I am very conscious that although I have close connections to Beautiful British Colombia in Canada I have never written an article that has given me the opportunities to extol the virtues of both Vancouver as a city and BC as almost certainly the most scenically attractive part of North America.
My wife Sharron and I were married in New Westminster BC back in 1981 and between 1985 and 1995 spent at least every other summer and usually more frequent visits in BC. We were always provided with free flights by the partner airlines our travel company worked with as Sharron and I used most of our time to print, stuff, sort and mail some 80,000 brochures to potential group leaders in North American schools.
Our visits incurred minimal expense as we exchanged homes with families in Vancouver – they lived in our house and used our cars whilst we did the same in Canada.
Our children who all have Canadian passports and citizenship were continually seeing one of their home ‘countries’ Canada through visitor’s eyes and I thought it was time they learnt more about the heritage and history of the nation of their ancestry so our visits culminated with a 9 month stay in 1996 where our kids, then 11, 9 and 7, went to school in Canada.
We spent most of the time in an exchange home in the prestigious and much sought after suburb of Point Grey about which we knew very little but quickly discovered it had an idea location just 3 miles from Downtown, close to the University of British Colombia and replete with harbourside Parks and Beaches.
And in 2002 we bought the house and it has been our much loved Canadian base ever since to the point I would like to make it our main family home whereas Sharron is the great fan of living in the UK within our family and considers England her home (which it has been for 37 years) and base.
Deep down inside me I think and hope that if I ever get to a point when I am too old, infirm, immobile or whatever to travel as I do at present (and surely that time will come as surely as night follows day if I keep living) then Vancouver would be the perfect spot to spend ones declining days but meanwhile each year I have a fortunate dilemma for which I appreciate I am very fortunate.
Do I spend summers in Switzerland amidst the mountains I love and where I feel I truly belong and feel at home or in Vancouver with a myriad of attractions both cultural and outdoors which includes wilderness camping and hiking?
It is a pity that both Switzerland and Canada are in the same hemisphere so I could spend summers in each, much like many Ski Instructors alternate between winters in the Alps and New Zealand!
Anyway I have pretty much decided that as long as I am able there are so many spectacular hikes I want to undertake and repeat in the Alps that whilst I am able June to September is ‘blocked off’ for Switzerland and the Alps. So summers in BC are going to have to wait until I am too old to hike but will hopefully still be able to enjoy the outdoors by touring backcountry roads in a four wheel drive vehicle and camping equipment.
Well that was the plan!
However the last two years two of my three Canadian nephews made plans to get married ………………..in August.
Our three children now 31, 29 and 27 are very close with their Canadian cousins (as I am an only child they have no close relatives in the UK now my mother has passed away) so there was never any doubts that the five of us would be reunited for Adams’s wedding to Beth last summer and Patrick’s wedding to Meghan this summer.
And for me depending on whether the bottle is one third empty or two thirds full either means a truncated summer in the Alps or the opportunity to spend time in both Switzerland and Canada the same summer!
As Sharron and I had long since made plans to visit Iceland and Greenland from September 13 and I had plans for the Alps with various visitors it meant that although Sharron had gone to Vancouver in mid July I could only go to Vancouver for four weeks from Saturday August 13 and our three kids would be arriving for two weeks from the following weekend with two of their three partners.
So what with family commitments, catching up with friends and hoping to spend time with our kids there was not going to be much time for the outdoors, camping or hiking.
So that meant some careful planning to maximise the time and I thought it would be good to fit in a camping trip in the first week before our kids all arrived and so earlier in the year I had emailed a couple of mates to see if they fancied a 3 Day/2 night camping trip not long after I arrived and my pal Pete was indeed up for it.
Now, as I was to learn (!), camping can mean different things to different people.
On the one hand it can mean driving to a heavily populated camp site with toilets and washing facilities and staying put for a few days in the company of many others or it could mean driving to a remote Provincial Park or Recreation area with designated camping areas where you may or may not find other like minded individuals who prefer the solitude that these remote wilderness areas normally bring. A third option of course is to drive to a trail head and hike in to Parks and mountain areas only accessed by foot where camping is allowed at designated spots. This of course involves carrying your food, fuel and shelter for your anticipated stay.
I had suggested to Pete that we use backcountry and forestry roads for a short road trip. He indicated that he would prefer to stay in one place for two nights rather than stay at two sites but was content to leave the planning to me.
I was fairly sure that Pete, a similar age to myself (late 60s) would be a good fit and personable companion. I had first met Pete three years ago when I had chartered a motor yacht for a week’s cruising in the Desolation Sound area of British Colombia and he had been ‘supplied’ to us by the Charter company as a personable skipper.
His background was in law enforcement and I always enjoy listening to and learning about ways of life very different to my own and Pete was interested to learn that I had a home in Thailand where he had visited and travelled in the 1970s. He was also interested in military history and so a year later undertook a trip to South East Asia where he combined a visit to Vietnam with a journey from Singapore to Thailand and a stay with me in Pattaya.
And last year in 2015 after cousin Adam’s wedding Pete had again been the skipper when we chartered a 50 ft Motor yacht for a another cruise, this time for 6 days in BC’s Gulf Islands for the five of us plus our two daughter’s boyfriends James and………………James.
I had learnt that up to a point Pete liked to be organised, have a plan and particularly be precise in regard to dates and times.
The reader might straight away note there could be potential for discord in this regard but all was well in the planning as I told Pete we could either set off on Tuesday August 16 or Wednesday August 17 but I did not want to commit until we got to Canada and discovered how much time I needed to get unpack, get sorted, do some work and prepare the camping equipment and food etc.
Pete was quite comfortable with this and we exchanged emails a couple of times over the summer to confirm our plans and dates and he was in touch when I arrived in Vancouver.
I called him back and asked if he was all set and he said ‘More or Less’ to which I responded ‘More ‘more’ or ‘less’?’
Pete said he had not been sure when we were going and had now found he was rostered for Marine Rescue standby on Tuesday and Wednesday but he could try and switch duties.
As far as I was concerned it was not a drama and I had plenty to do to fill in the time but it just precluded a longer trip and if Pete could not switch rotas we could still leave on Thursday 18th and come back on Saturday 20th which was when my kids were due to arrive.
So I started to look at some shorter duration options closer to Vancouver and decided on Clendinning Provincial Park as a probable destination with a couple of fall back.
I have been coming to Vancouver since 1978 and have done a lot of camping and hiking but I had not even heard of Clendinning Park which appeared to combine the advantages of proximity to Vancouver (120 miles or so) with a fairly remote location and low visitor numbers.
According to my backcountry guide to BC there were three or four campsites at the end of the access road which was after approximately 40 miles of unmaintained Forestry Roads.
Perhaps a word or two about Forestry Roads are in order here. As everyone knows Canada is a nation with no shortage of forests and forestry is and has been a major a pillar for the Canadian economy since time immemorial as well as a keen topic of debate between environmentalists and traditionalists in recent decades.
When forestry companies were given decades long licences to log or harvest or clearcut within huge designated areas the forestry companies would put in access roads to get equipment in and timber out. It would not be unusual for some roads to be for 70 miles or further and provide access into true wilderness areas. And as Forestry companies worked in different areas with varying degrees of responsibility to the environment a network of spur and subsidiary roads would be added. Some of these perhaps just a few miles long whilst an area is being logged and others for greater distances and in turn with a network of subsidiary roads.
These forestry roads are normally given names and numbers and are open to anyone to use at their own risk.
The roads are built to provide access for large trucks and so whilst some are over flat terrain and can be used by normal cars all are suitable for a more strongly built four wheel drive vehicle.
The good news is the forestry roads can provide access into areas it would otherwise be impossible to visit. The bad news is the risk of meeting a fully laden forestry truck hurtling along the road at 40 mph or more.
Maps are often vague, main forestry roads, spur roads and spur roads to spur roads may have similar names or signage that is no longer legible and whilst some roads post the cb radio network used by logging trucks so as to monitor if there is any traffic on the roads I have no idea if the information is still valid and has been updated.
And of course whilst a Forestry Road is still active it will be given the minimal amount of maintenance necessary to keep it active, open and usable which is far from saying it will be a comfortable ride for a normal road vehicle!
When you consider the challenges offered by the severe Canadian winters and landslides etc one never quite knows what one is letting yourself in for on a forestry road but they often remain serviceable for decades after the logging company has moved on but one needs to check guide books, maps and online reports to get as up to date a report as necessary. And of course a landslide or washout can mean a bumpy 9 mile drive up a former forestry road to a trailhead could become inoperable at any time and replaced by a steep 5 hour walk!
And over the years I have driven our trusty(?) 1998 four wheel drive Jeep Cherokee that we bought in 2002 up some pretty rough and rugged forestry roads although one of the reasons I was happy to delay our departure a couple of days was to ensure it was serviced and the front brakes and alternator replaced.
I found a fairly recent (2013) report of the drive to Clendinning Park posted online by the BC 4 x4 Club which advised it was possible as a long day excursion from Vancouver and the road was normally suitable for ordinary two wheel drive vehicles.
I sent the link to Pete and called him to confirm a Thursday departure was fine and checked that he had got the link to tell his family where we were heading in case we did not return and is only comment was ‘Fine’; although clearly Pete was a bit perturbed by the advisory to keep one’s eyes peeled to avoid any high speed logging trucks hurtling towards us.
I assured Pete we would be fine, most of the active logging roads where trucks drive fast are wide and I would drive cautiously. In retrospect this was the first sign that perhaps Peter was not totally comfortable about heading off into back country BC.
We agreed to meet at the Horsehoe Bay Ferry Terminal the following day at 0930 and meanwhile I packed all the supplies we needed including two tents, Sleeping mats, cooking fuel and went to the Safeway to stock up with more food supplies – we had enough Pasta, Soups, Instant Noodles, Fruit Pods and Energy Bars to keep us going for a month.
And knowing Pete was a stickler for time despite going to bed around 3am I was up and on my way by 0835 and got to the Ferry Terminal by 0931, outstanding timekeeping by my normal standards but when you are going camping with a cop you don’t keep them waiting!
I found the newly moustached Pete who I had not seen for ten months awaiting where he said he would be and we were soon heading north on perhaps the most spectacular highway in North America – the Sea to Sky highway which connects Vancouver with the world famous ski resort of Whistler.
The road has often been blasted out of the rockside and follows the Howe Sound with tremendous views over Anvil Island towards Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast. There are also views up the fjord to Mt Garibaldi and the Black Tusk. It is a spectacular highway but also a high volume route that has a lot of accidents and it is easy to surmise why as so many drivers are distracted by the spectacular scenery.
We passed by Porteau Cove Provincial Park right on the shores of the Howe Sound (too popular, too noisy with road traffic), the restored BC Mining Museum and the Squamish Chief Rock Face where I have often pulled off the road to watch climbers make their way up what is considered to be the biggest single rock in North America and the most popular climbing wall in North America after Yosemite.
And less than an hour after leaving Horseshoe Bay we were at Squamish, about half way to Whistler. We filled up with Gas and found a Supermarket for some additional supplies – just in case! Beer for Pete and Milk, Lemonade, fresh rolls and Salad from the Delicatessen where I was served by a charming Filipina who was amused to learn that my dentist was in Cebu and only 10 days ago I had been hiking to the Matterhorn in Switzerland with four Filipino friends.
I probably know the trails in the Lower Coastal Mountains of BC as well as any non Canadian and probably better than many Canadian hikers and I have lost count of the number of times I have driven up the spectacular Sea to Sky highway to go hiking in Garribaldi Park or in the Whistler and Pemberton areas.
However our planned route meant we were not continuing north but heading west from the Sea to Sky highway until we get to the Squamish River, taking a right and the road changed from a tarmac surface to gravel where it becomes the Squamish Valley Forestry Road.
Our plan was to take the second left onto the Elaho Valley Forestry Road and follow it 40 miles until we reached Clendinning Park.
We were soon heading north with the big Squamish River on our left and the snow covered Peaks of the Tantulus Mountain beyond the far bank.
The gravel road was in good condition with no other vehicles around and after about 30 minutes there was a junction with a road going to the left over a the bridge.
However we were looking for the second left and had not seen the first left nor the Squamish River campsite which was near the first left.
So we continued onwards amidst the forest with views of the impressive peaks to our right becoming clearer as we ascended and found more and more clearings. I was particularly impressed with one flat topped peak rising high above us to the east.
We passed a couple of small pickup trucks and Pete was certain they were loggers.
When the road climbed and doubled back on itself to give spectacular views of the entire range to our east whilst it continued to climb I became convinced we had missed our turn and sure enough I found the hairpin on our map. Pete was far from convinced our map was accurate enough to show the hairpin (‘There’s this thing called a scale Pete, and as we have come 8km since the junction the map scale would allow for it to be shown’) but he also felt the road was going nowhere so no sooner did we agree to turn around than the road petered out in a clearing. Possibly where logs were stored.
We had passed a spur road going higher but that was only going to go to another logging area – active or abandoned. I had no idea what the two vehicles we had seen had been up to as there was no sign of any logging.
Anyway we turned around and descended the 8km back to the junction and on our way Pete asked
‘Are we going to stop for some lunch?’
Whoops – although we had enough food to feed 500 for a month I had forgotten about lunch as I never eat it! I guess I had just assumed we would get to our camping spot by mid afternoon and have a snack.
I asked Pete if he wanted me to pull over by the river and eat the but he was happy to go back to the junction where we had some salad and on checking the map and the layout of the roads we had taken in error it was clear we had somehow missed the first turning and this was indeed the second turning that followed the Elaho River all the way to Clendinning Park.
And whilst we were having lunch we noticed a pickup truck drive up it.
Interestingly nearby was an abandoned logging camp with complete structures for processing timber, huts and loading bays as well as some machinery including crane just left abandoned in the forest.
Clearly it was cheaper to abandon all this rather than dismantle it and transport it out but it clearly meant no logging in the area and little likelihood of meeting a logging truck………………head on!
The road was wide and in excellent condition with the river below us to the left in a small gorge, and if we needed any confirmation that we were going the right way there was soon a bridge to the south bank of the River which we crossed, took a right and sure enough four kilometres later we came to the Molson Memorial Campsite which I wanted to check out as a fall back option in case we could not camp at Clendinning Park.
There was space for several cars to park and turn around and space to pitch two tents amidst the trees if one did not want to camp on the gravel. The campsite was on the bank of a tributary stream and nearby behind the campsite was the Peaches and Cream waterfall which our trip notes had indicated were sometimes popular First Nation locals. (Native North American Indians to the rest of the world).
Interestingly enough there was meant to be a dead end forestry road up the south side of the main Elaho River but a bridge carrying it was no longer and a culvert/drain pipe was lying on the bank of the river.
To me this could just have been storm or flood damage rather than deliberate destruction or even the Forestry company removing the bridge and access to a road they were no longer maintaining when they withdrew from the area but to Pete this was clear evidence that someone did not want us in the area but did not specify as to whether this was loggers or Native Indians but I got the impression he did not have much time for either.
Anyway we returned to the main forestry road to continue to Clendinning, by all accounts a scenically attractive area, and as we drove along the Forestry road maintaining a speed of not much more than 30mph/50kph we came across a boulder on the road at the bottom of a rocky hill slope.
It was not much bigger than a couple of feet (maybe 60cm) in circumference and Pete commented
‘You see the road is not maintained. I am not sure we should be here’
to which I responded
‘There is plenty of space for vehicles and trucks to pass and I am not sure even if this was a public highway the government would send a road crew from Squamish to move a boulder on a back country road. If it was a Forestry road that was active I am sure the logging company would move it if it was impeding the logging trucks’
In truth I would not have given the small boulder/big rock a second thought if Pete had not mentioned it as I had certainly seen bigger obstructions on smaller forestry roads. Canada is a large rugged country with severe winters that can often dislodge rocks and boulders.
But clearly a time bomb was now ticking and one about which I was blissfully unaware because Pete continued……
‘I don’t think we are meant to be here. It’s a beautiful day, great scenery and no one else is here.
Where are the tourists?
If we are meant to be here there would be no tourists. We are not wanted here – there are boulders on the road, that bridge was not maintained.
I don’t know if it’s the loggers or the natives but you can tell if they wanted us here things would be better maintained’
We now had a slightly analogous situation with me the non Canadian, explaining to Pete the Canadian, that these back country roads were available for outdoor enthusiasts to use and this one led to a Provincial Park maintained by the tax payers dollar for people like us to use.
I added that not for one moment would I expect to see the mainstream tourists who enjoy Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler drive 100 miles out of Vancouver including 50 miles on Forestry Roads to camp at a remote Park. However that does not mean that come the weekend there would not be people coming up from Vancouver to spend the weekend in the back country.
‘Trust me Michael – we are not going to see anyone up here. If we were meant to be here I am telling you we would be seeing more tourists’
We continued on what was generally one of the smoother forestry roads I have been on although I did hit one small gully at about 30mph until there was a small gully and the road was covered with water.
The water was all of maybe two inches deep (check the pictures!) and after gently crossing the gully I continued slowly on.
‘Wait a minute. You have got to be kidding. You are not going on?’ said Pete.
‘Sure’ I replied ‘You can see the stream has got diverted and is just following the road and will then drop off down to the river’
‘You don’t know that’ Pete commented.
‘There’s hardly any water on the road. This is nothing, I am sure the water will flow off the road. Let’s just head on and if there is a problem we can turn around and come back’
I was certainly not prepared for what came next.
‘This is crazy. I am not going on a yard further. Turn this truck round, come back and pick me up’
And with no further to do Pete got out of the Jeep, slammed the door and headed off in the direction from which we had come.
I opened the driver’s window and shouted for him to stop if for no reason I needed his assistance to guide me if I was reversing down into the gully but Pete had disappeared and was nowhere to be seen.
I was absolutely flabbergasted. And not at all impressed.
If Pete had concerns all he needed to do was to talk them through and agree a course of action but now he was imposing his wishes on me without any discussion and in a fairly aggressive and offensive manner.
So I was really pissed off – and upset at the manner of his behaviour. I was not used to someone throwing their toys out of the pram and storming off.
I reckoned I had three options.
The first was to leave his sleeping bag and pack at the side of the road and carry on as planned leaving him alone in bear country 35 miles from the nearest settlement.
Trust me I was tempted as I was not impressed at his behaviour but I realised that was fairly (sorry – totally) irresponsible so it was not an option.
The second choice was to drive on through the surface water until I could find a place to turn and then come back for him but I was concerned that if he saw or heard me going on he would be thinking I was abandoning him so I should really be telling him what I was doing.
The third was to try and turn the car on the fairly narrow section of road where we had stopped and Pete had climbed out. The water was not a problem other than it impaired my visibility at the edge of the road.
I cursed Pete for putting me in the position and at myself for being soft enough to be concerned about his feelings about being abandoned if I drive on to find a place to turn when he had shown scant concern or consideration when jumping out of the Jeep, telling me what to do and then disappearing.
By the time I had calmed down, worked through the options, taken off my flip flops and put on my boots it was a good 5 minutes since Pete had abandoned me and I set off down the road fully expecting to find him sitting on a rock behind the bend………….or the next bend…………or in sight along the next 200 metres of straight road.
The only evidence that he had been around was the beer can at the side of the trail which I picked up and took as a reflection of his current mindset – far from a happy camper!
I shouted a couple of times and I could just hear a distant but indistinct shout in reply.
At this point I was pretty pissed off because we were breaking all the rules – we were in backwoods country two individuals and a vehicle and instead of being together we were now in three separate locations and emergency whistles and bear spray were all in the car at which point I decided I was giving up being concerned about trying to inform Pete about what I was planning to do and decided I would return to the Jeep.
When I got back to the Jeep I realised that Pete was probably well out of his comfort zone and all the signs were there in retrospect from his initial concern about using a forestry road, comments about the Loggers, Natives and not being welcomed, the boulder on the road and then a delayed lunch with his only refreshments three beers on an empty stomach as we drove along.
My mistake was not to realise that a guy who can go out on a Marine Search and Rescue in rough seas and steer a 50 ft boat across the Straits of Georgia in almost Gale Force winds as he did for us last year could be fazed and unnerved by driving along a not so remote forestry road!
I really could not see how a couple of inches of water could pose a problem. In the UK we have lived in the small hamlet of Stowell since 1987 and whenever there is persistent rain two of the three access roads regularly floods to up to 12 inches or more for several hundred metres between the hedgerows and we just drive through it – no worries. Just once in almost 30 years has one of our vehicles stalled and been abandoned.
And in Thailand near my home in Pattaya an especially ferocious and persistent downpour can lead to some of the main thoroughfares with poor drainage soon being under 18 inches/50 centimetres of water. When the rain does not stop and its 4am after the live football telecast from Europe has finished at the Sports Bar I have often had to drive home on my motor bike through flooded streets carefully dodging the bags of rubbish that were waiting for the refuse collector but which are now floating towards me.
So I was somewhat incredulous that the two inches of surface water on the road was the reason for abandoning our planned camping trip.
And whilst I was ruminating about this and before I could drive on to find a suitable place to turn, lo and behold in my rear mirror I saw that Pete had reappeared and was approaching the Jeep.
‘What’s the problem? This Jeep got no reverse?’ Pete growled
‘I am not stupid enough to reverse across the gully without any guidance’
I replied and our subsequent efforts proved my point although understandably perhaps our team work of Pete’s guidance and my reversing was not at its most productive.
So in the end I did a 10 point turn on the road without going off either side, crossed the gully and Pete climbed aboard.
‘I signed up for a camping trip not some crazy mission. There’s a reason that no one else is here’
And just as Pete said that I noticed a 4wd utility coming through the flooded road towards us and signalled for it to pull up besides us.
It was the utility we had seen head up this way when we were back at the junction several hours earlier and it was a Fire Ranger doing his daily inspector.
‘How’s the road to Clendinning’ I asked.
‘It’s absolutely fine’ the long haired moustached hippy looking warden replied ‘Just about 200 metres of this surface water which is nothing and then it’s clear all the way to the Park’
Fifteen Love Michael.
‘You don’t even need a 4wd – the road’s straightforward’ he added.
Thirty Love Michael
Anyone camping there at present? I asked
‘No there’s nobody there now but I expect people will be up for the weekend’
‘Game Set and Match Michael
We chatted for 5 minutes without Pete saying a word. The Fire Warden told us a big fire had come through last year destroying large swathes of the landscape including the famous old and tallest tree in the Park. He gave us tips about the best places to camp and also his thoughts on a couple of other Parks in the Whistler area I had been considering.
If there is one thing I will take credit for it is that I usually refrain from saying ‘I told you so’ as it usually exacerbates a situation and sometimes few or no words are better than any comment.
If Pete wanted to say ‘Ok if the expert says it’s not a problem let’s give it a go’ then that’s was his call but his only comment was
‘It’s OK for him in his raised 4wd – it’s obvious this road is no good for normal cars’
As it was my Jeep 4wd does have a raised chassis and good clearance but I was not arguing – I was quite happy to call quits on the day and head back to Vancouver there and then.
I could not see that it was going to be a very pleasurable trip from hereon and how well did I know Pete anyway. What was going to happen if he had another anger or panic attach in the woods in the middle of the night.
I always assumed Pete was a fairly calm and laid back guy from our two sailing trips and his visit to Thailand but I had never before had anyone jump out of a vehicle and demand I turn around.
What would happen if he did not like the pasta I cooked for dinner tonight?
All in all I was happy to write the day off as a bad experience, return to Vancouver and make a mental note to make sure I know, really know, who I invite to go camping with in the future.
I was not really in the mood for conversation so just headed back along the forestry road when Pete said
‘We can camp there’
as we passed a spot where the road was widened to allow people to pull over.
This guy still wants to go camping?
‘I don’t fancy camping on the gravel at the side of a forestry road with no views’
was my only response.
‘One place is as good as another – its only camping’ was Pete’s response until we passed another gravel spot when he repeated his suggestion.
‘Pete that is crazy because the only water is down a rocky slope beside the road down to the river and that’s plain stupid in the dark and I am not pitching the tents on gravel. If we are camping anywhere we can head to the Molson Memorial spot that we checked out where we know there is a grassy spot and available water’
And so as Pete signed up for a camping trip and still wanted to camp I thought it was somewhat unfair and petulant not worth the aggro to pull the plug on the trip so tuned right, crossed the Elaho River and headed back to the Molson Memorial Site – named after two brothers who died there within a year of each other. The friendly Forest Ranger had been unable to give us any details about the circumstances when I asked but we drove back the 20 minutes or so, crossed the river and arrived at the small recreation site with a gravel turning area and adjacent picnic area. The river tributary was only yards away and whilst there was a flat but stony area around the table I thought we could fit the two tents I had brought in on a small flat grassy elevated area on the way to the nearby waterfalls and got the tent outs.
‘So you are one of those guys who likes to put the tents up as soon as we get to the campsite?’ Pete asked in a not unfriendly manner.
‘Too right I am’ I thought without commenting because I don’t fancy doing so in the dark and find something is missing when we can’t see how to fix it.
Before going camping if I have not used the tents for a while I usually prefer to erect them to make sure nothing is missing and I am reminded how they fit but on this occasion I had not had the time and had used both tents the previous September with our daughter Sarah and her boyfriend James. However, James is a lot more practical than myself and I had forgotten one of the tents was the large ‘kitchen’ tent we our trekking division ‘Great Walks of the World’ had taken to the Drakensberg in 2003 and was quite difficult to erect if you forgot it had a fixed fly and you had to erect the external fly first!
I was pleased I had given the easy to erect and more comfortable tent to Pete and we eventually reattached the interior to the fly and got the second tent up as well and by now it was around 7pm so I prepared to cook dinner with a variety of soups, pastas and two burners to hand.
However Pete was not particularly hungry, said he was not a big eater and mentioned something about stress and we were happy to have instant noodles and I decided it was not worth messing around with Pasta for one so warmed up some soup to go with the rolls and peanut butter.
The evening passed pleasantly enough chatting about this and that and I said I was tempted to drive up to Clendinning tomorrow to check it out for future reference but just as quickly thought to do so was probably irresponsible because if for any reason my trusty Jeep broke down or I had a mishap Pete would be left on his own.
I was a bit disappointed that I was ruling out going to our planned destination because of consideration for Pete whereas he had not been so considerate of my feelings by just unilaterally saying ‘no more’ for no reason at all.
I asked Pete if he thought we would see anyone else and no sooner had he replied ‘No chance’ than another 4wd vehicle approached, saw we were occupying the camp site, turned around and disappeared!
We packed all the food and dishes back in the Jeep because leaving food, waste, dishes or anything with odour is a strict No No in Canada as Bears have an acute sense of smell and although it is unlikely one does not want to do anything to attract bears into the campsite.
Our daughter Lisa is paranoid about bears and gets really upset if I sneak as much as an unopened and sealed energy bar (or two!) into the tent when we are camping in Canada.
I had brought a couple of head torches, two gas lanterns and a solar panned tent lamp which was a Christmas present from Sarah last year and which gives off a lot of light so our campsite was well lit but we were both in our tents and reading by 9pm.
For me the gloss had been taken off the trip so I was quite happy to return to Vancouver the following day as Lisa was arriving from Australia fairly early on the following (Saturday) morning so the next morning I told Pete it was my preference to head back to Vancouver but I was happy to relax at the campsite and chill out and read all day admiring the view etc and leave as late as he wanted. It was no problem for me to pack up early evening and drive back in the dark but Pete was happy to relax all morning and head out around 2pm for the three hour drive back to Vancouver.
We had nice views of the forested slopes beyond the river, shade from the sun, two easy chairs, coffee and plenty of food and I have long since decided that when I am too old for summers of mountain hiking a new 4wd and summers of camping in BC will be a pleasing substitute.
And as I was ruminating accordingly I looked up and did a quick double take – what was a young woman in a bikini doing walking towards me!
Was I going GaGa?
Twenty years ago when hiking in the Alps I used to fantasise about turning a corner and finding young Thai woman waiting to give me a massage and over the last 12 years have done a lot of hiking and mountain walking with my Thai friend Ampai.
As the Chinese say ‘Be careful what you ask for’!
Then I noticed this young woman was accompanied by a bearded guy, beer can in hand, also in his early thirties and with a friendly demeanour.
‘Can we come through your campsite to look at the waterfall?’
‘Of course, it’s a public site’ I replied ‘Are you the guys who drove up last night. I walked down the track in case you were parked to tell you were welcome camp by the picnic table’
‘It was no problem – we just drove backaways and parked by the road’
It turned out the guy was an assistant football coach at New Westminster High School where Sharron, her brother Wayne and his four children had all gone to school and he and his wife came up to this area, the Elaho Valley quite frequently in the Summer.
‘Not so many people know about it but it’s so accessible because of the excellent Forestry Road’
No comment from Pete!
They did say that once when they were heading for Clendinning one of the vehicles in their group had been driving at around 40 mph because the road had lulled them into a false sense of security, hit a gully and broke an axle. As I suspected they confirmed that although there was not a large number of visitors there were usually visitors over the weekends like themselves.
When we told them we were planning to move out they decided to go up and check out Clendinning Park and then return and move their camp to the site we were vacating.
Pete and I were packed up and on our way by 3pm and indeed passed another three vehicles driving into the Elaho Valley and I could not resist at least commenting
‘Just as I thought – plenty of people come up here at weekends’
To which Pete replied
‘I think you are obsessed with getting to Clendinning and I am sure you will get there at some point Michael – that’s the kind of guy you are’
In truth I was not obsessed in getting there – I had never even heard of the Park until a few days earlier but after doing the research and planning the destination I was certainly disappointed not to get there because as far as I could see there was no reason not to have done so.
And I do like selecting little roads into remoter and less visited areas and following them to see where they lead – part of my lifelong love of maps, travel and exploration.
It may well be that because of the extensive fire that devastated the southern end of the Park in 2015 the Forested campsites are no longer so attractive and the site by the river with views that the Ranger told us about are apparently devoid of shelter so can get pretty warm when the sun is out but now after this debacle a return visit s certainly in order just to see if the destination was worth all the aggro!
We chatted about the implications of Brexit for the UK and politics in Canada as we drove back south along the Howe Sound until I dropped Pete off at Horseshoe Bay where he could catch a ferry to Gibsons and his home on the Sunshine Coast.
I have no idea if the comments of the Ranger, our subsequent visitors from New Westminster and the cars we saw on the way out made any impression on Pete.
I suspect not and he remains convinced that my planned destination remains a campsite too far.
When I dropped him off at Horseshoe Bay he commented with a sheepish grin:
‘Thanks for the trip and I am sorry about our tiff’
Who knows when I will next see Pete again – When we next charter a boat in BC? If he makes a return visit to Thailand? Never?
As I drove along above West Vancouver and the British Properties on the Upper Levels Highway towards the Lions Gate Bridge I remembered I had also invited my friend Varton from Vancouver Island to join us for a Road trip/Camping trip and for a while this had seemed a possibility.
Varton had joined me in Switzerland last summer and is a very adventurous, can do, daredevil sort of guy and I can only imagine what his reaction might have been when Pete climbed out of the Jeep commenting ‘not a yard further’
Varton would probably have thrown his rucksack and sleeping bag out and said ‘Keep going Michael’ but then again despite his nacho appearance Varton has a kind heart so probably not but in retrospect it would not have been a good combination!
So the moral of this story is very much if you ever plan a wilderness camping trip (Wilderness? At the end of a road?) think very carefully about who you invite and make sure everyone is on the same page in regard to plans and conditions.
My problem was I did not envisage that our trip was anything more than a drive along a gravel road to a camping spot and had no idea I was taking Pete towards the edge of his comfort zone, let alone out of it.
I had three weeks left in Canada but did not get to Clendinning this year although we did manage some further excursions on Forestry Roads which were far rougher than the road that freaked out Pete.
For the first time since 2003 David suggested we go for a hike though not because he wanted to hike with his Dad but rather he could show Amber beautiful Canadian scenery so we decided to head for Brandwine Meadows, a beautiful Alpine area above and to the west of Whistler which had been on my to do wish for over 20 years.
Most people drive along a Forestry Road, park and hike up 500 metres/1700 ft but we discovered there was a rough forestry road that cut out the climb and went to within 100 metres of the Meadows.
This road was very rough but nothing my Jeep could not handle readily enough with Lisa, David, Amber and Sarah’s James on board when at around 1500 metres/4800 feet the Jeep just died and the engine would not restart.
There were two vehicles parked behind us but I off course had been determined to get to the trail head proper but we were well out of range of AA Roadside assistance!
Fortunately we had 3G coverage and James was able to access the manual on line and after checking everything else we concluded it was fuel blockage, perhaps the rough track had dislodged some grit in the fuel tank which was blocking the fuel line.
Several blows with the hammer on the Fuel Tank piping and the Fuel Pump and hey presto the Jeep started first time after 30 minutes of futile efforts and James was our hero for the day – not least for saving me either a $500 -$1000 call out fee and/or a 12 km walk back to the Sea to Sun highway!
A week later we even persuaded Sharron to join is for a camping trip to Lillooet Lake east of Pemberton and on route took another rough forestry road to visit and evaluate Madeley Lake as a future camping option and this time took a rental 4wd Nissan Rogue as well as my Jeep. We managed to dislodge the protective undercowling engine when one drainage channel caught me unprepared but trusty James (again) reaffixed it with Gorilla tape before we returned it!
Several hours later we discovered a nail in the Nissan just before we headed off down a forestry road to our planned camping spot on Lillooet Lake and were fortunate enough to find a repair shop who could fix it at 1650 in the native community of Mt Currie.
However, both the blocked fuel pipe and the puncture reminded me there is always danger in venturing into remote areas when travelling alone and although I do not consider a good condition forestry road to a Provincial Park as being ‘off the beaten track’ experience I will make sure that for any future Canadian camping trips I will definitely activate my Satellite phone.
I thought of doing so this time but a months coverage for $90 when I might only use it on one day seemed excessive but in retrospect if it saves your life, or even a long walk out through bear country, then it is clearly worth it.
However whether I invite Pete along for a trip on land rather than afloat, and whether if invited he would accept are both I suspect highly doubtful!
© Michael Bromfield