Into The Mystic

"Is it open yet?"

The frequency with which this question was asked in the last few weeks/months became a running joke on local MTB channels. It's not like there's a shortage of other riding options around here, but I get it; I've been religiously checking TrailForks every week, waiting for the magical day when the full ascent into the alpine would open.

And then, last Thursday, it did:


The next question I had to ask was "can my body do this?" Specifically, my left hand. For the past three weeks, I've been dealing with a sprained thumb and index/middle fingers from going OTB. If you've ever played volleyball, you probably know the feeling that accompanies your fingers being jammed backwards after botching an attempt at setting the ball. It's taken three weeks to be able to make a fist again and I still didn't have full grip strength back, but I figured a rudimentary taping job would let me get through the day.

This is a ride I've wanted to do since I fully embraced the knobby-tire life last summer, but the province got smoked out from the wildfires and by the time I felt comfortable enough with my own skill level, the descent down Lord of the Squirrels would have been torn to shreds.

So, with a few days notice, a small crew was gathered for an all-day adventure into the alpine. We parked near a lake at the bottom and began our slow-but-steady slog across the flank of Mt. Sproat for about an hour before even getting to the ascent trail proper. Everybody came well stocked with plenty of fluid and snacks, so it was just a matter of making steady progress upward, punctuated with a few short downward traverses to give the legs a bit of a break.

We really couldn't have asked for a better day; temps were warm enough to be pleasant without being stifling and most of the climb was done under tree cover, and once we reached the sub-alpine and things started to thin out, variable cloud cover and a nice breeze kept things manageable and the worst of the bugs away. There were still patches of snow left high up, incredibly useful for stuffing into my helmet vents and down my back for nice refreshing time.

There are a few grunty sections where I would have appreciated a lower crawl gear, but nothing is overly technical. My injury mostly held up, but the constant jarring of the bar into the web of my hand over 45 minutes of descending, along with the accumulated effect of arm pump was not ideal. Also, 45 minutes of descending is a long time. Think you've got strong legs? Do you like doing wall sits? Well, this is kind of like doing wall sits while you're getting bounced around during a really long earthquake.

If you're considering this, just be prepared for a long day. The view up top is worth the effort.

This one goes to 11.

Every once in a while, I get to haul my butt out of bed while it's still dark, load up the car, and head off into the unknown on an adventure that will, more likely than not, involve questionable decision making. Sadly, the relative lack of entries on this blog this summer can attest to, the lower frequency of these adventures compared to seasons past. In my desperation to enjoy what's left of summer, I was eager to latch onto any adventure, no matter how ill-conceived.

Enter Grungefundo. The full route runs 140km from Squamish to Whistler on the Sea to Sky Trail with somewhere between somewhere around 1900m of vertical. With the ongoing forest fires ravaging BC and the resultant smoke being blown down into the Lower Mainland, a bunch of us opted for the "mudio" route, or about half the distance of the full starting from Chance Creek.

With full bottles AND hydration packs, six of us set off through a mix of double-track forest service road, gravel and loam singletrack, and some disgustingly steep and twisty switchback climbing with the plan to meet the full grunge riders in Whistler for lunch before turning around and doubling back. The combination of the heat and the smog made things more challenging than they normally would be, but not as much as we had all feared. I think most of us would agree that we arrived in Whistler feeling the effort, but were not completely cracked. Yet.

After being saved by Coca-Cola and pickles (among other foods) and refilling all of our assorted liquid-carrying vessels, we turned around as one large group. The grunge riders led the way back down the Sea to Sky highway before departing at the head of the trail section to hammer their way back. We decided to keep things decidedly less spicy. Quite by accident, we discovered a section of trail that we had missed in the morning when we opted to take the paved option (aka, missing a trail sign). Even though we were bummed that didn't get to shred it twice, our little discovery and the resultant adrenaline from the mostly downhill section was a nice little pick-me-up for everyone and made the return trip feel a lot less grind-y.

Overall, I think the greatest challenge was having to run a high enough pressure to avoid pinch flatting on all of the rocky sections. Personally, I was aired up to 40psi front and 50psi in the rear. The good news is that nobody from either group flatted (apparently a first in fundo history), but the downside was some less-than-ideal handling on what was mostly loose-over-hard terrain, but it made for some exhilarating moments.

In summary, this was ride where everything goes to 11: the company, the scenery, the trails, and the air quality advisory.