5 DAYS IN A UNIMOG

Ex­plor­ing in true over­land style

4WDrive - - Contents - Words and pho­tos by Kristina Wheeler

We planned five days of open trails that would in­clude run­ning Kookapi, the west side of the Fraser Canyon, the Churn pro­tected area, the lands of the Gang Ranch, hope­fully find­ing the leg­endary Chilco Choate, then back down through Poi­son Moun­tain, Mud Lakes, a quick run over High­line Road out of Se­ton Portage and home via West Har­ri­son. It was to be an epic trip; and the com­rade­ship gained with my com­pan­ions in seven other trucks would last a life­time.

It was Fri­day night and most of the other trucks had al­ready headed up to Clear Creek hot springs, with the guys and Heavy swing­ing by to pick me up on the way. We quickly loaded, and headed to­wards the East Har­ri­son For­est Ser­vice Road (FSR) with a quick stop to fill the hu­mungous fuel tank, where I learned that about any­thing can be added if needed, in­clud­ing veg­etable oil. We pulled into the hot springs just af­ter dark, quickly set up camp, and luck­ily had the hot tubs to our­selves. The trip to the springs is a nice day trip and can eas­ily be done in a 2-wheel drive ve­hi­cle; how­ever, keep in mind that it’s a pop­u­lar lo­ca­tion with lim­ited tubs, so it’s best to be pre­pared for close quar­ters.

The next morn­ing, we rose early and af­ter a quick break­fast over the camp­fire, con­tin­ued head­ing up East Har­ri­son to meet up with the Kookapi FSR. As Heavy is not al­ways known for her speed, we fol­lowed be­hind the other trucks and started notic­ing that there was a trail of trash in the mid­dle of the road. Shawn and I got out and started walk­ing in front to pick it up, as it closely re­sem­bled our own trash from the night be­fore. Turns out that the Trasha­roo on Pat’s truck had come loose and was at­tempt­ing to re­dis­tribute its con­tents back to mother na­ture.

The Kookapi FSR, con­nect­ing East Har­ri­son to Na­hat­latch of­fers in­cred­i­ble panoramic views and nu­mer­ous moun­tain glaciers. Af­ter a few hours on a fairly paved FSR, you will find your­self in the Na­hat­latch Lake area. There are many op­tions for camp­ing, which in­clude the lake, along the river, or spend­ing the night in the Fire Look­out Tower high above val­ley with a star­lit view of the Fraser Canyon be­low.

Due to time con­straints we opted to take the paved road out of Bos­ton Bar head­ing into Lil­looet. There we topped up on gas, grabbed ice cream, and headed up the West Canyon dirt road to­wards the Big Bar Ferry; pulling off onto a plateau above the Re­serve to have lunch. We spent some time watch­ing the fish­er­man be­low; it was like step­ping mo­men­tar­ily back in time, as they have been us­ing the same fish­ing tech­niques for gen­er­a­tions.

It was time to con­tinue North up the Canyon, our next goal was the Leon Creek Rec site, the Back­roads Map­book had noted a hot spring ac­ces­si­ble from there, which seemed odd. Most of the trucks con­tin­ued at their own pace up to the Big Bar Ferry, with lit­tle in­ter­est in the ad­di­tional ex­plor­ing. How­ever, the three of us in Heavy, af­ter a few wrong turns, found the sought af­ter Rec Site. It was ob­vi­ous that it had been ne­glected for a long time; it also be­came quickly ap­par­ent that many

years had passed since the road to the sup­posed hot springs had been driven down. Hun­dreds of fallen trees lin­ing the way in­di­cated that hours of good chain saw work would be needed to clear them out, or take the time to com­plete the hike on a hunch. As frus­trat­ing as it was, we de­cided that the ven­ture in to ver­ify if the Back­roads Map­book was cor­rect would have to wait another day.

We con­tin­ued north, in awe of the vis­tas and land­scapes, stop­ping for a mo­ment to take in a rather large herd of deer with two play­ful stags. The views along the Fraser Canyon in this area are mes­mer­iz­ing, with a thou­sand shades of gold re­flect­ing off the long grasses and sand­stone ridges.

We shortly came upon the Big Bar ferry, which usu­ally runs on de­mand, un­less the op­er­a­tor is hav­ing din­ner, then you need to be pre­pared to sit and wait for a bit. Some of the group were al­ready across, and you could see the op­er­a­tor’s face light up when he saw Heavy. There’s some­thing about a Unimog that al­ways brings out a smile when peo­ple see them on the trail.

A short way af­ter com­ing off the ferry, we started pass­ing through the Gang Ranch Area. Al­though sev­eral of the older struc­tures re­main, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that while they may look aban­doned, they do re­main the prop­erty of the Gang Ranch, so any vis­its to them may re­sult in you in­ter­act­ing with the staff. At this point you want to give your gas tank a hard look. There is a small ser­vice sta­tion in the nearby town of Dog Creek, but there is no guar­an­tee that they will be open, or have fuel on hand, and from here to the Se­ton Portage area there are no fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties for fuel.

A few of the group went to top up their tanks and Jerry cans. We just car­ried on, as Heavy holds more than enough fuel to safely get you where you need to be. Along the wind­ing road to­wards the Churn pro­tected area, I was in heaven sur­rounded by the me­an­der­ing grass­lands, which were cra­dled by the painted colours on the table­lands that rose above us. Trav­el­ing the snake-like roads we de­scended upon the old iron Churn Creek Bridge, where we stopped on the bridge so ev­ery­one could take their tourist pho­tos, our en­tire tribe com­ing alive with smiles.

Head­ing east on the Em­pire Val­ley Road we found a quaint camp­ing spot at the well-worn calv­ing barn and set­tled in. Some­thing about pitch­ing tents on ma­nure wasn’t that ap­peal­ing, so ev­ery­one got to the busi­ness of set­ting up camp in the grass fields out­side. Soon the camp­fire was ablaze, din­ner on, and I set­tled in lis­ten­ing to the guys, lost in the fall­ing stars, ser­e­naded by crick­ets and feel­ing like I was fi­nally at home.

Sun-kissed canyons.

Play­ful stags.

Set­ting up camp.

Em­pire Road.

Churn Creek Bridge

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