5 DAYS IN A UNIMOG
Exploring in true overland style
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.
Setting up camp.
Churn Creek Bridge