Words by Mike Cushionbury. Photos by Sterling Lorence.
As I trudged up a 45-minute hike-a-bike, less than 1 mile into the “ride” I looked back at Giant Factory racer Adam Craig and sarcastically said, “This is awesome.” Shortly after that I pulled to the left and let him pass. We were less than an hour into one of the best two days of riding I’ve done in a long time. The location was Canada’s South Chilcotin Mountains, with home base being the Tyax Lodge. To get there and to our ride trailhead, we took a floatplane. To get back we rode our bikes.
By car the Tyax Lodge, located on the Tyaughton Lake, is a half-day drive going north from Vancouver past Whistler and around a mountain range. By a Tyax chartered floatplane it’s just over an hour as the crow flies. During summer months the lodge is an open paradise for mountain bikers, with at least 150 miles of singletrack bliss. What makes it more awesome is that among the trail network is a collection of huts and tent campsites.
Our adventure began at the crystal blue Lorna Lake. Summer rains left this side of the mountain damp and muddy in sections. When the boot camp start to the ride was over, I was able to get on my bike and we continued climbing up a shale single- track that went up and past the lingering snow line to the summit. After cresting the peak of Lorna Pass Climb, which included the hike and shale sections, ascending 1,000 feet in 1 mile and topping out at just over 7,000 feet elevation, it turned into a ripper of a ride across the ridge and eventually down to camp (including a lunch stop at a well-stocked horse camp). The ride had waist-high river crossings every few miles with water that was fast running and cool on the legs—just make sure you step toward the current, don’t look down and keep your bike well above your chest. I know this all too well after almost losing my bike in the first crossing.
Once to Spruce Lake camp, under a slight drizzle that soon cleared into a brisk, pretty night, I was wet and muddy. The main cabin has a propane-fueled shower, but I needed to be fast (some opted to clean up in the lake)—that fuel also fired the kitchen where we feasted on fresh salmon with all the fixin’s.
After a rustic yet comfortable night in spacious tents, the next day’s ride would weave from Spruce Lake back to the lodge. This side of the mountain was a dry, dusty roller coaster of mostly downhill singletrack, with plenty more river crossings to cool off in. The final 5-mile Lower Gun Creek Trail doubletrack descent was an amazing speed battle to end the trip.
While Whistler and the North Shore are the legends of British Columbia, the South Chilcotin Mountains are an unheralded sweet spot of amazing riding. There were plenty of other groups in the lodge, but once on the trails we never saw another person. Unless you count that pesky marmot that was far too interested in our lunch.
This article originally appeared in Dirt Rag #195.