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Wayfarers beyond Whistler



For over two decades I have explored the wonderment of Whistler but recently I'd heard whisperings from the locals about a place 110 kilometres north of this Pacific Coastal mountain mecca, a place Whistlerites go to escape their resort home.

In the summer the shortest distance to this hidden gem is by automobile along the Hurley Forest Service Road, reachable via Pemberton Meadows Road. Mount Currie's 2,600-metres rules the south end of the valley and its namesake north on Highway 99 has been home to the Lil'wat Nation since time immemorial.

The Van Loon Family Farm, a modest size, 250-acre spread specializing in seedling potatoes, is the precursory vista before the Hurley road. At the gateway of this gnarly route, the Van Loon's youngest member has an honour stand — a hip vegetable stand filled with freshly picked veggies and cool drinks stored in three green, hand-painted, recycled refrigerators. A lock box prominently placed upon a shelf collects the money from customers (on their honour) after they consult the price-list menu posted on the fridges.

With over 50 kilometres of rough gravely road through pine, fir and aspen forest on soaring ledges, we passed the 30 km/h ride by bouncing between radio stations — Hits One and Classic Vinyl. We passed not a soul.

Midway, a sign piqued our interest: "No hunting bear, moose or elk." I secretly wished we would spot a moose. My husband and I hadn't seen one for over a decade and our two boys had never seen one. As we neared the Lillooet River at the turn off to Bralorne, an old dilapidated gold mining town from the early 1900s, a black bear shimmied across the road. We were no longer alone.

Carpenter Lake Road follows a 55-km long manmade reservoir home to three dams including Terzaghi, named in 1965 after Karl Von Terzaghi, the father of soil mechanics, elementary to dam building. Eventually all this water reaches the Fraser River, the longest river in British Columbia. This scenic, teal marshland vista led us to our final ascent of Tyaughton Lake.

Tyax, a 29-room log lodge, spa, restaurant and campground overlooks Tyaughton Lake.

Two docks flanked the western shore: one for planes and one for boats. Planes fly advanced mountain bikers to Spruce Lake for the ultimate experience. Horses are fenced in next to the campground and as we wandered by on our after-dinner stroll we wondered which ones we would be assigned to the next afternoon.

In the morning, the loons came calling as we paddled through the calm, cool lake complete with a beaver lodge and black cottonwoods. Tyaughton Lake lived up to its name, "jumping fish" in the native tongue of the Tsilhqot'In, as trout are aplenty.

After lunch, we weaved through the various single-track trails for a three-hour guided horseback ride, which began at the Freiburg trail. Bears enjoy eating the white bark pinesap and we passed a favourite spot where the pine trees were bare barked thanks to the local ursine population.

It was a scorcher — the temperature reached 27 degrees Celsius — and we headed straight for the lake to cool off after our ride and before dinner. When I opened my eyes underwater, face up, I could clearly see the partially scattered clouded blue sky above.

Chef David Hassel's tasting menu paired with local B.C. wines was delicious. We turned in early (9:30 p.m.) so we'd be well rested for our morning bike tour. A guide is a must, as the Chilcoltin trails are difficult to decipher.

The morning began with a flat tire so we headed out later than anticipated. The Freiburg trail lead us to Johnny's trails, named after John Anderson, who cut many of the paths. The sandy trails contrast Whistler's hard-packed ones due to volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Meager over 2,300 years ago. It was a solid two hours through single and double tracks winding through Saskatoon berry bushes, wild raspberries and orange red paint brush ending up at Pearson's Pond, home of the local beaver family.

After a quick Tyax lunch it was time to head back to Whistler. We detoured through Bralone, the largest-producing gold mine in B.C. between 1932 and 1971, to check out the infamous Sally's Pub. We discovered children were welcome before 8 p.m. 

Walking out of the pub, we reflected upon what we'd overheard there — that come winter, the locals skidoo up to Sally's for lunch.

As we passed the final ridge just before the paved Pemberton Valley Road, our youngest spotted a black bear cub drifting back towards the forest and I couldn't help but hope that maybe we'd spot a moose.