The Grandest Tour of Them All - Trans BC Enduro
Tales of loam infested trails, steep chutes, and rock slabs tantalized me from afar. Sure, we have great mountain biking where I come from; there are more miles of singletrack and bike parks in Colorado than you can shake a stick at. But there was still something missing in my repertoire of riding. Something that you can’t find in the lower 48— wild, raw, and bonafide singletrack that takes you from the highest peaks down to the clearest lakes. Linking up the best trails in four destinations would typically be a challenge for a newcomer to weave together a seamless itinerary in less than a week. But jumping on board the Trans BC Enduro stage race provided the framework for a grand tour of Interior B.C.
Day 1 - Vernon
Situated in the heart of Lake Country, Vernon may be the oldest community in the Okanagan, incorporated in 1892, however, it is the fastest growing mountain bike destination in the region. Venerable trails restored from their ancient hiking roots, flow into purpose-built mountain bike singletrack all the way down to Lake Kalamalka, the emerald crown jewel of the area.
An eight-kilometer portion of the High Rim Trail (HRT) was recently resurrected by Cabin Forestry Services (CFS) to begin the plunge into the thick 70-kilometer trail system below. Although we were not far from Silver Star Mountain Resort, our entire adventure was cast in the backcountry starting from the majestic peak of the HRT at 1300 meters straight into the backdoor of Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park. Through the partnership between the Trans BC and CFS, we were some of the first mountain bikers to experience a fresh cut section of trail on the 110-kilometer traverse along the eastern slopes of the Thompson Plateau between Vernon and Kelowna. The featured descent— 1.3 kilometers and 220 meters— of steep switchbacks, committing moves over slippery roots and logs, and a high-speed finish was a brute awakening to the casual pace we had been keeping on the climbs. It also foreshadowed what was to come.
We still had three major descents ahead of us. The second more than four times the distance and three times the vert down Tombstone, Big Ed, Jimmy Thang and Twista. There were loam pockets and optional freeride lines scattered along the way. While some of the features were ladder hucks to roots, some log rides created shortcuts in ambiguous corners. The highlight of the day was unanimously 36DD, a trail marked by a big rock roll and a steep, loose chute to the finish.
The final two descents of the day led us closer to the Cosens Beach through ponderosa pines, black cottonwood and douglas fir trees. Fun flow and high-speed characterized the trails, which ended in a sprint through an open meadow into a skidding stop at the sandy shoreline. We all stripped down and took a cool dip in the lake before climbing up to the trailhead in our clammy chamois.
The North Okanagan Cycling Society (NOCS) is responsible for taking care of the trails in and around Vernon. As I learned throughout the week, the involvement of the local mountain bike advocacy group is the heart and soul of each region’s trail network.
While we did not have time to tour the Kangaroo Farm just south of Vernon, we were told to seek out the best craft beer at Marten Brewpub and tasty local craft cider at the BX Press Cidery, the Midtown Bistro for sliders and The Curry Pot for Indian food. If we stuck around until Friday, Ratio Coffee & Pastry is the spot for specialty donuts.
Day 2 - Penticton
On the second day of our grand tour, we moved 75 kilometers south to Penticton, a quaint local’s town in the very northern tip of the Sonoran Desert. Filled with a myriad of eco-systems, the Sonoran Desert runs the length of North American from Mexico to British Columbia, and in the Okanagan Valley, this creates the perfect location for mountain biking, wineries, and water sports to converge.
“Penticton is known as the town that stayed in the 70’s in a really good way— friendly, cool, and easy going,” said Hugh McClelland, cycling advocate with the City of Penticton. “And yet you’ve got two lakes, amazing mountain biking and road riding, kite surfing, and vineyards all along the shorelines of Lake Okanagan and Skaha Lake. The lakes create a micro climate that nourishes a green playground in the rolling hills above.”
The word is getting out about the Three Blind Mice trail network— the primary and oldest trail system in the area and the huge variety of trails and incredible unique rock contained within. The exposed rock is a byproduct of glacial scraping from over 10,000 years ago. The ancient granite, also known as gneiss, has been through a few volcanic cycles, giving the rock its grippy, pitted surface. This process also abandoned huge Jesus boulders, also known as glacial erratics, sporadically throughout the forest.
We were expecting dry conditions and velcro rock, however, we were greeted with unseasonal rain, which made the slippery slabs of rock and crafty chicanes challengingly deceptive.
The first descent took us down the upper portion of Naramata Beer Run, a local trail littered with wooden features and lichen covered rocks. What would have typically been a fun ride down the playful trail, quickly turned into ice Capades on wood.
Throughout the day of 39 kilometers, 1350 meters of climbing, and 1933 meters of descending, we were treated to seven descents and seven climbs, all equally challenging in their own regard. Because the trails go every direction, the trail network was named after the story of three blind mice running all over the place away from the farmer’s wife.
The trail system has been meticulously cared for by the Penticton and Area Cycling Association (PACA) since 2008. They have evolved to become the prominent force in both on and off-road trail design, maintenance and planning, and specialists in trailside bacon.
The final ride down Slabs to Tsweet Tsue popped us out of the “mousterpiece” like a pinball, ending with an expansive view of vineyards as far as the eye could see. The history of tree fruits since the early 1900’s is still influential in the region. The area has the perfect climate for apples, pears, cherries, and peaches among others, and quickly became the “fruit basket”, supplying western Canadian cities and providing the first economic basis for the town.
Wrapping up a day of riding at Cannery Brewing combines the perfect day on the trails with delicious pub food and beer set in an old fruit cannery building in downtown Penticton. If your palate hankers for a sample of local fine wines, gander just across the street to Milo Zero, a former auto garage converted to wine bar serving the best of local vino.
Days 3 & 4 - Rossland
Upon entering Rossland, you instantly feel like you’ve hit the “Mountain Bike Capital of Canada”. Surrounded by 200-plus kilometers of professionally maintained trails, ranging from cross country trails like the Seven Summits Trail, an IMBA Epic Ride, to fall-line old school downhill tracks, the authentic energy, and culture surrounding winter sports quickly changes to mountain biking in the summer. It’s not uncommon to see cars lined up on the streets worth a tenth of the value of bikes mounted on their roof racks. Yeah, I would say people have their priorities straight here.
During winter months, RED Mountain Resort is one of the biggest ski resorts in British Columbia, internationally renowned as a best-kept secret in skiing and heli/cat accessible in-bounds terrain. In summer, its central location to high alpine and mossy, dark forests is equally as intriguing. So much, that it warranted two days to fully explore Rossland’s offerings that the Kootenay Columbia Trails Society (KCTS) maintains.
We started with the classic traverse along Seven Summits, a 36-kilometer trail that runs the ridge line of seven mountains. Although we only carried along the first 9.6 kilometers of the prominent ridge line before diverting down, the 360-degree views into the old volcanic basin were stunning. So much that trudging uphill in snow didn’t phase us one bit.
Plewman Trail is more commonly used as a hiking track or bailout from the Seven Summits, but this steep and rocky descent was the perfect introduction to Rossland’s collection of mountain bike trails. The steep and rocky descent activated the adrenaline glands for a good 10-15 minutes over 4.5 kilometers and down 760 meters.
Next up on tap was a roller coaster cruise down two fun and flowy local trails. Hands finally felt some reprieve from the steeper slopes above, and we were able to let loose and feed the soul. Dual lines through the trees and small jumps made BS and Monticola the perfect playground for a lady train to commence.
The theme of old school versus new school continued to present itself over the course of both days. Downhill and freeride lines dating back to the 90’s juxtaposed high speed, flow trails on the biggest days of the week.
A highlight of Rossland was The Flume, which would later become known as one of the rowdiest descents of the week— an old school freeride trail that had never been raced on. It was as if North Vancouver and Pemberton had a baby, and The Flume trail was it. Starting from the top of Tamarack Mountain at 1319 meters, the 616-meter descent careens through a gamut of steep, tight and rocky terrain with various drops, log rides, boulder hopping and flowing singletrack, all the way to the bottom.
Whiskey also deserves recognition for its big rock rolls and views (if you’re not staring at the run out), and peppery stunt lines and jumps ending in a perfectly pitched 1.5-meter drop at the end.
The beauty of riding in Rossland lies in its accessibility from town or RED Mountain Resort. We hopscotched between the two and ended the day with two more tracks at the Resort for the most bikeparkesque runs of the week down Redhead and Paydirt, featuring jumps, doubles, and endless berms all the way back to the base area where beer and more hot tubbing commenced.
Had we not been enjoying the amenities at RED Mountain Resort for the duration of our stay, we may have easily found our way down to Rossland Beer Company, a micro-brewery with back alley access and a super cool laid back vibe. This is where you’ll find the locals, still dawning their muddy baggies, bragging about their best lines of the day. Just down Washington Street, you’ll find The Flying Steamshovel located in a historic inn, where the menu changes seasonally, and live entertainment is as fresh as it gets with new bands playing weekly.
Days 5 & 6 - Nelson
For our grand finale, it was most fitting to head to the legendary hamlet of Nelson to conclude our circuit of Interior B.C. The riding scene has been going strong for well over a quarter of a century, and with the annual Fat Tire Festival heading into its 22nd year, mountain biking is engrained into the town’s eccentric and artsy culture. Showcased in many mountain bike films, Nelson offers a variety of trails in the shadows of the Selkirk Mountains, built by dedicated locals who have an obsession for slippery roots, long vertical descents, wood features, and steep chutes.
Many of the trails we rode were taken out of context due to the unrelenting rain. The first descent we experienced, Powerslave, was truncated to the bottom two-thirds, due to an early morning downpour that created a running river bending around extremely slippery wood features and what would become known as the “rut of death”.
We sampled both sides of Giveout and Gold Creek trails, which highlighted some of the most popular descents in the area maintained by Nelson Cycling Club (NCC), including Placenta Descenta, Upper Goldmember, and Gold Rush to Waldorfian— an odyssey down all the finest points of Nelson’s gnar.
Our final day saved the best for last to conclude this six-day epic adventure. It may not have been the biggest day, but it was certainly the most monumental with a bus, van, ride and hike, all the way into the alpine above Baldface Lodge, which sits proudly at 2,057 meters. Home to 13,000 hectares of backcountry cat boarding and skiing, the private lodge welcomed us with hot coffee and a friendly nudge to continue our journey to the top of Cherry Bowl. Although the conditions hid the true beauty of the trails and vistas, the steep alpine goodness elated those who enjoyed the semantics of riding your bike through squirrely, slimy mud and snow.
More rain ushered riders through Swamp Donkey and into the twenty-ninth and final featured descent of the Trans BC— Shannon Pass. This physically demanding descent incorporated every element that we encountered throughout the week into a symposium of B.C.’s finest singletrack. By the end, you were ear-to-ear grinning down the long, twisty, turning trail, which dumped out near the shores of Kootenay lake for a scenic cruise back to the beach.
With more restaurants per capita than San Francisco and a reputation as the No. 1 small arts town in Canada, Nelson is home to a thriving art and culinary community that make it an ideal location to unwind after a long week on the bike. Nelson Brewing Company’s beer can be found at many local establishments including Finley’s Bar & Grill, a polished spot to enjoy homemade, delicious pub food.
Oso Negro, widely known for roasting their sustainably-sourced coffee in small batches for the past 20 years, doubles as a cafe featuring a broad spectrum of wholesome, seasonal foods to cater to a wide array of dietary needs. You can enjoy your food and drink in a unique setting among the artwork of talented local artists or outdoors in their peaceful perennial garden.
The Kootenay Coop provides a one-stop location for a wide variety of tasty, healthy food on the fly. With a day and a half left in Nelson, and finally, blue skies and tacky trails beckoning, we couldn’t stop exploring, so snacks and lunch on the go were paramount in maximizing our time. Revisiting the lower portion of Powerslave, also known as Bear’s Den, was a confidence inspiring motion to end my visit with a victory lap down Mister Slave, Turnstyles, Born Again and Rise N Fry.
Time to truly unwind, a visit to Ainsworth Hot Springs for a therapeutic dip in a cave filled with hot mineral water, overlooking the majestic Kootenay Lake, was the perfect place to wrap up the week, warm the soul, and seal in the experience of Interior B.C. There are still many trails to explore, mountains to climb, and descents to conquer, but that will be saved for another time.
Next year the Trans BC Enduro will visit four completely new locations and showcase an entirely new route encapsulating the best riding in Fernie, Panorama, Golden, and Revelstoke. See you there!
About the author:.
Sarah Rawley fell in love with mountain biking in 2005 and followed her dreams of making a career out of her passion. Raised in the Northwest US, Sarah’s instinct moved her to Colorado to pursue skiing in the Rocky Mountains and a B.A. in Technical Journalism from Colorado State University. It didn’t take long for the Colorado mountains to spark a passion for mountain bike racing, and since then, she has been on the forefront of producing mountain bike events and enjoys the creative side of writing about the latest trends and events in the industry. Always a racer at heart, Sarah races pro in the enduro circuit and is the co-founder of Colorado’s first women’s only mountain bike race, the Beti Bike Bash, and the VIDA MTB Series, the up-and-coming women’s mountain bike clinic movement.