The road through the pass between Mt. Wheeler on the north and Mt. Mara on the south has a block of private property bounded by fences and signs so any east-west travel is not possible without climbing well up the hillsides of either mountain above the fencelines. We parked on the public road and climbed north up the sagebrush slopes of Mt. Wheeler, working our way to a hidden gem, the old Harris Homestead.
Archibald and Mary Harris arrived from Scotland and claimed this piece of land in 1912. Archie and his son built and lived in a lean-to shelter while they built their first house, using a cross-cut saw, felling trees found on the property. Once a one-room house was ready, Mary and their daughter moved up from Kamloops. Over time, the house had bedrooms and a sitting added.
The roof has mostly fallen in and will be fully open in the next few years.
A cow, chickens, and a vegetable patch were the start of farming on the quarter section. A spring running down the gully behind the house provided water and soon up to 4 acres of potatoes were produced. Hay was cut to feed the livestock and horses, pigs, ducks, and cattle were added. Hunting and berry collecting was part of pioneer life on the hill. Cutting wood to sell down in Kamloops, selling eggs and butter at Tranquille or Kamloops, hiring out to build fences or dig fence poles, or whatever opportunities there were kept the family with some cash to overwinter at the site.
Drought after WW1 started a decline in the Wheeler Mountain area. In the 1920’s the drought continued and Archie dug down 40 feet, but could still find no water for a well. They pulled out in 1926 and sold the quarter section to the Bulmans.
Halfway-up the treed slopes is an old Chilcotin fence, the quarter section boundary above the private land and the former homestead properties. Hard-to-find is the remains of the Sorenson Homestead, Swedish emmigrants who arrived in 1912. The home was later occupied by their neighbors, the Sahlstroms. The site is up in the north-slope forest under the steep slopes of Mount Mara, but the Sahlstroms had a good well which neighbors also shared. Homesteading up there would have been a hard life.
We hiked a loop route, coming down the east side of Mount Mara back into the grasslands. We were respectful of posted private property signs, quarter section boundaries, the heritage value of old ruined buildings, the returning-to-nature lands of the Nature Conservancy, and we were mindful of leave-no trace principles. This is not an area for ATVs, motorcycles, hunters, or partiers. We quietly passed through the forest and along the slopes, leaving nothing behind but our footprints.