We’d never planned on a 5 day trip to the Chilcotin. We had planned a year in advance on a group trip through the Alexander Mackenzie trail in Northern B.C. But that wasn’t about to happen.
No one could have predicted then that forest fires would cook B.C. and back-country bans shut down trails. But we’d already booked Grandma to come kid sit, and we’d already dreamed of a great adventure.
So we went where the roads were open.
And the “group” turned to Sam, myself, and our buddy Rob. Two rigs. With nothing but a backroads map-book we headed out with a itch for adventure,
and we weren’t disappointed.
I once wrote that my greatest stories are like Sandcastles. If I don’t write them down, day by day the waves slowly wash away bits of it, till all I remember is that “there was once was a great castle there”. I know this Chilcotin trip will be like that for me one day. Except, man, those mountains, if nothing else, will always be etched in my memory. Sandcastles… in large scale.
It didn’t seem possible that man could stand on their backs, let alone drive up them. I remember Sam pointing at them from a distance and I being in awe and terror at their might. Even the clouds seemed to quickly pass them by, as to not anger them.
Yet, after a scouting trip in the evening and a night at their base- we crawled over boulders that made those mountains in the Toyotas with “Peak” determination fueling us forward to the top.
We had awoken that morning shocked to find the river we had camped beside had changed like there was a tide. The grey glacier fed river would melt in the day’s sunlight causing more volume, and slow down, receding, in the cool of the evening. Across from our camp was an actual camp. A mining camp. Full of equipment and trailers, beds, vehicles- and not a soul. At least none living. (Unless you include the furry pack rat in the pantry in the cook house, or the dead mink curled by the boiler room door). Doors creaked, pillows and bedding swung from plastic bags attached to the ceiling, and everything looked like it had been left with plans to return. Only…. from the paper stubs we found, that was in 2008.
What had they found in these mountains? Why did they leave? And why did they leave this all behind?
After a hot breakfast we started the climb still within the tree line. We passed by hundred-year-old cabin remains all the size of garden sheds, holding mysteries of their own. On the first bend before the mines mounds of tailing’s, we passed our garbage sacks that we had stashed that night- we were well aware we were in Grizzly country- it wasn’t just the mine leaving piles behind. We drove over a culvert that had large gaps on either side where the mountains runoffs tried to carry it away. Except we beat Times intentions, and were able to cross over the tube. How much longer it will be there?… well I guess only Time knows.
Then there were no trees, just rock balanced on rock and a switchback trail scaring the great mountain’s back. The first stretch up, my husband got to have the mountains edge by his door. Then all too soon a switch back. And there I was hovering over space- or so it felt. From the cab you couldn’t see ground. At least not the ground we drove on. I was greatly relieved when we stopped at the second switch back. We hopped out and scrambled over to “that glacier and pool- just over there” which turned out to be quite some distance away. Without trees distance is strange. It felt like we were bounding around on some planet from space, and we’d left earth behind. Even the plants that grew from between the rocks cracks were strange and foreign.
We crawled on in the Toyotas. With the gears set just right in low range, the tire treads grabbing, the shocks and springs flexing- the Hilux worked like a spider up the narrow path.
I murmured in fear and didn’t know where to put my eyes. “You think this is bad- imagine the balls on the guy in the excavator who scraped this road out!” Came Sam’s response with a crazy twinkle in his eye. He was loving it. The truck moved like it was an extension of him, and he was in his glory.
I found my place, eventually. And it was outside of the truck- just up ahead spotting tricky spots where a good line would need to be played. Out there the truck looked like it had more room on the trail- not so precarious. We always risked the possibility that the path would become impassable and we’d have to back down the mountain.
Then it happened. A rock side had washed out the path and left a rounded mound in its place. We were so near the top, and so far from the bottom.
After a short discussion the guys pulled the smart card, and as much as they hated it, decided the trucks weren’t going any further.
Not to stop us going on foot though. And man we’re we in for a treat.
Boxes and boxes of drill samples lay glistening in the sun, jade, quarts, marble… and large metal motors and equipment that looked like it was dredged out of the sea. Rusted and burnt swimming in a large array of nuts and bolts. Maybe they had a fire? Or maybe they set a fire when they left.
There were air tubes coming out of the ground. There had to be a mine shaft somewhere. We looked about for a while. Then DOWN a ways on the side of a sharp embankment was a large metal truck barrel and a pile of beams.
“There.” Sam said, pointing.
We returned to the trucks for flashlights, food, and water.
Rob (our friend driving the other Toyota) and I went searching for another entrance and Sam (a climber in the past) made his way to the tank and beam pile.
Of course Sam found it. The entrance. And of course this stretch our comfort zones. Rob and I weren’t climbers. Rocks falling away onto the small ledge where Sam stood- was concerning. Although we tried, there really was no other way. While we were trying Sam had disappeared into the mine and we could hear metal clinking…”what the?” And then he was back on the ledge beneath us with a ladder made from rebar with spikes on the top and bottom rungs.
“Hey! Look what I found.”
Then Sam was at our feet with a ladder that he pressed into the mountain, got us to step on it, then monkeyed around us moving the ladder down. With this process the three of us made it to the mouth of the cave. I breathed a sigh of relief before thinking-
” Um, What if there’s gas in there… like we don’t have a canary or nothin.”
” you can stay out if you like, but we’re going in…. besides it will be fine.”
Well I wasn’t staying on this rock face by myself- and so I went into my first ever mine shaft.
It was beyond dark. And yes, damp. In about five minuets we had hit the end. Besides the incredible quarts walls, we were disappointed. Then on our way back Rob happened to look up… and we realized the mine kept going up in a few different spots with sketchy old climbing rails. Well guess who checked one out? Sam. Mean while Rob and I spotted little white mushrooms growing in the pitch black.
We never died in that mine.
Nor the next.
Although I would have been the lone survivor of the second mine because i sat at the caved-in entrance while the guys explored that one. I figured the only real danger I could be in was from bears or cougars and with the mountainside being all bits of rock, I’d hear them coming. I felt safer than I had all week camping. The view was spectacular, and I never had to drive a truck down the mountain to get a search and rescue team. The boys lived to go find another mine opening and climb over the top of a near by mountain top.
When we did decide to call it a day, we realized we were fortunate that the trucks had stopped not far from a switch back, which was wide enough to turn around on.
It was strange but on the decent I felt no fear of heights riding in the truck- guess being on top of the world for a day does that to you. In fact at a spot i’d insisted to get out at before, i didn’t bother on the way back.
The whole week trip was incredible. We had so many explorations and adventures. From finding a floating party barge on the bluest water you have ever seen, to having cat eyes watch us by tour little propane fire. Being told were not wanted in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to leave to. To finding a Native Trapping school, water crossings, and that that public bridge you drove an hour to get to- was locked up in a inhabitants property and they’re not home. I saw clouds pour like a river over a mountains peak, a post office the size of a shoe-box, hectors of burnt forest, gnarled wind beaten African looking trees, a fly-in fishing resort, and a really cool trapers cabin. Loons in a group of 9, and this…
But nothing was quite like that day on that mountain. It was the icing on the cake. The Cherry of our Chilcoltin adventure.
Somethings need to be seen to understand, The peaks of the Chilcolin are one of them.
B.C.’S greatness is calling…
to be seen.
To be explored.
And we only just scratched the surface- forever hooked.