The time had come: one last check of our lists confirmed that we had everything we needed for our seven-day backpacking trip in the South Chilcotins, which meant we were as ready as we were going to be! We had been looking forward to returning as soon as our 2018 visit had ended, and this time we were sharing it with our friend and long-time hiking companion Brenda. With the car packed, we were ready to leave by 9:30 am and set off with fresh cinnamon buns from Solly’s for Sunday’s breakfast. Traffic was light and we were soon over the Lions Gate Bridge and onto the highway. The sky was overcast with heavy cloud and it was surprisingly windy, which the eagles and vultures seemed to be enjoying as they soared above us.
As ever, turning the corner to head north up Howe Sound felt like the true beginning of the trip. The peaks were shrouded in cloud, the water in the sound gradually turned turquoise as we approached Squamish, the glacial rock flour carried by the Squamish River carried several kilometres south by the current. We called in at Valhalla Pure to buy a couple of gas canisters (having been unable to find any in Vancouver) and then on to meet Brenda at her cousin’s house, stopping long enough to greet their gorgeous dog and stowing Brenda’s gear before getting back on the road.
Now we were really under way! It didn’t seem to take long to reach Whistler, although the crawl through the municipality limits dragged as usual (not helped by a hold-up for construction). Another 20 minutes and we were in Pemberton for our lunch stop at Mile One (of course). The clouds had opened up to let in some hot sunshine between the showers, and we were glad of the shelter on the patio, both from the sun and the rain. Having packed away some extra calories we got back on the road, heading up through a very quiet Pemberton Meadows before turning onto the Lillooet Forest Service Road (FSR).
The silty grey Lillooet River was running high under the bridge as we crossed from pavement to gravel and I wondered how high the creeks might be in the mountains. Although we had planned a route that didn’t involved any major crossings, we still had a few smaller creeks that I hoped we wouldn’t need to ford. The gravel road was rough but mostly okay and, of course, got rougher as we turned onto the Hurley FSR. We climbed steadily up through the switchbacks, waving to a pair of cyclists slogging up the steep road. What an effort that was to get their loaded bikes up this hill! The clouds thickened again as we gained elevation and by the time we reached Railroad Pass it had begun to rain.
Or was it snow? The road deteriorated over the pass with many water-filled potholes trying to catch me out. Patches of snow lay in the trees on either side, and the first flowers of the season were blooming along the edge of road; marsh marigolds and yellow violets near the pass, then arnica, columbine, paintbrush, and lupines as we descended. Despite the potholes, the drive was mostly quite smooth and we made good time, seeing only 3 or 4 vehicles along the way. Every creek was running high with runoff and snowmelt which made for some lovely sounds as we drove. The clouds remained stubbornly over the mountain tops, with only brief glimpses of the upper reaches at times, but at least the rain had eased off.
As we approached Gold Bridge, we paused to admire a noisy fast-flowing waterfall we’d spotted on our 2018 visit, before finishing our descent along a paintbrush-lined road, the flowers ranging from pale pink to deep crimson. We breathed a sigh of relief as we crossed the high and fast Bridge River and joined the smooth paved road. There would be no calling in to the hamlet this time, due to COVID-19, so we had to make sure we had everything we needed to make it back to Pemberton in a week’s time. We passed the confluence of the silty Bridge and clear(ish) Hurley rivers and emerged into the huge Bridge River valley, sunshine now dappling the landscape.
We stopped at the BC Hydro campground by Gun Creek, which we had hoped to make our home for the night, only to find it was closed due to the pandemic. Well, phooey. At least we knew we still had options, so we drove on to Mowson Pond (full), Friberg (also full), and Tyax Lodge (reservation only, and also full). That left us with one more option: Tyaughton Creek forest recreation site. This at least would put us close to the trailhead.
The drive to the campground was not what I expected. We passed our trailhead from two years ago, noting that the slopes below the road had been logged clear in that time. It was a little sad to see, even if there were now views that were lacking on our last-day’s walk along the road. We descended on the slick road and drove over Tyaughton Creek, which was raging at the bottom of a deep, narrow valley. The road followed the creek for a while, a narrow strip between steep slopes and raging water. Occasional cliffs forced us around sharp, blind bends, and I have to say the whole drive was a little intimidating. Over two cattle grids (guards) we went, then began to climb again through a series of switchbacks to join another road.
Having a map and GPS was really valuable and we were able to find the smaller-than-expected turn onto the equally slick Paradise Creek FSR, where we descended again to Tyaughton Creek and soon reached our home for the night.
I don’t know what I was expecting but I was distinctly underwhelmed. Maybe it was the weather; under threatening skies, the campground felt claustrophobic and unwelcoming, the trees on the opposite side of the road looking very dark and – to me – forbidding. Two large caravan trailers were parked next to the creek, though there was no sign of any occupants. We settled on a spot to camp, leaving enough clear space to allow any returning vehicles to drive, and set about trying to hammer our tent pegs into the stony ground.
Now that our tents were pitched, we sat back in the car with a hot drink and our sandwiches. It was too cool to sit outside and the rain soon returned. The light grew dim as the daylight faded, and as the rain eased off a little, we crawled into our tents to settle down for the night. I have to admit I was feeling off balance – I couldn’t shake the claustrophobia and unease about our location, and the weather was getting to me; I didn’t fancy setting off in the rain. Eventually I drifted off to sleep as the rain came and went, pausing occasionally before its pattering applause started up again.
I jerked awake at 2:30 am at what I thought was the sound of a snapping twig but I heard nothing more and wondered if it was just my imagination playing tricks. I drifted off into dreams, the night chillier than expected, the rain constantly taunting me as showers passed over.
I couldn’t wait for the morning.