So Far.. We've Made It This Far
Words by: Kevin Landry
Photos by: Margus Riga
Keep on Rocking in the Free World
“Talus to the left of me, boulders to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you” this adopted riff had been playing like a broken record, on repeat, in my head for the last two hours as I hopped from rock, to rock, to rock. Blurring the line between meditative mantra and the subconscious ramblings of a crazy person. One who could be slowly losing their mind from hours of unrelenting rock hopping. Thankfully, every 5th or so boulder wasn’t anchored, moving when weighted, keeping us on our toes, both metaphorically and hyper-literally.
“We are like a pack of dogs… but in a good way, like a pack of good dogs” Fraser Newton remarks, after regrouping at the top of another arduous pitch of talus field. Fraser would know, a true renaissance man, who spent the better part of 5 years running sled dog teams in Haliburton Ontario.
The song in my head updates to an old Modest Mouse track, “A wild pack of family dogs came running through the rocks one day”.
Fraser continued, “On a mushing team each dog has their place and purpose on the team, how they switch out leads, not killing each other in the process, was the difference between the teams you’d race and the teams that would pull the tourists ‘round”
A surprisingly prophetic observation given the depth of the talus field we just traversed, and encouragingly hopeful given how much of the rock field remained in front of us. Fraser had been thinking about our group dynamics, while my brain passed the time by adding the word ‘rock’ to whatever song would pop into my head…
Dogs on the Hog ~ “What’s hogging and why are these trips named after pigs?”
gerund or present participle: hogging
“Any big bikepacking mission, is a ‘hog’, whether by yourself or with others” - Kenny Smith
- 2. DISAMBIGUATION
Hogging = Big Mountain Freeriding + Bike Packing + Ski Touring + mountaineering X Ultralite hiking.
- 3. INFORMAL
Freeride Bike Packing. Moving from point A. to B. in remote mountain ranges, with or without trails.
Since 2016 our little ragtag crew has been refining this style, colloquially referred to as ‘Hogging’ or ‘freeride bike packing’ as coined by our friend Brice Minnigh. ‘Hog’ in this context has nothing to do with pigs, referring more to the effort required to undertake these trips. While we love riding trails and singletrack, ‘Hogging’ is essentially a way to travel through entire mountain ranges that may not have many, or any, trails. The route is usually a point-to-point attempts to link up rideable ridgelines and chutes while minimizing any travel through the soul-crushing bush that fills the valley bottoms.
An 8-day trip through the Purcells in 2016 opened our eyes to what was possible on modern trail bikes; when equipped with technical clothing (thanks 7mesh), ultralight camping equipment, a sense of humor, and a penchant for suffering. We’ve been refining our systems and expanding the length, technicality, and remoteness of our routes ever since. Like bikepacking, these trips are self-supported, carrying everything you need with you. Unlike traditional bikepacking, only our sleeping bags are attached to the bike, allowing us to carry the bikes up mountains and ride down the other sides unencumbered.
This year’s route, as planned by Captain Kenny from the comfort of his office back in Campbell River BC, would wind its way through approximately 200km over 8 days through the Niut Valley, a remote Northern section of the infamous Chilcotins. The Niut is essentially where the Coast Range meets the Chilcotin Plateau. Unlike the ‘Chill’cotins it has no trail network and rarely sees even the most intrepid hikers, let alone mountain bikers. I’m not saying we were the first, but I’d bet we’ll be the last [mountain bikers] to that zone.
Dog Team Members
Lead Dogs - steer the rest of the team and set the pace. Qualities for a good lead dog are intelligence, initiative, common sense, and the ability to find a trail in bad conditions.
“...There may as well have been f#%$ing cows grazing over there and it was the hardest shit ever…” Kenny says, looking back at the snarled mess of terrain we’d spent the last two days traversing through, over and around. He was bang on, as compared to the convoluted mess of sheer granite, talus fields, and ancient glaciers that lay before us; where we had come from really did look like an idyllic pasture, one that cows could be happily grazing… and it really was the hardest shit ever. We’d ridden our bikes less than 10% of the time, pushing or carrying them for the other 90%… a great bike riding trip so far.
Peering down into the ‘Venus fly trap’, our nickname for the unpassable mess of terrain ahead of us, Kenny looked defeated. This was the first time he’d contemplated and suggested changing our route because the terrain was too complex. “Maybe we are getting smarter”, he mused, but realistically we are just getting softer older. The steady decline in temperature and baro pressure saw everyone hunkering down in their Outflow puffies and Revelation shells, helping to justify our decision while preserving a fraction of our collective egos.
“Stuck in the bottom of the flytrap on a sunny day would be soul-crushing, add 20 centimeters of snow, and hell we might still be there…” alter
Kenny in his younger years was infamous for building and riding some of the gnarliest features in the Sea to Sky region. His old lines and features still stand up more than 15 years later, being rebuilt, shot, shared, and claimed by local ‘Youtubers’. Being at the sharp edge of Big Mountain riding has definitely honed Kenny's decision-making while killing any remnants of his past youthful ego that would put him and our team at elevated risk. Turning away from the ‘Venus Fly Trap’ was real leadership when pushing on would have been foolhardy.
Directly behind the leader, they swing the rest of the team behind them in turns or curves on the trail & mountainside. Qualities that make up good swing dogs are tenacity, vision, alertness, trust, and a deep reserve of strength and power. Swing dogs inspire both the dog(s) in the lead and the dog(s) following.
While the age gap between Margus Riga and Peter Wojnar is the widest in our group, they both share an uncanny vision for the art of adventure mountain bike trips. Coupled with the impressive, yet annoying, ability to reach the top of any climb first; with their cameras, out, shooting by the time the ‘athletes’ crest the top. When the light or landscape is right, both Margus and Peter naturally unharness themselves from the ‘swing dog’ position, deftly assuming the lead dog(s) role, directing the action in pursuit of still photos and moving images.
Defeated and dejected after turning around from the Venus Fly Trap, it was Margus’s read of the terrain from his photographer's point of view that brought our morale back up. He simply reminded us “At least the photos won’t suck if we go that way” gesturing to the valley of grey shale we had passed the day before. Our new plan was to ride up the valley, camp at the base of its ominous headwall, and hope the terrain on the other side would be rideable and connect to our original route. Actually, climbing the headwall? Well, that was a problem for ‘future us’ i.e. the next morning. After setting camp, the relentless rain, hail, and howling wind that pelted us that evening was a visceral reminder that we had made the right choice. Margus, clad, head-to-toe in a full GTX 'action suit' joked about how desperate we'd be if we hadn't stopped into 7mesh HQ before leaving Squamish.
Margus, clad in full GTX head to toe, wearing his Skypilot Jacket and Thunder Pants was quick to point how just how comfortable he was as we pedalled from camp towards the headwall in the morning.
Nearest the sled and musher, a good wheel dog should possess a calm temperament so as not to be startled by the sled moving just behind. Strength, confidence, steadiness, and the ability to help guide the sled around tight curves and manage unknown obstacles are qualities valued in wheelers.
Fraser Newton, whose dog sled analogy this is, is the team’s wheel dog. Happy to climb at his own pace and calm as a cucumber when the descents get gnarly, regularly dropping in first or riding the most technical lines. The first guy to unpack his tent fly, turning it into a group shelter when heavy weather hits, or sharing his boil-a-bag deserts when you’re low on calories… granted he’s the only guy who brings dehydrated cheesecake and chocolate mousse. But I digress.
However, it’s when there is a technical issue with the bikes you’ll see Fraser go from wheel dog to lead dog. Hell, Fraser will find an issue with your bike and have it fixed before you realize it was even happening. On this trip, a persistent creak in Margus’s bike led to Fraser building a backcountry bearing press from the rocker links on his own bike, re-seating Margus’s main pivot bearings. And the bike is still silent to this day…
Go Dogs Go
As the crow flies, our new route was a ‘shortcut’, but not without its own unique challenges. Specifically, a glacier, which fed into an unstable talus field, immediately leading into a few pitches of grade 5 scrambling. One hand to balance your bike on your pack, one hand on the rock at-all-times type steep. Topping out we were greeted with sideways rain, and fresh cutting wind as we were no longer sheltered by the lee side of the ridge.
Zipping up my Revelation to cut the wind and rain, ‘Take it Easy’ by the Eagles starts to play in my head… “Take it easy, Take it easy, don’t let the sound of the wheels, Fraser built you, drive you crazy”... At least this was the easy way, I thought to myself.
At the most reductionist, trips in the mountains either work out or they don’t, it's binary once you get down to it. While we didn’t know it yet, with the five of us were still holed up in Fraser’s tent at ridgetop, this trip was about to work out. Waiting for us just outside the tent was a phenomenal descent into a valley, framed wall-to-wall with chutes just begging to be lapped. Storm over, we set base camp up for two days and methodically ticked them off - right to left, every one. The weather was beautiful, the dirt was tacky, and we even went for a few swims
in the lake by our camp. Of course, the fireside yarns always worked their way back around to the Venus Fly Trap, and what could have been.
Of course at that point we didn’t know the mellow 15km “trail” back to the trucks was actually a 25km overgrown mess of pain and frustration. Bush so thick we had to remove our pedals just to get through… but that’s hogging.
There is no bad weather… only bad gear
7mesh GTX: Skypilot & Revelation Waterproof Jackets
On a trip like this you can bring two sets of clothes, your wet kit, and your dry kit. If your ‘wet kit’ doesn't keep you dry you’re going to have a bad time, like a hypothermic, uncontrollable shivering type of bad time. Again similar to ski touring your outer storm protection layer is more survival gear than a stylish jacket. 7mesh’s Skypilot & Revelation jackets are the ultimate options, and they both make survival look pretty stylish IMO. A fit cut for mountain biking so nothing bunches up under your pack or gets in the way when you actually point the bike downhill. Your shell is your first line of defence against inclement weather, unrelenting soul-crushing bush and the unfortunate (but inevitable) crashes. Having a shell you can beat the living s#$t out of and doesn't feel like you’re wearing a plastic bag when the going gets… aerobic is an absolute essential on multi-day trips like this one.