cottonwood trail, kluane national park

The highlight of my trip to Yukon (in a trip filled with many spectacular experiences) was a bikepacking trip on the Cottonwood Trail in Kluane National Park.  The trail itself is 83 km long and all but approximately 7 km of it (from km 74 to 81) is rideable.  The unrideable part is one heck of a hike-a-bike; not impossible, but hard. 

We rode the trail clockwise, beginning on Mush Lake Road.

We rode the trail clockwise, beginning on Mush Lake Road.

Another view of the route.

Another view of the route.

This is the elevation profile of the route. We liked doing the route clockwise because we gained elevation early in the trip (and quickly!) but then gradually worked our way down, mostly on singletrack.

This is the elevation profile of the route. We liked doing the route clockwise because we gained elevation early in the trip (and quickly!) but then gradually worked our way down, mostly on singletrack.

We brought topo maps but found ourselves referring to the "Detailed Description" from the Park site most frequently. If this is your first time on the trail I recommend it strongly that you print off a copy of this and use it to aid in navigation.

We brought topo maps but found ourselves referring to the “Detailed Description” from the Park site most frequently. If this is your first time on the trail I recommend it strongly that you print off a copy of this and use it to aid in navigation.

Mush Lake Road was a mostly pleasant and fun 16 km ride.

Mush Lake Road was a mostly pleasant and fun 16 km ride.

Crossing a channel of Alder Creek.

Crossing a channel of Alder Creek.

Overall the route is well marked - look for these posts (some have toppled over) and/or moose racks to guide you.

Overall the route is well marked – look for these posts (some have toppled over) and/or moose racks to guide you.

DCIM100GOPRO

Charles enjoying the alpine singletrack.

Charles enjoying the alpine singletrack.

This route just kept on giving.

This route just kept on giving.

We did this route in 2 days, one night, making camp at km 46.6, shown here. We travelled for 7.5 hours on day one and 10 hours on day two.

We did this route in 2 days, one night, making camp at km 46.6, shown here. We travelled for 7.5 hours on day one and 10 hours on day two.

Charles relaxing at camp.

Charles relaxing at camp.

Day 2 started with a brief water crossing...

Day 2 started with a brief water crossing…

...and then became endless alpine meadow singletrack.

…and then became endless alpine meadow singletrack.

Where Victoria Creek enters into Louise Lake. We worried about this crossing as it has the potential to be impassable. We found it challenging and were very cautious, only brining one bike across at a time with the person NOT carrying the bike bracing the person who was.

Where Victoria Creek enters into Louise Lake. We worried about this crossing as it has the potential to be impassable. We found it challenging and were very cautious, only brining one bike across at a time with the person NOT carrying the bike bracing the person who was.

Kathleen Lake.

Kathleen Lake.

The hike-a-bike up from Kathleen Lake is hard...

The hike-a-bike up from Kathleen Lake is hard…

...but the view is outstanding. Note Victoria Lake waaaay in the distance.

…but the view is outstanding. Note Victoria Lake waaaay in the distance.

 

 

dempster highway

The Dempster Highway is a 735 km gravel road that begins near Dawson, Yukon and ends in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. I rode it, up and back, in early June on my Surly Pugsley. It took me six days up and six days back = an average of 120 km per day. The weather was cool for the most part; I was in short sleeves for only 3 days, but this made for good riding. There was no trouble with bugs, the winds were light and the road was in good condition. I experienced periodic showers on a few days and only one day of drizzle/rain. I’d like to believe this was all due to good planning but good luck played a part.

109

 

Within two hours of starting off I got caught in a terrific thunderstorm (with hail) and encountered a grizzly bear.  Things can change quick up here.

Within two hours of starting off I got caught in a terrific thunderstorm (with hail) and encountered a grizzly bear. Things can change quick up here.

As you can see the road is in good condition and very wide.  Distance markers every 2 km are very helpful.

As you can see the road is in good condition and very wide. Distance markers every 2 km are very helpful.

There are a number of territorial campgrounds along the way.  They provide a bear hang, pit toilets, a covered shelter, a water source and firewod.

There are a number of territorial campgrounds along the way. They provide a bear hang, pit toilets, a covered shelter, a water source and firewood.

110 098 120 129 133 143 120 150 171 172

184

A trip like this requires a lot of calories.  I managed to pack 20,000 + calories into my framebag.

A trip like this requires a lot of calories. I managed to pack 20,000+ calories into my framebag.

 

A selfie at the Arctic Circle.

A selfie at the Arctic Circle.

Being this far north around the time of Summer Solstice meant 24 hours of light.  This picture was taken at midnight.

Being this far north around the time of Summer Solstice meant 24 hours of light. This picture was taken at midnight.

The Dempster is notorious for its mud when it is wet.  Thankfully I only had to deal with this for one morning.

The Dempster is notorious for its mud when it is wet. Thankfully I only had to deal with this for one morning.

Making it to Inuvik was a new "furthest north" for me at 68 degrees north.

Making it to Inuvik was a new “furthest north” for me at 68 degrees north.

A contrast in styles -  the Dempster can be ridden with fat tires and little gear or skinny tires and a lot of gear.  John is from Alaska and I met him first on my way up and then caught up with him on my way down.

A contrast in styles – the Dempster can be ridden with fat tires and little gear or skinny tires and a lot of gear. John is from Alaska and I met him first on my way up and then caught up with him on my way down.

My Surly Pugsley in bikepacking mode.  Tent, sleeping bag and pad on the handlebars, food and stove/pot in the frame bag, clothes in the seat bag and bear spray in the top tube bag.

My Surly Pugsley in bikepacking mode. Tent, sleeping bag and pad on the handlebars, food and stove/pot in the frame bag, clothes in the seat bag and bear spray in the top tube bag.

Random thoughts:

 

  • If a person was going to ride the Dempster one way, I would suggest riding it north to south. This would end the trip on a “high note” of the Tombstone Mountains. Going south to north the ride ends on a rather boring 150 km stretch of road from Fort McPherson to Inuvik that is flat and unchanging.
  • If a person wanted to ride in-and-out I would suggest only going as far as Fort McPherson and then turn around, for the reason noted above. Fort McPherson has a decent sized grocery store that would allow a cyclist to resupply.
  • Cars and trucks were very considerate for the most part, slowing down when they passed and stopping to check if everything was OK if I was stopped.

pivot les fat

4th Update (Feb 12, 2016)

I’ve used the Les Fat in a lot of different winter conditions and remain very happy with the bike.  Again, I see the benefits of shorter chainstays (and a small downside).  The benefit:  great traction when standing on the peddles.  The downside: the bike handles so quickly I find it a little squirrelly when the snow is fresh and loose.  One thing I have yet to do is play around with the adjustable dropouts.  The next time we get some fresh snow I’m going to lengthen the wheelbase and see what difference that will make to stabilizing the bike’s handling.

3rd Update (Nov 17,2015)

I’ve now had several months on this bike on a variety of trails and everything I’ve written below still holds true.  I’m now looking forward to winter and seeing what this bike will do on the snow.  I can’t wait.

I have found one shortcoming with using the Les Fat as a trail bike – pedal strike. It would seem to be a function of the large q-factor (the width between the pedals) that is needed so that this bike can run 5 inch tires.  Because of this and my plan to keep this bike as a winter bike only I’m now shopping around for a bike I will use on the trails next year.  My mind right now is set on either a 29+ or 27.5+ hard tail, probably the former because their aren’t too many of the latter.  Stay tuned.

2nd Update (May 27, 2015)

I rode Subnet yesterday.  For those of you who do not know this trail it offers no rest for the wicked – you are either going up or you are going down.  Observations:

* the Pivot Les Fat is an excellent trail bike

* the short chainstays make for a very quick handling bike and easy to loft the front tire

* this bike climbs great – great traction in the rear AND easy to get rider weight forward

* this bike descends well – I was much more confident descending on this than the Pugsley (and a carbon Beargrease I borrowed last year).

* once again I was super happy with the trail chatter this bike absorbed

Update – first ride review (May 22, 2015)

I took the Les Fat out today for it’s maiden voyage in Pippy Park.  The terrain there is rooty, rocky cross-country trails.  I pumped the tires up hard to see what the frame would do with these bumpy conditions.  My impressions:

* there was lots of compliance in the frame.  It did a great job of soaking up the bumps and reducing trail chatter.

* I felt in the bike rather than on the bike.  In fact, it kind of reminded me of a downhill bike but without the super slack head angle.

* it was great to have one finger braking again.  The SRAM Guide hydraulics work just fine.

*  I love having a 1 X 11 drivetrain.  Super quiet.

* this bike accelerates very well.  This is due to the DT Swiss wheel set.

* I have no complaints about the Maxxis Mammoth tires.  They rolled quick with no self-steer.

* the short chainstays make this bike quick and nimble.  The front tire lofts easily.

* the only thing I will change on this bike is the saddle.  It is a very good stock saddle but my Fizik Pave will be going on soon.

I GOT A NEW BIKE!!!!!!

Freeride Mountain Sports on Water Street is now a Pivot dealer and I am the proud owner of their fatbike, the Les Fat.

Freeride Mountain Sports on Water Street is now a Pivot dealer and I am the proud owner of their fatbike, the Les Fat.

One of the great things about the Les Fat is its versatility.

One of the great things about the Les Fat is its versatility.

Lots of room to fit 5 inch tires.

Lots of room to fit 5 inch tires.

Sweet crank by e*thirteen.

Sweet crank by e*thirteen.

SRAM Guide brakes.

SRAM Guide brakes.

Swinger dropouts allow for lengthening/shortening the wheelbase, setting up singlespeed, etc.

Swinger dropouts allow for lengthening/shortening the wheelbase, setting up singlespeed, etc.

I like the thoughtful touches, like a third water bottle mount under the downtube...

I like the thoughtful touches, like a third water bottle mount under the downtube…

...and rear rack mounts. Small things like this increase a bike's versatility.

…and rear rack mounts. Small things like this increase a bike’s versatility.

I went for the wheel upgrade option - a DT Swiss wheelset.

I went for the wheel upgrade option – a DT Swiss wheelset.

IMG_1041

it’s the 24th of May and we likes to get away…

…up in the woods or going out the bay.

I chose to go out the bay, Conception Bay North (CBN), to be exact – as tempting as the gravels pits were. 🙂  I’d done this route two years ago and wanted to ride it again and the long weekend in May seemed as good a time as any.  The weather cooperated (for the most part) and Dan T joined me for two days – his first bikepacking trip.

CBN 2015 001

Here are some instructions I wrote for a Dutch couple that rode the route last year. The T’Railway from St. John’s to Brigus Junction is pretty straightforward but once started on the old CBN branch line the track disappears from time to time.

CBN 2015 002

CBN 2015 143

Looking across to Bell Island.

CBN 2015 146

This large erratic on the beach always intrgues me.

The train station in Avondale.

The train station in Avondale.

First night camping spot, halfway between Avondale and Brigus Junction.

First night camping spot, halfway between Avondale and Brigus Junction.

It's was nice to see this guy out the next morning.

It’s was nice to see this guy out the next morning.

Into The Wild, Newfoundland style.

Into The Wild, Newfoundland style.

Dan considers trading in the fatbike for something a little racier.

Dan considers trading in the fatbike for something a little racier.

Bay Roberts.

Bay Roberts.

Sometimes the trail becomes a river.

Sometimes the trail becomes a river.

CBN 2015 157

Spaniards Bay.

The Kyle, in Harbour Grace, with an iceberg in the background.

The Kyle, in Harbour Grace, with an iceberg in the background.

The point of land in the right of the picture is where we camped.

The point of land in the right of the picture is where we camped.

The view from the tent.

The view from the tent.

CBN 2015 135

Dan negotiating a washout.

Dan negotiating a washout.

CBN 2015 113CBN 2015 130

I came across some unusual road kill on the way home...

I came across some unusual road kill on the way home…

...so I put her up in a tree, because that's where monkeys belong.

…so I put her up in a tree, because that’s where monkeys belong.

a bikepacking list

I often get requests for what I pack and how I pack it.  Here is an attempt to answer the first question; I think the second will have  to be demonstrated in a video.  Where possible I have linked to the actual equipment I use.

Shelter/clothing

Tent  

Sleeping bag

Sleeping pad 

Rain jacket

L/S wool shirt

Socks

Dry bag

Toque

Baseball hat

Arm warmers

Undies

Liner shorts

Tools

Multi-tool

Tire levers

Patch kit

Tube

Blinky lights

Needle and thread

Pump

Lube

Kitchen

Pot

Stove ( I can choose between 3 types: an alcohol stove, a canister stove and an MSR Dragonfly)

Fuel

Spoon

Knife

Lighter

Matches

Water purification drops

1 L water bladder

Other

Maps

Wallet

Wet wipes / toilet paper

Headlamp

Toothbrush and paste

Chamois cream

Sunscreen

Whistle

Fire starter (dryer lint mixed with vaseline)

Cell phone

Bug net

Reading glasses

Bum pad

Mini tripod

Camera

Notebook/pen

Ibuprophen

Book

Towel (ShamWow)

Ear plugs

Liquid soap

iPod

Options: Down jacket, Crocs

What I wear: Shoes, socks, shorts, liner shorts, S/S wool shirt, helmet, sunglasses

 

 

fatbike gros morne

From R-L: Darren, Ross and the writer go on an exploratory mission to Gros Morne National Park to see what the potential is for fatbiking.  We are happy to report the news is all good.  (a Darroch W photo)

From R-L: Darren, Ross and the writer go on an exploratory mission to Gros Morne National Park to see what the potential is for fatbiking. We are happy to report the news is all good. (a Darroch W photo)

We stayed at Old Lincoln Cabins, seen here.  We arrived to 30 cm of fresh powder on top of the 400+ cm that had fallen in previous months.

We stayed at Old Lincoln Cabins, seen here. We arrived to 30 cm of fresh powder on top of the 400+ cm that had fallen in previous months.

On Day 1 we left from Rocky Harbour and headed up the town's water supply road, following a fresh snowmobile track.  We were soon rewarded with great views of Gros Morne.  We had to turn back at this pond as we lost the track due to drifting.

On Day 1 we left from Rocky Harbour and headed up the town’s water supply road, following a fresh snowmobile track. We were soon rewarded with great views of Gros Morne. We had to turn back at this pond as we lost the track due to drifting.

Pro tip: Replacing lost fluids after a ride is critical.

Pro tip: Replacing lost fluids after a ride is critical.

Ross demonstrates proper fluid replacement for those of you new to this sport.

Ross demonstrates proper fluid replacement for those of you new to this sport.

Daytime highs were in the minus teens while we were there.  We woke up to -26C one morning.

Daytime highs were in the minus teens while we were there. We woke up to -26C one morning.

Fatbikers are a cultured lot; we attended this artsy evening of poetry and music at the old cottage hospital in Norris Point.

Fatbikers are a cultured lot; we attended this artsy evening of poetry and music at the old cottage hospital in Norris Point.

This is Tom Dawe reading some of his poetry - I liked him a lot.  The highlight of the evening, without a doubt, were Sherman Downey & Matthew Byrne.

This is Tom Dawe reading some of his poetry – I liked him a lot. The highlight of the evening, without a doubt, were Sherman Downey & Matthew Byrne. Yes, that is an old hospital ward room we are in.

Day 2 we left right from our cabin and headed to a feature called The Sinkhole.  We followed high traffic snowmobile trails.

Day 2 we left right from our cabin and headed to a feature called The Sinkhole. We followed high traffic snowmobile trails.

The sections through the trees were lovely.

The sections through the trees were lovely.

Some of the open areas were a bit more difficult, even for our motorized friends.

Some of the open areas were a bit more difficult, even for our motorized friends.

Ross looking boss.

Ross looking boss.

Lots and lots and lots of snow.

Lots and lots and lots of snow.

Fatbike heaven.

Fatbike heaven.

We made it to the warm-up hut at the turnoff to The Sinkhole but couldn't get any further due to drifting.  We were quite a hit with the snowmobile crowd.

We made it to the warm-up hut at the turnoff to The Sinkhole but couldn’t get any further due to drifting. We were quite a hit with the snowmobile crowd.

Day 3, our last day, was the best by far.  Here we are driving in to Rocky Harbour to meet up with Darrock W who works for Parks Canada and is an old roadie aquaintence of mine from "back in the day".  We brought a fatbike for him and in return he guided us on an excellent ride, cooked us moose burgers and had a great selection of beer waiting at his house.

Day 3, our last day, was the best by far. Here we are driving in to Rocky Harbour to meet up with Darrock W who works for Parks Canada and is an old roadie aquaintence of mine from “back in the day”. We brought a fatbike for him and in return he guided us on an excellent ride, cooked us moose burgers and had a great selection of beer waiting at his house.

Gros Morne to my right, primo trail to my left.  Happy.

Gros Morne to my right, primo trail to my left. Happy.

We had some blue sky and light winds to start the day.

We had some blue sky and light winds to start the day.

Darroch.

Darroch.

PnS 046

The descent into Bakers Brook Pond was an absolute scream!

The descent into Bakers Brook Pond was an absolute scream! (a Darroch W photo)

Some friends of Darroch's had the cabin at Bakers Brook booked, so we stopped there for lunch.

Some friends of Darroch’s had the cabin at Bakers Brook booked, so we stopped there for lunch.

On our way out.

On our way out.

PnS 050

This was our route, 30 km total, starting and ending at the Visitors Centre in Rocky Harbour.

This was our route, 30 km total, starting and ending at the Visitors Centre in Rocky Harbour. That is Gros Morne in the upper right and Bakers Brook Pond in upper left. (a Darroch W image)

Random bits

  • we stayed at Old Lincoln Cabins.  4 nights cost us $225 each, taxes in.
  • we would stay there again – the owners, Luann and Carter, went out of their way to be helpful.  There is a barn with a woodstove to store bikes in and an outdoor hot tub. Coyle’s general store is one minute away. The only minor complaints were no cell service there and a weak Wi-Fi signal.
  • we ate a great meal at The Jackladder, just 10 minutes from where we stayed.
  • having some local knowledge from Darroch was invaluable.  Thanks again from all of us.
  • we barely scratched the surface of what is possible  in Gros Morne.  Given that it is the only national park in Canada that allows snowmobiles it stands to reason that it will have the greatest potential for fatbiking of any national park.

’14 – ’15 winter season (so far)

As I write this it is March 1st and I’m reflecting back on the winter riding season to date.  Certainly a few things stand out: the snow came late, the ice has been plentiful, the number of fatbikers is soaring, we’ve had a couple of social events, trail grooming is about to start happening, and lots of people have upgraded their fatbikes after only buying their first one a year ago (and some people have upgraded even quicker than that).

SBR Feb'15

We have seen a lot of icy trails this year. Multiple thaw/freeze cycles and periods of heavy rain have made the trails “challenging”.

Studded tires have be a must-have this winter.

Studded tires: a must-have this winter.

A first for me this winter was seeing a pack of coyotes (3) as I rounded a corner on the back roads in The Goulds.  I have seen individual coyotes but never a pack.  I managed to capture of picture of this one - the other two scattered quickly.  Click on the image and enlarge it for a better view.

A first for me this winter was seeing a pack of coyotes (3) as I rounded a corner on the back roads in The Goulds. I have seen individual coyotes but never a pack. I managed to capture a picture of one – the other two scattered quickly. Click on the image and enlarge it for a better view.

Coyote tracks. Coyotes places their back foot in the print made by the front foot, creating a single, straight line of prints.

IMG_0300

Pugsley tracks. Sometimes the rear wheel follows the front wheel and makes a single set of tracks; sometimes not.

We've had a lot of group rides with great turnouts.

We’ve had a lot of group rides with great turnouts.

Dean The Machine leading the way.

Dean The Machine leading the way.

Jason and his new Norco Sasquatch.  Lots of Bluto suspension forks are appearing on bikes, another trend new this season.

Jason and his new Norco Sasquatch. Lots of Bluto suspension forks are appearing on bikes, another trend new this season.

Mel in stealth mode.

Mel in stealth mode.

Yours truly about to take the plunge on a ride to Witless Bay Line.

Yours truly about to take the plunge on a ride to Witless Bay Line.

Sean all smiles on his new Surly Pugsley.

Sean all smiles on his new Surly Pugsley.

There have been a number of riders who have put together beautiful builds around the new 9:ZERO:7 Whiteout frame this year, including:

Mark...

Mark…

...Dwayne...

…Dwayne…

...Jason, and...

…Jason…

...and Darren.

…and Darren.

Tim, Ross, Darren and Dan on the way to The Spout.

Tim, Ross, Darren and Dan on the way to The Spout.

See Ross go!

See Ross go!

See Ross stop!

See Ross stop!

Dean demonstrates, for our amusement, what German engineered road sedans *can't* do.

Dean demonstrates, for our amusement, what German engineered road sedans *can’t* do.

More insight into Dean's world.

More insight into Dean’s world.

Blue skies, firm trails and fat tires make Dan smile.

Blue skies, firm trails and fat tires make Dan smile.

Spout - not! 009

Dan looking pro.

witless bay line

WBL route

The route to Witless Bay Line follows dirt roads and a snowmobile trail starting in The Goulds. Appx 25 km one way.

The best rides are the ones you never planned.

I headed out solo Saturday morning as my usual partner in crime, Tim C, decided to join the group ride in Pippy Park to test out his new Carbon Beargrease.  We have had a lot of freeze/thaw cycles this month and the day before this ride saw a lot of freezing rain fall, so I wasn’t expecting much from the conditions.  I figured I’d just do my usual loop but it wasn’t long before I discovered things were nice and solid everywhere and I was able to ride a couple of routes I hadn’t been able to travel on yet this year.  That’s when the idea of the ride out to Witless Bay Line came into my head.

The freezing rain made the fields look like coral.

The freezing rain made the fields look like coral.

IMG_0530

There were lots of moose tracks.

DCIM100GOPRO

Conditions were firm and fast.

IMG_0529DCIM100GOPRO

I left the house with only 7 Fig Newtons and a Clif Bar.  Thankfully water was easy to come by.

I left the house with only 7 Fig Newtons and a Clif Bar. Thankfully water was easy to come by.

And just as thankfully there was very little open water on the trail itself.

And just as thankfully there was very little open water on the trail itself.

I tagged Witless Bay Line and returned the way I came.  Usually I ride it as a loop but I wasn't confident that the other route home would be safe as it can have sections of open water unless we have had a cold snap.

I tagged Witless Bay Line and returned the way I came. Usually I ride it as a loop but I wasn’t confident that the other route home would be safe as it can have sections of open water unless we have had a cold snap.

The bogs were super firm and completely rideable.

The bogs were super firm and completely rideable.

The Dillinger 4's saved my ass more than once.  I was very happy to be riding studded tires.

The Dillinger 4’s saved my ass more than once. I was very happy to be riding studded tires.

They're noisy but they work!

They’re noisy but they work!

The barrens can be beautiful on a clear day.

The barrens can be beautiful on a clear day.

The 50 km return trip took me 4.5 hours.