On the trail with ARB
Hard-core rockcrawling has had an undeniable impact on everyone in the sport of off-roading, but many of us have our four-wheel-drive roots planted firmly in the simpler pursuits of camping, exploring, and other outdoor activities. And when you consider ARB's camping and exploring heritage in Australia, perhaps it comes as no surprise that we all liked the idea of putting together an event that takes us back to our roots in off-roading. And so, ARB's American Outback Series was born, with the first event being held in Oregon in June 2003. This overland off-road trip treated 15 drivers, in their unique, well-equipped four-wheel-drive vehicles, to a camping and exploring adventure that covered more than 600 miles of Oregon's rugged and historic backcountry.
For ARB's next American Outback series, it was decided that the second event would be held in British Columbia, Canada. After a lengthy, nation-wide search, 15 drivers were invited to join ARB in their customized rigs on a 1,000-mile off-road odyssey. To help chart a course across some of British Columbia's most magnificent wilderness, we obtained the guidance of Al Vandervelde from Canadian 4WD magazine and Anne Jackson from the West Coast 'Wheelers. During the planning stages, ARB emphasized that it wanted to cover a great distance and see some amazing backcountry. Al and Anne would not disappoint us.
On a sunny Monday morning in June 2004, our group of Land Rovers, Jeeps, Toyotas, and Suzukis rendezvoused for a drivers meeting at the Apex Alpine Ski Resort, southeast of Penticton, British Columbia. Surrounded by rugged mountains and thick forests of lodgepole pine and mountain hemlock, we slipped into 4WD and laid the first tracks in our five-day adventure. Our overall objective was to travel some 1,000 miles northwest by four-wheel-drive trail and highway. Along the way, our key destinations would include the steep, wooded Apex Bowl country; the pristine wilderness of the Whipsaw country; and eventually, the remote Bralorne Mountains. For the most part, our trip was loosely charted and our camping destinations largely undetermined. The only scheduled connection we would have with civilization was a hotel reservation in the small, mountain-town of Lillooet on Tuesday evening.
Monday's travels brought us face to face with the realities of off-roading in the Northwest as the tight, muddy tracks of the Apex Bowl forced us to claw our way up and over one mountainside after another. Along the way, countless vistas treated us to amazing panoramas and ever-changing weather patterns. By early afternoon, we had burned up two hours on various winching chores, and our chainsaw was quickly going dull on downed trees. After cresting the overlook to the graceful Similkameen River, we dropped down about 1,000 feet and headed north by highway to the turn-off for the much-anticipated Whipsaw Trail. With the sun dropping low in the sky, large stands of ponderosa pine captured the silhouettes of our vehicles as we once again crawled up into the wilderness. Just before sunset, we pulled off the trail to camp at the high point of a series of rolling meadows that were dotted with groupings of tall bristlecone and lodgepole pine. Against the backdrop of an old log cabin and a gravestone or two, our evening faded out around a welcoming fire.
Tuesday morning greeted us with a warm sun, an expansive blue sky, and flowered meadows in all directions. Before us lay the famous Whipsaw Trail, which was once used as a mining road in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, it offers the adventurous off-road enthusiast an opportunity to explore an alpine wonderland of meadows and icy lakes, surrounded by a framework of sawtooth peaks. By midmorning, most of the people in our group were completely absorbed by this beautiful countryside, but we were also realizing that winter had not yet finished with the Whipsaw Trail. The farther we snaked into the higher elevations, the longer and deeper the snowdrifts became. By early afternoon, rooster-tails were flying, and we were being serenaded by the redline-concerto of nearly every engine in our group. Despite the fun we were having, our pace had slowed considerably, and by early evening it was clear that we were not going to make the distant town of Lillooet by sundown. However, as Anne led our group to an isolated campsite on the picturesque shore of Loadstone Lake, no one seemed too concerned about missing the hotel. And as the red clouds of evening rolled over, we enjoyed the unique privilege of another wonderful night in Canada's backcountry.