South Chilcotins Day 4: Eldorado to Taylor Basin, 19 Jul 2018

Eldorado Meadows to Taylor Basin: 9.5 km, +555 m, -515 m, 5h 25m

I stirred around 3 am and peered out of the tent to look at the stars. Mars was dazzling in the southern sky and I noted that the sky wasn’t really very dark. I drifted off again and awoke around 6:20 am, lying in the stillness of the morning for a little while before beginning to move. I crawled out and retrieved our food bags for breakfast, getting water boiling for tea and coffee. We ate our oatmeal under mixed skies, patches of blue battling against the increasing cloud, before packing up our gear. The cloudy skies meant that the tent was still wet with last night’s dew and we gave ourselves a refreshing shower as we shook the water off the fly.

As we were packing up, another deer ventured out of the trees – possibly the same one as last night – and wandered over the grassy meadows, crossing the creek and disappearing downstream. The four hikers we’d seen last night walked past on their way down the Eldorado valley, and, as we exchanged greetings, admitted that they were completely unaware we were camped only a couple of hundred metres from them. We returned to our packing and finished off, shouldering our loaded packs once again and setting off for our next camping spot in Taylor Basin at around 9:30 am.

We retraced our route across the meadows, making a suitable amount of noise of course, splashed through the shallow creek, and climbed the short distance through the paintbrush-filled meadows to the junction with the High Trail again. A pair of bikepacking mountain bikers stopped to chat on their way from Taylor Basin to Spruce Lake, and we exchanged exclamations of the beauty surrounding us. Backcountry discussions with folks often turn to the weather, and the bikers mentioned that a lot of rain was in the forecast. We wished each other luck and hoped it wouldn’t be that bad, and set off in our respective directions.

The path led through expansive meadows sweeping down the mountain slopes, and we noticed quite a few areas where grizzlies had been digging

We turned right at the junction and began the ascent to Eldorado Pass. The path led through expansive meadows sweeping down the mountain slopes, and we noticed quite a few areas where grizzlies had been digging, many of which were still fresh. Maybe these were from the bear we saw yesterday? Some were upslope of the trail so we wondered if the bear had wandered uphill in its search for food. We looked around and squinted at dark shapes in the distance but – to our relief – saw no sign of any bears.

The ascent was lovely hiking, an easy trail that climbed very gently and offered up some stunning views looking up and down the Eldorado valley. The trail broadened into an old mining track at a Y-junction, the left fork continuing uphill behind us to our left. I was curious about how far it went but we weren’t in a position to explore. Maybe on another trip? Flowers lined the trail in abundance – red columbine, lupines, bog orchids, valerian, and phlox – and we passed many more whitebark pines, such characterful trees decorated liberally with luminous green wolf lichen. Creeks tumbled down the mountain slopes, cascading over small drops; ribbons of white slicing through the green of the meadows.

The valley opened out to vast views as we gained height, red scree slopes dotted with jagged outcrops now replacing the meadows.

The valley opened out to vast views as we gained height, red scree slopes dotted with jagged outcrops now replacing the meadows. Still the trail was lined with flowers, most notably spreading phlox which was literally spreading everywhere in some of the most extensive patches we’ve ever seen. A paw print in the mud caught my eye and I stopped to take a closer look: four toes, no claws, and a characteristic shape to the pad, most likely from a small feline, I’m guessing a bobcat.

We wound our way up to the pass, still on the most gradual of ascents, enjoying the views behind us. As we approached the pass, we noticed a pair of mountain bikers who’d stopped for a snack, and we stopped to chat with them. I thought I recognized one of them, and gently inquired and it turned out I was right: it was the (locally famous?) ultrarunner Gary Robbins, recovering from a running injury by going mountain biking instead.

We chatted for a few minutes before continuing on, stopping on the Taylor side of the pass to top up our energy levels. A narrow trail led off to the right (Taylor-Pearson), heading for Camel Pass. Our route continued downhill on the mining track, soon entering the trees interspersed with gorgeous pocket meadows full of hellebore and white bog orchids. We rounded a bend to be greeted by a lovely tumbling waterfall, one of the many branches of Taylor Creek cascading down from the upper meadows.

We rounded a bend to be greeted by a lovely tumbling waterfall, one of the uppermost branches of Taylor Creek cascading down from the upper meadows.

A few metres further and we came to a junction where a road went right uphill to the site of an old mine. Although we were tempted to explore, we didn’t fancy climbing again just yet, so we continued on our way towards Taylor Cabin. We reached a clump of trees that looked like it would make a reasonable camping spot, but it felt a little too well-used for our liking with a large, rusty 50-gallon drum stood up at one side. Perhaps the camping would be better down by the cabin, and we continued along the old road through open forest and meadow to reach Taylor Cabin about 10 minutes later.

Although the metal roof was all bent from the weight of many winter snows, the cabin itself was surprisingly decent inside, at least as a place to shelter if not a place to sleep. It didn’t feel quite as dingy or musty as some old cabins, but it still didn’t appeal to us and we scouted around for a spot to put up the tent. Unfortunately, nothing appealed as, again, any spot that looked promising showed signs of overuse. (Don’t ask about the facilities – you don’t want to know…) After our last few nights camping out in the meadows, the prospect of being tucked away in the trees felt altogether too claustrophobic. However, we dropped our packs and made use of the outdoor furniture to eat some lunch with only a few bugs for company. We downloaded a weather report on the InReach and the forecast didn’t look too bad: a mix of sun and cloud with a 40% chance of rain today, same but only 30% tomorrow and the day after. Good enough for us to decide to look for a camping spot above the treeline.

We found a really nice spot to camp for the next two nights, with great views over to the red flanks of Taylor Peak

The Copelands’ book “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Coast Mountains” suggested there were camping options about 15 minutes up the trail, which tempted us away from the cabin and saw us heading towards Camel Pass. We kept our eyes open as we climbed (which was a bit of an unwelcome grunt after lunch), getting a good view of the old mine along the way, but nothing looked promising. Either side of the trail were rich flower meadows (which we weren’t keen on flattening after our first night) and any clearer patches were too bumpy, too small, or too sloped. We were getting a bit antsy about the prospect of having to return to the cabin to camp as we walked, but the meadows began to thin out, yielding to more extensive stony patches, and our eyes alighted on one perfect tent-sized patch of heather-free dirt. We stopped to get a closer look and decided it would be perfect, even if it was only a few metres off the trail.

We picked over the ground, removing the sharpest stones, and set up the tent. What a relief – we had found a really nice spot to camp for the next two nights, with great views down the valley and over to the red flanks of Taylor Peak. The only thing I wasn’t too happy about was that the tent was pitched almost broadside to the prevailing wind, but it would have to do as the tent wouldn’t fit on the bare patch at any other orientation. With our backpacks unloaded we continued uphill to where a small creek crossed the trail and found some suitable trees up a slope to the right in which to stow our food. Along the way, a marmot played peek-a-boo with us at the entrance to its den, cautiously ducking down if we made a sudden move but otherwise content to sit there and check us out.

We still had several hours of daylight left so we decided to explore up the valley to Camel Pass and maybe beyond if it looked interesting. We passed many flowers on our way, even some patches of freshly-blooming western anemone where snow had only recently melted, some dryas, and some gorgeous pink pillows of moss campion. A creek meandered through the meadow before it dropped away into the valley creating a lovely scene with Taylor Peak in the distance. As we neared the pass, we left the last trees and meadows behind and climbed on the narrow path leading over mostly grey earthen slopes.

As soon as we reached Camel Pass we realized how it had got its name, the dark grey rock formation to our right looking for all the world like the profile of a camel with one hump. We also had to retreat back down the trail to escape the ferocious wind and put on an extra layer before returning to admire the view. The trail continued on down into the next valley, the Pearson Creek drainage that we had walked up on the High Trail two days earlier. We could see the upper reaches of the valley and Pearson Pass where we’d crossed into the Eldorado drainage, and enjoyed the chance to see the landscape from a different perspective.

The views grew ever more expansive as we climbed, with the whole of the upper Taylor Basin now visible to us – truly some of the best views of the trip so far

Another trail led up the slope to our left, and we decided to follow it for a while to see what we could see. We skirted another jagged rock outcrop – that couldn’t have looked less like a camel if it tried, alas – and continued climbing steeply on an obvious path. The grey rock yielded to browns and oranges as we gained height along the ridge, patches of snow still clinging to the north-facing slopes that swept down into the Taylor Creek valley to our left. The views grew ever more expansive as we climbed, with the whole of the upper Taylor Basin now visible to us in one direction, and the jagged peaks of Mount Truax and its neighbours forming a backdrop to the south. We could just make out our tent far below, a little sandy-coloured dome at the base of a pale grey slope. Truly some of the best views of the trip so far, maybe ever? Tough call.

We continued up the ridge, dipping downwards briefly before resuming the climb over the compacted earth, bands of different shades and colours creating a wonderful palette. I’ve seen photos of similar ridges from Tweedsmuir Provincial Park (further north in BC) and in the Peruvian Andes, so it was a real treat to actually be walking over such colourful ground. And it was everywhere here, even on this no-name ridge bounding two valleys.

It was the most amazing grandstand view of the surrounding ridges and mountains, and we had it all to ourselves. A moment to savour.

At the third bump on the ridge, the trail took a turn to the south, leading along a connecting ridge towards our breakfast spot from our second day, and we decided that we really liked the look of this route as a return option. Our assessment was correct and there was an easy path to get there. It looked like it would be a great way to complete the loop on our trip. Away to our left, the ridge line descended to another col before climbing again – substantially – to Taylor Peak. We decided we didn’t have the time or energy for that so we dropped our packs and sat down to take in the stupendous views all around. It was the most amazing grandstand view of the surrounding ridges and mountains, and we had it all to ourselves. Truly, a moment to savour.

Okay so what could we see? To begin with, most of our route over the past few days. South-west of us we lay the North Cinnabar basin with its jagged peak and the ridge where we ate our (relatively) bug-free breakfast on the second day, the Shulaps Range on the horizon beyond. We could see across the upper Pearson drainage up to Pearson Pass, the slopes before us hiding some of the lower sections of that route. Eldorado was also hidden from us by Harris Ridge (our destination for the next day) but we had a clear view to the west-north-west where Mount Sheba was visible above Windy Pass. Finally we could see Eldorado Pass and the beginning of the trail leading down into the Taylor basin. We looked for the cabin but couldn’t make it out in the trees. Of course we could still see our little tent. What an amazing view, and we loved being able to see where we’d hiked and to piece it all together after drawing it out on the map.

We basked in the warm afternoon sunshine, the sky dotted with many soft, fluffy clouds, like a real-life version of the opening credits to The Simpsons.

Up on this high ridge, there were still a few plants eking out an existence. The contrast between the ochre rocks and the green of the few small pines and spruce was especially striking. Carpeting the ground were the tiniest of lupines – low mountain lupine – all at the peak of their bloom, joined by patches of purple sky pilot (silky phacelia). We basked in the warm afternoon sunshine, the sky dotted with many soft, fluffy clouds, like a real-life version of the opening credits to The Simpsons. The clouds to the west didn’t look quite so friendly, though, and after our relaxing afternoon stop, we retraced our steps back to the pass, all the while gawping at the view before us, and then back down towards the tent.

Walking back through the meadows in the late afternoon light was glorious. We stopped off to collect our food bags and found a spot by the trees with a tremendous view down the Taylor Creek valley, probably the best dinner view of the trip so far. Dinner was better than expected (or maybe we were just hungry?) and we were in great spirits as we savoured the last warmth of the sun. After stowing our food bags, we explored a bit more of the area, crossing a couple of small creeks as we looked for an even better view down the valley. It didn’t work out as the terrain started to get rougher than we felt like tackling, so we backtracked to our dining spot, where we filtered some water from the creek in preparation for the morning.

Eventually the sun dipped below the ridge, encouraging us to think about heading into the tent now that there was no warm sunshine to counteract the cool wind. We watched the shadows creep up the slope of Taylor Peak, their triangular shape matching the profile of the mountain, which was becoming even redder as the daylight faded. Back in the tent, the wind grew stronger, and we placed a hiking pole inside the fly as additional bracing. I was beginning to wish we had turned the tent so its head was facing into the wind, but it was too late now. The pole seemed to be helping though, and we figured that the tent should be able to handle it, especially as it was dry.

In spite of the wind, we were comfortable and settled down to sleep, in anticipation of a peaceful night.

On to day 5….

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