Recently I gathered up some wheeling buddies, Makhail from the shop, and some extended friends, for an expedition up the Ashlu valley and FSR-600. FSR-600 is getting fairly rough; anyone attempting this should have a 4WD. We did see some Subaru along the way, but that seemed like a quick way to make a nice car into a not-so-nice car ?
Our party consisted of Blake and Kevin’s serious Jeeps, my old Dodge 2500 (Ramstein) and Makhail’s Modula Silverado. Wives, girlfriends and goons in tow, we met on Vancouver’s Northshore for mandatory caffeination and picnic preparations.
Our convoy deployed onto the Sea-To-Sky (Highway 99) just as the sun broke through the clouds. Clear skies, sunshine and adventure; a perfect day!
Refuelling in Squamish ensured everyone was topped up for the backcountry. Heading north we took a Left onto Squamish valley road and followed it until it turns to gravel. This is about the time we realised our FRS radio’s (walky-talky’s) were all on different channels. An immediate halt was called to tune the radios so we could properly critique each other’s driving.
After only a few km we took the bridge, to the left, across the river onto the Ashlu Valley FSR (Forest Service Road).
The Squamish valley FSR and the Ashlu FSR is in reasonably good shape. No need for 4WD. Naturally this meant we regressed into children drifting our trucks around corners and laying skids. At least, some of us did; I was trying to find the turn for FSR-600. I’m a fan of my ‘Back Road Map Books’ paper maps when off-road, but trying to read one and drive is way harder than following the arrow on a GPS. My recommendation is to have both paper and GPS. Oh well, live and learn… slowly.
The turn onto FSR-600 is shortly after the Micro-hydro project and the Kayaker warning alarm that suggests that your average kayaker is indeed Nuts. I’m not even sure that fish should be in that river without helmets… tiny little fish helmets. (Patent Pending)
You are going to want to shift into ‘4WD Low’ right off the line. The road is too rough to travel at speed and the steep grade will cook your transmission. Other than low range, you should only need the stock clearance on your SUV. Just try not to drive right square over the big loose rocks, for obvious reasons.
FSR-600 is all the right types of fun. The rough washed out surface makes the drive technical but not risky. The grade is steep enough to make it exciting. The surrounding woods is littered with evidence of the previous mining efforts. This includes a giant empty billboard that likely once bore the name of the operation, or a big scary safety warning. In any case, it now stands forgotten among the poplar.
There are many unmarked spurs before you reach the old mine offices. Stick to the main track and stop when you hit the big clearing full of shotgun shells, tires and burned out buildings. Straight up the hill on a narrow spur road is the old processing facility. You can drive the 100 yards, or save your paint and walk.
The processing facility is worth poking around. Don’t forget to go out back to see the old hopper and conveyor. A note here: This building was contaminated with sodium cyanide at one point. If you see any salt like substances; don’t touch, or it might be the last thing you ever poke.
Once you have had your fill of the processing facility, head back down to the main yard and follow the main road through the big washout with the tumbledown shack on the far side of the river. If you have a really trick Jeep you can ford the river like Kevin did. The remaining party risked wet feet and a short walk. The first spur to the right drops down to….. THE MINE.
Bring your flashlights because this is the best abandoned mine I have ever explored. Follow the sound of rushing water to find a hidden waterfall or explore as deep as you dare. The walls sparkle with the quartz veins that the miners harvested. Deep in the back of one of the chambers with a collapsed roof; seeping water is growing sparkling new stalactites and stalagmites.
Be warned, exploring a mine is risky. Without light you are easily disoriented. Mines are cold, wet, and the air can become toxic or too thin to breathe for a variety of reasons. Don’t enter chambers marked ‘Keep Out Dead Air’ as they are the most susceptible to respiratory dangers. Always go as a group, take plenty of light, and get out if you feel the slightest bit lightheaded. Exploring can be very rewarding but be aware that this isn’t an attraction, there are no safety inspectors and you need to preform your own risk assessments.
Back out and up at the vehicles, we finally ate lunch at about 3:30. My wife introduced me to Teddy Grahams dipped in cake frosting. Delicious and absolutely terrible for my health. It was at this point we decided to head back to a spur we had seen earlier. It appeared to head up to a little lake on Sigurd Mountain.
Now, I should know that following roads that don’t appear on maps is a bad plan. At best they won’t be great, at worst they won’t be roads. This one fell squarely into the ‘terrible’ Category. Overgrown and washed out; it wasn’t long before we were all getting stuck, spotters were deployed and things started getting broken.
Paint is always the first casualty as encroaching vegetation takes its toll. Next comes the body damage as we started to crawl over exposed rock and slide off logs. Note: Order some rock sliders BEFORE you start playing this game.
By the time we realised this road was a mistake, it was too narrow, technical, and late to turn around. Onward we scraped and battered, looking for a turnaround. As the leader, Ramstien’s tires were carving deep holes through obstacles, Jeeps were fighting for traction and Makhail’s gorgeous Silverado was collecting dents like a kleptomaniac. AND do you know what? …Smiles all around. We were all having a blast, white-knuckling our ramshackle rigs into stupider and stupider places.
I know that this will be hard to understand if you have never pushed your truck off-road. It’s worth every dent. I’m sure the same goes for people who race cars and I know its true for bikes, boats, boards and sports. Adventure happens at the edges of safety. It takes a little risk to make the discovery exciting. It takes a little challenge to get the blood flowing.
We did eventually find a place to turn around. An old cat-track thinned the brush enough that I could plow Ramstein through the alder and preform a 30 point turn.
At last we were headed back towards home. The day was beginning to fade and, as any fellow adventurer will tell you, coming down is always harder. Sure enough, it was on the way down that I miscalculated and got stuck in a hole with my bumper against a rock. Winches were unspooled, shovels were freed from Makhail’s Rhino-Rack pioneer platform, and I was hauled out of the worst stuck of the day by Kevin’s intrepid little jeep. Thus, the heaviest vehicle was saved by the smallest and lightest.
Shortly thereafter we were back on Ashlu FSR, exhausted and happy to be moving again. Kevin did manage one last visit to the ditch before we hit blacktop again. He may, or may not, have been executing a beautiful drift at the time. No worries, Blake and Steph had him back on the road in a matter of minutes.
The ride home was uneventful and, with a short stop at the Queens Cross in North-Van for a spectacular pub dinner, we finished the day. (Try the Yorkshire Pudding)
See You Out There,