Clear skies, cold temperatures, and many other things aligned to make an overnight fatbike trip happen. But, where should I go? One difficulty is always to come up with a route that looks challenging, yet is probably doable. After mulling over the Rutherford Creek snowmobile trail to the Pemberton Ice Cap, I really wanted something a bit longer, more isolated, and with better views along the way – as I was not going to go up any glacier alone where the really good views would be.
Then I found it: a snowmobile trail that branches off the Hurley FSR, and ends at a cabin. A cabin? Yup, maintained the Bridge River snowmobilers. But, would it be mouse-free, open, and most importantly: still standing? Just in case, I still took all my winter camping gear.
The drive to the Pemberton Meadows is about 5 hours from Seattle, so I left the night before and stayed near Squamish to get an early start. By 9.30 am on a Monday, I was starting my ascend of the Hurley. 3 groups of snowmobilers started right behind me. Why are those machines so stinky!?
Even though the conditions were much better than last time, it was still slow going and I only rode about half of the 3000 ft. climb. The views opened up quite nicely higher up.
Last time, I was able to ride the groomed snow up on this stretch, but today I was walking most of this upper section. The sun was heating me up when the 20 F breeze blowing out of the north would suddenly stop.
At the top of the pass, I munched some cream-cheese sandwiches, and put on rain pants/jacket. It was a good call to bring the rain pants this time even though it wasn’t raining; their full-length zipper means adjustable protection from wind without sweating.
I didn’t meet anyone else for the next 5 hours. Just riding and pushing along the Hurley. Unfortunately, I was even pedaling on most downhills; I took a mental note that the way back would be tough given that I was not even coasting downhill.
My bikepacking setup was just like last time, with the one difference that I hung the big gloves on the grips so I could quickly put them on when needed.
Just before 4 pm, I could see my objective: the Loan Goat creek valley heading up to the left. It looked steep and imposing from here, certainly avalanche terrain.
The snow was just riding so slowly, and I finally had the idea of letting some air out of my tires. Instant success – I can coast again! Squishy, but not super soft, maybe 3 psi? The Johnny 5 tires have a nice size, but I am pretty sure they roll slower than the Dillinger 5’s that they replaced.
At the bridge with the bucket on a cable, I briefly chatted with a couple ‘bilers who were returning from a Gold Bridge pub run. They mentioned there would be a temperature inversion again tonight.
I would meet them again the next day as they were on their way to the Lone Goat creek. Apparently it’s popular. And groomed. At least for the first 6 km. At first it looks like it just might be a really nice ride:
But, then the trail goes up and is at times ratchety steep: push bike, lock brakes, take a step, push bike… I took an extended snack break around 5.30 pm at a clearing that was flat enough for camping. Should I stay here?
I decided to keep trying to make progress until 10 pm and then re-evaluate. It was now dark, and I was almost out of water. I added fists full of snow to my hydration bladder, in the hopes that the remaining water and my body heat would melt the snow. It kind-of worked, definitely ice water.
I had also brought my little LED headlight this time, and strapped it to the front of the stuff sack. It was just bright enough to illuminate the snow, but without causing me to loose my night vision. I could see the stars, the mountains, and the trail at the same time. That’s night riding / pushing at it’s best.
And there were so many stars on this moonless night. Milky Way, Orion, everything was sparkling in the sky, and ice crystals were reflecting on the ground.
Suddenly, there was a big reflection. It was a sign warning of avalanche danger in the section ahead. I assumed my position on the map was marked with “Decision Point”. Which meant that after 3:45 hours, I had only covered 1/4 of the Lone Goat trail. What? Would I make it at all, or even before 10 pm? Checking my current elevation, it seemed that there was only 1000 ft. more of climbing, so it seemed possible. Looking carefully at the map now, the avalanche sign was at the wrong place and I had in fact covered 1/2 of the trail already.
Now, should I go through avalanche terrain by myself, late at night? The avalanche forecast from the night before was low to moderate (below / at tree line). I had also checked the snow by digging a foot down and finding powder below a hard crust. Hmm, not good. But, given that it was now night and colder than during the day, it seemed less likely for a slide to occur now. I also hadn’t heard any whoomps, and there hadn’t been any new snow in 3, 4 days. Coupled with the low/moderate forecasted danger, I decided to proceed.
And just like that, the trail became a narrow single-track snowmobile trail through the trees. Trees are a good sign if you’re in avalanche terrain. Occasionally, the single-track would turn stupid-steep amidst an onslaught of 2 ft. rollers. Not sure how ‘bilers manage the tight corners and rollers, but they do. Repeatedly, the trail would open into a large meadow from where I could see the avalanche slopes. They weren’t that close: the run-out was maybe a 100 m from the trail for the closest ones, which made me feel better. I was frequently ratcheting myself and my bike up: one time for a 0.4 miles, only to reach more steep parts. Un-believable hike-a-bike, and fully loaded with overnight gear. The hardest part was just before the supposed cabin: a steep hillside where I kept sliding down; it probably took me 5 minutes to ascend 10 meters. But then, there it was. I made it! 9.30 pm. Hooray!
Can I open the door? Yes.
Was it clean? Good enough.
I was in luck, not so much that I don’t like snow camping, but sitting down on a chair at the end of a long hard day is really quite nice. First-class hotel nice, I might add. Starting the fire took more effort than I expected; toilet paper helped a lot.
2 Mountain House dinners later, I was finally in bed by 11.30 pm. Such a quiet night. The moon was just a sliver and was shining in the windows early in the morning. I turned around again, and pulled up the sleeping bag over my head, reminding myself how cool it is that I am out here at the foot of glaciers.
The morning light came slowly – it was not the light show that I had expected. Time to chop some wood and melt more snow for breakfast and to take with.
I kept careful watch for the sunrise to light up the tips of the mountains in between boiling water, eating, and getting ready. This will have to do:
Cabin cleaned, a bit of firewood stacked for the next party, I was feeling nostalgic to leave already. This would be a perfect basecamp for an excursion going up higher. But, I was out of time, and in any case I didn’t want to go up the glaciers alone.
Ready to roll down this steep hillside that I struggled with last night.
From the valley floor, I could finally see west. It might have been worth it to be here at sunrise, but it’d have been a slow slog back up to the cabin from here.
The big poofy jacket came off not long after. The temperature inversion was making things relatively warm.
And then starts the snowmobile singletrack route through the trees. What fun!
Of course, the next steep push came soon enough, but all much shorter and less steep than the night before.
And mountain views everywhere!
Down into the valley I go! Oh ja, that was a big push last night.
And down and down and down.
The outlet of the valley came into view, and made me realize how much I still had to pedal today.
It got a lot colder the lower I went.
Down at the Hurley, I had to get the obligatory picture with the groomer. Thanks Bridge River Snowmobile Club!
It was a long slow slog back up the Hurley. Luckily, it’s not as steep as the southern side. My tires weren’t sinking deep at all in the snow, but it was just not easy rolling, ever. Not sure if it was due to the tires, tire pressure, or snow.
After noon, I met the 2 snowmobilers from the day before and we chatted for a minute. They were heading out to play up at the Lone Goat glaciers. Apparently, there are some ice caves, too.
On the way down, my tires became flatter and flatter. Going from 5000 ft. to 500 ft. elevation will do that. Finally, at just past 4 pm, I was rolling into the parking lot with about 1 psi left in the tires.
The Lone Goat trail was extreme hike-a-bike, coupled with a long approach. Pretty tough for a single overnighter. If I were to do it again, I’d pack more food and try to stay a couple nights to make it more worthwhile. But, what a beautiful escape it was.