Much of the Southern Chilcotin has now obtained the status of being a protected provincial park
, so it is protected from resource and development activity. According to the authors of the definitive trail map for the area
the South Chilcotin "has long been recognized as having outstanding conservation and wilderness recreation resources focused on the alpine and sub-alpine grasslands, forest ecosystems and the small alpine lake systems of the Central and Southern Chilcotin Ranges". However, for mountain bikers the appeal can be distilled down to the fact that it is one of the largest linked networks of alpine and near-alpine singletrack trails in the world. Five hours north of Vancouver is the stuff of which alpine singletrack dreams are made.
North west of the towns of Gold Bridge and Bralorne the area known as the Chilcotin is about 1200 square kms in size (this includes Big Creek Provincial Park
). The total year-round, full-time population of the area is quite a bit under 1,000 people although that number grows in size in summer as lake-side cottages are occupied when temperatures rise. To give some sense of scale, in an area about the size of the City of LA, or the combined cities of Vancouver and the North Shore there are literally hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of alpine trails open for mountain biking.
The ubiquitous floatplane dock on Tyax Lake
Mountainbikers are relatively new to the Chilcotins. Pioneers like Terry Walker
, Greg Maurer
and Greg Stoltman have been bike-a-neering in those parts since the 1980s. However, these are old trails. Many put in by miners, some by loggers. Many by horseback riders and more recently by trial moto riders. While I've documented many trips to the Chilcotin with photos and words (and left just as many trips unrecorded), I've always felt protective about the area. Call it elitism, call it secret-trail-society syndrome, the Chilcotin has always been a little slice of paradise shared only with a few other adventurous souls interested in venturing off the beaten path.
Ridgeline alpine riding off the Cinnabar basin. Day trips from Freiburg in Sept 2007
Things change, what was once a lesser-known place becomes known (you cannot keep a lid on trails this beautiful for any length of time). As the sport of mountain-biking has grown in popularity the number of people who want to explore wilderness increases. Resources like the first decent map of the area
, use of float planes and guided tours have made some trails "crowded". Having said that, crowded is a relative term. I now see other people on the Gun Creek grasslands milk-run where I never used to see other tracks. Fortunately it really isn't that hard to ride for hours and not see another person.
To put it in perspective the Chilcotin is only located 5 hours drive from the urban centre of Vancouver and 3 hours north of the mountain biking mecca of Whistler. Of course it now has been getting some play in the mountain biking media starting with the now-well known segment in The Collective
showing riders ripping along velvety singletrack which had adrenaline racing and inspiring many people to ask "Where is that? And how do I get there?"
Warner Ridge and the Warner Glacier - August 2007
Now that almost all of the Chilcotin is a provincial park it's now clear that the trails will be safe from being demolished by resource activities. It's not well-known that the future of mountain biking in this area is not yet settled as BC Parks is still going through a process to assess recreational use in the Chilcotin
. However, this is not a call to arms for the mountain biking community. Biking is one of the more well-represented recreational activities in the Chilcotin, is a grandfathered activity and it is extremely unlikely that biking will be curtailed. What will help with this process is the recent announcement that Spruce Lake Wilderness Adventures (SLWA) (one of the oldest adventure tourism companies in the area) has been bought and merged with Tyax Air to form a new company; the Tyax Adventure Company
What's positive about this is that both SLWA and Tyax Air were responsible, indefatigable and great champions of the area. The Menhennick family and the Douglas's are long-time locals and the type of people who put hours and hours of effort into trail maintenance without tooting their horns. Even though the Menhennicks are not in the immediate region (having moved to Lillooett) their efforts seeded a lot of goodwill. Goodwill still associated with SLWA. It's exciting and energizing to see two such positive Chilcotin forces uniting. What's good for mountain biking is that as a combined company Tyax Adventures will be a strong voice for mountain biking in the Chilcotin. Also their offerings will be even better, not just for tourism, but also for recreational infrastructure.
Let me tell you why.
You can drop off these ridgelines at 2250m and ride down to Eldorado basin and a cabin
SLWA's cabin at Eldorado Basin will now become part of Tyax Adventures hut-to-hut tour
First, there will be offerings playing to the strengths of the horse and hut support infrastructure. You can do a hut to hut packhorse assisted mountain bike trip. For example
, go in at Relay Creek and make your way back to Tyax Lake via camps at Graveyard Creek, Tyax Camp, Spruce Lake.
Second, both companies will still continue to offer the same services. If you just want a floatplane drop, hire the floatplane and get a group of people (example trip with Lorna base-camp
). Just want to do day trips and hire a guide because you want to get the best out of the area, well that too is still an option.
The horsepack train continues along the valley to Spruce Lake along the Tyax trail while the clients start their 1200m climb to Deer Pass with just their daypacks - September 2008
Exploring for Chilcotin trails can be time-consuming and painful. If you have neither time nor that particular kind of pain tolerance, get a guide from Tyax Adventures
Third, there will be new services. Mostly these will be of the more upscale variety. According to Tyax Adventures: "Tyax Wilderness Resort & Spa will be the new base camp for SLWA" and has been renovated with new bedrooms, bars and restaurants
. There'll be the almost-standard yoga room and spa. Nothing stops you from camping, but if you want a bit more luxury, now there's more choices.
There'll also be scheduled flight service between Whistler/ Vancouver and Tyax on Mondays and Fridays during July and August with 10% off for flights booked on weekdays and an "European Backcountry Service" where select camps will have a resident host, who will take care of public adventurers and who will keep the trails in their zone maintained. You can simply ride into areas with just your day pack and personal items (toiletries, light sleeping bag, change of clothes) and be supported at huts
Lots of room to lose yourself in the Chilcotin
It's worthwhile to note that nothing prevents bikers to feel confident in their backcountry exploration and navigation abilities and who don't require a guide do not need to use Tyax Adventure's services. They have the option of exploring on their own with light day packs and book themselves nightly accommodations and meals. More details and prices will come later this spring. TYAX ADVENTURE COMPANY
SLWA / Tyax Air Service Ltd.
7289 Fitzsimmons Rd. South
Whistler, B.C. Canada
Toll free 1-888-892-9288 Canada Only
Cinnabar basin's wide-open spaces