Chilcotin – 3 Lakes Tour

Fat-Ti-Picolo-bikepacking!

Fat-Ti-Picolo-bikepacking!

BC mountain singletrack...

BC mountain singletrack…

Click for larger map...

Click for larger map…

The Plan

I’ve been wanting to get my mountain bike to the Chilcotin Mountains of BC for a couple years now. All the photos I’ve seen have been stunning and the trip reports glowing. I’ve chatted with a few people about getting a trip together, but nothing materialized until this summer when Doug [aka Coldbike] agreed to a tour.

I didn’t realize at first that he intended to bring his kids, but that became an interesting aspect of planning the trip since neither of us had been to the area. This would be my first bike tour of any kind with young kids so I had no idea what to expect from them. We guesstimated some daily distances based on reports we had read and a study of the maps we had.

Our initial idea was to do a 4 day loop starting at Mowsons Pond Campground heading up Gun Creek Trail to Deer Pass and then coming back to the start via Spruce Lake. Once we were on the ground riding it became obvious getting everyone and their bikes over Deer Pass seemed too ambitious so we changed gears and decided to ride an out and back on Gun Creek Trail starting at the Jewel Creek Trailhead to Warner Lake and back.

What trail?

What trail?

Splish Splash!

Splish Splash!

Time to push...

Time to push…

Getting there map...

Getting there map…

Getting There

Although Gold Bridge, BC [closest town to the ride start] isn’t geographically very far from Victoria [where I live] the realities of a ferry crossing and a mountain range make the trip an all day affair. I drove up the island to Nanimo and sailed across to Horseshoe Bay so I wouldn’t have to drive through Vancouver. I took Hwy 99 to Pemberton and then the Hurley FSR to Gold Bridge. That didn’t take long to type, but it was a solid 10-12hrs of travel each way despite being less than 400kms of distance covered.

Aside from the slow ferry the Hurley FSR is a lightly maintained forest service road which demands slow speeds and lots of driver attention. On the plus side the scenery along most of the route is stunning and after you get past Whistler traffic is very light.

Doug came from Calgary with two kids which was a 2 day mission.

Another creek...

Another creek…

A little tubeless love...

A little tubeless love…

Hummingbird Lake...

Hummingbird Lake…

Planning Resources

Here are the resources we used to plan the trip:

The heavily loaded Kram-pig!

The heavily loaded Kram-pig!

Tadgh ready to rumble...

Tadhg ready to rumble…

Doug and Fiona...

Doug and Fiona…

Fiona leading the way...

Fiona leading the way…

The Team

Our crew was made up of 4 hardy souls:

  • VikApproved on his Mighty Surly Krampus
  • Doug Coldbike on his half-fat-tastic Ti Salsa Mukluk [BFL on Clownshoe up front and Knard on a Rabbithole in the rear]
  • Fiona shredding on her Burley Picolo trail-a-bike
  • Tadhg riding a Salsa Mukluk on Rolling Darryl rims with 3″ wide Specialized Knard-Buster tires
Spruce Adventures Camp...

Spruce Lake Adventures Camp…

Play time...

Play time…

Wildflower...

Wildflower…

Trip Summary

Doug and the kids are going to write up a trip report which I will link to here. For now I’ll give you a summary of what we did:

  • Day 1 – arrived at Mowsons Pond Campground
  • Day 2 – started at Jewel Creek Trailhead and rode 11kms up Gun Creek Trail and camped next to the last footbridge over Gun Creek
  • Day 3 – rode to Hummingbird Lake
  • Day 4 – rode to the Tyax camp just past Trigger Lake
  • Day 5 – rode to Warner Lake and then back down the trail to Hummingbird Lake
  • Day 6 – rode from Humming Bird Lake back to trailhead and camped at Tyax Lodge
  • Day 7 – travelled home

Looking at the Ride with GPS map you can see that it was steadily uphill until we turned around and headed back the way we came. Factor in the often technical singletrack and the fact our bikes started out heavy with food and fuel. It was a tough ride for the first few days. Especially for Doug who had a lot of extra gear for the kids and a trail-a-bike to deal with. Tadhg was a trooper riding and pushing a 30lb bike which weighed half his body weight.

The challenges of the trail were higher than we had expected and despite a heroic effort from the kids our planned daily mileage just wasn’t feasible. So we re-calibrated to ride as far up Gun Creek Trail as we could without any specific distance pressures. That allowed us to visit 3 beautiful mountain lakes and enjoy the ride without turning it into a death-march that would scar the kids for life! 😉

You can check out the trip photos here.

Big wheels rolling...

Big wheels rolling…

Resting at Trigger Lake...

Resting at Trigger Lake…

Exploring by bike...

Exploring by bike…

Enjoying the view...

Enjoying the view…

The Bike

My Surly Krampus once again proved to be a very competent touring rig. There is a lot of rocky chunk on the Chilcotin trails and the huge diameter wheels roll over it very well. I managed to get over sections I just didn’t think were possible simply because I didn’t stop turning the cranks. That gave me the confidence to try harder stuff and the end result was a lot of smiles and a lot more riding than hike-a-bike.

We also encountered a fair bit of sandy loose soil which the 3″ wide Knards ate up without a pause. The combo of big wide tires at a reasonable weight really make this an excellent exploration rig as long as you aren’t contemplating deep sand/snow.

Having said all that nice stuff above the Krampus is a rigid bike. Even with chubby 3″ tires you can’t pretend roots and rocks don’t exist once you hit medium to high speeds. I will admit to dreaming about adding a full suspension bikepacking rig to the fleet to use for technical singletrack tours like this. Although I had fun on the Krampus I spent a lot of effort to keep my speed in check and find the smoothest lines.

I did get a flat on my rear Knard tire from a small sharp bit of wood or rock. This makes 3 flats in 5 months which is a lot more than I am used to with other tires. I suspect the lightweight construction is to blame, but I would much rather spend 10 mins repairing 1 flat on a tour than have no flats and ride on stiff/slow rubber. I’m not yet ready to go tubeless on this bike as the tubeless tires on my companions’ bikes seem to require a similar level of effort to keep rolling.

North end of Trigger Lake...

North end of Trigger Lake…

Coming out of the forest...

Coming out of the forest…

Heavily loaded...

Heavily loaded…

Perfect uphill hike-a-bike position...

Perfect uphill hike-a-bike position…

The Luggage

Since Doug was going to carry all the gear, food and fuel for his 3 person team I offered to share some of his load. That meant my normal Porcelain Rocket soft bikepacking bags weren’t going to be enough. I could have used a big backpack, but I decided to keep the weight on the bike and ended up with a set of Ortlieb panniers on an Old Man Mountain rear rack.

If I was just carrying stuff for myself I had enough stove fuel for about 5 weeks of touring and enough food for 14-16 days. Not an insignificant load!

On the plus side the Ortlieb bags and OMM rack were rugged enough to withstand constant pounding on the rough trail and being dropped, crashed on and snagged on logs at high speed. A couple times I was sure I broke something, but after dusting the bike off it turned out no real damage was done. So from that standpoint if you need to haul an epic amount of gear on a mountain bike tour I can recommend these products.

The downside was that the heavy weight made the Krampus a lot less fun to ride and in particular my concern for breaking the bags and/or rack meant I had to ride far more conservatively than I would have with rackless softbags. Even worse was the fact that during the many unavoidable hike-a-bike sections the left Ortlieb was exactly where my hip wanted to be for efficient pushing up steep loose terrain. This made difficult efforts nearly impossible as I couldn’t get good leverage on the bike and I couldn’t stand further away from the bike on tight trails.

Bottom line – if I had to haul this much stuff again on singletrack I would use a larger backpack and skip the panniers and rack. If I was on a fireroad tour that needed a ton of supplies I would be okay with panniers and a rack since I can lean the bike away from me as I push up a road in a way not possible on a trail.

Tadgh on the move...

Tadhg on the move…

Fiona hauling...

Fiona hauling…

Watching the ants...

Watching the ants…

Morning person...

Morning person…

The Kids

Not being a parent I really had no idea what to expect from bikepacking with them. When I saw Doug’s fatbike plus trail-a-bike I had a hard time imagining how that was going to get down a trail that was challenging to mountain bike on a single unloaded bike. To his credit Doug got his long rig as well as his two kids and gear up and down some incredible terrain. I don’t think I could have managed the same feat.

The technical challenges of these trails was maxing out both Tadgh’s strength and bike skills as well as Doug’s when it comes to a fatbike and trail-a-bike. Both were forced to hike-a-bike a bunch of the trails – especially going uphill for the first part of the trip.

The kids did their best and were real champs, but looking back on it I think we would have been better off taking them on a dirt road tour like the Canadian GDR. They could have ridden almost all of that, the extra weight of group gear wouldn’t have been as big a challenge for Doug and on a wide road we could have ridden together as a group more rather than having a bunch of solo experiences and meeting up at rest stops.

The Chilcotin trails would make an excellent family backpacking experience.

Aside from the biking the kids seemed to really enjoy our time at each campsite and it was fun to have some eager new faces along for the trip that were so excited for simple things like boiling water or starting a campfire.

We passed a few groups of mountain bikers who were on day rides in the area and left a strong impression on them. When we got to the Tyax Lodge at the end of the trip Doug received some compliments on his family’s hardcore-ness!

Another tough day to be alive...

Another tough day to be alive…

Sandy trails in the forest...

Sandy trails in the forest…

Buff dirt...

Buff dirt…

A trail with a view...

A trail with a view…

Alpine meadow...

Alpine meadow…

The Trails

The trails we rode were quite varied. There were lots of rocky sections, some buff dirt or sandy singletrack and lots of roots. We crossed many creeks and faced a bit of mud. The trails were both in the forest and passed through alpine meadows. Much of the time the trails were narrow and often the were cut into the sides of hills offering some decent exposure. As far as technical challenges go I’d rate them a 6 out of 10 for BC. Not crazy hard on an unloaded bike most of the time, but enough to keep things interesting for sure. Almost everyone will face some hike-a-bike sections unless you have the skills of a MTB God!

Although we all did okay with rigid bikes I would prefer to go back with an efficient 5″ travel full-suspension bike.

As you ride in on the trail system you will steadily climb so the ride in is a slower more challenging effort. On the way back out you are losing altitude so you’ll be rolling fast and the technical challenges will be easier this way. I can see why people pay for a float plane ride high up into the Chilcotins!

I would also note that the longer distances you’ll cover on these trails and lack of any help along the way means you should ride a robust bike and pack enough tools/supplies to fix common problems. Be ready and able to walk out with your bike should things go really sideways.

We turned around at Warner Lake which is just about at the tree-line so we missed out on the spectacular high alpine riding in the area. I am uber stoked to come back and head up even higher into the backcountry.

Campfire...

Campfire…

Breakfast...

Breakfast…

Not warm...

Not warm…

Bear locker...

Bear locker…

Team Dunlop sleeping...

Team Dunlop sleeping…

Camp mini-me...

Camp mini-me…

Camping

Each of the lakes we visited had an established campground. That meant a single picnic table and bear locker or two. Don’t expect too much! There was also ample wilderness camping along the trail in most places if you just want to set down a tent and sleep. There is an abundance of water along the trails so you can resupply frequently throughout the day.

Although this is bear country and you should take all the normal safety precautions we had no bear interactions.  We carried bear spray and bear bangers on our bikes. I also hung a bear bell from my downtube to make some noise. At night all our food went into odour-proof bags and then into bear bags or bear lockers if there was one.

The main issue was bugs. During the day it was fly-pocalypse and at night the mosquitos came out in force. As long as you were moving it was okay, but if you sat down during the day for a break the onslaught started immediately. I hate bug spray so I think next time I’ll bring a bug shirt and keep moving as much as possible.

Cooling off by the creek...

Cooling off by the creek…

More creek crossings...

More creek crossings…

Helping me patch a tube...

Helping me patch a tube…

Avoiding wet feet...

Avoiding wet feet…

Weather

We lucked out with a nice spell of warm dry daytime weather – verging on hot really at high 20’s deg C. Due to the altitude and camping next to creeks/lakes the night time temperatures were cold. One morning we found a wet rag that had frozen solid overnight. It rained lightly on us for a couple hours on our last day of riding. Just enough to keep us cool and stop things from being too dusty.

Man and machine...

Man and machine…

Keeping Dad hydrated...

Keeping Dad hydrated…

Navigation

The trails are not well marked, but with a paper map and a GPS it would be hard to get really lost.

Pretty in purple...

Pretty in purple…

and in orange...

and in orange…

Park Rangers...

Park Rangers…

Enjoying some good times...

Enjoying some good times…

Sketchy horse...

Sketchy horse…

Hikers and Horses

I saw 3 hikers during our time in the area and one group on horses. The horses were uber sketchy and I am glad nobody got hurt as the horses had a mini-freak out about our bikes, but given a 18″ wide trail with thick brush on both sides there was only so much distance we could achieve. Definitely ride within your limits and be ready to stop fast if you meet other trail users.

It’s important to note that mountain biking is a legacy activity in the Spruce Lake Protected Area. That’s awesome as most parks prohibit mountain biking except for very limited areas. However, that also means we need to play nice with other trail users so we can continue to enjoy riding in this amazing area.

Ultralight beerpacking...

Ultralight beerpacking…

Pushing...

Pushing…

Tyax Air!

Tyax Air!

Puffy...

Puffy…

Tyax Lodge/Tyax Adventures

The folks at Tyax Adventures that we met were all very nice to us. They offer all sorts of horse and float plane assisted trips. They also have a campground at the lodge with power, WiFi/pay-phones [at the lodge], showers and toilets that’s affordable at $20 a night. In general I can’t afford fly-in mountain biking, but maybe for a special occasional [like Sharon’s birthday] we might splurge and enjoy the luxury.

Traffic jam...

Traffic jam…

How far???

How far???

Uphill...

Uphill…

The Official Park Bird!

The Official Park Bird!

Next Time

I’m excited for my next trip to the Spruce Lake area of the Chilcotin Mountains. Unless a pile off free time falls into my lap I’ll probably complete the loop we had intended to ride over Deer Pass and back via Spruce Lake. That should take 3-4 days and with 2 days of travel it’s a package of time I can schedule without a major issue.

There is a ton of riding potential here limited only by your time and the fact you’ll have to carry food for the whole trip.

Doug and I are talking about a doing a ride next year with the kids during the Tour Divide on the CDN GDR. That should be a lot of fun and right up their alley.

Flower power...

Flower power…

Into the shadows...

Into the shadows…

Fungus...

Fungus…

Porcelain Rocket...

Porcelain Rocket…

Gun Creek...

Gun Creek…

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17 thoughts on “Chilcotin – 3 Lakes Tour

  1. Reblogged this on coldbike and commented:
    Vik has a nice summary of our recent trip on his blog, stay tuned for our writeup.

  2. So cool that looks like so serious fun!!

  3. Awesome read Vic, this trip is on my list…maybe next summer!

  4. Looks like a great trip. Good memories for the kids.

  5. Beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Awesome trip guys! We met on the trail, I was part of the group ride with Adrian form Tyax Adventure (I’m the one in the red shirt and green helmet on the photo “Enjoying some good times…” We were really impressed to see you up there with kids! That was very inspiring, hats off!

  7. HI Eric,

    Great to run into you again virtually this time. I hope you had a wonderful ride that day. We had a lot of fun and got very stoked to come back and explore further.

    We are glad to have met you!

    =-)

    Vik

  8. AWESOME trip!

    The RH and ghetto tubeless conversion works a treat with 27tpi Knards, at least. I set mine up using 24in inner tubes, Shraeder fitting, making them really easy to top up as needed. Likewise, I had a fair few punctures when I ran the Knards with tubes (standard 29in tubes, mind), and it’s a pain to pump those things back up! I recommend making the jump.

  9. @Cass – if we take out pinch flats due running inappropriately low pressures for high speed rocky terrain [my fault!] I’ve only had 1 flat on my Knards since I built the Krampus in March.

    On my 2 trips with other riders who had tubeless setups we ended up messing with their bikes at least 1 per trip as well.

    So I’m on the fence about going tubeless. If I had more flats I would be all over it, but BC is really not a place with too much flat causing debris.

    I can see how the situation would be different where you live in the SW desert.

    I’ll probably tackle the project at some point…I just have to over come my laziness! 😉

  10. Again, my experience of running tubeless is pretty limited. I was kind of dreading figuring it all out, but it turns out Knards/RHs really run nicely together – the fit is really snug, and they’re certainly way easier to set up and maintain than full fat tyres. Ghetto Tubeless is a bit, well, ghetto, but it seems to work way better than my official Stan’s conversion kit I used on my Rhyno Lites. No burping at all. I even reused the same homemade 24in rimstrip several times, when I was experimenting with tyre combos, and that worked fine too.

    Aside from thorns, which as you say is a massive deal in the SW, running the tyres at a lower pressure, without fear of pinch flatting, was the real eye opener for me. It seems to really maximise the potential of the Knards/rigid setup: lots of extra comfort and grip. Reading around the web, I’ve heard the 27tpis are a little less prone to sidewall cuts when run tubeless – again, probably not such a big deal where you are.

  11. Pingback: Chilcotins 2014 Mountain Bike Tour | Dirt Hombres!

  12. Hi, great write-up, I’m a fat bike lover myself and I’m itching to get my daughter out on her own fat bike, so can you please tell me roughly how tall your son is as I’m so close to pulling the trigger on a xs 9:zero:7 frame.

    Also what cranks are those on his bike, I’m struggling to find a crank that is the right length, that can also run a small front ring?

    Thanks In advance

    Sean, NZ

    • @Sean,
      I started Tadhg on his Mukluk when he hit 4’6″. He has long legs for his height, which gives him lots of standover clearance for his height. I looked at the Mukluk and 907 since they had 13 inch frames which were the smallest at the time. I had 2 concerns, one being standover, and the other being reach. The On-One Baby Fatty has a frame that is smaller still.
      The cranks are 145mm Profile Racing cranks with the 6 3/4″ shaft and a Profile Racing Imperial 23 tooth chainring. They also have a splined chainring that I believe comes in 18 to 21 tooth. Make sure you get the chainrings like the Imperial that are intended for 3/32 chain. I left the front derailleur on, but it is only a chain guide for the time being. I may look at a 2 chainring setup at some point in the future. His BB bearings are the internal ones, and I would much prefer the external ones like I have on my bike. I also have a set of spanish bmx bearings that I put into a raceface external bearing cup which works fine as a BB for the profile cranks.
      I also got Tadhg some smaller tires since the stock Nates were falling off the rims at the sub-2-psi that he was running for pressure. Since he rides with tiny pressure, he does better with tubeless since tubes don’t even stretch to fill the tire until about 5 psi.

      • Thanks so much, great information esp the crank stuff I was really struggling on now to get anything less than a 33 tooth front on the short cranks I like the look of (Redline ones from DansComp, which I used for her 20″ mountainbike and recommend 100%)!

        Matilda has a bit more growing to do before I pull the trigger on this bike then.. (I blame her short parents haha) – At least the options are increasing all the time so by the time I do get her one it should be even better.

        Sean

  13. Pingback: Chilcotins Aug Basecamp Trip – Must Read #1 | Dirt Hombres!

  14. What an adventure! Very cool and thanks for the inspiration to take it as slow as needed to keep the adventure positive.

  15. Fantastic stuff, thanks for sharing.

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