Linda and Shorty Sellars, neighbours and friends from North Vancouver, have a cabin up at Hawkins Lake that we occasionally visit. It's as much fun for the sometimes hair-raising drive to get there as it is for the pleasant hours up there. Here are the accounts of a couple of visits.
[The summer version]
We loved the spectacular drive at first, then wearied of it, then gradually began to appreciate it again as we grew accustomed to its character.
It takes only a minute or so from our house in North Vancouver to hit the Trans-Canada highway; we follow it out through the 'burbs of Vancouver and make our way east, inland, across the flat farmland of the Fraser Valley. The mountain ranges bordering the valley on both sides are middle-distant to begin with but as we reach Chilliwack they begin to close in and by the time we reach Hope, we've clocked 124km and the peaks loom high on all sides.
At Hope, you can continue East on any of three highways: the old #3 (Crows Nest) continues directly East parallel with the US border; the new #5, the Coquihalla, heads off northeast to Kamloops. We continue on the old trans-Canada route which heads directly north, up the the awesome but fearsome 100km rut of the Fraser Canyon Canyon(which is partly why they built #5) to Cache Creek.
It's half highway, half country road, with some people in a hurry heading long distances to Prince George or Alaska perhaps, and other local people pottering along in their pickups. But you can only occasionally build even 3 lanes on a highway that winds its way along this steep gorge, with the torrent of the canyon below and fifteen hundred metre peaks above. The railtracks are lower down, often on the other side of the canyon, which gives occasional great views of the CN or CP trains pulling 100 cars or more as they grind their way up the canyon on the start of their trip across the continent.
I'd avoid this route if you're in a hurry. In summer it's jammed with campers heading to Alaska and semis heading to North; in winter, it may be caked with corrugated ice and you can't see the road for the blowing snow. But it is spectacular trip if you can relax and go with the flow.
We do well today, flying up past Hell's Gate(famous for its river rafting) to Lytton, where two valleys bring together the considerable individual flows of the Thompson and the Fraser Rivers, and create the raging torrent in the Canyon now behind us. The canyon flattens out a little here and the current calms down.
Oddly, Lytton, the place with all this water, through some trick of geography becomes one of the hottest and dryest spots in Canada during the summer months. Accordingly the terrain here has suddenly changes from forested, jagged peaks to rolling hills of semi-arid desert covered with sagebrush.
It's a fine run from here to Cache creek, up a road that angles between the two big rivers. Oddly the valley that we follow has no river and the fields are irrigated from some mystery source. There are plenty of cattle; we pass an Osprey sitting on a nest on top of a power pole in Spence's Bridge; and continue the 90-some km to Cache Creek.
The Trans-Canada turns East at this point but we continue North on Hwy 97. It's a steady climb: we've gained 1100 feet from Hope and there's a noticeably steeper climb of some 2000 feet up quite an attractive valley of horse and cattle ranches before flattening out into the Cariboo plateau. We have another , which stays with us to 100 Mile House. Just the other side of 100 Mile House, we take the turn off to Forest Grove.
This is the Cariboo region, an elevated plateau of rolling hills and water in every possible form: marshes, bogs, ponds, and 25 km lakes. There's a lot of farmland (cattle mostly) and small but growing communities of lakeside properties owned by city folks. The locals seem to be the usual mix of quirky characters; according to the stories that circulate, drugs and alchohol figure large (grow-ops are suspected in the locale). Or so it sometimes seems, but as usual it's the oddballs that corner the gossip and in reality the larger number of just-plain- quiet-nice-folks go unnoticed.
We're doing a steady 100 clicks but keeping a wary eye out for deer (a couple of sightings) that can spell trouble for motorists at dusk but alongside Canim Lake we take the left turn to Hawkins and ten minutes later we're safely there. It's 9pm.
|Place||Km to Vanc||El.(m)|
|100 Mile House||429||930|
Call us crazy for driving 500km over ice-packed roads for a few days break over New Year's. We first have to check that the highways aren't closed because of snowstorms, or that the temperature up there is more hospitable than the -25C that it was two weeks ago, but it's a go!
The weather in Vancouve was mild and we had no snow as we set out for Hawkins around 8:30am on Dec 27th. No problem through the Fraser Valley and as we turned north up the Fraser Canyon from Hope the roads were still dry. But the streams coming off the peaks high up on either side were all ice. Thankfully, the Canyon wasn't too bad and we make it to 100 Mile House without a hitch. For the last half hour of the trip we had wisps of snow blowing like serpents across the road but we keep up a steady 100 clicks all the way in. Amazing how many animal tracks there are in the snow: rabbit, fox, mink, lynx? Made it in to the lake by 4ish—the usual 7 hour trip;
It's getting dark and the temperature is down to -7C or so. Hawkins lake is frozen of course and Shorty is out there; he's cleared a skating rink on the ice and is pumping water over it to smooth it out. There's only about a foot of snow on the ground as in spite of the cold they don't get much precipitation up here in the Cariboo. Linda and Shorty and son Jeremy arrived yesterday and the place is toasty. Some of the folks go out for a skate that evening but the temperature's dropping to south of -10C. (* Note the frequent references to temperature; it's of keen interest up here).
Five years ago the cabin was yer remote woodsy cabin—2br, 1 bathroom, and living room/kitchen with yer outside biffy (which is why they haven't been up much in the winter where it has reached -52C). A year or so back Shorty retired and decided to upscale it. He dug a basement out underneath, adding a room to hold the well, a furnace and a boiler. He then installed all kinds of hot water floor heating systems, 2 inside toilets, showers and another big bedroom downstairs. You walk in and the place is balmy warm (no mixed blasts of hot from wall heaters or cold from drafts that are the standard here). The bathrooms would be a credit to the Hyatt Regency. How the hell a guy with one arm can solder pipes, and hang drywall is still a mystery!
Snowshoed up to Greenlee Lake on Tuesday but had to make do with second best trail as the snowmobilers had been up and buggered up the pure snow. Someone had been skiing the perimeter of the lake. Went skating on Hawkins lake when we got back and started cleaning out the firepit for a skate and drink out by the fire that evening. Diane makes up a batch of rum toddy mix - diet version: combo of butter, sugar and ice cream added to boiing water and of course rum.
Wednesday, Lynda and I took off back out to the highway to try skiing at 108 Mile Ranch; couldn't find anything open there but the Hills resort just across the road was busy and we had a great 5Km ski on their trails. The snow started coming down about half way around and had dumped an inch by the time we got back to the lodge. Roads a little more dicey as we headed back into the lake but not too bad and there was Shorty out on the lake "ploughing" the skating area. It drops to -9C in the evening.
It's quite magical here. The lake is pure white of course and the trees up on the ridges are coated in white powder. Around the lake the lights of the crop of new "residences" (cabins is not an appropriate word for some of the mansions springing up around the lake) form a glittering string around the lakeshore. We don't get the brilliant blue of a sunny day while we're here (which is when you also get the -25C) but sometimes we get some blue sky and a kind of dreamy sunshine during the day and the light of a full moon in the evenings. No immediate signs of wildlife but in summer a family of river otters are competition for the beaver that ate Shorty and Linda's planted and carefully nurtured willow tree. Back to winter though: as we're driving the roads here, we pass farms where horses and cattle are out nibbling the stubble of stalks coming up through the snow, apparently indifferent to the cold.
Shorty and Linda's other kids arrive at 6am on Thursday after an all-night drive from Vancouver and crash. The rest of us head out for a morning snowshoe to give them some peace. We try the woods by the school out by the lake, but it's too dense so Linda and Lynda and Diane snowshoe 6km back along the road, Shorty and I head home—Shorty skates while I ski around the lake. In the afternoon, Lyn and I try the ski thing again, across the lake but keeping the shoreline not too far away! Half a click around the lake we find that one of the other residents on the other side of the lake as also cleared a rink and dyed curling bullseyes into the ice. We stop to chat; he's planning a curling bonspiel the next day using "rocks" made out of pine tree sections with a bit of branch sticking out for handles. It's all DIY up here. However, a littl past their place we suddenly get slush under our skis, which isn't a good thing with the shoreline 50 feet away! A quick retreat. Back to the cabin and a skate in the evening.
Linda manages to make a New Years eve dinner for 10 on a single stove; we have a brief stint outside and the snow starts in again—there is about 4 inches of new stuff, which is a bit worrying as we're planning to drive home tomorrow. We struggle to stay up until midnight but we don't last; geez we're all getting old.
The drive back the next day is more exciting than we really wanted. Starts off well; as we're packing up, it seems to have warmed up to -4C. A large Bald Eagle heads over no more than a 100 feet up and as we're crossing Bradley Creek a family of Mule Deer crosses the road in front of us. We keep it down to 60kms/hr on the way out to the highway because of the snow on the road but that isn't unexpected; make great time (2hrs) to Cache Creek and lunch. But the Fraser Canyon is hell: there's compact snow, slush a foot deep, blowing snow and freezing rain. To make matters worse the snow ploughs haven't done a great job of clearing our side of the highway. We see half a dozen cars in the ditch and don't particularly want to join them. Traffic isn't bad but it isn't good either and tracking an oil tanker up a winding mountainside road is only marginally more frustating than trying to pass the beast, slithering about in the slush of the centre lane (Lynda's 4WD Escape is thankfully a real help). Somehow we make it back in about 7 hours.
Summer up here is a different kind of experience from the winter one above. The weekend at the cabin consists of completing one of several purely perfunctory chores around the property (much of which time has to be spent throwing the ball for Farley, the black lab),and then sitting around drinking, eating and congratulating ourselves on how little we've accomplished (and throwing the ball for Farley). Occasionally, the very ambitious will go for a hike or swim (both of which includes throwing the ball for Farley) or paddling the canoe across the lake.
There's usually a crowd here consisting of—but not confined to—the several Sellars family and perhaps their kids or friends. Or other friends, or neighbours who have dropped by. Each of these have a different focus and congregate only by the barbecue (due South from the cabin) or the fire (due Northwest) or indoors if it is raining.
Some prefer to read, do crossword puzzles, watch birds or nod off. There used to be a thickish wall of brush and trees between the cabin and the shorelines, in the midst of which we could hear birds but not see them. Then the new porch appeared and its glistening magnificence of glass and stained wood, stretches out from the cabin towards the lake, clearing the view of the shore and lake and providing an uninterrupted view of all manner of flycatchers and warblers whizzing back and forwards out over the lake to catch food.
There are all kinds of traditions here: the evening fire, the occasional hike, or the (2km +/-) walk around the block in the evenings (throwing the ball all the while for Farley). This last affords the opportunity to spy on your neighbour's place. In the event of the social accident that they catch you in the act (protocol requires them to be out snooping around your place at this time) you are forced into socializing for half an hour or so.
The outdoor biffy is an experience. Biffies are of course always an experience but this one sits out in the woods on a bank where the lake narrows to flow away down the creek. It's quite private so you can leave the door open for bird-watching and listening to the radio. There are two seats side by side for the very sociable but that's an experience that those of us with an English upbringing can only marvel at. Shorty solicited my humble contribution to this home away from home: I installed a fan at the back. However, the fan that he gave me had perhaps powered a small aircraft so turning the light on (which powers the fan up) somewhat detracts from the idyll of the loo.
Here's a few more pictures, added later:
Linda at the stove again!
Shorty and Jeremy at the firepit
Nicer picture of the lake
WhiskeyJack or Canada Gray Jay at the feeder
Another end of year, which means another trip to Hawkins Lake. OK, check the weather (no obvious signs of snowstorms with the potential to block the highways heading north over the next week), get the gear out--skis, ice-skates, snowshoes, hiking boots, poles, toques, gloves and at least one change of underwear (well, we are going rustic after all), and we're off!
The footwear's ready!
Pretty mild when we left here around 9am and when we passed Bridal Falls heading into the mountains, there was no ice on the upper reaches so it's been mild here too. But we could see a thunderous cloud up ahead around Hope and it was raining buckets when we got there. However, it turned out to be no problem and everything went swimmingly until we hit Spences Bridge, when we ran into a line-up of stopped traffic. Turned out there was an accident a kilometre or so ahead. So we turned around and went into Spence's Bridge for lunch. Got there just in time: the highway had been blocked most of the day and the diner was overwhelmed with business and they closed the doors behind us and started to try to get ahead of the orders and dishes. Even so they ran out of propane before we got our meals and we ended up with sandwiches! After lunch, the news from the truckers was that the highway wouldn't be cleared for at least two more hours so we took the detour out to Merritt and then up 97C. Got into Hawkins a couple of hours late but hey, we got there! Well, I've covered the holiday generalities before (above) so just a few tidbits this time:
Shorty and the cabin behind
Lyn and where we're heading to (another 1km)
John, looking back towards the cabin
Just 2012 and still skating
Diane and Cabin
Morning fog and approaching stranger (on the lake)