Bikes and Horses in the South Chilcotin – a four day alpine adventure

Travel

Chilcotin September 2008

Day 3 – Graveyard – Elbow – Lorna – Tyax – Deer Pass – Spruce Lake – September 6, 2008

Words by Lee Lau. Photos by Lee, Sharon Bader, Mark Rowe and Rob McLachlan unless otherwise noted.


On this third day of our trip we were indeed blessed. It was everything I’d hoped for, a crossing of a high-mountain pass, an early start, a finish just before it got dark, a lot of suffering for the slower guys, breathaking views and mach-schelll alpine singletrack and descents. The weather started out looking a bit bleak. I had made alternate plans that included bailing out to valley bottom if it didn’t clear up. As I wanted to ride up and over 2100m Deer Pass from our starting point at 1700m at valley bottom come hell or high water, I had prepared for inclement conditions with goretex socks, thick jackets, warm gloves, and headlamps. Figuring that most of the group would drop out if conditions turned sour and had already mentally prepared myself for a big uncomfortable day.

It turned out to be a spectacular day. The skies cleared up as we headed up towards Elbow Pass then the ridge between Elbow and Lorna Pass. Conditions got stunningly better and we ended up going down Lorna, up and over Deer Pass and then back to Spruce Lake for a good 11 hour ride. All but two of the group made it all the way and, surprisingly for a big group, everyone pretty much held together the entire journey.


Chris drops into Graveyard Creek under high overcast skies


Group shots heading from Graveyard Creek up towards Elbow Pass with hints of blue skies taunting us


This time Mark could see the views and fall colors starting on the Elbow Pass hike-a-bike


The climb from valley bottom to Elbow Pass isn’t bad. The additional 300m climb from Elbow Pass to the Elbow – Lorna Ridge is a bit more gratuitous and the altitude affected all of us. Rob, Monte, Iori and Mark followed me up there and we reaped the benefits of an alpine ridgeline ride with 360 views that one rarely experiences with the tremendous clarity of clear skies, purged of dust by recently departed moisture. For me, this alpine traverse coupled with our Deer Pass crossing this was a quasi-religious experience, defining the essence of Chilcotin riding.


Rob and Iori approaching the ridgeline


Iori on Elbow-Lorna Ridge


From there we start the riotously fun descent dropping from 2300m at Elbow-Lorna Ridge down to 1600m at Tyax Creek along sinously buff singletrack.


Of course, there are easier ways to do this. Part of the group went down the Elbow trail and hooked up with the Tyaughton (aka Tyax) trail skipping the extra 300m of vert. You could also have ridden down the Big Creek drainage due S from our campsite and hiked up Elbow Pass direct to the Elbow Trail. You could just as easily have continued a bit further and hiked up to Lorna Pass from Big Creek and ridden the Lorna Trail direct. That’s the beauty of the Chilcotin. All those choices would have involved wet feet, climbing and stunning views and wonderful descents. My variation threw in one extra biggish climb, an alpine traverse and ridgeline views.


Our goal today was to get to Spruce Lake. For most people, just getting up and over one pass and continuing to Spruce Lake via Tyax trail would be a good 4 – 5 hour ride; a decent day. I planned on also going up and over Deer Pass and then to Spruce Lake – which would make for a substantial day. Added to our group was Craig and my good friend Kevin; technical climbing honemeister from Grand Junction/Fruita, CO. While Sharon and Chris decided to take it “easier” and continue on Tyax Trail we headed to Deer Pass.


Monte, Iori and Rob on Tyax Trail coming off Lorna Pass


Mark takes it up the rear heading to Tyax Camp (a permanent camp maintained by SLWA)


Sharon helps the horsepack feed at Tyax Camp.


Our horse train (including our luggage and delicious food) at the Deer Pass junction. Our destination is in the background – way up there!


Rob climbs. Our first day travels in the Manson – Davidson – Cunningham area lies across the Tyax Creek valley in the background


Iori approaches Deer Pass


Monte crests Deer Pass


Kevin and Craig had gone ahead of us at Tyax Camp to get some distance on us for the Deer Pass climb. Somehow they missed the junction and we thought they might turn back. They pressed on and caught us lounging around in the Deer Pass sun taking in the view. We teamed up for another stereotypically gorgeous Chilcotin descent; dropping from 2150m at Deer Pass to 1600m at Trigger Lake. It’s quite the headtrip to drop from fall colors in full glory and snowfields in the alpine then to pine and fir in subalpine then back to summer in the valleys of the Chilcotin.


Training it down from Deer Pass


Group shot as we dropped down from the alpine. The Leckie Range is in front of us


Kevin


Craig and Mark


Monte leads out Rob, Iori and Kevin as we drop further


Mark


Mark and Lee


It took us a bit of time to get down. Views were spectacular and cameras were going off all the time. We were at Trigger Lake at 4pm and the group energy was starting to flag. I figured it would take us about 3 hours to get back to Spruce Lake and hoped that no mechanical breakdowns would ensue. Basically, very few rest breaks were given and the group slogged on the rolling up and down singletrack past Trigger, Hummingbird Lakes then on to Spruce Lake. We used up all our daylight time and got back to camp tired and hungry.

The SLWA Spruce Lake camp is quite well-setup with permanent tents. Our timing was perfect, the hot water for the showers was plentiful, Tanis had a boatload of food going and despite our getting in a bit later then usual we had plenty of time to clean up and feast. This is a far cry from sleeping in a ditch and looking forward to rehydrated chilli – definitely could get used to these horse-back supported excursions.


Tucking in – there’s a lot of food


Covered approx. 47km, 1950m elevation


About the author: Lee Lau

Lee Lau calls North Vancouver and Whistler BC home. He's had over 15 years experience riding bikes mainly in western North America and in Europe. Unlike many people who learned to ride bikes on North Shore trails, he actually enjoys riding (and sometimes bushwhacking) uphill.


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