It isn’t every day that you line up three consecutive days for bikepacking with your son, so when it happens – you take it, even if the weather calls for a very wet and cold start to the trip.
We have done the Elbow loop as a day trip, hiking trip and bikepacking trip a number of times now. It was time to move on to something a little more challenging. I cobbled together a potential route that had a large number of alternates in case of troubles. I thought it was going to be a stretch, but might be possible.
Thursday evening we set out from the parking lot in moderate rain. Tadhg wasn’t feeling his best and felt sluggish on the climbs, but was happy enough. The rain wasn’t excessive, but there was a consistent drizzle. We had planned to make Tombstone pass by sundown but ended up only halfway, near where the Romulus campground used to be before the ’13 floods.
As we set up the tent, the rain got serious. Then it got worse.
By morning, the rain had tapered down to a steady shower. Neither of us were in a big hurry to get out into it, so we stretched breakfast and coffee till nearly 11 and hit the trail around 11:30. The plan was to get 45km further down a couple of trails before settling down for the night.
I often say that single digit temperatures and rain are much colder than temperatures below freezing and this was no exception. We struggled with rain-softened trail and low energy. Tadhg wasn’t hungry, which is usually a sure sign of trouble.
By 5pm, we had made it less than 20km and had crossed only the smallest passes – hardly worthy of their name. We came to a river crossing and decided to look for a place to camp – conveniently, there was an old horse camp exactly where we were.
The rain let up as we were setting up camp and things started to look up. I revised our route plan to remove the second half so as to avoid getting too far away from the car to be able to get back on Sunday. We left the camp better than when we started by burning the garbage that had been left in the fire pit and surrounding area.
Saturday morning started sunny and warm with about half a dozen river or creek crossings and then a major washout. I scouted the trail and there was a clear way through, it was just going to take time. If we had been able to estimate how much time, we would have continued. I just didn’t think it was prudent to move away from the car down an unknown trail to possibly put us out of reach of our sunday evening deadline. We thought about it for a while and even though we were both in a better mood and Tadhg had energy, we decided to turn back the way we had come and ride out the remainder of the Elbow loop as a very easy 2 days.
Though we were taking it easy, it was early when we got back to Tombstone campground. We filtered water and ate a bunch of candy. Then we met up with a couple of fatbikers out on a day trip. We set out down the Big Elbow side of the trail knowing that the washouts would slow us down by quite a bit, and thinking we would ride for a couple of hours and then camp for the night. The washouts weren’t as bad as we expected, and Tadhg was riding really well – easily clearing the many rock gardens and rough trail patches. We took lots of breaks and stopped frequently to chat with the fatbikers, but we were running out of trail.
As we started to set up camp, Tadhg pointed out the futility of camping less than an hour from our car and so we re-packed and hit the trail. We rode full out on the last section, passing some unladen bikers on full suspension rigs (much to their dismay). We were home shortly.
Overall it was a very successful bikepack even though we got less than a third of the planned route completed. This was the first time I had my Krampus with the suspension fork out for bikepacking and it was close to ideal. The miserable weather at the beginning let me us have a taste for hardship, and was a great gear test. By not forcing Tadhg to continue we managed to keep the ride fun and improve the chances of his coming back for another attempt.