten out the hitch. Some time last night his alternator also died. Forcing him to drive the trail in the dark.
Rather than spend more time waiting for the rest of the group, we elected to start off toward the top of Little White. It was a slow, bumpy drive punctuated by frequent scenic stops and photo opportunities. We were in an alpine meadow dotted with deeply coloured flowers. Close to the top, as we neared the forest fire lookout, the trail became more rocky and challenging. Pictures were taken as we filed through each section. We parked beside the lookout and admired the vistas. Snacks and beverages were laid out and we picnicked while waiting for the rest of the group. Vic pointed out some of the local landmarks in the distance. Some of us went for a short tour in the fire lookout.
After washing down our snacks, we headed over to Crawford Lake which was about 1 kilometre away. I found a nice little shortcut which got us to the short, steep climb just before the lake. This is where Vic had rolled his Toyota onto its side a few weeks before. I was able to crawl up this section quite easily but only because it had dried out. If it were wet, like when Vic last attempted it, I probably would have not made an attempt since it would have been very treacherous. Vic, Chris and Wes made it up without much difficulty. Mark's heavily-laden (with my and my passengers' gear) 4Runner had trouble staying in the right line so he parked it at the bottom. Kerrie made several unsuccessful attempts but finally made it up when we decided he should park it. Once again, he was accompanied by great plumes of dust and flying rock. Norm parked his Sidekick at the bottom with the 4Runner.
At Crawford Lake, Vic, Sue, Mark and I went for a short hike while the others scaled nearby rocks. We found many odd rivulets of soft dirt near gopher holes and speculated on how they might've been built. Back at the lake, Kerrie was the only one brave (?) enough to jump into the frigid water. On the way back to the campsite, Vic gave himself a good scare by taking the wrong line down the hill and lifted his rear tire way into the air.
Our goal was to setup camp somewhere near Keremeos before nightfall so we could enjoy a relaxing evening and then explore some of the mine shafts above Hedley the next morning. At least that's what the plan was. A few kilometres west of Westbank, things changed. Norman radioed something about "I lost my ... !" I wasn't sure what he said but in my rearview mirror I saw him pull over. Chris and I were in the lead so we were only able to safely pull over several hundred metres later. After waiting for a while, Wes radioed to us, saying that Norm had blown a brake hose. Doh!
Mark and Norman couldn't find a store with the right brake lines but managed to bring back some of Vic's spare brake parts. We eventually came up with a temporary fix that allowed Norman to continue driving the Sidekick. We reached Keremeos around 10pm and setup camp at the first site we found along the Ashnola River. It was another quiet night.
MONDAYMonday dawned warm and sunny. Since it was the last day of a long weekend, we decided to get some fresh fruit in Keremeos and then head straight home to beat the traffic jams. Again, that was the plan but things changed.
Shortly after Hedley, traffic was diverted to the Old Hedley Road due to an accident on Hwy 3. That went ok for a while until about 10 km from Princeton. Then traffic turned into stop and go while we baked in the sun except for Mark & Sarah and Norman & Helen in their AC'd trucks. Grrr. When we reached Princeton, I led our group through the streets of my old hometown to bypass the traffic. Along the way, we passed by some of the Coastal Cruisers who had just come from their Whipsaw trail run up near Tulameen. The Hope-Princeton was congested but bearable. We stopped at the crowded Eastgate Esso for some ice cream treats and pop. While we were hanging around there, a girl asked us if we had a ratchet set. Her friends' car was overheating and they wanted to remove the thermostat to see if that would help. She said she asked several people there and they all pointed to us and said, "you should ask those fourwheelers, they would have tools." And we did. A few minutes later, with my socket wrenches safely stowed back in the Jeep, we headed for home. Hwy 1 was also very busy and we were entertained by three or four SUV drivers who figured they'd travel faster by driving off the freeway, through the grass divider and onto the side roads. One moron dug himself in just as he crested onto the side road. Thanks to these boneheads, I'm sure even more car drivers are going to support sin taxes on SUVs. And no, none of them made better time than had they stayed on the freeway like we did.
That, in a large nutshell, was how we spent the BC Day weekend. A big thanks to Vic Sery to organizing the Little White and KVR excursions.
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