Chilcotins – Deer Pass
Another Bucket List ride checked off.
The last time I was in the Chilcotins, we flew in to Warner lake. This time Ed and I were doing it the hard way. There would be no shuttle. We were riding to Deer Pass from Jewel Creek as one big loop, in a single day. 72km, 2,500m climbing, close to 12hours on the bike. Our biggest concern was wether we had enough daylight to make it back before sunset.
The plan was to be at the trail head at Jewel Creek, a 25km drive from where we were staying at Tyax Lodge, at 6:30am just as the sun was coming up. This would leave us a safety net should things go sideways. We calculated it would take roughly 10hrs for the round trip, including brief stops to rest and refuel – nothing more than 15 minutes. There would be no time for lollygagging, that was reserved for any unforeseen incidences (mechanicals, injuries, making a wrong turn). Sunset was at 7:30pm, but when you’re in the mountains as the sun nears the horizon it disappears behind peaks much sooner. At around 6:00pm you start losing light.
With our plan set we awoke the next morning, loaded up the truck and hit the road. To get to Jewel Creek we had to travel up the Slim Creek FSR, a 12km dirt road with plenty of unsigned forks in the road. Route finding here was difficult. We assumed the road would lead us directly to the trail head, unfortunately this was not the case. We guessed wrong on the correct direction on two occasions, losing an hour right off the bat. At 7:40am we were at the trail head, on the bikes and starting our ascent.
The anxiety of starting behind schedule caused my heart rate to sky rocket; not a comforting feeling knowing what still lay ahead. Our first rest & refuel would be at Spruce Lake, 2.5hrs away. The ride up to Spruce was a gentle climb and allowed us to settle in to a nice rhythm. The stress of starting late was behind us now, no point in worrying about it anymore. Until I got a flat. Boom! Second stressful situation to deal with. Ok, no problem this will be a quick fix – 5 minutes max and we’re back on the road. In our rush to get on the bikes at the trail head, I had forgotten to put my pump in my Camelbak. At this point I remember thinking to myself, maybe this wasn’t meant to be. Had we bitten off more than we could chew?
I was riding behind Ed and yelled up to him, “Ed I got a flat… and I forgot my pump in the truck. Did you pack a pump?” The look of shock on his face was evident. He was off his bike and rummaging through his pack desperately searching for his pump. “Yeah, I got one.” Disaster averted. We decided to patch the current tube and save the spare. The flat wasn’t caused by a puncture or pinch. It was because it was an old tube, it had split along a seam. Lesson learned – always replace your tubes with new ones yearly if you ride a lot.
At 10am we arrived at Spruce lake and took a quick break to eat. An hour behind schedule but considering all our mishaps we weren’t doing too bad. Back on the bikes and soldiering on to the next critical junction where we had to continue traveling north – up away from the lake. Instead we were looping back around and traveling SW. Time to pull the map out and have a look. Sure enough we were heading in the wrong direction – more time lost. Time to back track and look for the ‘correct’ trail. The trouble with riding in the Chilcotins is that there are often several routes at junctions and most times it’s about making an educated guess on which is the correct trail. There are very few trail head markers. Back on the correct trail, our next junction would be a river crossing at Tyaughton Creek. There would be seven of these crossings before arriving at the Deer Pass junction.
Yet again we would miss our turn off. This time traveling off course for 4km and losing more precious time. Earlier we had ridden through an open meadow with several routes branching off in various directions, so we decided to head back to that point and re-assess. According to our map, we had to cross Tyaughton creek one final time before beginning our death march up to the summit. The route leading to the creek was definitely a road less traveled but we found it in short order.
The time was now 1:30pm and we were only at the half way point of our journey. Our initial plan had us reaching Deer Pass Summit at 2pm. I knew it would take close to 2 hours to summit which meant we would arrive at 4pm. With the toughest leg of the ride ahead of us we decided to have a brief rest at Tyaughton Creek before pushing hard for the summit. After cooling off in the creek, eating and refilling our Camelbak’s we set off at 1:45pm.
Starting at an elevation of 1700m and climbing to 2350m in 5.8km, this was the toughest hike-a-bike I’ve experienced. The steepest and most difficult being the final 100m. We hit the summit at 3:30pm, 15 minutes quicker than we had anticipated. For the first time on this journey we made up some time – a positive moral victory. At the summit we refuelled, changed in to fresh clothes and prepared for the descent. At 3:45pm we were back on our bikes.
Riding in the Alpine above the tree line is unreal, vast open rocky terrain with views of the surrounding mountains. It is an exhilarating experience not unlike skiing in the high alpine in winter. However once we hit the tree line around 2000m, the trail became increasingly steeper and narrower with baby heads the size of cantaloupes littered all the way down. It was nothing like what I had anticipated and nothing like the terrain we experienced on our ascent up. Lots of loose rocks and occasional boulders made it extremely difficult to control your speed and you’re eventually forced to just steer and prey you don’t go down. We made it down to the Gun Creek Trail junction in 22 minutes! We were both wide eyed and full of adrenaline – it was an intense descent and we were both hoot’n and hauler’n. That was definitely the highlight of the ride.
At 4:07pm we were at Trigger Lake and I was feeling better about making it back before it got dark. However we still had several hours of riding remaining. I had ridden this section of trail on my previous trip to the Chilcotins so I was familiar with what lay ahead. That trip however took us 9 hours (with a detour to Spruce Lake) and there were 5 of us. This time it was just the two of us so I knew we could cover ground much quicker.
With our sights now set on the ‘finish’ line we pushed the pace and limited our breaks even more. We made it from Trigger lake to Jewel Creek in 3 hours and were back at the truck at 7:10pm.
What an unforgettable ride!