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” are by Lee Blackwell. The rest of the photos are copyright by myself, 2wheeltrails.

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Chilcotin Bikepacking Adventure – Day 3

Morning came quietly; no rain, no storm. Lee stopped by to drop off my food bag. I dozed off again until the sun started to warm the tent surface and I was starting to get hungry. Extracted myself from the tent – and wow, look where we are!

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The little bit of rain had turned to snow up high near where we had been yesterday. Lee also enjoyed the slow morning start and napped contently. We packed up and looked at the map. Yup, with weather so good, we both wanted to keep going towards Castle Pass and Fortress Ridge.


Our 3rd day route is highlighted in the map:

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Day 3: 41 miles, 3700 ft. elevation.

We oriented ourselves and headed off towards where we suspected the Manson Creek Trail/Route must be.

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After some cross-country travel, we found small pieces of a good trail, along with evidence of long-ago travelers passing through. I wonder what the story was when this horse pulled out its horseshoe.


The trail goes up a broad valley and we sang a lot to alert whoever left these big prints a short while ago:


The trail goes up pretty steep – some serious pushing was had, but a few sections were delightfully rideable. If you are expecting long continuous single track riding in the Chilcotins, I don’t believe you’ll find much. But, if you’re willing to hike as necessary, you’ll have a great day out.

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A lunch spot was found on the leeward side – which then turned into a nap spot. No bugs, just a bit of light breeze, and sunshine. The best place to hang out.


Looking down the drainage of the Little Paradise Creek. Relay Mountain on the right.

We saw such cool rock formations; the earth had turned at 90 degrees here. Though it had only been 3 hours since we started, we had seen much more than I typically experience in an entire day.

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After a minute of pushing up the ridge in the picture above, we rode left along the slope. It was only a minute of riding, before I stopped to figure which way to go next.

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Red Hill.


Cardtable Mountain the distance.

The paper map stop showed that we need to head north-east, and I halted Lee’s progress up a ridge towards the south-east. Lee came back and quickly spotted the “Relay Creek Trail/Route” to go down the Paradise Creek drainage. I tried to follow the map, but quickly realized that Lee was on the right track. He’s got a good nose for trail alignment. Amazingly, much of the cross-country travel could be ridden through the light underbrush.

Our next goal is the low point on the next ridge (Relay Ridge).

Our next goal is the low point on the next ridge (Relay Ridge).

Where we came from:


Pushing along the slope, with the Little Paradise Ck. valley to our left:

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Finally, a picture that makes it look STEEP!

But, it wasn’t that steep, actually:


Here’s Lee pushing to the saddle

Relay Mountain on the left.

Relay Mountain on the left.


At the saddle we were a bit confused. We thought that there’d be some sweet downhill trail, but there was not a hint of a trail. Map time, again. In front of us is Cardtable Mountain and to the right-ish is Castle Peak. How would be get to the latter with the big valley in between and no trail as far as we could ascertain?


Closeup of Castle Peak

Closeup of Castle Peak

Lee was a little less enthusiastic about more route finding and hike-a-bike than me, and we decided that we’d probably bail instead of heading up to Castle Peak Pass, next. Castle Pass is just to the left of that phenomenal basalt peak in the picture above. We’ve done and seen so much already that it didn’t really matter to me if we covered another valley&pass. Had I been by myself, I probably would have called it quits, too.

The first few hundred yard (or feet) down from the ridge were rideable. 2015-07-19 01.57.02_small


Lee riding some steep stuff!

Then, route finding and route planning were paramount. 2015-07-19 02.05.03_small 2015-07-19 02.46.25_small

Eventually, we did meet up with a pretty decent trail and had some techy riding sessions in between hiking.


Can you say “Out of this world!” ?20150716_150719_small

Once we were down at the intersection of the north and south fork Paradise Ck., we though that we had it made. But, some more route finding was required just a mile lower on Paradise Ck. trail. We weren’t the first ones who got a bit lost here:


Right after the course correction, the trail improved tremendously. Slow riding on twisty singletrack brought us down the valley.


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The Paradise Ck. trail then continues though forest, swamp and steep meadows. At one point in the meadow I tried to put my foot down, but didn’t find anything except a big hole. I fell in slow motion with my bike landing on top of me. Lee pulled the bike off me, and then pulled me out of the ditch, too. It would have been quite a chore to get myself extracted from the hole in the meadow.

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Eventually, the trail did come to an abandoned forest service road, but it was light and friendly and not creepy at all. We were riding at speeds that we had forgotten were possible.

Down the Paradise Creek FSR.

Down the Paradise Creek FSR.

A couple big creek crossings and we were on roads open to cars again.

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I fixed a quick freeze dried meal, while Lee figured out what our evening plan would be. Without committing to riding back to Gold Bridge, we started off in that direction. The ride was fast and fun – some climbing was had, but it was mostly downhill and very smooth at that.


With the last few rays through an overcast sky we were back at Carpenter Lake, only about 7 miles from Gold Bridge. We cranked out the remaining bit of pleasant road, and made it to a warm shower and food at the Gold Dust motel.

What a big day this had been. Our little 3-day bikepack felt like we’ve been out for a week. My mind was full with impressions, I couldn’t have stored anymore if we had kept on riding for another day. The Chilcotins really impressed us.

I’ll sign off with a few pictures from the area, the Gold Dust Motel & owner Darlene

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Chilcotin Bikepacking Adventure – Day 2

Our route for the day is highlighted below – we rode all of 17 miles in 12 hours. Elevation gain was just under 3000 ft. These are statistics that don’t matter here. Experiences and enjoying ourselves did – as well as crossing creeks, staying safe, and figuring out which way to go along the secondary trails and routes.

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Day 2: 17 miles, 3000 ft., and lots of adventuring.

The day started overcast and cool and would stay that way. We arose around 8 am, and after breakfast I was the first to get going, which was a first. The trail kept going up pretty steep in places, so we had a good morning hike-a-bike.

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A little higher up on Relay Creek trail the flowers were unbelievable.

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We rode up along the right side of the valley and the trail wound in and out of meadows and forest. I was full of energy and rode some semi-technical sections, though lots of pushing was had of course.

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Coming down towards Big Creek, the trail name changes to Twin Lakes Trail, and it turns into quite a rooty hooty downhill. 20150715_111736_small

The valley floor is beautiful and quickly leads to the Graveyard Cabin. It’s open to the public, but in severe need of a good clean-up inside. Lee said that he felt as if he were in a movie set.

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Following the Best of Chilcotin’s bikepacking route, we crossed the Graveyard Creek. Water level was ok, maybe a foot high. Big Creek, which is just 1/2 mile up, turned out to be too much for us. After a lenghty deliberation and scouting out a reasonably safe passage 1/4 mile upstream, we decided to go a different route. The weather looked ominous, and not knowing the conditions up ahead left us worrying that we might get into some trouble. This being the most remote place that we both had been to, we mulled it over over lunch and in Lee’s case, a nap.

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The map showed us several options if we went up the Graveyard Creek drainage. Along the way, we could see that Big Creek pretended to be the mighty Colorado River carving valleys in its path.


The Graveyard Creek trail was surprisingly twisty; a good complement to the rolling valley floors.

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Soon, the trees gave part to vast views of the Graveyard Creek drainage. The creek crossing here was easy.


We were now making up our route as we went, consulting the map, GPS, and taking our chances at each fork in the trail. With each fork, the trail became thinner.

A small monument has been erected at the southern end of the valley explaining the origin of the Graveyard Valley (click picture to read the text).

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We swapped GPS units for a while, as I was feeling really lost looking at a map, while Lee was just happy looking at a big map instead of the computer screen. While the Backroads GPS map was pretty good on the major trails, it did have no authority on the secondary trails and ‘routes’, even though those are shown on the map. Lee has a lot more intuition for where the trail might be than me. We followed the Tyoax Creek Route branching off to the left at this next valley.

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At this point, the GPS track said to go up this side drainage.


And boy, did we try and scramble. It was very tough and Lee finally gave up (a first, as far as I know) and said that we just might have to give up the progress that we’ve made up to this point and find some other way – or possibly turn around completely. We looked at the bigger Tyaox drainage in front of us, and though there was snow up-valley, it looked like we could just keep going for a bit more. So, we went a bit more. And a bit more. Nothing was stopping us – oddly. The valley became broader the higher we went, instead of turning into a narrow chute.


In between the chunks of super-sharp rocks were some interesting limestones.


The weather was also better here than farther west where we come from the Big Creek non-crossing. Time for a break out of the wind.

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The Tyoax valley floor became pretty swampy, and with that, my feet were soaked wet and getting colder quickly. I was worried and grumpy. Lee was taking his sweet time fiddling with water.


I finally had the grand idea that putting on all my warm clothes might actually help with my cold feet. So right at the top of the windy, gullyless Tyoax pass, I stopped to put on long pants, rain jacket and hat. While doing that right at the top wasn’t really clever, it certainly gave meenough time to look at the amazing scene before me.

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Lee is the little red dot in the sea of green in the above picture. While he was waiting patiently for me to get myself down, he was observing a grizzly with her cubs maybe a 1/4 mile down. As I approached Lee, the bear finally noticed us and stood up on its hind legs. Plumb and cute, it turned away from us and the cubs followed like bouncy balls. She stopped and looked at us again. We waved our arms and yelled.

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We didn’t see any other way than to follow the bear down-valley, making lots of noise as we dragged our bikes down many ditches and through shrubs. How many ditties and bear songs can you come up with when needed? The answer: endlessly many. Lee’s brakes were howling like an injured steam locomotive, which also helped to convince us that we were making enough noise for the bear to notice us.


Near the bottom of the valley, we went past this big hole:

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Lee said: “I always wondered what a bear den looks like, and I think I’ve just seen one.” With those words, he took his camera out of the bag, steadied his bike against his hips, and finally snapped the picture.  To me, this seemed like an eternity. The bear could basically have been watching us from just 10 ft. away. But, I live to tell the tale. Soon, our route intersected with the Little Paradise Creek trail. Ominous clouds were brewing to the west and a few rain drops fell. We looked at the map, and just behind us was a small bluff with a suggested campsite. It was still light out, so we had plenty of time to get settled and calm down.

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The last weather forecast that we had seen was for rain on Thursday – that’s tomorrow. I wasn’t sure that I’d believe a 3-day weather forecast, but it was on Lee’s mind. After a good meal, we found a decent place to hang our food high in a tree, and went into my tent. I put in my earplugs and heard a few gusts of wind and a few rain drops. I slept really well. In the middle of the night, however, I had to leave my cocoon unfortunately, and with my shoes being wet and gross, walked barefoot across the frozen grass. The night was cold.

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Chilcotin Bikepacking Adventure – Day 1

After a good breakfast and coordinating the logistics of our return with Joan, we were just about ready to head out. One last look at the map and with that we left the campground at 10 am. Not a particularly early start, but a small price to pay for not having loose ends and keeping everyone happy.


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Our route began along the beautiful Carpenter Lake, created by BC Hydro damming the Bridge River. The green-grey shimmer of glacial runoff sets this lake apart from the extremely clear Gun Lake.


Soon, we turned off the paved road and began climbing the steep gravel towards Tyaughton Lake. At the turn-off for Tyax Resort, I asked Lee if he wouldn’t mind checking the place out. Gosh, were we impressed. We spoke with a couple employees, one was the outdoor activities guide who told us about various summer and winter activities that involve helicopters and floatplanes. The cheap rooms looking out the back are $199 right now, $165 during the shoulder season.


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We then rode up the quiet Tyaughton Lake Rd, Mud Creek Rd. and Relay Creek Rd.; our entire first day’s ride is highlighted on the map below in purple, along with our complete loop in red:

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Day 1: 35 miles, 6000 ft. of climbing.

Just a few hundred yard above the Tyax Resort were bear foot prints on the dirt road, next to those 2 bike tracks that must have originated from the 2 fellows who came through the day before us. In other words, the road is pretty darn quiet. And much more scenic than I had expected. Tyaughton Creek is the first that we crossed – thank goodness for bridges.

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The bears were probably down low because of all the tasty berries that we encountered.20150714_134354_small

I lost and found my one banana within 10 minutes – and 10 ft. from where we stopped for a rest.

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We rode along, pushed here and there, and actually cranked out quite a few miles.

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Finally, we reached the park boundary where the Relay Creek singletrack was about to start.

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Though it all seemed quite serene and untouched, the area was a huge mining operation a few (dozen) decades ago.

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Just as the singletrack was supposed to start, we found ourselves ankle deep in mud – pretty mud, but still, wet mud. Lee’s hiking shoes were water proof, my biking shoes were mostly mesh. For the next 3 days, I’d be constantly trying to keep my shoes dry, only to get them wet again.


After walking around the beautiful swamps for a while, we did notice that the GPS route was just above us – and going there we found beautiful single track again.


This lead us past the Relay Cow Camp.


We found a place to set up our tents and after our freeze dried meals hit the sack. It got chilly in the night, but I still slept pretty well under my down blanket. The next night, though, I put on my thin wool baselayer and stayed much warmer even though it dropped down below freezing.

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