Single-track Mecca: Kamloops, an homage to “dirt town”

423802_10150583726096674_525896598_nAndy’s Seattle ski buddies call Kamloops “dirt town”. I’d like to think it’s because of the desert-like, buff single-track that makes this one of the most consistently awesome mountain biking & trail-running spots in the interior. But I suspect the observation is rooted in baser observations. Kamloops can seem like the armpit of BC: its defining colours are yellow & brown; most folks only pass through on the way to somewhere else; it’s typically a 40+C inferno during summer vacation – aka the passing-through months, and all you really see from the highway are strip malls, fast food outlets and the sort of motels that folks rent by the hour or by the month.

Work as a faculty librarian at Thompson Rivers University brought me to Kamloops just over 4 years ago, and despite, or perhaps due to the alienation & isolation I experienced as a newcomer, I took up trail running.  I started out hiking, but wanted more of a physical challenge; trailrunning became a practice somewhat akin to meditation, but physical, and it fostered an intense feeling of connectedness with the physical geography.  And so, as I anticipate leaving this place, it seems fitting to dote a bit on what I’ve come to love about it: the views of the Thompson Rivers, the quality of the golden burnished light in a place where the sun almost always shines, the brilliant & dramatic sunsets over the river, and most of all, the sweet, buff single-track that winds around the perimeters of the city in all directions. In the end, it turned out to be the dirt in dirt town that I’ve loved most of all.

Kamloops is a trail-running (and mountain biking) paradise. Nobody need drive to a trail, ever, as everyone lives within a mile or two of windy single-track trails that climb up through the grasslands, amid the sagebrush, juniper, and ponderosa pines. Every run beyond the immediate downtown area makes you work, climbing between 100 and 400 meters at a minimum, but the rewards, in the form of views over the North and South Thompson rivers, are unmeasurable.

View of the N. Thompson River, Barren Hills, and Kamloops from the lower Peterson Creek trails:1385442_10151672228771674_219256001_n

Kenna Cartwright Park:


Single-track in Kenna Cartwright Park:

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 Hoarfrost on the trails in Kenna:



Barren Hills (Bachelor Heights trails), Winter 2012:

Batch around hill IMG_0013

Running the Valleyview silt cliffs:

IMG_0713Wild horses on the saddle between Mt. Peter & Mt. Paul:


Joffre Lakes

A few weekends back, I managed to convince Andy to skip the Dirty Feet Sun Peaks 50k race in favour of a little backpacking trip to the Joffre Lakes.  Located about an hour northeast of Whistler on Highway 99, the Joffre Lakes – all three of them – are about as beautiful as glacier-fed lakes come.  Turquoise, sparkling, and framed by the Matier, Anniversary, Stonecrop and Tszil glaciers, they’re also extremely accessible, the first being just a few hundred meters from the trailhead at Highway 99, and the third about 5 kilometers in on a trail that really only climbs about 400 meters overall.

Naturally, the parking lot was full, the trail packed, and the “backcountry” campground at the upper lake as crowded as I’ve ever seen it with more than 20 tents scattered around the edge of the lake.  We found a bit of solitude by wading across glacier runoff & clambering up a bit of rock, where we found a perfect spot out of the wind for the tent.  This was probably our laziest backpacking trip ever, with only about an hour’s worth of work required to get to camp, where we promptly set-up to do basically nothing at all for the following 24 hours.  Only the small mouse that somehow broke into our tent in the middle of the night disturbed our peace!  Here are a few photos:

Matier Glacier, just above our campsite:IMG_7533IMG_7546IMG_7541IMG_7564

We tried to cowboy camp, but there was this one mouse that wouldn’t leave us alone:IMG_7560

Upper Joffre Lake at duskIMG_7553 IMG_7544

Andy’s homemade freeze dried dinner in the Jetboil.  IMG_7542

Backcountry “solitude”:IMG_7539 IMG_7536

The edge of the Matier Glacier, just above our campsite:IMG_7534

Waterfall on the hike up:IMG_7531 IMG_7529


photo (8) (1)September feels like the perfect season for trail running and hiking in southern and interior B.C.  The alpine tends to stay pretty much snow free, the bugs are gone, and while it’s often sunny and warm, the stifling heat of July and August has wound down a bit.  For said reasons, it’s really the perfect time of year to do a bit of peak bagging in the Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area.  In ideal conditions, Andy and I would both have preferred to run the Frosty Mountain 50k in Manning Park this weekend.  But I’m recovering from an injury and haven’t been running much lately; Andy somehow slammed the car door on his leg last weekend and unsurprisingly found running a bit painful this week, and to cap things off, we both seem to be fighting off a cold. Nevertheless, it’s been a long & busy week at work; the weather promised to be beautiful through the weekend, and I knew I was going to need a bit of a mountain fix.  So, we decided to give Saturday over to Yak.

Everyone who drives the #5 between Hope and Merritt has seen Yak; it’s that enormous, smooth granite slab that angles upward from the treeline just north of the Zopkios rest area on the North/West side of the highway.  As a hike, it’s a steep challenging climb that rises about 800 meters from the trailhead to the summit at 6693’/2040m, with a fair bit of class 2 & 3 scrambling along the way.  It’s a perfect day trip from Kamloops, really; we left town around 8:30 a.m., drove 1.5 hrs each way, puttered around taking pics & snacking at the top, & got back to town by 5 in the evening.

Neil coming down from the false summit:

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I was relieved that these ropes held:10701991_10152304166225872_6057982851311055318_n (1)

Andy & I: gratuitous selfie at the summit of Yak10527724_10152304164610872_3524765421458694041_n (1)

Yak’s false summit/nub, looking south/southeast:1555372_10152304165770872_5623972728721584960_n (1)

Cathedral Lakes and the Fat Dog 120: Part 1

Having spent ample time running up and down Frosty Mountain and the Skyline Trail in Manning Park these past few summers, it would have been virtually impossible to not have at least heard of the adjacent Cathedral Lakes Provincial Park & Protected Area.  Topping out at 2426 meters/7959 feet, Frosty Mountain is arguably the best alpine hiking trail in Manning Park, but I’ve been itching to explore some other options in the area.  Inside Manning, I’ve been planning to run/hike Goat Mountain and Poland Lake, and just west of the park there’s also Mt. Outram, which climbs over 1500 meters to top out at over 2500 m. But it wasn’t until I started prepping to crew a friend for the Fat Dog 120 that the area which straddles the geographical divide between the Cascades and the much more arid Okanagan popped out at me.

Continued on RunSkiDrink, Andy’s and my new site.

Wells Gray: Trophy Meadows & Mountains

I’ve been itching to get out to Trophy Mountain in Wells Gray for a couple of years, and after multiple cancelations due to bad weather, I finally got my chance at the end of July.  As an alpine, backcountry destination, the Trophies have a bit of everything.  Our plan was to run the trail to Trophy Meadows, continuing onward to Plateau of the Lakes, up the col between Long Hill and Trophy 2, along the ridge line past Cwem Cwem lake to Trophy 1, and from there, using some directions from local trails expert Doug Smith, a GPS, and a bit of luck, to pick a route back via Plateau of the Lakes.  (The Backcountry Mapbook for the BC Interior/Thompson-Nicola has an excellent map of this area that includes topographical features, access roads, and trails.)  The alpine flower show in Trophy Meadows was in full bloom; much of the route above tree-line, and the ridge to Trophy 1, a Class 3 scramble.

Unfortunately, around half an hour into our run, I felt something tugging in my right calf and within a couple of minutes, it was pretty clear to me that although the pull felt relatively insignificant, continuing to run would be disastrous.  We power-hiked the rest of the way into the meadows, beyond which the trail became mostly un-runnable anyhow.

Sooner or later, most runners have to sit a few weeks (or months) out due to an injury of some kind.  Thankfully, at least until now, I’ve had luck on my side.  Apart from a bit of achilles tendonitis, which goes away if I stretch properly and use my orthotics, and one brief bout of IT band syndrome a few years back when I ran a 50k race without training for the distance, I don’t seem to get injured.  And I run quite a bit – typically 5 days a week for between 1-1.5 hours, with a longer run every other weekend or so.  I do try to be vigilant about prevention: I have an elaborate stretching regime, am careful to limit speed and other quality workouts, keeping most of my running at an easy aerobic pace, and I do pay attention to things like quality nutrition and sleep.

So what happened?  I’ve gotten a bit lazy about stretching as much as I used to; I’ve been pretty carefree about running this spring/summer – planning less & doing pretty much whatever I’ve feel like in the moment.  I’ve cared less (not at all) about “training” for specific races this year, and more about keeping it fun and spontaneous.  In doing so, I accidentally ramped up both quality and distance at the same time – a surefire formula for getting injured.

Getting injured in the backcountry can also, obviously, be dangerous.  I’ve noticed quite a range of preparedness (and lack thereof) among the folks I’ve done longer backcountry runs with, and it’s worth emphasizing that in places like Wells Gray, where, if you break a leg somewhere off-trail (as any of us could have in an unstable boulder field we crossed), it could be hours or even a day before SAR finds you.  For me, it goes without saying that a (summer) trip into the alpine necessitates, at a bare minimum: a shell, gloves, warm hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, emergency blanket, headlamp, water purification tablets (or a filter), at least a liter of water (more if you’re going somewhere without streams), some first aid essentials, lots of extra food, a knife and a whistle.  On hikes, I also typically bring a puffy and hand warmers, as I get post-exercise hypothermia pretty quickly whenever I stop for more than a minute or two, and I sometimes also bring rain pants.  Mountain weather changes quickly and it’s easy to get caught in unexpected rain or hail.  Andy also has a SPOT which is a great device for getting emergency help via satellite, and for letting others know when you’ve arrived at your destination safely. Furthermore, I tend to bring bear spray and/or bear bangers, at least in places like Wells Gray where I know there are significant grizzly populations.  This tends to generate some eye-rolling, but rather than get into “the great bear debate”, I’ll just say that I’ve heard enough first-hand stories from folks who’ve used it effectively to say that for me, when in grizzly country, it’s worth the added weight.

Cwem Cwem Lake


Trophy Meadows with Raft Mountain in the distance


Me watching Natalee and Todd scramble up a long rock slab.  Yep, that’s a bug net on my head.  (The sticky rubber soles on my new La Sportiva Bushidos would have been killer on that slab.)IMG_2193

Andy picking his way down to Cwem Cwem LakeIMG_2179 (1)

Todd, Natalee and Andy approaching Cwem Cwem LakeIMG_2181 (1)


Todd and Natalee scrambling the ridge between Trophy 1 and 2IMG_2172

Me on the ridge between Trophy 1 and 2IMG_2169


Rogers Pass

After injuring my calf on the Wells Grey Trophy Mountain circuit, running the 55 kilometer Kootenay National Park Rock Wall Route as planned was pretty much out of the question.  So, instead, Andy and I decided to spend a few days in Glacier National Park (the Canadian one).  We camped in the shade of old growth Cedar trees at the immaculate and quiet Illecillewaet Campground, and over three days, hiked Abbott Ridge, the Hermit Trail, and the Mount Sir Donald Trail.  It was sunny and hot with temperatures as high as 32C in the alpine during the days, but thankfully it was cool and breezy in the evenings.  It was, as Andy’s taken to calling it (mainly in response to the 40+C temperatures we’ve had in Kamloops this summer) “Good sleeping weather.”

Abbott Ridge: Starting from the Illecillewaet Campground, this trail climbs just over 1000 meters over 6.5 kilometers into the alpine, where from Abbott Ridge, you’re rewarded by panoramic views of the Illecillewaet glacier and Mount Sir Donald.


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Hermit Trail: Said to be the steepest trail in the park, this route climbs more than 800 meters over 3 kilometers.  The trail begins 1.5 kilometers east of the Rogers Pass visitor’s center on the westbound side of Highway 1 and climbs through old growth forest to an alpine campsite with about 6 tent pads and bear proof food caches.  From there, you get stunning views of the Asulkan glacier, Mt. Tupper, and the peaks of the Mount Rogers Massif.  IMG_7344  IMG_7338


Mount Sir Donald Trail: Leaving from the Illecillewaet Campground, the trail climbs just over 1000 meters in 5 kilometers to the col between Mount Sir Donald and Mount Uto.

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Eagle Pass Mountain

Located not too far from Revelstoke, Eagle Pass Mountain is the perfect destination for a challenging, but not overwhelming, day trip into the alpine.  photo (5) (1)We hiked it one afternoon not too long ago on the Canada Day long weekend, which was probably a bit too early given the not yet cleared blowdown on the Crazy Creek FSR and the amount of postholing required once we were on trail.  From the trailhead, the route climbs about 800 meters over 3.5k to a lookout on the peak at 2281 meters (7483 feet).  The last 50 meters of the climb is a teensy bit scrambly and a bit exposed; there are definitely a few spots where if you fell, you could expect to drop a good 400 meters with a hard, rocky landing.  At the top, the lookout is really just the stone foundation of what was probably originally a fire or forest service shelter, and it frames panoramic views of the Monashees and Selkirks.