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August 12, 2009

Whistler—Cheap Thrills (Ride 14)

Filed under: BC 2009, MTB Travel — anotherheader @ 7:22 am

Knobs on an early, easier drop on Cheap Thrills in the Whistler Valley

Knobs on an early, easier drop on Cheap Thrills in the Whistler Valley

Thursday was our last day for a ride in the Whistler vicinity.  The weather forecast indicated that afternoon thunderstorms were likely, so we planned on an earlier ride.  We still had many rides worth considering on the table to choose from.  Our list included:

•    Khyber Pass—Babylon by Bike—Tunnel Vision.  Starting with a lift ride up in the Bike Park, this looks like an epic that would require future planning and an afternoon with out rain.  We’ll save this one for a future visit.

•    Lumpy’s Epic Pemberton or Lumpy’s and Tower of Power (Narin Falls/One Mile Lake, Pemberton)

•    Ph.D. in Pemberton

•    More of the Mosquito Lake trails near Happy Trail including Bob Gnarly and Hawaii (Pemberton)

•    Industrial Disease or Cheap Thrills in the Whistler Valley

•    Emerald Forest Trails (Whistler)

•    The Bike Park

There were a lot of rides to choose from and they all looked like good options.  Another week or two in Whistler would be good.  In the end, we opted for Cheap Thrills on the west side of the Whistler Valley.  Someone at a bike shop long ago marked Cheap Thrills on our map for us to consider riding.  The trail was labeled as a double black diamond.  In a rare case of clear thinking, when we received this suggestion we thought it might be too much for the moment.  Even now, a double black diamond is something we view with caution in the North Shore.  But our guidebook (Whistler Mountain Biking—A Guide to Trail Rides in the Whistler Valley by Brian Finestone and Kevin Hodder) specifically stated, about Cheap Thrills, “It’s also worth noting that a confident intermediate rider willing to walk past tougher features could still enjoy this ride.”  That was good enough for us so we headed out on the bike paths towards Cheap Thrills.

Uncle Knobular committed to the long, increasingly steep ladder on Cheap Thrills.

Uncle Knobular committed to the long, increasingly steep ladder on Cheap Thrills.

Cheap Thrills drops off of the Rainbow-Sproatt Flank Trail.  We reached the Flank Trail by riding up the trail whose entrance is directly across the street from the main (preferred) access point for the oldest portion of River Runs Through It.  I believe the trailhead sign says that this is the Rainbow Trail, though my memory may be off.  Nevertheless, staying on this largely rideable and sometimes steep trail and avoiding Bob’s Rebob takes you up the hill, across a bridge over a raging stream to the Flank Trail.  With some of the requisite trail finding confusion and a few hike-a-bike sections we worked our way along the Flank Trail and over to top of Cheap Thrills.  At least we think it was Cheap Thrills.  The trail we rode wasn’t signed but, at the bottom, the trails at the intersection were clearly marked.  From the map it was apparent that we had, in fact, descended Cheap Thrills though there wasn’t anything even remotely cheap about the thrills on this trail.  Our trail finding would have been easier if our map included the other unsigned trails that we encountered off of the Flank Trail.  We spent significant time venturing down some well-defined trails descending off of the Flank Trail only to discover that they could not be Cheap Thrills.  Perhaps the knowledge gained in our hunt for Cheap Thrills trailhead might be useful for a future ride.

Knobs moves onto a short mellow section of Cheap Thrills before the excitement begins again

Knobs moves onto a short mellow section of Cheap Thrills before the excitement begins again

Once on Cheap Thrills one thing was certain–the altitude we gained on the climb would not be lost without extracting the maximal, spincter-puckering excitement.  And, as I said before, there’s nothing cheap about the thrills on this trail.  Cheap Thrills plunges down the hill losing most of its elevation in several hair-raising and intimidating sections separated by relatively sedate connectors.  Mostly these sections are steep, super steep, granite slabs that often involve some fine maneuvering to avoid a big hit at the end.  The trail has ladders made necessary by the extreme terrain.  At one point there is a long descending ladder that starts steep and two feet wide and then turns steeper and narrow with a bend in the middle for added interest.  Brian rode this one and exited like he was shot out of a cannon with air burping out of his tubeless tires.  Most of Cheap Thrills is marginally within our skill set though there are a few “Special Skills” sections here and there that require riding techniques that aren’t in our repertoire.   In fact, for one section, a jagged, near vertical, 10-foot high rock wall with a flat landing, we are not exactly certain what those riding skills would be.  It was hard enough for us to climb down it.  But this is the North Shore.  I’m sure many can ride it and some can make it look easy.

A ladder starts where the rock drop ends

A ladder starts where the rock drop ends

When we started the descent of Cheap Thrills, we could see thunderstorms in the mountains across the valley.  About halfway down the trail, with our scouting and picture taking, the storms were much closer.  Flashes of lightening and cracks of thunder added some urgency to our pace.  At the same time, the gradient of the trail slackened slightly and the tread changed from super steep to merely steep and the surface of the drops turned from rock to loose and loamy dirt.  On these sections, once we started rolling, it’s not like we could have easily stopped to scout anyway, so we just hung on and surfed our way to the bottom.

At the end of Cheap Thrills we connected to 99er and bypassed the longer Danimal option.  99er is single black diamond that went by in a flash in our haste to beat the approaching deluge.  I recall that 99er was typically challenging with loamy drops and some ladders.  In the Bay Area, I would have made a point of including 99er on a ride.  In Whistler, it became an afterthought in our Cheap Thrills adrenaline depleted state.

At the bottom of the trail, we popped out onto the Alta Lake Road which we took to over to the paved valley trails.  The thunder was near and a drizzle was turning to rain as we pedaled the bike path at our maximum.  We came upon a father and his two young sons riding bikes on the path.  They were weaving about the path but when we had the opportunity, we just couldn’t get past the pesky eight year old with a playing card in his spokes.  It took us five attempts until we were able to barely sprint by.  Once past, we were so winded it was all we could do to stay ahead.  Perhaps mandatory testing for performance enhancing drugs in grade school isn’t such a bad idea, after all.

Knobs heading down one of Cheap Thrills' granite slabs

Knobs heading down one of Cheap Thrills' granite slabs

By the time we reached the trailer, the rain had started in earnest and the lightening and thunder were loud and nearby.  Nick may be hard of hearing, but the thunder was more than loud enough to make him nervous.  He was happy we were back in time to rescue him.  As Knobs and I plotted a return visit to Cheap Thrills for another dose of adrenaline, Nick hung close to our legs.  He’d be happy to come back as long as we made the thunder go away.



1 Comment »

  1. My version of the pesky eight year old is here…

    Comment by surlypeach — August 12, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

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