Highway 20 is open!

…that is, if you enjoy winter recreation!

With the annual closure of SR-20 comes the opportunity to enjoy the area with my favorite method: mountain biking without anyone around. It’s a highway, true, but encountering 0 cars and only 2 snowmobiles, this was a win. Not a win for fatbikes, necessarily.

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The highway is currently closed at Ross Dam trailhead, which is a big parking lot with a decent outhouse. The first few miles were pretty devoid of snow and icicles were melting on the cliffs at ~35 F.20151122_09134620151122_091451

After a few miles in, a light dusting of snow covered the road; combined with the sunshine it was toasty warm. Time to peel off all the layers in an effort to avoid sweating through my clothes.


Though the snow was thin, it was notably increasing the rolling resistance. “Medium-firm snow, about to turn to slush”: I am sure the Eskimos have a better word for it.

This kept up for quite a while, until the snowplow had stopped a couple weeks ago and the rolling resistance increased yet again. Still, riding was possible and after letting out a bit of air, more progress was made. It was quiet along the road except for the occasional snow falling of branches. Not much wind, if any, made this stretch a good snow-grinder.



Fisher Peak (mid right) and Black Peak (mid left in far back). Fatbike below on roadway.

Past this point, about 20 miles in, was mostly pushing the last 4 miles up to Rainy Pass. The snow was deep and soft, temp around 25-30F. I would have thought that at this temperature the snow would be harder, but it wasn’t. Lots of postholing. I cinched the drawstring on the my overshoes a bit tighter to prevent snow from getting in when I sunk knee deep – which luckily didn’t happen often. The wind was picking up considerably and I was still in my skimpy outfit. I headed for the bushes and put on some clothes. Put on a dry, warm shirt and zipped my windbreaker. Ahh! An orange emergency bivy served as an ultralight trench coat. I was also getting low on water and melted some snow while I was already stopped. That was the first time that I’ve melted snow, and it was about as easy as boiling water. The Kovea inverted canister stove worked great, but I had to ditch the windscreen as it was preventing enough oxygen from getting through. The snow-water was tasty, or tastless, but in a good way. I am hooked.20151122_133021

A couple snowmobilers came down while I was hiding out in the woods, and shortly after getting back on the road, they zoomed up behind me. We chatted about my stupidity, the bike and snow conditions ahead. There’s snow down to Mazama and deep soft snow at the top of the pass waiting for me. More slogging lay ahead, in other words. The views were pretty good, a bit overcast, but quite spectacularly for a while:20151122_135851

Eventually, I reached Rainy Pass. It was a feeling of accomplishment, though I had secretly hoped to make it to the coffee shop in Mazama and back in one day. In retrospect, I think that would be only possible during the best of snow conditions, which these were definitely not.


Rainy Pass on a snowy day.


These 4.5″ wide tires were maybe half as wide as would have been necessary to ride on this snow.

I was hoping to take a few pictures during sunset, so I got out my emergency “overcoat” again and meandered around for an hour. Mt. Hardy was prominently behind me, so I snapped a couple pictures.


Mount Hardy before sunset.


At sunset.


Whistler Mountain to the east.



More snow adventure in that direction?

With sunset behind, it was time to see what could be ridden downhill. The answer was: Not much, but that didn’t stop me from trying. How you’re gonna find out if you don’t try and make a real good fool of yourself? After a half mile down, the downward slope and snow were just passable on the super soft Dillinger 5’s on the 100 mm rims. I even unlocked my front suspension to help feather out the front tire as it was seeking out more compacted snow down low. Technical and hard work, but there may have been a big grin on my face (behind my balaclava).

Sunset time is always a pretty time to be out and the sky was on fire while I was concentrating on not getting thrown off the bumpy ride.20151122_161921.jpg

As  darkness came, the snowy landscape sparkled back at me. Imagine all the flickering lights you see when each snow flake is illuminated from different angles, riding at 10 mph.20151122_171208

The end of the ride was a bit painful, as one picks up 500′ of elevation to get back to Ross Dam trailhead.

Pretty good ride early season snow ride on the fatbike!

Stats: Distance: 47 miles, elevation gain: 4000′, time: 10 hours. GPX track

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Winter is here (in Canada)!

A blog post last week from British Columbia had some pretty sweet looking photos of fatbikes playing in snow. Where was this paradise? Squamish? 4 hours north of Seattle? And my new fatbike badly needs to go for a ride? Let’s do this.

The best weather forecast that I could find for Garibaldi Park, and in particular Elfin Lakes, showed scattered clouds with minimal snowfall and temps -5 to -2 C on Sunday. But, would there really be snow after days and days (weeks) of rain in Seattle? The snow forecast said yes, so the alarm was set for 4 am Sunday morning.

4 am: It’s 40F and pouring. Sometimes you have to believe in weather forecasts (and these pictures) to make yourself get out of bed. The real proof came as I drove into Squamish and saw snow half-ways up on the mountains. Yes! Google maps lead me to a dirt road on the NE side of town just past Quest University, where I parked my car. Bike assembled and ready to roll, I started at 10:30am in ernest. The studded tires scratched and clawed their way up the mountain, the first hundred yard on pavement, then on gravel.


Yes, there’s snow just behind those clouds.

The Garibaldi Peak Rd. went past maps showing a mountain-bike shuttle paradise. Various vehicles, loaded to the brim with bikes, passed me.


The climb was warming me up nicely and after a while I decided to avoid sweating through my clothes at all costs, even if that meant causing a public indecency in my shorts and mesh sleeveless shirt at 40F. 7 miles and 2500 ft later, I reached the parking lot covered in light snow. Howly cow, this place is popular! Maybe 50 cars lined the lot.


My new StemCaptain thermometer :)


Diamond Head trail starts here.

Here’s a Google Earth view of the trail rotue:

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Diamond Head trail head starts at the end of Garibaldi Peak Rd.

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Diamond Head trail to Elfin Lakes is 13.5 mi and 3000 ft. roundtrip.

The trail was a bit rocky and barren the first mile. Then, I found myself next to a group of skiers who were walking, and chatted for a while. I met a couple fatbikers coming down, and sent a quick wave/hello their way. Lots of skiers and snowshoers were out and I got a lot friendly comments. Up to the Red Heather shelter, the trail is a narrow forest service road with a healthy 9.5% average grade. The snow was sticky, not one inch of hiking was required even on this slope:


At the Red Heather shelter, a guy was feeding birds.


“Do you have a battery in that?” – the bird guy asked just as I was pulling out my camera. “Well, yes, it’s an electronic camera.”   He kept insisting something about a battery, and I finally realized that he was inquiring wether my bike was motorized. Instead asked him to take a picture of me and smiled! Situation disarmed (I think). Whee.


At Red Heather shelter. Note the difference in clothing between the skiers and me.


Warm fireplace

Lots of people to chat with. It was cool how positive almost everyone was I met. Inquiries included the cost of bike, wether biking on snow was now a “thing”, and how heavy the bike was. Comments included

“I thought I had seen it all.” (from an outdoorsy hippy), “High five, dude!” (skier), “F’ing rad!”, “Awesome”, and similar from almost everyone. :)


The trail finally reached the top of the ridge line – so I had to stop and put on a few clothes. Again, apologies to everyone for making a scene out in the scenery. On the plus side, my clothes were dry and stayed that way the rest of the day.


The trail became a bit more undulating, and even steep in a couple places.  If I ever had doubts about a suspension fork on a snowbike, those doubts were erased on this trip. Not only did I not lock out the fork (though I tried it a couple times), I put it on the squishiest setting. Besides bumps from postholing hikers, there were ruts and big bumps from covered-up rocks. Especially on the downhill sections the Bluto helped me get down without landing in the scenery, otherwise it just made the bike float over everything. Not that I didn’t fall a couple times :)  Most of the time past the Red Heather shelter, I was riding a 2 ft. wide bumpy snowshoe trail – single track snow riding is fantastic and sometimes techy stuff!


I met a lot of hiker and skiers along the ridges and on the trail. Pulled over for many, other times skiers pulled over as conditions warranted. Apparently, a foot or so of snow had fallen on Saturday night/Sunday morning, which all the hikers had trampled into a great path for me. The Dillinger 5’s had amazing traction on the snow, no hiking was required on the way out to Elfin Lakes, with only 2 steep sections requiring pushing on the way back. BTW: Pushing a fatbike with a rear thru-axle is not awesome; got hit a few times in my calf.


Finally, I was nearing Elfin Lakes and the shelter around 3 pm. 20151115_142759


There’s the 2-story hut.

Inside the shelter it was like a sauna: 60F and very humid. I think 30 people sleeping there the night before, cooking and drying clothes lead to a pretty humid environment. One skier was commenting how her insoles didn’t dry out overnight. The shelter has a pretty big back room with kitchen, and an upstairs with 33? of bunk beds. Gas and electricity round out the $15/night package.


Inside of Elfin Lakes shelter. The camera instantly fogged over and stayed that way for a long time.

One guy asked if he could try out my fatbike and then came back excited. Fun times. After my toes thawed and chats were concluding, I put my Neos overshoes back on for the ride back. I was pretty happy with the Neos Adventure overshoes. Much better than having to worry about getting snow in under gaitors, and by wearing sneaker inside them, the fit was great. Only drawback was the lack of traction; it was definitely not easy to get solid traction when the trail was so steep that I had to push my bike.

The weather was brewing up a bit of a snow storm and reduced the lighting contrast greatly. Riding by feel. But, the clouds broke a couple times to give me a glimpse of what more there might be to see down in the valleys and up on the ridges when the weather cooperates. 20151115_154826.jpg

This was a “win” for fatbiking on snow. I passed all the skiers and snowshoers on the way back, who had to descent / slide in the narrow footpath down. I think descending on this narrow trail was best done on a bike! Below Red Heather shelter, the skiers had made some sections into smooth and flat ice sheets, and I was sure glad to have studded tires.

Back at the parking lots, it was time to pump up the tires and get sprayed in mud for 7 miles down. Yuk. Near the bottom I stopped to chat with an older couple who were looking to move back ‘home’. Howe Sound sure wouldn’t be a place to call home to.


Back down to the car at 5:20 pm and drove to the nearest McD’s for treats. 4:30 hours up, 2 hours down, 27 miles and 5500 ft. elevation gain. Turns out it wasn’t such a bad drive-to-ride ratio after all. Where else can I go, next weekend?


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Chilcotin Bikepacking Adventure

A few months ago, I ran across an article on Pinkbike about bikepacking in the Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia. The pictures looked amazing, so I delved more into it. The region is pretty remote and wildlife of any kind may be encountered, including grizzlies. Not wanting to be the only food source for these big bears, I didn’t want to go there alone. Now, who would be interested in joining me on a hike-a-bike expedition in remote Canada? Who, but Lee Blackwell of course! Combining business with pleasure, he was able to arrange a trip in mid-July to Seattle, and together we explored the Chilcotins.

Lunch break at Relay Col trail.

Lunch break at Relay Col trail.

The Chilcotin and Big Creek provincial parks are located about 50 miles north of Whistler, but covering those last 50 miles by car takes about 2+ hours.

3 day adventure, covering 93 miles and 15,000 ft. of elevation.

3 day adventure, covering 93 miles and 15,000 ft. of elevation.

Detailed reports of our adventuring follow:

  • Day 0 – Getting there
  • Day 1 – Taking the fast way in
  • Day 2 – Big Creek and Tyoax Pass
  • Day 3 – Cross-country route finding leads to happy ending

Besides reading several interesting blogs, including this long-distance trip report, we used these materials to plan:

Regional information


Bikepacking setup

My bikepacking setup is described here, and Lee’s setup is pretty much this.

Photo credits

All pictures with name format  “YYYY-MM-DD hh.mm.ss_small.jpg” are by Lee Blackwell. The rest of the photos are copyright by myself, 2wheeltrails.

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