The Chilcotins kicked my butt last year. After 2 trips there in the summer of 2014 I had an arm injury that required months off the bike. Talk about a lasting memento! 😦 The bikepacking trip in July 2014 in particular was a sufferfest so I am not sure why I was so eager to go back? I guess I wanted another perspective on the place and a chance to put my hard won local knowledge to use by riding trails in what I thought would be the optimal direction. Sort of a greatest hits album with a couple new tracks thrown in for good measure. 😉
I met Scott at Tyax lodge on Monday 27 July 2015. We paid $30 for camping figuring we could then leave our vehicles at the lodge for a week with some eyes on them. We got off to a rough start when we realized there was a stove fuel miscommunication that meant we’d have to carry two different stoves as we didn’t have enough methyl-hydrate for my beer can stove. Good thing I had a spare backpacking stove with me. Beer was drunk. Tales were told and we crashed as soon as the sun went down as per usual.
Day 1 – Tyax to Spruce Lake
We got up and packed the bikes efficiently then rolled out of Tyax towards High Trail. It took a few tries to get on the right trail. I’m not sure why an area as popular as this doesn’t have a few more signs? The good news is we rode a bunch of extra trail and that was the only riding we’d be doing for the first few hours! Yes High Trail lived up to its name and was a ton of steep hike-a-bike.
We had just missed a big storm system on the weekend and temperatures remained cooler for the first couple days of the trip. It was still hot in the sun, but just normal hot…not crazy Africa hot like last year. Scott is faster than me at pretty much everything so I only saw him a few times on the push uphill. That was okay. I like to suffer in silence!
There was only one route alternate route option off the main High Trail. It required extra climbing. So of course we took it without realizing it until we ended up at the Eldorado Cabin. At least it was downhill back to the main trail!
I had been up and down the west side of Windy Pass a few times last August on our Chilcotins Basecamp Trip so I was very happy to see some familiar territory when we got to the top after many hours of hike-a-bike. The ride down on my Krampus loaded up with camping gear and 7 days of food was a lot more challenging than riding my unloaded FS bike last year. Still I was mostly riding and that was something new for the day. 😉
Getting to the main Spruce Lake Campground we were greeted by a large group 0f 30 riders who had their gear flown in. I’m sure most of them were fine, but sadly the few loud drunken morons who felt the need to be assholes near our camp while we tried to get some sleep pissed us off pretty good. I don’t blame the beer. I blame the douchebag drinking it.
All in all Day 1 was very hard and set the tone for the rest of the trip. At least it did for me. I’m not sure why, but I felt weaker than I should have and the riding/pushing really wore me down. This was the most food I’ve ever carried on a bikepacking trip and the push over Windy Pass from Tyax was much harder than anticipated.
Although the camping sucked it was wonderful to be moving through the mountains, enjoying spectacular views and spending time with a friend I don’t get to see much.
Day 2 – Spruce Lake to Warner Lake
We got up after a poor sleep excited to get the hell out of the campground and away from the losers that had ruined our sleep. Our initial plan had been to drop some food in the bear vaults at Spruce Lake so we could ride with about half our food and then resupply mid-trip. However, with 30+ people in the campground the vaults were full and we didn’t trust that our food would remain unmolested. If we came back and the food was gone our trip would be over. So we decided to just carry it all the whole trip which meant we didn’t have to come back to Spruce Lake.
We ripped down Gun Meadows Trail on buff sinuous singletrack down some lovely meadows to Gun Creek Trail. There we pointed our bikes NW and headed uphill towards Warner Lake. We were able to ride a fair bit of the trail between Gun Meadows and Trigger Lake which was nice. We took the lower alternate route on Gun Creek which is really overgrown, but surprisingly rideable.
I should note that we were happy to see that bugs were very light on the east sides of Warner and Lorna Passes. That made rest breaks so much more pleasant. The west side of those passes was another story, but we’ll get to that later.
We made good time towards Warner Lake reaching Hummingbird Lake and Trigger Lake without killing ourselves. After Trigger Lake we started a significant hike-a-bike to gain elevation until we were above Warner Lake. Then we contoured around the lake to reach the campground at the west end.
We had enough daylight we could have continued over Warner Pass, but it would have made for an EPIC day and we were both tired from a terrible sleep the previous night so we stopped early and chilled out in camp. I took the opportunity to wash some clothes in the nearby creek. Scott seems unfazed by his own funkiness. I on the other hand always dread putting on stinky 2 day old t-shirt in the morning.
Dinner was excellent. Both of us made some good choices as far as freeze dried meals were concerned and I had along a bunch of extra food to supplement my meal with. Looking back I probably had too much food, but it’s hard to nail down exactly how hungry you are going to be over 6 – 7 days.
Night one had been quite warm, but night two proved to be very cold. The last few hours of my sleep were fitful as my summer sleeping bag didn’t have enough insulation to keep me comfortable even though I was wearing my puffy jacket and long underwear plus toque. By the end of the trip I had decided to buy that down quilt I’ve been looking at despite the sucky CAD to USD exchange rate. I don’t want to carry my heavy/bulky 3 season bag on bikepacking trips and I am too old to suffer at night for easier riding/pushing. Thankfully there is a solution…albeit an expensive one!
Day 3 – Warner Lake to Iron Pass
With 2 nights in a row of poor sleep we were not at our best in the morning. After eating oatmeal for breakfast we sat in a meadow near camp in the sun warming up before heading out. Scott tried to ride the trail out of camped and crashed pretty good. I didn’t even bother and started my hike-a-bike up Warner Pass right from where I slept.
I knew Warner was going to be hard having come over it the opposite direction last year. That was okay because I remembered some great trails on the far side that should be an amazing ride down to the Taeseko River. I was just investing in good times later that day. So I kept my head down and pushed my bike. The chunky rocks were hard on the ankles as they shifted frequently. I wished I had some light hiking boots.
As I got towards the top things got silly steep and loose. The sort of goat trail where you push up two steps and slide back one step – then repeat. I started getting harassed by horse flies at this point and the sun was getting warm. Little did I know this would be much more fun than I was going to have a few hours later. Having last year’s hike-a-bike experience in my pocket I knew not to get attached to the moment and just keep pushing.
I met up with Scott at the top. The first time I had seen him in a few hours. The two of us going on a bikepacking trip is like two solo trips with a buddy to hang with in camp. Not much you can do when your natural speeds are so different. We enjoyed a break up high. Soaking in the views, munching on some snacks and battling a few horse flies.
Realizing I had a bit too much food with me I made a point of eating as often as I could. Both to keep energy levels up and to lighten my pack. I never did feel super strong on this trip even though I had been riding well all summer up to this point, but my pack was getting lighter so that was something to be stoked about! 🙂
The ride down the far side of the pass was going to be great I was sure of it based on my memories of last year. Too bad I was wrong. Things started off well enough as we bounced down the rocky alpine part of the trail. It was hard riding on all the loose rocks, but it was riding so I wasn’t going to bitch too much.
The problems started when we entered the tree-line with 2/3rds of the trail still to go. There had obviously been a big winter storm because there were a lot of downed trees across the trail. That meant frequent stops with laborious efforts to get rider and heavy bike over/under/around the trees. I don’t think we rode for more than 60 seconds at a time before we would have to get off and deal with an obstacle. It sort of felt like we had won front row tickets to see the Rolling Stones, but their flight got delayed and instead Nickleback got up on stage. 😉
This was a bummer both because we were tired and because it would have otherwise been a sweet fast fun ride down to the river. With no other choice we simply put our head’s down and worked our way slowly downhill until we reached the Taeseko River and the ATV track that would take us up and over the ridge between us and the Battlement Creek Trail towards Iron Pass.
We tried to have peaceful lunch break along the river, but it was fly-pocalypse! You could either swat a fly every 15 seconds or you could get bitten hard. Your choice. Needless to say we ate fast and started moving uphill. This ATV track turned out to be much steeper and longer than we remembered. Probably because coming down would have been very quick. The day was getting quite hot by this point with minimal shade on the track and at least 30 flies on each of us the whole time.
Resting with the flies assaulting us was impossible so we just gave it our all and pushed non-stop. Large fallen trees across the track were hard to get by due to thick branches and the steepness of the track. To say we were happy to see the top was a massive understatement. It felt like we had done 2 passes so far in the day and the flies were driving us crazy. So crazy we decided to set up our tents in the shade and take a break for a couple hours until the temperature went down. Frankly I think it was more a sanity preservation measure than a need for rest. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed laying down for a bit and not being attacked by flies. It was pure heaven!
Eventually we got up and started rolling again. If you are keeping track we didn’t ride our bikes very much so far this day and that trend would continue. After about 5 mins of cruising downhill we had to hike-a-bike bushwack to Battlement Creek. Cross the creek and then bushwhack up towards Iron Pass. We had a GPS track from last year that we knew would get us through, but it was still hard work with so much thick vegetation to plow through.
We did find a clear trail as we climbed out of the trees and bushes into the alpine. Sadly the trail was too rough and broken to ride uphill so we pushed our bikes. Our plan had been to ride up to a small lake near the top of Iron Pass. We got close, but as the sun started to set I decided that camping at the lake could not possibly be worth the effort compared to just setting up my tent where my feet were standing! It was a good choice as this turned out to be the nicest campsite we would have the whole trip. A solid wind kept the bugs at bay and we had amazing views in all directions. I was a bit concerned that our altitude would mean another cold night of poor sleep, but as it turned out it was nice and warm.
Despite hardly getting to ride our bikes and a ton of hard hike-a-bike at least we had an amazing campsite. Sometimes it’s the little things that make it all worthwhile. 😉