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Old 11-27-2014, 09:50 PM   #1
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Bella Coola via Cariboo-Chilcotin Back Roads

It has been over 35 years since I had last traveled the back roads of the Cariboo-Chilcotin region. Way back then I was posted in Williams Lake for a couple of years. My job was repairing office equipment and some of my business travels took me to exotic locales like Anahim Lake and Riske Creek out on Highway 20. I had also made a couple of memorable trips to Farwell Canyon and camped in the area. However I had never made it all the way to Bella Coola nor had I explored some of the legendary lakes such as Chilco or Tatlayoko. I have wanted to go back to that part of the country for many years but for some reason my travels have taken me elsewhere.

Having ridden street bikes for many years, I joined the ranks of dual-sport riders in 2008 with the purchase of a KLR650. Moving back to the Okanagan Valley a couple of years prior to that I found that there were many great roads that eventually turned to gravel. While my ST1300 is terrific on the pavement, it truly sucks on deep gravel roads. With the KLR I found the freedom to continue exploring when the roads turned to crap. I was hooked. By the time this particular trip began I had logged 30,000 km on the mighty KLR including a 12 day trip in 2010 through the back roads of Idaho and Oregon which included the famous Stanley Stomp. (Ride Report Here)

Adrian had been a companion on that trip and we had originally planned the ride to Bella Coola for August of 2013. It was not to be as a few weeks prior to departure, Adrian got clipped by an errant truck driver. Fortunately he wasn’t injured, but his bike took the worst of it. The trip was shelved for that summer. With considerable effort, Adrian brought the bike back to life over last winter and the trip was back on for August of 2014.

We had a number of potential routes set up on the GPS but were not committed to any particular route or timetable. The map below is from our actual tracks. The colors indicate different days, and there is some overlap as is some areas there is only one road in or out.



We got an early start from Kelowna on Saturday, August 2nd and arrived in the thriving village of Westwold in time for breakfast. The Route 97 Diner is a favorite of mine and I’ve eaten there many times. The food is good, the staff is friendly and the diner is full of 50’s posters, photos and memorabilia.



Allow me to introduce ourselves. Adrian, an affable Aussie who goes by the handle “ozbeemer2” on ADV Rider is quite simply a pleasure to travel with. He’s an extremely competent rider, is very easy going and no matter where we stop, it only takes a few minutes for him to be involved in a friendly conversation with whoever happens to be around. His ride is a 1991 R100GS that he has owned for as long as I’ve known him. The bike is well maintained with upgraded suspension and front brake. The original BMW panniers and a well-used tank bag of undetermined origin were augmented for this trip with a bright yellow Wolfman dry bag. The solo seat and optional tail rack provides a sturdy platform with the tent and dry bag secured by a set of Rok-Straps.



My name is Wayne and I’m riding my 05 KLR650 affectionately known as “Gumby”. The previous owner had installed progressive springs up front, a braided steel brake line, belly pan, radiator guards, Ascerbis hand guards and a taller windscreen. I’ve added the Happy Trails panniers and a Sargent seat, both of which I highly recommend. I’ve also upgraded the rear sub-assembly bolts and completed the doohickey mod. (Yes, it was cracked and the spring broken.) I recently bought a Wolfman tank bag and the rest of my kit was stowed in dry bags also secured with Rok-straps.



For navigation I use a Garmin Oregon 450 loaded with an OLD copy of Topo Canada and a slightly newer copy of City Navigator. As back up I carried the latest edition of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast edition of the BC Backroad Mapbook AKA “The Book of Lies.” None of these were entirely accurate, but used in combination with Google Earth I had set up a pretty good set of routes for the trip. I had also programmed waypoints for over 50 recreational camp sites for the area but about halfway through the trip, my fumble fingers managed to delete all of my waypoints. Not too bright on my part but they weren’t really necessary after all.

As I often ride alone on FSR roads, I carry a SPOT tracker. This trip would have us out of Cell coverage for days at a time so I wanted to let the loved ones at home know where we were and how we were doing.

We were both running new sets of Heidenau K60’s and were carrying full camping kit. We were also pretty well equipped for tools which we hoped would handle any bike problems.

We checked the packing job after breakfast and then hit the highway for about 300 km of pavement before our jumping off point near Clinton.

BCBackRoads screwed with this post 11-30-2014 at 10:23 AM
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Old 11-27-2014, 10:54 PM   #2
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After cruising through Kamloops on the Trans-Canada Hwy, we stopped for a break at a rest stop high over Kamloops Lake. While checking out the view we struck up a conversation with a couple of fellows who were on their way home to Bella Coola. They gave us some ideas on a couple of things to see along the way. Itís always nice to get some information from the locals.





The weather was looking good for the next few days. Other than some smog over Kamloops, we were looking at clear blue skies ahead. We stopped in Clinton to pick up some groceries and fuel before our departure from pavement and civilization. Just a few kilometers up the hill on Hwy 97 from Clinton, we turned west onto Big Bar Lake Road. We were finally off pavement and we felt that the real trip was beginning.



Our target for the first day was pretty conservative. We pulled into Big Bar Lake Provincial Park to see what was available for camping. This was the middle of the BC Day long weekend and we werenít surprised to see that all the lakeside camp sites were either occupied or reserved. There were sites available in the secondary area, but it was still pretty early in the day. We decided to check out the Little Big Bar Lake Recreation Site which was about 10 km down the road.





This was more like it. We had the place all to ourselves. It was a pretty open site that might have been a bit too exposed in poor weather but on this day it looked perfect. There were about 5 sites, so we picked the best one. There was a steel fire pit and a bar between the trees to hang a bear bag. The only water available was from the lake which might have been OK, but I knew there was good water to be had back at the Provincial Park, so I dropped off my camping gear, and strapped a 5 gal collapsible water container to the rack. I was able to fill the bag with good clear water and was pleasantly surprised to learn that unlike most of BC, there was no fire ban in this area.



Back at the Recreation site, it didnít take long to get camp set up. As we had stopped about mid-afternoon, we had a nice relaxing evening ahead of us.
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Old 11-27-2014, 11:09 PM   #3
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We were each carrying a camp stove and cooking gear. Adrian brought a small primus butane stove and I had borrowed a multi-fuel stove from another riding buddy Gary. My old butane stove that was about 30 years old recently gave up the ghost and I couldnít get canisters for it any more. I wanted to try out the multi-fuel stove before I purchased something new.





HmmmmÖÖ.Puritan Stew and noodles! Camp Dining at its ÖÖwell maybe not finest, but it did hit the spot. After dinner, we took a walk around the area, gathered some firewood and prepared for what promised to be a pleasant evening. We were on the Cariboo plateau at around the 3400 ft level so we expected it to cool off. There was a nice breeze that must have been keeping the mosquitos down as I donít recall breaking out the bug spray.





There were a couple of cabins across the lake and fishermen out in a canoe for a while. I donít know if they caught anything, but I was wishing I had brought a rod along. I could see some small fish near the shore so maybe there were some larger ones further out.



As the sun got lower in the sky, we got a fire going and broke out the Jameson Irish Whiskey to toast our good fortune at being able to get away and ride through such great country.





We were treated to an excellent sunset and we retired early in anticipation of an early start and some great roads ahead.





We rode 368 km on day 1, most on pavement. Not a big day mileage wise, but I felt we were a million km from our day-to-day life.

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Old 11-27-2014, 11:15 PM   #4
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I'm in.

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Old 11-27-2014, 11:22 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by canuk_guy View Post
Count me in... My favorite place to ride.

Will have a movie posted soon from my trip this year
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Old 11-28-2014, 05:50 AM   #6
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I'm in. Bella Coola is on my short list for 2015.
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Old 11-28-2014, 12:29 PM   #7
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In!
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Old 11-28-2014, 09:28 PM   #8
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Thanks fellows. It's nice to know someone is watching.

I'm looking forward to your next movie GrizzLee. I really enjoyed the first one.

Wayne
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Old 11-28-2014, 09:38 PM   #9
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Day 2, Sunday, August 3rd

With the clear skies and a bit of altitude it cooled off pretty good overnight. The first night on the sleeping pad always takes me a little while to acclimate so I woke several times during the night. The serenade from the barking dogs across the lake also kept me awake for a while. Itís amazing how well sounds travel at night and across a body of water. On one of my waking moments I looked out the tent door to see the sunrise promising a new day.



We eventually crawled out of bed and had a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal and some coffee. We werenít really rushing as the sun rose and burned off some of the dew from the tents.



It didnít take us too long to be packed up and ready to go.



Just a couple of kilometers west of our camp site, we came to our first major intersection. Whoever maintains the sign posts in this area does a pretty good job. I found they were better than in many other areas of BC.



A left turn would take us south to Jesmond, Kelly Lake or the Big Bar Ferry which crosses the Fraser River then on the Lillooet. A right turn heads north on Poison Lake Road towards Dog Creek, Williams Lake or the Gang Ranch. Right it is.



Poison Lake Rd was a single lane track winding its way down a pleasant valley. We had packed up our trash intending to carry it until we found a garbage can. I was pleased to find a garbage transfer station out in the middle of nowhere, just before the junction with Meadow Lake Road. Goodbye garbage.



Again, a well-marked set of signs kept us on track to Gang Ranch. We didnít really need the GPS for this route. I have no idea what the ď3 StonesĒ sign was about. In fact I didnít notice it until looking through the photos at home.



Meadow Lake Road follows Canoe Creek as it meanders down into the Fraser Canyon. We passed through a couple of small Indian Reservations but other than parked cars we didnít see any signs of life.



We did startle a couple of good sized deer rounding one bend but before I could access the camera they were long gone. The valley got deeper and the walls got higher on either side.

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Old 11-28-2014, 09:52 PM   #10
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I'm in. Looking to go to Bella Coola next year as well. Are you keeping a track?
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Old 11-28-2014, 10:16 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Weevrider View Post
I'm in. Looking to go to Bella Coola next year as well. Are you keeping a track?
Yep, I saved all my tracks from the trip. Send me a PM with an email address and I can send them to you. Its about a 6 MB file.

Wayne
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Old 11-28-2014, 10:29 PM   #12
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We passed through a tight notch in the valley and were suddenly faced with a set of switchbacks and a long run down into the Fraser Canyon. We had to stop and take it in.





Canoe Creek follows the line of trees to the left and the Fraser River is deep in the canyon beyond where the road goes out of sight. We were losing elevation rapidly at this point and the day was warming up.



As we rode down the valley we got our first glimpse of the Fraser River off to the left. As the air warmed up, the smell of sage was almost overpowering.



We rounded a bend and headed north on a bench high above the river. The sage smell was replaced by the scent of alfalfa as we passed many irrigated fields on the bench.



To our left in the canyon we caught sight of the Gang Ranch suspension bridge, part of our planned route.



This one lane suspension bridge was built primarily to service the Gang Ranch. With a little research I found that this is the last of a series of suspension bridges over the Fraser that were built by the Royal Engineers. Others were built at Alexandria, Lillooet, Riske Creek and Soda Creek. All the others have been replaced with more modern structures and I believe this is the last. I was unable to find out when this bridge was built but it must be at least 70 or 80 years old. If anyone can chime in and give me a date I would appreciate it.



Adrian took the lead as we headed down into the canyon. We have another junction up ahead.



Across the river and south of the bridge, we spotted a farm or campsite next to the river. The Backroad Mapbook indicated a campsite there but didnít have any information. It would be accessed by the Empire Valley Road. One might be able to work their way back down to Lillooet on that side, but not this trip.



The uphill road to the right goes north to Dog Creek and Williams Lake. Down and left goes to the bridge and the Gang Ranch.





The bridge is in pretty good shape for its age. The towers look original, but the grated decking and railings are made of galvanized steel and look pretty new. The bridge is quite high above the river (80 ft?) and the grates are quite large. It can be a bit unnerving riding across with dual sport tires.



We walked back onto the bridge where we got a real appreciation for the size of the river at this point and the height above the waters.



The Fraser is flowing fast and high for this time of year. It was very brown with silt and sediment. Itís amazing to note that this is one of the few major rivers in North America that hasnít been dammed. I believe there is a dam further up on the Nechako, one of the tributaries, but the Fraser itself is not dammed.



There are very tight turns at both ends of the bridge. The turn at the east end actually exits under the cables. This would certainly limit the size/length of truck that could use this bridge.



It appears that someone missed the turn some years back. It has to be a while as there is a good sized tree growing out of the hood.
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Old 11-29-2014, 07:57 AM   #13
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I'm all ears. Love the details. I did this ride 2 up with camping gear, but not the backroads parts. We continued north on the ferry system. Can you post a map? I'm hoping to go back for more exploring. There are enough possibilities in this beautiful province to keep one going for a long time.
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Old 11-29-2014, 08:07 AM   #14
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great write-up & photos. I spent 4 years in Bella Coola but never drove the Gang Ranch area...I'm thinking of making that a trip next summer and your photos are a good motivator.
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Old 11-29-2014, 08:33 AM   #15
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in. Looking at the very worn "Book of Lies" right now. There is a faint old track from the Gang through the junction sheep preserve to highway 20 I was on years ago. Visible here and there on Google earth. AKA " Lies from the Sky". Well worth the trouble.

More please....
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