A group of nine Caledonia Ramblers travelled to the Chilcotin for the Easter long weekend.
The days were warm and sunny and there was hardly any snow on the ground. The vegetation is dry grassland below forests of fir interspersed with juniper. Sagebrush and small cactus grow amongst the expansive grassland. The Chilcotin River flows below steep embankments embellished with well-defined clay formations.
Even on the drive down to Farwell Canyon we saw geese, ducks and swans enjoying the recently thawed ponds. Several bighorn sheep were grazing close to the road and some bright western bluebirds darted across the landscape. Several groupings of mule deer were also feeding along the route. Having ferried a vehicle to the end of the trail, we set off with our laden backpacks through the forest towards the river.
On the way we saw evidence of ancient pit dwellings where the Chilcotin Indians had once had a village. These were estimated to be at least 200 years old. The only signs were large hollows in the ground, grouped together. We came across several similar sites. After 11 kilometers of hiking we reached the riverbank and made a comfortable camp under the starlit sky.
The following day we woke to sunshine and after breakfast, we broke camp, donned our packs and followed the Chilcotin River 10 kms upstream to where Big Creek joins. We saw more deer and sheep along the way and at this stage we started picking up wood ticks, which are apparently prevalent in this arid country in the spring. To begin with we delighted in finding them crawling on fellow hikers and removed them with relish and ended their lives between two rocks.
It wasn’t until the following day that they started to become a serious pest. We routinely checked each other’s hair each night and checked our clothes but during such a search, two ticks were found embedded in this writer’s scalp. Fortunately there were a couple of well-equipped doctors among the group and deft handling of a scalpel successfully removed the offending parasites. On further searching more ticks were found embedded in two colleagues’ scalps.
This was no longer a joke and even a day after returning home, people were still finding the critters on skin, clothes and camping gear. Apparently the ticks are in the grass waiting for a host such as a deer or human to walk by. They then crawl up the passerby and latch on for a blood meal. Once they’ve had their fill they drop off and, depending on their cycle, they lay their eggs or move on to the larva stage and repeat the process again. It is thought that these ticks do not carry Lyme Disease but they could carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
On the third day, we crossed Big Creek using log and ice bridges over the fast-moving water. This day we only needed our daypacks, which was bliss after the heavy packs of the previous two days. We walked a total of 18 kilometers downstream through sparse forest with magnificent views of the benches along the opposite bank. Again we saw several groupings of big horn sheep, mostly rams, grazing along the benches.
By the time we returned to our camp on Big Creek, several of the ice bridges had weakened with the hot sun and a couple of hikers broke through the weak ice, submerging to their knees in the frigid water. We spent a second night at this camp and still the wood ticks found us.
The following morning we broke camp again and climbed steeply up to the top of the ridge to where we had left a vehicle. We walked 50 kms over the four days but it was a gentle start to the season as none of the hills were too steep, we had great weather and the wildlife viewing was wonderful including a black bear, which we saw on our way out. We’re not sure if we saw more sheep or wood ticks but I think the wood ticks won.