Late Summer Epic
There aren’t many places I’d rather be riding my bike in September than the South Chilcotins. The evenings are crisp with the year’s first frost, the light is unlike any other time of year and the colour of the vegetation is especially vibrant. I’ve been riding in the area for many years but the excitement always feels like my first ever trip. I guess that’s one of the reasons it keeps drawing me back. Eric and Dustan joined me to take in one last epic before fall took it’s firm grasp on the mountains. This would mark Eric’s one year anniversary of heading into the zone and it would be Dustan’s first ever Chilcotin adventure. After years of riding the area, I’d been trying to dream up some new routes and get into some unfamiliar corners of the park. One high pass in particular was in the back of my mind. With an open mind and GPS in hand, I had a goal. Only time would tell what achieving this would entail.
We decided to take a laid back Friday evening flight into Warner Lake with Tyax Air before the long week-end crowds arrived the following morning. We landed just as the sun was about to set behind the pass. We would spend the first of three nights on the shores of Warner Lake before embarking on our riding adventure.
A mere 15 minute flight from Tyax and we were on our own. The distant hum of the Beaver Prop fading was the end of our tie to civilization for a three day self-sufficient trip. We would likely see others in the back country but ultimately we were on our own from here on out.
Our First night was an easy one. With no distance to cover before setting up camp this would be the night to gorge. This was the time to pull out the big guns. Corn on the cob, fire-roasted dinner and a few pints was the best possible way to kick off the trip.
With the sun setting and the fire keeping things warm, I could tell that this would be a great adventure. Hopefully this new route would pay off and be an awesome ride. With full stomachs, a light buzz and the temperature dropping we settled in for the night
With the next day’s ride looming and a starry sky above, we rested up for the first day of riding. Out of the city and in the wilderness the night sky becomes alive with light.
We awoke the next morning to a thick layer of frost but full bluebird skies for our first big day of riding. The early bite of frost was wiped out at first glimpse of sun. What was a chilly start quickly heated up into a hot mid-day sun on the bike. A quick breakfast and camp teardown then we were off.
After a quick decent down from the Warner camp, we were soon on the steep climb up to Deer Pass. With our packs full and muscles fresh this was the first big climb of the ride. With some leg pumping grinds and some calf wrenching hikes, this was the first test in our Chilcotin Adventure. Anticipation still front and center, the mountain was steep but merely a molehill compared to the effort to come.
From the top of Deer Pass we looked to the rugged mountains behind and onward to the Chilcotins ahead. The golden mountains rolled into and over one another giving a clear view of our riding goals for the next two days. It also made strikingly clear just how far this mission would be!
The descent down from Deer Pass to Tyaughton Creek was as juicy as can be! Traversing slopes, falling switchbacks and no end in sight, this was the reward for our first big effort.
From the bottom of our descent we popped up the saddles and continued on to the next hurdle. Across the valley floor we head onwards to an unknown drainage that stood between us and our goal for day two. Castle Pass was where we were headed tomorrow. Our map showed a trail that we were to follow, but to my knowledge not many people ever make it that way. This was an unknown that could be a great ride, or it could turn into a hike of death-march proportions.
Shortly before the summit of the drainage we looked for a high camp that would set us up nicely for the huge day 2 ahead of us. We found a spot near 2200m that was spectacular! West facing, we were shielded from much of the wind and were given the late light to set up camp. Here Dustan pulled out the Sambuca and Whiskey that was mysteriously buried in his pack all day. I think I might bring this guy back!
It was a full 10+ hours after leaving when we were setting up camp for a second night. Through the day’s heat, exertion and a night of sleeping outdoors we were all exhausted and ready for dinner. With Chicken Noodle Soup and Chile on the Menu, we couldn’t get dinner together fast enough. Awesome food to follow a great day’s ride.
Camping on a west-facing slope, the sun was slow to emerge the following morning. We got an early start to get into the sun and start the big trek ahead of us.
Along a traverse we scaled the golden hills towards our goal of Castle Pass. To achieve this we would scale another drainage into an area called Little Paradise Valley. From here we would travel up the valley to the base of Castle Pass before pushing a brutal final ascent. When and if we made it to this point, the plan was to head down the other side and ride out along the Tyaughton River to the more frequently traveled area of Spruce Lake.
Still working towards the descent into Little Paradise Valley the big peaks of the Taseko Range were visible behind with Mount Vic dominating the skyline.
A few hours into our day we had scaled the drainage, traversed and made the descent into Little Paradise Valley. Making our way towards Castle, the trail became spotty and difficult to navigate. After some time of riding, hiking and trail-finding, we worked our way onto the side-slope above on another scaling traverse. In the picture below you can see the boxy peak of Castle Mountain in the distance. The pass to its left was our next goal.
Continuing onwards, we slowly made progress towards the distant peak. The visual destination spurred us onwards but what lay beyond the pass remained was unknown. Getting to the pass was one thing, moving onwards to Spruce Lake for camp was another.
After 6 hours we finally crested Castle Pass. The path was long, steep and relatively untraveled but the reward was magnificent. The view of the Shulaps, Castle Mountain and the sight of the route we had traveled was out of this world.
It seemed almost Ironic that of all places to run into other people this would be it. As we stopped at the peak to have a bite to eat, two hunters wandered over to say hi. In the deepest, most random places of our outdoor backyard you never know who you will run into. These two even gave us some pointers on finding our route down towards Spruce Lake.
As we started onwards from Castle, its peak was clearly visible in our path. While the ride up was not easy the initial reward was wonderful; the view, the achievement and the adventure had already made this the most memorable ride of my year.
As we started to descend we were still a little unsure of the route down. The trail started off easy enough to follow and was a great reward for the work we endured scaling up to the pass.
As we descended the slopes towards our Spruce Lake destination the trail became very spotty and non existent in some areas. It was clear where we needed to be but if we had to do it off trail it would take hours and we were running out of daylight. Through some dead ends, bushwhacking and GPS navigation we spent a lot of valuable time trying to find our way to the trail that would lead us out.
It wasn’t until nearly 10 hours into our day that Spruce Lake finally became visible. Still in the distance we crested a ridge where we could see our home for the last night in the wilderness. Nearly 12 hours after leaving camp that morning we made it to Spruce. Being exhausted, hungry and with the sun setting our day could finally come to a close.
As it was a long weekend and Spruce Lake is the most popular site in the area. When we arrived there was a party of sorts taking place with only one camp spot left for us. Believe it or not three lovely ladies from Clearwater even took pity on us and gave us 3 beers along with some world class snacks! Did that really happen? Again, it is amazing the people that you will meet in the most obscure places.
In the morning the peaceful nature of Spruce Lake makes it easy to forget the task at hand. Waking up to glass calm waters and bluebird skies almost made us forget the 6hr ride back to the truck.
The final day of riding started with a climb up to Windy Pass. The view from the crest was yet another stunning sight but with time ticking by and the wind in our faces, we carried on.
The Olympic Marmot population seems to be doing very well in the area. Their burrows are sneaking up around each corner and they seem to be watching from every hilltop. A quick stop for a snack provided an interesting distraction for these Marmots.
On our last day we were rewarded with the longest descents of the trip. Winding our way down through flower-rich meadows, it was not difficult to comprehend how awesome this was. Where else in the world could you do something this remote, and this spectacular and still be in our extended backyard? We were experiencing the outdoors in its purest form but still would in but a few short hours pop out at the truck and be in Vancouver for dinner. British Columbia truly is one of the best places on earth. The Chilcotins prove that fact.
Another great ride in the memory bank. A relaxing dip in the lake, a quick paddle-boat ride and we were back on the road towards Vancouver. The perfect trip to finish off a spectacular summer.
Summer wasn’t so great. Who needs warm weather, dry trails, epic rides and long days. I really like the way Dustan and Pat outlined their trip so clearly. What did you pick up?