With most of the roads around the lower mainland already explored by myself and my friends, we decided to try our luck in the Nicola region since the weather was dry and it was fairly close by. We left the lower mainland Friday night and headed for the Fraser Canyon.
The crew on hand were Doug in the red XJ (XJPimp), James in the black TJ (SonicSeven), Harry in the silver TJ, Tom in the blue TJ (JeepLove) and myself in the green XJ (XJTank) with our friend Derek riding shotgun. Derek has a Liberty that he says he's taken four wheeling and has wanted to come along with us on past trips but we thought it best if he was to ride with us on one trip before he brought his Liberty out with us. I wasn't sure if the stock Liberty would handle the trails well enough.
Our first order of business was the routine fuel stop at the ESSO Station at Whatcom Rd. This also served as a place to get munchies for the Friday night drive up and for those who hadn't eaten yet, an opportunity to grab some quick food at one of the fast food joints. On the road again I was hit with startling realization... I forgot my liquid of choice at home! That just wouldn't do! We needed to find a liquor store, quick! One was handily located in a mall beside the freeway in Chilliwack. I'm glad I saw it because Harry had fired up his Tomtom GPS for directions and was going to steer us in the wrong direction. After a very quick stop we were once again on the freeway and leaving Chilliwack behind, hoping to not stop again until we found camp. The usual late night CB banter was bouncing back and forth between Jeeps. Apparently, my CB wasn't working properly which kind of sucked. My messages had to be relayed through the group to Doug who was bringing up the rear of the pack. The rest of the drive seemed to go by quite quickly and it didn't take long before we crossed to the east side of the Fraser River at the Alexandra Bridge. We took the first right and continued up the road looking for a place to setup a quick camp for the first night.
I had read somewhere on the 'Net that there was a place to camp up that way. All I knew was that it was by the power lines and that you had to go down a steep hill. Going on that little bit of information I figured I'd just take each offshoot I came to hoping that it'd be the right one. After turning right at the first fork in the road we continued on, looking for the first offshoot. After only about 2km we came across the first offshoot that wasn't gated and turned onto it. This led us right to a power line transmission tower which was a good sign. At this point I reminded myself what a good idea it had been to have outfitted the Jeep with four driving lights up on the roof rack, and I had taken the time yesterday to fix the two that didn't work properly. We continued along the overgrown road and moved from transmission tower to transmission tower looking for a downhill trek that might hold the place to camp. Right after the second transmission tower we started downhill into the trees when we were immediately stopped by a cable across the trail with new "Private Property" signs posted. Crap! Looks like the end of the road. It looked promising at first but I guess things change over time.
It looked like we were going to setup camp along the trail by the second transmission tower. After driving in a quick circle looking for an alternate route, it was determined that the only flat spot was on the road in, so the Jeeps were scattered off to the side of the trail to make room for tents. Camp was quickly established and a small campfire followed. The usual shop talk about work and joking went on with consumption of beverages throughout the night. Some drank more than others. Well okay, ONE did. At the time I hoped he'd be able to get up early in the morning. "We'll see," I thought.
One of our regulars from the pack, Jeff, couldn't make the trip. When we were sitting around the fire, we were joking about making up stories of things that happened to us this weekend in an effort to make Jeff jealous when we returned. One of those ideas was to conconct the story that we had come across the Bud Camp bus broken down and filled with the Bud girls. Keep that in mind.
Doug was the first to head for his tent. I was second to crash some time later at about 2:30am. I had a restless sleep and woke up when I heard the others from the group retire at about 5:00am. I thought to myself that it was going to be a slow morning trying to get people up. Boy was I wrong. Most got up early and quickly, except Derek. After some badgering by all, Derek finally arose by the time camp was mostly packed up. Guess who drank the most! We finished the rest of the packing after a quick breakfast and hit the road for Boston Bar.
We pulled into Young's Gas Station for a fuel top-up and while we were there, a couple of old Land Rovers pulled in asking where we were headed. With the reply of Cabin Lake they responded with that they were headed to the same destination along with probably 20 others. Not good news for us. We prefer to camp in solitude where we won't disturb others or they won't disturb us. This plan wasn't looking good so far but you never know what's down the road so at this point it's all good. We always seem to find a great place to setup camp. No need to worry.
We backtracked a couple of klicks down highway and hit the Anderson Mainline heading east. My plan was to take Uztilius Creek FSR across the range. Derek had another suggestion. Take Patchett Spius Creek FSR across, the shorter route. I decided to give Derek's suggestion a shot. After Doug and I took a quick break to air down a bit we hung a left at the power lines. Things got confusing up on the hill. New roads were punched in here and there. That always makes it interesting. We were looking for a "Y" in the road as per the map. Then, if we took a left at the "Y" that should take us to where we wanted. The problem was we came to a fork in the road that had 3 spurs.
We tried the one to the left and I had the feeling we were on the wrong road. I turned on my GPS to try and match our path to the mapbook. After driving a short distance it soon became apparent that we were on the wrong road. We took a small break for liquids and to enjoy the scenery on the side of the mountain. I figured we'd be taking a lot of breaks due to the heat. It wasn't even noon yet and it was well over 30C. We went back to the 3-way fork and took the middle road. We travelled for about a klick when I got the feeling by the terrain and the route we were following that we were once again on the wrong road. I suggested that we back up and take the righthand road. Back to the fork and this time we took the right-most turn. This time I was paying more attention to the GPS and had zeroed in on the map as to our exact location. Again, it was the wrong road. Argh! I was feeling foolish at this point for not being on my game and making more mistakes than I'm used to.
We all turned around yet again and I thought, "there could be a lot more of this on this weekend, the way things are going." We went back to that middle fork being our only option. I shouldn't have gone on instinct originally and given the GPS and map more time to lineup.
Confident now and paying more attention to the map and GPS we travelled up the side of the mountain. The road we were on started in a clear-cut and continued on for quite some time when we got to a log loading area. At this point my thoughts turned bad. I started thinking that the road would end at the log loading area. As luck would have it the tracks went into the brush and then continued into the forested area, constantly gaining altitude. At this point we could see small patches of snow on the ground tucked in the trees beside the road. I was beginning to wonder if we'd be stopped by snow soon. That was one of the concerns we had when planning this trip.
It had seemed like we had been driving forever on boring, dusty and uneventful logging roads. It sure was nice to finally come across the first obstacle of the day. It wasn't major but kind of fun. A small creek had taken out part of the road. I quickly surveyed the situation and then dipped the nose of the Jeep into the creek. Derek at this point was voicing some concerns (I guess his idea of four wheeling wasn't the same as ours judging by how hard he was holding on to the chicken handle). The Jeep went up the other side with ease. All others followed suit without incident. James struggled a bit only because he was trying to reduce wheel spin. It's worth mentioning that Harry had broken an axle shaft the last trip out in his D35 and I think that was on James's mind. Plus none of us had disconnected our front sway bars and most had not aired down making traction a bit more difficult.
On the other side of the obstacle, there was large area beside the road where we could park the trucks and take a break. The snow was considerably deeper beside the road by this point making it a perfect place to cool down. Some cooled in the creek, some enjoyed the snow. I've got to tell you, that cool down break came at just the right time. I think if went much further without being able to cool down people would have started to drop. After that marvelous break we continued into the trees, ever gaining altitude and pushing past the 5000' mark.
It finally happened, we rounded a corner and there it was staring at us. There was a ton of snow covering the road. Knowing I didn't have 44's that would give me the ground clearance to clear the snow. I knew I'd get stuck but that's half the fun, isn't it? I stuffed it into gear and punched it. Derek again had a few interesting words as we flew through the snow. Then the inevitable happened, I got stuck. Real stuck. I guess I had travelled across the top of the snow for a bit then dropped down into 30" of snow. The Jeep was pretty much buried in the snow. I did a quick check to see if backing out was an option. Nope! I was really stuck. At this point we all realized that I'd need winching. Tom got his TJ into position behind and I played out the cable. James dug some snow to try and make room behind me. This work was made more interesting by the fact that most of us were wearing sandals because of the heat. Now our feet were freezing in the snow.
The winching effort started to pull Tom towards me, so Tom's Jeep was quickly hooked up to a tree with a tree saver. Now I started to move, quite slowly at first. I was being pulled into fresh snow, making things more difficult for the winch. We unhooked the cable so I could drive (or ram) the Jeep forward into the snow, trying to align myself with the existing tracks. James then re-attached the cable on the other side of my bumper and I was pulled out much quicker, keeping the Jeep in line with the tracks. All the while I was trying to help by mashing the skinny pedal in reverse and throwing a good chunk of snow. Once I was out we turned around and headed back down the side of the mountain. We had covered alot of kilometers on this road and it was going to take a while to get back down to Anderson Main.
Not long after 2PM, we decided to break for lunch. We stopped the same spot we stopped before at the minor obstacle. During lunch I don't know how but Derek found the energy to throw a football around. Damn, it was too hot for that. The rest of us didn't have any interest in playing ball and we hit the road again. It always seems the way out is much shorter than the way in. It actually didn't take that long to get down the mountain. Plus we were traveling at a much quicker speed than we did coming up. Once at Anderson Main, we got on the gas pretty hard trying to make up some time. One benefit of being in the lead is that I usually get to see the wildlife. A very large black bear rambled across the road in front of the Jeep near a clearing and then into the trees, never once looking at us. It wasn't long after that before we were at Uztilius FSR. We regrouped and turned left, heading north east. At this point I was glad that we hadn't disconnected the sway bars because we could maintain a good speed. All the way along the river I kept my eyes open for a place to camp in case we were stopped by snow again. Not noticing anything along the way I kept my fingers crossed.
After being trapped in the vehicles for over an hour now since our last break, we were all getting pretty warm and thirsty. We stopped for another refreshment break in the shade. This one didn't last too long, no snow or creek to cool down in, not much of a view, and we were all anxious to get back at it and find a good place to camp. We hung a left at the only major fork we came to, hit a couple of switchbacks and got up onto a plateau headed east at 5000'. The road now became quite dry and dusty. There was a noticeable change in vegetation and we realized we were on top and heading into another region. The scenery from on top was fantastic.
Our road turned left and we headed north and then slowly started to lose altitude. We came to the oddest sight (Derek thought he was looking at golf course), it was a bright green valley with a creek running though it. I was pretty sure it was swamp-like. I could just imagine a moose standing there. We stopped for a photo op break and more liquids. You know that you're actually not that far removed from civilization when you can see cattle grazing in the distance. We pushed on heading for our main destination of Cabin Lake. We were all looking forward to setting up camp and having a long break. It was quite hot. The thermometer in my Jeep said it got up to 38C, making everyone quite tired and just plain worn-out. The heat sapped our energy and we just wanted to stop the trucks, get out, and lay around a campsite.
We turned onto Spius Creek FSR which is the same road we tried from the other side earlier today. Looking at the GPS track from earlier in the day, we had been so close to making it through. So close yet so far. If we had made it through we would have been at the same spot hours ago. Oh well, it's all part of the adventure. We quickly turned onto Silver Lake Road which should take us to, obviously, Silver Lake. From Silver Lake we were looking for something that I had read about. A short trail that was maybe 1km long nicknamed "Mini Whipsaw." Having travelled the real Whipsaw a number of times I was intrigued with what it might be like.
We travelled the Silver Lake Road for quite some time again gaining altitude before we came to the lake itself. A small lake with a very small rec site that was full. Derek and I talked to the people camping there while the others waited on the main road as there wasn't enough room for everyone down the small access road. After talking to the campers about some roads in the area we continued on our way. We turned right at the first opportunity and ended up at a dead end.
On the next trail we had more luck. The trail got very interesting real quick. And yes, it was just like the Whipsaw trail except that it was really short. Incidentally it wasn't on the map I was using. I remember seeing the road on a map at www.maps.gov.bc.ca but it wasn't registering at the time in my mind. Derek was quite excited as we drove on through small mud holes, over rocks and logs, clawing up short but steep rock inclines all the while wishing it would never end. Now I wished I had disconnected my swaybar. All our Jeeps seemed to make it without incident. It wasn't hard at all but was a great change of pace from the dusty boring roads we'd been on for the last couple of hours. Once we were on the main road again we stopped to regroup and get more fluids into us. This break was VERY short. The bugs were nasty. I mean NASTY! We sprayed down with bug spray and jumped back into our Jeeps and pushed on trying to leave the bugs behind. We navigated our way to Lightning Lake and found a glorious rec site. It was huge and empty! Fantastic!
Without hesitation we made a unanimous decision to set up camp there. It was getting late and we didn't know how many people would be at Cabin Lake. This place was going to be perfect. We set up camp quickly so we could relax. Most of us cooled off in the lake, enjoying the nice cool water. Derek was very intent on fishing so he was busy getting his belly boat and fishing gear in order as fast as he could and cursing all the while. He didn't want to put on bug spray earlier for fear of repelling the fish. We all laughed at him since the bugs weren't bothering us. I guess it worked for him. First cast and he landed a fish. Cast after cast he was catching fish. Amazing. Most were small but some were a nice size. There was another guy out there fishing in a personal pontoon boat but he wasn't catching a thing. He must have been frustrated watching Derek catch so many fish. Derek returned later with his prize catch of three fish. I think in total he caught over 20 but these were the largest.
Having enjoyed a welcome rest, I broke out the chainsaw and bucked up wood that was scattered around the campsite from a large tree that had fallen. Doug and I split a large pile of wood knowing what kind of fire we tend to have. The regular camping activities followed with food, drink and fire. Lots of each! Everyone turned in at around 2:30am except Derek. We left him tending the fire. Again guess who drank the most.
The next morning, once the sun was up, it got warm in our tents in a big hurry. No one stayed in the tents for long...except for Derek. Notice a trend here? We all broke camp while trying to get Derek up at the same time. Trying to get him up was tough. We were threatening him with abandonment! He thought we were joking. Once we were packed we waited for Derek to get his stuff in order. Man he brings a lot of gear. At 10:00am we hit the trail again, heading for Cabin Lake.
We cruised back down the road we came in on to the first fork in the road. Turning left was, what we thought be Petit Creek FSR and that should take us to Cabin Lake Road. Again we gained altitude through some clear-cut areas. We came upon a mini-van and couple of cars parked at the side of the road at yet another fork. We took the left fork knowing it wasn't the correct road but was curious to see what was down there. The map indicated a possible trail. Who knew, maybe it would turn into something? It's always worth checking out. The road ended shortly after it started and at the end there was a hint of a trail that looked like some quads might have run down it some time ago. It would have been nasty to go at it to try and make it plus it was quite evident they didn't want people driving down there so we retraced our steps back to the main road.
The road meandered its way climbing up the Stoyma Mountain side. The area was getting more barren as we gained altitude constantly gaining on 6000'. Beautiful scenery was all around us. Being on the side of the mountain gave us wide views of the area and made it evident that we were on the highest point for miles and miles around. The road was quite neat the way it was cut into the side of the mountain and snaked its way along following its contour steadily going up and up. Once we hit the magic 6000' mark (lake elevation on map indicated 6000') I knew we must be close. We punched through a small obstacle of snow at the peak of the trail where someone had been before us making it easy. There defiantly hadn't been 20 other vehicles (ie: Land Rovers) going up there, maybe one or two.
The road descended slightly and then there it was, Cabin Lake. Maybe the most beautiful lake I have seen. The surrounding area as well as the lake was magnificent. The lake was nestled in a big basin with towering mountains on all sides. The mountain sides were partially covered in snow making the views even more fantastic. We stopped and played tourist and took a whack of pictures before further descending to the lake. Once level with the lake it was evident why it was called Cabin Lake. There was an old cabin in shambles there. A very nice rec site occupied a fantastic green open space that protruded into the lake. It was stunning.
A camper was there holding down the fort. She and her husband had driven in and had been up in the mountains hiking. Other people camping there had hiked in hence the vehicles parked way back down the road. Those people were also out hiking at this point in the day. We hung around talking to the lady holding down the fort when her husband returned. More chat with him for a while and then we were ready to leave. We left the lake, went up the crest of the hill and then slowly made our way down the side of the mountain. It wasn't a challenging drive by any means just very scenic. Definitely worth the trip up. That lake will stay in mind for a long time to come.
I made a quick stop to call my wife and let her know that we were still alive and consult with the map looking for our best way home. I thought the most direct route to the Coquihalla would be the best choice. That involved taking secondary roads which are the ones that usually hide the treasures. We turned down a small, narrower road that we could tell wasn't well travelled if it was travelled at all considering we were driving over nice grass instead of tracks at some points. We turned a curve in the road and saw three quads. They asked if we had air. They had a flat. Sure we had air. We're all pretty much prepared for anything. I fired up the York to build up air in the bumpers and grabbed the airline. We put air to the tire but it was venting a lot more air than going in. The sidewall was slashed. We removed the tire (they didn't have a spare or a wrench?) and pulled the tire off the rim hoping to patch the side from the inside. It became evident that the rider had been travelling on it flat for a good while. All the cords were exposed inside the tire. I knew we couldn't patch it but we'd give it a shot anyway. We put in the patch, remounted the tire and set the bead. And no, it wouldn't hold air. Oh well we tried. Without spending all day trying to fix it we left them. They had cell signal and the rider said he'd just ride on it flat 44km back to their camp! No spare...go figure.
I asked one of the guys about the road ahead, he said we wouldn't make it. It gets too narrow he said. Hmph. That sounds like a challenge to me. I can't remember all the times a guy on a quad says we wouldn't make it. We always seem to make it. We always take it as a challenge and have to take that route. We just have to.
As it turned out, it was a fantastic drive. The road wasn't too narrow or too hard. We actually wished it was more of a challenge. It had minor technical spots, very minor. In the odd spot it was mildly overgrown. It was just a great drive that followed around the side of a mountain constantly dropping in altitude. Back and forth on the radio we kept asking where the narrow and hard spots were? We came to a very old clear cut area and I thought the trail was done and we'd have to turn around. The road surprised me again when it once again dipped down the side of the mountain. Man, how far did this thing fall? I hadn't realized how much altitude we'd gained the previous day and this morning.
Finally we made it down to the main road where we were yesterday by where Spius Creek FSR and Uztilius Creek FSR meet. We were just north of that location by maybe half a kilometer. We went at most 100 yards when I jammed on the brakes! "You guys want lunch?" I asked. All agreed that a break was needed. I said, "back up and turn left." We had just passed a fantastic spot in the trees right along the edge of the Spius Creek. It wasn't long before everyone was in the river trying to cool down. It was now over 40C! And I thought yesterday was hot.
Some time was spent cooling down by wading in the river trying not to slip on the rocks. Tommy almost lost it. That would have been a shock to his system as the water was very cold coming from the melting snow in the hills above. So far most of the spots we've taken breaks have come at just the right time and been very refreshing. Once we ate, it was time to hit the trail again. No one wanted to hang around on the hot day. I think everyone just wanted to head home. Once again I selected the most direct route home. We turned North on the Spius Creek FSR and only needed to travel a short distance over the creek and our next turn heading south east that should take us on an unnamed road to the Murray Lake Road. The map indicated a major road. Turns out that wasn't the case. There were also an extra couple of forks in the road that aren't indicated on the map. We ended up taking a wrong turn once but that was quickly rectified once I realized that we were heading the wrong direction. So far that day, my navigation skills had been top notch. The road we were travelling on now again wasn't a well travelled road but it was a good road. We couldn't make any time on it but it was just a nice drive. It didn't take too long before we came out on the Murray Lake Road.
That road was like a highway. It was very wide and very smooth, obviously freshly graded. That meant we could pick up some speed for a change and make up some lost time after helping the guys on the quads. I blasted down the dusty road trying to put some distance between myself and the person behind. We were really moving. After about only 5 out of 10km we came upon a slow moving pickup. Well okay he wasn't moving that slow, we had just been moving quite fast. We followed that truck out till we reached the edge of the small community of Kingsvale. We turned right on the Clearwater Road and headed for the Coquihalla. We all stopped for a quick break as Doug and I needed to air up first before we hit the highway. Doug also took the time to drain his spare fuel in his Jeep. Most of the rest of the guys had done that at camp in the morning. My modified tank meant that I could still keep my fuel as an emergency supply in case of last minute fuel issues. Once we were on the highway we basically just headed for home. A quick discussion was made whether or not to try the toll both bypass. Because of the heavy snow pack this year we thought we'd just pay the $10 in case it was still snowed in. When we were up that way a month ago there was still 6' of snow in the hills. This late in the day the last thing I wanted to do was get stopped by snow and have to backtrack to the hwy.
The only excitement we had on the drive home was seeing the Coors Bus broken down on the side of the road with all the Coors Girls out waving at us. Remember our idea about fabricating a story about the Bud Bus? What were the chances?!
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