Yak Attack!

Apr 26, 2011
by Johnny Smoke  

I’ve been sitting on this story for the better part of a year, waiting for it to come out in Bike Magazine. Well, it made the cover for the May issue. This is NOT a reprint of that story. You want to read what Brett has to say about it and see all the juicy pics that Margus shot that day? Go pick it up for yourself. It’s well worth the read. This is my version of events. Hey, you can’t get too much of a good thing…

The best adventures often start with the shortest conversations. In this case, it started with a call from Tippie.
“Yo Smokey! You know that big rock face on the Coquihalla?”

“I’m in. Let’s do it on Saturday. I’m pretty sure we won’t die.”

Now, that may seem like a pretty thin conversation to trigger what would become a cover story in Bike, but you gotta understand the significance of that rock wall we’re talking about. Yak Peak is this iconic expanse of granite on the section of the Trans-Canada highway that links Vancouver with Kamloops. It’s the penultimate view on a drive that is chock full of staggering scenery. As every veteran road tripper knows, the best way to fill up the time on the drive is to scope lines from the passenger seat, and Yak would be the topper, the sickest of the sick, the one that everyone knows about because of its situation on the Freeride Freeway.

To accentuate the situation, this rock wall was featured on one of the last B.C. phone books of the pre-internet age. Literally every household in the province received that phone book, and every dirtbag biker, hiker, skier, rock climber and outdoors person of every stripe has fantasized about its alluring pitches. It’s become an Eldorado of sorts. What precipitated the call from Tippie was yet another forum thread discussing whether or not it was possible to ride it. I was sick of hearing about it. It was time to put up or shut up..

So we went.

A quick phone call secured the services of our favourite photog Margus, and we were on our way to the summit. Brett knows the guy with the lodge at the top (seems like between me and Brett we know just about every small lodge operator in western Canada) and he swung us a deal on a cabin for the night, so we could get an early start the next day. Although some late night booze-on-booze action ensured that we wouldn’t be having an alpine start, we did manage to get up early enough to be looking at one serious hike-a-bike in the golden light of dawn.

Brett would be the sober one...

Here’s what we saw; 2400 vertical feet of raw granite surrounded by primeval rain forest. The lower slope is guarded by a steep and nasty talus slope that looks like a pile of London buses. The upper slopes are wickedly exposed and enticingly smooth. The front spine is a classic multi-pitch 5.10 climb. We would be climbing up around the east side on the hiker trail, and then assessing the ridgeline for possible ways into the face. There’s this big swale to the west off of Zopkios ridge that is definitely ride-able, but to get to it looks dicey at best. I wasn’t sure if we could get to it with bikes, but I wanted to have a look at the possibility at the very least.

Pfffft....obviously rideable

Actually, I was beginning to wonder about the logistics of carrying a 40+ lb. DH rig up the approach. Once we found the trail head (typical start to the day, it took us over an hour just to find the trail), it was about 4 seconds before we were on the biggest stair master in North America. A dab free climb this was not. It took an hour to go 400 vertical feet. I was beginning to get a little discouraged by the pace, but that was just the internet talking. In this age of instant gratification, you sometimes lose sight of that adversity that all adventures require. We stopped at the top of the talus slope to take a breather and watch some climbers tackle the Yak Crack.

After our little break, things went a lot smoother. The climbing got harder, with the tenacious branches of the “mountain misery” clutching at our bikes and threatening to throw us off of rock ledges as we ascended, but now we could see and we were able to distract our minds from the pain of climbing with the old game of looking for lines.

C'mon big fella! You can make it.

Which led to a new problem; Yak is steep. I mean really, really steep. Serious pucker factor steep. I was starting to get a stomach ache it was so steep. The best thing was to keep moving forward, but at the same time there were some … how do I say this without making Brett look fat…delays on the climb. The Tipster was doing better on the upper reaches, but he was still moving like a double knit maroon sofa at times (I’d have been more forgiving, but Tippie doesn’t drink and Margus and I were the ones with hangovers). As soon as I stopped moving and took time to look around the heart rate would increase, the cold sweats would kick in, and suddenly it I was face to face with my old buddy, THE FEAR.

If you’ve ever spent some time out in real mountains, you’ll know that it can be pretty stressful. That stress can manifest itself in many ways. For me, THE FEAR usually begins with a feeling of being discouraged. You fall into a sort of lethargy, like you aren’t going to make it up, and even if you do, you’re not going to be able to deal with the descent. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that feeling. I’ve had it a handful of times, like the first time on Disneyland or approaching Ymir Peak on tele’s way back when.

Still, I’ve been there before, and it only took a small internal smack to the forehead,” WHAT AM I THINKING?! As gnarly as this is, it’s so freakin’ cool to be here! ” Brett caught up, we had some food, shouldered our bikes, and started the final push up to the alpine.

The final push.

Near the top there was a wall of old snow from winter, and one edge was on a 1500’ cliff. This was another challenge, but it looked like the last one before the summit. Actually, negotiating the snow was pretty easy, and it took enough mental power to deal with that I forgot about my stomach ache. The cliff off the side was obscene enough that it actually helped. It was in no way ride-able, so that meant I didn’t have to scare myself trying to find lines off it.

Seeing how long it takes the spit to hit the ground.

The summit was spectacular. A couple of climbers were just finishing their day and we had a nice visit with them while eating our late lunch. They thought we were nuts, but then again, who climbs a 2000-foot cliff in shorts while hanging from a nylon spider’s web? Another thing about the summit; it was clear that we weren’t going to be dropping in to the west side of Zopkios without some serious climbing gear. At the very least we were going to need a couple of harnesses, a good rope, and some protection that we could afford to sacrifice just to investigate that side of the mountain. Instead we’d have to be satisfied with the lower peak (Nak Peak, if you want to get technical about it), and flirting with the faces off of the hiking route.

The view from the top...

..and looking back the other way.

That was gnarly enough. Some pitches were in excess of 45 degrees, and the exposure was all the way. You can see the highway below, and some of the stuff we’d climbed up, that had seemed steep on the ascent, actually looked mellow from up here. Now that we had a definite plan for the descent, suddenly the Tipster was exploding with energy (if you’ve seen him in videos, well…he really is that guy). Point a camera at that guy and he’ll run up to do it again, over and over. Me, I’m more into getting the next move figured out.

The reward kicking in

At least the first sections were relatively mellow. I mean by comparison to what came later. It was classic BC sub-alpine riding, although maybe a bit steeper than most. We were carving lines through this playground of exposed rock and alpine tundra. The trail was not well defined, since at this elevation it never gets a chance to be properly defined. It’s under snow for most of the year. We took this opportunity to be a lot more creative in the line choice. We basically hopped around from one exposed rock section to the next, and traded off the lead with each other on every rock. It was a big game of follow the leader. Awesome fun…

Steep, but still mellow.

After that upper section, things changed fast. The pitches became shorter and more intense. Our decision to play fast and loose with the line also meant that we were not on exactly the same line going down as coming up. Not that it mattered much. As an un-ridden line, this whole ride was guinea pig country. First tracks all the way.

If you’ve never hit up a ‘First,’ it’s a lot different than some bike park feature. When it’s something gnarly on a trail, you know that someone else has hit it before. There’s a ‘way’ to do it, and so you know that there’s a proven route to success. Not so when you tackle a piece of new terrain. Today, we had to deal with all new terrain, and with some pretty high consequences for guessing wrong.

Just plain steep.

There was one point where there was a huge open slab of rock that had a short landing ledge at the bottom. It was reasonably steep at the top, and then after 50 feet or so the slope broke and it got a lot steeper. It looked like it would go, and it looked like there was enough room to stop on the little ledge, but if you were wrong…oh boy. At least you wouldn’t suffer much if you were wrong. That stomach ache was coming back.

Still going, still just as steep.

I started off really tentatively. That’s a mistake. Do or do not, there is no try. The fear pushed me into the back seat, the front wheel lost traction before I even started. Stop. Walk back up a few feet. Get my shit together. OK. “Margus, are you ready?”

“Send it, buddy.”

I remember how focused I got, and how the internal monologue was deafening inside my head. “Get on it. No no, get ON it. Roll in slow. Hit the break in the slope and let go for a moment, then hammer the brakes and hang on. YEEAHHHH! This is ride-able! Yak is ride-able! “

Rock and roll will never die.

After that it was all gravy. Tippie damn near exploded with stoke on how epic this was turning out to be. Every pitch became a new session, as we found more and more epic angles and sick shots. The only limiting factor was the sun, as all the fatigue we’d accumulated on the climb fell away in our enthusiasm for our new playground. The icing on the cake was the final descent through the forest. It was tight, technical, steep, dark, and about as much fun as it’s possible for a North Shore boy to have. If anything, it was even steeper in here, but there were trees and boulders to keep you from tomahawking out of control if you flipped, so it was possible to ride it with way more confidence. After creeping around on smooth rock faces, to rail some dirt was the perfect end to the day.

Happy ending, complete with wet shorts.

We got back down to the highway in short order, and just stared in awe at the big face we’d just conquered. It was one of those moments. In Brett’s story, he’s got a great one liner to sum up the day (sorry, you still gotta go read it for yourself, I won’t ruin it). It makes for a great ending, but it didn’t really go down that way. We were actually pretty quiet as it actually happened. Speechless, if you can use such a word when in the presence of the Tipster.

But such moments don’t last long. We had some high fives, a cold beverage, and went our separate ways. Just before we parted, I turned back to ask:

“Hey Brett…you know those big scree slopes in Keremeos? I know some stuff up near there. I’m pretty sure we won’t die…”

Sacrifice to the Yak. My G9 bites the big one.

This would be the part of the column where I pimp myself out. Because in addition to writing columns for Pinkbike and doing incredibly stupid things on large mountains, I take people out on mountain bikes to have random adventures on BC trails. Sound like your cup of tea? Wander over to Bush Pilot Biking.

See you again next month.

Posted In:


  • 23 1
 I'm from the Great PLains of the US...do you realize how hard it is for me to even GRASP the epicness of this story??? Simply awe inspiring...
I cant imagine the fear of pulling out onto that slab...
  • 9 3
 Im from the UK, do you realize how hard it is for me to grasp the epicness of it...
  • 1 1
 It doesn't look very steep in the riding shots, but the first one of the mountain is scary as hell. If you rode straight down that... jesus, tippie, you crazy.
  • 19 1
 Like the Indiana Jones of biking.
  • 13 1
 awesome story. look at that peak everytime im on the coquihalla
  • 5 0
 Doesn't everyone !
  • 2 0
 Agreed amazing story! Hope to take a trip up there some day.
  • 8 0
 Great write up, Smoke. I enjoyed this post more than the spread in Bike, prob because of the extra shots of the ascent. Cheers!
  • 5 0
 Pioneering is in your guys' blood. Putting the HUGE in Big Mountain riding! Go Big, then go home!
Can't think of two better candidates to conquer what all of us have daydreamed about everytime we driven past this site. Great write up Smoke.
Now, who's gonna ski it in January?
  • 3 0
 Well done Johnny and Brett! I was biting my nails the entire day you guys were up there! Another epic adventure with no signs of either guys slowing down. Not for the faint of heart that's for sure. And kiddies, don't ever think of skiing it, its a steep granite pitch, which coupled with snow, is asking for a big ole' slide and certain death for sure.
  • 4 0
 that wall looks pretty steep and without a single track to point your wheels in the right direction, it kinda feels like getting lost and intimidating.

poor G9. looks pretty toast. how about a panasonic DMC-LX5 as a replacement?
  • 1 0
 Considering the LX5, but I think I'll probably get the new Olympus XZ-1. Depends on what I can find on sale. Bummed that Nikon made the P7000 so slow. I thought that was going to be the one.
  • 5 0
 Wow, such a rad story! I've been driving by that mountain for the last 30 years and have spent the last 16 of those staring up at it while wondering what it would be like to give it a go. Good on you guys!
  • 1 0
 Im glad you guys wrote this article. I've been fortunate enough to have driven along that section of road and seen that massive granite wall looming over me, and just thinking to myself, holy sh*t, what would it be like to ride that. I never even knew what that was called, if it even was named, but i knew that that peak was important to BC with out any prior knowledge. Thanks for the write up, -Peter
  • 3 0
 that is so cool. I wondered about riding that face lots. Not that I ever would. Good on ya Smoke
  • 3 0
 I just 'Yakked' a little in my throat. Awesome story! Tippie, your a true man of sport. Smoke, you too!
  • 2 0
 Smoke - why even bother with the helmet. Like its going to do anything for you if you eat it?

G9 - clearly a warranty.

Well done
  • 1 0
 Awesome adventure...got my hands all clammy just reading about it. Having climbed around on lots of granite domes in Yosemite, I can feel the exposure through this article. Thank maxxis for supertacky!
  • 2 0
 just FYI - Yak peak is on the coquihalla highway, between hope and kamloops. NOT the Trans Canada highway, which runs between hope and cache creek.
  • 1 0
 Sort of. Technically, the Coq. is highway is considered part of the Trans-Canada AND the Yellowhead highway systems. According to Wikipedia and a few other sources:

"Although the Yellowhead Highway system is considered part of the Trans-Canada Highway network, the Highway 5 segment is not marked as such."

I had to look it up, 'cause my Mom said the same thing.

Anyway, there are a couple of signs that show it as Trans-Canada.
  • 1 0
 Shit! Nice job! I have fantasized about riding that slope for years and never thought it could be done when you look up at it. Sick write up and pics dude. My feet were sweating about two or three paragraphs in...
  • 1 0
 I read the story in bike and shared it with some climbing friends. we were looking at the photo of tippy pushing his bike through the boulder field and some one said, "you know that guy suffered"

nice write up smoke.
  • 3 0
 When I saw the flat slab that that guy was going down, my stomach dropped.
  • 1 0
 sick write-up, wish we had stuff even half as good as that here in the UK. A bit of helmet cam footy would have been nice to see too, but I spose I can just imagine...
  • 2 0
 looks like someone's gotta new sponsor !
  • 2 0
 great job guys,..chalk another one up for the old guys..
  • 1 0
 Man i climb this all the time, that trail would be awesome on a bike, i didnt even think of that!
  • 2 0
 good day for some solid brakes
  • 1 0
 great article. Ive always looked at that slope and wanted to ride it Big Grin
  • 1 0
 An excellent read as always, Mr. Smoke.
  • 1 0
 first pic of the mountain beside the cocahalla?
  • 1 0
 nice job! Looks pretty scary indeed!
  • 1 0
 Woah, Johnny! Hell yeah! Glad you guys went for it. Looks terrifying!
  • 1 0
 im stoked on smoke
  • 1 0
  • 1 0
 sweet terrain!
  • 1 0
 strait up gnarly

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