High Alpine Riding in BC's Coast Mountains

Tripping: Prime Time Backcountry Bike Adventures

The thoughtless freedom, peaceful rest and eternal darkness are interrupted by the nagging sound of my alarm going off, like a small dog incessantly yapping and being a nuisance. I begin to stumble from the bedside toward the infernal racket as quickly as possible, shutting it down before it disrupts the rest of my household any more than it already has. From there, I continue toward the bathroom, where I decide it’s time to take a look at the time. Ergh, 445am, what am I doing? The answer to that very question perks me up immediately, and within a few minutes, I finish checking that I am packed, eat enough to fuel myself for the beginning of the day ahead, and eagerly await my pickup as the sun slowly begins to awaken the sky from its darkness.

September is the beginning of the end for many mountain bikers across North America, but it’s also some of the best riding of the season. Temperatures cool a little, but often there is still plenty of sunlight. Kids are normally back in school, making it quieter around town. Then there’s the extra moisture that turns the dirt to a consistency often referred to as ‘hero dirt.’ Personally, the most exciting part of riding in September is its prime time for expedition days, with plenty of self-supported backcountry travel to look forward to. Come this time, the snow-line has most often receded enough to support these monster alpine days, we’re more capable/fitter, and a whole team of like-minded individuals are open and available for it—the stars align.

Pick Your Poison, Then Ride It

The group that I speak of wasted no time this year, hitting a big mission on the first day of the month. While many were fighting lift lines or lounging around barbecues, our small clan left home at 530am and headed north in search of something unique. Mildly weary of the regular Chilcotin trips after years of travel to and fro, in addition to copious amounts of Facebook updates from other similarly like-minded souls, we ventured out for something a little different.

Unloading and Preparing for the Adventure Ahead

Not all of us live in the same location, and one integral member of the group was lucky enough to sleep until 730—nevertheless, he had less shut-eye than the rest, thanks to reasons we won’t delve into. Now the truck was full, but with the perfect amount of people for the territory. Two’s company and three’s a crowd, but more comforting for this Aussie was the group being large enough to deter any of the larger, shaggy wildlife well ahead of our arrival. It’s hard to travel quietly in a pack of two or three, each dragging bikes and gear along the way, but a pack of five is bound to generate more noise.

What we discovered was just what the doctor ordered. Not too dissimilar to the Chilcotin’s, we still found mass ridge-lines and moonscape environments, but there was enough of a difference to make it stunning in its own right. Large Colorado-esque rock walls full of features overbore the group, putting us right in our place—it’s humbling when nature makes you feel small and insignificant but nestles you in at the same time. We ventured to the uppermost point possible without climbing gear, against strong gusts of wind that seemed to want nothing more than keep us away from our goal.

Same, Same; But Very Different

It was here that the group found the ground cover to be completely different from anything experienced elsewhere on similar trips. There wasn’t a lick of soil up there, and instead, we were moving across black, fist-sized rocks covered in yellow algae that were wedged together perfectly—as if mother nature had achieved the most successful game of Tetris imaginable. Riding across this was straightforward enough, so long as the howling gusts of wind didn’t hard enough to blow us off the ridge and, consequently, the mountain. The rock rumbled away underneath us, imitating the gobble of a bush turkey on the run, but it didn’t last too long. After a couple of hundred metres of descending, we arrived on terrain that was loose and sandy.

Dave Reid Descends the High Alpine

It was at this point that the group proceeded to perform their best imitations of the likes of James Doerfling or Graham Aggassiz, and completely failed. Riders went over the bars, while others felt like complete gorbs as they tried to figure out what was happening beneath them. If there was the slightest lack of respect for riders that ski big mountain lines on their bikes, they were now long gone. Beneath this point we hit the meadows, ripping turns through the deep, bumpy alpine grasses before arriving at our low point, regrouping, and beginning the journey back along the ridge lines.

Perhaps the most surprising and rewarding part of the trip was the final descent. A descent that, while making our way up, seemed too steep, narrow and loose to really enjoy when we came back down. How wrong we were. Once heading down, it was all hoots and hollers, sliding on the edge of dying for 6km and 600m of vertical. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, with one of the tricky s-bends on the descent catching a couple of us out. Most made it through unscathed, but one wasn’t so lucky, taking a fearful slide off the trail and beginning to fall down the (very) steep mountainside. Laughing it off, it wasn’t until later that hindsight made clear if it weren’t thanks to a luckily timed, panic ridden fist-full of rear brake getting the bike perpendicular to the hillside and a pedal large enough to gouge into the mountain, life could be very different.

Dense Forrest Consumed Riders as Elevation was lost

Nevertheless, the spills did little to dampen the rest of the ride. In fact, they seemed to spur everyone on more, as the thrill of the riding being consumed soon turned into an apparent “if that’s the worst that can happen” attitude, resulting in some loose examples of bike handling throughout the remainder of the trail. Good, f’n, times.

September started out just how we wanted with the ride on the first now, only irritating the incessant itch for more. With the very possible reality of only a few more weeks for these sorts of adventures, we have to get it in while we can, and although September is the best time of year for these sorts of trips, it also isn’t unheard of for old man winter to arrive early and drown our spirits. Question is, where next?