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Building On Boundary Trail (An Heirloom Trail)

Photos Andrew Major & Noted

Finding Boundary

I remember eating fresh salmon off of a BBQ. We were on the side of the gravel access road up Mt Fromme and Dan Sedlacek of On Top Bike Shop* was behind the grill. He's laughing in spite of the biting cold and pissing rain. Everyone is being a bit silly actually, standing in a mega-globular fall rain event at the top of Pink Starfish trail. We're taking turns watching little gobs of dough float down the mini fryer. I'm soaked through, shivering uncontrollably, and mud-covered.

Suddenly a huge tray of confections is floating through the assembled crowd. Oh, YUM. Delicious baked goods. That's exactly what I need, well that and dry underwear. There's enough for twice our turnout but there aren't any left five minutes after the cover comes off. Boundary-Karen made them? Who's Boundary-Karen? She works on Boundary Trail? Where's Boundary Trail?

*A 'little shop that could' still servicing bikes at the top of Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver.


My Way VS The High Way. Refreshed in 2013. Photo: Morgan Taylor

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Kim Steed riding the original High Way in 2007. Photo: Steed Cycles

The weather won't turn around and we reluctantly admit the dig day is done. It's a small turnout but still a few shuttle trips to download everyone in Dan's van. At this point, I'm lamenting my lack of layers and a friend and I take off on foot down Starfish rather than join the lottery for a seat.

At the bottom of Starfish, we find ourselves standing at the top of a platform leading to a steep and skinny ladder roll-in, that is now gone. I learn it's the start of a trail I've never heard of: Upper Boundary. Holy Sh*t! The rock armoured exit is a mile down and looks to be a straight 90° interface with the ladder. I remove my Tilley Hat and hold it over my heart like I'm at a funeral - mine.

From there we hike down the most intense 669m of handmade trail art I've seen; Boundary Trail. High ladders, skinny ladders, superfluous ladders, I mean, only the nastiest rocks and roots don't have ladders over them! It's a slow speed make-your-own-flow adventure for the advanced rider. Certainly not everyone's favourite tomato but at the same time an endangered heirloom strain that's worth preserving for everyone.

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My Clairebarian checking out fresh work in 2016.

Ode To Karen

Each split by hand, thousands of little rungs
Document her days building Boundary
Full flavour, a marvelous signature,
Classically-odd North Shore trail on Mt Fromme.

I'd meet Boundary-Karen a few times before I build up the nerve to even take my bike for a hike down her masterpiece.* Quiet, unassuming, strong. At the time, she's one of the only other people I see predominately riding a hardtail and I'd bump into her and her black .243 occasionally on the west side of the mountain.

The North Shore has always had our share of amazing and dedicated trail builders - thank you folks - and there are maybe too many names past and present to document them all, "you know who you are" being the common refrain. Of the builders I know personally who have committed countless hours of building for the rest of us, Karen is the person I know the least. It's shocking to me how few riders have heard of her given how long, how hard, and how often she's been digging for well over a decade.

I witness her passionate devotion for her trail at a meeting between Fromme trail builders and the District of North Vancouver (DNV). A DNV staffer tells our collective number that her trail is "unsustainable" and the room goes pin-drop-silent. Karen doesn't so much as raise her voice, she simply projects these words powerfully over the hushed assembly: "It's sustainable as long as I'm working on it."

*Karen would humbly point out that she inherited the trail from Andre originally.

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Distinctly Boundary Trail. Summer 2019.

And that's the truth. Today, many of Karen's artistic creations are gone (of particular note the first two structures on Upper Boundary) and others are due for immediate repair or replacement. It's a heritage trail at risk of disappearing. Karen has had to step back from the heavy lifting on her trail and, at her request, the local trail association, the nsmbA, is stepping up to support her and ensure the full flavour of her masterpiece is maintained. That's right down to using her signature split-rung style and replacing structures that have previously been removed.

There is room on the North Shore for all kinds of different trails, but I don't believe you can have 'Trails For All, Trails Forever' without continuing to breathe fresh life into the last few unique slivers of the Shore for future generations of riders to experience.

As of tonight, friends of Karen have raised $1350 towards the goal of building Boundary as Boundary and work is already beginning. If you'd like to help donations can be made directly to the trail here.

Bonus Content:

When Matt Dennison and Seb Kemp combined their talents on the series Hey Neighbour they interviewed Kim at Steed Cycles on Boundary Trail. It's an enjoyable watch that highlights some of the trail's signature features.

Trending on NSMB


+7 Andrew Major JVP Mammal twk Luix Todd Hellinga natbrown

Boy do I hate how some people use the term “sustainable”. No trail is sustainable without being travelled on or worked on. A trail is an erosional feature whereby the passage of people, animals etc has worn through the vegetation to create a path.


+6 Andrew Major Mammal Andy Eunson Luix Todd Hellinga natbrown

You're bang on with this. What does the word 'sustainable' even mean? It means everything, it means nothing. I've tried to stop using that word in favor or more descriptive words like durable, erosion, sight lines, deferred maintenance, carrying capacity, user interactions, sedimentation, drainage, etc.


+2 Mark person person IslandLife [email protected]

I mean, its a reasonably well defined term?

"able to be maintained at a certain rate or level."

You can modify it beyond that as it specifically pertains to trails, but I think its colloquially fairly well understood. As Karen meant it "this trail will be generally the same, and not become a giant creek, as long as I'm around".

Or you could get way more detailed and lay out a Limits of Acceptable Change framework? 

I hear what you're saying to a degree, trails have impact on the environment by their very definition. But that doesn't mean they can't be "sustainable" in the short or long term.



It's worth pondering, for everyone, what sustainable means. I think all three of you have stated points that are valuable, and there'd probably be some benefits if there was a definition that was accepted more broadly than just inside the mountain bike community. I think there's a trail centric definition, where it means the trail condition is consistent over a short-medium term (human scale) so long as the resources are provided in material and human terms. The resources required obviously vary depending on trail location and design. Then there's the definition that values the environment that the trail is located in, the definition that the broader public uses. That definition isn't especially interested in the trail itself, but the cost of that trail to the area it's located in, especially as maintenance draws resources from the surrounding area in order to keep the trail condition consistent. Well, I'm probably giving a majority of people too much credit in how much thought they give in defining this term, but there are certainly people like you folks who do consider it. My take on trail sustainability is one of the main reasons why I'm going to be riding pavement mostly from now on. I do concede though, everything has it's costs, and we all decide for ourselves where we draw the line on what's acceptable- I come in peace :)


+3 Andrew Major twk Mammal AlanB [email protected]

Thanks 'Drew. 

Having just finished rebuilding a ton of the features on Imonator, and now working on this, the NSMBA is working hard to ensure the Shore keeps its heritage and everyone from the Tiny Mechanic, to the guy pushing his VPS Shore up Fromme in Jeans in 2020, to Gunter visiting from Germany gets to ride some cedar.


+6 Timer Andrew Major Niels van Kampenhout twk Mammal AlanB Kyle Dixon [email protected]

I just met Gunter on Fromme this morning and I can tell you, he is STOKED to be riding here


0 joedirt [email protected]

I have the utmost confidence!


+1 Andrew Major

I can close my eyes and picture that trail day on PS with the mini-donut machine, so wet. Karen either brought or found a way to send backed goods to every trail day for many years, this was outside of her time building on Boundary.



Next to watching Lester walk backwards down a tree turning it into two planks with a chainsaw this was my most memorable trailday. 

I was thinking about it today and I’m fairly certain that this was also the first time I actually chatted with Digger - vs just saying hi - while attempting to snake his clearly optimal position in front of the doughnut maker.


+1 Andrew Major

You can't beat the quality of her work.


+1 joedirt

I think it's really awesome that the NSMBA is trying to keep to her vision and they're using some of their most experienced builders. Here's a fresh shot that Sean sent me (Joe, one of the other builders is the rider). 


+2 IslandLife Sandy James Oates

Plenty more cedar showing up and it both looks and smells awesome. 


+1 Sandy James Oates

Beautiful work!!


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