COOPER DISCOVERER - Colossal B.C.

#1
Part I

Colossal
co·los·sal

adjective:
extremely large.
"a colossal amount of mail"
synonyms: huge, massive, enormous, gigantic, giant, mammoth, vast, immense, monumental, prodigious, mountainous, titanic, towering, king-size(d); More

The word(s) above remain as a fraction of the reality of the natural beauty encountered on this early autumn weekend in the heart of British Columbia’s backcountry.

Over the years, I’ve wheeled with a lot of different people, in a lot of different places, in a lot of different vehicles. Adventure can be found with any combination of the above, but the more I venture out the more I realize that good companionship is the true key to all-encompassing enjoyment. The first weekend of October for the past 5 years is a representation of these sentiments. Why this weekend in particular? For myself, it’s the combination of autumn colors, cooler temperatures, damp terrain, and the endless laughter and comradery. For whatever reason, there is always a handful of my fellow explorers itching to escape at this time of year. Maybe it’s the unrecognized last-ride before winter makes its cold grasp or the proven promise of adventure, in some form, that we always seem to encounter.

This year seemed to shape up a no different except my usual go-to adventurers were dropping out due to other commitments. My father had been urging me to take him out exploring again, but there seemed to be other interest as expected for this yearly run. I was feeling the pressure as the departure date (Friday) dawned near and I had yet to make any concrete plans. I had no route, a very small number of confirmed companions, and with my recent promotion at work it was looking like I too, might succumb to the pressures of tight deadlines and responsibility. I tried to keep my attitude positive despite the endless work commitments and the snow looming on the horizon for the weekend's forecast. Tuesday night I finally sat down at my desk and started compiling GPX tracks to create a route, which would take us overland through the Castle area of Alberta, bearing west into B.C. and finally into Fernie. The tracks linked together well and my plan started to evolve. My positivity paid off as the week endured; it was looking like my boss would lend a hand and allow me to escape cell phone reception for the weekend. The weatherman was still calling for snow and cold temperature, but I kept throwing bait out there to see who would want to join in on the adventure. The commitment level was growing and I was up to 4 confirmed rigs by Wednesday night. That evening over my nightly cup of tea, I pulled out my Backroads Mapbook and started thinking how I had recently seen some interesting images in an area west of Banff National Park, which reminded me of my hometown turf of Nelson B.C. A couple clicks later and I was checking the Doppler for the promise of clearer skies in the new proposed direction. I few text messages, PM’s, and phone calls later, and the original plan was scrapped. We were headed for new and unknown territory come Friday afternoon.


IMG_5402.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

Friday arrived along with 7 confirmed rigs. Our group was the perfect size to remain flexible yet large enough for some team spirit and comradery. The work hours on Friday drained away like sand in an hourglass, I thought it would never end. The clock struck 4 and I was on my way to rendezvous with the group. We quickly hit the Trans Canada and began our westward journey towards our staging area for the night. About 30 minutes into the drive, near Canmore AB, a wall of black clouds embraced our convoy and propelled rain and lightning bolts into our path. Considering the time of year, this was quite unusual and my last-minute-switcheroo was beginning to look like a bad call. We continued with positive chatter on the radios but there was no doubt we were all thinking about how wet and brutal this night could become. We rolled into camp near Radium B.C. around 11pm - a forested grove next to a small mountain lake, which provided us with enough level ground and shelter to make it our home for the night. It was raining lightly but nothing near as bad as the drive out would have indicated. A fire was quickly ignited and a combination or fire warmth and Jamaican rum seemed to lift everyone’s spirits. Despite the drizzle of rain, smiles were abundant and good cheer spread around the campfire.

We awoke close to 09:00 hours after tucking in at an unreasonable hour and headed back to Radium to grab coffee and rendezvous with the last member of our group who could not drive out with us the night prior. With a late start, we were back on gravel heading West towards our ultimate destination once again. The ground was damp but the clouds were slowly breaking. The fresh, crisp air filled the cabin as we drove down the gravel road enjoying the fall colours in full brilliance.


IMG_5418.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

We made several stops to take in the scenery but found that around each new corner the view seemed to surpass the one previous. With the coffee now kicking in, the amazing scenery, and the warm sun finally breaking through the clouds, the silence on the radios was replaced with livery and foolish jousts.


IMG_5421.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5428.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

After driving for several dozen kilometers someone realized that we had burnt all of our fire wood. A quick pit stop at an old logging operation site had the vehicles stockpiled and prepared with enough lumber for the night to come.


IMG_5446.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5443.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

Eventually we branched off the main road and started to gain altitude. The road was wet and curvy but in surprisingly good shape. I was in the lead and decided this would be a good time to test out the new Fox suspension at a higher velocity. “Doug”, my 04’ Toyota Tundra, howled to life as the V8 revved to it’s redline through the TRD longtube headers. The trees began to blur as we approached speeds in excess of 100 km/hr. My good friend Craig usually takes shotgun when my wife cannot make the trips and this time was no exception. We giggled like little boys as we rallied through the woods rounding corner after corner at speed. A quickly approaching chicane seemed to upset the rear end while I progressed still in 2WD, and the rear end broke free. With a large puddle up ahead spanning the width of the road, I had little time to alter my course. I straightened the truck just in time to embrace the puddle head on, safely hydroplaning over the liquid barrier. With no drama other than a temporary loss of sight as water cascaded over the windshield, we were through and carrying our speed onward. Shortly after my nerves caught up with me and we slowed down to cruising speed and pulled over to wait for the rest of the group to catch up. Nathan, in his meticulously built 14’ TRD Offroad Tacoma, arrived moments later with a grin ear to ear; he too was indulging in the fun. A crackle on the radio and Nathan says, "Addison, where did your license plate go?". Apparently, the hydroplane had been too much for the fastener bolts and license plate had succumb to onslaught of water pressure evacuating through the hole in my bumper. We backtracked to find my plate several feet in the ditch, covered in muddy water. A few minutes and a couple zip-ties later, and we were back on the road.


IMG_5453.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

At the next bend further up the road the scenery turned from excellent to stunning. In front of us lie some of the most majestic glacial covered peaks we had ever witnessed. Truly, a sight belonging to a National Geographic article, the cameras and poser shots came out in full.


IMG_5481.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5475.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

As we progressed, the road started to get rougher in combination with an increase in inclination. I dropped the truck into 4-Lo and began climbing the steep goat trail rising ahead of me. Up ahead was the first real obstacle of the trip – an off-camber washout with a daunting cliff drop off to the driver’s side.


IMG_5495.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr
 
#2
Part II

Despite this being our first time on this road, we had been expecting this daunting obstacle. Hours earlier a new 1-tonne Dodge Ram had passed by and the driver had warned us of the impassible route up ahead. There we stood in front of nature’s barrier. I stepped out of the truck to have a look at what we were dealing with – a large, loose rockslide had come down across the road. The resulting test of nerves would put us off camber at ~30 degrees towards the expanse below. The loose earth did nothing to increase my level of confidence but it still looked manageable. As always, evaluate the risk.

I picked up my radio to alert the others to come on up. Our group was very skilled technically, and I thought to give it a go first to test the waters. I creeped forward and began to climb the mound with my front tires while still remaining relatively level. My front end reached the apex of the rockslide before starting to tilt the vehicle towards the mountain’s edge. I wanted to keep a smooth and steady forward pace over the obstacle so as not to overuse the brakes and disrupt the trucks momentum. A little wheelspin as the rears bit into the rise before I started to climb. As this happened, the front was moving down the backside of the rockslide, getting only more unsettled and off-camber. Rocks began to tumble down the mountain as the weight of the Tundra displaced them. Despite my gut reaction to stop the vehicle in it’s tracks, I just kept moving forward at a controlled pace to keep the momentum going. In retrospect a wise choice, as my front tires reached the opposing side of the mound and started to combat the awkward angle. In moments I was free and clear.


IMG_5501.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5499.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

My father, still being relatively “green” was next. He remained quite calm and watched my hand signals as I spotted him over. Sometimes it’s hard to not get frustrated when someone (especially your father) doesn’t follow orders, but at the end of the day I look back at the challenges we have both faced on our limited trail days together, and I am always impressed and proud of his stubbornness to get better. A testament to his grit as I see his skills and confidence rapidly improve each time I wheel with him. With the help of the rear ARB locker, he was free and clear. The rest of the group followed with ease and only a couple quick recoveries impeded our progress.

A couple switchbacks higher and the vegetation began to dissipate and be replaced with jagged rock and Tamarack trees (A deciduous tree that turns yellow in the fall; also known as a Larch tree).


IMG_5514.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5516.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

Further progress brought abundant scarred glacial rock, which consumed the landscape at a dramatic pace as our elevation continued to increase. We crested the next apex in the road and saw the prize in the distance; the glacier and ski hut lay ahead. The cabin seemed so out of place, a tiny square retreat standing atop a vast expanse of destruction from the glacier’s receding path. The backdrop was simply stunning. To the west of the cabin lay a 180-degree view of the glacier and jagged rock while the east viewpoint overlooked the valley and staggered peaks beyond. The stillness of the place in conjunction with its sheer beauty made it seem otherworldly. It was almost as if nature itself had graciously opened its forbidden doors for the day and granted us a pass.

The cohesiveness and common appreciation for the scenery at hand was inspirational. Every member of our group was glowing with enjoyment as we easily forgot the stresses and strains of the busy city life before leaving Friday afternoon. Not a single person took this place for granted. It was as if there was an unspoken truth and realization that this pristine place is the very reason why we pursue this hobby. It is the reason we strive to be ethical users of the backcountry in an attempt to preserve landscapes such as this for our enjoyment.


IMG_5534.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5618.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

Once inside the cabin nestled at the foot of the glacier, we were pleasantly surprised at the amenities –a pair of cots, a large wooden table, and a pair of propane stoves. The smell of cedar lingered in the air while we examined the well-used maps of the area, which covered the walls. The wooden fireplace and expansive windows overlooking the valley below added to the novelty. The next step was to cook our dinner for the evening but our sense of adventure was too great to deny. There was still daylight remaining and the cabin itself was not the end of the trail, so we opted to follow our intuition and continue up the trail towards the glacier.


IMG_5545.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

We continued to climb and the strata continued to impress. Enduring lateral layers of earth now exposed from a time gone past. The texture of these surfaces was phenomenal, some of which made the rock appear like large fallen timbers at a glance.


IMG_5550.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5610.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

The pathway wound us through an expansive boulder field as it kept climbing, until eventually running directly into the receding face of the glacier. We creatively parked on the narrow pathway and began further exploration on foot.


IMG_5599.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5609.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5566.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

The leading edge of the glacier deserved exploration. Craig waved me over and pointed out an opening under the glacier’s shelf. A dark tunnel of smooth ice leading into the heart of the frozen giant, we ducked under the dripping water and snuck inside the cave. The vivid blue colors and ice stalagmites were astounding. Shiny and slippery ice boulders made for tricky foot placement but we proceeded with care examining the internal structure of the glacier. On one side, the rock acted as the backbone holding the immense shelf from collapsing, propping up the tunnel which we commanded. To our left a small channel screamed for further exploration.


IMG_5577.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

Slowly and carefully, we wiggled through the opening to find ourselves inside of an ice cave, about the size of a large van. We passed the camera back and forth sure to get the most epic profile pic of all time.


IMG_5596.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

I could have stayed in that cave for hours admiring the ice. However, the day was growing late and we still needed to setup camp and eat. We crawled out of the cave slowly and carefully before exiting the channel that had granted us entry.


IMG_5582.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5614.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

The group gathered and headed back down to the cabin. After some rock shuffling we were all able to get our “vacation homes” level for the evening. Cody was the only one without an RTT and opted to stay warm next to the wood burning fire inside the well-appointed cabin.


IMG_5646.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

The smell of a massive feast filled the air as each of us prepared to cure our hunger.


IMG_5648.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

Satisfied with a stomach full of food we headed for the fire pit. A bottle of scotch mysteriously appeared as the day was accounted for through each person’s unique perspective. Minutes turned to hours before we were claimed by our slumber in preparation for the day that still lie ahead.

We awoke to a blanket of fog covering the entire camp in which caused us to debate our bearings in accordance with the suns position. As we prepared a balanced breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, and fresh fruit, all of our doubts regarding the days weather were turned and the sun began to peer through the encompassing fog. Within what seemed like moments, the splendid peaks revealed themselves illuminated by the morning sunlight.


IMG_5655.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

Morning preparations continued and clean up began to take place. Our incoming journey highlighted another logging road which deserved exploration, and would be our target for the day. We all jested that nothing could compare to the previous day in terms of spectacular vistas…. but boy were we wrong.
 
#3
Part III

It was approximately 11:00 when the sound of the first motor hummed to life. One by one, the vehicles came alive as each unit in our group completed loading up all of their respective gear. A final check over the cabin to ensure we left it in a respectable state with all windows and doors shut and garbage removed. With the snow season being imminent at these elevations, we wanted to make sure the hatches were buttoned down properly. We all regretfully began the decent down the trail that had lead us up to this magnificent place the afternoon prior. Taking in the scenery one last time and snapping a couple more photos, just to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. The washout was navigated with relative ease this time, as our direction of travel seemed to alleviate some of the difficulty of the obstacle. We continued forward without a hitch, back down the long windy road that ran near the aqua blue river’s edge. It was near 13:00 when we reached the base of the next phase of our journey. With another hour of gravel followed by another 3 hours of highway to get back to Calgary, we still had a long drive ahead of us. It was Sunday after all, and 2 of the vehicles in our group opted to head back in order to arrive home at a respectable time. A wise decision, and admittedly one that had also crossed my mind. However, for the remaining 5 trucks, the curiosity of what lie up the road to our right weighed too much on our adventurous souls. We said our goodbyes and the 5 of us pointed upward and heading for the unknown. We gained elevation at a very fast pace and within 10 minutes had a gorgeous vista looking down upon the valley we had so recently left behind.


IMG_5660.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

The road continued to snake up, up, and up. The leaves and fall colors were beautiful and the smell of the fresh air remained as a constant reminder of our remote location. We rounded a 90-degree bend in the road and caught a short glance at a massive peak in the distance, which was quickly masked once again by the tall pines. As our progress continued, this peak revealed itself again with highlights of a recent fresh snowfall. Craig and I looked at each other with a smile, knowing that we were about to have another epic day in the backcountry. Up ahead lay a fork in the road, I slowed the convoy in order to pull out the map and make an educated guess on the best direction for us to travel. Luckily, two local dirtbikers sat at the fork having lunch and we began chatting with them to acquire some of their local knowledge. A friendly father and son out for a fall ride. They both described the epic ski touring in this area and the huge variety of activities available in this region. The son even mentioned having a 4Runner himself, so he was stoked to see the line of heavily modified Toyota’s. These two gentlemen proved to be invaluable in our trip that day as they graciously pointed us in the best direction for some excellent views and technical 4x4’ing. We waved goodbye with a smile and were on our way up the mountainside.

Within 15 minutes, we came across an old abandoned miners shack. It was very rundown but displayed some cool relics of its vintage. Another 20 minutes down the trail and things started to get more technical. I dropped down into low range as the trail narrowed and began to get rockier. The tree line again began to disperse as we climbed and the famous “two foot braking” technique became a necessity in order to navigate up the loose trail with relative consistency.


IMG_5667.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5676.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

The scenery began to remind me of something out of an Afghanistan war movie, jagged barren rocks that rose steeply on all sides, with the peaks covered in a fresh blanket of snow.


IMG_5694.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

Secret caves could be hidden anywhere in the still cool air, just waiting to be discovered. The scale of this place was truly amazing. I have never felt so small in my life; nature dominated the scene all around us making us feel insignificant once again. Eventually we reached a small off camber creek bed that deserved a look. A slightly tippy approach led us to crawl a boulder – driver’s side - and back down at an angle while we tried to avoid dragging the rear end as we departed.


IMG_5674.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5683.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

We navigated it with swift ease and wound through the last gathering of Larch trees in a small level space before the trail took off uphill, yet again. The truck clawed for traction in 4-Low as a tried to keep an even and slow pace. 18 psi in the tires almost seemed like too much air. My upward course began to veer to the downhill direction and the trail began to traverse the steep, rock washed, mountainside. Suddenly the trail in front of me disappeared. I drove the truck close to a large rock where I could maneuver into a safe position to get out. The e-brake and transmission were only part of the security system keeping my truck from rolling back down the steep chute. Craig and I got out to evaluate the obstacle: a large washout in the trail about 5’ deep and 10’ across. A steep and off camber bank to drop into the washout with the same to climb out the other side. The tricky part being how off camber this entire affair would be, as it would not be a straight-on assault.
 
#4
Part IV

I tempted fate first lurching down into the washout. I swung high before dropping in, to help keep me in check when the truck would become unsettled. Previous users of the trail had built a small shelf of rock to help balance the effects of gravity and keep the vehicle more level once in the bottom of the trench. I landed my drivers side tires precisely on the landing of rocks. The feeling of security was only momentary; I looked out my window to see the rocks settling and moving under the foreign weight of Doug’s total mass. I stopped immediately to re-evaluate before things got worse, while keeping my escape plan at the forefront of my thoughts – if these rocks started to giveaway under the truck I would accelerate without remorse to catch some hard ground on the opposite bank and at least make an attempt to get out of the hole vs. sliding my way back down the 8000’ of vertical beside me. Luckily the rocks held and I manoeuvred a couple times while in the bottom of the washout to try and climb out the other side. My driver’s side kept cutting closer through the apex and I was forced to back out and find a new plan of attack. By this time, one of the dirtbikers we met earlier had made the climb behind us, leaving his father at the base of the sketchy ascent. He was amazed that our group had made it up this far already and watched as my prudent spotters navigated me to safety. While back on solid earth, our group assessed the washout once again. After some thought we decided that with a little shovel work on the opposite bank and some Flintstone-style labor we could pile more rocks and increase the stability and margin of safety that the existing rock retainer provided. We got to work.

The sun graciously warmed our limbs as we worked for over an hour, sheer determination pushing us onward. At some point during the struggle, one of us looked up the mountain face from our current location. A small wooden opening highlighted by the sun’s rays was spotted. An old relic of the mining in this area long since passed urged us to continue so we could explore the mineshaft. We kept working, piecing together boulders like Tetris blocks in order to build a secure trestle for the trucks to cross. Once confident, I jumped back into the Tundra and crept back into the precarious situation. Still a difficult dual with the mountainside, but I was out with nothing but good spotting from my comrades. One by one we clenched as our bridge continued to hold and carried each occupant across the washout.


IMG_5699.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

We continued the climb, switchback after switchback. Some of them too sharp to execute in one or even two turns; we were like a train of Austin Powers wannabe’s.


IMG_5706.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

One last climb lay ahead of us before we reached a large flat plateau overlooking the recently navigated expanse. The mineshaft entrance lay another 500 yards up the bank, which we would need to travel by foot.


IMG_5695.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

The day and the mountains were stunning, yet again. We gathered near the edge of the plateau in awe, just listening to the silence and looking at the sights all around us. We took 15 minutes to fill our stomachs, eating our remaining stores before we lined up for a couple photos, Craig and I sporting our locally famous wolf shirts.


IMG_5719.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

Next, we gathered the whole posse and I setup my tripod. The lighting was a little bit of a nuisance at the time as I was worried about clipping and overexposure, but in retrospect it turned out perfect, truly capturing the feel of the moment. The warm highlights and the snow in the photo below have proved to be a shot (and a time) that I am sure to remember for years.


IMG_5721.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

Up next: the mineshaft. We could see it lingering in the distance and the sun was long past it’s apex, so we grabbed our headlamps and headed for the opening. A little short of breath, we were able to make the scramble without any drama. The mine mysteriously awaited us in the shadows of the looming cliff above. We entered into the cavern to find a small lunchroom or meeting area at the forefront, where some old benches still remained.


IMG_5723.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr


IMG_5728.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

The stale and musty smell increased as we probed deeper into the mine, pushing our sense of security with each passing step. The light quickly faded as we dared forward. The water level at our feet gradually increased as we moved deeper into the mountain. The water trickled down the jagged edges of the tunnel’s walls before pooling on the cave’s floor, covering remnants of the old rail and cart system used to excavate material.


IMG_5725.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

A few of our group departed early, sure the mine would continue forever. The remaining members (myself included), promised to set a time and turn around in 15 minutes if we did not reach the end of the mine. We pushed on for a good 100-150 yards and eventually found the end of the mineshaft, marked by a barren wall. We turned around, bound for daylight, as we knew our hours of light outside the cave were also running thin.


IMG_5729.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr

We reconvened at the entrance and embraced the view all around us one last time. Slowly and almost regretfully, we all headed back to our vehicles knowing that this splendid weekend would soon end. The drive down the mountain was quite peaceful. Not a lot of radio chatter, we all were too busy drinking in the last breaths of fresh air before we’d head back to the city. We were down and out in what seemed like no time as we drove like Colin Mcrae on the way back to asphalt. Filled with gas and a couple munchies for the road we all said our goodbyes and were homeward bound.

I rolled back into my condo parking slot at 22:00 that night, still trembling with excitement and yearning to share the photos and memories that were made with our group on this spectacular weekend. The scenery was mind blowing and this trip will remain as “one of the top wheeling trips of all time”. But the people involved deserve the most praise; as without them it would only have been a fraction of the outcome.

I think I just found my new can of worms for 2016.


IMG_5730.jpg by Addison Rickaby, on Flickr
 
#6
Not gonna lie.. I've read this tail more then a dozen times.

Each time I find more and more hints as to where this is. I've probably spent 5+ hours on Google Earth flipping between 2D and 3D trying to find the locations of this adventure. In doing so I've found some spots I feel worth visiting.

Thanks for sharing this epic read. Ive sent it to relatives and friends in hopes of convincing them to get into the hobby so one day me and my lady could have such an epic and safe adventure

Maybe we can tag along the 2016 journey?!
 
#7
Not gonna lie.. I've read this tail more then a dozen times.

Each time I find more and more hints as to where this is. I've probably spent 5+ hours on Google Earth flipping between 2D and 3D trying to find the locations of this adventure. In doing so I've found some spots I feel worth visiting.

Thanks for sharing this epic read. Ive sent it to relatives and friends in hopes of convincing them to get into the hobby so one day me and my lady could have such an epic and safe adventure

Maybe we can tag along the 2016 journey?!
Well I must say that I am happy you have found my tale interesting enough to repeat visit once, let alone a dozen times! Thank you!

Funny you mention Google earth, as I've spent countless hours on it this spring hunting out possible routes and new valleys to explore in this direction. So. Much. Terrain.

Shoot me a PM and we can chat, you over on Untitled Off-road?