Escape To Northern BC - Photo Epic

Dec 12, 2017 at 10:49
by Robin O'Neill  


August 2017: post-Enduro World Series "Crankzilla" and in the middle of the worst fire season on record in British Columbia. We hit the road just as residents of Williams Lake and surrounding communities were allowed to return to their homes after a lengthy period of evacuation. Our destinations: Smithers and Burns Lake for new terrain, forecasted precipitation and simpler days on bikes.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Aerial smoke show (and not the good kind).

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
First stop, Smithers' local gem. We heard about the riding here while skiing this place last winter.
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
The other way to town.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Backdoor's subalpine singletrack.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Sarah's first taste of wet dirt and necessary Gore-tex in August.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Oldschool, meet Newschool. Now gunning for her second-career Canadian Olympic Team spot (this time in skicross), Britt Phelan is pretty new to mountain biking but not new to good times.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Looking down on The Bulkley Valley from Hudson Bay Mountain.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
We shuttled to the trailhead of the Cronin Trail along Babine Lake Road. Our bikes were worked before we even started.
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
(Dis)organized Chaos: road strip status.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
It seemed stupid to take shoes off for a river crossing after Britt held a clinic on how to ride through it.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
The "mellow" fire road approach to the climb for Cronin Pass was complicated by soaking wet overgrowth. Adventures aren't worth sharing unless they enter the type-2 category for at least a little while.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Old mining cabin.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
This was a Saturday in prime bike season, out there all by ourselves and not sad about it for a minute.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Once out of the slide alder climbing and river crossings, Cronin Pass, in the Babine Provincial Park, proved to be worth the 1000m haul in gale-force winds and October-like temperatures.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
The Skeena Mountains putting their best Mordor mask on for show.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
It's amazing what hiding behind this rock did to ease our strained voices out of the wind.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
After gaining Hyland Pass along the Cronin Trail, the views were delivered in spades.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
To the car wash!

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Back in Smithers.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Final day in Smithers: trailheads with sound advice.
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
We're not dealing with Whistler bears out here.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
"Piper Down is gnarly, take it easy," said one local to us as we dropped in.
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Perfect dirt in perfect singletrack.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Does it get better than pinning down a new stretch of singletrack after a night of rain?

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
After we invited Britt on this trip, she found this feature in her sleuthing on Trailforks and reminded us a few times how much she wanted to ride it. She hit it several times just to let the memory sink in.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Piper Down has it all.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
On our way back home to Whistler, we stopped in Burns Lake for a rip.The Burns Lake Mountain Bike Association is a small group of committed riders who have painstakingly carved out a beautiful ride centre on Boer Mountain. Trails are perfectly marked, manicured and easy to navigate.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Pigasus is a new addition to the Burns Lake trail network.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Sarah rode this section of Gravity Logic's Charlotte's Web 7 years ago and has been haunted by the beauty of the Aspen forest it travels through since then.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Looking down on Keger Lake outside of Burns Lake.

Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Britt Phelan
Out Of The Plume Escape To Northern BC
Sarah Leishman
_____

Catch up with Britt, Sarah and Robin on Instagram.

Notable places in Smithers:

Stay at The Bulkley Rental Suites

Eat at the Two Sisters Cafe, have a beer and a burger at the Alpenhorn Bistro or grab a fancier dinner at Telly's Grill .

More about the Burns Lake Mountain Bike Association.


MENTIONS: @robinoneill



61 Comments

  • + 46
 Absolutely beautiful scenery and some great riding...I've lived in so cali all my life, all 70 yrs, after seeing these photo's, I'm really starting to hate it here. Thanks.
  • + 23
 Never too late to explore!
  • + 18
 @VFreehd: Do yourself a favor and move. I left at 25 and have never regretted it. SoCal is overcrowded, over priced, and just over! A great place to grow up in the 70s and 80s, but no thanks. PNW is wet, but way more chill and beautiful. DO it! Smile
  • + 5
 That’s how I feel living in So FL. I’m over the crappy weather and heat. Although there are pockets of a strong riding community....I’m tired of the humidity and want to expose my family to the mountains more often.
  • + 3
 Snuck out of california to vancouver island the last week and a half and lucked out on amazing riding weather. BC is just amazing with so many places ride to explore.
  • + 13
 Looks like a great adventure. Also Smithers, Burns Lake - I love the Simpsons.
  • + 3
 Maybe I should move there and open Moe's Tavern.
  • + 7
 In all truth here, this looks like SO MUCH FUN (and I'm not being sarcastic Leishman!)
  • + 5
 It was LIT! You and Anna are coming next time, @katrina.
  • + 1
 @SarahLeishman: you guys did a great job on this. Serious withdrawal at the moment...
  • + 1
 @brianpark: Thanks Brian! I had a solid crew with me. Wink You need to get there next summer!
  • + 2
 This makes me so happy. I grew up there and I think you folks did a bang up job on giving a nice little glimpse of what's up that way. Awesome to see people getting stoked on it, and also great to see two rad women as the riders! So pumped to go back for a visit this summer!! Yewww!
  • + 2
 Thanks so much! You grew up in an amazing place. I might finish growing up there one day myself. Wink
  • + 2
 i could be wrong but i would imagine that even in the lower 48 many trails are remote and few riders come along the further away trails. where i am on Vancouver Island (very southern BC) our trail system is very popular, but a ride high up to the edge of the network late in the day is unlikely to be followed by others. it behoves all of us to take precaution and think about the what ifs. i love riding without a pack, but i'm aware of how little first aid i can take without it. imagine a buddy (or you) laying on the cold wet ground unable to move without even a space blanket to keep the rain off. would suck!
  • + 6
 Great riding, great photos!
  • + 4
 Fantastic content and riding! Thanks for doing some recon for the rest of us!
  • + 3
 I rode all those trails this year and they were all amazing! Backdoor was so memorable! Epic downhill
  • + 2
 Wow. Crazy there are MTB trails up there. Is it pretty easy to get help and evacced if you get hurt or do you need special precautions? Do you need to be careful of bears?
  • + 25
 Having grown up in this area, taking personal responsibility for your own safety and being prepared to self rescue are extremely important. Locals take that as a given, although if you run into someone else when you are in trouble, they are much more likely to help out than in an urban area. Hudson's Bay Mountain is a pretty safe ride since it's quite close to the town of Smithers; you may even have cell phone service on that ride. Babine however is pretty remote and you are basically on your own until you get back down to at least a main road or someone who has a landline so going with at least one other person is a very good idea.

Most of the bears you encounter will be black bears which are generally harmless and scared away by loud noises, especially if they are not use to humans. You have to be more careful around them if they have cubs or are eating but even then they will often move along if you talk to them in a calm voice and keep a reaonsable distance (and don't run or they may chase you just out of curiousity)

Grizzly bears are far more dangerous and unpredictable but you are very unlikely to see one in the areas listed in this story although they can be more common further north or in the more remote areas. Pepper spray can be useful as a last ditch way to ward off a grizzly but you need to know how to use it ahead of time and be lucky enough to have it available and be up wind of the bear when it is needed.

I personally did not ever run into a Grizzly close up in 20 years in the area, although I did see a few very far away in the alpine or subalpine. I had numerous black bear encounters, many of them walking, hiking, biking and dirt biking alone as a kid or teen and none of them ended badly. Treat black bears with respect but not fear; they just want to be left alone.
  • + 1
 @Xorrox: That's great info, thanks.

Most of the time I travel to ride I'm riding in places like Moab, Whistler, North Shore, etc, where it's very rare that you'd go 15 minutes without seeing another rider, and you're within a relatively small radius to sheriff/EMT/search and rescue, although you don't always have cell phone coverage.


I'm guessing it's quite a bit different up there and you have to take more safety precautions because it could be a while before someone finds you. Sounds like there are at least good evac options if you have communication?


I see black bears all the time here in CO, and I'm not really concerned about those, more that I'm not used to riding in grizzly areas and not sure what precautions I need to take.
  • + 7
 @dthomp325: "Evac" is most likely going to consist of a bunch of strong guys carrying you very slowly in a litter to the nearest road and then a bumpy ride in the back of pickup truck to the nearest ambulance drivable road.

I'm not up on the current capabilities and resources of the local voluntary SAR teams but I would be surprised if helicopter long line rescue was available close by. Likely any rescue will take several hours (at least) to mobilize depending on how far from town you are so it is critical to be able to deal with the first few hours yourself by having adequate first aid training, a common sense / don't panic approach and a way to contact the local RCMP (police) to mobilize rescue.
  • + 3
 @dthomp325: @Xorrox there is longline HETS available via Smithers area SAR. Terrace SAR has training too. But Xorrox is right. You'll be waiting a long while.

I believe Tower Communications rents Sat phones in the area. If you're interested in that I'll ping people to check.
  • + 4
 @Xorrox:
Good advice on being self sufficient in BC backcountry. However I must respectfully disagree with your advice on bears. There is a lot of misconception surrounding the behavior of the types of bears encountered in BC. Black bears are not generally harmless, they are an alpha predator that can & will take advantage of situations where they see a somewhat easy meal. Yes, mostly they will run from human contact, all bear encounters should be treated with the utmost caution & respect with young male black bears given particular concern as they are the bears that are most likely to show predatory behavior towards humans. Grizzly bears are actually far more predictable even though far more ferocious. Most grizzlies will actively avoid human contact & will go far out of their way to avoid us. A grizzly ( or black bear) with cubs...enough said. Grizzlies will also defend a kill with unmatched aggression, as well surprising a grizzly can have devastating consequences.
Bear spray is not a last resort, it is a must in & on most of Canada's trail systems (probably a good portion of the US as well), & should be readily available, not in your pack as most attacks are from a relatively close range ( bears move extremely quick). Bear spray has been shown as an effective deterrant & a non lethal means of avoiding attack. Anyone travelling on trail systems should educate & familiarize themselves on how to properly use it.
  • + 3
 @dthomp325: precautions in grizzly country; Make noise, lots of noise, surprising a grizzly is almost as bad as encountering a mother with cubs. Noise, as well as scent (grizzlies & black bears have an incredible sense of smell) will let a bear know you are in the area. Do not wear cologne or strong scented body wash, see last sentence. Carry bear spray & know how to use it correctly. If you do encounter a grizzly, DO NOT run, yell or show any aggressive behavior. Talk in a low calm voice, back away slowly & avoid eye contact. Have your bear spray ready but don't use it unless attack is imminent. If you do have to use it, spray down & towards the bear, the cloud of spray that the bear will move through is designed to disorient & confuse the bear. Also, buy & carry the larger canister that will emit a sustained spray of 6 seconds or longer.
  • + 3
 @Xorrox: you're correct if a rider requires extraction, SAR will take a bit of time to respond. They will be equipped to immobilize and basket carry the injured person to the nearest extraction and access point for ambulance to then take it from there.
However, speaking specifically for the Burns Lake trails, cell towers for all cell carriers are on the top of the mountain so loss of coverage is rare. Also, there are a dozen BLMBA club members that are PMBI certified and have wilderness first aid training, including extraction rescue training. We ride with first aid equipment in our packs, particularly on group rides. Simikar training has been happening in other clubs but I cant speak for them in specifics. There are also specifically designated emergency access trails and extraction points on most of the downhill trails linking to the Boer Mountain Forest Service road. A lot of safety has gone into the trail network, information kiosks for rider awareness and emergency contact information to help mitigate risks to riders on trail.
Preparing for what if is always a good idea, but checking in with a local bike shop can give you a lot of useful first hand info on being self sufficient, and usually best route options or local secrets. Shuttle services exist in most communities, the shops are usually involved or well connected with these operations as well. Guiding is also available on a limited schedule but worth a pre-trip inquiry.
Also, The terrain and geology across the highway 16 corridor of Northern BC offers a wide variety trail experiences. Valemount, Prince George, Burns Lake, Smithers and Terrace all offer a lot of great riding. A few other communities are building and offer more to that variety of riding, Vanderhoof, Fort St James and Houston are examples of towns with growing riding capacity.
  • + 1
 @wideload46: Well said. And I think bears are kind of like a hostage situation in that a black bear would be holding you captive under a knife and a grizzly would hold you captive with a gun. You would not want to be held captive with either, but statistics say the hostage has better odds of no harm if the assailant has a gun.
  • + 1
 @leelau: Thanks for the update. I'm happy to hear that the training for this type of rescue has made it to more SAR teams across the province. That's a huge improvement from not that long ago.

@derksen42 That's also good info about Burns Lake, I grew up north of Smithers so do not know the Burns Lake area as well as Smithers.
  • + 3
 @wideload46: I have the utmost respect for Black Bears and you are right to correct me on my use of the term "harmless". I should have said "at low risk to attack if treated properly". I would hate to have someone think they were harmless and try to feed one or get too close to take a picture. They are wild, majestic, incredibly fast and potentially dangerous animals. However, although we have all heard news stories of black bears acting in predatory manner to humans that is extremely rare if:

- you keep your distance from them.
- let them know where your are by calmly talking to them
- do not turn your back on them until they are out of sight
- go around them if they do not immediately run off and watch for any cubs that might be in the area. Do not get between them and their cubs.
- If you accidentally do get between a mother and her cub(s), back up the shortest direction to get out of a direct line between the mother and her cubs, again always facing the mother.

I think we are essentially on the same page here. I just didn't want anyone who is thinking of going in this area to be "afraid" of bears and possibly avoid the area because of this. You should always respect black bears but if you are very afraid of them going into an encounter you are more like to act foolishly (turn and run) when you should calmly stand your ground.
  • + 1
 @Xorrox: Great advice, the approach to confronting a black bear is almost the exact opposite of confronting a grizzly. You are correct, I should have added that statistically a person has a higher chance of being struck by lightning than being attacked by a bear. A person should be bear (& cougar, moose etc.) aware but not frightened to get out & enjoy this beautiful area.
  • + 1
 @Xorrox: Spot trackers or sat phones are a good resource to have when venturing way out beyond cell reception
  • + 4
 That made my Sunday morning, great job all around : ) Thank you
  • + 3
 Awesome work on the bikes and with the glass! Looked like a great time.
  • + 2
 Cool to see former local riding areas getting some media exposure, miss riding them!
  • + 2
 Bc is great but the weather can be frustrating. Tuff luck on the weather in august
  • + 3
 Nice spread! Beautiful work!
  • + 3
 Incredible photos. Feeling inspired!
  • + 2
 That scenery is pretty as hell...Pretty jealous as a few others mentionned...
  • + 3
 That was great.
  • + 2
 British Columbia is such a magical place! Someday Im gonna take a visit.
  • + 6
 Do it! But bring beer.
  • + 3
 @brianpark: They get pissy if you try to cross the border with too much beer...
  • + 9
 @dthomp325: In their defence allowing subpar American beer into the country does discourage drinking our fine ales!
  • + 1
 @brianpark: don't know why but I read 'Do it! I'm buying beer'. I was a bit surprised but I liked the idea so I upvoted. Now that I re-read I'm not sure what to do.
  • + 5
 @Slabrung: dont worry Im gonna bring some fine collection of german beer.
  • + 2
 @Dan278: If you could drop off an Augustiner Brau Dunkel on your way up, that'd be great! : beer:
  • + 1
 @brianpark: Buy local beer!
  • + 5
 @doogie1981: yes, fine beverages such as Kokanee, the best of the best.
  • + 1
 @dthomp325: touche sir
  • + 2
 Such beautiful country up there!
  • + 1
 The big rock you took shelter from the wind is huge slab of slate cool mountains up there
  • + 1
 Well done. Great photo set. Adding this area to my list!
  • + 1
 This was rad. Has me dreaming of spring!
  • + 1
 Nice ride report, looks like you had a lot of fun.
  • + 1
 That looks so awesome, thanks for that one.
  • + 1
 So rad. 100% makes me want to go ride.
  • + 2
 Great! Thanks!
  • + 2
 so jealous. Smile
  • + 1
 NICE
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