Heckman Pass: grades of 18%, no guard rails, and sheer drop-offs

Heckman Pass: grades of 18%, no guard rails and sheer drop-offs

Heckman Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 1.524m (5.000ft) above the sea level located in the Rainbow Range of west-central British Columbia, in Canada. The pass is traversed by Highway 20. It’s one of the most scenic drives in the country, with grades of up to 18%, no guard rails, and sheer drop-offs of many hundreds of feet. Don’t stuff your belly too much. Eventually, you might feel vomiting temptations while climbing circuitous roads at higher altitudes. 

The road over the pass is unpaved. It’s also known as Chilcottin Bella Coola Highway and was completed in 1953 by volunteers. It is noted for grades up to 18% and it’s the highest point on Highway 20. The road cuts along a cliff face where there is only a foot high wall separating you and a sheer, base jumps wet dream, drop to the valley below. It’s a mind numbing vertical drop of hundreds of meters so you might want to give it a miss on a windy day.
The road is narrow, winding, unpaved and the most famous section is 10 km of steep, brake-grinding switchbacks with up to 18% grades. It’s tightly hairpinned and bumped. Heckman Pass is located west of Anahim Lake on the divide between the Chilcotin Plateau and the Bella Coola Valley. Locals say they are confident but not complacent when they drive The Hill. They know they have to pay attention, especially on the way down — lean on the brakes too hard and your wheels could slip out from beneath you.

When was Heckman Pass Road built?

Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime and can sometimes block some sections of the road. The road was built in 1953. With only two bulldozers starting from opposite ends, supplies bought on credit, and a labour force that only had the promise of being paid, they clawed their own way up and out of the valley. The work took one year and two weeks to complete. It connected Bella Coola to Anahim Lake with 76 km (48m) of new road way, had three switch backs, and climbed 1,818 metres (6,000 ft) in 21 km (13m) from the bottom of the "Hill" to Heckman pass. The most impressive part is the first 6.4 km, where the road climbs 1,219 metres (4,000 ft) with grades of up to 18 percent. Today the road is officially known as Highway 20, but is still referred to locally as the "Freedom Road" to commemorate the earlier years of isolation. It is such a white-knuckle gravel road that on occasion tourists who have ventured down it have refused to return on it.

The road to the Heckman summit, also nicknamed "The Hill" is terrible for drivers who are prone to vertigo. There are no guide rails on this dirt road and should you slip or miss a curve it's a long drop to the bottom. It can easily be driven by standard model cars. It takes about one hour. The road is winding, in some places only wide enough for one vehicle, and in many places bordered by a drop of hundreds of meters (many hundreds of feet) unprotected by guardrails. This tortuous route should not be attempted by those who don't know how to reverse. Some parts are so narrow that if two vehicles have to pass each other, one vehicle might have to reverse for anything up to 3 kilometres of this winding narrow road to get to a place wide enough to pass. 
Pic: Qwesy [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons