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Cinnabar Basin

July 21-22, 20 06

Planned 6-day hike turns into 2-day due to near medical emergency

I've been wanting to hike Cinnabar Basin and area for several years now, and after having hiked into other corners of the Southern Chilcotins decided this summer would be the one. We decided 6 days would allow us ample time to fully explore the areas surrounding Cinnabar Basin (Eldorado, Taylor, Harris Ridge, etc.)

But something just didn't feel right for me during the whole planning & packing stages, and it wasn't the record breaking heatwave predicted for that week either. I couldn't put my finger on the nagging feeling, so I chalked it off to too much general stress.

We left North Van. Thursday (20th) afternoon and drove the long route via Lillooet - Carpenter Lake with my Beetle as the Westy decided it wanted to visit the shop instead. So be it.

We camped at the Freiburg Rec. site on the side of Tyaughton Lake and located the trailhead with the help of the GPS that evening so we could get off to an easy & early start the next morning.

Settling into the tent that night, I suddenly became aware of a searing pain in my left tonsil - the ultimate weak link in my body. Chalking it off to allergies in this 'foreign' land, I tried to ignore it, but woke up over and over throughout the night to that sharp, gritty pain that I'm all too familiar with.

Freiburg Rec. Site; Tayaughton Lake
By 6am we were up and packing and hiking by 7:30. The trail is level only for the first few hundred yards, then begins its relentless climb up to the alpine. We were making pretty amazing time with our 6-day packs, it was still nice and cool out and not a hint of bugs...yet.
Beginning the ascent
Gaining elevation, we began to have views of the Bendor Range looming over Carpenter Lake. But that darn tonsil pain wouldn't leave me alone - in fact it was getting worse. And I was craving water and juice like crazy - I could have just guzzled non-stop. But we were rationing water somewhat, as we knew we likely had the entire day to go on our combined 6 litres.
The Bendor Range
Around 10:00 we reached the sub-alpine zone. A few peek-a-boo views of Cinnabar Basin got me pretty charged up. A bit of hollering and dancing with delight and my throat pains were almost forgotten.

The meadows were in the fullest bloom I've seen in years - everything that possibly can grow up there was in full splendor.

The trail began to gradually, then quickly, descend to North Cinnabar Creek. Egads! We were NOT prepared to give up our hard earned elevation - no matter what the darned trail did.

So we opted for the "mounatineering route" marked on the map and quite visible to us at that point. We headed through some scrubby trees, and broke into the alpine meadows climbing steeply up to the bare ridgetop.

Now normally breaking into the open, no matter the grades, gets me going pretty good. Like a kid in a candy store I charge ahead without a care. But somthing took hold of me at the base of that slope and it was all I could do to get up there. Each footfall was a huge effort, my mood darkened and my tonsil pain gave way to a full-on agonizing sandpaper throat. What in the heck was going on?
The views were definitely impressive. Before us lay the entire Carpenter Lake Valley (above) and the dry peaks and ridges of the Yalakom Range.
And upon gaining the ridgetop, the spectacular Cinnabar Basin lay before us. What a sight to behold!

Hover the mouse over the photo for the rollover

As you can see in the photo, the trail route would have taken us down to the creek just out of the bottom corner of this photo, then gradually up the valley. We were planning on camping the first night in the head of the basin, and this would have been a much easier and shorter route, but were eager to get some views and ridge hiking in.
Carpenter and Tyaughton Lakes. You can see the elevation we achieved as we only started slightly higher than Tyaughton Lake.
Hiking the ridgetop
Gun Lake, with Dickson Peak looming above. Downton Lake is just peeking out at the center and Gold Bridge lies just below. The Hurley Pass is visible through the distinct valley in the mounatins above Downton Lake.
Looking back at our ridge route from the highest peak. Yalakom Range in background.
It was 2:00 before we stopped on the ridge for lunch. I'd spent a good amount of time preparing a great variety of tasty foods at home, but nothing appealed to me. I could only stomach a tiny amount, and even that I had to force down. All I wanted was endless amounts of cold water. I had a good amount of fruit flavoured vitamin-C electrolyte drink powder along (Emergen'C - beats those sugary drinks any day), and Andre made us some slushies mixing it with snow. I could have guzzled several litres of it! We added snow to our water supply, and rested in the shade of an overhanging rock for a while before heading up the highest and final peak.
Hmmm - hope we don't run into beast that left that print!
As we descended the final peak, we were afforded views of Mt. Sheeba (which we did last summer) and the wide track of the High Trail as it ascended the ridge. We waved to lone mountain biker walking along it, but other than him saw no other traces of life except for this one singular and very distinct print (above photo). A quick glance around our surrounding landscape and we were reassured this Grizzly was long gone!

It was now 5:00 and were now directly above Cinnabar Basin where we followed a distinct path down from the ridge into the meadows.

On the short descent the pain in my throat began to verge on unbearable. And there was nothing at all in my first aid kit to even slightly relieve the pain and pressure. We hiked to the fast flowing creek where I soaked my hot feet while Andre scouted for a place to camp.

We hiked about 5 minutes down the creek to a field of heather and lupin on a ledge about 8 feet above the creek. The moment we stopped and slung off our packs the first battallion of oversized mosquitoes found us. They sent word back to the 2nd through 10th battallions that there was some good fresh blood available and we danced around in the late afternoon heat pouring on the bug juice and covering our heads with bug mesh hats.

We got the tent set up, washed up in the creek and clambered into the tent. The mesh walls of the tent were covered in walls of bloodthirsty mosquitoes - all we could do was hunker in our little shelter and try and admire the landscape we'd worked so hard to get to from inside these mesh walls. Ugh - that's late July for you , I guess. And was it ever warm! At 7:00 it was still a good 25 degrees.
As the evening progressed, so did my discomfort. Not only was my throat agonizingly scratchy and very swollen, but now my sinuses were starting to plug and swell. I hadn't eaten since lunch and had no appetite whatsoever. Andre made some curried noodles around 8pm, and I could only manage half a bowl. At 10pm Andre, in long clothing and his bug hat, went across the creek to a flat sandy patch to do an hour of his stretching routine. I was absolutely wasted and in dire need of sleep. Crawling into the sleeping bag I relaxed onto the softest ground I've perhaps ever slept on.

But sleep was never to come. At almost 7,000 feet the pressure in my sinuses was like a bowling ball had been stuffed into my face and my throat was clamping up. Five minutes felt like an hour, and by the time Andre came to bed I was a desperate mess. I could barely talk - breathing was difficult enough. I tried to stay as quiet as possible to at least let him get some sleep, but I spent a good half the time sitting up or propped up on my elbows just focusing on breathing. I was desperate for sleep, and my senses were becoming paranoid to even the slightest breath of movement outside the tent.

The first bird starting calling at 3:30, well before the first shimmer of light arose over the Yalakom Range at 4:30. I crawled out of the tent and made some hot porridge (which I burned), and back in the tent actually fell asleep for an hour. I awoke gagging for air from a dream where a helicopter had landed in the meadows and airlifted me out, I felt so much worse. Andre and I decided all we could do was head back - whatever I had, allergies or a cold, it was not going to get any better up here.

Andre (wearing bug hat) applies bug juice as the thirsty mosquitoes swarm around us. But pretty amazing scenery nonetheless!
At 7:00am I asked Andre if he could get up - my health was fading fast and I wanted to get hiking while I still had some strenth. By 8:45 we were on our way, leaving via the shorter route down the meadow to the creek. The trail is hardly more that a route on this side of the creek, and we had to use the GPS to quickly find the crossing to connect with the trail we'd opted out of descending the day before (we could have just bushwhacked around a bunch, but we couldn't afford to waste any time).

I stumbled along behind Andre in a thick fog of sleep deprivation and sinus and throat pain. My strength was beginning to fade, but I had no choice but to tough it out. I was pretty thankfull we weren't any further in.

We stopped for a quick lunch break at 11:30, but I felt as though I was being tortured. I just wanted to get down. On the descent my ears began to plug up, and the left one felt particulairly swollen and irritated. It seemed like an eternity, but it was only 2 1/2 hours before we were back at the car. Andre lifted off my pack and I broke down in a mess of tears and snot (sorry - a more elegant word escapes me at the moment). A native forestry official happened by in a pick-up on his way up to Mud Lakes and very concernedly gave us some bottles of ice water. Andre loaded our gear into the car and drove us back to the Freiburg Rec. site where we plunged ourselves into the warm water of Tyaugton Lake.

Though the swim was much needed, I began to fade fast afterwards. I could barely move and the thick, swollen pain in my left ear & tonsil was excruciating. Andre began speeding me to Lillooet, 100 km's away, in hoped of making it to a pharmacy before closing. But on the way there it became apparent I'd need a doctor.

A small pool Andre dammed up for bathing - icy cold though!
Of course Lillooet was the hottest place in Canada that day hitting an "official" 42 degrees C. But driving through a hot canyon section en route the thermometer in my car read 44.5 deg.

In Lillooet we drove to the hospital where a nurse and doctor were immidiately available. They checked me over saying I had a very severe sinus and ear infection and that I was lucky to have made it down when I did. Apparently at high elevations sinus infections can actually become life threatening due to the pressure.

So, they drugged me up pretty good with antibiotics, tylenol and Andre got me some heavy duty decongestants at the pharmacy. I managed to stagger out of the hospital back to the car in the 42 deg. heat and Andre drove us to the grassy beach next to Seton Lake. We spent a few hours there before camping in the BC Hydro campground where I had to lie on the picnic table as he set up the tent. Despite the heat we both slept like rocks right through the night.

We spent most of the next day back at the Seton Lake beach, then drove over the mountains to Lillooet Lake. I felt much better by now and we spent the evening just swimming and swimming in the warm water.

Sunset on Lillooet Lake
It was a real shame that our long awaited 'epic hike' had to be cut short, but at least we did get to experience some spectacular scenery. We'll go back soon, maybe not this year, but next year for sure. And then we'll go a bit later to avoid peak bug season!
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