Monday, July 27, 2009

Howe Crest... trust the voices.

On Saturday, Lina and I had a grand plan to run/hike the Howe Crest Trail from Cypress Mountain ski hill to Porteau Cove. Dave (thanks Dave!) was on hand to help us out dropping our car is a dubious pull-out on Highway 99. The highway is being rebuilt for the Olympics, so I hoped they didn't build it over my car while we were away. We waved goodbye to Dave in the Cypress parking lot and set off.

That blue line is us

The first part of the trail is well maintained and marked, so obviously we got lost. We walked straight off the trail at a switchback and followed some kind of animal track into the forest. As we started bushwhacking back towards where the trail should be, the voices in my head said "Turn back Andrew, turn back". So, we carried on. After clambering up loose slopes and forcing our way through the BC jungle for half an hour we knew we were close to the trail, but couldn't see it. Our chances of seeing those little orange markers were pretty slim... so we turned back. Sliding back down and finding our way to where we left the trail. Not the best use of our time, but kind of fun... maybe. Well, even if it wasn't fun I learned I should listen to those voices in my head. Apparently they have some good advice.

Howe Sound

We climbed up and out of the forest and got what we came for... the views. Howe Sound on one side and the Coast Mountains on the other. Despite the smoke-haze from the forest fires in the Okanagan, it was spectacular. We managed a few sections of running, but the trail was pretty steep and technical in most places which kept our speed down.

Lina and beetroot salad

Not easy running terrain

Where's Andrew?

It was hot out in the full sun, and up on the ridge there was no water to be found... but we brought plenty, so weren't too concerned. The odd snow patch was a good spot to cool down. I liked getting to throw a snowball in the hot sun in July! As we approached the Lions the terrain got steeper, and we were moving pretty slowly. Lina's post-Sweden leg not enjoying the steep downhill so much. But, we were moving along pretty well and had plenty of daylight, so we carried on North.

Nature's stairmaster

A Lion

When we reached David Peak we stopped, looked, and decided the trail couldn't possibly go right up that. It did. Still, we scrambled our way up and got yet another beautiful view... but the forces of nature were rumbling somewhere behind us. The trail became hard to follow on the steep climb into the saddle we had to reach before we would get to any water and the descent to Porteau Cove. We were moving too slowly. It was getting into the evening, and the rumbling noises in the sky I had been ignoring for a while became very familiar. A storm was on the way. It was time to stop and make a plan. We had reached a point where we could divert out to Lions Bay, all downhill, as long as we could find the trail...

A trail, BC-style

Like a sign from the gods... there appeared a... err, sign. It said "Lion's Bay, this way". This time we listened to the voices and opted against a night sleeping in the bushes and started the descent. This wasn't exactly an easy option and was a couple of hours of partial bushwhacking down the valley to the highway. The rain started in earnest as we made our way out, which was refreshing after a day in the sun and we got that fantastic wet forest smell.

The light was failing, the rain was falling, and the lightening crashing as we walked along Highway 99 with our thumbs out. We hardly got 50 meters before we were picked up and given a ride to our car with some great folks on their way up to Squamish. Thank you!

As we got in the car and started the drive back to Vancouver we were treated to some of the most bizarre weather I have ever seen. There was an intense yellow light everywhere from the sunset, a huge rainbow right across the sky, and lightening strikes every minute or so. Spectacular stuff. We got a couple of photos, but didn't manage to catch the rainbow or the lightening. We stopped off in Stanley Park to look at the sky and the strangeness seemed to have got to a minivan full of guys who were dancing around the parking lot, cheering every time the lightening struck. Nature's own fireworks.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Seattle's Best (Mountain)

This weekend Lina returned from Sweden. Of course I was pretty excited about that...

On Friday night I drove down to Seattle, via the usual border faff, to SeaTac airport. Like all internal flights in the US, Lina's flight was late. Luckily I was kept entertained by a little girl called Nevaeh, her mum, and a friend who were waiting for dad to arrive on the same flight as Lina. Kids always have great toys. We got all Lina's gear back (in one piece!) and spent the night in Seattle ready to head out for Mt Rainier Park the next day.

Mt Rainier is really big. Big enough that it looks really close when you're miles away from it. We managed to turn up on the first weekend that the north-west entrance to the park had opened this year and didn't have to pay park fees! We should have got a camping permit however... but more on that later. There was still plenty of snow about and people in the parking lot loading skis onto their packs to get a bit of spring skiing in. We intended to do a loop, heading east on the Spray Meadows trail and then back on a section of the Wonderland trail to Mowich Lake. We carried our camping gear to spread it out over 2 days. The hike up was a little busy, but beautiful as we came out into the meadows with big patches of snow still remaining. At this point we ran into a park ranger who explained that to camp (for free) you were supposed to drive miles up a road in the wrong direction, fill out a piece of paper, then drive all the way back. Obviously we hadn't done that. The ranger seemed happy enough for us to do our own thing as long as we made it back to Mowich lake (where alternative pieces of paper are available) for the night.

It was about 5pm, and we were maybe 1/3 of the way around the circuit. We'd been taking our time. As we hiked on the trail was empty and we really wanted to complete the loop... so Lina had an idea. Anyone who knows Lina will probably know what this was. We would just carry on and finish the loop. As long as we didn't sleep, we weren't camping. Right? I'm not sure the logic (whilst fully logical) would have worked on the ranger, but it sounded like fun and we had headlamps, so off we went. It looked like a really long way on the map, and a diversion around a washed out trail onto a very bouncy suspension bridge wasn't making things any faster, but we were getting there. Our first guesses were that we'd make it mack to Mowich Lake around 1am. But we wouldn't be camping without a permit of course... so it would all be ok. We managed to pick up the pace a bit and things went really well, we were storming along... over creeks and log bridges, and a bit of rock-hopping.

As dusk started to fall, the end was in sight (on the map at least). We just had the haul up Iput Pass to do. Hmm. What a monster. Long, long, switchbacks and a steep gradient just kept coming as night fell... but we made it to the top for a glimpse of the red sky fading in the distance. With headlamps on we followed the easy trail back to the lake and had the tent up and stove on by 10pm. Perfect for a romantic meal of curry-in-a-bag by headlamp. Well, I thought it was romantic. I did bring wine (which Lina unknowingly carried all day).

We ran into the ranger in the morning who seemed slightly surprised we had actually listened to him and come back to the Mowich campground, and more surprised that we hiked around the whole circuit. We could have just broken the rules and camped along the route, or turned back... but, well... we did it a different way.

We took our time heading back to Canada on Sunday, stopping in Bellingham at the fantastic Boundary Bay Pub for lunch. YUM. Back in Vancouver, back at work, and back to planning the next adventure.

More photos here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sea to Sky Trail Challenge(d)

This weekend I was lucky enough to get to help out on Great Explorations' Sea to Sky Trail Challenge. The Sea to Sky Trail isn't so much of a trail... yet, but is a collection of various trails, old and new... good and bad, that we rode from Birkenhead Lake to Squamish. I was far from alone, as half of the people I know in Vancouver seemed to be there either helping out, or just riding. Dave, Geraldine, Marg, Kala, Meaghan, Ali, and Amber were all on board. The volunteer crew were a great bunch and tackled feeding and taking care of 175 bike-punters with a lot of style and ingenuity. Friday night saw us head up to Squamish from where Dave and I drove (well, Dave did the driving) a 1-ton truck of gear up to Birkenhead lake. Dave and I both decided to become truck drivers when we saw there were no less than 4 cup holders for just 2 people. Imagine the extravagance.

I was up until about 1.30am sorting out bikes with help from the rest of the gang... then fell into my sleeping bag. All too soon I was awake again and hauling gear around to get everything going. Fixing bikes, hunting for things, and figuring out how I was going to be the group mechanic and the sweep rider... and most of all looking forward to riding.

Margaret's nest of coffee pots

Not a bad breakfast spot

...and also not a bad spot for ride registration

Birkenhead Lake. Pretty eh?

Once the peleton (or perhaps rabble) had got on the trail, Troy, Dave, and I followed along "Sweeping". Disappointingly, no broom was required. We went along taking down the trail markers and checking no-one had been left behind. It was cool in the forest to start with but things soon got pretty hot. I was more than pleased to jump into Mosquito Lake at Lunch to cool off. Refreshed, we set off for the final stop at 1-mile lake. Throughout the day we rode a mix of logging road, paved road, and some great trails coming into Pemberton. After another swim at 1-mile, I found I was keen to ride a little more (no one seemed very surprised by that. hmm) so I set off to ride to the campsite in Whistler while the others waited for the van. I remembered hearing it was about 20 km. I think it was 45. Oops. I rode about 110 km that day. Something like that anyway. Who knows. I rolled into the campsite in time for great music, a near pasta disaster, mysterious electric shocks from the truck, lots of conversation (some about the mysterious electric shocks), some bike fixing, and beer.

Dave in the jungle

Normally I'm pretty awake as soon as I open my eyes in the morning, but the combination of the heat, late-night bike repairs, and perhaps all that mountain air meant I had to drag myself out on Sunday morning. I got going before long with more bike repairs. I love repairing bikes, especially when it works. There was a lot of gear hauling to be done, and then I set of on my sweep... solo this time. Riding through Whistler's local paved trails on a Sunday morning was very relaxed, with the locals out walking their dogs and enjoying the sunshine. Whistler is my bike's birth place as this is where Ian (the man who is Chromag) lives, and Mike who welds them works in Squamish. I think my bike enjoyed a visit to its spiritual home.

Looking out at Tantalus

Everything went fairly smoothly until I went to leave the lunch stop at the Tantalus lookout. Maybe it was being so relaxed from the cool breeze, beautiful views, and sunshine. Maybe it was Dave distracting me with news of someone dislocating their shoulder on the trail I was about to ride on my own. Maybe I am just a muppet. I think the latter. I missed the entry to the trail and whizzed off down the road towards Squamish. Once I spotted the trail I knew I should be on... on the other side of the valley... I knew something was awry. Bah. I thought the solution would be to "sprint" the rest of the 30 km or so down to Alice Lake, where the rest stop was, and figure something out there. At least there would be some more nice watermelon to eat whilst I figured something out. On the way up the hill to the lake I caught Dave in the truck, heading up to the lookout to to collect the food and volunteers. I was saved... sort of. I still had to ride the trail I was meant to ride in the first place. I got a ride back up and started all over again, on the trail this time. The trail through Cheakamus Canyon is an incredible thing. The trail itself is lumpy to say the least and at least one part threatens to fall off the cliff at any time, held in place with steel cables and chicken wire.... but the sheer drop down to the river and the beautiful views of the glaciers and peaks on the other side were exhilarating (and very distracting from trying to ride over all those loose rocks). Down in the valley I tried to make up some time and sprinted from sign to sign, ripping them down and sticking them in my pocket. In case you ever decide to try this for fun, I don't recommend it.

Due to my tardiness Kala and Geraldine had set off to de-sign the last (and really fun) section of trail from Alice lake. By the time I met Dave at the bottom of the hill up to Alice Lake I was feeling like I still wanted to ride. Dave gave me a lift up the hill (just like those long-distance runners who can go home for a cup of tea as long as they come back and start from where they stopped- right?) and I set of with everything I had left in my legs to catch up with the Irish Ladies. A fairly warp-speed and fun ride down Jack's trail, skipping over roots and ducking under branches soon caught me up. Kala and Ger had everything under control, so I rode the last of the route back to Squamish and stuffed my face with food. I reckon that was about another 110 km. That sounds like a long way, and adds up to 220 km... so that's what I'm going to say it was.

Thanks to Robbin (Great Explorations), and all the gang for a fabulous and exhausting weekend. Especially thanks to Dave for my career inspiration and helping me out of my navigation failure. I'm going to give my knees a rest tomorrow.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Full-spectrum mountain biking

There's been a lot of mountain biking going on. On Thursday, Paul and I went and scared ourselves on Pink Starfish and Digger trails on Fromme. Lots of wooden things to fall off... fun! Still intact, we met up with Kala and Angie to see Xavier Rudd play. Xavier's didgeridoo, drums, and slide guitar "one man band" had an additional two men... a fantastic drummer and bass player who added a real reggae feel to some of the tunes and long breaks of improvised stuff. They all looked to be having a great time on the stage, and the crowd was pretty happy about it. I got to experience the famous floor bounce of the Commodore. Boing.

Marc and Nikki finished the BC Bike Race yesterday and I went up to see them off on their last stage - Whistler. As I was in Whistler, it seemed like a good chance to get one of my rare days riding in the bike park. Paul was game for it, Angie went on a long road ride from Whistler to Pemberton (and back) and Paul's visiting parents went off sightseeing. With very little waiting around as there were just the two of us, Paul and I rode a whole lot of trails... mostly the steep rooty and rocky things that we like. We also ended up riding a few new (to us) things. We spotted a sign saying "Pro Only" on a trail called D1... so of course we rode it. Does that make me professional? I hope so. Rummaging around in the woods we also found some new-looking trails with great names "Dealer's Choice" and "Samurai Pizza Cat". I want the profession of making up trail names.

Paul on "Rock City"

Paul on "In Deep"

Three of me on the GLC drop

Me on "Schleyer"

More me on "Schleyer"

On the way home we had ice-cream, swam in the lake... then went to the beach for a barbecue with Kala, Meaghan, Rod, Suzanne, Ryan, Paul, Angie, and Paul's parents. We gave Marc the responsibility for fish (he's from Newfoundland after all) and managed a pretty good feast on my collapsing old hibachi.

Today was totally different. Johnny (a kayaking man) wanted to get his new mountain bike dusty, so we headed out south of Vancouver to Mission... where the trucks are big, the road signs have shotgun pellet holes in them, and the wildlife are scared. Our plan was to do a big loop, up the valley from Dewdney and over to Chehalis Lake. Things started off well, but then we met a man with the best job in the world (or maybe worst, I'm not sure). His task was to sit in the middle of the logging road with his truck, some tunes, a tent, a cooler of beer and some cigarettes. I'm not sure if the beer are cigarettes were part of his job, but he seemed to be making good use of them. In short, due to some lawyers we weren't allowed up the road until November. That seemed like a long time to wait, so we turned back and took another road up to a viewpoint looking back up to the Fraser River. We ate sandwiches, took photos and then rattled our way back down to the car. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

We went up here

Viewpoint, err, view

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Oh Canada... day.

Yesterday was Canada Day. It was also Wednesday. It's not often I get to go and ride my bike all day in the sunshine on a Wednesday. Kala, Krista, Suzanne and I went over to the Sunshine coast to ride some fast, dusty trails and generally feel good about life.

We rode the Mach Chicken DH course, where Suzanne got this photo of me, where I seem to have got separated from the ground. Careless.

Suzanne's talent for capturing the moment with a camera was also on show in this one. I don't know what exactly was happening, but now we will always be able to look at it and wonder...

Our second run was a really fantastic sequence of Highway 101, Viper, trees, dust, twisty corners, roots, trees, logs, other trails I forget, and general good times. We got down too late to meet up with Marc and Nikki as we had planned, but Kala did manage to "buy flour from the man". I was expecting some kind of shady character in a trilby hat... but it turned out to be a farmer. Suspicious folk those farmers. Kala was pleased to find some fruit and veg that her 100-mile diet can't provide in Vancouver. Hooray for carrots.

We ended the day with a beer on the beach and the ferry home. I think that was a decent way to celebrate Canadianism. The my quite bad photos are here.