Monday, September 13, 2010

BC MTB Trip: Part 1 - Alice Lake/Garibaldi Highlands (8.23.10)

The time had finally come to head to Squamish/Whistler, BC for our annual wedding anniversary vacation. Emily and I have been traveling there for our last five anniversaries, with the last four centered around mountain biking. Since we always go in late August, weather can be a roll of the dice because their rainy season seems start back up around that time. Every year it’s a different story: all rain, all sun, a mix thereof… Fortunately, this year we were blessed with mostly sunny skies.

Emily was guiding at the August MBO on Saturday, so we wouldn’t be able to leave until Sunday morning. This actually gave me time to get everything packed up and spend some time with the dogs while she was working on the trails in Oakridge. Amazingly, everything came together well, and I had most of it done by the time Emily got home late-afternoon on Saturday. After some last minute shopping and other preparations, we went to bed early to better prepare for the long drive the next day.

The next morning, the 7:00 alarm signaled it was time to get up and get movin’. Emily fed and walked the dogs, while I packed up the Subaru and attached the bike racks and wheel holders to the roof. Soon we were off, and after a quick stop for coffee and hot chocolate we headed north on I-5. The drive was pretty much as expected, traffic here and there with the worst of it near Tacoma, WA. For some reason this place seems to be more traffic-prone than Portland and Seattle, at least from my experience. We did have one bit of excitement. While driving down the highway in the heart of downtown Seattle I heard a thumping noise. I looked in my side mirror expecting to see something I had just run over, but instead I saw my mountain bike wheel rolling down the center of the road!!! As it rolled, it resembled Moses parting the Red Sea, as cars swerved to both sides to avoid hitting it. I quickly drove my car to the side of the highway so that I could clean up the remnants of the wheel and maybe salvage a spoke or two. As I looked back down the road I was amazed to see my wheel still rolling in the road before coming to a stop and leaning against the concrete barrier on the side of the road I was on! I quickly ran down the side of the road to gather the wheel and inspect it. Incredibly, the wheel suffered absolutely no damage! How could this be?! Chalking it up to unbelievable luck, I put it inside the car (this time) and we continued on our way.

After an easy pass through at the US/Canada border, we hit some Vancouver traffic and roadwork that’s been going on ever since we’ve been traveling up here. Once past this, it was smooth sailing on the Sea to Sky Highway all the way to Squamish and Paradise Valley Campground, our home base for the week. We had been on the road for 9 ½ hours. We quickly unpacked, set-up the sleeping quarters, raised the giant tarp (in case of rain), and assembled the kitchen. By the time we were finished with these chores, it was time for dinner, relaxation, and bed. Since the fire danger was rated as extreme, no campfires were permitted, much to our chagrin. This would continue for our whole trip, and would also send us to bed relatively early each night; this was probably good since we had a lot of miles of trail riding planned. Before I knew it, I was fast asleep atop my bright yellow Paco Pad.

Base camp!

Before I continue and get started on describing the trails, here is a list of things you should know about visiting and mountain biking in B.C.:

1. Trails are rated just like ski runs on a green, blue, black, and double-black scale.
2. The trails are much more difficult than the rating might suggest based on a USA scale. In other words, an advanced trail in say, Oakridge, OR (e.g. Hardesty), would barely register as a blue.
3. Bring your own beer! If you’re used to the strong Northwest-style microbrews, you’ll think theirs tastes like Budweiser. Also, their beer is uber-expensive, about ~$12 a six pack for yellow fizzy beer.
4. Even with the exchange rate being essentially equal, everything else is also very expensive, at least in Sqaumish/Whistler. Bring as much stuff from home as you can, especially food.
5. Contrary to popular belief, healthcare for US citizens is not cheap or free, in fact quite the opposite. They wanted $500 each time you need to see a doctor at the hospital, which is only the check-in fee! If you do get hurt, you can go to the walk-in urgent care, it’s at least a little cheaper.

OK, back to our story…

The next morning brought the great sounds and smells of camping, and I was excited to get up and start the day. Since it was a weekday, the campground was nearly empty which allowed Em and me to have a nice quiet breakfast of bacon/sausage and blueberry pancakes.

Emily keeps the bacon cracklin'

After fueling up our tanks, we packed our Camelbacks and headed toward our first ride of the trip, the Garibaldi Highlands/Alice Lake riding area in Squamish. This area is perhaps our favorite in Squamish, and is basically a network of high quality XC trails with some meaty DH trails mixed in to satisfy your needs, should your appetite require it. The route we did on this trip was essentially the same as the one we usually do, with a couple of new additions here and there. Starting from the small parking lot/turnaround at the end of Perth Drive in the Garibaldi Highlands neighborhood, we rode a gravel road (closed to cars) up, down, and over to the start of “Jack’s Trail”, which is used to connect to Alice Lake. This trail is rated as a green and is just that, a pleasant warm-up on a mellow and wide singletrack through a dark forest setting. I had actually remembered this trail being more rooty, so I’m thinking they may have groomed it up a bit since it’s a high traffic trail for both hikers and bikers. Em and I made short work of the trail and soon found ourselves in a parking lot for Alice Lake. From here we continued up to Alice Lake Road and then headed east. Next we reached a Y in the road and headed right, around a gate, and up another gravel road. Taking this road for another mile or so, we soon hit the Bob McIntosh Trail which turns from doubletrack to singletrack. Emily and I both had a quick laugh as we recalled a couple years back when my crank arm came detached from my bike while still being attached to my foot via the clipless pedal/cleat on this trail.

Squamish trail map. There are better ones
available for purchase at the bike shops and the
Adventure Center in town. My favorite is the
one by Terra Pro which can also be found here.

The start of the ride at the end of Perth Drive.
To the right of the gate is a hose that lets you fill up
your waterbottle/Camelback with natural spring water.

Looking back toward Squamish from
an overlook near the start of the ride

The start of the Bob McIntosh Trail

Em poses for a quick shot

A memorial to Bob McIntosh

At the end of the Bob McIntosh Trail, we were now at the section where the real fun begins, starting with Dead End Loop. Since most of my time is spent riding in the Oakridge area, these trails felt much slower and a lot more technical. Oakridge trails are a blast to rail after a long gravel road climb, but it’s nice to have a change of pace, especially since I actually prefer more technical riding. After playing on this short loop, we made the short gut-busting climb up “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and headed to The Corners. “Rob’s Corners” comes first followed by “Cliff’s Corners”. Both trails are very similar in character and can essentially be treated as one. They are buffed and zig-zag back and forth over alternating banked corners; if you can find a rhythm these can be quite fast and fun. Since they run through a clearing for the power lines, you get a nice view of The Chief and Sky Pilot Peak off in the distance.

Somewhere on Dead End Loop

Time to climb

Emily heads up the first pitch of Rock 'n' Roll

Emily nears the summit of Rock 'n' Roll

A view of Sky Pilot and a partially obstructed Chief

Emily heads into The Corners

Just before Cliff’s ends, a side trail darts off to the right into the woods, a trail named “Don’t Tell Jude”. Jude is probably my favorite trail in this network and reminds me of a shorter and easier version of "A River Runs Through It" (in Whistler). It’s slow going, and has many wood ladder bridges and skinnies to ride, and basically one leads right into another. Since a majority of the stunts are just above ground level, it’s a good place to practice your skills for this type of riding, especially if you’re planning to ride some of the intermediate and advanced trails in Whistler. Every time I ride Don’t Tell Jude, I am able to ride more and more of it, although I yet to clean every stunt. It’s technically a pretty tough trail, but only rated as a blue.

Psyched for Jude
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Emily starts it off on Jude

The author enjoys some fun ladder bridges on Jude
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Steep exit on this one
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Paved with wood

This one felt sort of like a roller coaster
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Up and over to a log ride on the other side
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

The log ride on the other side
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

After finishing up Jude we made a right turn onto “Tracks from Hell”, also rated a blue but less difficult. The entrance is kinda fun which has you riding along a narrow, low elevation bridge that seems to go on forever. Once past this, it’s pretty much natural rock and root obstacles.

The trail marker for Tracks From Hell. Most of the trails
in Squamish and Whistler are well marked like this one.

Em on the never ending bridge
at the start of Tracks From Hell

Up until this point, Em and I had been in familiar territory, so we decided to divert a little bit and jump on one of the black rated trails, “Entrails”. To get there, we first had to climb a small hill and ride a mellow stretch before reaching the entrance to Entrails. Based on the map it appeared that we were in for some good downhill, which was somewhat accurate. For me, the trail was a mixed bag of fun technical stretches, fun downs, and extremely steep “I’m gonna walk this” pitches. I always hate losing trail elevation on my feet, and there was definitely more than I would have liked to walk, but hey, like they say, “If you’re not hikin’ you’re not bikin’…"


Typical natural obstacles on Entrails

Looking uphill from the same spot as the photo above

Em drops into a descent on Entrails

A tough granite pitch. This photo does
not do the steepness any justice.

Emily near the bottom of Entrails

More Entrails

After finishing Entrails, we headed over to more familiar trails and a couple more of my favorites in the area. First up was a trail aptly named "Roller Coaster". This trail is rated as a blue, and has a great little descent toward the end of it with banked switchbacks. Roller Coaster actually dumps you onto Perth Drive a hundred yards or so below where we parked our car. Since we didn’t feel like we had gotten enough riding in, and another great trail was just on the other side of the road, we continued on our bikes. This next trail is called “Lumberjacks” and is also a blue, and super fun. Once again our pace was slowed as the trail is more on the techie side, with pretty much everything being ride-able and a good one to practice a no-dab run on. I don’t really remember if I touched down or not, but I do know I had a smile on my face at the end of it.

We made it to Roller Coaster, woohoo!

Still not exhausted, we decided to add on some more trails that we hadn’t done before. Luckily for us there happened to be a couple blues that would lead us north and to the bottom part of the Garibaldi Estates neighborhood. The two trails we rode were "Trestle" and "Coho Park Trail" which were a great way to end the ride and did the trick of making us feel like we got in a full day. We still had a road climb back up to our car which felt good, and gave us a nice view of the surrounding mountains. Once we had loaded up, we headed back to camp, made some mean pesto pasta, drank some PNW beer, and headed off to bed, ready to repeat the process the following day. It was good to be back in BC!

Tracks from our ride:

The view driving back to camp
(Omega, Tantalus Range, 6335')

To be continued…

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