Monday, July 6, 2009
Chilcotin Mountains Epic
Nine years ago, when I first moved to BC, I began to hear whispers of some far off Mountain Bike nirvana. Somewhere near a lake. Spruce Lake? Never heard of it. Which mountains? Chill what?
Details began to emerge about big days in the saddle, long nights around the bonfire, mountain passes, soul crushing climbs and endless ribbons of singletrack. BC has no shortage of quality mountain biking, god knows, but apparently this little corner of the world stands alone. So much so, it is a home away from home for many of the Whistler and Pemberton crowd, who themselves are surrounded by their fair share of trails. Many people would kill to have access to that terrain, but when the folks from W and P are bored and looking for a new itch to scratch, they pack up their trucks, and hit The Hurley.
I'd tried, unsuccessfully mind you, for several years now to make my way up there. Having lived in Whistler and Pemberton myself for five years, you'd think it would have been relatively easy, but not so. Circumstances conspired to foil all my previous attempts, so I was pleasantly surprised when I made my first call to Mike and a plan began to form. Several calls later, it was on...
After rallying up to Pem late thursday, I met up with Vinnie early on Fri, and we hit The Hurley for the long drive north. Two hours of dusty, rutted, steep, nasty fire road, we were at Freiburg campground, right next to Tyax Lodge. We set up camp, and headed out for a quick shakedown ride: Vince is riding a new Altitude, so we needed to make sure all the nuts and bolts were tight.
After a quick hour and a half rip up and down Cinnabar trail, we headed back to camp for a little r&r. The lake was cold, the beer was cold, the snacks were plentiful and the caesars were tasty. A few hours later Mike, Kev, Tony and Ryan roll in and dinner is served.
Saturday morning rolls around, and we saddle up for the big loop: we plan to cover about 65-75km, 3 mountain passes, and hours of singletrack descents. We roll out of camp at the crack of 10:30 am, to the sound of popping knee joints and with the taste of strong java lingering. The sun is shining, the bikes are shifting and going boing-boing with no issues, and the group is raring to go. We begin with a 40 min road ride to the first double track climb, that leads us up to into the park and offers the first glimpses of what's to come.
The best is yet to come
Two hours later we find ourselves at the old mining hut for a little lunch break. Mike the Whippet is flying up ahead, I'm chasing as hard as I can, Vinnie is crushing the pedals on his 2x9, Ryan is toying with us, and the two diesels Kev and Tony are chugging up the climb.
Well fed and rested, we continue up the climb to the summit of Eldorado Pass 45mins later. This is my first good look at the surrounding alpine, and does it look good! As it happens, there must be 20 or so friends from Whistler / Pemberton up there!
Team Whistler / Pemberton
They are out for a slightly shorter day in the saddle, but we shoot the shit for 20 mins and catch up. After the head off, we rip a high speed descent into Eldorado Basin, and start up the other side on our way up Windy Pass, where we encounter the steepest climbing of the day, which forces everyone but Mike to dismount. Luckily, unlike in eastern Canada, I've long ago learned here that it's OK to push sometimes.
Pushing through the pain
Long way to go...
One by one we reach the summit, an hour later and stop for food again. Up at Windy Pass, aptly named, it's cranking 35km/h winds, so we don jackets and enjoy the view on that high, grassy plateau. It takes all my willpower to not lie down and take a nap! We shake out our legs, and begin the REAL reason we are all here: EPIC DOWNHILL SINGLETRACK.
The blaze down the mountain, on a ribbon of dirt and sand that switches back and forth across the hill relentlessly. On a perfect pitch, with perfect flow, so that you are never gripped, never riding the brakes. It's 100% cash money. Nirvana. Over an hour later, we drop all the way down to Spruce Lake for a breather and more food. we're just over 1/2 done!
Floatplane dock, Spruce Lake
Pushing off again, we ride more of the same, but this time down surfy sidehills, through aspen groves and alpine meadows. Surreal landscape, really, for us Coast Mountain kids.
Halfway down, Alpine descent
It continues on for another hour at least, until we trickle all the way down to Gun Creek for the final leg: 2 hours of middle / big ring high speed singletrack along the creek. 9 hours after we left the campsite, we pop out on the road dusty, achy, but ohhhh so stoked. Last little push, 30 mins on the dusty fire road, and we're done. Jump in the lake, fish out the beer, and let's get some food going!
Reflecting around the picnic table, I gotta say, this was honestly THE finest day I've ever had on a mountain bike, in 19 years of playing with the damn things. If you ever have the time / means / legs, this loop is the ride of a lifetime.