SOLO MISSION: AN ADVENTURE FOR ONE
An adventure to Poison Mountain and China Head for one
Sometimes we do things for other people; sometimes we do things solely for ourselves. This summer I had the opportunity to finally take on a challenge that I’d had on my bucket list for years - learning to wheel and camp on my own with no written agenda other than a destination.
Last summer I hit up Shea Lake and Cabin Lake twice, Sloquet hot springs a half dozen times, Hale, Sunrise, Kookapi four times, Yalakom twice, Kenyon a half dozen times, Whipsaw and several other of my favourite haunts on weekend excursions. I mastered the skill sets of swapping out my own U-joints, brake pads and differential fluid, and other minor maintenance items with the help of an amazing group of friends. All in all, I felt my Jedi training was complete and it was time to test my nerve in the field on my own.
Now it was time for a trip of a lifetime – an adventure to Poison Mountain and China Head. I’d seen the pictures from friends’ journeys and was mesmerized by the area. I’d been to the abandoned jade mine up between Lillooet and Bralorne and explored the ruins of Pioneer Mine but I had never made the full trip from Pemberton, over Poison Mountain to Boston Bar. With three free days, and a couple extra hundred dollars for gas and expenses, I told the guys where I was going. The only reply was, “Have fun.”
Thursday night I made sure the Jeep was fully stocked and got extras of everything. I picked up my first Jerry Can and was ready to head out as soon as I got home Friday night. I made sure to have enough supplies to last a week, just in case something terminal happened on the third day, and it took the guys a couple of extra days to rescue me.
I wanted an early start and hit the road at 6:00 am. Making the pilgrimage of stops to get to West Harrison Road - Mohawk for Gas, Deroche for their “to die for” beef jerky, the Sasquatch Inn for some bevvies and finally the hatchery to air down. It was here that I realized that I’d be free for three whole days with nothing but adventure waiting.
I made my way up West Harrison with the VHF on 146.460. Part way up I picked up the signal of a convoy visiting
from Alberta. They were on their way to Hale, and I helped guide them down to Hale via the radio. It was kind of a cool experience knowing the markers and spots off by heart. We managed to keep in touch on the radio until I hit the north end of Harrison. I pulled into Tipella at the north end of Harrison Lake. This area is well worth a walk through, I stopped to take some pictures of the abandoned structures and the history here is quite mesmerizing when you allow yourself to get lost in it all.
My next stop was the Sloquet Hot Springs; my faithful first night sojourn. I arrived, set up my tent and went to the hot springs for a hot dip and a cold drink. I don't know why the hot springs are home to me, but they are. Sitting in the magical pools by yourself, with your head on that rock in the middle, staring up at the stars on a clear night will melt any stress away. Surrounded by the dozens of tea lights that others have left on the walls, the glow sticks hanging in the trees, the sound of the river rushing behind you; to me that kind of solitude is irreplaceable.
Morning called and I quickly woke up, ate, packed up and then headed on up the road to Pemberton. I’ve always enjoyed the drive up Lillooet Lake, especially stopping at the little cemeteries that are along the way. Looking at the graves, and the care that was taken when the tombstones were placed is thought provoking, so many little children lost at an early age. I once swore I heard children laughing in the background when I was taking pictures.
In Pemberton, I fueled up then made my way up and over the Hurley Pass, which is a sight to behold, and a lot easier to travel through in the Jeep then in my Civic. My next stop was Pioneer Mine located a bit beyond Bralorne. I love this mine, and the corresponding ghost town with its house of ill repute. The structures, equipment, and history are quite intriguing because so much of it still exists; it makes for a great photo study.
I tore myself away from Pioneer town; next stop was to be Mud Lakes. And here is where the brand new adventure started for me, terrain I’d never been on, roads I’d never explored. I pulled out the Backroad Mapbook, turned on the GPS and told it to find Mud Lakes. Of course, like all good adventures, not all forks you come to are documented.
I always take the road less traveled; and it was nice to know that the roads into Mud Lakes fit right into that category. The signs are worn out and battered, flowers grow in the middle of the roads and deer look up at you in surprise when you pass by. I had no idea what to expect, I had in my mind a muddy patch filled with bugs. I passed by the first campsite filled with the young kids and settled into the one on the east end of the lake in the open meadow. What I found blew me away - the fish doing their 5 o’clock jumps in the lake, barely a bug in sight, the warmth of the sun enveloping me, and a slow breeze blowing the long grains of wheat in the empty meadows.
I lucked out and there was enough spare wood floating around that I didn’t have to take from the supply in the Jeep, and I started a nice little campfire. It’s funny that a year ago I had never started my own campfire, now it’s second nature, same as any skill you learn when taking part in a sport that you’re passionate about. I quickly set up my tent, put out my appetizers of Jalapeño asiago bread with balsamic vinegar and olive oil dip, paired with a delicious glass of Malbec, and for the main entrée - Ribs.
I then settled into the tent and dozed off with a satisfied grin on my face, knowing that tomorrow I was going to
tackle an even greater unknown road, the legends that are Poison Mountain and China Head.
Climbing into the mountains the next day, I reached a beautiful viewpoint where I could see Mud Lakes. There were many bridgeless water crossings and no confusion as to which direction to take, as there were no forks in the road. I’ll never forget the drive out of that valley, it will stick in my mind as one of the most memorable hill climbs. No obstacles just slow and steady first gear low-range all the way to the top. There were a few moments of anxiety along the way, as the road never seemed to stop climbing up into the mountains. I’d gladly do it again though, as I caught myself giggling the whole way up thinking, “I’m really doing this, I’m challenging myself and I’m out of my comfort zone.”
When I got to the top, I parked the Jeep, put the emergency brake on, got out and actually did a little dance to the music on the Sirius satellite radio. I think that the chipmunks and squirrels were slowly backing away from me wondering who is this crazy girl?
There is a sign that displays all the different routes in the area. I wish I had an unlimited gas budget, as I wanted to take all the different routes. The roads from this point got a bit trickier, but I had my GPS to lead me. The weather at the higher elevations was starting to change; there
was rain, hail and even a few snowflakes.
From the valley forests, I was now rising up into alpine country and an all-new kind of natural beauty. Again, I caught myself with this ecstatic smile on my face, dancing in the Jeep to 80’s music. I eventually came to a 3-way intersection, with China Head in one direction and Yalakom in the other; I opted for China Head. This is where the roads became a bit trickier.
Between the GPS and Backroads Mapbook, I only made a few wrong turns. My theory was that the correct route would be a road that looked like the least traveled. It was a beautiful road through the valley, filled with Muppet flowers and gorgeous colours.
I descended slowly into the next valley and missed the sign that said “China.” I crossed the bridge here and made my way up a couple of dead ends before coming back down to the bridge. This time I could see the sign and had a “hand to the forehead” moment. Roughly three days after crossing through this small valley, a 700-metre landslide crashed down across the road I was driving. Had I waited another day or so, I would have either been in that landslide, or have missed my opportunity to follow this route all the way out.
The drive through the valley was beautiful, the streams meandering in and out of the delicate meadows, the wildflowers, the birds and the rock faces were spectacular. My GPS stated I was only 5.1 km away from my first geocache. I made my way through to the heavens; the sights that awaited me were like no other. I’ve long thought that Whipsaw was one of the most beautiful destinations in BC, but honestly, nothing can take the place of the sights of the Chilcotin mountain range stretching into the distance.
Leaving the spirit-lifting views and meadows, I approached a stand of burnt forest. I’ve always found that driving through the haunted remains of a forest to be one of the eeriest experiences - the blackened trees outlined in white with tints of red fire retardant, random trees stand companionless healthy and green, some of the dead devoid of needles, others with the charred remains of needles on crippled limbs, strangely brown instead of black and the roots of the trees unnaturally surrounded by lush green grass, mushrooms and wildflowers.
As I descended further along the trail, the gas gauge approached empty and shortly after the forest fire area, it was time to pull out the Jerry can. Down the road, I came out on the main forest service road (FSR). The scenery quickly changed from alpine forests to the badlands of the Fraser River valley, something the Chilcotin is well known for. Time to make a decision whether to take the Big Bar Ferry back to Lillooet or to take the east side of the river south.
I decided to take the Big Bar ferry. I had a great talk with the ferry operator about the various trails around, Kookapi, Mud Lakes, Whipsaw and a few others, he of course claiming that they were all walks in the park now, and I for the most part agreed with him. The more use the trails get, the easier they are to overcome. For me this is a good thing, I don’t take the trips for the obstacles, I take them for the scenery. Knowing I’m less likely to have issues encourages me to do more solo trips.
I chose to take the Big Bar Road back to Lillooet and proceeded through the reserve land. It finishes with a 23% grade and I enjoyed the long slow climb. This route back allowed me to witness and capture some of the most amazing terrain
in BC. I love my mountains and meadows, but the washed terrain of the Chilcotin is my favourite. I stopped after the ascent and to grab a few geocaches, and appreciate what I had around me.
I had one more night and I opted to head to Boston Bar, fill up with gas, and take my favourite alternate route, Kookapi, instead of the canyon.
After being held up by a couple trains, I made my way up the Nahatlatch Valley to the last campsite before the Kookapi FSR and set up camp for the night. I was awoken the next morning by a parade of logging trucks, and after quickly packing up, I was on the road. I swapped the VHF channel to the one being used on Kookapi, as they were actively hauling and I really didn’t want to meet a logging truck unexpectedly coming around a corner.
I finished the home stretch with a quick stop at Clear Creek to wash the worst of the dust off me before heading home, and it felt great, aside from the black flies. I dried off, climbed back in the Jeep and headed down the last few kilometres of dirt road to get home and unpack.
While the China Head/Poison Mountain safari was a bucket list trip for me, this really needs to be on every wheelers list of must do’s. It is where I saw and experienced more in three days then some people may in a lifetime. Thank you to all the friends that support me, without you I wouldn’t have the courage to be a solo female wheeler.
The author making her way up to second camp at Mud Lakes.
Mud Lakes on a beautiful evening.
When there are forks in the road, it's smart to carry maps and a GPS.
Sister Lake from the road.
Tracking your route will also come in handy on future trips.
There were a few challenges up China Head but a landslide a few weeks later would make it impassable.
The view from the top of China Mountain.
From alpine vistas to barren river gorges, this trip visits many different environments.
Big Bar Ferry is a cable ferry that will get you across the Fraser River.