I recently had the good fortune to go on a honeymoon with seven of my best friends. No, it wasn't a bizarro New Age octagonal marriage. Chuck and Joc were celebrating their vow exchange with a month-long honeymoon that included canoeing the Stikine, lounging on some Gulf Islands, and pedaling through the southern Chilcotin Mountains. For the latter they invited friends to join them and six of us, all from Golden, BC, signed up. It was extraordinary.Full story, pics and video inside
The stunning visual quality of the transition zone between the Coastal Mountains and the Interior Plateau that is the Spruce Lake Protected Area
was compelling enough reason to join the trip, but the splendid cherry on the pie was that everything except our day packs was to be transported via pack train. This gave the trip a Wild West feel (although riding a bike with a menacing yet understated swagger ain't easy, pardner).
These are really beer kegs with legs - and I don't mean the wranglers. Monica De photo
Our outfitter, Spruce Lake Wilderness Adventures (SLWA)(www.sprucelaketours.ca
), offers a variety of ways to get into the area and were flexible with our itinerary. We chose a self-guided, self-catered option in which the horses would carry our gear to a different camp each day for four days, camps in which everything except our sleeping bags and food were to be supplied.
This would have been our 2nd camp if all went to plan
I had done a couple of huge days in the mountains in Golden before, so had an idea of what to expect in terms of the coming physical strain, but I had never before done two big days in a row, much less four. I came to know exhaustion. But I also came to know the sublime. Arduous and glorious: two sides of the same coin. The goals we set each day seemed in the mornings impossibly distant. But with lots of food in our packs; plentiful water in the creeks; a plodding pace; slowly emerging, tantalizing alpine vistas; and lots of positive encouragement from good friends, the mountain passes yielded themselves to our efforts. The views were empowering, if somewhat muted by the smoke from the nearby Jade fire. Riding through the flower-strewn meadows I kept expecting Julie Andrews to come spinning into view, apron fluttering in the breeze.*
"Spinning," I said T-Bone. "Spinning!"
In the first three days we crossed six mountain passes, travelled almost 100 km, and rode for about 30 hours. Not all of us, mind you. Due to varying levels of fitness, injury and experience, not everyone rode the full objectives each day. From the Spruce Lake camp, there are shorter choices and SLWA has a fishing boat for guests' use.
It should be mentioned that SLWA should be considered with the emphasis on the last two words of the company name. Their camp isn't actually located on Spruce Lake, or any lake for that matter. It's close to Spruce Lake to be sure, but we were a bit disappointed when we arrived to find wall tents set up in the trees. Rustic
is one of those adjectives that gets bandied about in travel writing, but I'm pretty confident in its usage to describe this camp. But once we settled in and opened the beers, the place began to grow on us. Which is good, because we ended up staying there for three nights after it was discovered one of our number – my wife – had strained her knee on the three pass climbs of the first day. Anyway, what is a Wild West experience without a bit of grit in our teeth and a determined bear trying to tear open the roof of the food storage cabin? Yet despite any luxuries the camp may have been missing, it was the smallest things it was missing that gave it its greatest charm: virtually no bugs at Spruce Lake (though the same cannot be said for the rest of the area).
The trails are world-class and endless. Despite the heavy horse usage, or perhaps because of it, 90% of the trails are undulating butter. There is a healthy dose of challenging technical sections to keep it sporty, a bit of butt-clenching DH, and a few hike-a-bikes which I often found relieving for the opportunity to get out of the saddle.
The groom, Chuck, was a force of nature. This tank weighed 41 lbs and you wouldn't believe the stuff he cleaned. If you haven't sent him a wedding gift yet, he needs a new helmet.
Perhaps the most important thing to bring on a trip here is a map. Despite the generally excellent quality of the map, we still spent many a minute poring over it with some confusion. There are almost no signs out on the trails and numerous trails. Travel without the map would have been extremely difficult and time-consuming. Problem is that there are no more maps for sale. So if going, I suggest sending a message to the publisher and agitate for a new print run: Trail Ventures BC Inc. (www.trailventuresbc.com - ask for the Southern Chilcotin Mountain Trail Map).
"Is that Hot Swedish Chick Meadow?" (landmarks may have moved by the time you go)
This is an amazing place to go for a bike ride, but it is not for the timid or weak. Days are full and attaining mountain passes can be punishing. The title of this story was T-Bone's deadpan reply to my comment a moment before. We were lying down in our tent on the third night and he had been itemizing his various wounds, including the one on his butt from flipping downhill into a rock-strewn creek. "Time heals all wounds," was my comment.
Look at the calf muscles on this freak of nature. Can you believe we let the brain connected to those calves set our objectives each day?
Had the horses taken us to our other camps as planned, we would have had shorter biking days, but it takes a long time to break and set up camp, and load and unload the horses each day. So this isn't the place to go to work on your tan and finish that book. But if you enjoy grueling challenges, both physical and mental, that are balanced by alpine glory and extraordinary descents - and are into sharing honeymoons - then a horse-assisted trip in the southern Chilcotins will charm you.
To further illustrate the appeal, here are a video and some more photos:
Avoiding creek crossings
Big thanks and hugs to the Golden Horde.
, Julie Andrews! You know, The Sound of Music
? You should watch more old movies with your mom and dad at x'mas if you don't know that one.