Sun, Sand and Desert Single-Track: Bikepacking Arizona’s Superstition Mountains

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another (J. Muir, Our National Parks, 1901)

The desert is a landscape shaped by the destructive forces of water, wind, and  sun. Constantly in flux, never the same from one day to the next.  Yet its stunningly beautiful: from its coarse sedimentary rocks shaped like meringues, to its massive pillars of red stone and box canyons. Contrast is everywhere: blue sky with red rock,  green springs with  sand, cacti with rock, grey moonlight with yellow sun. Arizona’s Superstition Mountains and the hills that surround the Phoenix area are no exception. I recently spent ten days exploring the Superstitions and riding local trails at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Brown’s Ranch and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Pack your mountain bike, sun screen and plenty of water and head south.

Superstition Mountains

Located 65 kilometers east of Phoenix, the Superstition Mts. are a fantastic mountain biking, bike packing (touring), hiking and camping destination. If you’re riding a bike, stick to state land on the southern edge of the range. Hikers can enjoy the Wilderness area to the north.

Loaded and ready to ride
Sunset over the Superstitions
just northeast of Apache Junction
Looking southeast from the Lost Goldmine Trail.
A purple sky and black rock sunset.
The moon emerging in the east.
A Cholla cactus.
Another type of Cholla cactus.
A young Saguaro cactus.
A Palo Verde tree.
A Saguaro cactus standing tall.
After it rains, water collects in small rock pools. You can use a Lifestraw to hydrate yourself. This was the only water source that I could find along the entire length of this trail.

Hewitt Canyon

This multi-use recreation area is just east of  the historic  community of Queen Valley and can be accessed via. Highway #60.  Hewitt Canyon road winds its way north through gently rolling terrain and some great geo-features such as Hewitt and Roblas Canyon  as well as Hewitt Canyon Arch. This roads eventually summits Montana Mountain (5, 528 ft.), where it crosses the  Arizona Trail which can be ridden downslope to Hwy. #60.

A well-used gravel road winds it way up Hewitt Canyon, just north of Queen Valley.
Palo Verde trees provide some much-needed shade and a great campsite.
A Hewitt Canyon windmill.
A windmill filled tank is one of the few sources of water along Hewitt Canyon Road.
Looking north from Hewitt Canyon road.

Brown’s Ranch Single Track

Just thirty minutes north of Phoenix, this popular multi-use trail network is a favorite of local riders. With flowey single-track,  interesting geologic features and fantastic views of the Sonoran desert, Brown’s Ranch  is a must-ride area.

We see the world from our own perspective. Looking at things from another perspective, like the view from this rock pile, will make us better citizens.
There are large piles of eroded sandstone all over this area.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Just north of Apache Junction, this regional park has flat valley-bottom riding , some flowey toe-slope single-track and some tough rock-garden ascents and descents. Like all of the Superstition Mountains, the landscapes are stunning.

The sun rises overs Cat Peak trail.
The trail descends into a dry wash.
Sandy single-track along the valley floor.

Some rocky sections along the toe-slope of the mountain.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve and the Phoenix Canal System

Just a few minutes from downtown Phoenix, this multi-use urban park has some great beginners single-track that provides awesome views of the desert, hills and city. If you connect this park with the Arizona Canal Trail,  you can enjoy hours of leisurely urban trail riding. This 40 km canal system, runs northwest-southeast through the city. With flat, paved and unpaved trails, often going both directions, the canal is a fantastic ride especially for bikepackers who want an easy traffic-free ride out of the city. This trail system also provides access to many areas of the city including other parks, restaurants and even bike shops such as a the Trailhead Bike Cafe.

A typical un-paved section of the Arizona Canal Trail.
There are many interesting things to see along the canal.

 

 

Getting Steamy on Portage Mountain

Hudson’s Hope, British Columbia is well-known for its massive hydroelectric dam and Williston lake, however, this area also has some fantastic geographic features such as the Portage Mountain Steam Vents.  These naturally occurring vents are just outside of town and are accessible by mountain bike, foot or ATV. They also provide great views of the WAC Bennett dam and Williston and Dinosaur lakes. Add this adventure to your summer or winter bucket list: you won’t regret it!

Park at the trapper’s shack on Canyon drive, just west of Hudson’s Hope. Ride to the junction of the power lines and Canyon drive, then follow the lines until they head north. This upslope section is heavily eroded, so you make have to hike-a-bike for 500 meters or more. You will eventually emerge on the bottom slope of a small ski hill. Ride upslope to the lodge, then head east down the road.

Looking south down Williston lake
A liquid gold sunset

Two hundred meters past the ski lodge is a junction, take the narrow road heading east and follow it downslope to the power lines right-of-way. Head north, until the trail switchbacks around and over a small creek, then upslope to a level area. The trail head to the steam vents is just on the east side of the road.

This ATV width trail winds its way downslope along a pine and spruce covered ridge and emerges on the rim of the Dinosaur lake canyon. A short trail runs downslope through an aspen stand then emerges on a grassy slope.

The ATV width access trail to the steam vents

Dinosaur Lake

The steep trail down to the steam vents
The steam vents

Interestingly, these vents don’t smell like rotten eggs (sulphur) and my guess is that they are more prominent in winter when there is a major temperature differential. There is room for a small camp on the south side of the vents, but you are fully exposed to the elements and there is no water in the area.

These steam vents are the only terrestrial geothermal feature–that I am aware of–in northeastern British Columbia. They are well worth a visit. Furthermore, there are some interesting sand dunes on the northwest side of Portage Mountain. Check out my post about the dunes and the massive earth work Art Project that is located there: Hidden in the Sands.

Check out this link for more information about Hudson’s Hope. 

 

 

 

Front-Country Fatbiking in Jasper, Alberta

Scenic single-track, stunning views, wildlife and epic cross-country rides are just minutes away from downtown Jasper, Alberta. Even better: these trails are virtually empty in the late fall!  Three of my favorite trails include Pyramid to Katrine Lake, the Athabasca River trail (west and east) and the Valley of the Five Lakes network.  Check them out this fall or winter–you won’t be disappointed.

Valley of the Five Lakes Trailhead
Some double-track on the east side of the Athabasca river between Beauvert Lake and the northern most bridge
Single-track winding through pine grass and aspen
A Douglas fir stand near Pyramid lake
A stunning view of Jasper and the Athabasca river valley
Pyramid Mountain and lake
Looking north down the Athabasca river just adjacent to the Maligne river

The “googley-eyed” bear
A bighorn sheep grazing near the Valley of the Five Lakes trail

The view from the  Bear Paw Cafe in downtown Jasper

For more info about front-country mountain biking in Jasper National Park go to Jasper Travel. You will definitely want a map when exploring this huge network of trails. Download this map produced by Parks Canada. Remember: tell someone where your going, dress for the weather and always bring survival gear.

 

 

Free Five-Star Accommodations in Northern British Columbia

Northern British Columbia is well known for its accessible mountains, rivers, lakes and unlimited opportunities for adventure: It’s an outdoors person’s paradise! But did you know that the north also has some of the best free five-star accommodations anywhere? Next time you’re planning a backcountry adventure include a stay in one of these luxury cabins.

1. Morfee Mountain

This brand new backcountry cabin is located approximately 15 kilometers up the Morfee Mountain Forest Service Road, just outside Mackenzie, BC. Check out The Morfee Mountain Hop for more info.

 

2.  The “Old Trappers Cabin” 

It’s a tough ride into this almost all-inclusive cabin on Tabor Mountain. However, its well worth the effort. Its dry, has a cool wood stove and you get to spend some quality time with a family of mice and some squirrels. Apparently there are rainbow trout in the adjacent wetland. No outhouse included. Check out the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society for access and trail info.

3. The Troll Lake Cabin

This fantastic Tabor Mountain cabin has a great view of Troll Lake and is only a two kilometer ride or hike from Tower Road. While there is no outhouse or functioning wood stove, there is definitely a roof over your head and a door that closes. For access info download the  Tabor Mt. Recreation Society access map.

 

4. McBride Mountain Shelter

Windows and doors are not included in this mid-mountain shelter. However, the 180 degree view of Robson Valley view is second to none. Also included is an  outhouse, 50 meters down the road!  With a only a 7 kilometer ride, hike or drive up the unmaintained forest service road, you will want to add this chalet to your bucket list. For more info about McBride mountain click on McBride Mountain Madness.

5. McBride Mountain Fire Lookout

If the mid-mountain cabin is booked, then simply ride or hike another 8 kilometers to this alpine retreat. With windows, a door and a roof, what’s not to like about this retreat center?

6. Livingstone Springs Trapper’s Cabin

This heritage cabin is only a seven kilometer ride or hike from  Crooked River Provincial Park. With plenty of fresh water, squirrels and mice, you will want to book this accomadation asap.

7. Red (Grizzly Bear) Mountain Backcountry Cabin

All kidding aside, this is an all-inclusive subalpine cabin. Just bring your own food, clothes, and sleeping bag and you’re good-to-go. The cabin includes everything you need for a comfort-filled holiday; from a bbq to cookware, to plush foam mattresses. Grizzly bear, mule deer  and caribou frequent the area so you will have lots of company.  The outhouse has a  stellar view and there is fresh mountain spring water nearby. For more info or to book this cabin go to  the Prince George Backcountry Recreation Society.

8. Portage Mountain Trapper’s Cabin

Located approximately 20 kms west of Hudson’s Hope–near Portage Mountain–this streamlined cabin is apparently not open to the public. It’s nice to look at nonetheless.

9. Great West Life Mobility Park Cabin

This dilapidated yet rustic cabin is adjacent to the Prince George Snow Machine Club at the end of Scott Road. Watch out for the collapsing metal sheeting on the veranda and the broken glass inside. It will keep you dry in a pinch. Click here for more info about the Great West Life Mobility Park.

10. The Partially Completed Cranbrook Hill Cabin

This windowless, doorless and roofless cabin is only a short ride from UNBC. You will need a ladder and tarp if you’re spending the night in this unit.

Hidden in the Sands: Northern BC’s “Peace Sanctuary”

The dunes emerge out of the landscape under the watchful eye of Portage Mountain

The hot summer sun was relentless. Portage Mountain’s bold ridge-line loomed in the distance. My anticipation built as I pushed up the gravel access road into one of British Columbia’s unique geographic features: the Portage Mt. Sand Dunes, near Hudson’s Hope. As I crested the hill and emerged on an open bench the wind blew hard off of Williston Lake bending the cottonwood saplings into submission.

Riding towards the eastern rim, I found a large 4×8 ft. sign lying on the ground. Its white background and multi-colored letters seemed incongruous to this desolate dune. It was made of thin aluminum sheeting on plywood. Lifting the sign and gingerly balancing it against a couple of sticks I snapped some pictures. Suddenly, a burst of wind snatched it from my grasp.

The abandoned sign

What was this? Why was it here? I was curious and slightly unnerved. Someone put serious effort into this sign. I looked around the dunes, but I was alone. The printing was clear in some places and fuzzy in others. A dark black tire mark crossed the center of the sign like a redactor’s slash. Quickly reading the text, ““Peace Sanctuary” by Canadian artist Deryk Houston.” I also noticed Iraq, children and rock. As I rode around the dunes I saw nothing but sand, an infinite number of tracks and a few rock piles.

Unbeknownst to me, beneath the sand in a depression  to the north, lay a massive landscape art project consisting of rings with paleolithic-like faces and symbols within the center. Called the “Peace Sanctuary,” this was the first major project of the artist Deryk Houston. While presently only visible from Google Earth, this massive design connects two different countries and cultures, raising awareness about the devastating effects of war in the hopes of creating lasting peace.

Portage Mountain Sand Dunes

A Google Earth image showing the sand dunes and access trails

Located 23 kilometers west of Hudson’s Hope and adjacent to the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, the Portage Mt. dunes are actually a massive Glacial Moraine. This geologic feature is a result of advancing ice sheets picking up and grinding rocks which are then exposed–on the edges, and at the end–as the ice retreats. Moraines are characterized by unsorted sands, gravels and stones. While this area is well-known to local ATV and dirt bike enthusiasts, I was hard pressed to find any who had actually been there. Fortunately, the local ATV club had posted a .gpx file of the trail network, on the internet, which I downloaded into Avenza Maps on my iPhone 6.

The gravel access road gradually ascends to to a bench which provides a great view of both the mountain and dunes. While easy climbing, the road can be tricky to negotiate due to the loose gravels and stones that cover the surface. It was perfect for a fatbike with four inch tires.

The Artist

Deryk Houston is a Victoria based Canadian-Scottish artist who has exhibited his work internationally. His farming background, love of working with his hands and a fascination with ancient art forms such as earthworks, spirals and labyrinths has influenced his large public pieces. Houston also paints. His works are characterized by a vibrant mixture of orange, red, blue and black lines, stars, waves, clouds, text, animals and primitive stick figures. He also has created some interesting 2-D paintings. Perhaps more importantly, he is a dogged advocate for peace and those impacted by war, especially Iraqis affected by the first Gulf War, subsequent conflicts and international sanctions.

In 2000 he visited Iraq and installed his “Sanctions Painting” at the Baghdad Arts Center and the following year a “Bomb Shelter” piece in a bombed out building that is now a memorial to those who died in a US attack. In 2002, he exhibited at the “Art for Mankind” show in Baghdad and supervised the construction of a 24 foot bronze sculpture in Iraq’s Peace Sanctuary. The same year he constructed the massive “Peace Sanctuary”  stating that his “intention was to help the Iraqi people and try to get the world to understand that bombing only causes other problems…At the same time, it helped to heal my own heart after witnessing some terrible things in Iraq.” The “Peace Sanctuary” garnered national attention: so much so that the National Film Board of Canada commissioned a film—“From Baghdad to Peace Country”—which premiered internationally in 2003. Houston feels that his work has made an impact on Canada’s geopolitical position towards Iraq and the Gulf War.

The Peace Sanctuary

The “Peace Sanctuary” (Photo Credit: W. Sawchuck, D. Houston)

Deryk’s trips to Iraq marked his soul. The crumbling buildings, open sewers, poverty and hospitals overflowing with the sick and dying were impossible for him to forget. Thus, he decided to create a landscape art project to raise awareness of the plight in Iraq. Wanting a remote location–so that people who have to put in effort and commitment to find it–he began researching a suitable location. He even called the famous Canadian author, Farley Mowat. Surprisingly, the provincial government was the most helpful suggesting the dunes near Hudson’s Hope. With support from the provincial and local government he began building in earnest.

With his nine year old son Samuel, a ball of twine, wooden stakes, a dirt bike and a D9 Cat operated by Phil Kirtzinger they laid out a design that was approximately 1000 feet across, containing 4 concentric rings with a mother (holding) child and dove motif at the center. While Deryk oversaw the operation from a high point, Phil roughed out the design by pushing and piling the sand–basically a massive sand sculpture. Deryk explained it to me this way:

“I love the ancient Nazca lines and their simplicity. I also love the mother and child image that we see so often throughout time. The central image is a simple circle of the mother’s head and the child’s head. The hand of the mother cradles the child’s head. There is also the shape of a dove. The outer circles are ripples. How we hope to effect change in our world.”

This costly project was funded out of Deryk’s pocket and took a few days to complete. Much later, he visited the site, but sadly ATV’s, dirt bikes and wind had pounded the earthwork into obscurity. However, like peace itself, this monument to the people of Iraq is not hidden: it can still be seen in Google Earth today!

The “Peace Sanctuary” by Deryk Houston. This image is from 2006.

Post Script: The “Peace Garden,” Woodwynn Farms

Houston continues to create thought-provoking and interactive landscape art. His latest piece is the “Woodwynn Farm Peace Garden,” near Victoria, BC. This stunning labyrinth is a collaborative effort of Houston, Elizabeth Wellburn (his wife) and Richard Leblanc, the farm director. Woodwynn Farm is a therapeutic community for the homeless and those struggling with mental health and addictions.

Woodwynn Farm Peace Garden (Photo Credit: D. Houston)

References

Personal correspondence and telephone conversation with Deryk Houston, July-August 2017.

“From Baghdad to Peace Country,” directed by Sherry LePage.  http://www.nfb.ca/film/from_baghdad_to_peace_country/.

Deryk Houston’s Art Gallery website: http://www.derykhouston.com/.

3 Reasons to Visit Valemount, BC

Kinbasket Lake

 

Nestled between the Rocky and Monashee Mountains, Valemount, British Columbia, has great outdoor adventure opportunities minus the crowds. You can camp, ride and paddle the endless shoreline of Kinbasket Lake, relax in a rustic cabin with great mountain views or fatbike and hike the Canoe River sand roads. If you want to get away from the National and Provincial Park crowds, then grab your gear and head to Valemount this summer!

1. Shorelines

Kinbasket Lake is a  massive reservoir on the Columbia river system that extends hundreds of kms south to Golden and Revelstoke.The northern tip is only 25 kms east of Valemount and can be accessed via Highway 5 South, Cedarside rd., and the Canoe River Forest Service rd. This latter road runs along the east side of the lake, providing access to numerous Forest Service Rec Sites such as Yellowjacket, Horse Creek and Canoe Reach Marina. The lake is flanked by the Monahee Mts. to the west and the Rockies to the east: needless to say the views are stunning. You can explore kms of shoreline on foot (where sturdy foot wear) or by mountain bike (fatbikes work best on the large gravels and stones that line the shore).

Camping at the Yellowjacket Creek Forest Service Rec Site
Kinbasket Lake
Exploring the Shoreline of Kinbasket Lake
Kinbasket lake
The mouth of Yellowjacket Creek
Yellowjacket Creek
The rocky banks of Yellowjacket Creek

2. Rustic Cabins

Valemount is small community with numerous hotels and rental cabins. We stayed at Twin Peaks Twin Peaks Resort, which arguably has the best view of the mountains. With super comfortable cabins, great “chill-out” decks and low rates, Twin Peaks Resort is a must visit locale.

Twin Peaks Resort
Looking southwest from Twin Peaks Resort through a smoke-filled atmosphere

3. Sand and Sun

If you love sand and sun then you will love Valemount. This area lies within the rain shadow of the Monashee Mts. and is hot and dry. More than that, the community sits on sand that washed out of a massive lake during the post-glacial melt. Explore the unique sand dune ecosystem at Jackman Flat Provincial Park or if you have a Fatbike you can ride numerous pure sand forest service roads that criss-cross the valley. Park at the end of Cranberry  Lake rd., riding south to the Upper Canoe Forest Service rd. Outside of Maui, this is the finest sand that I have ever seen.

Valemount’s endless shorelines, sandy roads and trails, rustic rental cabins and serious lack of crowds is a must-visit spot for those who like to explore off the beaten track. This community also has its own Three Ranges Brewing where you can get a pint or fill your growler for only $11 including tax. Wow! Downhill mountain bikers will love the up and coming Valemount Mountain Bike Park with its convenient shuttle service. Enjoy Valemount this summer.

 

7 Favorite Forests and Trees

Trees and forests are iconic. From the Haida First Nation’s “Golden Spruce,” to the Druid’s “Sacred Oak” to 19th century Vancouver’s “Carey Fir,” trees have played a significant role in the material and cultural lives of people for millennia. As a former forestry consultant and all-around forest dweller, trees have played a significant role in my life standing as witness’s to my past, present and future. Think of a what a 300 year Douglas fir has seen, let alone a 1000 year old western red cedar? Enjoy some of my favorite trees. Perhaps you know where they are? These awesome organisms need no explanation.

If you would like to know how you can experience these trees yourself,  send me an email.

9 Bizarre, Creepy and Odd Things

When I explore BC’s backcountry, backroads and trails I typically encounter stunning forest-clad mountains, rivers, lakes and wildlife. Every now and then, however, I encounter the bizarre, unexplained, odd and even creepy. Check out these nine images and let me know what you think?

I found this demented frog doll on the Greenway trail one Spring. Can you imagine giving this to a child?

These guys thought driving to Goat Island on the Fraser river was a good idea.

I’m not sure what this is about, but apparently there are no moose down this road, west of Vivian Lake.

How did this abandoned van near McPhee road get flipped?

This roofless and doorless cabin is near UNBC.

This strange pipe is 20 km down the Bowron Forest Service Road. I wonder if there is a bunker down there?

An even bigger pipe near McPhee creek. This would make a great shelter!

What’s for dinner?

Smokey keeping the temperature low near Tatlayoko Lake, BC.

 

Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Trail Day Trip

No, the Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Trail is not a slick, clayey brake clogging trail, but rather one that runs from the Fraser River, south of Prince George, to Bella Coola, west of the coast mountains. The grease is “Oolichan oil,” or the oil extracted by First Nations from a tiny ocean fish called the Oolichan (candle fish). This precious commodity was traded between coastal and interior First Nations via. an extensive trail network. Alexander Mackenzie utilized this trail (after being guided by local First Nations) on his famous expedition to the Pacific in the 1770s. Hence the trails secondary name: the Alexander Mackenzie Trail.

I accessed the trail at the 107 km on the Batnuni Forest Service Road. This single-track and ATV trail winds through some beautiful country and makes a fantastic day trip for the adventure rider.

This trail begins on a narrow bench of pine and spruce, paralleling the road,  then quickly descends into a lowland with a series of wetlands of varying size, just north of Cotsworth Lake. Almost immediately you have to cross a slow moving creek-so be prepared to get wet.

Creek crossing # 1.

After the first crossing, the trail runs along a small ridge that skirts most of the wetlands. The grass covered trail and white trembling aspens contrast sharply against the blue sky and grey waters.

Eventually, you have to cross another creek, this one was thigh deep and running a lot faster. Check out the video of my dangerous river crossing!

 Getting Wet

This unnamed lake has a great campsite.

 Unless you want to join Alice in Wonderland, I don’t recommend eating the Panther amanitas growing alongside the trail

Yarrow grows alongside the trail. At approximately 6 kms the trail crosses another channel between two wetlands, just south of the east end of Titetown Lake. While only two feet deep, this crossing is about 60 meters wide!

Scattered alongside of the trail are many trees with old blazes on them. Called Culturally Modified Trees (CMT) by Archaeologists, some of these trees were scarred by local First Nations (Nazko) to mark the location of a trail or to harvest cambium (inner bark), an important source of carbohydrates. Some are so old that they have completely healed over.

Time to dry out the shorts.

You can ride the Nuxalk-Carrier Grease trail aprroximately 20 km to Kluskoil Lake, and farther,  or take the ATV track the ascends onto a ridge that runs along the east side of Titetown Lake. This part of the trail affords some great views of the lake and the Nechako plateau as well as the tiny community that lives nearby.

Titetown Lake community.

An ever present reminder that bikes will outlive cars!

The Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Trail is a smooth relaxing ride through some beautiful wetland and lake country only a couple hours south of Prince George. It has numerous campsites, good access and is rarely used. For more info about this trail go to..

Grease Trail

Alexander Mackenzie Trail

Grizzly Bear (Red) Mnt. Weekend

Well known for its Grizzly bears and caribou, Grizzly Bear  or Red Mnt. towers over the historic community of Penny, a couple hours east of Prince George. To the west, of this peak is a fully stocked public cabin primarily used by backcountry skiers. The 12 km ride into this cabin is ideal for the self-sufficient adventure mountain biker who is willing to gravel grind up some tough trails. This cabin provides great access into the McGregor Mnts. alpine tundra and views of extensive subalpine parkland.

First opened in 1916, the Penny post office serviced the community that developed alongside the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Today, mail is delivered to the 10 or so people that live in this community via the CN Railway Company.
The route (ignore my detour to the west of the main trail).

This ATV width trail begins just few hundred meters north of the post office and winds through a rolling bench for several kms then descends into Red Mnt. Creek. This area is the northern tip of BC’s Temperate Inland Rainforest and is dominated by large, old western red cedars. Riding through these towering cedars is like riding through the columns in a  medieval cathedral.

This cabin was closed for the season.

Time to load up on the carbs.

Like the trail itself, the railing of the Red Mnt. Creek bridge appears to go on forever.

Eventually the trail leaves the rolling toe slope and switchbacks steeply upslope for several kms. There are some good  viewpoints of the Fraser River and the McGregor Mnts. to the south.Where’s the trail?

Be prepared to push your bike uphill from the 10.5 km marker to the cabin at 12 km. This section is the steepest part of the ride and my legs simply couldn’t do it, but maybe yours could.
At 3200 feet elevation, you  get great views of the subalpine parkland to the north.
At 5000 feet you begin to descend into a depression where the cabin is located.

After 6 hours and 19 minutes I finally arrived at the cabin!

So why did I haul my camp stove and pot uphill for 6 hours? This cabin is fully stocked with everything you need to spend the night (except your food and clothes).

A killer view from the dillapitated outhouse. Please note that there was no toilet paper!

The trail through towering cedars, views,  access to subalpine parkland and the “all inclusive” cabin makes this grueling 12 km ride worthwhile. While I didn’t see any grizzly bear, I did see a white wolf on the ride down: perhaps a good sign for my next adventure? For more information about this trail and the public cabin check out:

Prince George Backcountry Recreation Society

For a detailed trail guide you can purchase Rob Bryce’s book “Hiking North Central BC,” available at a bookstore near you:

Order Here

Goat-River Gong Show & McBride Mnt. Madness

McBride Mnt., located approximately 2.5 hrs east of Prince George, is a tough climb but has some interesting alpine areas to explore as well as fantastic views of the Rocky Mnts. and Robson Valley. On the drive we decided to drop in at the Goat River historic trail for a bit of a warm up.

Dave and I geared up on a cool and cloudy Saturday afternoon

The Goat River Trail was first used by First Nations as a route between the Upper Fraser River and the Bowron Lakes area. CPR surveyors and miners kept this trail open during the mid to late-1800s. We accessed the trail at the parking lot adjacent to the outlet of the Milk River. However, it became clear that this trail was not MTB friendly.

The junction of the Milk and Goat River

Quartz CreekDave crushin it through dense thimbleberry, alder and cow parsnip

The trail was characterized by muddy, brush-covered single-track with large smooth slippery boulders and skinny’s over marshy, mucky sections. Dave bailed and later told me that he had bruised ribs from a soccer game:/ We pushed our bikes most of the time. After a couple of kms we decided to take a quick picture at the Goat River and head back. Note to self: this is a hiking trail only! Off to McBride Mnt.

While one could ride the full 12 km road to the start of the alpine, we decided to park at the 6 km cabin where we would spend the night.

The road up McBride Mnt. is hard packed sand and gravel, with many sections of loose gravels and stones with exposed angular bed rock. It is also steep, running minimum 7% and some times up to 15% slope.

Typical steep switch back

The views improve as you ascend the mountain

It was raining in the Robson Valley as we road out of the subalpine

At 12 km, we began a tough 2 km push into the alpine. The summit of McBride Mnt. was in the clouds.

Looking west at an alpine ridge

Made it to the rebuilt fire lookout

The weather began to turn as we reached the fire lookout. The temperature dropped to about 5 degrees C  and the wind picked up. We decided to head back to the cabin. It snowed in the alpine later that weekend. Needless to say the 8 km downhill ride was fast and bumpy-my hands were aching by the time we reached the cabin.

This is one of the best, easily accessed campsites that I have every been to. Check out the views…

Looking south into the Rockies

Sweet and spicy peanut sauce on rice noodles with pepperoni. A bikepacking standard for me.

Getting out of the rain

While Dave and I were setting up camp, two guys rolled in on road bikes. Meet John and Brad: two Californians who came to BC to ride all of its toughest mountain peaks (25 I think). They are part of a cycling community called Pjammcycling. They had no idea that the road up McBride Mnt. was unpaved-but they road it anyways. We had a chat, shared some dinner  and wished them well. These guys are hard core!

McBride Mnt. is a tough ride, but provides awesome access to the alpine and great camping. For more info check out:

McBride Peak Info

Pjammacycling

Willow River Bikepack

The Willow River Canyon area, just east of Prince George, is a fantastic bikepacking destination, perfect for a weekend adventure. Join us as we ride the Tabor Mt. trails east to the canyon and then down into the Willow River.

The Tabor Mt. Recreation Area is 25 km’s east of Prince George and is bounded by Hwy. 16 to the north, Buckhorn Rd. to the south and the Willow River, to the east. You can access this well maintained trail network at Tabor Mt. Ski Hill. Kyrke and I began our trip at the ski hill access, where we geared up and road up onto the West Touring trail. This trail runs along the toe-slope of Tabor Mt. to the X-Country ski area parking lot. This ATV width trail is characterized by rolling terrain with short uphill sections: perfect for a fatbike with 40 lbs of gear.

Kyrke getting his gear organized.

A typical section of trail.

This area receives lots of  rainwater  runoff and seepage from numerous upslope springs, therefore, it is lush and jungle like. Cow parsnip, black twinberry, raspberry, Goat’s beard and some Devil’s club (watch out) crowd the trail–making the ride an intense visual and olfactory experience. These sections are my favorite.

A meadow with Cow parsnip and Ox-eyed daisy’s.

The West Touring trail runs for 2 km until the x-country ski area parking lot. We continued east along the Hickory Wing Trail then followed the East Touring Trail, over Bowes Creek, then upslope along the Martin Trail.

 Bowes Creek bridge.

The Martin Trail and Willow River Canyon Trail junction.

At this point we had to backtrack because the Willow River Canyon Trail was covered with blown-down timber. We took a side access trail (Martin Trail connector) that ran north to Hwy. 16. We then followed Hwy. 16 east until England Creek Forest Service Road. A couple hundred meters down this road is the England Creek bridge. A single-track trail on the north side of the bridge runs east to the Willow River. At the junction of England Creek and the Willow is a great campsite that gives you access to the shore.

 Looking south down the Willow River Canyon from the England Creek campsite.

A small waterfall on the England.

From here simply rode back to the Hwy. and then east for a few km’s until the Willow North Forest Service road. This road will take you to several access points along the Willow.

This large camping area provides hundred of meters of riverfront access and is suitable for tents and hammocks. There is plenty of dead fall, so firewood is available. One way to reduce weight while bikepacking is to not carry a stove. I cook all my meals over a fire.

Collecting firewood by bike.

There is nothing better than chiliin out with a cold beer in BC’s wilderness!

 

Sunset over the Willow.

 We rode the full 48 km’s back to Prince George. This is a relatively easy ride and the westbound shoulder is wide enough that one feels safe. One interesting stop along the way is the Tabor Mt. Wildlife Viewing platform. This area is on the north side of the road, adjacent the Martin Trail connector. Accessed by a 200 meter single-track trail that runs through a young stand of aspen, spruce and fir, this viewing platform provides some nice visual corridors of Tabor Mt.

 

Looking southwest towards Tabor Mt.

Tabor Mt. and the Willow River Canyon are a great accessible adventure biking area, that are close to town. They are ideal if you just getting into bikepacking or want a  a relatively easy weekend trip. Please note that there are grizzly and black bears in this area as well as cougar and wolves. My best advice would be to make lots of noise and carry bear spray. Also, let people know where you will be going and carry a SPOT GPS device. For more info on this area check out:

Tabor Mt. Recreation Society

Check out some of the other fantastic rivers in this area at my FlightNetwork blog post The 3 Best Rivers in Northern BC to See

Big Wheels-Big Sky: Cariboo-Chilcotin by Fat Bike

Northern BC has great riding, but sometimes you have to head south to ride  dry, dusty trails and experience the wide-open “big sky country” vistas. Last weekend I spent three days exploring the Cariboo-Chilcotin’s trails and back country and I wasn’t disappointed. My riding began in 108 Mile House and ended near Junction Sheep Provincial Park on the Chilcotin Plateau. Check out my ride!

108 Mile House Trail Network

This ominous looking tunnel is the entrance way to  a huge network of single/double track, ATV and road-width trails at the 108 Mile House historic site, on the east side of  Hwy. 97. The trail heads east towards Sucker Lake through rolling grassy meadows, with patches of aspen and Douglas fir. There are some short uphill sections on the east side of the lake and plenty of grassy range land to explore.

Typical single-track and x-country ski trails.

You can spend hours riding and exploring the small ridges that run north-south throughout the range land. I did a 20 km loop around Sucker Lake.

Sucker Lake.

Chasm Provincial Park

If you had shown me this picture two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have believed that it was in BC! Chasm Provincial Park, south of 100 Mile House, is  a 3000  hectare valley and plateau that was carved out of a massive lava flow, by water,10 million years ago. Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir cover the rocky crags that are home to big horn sheep and mule deer.

An ATV width-trail runs along the south rim of the park then loops around through grassy Douglas fir and ponderosa pine stands. You get a great view of the canyon for almost 5 kms of trail. If you are brave enough to walk to the edge you can see where the sheep walked up the cliff onto the rim. The sheep come to feed on the pinegrass that grows beneath the trees.

 

A partial skull and vertebrae of a Bighorn sheep.

Lots of interesting old buildings and equipment litter the Cariboo landscape.

Bonaparte River Area

The Bonaparte River lies to the north of Chasm and has a fantastic rec site where I spent the night. The beer and spicy-peanut sauce on rice noodles was fantastic.

Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park Area

This park overlooks the junction of the Fraser and Chilcotin river and is only a 35 minute drive from Williams Lake. Bordered by a working cattle ranch, this plateau gently slopes to the south and is covered by lush grasslands and stands of Douglas fir and aspen.

In the background is the road to Bella Coola and in the foreground is a kick ass ridge top single track that runs for kilometers to the valley bottom.

The viewscapes are stunning and non-stop. Looking east.

Looking South.

Looking towards the park. Prickly pear cactus grows along the edge of the trail on south facing slopes–so watch your tires and shoes.

Heart-leaved arnica grows in grassy meadows underneath the fir trees.

If your lucky you may see a mountain bluebird on a high perch!

Allow yourself a full day to ride this area. Also note that the land adjacent to the access road is private and no-go. Riders are not the only users: there was a group pf backcountry horse packers there as well. Interesting comparison between hoof impacts and fat tires….

The scenery, riding, and ecosystems of BC’s Cariboo-Chilcotin area are second to none. At the end of a hard hot day of riding you can also enjoy the sunsets.

Tabor Mountain Recreation Area: Prince George’s Best Kept Mountain Biking Secret

If you like a little more adventure, and are willing to ride trails wider than a breadbox, you will love the Tabor Mt. Recreation area, just 20 minutes East of Prince George. Last week Dean and I planned an epic 30 km ride that began with a 7 km climb to the  old fire lookout. You can see our proposed route below.

Tabor Mt. was the scene of a massive wildfire in 1961 that burned thousands of acres of timber. Subsequent salvage logging and reforestation efforts left a patch work of roads all over the mountain. At one of the mill sites you can still see a massive sawdust pile.

In 1973, this area was designated as a multi-use recreation area. Since then, several user groups have maintained and expanded the trails. These trails are typically one-vehicle or ATV width, with no crowns or side ditching. While there are several culverts on some trails, there is plenty of surface water in the spring. The 5 km uphill to the Beaver Pond Shelter was gut-wrenching, too say the least, however, this scenic shelter and pond made the ride worthwhile. This is an awesome camping spot.

 

 

The mountain had other plans for us:  the next two km’s was a treacherous trail that had turned into a stream covered with 3 feet of snow!

 

It was tough  pushing  fat bikes up snow covered streams/trails. However, the large wheel diameter and width made it much easier than a conventional mountain bike.

When we reached the ridge top, just below the summit, we were greeted by a large beaver pond that cut our trail in two. I was soaked by this point. We carefully crossed the pond along the narrow dam and bushwhacked through the the timber on the other side. Needles to say we did not ride the trail running south around the mountain, but headed down the nearest  trail.

Tabor Mt. has numerous species of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, wolf, and cougar as well as moose. In the past, have found bear, wolf and cougar tracks on the same trail. The black bears were already out of hibernation walking the same trail we were riding (or attempting to ride).

Tabor Mt. and the Buckhorn area to the south has 100s of km’s of ATV tracks and old roads that can be explored for a day or several if you like sleeping in the bush.I think that this trail network is the best multi-use “front-country” recreation area in the region.

For more information check out…

Tabor Mt. Recreation Society

For those of you who work or play in the bush, UNBC Continuing Studies provides a wide range of field based courses from 1 day workshops to three week certificates. To find out more go to….

UNBC Continuing Studies

Exploring Northern BC by Bike

On the long weekend, I spent a couple of days exploring the back roads and trails in the Opatcho Lake area, just south of Prince George. In the early 1960s, a massive fire called the Tsus or Groveburn fire burned thousands of hectares in this area and Northeast to Tabor Mnt. Firefighting, salvage logging and reforestation efforts resulted in a patchwork of openings and roads. In recent years, local hiking, ATV and snowmobile clubs have maintained a network of awesome doubletrack trails and access roads.

While there was little snow on the main access road, Francis Lake was still frozen.

 

My plan was to ride the Francis Lake Trail for 8 km, then find a camp spot along the river, however, the snow was too deep and soft. In this case, I backtracked and rode Buckhorn road to Opatcho road, then up  to the lake.

St. Marys Lake.

I had the campsite at Opatcho Lake all to myself. However, because of a cold wind coming off of the lake, I built my camp a 100 meters away in the timber.

 

After cutting a good supply of firewood, I had a late lunch. There is no shortage of firewood in this area and a camp stove is not necessary–this is a great way to save weight when bike packing. A good handsaw is critical however.

If you ride south along Apatcho road, you can get some great views looking east  towards the Caribou Mnt. range.

That evening I watched the sunset.The temperature dropped rapidly and the overnight lows were around -4 c. The atmosphere was crystal clear and the stars, stunning! Sometime after midnight I was woken by coyote howls, followed by wolves. Great Horned and Screech owls also added to the night time symphony.

Given my research interests in Forest History I had to check out this old mill site were they processed much of the salvaged timber. Given that this site is covered with bits of metal and broken glass, my spidey senses warned me not to ride into into it: I should have listened, by the next morning I had a flat:(

Other than two trucks and an ATV that drove into the campsite, I did not see anyone else in the bush. This is typical of Northern BC. If you would like an opportunity to explore this part of the world check out UNBC’s Educational Adventure programs running this spring and summer: Educational Adventures

Interested in some northern BC adventure? Then book your flights, hotel and rental cars from FlighNetwork.com.

Go to http://www.flightnetwork.com/flights/ for more info.

Introduction to Ride the Wild

In this five-day tour you will ride some of the best downhill and x-country trails in the Prince George, Burns Lake and Smithers area. Full transportation including an on-mountain shuttle will be provided. Riders will also get the opportunity to browse local bike shops and ride with trail experts. Accommodations, breakfasts and lunches will be provided in each community and every evening you will get an opportunity to experience local food and culture. Additionally, there will be several evening seminars by guest speakers on a range of MTB and outdoor adventure related topics. You will be riding in Black and Grizzly bear country, therefore all participants are required to complete UNBC’s online Bear Awareness and Safety course (included ) before attending the tour.

Skill Level: This tour is for intermediate to expert riders only, 19 years of age or older.

Photo: Razorback Trail, Boer Mnt., Burns Lake, BC (Margus Rega 2014)