August 28, 2019.
The day had been hot, but it cooled right down overnight - much nicer for sleeping, we all agreed. And sleep we did - it was 8:30am before the last of us finally climbed down from our tents, having missed the sunrise entirely - a cloudless sky transitioning from deep blue to orange, then to pink and finally blue again.
We all set about making our breakfast - coffee for Mike @Digiratus, cereal for me, an amazing looking breakfast burrito for Dan @drr, and - of course - Donettes for Monte @Blackdawg - as the sun beamed down on us from the east. It was looking to be another beautiful day in British Columbia.
Still moving a bit slowly, it wasn't until 10:00am that we had everything cleaned up and stowed away in the trucks, ready to go on our first real day of running the Whipsaw Trail. Somehow I found myself in the front of the pack, a position I've rarely been in with this group as we lined up at the edge of camp. It was time for our morning radio check.
Mike's radio was clearly not working. It'd been acting up the previous day at various times, but leaving it alone for a few minutes always seemed to fix it. Today, that was not the case. Unsure of the problem, our first attempt to remedy the issue was an antenna trade - Dan trading with Mike to see if it made a difference.
It didn't. Neither did disconnecting and reconnecting the microphone - something that had sometimes resolved the problem for me when I was having an issue with my CB. Turns out, Mike's been having an issue with his radio for a while, so he's already got a spare one - at home! Something to fix up before the next trip. For now, he decided that the Ham radio would suffice for outbound communication, and he'd listen to the rest of our chatter on the CB. So, we were back into our trucks and on our way, dust kicking up behind us, me happy to be up front and dust free.
But not for long. It soon became clear that Mike's radio problems weren't over for the day - every time he keyed his Ham radio to speak, Monte and I could hear the keying of the microphone and see the busy signal on our radios, but we couldn't hear him talk at all! We pulled over to evaluate the situation again.
More fiddling ensued - to no avail. Luckily however, Mike and I both have Kenwood radios - me a Kenwood D710G dual-band ham radio and Mike a Kenwood V71A dual-band ham radio. The base units of these are the same, so hoping that perhaps the problem was in Mike's microphone, we swapped mic's and gave it a try again. It worked great! And we were back underway.
In camp that evening, Mike would disassemble his mic to see if he could fix the issue - and everything looked just fine inside (of course). Putting it all back together and trying it out, it worked! Likely just a loose connection that he reseated somewhere.
Our first stop along the trail was at an old mill. Marked as a sawmill on our route, closer inspection seemed to suggest that it was actually some sort of mine mill. Water appeared to be funneled downhill - perhaps to power a stamp mill - through a set of chutes, and a nearby structure quite clearly contained thousands of drilled core samples - perhaps to measure the concentration of certain material in the ground.
The mill thoroughly explored, we were back on the trail - travelling the Whipsaw in a clockwise direction - all of us happy to be off the main logging road at this point and onto something a bit more bumpy, and starting to get a little flexy in places.
Soon, we came on a second set of structures - these in a bit better condition than the mill. One looked like a log cabin, but on inspection was actually a set of stables (that looked to still be in use); the other was a snow mobile warming hut that had seen much better days, courtesy of local 4x4 clubs who'd left their "mark."
Tread Lightly, Canada.
A little disappointed, we didn't spend long at these cabins, opting instead to continue on to the third - and I believe last - cabin we had marked on the route.
This one too was a warming hut, and was in better - but not good - condition. It's always interesting to me how - as a structure gets more worn down, it seems to attract even more destruction - as though earlier visitors digressions are somehow interpreted as permission to continue the defacement.
We looked around a bit, also checking out a nearby grave - the final resting place of Richard Holding (1901-1976) and a few other folks (and pets) who'd been laid to rest in the years since. It was definitely a beautiful place, though probably even more-so when it was less trafficked, so many years ago.
Picking our way through a maze of trails - something we would find to be a hallmark of the Whipsaw - we continued along the trail, trying to stay on what looked to be the "most official" branch of the road. Winding our way through the trees, we broke out onto a high-mountain meadow as we crested Skaist Mountain, affording us the best long distance views of the entire trail.
As one does, I slowed to wait for everyone else to catch up - the dust on the trail keeping the space between each truck longer than it would have otherwise been. And then, we photographed.
And then we photographed some more. This is the reason we can only travel 60 dirt miles a day or so. And it's fine by us.
By now it was early afternoon and time for lunch. We found ourselves a nice little place on the side of the trail where we could all park in the shade - and still have enough left to sit in - and made our respective meals. Sandwiches all around if I recall, and generally some sort of chip as well. Pickles, snap peas, and nectarines seemed to round out our meals and then a good 15-20 minutes of chit-chat as Echo (Dan's pup) entertained us with her antics.
Eventually - as tends to happen - we decided we might as well continue on, and we climbed back into our trucks - our order shuffling due to how we'd parked. Now, as usual, I found myself in the tailgunner position. Nice for photos, but - on this trip especially - dusty!
Not a problem, really - I just left a bit of space between Monte and myself.
We continued to tick away the miles - more slowly than we had in the morning due to the terrain, but with much better views - now that we'd reached the ridge lines as opposed to lower elevation forests. We took our time, stopping whenever the urge struck - to enjoy and absorb our surroundings.
Eventually, we came to a short-but-steep obstacle. Mike - in the lead at this point - took the still-technical bypass, but Dan came over the CB to let us know that he was going to give the rocky climb a try. He was after all, the only one of us on 35's with dual lockers.
All lined up, he took it slow - careful to pick the correct line to keep his truck out of the hole that'd been dug at the bottom of the ledge. Gravity unfortunately was having none of it and as he inched his way up, it sucked him down. Still, looked pretty bad-ass if you ask me!
After hipping out to check lines, and giving it a few really good tries, he ultimately admitted semi-defeat and asked Mike to get his truck lined up to use as a winch anchor. Then, from within the cab, Dan controlled both his winch and skinny pedal to pull himself up and over the most difficult obstacle we'd encounter on the trail.
The rest of us - on 33" tires - took the same bypass that Mike had, each of us stepping up the smaller ledges with little fanfare - well, except me - I got a little cocky and backed down for a second run, since Mike wanted a few photos... and then stalled on my way back up.
It was of course great fun - and with everyone through, we continued to the next obstacle. Just south of Memorial Rock, the trail got soft, sandy, and steep. In other words - more fun! We each got our turn, and with only a bit of fanfare, were through.
With that, we were at Memorial Rock - where Jeff Janzen once climbed the 60% grade in his Isuzu Samurai before succumbing to cancer in 2005. A plaque now attached to the rock face encourages four-wheelers to climb the rock in his memory, and Dan was quick to oblige - at least for a pose. 😀
Now about halfway around the Whipsaw Trail loop, it was becoming clear that we'd be shooting for Well's Lake as our camp location for the night. That meant another several miles of fun trail, which we tackled quickly and efficiently - including a several-hundred foot long puddle, the longest we'd see all trip.
The puddle was shallow at 8" or so, and before we knew it, we'd arrived at Well's Lake. If there'd been a lot of forks in the trail before this point, they were dwarfed by the labyrinth of little alleyways that wove around the lake. I'm sure we'd have made our way through the correct series of turns eventually, but it was nice to have a GPS track at this point so we could mostly stay the correct course - ultimately ending up at the main camp site on the far end of the lake.
Clearly a spot used by many wheelers and clubs, there was a great spot to setup our tents, as well as a shelter - complete with a well-stocked bush kitchen - that would have been perfect if it'd been raining. For us though, relaxing lakeside was our preferred location, and though it was only 4:30pm, our chairs and campfire were quickly deployed, the white clouds dancing both above and below as they were reflected off the lake surface.
This is perhaps the best time of any trip - the time spent around the camp fire, chatting about everything from events of the day, to what's going on in our day-to-day lives. Strengthening memories and building friendships. And of course, eating Mike's guacamole... or avocado dip, depending on who you talk to .
There's nothing better, really, as the sun's rays get long - eventually illuminating only the clouds in a pink hurrah of sunset.
Except maybe the campfire that continues into the night - the conversation just as vibrant, the laughter across the lake loud and echoing. The puppy, Echo, curled up in her owner's lap, snoring.
After several more hours around the campfire as we'd had on the trail, we finally called it a night - all glad that the temperatures were dropping from the 90°F+ temps we'd had during the day. We all climbed up into our tents, eager to see what the rest of the Whipsaw would throw at us the next day - hoping it'd be just as fun as the one that was drawing to an end.
...we had no idea at the time that it'd be even funner!