Thursday, September 23, 2010

BC MTB Trip: Part 4 - Alice in Wonderland (8.26.10)

Continued from part 3.

After completing our epic ride on Comfortably Numb the previous day, we decided to have a relaxing day of riding close to camp, in Squamish. The plan was to first get coffee and breakfast at my favorite java house, Onatah; then head over to Tantalus Bike Shop to get some ride recommendations for the day. As always, the coffee was superb and very similar in taste to Full City Coffee, here in Eugene. I fueled up on a breakfast “Manwich” which was also quite tasty. After breakfast we headed over to Tantalus, where we were greeted by a friendly fella behind the counter. After asking him for ride suggestions, he enthusiastically pulled open a map and began tracing a route with his finger. He stated that since we had gotten rain the night before, he was going to send us to some trails that would normally be too dusty. The plan of attack would be to follow a series of connecting trails whose names were based on Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland”. Not only was he extremely helpful with helping us plan a ride, he also offered us a ride back in his car if we wanted to shuttle the road portion. Are you kiddin’ me, talk about service! We thanked him for the offer and trail beta before leaving the store, and although we planned to ride the road portions we were touched by his hospitality. Both Tantalus and CORSA Cycles in Squamish are excellent XC bike shops with super friendly staff, this is in contrast to our experience with the bike shops in the Whistler Village, which are mainly DH specific and not as friendly to us lycra wearing folks. If anyone knows of a good XC shop in Whistler please let me know in the comment box below.

Map and tracks from our ride

After studying the map again, we decided to park at the intersection of Hwy 99 and Depot road, just north of Squamish. From here, we rode our bikes up Hwy. 99 for 4 miles (and ~750’ in elevation gain) to our turnoff, the access road to Cat Lake. As we rode along the gravel road, we noticed that the skies were threatening rain, but hey we’re from Oregon, a little rain isn’t gonna stop us from getting on some quality singletrack! Soon enough, we reached a parking area with a kiosk for Cat Lake. Knowing that we were close to the trailhead, I pulled out my trusty map to determine where it might be. After a quick study, I was pretty sure we had just passed it, unfortunately down at the bottom of a steep pitch we had just climbed up. Emily offered to ride back down to see if she could find it, which I graciously accepted. Sure enough she found it and shouted back up to me to let me know.

A view of the Tantalus Range and forming storm clouds
 The first part of the trail is rated as a blue and dumps you out at the northwest end of Cat Lake. I'm not sure if this trail has a name or considered the beginning of "Cheshire Cat", the trail we were looking for. Once we got to the lake we had a little trouble finding the main trail, but after some looking around, we found it heading straight west out of a trashed out camping spot. The Cheshire Cat is rated as a black, which was definitely fitting for some of the sections; although as a whole I would have put it on par with some of the harder blue rated trails in the area. Probably the hardest part of the trail was based on the surface conditions, super fine and deep dust on the steep descents. Apparently this is where the guy at Tantalus thought the rain would have helped things. Other then the dust, the trail had lots of short climbs and downhills to work your legs and lungs, and I was definitely feeling our long ride from the day before. There was also some fun bridge work here and there to make things interesting. At the very end of the trail, and after a steep switchback, comes another one that transitions into a bridge over a creek. It's a really sharp turn and if you blow it you’re going for a dip off the high dive.

Cheshire Cat

Some bridge work early on in the trail

A fun log ride in the middle of Cheshire Cat

The ladder switchback at the end of Cheshire Cat

Don't miss the turn!
 The next trail we jumped on was “Cheshire Kitten”, a short connector trail. My recollection was that this trail featured natural technical obstacles that weren’t too tough. After the trail ended we headed south on Hwy. 99 for a short distance until it passed over the Cheekye River. On the other side of the highway bridge is where our next trail would start, “White Rabbit”. This trail was a great XC loop with intermediate terrain and fun roots, rocks, and bridges. This trail ends at the intersection with Alice Lake Road, which was familiar territory for us.

Emily rides over a small rock feature on White Rabbit


More bridges on Wonderland

Creek crossings too!

 The imprisoned boulder on Wonderland. Quite a sight!

The last trail we hit in the “Alice in Wonderland” network, was Wonderland! This was by far my favorite one of the ride; I can’t believe it is so close to our campground and it took us four years to discover it. Basically, this trail parallels Hwy. 99 on the east side all the way back to Depot Road, where we had parked the car. The flow on this trail was amazing. Em and I rallied over bridges, roots and through small rock gardens. There were also some fun skinnies here and there to test your balance on the way down the trail if you so choose. At one point, to the side of the trail is a massive boulder that fell off the cliff to the east. This piece of rock has been completely caged in by trees that have grown up around it, and it’s a pretty impressive piece of natural trail art. By the time we reached Depot Road our smiles had not worn off...what a great trail! As we turned onto Depot, we agreed that we hadn’t gotten enough riding in for the day, and decided to extend it with a quick lap around the “The Dump Trails”.

The Dump Trail system was actually Emily’s and my introduction to mountain biking in Squamish, and it was also near the start of Em’s mountain biking career, so it does hold some good memories for us. That said, if you’ve come to Squamish/Whistler as a ride destination this would not be my first recommendation for a ride suggestion, but it is a good place to put down some miles on easy to intermediate trails with natural root and rock features. It should also be noted that there is a clear-cut smack dab in the middle of the trail system, which cuts off a couple of trails and can make route finding a little challenging. I still remember the first time we rode here and came across the clearcut, it took us about 15 minutes to find where the trail picked back up again.
On this ride we rode up "Sweet Judy" and “Rusty Bucket” before heading over to “Larry’s Loop/Cheekeye Fan”. On the way over to Larry’s/Cheekeye we ran into the clear-cut once again, but luckily this time there was some flagging and a faint trail which allowed us to find our way through with minimal effort. The cut did allow an unobstructed view of the sky and what looked to be a big storm coming over the Tantalus range. Since we were about as far as we had planned to be from the car, it didn’t affect our remaining ride plans. Once we reached Cheekeye Fan, we headed west a short distance to the powerline road, and then headed south on to hit the next planned trail, “Cracked Patella”. This trail was probably a little harder than the others, and you could also tell that it doesn’t get much traffic; it was however a good alternative to riding back on the trials we had just ridden up.

Threatening skies over the Tantalus Range (taken from the clearcut)

The last trail we had planned to ride was “Two Fist”, which was rated as a black diamond. Basically this trail seems to be one that time forgot, and a graveyard of wooden stunts. At one point in time it must have had quite an elaborate system of elevated ladder bridges and skinnies, based on all the leftover braces still attached high up on the trunks of the trees. I’m not sure why this trail was left to decay, but it was kinda cool to see. Once we finished Two Fist, we connected back up with Sweet Judy which we rode down to finish the ride.

Remnants of the ladders that used to be on Two Fist

More of the graveyard

In summary, I would say when I do this ride again I’d skip Chesire Cat, for it accounted for a majority of the climb, and was just too dusty to be considered worth it. I might reconsider if a lot of rain had fallen recently. Instead, I would ride up the dump trails and Hwy. 99 to White Rabbit and back down Wonderland; from there eat lunch and then hit one of the other great Squamish Trail systems (e.g. Garibaldi Highlands/Alice Lake, Crumpet Forest).

After the ride we headed over to Howe Sound Brewing for a beer and some hot wings, two of my favorite things! As people who know me will tell you, I’m somewhat of beer snob, and relish in the taste of a strong/rich microbrew. That said, I really wanted to like Howe Sound, as the only local brewery in Squamish. However, if you also like the taste of strong hopped-up Northwest style beers, I can’t recommend Howe Sound. To start with, pints cost ~$6.50, pretty outrageous if you’re used to paying 3 to 4 bucks; I’m sure the cost has something to do with the high alcohol tax. I actually wouldn’t mind dishin’ out that much for a pint, but I'd better be knocked out of my seat with flavor, or at least on par with what I drink at home. I had the IPA, and to be honest, it didn’t taste much different than an American lager (e.g. Bud). By no means do I intend to insult the brewmaster or locals that enjoy their beer, for I’m sure a lot of it has to do with how spoiled we are in the PNW. My other complaint has to do with the cost of the hot wings, $12 for 9 pieces?! Come on! At least they were pretty tasty. OK, enough bitchin’…

After the brewery, we headed back to camp to cook dinner (since we were now broke). After dinner we once again relaxed, planned our ride for the next day, and headed off to bed.

To be continued…


  1. Thats too bad - Cheshire Cat is amazing - in the right conditions. The owner of Bean around the World in Brackendale is responsible for Wonderland. I'll tell him you both liked it.

  2. Lee,
    We'll give Cheshire Cat another go if it's had rain recently. I can see it being super fun in the right conditions.

    Yes, please pass along our appreciation of Wonderland, great trail!