Wednesday, September 15, 2010

BC MTB Trip: Part 2 - Lost Bars & Green Rivers (8.24.10)

Continued from part 1.

Day three of our trip started off as good as ever with sunny skies and a morning feast of breakfast burritos and coffee in camp. As I sat in my camp chair, calmness fell over me while realizing that all I had to do for the next five days was to wake-up, eat, bike, eat, relax, repeat; life was good!

Ahhh, ain't he cute? He's gonna help us make breakfast...

And clean the dishes...

Ahhh, Rabies!!!

After breakfast and packing up our gear for the day, we headed north on Hwy. 99 to Whistler. In the past, the ~30 mile drive between Squamish and Whistler could take an hour or more due to construction traffic for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Since the Olympics have come and gone, so has the construction, therefore the drive is much quicker and the road is more like the Autobahn with speed limits rarely followed by our crazy brothers and sisters to the north. Soon, both Whistler and Blackcomb came into view with the ski runs etched down their faces. We headed straight for the parking lots, where we were used to them being free. This year however, they have made the closer ones to the village pay lots, while keeping the back ones free; you can guess where everyone else was parking. I did read in a local mag that there is talk of making all of the lots pay, so free parking may be coming to an end.

When Emily and I come to ride in Whistler, we don’t ride the lifts or take part in the DH that the town is known for in the MTB circles. What we come for are the cross-country trails, which are world-class professionally built trails that are free to ride! It should be noted that trails in Whistler are relatively short, and a day of riding is usually done by linking multiple trails together. The one exception that I know of is Comfortably Numb, which is ~15 miles long and considered their epic. Trust me, even though it’s only 15 miles, it’s one of the toughest one-day rides I’ve done...but more on this in my next write-up. On this day we would be linking together some of our favorite XC trails in Whistler which made for a good warm-up for the days to come. We would start off with a quick trip on the “Zappa Trails” in the Lost Lakes network, head over to “Cut Yer Bars”, then the “Emerald Forest” before the grand finale, “A River Runs Through It” (aka River). All of the trails are rated as blue with the exception of Cut Yer Bars which has black offshoots, and River which is rated as Black with Double Black offshoots. We had done this linking last year and it’s probably one of the best XC links in the Whistler Valley trail system.

A decent map of the Whistler Valley Trail System

Lost Lake Zappa Trails:
The Lost Lake trail network starts just down the paved path and over Fitzsimmons Creek from the free lots. From the crushed gravel paths to the interwoven Zappa Trails (named after Frank Zappa songs) this system of trails has something for everyone; just know that if you decide to ride the easier trails you’ll be sharing them with lots of day hikers and dog walkers who also enjoy this great recreational area. After gearing up we headed straight to the Zappa Trails to begin our ride.

A great map of the Lost Lake trail system

Starting near the intersection of Lorimer Rd. and Fitzsimmons Creek, we headed up “Peaches en Regalia”. This first trail starts it off right with a good mixture of small ladder bridges and natural features to get you in the groove. We headed up the hill and after a couple of short switchbacks we crossed over a gravel path and started our way up “Dinah Moe Humm”. The great thing about the Zappa trails is that they each have their own character which keeps you on your toes and very entertained. Another nice thing is that they are well marked and one starts where the last one left off, making it pretty difficult to get lost. We continued through “Disco Boy”, “The Torture Never Stops”, and “Fountain of Love” before reaching my personal favorite, “ Pinocchio’s Furniture” and the start of the fun descent trails. Pinocchio has the most ladder bridges in this network and it flows really well, making you feel like you’re on one of those old wooden roller coasters. One actually forms a complete 180 degree switchback and gives your tire just enough room to make the corner. In the past Em had walked this one, but this time she didn’t even stop or give it a second thought; it’s so cool to see her progression over the years.

Pinocchio's Furniture! All the trails are marked like this one.

The 180 ladder switchback on Pinocchio's
(Photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Emily rides one of many ladder
bridges on Pinocchio's furniture

We followed up this trail with “Dwarf Nebula”,” Zoot Allures”, “Toads of the Short Forest”, “Gee I Like Your Pants”, “Son Of Mr. Green Genes”, and finally “Jellyroll Gumdrop”. After finishing up the Zappa Trials we were once again at a bridge over Fitzsimmons Creek, only this time downstream and to the west. From here we crossed over the creek and headed toward our next destination, another small network called “Cut Yer Bars”.

Emily finds more woodwork on another trail

Emily on the same series of bridges

Here I am taking the skinnier,
yet smoother route.
(Photo by Emily Pfeifer)

These skinnies make great
practices for the harder trails
(Photo by Emily Pfeifer)

The Zappa Trails even have
some fun granite slickrock!

Emily enjoys a fun descent

The view from the end of our tour through the Zappa Trails

Some footage of the Zappa Trails:

Cut Yer Bars:
The upper trailhead for this ride is located at the intersection of Lorimer and Nesters Rd. The first part of the ride is a fun technical ascent that's not too tough, but did cause me to dab a few times. You can also make it more or less difficult by taking different routes at the intersections of the braided trail system. This makes it nice to ride the trail with people of different skill levels and also allows you to step it up or back a little depending on how you're riding that day. It's extremely well marked in regards to which way is the harder or easier route, and utilizes the blue/black rating system used on ski hills. The black routes are actually pretty tough, especially on the climb, so more often than not we took the easier blue route. Once we crested the top of the hill and started the descent the trail really lives up to its name as we threaded our handlebars through tightly grouped trees. There wasn't much technical riding on the down, but the narrow passageways more than made up for it. Now down at the bottom of the hill and on the other side from where we started, we headed west to the "Emerald Forest". It's only a short distance to get there on Lorimer Road, but to get back on the road requires a detour through a school and can be a little confusing. Your other option, and a better one for extending your singletrack ride, would be to head back on Cut Yer Bars, which can be done as a loop using different trails in the network. We chose to just do the school detour on this trip.

Cut Yer Bars!

Choices, choices...

Emily attempts a fun little rock
feature on the climb up Cut Yer Bars

And nails it!

More wooden switchbacks

Emily takes a quick breather and poses for a photo op

The Emerald Forest:
The Emerald Forest is another trail system that is frequented by dog walkers and day hikers; don't let this turn you away though, for it is another series of high-quality blue rated trails. You won't find many wood stunts however, its technical nature comes from rocks and roots which litter the trail, and will definitely keep you dancing on the pedals. Although there are roads and main pathways surrounding it , you'd barely know it in this dark forest setting. The Emerald forest is nice and hilly, so you get some good grunts and fun little descents here and there. Like Cut Yer Bars, you can also turn it into a loop, figure 8, or any combination thereof by turning different ways at the intersections; however, you won't find any black rated trail options. This time we simply used the trails to get from Cut Yer Bars to "A River Runs Through It".

Em deep in the Emerald forest

Emily on some typical terrain
found in the Emerald Forest

A River Runs Through It:
After exiting the Emerald Forest on the northwest end, we rode a short distance on a dirt road before finding the trailhead to A River Runs Through It, or "River" as it's affectionately called. This trail is probably the most popular XC trail in Whistler, and for good reason. It's a classic wood stunt fest, and one of my all time favorites. Once you come off one skinny or ladder bridge, you are usually faced with another right after it; it's super fun if you manage to link a few or a bunch together. With all the woodwork, it's actually surprisingly flowy...that is assuming you’re having a good day and like this style of riding! Otherwise I could see it being quite frustrating. Like Cut Yer Bars, there are intersections that allow you to choose between difficulty levels, however, your choices are black & double black as opposed to blue & black. River is also broken into two sections, River North and River South, with the north being slightly more difficult. The trail sections are separated by Bart's Dark Trail, which is essentially a double track with small wood jumps that can be hit at speed or ridden around. One other thing of note is that River is basically flat with no real elevation change, making it a good choice for free riders, and probably adds to its popularity.

For the first bit of the north trail I found myself having a hard time finding a good rhythm, for it was quite a step-up in technicality from what we had just ridden. That said, it didn't take long before Em and I started to get into a groove and make good progress. There are so many features that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to discuss them all, but I do remember cleaning and also dabbing a bunch. Luckily, I remembered to wear my head-cam so I was able to put a video together from my perspective (see below).

Found the well marked trailhead...

and obeyed the rules.

A fun ladder near the start of the trail
(Photo by Emily Pfeifer)

A river does run through it. Or at least a stream...

Em somewhere on North River

A pretty typical advanced (black) stunt on River

Soon we came to Bart's Dark Trail, where we rested up a bit, grabbed a snack, and discussed what we had just ridden. Bart’s was quite a contrast from River North, wide open and high speed vs. slow and techie. There are some great little wood kickers scattered along the trail where I bottomed out my 5” of travel on a couple. It was a fun little distraction prior to hitting more technical stuff on River South.

This section of "A River Runs Through It" is the one that I actually prefer, and find easier to link stunts together. The trail starts off with a fun little rocky chute, a quick down, and then immediately turns into a forest of wood ladder bridges of all shapes and sizes. After a head-digger crash on one of the first ladders, (see second video below) I scaled it back a bit and took some time to find a flow again. Soon we approached “The Log”, the most exposed skinny on the trail which crosses the river that gives the trail its name. In years past, I had scouted "The Log" and given it some thought. Even though I felt I could make the line I always chickened out not wanting to face the consequences, a ~15’ fall into the rocky creek below and probably an expensive visit to the hospital. As the entrance came into view, something inside of me (and the spur of the moment) convinced me to just ride it without scouting, knowing that I probably wouldn’t attempt it if I did. As I rode up the entrance ladder my heart started to pound while I tried to remain focused by looking straight out in front of me and at the other end of the log. It’s crazy how the river flowing underneath can throw off your balance. Although a little more wobbly than I would have liked, I made it across, breathed a sigh of relief, and gave myself high-fives in my head.

More ladders on River South
(Photo by Emily Pfeifer)

The entrance to The Log
(taken a few years back)

A view from up on The Log
looking back toward the start

A long way down to the river with
only small cables to stop the fall.
Much more sketchy in person.

Now across "The Log", Em and I continued our journey through the dark forest setting. With her hot on my six, we weaved up, down, over, under, and around the many man-made and natural obstacles. Some of the wood structures in here are quite creative, including ground-level & elevated teeter-totters, gaps/steps in the middle of ladder bridges, and even one ladder bridge that travels through the center of a tree cutout. All the stunts are professionally built and well made by the RMOW trail crew, so there's no sketchy backwoods carpentry found here. As we continued on, I felt good and was cleaning a majority of the trail (along with Em), and the number of dabs seemed to be decreasing from year to year. Maybe someday a no-dab ride might be possible, although that’s a long way off. We soon made it to the end of the traditional River South, however, within the last few years a new extension has been built which parallels Alta Lake Road, and ends at the north end of Alta Lake. This extension is a great addition and well worth riding, for it also adds a mile or more to one of the best trails in the Whistler Valley!

Choose wisely, when they say
double black they mean it!

A fun teeter-totter
(Photo by Emily Pfeifer)

An elevated teeter-totter. There is actually another
right out of view on the same ladder bridge.
(Photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Finishing the first teeter-totter of the ladder bridge
(Photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Emily flexes for the camera in front of one of the
more interesting stunts. I've yet to ride this one.
(taken a few years back)

This stunt no longer exists, but it does
show of the intricacies of the trailbuilders' labor.
(taken a few years back)

Now that we had finished all of the singletrack we had planned to ride that day, we rode back to the car on the amazing network of bike paths that basically allow you to travel car-free around the whole Whistler Valley.

A view of Whistler Mountain from the north
end of Alta Lake, and the end of our ride. Just
beyond those trees is a very popular beach for
sunbathers and swimmers.

Feeling good after a great day of riding, we headed back to camp in Squamish. By the time we had finished making dinner and cleaning up, it was getting pretty dark. After a beer or two, we headed into the tent to rest up for our big ride the next day, Comfortably Numb!

To be continued…

The tracks from our ride:

Here is my head-cam footage of River North, Bart's Dark Trail, and River South:

POV - A Ride on A River Runs Through It from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

You can't clean every line I guess...

Carnage at Whistler from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

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