Video by Matt Dennison and Andrew Santos.
Words by Connor Stefanison
South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park has become one of the most sought-after bikepacking locations in the world. Between the incredible landscape, expansive trail network, and relative close proximity to Vancouver, it doesn’t come as a surprise why so many backcountry users visit the area. If you’ve ever wanted to ride a 100km route of continuous singletrack, this is your place. The trail network has long been used by horseback riders, but now gathers more traffic from the mountain bike community. We’re all very lucky to be able to ride our bikes in this incredible wilderness area. When visiting the park, we must do all that we can to build a good reputation as a user group by minimizing our impact on the land and being respectful to other trail users and wildlife. Future mountain bike access is never guaranteed.
I’ve wanted to do a trip like this since watching Andrew Shandro and Dave Watson’s Chilcotin segment in The Collective back in 2004. Joined by Matt Dennison, Chris Hatton, Kevin Keresztes, and Andrew Santos, we finally made the trip up to the park this past Labour Day weekend. At this time of year, the days are still long, the mosquitos are almost non-existent, and the creek crossings are pretty much as low as they’re going to get. Our 90km route took us three days and two nights, with 2813m of elevation gain according to Strava (3946m according to Trailforks. Which one is correct?). It consisted of forests, grasslands, sub-alpine meadows, and alpine passes. The key to enjoying a trip like this as much as possible is to pack light. A heavy pack will feel extra heavy on the higher elevation ascents. Having to carry items to repair your bike in the field definitely adds to the weight of your normal backpacking setup. We were lucky in that our only bike issue occurred in the first 5 minutes of the trip, and was a small puncture that sealed itself up. Sharing gear was a great way for us to shave weight. The night before I caught myself doing things like sawing my toothbrush in half and comparatively weighing different sporks I had.
Going to the Chilcotin expecting a normal mountain biking trip will perhaps leave you feeling disappointed. It’s best to think of this type of experience as a mountain bike assisted backcountry adventure. The days will likely be your longest on a bike, and provide a full-body workout. Hopefully, your shoe fit well, because there is a lot of pushing your bike uphill. We were able to conserve energy by pushing up steep sections rather than trying to be climbing heroes. Before a Chilcotin trip, I would recommend going for a few decent hikes and making sure you’re comfortable climbing at least 1000m on a normal trail network.
If you go riding in the Chilcotin, don’t forget to “stop and smell the roses”, because it’s difficult to look anywhere other than the trail when riding the park’s narrow singletrack. It’s hard to imagine a more scenic place to ride a bike. I’ve done many different types of backcountry trips, whether it be hiking, canoeing, skiing, or climbing, and I can confidently say that mountain biking in the southern Chilcotin has been my favourite backcountry experience.