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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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!
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.
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/.
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.
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.
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 CoalmineForest 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.
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.
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: