In theory it is a short drive from Riverside RV Park in Whistler to Squamish’s Dryden Creek Resorts. With the Olympics related highway improvements on the Sea-to-Sky highway in progress, the trip always takes longer than it should. At one spot, the traffic was stopped with a long delay for no discernible reason—we could see end of the construction zone and there was no activity going on. This happened to us at this spot heading in both directions. I guess there must be a reason for the stoppage, however bizarre it appears. In the end, the 35-minute drive ended up taking well more than an hour but it doesn’t really matter. This was an off day and there was no hurry.
We arrived in Dryden Creek to find that our reservations were lost due to a computer error. We’d have to dry camp a couple of nights before we moved into our permanent spots. Nick had complaints, also. Squamish was not Whistler. He wants to go back north and find the bears.
The next morning Becky arrived by plane and shuttle bus from the Bay Area. She was in time for the Farmer’s Market held in Squamish’s small downtown, near the shuttle drop-off point. Squamish is a working class community with about 17,000 people. Many of the residents work in either Whistler or Vancouver. It is the type of place that you often drive by on the way to somewhere else. But there are differences. With massive granite walls that have been revealed by the glaciers, Squamish is a famous rock climbing destination. It is not uncommon to see climbers with their climbing shoes and ropes walking through Nesters Grocery Store near the bottom of rock wall of “The Chief”. For me, I can think of no better place for mountain biking. Squamish, which claims more trail mileage than road mileage and bills itself unabashedly as the adventure sport capitol of Canada, is the forgotten mountain biking Mecca. Everyday, hundreds of bikes loaded onto vehicles whiz past Squamish on their way to Whistler. I like Squamish better. Make that, I like Squamish best as I can’t name another mountain biking destination that I prefer.
And there’s the farmer’s market to boot. We picked up fresh corn, some of the best blueberries ever, a five pound bag of Pemberton fingerling potatoes for five dollars, and more. We will eat well tonight and for the next few days.
So what is the appeal of Squamish mountain biking? For us it is the quantity and quality of the trails. There are just more trails and more variety to the trails in Squamish. Our riding style would be best characterized as Old School technical. For this style you need several things to make a top notch riding destination. The area must have steep terrain that can maintain steep pitches, either on rock slabs or through armoring. Roots also help in making challenging trails. But with all of terrain requirements, you also need an active, creative trail building community and a permissive governance. Squamish excels in all of these areas. The art of trail building is on full display in Squamish. Trail builders like Tedward Shovelhands are even interviewed in the local adventure sport periodicals. The builders are celebrities amongst the riding community. Everyone knows the styles of trails that the different builders build. Locals will tell you that the different trail styles reflect the preferred bikes of the trail builders. The locals also know when and where new trails are being built and look forward to the time when they are “revealed.” I guess it helps that the trails don’t get the bike traffic that the North Vancouver freeriding super highways get. Less traffic must save the trail building effort that goes into the extensive armoring campaigns that are required in North Vancouver.
More about Squamish trail building:
Mostly the trails in Squamish are hard and challenging. Along with the Old School trails, there are New School trails that minimize pedaling during the descent and maximize the airtime with large, well constructed build-ups. And there are some easy paths, too. It’s just that the easier paths are a small percentage of the large overall trail system. This still adds up to a lot of trail mileage (kilometerage?). And there’s plenty of interesting, non-life threatening trails to keep an intermediate rider interested and challenged.
After Becky’s arrival and our visit to the Farmer’s Market, we had time for a loop from the RV Park. We connected to the Alice Lake area on Wonderland, a gently climbing, winding trail that starts at the intersection of Depot Road and Highway 99 and ends on the road up to Alice Lake. Wonderland follows the “Alice in Wonderland” theme in the area where Cheshire Cat and other trails are located. This path, like many of the trails in Squamish, winds through the dense, ferny forest. A stream is crossed on a ladder bridge just high and narrow enough to keep your focus. This newer trail is on the frequently updated Squamish trail maps and is rated as an intermediate/blue square. Wonderland adds to the quality of the loop rides out of the RV Park.
From the end of Wonderland we took the paved road past the Alice Lake swimming beach and continued on to the dirt road climb to the top of Crouching Squirrel Hidden Monkey (CSHM). CSHM is an older, legacy trail and one the local’s favorite old school style trails in the Garibaldi Highlands area. It is rated as a single black diamond advanced trail on the map. It follows, for much of the descent, old logging skid roads that have been narrowed to singletrack and eroded to produce root and rock drops along the way. This is always a fun drop. Towards the bottom, we split onto Plural of Nemesis, a new trail that we first rode last year. Plural of Nemesis is marked on the map as a double black diamond. The folks in the bike shop will tell you that the trail ratings on the maps have been exaggerated in an attempt to better conform to ratings in other areas. No matter the rating, Plural of Nemesis is a harder trail than CSHM and has gotten significantly harder from the time of our first visit. The trail starts with several steep, root and loam pitches that weave down between the trees. On our first visit, the tread was loamy and traction was good. With more traffic, the track has been gently rutted exposing the subsurface web of roots and making the drops significantly harder, even with dry conditions. It is all still rideable, just get back behind the saddle, hang on, and try to stay balanced and upright. Plural of Nemesis also has a couple of granite slab rock drops that require a careful choice of lines. Trails like the Plural of Nemesis are a perfect example of why we like riding in Squamish so much.
At the bottom of Plural of Nemesis, we continued downhill on Jack’s Trail, an easy, gently graded thoroughfare, until we reached Brackentrail. Brakentrail, a blue square/intermediate, is fast and furious as you flow through the small banked turns that lead down the hill. A long, high, and relatively wide ladder bridge takes you across the stream. Often, it seems, they build bridges here just wide enough to give a sense of exposure but not so narrow that there is any true danger. And it goes without saying that there are no handrails on most of the bridges in Squamish, as a rule.
The bottom of Brakentrail is an all out fast section that winds on a loose tread through the brush. All too soon, we popped out into the neighborhood, 1 km south of the RV Park. Overall this loop took us about 3 hours to complete.
We reached the RV Park just before the skies opened up with a thunderstorm. The Dryden Creek Campground sits below a rock wall and we could hear the distinctive sharp clap of nearby lightening strike on the ridge just above us. Before long, thumb sized hailstones and heavy rain pelted the trailer. Nick was happy we were back. He too enjoyed the shelter inside the trailer.