Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Half Nelson - Squamish, BC (8.26.12)

After all the years of coming to Squamish/Whistler for our anniversary, Emily and I finally feel like we are getting to know all the different trail systems, making it much easier to plan rides. During our 2011 visit, one of our favorite days included the trails “Half Nelson”,” STP”, and “Somewhere over There”. If you’ve ridden in Squamish since the summer of 2010, Half Nelson probably needs no introduction. It has quickly gained popularity and become the flagship trail for the area, although I’m sure the locals are sick of people asking or talking about it in such a manner. It’s basically a downhill pump-track, inspired by trails like the famed A-Line in Whistler, just a bit tamed down. It was built by “Big Red” Ted Tempany (and many volunteers) and was funded by both local and federal grants, the first and hopefully not the last one to have such support. The other two trails, “STP” and “Somewhere Over There” (SWOT), will be discussed further below.

Leaving Eugene on Friday afternoon, we stayed at our friends' house (Jason & Cleo) in Seattle that evening. The next morning we planned to cross the border and reach Squamish during the early afternoon, with enough time to get in a ride. Unfortunately traffic was thick along the freeway through Vancouver, and even more so on Hwy 99, between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish. Apparently a road cyclist had gotten hit by a car during a race, creating the holdup. After finding this out, I felt pretty bad about all my bitching. By the time we made it to camp it was ~5pm, basically enough time to setup our site for the week and cook dinner before it got dark. I was a little bummed that we had lost one day of riding, but was also happy to start a week and a half’s worth of mountain biking, kayaking, and just plain relaxin'!

Home sweet home

The next morning we cooked breakfast, made coffee, and made plans for the day's ride. Since we didn’t feel like doing more driving then necessary and we wanted to start off with something we already knew, we decided on Half Nelson through SWOT. With that, we packed the car with our riding gear and headed off. We would start our ride from the dirt parking lot, about ¼ mile up from Quest University on Mamquam Rd/Garibaldi Park Rd.

From the parking lot, we rode up the gravel road to an intersection with another road that is used to climb up to Half Nelson; this intersection is at the bottom of the Half Nelson trail. We didn’t know this until later on in our trip, but there is actually a climbing trail that starts right at the lot we were parked at and ends partway up the climbing road. We did ride this the last day we were in Squamish, and although it is a fun climb, I didn’t feel it was any easier.. While climbing (the road or trail), you’ll get some nice views looking out toward Howe Sound, which I couldn’t help to stop and take a couple photos of. Continuing the climb, we passed the SORCA shelter (with a map of the riding area) and made a hard right turn, getting into the meat of the climb. Although steep, the climb here is fairly short and before we knew it we were at the entrance to Half Nelson, which you can’t miss. After a quick breather, we unlocked our shocks, dropped our seats, and prepared to drop in.

Emily rides past a nice view, thanks to some cutting...

Ready for some more climbing

Emily pulls into the trailhead for Half Nelson

The first part of Half Nelson has you ripping down singletrack through a forest setting – it’s really nothing fancy at this point and gives no indication of what lies down the trail. Not far below the intersection with “Recycle” (another fun trail), get ready for lots of "whee" moments. For me this trail can best be described as a dirt luge/bobsled course, where you’re funneled into S-turns of high banked berms; however, unlike the aforementioned Olympic events, between the turns you’ll be treated to massive dirt rollers and/or jumps, depending on how big your sack is. For me, I’m plenty happy with keeping my wheels closer to the ground and getting my giggles from the amazing flow of this trail, which doesn't require you to go big. That said, there are still plenty of small features to get you airborne, which we took full advantage of on the way down. Before long we passed underneath a elaborate wood bridge, which is actually the “Angry Midget” (AM) Trail. The AM trial can be accessed by passing the trailhead to Half Nelson and continuing on for another mile or so. It's also a fun trail in its own right, but seems to have been neglected a bit, as it has lots of loose dirt.

Okay, back to Half Nelson. After passing underneath AM, the trail seemed to be a little more packed down and moist, in a good way. There are some spots in here where you can really build up some speed before driving around a corner high up on the well-built berms. I really wish I had the stones to huck some of the bigger jumps so that I could land on the transitions, but once again, it’s still plenty fun even if you don’t. As we rounded the last few bermed corners at the end of the trail, all too soon, it was over. Not having nearly enough of that, we grinded up the hill one more time for another round. As a quick disclaimer, pictures do not do this trail justice, which seems to flatten out the perspective quite a bit. Furthermore, it’s really hard to find places to stop and take pictures, and the reality is you’re having so much fun that you really don’t want to. That said, here are a few shots from our laps down Half Nelson:

Em enters the fun stuff

Rounding one of the many corners

A few bridges here and there

Emily heads under the AM bridge

A little more packed on the bottom half

Entering the speed zone

Looking down Half Nelson from the AM bridge

A rider slingshots around a corner (taken from the AM bridge)

Same rider, downhill of the AM bridge

Now content with our couple laps down Half Nelson, we headed southwest to one of our other favorite trails in Squampton, Somewhere Over There. To get “There”, we took the trail from the bottom of Half Nelson down to and across Ring Creek (at Darwin's Crossing). Once over the creek, we made a short (but steep) climb to the “STP” trailhead. STP is also a moto trail and I’m not sure how much MTB traffic it actually gets, but I can tell you that we think it’s pretty fun. It’s a pretty technical up & down affair, with the last bit being a pretty fun (and somewhat loose) descent. When we reached the bottom of the hill we were faced with a recent clear-cut where the trail continued. With the heavy undergrowth on this section of trail, I always feel like I’m going to come around a blind corner and be face to face with a big black bear, but that has yet to happen. Eventually the trail deposits you at another dirt road, which is also the start of another grunt to get to the top of SWOT.

Em heads across Ring Creek at Darwin's Crossing

The start of another climb, to STP

Descending STP

Em enters the clear cut

Towards the end of STP

The climb up this dirt road is fairly short, but it is steep with lots of sun exposure (due to the cut). Before long the road turned to trail and ducked back into the forest. Just a bit up the trail we reached the intersection with “Hoods in the Woods”, supposedly a really fun trail that I eventually want to do. However, it was not on our day’s agenda, we had other things in mind, so we continued to climb toward our destination. Between Hoods and the start of SWOT were some fun short climbs that required both technical and mountain goat skills, which I wasn't able to conjure up for a few of them. As my legs and lungs were starting to feel our day’s adventure, we reached the summit at the top of an unearthed granite pitch, which also marked a convenient lunch spot for us.

The climb to Somewhere Over There

After puttin’ down some ham & cheese sammys, we saddled back up for our descent. After dropping down a steep granite pitch the trail darted left into the woods – be careful to take the correct trail and not the one marked with a sign “moto”. From here the trail traversed back & forth down the hill with lots of techie bits, including around the switchbacks. You can tell that this trail is still relatively new since it’s not quite bedded down yet in some spots, although this doesn’t detract from the fun. There are a couple of exciting natural rock features as well as some wood ladder bridges to keep you on your toes. One bridge in particular makes you dizzy, as they determined that the best path between two points is not a straight line. I did walk one of the stunts that consisted of a steep granite pitch with a couple of ladders built into it. After giving it a quick peek, I wasn't quite feeling it for the first ride of the trip. Luckily there was a ride-around, aptly named “The Panty Line”.

The author gets back to it after a short lunch break (photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Some fun granite slickrock (photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Emily in the middle of a long bridge section

more wood

The part that does its best to make you dizzy

Opting for the Panty Line

Some downhill bridges (taken during our 2011 trip)

Em above the last obstacle on SWOT. This one is much steeper in person.

After this, the trail dropped down a few long ladder bridges and started its final descent to where it intersected with yet another gravel road. We took the road a short distance, heading north, and then made a left at an intersection where we followed it until it crossed over Ring Creek once again and tee’d into Mamquam Rd, just down from Quest University. This bridge puts you directly over the creek at a series of waterfalls in a tight little gorge. Now at the road, it was only a short distance uphill to our awaiting car and the completion of our ride.

What a great first day of riding, just as good as I had remembered it being. Although Half Nelson and Somewhere Over There are awesome, there are plenty of other great trails in the Squamish area, like Cheshire Cat, Wonderland, Crouching Squirrel / Hidden Monkey, and my personal favorite, Credit Line. There are many more than that, with many I still haven’t ridden. All in all, Squamish is a fantastic place to ride that should be on anyone’s shortlist for mountain biking destinations, especially when you consider its proximity to North Shore (Vancouver), Whistler, and Pemberton. I don’t plan to document any other rides from this trip, but I have done some ride reports for the BC area over the last few years – they can be found on the sidebar, under “Wheels”.

 Some parting evening shots of the area:

Moonrise over Squamish

The Tantalus Range

Squamish under a blue moon

The tracks from our ride:

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