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. 

 

 

 

The Morfee Mountain Hop

Looking for some alpine adventure with killer views and mountaintop accommodations? Then check out Morfee Mountain. Only two hours north of Prince George, this 5800 foot peak is easily accessed by mountain bike, off-road vehicle  or snow machine. With great views of the Rocky Mountains, Williston Lake and Mackenzie, British Columbia, you will definitely want to add this mountain to your bucket list.

The old snow machine club cabin at the Morfee Mt. staging/parking lot.

Access to this area is via Morfee Mt. Forest Service Road, only a few kms north of the community of Mackenzie off of Highway 39. There is a large gravel lot just off the road near the old blue cabin. You can park and ride from here or drive 15 kms to the subalpine cabin, and start from there. You can also drive all the way to the summit, park and explore the ridge lines.

Adventure mountain bikers and bikepackers will love the 17 km ascent that gains 3400 feet in elevation. This sandy, maintained road winds gradually upslope and has both flat and steep sections, especially in the alpine.

The Morfee Creek Crossing

The living wall
Looking southeast towards a rocky ridge line.

The Morfee Mt. cabin recently built for the local snowmachine club

There are ample places to set up camp  in the subalpine (approx. 4000 ft.) However, there is a brand new public cabin nearby that may be a better choice on a cold/wet day. This cabin also has a descent pit toilet and fantastic views of the rocky ridges and pristine forests to the east. If your’e lucky you might see some Southern Mountain Woodland Caribou.

Looking east from the cabiin
A great crop of blueberries
Looking south towards Mackenzie, BC and Williston Lake.
This ridge line runs northeast from Morfee Mt. and could be northern BC’s next epic ride
Morfee Mt. summit.
Looking north towards the Hart Range (Rocky Mts.)

Once on top, you can ride or hike the shale ridges running north and southwest. The wind blows hard at the top so remember to pack some warm clothing. For more info about Morfee Mountain check out Dougz’s ClubTread Post.

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.

 

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.

 

3 Tips for Warm and Safe Winter Riding

Northern winters are cold. Add two-wheeled adventure, wind chill and sweat and you have a bone chilling recipe.  I wear standard wool or synthetic base layers with a breathable shell (pants and coat), plus thin finger gloves underneath large insulated mitts. However, my feet still get cold even when wearing insulated winter boots.  I have discovered two simple remedies that has extended my riding time during -20 C winter days: insulated water bottles and neoprene socks. These two simple solutions will keep you rolling during cold winter rides.

 INSULATED WATER BOTTLES AND CAGES

Staying hydrated during winter riding not only helps with muscle performance, but also maintains your core temperature. Zefal’s Arctica insulated water bottles give you several hours of unfrozen water even at -20 C. Another option is to keep your water bottle in an insulated water bottle cage. Bar Mitt’s Winter Bot is a bottle cage within a 5 mm neoprene, zippered case. It too, keeps water unfrozen for several hours. Another way to extend your water life is to fill your bottle with HOT WATER. It’s free and actually works. It will also help to increase your core temperature.

NEOPRENE SOCKS

Neoprene socks act as vapor barriers preventing evaporation and cooling. I wear Mountain Equipment Co Op’s inexpensive, three millimeter sock over a merino wool wicking sock. A wicking layer is critical because you want to minimize the amount of sweat clinging to your feet. I can ride longer and more comfortably with neoprene socks.

ICE CLEATS

Freeze-thaw cycles are now a regular part of northern BC winters. Well used trails –especially those with a south aspect and open forest canopy—often ice over long before spring. Frozen lakes sometimes have shear ice or only a thin layer of uncohesive powder. These slippery situations can be avoided by wearing strap on cleats. I wear heel cleats on my cold winter boots and full-length cleats on my low cuts during warmer weather. Ice cleats allow you to get on and off of your bike without that annoying lateral slippage and they are essential for steep icy sections.

Devisys anti-slip Heelstops

COSCO full length rubber ice cleats

Neoprene socks and insulated water bottles will extend your winter rides. Ice cleats, will minimize dangerous slips on icy trails. However, acclimatization is also critical. Keep riding, even at -25 C. Wear lots of layers, and start peeling them off as your body temperature increases. Your body will eventually adapt and when it warms up, you will be riding with just a base layer, sweater and long tights!

For more info on winter fatbiking check out my post Winter Fatbike Fun at Outbound.com. Also, join my Facebook page Fatbike Freaks and get the latest info about fatbikes, gear and winter riding. 

Tsus Lakes Day Trip

The Tsus Lakes are a tiny lake chain in the heart of the northern Caribou mountains. Nestled between Spring mountain’s three peaks and an unnamed pyramid-shaped mountain to the south, this  valley has some fantastic views and is  an  easy 25 km ride from the parking area.  The Tsus Lakes are perfect for the adventure mountain biker or bikepacker.

The Tsus Lakes valley is west of the Bowron river and only 62 km east of Prince George. Turn on the Cutoff Road Forest Service Road on the south side of the highway just before the Bowron River bridge. You can either park by the highway pullout or a few kilometers down the road at the Coalmine Forest Service Road junction.

Matt and I picked a cool and sunny fall day to explore this area. The Coalmine FSR runs east towards the Bowron river, then south. The first dozen kilometers are characterized by a rolling plateau through stands of young lodgepole pine, aspen and some spruce. We found some cool sand dunes on the east side of the road, not far from where we parked. Matt was thrilled to ride his brand new fatbike on these dunes. A lone wolf liked the dunes as well!

An interesting mountain peak in the Bowron river valley.

Looking west towards Spring mountain. There is a great campsite at this un-named lake.Some snow-capped mountains off in the distance. The access road to the Tsus Lakes valley is a deactivated road that branches off of the Coalmine FSR. This is a rarely used road that narrows to ATV width. All the culverts and bridges have been removed which  makes for some fun stream crossings.

A narrow track winds through the trees down to the campsite on northern most lake. There are some great views of the tree clad mountains to the west. It is unusual to see un-logged terrain anywhere in the Prince George region. There is a great campsite beside the lake as well.

As you ride west along the lake chain, you begin to gain elevation. The toe slope on the east side has transitional welt-belt ecosystems with mature western red cedar,  hemlock and a thick moss-covered forest floor.

As you approach the last lake,  the trail becomes crowded with alder saplings. Be sure to wear eye and hand protection.

The sun was behind us on the ride home. I’m always smiling when riding.

With picturesque lakes, forest-clad slopes and snow-covered mountain peaks, the Tsus Lakes area is fantastic for day-tripping  or overnight bike camping. Be sure to use Google Earth for route planning and carry a SPOT GPS Device when riding.
If your interested in some stellar riding in the Rocky Mountains then go to Three Must Explore Mountain Towns on Flightnetwork.com’s travel blog.
You can learn about blogging or publishing your adventures, at UNBC’s upcoming Outdoor Adventure Writing and Blogging Workshop at our Prince George campus. Taught by veteran adventurer Vivien Lougheed, this class and field-based workshop will help you take transform your outdoor experiences and photos into a compelling written narrative.

War Falls to Carp Lake Provincial Park

This stunning waterfall is only a 2.5 hour drive northwest of Prince George. With roadside parking, a smooth 1 km single-track through a spruce and fir forest and accessible swimming, War Falls on the McLeod River may be the best waterfall in the region. If you add a 10 km ride to Carp Lake, you have a great summer day trip for the adventure mountain biker!

From Prince George, drive approximately 2 hours north on the Yellowhead Highway and follow the signs west into the First Nations community of McLeod Lake. Cross the bridge, drive past the large gas bar and continue west on Carp Lake road. For the first few km’s, the well-maintained gravel road runs through a logged area, then narrows and winds through the timber until the trail head at the 23 km mark. This narrow section is quite scenic.

Single-track trail heading down into the river valleyFirst set of falls

Second set of falls

The last set of falls can be observed from a small platform with access to a rocky beach

Looking downstream to the northeast

We met Luke and Nicole at the falls. They walked into the falls with their clothes and boots on and swam around for quite a while. We spent several hours swimming in the falls and exploring the riparian area, downstream. Carp Lake Provincial Park is an easy ride approximately 10 km west of the falls. War Lake is half-way between the falls and Carp Lake. It has a nice beach and camping area.

My typical speed on my Specialized Fatboy fatbike

Carp Lake is a wilderness lake, with only one access. There are campsites, up on a bench, along the eastern edge of the lake. Small trails descend 50 or so meters to docks along the lake. There are also campsites that you can boat to.

Chillin on the dockDwarf Blueberries alongside the road

Fore more information about War Falls and Carp Lake Provincial Park go to:

Carp Lake & War Falls

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