Flying High, Riding Low
Words: Brian Goldstone
Photos: Brian Goldstone
In August we had the pleasure of hosting our Tyax and Chill contest winner Euan Camlin and his + 1 Angus Croudace for a week of some of the best riding British Columbia has to offer. After overcoming the first obstacle of getting the lads here from Edinburgh, we picked them up at Vancouver airport for the scenic 1.5-hour drive north to Squamish. That is until the effects of a long day of travel hit, and the scenery took a backseat to some well-earned snooze time.
Refreshed after a night’s sleep, the following day Euan and Angus came into the 7mesh office to meet the team, before getting sized and kitted out for their impending trip into the Chilcotins with the first part of their prize: a selection of all-conditions 7mesh mountain bike apparel. With the lads now looking the part, it was time to look ahead to three days of backcountry riding in the South Chilcotins, supported by Tyax Adventures.
But before boarding the bush plane (a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, no less), we decided to set aside a day to ride a few classic Squamish trails to help get Angus and Euan orientated to the local terrain, as an appetizer for the main event.
Late summer trail summer conditions were on point and the guys quickly set into sampling all the Squamish had to offer.
Looming over Squamish is the iconic In N Out Burger slab. You can’t be this close to it and not give it a go.
After a solid day of Squamish, it was off to Whistler to get down, or rather up, to the South Chilcotins. Anticipation was high as we waited for the pickup at the dock – if you’ve never taken a prop plane to the trailhead, you haven’t lived. After loading up the bikes, a quick turnaround of the aircraft had us winging our way to Lorna Lake, praying we hadn’t left anything behind.
The brilliant blue water of Lorna Lake is a jumping-off point for many great adventures. Once the plane departs the feeling of remoteness sets in – this is the for-real great outdoors, vast, unpeopled and wild.
Before setting off there was time for a quick safety debrief with our guide Bobbi, daughter of Tyax Adventure owner Dale Douglas, swiftly followed by a decision about our route for the day – 6.5 km up and over Lorna Pass to the evening’s camp or the longer 24 km option down the valley, looping back through Graveyard Creek and over Elbow Pass.
But the guys hadn’t come this far for shorter days, so the decision was quickly made, and we set off down the Big Creek trail.
The Route: Lorna to Bear Paw
With the early summer melt over, barreling down to the valley floor was as good as it comes, bar the usual mudholes which are always a guessing game as to how deep each one would turn out to be.
In a valley surrounded by peaks that each could rank amongst the tallest in the UK, we had to remind the guys to not just focus on the singletrack in front of them but to soak in the surrounding vistas. On more than a few occasions, expletives blended with the sounds of the trail as we rounded a corner to see yet another postcard-worthy landscape.
We entered into Graveyard Valley, sacred land to both the Chilcotin and St’at’imc Nations as it is a site of tribal wars in the past. A quick stop to read the monument paying respect to the fallen warriors before moving on towards Elbow Pass, careful not to stray from the lone singletrack.
Hike-a-bike. There’s no way around it; at some point, even the strongest riders will be off pushing as there isn’t a route in the area that doesn’t contain a pitch steep or loose enough to warrant getting off. Elbow Pass would be the first big push we encountered on the trip. Slowed by Patagonia-like headwinds, we worked our way to the summit holding our bikes like flags in the wind before retreating down to a calmer spot.
At the start of the day, Bobbi explained that the best way to have a successful trip is to ride at 70%. It’s a long way out with broken parts whether they are on the bike or body, with no prospect of a quick rescue if help is needed. Euan and Angus may have pushed it to 80% a couple of times on the descent down to Bear Paw Camp.
Rolling into our base for the night, it was a mere matter of minutes to switch into camp life after 6 hours on the trail. Wet shoes were swapped for Crocs while a fire was started to dry out insoles and socks. The cards were busted out for cribbage while we waited for camp host Neil to finish up dinner. As the sun set on the day we saw the only wildlife we would see apart from chipmunks for the whole trip when a grizzly calmly made his way across the scree slope above camp.
A night of high winds raging at the tent walls and forecasted mixed weather ahead made the decision to stay low in the valley pretty easy, saving the alpine passes for the last day. Rolling out of camp with full bellies and coffee buzz, we settled into a comfortable pace to shake out the legs from the day before. Not far out from camp, Euan and Angus’ holiday from the bike shop they both work at came to an end as they helped plug a tire for a pair of riders. A quick chat with the only other bikers we would see during our three-day trip, and we were on our way again.
The Route: Bear Paw Camp to Spruce Camp
With multiple creek crossings slated for the second day, the eternal debate about how best to keep feet dry raged. While some go the route of removing insoles and crossing in shoes, others prefer to go barefoot, carrying, or throwing shoes to the other side (not always successful). We went with the ‘screw it; we’ll dry off at the fire approach’ and waded through.
With an easier day in the legs and subsequent early arrival at camp, the guys set to work helping the hosts Nathalie and Loic with building a new boardwalk into camp. More hands made light work, and they got a chunk of the project done before hitting the lake for a pre-dinner swim.
Angus, a geologist by training, took the opportunity to inspect an alpine fossil bed – a rarity to see such a dense collection at 1500m.
We woke to an early-season frost, which had no one rushing to hit the trails. But with a 6 hour day in front of us and a scheduled flight back to Whistler, Bobbi quickly hustled us out of camp.
The warming sun had begun to peak around the mountains when we rolled out onto the freshly re-built trail around Spruce Lake to begin the climb up to Windy Pass. After 45 minutes off, on and off the bike through the trees, we broke into the sub-alpine to amazed expletives as the guys soaked in the views around them.
Topping out on Windy Pass the anticipation was high for the descent. Windy was living up to its name, so after a quick snack, a few gulps of water and the obligatory summit photo it was time to drop in.
What goes down, must go up. The sting of the grind out of the valley was lessened by the knowledge that with just one more push over Camel Pass we’d be rewarded with an hour of singletrack to the valley floor.
Euan and Angus had been more than patient with our frequent stops to document the trip, so we shot just a couple more shots before putting the cameras away and letting them have it down the Dog trails. A 90%-er.
Bobbi couldn’t have timed it better as we cruised into the Tyax base to our waiting plane. High fives and hugs all round, we reluctantly loaded up the bikes and started the journey back to Whistler, reflecting on a trip of a lifetime. But with daylight to spare the thought of few laps in the Whistler bike park did cross our mind.