Escape to the Chilcotins - Photo Epic

Aug 3, 2016
by Mike Kazimer  



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.



Photo Sterling Lorence
Photo Sterling Lorence


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.




Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
"Ready? Good. Let's get this show on the road."

Photo Sterling Lorence
Lorna Lake's unearthly blue waters are colored by glacial meltwater.

Photo Sterling Lorence
Photo Sterling Lorence

Photo Sterling Lorence
Splashdown.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
Bikes and gear are unloaded and reassembled in preparation for the day's ride.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
An unseasonably wet summer meant that the streams were rushing faster than usual.


Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
Oops.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
Bike down.
Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
Does carbon float?

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
Crisis averted.


Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
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.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
A short break for a trail side glissading session.


Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
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.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
With the initial climb out of the way, it was time to enjoy the first of many swoopy single track rewards.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
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.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
Kevin Dana carves his way through a sea of green.


Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
There's no avoiding it - your feet will get wet.
Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
It's best just to march on through, soggy socks be damned.



Camp Life


Photo Sterling Lorence
Nature's refrigerator.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
The cabin at Spruce Lake is stocked with the essentials: a tube, chain lube, bear spray, bug spray, and fishing tackle.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene
Better than any five-star hotel.

Photo Sterling Lorence

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
Out here, tinder is what you start a fire with.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorene




Wildlife


Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
Ribbit.

Photo Sterling Lorence
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.

Photo Sterling Lorence

Photo Sterling Lorence
Well hello, Mr. Marmot.

Photo Sterling Lorence
Long summer evenings leave plenty of time for fishing once the riding is done.

Photo Sterling Lorence
This is Junior. Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, that is.

Photo Sterling Lorence
At ten-years-old Junior wasn't showing any signs of slowing down.
Photo Sterling Lorence
He probably jumped off the dock forty times over the course of the evening.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence



Back to Where It All Began



Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
Day two's trails, from Spruce Lake back to Tyax Lodge, were a little drier, a little dustier, but no less scenic.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
Canada, Utah, or Colorado? You decide.

Giant Launch in Southern Chilcotins BC July 2016. Photo Sterling Lorence
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.


Photo Sterling Lorence
The last rays of sun fade away over Tyaughton Lake.


Photo Sterling Lorence
"Like a rainbow in the dark...." -- Ronnie James Dio



Where Is This Place?



72 Comments

  • + 95
 "Cell phones don't work out here - it's important to have good old-fashioned map and compass skills." - Thanks for mentioning that. There are significant numbers of people who ride here without the rudiments of navigation or backcountry self-sufficiency skills. There are no bike-shops, coffee shops or help for hours on end. Being prepared here is kind of necessary.

Also, this area recently became a park. Biking is under a microscope due to this happening. You and your group didn't do this so not pointing at you. But scree-scope riding, chasing wildlife, burning bits of forest down or gratuitous skidding and putting them in a video (looking at you Mavic) give enemies of biking ammunition for bikers to have their activities restricted.

Thanks for the cool Sterl shots and for the reminder that Chilcotin means "wet feet"
  • + 10
 In summation...."Nothing to see here. Boring. Yawnfest. Tell your friends BC sucks. Don't come here."....can we just go with that? Wink hehe........Stunning pics guys! ...I have read the articles that have been up regarding the management of the area and it sure does sound like mtb access is in very real danger there. "We" will not get away with ANY shenanigans...a single ass-hat could get the whole deal shutdown.
  • - 68
flag PLANDS00 (Aug 2, 2016 at 23:06) (Below Threshold)
 @loopie: Oh good. So some liberal f**ks can shut you down due to one rider who looses control and skids - or does it on propose in the MF DIRT! - and I will be forced to spend my ecotourism dollars somewhere else? Did I understand that correctly? Hmmm....
  • + 3
 you can also just follow the trails...
  • + 8
 @PLANDS00: Not exactly, no. As Lee mentioned, It's a newly designated protected park..giving more teeth to the powers that be when it comes to protecting it. Normal use is normal. Ass-hatery is damaging. Somewhat unique(as far as I know) is that a mtb closure was even brought up for the new Park designation.
  • + 1
 Or get a satellite phone.
  • + 2
 I think The float planes are far more contentious than riding loose ... Right now.
  • + 8
 National parks (the highest rank of environmental protection) are a funny thing here in Spain. Governments claim any area is declared a national park to protect its natural and cultural environment, but beyond this they're seeking to attract tourists and investments in that sector.
As a result the national park, a mass tourism free area before, is now invaded by hordes of fat weekenders with their fat kids and dogs, their cars, their cameras, their extreme stupidity and, which matters most, their moneys.

As a result riding is also banned. We can no longer do what we did because the ground is eroded by our killing machines. However you drive around the place any given sunday, you can see new wider roads, huge parking areas, hotels, supermarkets, bars, casinos, spas......
Joder, what's this all about? when I was coming here to ride the area wasn't so deteriorated for sure.
  • + 6
 This is the classic place for "its just one bike" thinking. Please don't be that kind of jerk and respect this environment.
  • + 3
 @Benito-Camelas: Good points. But I'd rather have national parks that do actively attract people to go visit them and learn about the world's amazing natural places, and have to work hard to balance the visitors vs impact tug of war, rather than a bunch of wilderness places that are undervisited, in a society of people who stay inside surfing the Internet all year long.

I love wilderness and work to get solitude when I'm riding/camping/skiing, but I like to remind myself that when I see a big crowd of people or traffic at a national park, there's a percentage of those people who are getting blown away right now and will be lifelong lovers of the outdoors.
  • + 6
 @Extremmist: Sat phones will not save your life when S&R is many, many hours and potentially a day or two away, depending on the weather. There are no roads and air strips aside from single-track and lakes for float planes. Blown freehub? Unless you have a spare and the tools, you're walking out 12 hours easily, and that's from Spruce lake, the close one. Lorna will take you two days of hiking, easily. This isn't the north pole, but this place is remote.
  • + 3
 @Benito-Camelas: Thats how it works here too. They make beautiful places National parks, and pretty soon they are ruined. They dont let you camp, climb, ride or jump off of stuff. They want you to enjoy the park From Your Car. The parks become smoggy crowded little cities unfit for all but the pinkest and plumpest of tourists.
  • + 1
 @SteveDekker: Dude, we're talking BC, not the US!
  • + 1
 @railin: The person I was responding to is from Spain. Whats your point?
  • + 1
 @Benito-Camelas: I see what you did there! spanish speaker here hahhaa
  • + 1
 Just so everyone knows, you can actually use Trailforks out of service AS LONG AS YOU SIGN IN BEFORE YOU GO OUT OF SERVICE. I used Trailforks on my Chilcotin trip this year and it worked awesome! I still had a map and compass though... make sure you have a backup!
  • + 8
 It's amazing up there for sure, and I love that places like this get publicized, but there is an associated risk/problem with showing off the area. Many people see the smooth alpine single track and they get lured in, and don't realise that a ride in the Chilcotins is a big day, and is physically and mentally challenging; there are many hike a bikes, you are at high altitude (for those of us who live at sea level), and you are a day away from rescue if you get hurt.
Don't go out there without the necessary precautions, this really applies to any backcountry travel. With the ubiquitous nature of social media and people putting up photos of their trips, it portrays the romantic idea of these areas, and doesn't really show the danger.
-Have a print map, a compass and know how to use them.
-Have a couple of backup plans for what to do if something goes wrong.
-Carry spare parts in your group, a spare brake, or derailleur cable (or the whole derailleur) can bail you out of a world of shit.
-Be prepared for all weather, it could be bluebird and 30C in the valley and snowing and windy in the passes.
-Carry more food and water than you need, you may get sidetracked or lost and have to spend the night.
-Bring a light.

It's amazing in the back country, but it's not anywhere to get complacent. I know I've probably missed some essentials, but I wanted to give people an idea of what to think about when planning a trip. I've broken my hand up there, and it took 27 hours before I could get to a doctor. Be prepared.
  • - 1
 dam right there is an associated risk/problem with showing off the area. the area is way too dam over exposed. it's awesome to be sure, and Lee Lau knows it as good as almost any local guide or outfitter and has earned the right to speak about it at length. but it just doesn't need the masses of general mtn bikers heading there at this point and certainly doesn't need any more mass commercial photo shoots, bike releases, etc, etc.
  • + 5
 Rule #1 check that your spare tire is full of air before heading over the Hurley FSR. Rule #2 if you drive like you ride, you will use your spare tire! Rule #3 locals drive slow because we broke rules 1 and 2 a long time ago and have already learned our lesson! Rule #4 don't ride Slim Creek Trail.
  • + 2
 Yes - do NOT ride Slim Creek. And if you do the Yohetta - Tchaikazan you'll be taking your bike for a walk. Ditto the Dil Dil plateau
  • + 2
 I have done four or five trips there but we never used a plane. We have done lots of out and back rides and massive loops. You can do shuttle rides not to get up but for pickup at the other end of a ride. I have also done longer trips in where we drive in a long way, ride a small ride that day and a longer one after camping in deep. You will want a god four wheel drive if you go in deep though. And if it's wet the mud is slick so a winch or come along is handy.

Some people's perception of us is that we are a bunch of neon clad yahoos hooning around like a bunch of jackasses. Please don't make them right and get riding banned. Besides, you get yourself hurt way the f*ck out there, how and who will get your sorry carcass out? A bad sprain in the middle of a twelve hour ride could mean a night out that you are not prepared for. This place is wilderness with a few passable roads and zero services.
  • + 4
 Up at Tyaughton right now listening to committee members discussing logging and the MTB industry. It's been pissing rain all day!
  • + 2
 I wanted to partake in this exact trip using Tyax after I saw Matt Hunter's video several years ago. Unfortunately, just too expensive. Simply not affordable for the vast majority of us.
  • + 7
 With USofA money? Depending on when you checked last...it could be 30+% cheaper now
  • + 4
 Self supported is always an option on a budget. Plus, Tyax is so dang worth it.
  • + 2
 Just curious, how much would a trip like this cost?
  • + 5
 A full plane of 5 ppl costs about $1000 Cdn. $200 pp for a fly in trip is well worth it. I'm cheap but I've done this trip twice. Do it! You'll never regret it!
  • + 1
 Holy crap. That's entirely acceptable for cost.
  • + 1
 @dcreynolds: Another option is to bike in to Spruce and have your gear flown in and out by Tyax. We have done this as a large group (8 to 10) a number of times on the August long weekend. Three glorious days of riding!
  • + 2
 @loopie: I was looking into this just about 4 or 5 months ago. Air travel from SFO to Vancouver was like $900 roundtrip + bike case cost + airline fee for that case. Then from Vancouver I'd either need to take an 8hr bus ride to get to Tyax (not sure of cost, but yuck), or the float plane which was like $2100 ONE WAY. Plus any extra "fees" that go along with all this, and then add on the actual cost of Tyax's cost. It was insane money for me to ride my bike for just a few days.
  • + 1
 @dcreynolds: Tyax's own website says that a full float plane trip ONE WAY is $2150.
  • + 3
 @chrisingrassia: If you are flying from somewhere then sure that adds cost. No need to fly from Vancouver though. Rent a car in YVR and drive to Tyax. Going in via Lillooet is fine in a rental car.

$1000 flight is from Tyax to Lorna. Lots of options to ride there that avoid using float planes though... but if you go getting farther into the park (Deer/Lorna/Elbow/Graveyard) is highly recommended and that means bike packing or floatplanes...

Keeping in mind as many have mentioned this is serious terrain and it isn't all smooth buff alpine single track. We did a 120km three day trip earlier this summer (which incidentally only cost me gas money to get there) and saw more bears than people. You will hike (a lot), you will get your feet wet, the trails will disappear at times and you may deal with some type 3 fun... but it is an amazing area to ride your bike.
  • + 3
 @Caiokv: See here for prices tyaxadventures.com/aircraft-flights/summer

The $ 1000 figure is a one-way to Lorna Lake. That will accommodate 4 people with gear packing reasonably smart. Add the cost for gas from Vancouver or Whistler and approx $ 30- 50/day for food if you want to self-support (depends on what you want or how to eat). You can also stay at Spruce Lake camp if you want to go lighter and splurge. I believe thats $ 200 pp all inclusive (food for dinner/lunch/breakfast, bedding) which means you don't need to carry a larger pack,

Of course you can self-support totally and then be much cheaper. See this article previously on PB frontpage

www.pinkbike.com/news/Self-supported-Bikepacking-a-sample-packing-list-2013.html


So I don't sound like a Tyax shill I've used them for one-way drops and gone in myself. But I don't mind supporting them because Tyax has done a ton of trailwork to keep these trails clear. They're long time residents of the area and they employ a lot of people in the region which IMO is a good thing.
  • + 3
 @chrisingrassia: oops just saw your other post about that 2150 being the cost from YVR to Tyax. Yes - that's pricy but I'd say that most people do a Chilcotin trip along with a more extended BC trip. Coming in from SFO to Tyax just for that purpose is going to be $$$$
  • + 2
 @leelau: Yeah, not cheap. Around 1,000 CAD for 3 days seems like a lot, but after seeing these pictures it gets easy to justify the investment! Who knows, if I can save enough money to go to Canada next year I might give it a try. Looks like too much fun, flying a float plane, camping in the backcountry and riding in such a beautiful place!
When I was in Whistler last year I was amazed by the beauty of the place (and there are LOTS of beautiful places in Brazil), but I guess that the Chilcotins Mountains will be even more beautiful!
  • + 2
 But seriously, split Gas up to tax from whistler 5 ways, load up a float plane and split that, eat a couple of powerboats and keep the whiskey drinking to a minimum and 2 days in the chilcotins is cheaper than 2 days/boozy nights out on whistler.....
  • + 1
 If $600CAD/person (based on 7-8 ppl) is too expensive for two flights to fly gear to/from Spruce Lake from Tyax lodge (and everyone rides in and out with day packs), then, yep, you have more pressing financial concerns.
  • + 2
 @CaptainSnappy: where do I get 7-8 people? I'm just one dude.
  • + 1
 @Caiokv: That's $1000 for 3 days split among 4 people. The plane holds 4 people.
  • + 1
 @chrisingrassia: the $1000 trip was for a one way from that lodge to Lorna lake (one day trip) the multi day trip will cost more but I believe you were most likely looking at a flight from Vancouver. Sometimes locals forget what it costs just to get to Tyax ???? Either way, it's a good bucket list addition.
  • + 1
 @leelau: I mean 1,000 considering other expenses also, like getting from Vancouver to Tyax, supplies, and their backcountry camps, which seems really awesome! But I guess it would be less than that...
The hardest part would be to get 3 more people for the trip, but it seems like they can arrange groups as well, which is pretty nice.

@Mexicaman Let's go to BC again in 2017?
  • + 2
 @Caiokv: Yah you can post on Facebook or here or just ask Tyax way in adance if there are other groups and just get in with other people to fill the plane. It means planning in advance but I see what you're saying
  • + 2
 @leelau: this is exactly what I was hoping to do. But Tyax doesn't guarantee this. As a solo rider you either can pick your trip date in advance and *hope* for others to split those costs with as their dates also match up and they have an open spot. OR, you let Tyax tell you when there is an open spot and you can fill it. For me, coming from Cali, that's an expensive and complicated option.

This adventure looks totally tits regardless, but for me I'm sure there are cheaper alternatives through Oregon, Montana, Wyoming and Tetons, or Utah. Travel mountain biking is serious bucks.
  • + 1
 To anyone reading this, I am looking for 3 people to split costs on this trip for July/August 2017, after the trip we can just go to Whistler and enjoy Crankworx!
  • + 2
 @chrisingrassia: yah for sure. I went through Montana before the Wilderness Act and forest service closures hit the Gallatin and surrounding areas for example. The Tobaccos and Bozeman area had amazing riding. So check on closures before you go.

Don't forget WA state. Entiat, Wenatchee, Teanaway also was amazing

Wyoming & Tetons. They don't have quite the network of high alpine singletrack so not really that comparable. Good stuff but intertwined with roads and mostly doubletrack even East of Jackson

UT - not really comparable. See the same issue as WY

CO has good options if you're looking for comparables. Think Crested Butte area. Also Durango. Going to check out Winter Park but I hear that's good too

IMO the Chilcotins has the most wilderness aspects in the sense of true remoteness and the largest contiguous linked true singletrack. Most of the other areas I mentioned above have singletrack linked by large'ish portions of doubletrack/resource roads. That's not inherently terrible but just pointing out the distinguishing feature of the South Chilcotins

Of note, the german language magazines seem to be hyping the floatplane aspect though which is a bit strange but then I'm not pretending to understand what German bikers want. So I suspect there's going to be a lot more German travellers in the region relatively soon. The attraction to them seems to be the sexiness of the floatplane/ But like many others have said, you can get in by yourself without floatplane and do large loops. Using the Tyax camps you can then carry more minimal gear.

From BEarpaw for example you can daytrip Lorna Lake, Cluckata Ridge, Dash Hill, Deer Pass etc. Which then gives you the option of going solo or keeping timing options open so you're not fixed on dates and time.
  • + 5
 Is that Bones flying that plane?
  • + 3
 Lesson here, peanut shoes suck when it comes to having stable footing on sketchy surfaces.
  • + 1
 Fallen trees, debarked + wet = slippery.
  • + 4
 A rainbow in the dark!!! RIP RJD
  • + 3
 Wow! That's pretty sick. Incredible shots.
  • + 1
 Haha who lives this life? Didn't have the money for this in my twenties, don't have the time in my thirties. These fantasy stories just bum me out anymore.
  • + 15
 Trust me, this is what your Forties will look like Wink
  • + 4
 You can do the Chilcotins on the cheap. Lots of self-supported routes there
  • + 15
 I do this, I split the trip with 4 friends and it only costs $909 CAD, that's about $150usd each. It's only a long weekend if you fly into Seattle and you're in shape. Also, I work at at a bike shop and live in a van. We make the sacrifices we need to in order to live the lives we want to. Don't make any more excuses, go make awesome happen!
  • + 1
 I've done it 4x. You can totally do it on the cheap, especially with 6+ others divvying up the bill. Get to work.
  • + 3
 Lucky to have been there several times. A special place.
  • + 2
 amazing photo epic....keep up the good work!
  • + 1
 Got to do the second day of this trip with Norco bicycles. Will remember it forever. Amazin.
  • + 2
 Wow.. Amazing fotos Sterling , you do the Chilcotins justice !!
  • + 1
 I concur. my friends and I have taken so many photos but none compare.
  • + 1
 I'm just here for the beaver.
  • + 1
 Would love to do this at least once in my lifetime! :-)
  • + 1
 Great write up, superb shots as usual from Mr Lorence.
  • + 1
 CGIYV lookin sleek with the new prop!
  • + 2
 Wow...
  • + 1
 Amazing Shots~ Vid would be Sick!!!
  • + 1
 Ditto... WOW.
  • + 1
 Amazing !
  • + 1
 Very Nice!!!
  • + 1
 Just wow.

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