There are occasionally excursions that do not deserve a write-up for their quality or scenery. Sometimes, as a public service, there is a need to write a trip report as a warning. It is generally easier to find information about top-quality rides on the blogosphere, than to find evidence that a particular ride is actually no place for a bicycle at all. The ride down the Sugar Camp Trail from The Precipice to the Atnarko Valley falls into the latter category.
Some folks in the nearest town, Anahim Lake, assured me that ATVers had ridden up the Hotnarko to the Precipice. When I arrived at at the Precipice, one of the two families living out there assured me that no one had been through in nine years (and never on anything but horseback), and they hadn’t done any trail clearing in five. I reasoned that twelve kilometres of brushed-in trail would be better than an 80km ride back up to Highway 20 and down ‘The Hill’.
Mountain Pine Beetle has killed much of the lodgepole pine trees of central British Columbia. The Sugar Camp Trail passes through an area that was killed early in the province-wide infestation, and the beetle-kill has reached an age where they are finally falling over. Every tree in the area seems to have defiantly landed directly across the trail. Piles of twenty or more logs, still clad in all their twigs and branches and stacked up to eight feet high, block the trail in places. To go around is largely futile, since the entire forest is in a similar state. So, with the top tube of my bike slowly embedding itself into my highest thoracic vertebra, I climbed over one teetering mess after another.
At some point, while holding my loaded bicycle across my shoulders with one hand, and breaking a path through the sea of uplifted branches with the other, on top of yet another jack-pot of fallen pines, it occurred to me that I should turn around. Rather, it occurred to me that I really should have turned around some hours ago, and now I was in that awkward position ahead of several kilometres of torture, and behind an unknown distance of unknown terribleness. Unfortunately, when one has dug oneself so deeply into a pit of despair, the only rational decision becomes to fumble quixotically forward.
The Atnarko River belongs to grizzly bears. It even says so on the sign by the highway. Of course, I didn’t know this when I came down the switchbacks on the Sugar Camp Trail and entered the Atnarko valley from the back door.
As soon as the trail reached Tote Road at the valley bottom, I could sense I was deep in bear country. The log piles on the trail had stolen my day and now it was dusk – grizzly hour. After a few minutes, I rolled past a small puddle in the middle of the road, with a few wet paw prints leading from it – an odd sight in such a dry place. Around the next corner I found a mother bear and her cub staring at me from 15 meters away. She’d heard me coming and was off the road. I spoke to her softly and rolled past. Though only 8 kilometres of 4×4 track from the highway, I realized I shouldn’t be caught riding that road in the dark.
I pitched my tent in the middle of the biggest clearing I could find, leaving lots of room for bears to see me and go around. As soon as it was dark, I could hear the splashing of bears in the river nearby. Then more splashing. Then two voices roaring. A grizzly battle over a prime fishing hole was going on meters away from my tent. Bears were crashing through the forest all around. This went on all night with more bears joining the fray. And I just lay there in my tent, terrified, with my knife ready to slice an escape route and join the battle.
From there, I hitch-hiked three days, in five rides, back to Vancouver.
End public service announcement.
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