This ride really started three years ago. On our first visit to Whistler, the folks at the bike shop suggested a few valley trails for us. Lost Lake, River Runs Through It, Kill Me Thrill Me, Cheap Thrills, and Industrial Disease were all mentioned. Also mentioned was another trail, Comfortably Numb. Our stay was short, so we were able to ride Lost Lake and, of course, the famous River Runs Through It. Cheap Thrills and Industrial Disease were both labeled as double black diamonds, so these seemed out of reach at the time. Comfortably Numb came highly recommended by the bike shop folks and was a former IMBA Epic Ride. I’m not sure I was up for an epic, but Comfortably Numb was only 25 km long or about 15 miles. How hard could that be?
It turns out it could be pretty hard. On that day we tried Comfortably Numb, we rode our bikes the 4 or 5 miles on paved bike path and road to the trailhead. The end of Comfortably Numb was near our RV Park, so it seemed like a good way to go. We were new to the North Shore then and the going was slow as we struggled to maintain momentum over the roots, rocks, and other obstacles as we climbed up the first grade. Eventually we made it to the Young Lust intersection, the only bail out point (at least that we knew of) for miles to come. The sign at the intersection painted a grim picture—we had 4 to 7 hours more trail ahead and we were only 20 to 25% of the way in. We’d been on the trail for 3 hours at this point. At our pace, we were looking at a 12 to 15-hour ride. We didn’t have enough food and water, let alone endurance, to finish this ride. So we took the bail out at Young Lust and road back down the hill to the RV Park.
Uncomfortably Painful, as I rechristened the trail, has always hung out there as the trail we couldn’t or didn’t finish. Brian, who might have been able to make through the first time, wanted another shot. For Becky, this was a “Before I die” and an “I don’t have many years left to do it” type of trail. I don’t think I had much of a say in the matter.
Wind the clock forward three years later to this year. We are back in Whistler, this time on a longer stay. We were going to ride Uncomfortably Painful, or else.
After some easier days as a set up, we got up and out as early as the crew could manage. We packed as much food and liquids as we could carry. It would be a long, hard day. There was no need to set a shuttle, as we would finish back at the RV Park. We just drove to the trailhead area and moved onto the trail.
At the trailhead we looked again at the sign that warned of a long and grueling ride that was remote, or at least out of cell contact. I guess being out of cell phone contact qualifies as remote these days. Last time through, we thought that 7-hours to complete a 24 km trail was crazy. Couldn’t we walk the trail that fast? This time, after our last experience, the 4- to 7-hour estimate seemed optimistic.
The clock was ticking so we moved onto the trail and up the hill picking our way through the root and rock obstacles. First time through, we used a lot of energy getting through this, the first section of trail. The roots and rock terrain was unfamiliar, slick and hard to maintain momentum through. This time, after having ridden the past two summers in BC, it passed more easily and we made it to the extended logging cut climb and up to the Young Lust cutoff at least an hour faster than our last visit on the trail. At Young Lust a sign still said the trail takes 4 to 7 hours to complete Comfortably Numb. We were hoping that meant from the beginning of the trail.
Past Young Lust, we crossed the Al Grey Bridge that spans a rock walled gorge with a raging torrent. As remote as the trail is at this location, it is amazing to see such a large structure in place on what was originally a “secret” trail. Beyond the bridge, the trail climbs and then rolls and climbs again along the hillside. This area of the trail is lush, moss-covered, and ferny. Pretty and pleasant, this section is relatively easy with only the roots and rocks to sap energy and effort.
Comfortably Numb is a black diamond advanced trail on the Whistler grading system. The Whistler Valley trails are graded harder than the trails in Squamish or North Vancouver, so this is about right for this trail. (A blue trail in North Van would usually be a black trail in Whistler). Comfortably Numb has some longer extended sections where the major challenge is the momentum killing roots and rocks with no big drops or exposure. There are plenty of exposed drops, higher ladders, and tricky technical sections spaced through the trail, so you need to stay on your game.
Towards the end of the ride the trail starts dropping back towards the valley floor. With Scott, Becky and I had ridden much of this section two years ago with Scott as an out and return from Lost Lake. With loose rock, higher ladders, and drops with exposure, this is the most challenging section of trail. It doesn’t help that we were ripping tired at this point. There just wasn’t much left in the tank.
Comfortably Numb finishes winding through the forest above Lost Lake in a section that is twisty, rooty, and tricky but has little exposure. We popped out into the Lost Lake trails about 6 hours and 15 minutes after we started the ride. With all of the strength moves required, this felt pretty much like a 6-hour ride at Gooseberry Mesa would feel. Our average speed on the trail was less than 4 kilometers/hour (2.3 mph). We were under the 7-hour time frame for the ride that the trail signs advertised, though not by much. We rolled through the Lost Lake trails, luxuriating in some of the super smooth gently graded singletrack, before we dropped a couple of more technical blue trails that took us to the river and the RV Park. The camelback bladder gave up its last swallow at the trailer door. All of the tanks were on empty. With Josh and Becky leaving, tomorrow would be a much needed rest day.