adventure, bikepacking, camping, Canada, singletrack

Chilcotins Backcountry – September 2016

If there was ever a location that encompasses the essence of mountain biking –  formidable terrain, abundant wildlife, jaw-dropping scenery, and seemingly-magical ribbons of singletrack – the South Chilcotin Mountains is it.

The Chilcotins, as they are commonly known, are a remote series of old mountains and few scattered alpine lakes in the Spruce Lake Protected Area of British Columbia, Canada. The gateway to this remote wilderness is Tyaughton Lake, a half-day’s drive north from Whistler. The area itself has been left almost undeveloped, save for a few abodes and lodges lining the road to Tyaughton; and floatplanes, horses, or otherwise mountain bikes are the only means of transport – short of hiking in – that can access the interior.

RAW Epics – Chilcotins Backcountry MTB Trip from RAW Epics on Vimeo.

When Jiehui and I conducted research on this area for a trip, we mulled over various route options and strategies on how to gain maximum fun and adventure out of a short 3-day window that we were to be in the area.

Jiehui on fire-road, demonstrating the full load-out of decidedly un-bikepack-y gear selection: an enduro bike, 40L backpack, flat pedals, and (horror!) no bottle cage.

We skipped the luxuries of floatplane drops and advance party-supported campsites when we mounted our mission into the backcountry, instead opting to carry everything we would need to survive in our 40-litre backpacks and riding our enduro mountain bikes. With a 105km, 3-day/2-night route plan in mind, and packs on our backs, we set off from our free camping site (the Freiburg campsite, south of the decidedly more costly Tyax Lodge premises) on the shores of Tyaughton Lake and set off for an epic, unsupported trail adventure on wheels.

Hike-a-bike sections were a necessary part of covering ground – and gaining altitude for those epic descents.

We made it through El Dorado and Windy Passes on the first day and reached the Spruce Lake campsite with plenty of time to spare. We utilized a system of setting up camp, leaving it set up – plus dropping all other camping gear – and re-configuring our pack load just for the next day’s ride. Thus could we cover more ground with a lighter load when we launched Day Two’s mission: Deer Pass loop, a 45+km sojourn deep through mountain ranges and forests where deer (and grizzly bears) reputedly roam.

Jiehui traversing some loose shale on the second day of our expedition.

Making it around the Deer Pass loop and regaining our campsite (a thoroughly welcome sight) rounded off a long, 10.5-hour day. We took in unbelievable views on the sections above the treeline and rode amazing traversing, descending singletrack – featuring both flow and technical aspects aplenty. We also got through several hike-a-bike sections and a handful of stream crossings. It was a day abundant in both challenges and stoke, and we were glad to retire for the night, sore but satisfied.

Mind-blowing alpine scenery: the traversing descent from Deer Pass was a buffet of classic Chilcotin singletrack.

Our final day saw us break camp and pick the mainly-descending Gun Creek trail back to civilization, making good time where the trail flowed in our favour, and conserving energy when it was not. The singletrack lasted a significant portion of our morning before we hit the dirt road that re-directed us back toward Tyaughton Lake and the car.

Jiehui and I are the first Singaporean couple to complete an unsupported, self-navigated expedition into the South Chilcotin Mountains – choosing not to rely on floatplanes for drops or support on our quest to ride some of British Columbia’s most remote and rewarding singletrack trails.