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Wilderness Adventures - February, Week 3/06

This is about a remote area in west central British Columbia, Canada called the West Chilcotin. Surrounded by numerous glacial mountain ranges, alpine lakes teeming with wild Rainbow Trout, and full of wildlife. Living here goes from no running water or electricity to spacious log homes with all the conveniences and without the smog!
If you would like to see pictures of wildlife, mountains, lakes, exciting snowmobiling, events and more, and read stories like 'Lake Monsters' - just go into Archives on the lower left side of this page.
You can search this site for a subject of interest to you at the bottom of this page.

21/02/2006 9:26 AM

The Contraption

Rich Hobson and Gloria visit Pan Phillips and his new wife Betty on the Home Ranch about 40 miles north of Anahim Lake.
The spring before Pan had shown up to see Rich and meet Gloria after a 200 mile ride in from his ranch. He and Rich had a lot of business to go over, including the lease of 250 head of Frontier cattle from the Home Ranch to Rich's new Rimrock Ranch to be moved in the fall. Rich had already purchased 60 head of Frontier owned cattle from the Batnuni Ranch the previous fall. It was early in the summer when Pan sent a note over the mountains to Rich telling him he had gotten married and to bring Gloria over to meet Betty when they went to the Home Ranch to cut out the 250 head of lease animals from the big herd.
The visit went pleasantly enough with Gloria and Betty really enjoying each other's company. One nice day the four saddled up to go for a ride out to the huge, lush meadows because Rich wanted to show Gloria the improvements he and Pan had made ten years before.
Where once there had been eight foot high willow brush, hard topped hummocks and deep holes, there were now miles of lush green grassy meadow for cattle hay.
Pan explained to the women how he and Lester Dorsey of Anahim Lake built a monstrous harrow to be dragged across the bush and hummocks to knock them down.
I know exactly the kind of meadow they are talking about as this country is dotted with them, some hundreds of acres and larger in size. The Chilcotin type meadow is usually surrounded by heavy willow on the edges and into the middle anywhere the land is slightly higher. Where the land is lowest, there is boggy black soil, water, and sometimes grey muskeg. The rest of the meadow is made up of hummocks and they have to be the most frustrating creation ever. Hummocks can be one to three feet high and vary in size from little tiny six inch ones to four feet across. They have rounded tops with slippery saw grass growing out of the top and stepping from one to the next is a nasty proposition because you will slip. There's no maybe. It's a guarantee that you might make it across four hummocks, but you will soon slip off into the watery muck below, or if late in fall, dried muck. I don't know how hummocks are created, but you can't mow hay off a meadow like that, you can't even walk across it and it's difficult even for cattle to feed on them. But if you can flatten that meadow out, burn it off in spring, ditch it for flooding in early summer and draining later, you will have some of the finest quality hay and grazing grass in North America.
Pan and Rich had recognized this years before and so as the four rode, they eventually came upon this huge contraption that had cleared land where no tractor could ever have gone.
Pan explained that ten years before, he and Lester built a ten foot tall lookout tower of wood toward the front of this thing that would be the driver's seat. Seven hundred pounds of square iron, over a hundred pounds of bolts a flock of sharpened car springs and twelve inch squared logs made up the floor of this giant harrow.
They hooked up eighteen horses for the first time to pull it with Lester Dorsey sitting up in the tower with all these harness lines in his hands and the only way they could be started out evenly was for the boys to shoot off their pistols and bang on tin cans.
The result was disasterous and Pan's face took on a deeply sad look as he related the story to the wives.
Someone had pulled the king pin out of the contraption so that the horses, five gentle horses on the outsides and thirteen unbroken broncs in the middle, suddenly parted company with the harrow. As they took off, Lester tried to throw the lines down to Pan who missed them as the horses banged into each other on a terrified run across the meadow. Two of their best pulling horses landed in a tangle in a gully with broken legs and had to be shot.
Lester was determined to try again, and this time they hooked up sixteen horses, eight abreast in two rows with the gentle harness horses on the outside, and the jumping broncs in the middle. More noise, and the huge team exploded out into the field with Lester swaying and rocking ten feet above the contraption, harness lines in hand and brush flying in all directions. As Pan said, he still doesn't know how Lester stuck with the tower because it was like riding a bronc. Eventually Lester got the team turned, stopped for a 10 minute breather, then shot his pistol in the air and they were off again creating another wide swath in the meadow.
Pan said they needed 32 sets of harness to keep two teams of sixteen alternating on the harrow all summer, but it worked.
An eight horse team pulling a ditch digger put the irrigation ditch in the middle of the meadow and a giant heavy duty disc built by Massey-Harris just for them took another fourteen horses to pull it about what had previously been a willow jungle. The meadow was leveled and finished off by a huge spruce tree float that required ten horses to pull it. By the end of the summer, flat, clear ground ran for as far as the eye could see.
As they ride on through the meadow they first scare up a small herd of moose, then later a grizzly bear sow and cubs. Betty states then how much she dislikes them and in her isolated home some while later, it would turn out she would have a terrible run in with grizzly.
As Rich and Gloria leave the Home Ranch to go back to Rimrock Ranch, Gloria has a premonition that something terrible is going to happen to Pan and Betty at their ranch, 200 miles from the nearest small town and the most isolated cattle ranch operation in North America at that time.
For anyone that might be interested, various members of Lester Dorsey's family still ranch near Anahim Lake and run several guide outfitting operations here. You can take exciting seven to fourteen day horse pack trips with Itcha Ilgatchuz Mountain Outfitters into the very same mountains Rich Hobson and Pan Phillips had to cross to find their fabulous frontier range, or join David and Joyce Dorsey of Rainbow Mountain Outfitting in Tweedsmuir Park for five to ten day guided trips into the spectacular Rainbow mountains. A few other outfitters such as Corkscrew Creek Adventures offer guided hunts.

20/02/2006 1:57 PM

"The Rancher Takes A Wife"

This is the third in the series of books written by Rich Hobson in 1966. In the second book he relates how he kept getting these dreams about this pretty blonde girl whom he had never met. At the end of that book, he sees her picture on friend's fireplace mantle while in Vancover on business and recognizes her right away from his dreams. In the picture she is holding the halter rope of a prize Jersey bull. He finds out as much as he can about her and where she would be. She happens to be at a cattle show that very day and he rushes off to see her. The resulting meeting is hilarious but after weeks she starts to take Rich seriously and soon they are engaged.
The third book, "The Rancher Takes A Wife" describes Gloria's introduction to the Chilcotin country in the middle of winter when Rich brings his new bride home.
Because the pass through the Itcha Mountains from Anahim Lake is choked with snow and impassable in winter, they must make their way by sleigh and saddle horses 75 miles to the Batnuni Ranch from Vanderhoof in twenty below weather and Rich can only hope his new bride doesn't freeze to death before they get there.
They eventually arrive after Gloria has had the opportunity to meet some of the 'interesting' and colorful characters that inhabit the country and after she has become somewhat acclimatized, she and Rich along with a couple of other cowboys decide to make a midwinter trek to Pan Meadow to pick up some equipment. The adventures along the way are a must read, especially where they, their sleigh and a heavy team of four horses must cross the roaring Blackwater on only three inches of ice at a dead run and hope they don't fall through. The temperature on this same trip eventually drops to forty below zero and the trip becomes a deadly one.
Money from shareholders in the Frontier Cattle Company and a supply of workers had dried up to such an extent that the line cabins were no longer in use and the only operating ranches on this huge spread were the Home Ranch run by Pan Phillips and the Batnuni run by Rich. Eventually, the only way to continue operating was doing a cow share operation, and Rich and Gloria choose to buy their own spread to run Frontier cattle on.
The one they choose is a beautiful creek fed basin surrounded by high rimrock but the ranch buildings and surrounding yard are in horrific condition.
Gloria does a good job of rolling her sleeves up and jumping into ranch life, however, there are many occasions when she nearly gets herself killed because of a stubborn will and her refusal to listen to Rich in an emergency.

19/02/2006 6:44 PM

Community

Nimpo Lake and Anahim Lake are wonderful at turning out for the important things in life. Last night Anahim Lake hosted the Kids 139 at the community hall. An auction held entirely with items donated by community members and dinner raised $17,000 for the 139 Kids Fund, an incredible feat considering how small these two little wide places in the road really are and that our winter population is quite small. I didn't get an opportunity to go to the event but it's one of the biggest ones of the year and it sounds like last night was just super.
Our neighbour's wife held a surprise birthday party for her husband and again, the turnout was huge. Nearly all of the Nimpo Lake residents and quite a few from Anahim were there and their house was so crowded with well wishers that there was standing room only. For every two people that left in the short time I was there, another six showed up. Unfortunately, it's tax time, and I'm sure you all know what that's like, and since I own three businesses that generate more paper than income, I had to scurry home and get back to work. Just as well, there were almost too many people in that space, even for me.
Our cold front has finally withdrawn and although last night was still quite chilly, today was sunny and pleasant and reached above freezing in the sun. Things were a little disasterous for Ontario and Quebec Thursday night into Friday afternoon. A 40 car pileup caused by freezing rain and blowing snow in Ontario killed four while a 60 car pileup in Quebec injured 40 people. 140,000 people were without power Friday in Quebec due to ice and high winds, so I guess we got off pretty lucky here with cold air and not a breath of wind.
Some of the guys went out snowmobiling yesterday but since they had a new couple from Williams Lake with them, they stayed low and toured some of the local trails. Logan said the riding was pretty good and wanted to know when we could go out. Soon, I think, so long as the weather holds.

17/02/2006 2:39 PM

Brrreeeport. A New Word?

What does the word brrreeeport have to do with Wilderness Adventures in Nimpo Lake? Well, a lot actually. The word was invented by a controversial blogger for Microsoft who invited people who wrote blogs to use the word in their text for a search engine experiment. His view is that only a certain number of high ranking articles are recognized by the big three search engines, with Google being the one search engine to claim the most number of returns on search but in actuality, shows the least. It's a valuable experiment for those of us attempting to draw recognition to our websites, and in my case, recognition for the West Chilcotin area. This in turn helps those people living and working here who depend on the travel and tourism industry, particularly Anahim Lake and Nimpo Lake where there is very little industry besides tourism. The experiment also shows that the results that the engines are returning to searchers on the Internet may not be accurate in number. That knowledge also helps both myself and other webmasters.
Ok, now that I have you totally confused and bored, lets just talk about the weather!
It was -30C or 20 below zero Fahrenheit when I went to bed last night and it was the same when I got up. Since I am not an early riser and completely missed sunrise when it is at its coldest, I'm assuming it got a whole lot colder than that.
When the house, deck and surrounding trees start popping and snapping, it's usually a little chilly. Last night the lake was making that quiet 'shuffle' noise from ice cracking and the snow settling as a result. Today it's been rumbling a lot from the extreme difference in temperature from ice under the frozen snow, and the snow on top that is being warmed by the sun. At least it's another glorious, cloudless day with no wind which is a real blessing compared to the four provinces in Canada that had wind warnings out for 40 below zero and colder.
The Chickadees are feeding hard on sunflower seeds at the feeder which is usually a sign that it'll be cold for another day yet. According to the weather man, we should see it warm up over the weekend which would be nice. I've seen a few people out on the lake with fourwheelers to go get their mail up at Nimpo, but not much of anyone walking or skiing today...including myself.

16/02/2006 5:40 PM

Crossing The Blackwater

Continuation of Pan Phillips and Rich Hobson's 'Nothing Too Good For A Cowboy'. When the riders and their herd arrived at the Blackwater crossing it was after eight days of frostbitten cold and blizzards. It was pitch dark and the cattle milled in sheer panic upon arrival at the three hundred foot wide rushing cold river. The men could not get them across and exhaustion and despair was setting in. Finally, Rich chose to drive the cattle down along the river in the hopes they would find a meadow and feed and a way of holding the cattle from plunging down the backtrail in hunger and terror. Unbelievably, they came upon a basin full of rich grass just under the snow and the cattle fell to feeding. Then the men rode two miles back up to the crossing, plunged across well after midnight and reached the bunkhouse at Pan Meadow on the other side. There they slept the full day through only to wake in panic at the thought the cattle had been unattended the whole time with wolf packs all around. What happens next is amazing, and their solution for getting the cattle across is ingenious.
The whole book excellent, but the 'Frozen Drive' as it was called after that, is a must read part of the book.
For years after, men on that drive suffered from frostbitten extremities and one fellow who had been snow blinded for a few days eventually went completely blind. Still, the miracle of that drive was that it went against all odds of it being completed, and without the loss of one cow.
Rich Hobson continues on in the book to give a lot of background that really rounds out the characters and gives depth to each story. One story tells of Stanley Dowling, who came into the Anahim Lake country and after working for wages and selling two horses to Rich, had accumulated the grand sum of $115. He decided he was going to start a trucking company that would bring freight from Vancouver to Anahim Lake. How he did it is amazing and he soon had a thriving store that provided goods that many people had never had access to before, including store bought fruit and vegetables, as well as machinery and hardware that would have taken hundreds of packhorse trips to bring in overland prior to this. The picture of the store on the right that is now McLean Trading was first opened up by Stan Dowling.
Shortly after this Stan Dowling decided he was going to start a Rodeo in Anahim Lake, to be called the Annual Anahim Lake Stampede at about the same time Pan Phillips was trying to figure a way to build a road from the Blackwater 55 miles over the 7000 foot Itcha Mountain Range to Stan Dowling's store. Pan devises a plan that is not only hilarious, but down right sneaky, to get his road with no effort on his part. I am not going to ruin a great story by condensing it here because it's just too good to not be read in its entirety.
Lots of things happen in the book including an unbelievable night ride with a cavalcade of horses through the streets of Vancouver and right at the end, Rich meets a girl! That, takes us to the book Rich wrote called "The Rancher Takes A Wife" and what most of the television show, "Nothing Too Good For A Cowboy" was actually based on.
Last night was extremely chilly with a pale cold moon glaring down, a bright barbelled cobalt blue star twinkling over the mountains to the southwest and every once in a while the lake ice would shiver with vibration from cracking. You could have heard a pin drop in the silence and I could easily imagine the sounds of cattle and horse hooves crunching on hard snow, the song of a wolf pack drifting in from far away. On nights like last night, I know that like I, those cowboys that Rich wrote about would not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world.
15/02/2006 3:37 PM

The Brutal Winter Drive

The adventures of Pan Phillips and Rich Hobson in Chilcotin Country continues. With the help of the two natives, Rich gets the herd to the hayman's and arranges for a man to feed them through the winter. Now he has to return to Batnuni to gather another three hundred head of cattle to be moved to Pan Meadow and Lashaway's, two months later in the season than cattle would normally be moved. On his way back, a stranger enters his camp and agrees to cowpunch for him for the winter. With willing men in such short supply, this is a godsend indeed! Rich and the new fellow get to Batnuni where with the help of a few others, gather up the cattle, sleighs and fifty head of horses that will beat down the two feet of snow for the cattle, leaving a passable trail and pawed up feed for the animals following. It would take careful planning and much forethought to prepare for this drive because survivability could be low for both men and herd.
In the midst of this preparation an exhausted rider arrives from the Home Ranch 110 miles away through deep snow with a scribbled note from Pan. The passes through the Itcha Mountains to Anahim Lake are plugged with snow and he's unable to get the three riders he hired in the fall to come over to help him move his herd off the Home Ranch meadows where feed was fast being depleted. His note called on Rich to loan him whatever riders he could.
On the morning of December 20, 1939, Rich and his riders woke to clear, cold 40F below zero weather and started the Batnuni herd toward Pan Meadows with the horse herd in the lead to break trail followed by the two sleighs with food and equipment and then by the herd and the cowboys.
The men drove the herd on through days of cold down to sixty below zero, and then the worst thing that could happen, did.
It began to snow with blizzard like fury and the herd was now on a little broken trail with high timber and no feed for miles. They only had made five miles that day and still had eight to go before getting on a meadow with feed and a way of holding the cattle. If they didn't make it that night, the cattle would drift into the timber and head back home, with no chance of surviving the long winter.
Exhausted men and horses pushed cattle until after midnight finally getting them to a temporary meadow where the horse herd had pounded out feed under the snow. The men sat around the fire rubbing coal oil onto badly frostbitten parts of their faces, hands and feet while the cattle in the herd, too cold to feed after awhile, spent the night walking in circles to keep from freezing to death.
Rich Hobson's descriptions of that drive are incredibly colorful, and I believe, quite accurate. As he describes in the book, few cowboys in the Chilcotin dressed for the Arctic, and yet the Government thermometers at Redstone, between Anahim Lake and Williams Lake, often registered the lowest temperatures in North America at 70F below zero and colder. That makes the incredible drive and determination of these cowboys all the more fantastic. Never mind that Pan and Rich had an obligation to the shareholders of the Frontier Cattle Company. Their main concern was for hundreds of head of cattle that if not moved that winter because of the shortage of hay, would die of starvation. I can't imagine taking on the job they did. I consider myself a person with a pretty strong constitution and even though not that old, I had the unique experience of being brought up without the luxury of running water and electricity and where we all had heavy weight chores and responsibilities from a very young age. That included packing water in buckets for cattle and horses in winter, getting in wood, putting up hay in fall and clearing land by hand in the summer.
I've also worked in cold temperatures and lived in Nimpo Lake where 60F below zero weather was a guarantee at least once a winter. But I wouldn't consider myself equipped to do what those boys did, and know few people capable of that strength, determination and sheer will. Probably have to throw in a little bit of 'crazy' in there too. Or maybe they just didn't know better.
I'll continue the story tomorrow because Rich and his herd still have to cross the raging Blackwater River before making it to Pan Meadow. In the meanwhile, if you would like to read the story before this or any of last week's articles, you'll find them at Wilderness Adventures Feb2
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The purpose of this web site is to draw attention to a remote area of west central British Columbia. It is a beautiful area that relies heavily on tourism. The search engines don't know much about the West Chilcotin, Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake or any of the other small communities in the region and I hope to change that! Even as large as this site will eventually be, there just isn't enough room or time in the day to fully describe this incredible country but I am going to try scraping away at the tip of the iceberg, so join me!


Follow the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!
Horse hitched in front of cabin
 
Packhorses on the Itcha Range
 
Trading Store
 
Trees in snowstorm
 
Snow covered mountains
 
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