Silver King Basin

lynn-going-into-silverking-1976-001Cleaning out some old files at the turn of the year, I came across this old photo of Lynn Shervill packing a new airtight wood burner into what was called the foreman’s cabin in Silver King Basin in the fall of 1976. The photo was taken by Steve Whipp, the reporter I replaced when I moved to Smithers in January 1977.

I think the log bridge crosses Driftwood Creek at Sunny Point – in the background it looks like the road descending from left to right.

 

It was just a few months later in January 1977 that Lynn took me into the basin, a ten-mile ski that started out gently but climbed steeply for the last stretch before we emerged into the basin itself. I hadn’t skied more than once or twice before we went. I borrowed long skinny skis and an oversize backpack from Steve and set out, convinced I could do anything. I don’t remember much about the trip in except feeling pretty good about things by the time we reached Sunny Point, the easy first half. Suffice it to say that we finally got to the foreman’s cabin a couple of hours later than Lynn anticipated. I was exhausted.

 

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The trail we followed up Driftwood Creek was one of three main prospecting routes into the Babines, as far back as the late 1800s. By 1905 several claims had been staked in the Driftwood drainage, including those of C.G. ‘Peavine’ Harvey after whom Harvey Mountain is named. In 1914 Peavine, his wife Kathleen20170204_114616_hdr_resized and infant son Gordon moved to their homestead on Driftwood Creek just up the road from our house. One of our snowshoe trails follows that old road, still visible as it leaves the hay fields and descends down to the creek near the old Harvey homestead.

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One of Gordon’s rakes, abandoned on our neighbour’s property in what was Gordon’s hay field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the Driftwood route into Silver King is a popular skiing and hiking trail into what is now the Babine Mountains Provincial Park, it was probably even busier in the 1920s. As Joe L’Orsa wrote in his unpublished history of the Babines, “In the words of Axel Elmsted, who was one of them, ‘The hills swarmed with old fossils.’ The Oldtimers, short on both modern-day geological techniques and clairvoyance but long on energy and elbow grease, dug innumerable trenches, tunnels, shafts, and pits, often on a little quartz stringer or bit of copper stain.”

The Lyon Creek Trail was once called the Gale & Lifton Trail and is thought to follow an old Wet’suwet’en route to hunt marmots in Ganowka Basin. A new trail was built to the Harvey mineral claim from the wagon road up Driftwood Creek, now known to hikers as Harvey Mountain Road.The McCabe Trail was built from the wagon road below Sunny Point along the back side of Harvey Mountain by Red McCabe on a trail grant under the provisions of the Mines Development Act.

The claims in Silver King Basin were among the earliest staked. According to L’Orsa,  a working adit was driven in at 4960’ in for 252’ where it “hit promising mineralization.” From the basin, the wagon road followed what is now a footpath zigzagging up the northeast wall over Hyland Pass to the Cronin mine. Exploration activity continued in the basin into the 1980s, hence the foreman’s cabin.

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This is what the foreman’s cabin looked like in the summer of 1980. Sam?, Sheila and Daniel on his first trip to the basin.

By 1977, the foreman’s cabin was the most weather-resistant shelter left; there was an old cookhouse and a bunkhouse – the cookhouse by this time was full of packrat stink and porcupine quills and the bunkhouse was so big and drafty it was impossible to heat in winter. It was cold that night and my new sleeping bag wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

In the morning, we explored the basin on skis – how nice was that without an oversize pack? – and then headed back down the trail. Anyone who has skied the trail knows about all the little divots along the way – seepages that melt the snow and form dips in the trail that are exciting for some, but were disastrous for me. I spent quite a bit of time either face down in the snow with the pack shoving me deeper in or face up like a beetle on its back, legs scrambling for purchase. The snow was deep. It was hard to get up. By the time we reached Sunny Point and the gentler sections, I was ready for a gentle cruise back to the car. No such luck. The trapper’s snowmobile had turned the track into an icy moguled death run for the unskilled. I seem to recall finally removing my skis and walking.

What’s truly a surprise after that inauspicious introduction to back country skiing is that I eventually married the fellow who took me in there. He was such a natural athlete he never thought to show me any technique to slow down or make even the gentlest turns. The only way I really knew how to stop on skates was to run into the boards; the only sure way I could stop on skis was to fall. And perhaps that’s why, now, my preferred winter footwear are snowshoes.

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Silver King Basin holds the headwaters, the beginnings, of Driftwood Creek. It also feels like the place where my life in this part of the world began. Where the stream that carried me from the coast east to Ontario and finally to the northwest set a new course, creating for me a confluence with Driftwood Creek, with Watsonquah (the Bulkley), with the Skeena.  With home. So maybe it isn’t such a surprise I married Lynn. He was the first to take me into the mountains, into those mountains. I’ve never lost that feeling, felt for the first time on that trip into Silver King. A love for high places, for their loneliness and often desolation. For the way they remind you just how precarious and precious our tenure is. Here’s what I wrote the evening I got home:

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Sheila in the foreman’s cabin, July 1977

It was worth it, as are most efforts which result in a high clear place where the wind blows from the top of the world and carries nothing but the air with it. It is eerie and lonely, almost frightening as I remember it from this warm house with the radio chirping away and my impatiens plant blooming. Skiing down into a vast white bowl, over marshes, creeks, boulders and a million varieties of mosses. Sinking not at all into the smooth white crust which covers the entire basin. The cabin was cozy with orange firelight flickering over golden walls of unfinished wood. But I couldn’t sleep – a funny scary feeling about all the things that could go wrong.

We have been back to Silver King Basin many times, though the foreman’s cabin is long gone. Over the years hundreds of visitors inscribed their names on the walls of the old buildings and wrote notes in the log book each new place holds. An elegant log building now provides luxurious shelter for folks who make their way in there, as they do in all seasons. And the basin is even more beautiful now as more and more of the old mining debris has been removed.

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The headwaters of Driftwood Creek above the mining buildings in 1977.

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Lynn looking across toward Mount Hyland from Silver King Lake.

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Sheila at the outlet of Silver King Lake, July 1977.

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