Archive for August, 2014

Sheep Valley Bikepacking Trip

I went out on a little bikepacking trip this week to Kananaskis seeking dirt trails. It was a short trip but good fun and a good challenge.

On Sunday after work I jumped on my Fargo, took the train west to 69th street and made my way out past Bragg Creek arriving at McLean creek after dark. Riding on the highway with 2.25″ mountain tires always feels slow but I made decent time apart from a flat in my front tire after running over a large piece of metal just outside the city.

After a great sleep I packed up and headed back out on the highway for about 10km until I arrived at the Prairie Creek Trail. I happily jumped onto the single track and got going. Lots of up and down and some challenging bits. It has been some time since I have ridden anything technical let alone loaded with my gear but I managed to avoid crashing and it was nice to work hard while it was still early enough to be cool out.

I thought I would continue from Prairie Creek Trail to Ford Creek Trail but the last section of Prairie Creek was muddy and made worse with many horse and cow tracks. After some pushing and sinking I decided to bail out to Powderface Trail. I cruised the gravel road mostly downhill towards the highway.

Just before the Highway there is a small turnoff that brings you on a mellow trail right into little elbow campground. Always nice to stay off the pavement plus I saw a coyote!

I refilled my bottles at the Little Elbow Campground and got going on the Little Elbow Trail after I found the right road. From the get-go you can see where they’ve begun maintenance to restore the trail from last years flood damage, a very daunting task. The double track is fantastic where it is still in good shape, fast wide and forgiving. The further along the trail though the more wash outs and slides become present. There was a lot of hike-a-bike this day. Wading through water, climbing into and out of big eroded areas. Tiring stuff!

After working mostly uphill all day I arrived at the Tombstone backcountry campground. A quaint little spot with a nice view. I took a dip in the river, cooked my dinner and spent the evening wandering around, reading and then watching the sunset.

The next Morning I headed southeast on the Sheep Trail to meet Keely at the Bluerock campground. While my initial hopes had been that Sheep Trail would be in better shape than Little Elbow it quickly became obvious that this would not be the case. Following the river most of the way the trail had even more wash outs and a few sections where I decided to simply walk or ride in streams as the trail was nowhere to be found. It is strange to follow along on topo maps that are simply no longer accurate.

As a backpacking trip this terrain would be no problem but it was exhausting wading, climbing up and down and pushing through all sorts of varied terrain with a bike. Even some bushwhacking was in order.

Abut 6km from Bluerock I blew out my front tire again. I put in my spare only to discover the valve was faulty and the tire would not hold air. My only option now was to patch the original tube right beside my previous patch. Not great but I ate chocolate to pass the time.

After only a short downhill section my tire blew out again. I re-patched and discovered that the o-ring on my hand pump had decided to finally die. I put in as much air as possible and rode a bit until the patch blew itself again. Boo. At this point the trail was far enough off the river and the views nice enough that I walked the last 3km or so and simply enjoyed being outside.

This brought back strangely fond memories of a day on the Great Divide where I had over 9 flats due to goathead thorns. Thank god we don’t have those here in Alberta. After over 8000km of touring with my pump and zero maintenance despite constant screaming for lubrication all I can do is be happy it made it this long. I’ll try to revive the poor fellow if possible.

Keely met me at the Trailhead and whisked me back to a campsite where we made dinner, had a fire and hung out with our friend Jaime and her 2 month daughter Mira. I’m a lucky man!

All and all I had fun and consider it a great trip despite getting my ass kicked by the terrain. For anyone considering following a similar path I can’t say I recommend it for the riding though the scenery is lovely and it was very quite out there. If you decide to do it make sure you pack light, you’ll be shouldering your bike a lot.

For a visual of my route: