Exercising demons in Bralorne

'I walked up to the boot prints and only then did I notice something that sent a shiver down my spine. The prints were fresh. And they were on top of the tire tracks I had put down just moments earlier.'

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Venture to the former mining town of Bralorne, B.C. for an MTB ride, if you dare. Photos: Bryce Borlick

This article first appeared in print in the August, 2018 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

Illustration: Benji Andringa

If you follow the old highway 40 until it dead ends, you’ll find a valley so deep with mountains so high that the summer sun hardly shines. In that valley you’ll find an old town with a rich history in gold, and you’ll find that the history comes alive in unexpected ways. At least that’s what I found the last time I visited Bralorne, B.C.

Abandoned miner homes in Bralorne, B.C. Photo: Bryce Borlick

When I arrived at my friend‘s cabin, I unloaded my gear and eyed up the town and got the distinct feeling that they were eyeing me up too. It’s only natural in a town with less than 50 inhabitants. Nevertheless, I felt right at home on the dusty streets, amongst the quaint houses and the ones long abandoned.

Bralorne today is a shadow of the bustling mining town it was in the mid twentieth century. During the Great Depression the mines extracted a whopping $370 million worth of gold and the local population grew to 1,500. Prosperity brought all sorts of amenities — a hospital, an ice rink and a telephone system to name a few — but just 40 years later the mine doors swung closed and the streets fell silent once again.

A cart from the gold mines in Bralorne. Photo: Bryce Borlick

It was late afternoon when I pedaled my mountain bike through town, past forgotten driveways dotted with rusting relics, beneath the watchful gaze of the mining ruins on the hillside above. The upper town site is remarkably well preserved, enough so that squatters had apparently taken up residence in a shuttered house and I could hear their faint music and voices. Ripe apples hung from a tree in an overgrown yard, reminding me of the lives well lived here.

Above Bralorne is a network of trails. Some are new, built specifically for mountain biking, but others are century old routes to the mines, boot beaten by the prospectors who guarded these claims so fiercely. My ride took me along fast and fun singletrack, under a high canopy of cottonwoods, on a trip through times past.

The author takes a ride in Bralorne. Photo: Bryce Borlick

On a particularly straight and fast section of trail I was suddenly pulled off the back of my bike by something. I landed flat on my back, slightly winded and confused. Had I hit a branch? Or perhaps an old rusty cable hanging at chest height? I staggered to my feet and surveyed the area and, much to my confusion, I found nothing. I paced back and forth and eventually concluded that whatever had knocked me down, wasn’t there anymore. It was disconcerting.

I rolled back down to town casually in the evening’s golden light. A signboard outside the Mineshaft Pub advertised “Pizza Night” so I stopped in to indulge. Locals seemed to be in good spirits — it was a Friday night after all — and I struck up a conversation easily with two miners at the bar. When I mentioned my odd crash and roughly where it happened, their jovial mood seemed to drop and they turned back to their pints. And when I mentioned the squatters at the abandoned town site I got a sharp response.

“No one lives up there,” one miner stated bluntly.

“Pretty sure I heard music and voices,” I replied.

Wreckage from yesteryear in Bralorne. Photo: Bryce Borlick

“No one lives up there,” he reiterated, turning to look me in the eye. “Those buildings aren‘t safe. Best to stay outta there.”

The palpable tension in the air was broken by a fresh pizza landing on the bar in front of me. I paid, thanked them for the conversation, and sauntered home slightly bewildered and intrigued by his comments. Was it a grow op? There was no power in the area and none of the tall grass was flattened by footsteps. What was going on? As I devoured my pizza and poured over backcountry maps that evening I kept asking myself this.

The next morning was cool in the deep valley and I got a late start on my full day hike-a-bike to the alpine. It was tough going and I pedalled, pushed, and carried my bike for hours up steep singletrack and over slide paths choked with avalanche debris. The panoramic view from the ridge was a fair reward though and the long ride back down was a good mix of buff trail and rugged backcountry riding. It was a long day though and I was tired by the time I reached the valley.

Nearing the spot where I had crashed the previous evening, I slowed and surveyed my surroundings for obstacles. Nothing. Clearing sailing, I thought, and yet once again I was pulled straight off the back of my bike. It was the exact same crash, in the exact same spot. I sat on the ground for a while. Eventually I got up and dusted myself off and turned to look back up the trail one more time. It was then that something odd caught my eye.

Boot prints. A pair of them, side by side, in the middle of the trail, just a few meters away and facing me. Someone else was in these woods. But how and why were they doing this?

I walked up to the boot prints and only then did I notice something that sent a shiver down my spine. The prints were fresh. And they were on top of the tire tracks I had put down just moments earlier. And yet those woods were dead silent with not a soul in sight.

I left Bralorne immediately and haven’t been back since.

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