August 21-24, 2009 - Guests from Alberta and their horses joined me and mine for a three and a half day pack trip to the Potato Range in the Chilcotin region of B.C., an alpine region between Chilko Lake and Tatlayoko Lake. The wilderness area is known for its spectacular views, pristine lakes and diverse wildlife. Most of the area was new to me as well, having only explored the first 15 km of the route.
At right: Tatlayoko Lake
Bill, Marion and I arrived at Tatlayoko Lake about 4:00 PM August 21 and immediately saddled and packed. We introduced Wildwood Legacy Lace (2003 daughter of Listo Pollito Lena and Wildwood Destiny) to the pack saddle, panniers, etc. and she accepted the strange gear like a pro. I mounted Wildwood Soul O Silk (daughter of Dox West Gray and Wildwood Tamarac), Bill and Marion on June and Pierna. The trail began only a few yards from our trucks and we wasted no time. Immediately, we started to climb, gaining 1000 meters 10+ km and 3 hours later.
Here we camped for the night at a range cabin, tying the horses to trees (belled) after grazing them for a couple of hours. Roast beef, gravy, mashed potatoes and coleslaw from airtight containers Legacy had carried to the top never tasted better! Warmed by the heat from the pot-bellied stove, we rolled out our sleeping bags on the hard benches and slept.
Left: Packing Legacy
Although we were warm in the cabin, our horses were not. When we untied them to graze in the morning, Silk and Legacy tossed their heads and jumped around in their hobbles in an effort to warm up their chilled bodies. After pancakes, bacon and coffee, we packed Legacy again, saddled our horses and, armed with maps, saddle bags stocked with cameras, water and lunch, struck off down what we hoped was the Crest Route.
Bill and Marion on the Potato Trail. Silk and I leading Legacy, reining horse turned packhorse.
I soon realized we were on the lower Potato Trail and decided that is where we should be that day. An icy wind howled around us - I could only imagine what it would be like on top! I realized we were headed for Echo Lakes and I thought we could spend the night there - maybe even in a cabin! Legacy led well, so I turned her loose - much easier for me - my shoulder ached. She followed well with only the occasional halt for grass. At one point I dropped the lead shank and Bill (at the end) picked it up and carried it. Some time later he announced he had lost the shank. "We need that shank," I said. "I'll go back for it." Before I could think, he disappeared down the back trail and Marion, fearing his horse would fuss alone on the trail followed.
Bill and Marion were no sooner out of sight than I knew how stupid we had been. With no agreement to how long they would look for the lost shank, I had no idea when they would be back. I sat on Silk holding Legacy (with Silk's halter shank) in the bush. When they didn't return in an hour, I was worried. I let another half hour pass and I started down the back trail, now very concerned. I imagined Bill's horse getting loose and Marion going after him; or one of them hurt. Only a few minutes down the trail I met them...and no shank! Bill had ridden as far back as our lunch spot. Thankful no one was hurt or lost, I retraced our steps down Potato trail...and spotted the missing shank only a few yards from the spot Bill had turned back!
I turned Legacy loose again and we continued down to Echo Lakes, emerging into an open area around the first little lake. Legacy, now hungrier than ever, dragged behind Silk. When she trotted, then loped to catch up, the pack bounced and the back cinch snugged up. She started to buck and of course the pack shifted and came apart. In a wide circle around us, she unloaded the entire pack - boxes, bedrolls, tent, etc. I couldn't help it - I laughed. As we picked up the pieces and packed again, I envisioned the scene again and again... and laughed some more. Bill and Marion were not as amused, but it struck me funny.
A short time later, we passed a cabin on Echo Lake, but it was obviously occupied, so continued on to the end of the lake and made camp. The night, though uneventful other than one "look see" in the dark, was cold - really cold! Marion had brought hot water bottles and filled them with hot water heated on the little camp stove, but even so I froze most of the night. Next morning, we had scrambled eggs for breakfast - and we didn't have to scramble them! Legacy had done that for us!
The weather was sunnier on Sunday so I hoped to find a way to the illusive Crest Route. We briefly discussed a plan and decided to head south, but to the crest and return to the north end via the Crest Route. It didn't quiet happen that way, although we did reach a high spot where we could view both Tatlayoko Lake and a bit of Chilko Lake.
After several attempts to reach the crest and forced to turn around by either extremely poor footing or impossible ascents, we chose the lower route down to Gillian and Dunlap Lakes. There we ate lunch. I loved this spot.
After lunch, we headed out to connect to the Potato Trail and back to the cabin. Again, it didn't quite happen that way. Although we had not lost our directions and various paths we chose to connect to the trail above Echo Lakes ended in bush and bog, so much that we had to turn back. We headed down to Echo Lake and made camp, another very cold night in the tent. The next day, we headed back to the trailhead at Tatlayoko Lake, where the rancher whose cattle grazed the Potato Range entertained us with multiple grizzly bear and ranching stories. He told us wolves had been killing his calves and wanted to know what we had seen. I would have loved to have at least heard the wolves or seen a grizzly, but we had nothing to report.
'Till next year.....