Follow the rugged mountain path of the old gold miners to one of British Columbia’s most storied ghost towns, Bralorne.
Layered with loose rock and gravel, the switchbacks of BC’s Hurley River Forest Service Road, four hours north of Vancouver, continue relentlessly upward. The back wheel of my KLR is sheathed in Michelin T63 knobby rubber, but still it keeps spinning out as I struggle to maintain speed. Four-wheel-drive trucks barrel down the Hurley on their way to Pemberton, or Whistler perhaps, and stir up giant clouds of dust as they arrive at unexpected times. My friend Matt and I (he, on his Honda GL Silver Wing) fight to keep a good line while making nearly 180-degree turns. We are on our way to remote Bralorne, nearly a ghost town now, but once the site of BC’s most important gold mine.
After awhile the road straightens and Matt flexes his gloved index finger up and down, our code that a photo opportunity is at hand. We stop the bikes near a steep verge. Before us is a gorgeous vista of the Pemberton Meadows, with the Lillooet River gushing along, mountains in the back drop and a steep fall a few feet away.
The Hurley is a rough and tumble road with an even rougher reputation, but my intent is to get one of those “I Survived The Hurley” bumper stickers. It’s a seasonal gravel road, maintained only occasionally, and closed by November, but it is the quickest route to Bralorne from Vancouver.
Once we were through the switchbacks there was still the matter of about 50 kilometres of bumpy gravel, large potholes and washboard surface to negotiate. It was about five o’clock, and we both knew we were playing beat the clock on this late September evening, wanting to get to the motel in Bralorne before dark. Riding the Hurley at night is not recommended.
When I had booked a room at the Bralorne Pioneer Motel, visitor accommodation created out of the remnants of the old mine offices, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I spoke with Kathleen on the phone while I removed credit card from wallet, expecting she’d take the standard info to make the booking.
But Kathleen bypassed all that, saying that when I arrived, simply go into Room One where the keys would be on the table and leave $40 there and the keys when I was done. I thanked her and put down the phone, still clutching my VISA in disbelief. I was clearly going to a place where certain big city concerns did not apply.
The light was running out when Matt and I found a fork in the road, the fading signs before us pointed to local hotels. Stopping the bikes to consult the topographical map, we knew we had to keep the Hurley River on our left, so we took a right.
A HISTORY OF GOLD MINING
GOLD HAS BEEN A BIG DEAL FOR A very long time here in “Bridge River Country” where Bralorne is located. The first prospectors came into this mountainous region as early as 1858, during the Fraser River Gold Rush. Most chased the so-called placer gold found in gravel along creek beds, but a coalition of three men formed a group that would eventually take a series of hardrock gold claims far underground, producing work and a company town for men who operated the mills above ground and worked a total of 30 veins along 80 kilometres of tunnels on 44 levels, the deepest of which ran 1,900 to metres. From 1928 to 1971, the mines of Bralorne are said to have produced 4.15 million ounces of gold.
In 1933 alone the operation produced over 80,000 ounces of gold, valued at nearly $2.5 million. This was in a time of the Great Depression when very few businesses anywhere were making any money at all. But mining at Pioneer ceased in 1960 and with the closure of Bralorne mine in 1971, the Bridge River valley communities essentially became ghost towns—even though people continue to enjoy sledding, mountain biking, skiing and hiking the rugged countryside, and many cottages ring nearby Gun Lake. The population of Bralorne may have dropped from thousands to tens, but it still draws adventure and outdoor enthusiasts.
AS THE LAST LIGHT OF THE COOL September day faded, Matt and I crested a hill, meeting the first stop sign in hours. Before us was the main strip of Bralorne, the Mineshaft Pub, and the Bralorne Pioneer Motel. The road leading to the Pioneer Mine ruins stretched out in broken concrete before us. We had found our home for the night and I cut the engine and pushed the bike to the curb in front of the old green and white mine office.
We had conquered the Hurley and made it into the South Chilcotin Mountains, 1,021 metres above sea level, on our trusty motorcycles.
ARRIVING IN BRALORNE
Matt went for an exploratory spin around the town while I reconnoitered the motel, where I spotted the office’s door-sized safe that once housed gold bricks from the mines. The motel was quiet, with high ceilings, hardwood floors, long hallways and a big bed and bathroom in my comfy room. The only other sign of activity was a sign for the town’s only coffee shop, Lone Goat Coffee.
The next morning, after a walk around Bralorne, I met Matt at Lone Goat for a welcome morning espresso and breakfast. We talked to Christine Devereux, who has run the coffee stop with her husband for over two years. She says business has been slow this year but there are “quite a few motorcycle groups—all guys” that visit the town during summer months, taking the Hurley, exploring the local roads and many trails carved out of the wilderness by original mine workers, then exiting via Road 40 along Carpenter Lake back to the gold rush town of Lillooet.
After a stop at the Bralorne-Pioneer Museum to look at artifacts from the bygone days of mining, Matt and I got on our bikes to continue along loose gravel to the abandoned town of Bradian, which was once a residential neighbourhood for mining personnel and their families. There had been up to 80 homes here, but they are now boarded up, dusty and silent, with rusted corrugated roofs.
After a few switchbacks beyond Bradian the remnants of the Pioneer Mine lay before us. Matt and I put down the kickstands and stepped off the bikes into the past. Although visitors have to use their imaginations, the piles of wood and scrap metal along Cadwallader Creek were the actual materials that helped this community become BC’s top gold producer in the 1930s. Some of the planks of wood would have fortified the original 1916 mill. Just visible in the wreckage were rusted steel rollers that may have ground up tons of ore in any given production day.
After picking through the ruins of Pioneer Mine, Matt and I swung our bikes around to visit one of Bralorne’s most vocal supporters. The owner of the Mineshaft Pub, Bruce Simon, is an avid rider, with a BMW R1200GS and a Harley-Davidson Road King in his garage. When we stopped by, he had just finished having concrete poured for the foundations of a house for his son on a property near Bradian. It’s a sign of the revitalization of the town. Bruce will be the first to tell you there’s more to do around Bralorne than pan for gold. “There are so many good circle routes spreading out from Bralorne,” he says, making route maps in the gravel with his work boot. “D’Arcy, Seton Portage, Tyaughton, the Hurley, and Carpenter Lake Road, they all create these great loops that are perfect for an adventure.”
Bruce originally came from Langley, BC, and visited Bralorne for the first time with family a few years ago. He liked the area so much, a few weeks later he found himself the owner of the local watering hole and a house.
After shooting the breeze with Bruce and his two construction buddies, Brian and Scotty, Matt and I rode off on one of Bruce’s recommended routes, the Carpenter Lake Road (Road 40) to get us back to Lillooet. We left Bralorne along a well-paved road, the downhill twisties offering beautiful views of Mount Sloan and Downton Lake and the lone purple house of the old mining community of Brexton before reaching the town of Gold Bridge.
We followed Carpenter Lake along 106 km of mostly paved road, weaving past the emerald green of the massive lake, and the big peaks of the Bendor Range on the far shore to our right.
The scenic ride ended in dry gorges near Lillooet, where slow turning switchbacks lead to the arid landscape of Canada’s hottest environment, and then the descent into Lillooet itself, where all golden paths once began.
by Marc Trevor Hughes Canadian Biker #303