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.
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.
Here are the resources we used to plan the trip:
- Trail Ventures South Chilcotin Mountains Paper Map
- Tyax Adventures
- Backroads BC GPS maps
- NSMB Trip Reports
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
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! 😉
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The trails are not well marked, but with a paper map and a GPS it would be hard to get really lost.
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.
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.
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.