We saw the two cute little bear cubs frolicking by a downed tree and thought nothing of it. Then the tree stood up, turned toward us, claws out and raised. And that was just the first day of our three-day bikepacking adventure.
We (your author, Alison Talbot-Kelly and Sherri Kyle) had checked out the route around Upper Arrow Lake in the BC Interior on a BC Bikepacking site—the rider had done it in a week and we were doing it in three days.
We figured we could do the 225 kilometre ride in two big days and one mellow one. Day One would feature a lot of pavement and a little gravel, Day Two would be all gravel, and Day Three would be mostly gravel with a shortish pavement finish. Starting point was in Nakusp and the big loop would bring us back to Halcyon Hot Springs, about 5 kilometres north of Nakusp, where we did a car drop.
The “before” picture in Nakusp. L-R: Alison, Sherri, Andrew Creighton (the author)
Day One started off in Nakusp, on the west shore of Upper Arrow Lake. I had ski toured around the area a lot so I was somewhat familiar with the terrain we’d be covering—but not that familiar. Day One’s objective was to bike 57 kilometres (km) on paved roads from Nakusp down to the Fauquier cable ferry which would take us across the lower part of the lake to Needles on the west side. Then the fun would start.
Map of Day One. Click on the image for the video overview of the route. It may take a minute to load.
Here we are just pulling into Needles on the cable ferry. My partner Alison on the right.
Our target that night was the north end of Whatshan Lake at the Richy Recreation Site, about 30 or so kilometres back up the west side of the lake. We peeled right, off the highway, after 2 or so kilometres (but we should have stayed on the highway longer because the forest service road (FSR) we were on ran parallel to it, gained elevation, then dropped back down to where the highway and the gravel road split). The Whatshan FSR was quite steep and here’s where we realized, profoundly, the difference between riding on paved and loose gravel. It’s also where we saw the grizzly and cubs that forced us to backtrack for about a kilometre before turning back in the right direction and hooting and hollering at high speed past the location of the bear sighting.
Blasting along one of the more scenic stretches, with Whatshan Lake at our left. The riding quality along the lake was good. Not so good right after we got off the ferry.
We were pretty spent arriving at the Richy Recreational Site after 6 hours in the saddle. The 30 km ride on gravel from Needles was easily twice as challenging at the 55 km on blacktop. The site is basic, with about eight tent sites and a lovely lake to play in. We were hot and dirty so jumped into the lake posthaste. We had dreams of a big bonfire and cards but that wasn’t going to happen. We climbed into our tents and were asleep at a little after eight, before the sun dropped.
Day Two of three was, if it went as planned, a lesser day than the first. Our intention was to make it up to the Shelter Bay Rec Site, about 8o km north. Unfortunately, we missed a right turn and wound up climbing an extra 400 m—or 14 km distance. My takeaways from that experience were: know that all FSRs have kilometre markers (so don’t think you are on the right road just because you see one) and constantly check tools (compass, altimeter, map, etc) because it’s easy to convince yourself you are on the right road even if you’re not.
Luckily, before we hit snow and almost mistakenly summited Mt. Severide (see above), we met a group of logger/ATVers who set us straight and suggested we retrace our steps and get back on the proper route. The next leg, after we backtracked, included a pretty brutal switchback downhill portion which made us all wish we had suspension bikes.
When we finally hit the West Mosquito FSR, it seemed like a major highway. This was a decision point for us. If we wanted to pull the pin, we could have headed south east, taken the Arrow Park Ferry across Lower Arrow Lake and biked north along the highway back to Nakusp. Because the road looked so nice (and it was) we decided to persevere and camp at the aptly named Mosquito Lake Rec Site, about 20 kilometres to the north.
Mosquito Lake was nice, but very mosquito-y. We built a fire in daylight to ward off the little buggers, had a nice dip in the lake, ate a dehydrated dinner and hit the hay. The tally for the day, if it’s of interest: 64 kilometres, 1170 m ascent, 1126 descent. Time in the saddle, 7 hrs, 42 mins (yikes).
Fast tent set-up. Tent size is perfect for two.
The mosquitoes kept us awake even though they were on the other side of the mesh.
Day Three’s target was to bike from Mosquito Lake along Fosthall then Shelter Bay FSRs, up to the Upper Arrow Lakes Ferry, cross to Galena and bike the remaining 35 or so kilometres, south, along HWY 23, to Halcyon Hot Springs—where we had wisely dropped a car.
The last leg up to the ferry was one of the most scenic of the trip—with Arrow Lake and the Goat Range to the east and the Monashees to the west. On other days, a lot of the riding was on tunnel-like FSRs— so it was a pleasure to see open views on our last day. The ferry leaves Galena Bay every hour on the hour so, if you are lucky, you can avoid waiting.
The ride back to Halcyon Hot Springs was long for that time of the day but it was great to be on smooth blacktop after riding loose gravel for so long. We stopped for a spendy soak at Halcyon, had a burger and a beer (both excellent) then headed on our way. There’s talk of doing a big loop around Trout lake to the east next time. Hopefully there will be better route finding, no grizzlies and fewer bugs.
This particular adventure was a lot of fun but not something I'd probably do again. Perhaps because there are so many other similar bikepacking trips to be had in the BC Interior. The crew of Alison and Sherri was top notch, which made it all good. On future trips, I would research a bit more and use technology to minimize the chances of getting off track. Because this was a first bikepacking trip (of this length), I was very happy for the experience. It was positive because the consequences of a serious issue were minimal and we had a built-in bail out option that we didn't employ.
Total Distance: 222 km/138 miles
Duration: 3 days 2 nights
Mechanical issues: 0
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The Freelite 2 worked out really well for us on this trip. It held off the bugs at Mosquito Lake and fit perfectly under the top tube of my bike. If I were solo, I’d bring a bivy sack, but if you are two, the less-than-one-kilo Freelite is an excellent choice. It’d be great if MSR could offer a bikepacking specific model with shortened tent poles that’d fit on my handlebars.
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