Sunday, August 25, 2019

Goldilocks Hike - Island Lake Fernie

12.3 km
835 m elevation
3.5 hrs

On a trip down to Fernie this summer, Kyle and I tagged along with the Milinos to hike at Island Lake.
Hiking up Spineback to the start of the Goldilocks Loop
 The Goldilocks trail is a new route that has been developed high in the Lizard Range above Fernie. To access the loop, you park at Island Lake Lodge and follow signs for Spineback Ridge Trail. The well maintained trail starts by meandering past the lake and across streams before starting to climb steeply up the ridge. After 3.5 km, we had climbed 600 m above the lake and lodge. We watched pikas scurrying around in the scree and spotted birds soaring overhead as we hiked.
Finished Spineback, on to Goldilocks
 At the top of Spineback Ridge, you have the option to continue up for another 300 metres into the alpine along the Goldilocks trail. This loop adds about 5 km onto your day (out and back on Spineback alone is a 7 km round-trip). The trail is a bit more rugged but still easy to follow. We had a lunch break on the ridge before tackling Goldilocks.
Ready for more elevation
Awesome day for a hike
Alpine meadows
The trail doesn't top out on the top of the ridge, but wraps around a big peak, giving you views down the valley on the other side of the Lizard Range. This perspective was cool as Kyle and I have done some ski touring in the area. It always looks so different in the summertime. 
Mandatory selfie
Island Lake is a long way down there
Storm clouds chasing Connie up the hill
Back-side views of the beautiful Lizard Range
 Descending the loose scree trail back to Spineback Ridge took some time. It was nice to have hiking poles!  
Coming down the scree
 Back on the Spineback, Kyle and I raced ahead to meet up with Chris, Elizabeth and Gina at the lodge for a cold beer and snack. A perfect way to end a great hike.
Back in the greenery

Friday, August 23, 2019

18 Mile Island Canoe Trip - French River Ontario

18 Mile Island Round Trip
72 km
33 hrs
Paddling through the fog
The alarm goes off at 5am. It is still dark out so we use headlamps to finish packing and load up the canoe from the dock. As we cast off, the water is perfectly calm and a mist is descending. It is a good thing we know the river well on this stretch between Horseshoe Bay (home to our family cottage) and Lost Child Bend because you can't see a thing. The dense fog gives us vertigo as we paddle across the main channel of the French River, losing sight of the south bank. We hear the campers before we see them and the sight of our canoe emerging from the fog causes them all to come down to the rocks to shout hello. Then we pass them and it is quiet again.
Calm and quiet - early morning on the French
Its been 5 years since I visited the French River but it feels like I never left. As a teenager, I spent 2 months here every summer with my family, unplugged, off the grid and fully immersed in river life - fishing, boating, reading and exploring. The cottage feels a bit smaller, there are new windows and a few more solar lights, but overall it doesn't feel like anything has changed. The same smiling faces greet us at the marina, the shed still smells of old paint, creosote and dust, and other cottagers paddle up to the dock to say hi. Its good to be here and the childhood memories flood back one after the other as I revisit the bays, cliffs and rocks along the familiar shores.
Family and friends around a relatively small fire by French River standards
We may be too big to all fit in the fort now
 We paddled around 18 Mile Island as a family over 10 years ago and I have paddled various sections of the French River over the many summers I spent there (Restoule to Horseshoe Bay on the Upper French, Lower French and Pickerel Rivers to Georgian Bay and back). With limited time, an endurance trip around 18 Mile Island seemed like the best way to squeeze in a canoe trip and some quality sister time with Angela without missing out on too much #cottagelife. Our goal was to complete the 72 km of paddling and numerous rapids/portages in 2 days, not quite as ambitious as the initial 1 day push Angela had been hoping for, but still a pretty good challenge.

We paddle in the fog through Canoe Channel and pull up at Meshaw Falls. Everyone is still asleep so we walk up to see where the portage is. It's all private property, but a man staying at one of the cabins points out a dock that we can use. We don't have much stuff with us, so we just pick up the canoe and carry it up the road with all our gear in it. By the time we start off again on the North Channel, the clouds are starting to break and its getting hot. The scenery is vaguely familiar as we paddle past cottages and boathouses, but it isn't until we round the bend and start heading east that I really start to recognize this section of the river. Here it narrows and it feels like we are flying along the calm water, making good time towards our goal of a 2 day circumnavigation.
North Channel
 We are paddling upstream along the North Channel, but for the most part you barely notice a current. We do have to get out and portage up a few sets of rapids, which cuts into our time, but it is nice to get out of the boat to stretch the legs and shoulders. We choose to run one of the sets of rapids to practice our skills for the following day, even though it takes us briefly in the wrong direction.
First portage, where we did a practice run down the rapids
 Its a hot, sunny day and there is very little wind so are moving fast, only stopping for an occasional snack and swim. Being mid-week, the river is quiet, it feels like we have it to ourselves.
Warm and sunny
Perfect day for paddling
 We take turns lining the canoe up the rapids when possible and portaging up the bigger ones. As the afternoon drags on, our pace slows and we drift with a pleasant tailwind while eating fruit gummies and chatting about everything we haven't had time to discuss back home in our busy lives.
Lining up the rapids
 As we approach Wolseley Bay, the wind starts to pick up and we actually need to start paddling hard. Its 4 pm and we have been on the river for 10 hours. We thought we would camp somewhere around the top of the Little Pine Rapids, but arrive earlier than expected and aren't ready to stop for the night yet. Despite early summer flooding, the river level is very low and we aren't able to run the Little Pine Rapids. After a quick portage, we hop back in the boat and encounter a strong headwind that is building by the minute. I guess it is time to stop after all!
Wolseley Bay
Top of Little Pine Rapids. 10 hrs in and still smiling
Low water levels on Little Pine meant we had to portage
After setting up camp we snack, swim and relax. The breeze is hot but at least it keeps the bugs down. After a long day of paddling, we have covered 46 km and feel pretty good about our progress. We have some recollection of the river downstream as we have both paddled the rapids of the main channel twice before. Once we hit the Devils Chute a few kilometres downstream, we will be back in very familiar territory. With a big day of rapids ahead, we are both asleep before 9 pm.
Dinner of champions
Enjoying the scenery
Brushing teeth
 The wind howls all night long and doesn't stop as the sun rises. We eat a quick breakfast and get on the water, heading for Big Pine Rapids. I vividly remember a big rock in the middle of the rapid that caused my canoe to spin and come out of the rapids backwards on my last time through here. We pull up on shore to scope the rapid, but the water level is too low. We would punch a hole in the bottom of the canoe if we tried to paddle down so we portage instead. 
Big Pine Rapids, too low to run
 We make our way downstream with a few exciting waves and splashes through The Ladder. The Blue Chute is smaller than usual but still exciting. Angela flipped in this rapid on her first canoe trip with summer camp so she is relieved that we make it through uneventfully. The Big Parisien Rapid has some waves and we narrowly avoid a rock as we fly down the river.
Heading down towards the Big Parisian Rapids
 The headwind continues to blow as we make our way down through Devils Chute, Little Parisien and the Crooked Rapids. The current barely helps us and we have to paddle hard to keep up our momentum.
Quick break before more paddling
Devils Chute
Downstream from Devil's Chute
 Now that we have made it through the rapids, it is a long, straight paddle back to the cottage. The wind doesn't let up so we put our heads down and paddle hard. A few hours of tiring effort later, we arrive at the dock. Mom and Dad are surprised to see us back so soon. 33 hours after we left we have completed the 72 km loop around 18 Mile Island!
Strong family at the cottage

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Alpine Riding in Revelstoke - Frisby Ridge and Ultimate Frisby

 Frisby Ridge
24km (out and back)
800m climb/descent
Ultimate Frisby
600m descent

For the third and final day of our epic alpine weekend in Revelstoke, we decided on the ultra-classic Frisby Ridge. On prior trips to Revelstoke, the trail had been under a voluntary closure due to trail maintenance issues, so Kyle and I had never rode it. We were both eager to see what all they hype was about! Sunday night was spent around the campfire, watching dry lightning over the surrounding mountains and experiencing some of the most amazing stargazing of my life. With such a dark night only a few weeks before the height of the Perseid meteor shower, we were overwhelmed with the number of stars. It was difficult to pick out the usual constellations due to the sheer number and brightness of normally unseen stars! The northern lights made an appearance too. It was a magical night.
Sunset chainsaw
Campfire shenanigans
The crux of the day occurred before we had even started riding. Kyle Duran had been worried all weekend about how well his Northern Lite camper would fare up the rough road to the campsite. Having arrived in the dark on Friday night, he didn't realize how bad it was going to be until it was too late and he was committed to driving down to the turn-around at the edge of the lake where we camped. For the rest of the weekend, we had been using Kyle's truck and left the camper and trailer safely at camp. We had done some work to the road, filling in holes and trimming branches, to make the drive a bit easier, but tensions were high as we left camp for the final time.
What goes down must come up
Northern Lite made it down and up the hill
We made it up to the road without issue and drove to the 9km FSR that would take us to the Frisby Ridge parking lot. As we stopped to unhook the trailer, we met an american rider named Aron who was looking for riding buddies and was offering to help deshuttle us at the end of the day. We happily agreed to team up so that we could add the Ultimate Frisby descent to the end of our day.
Flowers and mountains at the base of Frisby Ridge
Frisby Ridge trail is an out and back so there is 2 way traffic on the trail. It starts in a cutblock and climbs steadily up through meadows, forest and finally into the alpine on the ride. It is a continuous climb but the grade is mellow, which made for a very enjoyable ride.
Stopping for a much needed dunk on the way up
As we gained elevation, the views got better and better. Near the end of the trail there is a loop that takes you to Frisby Lake. At this point there is the option to extend the ride and add another ~8km to your day but we opted to just head to the lake for a swim.
Meadow cruising
Starting to descend to Frisby Lake
Alpine trails and views
We stopped at the lake for a very brief and chilly swim. Within seconds of stopping we were swarmed by bugs so we didn't linger. We did go check out the sled hut on the ridge but it was all boarded up for the season. After a quick bite of lunch, we couldn't stand the flies any longer and got back on our bikes for a final climb before the long descent ahead. 
Revelstoke crew at Frisby Lake - photo credit to Aron the ripper!
Frisby Lake and the cabin
Alpine meadows
Bugs and bikes
The descent was fast and so much fun. Although the climb did not feel too strenuous, you could pick up some serious speed on the smooth single track descent which felt endless. There were plenty of swoopy corners through the trees and little side hits and stunts to keep things interesting. We regrouped at the truck for a drink of water before dropping into Ultimate Frisby. This is more of a downhill trail with steep, technical sections that got the blood pumping. By this time, my arms were so tired that it was hard to grab the brakes, so the swim in the cold river at the bottom was a welcome relief!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Alpine Riding in Revelstoke - Mt. Cartier Heli Drop

Heli-Drop Mt. Cartier (Arrow Heli) - $200
Vertical Descent ~ 2100 m
Distance 17 km

If you are looking for an epic day out around Revelstoke, a heli-drop on Mt. Cartier ticks all the boxes. I mean seriously, helicopters make everything better. Combine a heli-drop with amazing alpine views, mountain summits, steep switchbacks and fast technical forest riding and you can't go wrong.

We rolled into Arrow Helicopters around 10am on Sunday morning of the long weekend. With nothing pre-booked, we were worried we might not get a chance to catch a ride to the top of Mt. Cartier but the only people in sight were a few pilots tinkering with the choppers. Waivers were signed and cash exchanged ($200 all in covers taxes and a trail maintenance fee - cash is preferred) and after a quick safety briefing we were loading the machine. 
Getting ready for our taxi
Bikes loaded and ready to fly
 It was a quick flight to the ridge below the summit. Our pilot pointed out the steep switchbacks that we would soon be riding as well as the family of marmots sunning themselves on the landing pad. We unloaded our bikes with the blades spinning and held on tight to make sure nothing blew away as the heli lifted off. Suddenly we were alone and it went quiet. It felt very surreal.
Heinz points out the trail as we fly up to Mt. Cartier
Our destination, the ridge just below the summit
Heli lifting off, leaving us alone on the ridge
And then it was quiet
The peace didn't last long. Another heli arrived shortly after us and dropped off another group of riders. They were flying with Glacier Heli, who seemed to have a lot more clients. A few groups arrived in quick succession and suddenly the landing area was quite busy, a stark contrast from only minutes earlier! 
Watching the heli landing
Heading back down to pick up another group
 We were in no rush to start heading down, so we left our bikes at the start of the trail and scrambled up to the fire lookout and summit above. From the top, we had views across the valley to the Monashee Range and into the Selkirks in the opposite direction. We could see Revelstoke Resort and pick out the new trail (5620) that we had rode the day before.
Summit views above the fire lookout
Looking out to Revelstoke Resort and town below
Selkirk vistas
Getting high with Kyle
Back down to the bikes
Epic exposure
 Finally we jumped on the bikes and started the long ride down. The first part of the trail is a steep side-hill that switch-backs down the alpine. The trail is not technical, but a mistake could result in a long tumble down the steep mountain side. We took our time, trying to pay attention to the riding and not get distracted by the views.
Get stoked
Lets ride
Too much fun
Steep side-hill and switch-backs
Bryce getting fancy
As we descended, the trail got wider and faster. We entered into the sub-alpine and ripped through small trees and meadows before dropping into full-on forest. Once we were in the trees, the riding got a more technical with roots, tight corners and loose steeps.
So much more to go
Ridge riding
Into the sub-alpine
Refueling for the rest of the descent
Cabin on the way down
  We hit the bottom of a valley and crossed a bridge that had seen better days. There was a short, steep push followed by about 100m of climbing out of the valley and into the lower Cartier trail network. We had the option of climbing a bit higher and dropping into the lower trail from the top, but by this point our arms were toast. The final flow section to the bottom was a great way to finish this huge descent. From the base, it was an 8 km pedal down the road back to the airport where we had left the truck. We had been riding for almost 3 hours, what a day!