5 DAYS IN A MOG: PART 2
Part Deux THE LEGEND OF CHILCO CHOATES
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.
Right where I belong.
BC’s oldest Unimog.
Dead man’s lean-to.