It would be a good presumption that the majority of mountain bikers who find their way to Rossland are coming to ride one trail in particular, Seven Summits. Indeed, Seven Summits is the area’s iconic mountain cycling path. Undoubtedly interest in Rossland’s signature mountain biking trail has been increased by Seven Summits designation as an “official” IMBA Epic and as Bike Magazine’s 2007 Trail of the Year. But does Seven Summits Trail live up to the hype? To find out we’d just have to put our legs over our bike saddles and ride the trail.
On Thursday it was clear that the waiting had paid off. The conditions were perfect. We would begin the ride with clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 50’s. And though the tread was damp in sections, the trail had benefited from the rain.
Most riders approach Seven Summits Trail (SST) as a shuttle ride tacking on the historic Dewdney Trail at the end. But this is not to say that this is your typical gravity aided descending spree. It is far from it. Seven Summits is a long, point-to-point trail that loses only 500 odd feet of altitude over its 19-mile length. Along the route, 4,200 feet of climbing with the bike provides the potential energy for the majority of the descending on SST. Adding Dewdney Trail means that the ride ends with 2,300 feet of fast descending in just over 3 miles. The altitude for the Dewdney descent wasn’t earned on the bike. It comes with the cost of the shuttle ride. There is a price of admission, though. You have to reach the end of SST to be able to descend Dewdney. Reaching the end of Seven Summits is not easy.
On the ride up to SST’s North Trailhead on Nancy Green Summit, our shuttle driver Blaine explained the layout of the trail. Seven Summits starts with a long climb, about 2,100 feet, to the ridge top. The trail then follows the spine of the ridge, more or less, at around 7,000 feet in altitude until it descends to the South Trailhead. There are early bailout possibilities, but otherwise the trail is in remote backcountry a long ways from civilization. And did I mention that this is bear country, grizzly bear country in fact? I was hoping that the bear bell that Knobs installed on my bike would do its magic. Or maybe some of the 7 other people on the shuttle would clear the bears for us. I couldn’t help but thinking that carrying pepper spray might just be a good idea.
Off the shuttle, we geared up and rolled onto the trail. For an ever so brief stretch, SST meandered through a clear-cut meadow on a loamy tread. Too soon, the trail turned steeply up hill and continued heading up for a painfully long time. Consider it the trail’s way of asking you whether you are serious about doing this ride. Grades just a little too steep connected periodic burst climbs. Some of the burst climbs were technically easy. Others were a line picking challenge. But the net effect of the steep grade and the burst sections at 7,000 feet isn’t good. It didn’t take long to realize that the best approach so early in the epic was to walk the less interesting grunt sections. SST is a long and involving ride. Saving the bullets early was the plan. And there were plenty of bullets to save before we reached the end of the first 2,100-foot long climb.
Once on the ridge, the trail rolls up and down. Fast and punishing, the rocky descents flow over step-downs and rock gardens as the trail crosses high country meadows and mountain forests. The trail’s features are the type of stuff that is tricky to ride slow and simpler to hammer over fast. At speed, the bear bell on my handle bar rang like an old fashioned phone. Every descent, it seems, is followed by a short, intense, and lung-bursting climb. And so it goes along the ridge, mile after mile. After four and a half hours of grinding, we reached the point where there would be more descending than ascending. Still there was plenty of trail miles and plenty of climbing left to go.
Sometimes long rides become tedious and repetitive even with a good track. This wasn’t the case with SST. We might not have wanted to see the next climb, but we were in no hurry for the descents to end even though our fast pace indicated otherwise.
Seven Summits Trail is exceptionally well-constructed and maintained track. The Kootenay-Columbia Trail Society gets credit for this one. It is clearly a labor of love. We particularly appreciated the perfectly shaped banked turn switchbacks. I’m hard pressed to think of another trail where the switchbacks are so flawlessly sculpted to match the needs of a moving bicycle. On our way out we passed a trail crew that was actually raking the tread. A lot of work and pride goes into maintaining such a remote and beautiful trail.
At the end of SST, most riders cross the Rossland-Cascade Road and continue on Dewdney Trail. The Dewdney Trail route is a combination of repurposed mining-era roads, purpose built connectors, and forest roads. Without significant climbs, it goes by in a brake-burning blur. There’s nothing particularly scary about the Dewdney Trail though blending a high speed run at the tired end of a very long ride seems like a formula for a spectacular stack.
Eventually it all ends. Seven Summits is indeed an epic. It took us about seven hours from beginning to end. I can’t think of a longer, more demanding ride that we have ever done. We were smoking charred toast when we finished. But we might even do this ride again. SST is an excellent ride. First, though, I think we need about a year to recover.
And does Seven Summits live up to the hype? If you are ready for an epic, this ride is completely hype worthy. If you aren’t, you might just decide you’ve had enough before you reach the top of the first climb on a hot day. But you wouldn’t do that, would you?
Our shuttle company was Adrenaline Adventures.
More pictures have been posted to Picasa.
On a ridge there’s no water available, streams or otherwise, until you reach a trailside spring late in the ride (and I’m not sure that this water is potable). As Blaine says, this is a three-liter ride. On a cool day, Becky and I went through the water in our 100 oz Camelbak bladders and drank a 16 oz Gatorade each.
If you go to Rossland to ride Seven Summits I’d recommend a four or five day window. Ride SST on the best weather day; choose other Rossland area rides for the rest of the days. Besides, Rossland is not a bad place to hang.
If you can, stay in Rossland. It’s a nice bike friendly town with nice people. I’ve never seen a place where the residents are so enthusiastic about their town and its trails. They actively encourage you to return or even move there.