Yukon Mountain Biking: Part 4 - Carcross

Dec 27, 2017
by Lee Lau  
Carcross, Yukon and the CTFN

Carcross is a town in the southern Yukon; 40 minutes away from the Yukon population centre of Whitehorse. Established in 1898 as Caribou Crossing by the gold miners who had reached this junction point of the Tagish and Bennett lakes on their way to the Klondike gold fields at Dawson, it has since been renamed Carcross to distinguish it from another “Caribou Crossing” in BC. Silver was also mined in this area in the 1900′s and it is to this industry we owe roads up Montana Mountain. The Tlingit and Tagish people have hunted in this area since 4,500 years ago. We can thank them for some of the trails we now ride.

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Carcross is primarily a First Nations community of 301 permanent residents ( 2016 census ) the majority of whom are from the Carcross Tagish First Nation (CTFN). Its main industry is tourism. Tourists visit mostly from cruise ship traffic from the Skagway White Pine area and from outdoor recreationalists from the surrounding area drawn to Carcross’s lakes, mountains and more recently the Mountain Bike trails.

Neither Carcross nor Yukon Tourism keep mountain-bike visitor counts but anecdotal reports from 2013 were of 3,500-4,000 visits during the short 4 month tourist season. Not too shabby for a town of 300 people.

Carcross and Bennett Lake morning

Expansion of Carcross trails - old map from 2006 and new map

Singletrack to Success

The Singletrack to Success programme is a story both of the CTFN people and Jane Koepke. In 2004 Jane was both a government of Yukon contractor and a Whitehorse rogue builder. She had experience working with youth and, with Dave Gatensby, scouted trails on Montana Mountain out of personal interest. During these early day the main trails in existence were mining roads up the mountain as well as game trails.

A gradual building of trust with CTFN elders (with younger people bugging their parents to let them build trails) led to formalization of Singletrack to Success as a not-for-profit in 2006. Jane along with CTFN elder Edward Gordon sold the concept of CTFN self-determination of opening their historical trading trails to public use to the nation. This coincided with the CTFN winning rights to self-government; a hard-won right bringing responsibilities for CTFN-driven economic programmes that this nation assiduously assumed. The CTFN bought into the STS concept, and a partnership developed where the local community and Whitehorse/Carcross-area residents cooperated towards developing trails as a community resource. Since then STS has evolved with administrators, crew-leaders and formalized trail crews.

Over 35km of multiuse trails has been re-opened or built in Carcross since those first years. With such trail expansion has come visitors as mountainbikers learned about Carcross.

Montana Mountain area and History of Single Track to Success

Start of Nares View

Nares brown pow loamer. The trail is almost 7 years old

Lower Carcross trails

There are many ride choices in the lower trails. There are also alpine and subalpine choices available via Mountain Hero or MacDonald Creek. Many of the climbing trails are bi-directional. During the time we rode (a September weekday) bike traffic had dramatically tailed off. Curiously there are jumps and high-speed hits on the trails; some of which might not have perfect sightlines. So keep your heads up if you’re at Carcross on a busier day and are climbing. Uphill riders have right of way but expect incoming descenders.

Carcross trails generally ride well in all conditions. Wind carries “loess” from the St Elias Range and Kluane Icefields; a glacier clay sedimentary layer which is deposited over Montana Mountain and the Carcross area (that’s how the “Carcross Desert” came into being). Loess compacts into a fantastically tacky grippy riding surface. Having said that it doesn’t mean that the trails will ride well when saturated so it’s a good idea to check for Montana Mountain trail conditions before riding.

Carcross is now by no means a hidden gem; people know about it and come from all the world to ride there. By no means has the trail network’s carrying capacity been exceeded but with increased visits has come the underbelly of mountain-biker entitlement. Therefore things now must be spelled out that perhaps didn’t need to before in the “good old days”.

- Don’t do burnouts through town and roost up the gravel roads in front of people’s houses.
- Don’t have huge drinking parties, campfires and burn native wildlife in the parking lots.
- Restrain the urge for gratuitous cutties and run enduro lines through what was once mossy singletrack.
- Don’t chase wildlife.

All of these things have happened in the recent while; relations between mountain-bikers and the community are still good and NOT doing these things would go a long way to preserving that.

Well-signed network

Goat - old school tech rock jank

Grizzly to Mossy - just more old beatup Carcross trails

There are many loop combinations. Here's ours - 2 hour loop on the lower trails, up the Climbing trail Dei Kwaan to Nares, to Goat to Grizzly, AK DNR, back up to Sam McGee.

Mountain Hero

The Mountain Hero trail is a Carcross signature trail starting from the Yukon alpine and descending to Windy Arm in the valley. Much of the trail access is via old mining roads built as was an old access route to the Mountain Hero Silver Mine. As you ascend first through boreale forest, then wispy low-lying brush of sub-alpine then to the wind-swept, weather-beaten alpine keep in mind the early century miners and how tough they are and how easy we have it on our blinged out unobtanium bikes.

The CTFN are the first nation of this era and traded extensively with coastal and interior peoples (the Chilkoot trail of gold rush fame was one of their old routes). Pieces of Mountain Hero were an old trade route and resurrected by Wayne Roberts. Wayne was a 18 year Carcross local who moved to the Yukon from Prince George; leaving us too early in 2016. One of the original grumpy builders Wayne ignored all government and bureaucratic processes when he came across an old tramway hiking around on Montana Mountain rogue-building this old tramway into Mountain Hero. The trail became a centrepiece for his fledgling “Fireweed Hikes and Bikes” in 1998. The Carcross trail network expanded through the Singletrack to Success programme; Mountain Hero endured.

One local we all should thank as the impetus for many trails on Montana Mountain and Mountain Hero in particular is Wayne Roberts who passed away in 2016 after a long fight with Cancer. This is Wayne in 2013

Bennett Lake bridge; Wayne’s house is the yellow one at the base of the bridge. Sulphur Mountain and Brute Mountain are the twin peaks to picture right. Montana Mountain can be seen when you get higher

We climb up via the lower trails. It is possible to get a Boreale shuttle to the upper parking lot

After about an hour we’re in the alpine enjoying the views. Bennett Lake is to picture left; Caribou Mountain to picture right

Mountain Hero is a 30km loop with 1450m of climbing. It took us 6 hours at a moderate pace with chill time due to the perfect conditions we had. Warm winds, cloudless skies and tacky trails were the story of the day. If you ride Mountain Hero as a loop from Carcross you’d add a 10km road ride (we wussed out and took a road shuttle). You can also add a hike-a-bike excursion to the adjoining Sulphur or Brute Mountain to add another 1000m’s or so. The opportunity to see views for kms and kms is unparalleled.

View of Brute Mountain the peak to the west of Montana Mountain. You can drop your bike at the Montana – Sulphur Col and scramble to Brute adding another 1000m’s or so ascent to your day

The silver mine as you descend off the Montana – Sulphur col and the road ascending Montana Mountain

Road ascending Montana Mountain goes on for kms and kms… but makes for pretty fast travel. Consider turn-of-the century miners building this road with mules and handpicks.

The mining road grind and traverse to the Mountain Hero trailhead can be windy and exposed to elements. But we had amazing weather and views that went forever

1000m descent over 7.5km on trail of passable quality and above average views! That was acceptable!

Where to stay – Boreale Ranch

We stayed at the new and deluxe Boreale Ranch. Marsha and Sylvain have created luxury guest accomodations between Carcross and Whitehorse to allow easy access to both areas in a quiet serene Yukon setting. Boreale has private rooms off the main house as well as comfortable common areas to relax, eat and drink. And an out door hot tub!

This place is very popular not just with Mountain Bikers, but also with people who want to view the Aurora Borealis since it is in a very remote dark area so the lights shine brightly. Boreale also has a short trail around their property for people to walk, bike or snowshoe. Boreale also provides other activities then mountain biking and is a one stop Yukon Adventure stop not only for summer but for all seasons.

Boreale exteriors

Boreale interiors

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  • 1 0
 WOW!!! Looks amazing, thank you!
  • 1 0
 Awesome trails and location!

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