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Rockwall Featherweight Division Follow-up Video

During our third hike of the Rockwall as a family the week before, Fiona decided that she and I should hike the Rockwall twice as quickly with as little stuff as we could. I couldn’t bring a real camera, so here is a POV camera movie of that trip.

Yes, we hiked the Rockwall twice in the span of 13 days. Either of us would do it again.

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Rockwall: The Third Time

Some hikes are worth it. Some are worth doing again.

The Rockwall is a world-famous hike in the Canadian Rockies, and for good reasons. The first time, we were amazed by the scenery. The second, we were still enthralled. A third trip seemed in order.

We had planned to bring an extra teenager, but with some miscommunication between his parents and ourselves, we ended up as just our family. Our experience has generally been that bringing more teens makes all of us happier.

The Important Part

Fiona swam in Floe Lake before any of the adults from the Edmonton group. That’s a life lesson, whenever you think you’re all that, an eleven-year-old girl is going to put you in your place with her badassery.

The Quick Summary

Longer wilderness trails tend to bring out the best in people, or maybe just bring out the best kind of people. We met a group from Edmonton who, though they were 14 people who knew each other, were welcoming, and supportive of others on the trail. They were lots of fun to be around. We met several groups from the US who were super positive and clearly enjoyed being outside.

We continued this trip with our efforts to eat home-made backpacking foods, and we were quite successful. Our least successful meal was channa masala, which, while delicious, did not rehydrate very well, leaving the chick peas rather crunchy. We ended up simmering it for half an hour, which was fine when our fuel supply was plentiful like on this trip, but which would normally be out of the question. Next time, I am trying soaking it cold for a couple of hours and then reheating it to see if that works.

The hiking had not changed, but there were more wildflowers in bloom in August than the beginning of July.

It threatened to rain every day, but only ever enough to get us into our raincoats. It rained most or all of the nights, which is much better than while hiking, setting up, or taking down camp.

Even Tadhg had fun, though bringing a friend would likely have improved his experience.

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures.

Tania took almost all of these pictures, and I feel like she captured the experience very well indeed. Click the photos to make them big.

 

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Rockwall: the Featherweight Division

I got some groceries, some peanut butter
To last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no headphones
Ain’t got no records to play

Talking Heads

We Love the Rockwall Trail

On our recent third hike of the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park, Fiona and I were discussing trail runners and ultralight backpackers. The Rockwall is everything we love in a mountain trail, with beauty everywhere around you. It also has a few mountain passes to climb.

We were due for an adventure together, and though we are both hooked on bikerafting trips, we also like hiking and we decided that the long weekend was a good time to test our limits in terms of minimizing what we take with us on a hike. We’ve done the trail as a 6 day trip, and with the skimpy packs, we’ve booked campsites to do it in 3 days, 2 nights. Availability on the long weekend was sparse, so our Friday and Sunday are both over 20km while the middle Saturday is a mere 8km.

How Low Can We Go?

Each year, my pack gets lighter. I try to take less stuff every trip, but I still carry a massive pack by ultralight standards. One of the goals of this hike is to cut back to an absolute minimum when it comes to weight. The idea is that even with longer distances, the hike will be more enjoyable when our packs are barely noticeable.

The goal is 5 pounds for Fiona’s pack, and 15 pounds for mine.

What do we Really Need?

I don’t mess with safety. If I need it to be safe, or to keep Fiona safe, I’m bringing it. That means my InReach Mini gets a free 100g ride, along with 350g of bear spray. The first aid kit is getting stripped down to a backcountry minimum, mostly gauze and duct tape which should cover bleeding emergencies, with ingenuity left over for splints.

Stoves are great, and anyone who knows me knows my love for coffee, but a stove, fuel, and pot, not to mention the coffee grinder and Aeropress. Food is going to be stove-free. Water filters are great, but if we want to count grams, even the lightest is going to weigh us down. Mountain stream water in BC is generally drinkable right from the stream, with the exception of Giardia, and a couple of grams of tablets will deal with more water than we can possibly drink in a week.

Nobody wants to sleep in the rain, so shelter matters. We have a selection of shelters, but our usual is my home made tarp which comes in under 450g with pegs. I’ll use my hiking poles this trip so I don’t have to use sticks or find trees to hold the tarp up. Our quilts are good down to about -10ºC, and we shouldn’t see colder than that. We discussed bringing closed-cell foam mats, but our Therm-a-Rest Neoair X-Therm mats are only a little heavier and a lot more compact.

My spare clothing is a wool puffy jacket, a Buff, wool longjohns, and a pair of wool socks. Fiona’s is similar. A mylar space blanket poncho and a cinch-sack rain skirt pass as rainwear. I plan on rocking a Buff as an all-purpose hat.

Toothbrushes, toothpaste, a couple of sports-drink bottles for water, and toilet paper pretty much round up the rest.

My pack, and all the contents. red bag is food, blue is clothing.

 

That’s a Wrap!

The food plan is to bring leftover thin-crust pizza, bean and cheese burritos, and peanut butter and honey wraps as our main food, with some Cliff Smoothie bars as snacks. Without my beloved coffee in the morning, I’m bringing some chocolate-covered coffee beans for breakfast.

Pack it in!

I have been using a 1982 Lowe Alpine pack. It is massive, and carries lots of stuff for the family, but it weighs 6 pounds empty. Instead for this trip I will be using my HMG pack which is just over 2 pounds. Fiona is getting in on the pack lightening with a summit pack that has less support and less weight than her usual one.

By the Book

We would normally bring a book to read in the evenings, when we aren’t ready to sleep but do feel like a rest, but books are heavy. As a compromise, we will bring an encyclopedia containing all scientifically proven astrology – total weight 0 grams.

Are You Ready to Rock?

With the packs full, and a bottle of water, Fiona will be carrying 7 pounds, or 3.2kg. My Pack without food but with a full water bottle is 14 pounds (6.3kg) after I add food for 3 days that goes up to 10.3kg, or 22.8 pounds. We’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

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Fish Lakes Adventure – F****ing Porcupines, Kickboxing with Grouse, Hail, Snow, Mosquitoes, and More.

The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.

Bob Bitchin

Fish Lakes and Pipestone Pass are two of the most beautiful places in the Canadian Rockies. We’ve been before, and we’ll be back, but this time we brought our friends to show them one of our favourite hikes.

The Hike

The hike is gorgeous, especially from km 8-16 to Fish Lakes, and our day hike 18km through Pipestone Pass and back. There are not enough good things to say about the mountains, the flowers, the rocks, and more. This is not a hike that one regrets doing.

But That’s Not What This Story is About…

What a Sap!

The trip up the pass featured our first interesting event. Fiona’s braces had a bracket break in an unfortunate granola bar incident. She didn’t have any wax with her to keep the braces from irritating her mouth. A trail query failed to produce a hiking orthodontist, but it did spark a discussion about wax-like substances, and coupled with a book I had recently read about birch bark canoes, using sap from trees seemed like a viable option. Level 1 complete.

The Perils of Camping by a Boggy Lake

Upper Fish Lake is Stunning. Mountain lakes are generally an attractive lot, but this one goes to 11.

But, it’s surrounded by marsh.

At first glance, apocalyptic mosquitoes might seem tragic, but aside from photobombing the rainbow pictures, and falling into our dinner by the dozen, and of course sucking our blood, the mosquitoes motivated us to hike up the Pipestone River to Pipestone Pass and beyond. No one complained about the distance of our day hike when the destination was windy enough to be mosquito-free. And mind-blowingly beautiful.

Things May Not Have Been Perfect

There were creeks and marshes to cross.

A Prickly Situation.

Our last night out, we awoke near midnight to some very peculiar sounds. Sounding somewhat like a small whining dog, somewhat like a cat wanting to be fed, and a lot like an out of tune violin, the sound had me up almost right away. I didn’t want to wake anyone else up, so I kept my light off until our friend asked if I knew what the mysterious sounds were.

Porcupines Sure are Cute for Animals that Keep me Awake!

By then, I had seen that they were porcupines, fighting, mating, fighting over mating, whatever they were doing was not conducive to our sleep. It ended up that all of us were awake.  Porcupines are indeed cute, and I got a couple of mediocre pictures before going back to bed. Pretty soon, the porcupines were back at it, at one point one was chewing my pack (right beside Fiona) while another was harassing it (“hey prickly girl, can I buy you a drink?”)

Conveniently, it started raining around 2:30 AM, and apparently porcupines don’t date in the rain.

Rain, Snow, Hail in the Pass

North Molar Pass is not particularly difficult to cross, especially considering how spectacular the views are from the top.

This time round, nature was throwing us a challenge. On the climb to the pass summit, the wind had picked up, and clouds were moving in. As we reached the windiest part, the hail began. The wind-driven hail was not comfortable, but with little choice, we continued. A little past the summit, the hail turned to snow. To the untried, snow doesn’t sound that great, but it is much more comfortable than hail. Slush accumulated on our rain gear.

After the hail and snow, we were well prepared for the rain pouring from the sky and running in creeks down the indented trail. The slippery mud was treacherous, but we continued on.

Chicken Fight!

We were hiking down the trail, at the tail end of the storm when Fiona spotted a “chicken”. Male spruce grouse are attractive birds, with bright red plumage on their brow. We were impressed with the fearlessness of the bird until it attacked our 8-year-old friend’s legs.

The chicken held on while the youngster kicked and ran. Eventually, I kicked it away. The bird tumbled a couple of metres, and I got between it and the rest of our crew. The bird came at me again and again, with me trying my hardest to keep it back without seriously wounding it. After a few dozen metres of kickboxing with the bird on the slippery clay of the trail, I reached the limit of its territory and it stood glaring at me to be sure I wasn’t returning.

We’ll be Back!

In spite of all this, this is still one of our favourite places and this was one of our favourite trips. Having an adventurous weekend is not the kind of thing that turns us off a trail. This mere four-day-trip brought memories and experiences to us that may have challenged us at the time, but at the same time have enriched our lives.

Epilogue

Back when I had the punctured bear spray can empty in my face, my friend Vik suggested that he would not take pictures of my crying on the side of the trail. I told him that no, he should take pictures, because one day it would be funny. I retold that story to the kid who was ravaged by the bird, and in fact, it is a funny story. The kid was able to see the humour in his bird attack as well. None of the other kids in grade 4 are going to have bird attacks on their “How I Spent my Summer” essay.

Note: many of these photos (the good ones) are from Tania, be sure to follow @taniachimo on Instagram.

 

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Another Quick Overnight With Jeremy and Girls

The Planned Group

Jeremy and I had not gotten out for a bikepacking overnight since the weather turned winter. I planned to take my family, and invited Jeremy and some other friends to add to the fun.

The Actual Group

By the time Saturday rolled around, it was Jeremy and I and a daugher each. Jeremy’s daughter had been with us before on rides, but this would be her first bikepacking ride on snow. We hoped for a firm or firmish trail.

The Gear

My family are equipped with fatbikes and winter camping gear. Jeremy’s daughter is still on the small side for a 26″ wheeled mountain bike, so she was on her 24plus bike, she weighs little enough that the tire pressures can be run at roughly what an adult fatbike can. Jeremy is a fatbikepacking veteran, so he has more than adequate gear. He brought his own -32ºC Western Mountaineering sleeping bag for his daughter to ensure that she would be warm while they slept. Their tent was pretty much filled with down insulating products.

The only gear that wasn’t quite up to the task were a pair of Bogs boots. These boots really should come with a warning label. There is way too much thermal mass in a Bogs boot to consider it a viable boot for any kind of long-duration winter activity. There were tears Sunday morning as the frozen boots sucked the life from a young girl’s feet. Thankfully, the sun eventually came over the top of the mountain, and we put the boots in the sun to warm. My new official policy on Bogs is that they should be restricted to the wet season, as they are truly great for keeping feet warm in cold (liquid) wet conditions.

The Girls

As dads, our job is to help our girls to prepare for life. A bit of challenge and a lot of fun meant that this trip helped the girls get a little extra empowerment, and some of the bragging rights that come from doing something a little beyond what the average kid has a chance to.

The Event

The trail was firm enough to ride, but soft enough for a bit of challenge for the snow-bike rookie. Fires are permitted at the SP6 campground, so our burritos were roasted and yummy. The temperature dipped down to something below -18•C at night, so we were glad we brought appropriate sleeping gear. The stars were bright, and we all slept well. The dads did not get their fair share of chips, which was my fault since I neglected to bring a bag of my own like I usually do.

The girls agreed that they were glad they had come, and that’s really what counts.

Many of these photos were courtesy of Jeremy, thanks for helping me get outside.

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Heat Exchanger Masks – a Love Story

How it started

Back in the 90s I started riding my bike to work after a hiatus of a few years. My coworkers would regularly ask me if I was going to be like Tom, a notoriously all-weather rider. As winter came on, I realized what most people who cycle in the winter do, it isn’t as hard as it looks. It can, however, be cold. With the internet in its infancy, it wasn’t easy to find quality information on how to stay warm in winter, but I knew at the time that my airways were a weak point in that I couldn’t really insulate them from the cold air that passed over them. Then I read about a product called LungPlus and my obsession began.

The Untold Story

The human body is remarkably good at keeping itself heated. The circulatory system will gradually move blood flow away from the surface and away from extremities to keep its vital organs warm. Activity, including shivering, will help by generating heat. But in order to do any sort of activity, one needs to breathe, and in the cold, that means breathing cold air.

The air passages are designed to warm up air as it enters the body so that the blood can pick up oxygen from it. Unfortunately, this is exactly the same as wind chill. On top of that, the airways are damp, which means they are subject to evaporative cooling just the same as if a person was to go outside still damp after a shower. Except that the lungs have approximately 5 times the surface area of skin, and they are always naked.

Well, What the Heck am I Supposed to do About it?

If you stop breathing you will die.

The simplest form of heat retention is the extended hood that Northern peoples have used for millennia. It creates a pocket of warm air around the person’s face, and helps take the edge off breathing in extremely cold air. In turn, this pocket of warm air requires less warming by the airways and lungs and so is pulling less heat from the body.

The next low-tech solution is the scarf, Buff, mask, or bandana across the face. These do capture some heat from the outgoing breath to warm the incoming air, but their primary purpose is to warm the face itself. They are great for preventing frostbite on the face, but they do relatively little to prevent heat loss through breathing.

The next technological step is to use a heat retention or heat exchange device to capture the heat from outgoing air and return it to the incoming air, and that is what this article is about.

Yes, 6 Heat Exchanger Masks.

from top right: Airtrim, Polar Wrap, Psolar, Ergodyne 6970, and Lungplus with a modified face mask. (5 masks)

What follows is a brief description and mini-review of the 6 heat exchanger devices that I personally own. Yes, I could have gotten away without buying more of them, but in my efforts to optimize, I have continued to purchase more.

Lungplus

This device is the only one on this list that does not have a mask with it. It was the first one that I used back in ’99 or ’00. The device is a bit like the mouthpiece of a snorkel with a heat exchanger built in to it. It isn’t fashionable, or really even dignified, but it does work.

Pros

  • It helps keep glasses unfogged by routing breath away from the eyes.
  • It is an effective heat exchanger and helps to keep the body warm
  • it routes the captured water away from my chin and reduces beardcicles.

Cons

  • Looks like a science fiction device worn by Venutians to breathe the earth’s poisonous oxygen.
  • It routes air through the mouth and I find it sometimes makes my teeth cooler
  • droolcicles at the end

Polar Wrap

Oh yeah, this device lets you breath warmer-than-room temperature air. Oh damn, when I exercise it is like breathing through a straw. This is the best device for waiting for the bus.

Psolar

This device is great, if they still made them, I’d have bought more.

pros

  • great heat exchanger
  • close fit to the face
  • low profile balaclava works well with other hats
  • very free breathing and the air path does not ice up

cons

  • the exchanger sits close to the lips and can contribute to chapped lips
  • the exchanger forms a shelf that can collect snot
  • they were bought by another company and were discontinued

Cold Avenger

This unit is a little more sophisticated than a long hood on a parka, but not much.

Pros

  • Simple, never clogs
  • keeps the mouth and nose clear so skin stays un-chapped.

cons

  • no real heat exchange, only a pocket of exhaled breath at the mouth
  • some (Tadhg) find it restricts breathing
Cold Avanger on a cold day.

Ergodyne 6970

I bought this one based on a review from a friend with more cold weather experience than me (yes, those people exist).

pros

  • Very effective heat exchanger
  • good airflow for high-output activity
  • keeps wet parts off the face
  • the “Darth Vader” look
  • great balaclava

con

  • does eventually get somewhat wet
  • the “Darth Vader” look
  • the great balaclava is a bit tight on my enormous head

AirTrim

This and the Ergodyne are my go-to masks for cooler days. Back to back testing today gives the edge to the AirTrim for warmth.

pros

  • Warm
  • doesn’t restrict breathing
  • away from the mouth and nose for reduced chapping
  • doesn’t put pressure on the nose – less runny nose
  • is available with a selection of exchangers with greater flow, or warmer air depending on activity

cons

  • Recently, a grade 2 kid said it looked like a pig nose
  • it does not cover the upper cheeks – risk of frostbite
  • if you neglect to blow the water out of it the water can drip on clothing

Finally a recommendation

On the bike, and this is at least partly a blog about bikes, the Ergodydne has the edge because of its coverage of the cheeks. However, if you have or can get a face mask that covers the cheeks and leaves the mouth and nose free, the AirTrim’s superior performance will win out. All this week, I was outside in temperatures as low as -29ºC with the AirTrim on, and I dressed exactly the same as I would have for -12ºC without the AirTrim (yes, it is that good). I don’t get a commission, though if the good folks at AirTrim were to send me 3 more for the rest of my family, I’d be mighty grateful (hint, hint). I bought my AirTrim from skiwax.ca

If anyone thinks I am exagerating the benefit to these masks, they should head on over to https://thismombikes.net/ to ask he how inadequately she has seen me dressed in this cold snap. Below -25ºC roughly 90% of a body’s heat is lost through respiration. if you could reduce even 15% of that it would be equivalent to doubling your clothes. When you keep your core warmer, it signals the brain to send more blood to your extremities, so in a way, the heat exchanger mask is a handwarmer too.

Yes, that thermometer reading below its -30ºC lower limit.

What About Medical Benefits?

We’ve all heard about the dangers to lungs and airways of breathing extremely cold air. I am not a physician, nor do I play one on TV. I am way too lazy to do the research as to what medical benefits these masks may give to users. Even if it were no medical benefit, I would still use one for comfort and for warmth. Airtrim and Lungplus have some medical articles on their sites that I have not read.

Disclosure

Lungplus sent me free product in about 2000 with no conditions attached. I have purchased all the other products myself with my money. At the time I am writing this, I derive no benefit from sales of any of these devices. I have received no money for this review, but I won’t turn down offers of free product.

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Redemption

Back in June my friends and I went for a bikepacking weekend up the Cascade valley, it was fun, except for the mud, rain, and the broken arm. This weekend, Jeremy and I set out with our daughters for a night at Lake Minnewanka’s LM11 campsite. Our prime goals were “no whining” and “no broken arms”. We amended the latter to “no broken limbs” when the girls pointed out that they were allowed to break legs.

There is no fast in family bikepacking. I’ve grown accustomed to that. Jeremy has the calm dad vibe as well, so we did not suck the fun out of riding by hurrying the girls along. Unfortunately, this meant that our we rode for almost an hour in the dark (we had many lights) and supper was delayed past the point where girls were ready for it. There may have been complaining.

Though we realistically only accomplished the one goal, we did have a successful overnight, and we definitely had fun.

The biggest accomplishment was how much confidence Cadence gained over the course of the ride. As each hour passed, she gained comfort and proficiency on the bike. It was great to see.

Of course you can’t dismiss the value of dads riding with their kids. The healthy lifestyle we are nurturing will hopefully stay with our kids for their entire lives.

 

 

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MYOG Part 4: Sleep System

[Editor's note, I know this is technically the first published, but I wrote it as the 4th in the series. Read them in any order and  they should still make sense. Also, I get asked a lot of questions about my tarp.]

MYOG Sleep Systems, introduction

Canada can get cold. The Canadian Rockies can get even colder. I like to sleep comfortably and warm, but I’m lazy and I don’t like to carry a lot of weight. My current system of a tarp and quilt is what I consider a great compromise between weight and warmth.
When I started out, I used a commercial down sleeping bag, and a backpacking tent. These can be great, and modern tents have come a long way in the last decade. 10 years ago, 5 pounds was considered light for a 2-person tent. Now, I have a commercial 4-person tent that weighs 3 pounds with a pole and mosquito net insert. Weight is no longer really the savings when making your own gear.

Most of my backcountry trips seem to involve rain or snow (except if I bring my friend Jeremy, who also does not mind adverse weather). A few years back, I did some experimentation to see what would happen to my sleeping bag after a few days of sleeping out. I was surprised to find that my sleeping bag took on several hundred grams of moisture the first night of sleeping in a tent. Even with draping my bag out in the sun to dry, by the third night I was sleeping in a less effective, and heavier system.

But Why a Tarp?

This is part of how I came to be sleeping under a tarp. Sleeping outside greatly reduced the amount of condensation in my sleeping bag, but if it rained, the rain would get in. My bivy sack had the same problem as the tent. The tarp would keep the rain off me, but trapped far less condensation in my bag than the tent. I used a commercial rectangular tarp for a few years, but found it was hard to pitch so that it consistently kept out the rain. In other words, I wanted a custom tarp. The other half of the tarp origin story is that we “allowed” Fiona to sleep out under a tarp with me one night and she awoke in the morning and said, “I only sleep under tarps now, no more tents.”

Tarp Design

There are about 7 million tarp designs available on the internet, and I took ideas from a few of them. I wanted it to shed wind and water better than a rectangular tarp, so I made it with a catenary cut ridge line and front. I also wanted not to adjust in the middle of the night, so I chose silpoly as the material for minimal stretching. I also wanted light weight but enough durability to hold up in a substantial wind.


The holy grail of bikepacking tarps is one where your bike fits inside, or can be used to support the tarp. I also hike and ski, so though I think bike-supported are extremely cool, I opted to use bike supports only for treeless bikepacking situations and use hiking/ski poles as primary supports where trees are not available. The tarp weighs in at 300g, so it ended up being on the lighter end of the shelter scale.

The silpoly does not stretch in the rain and doesn’t need to be re-tensioned when it rains. I do not recommend it as an easy fabric to sew, it is like sewing live squirrels to each other.

Quilt design

Not Exactly a Bed Quilt

Since I’m foolish enough to think that winter is the primary bikepacking season, I wanted to have some versatility to my sleeping bag system. I wanted lighter weight in summer, I wanted synthetic material for the outer since down performs so poorly in wet conditions. I wanted light weight since my daughter would be carrying one.
In the 80s, I used a dual bag system of a sleeping bag with an overbag. I really liked it, but I had also been interested in quilts as an alternative to sleeping bags. I talked up the concept of a down bag with a synthetic quilt over it for cold, with the quilt on its own for more moderate temperatures (well, moderate for the Canadian rockies). Camping quilts are not exactly like a bed quilt, they are usually shaped in some way, and many (like mine) have a footbox like a mummy bag and a drawstring closure at the top.

Testing the new quilt

The home made portion of the combo ended up as the quilt – down sleeping bags are relatively available, and affordable. I used Climashield Apex as my insulation layer and the lightest nylon I could find, Membrane from RSBTR. The sleeping quilts have simple ribbon loops to attach them to a sleeping mat, so they can tuck under the sleeper at the sides, and they work well down to about -10ºC.

The quilts being about 800g each puts them as competitive weight wise with the commercial versions, but they were about half the price to make as the commercial equivalent. In winter, adding a -10ºC sleeping bag yields a combination that is comfortable below -30ºC, theoretically to -40ºC, but we have not been out that cold since I made them.

No Hood, No Problem

A big problem for me with traditional mummy bags has been that the hood can end up in the wrong spot when i roll over, and then the hood fabric gets wet from breath condensation. With the quilt, this doesn’t happen since the quilt lacks a hood. To deal with the lack of hood, I made sleeping hats from the same material as the quilts themselves. the hat acts like a hood, but turns with the sleeper allowing them to not get wet from breath.

 

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Castle Wilderness – New to Us Route

I tried to talk Tadhg into bikepacking the Alberta Rockies 700 but he thought that sounded like a 2 week rather than 2 day ride. So, in the tradition of compromise, I scaled back. I may have to do it solo next year. I did want to do a new and hopefully a bit challenging bikepacking route. After communicating with an Instagram Friend, I was inspired to try a route in the Castle Wilderness area. There are several mentioned in Doug Eastcott’s Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies. It is an older book, so some of the routes may have become impassable from floods, avalanches, landslides, and fires.

The plan was to take a route from Castle Mountain Resort to Sage Creek recreation area in BC. The first night we’d random camp somewhere on the Alberta side, and the second night at Sage Creek. I plotted out a route on my GPS and we had a plan.

We had previous plans to go watch the Stampede Parade. So, we did, as usual bringing our stepladder in the cargo bike so we could avoid the hassle of showing up early to get a good spot. We just saunter up and set up the ladder behind the crowd. We have a great view of the show and we can sleep in as well.

After a run to get groceries, we headed off in the van (yes, I did suggest riding there) at around 3:45pm. Since it is over a 3 hour drive to the trailhead, we weren’t riding until 7:30.

I started us off on the right foot by misinterpreting the route I had planned and staying on the wrong side of the river. The trail on that side was much more hilly than I expected. Eventually, it ran out entirely in a maze of game trails, forest, and river. I checked the GPS, and when zoomed in, realized we needed to be on the other side of the river. Rather than backtrack, we forded the river, technically, I forded the river, and I carried Tadhg on my back so he could keep his shoes dry (I wore water sandals). After a hundred meters of bushwacking, we came to a quad trail (a handy thing about quads is that they create a lot of braided trails that you can use to get back to the main trail) and we followed the network of progressively larger quad tracks until we got back to the main trail. The real trail was a hard-packed gravel road and we made good progress to the start of the climb. The climb quickly got steeper, but mostly it got more rutted and rocky. My goal was to make it to the gate about 1.5 km from the top of the pass where there was an unserviced camp spot. We made it before dark fell, set up camp and had a great night’s sleep.

There were a couple of creek crossings to negotiate while climbing the pass, but since I had anticipated having to ford the Castle River, I wasn’t too put out. Again I ferried Tadhg across on my back since I didn’t want him to have to take off his shoes. The non-water parts of the climb were mostly loose, steep, washed-out, and rocky, so we pushed most of the way. I expected this, since this route had been a road designed for motor vehicles and so it was no surprise to find it was steep and rutted.

The view from the top though, was stunning, other than a few unsightly (illegal, rogue) quad trails braiding the pass, the view was quite spectacular. The wind was also quite spectacular. Like many mountain passes, the wind funneled up one side and was ferocious in the pass proper. The frame bag on my bike was catching enough wind to cause the bike to weathervane around the front wheel as I pushed.

The descent was, of course more fun. The highlight was a series of pump-track style bumps near the top. I amn’t sure if they were original, or from or to stop vehicles, but they were fun on the bikes (watch out for the fallen trees!). The next section featured dense bushes that were crisscrossing the trail at about face height. We had to go slowly, or risk not seeing obstacles. One tree leaning across the trail snagged my backpack and almost removed me from my bike. The bushy section was occasionally interrupted by sections of avalanche debris. As we got lower down, the debris from the previous years had been cleared, or a path cut around it, so it was easy to negotiate, even if it wasn’t all rideable.

Our brakes were given some respite as the valley leveled out somewhat. The riding continues to be fun and occasionally interrupted by more debris.

Part of decommissioning a logging road is to remove the drainage pipes and leave the ditch in place as a water bar. These make fun little jumps if you can manage to take them at speed. As we neared the end of the “trail” section toward the logging road we met some folks from BC Fish and Wildlife who were studying wolves in the backcountry. They told me they had seen at least 14 distinct grizzlies on a single wildlife camera. Given the number of berry bushes, I was not surprised, but rather glad that I had arrived out of season for the berries as well as singing heavy metal and punk rock songs on the way down.

There were a couple more creek crossings (shallow enough for pickup trucks) and then we had a section of smooth logging road to our goal, Sage Creek Recreation Area. This flat creekside campground was nothing super special, but it did have an outhouse and picnic tables, and it was clean. We met some folks out on a forest road drive in a quad and a jeep, and they offered me beer from their seemingly infinite supply. I was glad for their hospitality, even if they didn’t seem to understand that I really wanted to eat all of the food I had brought so I wouldn’t have to carry it back over the pass.

As we were getting to sleep around 10, Tadhg started pestering me about how we would make it back over the  pass the following day. I really wasn’t that concerned, and I probably should have spent more time calming him down before going to sleep.

Getting a teenager up at 8:30 AM is not easy, and of course, since this one had been worrying all night about the pass, he didn’t get the great sleep I did, and he felt sick. This translated to possibly the slowest riding I’ve ever witnessed, with me riding ahead at just fast enough to balance my bike, waiting, and him catching up at practically trackstand speed. I soon decided that taking the other, possibly harder, route back would be a mistake.

Since we were going so slowly, had the chance to observe more around me, so I took more pictures of roadkill than I usually would.

In spite of Tadhg’s lack of energy, we eventually made it back to the top of the pass. Though the downhill on the far side was not always rideable, it was at least downhill. Once we hit the bottom of the hill, Tadhg’s energy returned and he found himself able to keep up with my fastest pedaling.

In hindsight, I would probably chose to climb the pass and then proceed to one of the lakes near the top of the pass to camp. Another good possibility would be to attach this to another route such as heading through Cabin Pass and the Wigwam Valley to Fernie. Either way, I’m glad to have seen it and I’ll definitely be back to see more of the Castle area.

For those that are into these things, I posted my ride track on Ride With GPS.