Harrison Lake logging road adventure

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An Awesome Summer Adventure by Maureen Mol

The seed for our summer off road cycling adventure was sown in the dark days of December. After a ride around Vedder Mountain in search of sunshine above the fog that settled on Vancouver, the talk turned to summer days and the adventure that logging roads hold. The coming months saw a plan forming. We would ride the Harrison forestry roads from Harrison Bay to Mount Currie. A rainy Friday afternoon in late August, our bikes and the trailer were loaded for a week of touring.

We started our journey with a ride through rush hour traffic, from our home in New West, to the West Coast Express station in Port Coquitlam. There's just no good way to get there, particularly, when pulling a trailer. Our Burley cargo d'lite has been many places, and could tell many stories. Today it would say - this isn't fun! But, it didn't know what the coming week held! It wasn't too long before we were off the main highway, and breathed a little easier. We made the train by seconds, and we're off to Mission for our first night. Arrived at Mom's, got the wet clothes in the dryer, and an hour later our cycling partners, for the week arrived, also wet.

Knowing Saturday would be an easy ride to Harrison Bay, we planned a lazy morning - sleep in, late breakfast, and a ride down to the store for our last fresh food for the week. By noon we were ready to head off, and an hour later, we were regretting our late start. The rain was coming down in buckets and we were drenched. We arrived at the campground dripping wet, and got our tents set up and dinner cooked, in a break between rain storms.

Sleep was hard to come by that night. We were between two large groups, with competing stereos. At 3 a.m. one group was still going strong.

We agreed an early start Sunday morning was in order. It would be our first venture off onto logging roads, and we expected lots of 4x4's on the road. We were surprised to find the first 17 km of the road paved. Soon the pavement turned to gravel and the cool damp weather was welcome as we began climbing up the Harrison West forestry road. Man, am I thankful for my tiny 20T granny gear! Six hours, 50km and 1050m of climbing later, we arrived at Twenty Mile Bay forestry site on Harrison Lake. The view over the lake is stunning. We were stunned by the previous campers lack of respect for the environment. Campfires left burning and bags of garbage in empty campsites. We found a relatively clean site, and stoked the burning logs for heat to dry our clothes. We set about getting tents up, filtering water, and cooking dinner. An hour of hilarity while Doug tried different methods of hanging our panniers filled with food. Then we found a piece of wood nailed between two trees…

Monday dawned clear and warm, an initial steep climb gave way to rolling hills on the ridge. I commented that gee this is nice riding, the road is good, the hills not too steep, the views are awesome - what more could one ask? Oh yes, no trucks have passed us for 3 hours! It was too good to last though and we knew that after lunch today we would hit the section of road our map marked: bad road - 4x4 only. The grades became steeper, both up and down, the gravel turned to loose rocks the size of grapefruits and deep potholes.  I have been riding with Bruce for more than fifteen years and I've never seen him push his bike - he can usually ride any grade - and here he is in front of me - pushing his bike and the trailer. It's that steep.

There are no forestry sites for 90 km from Twenty Mile. We've barely gone 30 km today and we've climbed as much as yesterday. We're all tired and our camelbaks are almost empty. We stopped by a creek to filter some water. About 5pm we started looking for a place to camp. The ideal spot would be off the road, have a creek, and a flat spot for two tents. We found a small creek, running down the hillside, and across, a level spot of…. Dirt. Not quite acceptable. A little further on, off an old spur road we found a perfect tent site. We dropped the gear, and rode back up to the last creek, and went about cooking dinner at the roadside. Doug and Susan's turn to cook, I sat down a began filtering water - how many pumps does it take to get half a litre? I lost count every time I tried to remember. There is something very peaceful and relaxing about filtering water. Just pump till the bottle's full, dump it in a camelbak, repeat. Again and again and again…

Dinners were joint affairs, with Bruce & I providing dinner for days 1, 2 and 5 and Doug & Susan did dinners 3, 4, and 6. Each couple brought their own food for breakfast, lunch and snacks .My food pannier was getting lighter by the day, and I started to worry that we were running low. We were seriously low on granola and the Powerbar stock was depleting at 3 a day, not two.  Careful inspection, counting and planning determined we had just enough food til Friday morning. By Thursday, the last of the bagels were dry and hard, but still edible, dipped in soup.

We didn't get all our bottles filled before dark, so the next morning Doug and Susan left before us with a plan to meet at the first creek. We had 4 camelbaks and 6 water bottles to fill. They found a perfect creek, tumbling over rocks and eventually down into Harrison Lake. It was a beautiful spot to sit and sit we did - two and a half hours later we had all our bottles and camelbaks filled. Next trip I said, we will buy or borrow a water filter so each couple has one - we had no idea it would take this long to filter water.

The first part of the journey is over. After 3 days, we are looking at the Lillooet River flowing into the head of Harrison Lake. Feeling sad that we're heading toward a more civilized world and excited about how much we've seen since Sunday. We are into an active logging area now and the road improved, although it was recently graded. We passed through the logging camp, and they radioed that four cyclists would be on the road. Even so, there weren't many logging trucks on the road and they were very courteous.

We made good time along the river delta and after a mosquito infested lunch stop, we crossed over the river and on to Harrison East forestry road. We started going up and then down following the hydro lines. It's hot - 36 degrees at the crest of one hill. Following Bruce down hill we all had a good laugh, watching the trailer bounce from one wheel to the other. The road was now rough, but well packed and it would be like this the rest of the way to the Duffey Lake junction.

Hot springs, we're looking for hot springs…the map says they should be around here soon. Doug, the scout, forays off onto side roads looking for signs - nothing. Then we see a perfect camp site by a creek, but the group decision is to keep going. Church steeples, oh no, that means we've passed the hot springs (according to the map). Down to the church, thinking we'll find a spot to camp - nope, we find a First Nations village. Refill all the water bags, and they tell us the hot springs are two miles up the road. No, there's no store to buy more food.

Sinking into the hot tub, we were thankful to Robin Trethewey for sharing his spot of heaven with anyone who stumbles across St. Agnes Wells hot springs. For a small donation, camping on the Lillooet River, several hot tubs of varying temperatures, and drinking water can be had. The next morning, sitting in the tub, drinking my morning coffee, looking at the steam rising off the pools, surrounded by mountains, I'm thinking there can't be a better place on earth!

Somehow the treat of the hot springs is much more appreciated when you've worked as hard as we did to get there. The riding was tough, but the four of us were always in good moods  and congratulated each other for riding well up hills, picking good lines for the others to follow, and cooking great dinners.

Wednesday was a short day along Lillooet Lake. Arriving at Lizzie Bay early in the afternoon we are awed by the peacefulness. The lake is still and we are surrounded by mountains, some with glaciers, and tall trees. We stayed two nights, not wanting the trip to end. Doug took the water filter apart and lo and behold it was clogged. Now, instead of over 200 pumps for a half litre, it was 27. What a difference!

Friday morning, out of food, we rode out of Lizzie Bay towards Mount Currie. Sixteen km later, we are back on pavement, being passed by motorhomes.

Our adventure ended in Pemberton, where we caught the train to Vancouver and cycled home. Riding through the city, bikes much lighter than when we started and our hearts lighter too, after a week in the woods.

Note: If you decide to do this trip - go prepared there are no facilities, no escape- take more food than you think you need, a water filter,  tell someone your plans, and PLEASE - pack out your garbage.

The Pictures

pic1.jpg (32650 bytes) pic2.jpg (42700 bytes) Looking east over Harrison Lake from Bremner Creek.

Logging truck drivers often pulled over in fear when they saw the size of my trailer.

pic3.jpg (43835 bytes) pic4.jpg (32529 bytes) Supper at the side of the road at Kilometre 68.

St.Agnes Hot Springs. The hot springs originate at the rocks in the background. Two of  four tubs are shown.

pic5.jpg (29187 bytes) pic6.jpg (36603 bytes) Looking west at the south end of Lillooet Lake.

Looking north up Lillooet Lake at Lizzie Bay Forestry campsite. Doug, Maureen sitting down, and Susan.

pic7b.jpg (23496 bytes) pic8.jpg (31020 bytes)

On the train homeward

Maureen, ravishing as usual even after a week of camping and Bruce's worst photo ever (and proud of it!)

Doug and Susan on their 10th Wedding Anniversary.


Hot Spring Hideaway Highlights Gruesome Grind by Bruce Mol

The four of us are in the company of birds, chipmunks, 4X4's, pickup trucks and logging trucks all enjoying views of snow-covered glaciers, jagged edged mountains and the milky greenness of Harrison Lake. It is day four, we're dusty, it's 36ºC and we've ridden our mountain bikes 47 kilometres in 7 hours. For the last hour we have been checking side roads looking for the Skookumchuck Hot Springs. Our map indicates more than one hot spring but, as with many roads accessible to the rogue 4X4 crowd, many signs are missing. There is a possibility we passed the hot springs, but we're not sure.

Thankfully it is the last climbing day of our six-day trip north along the west side of Harrison Lake, the east side of Lillooet Lake, to Mount Currie and Pemberton. On days five and six the road was rolling and rough, but we never had to push again.

With every day and every meal, our bikes got lighter but the food for two and a half more days, and our camping equipment, is still heavy. On Day 4 we climbed 695 metres in altitude, pushed our bikes over and down steep rocky sections, spent two hours pumping water from creeks and a half hour filling up on the Sti'Kane Reserve. On Day 3 we climbed 995m over 35km and on Day 2 we climbed 1050m over 36km. We really needed a nice soak in a tub.

On the Sti'Kane Reserve we are told it is two and a half more miles to the hot springs. 'Can't miss it,' a fellow says, 'you'll hear all the people before you see them.' Great, the last thing we need is a party place. Around 4 PM we find St. Agnes Wells hot springs. The Trethewey family own the land, built all the facilities and make it available to the general public. Four inviting uninhabited hot tubs were too hard to resist. Normally we would set up camp first, then wash up. Owing to the circumstances, we all jumped in and washed off four days of gravel roads. It felt great, but none of us lasted more than twenty minutes in the hot water. We dried off and changed our clothes, then set up camp in the large camping area beside the Lillooet River. St. Agnes campsites included tap water, outhouses, views of the mountains, all for a suggested donation of $10 a night. What a deal!

As evening fell we noticed a steady stream of campers, carrying candles and their beverage of choice, heading toward the tubs. We decided to take an evening stroll to the hot springs before turning in for the night. The evening etiquette at the hot springs is quite revealing. Too revealing! Many of the patrons were nude. Back at camp, with the exception of our nearest neighbour, everyone was quiet and well behaved.

A word of warning to the inexperienced; stay out of Forestry campsites on weekends, they are zoo's! Only the revving of motorised vehicles drowns out loud stereos and voices. Campfires large enough to be seen from space are the norm. Outhouses tend to be fouled and don't traipse over the imaginary boundary between campsites lest you enjoy walking on soggy toilet tissue. Garbage everywhere, bags of it. Beer cans, broken bottles and collapsed lawn chairs. I needn't go on, weekends are a bad scene if you are looking for peace and quiet.

To allow us to travel mid week through the mountains, and avoid zoo animals, the four of us began our trip on the West Coast Express Friday evening. We took the train to Mission and stayed with relatives. Doug and Susan caught the train from downtown Vancouver. Maureen and I rode to Port Coquitlam, from New Westminster, and caught the train there.

On Saturday morning, we gathered the remainder of supplies we'd need to feed ourselves for the next six days. We rode from Mission out to Squawkum Campground at Harrison Bay. It was an easy ride, in the rain, to a noisy campground. We were charged $15 per tent and supplied a moderately clean washroom, gushy tent sites, a beat up picnic table and large cedars for coverage. We spent a lot of time under the cedars watching the rain fall.

On Sunday morning we rode a few kilometres down the Lougheed Highway to Morris Valley Road, at the Sasquatch Inn, and headed north to 20 Mile Creek Forestry Campsite at kilometre 35.

The first 14kms are paved and we were feeling pretty chipper even though it was raining. Soon enough, when the gravel and hills began, all four of us fogged up our glasses, creating our own steam clouds and generally wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.

All four of us were on mountain bikes with much needed shock absorbers. Doug and Susan each carried one pannier of food, another of clothing and various bits of camping equipment strapped above rear racks.

Maureen and I go about things differently. My bike does not have eyelets for racks so I pull a trailer. Maureen carries her clothing and most of the food; I carry the rest of the food and all the camping equipment. Generally speaking, pulling a trailer only slows a cyclist's ascent, descent and acceleration, other than that they're fine, but hard to stop.

Things were getting quiet at 20 Mile Creek when we arrived. As soon as we chose a campsite our next door neighbour welcomed us with some loud rock music and sent his son out to show us how loud a dirt bike is. The net result of this medley was to totally drown out the stereo competition two sites down.

The previous occupants, of the site we chose, had left without extinguishing their campfire. There were two other sites with fires and no occupants. Ignorant as this is, it allowed us to dry some of our clothing.

We set up camp, filtered water out of Harrison Lake, ate supper and listened to loud music. As we had hoped, but didn't really think would happen, the last of the noisy people left in the early evening and we had an enjoyable night by the lake.

On Monday night we camped wild. During the day we rode about 15kms of very difficult terrain, it took hours. We knew we'd be camping wild but thought it would be much further down the road. At 68Km, from the Morris Valley Road turnoff, we pitched our tents down a side road and returned to the main road to make supper on a gravel pullout across from a little stream. Many uninvited mosquitoes dined with us.

Tuesday evening, at the hot springs mentioned above, we ate beside the breezy, fast moving, milky light green Lillooet River. We anticipated sleeping well, lulled to sleep by the rushing sound of the water. Around 1 AM our young neighbours, of the backward-baseball cap sub species, amused themselves, but not us, with a half hour of extremely loud music. In the morning Doug threw pine cones at their tent until they were awake.

On Wednesday morning we reluctantly left the hot springs behind and continued north to Lizzie Bay Forestry Recreation Site on Lillooet Lake. It was a short day with little traffic. We rode about 25kms along an up and down gravel road that stuck pretty close to the riverbank. Lots of mountain scenery ahead and behind, the weather was beautiful and we found an excellent spot for lunch over looking the lake. The lake breeze kept the bugs away.

Only two of the thirteen sites were in use when we arrived at Lizzie Bay. The sites, facing north looking up the lake, are well shaded and clean. We were delighted to find toilet paper in the outhouse and garbage service. Unlike St. Agnes Wells, there were few mosquitoes. There were biting flies down by the water, fewer in camp and lots on the logging road going up to Lizzie Lake.

We pumped water from Lizzie Creek which was a 15 minute walk along a shore line path. Harrison Lake, Lillooet Lake and River all have glacial silt. The silt is so fine I couldn't filter it with coffee filter paper. The MSR water filter Doug and Susan brought plugged up half way through the trip substantially increasing pumping time until Doug had a chance to clean it.

We spent two nights at Lizzie Creek. On our rest day we rode unencumbered up a logging road beside Lizzie Creek to see a waterfall and get views of the surrounding mountains. We didn't find the falls but we did find steep roads and lots of flies.

We took it easy the rest of the day, introduced ourselves to neighbours, walked around a bit and read the books we brought but, so far, were too tired to read. In the late afternoon a Forestry representative came to clean the washroom, collect the garbage and camping fees. He told us that, in the three years he had been maintaining that site, he hadn't seen cyclists come through from the south. That made us feel sort of special. We knew it has been done on bike but we didn't know how often.

On our last day we rode out to Mt. Currie and found pavement. Oooo, ahhh! We stopped for a latté on the Reserve and came to a decision about what to do next. Our original plan was to stay the night at Owl Creek and catch the BC Rail train from D'Arcy the next day. However, rainy weather was heading our way so we decided to catch the train that afternoon from Pemberton.

The train rolled in close to 6PM. Maureen and Susan climbed aboard with the panniers and Doug and I passed the bikes up to the conductor of the baggage area. He was a little hesitant about what to do with the trailer but we passed it to him while he was wondering whether to accept it or not.

Turns out we made a good decision to catch the train that day because it rained heavily in the afternoon. We discovered that the train we were on was booked solid but because a busload of 25 people didn't make it to Lillooet in time, there was room to pick us up. Otherwise they wouldn't and, we were also informed, the train was booked solid for the next four days. They probably would not have stopped for us the next day.

The train arrives in North Vancouver after dark. We attached our lights and rode to the Seabus and then to Doug & Susan's house in Vancouver. The next morning after eating as many blueberry pancakes as we damn well pleased, Maureen and I rode home to New West.

Planning food is a serious endeavour on trips of this length and we learned some lessons, from Susan and Doug, about how to do it well.

Planning and packing six days of supplies was new to us. We had gone two or three days without passing stores, on previous trips, and packed more food than we'd need to ensure nutrition, variety and calories.

When Doug emailed us their spreadsheet listing each day with each meal and snack, we thought it was sort of funny. With a light heart, Maureen packed a bag of granola, a bag of Gatorade powder, a pound of trail mix, a jar of jam, some milk powder, some dehydrated suppers and breakfasts and fourteen energy bars. We guessed this would all be adequate for six days. We came home with jam and Gatorade, ran out of trail mix on the third day, stretched out our granola when things looked serious on day four, ate Fridays energy bars, as a Thursday snack and welcomed chocolate from the more prepared couple. We didn't starve but we were hungry every night.

Doug and Susan determined what their calorie needs were, per day, and then shopped and prepared foods to meet that requirement. They chose a variety of high calorie compact foods and repackaged them all into days. Where we ate trail mix everyday until we ran out, they had different snack food everyday. So, though we thought the spreadsheet was funny, we came to appreciate the next level of planning required for longer off road camping trips.

I'm glad we had the water filter and extra bottles to fill. I'm glad we had chain lube, ear plugs, bug spray and a camera. I'm glad I had a small granny gear and 36T middle chain ring.

If your bike has a larger than 36T middle chain ring or a 30T granny, consider smaller rings before taking this trip. I pulled a trailer, but can't recommend it. I was often left, literally, in the dust trying to manage three wheel paths around large rocks, potholes and washboard. On previous off road trips the trailer wasn't much of a draw back but on this one it proved to be a lot of extra work.

Everyday was an accomplishment and every supper a delightful reward. The daily aerobic adventure and bone rattling experiences passed without regret. For the most part we were left alone to enjoy each other's company, the sights, sounds and smells of the moist mossy forests and marvellous mountains. We came home smiling and wanting more.


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