Monday, November 8, 2021

Canadian Rockies Bike FKT's?

 Although larger in-person events are starting to return as a result of more people getting vaccinated, chasing Fastest Known Times or FKT's is still increasing in popularity. The objective is to complete a route, trail, or loop faster than anyone else who has decided to share their experience. Strava makes it easy to share and rank attempts but of course there is a history of attempts from before GPS use was common and there are "luddites" who I think it has always been more of a running or climbing thing (and even a skiing thing). 

The concept of an FKT has become more established in the mountain bike community with videos of attempts of various routes: Kokopelli and White Rim in the USA, and West Highland Way in Scotland for example. 

Locally, running FKT's like Rockwall and Skyline trails have provided motivation for me; even though I am not capable of taking them, I would love to make an attempt. But on the mountain bike, there isn't much out there to motivate me to continue hammering over the hill that I have just climbed, and instead I have been contriving out and backs and half laps so that I can meet up with my girlfriend.

Locally, there are some possibilities for the creation of popular FKT segments. The routes used by TransRockies already demonstrate how towns and campgrounds can be linked together. In fact, the actual network of trails is so complex that an endless amount of options are available and it is difficult to confine what could be the go-to Canadian Rockies Mountain bike FKT to one route.  

Racing through the wilderness is controversial. Is it responsible to go fast on trails that shared with other users and wildlife? Where the terms "fast and light" mean carrying less or forgoing first aid and repair equipment. Where racing means riding on the edge of control and around blind corners. Although my familiarity with the above mentioned international FKT routes all seem to have frequent access for support crews, which is a big reason why videos of the attempts can be made. They are also around 100miles, which would slow things down a bit on flatter sections. FKT's also commonly start and finish from a prominent location, ideally a town centre for maximum exposure.

Anyways, here are my ideas of what could become classic Canadian Rockies FKT routes. I think they represent the brand of riding that is possible here in that the rough singletrack excludes most production gravel bikes:

Old Bow 80 course: ~80km, 2200m climbing. Sulphur Springs-Elbow Valley-Powderface Creek-Prairie Link-Prairie Creek-Powderface Road-Jumpingpound Ridge-Cox Hill-Tom Snow. Definitely classic, and the FKT is probably the course record from the race. 

Bragg Creek to Canmore: ~100km, 3000m of climbing. But how do you narrow down the options? Tom Snow to up Cox Hill (ugh...) or Elbow Valley-Prairie Link-Powderface Road-Jumpingpound Ridge? Baldy Pass? Jewel Pass or Skogan Pass?

High Rockies singletrack section: ~65km, 1200m of climbing one way (and an existing Strava segment). I think an out and back could be a good candidate as it would be closer to the 100miles, and the existing one way times require riding really fast on the flat singletrack sections. 

Various TranRockies/Doug Eastcott routes that are more remote: 

Elkford to Etherington over Fording River Pass. 

Etherington to Sandy McNabb or Turner Valley? over Grass and Sullivan Passes

Turner Valley to Bragg Creek: Volcano Ridge-Wildhorse-Ford Creek-Powderface Creek-Elbow Valley.

Sheep River to Elbow River sufferfest. How fast can you run up the middle of the Sheep River?

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Coros Pace 2 Review

 Ever look at the price of most GPS sports watches? Eyewatering. Imagine spending more than you would on a laptop and it might not even be able connect to your cycling power meter. It's ok, it will read your text messages to you (which you need to carry your phone with you to use), play music (so you don't have to carry your phone?), tell you when you need to rest (I can tell how my own legs feel thank you very much). 

The Coros Pace 2 watch comes packed with a bunch of useful features rather than the fluff found on Garmin and Suunto watches around $300. For someone who bikes and runs, power meter connectivity is pretty key so that you can replace the stand-alone bike computer. All I ask for is the kind of features that are on a 10 year old Garmin Edge 500 (Power meter capability, Barometric Altimeter) with an update of whatever 10 years of technology is and a watch strap. After almost a year of use, I will summarize the main benefits that I see of this watch:

+BluetoothLE and Ant+ connectivity. Not only can you use a wider range of devices, but this is also adds a layer of reliability. I sometimes notice especially if the battery is low on my power meter, it will have trouble connecting in Bluetooth but not Ant+. Ant+ connectivity allows me to go longer without changing batteries in my power meter.

+Barometric Altimeter for accurate elevation gain statistics. Devices with GPS only elevation will not count the small rolling hills you still have to climb. 

+Impressive battery life. You can easily leave the charging cable at home for a long weekend and not worry about losing it somewhere. Or spend all day Everesting. Or go on a long ski traverse.

+App is excellent. Perhaps it is also my new phone with better battery life so I can leave Bluetooth on, but uploading rides off of the app is fast, easy and mostly automatic. 

+Wrist HR seemed like a bit of a gimmick to me, but its use has grown on my. Sleep stats are somewhat interesting. I don't think the wrist HR is accurate enough for doing intervals, but for general runs, bikes, and skis, I can leave the heart rate strap at home and use the data from the wrist HR to measure a general training load.

+Improved GPS accuracy. Not only important for Strava KOMs, but also for accurately measuring run pace, which for runners is important for their version of "power".

With a few negatives:

- I have the version with the velcro strap. I don't particularly like this strap. It gets caught when I take sleeves on and off. I wonder if it is less durable, not only from the loops getting pulled, but I have also had to re-apply glue to keep the hook patches from peeling off. Also the strap is designed so that it won't pull out of the loop (which is good so that it won't fly off your wrist if it comes loose), but this means that you can't put it on your handlebars because you can't fit the strap over shifters, brake levers, and cables.

-Compared to my cheaper ($200) and older Lezyne and of course the more expensive Coros models, the Pace 2 lacks breadcrumb mapping. The map of your activity shows up on the watch screen when you save the activity. I am unsure why they can't have this capability, but it is nice for not only seeing how cool your activity map is going to turn out, but also seeing how close you are to the car at the end of a hard day. 

-I did notice some potential power meter dropouts with the watch on my wrist. This was evidenced by a lower average power recorded by the watch than with my Lezyne Micro GPS bike computer. 

-To get rides onto my computer to upload into non-web based software for which there would be an App, I have to email them to myself and download them to my computer. This seems to take longer than plugging in the watch and dragging the files off of it as it it was a USB drive. 

-No custom activity profiles. It would be neat to clone an existing activity type (bike, run) into to create a custom display/autolap arrangement for other activities such as trail running, backcountry skiing, and cross country skiing. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Climbduro for real and Virtual

 The Climbduro events captured what I love about cycling while hiding me from my insecurities (racing down trails, fighting for position), and have really defined how I choose to ride. My impression of the two editions that I did was ripping the legs off of each other on the climbs, each race starting with a wide gravel road, riders are free to move up and blow up as they wish, followed by a "party lap" back down.  For most of the last 4 summers, I have targeted longer climbs while taking time to enjoy the descents at my own pace and contriving loops so that I can meet up with my girlfriend for her descents. 

When the pandemic took hold in 2020, virtual racing became the main form of competition, with race organizers shifting to encouraging time trials following a GPS track. Climbduro was already ahead of the game, offering this in 2019 to complement their real event. Attempting these time trials, the rides became memorable, offering up the chance to "race" on tracks where logistically it wouldn't make sense to race, in addition to experiencing the views and the descents that came after the timed climbs. 

2018

The first edition happened under smoky skies. The route, 2 stages, the first up the open to traffic section to its top, the second up to the top of the Moose Mountain summit switchbacks. Bike choice was a hot topic but mountain bikes ruled the day, offering more gearing, and requiring less precision on the Summit doubletrack, and could make it down the untimed Moosepackers to the finish. Quite a surreal place to race up to the (almost) top of a mountain! I was just outside of the top 3 on either segment, but what was interesting was that a bad shift on the transition between the two stages bent my derailleur and I had to stop and repair it between stages and even then only had minimal working gear combinations.

2019

Construction on the summit trail required a different route but it still delivered. The first, a steep climb up the Husky Road, followed by an untimed descent of Ushoulda. The second, starting on the singletrack of Family Guy (it IS a climb trail!) and finishing on the upper sections of the Moose road. The pecking order was set after the Husky climb, and we staggered our start of the Family guy climb, so no problems were had on the singletrack. 3rd on both segments with great legs!

Prairie View-Jewel

Prairie View- Jewel pass is a classic loop, especially when combined with the Camp Chief Hector Descent and/or Razor's Edge. I'd never really hammered it before but had been meaning too. On a long weekend to boot! The initial switchbacks are steady but not steep, but then the climb really turns into a wall. Good for keeping the gas on!

Jumpingpound Summit + Cox Hill

My preferred way of riding Jumpingpound Ridge to Cox Hill, is actually to ascend to the ridge at the Lusk pass climb, ride to the summit of Jumpingpound as an out-and-back and then continue to Cox Hill. The Summit trail climb was new to me. After a slightly longer but enjoyable spin out on the gravel with some great views, I blasted up the Summit trail. Starting off easier on some nicely rerouted singletrack, it soon takes on a steeper character similar to the other Jumpingpound climbs. After topping out and then riding along the ridge, I actually beat my brother to the Cox Hill Junction! After a brief descent, the Cox Hill climb starts immediately and becomes steep and loose near the top. I couldn't clean this section. After re-grouping with my brother, we headed down. This descent is awesome.

Sulphur Mountain Backside

If you don't have a small enough chainring, the backside of Sulphur Mountain can be a real suffer...er sulphurfest. The pitch is so steep that you'll be spending some solid time in your easiest gear, or next easiest, and that is at a hammer pace! Great views up the Bow Valley on the 2nd last switchback heading up. Once at the top, the solidarity is over as you are immersed in the crowds at the boardwalk.

Moose Mountain + Ranger Summit Linkup

The Pneuma climb has a reputation of being tough, not necessarily because of the pitch but because of the roots and switchbacks on the way up. At a race pace, it isn't bad as you float up over the roots and have short recovery sections on the slight downhills. It's not a trail where you go and set a personal best VAM, but a climb that is more than just a means to an end. It still makes a great hammer, you just might not finish as high above your start as you think you have. 

Connecting to the West Bragg Creek trails is easy after descending Race of Spades. The Climbduro Quattro route featured a shorter climb on Ridgeback, a bigger climb up Bobcat and finally a couple of smaller climbs on Boundary Ridge and Snagmore. As if that wasn't enough I added in a bonus climb up Sugar Daddy before finishing off on Sugar Mama and spinning back to the Station Flats parking lot. It was around 1900m of climbing, much of that on singletrack!

Ranger Summit Linkup Redux

From the main West Bragg Creek parking lot, up Ranger Summit, then an out and back on Bobcat, followed by Sugar Mama. I had intended on starting the Triple (Sugar Daddy, and a repeat of Boundary Ridge and Snagmore) but I started in the wrong place so the route wouldn't have counted. The consolation of a lap down to the bottom of Snakes and Ladders and back up was a highlight though. 

By combining Climbduro segments together, I was able to create some memorable days on the bike.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Rye Ridge and another go at Fording River Pass

 It has been 9 years since I was last in the south-Highwood area. Well, I guess I was close with recent trips to Mist Ridge, Loomis Lake, and an ill-advised trip Around the Misty Range. Recently, the exploration bug has hit me again and this area serves up healthy helpings of exploration. There is definitely more than a long-weekend's worth of unfamiliar trails to explore out there, but with many closer options for day trips and more reliable options (like Fernie) for weekend trips it is hard to commit to making a trip to the Cataract. 

Three sections of the Great Divide Trail (GDT) thru hike provide motivation for mounting biking in this area: The Oldman Divide Section, Rye Ridge, and Fording River Pass. Hailstone Butte and Plateau Mountain are on my gravel hit list. Mt. Burke and Rye Ridge are fun downhill rides after pushing your bike up. And then there's the unknown of going over Grass Pass, down Wileman Creek to Flat Creek and the Sullivan Pass-High Rock Range loop. 

The "standard" Rye Ridge loop is probably the easiest bite to chew off in this area as the Cataract Creek snowmobile trails are actually well maintained (bridged creek crossings, very few logs). Clocking in at around 30km, I knew I would want to tack on something else, and the network of logging roads in the area provides easy ways to do that. Baril creek is in the next valley to the north and goes up to Fording River Pass. Fitzsimmons creek in the next valley over. And so on. Thanksgiving weekend, with winter approaching the still snow-free 2300m+ elevation of Fording River Pass was intriguing.

After the long drive to Etherington PRA, driving past multiple overflowing trailheads at Galatea, Elbow Lake, and Highwood Pass, we arrived to an empty parking lot, well empty except for 3 different vehicles pulled in, stopped to inspect a sign or the outhouse and then left...

The ride starts by rolling along the minimal washboard and slightly loose gravel of Forestry Trunk Road south to the Rye Ridge trailhead (just north of Cataract Creek PRA). At the Rye Ridge trailhead, the Rye Ridge trail almost immediately forks off to the right after the gate onto another smaller doubletrack marked with a cairn. But our ride would continue onto the logging road, descending first and then into some rolling terrain. The open valley provides wonderful views and also a bit of a headwind. The logging road eventually had had enough and it was time to stick with the Cataract Creek snowmobile trail. 

Grassy doubletrack is the name of the game for the next while as the trail travels further up the valley, crossing the main creek on a bridge to a junction with another snowmobile trail, climbing, and then descending back down to another creek crossing. A few logs and some mud spring sections require a bit of walking, but otherwise the trail is steady cruising.

The Cataract Loop shortcut appears and while it might be enticing to cut off a whopping 0.2km off the loop, it looks steep right from the start. After, a cabin is easy to miss in a small meadow, in this case more visible because some snowmobile club people were busy trying to put an outhouse back upright!

Another muddy creek crossing and then the fun begins with an absolute wall of a climb. Hmmm maybe the Cataract Creek Loop shortcut might have been a better option. The climb continues, at a gentler grade, snaking through the trees, very reminiscent of skiing up to the top of Silverstar from Sovereign lake. As the GDT now follows this part of the route, orange markings on trees are plentiful. And near the top while the snowmobile trail curves to the right, GDT markings bring you straight up onto the ridge where the views really open up. 

After what seems like an all too brief stint on the ridge, the GDT heads back into the trees to rejoin the snowmobile trail before a short slalom down (also reminiscent of the Sovereign Lake ski trails), before the GDT again forks off to the left onto some singletrack to climb back onto the ridge.

Perhaps the best part of the day is the descent along the ridge. Never too steep but with some rocks to keep you on your toes. After a long descent along the ridge, the trail plunges into the forest where the fun continues on soft-pine needle singletrack but it is sometimes interrupted by fallen trees.

At a crossing of a reclaimed logging road, the snowmobile trail is not too far to the right. We continued down the GDT to the creek crossing and then started working our way up the other side, hoping to intersect another snowmobile trail, but with some walking over downed trees, progress was slow and we decided to return to the reclaimed road. 

The snowmobile trail was a quick cruise down to the creek crossing, but repair efforts after the 2013 floods necessitated cutting a trail higher above the bank on the other side so make sure to leave something in the tank. At the first junction with the Baril Loop trail, I wanted to traverse over to ascend up to as far as I had time for towards Fording River Pass, while my partner continued down Etherington Creek, reporting no further difficulties. If I had checked my map, I would have found that that it might have been a better idea to take the East leg of the Baril Loop as the West leg gained some additional vertical before descending down to Baril Creek.

Transitioning off of the grassy snowmobile trails to the faster rolling gravel doubletrack down to Baril Creek was a welcome change. Baril Creek Trail immediately hits you with steep, punchy, rolling terrain as you work your way up the valley. And while I had managed to keep my shoes dry for the entire ride over Rye Ridge, numerous creek crossings on Baril Creek forced me to abandon any plans for dryness. It wasn't a warm day either as I spent the day wearing a cycling jacket.

Time alone on the bike is time to think. Think about what I look for in a ride. I like climbs to get you up high and out of the muddy valleys immediately. I like being able to go ahead on my own and loop back to meet my girlfriend at different points and descend together. I don't like slow rolling resistance that saps your power. I don't really come to the mountains to ride rolling terrain, I prefer racing up steady climbs. When I'm riding with my girlfriend, I like to do less waiting when we ride a trail: that she doesn't have to get off and walk hard sections, creek crossings or logs. While this ride had amazing views and explored some seldom ridden terrain, only a short section in the middle up and down from Rye Ridge really impressed me. Nevertheless the pull of the pass that I knew I wouldn't have time to make it up to kept me going. 

GDT blue blazes (for the Baril Creek Access) and snowmobile trail markers provide guidance in this section, the only warning is to stay on the snowmobile trail instead of going on the GDT towards James Lake. 

Nice spot above James Lake before yet another descent on the way up.
After another descent on the way "up" the trail really steepened, requiring some walking. But I was close to my turnaround time and motivated to push as high as possible, so I broke into an uphill jog. 
View from my highpoint. Actually very close to my highpoint from 9 years ago.

Pointing my bike around and dropping into the steep doubletrack filled with loose rocks, doubts about the quality of this ride vanished and a large grin appeared on my face. Uphills on the way back were inconsequential and the downhill on the wide doubletrack was beckoning me to go faster. My feet were already wet so creek crossings didn't bother me. After the Baril loop junction, the long, downhill cruise continued on without penalty where I arrived to my waiting girlfriend.


I'll be back to Fording River Pass and a little beyond, hopefully sooner than 9 years from now.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Moraine Lake and Ross Lake Trails

The views are spectacular once you emerge from the trees

Moraine Lake, made famous by Instagram and computer desktop backgrounds, is also known for its small parking lot filling up before sunrise each day so that photographers can wow their followers with a picture of the sunrise and so hikers can get an early start on the objectives in the area. Access during the fall larch season has always been competitive but in the last couple of years the pressure has been on all summer while the road is open. But what was once reportedly a terrible road to ride on due to cars circling for parking spots has now been transformed into a quiet ride with maybe a couple of shuttle busses and 10 cars passing the entire ride up.

Moraine Lake

While mountain biking in Banff National Park is limited, especially compared to Jasper, the Moraine Lake Highline trail remains open and provides an additional way to access Moraine Lake without having to worry about parking or shuttles. The Tramline trail from the Lake Louise townsite provides a gentle climb to Moraine Lake road.

The Highline trail is rooty, rising up to its highpoint around midway through, before its character changes, first becoming a smooth trail winding along the sideslope before emerging out into the avalanche paths coming off of Mt. Temple where bigger rocks embedded in the ground provide technical challenges that continue all of the way down to Moraine Lake. 

The smoother midsection of the trail
The return trip is only a little different with the rocks more challenging on the way up, but the roots do little to prevent a fast cruise on the way down.

The other main ride in Lake Louise is Ross Lake. Back at the bottom of Moraine Lake road, we continued up the Tramline and crossed over to the other side of Lake Louise Drive and headed behind the staff accommodations where the trail started. Ross Lake trail starts wider and gradually narrows as it traverses around, crossing multiple drainages. Near the end as the trail dropped down to the lake, rocks provided technical challenges and despite the "intermediate" rating, required harder moves than anything on Moraine Lake. The last couple of pitches were steeper and although I was intending on riding back on the Ross Lake trail by myself, I figured they would require walking anyways, so I resigned to ride back on the Great Divide trail with my partner. For the better because the descent from Ross Lake to the road was fast and fun. 
Ross Lake below the headwall below the hanging valley that is used to ski up to Popes Peak col in the winter

With all of the hype about the section of the Bow Valley Parkway near Banff being closed to cars, seeing cars overflowing the ditch right by the gate, and the outcry as the road was reopened to vehicle traffic, having a quiet Great Divide Highway to ourselves seemed ironic. Aside from some culverts closer to Lake Louise, the pavement wasn't in too bad of shape and we cruised back. Combined with the gentle climb up Tramline trail, the old highway would make an excellent family ride.

Passing over back into Alberta on the quiet Great Divide Highway.




Forgetmenot Rounder with additional Volcanos

 There's no denying the siren call of easily accessible, machine built trails designed with bikes in mind. Never too steep on the way up, and take your pick of either fast and flowy or steep and technical on the way down with minimal meandering. Smooth where it needs to be, rough where you want it to be and well marked so you can make loops on the fly to extend your ride as your window allows. These new trails have allowed riders to pack more trail into a shorter amount of time and effort making the sport more accessible on more days. In most cases, riders can avoid rocks, roots, and steep climbs, staying on their bike instead of having to get off frequently to walk.

The trails that mountain bikers had previously inherited in as their trail systems in the early days are still there, although the conditions have deteriorated after floods, grazing cattle, use in muddy conditions, and neglect. Frequent creek crossings and mud bogs. Deep ruts. Sand. Big roots sticking out of the ground. Washouts. Overgrowth. 

Mountain bike have improved quite a bit over the last while and while fragile bits like tires and rear derailleurs have gotten more expensive, it does seem sad to confine them to increasingly busy trails when we have 29" wheels, wider tires, slacker angles, and more suspension to easily roll over the rough stuff and explore beyond the confines of a trail system. 

Which brings me to the Forgetmenot Rounder. It's a classic loop, described in both Mountain Bike! the Canadian Rockies by Ward Cameron and Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies by Doug Eastcott of 45ish km. 

An October ford of the Elbow River is barely shin deep, no need to let that deter you from exploring across the river. The first pitch of the Threepoint Mountain trail is intimidating, with big rocks and roots sticking out among loose sand. Not promising off the start, but after walking a bit, the trail snakes its way up a ridge through a spaced forest. I gun it for the top of the climb, focussed on putting the power down and riding as much as possible, but definitely taking notice of the Big Elbow river appearing below to let me know how far I have already climbed. The trail crests and descends slightly to a muddy creek crossing: a theme for the day, but they are either rideable or involve just a quick dismount and hop over the creek before continuing on the ride. Mud section pockmarked by cattle hooves, easy walk, no problem.

After a couple of crests and creek crossings, the trail emerges in a meadow with a wonderful view of Threepoint Mountain. I don't mind a dismount here or there, but the biggest annoyance at this part is striking my pedals in the deep rut, which either sends a jar that bounces me off my saddle or ejects my foot from my pedal and sending my ankle into my chainstay.

A great view of Threepoint Mountain from the meadow

Both books warn of the trail deteriorating after Threepoint Creek, a junction marked with a signless post. But it was actually quite pleasant, just more of the same. Eventually we reach Volcano creek and it is time to start heading west. While the existing trail tread carries you past an unmarked junction, it might be worth turning right 1km sooner, heading another 1km south to Volcano Creek where it meets Gorge Creek at the aptly named gorge. But we long pass the unmarked junction and reach the marked junction for a snack break. The trail narrows at Volcano creek, the tree needles scrape our arms and grass occasionally obscures boulders that we bounce off of but we make it to the next junction.

From here, the traditional Forgetmenot Rounder would climb up to the top of the bank of Volcano creek and start heading north. But being so close to the Sheep River trail system where I have never been before, I had schemed a 10km extension that would allow me to see Volcano ridge and also the "new" (ca 2008) Volcano Link trail, ironically riding about 30km away from the road to ride a machine built trail. At the junction, Volcano ridge trail is indistinct, forcing you into Volcano creek before appearing on the opposite bank. We make mental note not to carry too much speed into the unsigned barbed-wire fence but the baby head sized rocks will prevent us from coming in with too much speed. The trail is never too steep but follows an arrow-straight cutline up to a pass, with the intersection of Volcano Link coming from the east. Turning east, another cutline brings us down and then up to another bump, where we emerged in a meadow and a nice spot for a lunch break.

South Volcano Ridge. A nice lunch spot

After lunch, we start descending to the east, passing a marked junction with an obvious singletrack, but one that seemed too narrow to be a machine build and instead continue straight. The trail, still following a cutline, although one that turns at diagonals drops down steeply, loosely, and with some encroaching alders. It definitely met the description of the old trail. Eventually we hit the valley bottom and roll on the Link trail towards an old, closed parking lot just off the abandoned Gorge Creek road. I intend on racing up the new Volcano Link trail, but first I have to actually find it! I know the junction is a couple hundred meters south of the old trail we descended. Racing back up the Link Creek trail, past the old trail junction, I keep my eyes focused to my right looking for a machine built trail to climb up. I spot the machine built trail at a 5:00 direction but the junction is signed. I hammer up the trail, while being of a more modern build, it is definitely steep. The trail wound its way up the slope but a treed ridge loomed discouragingly high above. Eventually it got closer and the trail emerged at the junction as the singletrack that we had previously ridden by. 

The backtrack to Volcano Creek was quick for the Volcano Ridge trail is in good shape, dry and with waterbars to experience some negative g's. The previously mentioned babyheads kept our speed in check so we wouldn't rip through the barbed wire gate. Back on Volcano Creek, the suffering continued from earlier in the day, but instead of being narrow, it involved multiple steep, punchy hills with loose rocks out of creek crossings, requiring more effort than the elevation profile would suggest.

At Threepoint creek, the trail descends into the creek facing upstream. We are unsure of trusting the accuracy of the GPS track through here but eventually deduce that we have to pick up the track heading upstream, cross Threepoint further upstream, before a big climb out to the top of the bank on the north side. Here we spotted some wild horses, who appeared quite jumpy.

Threepoint trail was an improvement from Volcano Creek, although passing through a clearcut. The anticipation for the gorge was building and eventually the trail started to roll along it's edge, I wanted to snap a picture but we were cruising too fast to stop, but eventually, right at the intersection with Wildhorse Trail, we had a chance.

Threepoint Gorge
On to the final section of the day. I had heard that Wildhorse trail was tricky to find, but coming from the gorge, the junction with Quirk trail was defined, in fact turning left onto Wildhorse seemed obvious. The only remaining navigational SNAFU occurred just after the Quirk Creek shortcut comes in. We took the marked left turn, continued through some wet and muddy terrain for a bit before reaching an opening meadow. Instead of trending right through the meadow, we got suckered into a reclaimed logging road trending straight/left. GPS confirmed our mistake and soon we were back on track, finishing the climb up Wildhorse with a couple of creek crossings. 

The trail still stayed doubletrack and as I had heard great hype about this trail, including being rough on the descent from erosion, I was wondering when it would become more rugged. As it crested over the final hill and turned down, it never narrowed, and with braids detouring around a big washout rut, it was a pleasant pine needle cruise down to the Elbow River. We were running low on time and decided against continuing on Wildhorse to the Big Elbow crossing and instead made another ankle deep ford of the Elbow and rode across the wide gravel flats, setting course for the Cobble Flats access road way off in the distance. The final cruise on Hwy 66 capped off this great ride.


 Overall, a great ride if you don't mind hopping across a bunch of creek crossings and know how to use Trailforks and intuition for navigation, most of it enjoyable save for sections of Threepoint Mountain and Volcano Creek trails.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Into the Mystic to Lord of the Squirrels

Lord of the Squirrels in Whistler has been on my radar for a while, since before the climbing trail, Into the Mystic, was built and it was ridden or pushed as an out and back. I was, and still am intrigued by large descents, even more so when there is a climb to race up to connect it. 

Nearing the end of summer 2020, I found that I was full of motivation to ride but felt like I was running out of time before the transition into fall, where you the first snows prevent you from riding in to the tops of mountains but aren't enough to allow you to ski. I assumed that any ski mountaineering races that winter would be cancelled due to the pandemic, so I wouldn't need any vacation days to take Fridays off to travel to races and I schemed up another week long trip to grab some remaining rides that had been waiting on my list for too long. 

I hatched a plan for a quick trip to Pemberton, Whistler, and Squamish, picking up my brother in Kelowna on the way. 

While the summer had been relatively smoke free, there was some smoke in the air as we drove to Whistler. On the morning we were to ride up Into the Mystic, there certainly was some smoke in the air, I figured that I could kind of see up the mountains, and not really smell it, so it couldn't be that bad! But it was bad enough that my brother's friend didn't feel like starting the ride.

I was going to attempt a hard effort up the climb, so we took it as easy as possible up the steep grind up the Flank trail from Function Junction. Not the easiest place to start this ride but we didn't know any better. Once at the start of the trail, the "race" was on. Absolutely flying on the traversing section along the bottom, powering up the steep switchbacks higher up and trying not to fade on the boardwalks up top. I reached the cabin at the junction of the trail and meandered up towards the actual summit of the On the Rocks trail at a much easier pace then turned around to meet Bill back at the cabin. I should have continued at a steady, but not hard pace but oh well. After regaining the summit, we decided to add on a loop of Rush Hour/Last Call. And we were glad we did. The trail was at a good difficulty for me and featured some fun, optional rock slabs to maximize the fun before heading down the Lord of the Squirrels. 

Lord of the Squirrels was a great descent. Never steep, but with lots of interesting rock and root features to keep you entertained on the way down. Below Chipmunk Rebellion, Industrial Waste, and Danimal Middle brought me to the roads, while Bill took harder trails. I wonder what an easy black option off the Flank would be? Roads and the valley trail brought us back to the car and our campsite where I could upload my ride and celebrate my KOM on the climb with a lukewarm beer and some pasta in the evening rain.