Sunday, September 10, 2017

Into The Mystic / Lord of The Squirrels - Whistler, BC

With Emily and I going to southwest British Columbia to mountain bike every year for our anniversary, we’ve seen the riding scene grow and the trail systems expand. I’ve always been eager to see what new trails have been dug, but hearing about the new Into the Mystic / Lord of The Squirrels loop (in Whistler, BC) had me more excited than I’d been in the past. The reason for this was based on both the scale and location of the ride -- 5,000’ of climbing to a truly spectacular alpine setting, including many small lakes and expansive fields of wildflowers. Unlike the ‘Top of The World’ trail found at the Whistler bike park, there are no lifts to the top of this one. Also there are no roads to shuttle up, so the only way to get up there is under your own power. Since we’re both quite partial to epic adventure rides, this one was definitely going to be on the agenda for our 2017 trip.

Since we wanted to have both good weather and semi-fresh legs we ended up doing the ride on the third day of our trip, with sunny skies and 80 degree temps forecasted. That morning we forewent our normal hot breakfast routine and instead went with a cold one so that we could hit the trail as early as possible. After the 45-minute drive from Squamish to Whistler and changing into our riding gear, it was around 9:30am when we started making our first pedal strokes up Darwin’s, leaving the Stonebridge subdivision.

Darwin’s starts off with a really steep bit of gravel road climb before reaching the trail itself, which is also quite steep. Since I didn’t want to destroy my legs and lungs straight out of the gate, I decided to alternate between pedaling and pushing my bike up the hill. Eventually the trail started traversing southwest at a much more gradual rate and I was able to stay on my bike for the remainder of the climb to where Darwin’s ends at the Rainbow Sproatt Flank trail. The mile and a half section of the Flank trail between Darwin’s and the start of the climb up Into the Mystic was mostly a pedally doubletrack affair, with occasional views looking out onto the Whistler/Blackcomb ski area.

Some nice bridgework on the way up Darwin's

A typical section of the Darwin's traverse

The Flank Trail

It would be impossible to miss the start of Into The Mystic, with the trailhead sign hanging from a carved wood arch that you ride underneath. The climb trail itself is machine built and hasn’t had enough time yet to completely bed down – that said, it rides great with its well laid out switchbacks to help you up the steeper pitches. Although all of them were completely rideable, I still found myself walking up a few to conserve my energy for the generous amount of climbing that was still in front of us. Since Emily is a much stronger climber than me I didn't see her much during this segment of the ride; although we did meet up at some obvious stops like a wooden deck near a small waterfall and a small meadow that was adorned with brilliant wildflowers.

Heading Into The Mystic

Machine built

Some nice views of the Black Tusk, early on during the climb.

Bridge crossing

Emily continues on

A good place for a break

And a snack

Back at it

Manicured switchbacks

Sub-alpine meadow

Once we crossed over the 5,000’ elevation mark the thick forest became sparser and eventually transitioned into a full alpine environment with jaw dropping views in all directions. Although the climbing wasn't over it did flatten out a bit, at least until we reached the intersection with the side trail “With A Twist”. Since we weren't planning to add it on to our ride we made a right at the fork and continued climbing up toward Tonic Peak. With the trail steepening and feeling the effects of the elevation, I found myself taking a few breaks and even doing a bit of hike a bike in a few spots. It was during this part of the ride where we saw quite a few other people who were also doing the same route and in various states of physical exhaustion -- I’m guessing I fit somewhere in the middle of this.

Heading into the alpine

A great view of the Tantalus Range from our second rest stop

More nice woodwork

Another crew heading up the trail

A little slice of heaven

Another rider coming up the trail

Emily checks out the signage

Great views to the north too!

Settling in for another climb

The open meadow climb up toward Tonic Peak

What a view!

Obviously a lot of work went into constructing this trial

Flanked by an array of wildflowers

Getting closer

Getting passed

Falling in line on the way up to Tonic Peak

One of many spectacular alpine lakes

With a few larger groups taking a break at the top out point, Emily and I decided to ride down a bit to find a bit more solitude. Dropping down from Tonic Peak was certainly welcome after the long climb up. As we descended through some fun technical bits, and I struggled to keep my focus on the trail while being seduced by the majestic views all around us – I actually had to stop a few times just to take it in and snap off some photos. We soon reached one of the larger alpine lakes, where another side trail, “Happy Hour”, headed a mile and a half east and toward Mount Sproatt.

Dropping in for a little descent

A typical section of trail in the alpine

Plenty of water to filter, in case you didn't pack enough.

More great views of Mount Garibaldi and the Black Tusk

Since we were planning to ride Happy Hour as extra credit, we turned left and descended a short distance before starting to climb once again. One of the main reasons we decided to add on this short out-n-back was to maximize the riding in the alpine, which didn’t disappoint. The trail passed by a few more lakes and through fields of wildflowers as it made its way toward the lookout at the end of the trail. It soon passed below Mount Sproatt, where a hiking trail split off and a sign indicated it was a about a 15 minute hike up to its summit. Neither of us felt the need to make the trek so we continued on. At the end of Happy Hour we found lots of kids hanging out and enjoying the view, it turns out that they were mountain bikers and part of a kid’s camp – it was pretty impressive that these young shredders had made it all the way up and still seemed to have plenty of energy. There was also some construction going on, where it appeared that some new benches were being put in to make it a little bit nicer for those who had made the journey. Once we had taken in the view and taken a quick snack break we headed back toward the true descent, down Lord of The Squirrels.

Emily starts off Happy Hour

Another rider, near the start of Happy Hour.

A typical section of Happy Hour

Granite paradise

Mount Sproatt

The final climb up toward the lookout

The author, at the turnaround spot.
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

The lookout

Emily, gettin' slabby

Heading back toward Lord of The Squirrels

Follow the Tusk

Once we reached the intersection with Lord of the Squirrels we quickly padded up and dropped in. The first mile or so of the trail continued through the alpine, but it eventually dropped into the trees, which got thicker and thicker the further we descended. The trail itself started to lose some of its luster and we found it to be pretty blown out – lots of loose dusty sections and break bumps leading into the turns. It’s not that it wasn’t still fun, but compared to the upper stuff it was a pretty stark contrast. There was a fun section about half way down where we found some granite rock rolls, both up and down. By the time we reached to the bottom of Lord of The Squirrels my arms and legs were pretty exhausted from the ~2,000’ descent.

Emily starting off Lord of The Squirrels

Finishing up the alpine portion of the ride

We found a few small rock rolls, like this one, about halfway down.

Not as scenic as higher up, but still some fun trail section to be had along the way.

And some bridges

More granite too

Near the end of Lord of The Squirrels

Next we looked over the map to determine what our options were for getting back to the car. My vote was to descend Pura Vida, for which both the guidebook and Trailforks gave a quality rating. What we found was anything but – a fall line trail that was heavily eroded with loose baby heads throughout. Between not wanting to eat shit on the blown out sections and add to the trail damage, we walked quite a bit of the trail’s steeper sections. I’m sure that things would be a little different earlier in the season when it actually has some moisture. There were some really pretty sections down low with dense foliage and a small creek that followed alongside the trial.

Fall line erosion on Pura Vida -- probably better during the wetter months

Pura Vida got a little nicer down low

Finishing up Pura Vida

We were eventually deposited onto Middle Danimal, which started climbing up a moderately technical section of singletrack. I’m sure this would have been a lot more enjoyable if it wasn’t at the end of our ride and I wasn’t on the verge of bonking. Once again I found myself pushing my bike more than riding it. Luckily it went by relatively quickly and before long we had topped out. The descent on Middle Danimal was pretty damn fun and was very welcome. The trail ended back at the Stonebridge subdivision, a couple hundred vertical feet below our car. Luckily the final leg of the ride was paved, which allowed me to put it in granny gear and grind my way to the finish line. Back at the car we quickly changed and loaded up the bikes, before heading to Creekbread for some much deserved pizza.

Somewhere on Middle Danimal

This is an amazing adventure ride that should be on the agenda of any mountain biker visiting the area. The Into the Mystic climb trail is really well built and the alpine portion of the trail is worth every pedal stroke and switchback to get to. On that, I would highly recommend adding in at least one of the extra credit trails (With A Twist or Happy Hour) to extend the amount of riding you do in the alpine. As I alluded to above, the forest portion of Lord of The Squirrels has been ridden pretty hard and is fairly beat-up; however, don’t let that deter you from doing this ride, it’s still fun and doesn’t take away from the overall incredible experience. As for getting back to the car after coming off of Lord of The Squirrels, I certainly wouldn’t take Pura Vida again. I would either take High Society (which is amazing!) or simply ride back down on The Flank Trail and Darwin’s. All that said, I will certainly be doing this ride at least every other year, mixing it up with Whistler’s other epic, Comfortably Numb.

The tracks from our ride: