Tuesday, October 5, 2010

BC MTB Trip: Part 5 - KMTM, Trains, and Trash (8.27.10)

Continued from part 4.

As we woke up on Friday morning, we came to the realization that this would be our last day of riding in BC and that our vacation was nearing an end. Knowing this, we wanted to make the most out of the day and so we headed to Whistler to do so. We planned to ride “Kill Me Thrill Me” (KMTM) first, and follow that up with some new trails that were recommended to us by one of the owners of the Whistler Bike Guide shop in the Whistler village. The trails he recommended were “Train Wreck”, “Runaway Train”, and “Trash”. I had read about Trash in my guide book and had wanted to do it for a couple years, however it just always seemed to get bumped out by other rides.

Kill Me Thrill Me:
Driving past the Whistler village, we headed straight for the KMTM trailhead and geared up for our ride. This trail is a Whistler classic and is often used by visiting riders as a primer for Comfortably Numb, since it has similar terrain but is far less committing. That said, KMTM stands on its own merits and is a must-do for technical XC hounds that have come to the area to ride.

Kill Me Thrill Me!

Like Numb, its technical features are mostly natural roots, rocks, and granite slickrock. Since it had rained some the night before, and these types of features can be sketchy when they're wet, I decided to run up and take a look at the first part of the trail to check the conditions while Emily was gearing up. After about ¼ mile I was pleasantly surprised to see that the trail was almost completely dry and in great riding condition. After giving the good news to Em, I geared up and we set off on our way.

The trailhead


More roots...


and climbing!

KMTM starts off right away with a climb to warm the ol’ legs up. The trail loses only mild elevation as it parallels Hwy 99 along the side of the mountain. It also has many ups and downs, and as soon as you finish one descent it’s time to start climbing again. Luckily none of the climbs are too steep or last for too long. There are many fun rock and root gardens as well as some exciting ladder bridges and steep descents on granite slickrock.

This was a fun ladder bridge that
felt steeper than this photo indicates,
especially with the runout.

Emily somewhere on KMTM

Em climbs a granite slab, which
had a fun technical line and
tight switchback leading into it.

We soon came to a fun obstacle consisting of both rock and bridge work. With a split at the top you could either choose the the easier (single black diamond) left line, or the harder (double-black) right line. The left was pretty straightforward with a basic bridge-to-rock-to-bridge move. The right did the same, but the bridge was much more narrow and the transition from the rock back to the bridge was essentially a ~5' vertical drop. I wisely chose the left line...

Choose wisely...

The easier left line is more obvious from this view

Yep, I'll go left!
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

The left line from below

The right line from below. That's more
vertical than I was willing to bite off.

About 2 ½ miles into the trail is where the real slickrock starts and the trail starts dropping elevation in earnest. Unfortunately, at this point my camera battery ran out and I’d forgotten my extra in the car. Each time I ride the trail I'm able to bite off more and more of this section, although there are some pitches I’ll probably never have the nerve to attempt. The first time I rode this trail with Emily, it was raining and as I hiked down one of the steep wet slabs, I slipped, fell on my ass, and butt slid into a tree doing a face plant into its trunk. I narrowly avoided having my eye gouged out by a broken off limb which dug into my upper cheek instead. I had taken off my riding glasses because of the rain and I still consider myself lucky that I have both my eyes.

After the slickrock section, the trail eases quite a bit in difficulty and has a couple of really fast sections, a rarity in Whistler. By the time we finished up with the trail and reached the road it had been about an hour and 15 minutes; not as quick as we would have liked, but I did stop a bunch to take pictures and scout some of the tougher drops. From here we rode back to the car via Hwy 99, which took us about another 15 minutes. Once back at the car, we had a quick snack and headed over to Function Junction, where we’d park the car for our next adventure.

Tracks from our ride on Kill Me, Thrill Me:

Train Wreck:
Once we found the parking area for our next loop (across Hwy. 99 from Function Junction), we headed out on our bikes. We crossed over Hwy. 99, and after riding around in circles in FJ for a few minutes we finally found the connector trail that would take us to “Train Wreck”, which I believe was marked as the Rainbow Sproatt trail. There really wasn’t much to say about this section other then it beat riding on Hwy. 99, and that it dumps out at a construction zone which made things confusing for a few moments. We soon realized that the trail picked back up on the other side of the dirt road/pullout, which was where Train Wreck officially started.

From here, the trail goes underneath Hwy. 99 alongside a small creek that flows into the Cheakamus River, where some nice graffiti decorates the cement wall to your right. After passing underneath the highway, the trail made a hard right turn and entered the forest alongside the Cheakamus. While trying to stay focused on the trail obstacles, I could hear a rush of the river off to the left...I was somewhat distracted and felt the need to get some views of the river here and there, much to Emily’s chagrin. As a kayaker, I am just drawn to the beauty of the river, much like a mountain biker to the forest; most people never venture out to see these amazing places even when they’re within walking distance from a main road, which is a shame.

Train Wreck passage under Hwy. 99

Some class V on the Cheakamus River

The small gorge below the waterfall shown above

I was quite surprised by quality of the trail since I hadn’t read or heard of it before. Although it is rated as black, it was certainly easier than the other black diamonds I’ve ridden in Whistler. All of the great features that make this area a XC riding destination were in play, with plenty of rocks, roots, and wood bridges.

We soon came to a rather unique site that gives the trail its name. Basically, there are some abandoned boxcars that have been covered in graffiti and have also have had precarious stunts built off of them. Although they do look out of place in the middle of the forest, their location is not surprising, since this trail tightly parallels some train tracks. In fact, the trail crosses over them from time to time throughout the ride. The features built using the boxcars are huge and were probably a freerider's paradise back when they were first built. However, for the most part, they been left to decay. Even in their decrepit state, it’s really an impressive site and worth a hike around the area to check it all out; even the graffiti art is pretty cool.

Entering the train graveyard

Some cool graffiti

More cool graffiti

The exit from the top of one of the boxcars

The entrance to the same boxcar

Same exit type, different train.
Gotta split the uprights on this one!

From the side

The entrance to this one

Emily climbs out of the graveyard after our tour

Once past the train garden, more fun natural and man-made obstacles continue. All too soon, the trail ends at the train tracks with a double track climb on the other side. This double track/gravel road is used to access the Train Wreck extension, aka “Runaway Train”. As we cruised down the road, we rode past a couple of squatter shacks that the guy at the bike shop had warned us about. Not wanting to have an encounter with the occupants we spent little time making the connection to Runaway Train.

A fun ladder bridge on the second half of Train Wreck
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Same ladder from below

Em cruises on down a granite path on Train Wreck

Runaway Train:
As stated, this trail is more or less an extension of Train Wreck, just separated by the double track. Even the terrain is pretty similar. Runaway Train is only about ¾ of a mile, so it doesn’t last too long but adds a little extra singletrack that’s worth the extra effort. Doing this extension also allows bridge access across the Cheakamus River to turn the ride into a loop, which wouldn’t be an option by just doing Train Wreck.

The trailhead to Runaway Train

Em goes up and over on Runaway Train

With the Train trails completed, we headed over the bridge and took advantage of the new gravel path which heads back to Function Junction on the other side of the river. The first part of the path goes up the side of the hill with many tightly spaced switchbacks on a steep grade. This climb lasted for about a mile and 300 vertical feet, which really put a hurtin’ on my legs after all of the riding we had already done that day and the days prior. Soon we reached the summit, and enjoyed a mellow downhill before another short climb and the start of “Trash”.

Like I said before, Trash has been on my radar for some time, and I was glad to finally get to ride it. The first part of the trail was a nice descent to the river’s edge, albeit too short. From here we continued up a gradual pitched climb over natural root and rock features. Both the climbing grade and obstacles were manageable and fun with a blue rating. As far as the quality of the trail, I felt it was pretty average for Whistler, nothing special but plenty fun. It also gave some good views of the river seen earlier from Train Wreck, just from the other side. Emily actually got a little impatient as I analyzed a waterfall that was trailside. She's not a fan of me turning our biking adventures into a dual-purpose kayak scouting mission. After I had my fill, we continued along the trail until we hit a couple of trail reroutes and eventually the paved road. From here it was just a short descent on the road to the parking lot with our car. We had considered riding both the Riverside Trail and The Farside Trail as an extra loop, but we had both had our fill for the day and decided to save something for next year.

Typical example of the natural features on Trash

The trail gets close to another class V
stretch on the Cheakamus River

A tough technical pitch on Trash

Em on a mellow stretch

Going down...

and up on some slickrock

The lip of the waterfall that entranced me

Tracks from our ride:

As we changed into our street clothes, I was a little bummed that we had just finished up our last day of riding in BC for the year. I feel like every year the riding gets better and better! I’m sure that this is due to a greater knowledge of the trail systems and greater understanding of riding this type of terrain: super technical and slow going. Before we headed back to Squamish, we decided to give another BC brewery a chance, this time Whistler Brewing in Function Junction. I must say that I was much more impressed than I was with Howe Sound (see previous post). The beer (I had the Pale Ale) was great and only cost ~$3 a pint, compared to $6.50 at Howe Sound.

Enjoying a pint at Whistler Brewing. My
favorite way to celebrate a good day of riding!

As we left Function Junction I had one last stop, the overlook to the Tantalus Range. I wanted to snap off a couple of more photos of them as well as a couple down toward Squamish which can be seen from the same overlook. It's really an impressive view in both directions.

The Tantalus Range from the viewpoint on Hwy. 99

Squamish from the same viewpoint. The prominent
rock face in the distance is the Stawamus Chief, The
second largest granite monolith in the world!

Once we got back to Squamish, we stopped into Fatburger for just that, a big fat burger and french fries. We then returned to Paradise Valley Campground for our last night’s stay, which was a pleasant one. The next morning we swung by Tim Hortons for some good ol’ Tim Bits! After that we rolled out of town headed back to the States. We did have a ~2 hour wait at the border, but other than that it was clear sailing.

Mount Garibaldi from Tim Hortons

We reached or next camping spot at Larrabee State Park, on Samish bay near Bellingham, WA. This is not our favorite campground, but it serves us well since we like to ride at Galbraith Mountain, an awesome trail network, also just out of Bellingham. If you head to BC to ride, I recommend a stop here as well.

Another great BC biking adventure was in the books, and I'm already looking forward to pulling out the passport once again!

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