Five Nines Fine in the Camelsfoot Range

The camels that gave their name to the Camelsfoot Range were mostly dead before Canada existed, or B.C. had any borders. A long time ago, some crusty psychopaths, allergic to the comforts of the “known world”, ventured out into the fearful “wilderness” occupied by a couple hundred native nations, and, in 1861, struck gold in the place we now call Barkerville. At that time, the queen’s long, global reach extended no further than Vancouver Island, some 1000km away. Still, a royal thirst for gold had reclusive white dudes fighting their way into all corners of the West, looking for glory and riches that mostly didn’t exist. Not for them, anyway.

Once some fool actually found some real gold, more well-socialized people wanted to go get not-rich standing around in Barkerville’s cold, toxic mud all day. Besides, small pox was wiping those couple hundred independent native nations off the map, making the uplands of BC easy to steal for any motivated British subject. The easiest way to get there from the edge of Her Majesty’s empire at first appeared to be the low route along Harrison Lake, Anderson Lake, and Seton Lake to Lillooet, and then up the west side of the Fraser to a ferry at Big Bar. Someone with more business sense than the would-be-miners constructed a mediocre trail from Lillooet to Williams Lake in 1862, and charged all the not-yet-rich pioneers to travel on it.

The story goes that someone posted an ad in Victoria for some Bactrian camels, and a few fellows thought they’d found a real deal on these 23 funny-looking horses. Soon they were shuttling supplies up to the Cariboo.  The idea is not even glaringly terrible. I would think a Sino-Mongolian camel could easily handle a Cariboo winter, and they can carry twice as much as a mule. Alas, their soft feet were torn up by our rocky soil, they stank worse than the pioneers, and they weren’t terribly obedient. Many of them reportedly escaped into these mountains west of the Fraser, in those “Old” Cariboo Road days, and into the hills around Clinton when the main route was revised into the Cariboo Road by some road-toller with better marketing skills, a few years later.

Finding gold was no easier for Panthea and I when we travelled there two weeks ago than it was for the bearded weirdos of by-gone days. But, our efforts paid off and, on our second try, we found a bikepacking route of Canada’s finest mint – five nines fine.

The making of a bikepacking route is at times frustrating. Until recently anyone wanting to ride their bikes for more than a day would just follow the road map to wherever they wanted to go. We don’t care were we go, only what the riding is like. The less likely it is for a road to appear on a map, the more likely I am to enjoy it. If it can be linked with singletrack trails, even better. If there are no trees and smooth ground, we don’t even need a road or trail. That means alpine, and alpine is code for scenic. I like that best.

Since not many people are into this – it’s an emerging market for the marketers out there – there’s no information, so I do a lot of guesswork and a lot of staring at Google Earth. I noticed an unusually long and gentle alpine ridge making a stripe across the Camelsfoot Range – Nine Mile Ridge. Good name, right? Parallel, and just north, is the now closed China Head FSR. “Washed out.” “Very rough.” “Only suitable for 4WD vehicles.” Easily linked into a loop with that big ridge. Perfect.

I had proudly drawn what appeared to be a gorgeous loop in the middle of nowhere, 50km to a road suitable for my minivan in any direction. In a couple places, the line involved a lot of wishful thinking and guesswork. That’s the step I think a lot of people are missing when they tell me about their struggles to plan a route. Usually, no one can tell me if my intended route is going to work. At a certain point, you just have to count on the last puzzle pieces appearing, or on a bit of your own grit to make do without.

Panthea and I left the car in Clinton on our first attempt to access the Camelsfoot loop, and approached by the most obvious road, from the east. With plans to ride with friends in the South Chilcotins only four days away, we had the lofty goal to ride it in three unreasonably long days. Arriving at the Big Bar ferry, which plies the same crossing of the Fraser used 150 years ago, after only 70km, we were thoroughly cooked, and over 2000m vertical below the top of Nine Mile Ridge. Another 4km on we found the first spring and stopped. It took us two days to backtrack to Clinton in our heat-exhausted state.

Getting cooked in the heat of the Fraser Canyon.

Getting cooked in the heat of the Fraser Canyon.

Joined by Marius and Adriana later that week, we started at Tyaughton Creek, in the South Chilcotins, and headed west – around the top of the Shulaps Range, across the upper reaches of the Yalakom Valley, and on to our elongated loop, twice across the top of the Camelsfoot. The resulting 4-day, 160km route wildly exceeded all expectations.

Marius leads the way on Round 2, on the Lone Valley Trail.

Marius leads the way on Round 2, on the Lone Valley Trail.

The meadowed valley bottoms of this part of the world make for fun, fast riding.

The meadowed valley bottoms of this part of the world make for fun, fast riding.

In the forest, we found rooty goodness. Panthea soon realized that going fast and holding on a is now a viable descent technique.

In the forest, we found rooty goodness. Panthea soon realized that going fast and holding on a is now a viable descent technique, on her new 27.5+ Soma B-Side.

Day 2 had us climbing onto the rough two-track of the China Head FSR...

Day 2 had us climbing onto the rough two-track of the China Head FSR…

...and an idyllic lunch spot.

…with a stop at an idyllic lunch spot.

Soon we emerged into the alpine, on this nirvanic two-track. If there is a cylist's pagan afterlife, roads like this fill the happy hunting grounds.

Soon we emerged into the alpine, on this nirvanic two-track. If there is a cylist’s pagan afterlife, roads like this fill the happy hunting grounds.

The China Head dances with the alpine tree line for some 25 glorious kilometres.

The China Head dances with the alpine tree line for some 25 glorious kilometres.

On the summit of China Head Mt. a marmot surveys his kingdom.

On the summit of China Head Mt. a marmot surveyed his kingdom.

Soon, however, he is scared off the throne a tougher beast - my Krampus, which has finally earned the trusty name Chewbacca.

Soon, however, he was scared off the throne a tougher beast – my Krampus, which has finally earned a trusty name: Chewbacca.

Summer in the alpine might be fleeting, but is has a condensed beauty.

Summer in the alpine might be fleeting, but is has a condensed beauty.

We drop way down to 1300m, to a cow camp by the creek.

We dropped way down to 1300m, to a cow camp by the creek.

Not long after we get riding, the next morning, we are stopped dead by glopping mud...

Not long after we get riding, the next morning, we were stopped dead by glopping mud…

...and forced to make camp for most of the day. In a rain-free moment, we hang our dripping gear.

…and forced to make camp for most of the day. In a rain-free moment, we hung our dripping gear, and tried to wash mud out of wheels and chains.

By evening, the road is drying out and, still over 1000m vertical below the top of Nine Mile Ridge, we decide to push up as far as we can. Here, Adriana rests about half way up that evening's climb.

By evening, the road was drying out and, still over 1000m vertical below the top of Nine Mile Ridge, we decided to push up as far as we could. Here, Adriana rests about half way up that evening’s climb.

Soon we're pushing in the dark, to a saddle 500m below the summit.

Soon we were pushing in the dark to a saddle 500m below the summit.

The remnants of an old mining road we'd been following disappeared somewhere before the col. In the morning, it was a kilometer or so of bushwhacking to the alpine.

The remnants of an old mining road we’d been following disappeared somewhere before the col. In the morning, it was a kilometre or so of bushwhacking to the alpine.

Though steep and strenuous, the bushwhacking in these parts proved entirely feasible.

Though steep and strenuous, the bushwhacking in these parts is usually doable…

...and before long, it was just a big push up a steep alpine ridge.

…and before long, it was just a big push up a steep alpine ridge.

From the radio repeater, which marks the summit, it's a long way down.

From the radio repeater, which marks the summit, it’s a long way down.

By going this direction along Nine Mile Ridge, we had nine miles of mostly downhill, about half of which was off-trail alpine free riding.

By going this direction along Nine Mile Ridge, we had nine miles of mostly downhill, about half of which was off-trail alpine free riding.

Over a bump in the ridge, we spooked a heard of big horn sheep.

Over a bump in the ridge, we spooked a heard of big horn sheep.

Panthea donned some stuff-sack mitts to flight off the decidedly chilly weather.

Panthea donned some stuff-sack mitts to flight off the decidedly chilly weather. We were all clearly still having fun.

Marius, a strong rider and an experienced camper, appeared to be having his mind blown by finally combining the two.

Marius, a strong rider with lots overnight backcountry experience, appeared to be having his mind blown by finally combining the two activities. Early in the trip, he mentioned the formula for the number of bikes a person should have  (n+1, where n is the number you currently have) while watching curiously as my rigid 29+ occasionally out-gunned his full-suspension 26er. Within two weeks, he’s become the owner of a hardtail Krampus. Yes!

Nine Mile Ridge went on forever...

Nine Mile Ridge went on forever…

But eventually we found a singletrack, flawless but for the occasional tree growing right out of the trailbed.

But eventually we found a singletrack, flawless but for the occasional tree growing right out of the trailbed.

My favourite views always include my cockpit.

My favourite views always include my cockpit.

Finally, we dropped out of the alpine, on a huge, loose, big mountain DH into the Yalakom River valley.

Finally, we dropped out of the alpine, on a huge, loose, big mountain DH into the Yalakom River valley.

Marius and Adriana, who actually own proper DH bikes, ranked it among their best ever.

Marius and Adriana, who actually own proper DH bikes, ranked it among their best ever.

It steepened into exposed switch-backs as we approached the road. By the time we landed on that road, I'd gone through my rear brake pads.

It steepened into exposed switch-backs as we approached the road. By the time we landed on that road, I’d gone through my rear brake pads.

If there was ever a time to enjoy cruising a smooth gravel road, it's after twenty-five super tough kilometres. But, having lost most of a day to the mud, we found ourselves still 30km short of the car.

If there was ever a time to enjoy cruising a smooth gravel road, it’s after twenty-five super tough kilometres. But, having lost most of a day to the mud, we found ourselves still 30km short of the car.

In the fading light, we turned onto a quad trail, which eventually stepped down to a moto-sculpted singletrack, and another steep, rowdy singletrack descent by headlamp. We arrived at the cars around 10:30pm.

In the fading light, we turned onto a quad trail, which eventually stepped down to a moto-sculpted singletrack, and another steep, rowdy singletrack descent by headlamp. We arrived at the cars around 10:30pm.

For those curious about route details and logistics, I’ll be adding information about this route to BIKEPACKING.com (formerly Pedaling Nowhere) in the coming weeks. You can find several of my other favourite routes there. As Logan continues to expand the website, assembling the premier online bikepacking resource, I’ll be striving to increase my role on his site, with more regular contributions.

For those on social media, I’ve recently become quite fond of the Instagram format. You can find me at https://instagram.com/offroute.ca/. Off Route also makes regular mini updates of a variety you won’t find on the blog at https://www.facebook.com/offroute.ca

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9 thoughts on “Five Nines Fine in the Camelsfoot Range

  1. Thanks for the great write-up Skyler, it was an amazing trip!

    Love my new Krampus! Most people find it hard to believe when I tell them that I’m faster riding to work on it than on my commuter bike. I might also be pushing it harder because it’s such a fun bike to ride.

    • I fully believe it. I also believe it has less to do with you pushing harder than that 31″ wheels roll super fast.

      Knowing your love of Maxxis Minions, you’re not going to enjoy the Knards on trail. But, the Sulry Dirt Wizards are like a 2.9″ Minion. The $35 Gravity Vidar tires I just picked up (only available on amazon.com) look very promising tool, and have the same proven casing as the Knards. Your Rabbit Holes can be made reliably tubeless quite easily, by the way.

      • Yeah, might need to get a second set of tires for the trail (the knards are awesome on pavement). It will be a bit annoying to keep swapping them, the wheel are setup tubeless already.

        I might pick up a set of Gravity Vidar too, it’s an awesome price!

    • Thanks, Logan! I do have a new body, and one new lens: Panasonic GX7, and an Olympus 75mm/1.8 (150mm equiv.). There’s some magic in that lens, and the viewfinder on the body is improving my composition greatly. The better sensor doesn’t hurt either…

  2. Wow! Looks amazing. By the way, if you ever venture into the Central Interior, consider a similar Ride on Silvercup Ridge, east of Trout Lake. Done in a day, it equals about 65 kms, 25 or so of which are in the alpine. As a bikepacking destination it would provide 2-3 really solid days of alpine freeriding and mining track exploration with some seriously badass scenary and climbable (I think) 2700m sidetrips. Thanks for the inspiration and the quality entertainment!

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