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A Visit to the Chilcotin

Written by Raenelle on Tuesday, January 1, 2008

After a leisurely start to the morning, we said goodbye to Mackenzie and started the long journey south. We decided to do a little side-trip on our way home. Our destination: Tweedsmuir Provincial Park fairly close to Bella Coola. The road to Tweedsmuir would involve an 800km (round-trip) side-trip that would take us into one of the few areas of BC that I have never been to – the West Chilcotin! The first day, we got as far as William’s Lake after about 7 hours of driving, and we called it quits there … stopping for some groceries for the next few days, a bite to eat at a restaurant and a good night’s sleep at the local Sandman Inn!The next day was spent driving through spectacular countyside, rolling hills, open grasslands, cow pastures, meandering rivers, frozen lakes, winding roads, gorgeous valleys, trees that looked like frozen skeletons covered in snow and ice, and a mountain pass with narrow winding roads covered with packed snow.

At dusk, within Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, we took a narrow snow-covered road that led into the bush, surrounded by trees and following a fast-flowing river on the right. We found a good place to stop for the night next to some river rapids, and we set up camp. Our newly purchased $4 thermometer from Canadian Tire told us that it really wasn’t that cold … only minus 6 deg C … so really “There’s no reason for you to complain about the cold Raenelle!” I was reminded by a certain somebody! After dinner, we went for a walk along the access road, which took us 3km down the road to a small settlement and what looked like an old farming community, Atnarko. There were a number of old farmhouses and shacks on the property, which we checked out through the windows, and then spent some time overlooking the river, and then headed back to our campsite 3km down the road. It was a clear night, and the bright stars were spectacular in the dark sky.

The rooftop tent is not designed for winter camping, so we discovered that we were a little bit cold in the morning, but for the most part, it had been an uncomfortable night on the thin mattress, rather than a cold night! We had a late start, and headed up the mountain to the top of the pass where the map showed some cross-country ski trails. We’re not skiers, but we had our snowshoes with us, which we were keen on trying out in the dry interior snow. We were curious to see how well they would work, seeing as our coastal snowshoes are designed for denser, wet snow. We went for a tromp in a series of meadows … and we soon discovered that we didn’t have enough floatation to stay on top of the snow. It was lots of work, and slow-going, what with sinking about a foot deep with every step!

We headed back to the truck and started to drive back west towards William’s Lake. At nightfall, we reached the Pyper Lake rec site, which was a gorgeous, secluded rustic campground that overlooked Pyper Lake. At this time of year, the entire campground was covered with snow, and we were the only ones there (perhaps we should take that as a sign that we’re the only crazy ones to camp in winter?). The lake was frozen over and covered with snow as well. We had no running creeks nearby as a water source, so we melted snow for dinner and to brush our teeth!

The temperature was minus 18 deg C, and a funny thing happens in that temperature. Everything around you freezes, REALLY quickly! For example, Robin opened a can of mussels, and the sauce was freezing right before our eyes … little crystals formed in the can. Water was freezing very quickly, and moist hands that reached out to grab metal pots or metal cutlery stuck to the metal … Argh!

After dinner, we had been out in the cold temperatures for a little over 2.5 hours, and it was starting to get a little chilly. So, we wimped out and sat in the truck listening to music for an hour before heading off to bed! We decided to sleep on our Therma-rest mattresses on top of the rooftop tent mattress, and it helped a lot to insulate us from the cold from below. In addition to the many layers of clothing that I was wearing, I can quite honestly say that I was quite warm and slept quite well.

In the morning, the entire interior of the tent was blanketed in small ice crystals! It was like a winter wonderland in the tent. We packed up and hit the road immediately, stopping for our morning tea and coffee at Tim Hortons in William’s Lake 2.5 hours later.

We purchased the Backroad Mapbook for the Cariboo-Chilcotin Coast area, and I was surprised to see how many parks, protected areas, hiking trails, paddling routes and campsites there are in the Chilcotin. It is an outdoor-enthusiasts paradise, and the relative remoteness of the area means that there are also fewer people in the area, therefore less chance that you will run into a million hikers along the way. This area will be high on my list of locations to return to … particularly in the summer, but I suspect that at least one week will be needed for any given trip. It is a more substantial trip than can be accomplished in a long weekend. Which means that we won’t be returning to the area for a while yet.

The return trip to Vancouver was uneventful. We made good time, and followed the Fraser River home through the Fraser Canyon, which is always a spectacular drive, but especially this time of year with the snow extending down to the water level. We arrived home at ~6.30pm after a great trip.

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