Well that was gnarly. In a good, fun way but it was gnarly.
Let’s step back a bit. As Covid limits what we can do and where we can go NMBL and I focused on a BC vacation for this year. You know, explore your own back yard and all that. And with the new bikes we really wanted to go someplace we couldn’t have visited on the FZ’s. With the ADV bikes however… we picked Gold Bridge. Not the easy way either. We went the Hurley.
The Hurley is a Wilderness Road in BC between Pemberton and Gold Bridge. Basically it’s a main logging road that’s also used by adventurous types to get to good hiking, fishing, prospecting, and off-road vehicle spots that are out of the way. It’s a bit (in)famous here in South Western BC as something of a challenge. The Hurley is known for wash-outs, sharp tire-shredding rocks, ongoing grader & excavator work, and soft gravel on the switchbacks at both ends. We had the privilege of experiencing the last three items on that list during our trek.
The road is (supposedly) 74 km from its start point in Pemberton Meadows to the end in Gold Bridge. That’s a lot of Forest Service Road (FSR) to ride all at once but we were up for the challenge. The Hurley isn’t the only way into Gold Bridge but it is the most direct, cutting off about 130 km if one was to take the more mundane route through Lillooet. Not that that route is easy riding. It’s just not as hard.
Heading on up
We checked the road conditions the night before we left and were happy to see that there was a post up on the site that day. It didn’t help that the featured picture was of a pickup loaded onto a flat-deck because they busted a leaf spring. Still the road was good and we went to bed ready for an early morning start.
Up and ready the morning of August 8th we left with some coffee in our systems to get us through to Squamish for breakfast. From there we went through the village of Whistler, on through Pemberton, and into Pemberton Meadows. We made the turn off onto the Lillooet River FSR which would then take us onto the Hurley. We had no problems here as we zipped along at a good 60 km/h, occasionally getting up onto the pegs for a bit of stability.
Once on the Hurley things changed quickly. The big sharp rocks were everywhere! The switchbacks were soft, deep gravel with rock bombs lurking just below the surface. NMBL was in the lead on this so we could go at her pace. She picked her way through the tough uphill switchbacks with grace (and the odd fret) while I followed at a distance in case anything went wrong. We made it to the top without a problem! The bikes stayed upright and our dignity stayed intact.
Once we were up on the plateau it was smooth sailing. Sure, there were some tough spots with sharp rocks and narrow road but we got to enjoy the scenery. The heavy equipment was working up here so we had to take care around that. There were a lot of parked vehicles around what we could only assume was a great hiking area. Other than that it was a clear, beautiful ride.
The only problem with clear, beautiful rides is that they eventually come to an end. We passed the turnoff to Bralorne and headed towards Gold Bridge. That’s when the decent started with more switchbacks… in soft gravel. NMBL slowed her pace, went downhill with grace (and the odd fret), and lead the way across the Bridge River into Gold Bridge. We refuelled then puttered off to our final destination for the day, the Gun Lake Recreation Site.
Overlooking Gun Lake
Dusty but happy we pulled into the Gun Lake Recreation Site. The few camp sites were tightly packed but offered great lake views. We did the loop around and decided on the first site as you come in off the road. It gave us a nice view over the lake along with a couple of great hangs… which was the important part.
It turns out Gun Lake is incredibly clear and clean. So clear that you can see loons swimming after fish under the water. So clean that the cabins and homes around the lake draw their water directly from it with little filtering. It’s a stunning mountain lake that we were happy to wake up to every morning of our trip. We were so happy with our spot that we stayed for the entire week we were out, taking day trips to explore the area.
Sunsets were particularly beautiful at Gun Lake. The mountain peaks glowed pink and orange as the sun retreated. These magnificent displays of light on rock slowly gave way to star filled nights with the Milky Way stretching along from horizon to horizon. Living in the city it’s almost impossible to see a planet let alone a star. Out of the light pollution we could see entire constellations and even satellites.
We also met some great people at Gun Lake… socially distancing of course. Our first night up there we chatted with the two couples a few sites over. They kindly brought over some firewood as I was foraging for dry blow-downs. Another neighbour, Mike, was a bartender in Whistler but also a prospector with a few claims in the area. He was up with a friend to check the claims and pan for a bit of gold. And he found some!
We also met a local, Claude, who lives full time at Gun Lake. He rolled into our site one night on his KTM 1290 adventure bike to check out our bikes and camping set-up. We all became fast friends, bonding over riding, touring, camping, and life experiences. Claude was kind enough to supply us with some firewood on Tuesday evening. We also stopped in at his home one afternoon on our way back from a ride, killing two hours chatting on his patio.
Bralorne and Kingdom Lake
Just south of Gold Bridge is the old mining town of Bralorne and the turnoff to Kingdom lake. Bralorne is still populated and the nearby mine is up and running. We rode in and were treated to a nifty little town with old-timey homes, a mining museum, and a cool mural map of the area on the side of one of the buildings. Neat and useful!
And Gun Lake is not the nicest lake in the area. No, not by a long shot. That distinction is for Kingdom lake; overlooked by craggy peaks and nestled in the middle of a forest Kingdom Lake is as picturesque as any promoted in vacation magazines. There’s also camping right on the lake at the recreation site there. The only reason we didn’t move was because the bugs we so bad when we visited!
We also travelled to the end of the road, through Bralorne, past the ghost town of Braden, and to the remains of the Pioneer Mine where Provincial work crews were removing the remains of the mine. It was a neat spot to visit situated beside the roaring Cadwallader Creek. We took a moment to take some pictures before making our way back to Gun Lake. It was definitely a place to see!
If you’re afraid of wild beasts then Gold Bridge is not for you. They are everywhere! We woke up one morning to a deer by our camp, we scared a black bear with our motorcycles, and we heard wolves calling out one night after we went to bed. Birds were everywhere with woodpeckers, loons, and song birds keeping us company. Squirrels and chipmunks were our constant companions. And there was the wasps. I hate those guys!
With the clear water of Gun Lake it was also easy to see fish even close to the shore. Eagles often went over the lake searching for a meal. At night the bats kept the bug population in check with their erratic aerial dance. And while we only ever saw one bear the evidence of more was everywhere. Good thing we didn’t step in any.
The Hurley Back
Unfortunately our time out there had to come to an end. After six nights camping out by Gun Lake we had to head back to the city and more Covid reality. We took the Hurley home again, this time taking the Bralorne cutoff to the main road (boy was that a rough spur) and then down into Pemberton where we stopped for lunch at the Town Square (pedestrian name, great food). We made the obligatory stop in Squamish as well. Our butts hurt and we got to show off the dirt on our bikes to the “ride for show” crowd at the Squam-bucks.
So now we’re back, bikes cleaned, and camping gear put away. We’re not sure when our next adventure will be but we can guarantee that it will be far afield.