YONDER JOURNAL: IRON PASS

Float planes, grizzlies, and fat bikes—oh my. Yonder Journal spends four days exploring the grandeur of British Columbia's Chilcotins—some of the most hallowed ground for mountain bikers.

Since our very first days on the bike, the allure of adventure has been at the very heart of the ride. In the days of our youth, it meant striking out to the furthest outskirts of the neighborhood. Our worlds felt small then, but as we grew, so did life's enormity. What once seemed small and understandable slowly became intangible and out of reach. The bike, however, has never waivered in its ability to break down borders, whether physical or mental.

Our friends at Yonder Journal share this feeling. They understand the intrinsic value of adventure, which is why we've dispatched them to seek it out and follow it wherever it might lead. Through their travels, we'll reconnect to the essence of riding, to the adventurous heart of the bicycle. Check back often to follow their travels, exploits, and finds.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

DEAD RECKONING

The Chilcotins are a spectacular range of mountains in northern British Columbia. An area of natural splendor that contains a collection of physical endowments that read like the Christmas list of a 18 year old Jack London; grand sweeping glaciers, mineral infused turquoise lakes, white shocks of cascading waterfalls, deep plummeting valleys, ruddy exposed alpine meadows, and sharp angular peaks that look as if they were trying to eviscerate the sky. As a fitting compliment to this generous amount of geological wonder the area’s fauna reads like a who’s who of the late Pleistocene; Grizzly bears, Moose, Elk, Wolves, and Bald Eagles are just some of the A-listers you might run into in your travels through the Chilcotins.

As interested parties, we were not the first to notice this abundance of grandeur. Native people have lived and traded throughout the region since the time of the Bering land bridge, and there is an ancient network of trails that crisscross the region. While there might be a few trails it is worth noting they were not designed around the bicycle. These are “let’s get over the mountain as fast as we can trails,” and they have a heavy straight up and straight down vibe. But it’s this combination of natural beauty, alpha predators, and leg/lung/spirit crushing verticality that drew our attention to the area.

One thing to note is that BC is MTB hallowed ground, and the Chilcotins especially sacred. Big travel bikes have been de rigueur for shredding and blasting the well-known trails of B.C.’s coastal range and beyond. While they relied heavily on the use of helicopter drops, mules, and hut-to-hut accommodations we decided to eschew these modern conveniences and make our way self supported over of four nights and days in the Canadian backcountry.

One thing we know about the out-of-doors is that the harder the place is to access, the further away you get from people, the more primal and rugged the experience, and that’s what we were looking for. Escape. Expanse. A chance to dissolve back into the ether if just for a moment. In order to do this in the Chilcotins we wanted to arrange for a floatplane to fly us far into the wilderness. As it happens James Crowe–Whistler Local, Dead Reckoning Alumni, Seek and Enjoy rider, and B.C. Iron Pass expedition point person–is close family friends with Dale Douglas. Dale is the owner and operator of Tyax Adventures, a floatplane and hut-to-hut operation based in the Chilcotins. He would fly us into Taseko Lake, drop our gear, wish us luck and leave us to make our way back to floatplane HQ, Tyax Lodge.

Because we weren’t 100% certain about the route we choose to bring Fatboys, these bikes being the bicycle equivalent of camels/mules/monster trucks/inflatable rafts/Daniel Boone, and in virtue of there go anywhere riding/ride anything-ness they were the obvious choice. Google Earth and on-the-ground knowledge vaguely agree that our proposed path was possible but hard specifics were not forthcoming. Planning for this contingency we would be fully self-supported, carrying all of the necessary gear for our 4-5 day journey. No pack mules, no drop points, no behind the scenes porters hauling espresso drinks up the side of the mountain.

Allow me to postulate a short series of expectations that we had concerning our Iron Pass, B.C trip. Mind you these are not shots in the dark, ideas pulled from a hat, wild guesses, but rather well reasoned presumptions that I arrived at based on our prior Dead Reckoning experiences.

  • It will snow. All previous Dead Reckoning experience up to this point tells us that it will snow. At this point, we're convinced that were we to do a Dead Reckoning trip to Aruba, it would snow on us while snorkeling among the dazzling colors of the island’s coral reefs.
  • There will be bears. These bears will be Grizzly Bears, and Grizzly Bears are alpha predators. So here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to lash food to our bodies and to our bikes then gallivant through the Grizzly Bear’s lawn. Don’t worry, we'll have some Bear Mace, anti-maul pepper spray, and Bear Mace has a better than 60% efficiency rate of stopping an ursine attack. 60% is flunking, 60% is the chance that you’ll survive a terminal disease, 60% is about as much effort as I am willing to give on any particular day.
  • We’re going to take a float plane into our start spot, tactical insertion style, sounds cool right? That’s because it is cool. Visibly it also reminds us of the opening scene from the movie Predator (see B.C. Chilcotins #2).
  • COLD/WET/TIRED, the fearsome triumvirate of backcountry travel; no doubt we’ll square off against each one of these formidable foes and we’ll mostly be pitted against all three at once.

With autumn already starting to drop heavy amounts of rain into the area we’re expecting rain, snow, cold, and discomfort, but then again what’s new? We’re calling this route Dead Reckoning Iron Pass, and we’re hoping to avoid becoming bear food. Were we gobbled by a Grizz? Were we treated to a bit of snow? Did we ride the sky in a 60-year-old Floatplane? Were we subjected to the Triumvirate of Woe? The full story is up on Yonder Journal, for these answers and so much more head over there to find out for yourself.