Chilcotins – Float Planes Rock!
In NZ the most deluxe and exotic mountain bike trips are done by helicopter. In Canada they are done by Float plane – in this case by a 1962 de Havilland Beaver . We had rolled out of our tents to a bluebird day and stuffed our packs with sandwiches. We had a mission planned that involved flying to the far corner of a map we had. The route involved 4 large mountain passes and huge amounts of singletrack glued together with a modicum of knowledge gained from hearsay of others. Mark and I were so excited we had a nap in the sunshine on the wharf while waiting for the float plane to arrive.
Turned out we were asleep on the wrong wharf… but a quick rearrange had us sorted
4 boys and 4 bikes were soon packed into the Beaver. A quick taxi down the lake before a rip roaring takeoff gave us fine views of the camp beside Lake Tyaughton. Most float plane biking trips head for Spruce Lake, or if you are more adventurous they drop you at Hummingbird Lake. The pilot confirmed that we wanted to go to Lorna Lake – more than twice as far as Hummingbird and then asked us what route we were taking. We started rattling off pass names, starting with Lorna Pass and Deer Pass and the pilot said that if we took those passes and then followed Gun Creek down from Hummingbird Lake that it would take us 6 to 8 hours if we were fit. We then mentioned that we were also planning on heading up and over Windy Pass and then following the Cinnabar trail up and over the El Dorado ridge before getting back to camp. He reckoned we were up for a big day out. We confirmed we were and that we had packed a lot of sandwiches. Appropriately he found ACDC – Highway to Hell and piped it through the headphones to get us amped for our day out.
A quick circle above Lake Lorna (1930m) gave us a good look around before a buttery smooth landing. Float planes are great! Taxiing along to a rickety makeshift wharf the pilot cut the engine, opened the door, jumped out onto the float and was able to jump nimbly onto the wharf and secure the plane. Very impressive! We were quickly out, unloaded and waving goodbye to the Beaver, with a nagging feeling that we had been abandoned in the middle of nowhere – which was pretty close to the truth!
We rolled off down the valley, in search of a vaguely explained way to cross the river flowing out of Lorna Lake. A little route finding and backtracking soon had us shuffling across some very flexy trees above the river and heading straight into the first pass of the day.
The climb was 100% ridable for about 5% of the time. The other 95% was 100% walkable.
The first sandwiches were consumed on the top of Lorna Pass (2250m) and we were soon flying down through the wildflowers. Long snakes of singletrack put huge smiles on our faces and took us down from the pass to the valley floor where the kilometers quickly flew beneath our tyres as we cranked our way down beside the headwaters of Tyaughton Creek. We quickly passed one of the horse treking camps (1700m) and hung a right up a valley towards Deer Pass (2300m). It was a couple of hours of riding and walking to get to our second lunch stop at the top.
A quick digestion nap at Deer Pass and we were once again flying through meadows of wildflowers on ribbons of singletrack. There were big fat marmots scurrying off the trail, whistling like mad as we swooped past.
After a couple of kilometers we dropped out of the meadows into forest and ripped down some awesome loose steep and dusty trails. Mark managed to catch a stump with some spokes and was soon up and riding with the remaining 28 spokes holding his wheel in some semblance of round. We dropped into the valley floor and sidled around Trigger Lake (1550m). Some fun singletrack lead us further down the valley and around the very picturesque Hummingbird Lake (1500m).
More fun valley singletrack sidled above Gun Creek until we started climbing towards Cowboy Camp past the trails that led to Spruce Lake. We were starting to feel the 2 passes we had come over and the hours on the bike, but it was a beautiful day and there was more singletrack to be had. We had a confusing conversation with a lost horse trekking guide who had no idea where she was and told us we were in a completely different valley to what we thought we were. 5 minutes further down the track we met our float plane pilot riding a mountain bike towards us saying “Hi – I’m your pilot today”. Kind of surreal, but he was looking for his lost horse guide and on the right track to finding her so we duly embarked on the climb towards Windy Pass (2200m) in beautiful light as the sun got lower in the sky.
Windy Pass was lunch number 3 or 5… after a quick discussion of which trail we should follow we were dropping from Windy Pass down to El Dorado creek (1700m), where we startled a number of marmots who whistled down their burrows before popping up to inspect the visitors and whistle to their mates about it all.
The kilometers were starting to take the toll on the group and the 500m climb to the El Dorado ridge had us strung out along the trail. Being a lovely evening lounging in the sunshine was not a big hardship however.
Sitting on the pass was very tranquil as the sun set over the mountains that we had crossed that morning. The thought of another 10 km of downhill singletrack without light was a little disconcerting however.
Descending from the pass was one of the most fun bits of trail of the day with long loose swooping switchbacks flowing down the mountainside. With the fading light the singletrack soon became a slightly lighter ribbon to follow while not really being able to see details. Dropping off step downs and popping off roots through clouds of dust in the dimmer and dimmer light was very entertaining. We eventually exited on a forestry road in almost complete darkness and floundered for a while. Finding promising singletracks and then backtracking when we decided they were heading in the wrong direction. It took about 30 minutes before we steered ourselves onto the right track where we rode another few kilometers downhill and popped out onto the road back to the camp. The last few torturous kilometers of road undulated back towards the camp with some of the group needing a bit of a tow to get up the hills. We arrived back at the lodge at 9.20 PM knowing that the kitchens shut at 9.30… and stumbled through the door after 11 hours of riding. I am sure the sight of 4 dirty, sweaty and disheveled lads deliriously raving about being feed would have given the waitress a start at 9.20 on a very quiet Sunday evening but we somehow managed to arrange 4 burgers and fries to appear whilst summoning pitchers of beer from the bar. A very awesome day of riding! 60km or so of awesome singletrack while ascending about 2500m and descending about 3500m. Definitely a great day out on the bike with mates that will stay imprinted on my mind.