Do you know about the South Chilcotin area of BC?
Until this summer, all we knew was that it was home to gold-rush miners, wild horses and horse-riding dude ranches. And that it was four-wheel-drive country four hours away.
“I think it’s the perfect place for Rove-Inn’s first camping experience,” Magellan concluded, after looking at two books and a trail map he’d purchased.
Perhaps it’s a good thing Rove-Inn can’t read. I’m not sure she’d have ventured up the Hurley River FSR road if she’d read the description of “many potholes, bumps, sharp turns, blind corners, loose gravel sections, soft shoulders and narrow bridges,” “blinding dust from other vehicles” and “Due to the high risk of getting a flat tire, a lower speed and good tire tread depth is highly recommended.”
But you can’t learn everything about a place from guidebooks and Google searches.
As we stood outside the Blackbird Bakery in Pemberton consulting our map one more time before heading up the Hurley, we got good advice from a live source of local knowledge. “I hear you’re headed up to the Chilcotins. That’s my stomping ground for five months of the year,” said a middle-aged guy, alone, sipping his coffee at one of the outdoor tables. “What do you want to know?”
That’s how we found out the Hurley was in good shape. That Cinnabar was the day hike in the area, a region better known for backpacking and mountain biking. “Good to see you’ve got a map,” he said. Eager to continue chatting, he told us about a guy wanting to bike over a bunch of mountain passes in one day. “Crazy bugger. I told him it takes me five days to do that trip! Can’t these people read maps?” We had a live one.
“What do you think of Mowson Pond as a camping area?” I asked. “Good choice,” he said, “and if you want something more remote, go to Pearson.”
Later that afternoon in Gold Bridge (population 40) we found the tourist info. “Car camping. I don’t do that myself,” was our first indication the woman behind the desk might not be helpful, seconded by her comment “I don’t know what you mean by freedom camping.” She said she wouldn’t camp at Mowson Pond. “It’s too close to the road and will be very noisy.” But she did give us some valuable advice. “Watch out for bears. They’re in the low-lying areas now, feeding on bunchberries.”
Open-minded, we checked out the campgrounds she suggested at Gun Creek (nice but alongside a major road and two-thirds full) and Kingdom Lakes (many sites and too far from hiking trailheads). On beautiful Tyaughton Lake, Friburg’s small camp spots were darkly forested and unappealing. Reluctantly, Rove-Inn slipped down the narrow grass-in-the-middle dirt road to Pearson Pond, to the low-lying lonely but lovely camping area not in our guidebook. The only thing in abundance was berries. Bears! We turned around, back to Mowson Pond, our original choice, the site we’d underlined in Kathy and Craig Copeland’s book Camp Free (or really cheap) in B.C.
Mowson Pond has eight, free, well-spaced campsites at different elevations with long views over the 23-hectare pond to the South Chilcotin mountains—Eldorado, Taylor, and Nea. Every night we built a fire using wood previous campers had left behind, some of it already split. Ducks swam leisurely in the pond. Beavers slapped their tails near their lodge. Coyotes howled before sunrise. We relished in firsts—cooking on our new camp stove, sleeping in L’AirTop and setting up our awning.
Alone! The first night Rove-Inn was the only vehicle there. Only a handful of her kin drove by during the evening, even fewer during the night.
Loving the spot but wanting to keep our options open, we wrote our license number on a piece of paper, taped it onto the table and drove off to go hiking. For four of our five nights in the South Chilcotin, Rove-Inn returned to Mowson Pond.
On our second night there, we were joined by two young French-Canadians loaded down with deadwood from the lightning fire in 2011. “Couriers-de bois,” laughed Magellan. “Do you want to borrow my axe?” he asked. “No, merci,” they said, freighting their load to their campsite.
Another night it was elder hunters, two men our age who fished in Mowson Pond (unsuccessfully, but they told Magellan they’d caught five-pounders in past years) and headed out the next morning before daylight with their guns.
The last night it was Magellan, me, and the ATVers, a group of young guys. The boxy backend of their huge vehicle turned into their living quarters when they removed the ATVs.
Great vistas, fresh water, solitude, free, near backcountry trails…Mowson Pond has yet another advantage—it’s only seven km to the Tyax Wilderness Resort where there’s free Wi-Fi, great bison burgers, triple-cooked French fries and a waitress willing to make a Hot Irish Whiskey even though it isn’t on the menu. (“Tyax is owned by a pilot and a good place to eat,” our “guide” at the Blackbird Bakery advised.)
Curious, I wondered who Mowson Pond was named after. Was he an explorer? A miner? A rancher? Back home after an inconclusive search, I turned to Susan, curator/manager of the Lillooet Museum & Visitor Centre who had been so helpful when we stopped in on our circuitous return to Vancouver. She went to the trouble of consulting Andre, president of the Pioneer Museum at Bralorne, to find the answer. “Thomas Mowson used to run the ferry at Tyaughton and had a brother Charles Mowson who perished in an accident while goat hunting. This according to a Lillooet newspaper The Prospector, March 3, 1899. Vol 1. No. 34 Page 1. The URL for this searchable set is https://open.library.ubc.ca/.”
You can learn a lot from extraordinary, ordinary people.
Three visits to Blackbird Bakery in Pemberton in one month—how lucky were we!
Bralorne Pioneer Museum was closed when we were there but it’s obviously a good resource in this not-so-ghostly town, which seems to have as large a population as Gold Bridge.
If you want a rollicking exposé of the illegal shenanigans of the Gang Ranch further north in the Chilcotins, you’d like Unfriendly Neighbours written by an early guide in the area, Ted “Chilco” Choate (Vancouver: Caitlin Press, 1993).
Because we use and promote their guidebooks so often, you may think we’re getting a kickback from the extraordinary couple Kathy and Craig Copeland. Their book Camp Free (or really cheap) in B.C. (Canmore: hikingandcamping.com, inc., 2014) led Rove-Inn to Mowson Pond.
You’ll find the tourist info for Gold Bridge at the Haylmore Heritage site where you can get good info from the volunteers, buy all sorts of hand-crafted local goodies from freshly baked bread to woollen hats as well as books and free info about the area.
Trail Ventures BC Inc. Southern Chilcotin Mountains Guidebook. Canada: Friesens Corp., 2015. This new book is published by the same company known for its maps of the area—we bought the Southern Chilcotin Mountains Trail Map, third edition, which saved us from misfortune many times. Bonus: it’s printed on a clay-based waterproof/tearproof paper that refolds easily.