When I was a kid, I spent countless hours doodling images of airplanes and mountains in my notebooks as I stared out the window, waiting for the ring of the school bell to set me free. Those drawings were my escape, and they transported me away from the droning voice at the front of the room and to a fantasy land full of rugged peaks and endless views. Years later, after I'd settled down in the Pacific Northwest, I started to hear rumors and see photos of an area that looked like the stuff of those grade school dreams – the South Chilcotin Mountains.
Located approximately five hours north of Vancouver, BC, the Chilcotins embody mountain biking in the purest sense of the word, as in, there are lots of mountains, and you can ride your bike up, over, and around them. The South Chilcotins Provincial Park encompasses nearly 57,000 hectares, with over 200 km of trails squiggling through the region.
Tyax Adventures, owned by Dale Douglas, one of the area's early proponents, even operates a float plane service that can transport groups of riders to remote lakes where they can embark on single or multi-day journeys back to the shores of Tyaughton Lake. A float plane isn't necessary to enjoy the region, but it sure is a nice luxury, and there's not much that compares to touching down in the middle of a bright turquoise blue lake surrounded by glaciated peaks with the knowledge that miles of pristine singletrack await.
I was recently in the area in order to attend Giant's launch of their new Trance, but realistically, the details of the bike were overshadowed by the spectacular scenery. Photographer Sterling Lorence was on hand to document the two day ride, and after looking through his images I instantly realized they were too good to sit unseen in an electronic folder.
With that said, sit back and enjoy a virtual trip through the Chilcotins, beginning with a landing on Lorna Lake aboard a de Havilland Beaver DHC-2.
"Ready? Good. Let's get this show on the road."
Lorna Lake's unearthly blue waters are colored by glacial meltwater.
Bikes and gear are unloaded and reassembled in preparation for the day's ride.
An unseasonably wet summer meant that the streams were rushing faster than usual.
Does carbon float?
The climb up from Lorna Lake has a short section of hike-a-bike, followed by a final steep grind to the top of the pass.
A short break for a trail side glissading session.
Adam Craig and Russell Eich discuss route options. Cell phones don't work out here - it's important to have good old-fashioned map and compass skills.
With the initial climb out of the way, it was time to enjoy the first of many swoopy single track rewards.
There's no room for egos in this part of the world - Mother Nature is definitely in charge, and one look around at the seemingly endless mountains makes it easy to feel really, really small. Especially when there could be a grizzly bear around any corner.
Kevin Dana carves his way through a sea of green.
There's no avoiding it - your feet will get wet.
It's best just to march on through, soggy socks be damned.
The cabin at Spruce Lake is stocked with the essentials: a tube, chain lube, bear spray, bug spray, and fishing tackle.
Better than any five-star hotel.
Out here, tinder is what you start a fire with.
The Chilcotins are in bear country, and encounters with black bears and grizzlies are fairly common. Taking proper precautions out on the trail and while camping helps to ensure that everyone can coexist with minimal conflict.
Well hello, Mr. Marmot.
Long summer evenings leave plenty of time for fishing once the riding is done.
This is Junior. Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, that is.
At ten-years-old Junior wasn't showing any signs of slowing down.
He probably jumped off the dock forty times over the course of the evening.
Back to Where It All Began
Day two's trails, from Spruce Lake back to Tyax Lodge, were a little drier, a little dustier, but no less scenic.
Canada, Utah, or Colorado? You decide.
The trails aren't the most technically challenging, but there are plenty of off-camber sections, often with consequences, to keep riders on their toes.
The last rays of sun fade away over Tyaughton Lake.
"Like a rainbow in the dark...." -- Ronnie James Dio