The Van Stralen family headed north after their travels through New Mexico right before the Canadian border closed in response to COVID-19. They crossed, quarantined, and then got back in their Jeeps to begin a snowy adventure that didn’t go quite as planned.
Words and Pictures by Epic Family Road Trip OB Adventure Partner 4010
It was March 17 and we had just returned to town after exploring the beautiful Lincoln National Forest with our friends from Lifestyle Overland.
As we came back on the grid to restock our supplies we checked in on the news to hear that a global pandemic had been declared and that the Canadian border was going to be shut down. We also heard that our travel insurance might not cover pandemic-related issues and so we made the decision to begin the trip north to Canada.
It was painful to drive through New Mexico, Utah, Idaho and Montana without exploring the endless wild backcountry in these beautiful states.
Three days later we crossed the border into Canada.
On the way north we had received so many offers of places to stay, meals to be had and people just checking in to see how we were doing and if we needed anything.
As we crossed into Canada, we took a moment to reflect on and express our thankfulness for the kind, caring and hospitable people of the United States. We knew that tough times were ahead but that the American spirit would prevail.
We had planned to explore the canyons in deserts of the South West for a few more months and then make our way up the coast to visit Carol’s parents and siblings in Oregon. All of that would have to be put on hold for the time being.
The border crossing we chose was between Montana and British Columbia. We were somewhat familiar with the area as we had stayed the year before in the small town of Radium Hot Springs for a few months while snowboarding in the mountains.
At the border, they notified us that we needed to self quarantine for 14 days and so we rented an apartment and hunkered down. We couldn’t wait to get back in the Jeeps and begin exploring.
Once our time was up, we stocked up on food and began exploring the country trails looking for places to camp. We couldn’t believe it. There were logging roads everywhere leading to smaller roads and remote backcountry trails. You could camp wherever you wanted.
The beauty of this area is breathtaking. There are snow capped mountains in all directions, vast forests, wild rivers teeming with fish and wildlife like bear, elk, mountain sheep and deer in abundance. We created a path through the snow and set up camp near the Kootenay River. After a delicious dinner and being very careful to clean up every last scrap so as not to attract a bear, we fell asleep in our rooftop tents listening to the sound of the nearby rapids tumbling over the rocks.
One day when we were back in town picking up supplies, a gentleman and his daughter noticed our Jeeps and came over to offer us directions to some of their favorite camp spots and left us with a map book of the backcountry in the area.
All National and Provincial Parks as well as recreational areas like the many local hot springs in the area were closed due to Covid. Crown-land (which is public land in Canada) was still open and so that is where we began exploring.
We camped beside pristine lakes where we could drink right out of the lake, under snow-capped mountains, beside rushing rivers and in the high elevations overlooking spectacular views.
As the weather continued to warm up, more and more trails became exposed from under their cover of snow and we began to venture deeper into the wilderness.
We have auxiliary fuel tanks on both Jeeps which allows us to go for days without fueling up and gives us about double the range of a stock vehicle.
We were both getting low on our primary thanks but had our reserves still available. It had been quite a while since our last fuel up, so we set our sights on the small mountain village of Elkford, which according to our maps looked to be about 40 km away. The plan was to head into town fuel up and then find a camp spot for the night.
There is no cell service out here so we rely heavily on my map books and satellite-based GPS.
We made our way along the trail slowly and carefully, dodging rocks that had tumbled down during the winter. We encountered patches of snow and ice on the trail in the high elevations and mud-covered tracks in the lower spots. We stopped every once in a while to take pictures and enjoy the wilderness around us.
As we rounded a corner we came up to the remnants of a snow avalanche that must have fallen during the winter and now completely blocked our way.
We had a decision to make. Do we turn around and drive all the way back to where we had started a few days before to refuel and perhaps try to find an alternate route, or do we try and climb over the snow avalanche with the Jeeps and carry-on down the road to Elkford as originally planned?
The prudent thing would have been to turn around and find an alternate route, but we were feeling adventurous.
“Let’s just put Worsley in 4 low, lock the hubs and see if we can even get up on the avalanche.” “If we sink in, or it looks like we won’t make it we’ll back out, turn around and go with Plan B.”
This sounded like a reasonable plan so we edged the Jeep forward, stepped on the gas, and to our surprise found ourselves perched up on top of the snow avalanche.
From there it was just a matter of filling in the deep spots with rocks and logs as we made our way across the avalanche.
To traverse the final ten feet of the avalanche we attached our winch to a huge log that was lying on the road ahead and soon we found ourselves back on dry ground on the other side.
We cheered our accomplishment and after high-fives all around, we realized that we were now fully committed to our plan. Going back would be much harder now as the avalanche was a lot steeper on this side compared to the other side.
Because a trail had already been blazed by Worsley we were able to drive Vandi up and over the avalanche without even stopping.
With a great sense of accomplishment and the feeling that we could make our way through pretty much anything that we might encounter ahead, we carried on down the trail.
Only 30 km and about an hour on the trails and we would be in town fueling up.
Stay tuned for Part 2 when we find out just how wrong we were, and how an expected 1-hour drive turned into three days of struggling to get out of the ever deepening snow covered mountains.