South Chilcotin Mountains, 16-21 Jul 2018

Opinion
We may just have found our new favourite place to go backpacking! Despite having to cut short our trip due to poor weather, we were absolutely blown away by this area with its extensive network of trails, exceptional views, and stunning wildflower displays. You can spend an awful lot of time in the alpine here, which is great when the weather’s good. All four of the valleys we visited were superb with a variety of terrain and scenery. We also only encountered about ten other hikers and perhaps 25-30 mountain bikers (it’s much more popular for mountain biking) over 6 days so it’s a great place for seeking solitude.

However, it is definitely not a place for beginner backpackers. You are a long way from help (consider getting a personal locator beacon – we had an InReach Mini), there are no facilities (e.g. tent pads, food storage, outhouses) in the four valleys we visited, and occasionally you’re on your own when it comes to navigation. But with the right experience and preparation, it really should be high on every backpacker’s list of destinations.

Fact
Getting there is more psychological than anything else. The Hurley FSR may seem like a long bumpy ride but in reality it’s only 50 km, and for most of it the road was in good condition. We were able to keep up 40-50 km/h the whole way and used first gear for some of the descents to save our brakes. The road past Gold Bridge is paved until the turnoff to the trailhead; the road up to and beyond Tyaughton Lake is gravel again but well-graded and in excellent condition. We parked at Trailhead I as labelled on the Trail Ventures map of the area. Gold Bridge has gas (it’s totally self-serve and you have to take an on-the-spot “course” to learn how to use it safely) and a small general store – they’ll be happy to see you if you drop in and say hello.

The trail network is incredible and was in great condition though rarely (if ever) signposted. Much of it seems to have been developed with horses and mountain bikers in mind so the trails are often smooth (though not always appropriately-graded for hikers). Most of the trails were single-track and a delight to walk on. Even the old mining roads were often good walking. However, as you travel from one valley to another, expect to ascend and descend multiple times a day; the journey is rarely a simple climb or descent.

Route-finding was mostly not an issue, but pay attention to the sections of the Trail Ventures map where a route is marked (rather than a trail): here it may be necessary to spend some time navigating through dense forest and micro-terrain. One example was North Cinnabar Basin where we completely lost the trail at one point and ended up bushwhacking through forest and meadows to regain it. Having a GPS app on a phone really helped here (whereas our GPS unit had no such trail info). Gaining Harris Ridge from Camel Pass required a short but straightforward scramble over the eponymous rock formation. We attempt to descend the route suggested by Matt Gunn but were stopped by a small convex snow slope for which we were not prepared. Going up that would probably have been easy, though.

Camping was a mixed bag and it was not always easy to find a good spot to pitch a tent. Along our route there were absolutely no facilities so good Leave No Trace practices are essential to ensure this area remains unspoiled.

Bugs were variable, from insane to non-existent. Thankfully the insane portion was just our camping/eating spot on our first night in the North Cinnabar Basin. After that the bugs – when present – were merely annoying. In terms of other wildlife, we saw half-a-dozen or so deer, marmots, pikas (heard), grouse, ptarmigan, and a grizzly bear. We found goat tracks (and wool) in the alpine.

We met mountain bikers most days, especially in the Taylor Basin. They were a friendly bunch, but at no point (not once!) did a single mountain biker thank us for stepping aside and letting them through, even though we’re the ones carrying large overnight packs. I get it that in some cases you guys were puffing uphill and etiquette dictates that you had priority, but would it hurt to even acknowledge that we got out of your way? Come on – it’s not that hard! Be nice to your fellow backcountry explorers!

Wildflowers were plentiful/abundant/everywhere! Pretty much every wildflower you can imagine blooms in this area and many were at their peak during our visit. It’s really not worth me listing them all, but a few standouts were lupines, Menzies’ larkspur, white bog orchid, red paintbrush, phlox, and western anemone. Earlier in the season I expect the slopes were carpeted with glacier lilies based on the sheer number of seed pods we saw.

The Trail Ventures BC map and guide book for the area were indispensable for planning (and executing) your trip. Go buy both if you’re thinking of venturing into the Southern Chilcotins – together they cost less than the price of one night’s camping at Tyax Lodge.

Speaking of which, Tyax is a really good place to camp on the day you hike out (or dry out in our case). The campground has showers and washing up sinks. A site cost $50 per night, but looked big enough to fit 2-3 tents so the cost can easily be shared by a small group. It won’t be as quiet as the backcountry, as RVs can park there and floatplanes use the lake. I think that hearing the loons made up for that though. The restaurant/bar was pricy but not outrageously so considering where you are; the burger was decent and they had plenty of beer options. The breakfast buffet was actually really good value: we were able to fill up for $20 each, and even take a little extra for later.

Total distance: 61 km
Total elevation gain: 3155 m

Southern Chilcotins, 17 Jul 2018

Story
This was such an enjoyable trip that a single post simply won’t be able to cover everything. Like previous multi-day trips, I plan to write about each day separately and link back to them here for reference. Be patient; this is going to take quite some time! For now, here’s a quick summary of our itinerary with distances and elevation gained/lost:

  • Day 1: Trailhead I to North Cinnabar Basin (8 km, +850 m, -120 m);
  • Day 2: North Cinnabar Basin to Upper Eldorado Basin (12 km, +570 m, -635 m);
  • Day 3: Day hike to Windy Pass from Upper Eldorado Basin (7 km, +360 m, -360 m);
  • Day 4: Upper Eldorado Basin to Taylor Basin (9.5 km, +665 m, -495 m);
  • Day 5: Day hike to Harris Ridge (9.5 km, +570 m, -570 m);
  • Day 6: Taylor Basin to Trailhead I (via Trailhead J) (15 km, +140 m, -950 m).

From this list it’s easy to see we spent time in four different valleys: North Cinnabar Creek, Pearson Creek, Eldorado Creek, and Taylor Creek. All were spectacular, but probably our favourite place was up on Harris Ridge, largely because we could see almost all the various sections of our journey through the valleys. A great moment for gaining a sense of perspective.

And as I said when we got back to the car, six days go by just like that.

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