Bushwacking the Telegraph Trail

I had missed the ride-in to camp because I was driving up from the Kispiox Valley after spring bear hunts, the second summer I worked out of Atlin for a big-game hunting outfit. This was the summer they took over the southern half of the outfit that they had bought a few years previous, but had allowed the current owner phase out.  It was a turn-key sale that joined the original halves together again.

Guide Raymond, a tag-a-long Frenchman named Romaine and Allan, the outfitter, rode the horses in from Atlin to the base camp on Rainbow Lake.  It is a grueling two day ride over some of the worst trail I’ve seen horses go through.  Three or four horses died on the ride-out the year before, to give some perspective. I heard the previous wranglers wanted to get out in one day and they pushed so hard and long through such miserable terrain the horses just gave up and died or they had to put them down.  There was some not very happy people over that stunt.

When I flew into Rainbow Lake, I met up with Raymond and Romain. Raymond had worked the previous summer with the former outfit to learn the country and camps so he could teach us the ropes the the following year.  Raymond is a big, gentle giant.  A really fantastic guy to work with.  He has a big laugh, a soft heart and is a hard worker!

Romain is a Frenchman who was hitch-hiking around BC when he met up with Allan, our outfitter.  Allan said he could come along to help trail cut and clean up camps for room and board.  So Romain joined us for June and July and got a real taste of Canadian wilderness.  He was an extremely enthusiastic guy to work with.

Since the horses were at camp in the beginning of June and hunts didn’t start until August, there was the potential problem of overgrazing the grassy meadows at Rainbow Lake.  So the decision was made to drive the bulk of the horses up to Dry Lake, a high mountain lake and camp surrounded by alpine meadows chock full of grass.  A rare and treasured find in the north.  The herd would stay for most of the June and July to fatten up before being brought back to Rainbow Lake at the start of hunting season.

Jake, Raymond and Romain, before embarking on the ride to Dry Lake

So Raymond, Romain and I saddled up at Rainbow Lake and started the ride for Dry Lake.  Maybe an hour into the ride we joined up with the original Telegraph Trail—the northern leg that ran from Hazelton to Atlin.

Side Note: A very interesting and exciting part of Canadian History is the Yukon Telegraph trail that was used to link the south country with the Klondike gold fields.  I highly recommend the book, Wires in the Wilderness by Bill Miller.  It is a fantastic read about the Yukon Telegraph filled with adventure, daring and survival.  It is a dream of mine to hike the entire thing one day—but I might just be slightly out of my mind to dream that way after riding a portion of it (and that was the frequently used portion).

Raymond with his pack string just east of Rainbow Lake

Pretty much where we linked up with the Telegraph Trail the bush began to get thick and tight to the trail.  There were lots of places with trees down or willow clogging the trail so bad that we had to find alternate routes around.  As well, it was June and the ground was saturated from the snow having just left and spring rains.  It was terrible quagmire of muskeg, rock and bush.  From the looks of things this trail either grew back incredibly fast or hadn’t been cut out the previous year or two. The only thing that added some interest to the trip was the occasional spotting of telegraph wire still running alongside the trail, sometimes still attached to living-poles (trees) or man-made poles, sometimes just along the ground.

Raymond trying to hack his way through the bush

We eventually started through an old burn that was incredibly miserable going.  Raymond, being in the lead, was off his horse constantly to hack fallen timbers out of our way and slash a hole through the clinging willow brush as we forged on towards Nakina Canyon.

Horses trailing through an old burn

We finally came to the steep edge of a gorge, with the trail, finally clear, leading down to the turbulent Nakina River.  Here there was a small meadow that housed remains of the old telegraph cabin where lineman Guy Lawrence stayed for many years.  In his book 40 Years on the Yukon Telegraph, he describes this spot one of the loneliest and most depressing since it was off the beaten path and at the bottom of a narrow canyon where he only got sunlight for maybe 2 hours out of the day.  It was a pretty nifty spot of history to poke around in while we gave the horses and Raymond a break and ate some lunch.

Then came time to cross the river.  Spring run-off made for an even more treacherous crossing than usual.  The bottom of the river was littered in huge rocks and the water is fast and deep.  The far bank was steep and slick with mud.  I was very happy I was on a tall, black, sturdy horse named Beauty.

Lunch Break at Nakina Canyon

I went after Romain (who went ahead to take pictures of the crossing) with the rest of the herd following and Raymond pushing.  Beauty stumbled right at the deepest part and I had a slight jolt,

thinking we were going down, but he recovered and pulled himself out.  I heard a yelp and realized that my dog Chevy was trying to get up the bank but couldn’t.  I couldn’t help him as I was holding the entire herd behind me and had to keep heading up the steep hillside so the horses would get stuck in the muck or getting out of the river.

I looked back and saw Chevy being swept down stream and thought I lost my dog.  The river was flowing fast and there was steep walls on either side.  I didn’t think I was going to see him again.

Jake riding Beauty across the deep and treacherous Nakina River with the pack horses and Raymond close behind

I wanted to stop, but there wasn’t much choice as I had to keep leading up out of the canyon.  The bushes grew tight and heavy and kept threatening to scrape me off the back of my saddle.  My shins were repeatedly smacked by thick branches and I was constantly wishing for a pair of heavy leather chaps instead of the thin rain pants I was wearing.

Raymond was at the tail of the herd and shouted out that Chevy had made it.  He appeared maybe half an hour or so after the river crossing.

We slugged upwards through bush hell for hours.  It started to feel like my legs were being hit repeatedly by golf clubs.  My torso from the bending the twisting the leaning the pushing.  Beauty would bust through bush holes were there was no room for a rider and I would take the brunt of crossed over branches (some as thick as my arm) in my midsection and hang on for all my might until they bent and gave and let me pass.  Sometimes I just hugged Beauty’s neck and made it through.

Raymond Crossing the Nakina River

Our trail---yep we had to ride through bush like this for hours.

The suddenly I was swept off the back of my saddle by one good stout branch in the midsection.  Luckily Beauty was held up by another.  The only problem was to figure out a way to get back on with the loose horses crowding up behind me.  I managed to cut the branches down and skimmy back in the saddle and not thirty seconds later, Raymond was swept off the back of his saddle.  He was mad and went on a chopping frenzy for a few minutes.

We were all slightly mad at this point.  Bruised and aching, I was starting to wonder when this would ever end.  It was only supposed to be a 3 hour ride and we were nearly double that.

We scraped though endless willow brush and suddenly, GLORIOUSLY, we broke into a high mountain meadow!  Oh it was like stepping into paradise!  No more bush!  No more grasping branches seeking to rip you of your mount!  The horses picked up the pace and eventually the loose horses broke out from behind us and galloped off ahead in wild abandon.

Suddenly GLORIOUSLY we broke out of the bush and entered Paradise!

It was still another hour ride to the cabin on Dry Lake, but it was very enjoyable.

The lake was large enough at this point to land a 180 Cessna on, but I was told that by August it would down to the size of pond and usually by September there was nothing much by a stream running to a puddle in the center of the lake.  Locals used to try and damn up the lake by putting tarp and other things over the hole in the middle to keep the waters from draining out.  However nothing worked very well or very long, and the lake would dry up, hence it’s name.

Riding the trail alongside Dry Lake into Camp

Dry Lake Camp was used as a hub for a few other satellite camps extending off of it, so it was very well set up, with a high cache and big main cabin, bunkhouse and tack shed.  It was a very nice camp, that I didn’t spend much time in at all, as I was whisked away by the plane the next morning leaving the nasty trail cutting job to Raymond and Romain on their return to Rainbow Lake.  When I arrived back at Rainbow lake, I took a look at my aching body and have never to this day seen such terrible black and blue bruises up and down my shins and thighs and around my torso—looked like someone had beat on me with baseball bats or something.

The Ride to Dry Lake reminded me of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (NIV)

I felt surrounded and battered by the bush, but I kept going because I knew from what Raymond had told me that the bush would eventually end and we would rise above it into the open meadows—free and clear.   I believed Raymond and had hope that the hard riding would be momentary, and it was—though longer than I would’ve liked.

Romain crossing the Nakina River

It’s pretty much the same thing in our Christian faith.  Here on earth we’re going to hit many troubles, difficulties and irritations.  What we believe in makes all the difference in how we endure them.

Like the apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian church, “And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

Guy Lawrence's line cabin ruins at Nakina River

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:14-18 The Message)

So if times are tough or hard and you feel hard-pressed and battered, let me be the one to remind you today that this is only temporary.  Paradise is coming!  And all the bruises and wounds we collect in the here-and-now will serve as battle-scars for our stories in the then-and-coming.

Storm clouds at the end of Rainbow Lake

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One Response to Bushwacking the Telegraph Trail

  1. marie says:

    Amen❤

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