Bitching BC bikepacking! 😉
Bitching BC bikepacking! 😉
Day 6 – Spruce Lake to Tyax Lodge
Waking up reasonably early we were tempted to eat our oatmeal outside the “rippers'” tents and talk loudly about how we preferred chunky old school tech to modern flow trails, but we were too mature to resort to the eye-for-an-eye thing. Possibly we were also in a kinder gentler mood because we knew we’d be riding 99% of the time on the trail today. 😉
Cruising south along the east side of Spruce Lake we joined up with Gun Meadows Trail and enjoyed some high speed more or less buff alpine meadow riding. We merged onto Gun Creek Trail and kept dropping through forests and meadows on some amazingly fun curvy singeltrack.
A lot of the trail is on the softer looser side which you don’t realize when running 3″ tires since they provide just the right amount of float and traction to deal with the trail surface. When I was riding the same trail last year on my 27.5″ x 2.35″ tires I was shocked by how much I sank in and how much that slowed the bike down. Sections that were easy coasting and pumping good times on 29+ required constant pedalling on the skinnier tires.
My Krampus loves these sort of fast rolling trails and it was the one trail where I could stick with Scott most of the time. 3″ 29er tires roll faster than 2.8″ 27.5″ tires. Mild roughness equalized things and if things got really rough Scott’s full-suspension rig had the advantage.
This trail is so entertaining a couple hours whiz by without you realizing it.
After a good long section of forest singletrack you get into some rough techy double track that’s even faster and at speed just as entertaining with logs and rocks coming at you fast and furious. My cheeks hurt from all the smiling.
Eventually you get spit back on a dirt road. It’s still pointed down so you don’t mind, but if you’ve been here before you know that the ride is almost over and the last ~4kms are fairly climby and tough in the mid-day heat. Traffic whizzes by you to remind you that you are back in the world and the dust makes you wish you were already at the bar at Tyax Lodge.
I can assure you that first cold $7 beer at the bar was delicious. 🙂 I will warn you not to order the $30 steak at Tyax. It’s a snack sized meal. 😦 The burger is a better choice.
The Tyax campground was full so we grabbed some ice to cool our beer and headed to one of the free campgrounds nearby to relax and pack away our touring gear. I was both very happy to be done and sad that another tour was wrapping up.
It was great to spend some time hanging out with a buddy in such beautiful country. A lot of the riding and all of the hike-a-bike was hard, but we don’t mind an honest effort. Aside from camping at Spruce Lake there really wasn’t anything bad about this trip. The weather was perfect and the bugs were light in most places.
Having said that I don’t see myself going back to the Chilcotins for a longer trip in the next few years.
The bottom line is that hike-a-bike to riding ratio is just too high. Even for someone who doesn’t mind some walking. I think we averaged something like 50% riding/50% HAB on a time basis. That’s probably 25% more HAB than I really want to do.
I’m sure I will be back though for shorter long weekend trips where I’m not eating into my limited holiday time. I’ve got some specific routes to explore, but I can do that in 3 days of riding with less food/gear.
If you’ve never been to the Chilcotins don’t let the HAB discourage you. It’s well worth a major trip and seeing the amazing terrain for the first time takes away much of harshness of the pushing.
Day 4 – Over Iron Pass to Lorna Lake
Waking up high on the west side of Iron Pass to a glorious sunrise I was once again blown away by the beauty of our campsite. Simply stunning!
It didn’t take long to get over the top of the pass both because of the short distance and the reasonable grade. Up top we enjoyed the views and started the hike-a-bike downhill. Yup no riding down….at least not right from the top of the pass. Too much loose steep rock.
We did see a cool bear den where a grizzly had spent the winter as evidenced by the massive amount of fur and animal bones. And we got to ride/slide down some remaining winter snow patches which was fun.
Eventually the trail looked rideable so we gave it a shot. Both of us crashed good. At one point as I was tumbling down the side of the hill the trail was cut into I saw my bike flying over top of me! Luckily it was relatively soft so I got away with some scraps and a bump or two. I decided I could walk the bike a bit lower where the steepness relented and the trail was safer to ride.
I’m happy to report we did get to ride a bunch of the valley lower down. It was fun to be rolling and cover distance at double digit KPH rates for a change. I had a GPS track from last year which we were following. Amazingly the vegetation was so think in places we lost the trail despite having that GPS track. I was impressed we had managed to follow it last year without having GPS to follow, but I guess we had 8 sets of eyes to sleuth the trail.
Partway down the valley we took a break by a tiny creek to refill on water and munch some snacks. As Scott rolled out I snapped some photos of him then started out myself. I ran into Scott a moment later which was unusual. I guess a big old grizzly bear on the side of the trail will stop a mountain biker dead in his tracks! 😉 We yelled a bunch which did not interest the bear at all. Then I fired off a bear banger – careful not to get it behind him which would send him our way. He didn’t seem all that fussed, but the banger got him lumbering past us slowly about 20′ away until he was behind us and we could keep riding down the trail. I felt bad for disturbing him, but he went back to munching berries quickly so I don’t think he minded too much. I did wonder if that was the same bear who wintered up in the den we found near the top of the pass.
Funny thing was at the end of the trip when we were looking at photos on my laptop it was easy to see the bear down the trail in the last photos I shot, but at the time we didn’t spot him until Scott was right on top of him. His head was turned towards us in the photos so I’m sure he knew we were coming and just didn’t give a shit.
After the bear excitement we had a pretty easy ride down the rest of the valley. Yes I said riding! So nice to be pedalling and not walking! 🙂
Our cruising came to an end near the junction with Big Creek Trail where we had to ford the Grant Creek. Scott’s well worn Keen sandals blew out at the back leaving him with a SPD flip flop! I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to repair, but we sat down by the creek in the shade and got to work on it. A few zipties later it was functional and the repair held the rest of the trip.
We made our way south on Big Creek Trail to Lorna Lake. I was pretty impressed with how technical the riding was. It was a real challenge to keep the bike moving in many places. This is where I hurt my arm last year at the very start of the ride and I can now see why that happened. I was leading the charge with 7 guys behind me all amped up on testosterone. Not wanting morale to flag I gave it my all trying to make it look less gnarly than it was. In all that thrashing of the bike I badly tweaked by left tricep tendon. The next 5 days of riding/pushing probably didn’t help either! Nor did the next Chilcotins trip in Aug 2014 that started after just 2 weeks of rest.
Getting to Lorna we found 3 packs at the campsite, but no people. Some serious snacking ensued and we debated staying here for the night or getting over Lorna Pass and camping along Tyaughton Creek Trail. Scott was keen to keep going and I was keen to ride the fun singletrack descent on the far side of the pass fresh the next morning not to mention do the hike-a-bike while it was cool. Scott was gracious enough to go with my plan.
The owners of the packs showed up in the early evening having been dropped off by Tyax Air that morning and gone out for an unloaded loop that day. They were a nice bunch of guys and unlike the morons at Spruce Lake could hang out with each other and not make a huge racket!
They were sporting these very large packs and day packs on top of them. Their plan was to ride over Lorna Pass and then Deer Pass with those packs on their backs. That seemed bold, but they said they’d done it before so we gave them the benefit of the doubt as they were fit looking.
Day 5 – Lorna Lake to Spruce Lake
We got up after a great sleep. Amazing what camping with some considerate people does for your mood! Ate breakfast then sipped tea to let the other guys head out and up Lorna first. After about 45mins wait we headed out. I had a lucky crash at the bottom of the pass. Not lucky that I crashed, but I ended up wrapped around a large sharp rock that looked like it would have snapped my leg had I fallen 8″ further back. Whew!
Scott took off uphill like a rocket. I pushed my bike at a steady pace knowing the pass wasn’t too high although it was quite steep in places. Once I got out of the trees it was really pleasant hike-a-bike with a bit of wind to keep the bugs at bay. Tyax Air flew over dropping off a crew at Lorna before heading back to the lodge.
I really enjoyed the break at the top of the pass. It was bug-light, a nice cool temperature still plus I knew this was the last pass of the trip and a long downhill shred was about to happen. I’m glad we waited to climb Lorna Pass. I was feeling energized and I felt like I’d make much better use of the vertical now than I would have tired the previous evening.
The ride down didn’t disappoint. Fast swoopy alpine singetrack then into forested trails lower down. It was great to be riding and knowing that the rest of the trip was going to spent pedalling not pushing. About the only downside to the descent off Lorna was that it was over too soon. Probably a good thing as my brakes needed to cool! 😉
We took a break at the sweet campsite along the creek we stayed at last year after crossing Deer Pass. While we were there a large group of 18yr old shredders who had been dropped off at Lorna by Tyax Air rode by. They had a freaking powered sound system with them. I’d come to hate that fucking speaker by midnight, but I didn’t know that yet. They were “broing” and “schralpping” and “rallying” to each other for what went on for an eternity. You might say “Vik you are a boring old man with no tolerance for morons.” You could be right. 😉
The ride down Tyaughton Creek Trail was pleasant as it wound its way long the creek. There was some steep climbing and some loose “side hill of death” stuff to contend with, but for the most part it was rideable and it was lovely to ride. As the trip wore on the days got back to nearly-Africa-hot. So it was great to ride in the forest when possible. When we reached open meadows and rode along the un-vegetated cliff sides there was some roasting going on.
There were five creek crossings on this trail. Four of which were within a 500m stretch. I remembered the first two of the four so I had a couple WTF? moments when I got to the second two crossings. The water was nice and cool on my feet and not too deep – although one crossing was deep enough to be interesting. One of these days I’ll find fast dry shoes I like to bike and hike in. Until then I have to stop at each crossing to remove my shoes and walk across barefoot. It’s a slow process so I’m glad there weren’t more crossings.
Scott rocks some Keen sandals. I have no idea how he handles the steep mountainous hike-a-bike with those. My feet and ankles get worked over pretty good in some reasonable mountain bike shoes.
After the last creek crossing we climbed up over a ridge on WD Trail and rolled downhill to Spruce Lake. There were a few small groups of 2 to 4 people at various sites in the campground. We grabbed a spot in the middle that we usually take and had a nice time chilling with the remains of the sunshine, a dip in the lake and I did some much needed laundry. All signs were pointing to a great night….well except for some luggage piled up on the dock waiting for a group of riders to show up. They didn’t arrive until after Scott and I had already climbed into our tents to sleep. It was our luck that it was the same group of “rippers” that passed us at the bottom of Deer Pass. The group with the sound system. Who the fuck brings powered speakers to a backcountry campground and plays them after dark???
I won’t complain any further because I am reasonable enough to see that it was our fault for not assuming the worst and camping somewhere else. Lesson learned. I won’t make the same mistake again.
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. 😉
I just found a trip report Evan S posted online about our 2014 Chilcotins bikepacking trip. He added a lot of new photos and a fresh perspective on the ride through that special place. It’s worth a read. 🙂
I’ve been hauling around these Fiberfix kevlar emergency spokes with me on tours and brevets for years. They are tiny 15g kits that are about as small as a chapstick that can rapidly replace a broken spoke in your bike’s wheel. Having spare spokes always seemed like a good idea, but needing specific sizes for each wheel you own and protecting them on the ride so they’d be in good shape when you needed them was a drag. Not to mention the broken spoke might be on your friend’s bike.
Of course even better than having an emergency spoke with you on tour is not breaking a spoke in the first place! I never have broken a spoke on a bicycle in combat yet. I do that by:
Even on my trail bike that gets smashed into rocks at high speed all ride every ride I can typically go a couple years between doing any truing of my wheels.
But sometimes shit happens right?
Nothing you can do if a stick leaps into your spokes on the trail or if you crash and your wheel lands on a rock.
The other night I got a call from a friend who needed her bike wheel trued before a big ride the next morning. I agreed to look at her wheel. Once we had it in the truing stand we realized she had a broken spoke and that we could not make the wheel rideable without replacing the spoke. It was 9pm so getting a new spoke from a bike shop was not going to happen.
This seemed like a job for as Fiberfix spoke so I grabbed one and started to install it. The whole job took 5 mins.
The Fiberfix spoke will handle any size wheel. The cassette doesn’t have to come off if it’s a rear wheel which is nice.
Joanne rode the wheel for 90kms the next day on her ride and it stayed 100% function with no lose of tension in the emergency spoke. When she was ready to fix the wheel permanently she removed teh Fiberfix spoke and gave it back to me. It can be reused as many times as needed.
Light, easy to use, low cost, high functional and reusable. That sounds like a winner to me! 🙂
I had intended to do a proper write up on of my recent Vancouver Island bikepacking trip, but I’m busy with work, riding and planning the next trip. There never seems to be time to do a trip report justice.