bikes canada general trip reports

Megan and Kate’s excellent adventure

After waving off Jackie and the rest of the Tour Divide crew in Banff, I was on a mission. I had to get back to Canmore and get my bike packed and ready to cycle out of the house by the time Kate arrived.

Thankfully, Kate was running late, as I had done the bare minimum when it comes to prior preparation.

Less thankfully, it was starting to rain.

I helped Kate with the logistics of getting her bike packed and ready for her first overnight bikepacking adventure, and then we set off into the dubious weather outside.

Leaving Canmore, we stopped at the top of the pass for photos, and to say our last farewells to phone reception. Turning south, the soggy wilderness beckoned.

The rain was pretty relentless. Spray Lake Road holds up pretty well to rain though, and we generally didn’t have to ride in actual mud, although we were being liberally coated with a fine layer of grit.

We were looking forward to reaching Engadine Lodge, where we would start meeting up with the Tour Divide racers who had set off that morning. Sure enough, not long after reaching the lodge we ran into a man stopped at the side of the road. It was Michael Row from Vermont, not having the best time in the rain, and happy for a chat.

Between there and Boulton Creek shop we ran into a few riders, but at the little shop, we hit a huge cluster of wet and slightly dispirited riders. Quite a few were talking about stopping for the night. It was almost easy to get sucked into the idea – people were talking about how wet and cold they were, the need to dry out, the danger of bears. But Kate and I had plans to make it to Fernie tomorrow, and so we resisted the urge to stay with the pack, and kept moving.

Leaving the warm store in soaking wet gear was a good way to start feeling really chilled. Thankfully there was some good solid climbing ahead of us to get over Elk Pass.

As we got closer to the top of Elk Pass the rain even lightened a little. For a while, we even suspected it might not be raining, but careful examination of the air confirmed that it was indeed still full of water.

The descent to Elk Pass was not too tricky, and we were soon down the other side, rolling past the Elk Lakes Cabin and eyeing the warm and jolly interior wistfully. But it was only a couple of kilometres further to the campsite. And then the rain stopped!

We had the campsite all to ourselves and enjoyed sitting on the ground in warm clothes, eating a cold dinner. With the exhaustion of a long day behind us, we retired to the tent early – the night was largely dry and uneventful, and I actually slept pretty well.

The morning dawned fairly clear and rain-free, making it easy to get organised and packed and out of camp in good time. As we drew near the cabin we rolled past some of the inhabitants, out collecting water from the creek. I caught a glimpse of one of them, and had one of those ‘Hey, that person is familiar, why are they familiar?’ moments. The question was immediately resolved when I spotted my friend Tanya a few seconds later. The hut was full of families I knew! Tanya and Mark, and Suzanne and Paul from our Elizabeth Parker hut trip, as well as another family I hadn’t met. We chatted, lamented the fact we hadn’t thought to stop in at the cabin the night before, they topped up our water, and then we set off towards Fernie.

The road from Elk Lakes to Elkford is fairly straightforward. Big rollers, a beautiful wide open valley, and on this day it had sprinklings of Tour Divide riders, as well as sprinklings of rain. The weather never really got properly nice, with rain squalls constantly blowing across.

For someone who has never ridden a bike as far as 136km in a day, let alone a loaded down mountain bike, Kate remained remarkably cheerful. But by the time we hit the final 20km leg into Fernie, she was fading. A massive day behind us, we made the final crawl into Fernie and rode straight to a pub for a 9 pm dinner of burgers. It was hard to decide which was more delightful – the food, the warmth, or being able to sit on something that wasn’t a bike seat.

Thanks for the adventure Kate, you rock!

Day 1: 87km, 1267m gain
Day 2: 136km, 794m gain

european bike epic general hiking trip reports

Tramping the Routeburn (21 – 23 Nov 2009)

The Routeburn track is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” in the South Island. It winds through Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks for 32km of some spectacular scenery – provided it’s not raining. Raining is the default weather condition on the west coast though, so we were lucky to hit one dry day on our hike.

We parked the car in Queenstown and took ourselves and our backpacks down to catch the shuttle bus. That’s one thing about the Routeburn, it annoyingly starts on one side of a range and finishes on the other. It’s a huge drive to get from one end of the trail to the other, so taking the shuttle bus (or hitch-hiking) is the obvious option. So, we were dropped off in the rain and the hiking began.


Rainy beginnings and roaring rivers



With Mum at the start



Crossing wibbly wobbly bridges


It actually began to clear up a bit after the first hour; the rain stopped and the clouds lifted a little.


Looking down to Routeburn Flats (site of the first hut, which we didn’t stay in) from a large landslip


And so we reached Routeburn Falls Hut, our home for the first night. Huts have to be booked well in advance through the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). They’re not cheap, but are pretty nicely equipped. Camping is an option too, but again, spots have to be booked well in advance (for the tramping season anyway, out of season it’s first come, first served, like a lot of the smaller NZ backcountry huts always are).


Routeburn Falls Hut, and Routeburn Flats beyond



Alpine Flowers



Sunset from the balcony of Routeburn Falls Hut


The next morning we hung around to receive our helicopter rendezvous time. So far this season, everyone tramping the Routeburn had been shuttled by helicopter over Harris Saddle, as there were a few patches of snow hanging around threatening the track. The quoted time was pretty late in the day, so we had a relaxing morning, and wandered up Paddy’s Peak to watch the helicopter flying back and forth dropping explosives on the threatening patches of snow. One slid, but the other took about seven blasts without budging, so they changed tactics and the helicopter started scooping up loads of water from Lake Harris to dump onto the snow. Back and forth for hours.


Down to Routeburn Flats from Paddy’s Peak



Looking across to Harris Saddle from Paddy’s Peak


When we finally reached the rendezvous point, we were told that we’d be hiking through, no helicopter ride today.


Hiking through the snow – we were the first group through for the season, everyone else had been helicoptered across this small section



Lake Harris



The far side of Harris Saddle, hot and dry. Thankfully there were a lot of waterfalls along this stretch to refill water bottles. And the warm sun was definitely preferable to driving rain.



Looking down on Lake Mackenzie and the hut – lots of switchbacks to descend


Reaching Lake Mackenzie Hut, we dropped our gear on bunks and I was one of a few mad enough to go for a dip in the lake before dinner. It was not warm.


Lake Mackenzie, with Emily Peak in the background


The third morning we woke up to more rain – persistent rain today, it kept going as we hiked all the way out to the highway.


More traditional South Island west coast weather as we hike out on the third day



Lots of waterfalls happily flowing across the track


And back at the highway with plenty of time to spare, we lurked in the shelter and brewed up some lukewarm tea, and waited for the shuttle bus to take us back to Queenstown.

climbing general

climbing in the rain at the arapiles

Ignoring the forecast of rain, I figured that it would probably be dry anyway. After all, it never rains at Arapiles. However, I had forgotten to take into account that with the change in government had come a change in weather patterns – since Kevin Rudd broke the drought, it just hasn’t been the same. The bare dirt has gone, to be replaced by actual green stuff growing from the ground – the paths to the climbs are festooned with daisies! And the cliffs themselves seem to be developing a healthy amount of foliage.



But anyway, it rained. There was a lot of this:


Megan (at the base of the cliff) shelters from the rain under a rope bag


And this:


Pete’s tongue shelters from the rain under a rope bag


And occasionally some of this:


“Wave your hands in the air like you just climbed Trapeze (11 ~ 5.7) in the rain!”


bikes general

it were always rainin

And the worst part about the constant precipitation, is that it’s not actually quite cold enough for it to be falling as proper snow at any of the resorts. Can’t ski, can’t climb, can’t unicycle. AND WHY DID IT NOT SAVE ALL OF THE RAIN FOR DURING THE WEEK, HEY?

Note – Temporarily acquired unicycle has been thieved back by the person I borrowed it from. Just like when you were kids and neither of you were interested in playing with the pogo stick, until you decided one day that you felt like having a play on it and suddenly your brother decides he too wants to play on the pogo stick, and then you end up fighting and his front teeth get knocked loose and there is blood, and then neither of you gets to play on the pogo stick. Except in this case I don’t have a higher authority to whine to.

bikes general

it rained

There aren’t many good photos from the weekend – it was raining on Saturday, and I didn’t think carrying my camera around while mountainbiking was a good idea, given the high likelihood of crashing. But here’s a photo from the Beechworth Course – where it actually looks as if I’m sort of high in the air.

(Oh yes, after looking at the weather forecast, I went mountain-biking instead of climbing this weekend. It was fun. I crashed, and have a sore shoulder and a graze on my face. We went through Yackandandah. And ate at the Beechworth Bakery – overrated? And wandered around the Beechworth Sweet Store, like kids in a thingy.)