A multi-day adventure of guiding a group to Poison Mountain, BC, turned into a wonderful and insightful experience “when class was always in.”

- Words and photos by Kristina Wheeler

I t was 5 o’clock somewhere. For many that means it’s time to call it a day. For us, it meant it was time to hit the trail. For me, it was time to lead those that were putting their lives into my hands on a never-to be-forgotten adventure.

Running solo, I knew how to do well, but leading a group on a multiday adventure not so well. This time it would be six trucks running a few hundred kilometers of dirt roads, a run that I’d done solo many times and knew how long it took.

Lesson #1.

When you travel long distances with a group add about 20 percent travel time for each added vehicle.

We made it to the Hatchery to air down before sunset and worked out the plan for the night – hit the West Harrison hard to get into Skookumchu­ck by midnight, lay claim to the campsite that Travis had set aside for us and get an amazing soak floating under the stars. I took the lead on that dry August night, mesmerized by the beauty that lay around me away from the light pollution. As I was the lead, I was able to see every star clearly.

We managed to stay in a solid convoy up to Tipella and we hit it about midnight. Unfortunat­ely, I failed to calculate the time it takes waiting for

the vehicle behind you to check in, and the safe-dust-distance, into our arrival time. We headed down the Lillooet FSR, hoping to pick up a bit of speed.

Lesson #2.

Always make sure the tail gunner has a radio that you can communicat­e with.

We wouldn’t hit the turn off to Skookumchu­ck until about 1:30 am. I’d seen the turn off and took it, waiting for the other trucks behind me to turn in. I saw them on the road above pause and assumed they’d seen my lights and were turning off. Alas, no. None of them were familiar with the turn. Somehow, even though I saw their headlights, and they had come to a full stop, they didn’t see me and continued down the road for about another 20 minutes before coming back. I’d tried to reach Shaun on his radio, but he couldn’t pick me up on the handheld unit.

Finally, at about 2 am we got into camp and a few of us wandered off to the tubs. It was roughly 3:30 in the morning when my group of nocturnal bathers left to try to get some sleep before I dragged them into another crazy unforgetta­ble day of adventure. As I laid back floating in the tub, I stared at up into the flawless summer night sky making a wish on every falling star. Time stands still and comes to a perfect halt in those moments. I make a conscious effort to embed every texture, taste, and sound into my memory. You don’t have to share it with anyone else, it’s yours and no one can take it from you.

Lesson #3.

Remember most people actually eat in camp and require coffee to function on only four hours sleep. Also, do not live on fruit. As the saying goes, you are what you eat!

We left camp under the flawless August sun, making good time in the daylight up to Pemberton. Shaun stopped a few times to get some footage and I found a random pair of jeans laying on the side of the road wondering, “what’s its story?”

After gathering up the necessary gas, food and other supplies, I was reminded that it feels a bit like herding cats to get everyone to the same place and ready to go. Meanwhile, I’m getting antsy because I'm still on a paved road.

We got to the base of the Hurley, soon to experience its washboard roads that turned the trucks into musical instrument­s. The wheeler’s backside will always pay the price for the vistas and beauty the back roads bring.

The mountainsc­apes surrounded us and slowly exposed their true spirit in colours so vivid they felt surreal. Part of the appeal of the sub alpine trails is that they don’t feel real. It's as though you are time-travelling and have landed in some alternate universe. It's the sparse, stunted trees, and the way you can see the layers of the earth and how they formed over millions of years.

We arrived in Goldbridge, slipped by an old car that lay on the side of the road and the abandoned homes that most overland explorers know so well. Pulling into the Pioneer Mine, which holds a piece of my soul, the others experience­d its power for the first time. Shaun, excited by the old dynamite structure, quickly scrambled up into where normally only the packrats play; others carefully picked their way through the remains that looked like they exploded.

On the way out we took a slight detour and went to the upper part of Pioneer Town to explore the remains of a larger structure. There are several rumours regarding the buildings' original use - including that it may have been a brothel. However, on one of my visits here, I met an old man who said he lived in the house across the street and that the story, while entertaini­ng, wasn't true.

Pioneer Mine is one of those sacred places in the wheeling world where the lessons of yesteryear collide with todays’ world. I whispered safe travels to the guardians that protect the remains thanking them for sharing it with me. The day was starting to slip away and we needed to get to our next base camp at Mud Lakes before dark. For some reason, the road has etched its path into my memory and I know it like the back of my hand. I once walked someone through it by radio from a distance.

Lesson #4

There are wild animals out there…. not just humans.

We found our second campsite in an open grassy area and set up our tents, settling in next to a campfire

and listening to a few stories. While anticipati­ng the next day, I fell asleep to the rhythms of the cicada and jumping fish.

Waking up the next morning to the sound of rustling outside the tent, I had a half-asleep moment of "Oh God, is it a bear?" ‘And "Is this finally the time I have to deal with this?" Rememberin­g Adrian was still asleep in the tent beside me and that his dog was with him, I realized that it wasn’t that bad. I took a peek out of the tent to be greeted by a rather less ferocious beast calmly eating grass, and looking rather perturbed that I wanted to take its picture so early in the morning.

The smell of bacon and coffee on the communal morning grill hitting the air got everyone moving and packed up as a herd of turtles passed by. As we hit the road, everyone became more excited that we were moving closer to the peak of the legendary Poison Mountain. We left Mud Lakes and slowly traversed our way to the crest that bridges the distance to Swartz Lake. I have always loved this spot. When I look down at the two lakes it hits me that I’m finally where I belong. I’ve left civilizati­on and returned to my roots that bring me peace. It is in these moments that I feel grounded, and my soul is cleansed as though I've gone to confession­al.

We passed Swartz Lake, and much like Jack and Jill, we all went up the very rutted off camber switch back hill. For the novice driver, as I remember from my first solo run up it in 2013, it's a challenge in the mental state of ‘oh God I’m really doing this.’ Reaching the top of the hill, stopping under the epic sign that is etched in the memory of every wheeler that has passed it, we celebrated that we made it. I once descended that hill in a Unimog, which puts a different perspectiv­e on it as you sway back and forth moving trees out of the way.

Everyone enjoyed reaching the new point and we talked about the different routes available to leave. Our journey was the road to the right, which would take us to the serene three-way intersecti­on. Next issue, I'll tell you about Lesson #5 at the top of Poison Mountain - 'Brake Lines Go Bad and Tires Die'.

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 ??  ?? Camping in Sloquet. Just one our stop overs during our trip.
Camping in Sloquet. Just one our stop overs during our trip.
 ??  ?? The washboard roads in Hurley.
The washboard roads in Hurley.
 ??  ?? The alluring scent of bacon greeted us in the morning.
The alluring scent of bacon greeted us in the morning.
 ??  ?? 'Mansions of Old' can be found throughout Goldbridge.
'Mansions of Old' can be found throughout Goldbridge.
 ??  ?? A ferocious beast that was spotted during the trip.
A ferocious beast that was spotted during the trip.
 ??  ?? Dynamite remains in Goldbridge.
Dynamite remains in Goldbridge.
 ??  ?? Cresting the ridge.
Cresting the ridge.
 ??  ?? My lovely 4x4 humps.
My lovely 4x4 humps.
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