Becky and I managed to turn the short three-hour drive from Osoyoos to Rossland into a full day trip. We were in no particular hurry. With stops for hippie coffee and a farmer’s market along the way, we arrived in Rossland in the late afternoon.
Rossland is an old mining town deep in the interior of BC just a couple of miles north of the US border. It is the middle of nowhere, far from population centers, and off the main transportation corridors. Similar towns are often in a grungy state of despair and disrepair. But this fate did not fall on Rossland. The town is clean, neat, and upscale. It has the best grocery store I’ve seen in a remote town its size (3,400 people). At the same time, Rossland retains its historic feel.
Though Rossland is worth a visit on its own, the reason for our stop was mountain biking. The hills around Rossland are home to numerous purpose-built mountain biking trails. Through the efforts of the Kootenay Columbia Trails Society, Rossland has become a mountain biking destination. In 2004, the Trails Society completed the area’s signature trail, Seven Summits. Seven Summits Trail has since been acclaimed as an official IMBA epic and, in 2007, was Bike Magazine’s Trail of the Year. High praise, indeed, but Rossland has more to offer riders than just Seven Summits Trail. Would you expect anything else from a small town with two bike skills parks?
Our first riding day did not go so well. First we were delayed at Lion’s Campground (as in Lion’s Club International) trying, unsuccessfully, to move into one of the first come first served campsites with full hook-ups. Then the rains came. At first the rainsqualls passed quickly giving us hope that the weather would ease later. But later the rain turned into a heavy, cold, drenching rain. Perhaps the campground delay just kept us from being soaked on the trail.
The next day the sky cleared enough to give us hope of getting a full ride in. It turns out that Lion’s Campground is in the middle of a favorite loop ride from town. All we had to do was to follow the other riders’ route and head to Drakes Trail.
On our arrival, we had visited the local bike shop, Revolution Cycles and Service, for a trail map and information. After receiving a hand-updated map and helpful advice, we asked a couple of questions.
“How do the trail difficulty ratings compare to the North Shore?” I asked.
“About the same,” the bike shop guy replied.
That wasn’t so good for longer rides. There were a lot of blue trails on the map. Blue trails on the North Shore can be a handful.
“Is trail finding easy? Are the trails well marked?” I asked.
“If there’s another area with better marked trails, I’d like to hear about it,” he said.
OK. That sounded good. We would just follow the map. There would be no problem.
In practice, as usual, things were different. The temperatures in late August were cool and the recent rains had cut the dust making for ideal conditions. Drakes Trail, a fun blue square intermediate trail on loam that wound through the forest, was super easy. The trail combined repurposed gently graded mining era roads with purpose built singletrack connectors. In almost any location, Drakes would have been labeled as an easy, “green circle” trail. As for the trail finding, it wasn’t super difficult but it certainly was more challenging than the typical riding area. The main trails were generally marked but frequent splits with unlabeled “volunteer” tracks added confusion. For us, we just kept to the most used line and that generally worked at least until we got to the confusing road intersections. Most of the areas we ride are better marked.
We might have been seriously lost if we hadn’t happened upon a group of local riders.
“Where are you heading?” one asked.
“Whiskey,” I replied.
They seemed somewhat dubious of the out of town geezers’ abilities and were gently redirecting us towards easier options. Nevertheless, they pointed the way up the hill and gave some essential information for finding the Whiskey trailhead.
“We just came from North Van, Squamish, and Whistler,” I said, trying to reassure the locals that we some clue of what we might be getting into.
I don’t think it helped.
“The trails are friendlier here,” an older gentleman eventually volunteered.
He still seemed dubious. And now I was confused. What exactly is a “friendly” trail, anyway? I guess we would find out.
A 30-minute climb on a steep gravel road took us to the Whiskey’s trailhead hidden in the brush alongside the road. (Some shuttle this trail; it seems like a good option.) Soon enough we had climbed to the top of the ridge, padded up, and were ready for the descent.
“Combines rock slabs, steeps, jumps, and high speed sections through the forest for a classic Rossland single-track descent.”
—From the Whiskey Trail description in the “Trails of the Rossland Range” map.
Moving sharply down the ridge, it was immediately clear. Whiskey is the hard stuff. The trail drops down granite slabs and loam slots. Whiskey’s rock slabs have more texture than the smooth glacier polished granite trail lines common in Pemperton, Whistler, and Squamish. The entrances for the drops are often tricky. There’s plenty to catch a slow moving wheel at the point of commitment. Still, Whiskey is perfectly ride-able.
Down lower, the tread levels somewhat and the rock sections become less frequent. On the bike, the speed increases right up to the point where another inspection worthy drop appears. Eventually, as it always happens, the trail ended. At the bottom, Rail Grade to Rubberhead took us into Rossland.
Whiskey is a great trail. Undeniably worth the effort to get to if you like the sheer rock slab sort of thing. The trail is unrelentingly steep, committing, and intimidating.
But is Whiskey friendly? It is, if you like your friends scary, menacing, and a little crazy. For me, I think I’ll just keep Whiskey and its semi-psycho North Shore buddies as acquaintances. It seems safer that way.
Revolution Cycles and Service, Columbia Ave, Rossland (250)363-5688. There add says that Tours, Shuttles, and Rentals are possible.