I have a passion for winter bike riding. I love sleeping outdoors in the cold. This year, my son finally reached a height where he can ride an extra small sized Salsa Mukluk comfortably. It therefore made sense that we should go out together on a fatbikepacking weekend.
We started out from the car around noon on Friday March 1st, with our gear distributed as follows:
- Tent fly and footprint with poles
- 2 Sleeping bags
- 2 lightweight sleeping pads
At first glance the distribution might seem uneven, excepting that Tadhg weighs 60 pounds and I weigh 180. Until my bike reaches the 90 pound mark, I am carrying the lighter load. I had to improvise a bit to get an extra person’s worth of gear and clothing on to my bike, but a small backpack and a stuff sack tied to my behind-the-seat bag gave me a sufficiency of capacity.
I had some concern that with the warm weather we had been having, the snow might be too slushy to ride on and I wasn’t completely wrong, but for the initial part of our ride, we were on the closed portion of the highway and it alternated between just hard enough to ride and dry chip-sealed roadway. There was some pushing, but only because of the long steep hill that we started with. We saw some other fatbike tracks, but they took the first trail turnoff on the right (Powderface Creek). Few people were out on Friday during the day, but we met a few hikers as we moved along. The wind picked up as we ascended, and when we reached the summit, it was strong enough that we were pedalling while heading downhill.
Fairly soon we turned off the end of the highway on to the Little Elbow Campground access road where we met a group of snowmobilers who were conservation officers on a two day training ride. The lead sledder was impressed that Tadhg had gotten this far (10km). We pressed on and took the North Branch of the Elbow Loop Trails, (Little Elbow) and it alternated between mashed potato snow, ice, gravel, and mud. As darkness started to fall, I suggested camping on the edge of the trail, but Tadhg thought we could make it to Romulus backcountry campground. After some riding and pushing in the dark, we made it. It was very luxurious with toilet paper in the outhouse and firewood. We rehydrated our dinner, but went to bed very soon after eating since it was 9:30 and we had biked 22km.
In the morning we had a leisurely breakfast of what we called whole grain “chocolate covered sugar bombs.” Tadhg was pretty fond of the cereal and it was not what we would normally eat at home.
The trail had not firmed up much overnight, but it was mostly downhill to the highway junction, so it was mostly rideable. We decided to make our lives more interesting by pushing our bikes up the Powderface Ridge trail so that we could roll down the Powderface Creek trail on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, the trail got progressively worse as we climbed. It started steep and icy, and then there were sections that were totally covered in over knee-deep snow. Around this time, I started to suggest to Tadhg that we needed to turn back, but he was pretty determined and had put lots of effort into getting this far. We then reached the point where we had to detour off the trail to make progress. After bushwacking through deep snow (my waist, his neck deep) to regain the trail, we decided that we were in no danger of making it all the way up. Since the snow seemed to be very sparse on the lower slopes, we thought we might shortcut back to the road. Unfortunately, the snow got deeper and we ended up trapped in a ravine full of snow. Eventually, Tadhg found what he deemed to be an acceptably flat spot to sleep. A quick dinner of home-made lentils later, we went to sleep at 9:30 again.
I awoke to heavy snow and hurried Tadhg through getting dressed and eating a Larabar. We hit the non-trail early and after almost a km of hard progress, we found a spot were we could leave the ravine and bushwack back to the trail. Tadhg spotted the trail first and we then had some easy pushing down the trail.
We had high hopes that the highway would be rideable, and for the first half km or so, it was. After that, we knew we would probably need to push up the steep (Tadhg called it “endless”) hill. With our hopes set on riding once we reached the summit, we pushed on. I gave Tadhg a bunch of smarties to try to fuel him for the high effort. The closer we got to the summit, the harder the wind was blowing, and the snow had not let up since we got up. The summit was cold and gusty, and the snow was stinging Tadhg’s eyes. It was a full fledged blizzard. We later heard that a weather advisory had been issued for the area we were in. Even as the trail started to descend, the wind and the snow kept us off our bikes. We tried riding a few times, and Tadhg crashed a couple of times from ice under the snow. A few spots had enough ice that Tadhg was running without moving. We did make progress though and I started counting down the last 1.5km on my GPS to try to encourage pushing through the last section.
After brushing the snow off the car, we packed the car and loaded the bikes and by the time we were done, there were several cm of snow covering the car. I drove carefully and slowly back to the city.