~Saturday, September 24, 2022~
Day 832 (Travel Day)
Day 96 of Alaska Trip
This morning, we made the decision to keep on keepin’ on with our destination of Whistler with about 220 miles of adventurous/treacherous driving on Highway 97 to Highway 99 (more on that later). The highlight of the morning…..finding a dump station at our campground; a rarity lately anyway, and oh so convenient. On a side note, did you know that Canadians call their trash cans, litter barrels? Love it!
Once on highway 99, sitting between Lillooet and Cache Creek, we entered Marble Canyon, with its brilliant limestone (not marble) walls.
The drama of it stems from a collapsed karst formation (landscape formed by dissolving action of water). The area seems to be scarred from wildfires over the years. Every lake we pass at this point is either an aquamarine blue or turquoise blue color and full to the brim……something we’ve seen since we got above the Lower 48. Eventually we came to the Fraser River, framed by steep mountains and challenging roadways with no forewarness of lower clearanced bridges or one-lane roads. We were lucky to not meet up with any semis or RV’s at those points.
About 60 miles outside of Whistler is where things really became interesting. This road is not for the faint of heart….very scenic and less traveled, but oh so steep!!! This 61-mile stretch of highway called Duffey Lake Road seemed to last an eternity, making one in the passenger seat a bit white knuckled all the way through it.
Massive drops, sharp hairpin turns and hills steep enough to set heavy truck brakes on fire, we wouldn’t recommend anyone towing to take it. Rock falls are a common occurrence as well. And that’s just the summer months. Of course winter is out of the question due to the avalanche threat. Just to hit home just how bad this road is, we spotted a guy in a Buick sedan, spun out in a shallow ditch, likely from going too fast, but seemingly o.k. He’s lucky he didn’t roll over. There were a few people that had already pulled over to help, so we continued on since we were towing (plus there was nowhere to pull over for both a trailer and a truck). And just when we thought the road was at its steepest, the grades gradually got steeper. Most of our driving was going in the downhill direction. First it was 7%, then 10% (similar to Teton Pass which we’d already done). But when we saw 13% to 15% grades, that sort of freaked us out. Not sure if the sharp turns made it easier to help slow us down or if a straight away would have been better. In any case, we made it! Poor Hank, but he is a beast. That’s why we bought a diesel for times like this. If it weren’t for his engine braking (tow assist) and the turbo diesel needed to pull us up those grades, we wouldn’t have made it. If your tow vehicle is a gas engine truck, DON’T DO THIS ROAD!! And if the grade indicators aren’t enough to scare people, maybe the big yellow “check brakes” warning signs and runaway truck ramps at every mile would make someone think twice. The views were supposed to be worthwhile to look at, but we wouldn’t know since all eyes, including mine, were on the pavement and signs in front of us.
Already completely exhausted for both driver and passenger, we arrived at Nairn Falls Provincial Campground to find every site occupied (there are 96 sites). Well hello!! It’s a Saturday night and you’ve got a huge city of Vancouver campers who probably enjoy coming here on weekends. Seattle isn’t too far away either (187 miles). Not good forethought there whatsoever. Next….. Plan B; the Cal-Cheak Recreation Area. What I thought was the correct route through Apple maps was completely incorrect. That app took us to only the recreation area, not a campground. The minute we started driving down the dirt road, we knew something wasn’t right. But with nowhere to turn around, we were committed to keep moving forward. We came upon a pretty large parking lot, though packed being a Saturday, and very little room to maneuver both a trailer and a truck. We barely made it through and the looks from perplexed hikers didn’t help either. It was rather embarrassing I must say, though finding a notable hiking spot came out of it.
Switching over to Google Maps, it gave us the route we needed to finally arrive at the correct campground, or so we thought. Our first red flag should have been the narrow gateway we had to get through. Ignoring the warning, we pulled in, at that point totally committed. Well, we barely made it through, nor did we exit completely unscathed. While I was out directing Jeff between the narrow layout of trees, he made a turn which I thought was fine, but the rig was not responding smoothly. Sure enough, the trailer steps were hitting a stump on the side of the slender road, bending the frame a bit.
I really couldn’t believe that after all this time, Alaska and all, that we’d never had an incident that damaged the trailer, until this completely avoidable situation and in a campground we couldn’t stay in no less. Jeff is pretty certain he can fix it, but won’t worry about it until we get to California. We really couldn’t believe that we put ourselves in this situation…..going through a campground we had no business being in, while it was getting dark, trying to squeeze between trees. You can’t imagine the amount of relief we felt being able to get back on the main road.
Feeling totally defeated, we called a nearby RV park but they wanted $45 just for a “parking space” basically….no hookups, nothing. No thanks. So we drove back to Pemberton (right next to Whistler), looking for a spot, any spot to just park our rig. Pemberton is a quaint small town so there are no Wal-Mart parking lots or anything else of that nature in which to park. We ended up finding an inconspicuous school parking lot, level, secluded and quiet. We just hoped we wouldn’t get a knock on the door at midnight telling us we had to move. Thus, we left the trailer hitched, with no slides out or lights on to attract any attention. It ended up being the perfect place. In the end, everything worked out.
What is the best thing to do when stuck in a school parking lot for the night instead of a nice, cozy campground? REFLECT!! So here’s what we learned……
1️⃣ALWAYS walk a campground first you’re skeptical about, especially ones labeled “recreation area”. Not all will fit things bigger than a van, tent or Class C.
2️⃣NEVER arrive at a campground on a Saturday, especially when near big cities. Those people like camping too.
3️⃣NEVER arrive at a campground at dusk or in the dark. You can’t see ALL the obstacles.
4️⃣ALWAYS inspect a dirt road you know nothing about to make sure you have a way of getting out. In our case, we were lucky.
All in all, in our 2-½ years of being on the road, we haven’t made these mistakes too often. So I guess our track record is still pretty good.