Once you get a taste for big mountain riding the search for new lines is never-ending. There are so many amazing landscapes around the world that can fulfill the dreams of big mountain riders. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced some of these landscapes and have ridden several different types of terrain. With the urge to ride different terrains rekindled a curiosity to explore my home province of British Columbia. BC has so many different types of terrain to explore but the first on my list was shale.
With my limited experience riding shale and from what I had heard I wanted to make it to the Purcell Mountain range. For the past few years a trip to the Purcells had eluded me due to injuries, events, scheduling difficulties and life. In 2017 I decided it was the year to make the trip happen. While the alpine snow was melting, BC was experiencing an overly dry summer full of dry lightning storms and forest fires were lighting up all over the province. Backcountry areas all over the province were being closed down due to the fires and it looked like my plans would have to change again.
With few areas in the backcountry open, Mitch Cheek told me about some alpine riding around Revelstoke that he had been doing. I figured that would be a good place to start exploring for new lines. With smoke filling the valley we headed into the alpine. The higher we made it into the mountains the smoke concentration lessened.
Busting into the alpine on single track riding through meadows and open bowls for as far as the eye can see was hypnotizing. On and on the trail continued keeping you pedalling, pumping and popping your bike along. I just wanted to see what’s around the next corner and was filled with the anticipation of a big climb that would lead us to more long flowy sections of trail.
After hiking around on unique rock, snow and open meadow slopes we had not found the shale lines that I was looking for. It was a great ride and with trails left unexplored, I want to make my way back to the alpine surrounding Revelstoke. Our next stop in the search for shale was Golden, BC.
The next day in Golden we met up with a friend of Mitch’s, Ty Mills. Ty is an ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) and has been a local of Golden for over 10 years. He had a route for us to check out and from what he had described it sounded exactly like what we were looking for. On our drive from Revelstoke through Rogers Pass to Golden we were completely smoked in and had fires on both sides of the highway. Luckily the highway was still open and we made it to Golden, where the smoke situation was no better. We discussed if it would be worth making the trek while the air quality was so bad but with summer coming to an end we were hungry. We also had hopes that the smoke wouldn’t be so thick at a higher elevation.
We hopped into my truck and started our drive to the trailhead. It was about 25 kilometers up an exposed logging road until we reach a dead end. From the dead end there was a faint trail leading upwards. I was looking forward to spinning my legs but the first part of the trail was quite steep. We had to resort to throwing our bikes on our backs. This at least got me stoked for the decent back down to the truck! After our hike a bike the trail finally mellowed out and the trail started to follow a small creek in the woods that seemed to help freshen up the air that we so badly needed. Here we could pedal and as we gained elevation you could see our goal in the distance. As we were moving quicker and making less noise there was potential danger looming around every corner. As we made it farther into grizzly country we took turns letting out a loud “eeeeeyo!”
After another hour or so we popped out of the tree line. This was the point of most excitement as the big shale slopes started to appear. At first it looked quite rocky but we were still only halfway to the ridge top and Ty assured us that the riding material would be better.
From here the trail started to progress with bigger climbs to the next plateau and so on until we made it to a small lake. This was a mandatory swim after the last three hours of climbing. With our batteries charged from the shockingly cold water we headed for the ridge. This part of the trail was made out of mainly rock and finally we saw our last push to the top. It felt amazing to make it to the ridge top where we were able to see more of the surrounding area and what it had to offer.
We made it to the saddle between two peaks and Ty pointed to our left as we set out for the summit. This was the loosest and steepest hike a bike of the day and we carefully scrambled our way up. Reaching the top unveiled the real potential of this zone. At that elevation the air quality was much better than the valley bellow but the views were still blocked by a thick haze. We peered over the edge on the north side of the peak that had a nice flat plateau at the top and I couldn’t believe my eyes, a super bowl of lines all flowing down to an alpine lake. I was like a kid in a candy store as I started to make a mental list of all the potential lines that could be hit.
We started with a slope that would lead us toward the super bowl where we could then hike up to the top of the next peak and get what looked like a powder run on an open glacier. When big mountain riding the riding surface changes from one line to the next. Our first line was steep with a bit bigger rock but very controllable and fast. Stoke levels were high as we made out way to the tallest peak in the bowl. These hikes are massive and picking the proper route is a key component. From our location we made our way back up to another saddle on the ridge and followed the ridge up to the top of our next line.
The shale at the top of the huge face at the top of the ridge was perfect. Some of the smallest pieces of rock I have ever seen on top of epic dirt. The grade of the slope was ideal for laying big carves, traversing or doing whatever you wanted. After experiencing the best turns of my year we made our way back the way we came as the sun began to fall closer towards the horizon. As we crested the last climb before our long descent back to the truck we stared back at the lines in the super bowl we had just ridden and the countless others and knew we had found our zone. After only having enough time to ride a few of the upper lines we didn’t get to explore any lines lower down or the alpine lake that sat at the bottom of the zone but I knew this body of water would be perfect for base camp.
Reliving the trail in reverse with gravity on our side was a great way to end the day. A little mix of everything on the way down, the suspected steeps that we hike a bike didn’t disappoint. With our reconnaissance complete it was time to plan the real mission. The plan was to head back up into the alpine as soon as possible for a few days to bag as many lines as we could before the weather changed. Winter in the alpine would be creeping in soon.
We started to rally the crew right away. Mitch Cheek of Solos Productions to head up video production, with the compliments of Bohdan Doval on a second angle and both working together on the drone. For photography, we invited world traveller, jack-of-all-trades John Wellburn. Adventure truly looks for this guy and we knew he’d be up for the challenge. Ty Mills agreed to accompany us on the next adventure as he also wanted to get more familiar with this riding terrain and for us it was perfect to have a professional mountain guide along for first aid and knowledge of the area.
This would be my first non-assisted multi-day backcountry trip, let alone planning a production team to document. We would be working as a team but still everyone would have to carry heavy loads to base camp. Evoc had just sent me one of the new Explorer Pro backpacks created just for this kind of adventures - I did not want saddlebags or anything on my bike as I wanted to keep my bike nimble for riding so I had the challenge of fitting everything inside and onto my new pack. Bike tools, kneepads, clothes, food, jet boil, Giro Switchblade helmet, tent, thermarest and a sleeping bag were the essentials. With my surprise everything fit! With the outside straps I was able to get everything attached. Heavy but not completely restricting I was happy with my set up.
Within the week we had rallied gear and people and we were on route back to the Dogtooth Range. Finally after a rainless summer, we got our first couple days of rain and it almost completely cleared up the smoke from the air. The sun was back out and everything was aligning. We made our way back up the 25km road where the real journey would begin. Mitch, Bohdan and John had decided they weren’t going to bring bikes. With the amount of gear they had plus all of the camera gear it made more sense to set out on foot and leave their bikes behind. We set out and as before started with the steep hike a bike through the woods. The dirt still quite moist from the previous days rain and our much heavier loads than before made ascending much slower. This trend continued on while we stopped to take in the views and get some shots.
We pushed on and by the time we had made it to the first small lake we decided to pass on the mandatory swim as the day was leaving us behind. As we pushed to the ridge a sigh of relief hit everyone along with a howling, relentless wind. The sun was setting and the views were too good to pass up so we dropped a line into the golden shale reflecting beams of light. This of course left us scurrying back to the top before it was too dark to still descend down the super bowl to where our base camp would be at the alpine lake 3000 feet below us.
With the wind howling right over the ridge and down towards our future camp we made our way down in the dark. We tried to find shelter from the wind close to the lake but without luck we threw our tents together the best we could and started dinner over our jet boil behind a small rock wall we had built as the fire ban was still in effect. Anticipation was high for the next day and we went to bed with our tent walls flapping to the beat of the wind.
In the morning we set our sights for the first time from camp to what we had around us. A crystal clear lake made for delicious drinking and cooking water. After a quick coffee and breakfast, Mitch had already scoped a line close to camp that was getting great morning light. From my first look, I thought it would be much too steep to ride without plummeting full speed into the lake. I figured I would give it a shot as Ty and myself headed to the top. Staring straight down into the lake it hit me. We were way in the backcountry with limited resources on top of a steep intimating line of shale that I had little experience on.
Ty volunteered to go first and let me gauge from his ride to know if I can really let it go or have to be more conservative. Ty shredded it no problem and laid down some beauty carves. Thankful to see him ride out without flying into the lake made me feel much better, it was time to ride! The grade was steep but the shale made it very controllable and it was an epic ride right to the lake! It was so good I went back up for 2 more lines getting greedier with each lap. Happy with our morning we walked the perimeter of the lake back to camp for another meal and to make a game plan for the rest of the day.
I had scoped some lines from our previous trip from the top of the ridge and they were first on our hit list. As we made our way towards the top we saw some lines near the bottom that would lead right back towards camp. At this point, we needed to strategize which order to hit the lines and how best to manage our daylight as the hikes were an hour to two hours. The next decision was how to access the lines. Should we go more direct up the steep and loose rock or take the mellower line around.
I threw my bike on my back to go for the more direct route for the first line but after that I would take the long way around saving energy and struggle. When I reached the top I was slapped in the face once again with fierce winds. The sun was shining but there was no way to get off the ground very high without being completely blown over. We got our next line in the bag and continued our way counter-clockwise around the amphitheatre of lines with awesome carves, views and high fives. After picking off all of the higher up laps it was time to hit the lines right back to camp. Two laps down the steep face then through rolling hills with an almost natural step down led us right back to camp.
Stoked on the amount of riding and shots we were able to get in one day had us relieved as the inevitable weather was supposed to rolling in the following day. Our initial plan was to stay for 3 nights if necessary but confident and happy with what we accomplished we decided to cut the trip a day short as we knew the trip out would be another gruelling day. We woke to another beautiful day, which allowed for a leisure morning and taking in the sights once more. As we packed up the weather started to roll in and it was time to head back down.
We had discussed an alternate route up and over the slope that we had ridden the morning before beside the lake. Instead of hiking all the way up the bowl and over the next peak to the trailhead our hopes were to link up onto the trail in the valley we had come up. To our delight the route was correct and if we could make it down the slope we should hit our trail. With very limited scoping we had found shale weaving its way through the trees all the way to the valley bottom below. Of course we had all of our gear this time, which made for a heavy load while riding down the steep shale line but it felt great to cut off some precious time.
It ended up being one of the coolest parts of the trip, route finding through the unknown to hopefully end up where we wanted to be and scoring with epic turns the whole way down. It was raining now as Ty and I took off on our bikes to enjoy the rest of the decent. Soaked, tired and full of adventure we enjoyed a victory beer at the trucks after a successful mission. Seeing the potential of this kind of riding and exploring my mind wanders off to start dreaming of the next adventure.
Written by Kurt Sorge
Photos: John Wellburn, Mitch Cheek - Solos Productions
Music: Captain Spaceheart
Performed by DozerPolygon Bikes