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Fatbikepacking Adventure With Teens

The teen years mean father and son trips are a lot lamer than they were when my son was young. Not that I’m slower, or less adventurous, but I’m just not as cool as his friends are.

[as usual, click photos to enlarge.]

The solution to this, is of course, to bring friends.

Adam had been on a spring fatbikepacking trip with us, and he is good company and competent outdoors. He has many skills, and can keep both Tadhg and I interested with his memory of interesting facts. He also has his own fatbike.

This trip ended up being a bit more challenging than I originally anticipated, but with the challenge came adventure. We had some of nearly every type of snow, lots of pushing, a river to ford, and nearly a full day of blizzard conditions. And yes, we did eat a bag of chips and hummus for breakfast.

Adam may have to sleep for a week after riding, pushing, and carrying his bike on over 80km of winter trails, but I hope he’ll have memories for a lifetime. This was full-on adventure riding, and when things got tough, the kids were up to the challenge.

I posted. a route on RideWithGPS here

For those who have been asking, I make the pogies, aka bar mitts by myself, in my basement, I sell them on this very site, so click on this link to buy some..

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In Which My Friend Guy and I Stumble Into a Surprise Winter Adventure

My friend Guy is a super positive influence to take on bikepacking trips. He always has a new piece of home-made gear to show off, or a new idea to solve a common problem. He never whines, which is good, because…

The Sensible Part

Our first night out was led by our mutual friend Steve O’Shaughnessy, the host of the Bikepack Canada Podcast. Since Steve had to get home to his kids early,  he wanted to show off his favourite camp spot within an hour of his home. Steve is very fortunate (and grateful) for the beautiful Lake Enid that sits an easy ride from his home.

In what I think of as the middle of the night, Steve was up and away at 4AM (sorry Steve, we did not get up to see you off). That left us with my speculative plan of reaching a camp spot near Dave White Cabin, about 1000m higher in the mountains. There was ice on the water in the morning where we were.

We Find Winter

Around 30km into our ride, things started to get really scenic, and also somewhat covered in snow. Just a few km later, and a couple hundred metres higher, the somewhat covered became completely covered, and the snow started getting deeper. We hadn’t brought fatbikes, who does for unknown conditions high in the mountains in late fall?

We got to some steep, rocky, snow-covered trail, we pushed the bikes onward. Guy didn’t whine, in fact, he seemed happy, just like I was. We didn’t make it to the cabin, we did make it to some nice larches showing their beautiful golden fall colour. The mountains were stunning. Don’t go, you’ll hate it. We set up camp early enough to eat in the last of our natural light.

We Sleep Through a Cold Night

The cold warning went off on my InReach at some point in the night. That usually means -18ºC, though the temperature on my thermometer was -14 when I got up after sunrise. I am very glad that both of us were prepared, because that is definitely into the realm of cold temperatures. I usually use my jacket in its bag as a pillow and I was within a couple of degrees of swapping it into a jacket and using my clothing bag as backup pillow instead. With my -10ºC quilt, and my hacked Costco blanket, I was theoretically good to about -17ºC plus a wool sweater.

Coffee, breakfast, a ride back to Invermere filled out the rest of our winter mountain adventure.

I’m told this area is popular with snowmobilers in winter. I think we may need to go back and try our luck after a few snowmobiles have packed a trail for us. Worst case, we have fun again.

Thanks to Guy Stuart for the pictures of me and the better scenic shots, to Kimberly for the group shot, and to Guy and Steve for being the kind of friends they are.

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Kootenay River Bikerafting Loop

I originally had a 4-day loop planned for this weekend, It definitely involved hot springs. Life, and drying out an iPhone that had spent some time submerged, got in the way of the 4th day, and I set out from Radium late Friday afternoon. My bike was loaded with my packraft, paddles, pfd, 4 days of food and camping gear.

A bit of highway riding got me to Settlers Road FSR and the start of the fun. A quick 15km down the low-traffic gravel road took me to my set-in point near Nipika Resort.

The River

The Kootenay river is not as straightforward as the Bow River that Fiona and I had paddled two weeks ago. It has several challenging rapids, and the flow rate is much higher. I was not ready to paddle something like this with kids. I’m sure they could have managed, but I did not feel prepared for river safety with children without another experienced paddler.

The river did not disappoint.  I paddled to the famous Horseshoe Rapids, pulled out, decided I really wanted the provincial rec site on the opposite shore, and paddled across again. I had a relaxing time eating and watching the standing waves in the river.

Saturday, after some quick boat patching,to deal with a slow leak, I hit the river again. What followed, was  four more hours of rapids, canyons, cliffs, and sensational river beauty.

Biking After the River

I had a vague plan to visit Lussier Hot Springs, and ride the Lost Elephant Jumbo route back to Invermere. Being short a day, I decided to shorten the route and visit the Red Rock Hot Springs instead.

Not-so-Hot Springs

I was just rolling down to the river to cross to the hot springs when I met a couple in a Jeep (on about the most backroad of back roads) who filled me in on how the “hot” springs were only lukewarm, and covered by the river when the river was high (it was).

I re-routed myself on to the Jumbo route. I figured I’d get some riding in, and camp for the night.

Things Go South

My dehydrated dinners need water to re-hydrate. The pass I was climbing had wet forest all around me, it had hailed on me twice. All of BC has streams and creeks, and rivers, it’s kind of their thing. Unfortunately, the trail I was on had only dry creek beds. I was alternating between pushing and riding because the trees were so wet that I was getting soaked if I rode, and too sweaty if I rode with my paddling jacket. I pushed on for 2 hours without finding a creek. My GPS told me the pass summit was 4 km away, but that was up switchbacks, so it took 18km of pushing/riding.

As it got dark, I finally crossed the high point of the pass I was on and found a creek about 200m down the opposite side. I quickly put up my tarp as darkness settled in and it began to rain. I tossed my stuff under the tarp, and inflated my mattress. Unfortunately, I then put it down on a sharp stick and had to repair the puncture – and the glue wouldn’t stick to the wet mattress, and the patch wouldn’t stick. It got cold, it was raining, I was having a lot of fun.

I awoke to near 0ºC temperature, fog, but weather that looked like it was clearing. A quick coffee and some food and I was off.

After some great downhill and some wonderful singletrack (Spirit Trails? east of Columbia Lake) I dropped down on to the highway to make time back to Radium to pick up my family.

Here is the RideWithGPS route link

Here is the Video I made with my limited footage. Bike riding singletrack at 7:01 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rmatzy8VwK8

Note that this route would be entirely possible without a raft since there is an FSR that parallels the river for the entire water portion. It was my alternate route if I had found the river paddling too risky.

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Solstice Weekend Bikerafting Overnight on the Bow River

Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it


 Ferris Bueller

Where Can I Go Bikeraft Camping Near Calgary?

I got myself a couple of packrafts this year, and I’ve been itching to take them for a long trip. Since quick trips involving rivers are generally unidirectional, combining the rafts and bikes is a win as far as retrieving my car at the end.

The Bow River in Banff National Park offers enough current to keep things interesting, and a highway that Parks Canada claim is a cycle-friendly route to reach a put-in point. Add to that, just a few km down the river from the Castle Junction put-in point is a a water-access-only backcountry campground where we could book a spot.

Two Packrafts Means I Need to Bring a Friend

We aren’t quite ready to leave the kids behind for a weekend, so we generally split into parent/kid pairs, or go as a family. Fiona is usually my best bet for adventures, she loves to sleep outside and try new things. She also has been really keen on the packrafts in general and has been out on the Elbow River near our house a few times. So it was that Fiona signed up for this trip. I booked the site on Friday afternoon.

Give’er

We drove out to Banff Saturday afternoon, got the bikes out of the van, and hit the road. The Banff Parkway is less-bike hostile than the Trans-Canada highway, but it has narrow shoulders and enough rental RVs on it to make it scary, even if the speeds are low by car standards. Even if 98% of people give you lots of space to pass, that leaves you with some near misses on a ride like this.

With a long break at the Johnston Canyon trailhead, we got to Castle Junction and put in by 7:45. I knew the paddle wouldn’t be long, there was a good chance to see wildlife in the evenings, and the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm, so I wasn’t in a hurry.

The paddling did not disappoint. We saw a herd of elk, and many cool waterfowl. The current was fast, and there were many rifles and waves to keep things interesting. Fiona was pretty good at spotting the sweepers that were waiting for us on every bend. One bend had a herd of elk. We also saw many different types of waterfowl.

Sleep, Repeat

Our burrito dinner was its usual delicious, and after some reading, we settled down to sleep.

We learned an important lesson in the morning about inflating rafts, the bikes need to be removed, unless you really like the inflation by mouth part, in which case, if you leave them on you’ll get lots of it. Turning the boat upside down so the bike is at the bottom seems like it would work, but the inflation valve is then under the boat. I did have some good luck with propping the bike up with stuff.

The second day’s paddling featured the rapids at the Redearth Creek Junction. We pulled into a large eddy to scout the rapids. I was pretty confident that Fiona could handle them, and so we opted to paddle them rather than take the portage.

Fiona loved them. I was a little tense as I followed closely, prepared to rescue if needed, but Fiona navigated well, and the water was high enough to cover most of the rocks that might be a hazard at lower levels. The boats handled quite well. I had installed spray decks on them in anticipation of the rapids. Even without skirts, the decks prevented the waves from filling up the boats and making them handle like, well, like they were full of water!

For future trips, I might try for an earlier takeout point since getting to the bridge required getting through a long stretch with almost no current. Packrafts are not ideal at covering distance on flatwater. Fiona was not happy about how tired her arms were for the “very boring” flat segment. Either way, we both had a great time.


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MYOG clothing

Clothing.

Bike specific clothing is often not suitable for all types of bikepacking. After 4 days of riding, padded shorts lose their appeal as they gain in olfactory impact. I like to wear fairly normal clothes, but they don’t always hold up to the biking or to the cold.

Pants:

I find when riding bikes in the winter, the fronts of my legs get colder than the backs. There have been commercial tights that address this for cross country skiing, but they often lack the taper cuffs that work best for bikes. I also find that most tights fall down when I am riding bikes. I made my tights from windproof fleece in front, and a stretch fleece in the rear. I had initially planned an elastic waist, but decided I would be much better off with suspenders. The suspenders keep my tights from falling down and thus prevent the fabric from snagging on the seat and causing hilarious crashes.

Jackets:

Winter cycling jackets are similar in that a windproof front and breathable back is ideal. Jackets are not as easy to sew as some of the other items, but they are still within reach of most people’s skills. Fiona has what I think is a nearly ideal bike jacket in that the front panel is windproof fleece, while the arms and back are a breathable fleece. This keeps the vital organs warm while airflow to keep dry and not overheat. For cycling, I always cut jackets a little longer in the back and put longer arms on them than on a standard jacket to compensate for the cycling position.

Socks:

“Don’t forget to mention your mom”
My mom loves to knit. A few years ago, she knit me a pair of socks. She wasn’t sure I would like them, and she was pretty sure that they weren’t as good as the commercial socks that I buy.

That’s not a trick of the camera, I have short, wide feet with extremely high arches.

It turned out that the socks my mom knits are warmer, fit better, and last longer than any socks I have purchased. So if you knit, or know someone who is kind enough to knit you some socks from Merino wool. (lately my favourites are a Merino/Silk blend) I strongly endorse home made socks.

Hats:

I have several store-bough hats that do most of what I want. I am fully happy with them as my day time headwear. For sleeping though, I want something to replicate the hood on my mummy bag when I use the quilt, or even just to supplement the mummy bag hood.

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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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Not This Time

I have been lamenting the lack of a winter ultra race in the Calgary area for many years. We have a great location for it, all we lack are enough connected winter trails that together could make an exceedingly difficult race. One where if things weren’t ideal, walkers and skiiers would keep up to or pass the folks on bikes. One where some years no one would finish. I also wanted something scenic that most people would not otherwise experience, something that would be a rewarding tour.

Pick a Route, Any Route

I decided to put together a route, any route, where I had ridden most of it in the past. My prime criteria were: it had to pass mostly through areas where random camping is permitted. It had to be difficult to complete in 3 days, and bikes needed to be permitted on the trails.

Once I had something mapped, I thought I’d do a weekend test ride on as much of it as I could possibly do. I was pretty certain adding the Highwood Pass section of closed highway would be too much for me, but I did want it to be difficult.

Conditions Matter

Winter ultra races like the ITI have always discouraged comparisons between years as invalid since conditions have so much effect on a race. Often, a lead racer will be caught by the rest of the racers when a storm holds them up. Sometimes, an hour’s worth of snow accumulation means the lead racer can open an hour’s lead to days. Some years, a route is impossible.

A 3 Day Tour

I left Friday morning, to start a 3 day full-speed tour. I knew conditions were to be cold. That can be a good thing, so I wasn’t worried. I was concerned about the snow, but I had hopes that someone would have snowshoe packed the first bit of trails, and that snowmobiles would have passed on some more of the trails, and that I could push through the rest.

The “Short Loop” of Prairie Creek and Powderface Creek is one that I’ve done dozens of times, it sees consistent snowshoe traffic and so is generally pretty good. Indeed it started reasonably, having been snowshoed by at least a few people. It was mostly rideable, if a little soft and slow. The trouble started when I turned up the trail to Powderface Ridge. It had only one set of touring ski tracks, and they were not hard enough to ride on, nor to walk on. On top of that, some wild horses had used the trail to move between grazing areas leaving some sections of trail pocked with deep footprints. My progress slowed. I was moving at about 1km/2hr, this was the kind of challenge I dreaded and wanted.

With a race roster, the second through last racers get the benefit of trail breaking by the lead racer, in my case, there was only me. I’m pretty fine with pain and suffering though, so I continued on at a ridiculously slow pace. I moved my gear to a sled that I brought to pull the bike in, the depth of the trail meant the bike dragged on the trail sides, so it was just the gear. Still, the lighter bike was easier to manage.

Then Things Got Worse

As the sunset approached, I started feeling a little chilly. First I had to put on a sweater. At this level of output, it is rare indeed to need much in the way of torso clothing. I checked my thermometer and saw that it was indeed below -30ºC. I was well prepared though, so I didn’t really worry.

The trail didn’t get any better, but there were some more substantial uphill bits, which slowed my progress even further.

As the temperature dropped further, I decided to sleep before I was out of the trees on the exposed side of the trail. My estimating from the bottom of the thermometer scale to the line on the thermometer put the temperature somewhere near -38ºC. That’s into the realm of cold, even for me. Frostbite from touching metal is within seconds, so everything has to be done with mittens on. Even lighting my stove was a challenge, as the white gas fuel needs a flame to it for a couple seconds before igniting.

A Good Night’s Sleep Always Helps

I wasn’t racing, but I was tired from the effort. I slept soundly from about 10:30 until 7AM. When I woke up, it was near enough -40º. Making coffee was tricky, everything wanted to freeze, I don’t think the makers of Aeropress intended it to be used at -40º. I had to use my hot water to thaw it to open it, then I used more hot water to warm it, then I had to quickly make the coffee before it froze again, and yet, my coffee was very satisfying.

Now, the logical choice when faced with such an obstacle as this trail, is to turn around and go the way that you know will be easier. For some, this would be the fun way. Instead, I wanted to stay on my intended route. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be gained from doing something hard.

Packing up is never my strong suite, but packing gear in -40º is a real challenge. Taking mittens off for even a few seconds is uncomfortable, not just while they are off, but because when they go back on, they have cooled enough to be painful to touch. Either way, I got myself packed and underway.

And Then Things Went South.

I knew by this point I wasn’t making it the full distance. I was fine with that, because I was in the backcountry, in the cold, and well away from my comfort zone.

The 2.5 hours for the remaining km to the saddle at the top of this section of trail was not that onerous. I was feeling good after a nice night’s sleep, and I was in a good frame of mind (though a horrid song was stuck in my head). I reached the top and decided to send Tania a reassuring message about not worrying that I was so slow, when I discovered my InReach Mini was missing. I ordinarily have it mounted on my bars with a carabiner to secure it to something in case it falls or breaks off the mount. But, the InReach Mini is only rated to -20ºC at which point it starts to turn itself off, so in the cold I had to put it in my pocket. One of the times that I put it in the pocket, I must have failed to zipper it in (it was -35º, I was wearing mittens).

The InReach Mini is an amazing piece of technology. It allows me to reassure my family that I am okay, it lets me call for help in an emergency, in short, it is a great communication device for the backcountry. It is also very small, and pretty much impossible to find when it’s dropped in the snow. I had no choice but to stop my trip, go home where I could retrieve the last position the InReach sent, and to go back to try to find it another day. I was devastated. I had not had a solo winter trip in years, and here it was cut short by my carelessness.

Beardcicle

The Consolation Prize

When I got home, I looked up the track from the InReach and it had sent a final location. Fortunately I had had tracking turned on. After driving back and skiing up to the place where my GPS showed the device should be, I started raking the snow with my ski pole. Less than a minute later, a little orange device popped out from under the snow on the trail. I was thrilled, both at not having to replace it, and that it was so accurate that I could locate it within a ski-pole’s length.

Lessons Learned

  • I was prepared for comfort at -40º
  • Tether the indispensable electronic device (if you have to move it from its correct spot)
  • I don’t mind when things are tough, but I don’t like when I mess things up myself.
  • My previous philosophy of no sled with the bike was mostly correct.
  • Count calories: I know how much food I can eat, and I brought too much of it.
  • In the end, you’ve got no one but yourself to blame.

The Numbers

  • km travelled: 13 of 178
  • Hours moving: 12
  • Hours sleeping: 10
  • Hours searching for device: 3, with a 5 hour trip the following day

The Gear That Worked:

My sleep system as always was a -10ºC down sleeping bag with a home-made -10ºC synthetic quilt over it. My sleep system is a Thermarest Ridge-Rest with a Neo-Air Xtherm over top. I was comfy at -40º, my only complaint was that it was hard to see the stars with my sleeping hood done up. I brought my tarp but did not use it.

My bike is my usual Salsa Mukluk Ti with a Rohloff hub. I was pleasantly surprised that the Rohloff shifted well at -35ºC.

My bike luggage was my usual Porcelain Rocket bags with a custom spacer for the bar bag from Tadhg.

Pogies were my own design, they were warm enough but I really should have insulated my brake levers as I have done on my kids’ bikes.

Postscript

As I read this I realize that I have not put the most positive spin on it. While this was not a successful trip, it was a trip, and I didn’t see anyone else out there, so that’s something. Also, while I did mess up my weekend, I can honestly say that I lived it, rather than wasted it.


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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.