SOLO MIS­SION: AN AD­VEN­TURE FOR ONE

An ad­ven­ture to Poi­son Moun­tain and China Head for one

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

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.

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