When people asked us where we had been on the August long weekend, and we replied: “the South Chilcotin”, none of our friends knew what we were talking about. Clearly we had managed to beat the crowds, once again. But we didn’t choose the South Chilcotin just to hike off the beaten track. Simply, it’s one of those places that you visit once, and then fall in love with and keep returning. There’s something about the remoteness, the open spaces, rounded mountains, wildlife and colourful rock that keeps us coming back for more.
After a long five hour drive, including a rattly 50km’s on the Hurley FSR to Gold Bridge, we arrived to the Jewel Creek Trailhead. It was already lunch time, and we had yet to start hiking, but we weren’t in a rush. The trail led us along Slim Creek, and then open forest, although we were happy to hide in the shade – it was a hot day. Maya has an eagle eye for berries, and sure enough she found a few clumps of raspberry bushes which we quickly denuded. It was nice to see the prominent Mt. Dickson, which we had climbed a few years ago, also on a long weekend. We stopped at a camp just short of Spruce Lake, and revelled at the lack of bugs – we later learned that many of our friends were getting bitten to death at Semaphore Lakes around this time.
The next day we set out towards the beautiful Hummingbird and Trigger Lakes. After a nap and a swim, we were greeted with a very unexpected thunderstorm – there were loud claps of thunder and flashes of lightning, and we waited in the trees while it rained. Soon enough the excitement was over, and we continued up towards Deer Pass. The trail was a bit eroded due to mountain bikers dragging their wheels – we actually saw quite a few people, but they were all on bicycles or horses, and were mostly on their way to or from Spruce Lake.
The scenery was very open, and I was hoping to spot a grizzly or two in the distance, like we did during our last trip to the area, but no such luck. Finally, after what seemed like a long time, we arrived to Deer Pass. From there we could see the striking Castle Mountain, as well as Mount Cunningham and Cardtable Mountain, both of which we scrambled last year.
Our third day was going to be a long one, but we didn’t know this so we took our time getting up in the morning. We hiked along the ridge towards Mt. Sheba, in parts following a surprisingly good trail. Just before leaving the ridge, we reached a point where Mt. Sheba seemed to be just spitting distance away and couldn’t resist the urge to take a quick nap.
Mount Sheba has two rounded summits and was apparently originally named “Mt. Sheba’s Tits” (after the supposedly promiscuous biblical Queen) by early prospectors, but government cartographers couldn’t stomach the language and unfortunately shortened the name. The trail led us towards a nice little lake where we refilled our water and then ascended back to the ridge, now on the other side of Mt. Sheba. We saw some caribou on a high alpine ridge, and while having our lunch a huge mountain goat said hello. I ran up both of Sheba’s tits while Maya rested – perhaps she sensed it would be a long day.
Continuing along the ridge, we needed to find a way down to Spruce Lake. The first way we tried was vetoed after I started heading down the steep and sloppy slope and then set off a small mud slide and could barely get back up. Instead we took the longer and mellower route around the south side of the ridge, where we found a good trail. Descending on this trail we got stumped a few times by the maze of trails, of course no signs to be seen and kicking ourselves for not bringing the GPS.
By the time we arrived to Spruce Lake it was almost dark, at which point we reached the real labyrinth – there are a few private properties along the lake, and lots of small trails. When we arrived to the campground at the north end of the lake, we had been hiking for 12 hours. It was completely dark, and almost everyone was asleep. We tried to be quiet while preparing our dinner, although every now and then some cheering erupted from a nearby private house (yes, inside a park, weird), and then collapsed into our sleeping bags.
On our last day, we hiked down from Spruce Lake along Gun Creek and then Slim Creek, and back to the car. It was nice to drive the Hurley one day after the end of the long weekend – there was barely any traffic. We stopped at our new favourite eating spot, Mile One Eating House in Pemberton, where we enjoyed a burger and a seared tuna sandwich while sitting on the patio across from Mt. Currie. Perhaps one of the reasons we like that place is that it’s like a middle house, preparing us for our return from the mountains to the urban landscape…