Taking up the entire wall by the counter at Mile One Eating House in Pemberton, there is a giant topographical map of the interior of the Sea to Sky that you can peruse while waiting for your burger. As someone who is regularly in this position, I have spent a lot of time in front of it, and the scale involved seems to pique the imagination and encourage the seeds of many grand, or fanciful, adventures. One such seed for a gravel rides in BC was the idea to link the large lakes of the Bridge River area, Anderson, Seton and Carpenter in one day from Pemberton. Feeding the required route into my GPS planner revealed the true extent of the task.
What looked extremely achievable on a giant map viewed at a distance, is, of course, a series of steep climbs and descents totalling 4500m of climbing and 245km of distance with a roughly 60/40 split of gravel and pavement.
Beyond the physically necessary numbers, points of resupply and contact with the outside world would be few and far between. I’ve added my gear list here to demonstrate the balance I tried to strike between lightweight and planning for any eventuality.
Completing this in a day with some buffer to account for unforeseen difficulties required the extended daylight of the summer solstice and a good old fashioned semi alpine start to get on the road by 4am. With all bottles topped off, the first miles ticked by peacefully as the pre-dawn light revealed clear skies on the climb up to Gates Lake. This opening stretch allowed an easy rhythm as the tarmac rolled down into Darcy, with the promise of a full day ahead. Turning onto the Highland Road,
there was an immediate wake up call, as the now-dirt road pitched up unforgivingly to over 20%. Abandoning my stubborn instincts, I had to get off and push, sucking in the fresh morning air.
Once remounted, the road continued in a similar vein, trending upwards to afford some fantastic glimpses of Anderson Lake down below. The dirt was smooth, allowing for some fun, fast downhill as an antidote to the grinding climbs.
Rolling into Seton Portage on a short section of paved road was a breeze and the friendly folks at Lil’tem’ Mountain Hotel were happy to oblige for a refill of my water bottles. After a hearty second breakfast, it was time to tackle the crux of the route, Mission Mountain Road. This 7.5km climb at 11.6% average gradient marks the halfway point between the start and the final drop into the Pemberton valley. I had already planned to take this easy to conserve energy, however this is easier said than done when the recovery sections are still over 8%. One blessing was the gradually unveiling views of both Anderson and Seton lakes, impossibly still and deep blue in the late morning sunlight.
Once summited, the trail thundered down towards Carpenter Lake, loose rock and narrow tires allowing a few skids on the descent, before terminating at the Terghazi Dam and a small tunnel blasted out of the rock. Here, the route joined the historic Lillooet Pioneer Road, hugging the lakeshore all the way to Goldbridge and providing a welcome section of smooth pavement. With fluids dwindling, I had plenty of time to contemplate my shopping list at the general store, although the enticing vista of the Chilcotins pushed me on. The occasional convoy of off-road modified RVs were the only thing to break the peaceful, quiet rhythm on the gentle rollers.
Refreshed and recharged in Goldbridge, the road kicked up once again to Bralorne in historic gold rush country to join the Hurley FSR. This is a great and necessary road, however it is not in the same condition as any of the other dirt roads up to this point. The branch from Bralorne to the main road was narrow, with an intimate feeling that made glad of my accessible bear spray and the fact that it would only be about 10km long. The main road itself felt like a superhighway, although the loose and washboarded nature required constant attention and ‘surfing’ between smoother sections all over the road. The false flat climb dragged on as the surrounding peaks passed by until, finally, Pemberton valley opened up below and the road began to point down.
The freefall from this point involved a few stops to ensure proper brake function, a strong grip of the handlebars and a longing for some suspension to soak up the ruts that were pummelling my body.
Once back on the Meadows, surrounded by the bucolic charm of Pemberton after completing one of the best gravel rides in bc. I was fortunate enough to make it with time to spare, with no need to resort to emergency rations or headlamps, finishing back where I had started, looking at the big map on the wall.
- Chris Bowen
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