Taking the High Roads

August 2015

Mount Currie to Lillooet

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

After reading a bit of B.C. history, it soon becomes clear that the first highways were a water network of rivers and lakes. White men learned these routes from the native people who travelled by canoe in summer and followed the frozen waterways in winter. Where there was no water there were trails that lead to the next waterway. The Douglas Road, part of our route today, was one of these main thoroughfares that lead north to the gold fields, built for and by perspective miners. In the early 1860’s, these men would steam up Harrison Lake, hike the Douglas Road along Lillooet River to Lillooet Lake, sail to its northern end and then hike the Long Portage into D’Arcy, get on a transport steamer to the north end of Anderson Lake, cross the Short Portage at Seton Portage to Seton Lake and then make their way by water to Lillooet. A cumbersome but doable trek.

A surveyors map from 1860

A surveyors map from 1860

Travelling along Portage Road in the Gates Valley toward D’Arcy, we follow the Birken River up to the southern shore of Anderson Lake, a route that used to be known as the Long Portage. The road meanders alongside huge power lines and an eclectic mix of houses, farms, produce stands, and art studios. I’m sure it was a heavy slog for those intrepid prospectors all those years ago, but today our rubber wheels purr along the pavement that lies on top of their ragged wagon road.  With this luxury of comfort, we are able to take a small detour and turn off onto a good gravel road that leads us to Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park. A tranquil, jade jewel of a lake nestled in the Chilcotin Mountain Range. Its pristine beauty is soul soothing.

Lots of goodies to be had here

Lots of goodies to be had here

The lake is over 6 Km long with sandy beaches!

Birkenhead Lake is over 6 Km long with sandy beaches!

Old growth and Lodgepole Pine along the Birkenhead Lake trails

Old growth and Lodgepole Pine along the Birkenhead Lake trails

The beautiful turquoise waters of Birkenhead Lake

The beautiful turquoise waters of Birkenhead Lake

The road to Birkenhead Lake opens up to fields and grassland

The road to Birkenhead Lake opens up to fields and grassland

Back on Portage Road we head for the Highline Road that follows the western shore of Anderson Lake and connects D’Arcy to Seton Portage. It’s a windy, rough, steep climb and when I’m brave enough to look, the views are spectacular. Did I mention steep? I lean heavily away from the edge utterly convinced that my counterbalance is keeping us on track. Unlike the Hurley, this road is narrow – only a single lane for long, heart-clutching stretches. We only meet a couple of vehicles coming the other way, thankfully in very fortunate sections with room to move. It’s a long way down and I don’t think there would be any stopping until you hit the lake.

A rather insignificant road sign for a rather SIGNIFICANT road

A rather insignificant road sign for a rather SIGNIFICANT road

This one caught our attention as we passed it in our Volvo stationwagon

This one catches our attention as we pass by it in our intrepid Volvo station-wagon

A steep look down to Anderson Lake

A steep look down to Anderson Lake

After a steep climb up the road hangs off the mountain side

After a steep climb up the road hangs off the mountain side

Huge Hydroelectric lines headed for Vancouver are above and below us

Huge Hydroelectric lines headed for Vancouver are above and below us

A forest fire on the east side of Anderson Lake

A forest fire on the east side of Anderson Lake

Unfortunately we're travelling in the same direction as the wind...and smoke

Unfortunately we’re travelling in the same direction as the wind…and smoke

Smoke fills the valley

Smoke fills the valley

A cairn overlooks Anderson Lake

A cairn overlooks Anderson Lake

The plaque reads: In Memory of Fredrick H Horne April 1878 - May 8 1971 This is my land you have seen it The most beautiful land I know From the Tall rugged mountains that screen it To the beautiful lake below

The plaque reads:
In Memory of Fredrick H Horne April 1878 – May 8 1971
This is my land you have seen it
The most beautiful land I know
From the Tall rugged mountains that screen it
To the beautiful lake below

Seton Portage from above with a bit of a smokey haze

Seton Portage from above with a bit of a smokey haze

Seton Portage sits on a narrow, short strip of land between Anderson Lake and Seton Lake.  Before a large portion of the Cayoosh Range decided to fall away about ten thousand years ago, they were one lake. During the Gold Rush era, this 2 km section of land presented a problem for the steamships transporting goods and people down the two bodies of water. This barrier resulted in the creation of the first railway in BC. Railcars pulled by mules portaged across to Seton Lake, and gravity brought the cars back to Anderson Lake.

The beach at Seton Portage with a smokey Anderson Lake

The beach at Seton Portage with a smokey Anderson Lake

Coming into town from the High Line Road

Coming into town from the High Line Road

This old railway caboose commemorates the location of the first railway in B.C.

This old railway caboose commemorates the location of the first railway in B.C.

The  Pub at Seton Portage has a kind of Bavarian look

The Pub at Seton Portage has a kind of Bavarian look

While in the pub at Seton Portage, we meet a women who needs a ride to Shalalath. It is great to have a local tour guide for the short jaunt. She shows us the library, school, and the BC hydro subdivision. Shalalath houses the two main power plants for the Bridge River Power Project so there is no missing the hydroelectric history here. The area, including Seton Portage, has a native population of about five hundred and a few summertime residents.

The road going under some of the hydroelectric structure

The road going under some of the hydroelectric structure

Part of the BC Hydro subdivision for its workers. Apparently very modern, power efficient housing.

Part of the BC Hydro subdivision for its workers. Apparently very modern, power efficient housing.

Tunnels drilled in the mountain direct water from Carpenter Reservoir in the Bridge River Valley 400 meters higher into Seton Lake

Tunnels drilled in the mountain direct water from Carpenter Reservoir 400 meters higher in the Bridge River Valley into Seton Lake

This cement bunker by the train station was  used to lock up the gold bricks before they were shipped out

This cement bunker by the train station was used to lock up the gold bricks before they were shipped out

The Kaoham Shuttle rail bus links Lillooet with Seton Portage and Shalalth.

The Kaoham Shuttle rail bus links Lillooet with Seton Portage and Shalalth.

Sandy, who showed us around, has been coming here for eighteen years to her summer cabin on Seton Lake

Sandy, who showed us around, has been coming here to her summer cabin on Seton Lake for eighteen years.

“The line of road is generally pretty good – as far as I can judge practicable for a wagon road…The greatest obstacle is at the Lillooet Lake end where there is a very rapid fall of about 1,000 feet to the lake.  I think a wagon road could be made up this portion by zigzagging.” James Duffy, military surveyor 1860

The genius  and relative comfort of using the waterways for transportation comes clear to me as we take the Mission Mountain Road out of Shalalath. Seton Lake goes almost all the way to our destination of Lillooet over a calm, smooth, horizontal surface. With our headlights pointed to the sky, “zigzagging” at a 14% grade up gravel, we climb 1,100 metres (3,500 feet) in a very short distance. I hear myself wishing for a boat. This formidable road goes over the mountain and down into the Bridge River Valley, crossing the Tersaghi Dam on the south end of Carpenter Lake Reservoir, and in my opinion is a closer relative to the wagon road than any highway.

Seton Lake from the Mission Road

Seton Lake from the Mission Road

Carpenter Lake Reservoir on the other side of the mountain over Mission Pass showing Route 40 running along the shoreline

Carpenter Lake Reservoir on the other side of the mountain over Mission Pass showing Route 40 running along the shoreline

The Terzaghi Dam on the south end of Carpenter Reservoir

The Terzaghi Dam on the south end of Carpenter Reservoir

A roughly cut tunnel leads us over the dam

A roughly cut tunnel leads us over the dam

There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

The Terzaghi Dam spillway

The Terzaghi Dam spillway

A bit later on as we are held up along a modern highway two lane highway, I watch an earthmover on a road expansion project and can’t help but wonder what it must have taken to build a new road out of a footpath with picks, shovels, and mules. Travelling these historical backroads puts me more in touch with the past,the enormity of the task they faced, and the footprint they left behind for us to follow. Our roads and highways are such an integral part of our lives but today I’m looking at them “as if for the first time.” Bill Bryson’s quote resonates as I sit in the “position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

Roadwork to expand Highway 3

Roadwork to expand Highway 3

The only known photograph of the Cariboo Wagon Road under construction, probably taken in 1862 along the Thompson or Fraser River.

The only known photograph of the Cariboo Wagon Road under construction, probably taken in 1862 along the Thompson or Fraser River.

The last leg of the Douglas Road, near Lillooet, June 1910 (Photo: Frank Swannell)

The last leg of the Douglas Road, near Lillooet, June 1910 (Photo: Frank Swannell)

Categories: History, Travels By Land

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