Video & Photo Story: Bikepacking the Southern Chilcotin Mountains

Oct 3, 2020
by Connor Stefanison  


Video by Matt Dennison and Andrew Santos.
Words by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park has become one of the most sought-after bikepacking locations in the world. Between the incredible landscape, expansive trail network, and relative close proximity to Vancouver, it doesn't come as a surprise why so many backcountry users visit the area. If you've ever wanted to ride a 100km route of continuous singletrack, this is your place. The trail network has long been used by horseback riders, but now gathers more traffic from the mountain bike community. We're all very lucky to be able to ride our bikes in this incredible wilderness area. When visiting the park, we must do all that we can to build a good reputation as a user group by minimizing our impact on the land and being respectful to other trail users and wildlife. Future mountain bike access is never guaranteed.

I've wanted to do a trip like this since watching Andrew Shandro and Dave Watson's Chilcotin segment in The Collective back in 2004. Joined by Matt Dennison, Chris Hatton, Kevin Keresztes, and Andrew Santos, we finally made the trip up to the park this past Labour Day weekend. At this time of year, the days are still long, the mosquitos are almost non-existent, and the creek crossings are pretty much as low as they're going to get. Our 90km route took us three days and two nights, with 2813m of elevation gain according to Strava (3946m according to Trailforks. Which one is correct?). It consisted of forests, grasslands, sub-alpine meadows, and alpine passes. The key to enjoying a trip like this as much as possible is to pack light. A heavy pack will feel extra heavy on the higher elevation ascents. Having to carry items to repair your bike in the field definitely adds to the weight of your normal backpacking setup. We were lucky in that our only bike issue occurred in the first 5 minutes of the trip, and was a small puncture that sealed itself up. Sharing gear was a great way for us to shave weight. The night before I caught myself doing things like sawing my toothbrush in half and comparatively weighing different sporks I had.

Going to the Chilcotin expecting a normal mountain biking trip will perhaps leave you feeling disappointed. It's best to think of this type of experience as a mountain bike assisted backcountry adventure. The days will likely be your longest on a bike, and provide a full-body workout. Hopefully, your shoe fit well, because there is a lot of pushing your bike uphill. We were able to conserve energy by pushing up steep sections rather than trying to be climbing heroes. Before a Chilcotin trip, I would recommend going for a few decent hikes and making sure you're comfortable climbing at least 1000m on a normal trail network.

If you go riding in the Chilcotin, don't forget to "stop and smell the roses", because it's difficult to look anywhere other than the trail when riding the park's narrow singletrack. It's hard to imagine a more scenic place to ride a bike. I've done many different types of backcountry trips, whether it be hiking, canoeing, skiing, or climbing, and I can confidently say that mountain biking in the southern Chilcotin has been my favourite backcountry experience.

Photos by Matt Dennison
Photos by Matt Dennison

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Kevin Keresztes
Photo by Kevin Keresztes

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Matt Dennison
Photo by Matt Dennison

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Kevin Keresztes
Photo by Kevin Keresztes

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Kevin Keresztes
Photo by Kevin Keresztes

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Kevin Keresztes
Photo by Kevin Keresztes

Photo by Kevin Keresztes
Photo by Kevin Keresztes

Photo by Kevin Keresztes
Photo by Kevin Keresztes

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Hiking to a lunch spot. Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Connor Stefanison
Photo by Connor Stefanison

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Kevin Keresztes
Photo by Kevin Keresztes

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton

Photo by Chris Hatton
Photo by Chris Hatton


Posted In:
Stories Videos



11 Comments

  • 4 0
 Great photos. Been there riding four times and these take me back. Truly epic views and you're truly 'out there'. It's amazing. A trail bike is all that's needed but run what ya brung. I recommend staying off the secondary trails as they're more along the lines of hiking trails; overgrown, more downed trees, and more hike-a-bikes. Bring what you need and limit personal risks because there's no cell service, no roads and it can a lo-ong time to get out if you can't ride; a rider had to wait 36 hrs to get flown out from Spruce Lake to Tyax Lodge (where your vehicle is likely parked) with a blown out knee when I was there once. Not fun. Like I said, you're 'out there' and it's amazing.
  • 6 1
 "Bikepacking into No Mans land"? Are you seriously invoking terra nullius in Canada in 2020? Where exactly do you think the name "Chilcotins" comes from?
  • 17 1
 Ok, I was annoyed when I wrote this and figured I should explain why this is a problem. Terra Nullius was a legal concept that essentially means "No Mans Land", it was also the precedent by which colonizers legitimated stealing Indigenous lands across the Americas. It's literally a term that is used to erase Indigenous histories and peoples, and is inappropriate to ever use to refer to Indigenous lands.

The Chilcotins are literally named for the Indigenous Tsilhqot’in people who live there.

As a more specific story of why this utterly inappropriate in the Chilcotin: in 1864 a small war broke out between the Tsilhqot’in and settler-colonists. Subsequently five Tsilhqot’in chiefs were invited to a meeting under false pretenses only to be arrested and hanged by a settler-colonial judge. The hangings effectively rested on the concept of Terra Nullius, as such a concept was needed in order to disregard the validity of their claims to be waging war to protect their lands, and instead render them as criminals to be hanged.

The Canadian government only apologized for these events, and acknowledged that the Tsilhqot’in were waging a war, in 2018.
  • 7 2
 @danprisk: Really appreciate the context. The term "No man's land" was probably used facetiously and to render a sense of isolation and wilderness appeal to the story but your comment stands-it's almost always firstly, Indigenous lands.
  • 2 0
 @danprisk: thanks for your comment. It's really good to know the history.
  • 1 0
 @danprisk: Great insight, thanks for sharing. If only the makers of the film would address this.
  • 3 0
 Hello. Makers of the film, here! Appreciate the insight here, Dan. This is merely a misunderstanding of the term No Mans Land and less intentional, blatant disregard for the Indigenous heritage of the Chilcotins. As correctly suggested above, it was a poor choice of words to express isolation. Word choice is important and so are the matters brought up here. We'll adjust what we can. Thanks!
  • 1 0
 How much camera gear was taken on this trip? The loads didn't look too bad but pace was very slow. It does get easier the more you do these trips. I've taken a friend on three bike trips now. On the last trip I had the confidence in him that he could do a good loop. A 40 km day from Jewel, Spruce, Tyaughton, deer pass then camped at Trigger. The next day we rode to Warner lake and back to Jewel creek.

This summer I managed four trips. Zero bear sightings but lots of others saw some. In fact I think this was the best summer for riding ever. Only had a touch of rain once in 12 nights spent in the Chilcotin's. Encountered very few riders. Felt like the good old days where you were truly alone up there.
  • 3 0
 Those marks on the trees trailside are blaze marks from the horse packers marking(Blazing) the trail.
  • 2 0
 Strange looking bear claw marks on those trees
  • 1 0
 Outstanding effort and trip report!! Thx for sharing!

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