Trekking British Columbia's Whipsaw Trail
Mozzies swarmed like a squadron of Japanese Zeros at Pearl Harbor, repeatedly diving in for a kill-or meal-before committing hari kari under the palm of my hand. A cool pre-dusk breeze drew them out of the woodland in droves, and due to recent wildfires and forest restrictions, a mosquito-abating campfire was out of the question. I assassinated a few hundred of the buggers-leaving my neck, arms, and Exofficio shirt looking like a battlefield operating room. We were midway through the Whipsaw OHV Trail, just east of the Sawtooth Range in British Columbia, and between my three new Canadian mates and I, we didn't have an ounce of Repel. There would be no reprieve until we surrendered to our tents.
Back in May, the guys from ARB invited us up to the Great White North to run one of the most historic routes in Western Canada, the Whipsaw. Can't pass up an offer like this, right? Especially when they offered up their four-door JK for the weekend. Some quick research revealed that we'd soon be following the footsteps of explorers from two centuries past and wheeling on one of BFGoodrich's Outstanding Trails. We cordially accepted. A few weeks later, we'd be having a good chin-wag and swatting mozzies with our Albertan trail companions, Jan, Peter, and Kyle.
The Hudson Bay Company (HBC), originally a British Royal Charter established in 1670, was at one time the single largest landowner in North America. Controlling an estimated three million square miles, HBCs influence reached from the "frozen north"(the Arctic Ocean) all the way to the Pacific. With the not-so-simple task of managing the trappers and Indian population of this Crown-granted empire, the HBC set out to establish trade routes throughout the region. We're told that sections of the Whipsaw Trail were part of that network.
At 68 miles in length, Whipsaw is not exceptionally difficult-maybe a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. But what it lacks in axle-snapping obstacles, it makes up for by traversing some of the most scenic climes in North America. On day two of our trail ride, we snaked our way around a half dozen lakes lined with conifers and lodgepole pines, verdant alpine meadows, and vistas that extended as far as the eye could see.
Jan Alsen, our trail leader and an engineer by trade, was a literal encyclopedia of information. Stopping at every prospector's shack, log cabin, gravesite, and mining operation, Jan would share the recorded details of early settlers and trappers, as well as modern-day mining and logging operations. As the fur trade waned in the 1800s, local interest turned to mining silver and gold. As the lode panned out, coal and timber became the region's new gold.
We like the fact that the trail can be easily negotiated by a moderately equipped rig. And though we were in ARB's fully-kitted Jeep JK, a competent driver in a stock JK, Tacoma or Hummer H3 might spin a tire here and there, but would have a blast. In March of '07, Whipsaw caught the eye of the guys at BFGoodrich and it was inducted as one of BFGoodrich's Outstanding Trails-one of only two in Canada at present.
Descending the grade towards Coalville, which received its moniker from the rich coal deposits in the area, we stopped at the decaying ghost town of Granite City before setting up our second camp on the banks of the Similkameen River. The mozzies had subsided, and the silhouetted crags of the Sawtooths towered above the western horizon as the day's last light fell over the canyon. Overall, the Whipsaw was well worth the long trek north. A big thanks to ARB for loaning us their JK, and to our Canadian mates for showing us the way.