South Chilcotins Day 0: Vancouver to Gold Bridge, 15 Jul 2018

Day 0: Drive from Vancouver to Gun Creek campground

We opted for a relaxed approach to beginning our two-week vacation, leaving home around noon and enjoying a remarkably quiet drive through the city. Rounding the corner by Eagle Bluffs to get our first view of the mountains lining Howe Sound is always the moment at which we feel like we’ve left it behind, and the holiday begins. The water was a deep blue, and we admired the familiar high peaks of Harvey and Brunswick, both of which were snow-free. Gradually, Howe Sound became greener as we approached Squamish, starting as a wonderful aquamarine plume mixed in with the blue near Porteau Cove, the green taking over almost completely by the time we drove past the Chief.

The colours of Mount Garibaldi stood out in the afternoon sun, the layers of each successive lava flow clearly highlighted. Further up the valley, we passed the spectacular Tantalus Range, its jagged peaks piercing the azure sky. It was the perfect day for a drive up the Sea to Sky corridor! We paused on the outskirts of Whistler to stock up on some treats from Purebread, then continued on through the town. Green Lake was living up to its name, the Soo River matching the Green for colour. Nearing Pemberton, One Mile Lake looked inviting, with great reflections of the distant mountains in its still waters.

Time for a late lunch – Mile One, of course – and we filled up on delicious burger and beer on the patio, enjoying the shade to escape the heat of the day, and admiring the view of Mount Currie. Moving on, we drove up the Pemberton Meadows road, which we mostly had to ourselves. We passed potato fields, farmworkers making hay, fields with sheep, and horses. We turned onto the Lillooet forest service road (FSR), passing the hop fields, crossing the silty grey Lillooet River, and onto the gravel. After 8 km, we veered right onto the Hurley FSR and began to climb.

A dusty shape took off from the road next to us as we drove, and we could clearly see that it was an owl, probably a barred owl. Later we passed a grouse stalking the road’s edge. But that was it for wildlife. We ascended the bumpy road, passing the turnoffs to Tenquille Lake, and then the trailhead for Semaphore Lakes at Railroad Pass where only a few cars were parked. The road was lined with flowers, once we began to descend: Columbia lily, rein and bog orchids, and columbine all added splashes of colour.

Passing the 24-km marker, we noticed the numbers start to count down again, which seemed a bit confusing, but at least it was an easy way to know where the half-way point was. It was our first time driving the Hurley all the way through to Gold Bridge, and so far we were finding the road to be quite drivable despite its reputation. We passed some large wetlands, undoubtedly good areas for spotting moose, and later some hideous logging cut blocks. It’s clear to us that logging companies take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to clearing the forest: if it’s far from where many people will see it, then the landscape is just shorn bare. It’s an awful sight.

We hadn’t planned where we’d camp this night. I had my eye on a couple of recreation sites along the Hurley, which we never saw first or last so I guess those were non-starters. We were momentarily stymied by a very large open junction between two logging roads that we did not expect. Looking at the map, we were to continue along the left fork towards Gold Bridge, the right going to Bralorne. Back underway we were halted again soon after by the sight of a stunning roadside waterfall. We turned the car around and drove back over the bridge (twice) to see it again.

After climbing away from the waterfall, we soon began to descend again and when we saw the turnoff to Gwyneth Lake, we took the very tight turn to check it out as a possible camping spot. The road was narrow and very grassy, clover lining the roadside and the green strip down the middle that tickled the underside of the car. Bright red paintbrush was everywhere, and numerous Columbia lilies nodded in the breeze. After what felt like a long two kilometres, we reached the campground, an informal affair with a few flattish spots for tents and some picnic tables. We stepped out into the hot afternoon and were immediately set up by the local mosquitoes, picking up half-a-dozen bites in a few minutes. Maria startled a western tanager as she walked towards the lake shore. The lake looked pretty and had a lovely view over to the nearby mountains but the bugs had us moving on.

So onwards we went, returning to the Hurley and beginning the descent in earnest towards the Bridge River Valley. An optical illusion caused by descending the steep road had us thinking that Downton Lake was tilted away to our left, which we knew could not be true. Very curious! More logging scars greeted our eyes as we neared the valley floor, soon crossing the raging Bridge River and onto a smooth paved road again. We detoured briefly to see what Gold Bridge had to offer: a general store, a handful of houses, a closed hotel, and a pair of petrol pumps.

Back on the road we drove down the valley, its broad expanse stunning in the evening light. How I wished for a pullout to stop for a photograph! A few kilometres later and we crossed Gun Creek, where we saw a sign for the BC Hydro campground. Well, that was unexpected – we didn’t know about this campground – so we drove in and found it to be a lovely campground, and – to our surprise – mostly empty. Even better, it was free! We pulled into a great spot (number 8 if anyone’s interested) and set up the tent before sitting down at the picnic table to tuck into our dinner. The campground was hot and breezy with a wonderful scent was being carried on the wind. Flowers dotted the ground between ponderosa pines, and we picked some ripe and jammy Saskatoon berries for dessert. Delicious!

After finishing up, we went for a walk out onto the sandy flats just beyond the campground. Signs told us about this being the old townsite of Minto, formerly a mining town and then an internment camp for Japanese Canadians during WW2. Very little remained, just the footings of some buildings, the street layout, and some ridge-and-furrow features in the former fields where crops were grown. Rusty metalwork lay on the ground here and there – some pipes, leaf-springs from an old car or truck, a file, a horseshoe, and some lengths of chain. It reminded us of walking the bottom of Ladybower Reservoir in the Peak District when stonework and roads from the flooded village are revealed.

We watched the last light of the day disappear from the surrounding peaks and we walked back towards the campground. The western sky was a beautiful tangerine colour pierced by Venus, a dazzling evening star, joined by a thin crescent Moon. Movement in a tree next to us caught our attention and we stopped to see a garter snake draped over the lower branches of a spindly cottonwood. Very cool! The mosquitoes found us again as we walked – I picked up another half-dozen bites – opting for a circuit of the campground to get back to our tent. We wandered past Gun Creek, which was flowing intimidatingly fast, and loud enough that we were glad to be camped a bit further away.

It was time to put on the fly sheet having let the tent air out on only its second trip of the year, and we crawled inside to do battle with the mosquitoes that had followed us in. (This became somewhat of a recurring theme over the next few days…) The night was still warm and I wondered if I’d even need my sleeping bag. I cooled off eventually, but neither of us needed to zip ourselves in. We settled down for a comfortable night, lulled to sleep by the distant sound of the creek.

I got up at 3 am to attend the call of nature and admired the starry sky, a deep midsummer blue in colour. I walked as quietly as I could over the gravel, enjoying the still warm air, then settled back down in the tent for a few more hours of rest. This felt like a good start to our trip.

Day 1 awaits…

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