The last time we were here, we looked for Poison Mountain. We thought we had found it but it was only a knoll. This year we got to the knoll and could see Poison Mountain in the distance. In planning the trip we knew we wanted to be well into the Windy Ridge trail before we set up camp. Would we have time for a quick visit to Poison Mtn? We checked our watches and made a decision to drive towards the mountain and if we thought we could do it within the hour we would, other wise we'd backtrack and start the Windy Ridge trail.
We drove towards the mountain but soon realized we wouldn't make it in time so that idea was sadly abandoned and we backtracked to the Windy Ridge trailhead. We turned right onto the trailhead, read the warning sign for the danger ahead and pushed into the dense forest. What an amazingly tight trail. I wouldn't advise full size rigs to try this anymore. The trees have grown quite a bit in the last few years. We snaked our way through the trees. Colin in the Toy needed to do a few more three point turns than we did in our shorter vehicles. As it was, at one point Colin tagged a tree pretty hard punching a hole through a rust spot in his box. We could see that we were going to clear the forest but as we were coming out of the forest there was a large mud bog in front of us. It appeared that people with 35's had fun going through. Our little 31's didn't look up to the task. We managed to find a bypass that was created some time ago and went around.
We arrived at clear-cut area. The road pretty much disappeared at this point. There were a couple of arrows staked to the ground that indicated the way. Sometimes you are left guessing. The road had pretty much just turned into a quad track at this point. All we could see were old quad tire marks and the track was narrow. No issues with that because the only thing you had to drive around were small stumps and the odd small log.
We made it through the logged area and just touched the forest when we hit a major road that crossed in front of us. Out came the map book and GPS to find out where we were. Looking across the road we could see a track running through some grass. The map didn't show us making a sharp turn so straight ahead we went into the grass.
We were approaching a marsh area when the track split into the marsh and up through the trees. We figured that "up" was the best route to take. Again the road was tight through the trees; perhaps this was tighter than earlier parts of the trail). (Editor's note: Yes, the correct route is to stay left and go up into the trees. This is the original trail and avoids impacting the sensitive marsh area.) There was a sharp right and then a small downhill. At the bottom was a small drop and a creek to cross. After that there was a large log that lay close to the road which was easily avoided by most. I watched as the vehicle behind me went through the creek and then continued on my merry way. I was quite a distance ahead when I realized the others weren't catching up. I waited for a minute and then called on the radio. Colin responded by saying Tom had broken something and I should get back there. I returned to see Tom's wheel pressing against his back quarter panel - not good. He said he had heard a noise from the rear of his XJ a few minutes before but pressed on. I looked at the log and saw that he drove over it. We broke the tools out and started to dig into it. His U-bolts were loose. This caused the axle to ever so slightly move fore and aft wearing the centre spring centering bolt. Going over the log must have been enough force to shear the spring bolt and the axle slid back on the leaf spring, dislodging springs as it moved.
We can fix this. We started by pulling the shock and then loosening the u-bolts. Not going to be quite that easy. Yes they weren't tight on the u-bolt plate but they were very rusted. Afraid that we'd break the u-bolts we figured we'd need heat. No torch. I took apart my BBQ and used parts to make a torch to heat the nuts. That, along with some oil on them, should work. Not so easy. We also needed to whack them pretty hard with a chisel to try and break the rust free. We got two loose and figured we're doing pretty well when we then broke one. Great, we're in the middle of no where with a broken spring bolt and broken u-bolt. Still optimistic that we could fix it, we worked on. We found a piece of rod that could be used as a centre bolt - a bit short but might make it. Colin started to rummage around in his Toy when he came out with a new u-bolt. Close to the same size, should make it.
Oh - did I mention we were beside the swamp and we're getting eaten alive by mosquitoes? Oh ya, it's also now after 8:30 pm, the sun has gone down and it'll be dark really soon. We modified the top spring plate to accept the new u-bolt and pounded the short piece of rod into the locater hole in the top of the spring perch. We put the springs in one piece at a time and then jacked the axle in place and made sure that the u-bolts were as tight as possible. The rod was too short, it just got to the top of the last leaf. When I was driving in to Burnaby earlier that day I figured I should grab some welding cables and rod on the off chance that we might run into a serious emergency. I was glad I did! We hooked up a couple of batteries and I welded the top of the rod to the spring plate. Good as new for now.
We had talked about camping there for the night but the mosquitoes were so bad it was driving every one crazy. We decided to push on. We packed the rigs back up and drove on and at 9:45 we were into the forest again. My multitude of driving lights they sure came in handy at this point, being that it was pretty dark. At this point we lost track of the time, so I don't know when it was that we reached this warning sign:
DO NOT PROCEED ANY FURTHER. LANDSLIDE AT BOTTOM OF HILL.
Well, we made it to the infamous ridge. I must say it was pretty daunting at night when you poke your nose out of the trees and see it. Or don't see it, I should say. We all got out and surveyed the situation. Not looking good...the quads have taken their toll on the side hill. It was quite eroded and also being dark, no one was looking forward to it. Ron, my dad who's 72, grabbed a flashlight and down the hill he went to see what lay ahead. Tom saw the bypass on the edge of the tree line and walked it. No problem. It was steeper in one spot but not on a 25 degree angle like the side hill. That made me feel better. I looked down the hill into the trees and saw Ron waving his flashlight up and down the ground indicating he had found where the side hill road and the bypass road join up, and we should come on down. I took a deep breath and stuffed it into 4 low and first gear. I crawled down and then made a sharp left into the trees where Ron was indicating. Tom was next, and then Jeff and Colin brought up the rear. Poor Colin. The only one in the group with an automatic. He was on the brakes quite a bit coming down. We traversed through the trees to the bottom of the valley and stopped to talk about what we just did. What a rush.
Looking at our watches we figured it was time to find a place to camp. We drove through the forest and came to a large log, about 18" that lay across the road. Too tired to get the chain saw off the roof I attempted to drive over it. No worries. Then my thoughts came to Tom. Last time he tried driving over a log, he broke. I wasn't sure if his rig would hold together but it did. Whew. We drove a little further, crossed a steam and came to a small clearing. I told the others to wait and I'd drive on ahead to see what was ahead. There was a larger clearing that would be better for camping so I called the troops. We set up camp and BBQ'd our dinner. Every one was quite hungry. It was 11:30 pm, we hadn't eaten since 1:00 pm and we had a very busy day. Oh, did I mention no mosquitoes? None. That made it the best camp spot ever.
I awoke early, with very cold toes. I went to bed with my clothes on figuring it would be chilly. It was damn cold. I climbed out of the tent and saw a heavy layer of frost on everything. Looked at the altimeter and saw we were over 5000ft. No wonder it was so cold. The sun was coming up already and I knew it would warm up shortly.
We ate, packed up fairly quickly and hit the trails again. Not knowing what lay ahead of us, we wanted to get a fairly early start.
We started off with renewed energy. The trail started just as we ended last night, in the dense forest beside a creek. The trail was a little twisty but not quite as challenging as we had found it the day before. It wasn't long before we came across the first cattle corral nestled in the bottom of a narrow valley. I thought we were at Yodel Camp but there was no sign of a cabin. We pressed on driving at a leisurely pace and enjoying the scenery. I wondered how long it would be to the Yodel Camp. Shortly, we found ourselves at another corral that was around a large grassy area. In the distance I could see a cabin that must be the Yodel Camp. We entered the corral and spent some time checking out the cabin, hitching posts and relaxing.
After a nice break we drove on. At this point we came a across a major obstacle. The road was on a hillside and part of the road had fallen away. We stopped and got out to appraise the situation. It was wide enough for quads but not a vehicle. With some logs placed in just the right spots, a lot of digging and filling in around the logs the road was wide enough for our narrow vehicles. Not bad. It only took 45 min. Not too much time wasted.
The road at this point seemed to improve greatly. No real challenges. If it had been wet there would have been a lot of mud but being dry, we experienced no trouble. Out of the blue the road turned into what seemed like a highway. By our best guess a grader had spent some time working the road about 4 months ago. We only saw the odd quad track. This road certainly didn't see much traffic.
Our pace stepped up quite a bit with the new road ahead of us. After 20 - 25 minutes of a fairly quick pace, we came to a fork in the road at a lake. We went right and it lead down to a fantastic camping spot on a ledge above the lake. A quick turnaround had us going back along the graded road. At this point we were feeling that our adventure was coming to an end quickly and that we wouldn't come across any more challenges.
The road again came to a fork. It wasn't that obvious that there was a road off to the right but it was there. We studied the map. Again we weren't sure of our exact location but figured that the highway was getting boring and would take us to the mine so we'd take the less traveled route trying to avoid the mine. We headed down the trail and to our delight there was a small washout to traverse. It wasn't big but at least we weren't driving in 2wd anymore.
The road started to climb immediately. This road wasn't used in a long time. No sign of tire tracks at all. Cool. We geared down as the road got steeper and switch backed up the side of the mountain. We punched out of the trees and could see that we were going to be treated with quite the view. We traveled to the top of the mountain and stopped to admire that view for quite a while. The next part of the drive was uneventful but scenic. We traveled across a plateau for quite some time and then started to descend the mountain. What goes up must go down. And down we went. We encountered quite a number of switchbacks. I had fallen from the lead quite some time ago and was a little bit behind the others. Jeff called on the radio. "We've got a big problem, bring your shovel!" How bad could it be I thought? I looked at the map and saw we were almost on top of a washout. Maybe that was it. We got down to the bottom of the mountain and came into a narrow valley. We encountered a number of small slides across the road that made the vehicles tip more than we'd have liked but not that extreme. We approached the stopped vehicles and saw what was a rather large landslide. No way we were going to drive over this one. Out came the shovels and a plan to reconstruct the road was quickly put in motion. Wayne, Tom and I decided to walk the trail for a while so see if more, major obstacles lay ahead. Why do all that work and then find out the road was impassable ahead. Another small slide that would give us grief was determined to be an easy fix.
Wayne and I walked on and came to the washout. We walked through the washout and figured it was do-able. I walked passed the washout for a while before I could see that we shouldn't have too much more of a problem as the road led up the mountain on the other side.
Turning around wasn't an option because the road was just too narrow to do that and we couldn't back up because of the small slides we drove over. Just wouldn't have made it. Plus no one really wanted to be defeated and have to back track for 2 hours.
We all dug in (no pun intended), taking turns with the shovel. Was it ever a warm day! The sun was beating on us. At least there was shade to be had from lots of trees when you were taking a break from digging. We cut up a number of deadfall to make a log wall on one edge. We laid branches on the trail and buried them to try and hold the loose soil together. It took just over 2 hours to fix it up. Again, just wide enough for our narrow vehicles. Tom had gone up ahead some time ago and worked on the second slide. A shovel was useless for him. That slide was all rock. He just used his hands to level the mound.
We were ready. Jeff was first. Nervously and very slowly he proceeded over our new road. As he drove over, it settled quite a bit. Maybe we should have made it a little wider. Too late now. Colin was next and the road didn't shift a bit. Good. Tom and I brought up the rear. Just ahead was the washout. We crossed the creek where I was able to pass into the lead. We approached the edge of the washout and dropped over the bank into the creek. We drove through the creek over rocks and around some logs. We had to negotiate around a rather large log, which took some doing. After that was a climb up the other bank. A little push on the go-pedal and no problem. Ok a lot of pedal. Again we dropped down another bank back into the creek over rock and trying to avoid the deep holes. Finally up the last bank on the other side. That was it for the hard stuff.
After a quick "good job" to all, we pushed on to try and find a spot to eat lunch. The road switch-backed up the side of the mountain. It was very loose rock and the first switchback was pretty tight, requiring a three-point turn from most of us. A couple of more switch backs and we were again up top. The road was great. It was two tracks in the dirt with lots of grass in the middle. This road had been used quite a bit. It was flat and smooth as we drove through the forest. We saw a couple of horses and realized we must be in the Empire Valley. We found a camp hunters used on the edge of a pasture area and had a nice leisurely lunch, joking and relaxing. We talked about setting up camp early but it was decided to push on because we didn't know how much longer it was going take to get out. Our goal was to cross the Fraser River and find a nice spot to camp by a creek or lake. We entered the meadow area and saw a cabin on the left. Having just spent an hour and half stopped we didn't stop to investigate this cabin. The road kind of disappeared in the grass at this point. There was a road on the East side of the meadow that seemed to go south. There was a faint road ahead into the trees going north and there appeared to be another road off to the left that went through the trees north as well. We opted for the latter. We encountered a large tree that had fallen across the road that we drove around with ease. The road was in good shape. We traveled on it for just a few minutes when we encountered what seemed like a highway. The road had recently been improved. That was it. The end of our adventure.
We headed down the road, heading north to see where we would come out. The road was very dry and dusty. I couldn't see anything behind me as I led the way. We came to a fork in the road. There was a large sign for the Black Dome Mine. We looked at the sign, studied the map and found out exactly where we were. We turned right and drove towards the Fraser River in search of the Gang Ranch Bridge. We drove along the road for must have been 15 min when through the trees you could see a number of camp areas for hunters. From the looks of things, I imagine a lot of deer must come out of there in the fall. It wasn't long after that that we cleared the trees and ended up with a view of empty, dry meadowland. We were close to the river now. We turned left on the Empire Valley Road and headed for the bridge. We stopped at a vantage point overlooking the river when we spotted a car down by the river. We headed down a small dust road toward the river and ended up on the riverbank. What an amazing sight. We spent some time around the river and decided this was the ultimate camping spot. A great time was had cooling off in the river and getting rid of layers of dust. We ended up relaxing well into the wee hours of the morning enjoying the night sky.
The next morning the view from the valley changed dramatically. It's amazing the way the sun on the mountain walls can make things look so different from evening to morning. It was like we were in another place. We broke camp, disappointed that our weekend was almost over. Now we needed to join the long weekend's mass exodus home.
We found the Gang Ranch bridge within minutes of leaving camp. We climbed up the other side of the mountain and sped along the long dusty roads heading for the highway. We made a small detour and ended up at Big Bar Lake. What a marvelous lake. The colour of the water was incredible. Unfortunately the bugs were also incredible. We were in the process of making a hasty retreat when Colin's truck refused to start. Some trouble- shooting revealed that the starter solenoid wasn't getting power. Mud on a trip like that gets into everything. Just a bad connection? Whew. We didn't want to spend time working on a vehicle now.
We merged into the highway traffic and sadly headed home. A few stops along the way made the trip more enjoyable and relaxing.
We're planning on doing the trail again in two years?. What will l do differently? Not much except to carry a propane torch head and a bunch of miscellaneous bolts for a breakdown.