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.
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.
Here’s a Google Earth view of the trail rotue:
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. I felt insulted. Instead, I asked him to take a picture of me and smiled! Situation disarmed (I hoped). Whee.
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.
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.
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.
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 bad place to call home.
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?