Whistler, BC (Jul 10/12) – To celebrate their 9th wedding anniversary (and 10 years together), N&J and Jesse, set out to do what they love best… to pack their bags, hop in the van and hit the road in their beloved Westfalia camper van!!! Let’s go explore some areas ‘far off the beaten track’ but yet ‘so close to home’.
click on pic to enlarge – right/left arrow to scroll thru the gallery
Travelling north from the Village of Pemberton, passing through the flowering fields and scattered farms that produce all sorts of delectable delights (organic veggies, The Beer Farmer’s hops and the famous Pemberton Seed Potatoes).
Finally crossing the Lillooet River to start the formidable climb up the Hurley Pass to the Bridge River Valley. N&J, never taken this route previously…. with a bit of trepidation having heard the stories previously told of the trials & tribulations were daunting, but the formidable Hobbes (now a capable 4×4 explorer) up & over the deep potholes, the narrow pathways & around the steep switchbacks that frequent this mountain road… it all seemed quite manageable.
The vistas along the Hurley River are vast and numerous, punctuated with dark passages of leafy tree-lined narrow gravel roadway opening up to sun-lit magnificent mountain peaks & valleys. Thankfully the heat was quite temperate allowing for the van windows to be open permitting the scent of the forest to waft into the cab. A few other vehicles passed by during the ascent, graveling up a fair amount of dust but luckily no ‘flying rocks’ were encountered. Eventually came upon a ‘tee in the road’, the choice of either Bralorne to the right, or straight ahead towards Gold Bridge (is it Goldbridge or Gold Bridge??) …and Gun Lake (our chosen destination).
Just before entering Gold Bridge, the ‘travelling trio’ (NJ&J) turned west onto a short ‘paved road’ towards Gun Lake. This meandered along the Downton Reservoir (part of the BC Hydro Bridge River electrical power grid), the reservoir created by the Lajoie Dam was currently drawn down quite extensively (unsure if by BC Hydro design or the prevailing drought conditions).
N&J were quite pleased to finally see what Gun Lake is all about, many talk about this beautiful body of water that is known for its clarity & cleanliness… in awe of its pristine beauty, they were not disappointed. Normally it takes a 4 hour journey by automobile (via Lillooet), but during the summer that trip is halved using the ‘summer only’ Hurley Pass, but an all-wheel drive, high ground clearance vehicle is a must.
Upon arriving at the Gun Lake Rec Site. they were able to secure a campsite overlooking the lake. The camp is very rough, uneven terrain made for difficulty in getting Hobbes level (thankfully the levelling blocks were able to permit a somewhat livable existence for a night). Only one other camper in the site of 6 spots, and Jesse came eye-to-eye with a surprise visit from the neighbouring pooch who jumped into the van, only to be vanquished & sent running after two ‘claws fully extended’ swats gestured as a stark warning… thankfully the dog experienced no permanent physical damage!!!
N in the meanwhile was down at lakeside trying her luck fishing before the sun set. In very short order a small Rainbow Trout was on the line but seeing as it was so small and dinner already planned this little one was released to enjoy another day….
Arising early the next morning, heading further north on the gravel road that encircles Gun Lake, passing by many quaint residences (big & small)… accordingly these gravel-dirt roadways are used by ATVs (in summer) & snowmobiles (in winter)… they finally arrived in Gold Bridge. A small village nestled in the shadow of the Lajoie Dam to the west provided a very well stocked, well appointed leaving ‘nothing of want’ grocery store, along with a self-serve gas pump (gasoline & diesel), a hotel and a number of small homes lined along this one street village.
After a restocking trip to the Valley General Store, N&J headed south towards Bralorne, another town created during the heyday of mining. An interesting collection of buildings from yesteryear in various states of disrepair, some in the midst of renewal. The town of 9 (yes that is what the sign said!!!), hosts a museum and across the street a pub and store that share the same structure.
Further on down the road towards the Pioneer Mine, the search for an un-mapped ‘mining tote road’ high up the mountain to Kingdom Lakes Forest Service Road (FSR) brought excitement and adventure as they were headed into unmarked, uncharted territory. Fellow travelers met earlier at the Bralorne coffee shop decided to follow Hobbes. Somehow the road ahead felt less daunting in numbers. The trip up the winding, very steep, switch-backed ‘goat trail’ with eerie abandoned buildings was thrilling & scary as any road ever driven by N&J, the conditions were all over the map… loose rock, mud, over-grown grass, large puddles, boulders and fallen trees. The 4 wheel drive system on Hobbes (including the very low ‘granny’ gear) was utilized to the max to reach the top… kinda of felt like a ‘Rocky Balboa‘ moment upon reaching the Forest Service Road at the top!
Check out the video at the bottom of this post to see firsthand the terrain travelled…
After ascending up the mining road, the bigger less daunting gravel forest service road to Kingdom Lakes Rec Site seemed like a breeze. Mind you the trail into the actual campsite was no slouch… huge water-filled pot holes, some that seem they would swallow Hobbes alive; topsy-turvy undulation of the travel surface made for a ride that even Jesse had to sink his claws deep into his carpeted platform to hang on.
The campsites all aligned hugging Kingdom Lake, a gorgeous sight to behold, Rainbow Trout jumping everywhere. Turned out half of the camp spots were available so a spacious, private spot was chosen, camp quickly setup… let the fishin’ begin!!!
The weather was perfect, not ‘too’ hot with one short downpour, but mainly sunny… and the skeeters were few & far between. N managed quite a few hits while fishing, catching a beautiful Rainbow that as his/her luck would have it was released.
Camp conditions were really good so N&J stayed an extra day (would have been longer if they had brought along kayaks and/or SUPs to explore & fish the lake further. Jess loved the exploration possibilities to the fullest, outside at every opportunity exploring the natural surroundings…. Jesse in his element (the reason why he loves camping so much).
After 2 blissful days at Kingdom Lake (the name might have something to do with the ‘castle like’ mountain peaks that adorned the lake), the traveling trio headed off for more investigative meanderings. Returning back to Gold Bridge to access the main road that travels east towards Lillooet along Carpenter Lake with a stop to check out the BC Hydro Carpenter Lake campground (another free site). Further along the route brought the remains of the old town of Minto, that was flooded into submission when the Terzaghi Dam was constructed to raise Carpenter Lake water levels to permit power generation. With lake levels being down somewhat and the ability to drive a vehicle out onto the normally flooded lake shore… the old concrete foundations are the only remaining evidence of Minto’s existence as a mining town & Japanese Internment Camp during the WW2 years.
The next destination was found on Tyaughton Lake Road, a quick left turn off of Hwy 40 & headed north on a well maintained gravel road to Tyaughton Lake. There was a very small rec site campground (only 3 spots) located right by the lake, the sun was radiating hotter than usual & the fish were not biting. A very quiet location with the occasional kayak, SUP or canoe cruising by, no noisy powerboats seen or heard 🙂 an endless army of tadpoles hugging the sandy shoreline growing bigger by the minute swishing their tails and wiggly black bodies about provided a serene meditative experience…the bugs mind you were a bit over the top!!! <click on video below to see the tadpoles in action>
Continuing their travels northbound led them by the world famous TYAX Mountain Lodge located at the end of Tyaughton Lake, a stunning location year round. The backroad then continues until a intersection with Mud Creek FSR, turning south-east the road narrows considerably, lots of boulders to dodge, steep rock face on one side… a river torrent on the other. After passing a road grader doing maintenance work, came upon Marshall Lake, with Rec Sites at either end of the lake. The north site was a desolate wilderness campsite, clear lake & dead quiet. At the south end of the lake were some incredible off-grid homes and cabins & a rec site that was not as nice as the northern version …too boggy & too many bugs.
It was decided to push on (still quite early in the day) and check out Carol Lake Rec Site about 5-6kms north of Carpenter Lake Road. The turn-off to the rec site was not marked, but a quick perusal of the BRMB Backroad Mapbook for ‘Vancouver, Coastal & Mountains’ indicated they were on the right track (N&J chose the BRMB digital version that resides on their iPad, seven mapbooks that cover all of BC, the paper versions would take up a lot of precious space).
The lake was only a few kms in and the campground was fabulous, lots of spots along the lake & not another camper to be seen. N spied a newly built fishing dock & quickly made her way to the lake. Setting up camp was quick & easy, the bugs were minimal & Jesse was hankering for a walk… so off the boys go exploring the camp site. There are nine spots available, although the generous space would easily allow multiple units at each.
No sooner when J and Jesse returned from checking the area out, a scream could be heard coming from the dock… N has caught what could be described as her biggest Rainbow Trout ever!!! J quickly maneuvers himself down to assist with the landing of N’s big catch. And what a beauty it was!
While trying to remove the hook, N in her excitement managed to slice her finger with her ‘very sharp’ and large fishing knife (ouch!!!!), J not sure who was bleeding more, the fish or N ran to retrieve the first aid kit from Hobbes… with the fish and the finger taken care of… the BBQ’d trout dinner was wonderful!!!
A difficult decision ensued of whether or not to stay another night, perfect conditions… but alas they had a meetup with Chris & Olivier (C&O – their Westfalia friends) already planned. So off to explore the Bridge River Valley. Shortly after leaving camp they accessed Carpenter Lake Road (aka BC Hwy 40) which snaked along the beautiful green-blue waters till reaching Terzaghi Dam. This dam only controls the water levels of the Carpenter Lake reservoir, providing ample supply of water for the two penstocks that drop south from the reservoir, through the mountain to Seton Lake power generation station far below.
You can actually drive over the dam, through a rock tunnel that lead to Shalath, Seton Portage (between Seton & Anderson Lakes) and to D’Arcy via the Highline Road. This reportedly difficult route will be tackled in the future.
The road (sometimes paved/sometimes gravel) follows the route of the Bridge River until it empties into the Fraser River closer to Lillooet… beautiful vistas as it meanders eastward. Finally reaching their destination in Lillooet, where fuel, water, food supplies & a cellular connections were achieved. Brutally hot as usual for this town, thanks to Hobbes’ A/C nobody perished!!! 🙂
The loose plan was to head north, cross the Fraser River & find camping (with C&O) for the next few days somewhere in the Big Bar Lake area. So backtracking a bit to the Pavillion West Forest Service Road, a 90km backroad that would take N&J (and Jesse) to the Big Bar Reaction Ferry crossing the mighty Fraser. The road was quite a journey rising up & over many peaks & valleys, the views were spectacular from the dizzying heights, numerous switchbacks to zig-zag the terrain. Thankfully there was many places to permit easy passing of other vehicles encountered.
The last 8-10kms were quite treacherous, narrow single lane with ‘no place’ to pass any vehicles, very steep (18% grade) winding ‘goat trail’ with multiple switchbacks all the way to the riverside. Thankfully N&J did not encounter anyone coming up the opposite direction, otherwise someone would need to do the ‘almost impossible’ and back up!
Lesson learned: at the start of many forest service roads (ie. logging roads) are signs that inform the traveling public of the radio channels to monitor, to be aware of others using the route, by communicating your location (ie. “Big Bar FSR, 7kms, up”) as posted by frequent signs along the roadway… you can avoid a standoff & wait for a larger vehicle to pass before continuing. N&J have since obtained a radio that will facilitate that communication.
The Big Bar Ferry (3 small cars or 1 large truck) uses the flow of the river to force the ferry across the waterway by pointing the craft’s rudders in the intended direction; the vessel is attached to aerial cables across the river to keep it from going downstream… a very ingenious system that has been functioning for almost 130 years (established in 1894).
The short trip across the Fraser River was very enjoyable, the current was swift, wind blowing from the north… a refreshing break from the harrowing drive.
There is a myriad of backroads on the east side of the Fraser River, many to choose from depending where you want to go. The original destination was Little Big Bar Lake rec site, but upon arrival it became very apparent that the mosquitos had assembled a very large greeting party… so onto Plan B. The larger Big Bar Lake campground at the Provincial Park of the same name was not too far away, fortunately there was a lakefront spot available, some ‘skeeters’ but not terrible like the former.
The lake is very large & surprisingly quiet (speed is limited to 10 knots), no large power boats or watercraft to ruin the peacefulness. The water clarity is outstanding, much of the shallows have light sandy bottoms that enhance the green-blue colour of the lake. The myriad of fishing boats & anglers on the water indicated that this is a fishing mecca, and N was up early the next morning to try her luck. The camp ranger Elsa, the nicest camp host they have ever encountered, loaned her kayak to N so she could partake in the ‘fishing frenzy’ as N&J did not bring along any watercraft this trip.
The next morning also brought friends C&O with their dog Westy & their Westfalia to join the camp. Great conversations & laughs ensued over the next 4 days around the campfire, delicious meals & hiking around the park kept them busy.
Of course Jesse (the cat) thoroughly enjoyed his camping, he loves to go for walks and frequently will be found searching for ‘the mice’ that habituate the fauna surrounding the campsite. Usually he can be found lounging in his camp tent placed amongst the trees & shrubs spying his next conquest.
This roadtrip wouldn’t be complete without honouring the generous, kind, and interesting people met along the way. The smiling beautiful face of Elsa ‘the Park Ranger’, welcoming everyone to share her space on this pristine lake. Randy ‘the fly fisherman’ who took N under his wing and taught her expert casting techniques and ways to tie the line. The happy family from Mexico, newly immigrated to Canada on their first camping trip, could be heard singing on the lake, on the trails, and late at night in their tent. Unbeknownst to the rest of the campers they danced and sang all night to keep warm as they did not bring any blankets with them! Then there was the family from Eastern Europe, also new immigrants whose smiles around the campfire tore through the stress and pain shown on their faces endured in a previous life. The family traveling with their adult daughter in a wheelchair from Lyme’s disease so graciously lending cash to N&J so the camp fees could be paid… e-transfer to follow. And lastly the couple joining camp in their brand new ‘MONSTER’ motorhome, the most luxurious home on wheels with every item having to be taken out of their boxes with assembly required. Brand new boat and fishing gear as well. They looked like they stepped out of a commercial with “Only the Yeti will do”. The envy of all, it was discovered that this couple had not been on a vacation in 30 years, working their whole lives they have discovered new found freedom and adventure.
After five glorious days & nights, camp was struck for the journey home via Clinton, Hwy 99 via Lillooet & Pemberton. A very enjoyable 10 days on the road, new destinations, new terrain…
Till next time, N&J 🙂
UPDATE (Aug 02/23) – Gun Lake has since been evacuated after a wildfire that started in the Downton Lake area spread north very rapidly and currently has destroyed 3 confirmed properties (and numerous outbuildings) along the lakeside… Gold Bridge & Tyaughton Lake area (including the TYAX Lodge) have been put on ‘evacuation alert’ status 🙁
TO VIEW VIDEO, CLICK ON ‘WATCH ON YOUTUBE‘ LINK (lower left-hand corner of the video)…