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

The sec­ond part of our story be­gins on day three in the Churn Creek Pro­tected Area.

We awoke and headed down the Em­pire Road to fur­ther ex­plore the Gang Ranch Lands. Those of us in Heavy had an al­ter­nate goal which was to get as close as pos­si­ble to the peak of Black Dome Moun­tain. Trav­el­ling up the quickly in­creas­ing el­e­va­tion lines, the vis­tas opened be­fore us, awash in the strokes of every imag­in­able hue of gold. As much as I en­joy all of the 360-de­gree views at the top of BC’s moun­tain ranges, there is a unique beauty found in the Chilcotin that seems

al­most sur­real, like an artist sketch­ing them on a can­vas. We un­for­tu­nately ran into a gate and had to turn back, and although it was dis­ap­point­ing not to make it to the peak, we were grate­ful to make it as far as we did.

On the way back along the wind­ing road we found a va­ri­ety of very well main­tained hunt­ing sites. Like most ar­eas fre­quented by true back­woods men, traces of the hu­man el­e­ment were hard to find; ex­cept a poor lost fork that needed to be res­cued and given a new home.

We re-joined the Tribe in an area that seemed as de­void of life as frozen tun­dra, but when you take a deeper look, you will see it is teem­ing with life, from but­ter­flies and crick­ets to the nu­mer­ous larger wildlife that fre­quent the area. This was made even more ob­vi­ous by the beau­ti­ful two year-old bear tum­bling down the hill af­ter dart­ing across in front of us.

As Heavy isn’t the fasted ve­hi­cle, we spent the ma­jor­ity of the trip watch­ing the dust set­tle in front of us, re­lay­ing road choices on the VHF. We trav­elled past the re­main­der of the Gang Ranch struc­tures, in­clud­ing sev­eral very pic­turesque rus­tic cab­ins. Hit­ting the main road, we parked at Dead Man’s lean-to for lunch; a sight ob­vi­ously used and loved by hunters. The wel­come mat hang­ing on the well­worn frame did its job, and you could feel the warm mem­o­ries and com­rade­ship ra­di­at­ing from the shel­ter. I wan­dered around the area for a bit as ev­ery­one ate, paus­ing at a me­mo­rial for some­one whose ashes had been spread here.

We con­tin­ued west on the old aban­doned trail along­side the marsh, pass­ing the an­cient rem­nants of the im­ple­ments that had worked the land over the years. We came across the reser­voir at the dammed end of Gas­pard Creek and stop­ping to ex­plore it, I dis­cov­ered and feasted on the most de­li­cious batch of wild rasp­ber­ries.

We reached the end of the trail and the start of beau­ti­ful Gas­pard Lake; a large dam marked the gate­way to an area that gave ‘boun­ti­ful fishing’ a whole new mean­ing, as you could sim­ply scoop your net in and bring it out chock­full of fish. We con­tin­ued on, pass­ing through the

cat­tle gates and old cab­ins that are still used by cowhands and as emer­gency shel­ters dur­ing in­clement weather.

We came across an al­lur­ing lit­tle spot called Mos­quito Is­land with a beau­ti­ful out­let on the lake, which I was hop­ing to call home for the evening. We con­tin­ued past it, as our first pri­or­ity was find­ing the Chilco Choates' (an in­fa­mous lo­cal guide and out­fit­ter) home­stead. We rounded the west end of the lake, and knew we were in the right area when sar­cas­tic signs ap­peared on the trees. Soon enough the gates to Chilco’s home, with horns and the warn­ing that all ve­hi­cles must stop there, greeted us.

We wan­dered onto what can only be de­scribed as a flash back to days gone by. Nu­mer­ous shacks, a line of clas­sic Jeeps, and as­sorted knick-knacks spoke

of the years Chilco had spent build­ing his home­stead. The man him­self came out and greeted us, the wry ex­pres­sion, which had made him well known in th­ese lands, could eas­ily be seen. He was taller than I had ex­pected, but had that smile on his face that you could tell held a thou­sand tales. I didn’t just read his book; I de­voured it - its pages per­me­ated with be­guil­ing camp­fire tales only old guides can tell.

The guys asked for a tour of his prop­erty, and a Un­i­mog in par­tic­u­lar caught their eye, ap­par­ently the first one to ever be im­ported into Canada. It was in charm­ing con­di­tion con­sid­er­ing its long

his­tory work­ing in a harsh en­vi­ron­ment. Shawn asked him to turn her over, it took a few tries but then the throaty sound of the an­cient en­gine roared to life. I watched with a smirk as I taped the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the Tribe and Chilco, know­ing I was wit­ness­ing a life­long mem­ory be­ing made for all in­volved.

Over a few hours the Tribe got their fill of guide sto­ries, in­clud­ing how Chilco chal­lenged the Gang Ranch, and I wan­dered around his home­stead. The land is still used to take guests on guided tours, although he has handed off most of the du­ties to a new cou­ple. There were cu­rios ev­ery­where that spoke to the heart, and I fell in love with a sign on one of the walls that said: “There is room for all of God’s crea­tures, right next to the mashed pota­toes”.

We made our way back to Mos­quito Is­land, most of the Tribe pulling out their poles and mak­ing their way to the lake­side, catch­ing some huge trout. The sun­set over the hori­zon of the lake re­sem­bled a can­vas catch­ing the artis­tic strokes of Rem­brandt. Din­ner was to be an overland-ex­pe­di­tion test - pub night! A few of the Tribe got the camp­fire started, as Shawn pulled out the deep fryer; tonight we would be en­joy­ing au­then­tic pub treats in­clud­ing rib bites, mozza sticks, wings… if it could be or­dered in a pub he had it for us. I poured a few drinks for Shawn and Glen and ev­ery­one set­tled around the fire, shar­ing sto­ries while en­joy­ing the fin­ger food.

Light melded into dark­ness, and the night sky took cen­tre stage, with fall­ing stars as silent fire­works. As I climbed into my tent, it made me think of just how many wishes I could make, for me it was sim­ple – just one wish to live this life every day.

Em­pire views.

Closed Black­dome.

Wind­ing Smiles.

Right where I be­long.

Mos­quito Is­land.

BC’s old­est Un­i­mog.

Dead man’s lean-to.

Straw­berry Eter­nity.

Gas­pard Fishing.

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