Birthday Epic in the Chilcotin

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My buddy Scott Mcgregor had just turned 40. No better way to celebrate turning 40 than a two day mountain bike camping adventure in the Chilcotin mountains of BC! We drove from Vancouver on a cloudy Sunday afternoon with rain in the forecast on the last weekend in August. We decided regardless of how bad it could get we would bring the right gear and make it happen. We stopped for dinner in Pemberton on the way to Tyax Lodge for our last dinner in civilization for the next couple of days. As we consumed our burger and fries, I checked the weather one last time, thinking about waking up at the campsite for our 8am morning float plane drop onto Lorna Lake. Sounded like rain was in the forecast and at elevation, likely snow…this was going to be an adventure alright…

As we stepped off the plane with sleet sandblasting our faces and icy mountain air penetrating our multiple wool layers we asked the pilot what he thought about the weather. As a pilot knows all about weather, we looked at him with a respectful smile, ready for his wisdom. With a nonchalant stone cold face he replied, “It’s going to get worse” then slammed the door to the plane and took off. We all cowered a little bit and put our bikes back together ready to ride. Always the one to pack the smallest bag I thought maybe I should have packed another layer or two.

Minimalist packing at its best

Goes without saying we spent hours on the days leading up to the trip planning to get our bags as light as possible. For a one day ride you can get away with a small pack but for an overnight trip you have the sleeping bag, thermo-rest, stove for cooking, extra clothes, tent or some sort of shelter. For lightweight packing I managed to get all that into a 14L ACRE Houser pack. This held everything you see above. Having a lighter bag was a lot more comfortable for all the climbs and I didn’t feel I missed anything at the end of the trip.

Our plan was to do a loop north of Lorna Lake over Elbow Pass and work our way down near Spruce Lake for the night then on Day 2 ride back to Tyaughton Lake. We knew we were going to have some creek crossings and they started right away. It had certainly been wet in the week leading up to our trip as the trails were very muddy with big puddles in some sections.

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We took our first break in “Little Graveyard” after a couple of hours of riding and trudging through creaks to look at the map and plan out our next few trails. I made sure to mention to the boys this is the exact location we ran into a Grizzly bear on a trip I did a couple of years previous. It felt good to take a rest, but with our shoes soaked and feet cold we decided to just keep moving.

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The birthday boy Scott digs deep to maintain traction as a big headwind attempts to blow him off his bike on the climb out of Little Graveyard on our way to Elbow Pass.

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Day 1 ended up being about 42 kilometres, and we were out for about 8 hours. The creek crossings really took it out of us our feet were pretty waterlogged by the end of the day. As the sun went down the temperature did too and we loaded up a small but efficient campfire. My freeze dried boil in a bag camp food was pretty bad, but after a long day of riding I had no complaints.

Despite the remoteness of the area I always seem to run into someone I know and this trip was no exception. Kevin Nemethy and his brother Adam did a spontaneous trip with float plane drop into the area right after us and ended up meeting us at Spruce Lake to camp for the night. It was good to catch up with them and compare trail stories and what routes they chose for this trip.

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Spruce Lake the morning after we arrived as we were packing up getting ready for Day 2.

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Working our way out of Spruce Lake to the top of Windy Pass. This nasty little climb is 6.4k long and boasts over 600 meters of elevation. You can ride part of it, but there are certainly some hike-a-bike sections you can not avoid.

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Steve rides through a mountain pass that reminds us of our elevation with a big icy block of snow watching us ride past.

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Everyone seems to have a different idea what the perfect Chilcotin mountain bike is, but I have found XC bikes work best for me as they are light and agile through all the varying terrain (especially the climbing). Most of the terrain isn’t technical enough to gain advantages with a bigger bike especially considering all the climbing at elevation.

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Before we descended down to Tyaughton Lake we traversed along Ridge-o-rama where it felt like we were going to get blown off our bikes down the endless slope. The views from this trail were unbelievable and I will never forget the magical panoramic scene.

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After the second day of riding we were spent. The two days combined we’d ridden 72k in about 14 hours including rest stops.  We set up camp at Friberg, and talked about the endless single track we’d just experienced and figured out how to put into context what we had just experienced. There would be some lasting memories.

We’d be up early and driving back to the big city the next morning. Little did we know within hours of us packing up and leaving the skies would open up and rain would fall on the very trails we’d just ridden. On the upper trails a blanket of snow that would continue to be there potentially until the summer of 2017.

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