Travellers on Highway 97 are told they are on the famed Gold Rush Trail. The old trail is visible now and then when a cut bank can be seen across the small valley north of Hat Creek Ranch, or there are glimpses of well-worn ruts at the edge of a field along the San Jose River, north of Lake La Hache.
One of the most obvious and perfect views of the old Cariboo Wagon Road rises up almost directly in front of vehicles as they drive on Highway 97, about 38 kilometres south of Clinton, just before the Loon Lake turnoff. A bare, switchback road climbs steeply on the right. This is the Maiden Creek Hill.
Generally, homesteaders were heading north. When they arrived at Maiden Creek Hill they were faced with the same steep climb as can be seen on the north side. The following are first-hand experiences with one of the more difficult challenges on the Cariboo Wagon Road.
In March of 1914, Ed Higgins, his wife Irene and three children arrived in a wagon at the Maiden Creek Hill after spending the night at Hat Creek Ranch. They had left their town in Oregon to homestead near Bridge Lake.
Higgins realized it would take all of their strength to climb the hill. His daughter Velma was five years old at the time. She and her mother walked to lighten the load. Velma was told to walk ahead, pick up any rocks she could find and place them along the road where her father could grab them. He would shove them behind the wheels to act as brakes to keep the wagon from slipping, or whenever the struggling horses needed a rest. Velma’s sister Noveta said later that her mother would talk about how dreadful it was to get down the even steeper hill on the north side.
In April of 1925, Everett Greenlee and his family arrived at the Maiden Creek Hill in a covered wagon after several weeks on the road from Washington. They were heading to a homestead at Canim Lake. Vivian (Toody) was five years old.
“Although I was young, I remember so well something that happened. We were coming up on Maiden Creek Hill at the turn-off to Loon Lake. That hill was an awful hard climb for the horses. You can still see it today from the highway.
“The Doughertys lived there across from the bottom of the hill. They had three daughters, a bit older than my sisters. Those girls came flying out of the ranch house just as we were heading up the hill. We had a fairly heavy load and just the one team to pull it. Those girls grabbed on the back of our wagon and dragged their feet and I thought, ‘oh, our poor horses!’ It was such a sharp climb! I imagine father had to stop often to wind the horses as they’d be out of breath. And he’d have to put something behind the wheels to hold them.”
As you are travelling south from Clinton, watch for Maiden Creek Hill, where hundreds of homesteaders, teamsters and trade wagons, gold seekers and even camels for brief time, struggled to get up and over a true obstacle on the Gold Rush Trail.