Monday, June 14, 2010

Jewell Pass

The warm sunny weekend continued all through Sunday & pleasingly Alex had found a ride for us in Kananaskis Country. We started just off the Transcanada near Exshaw at the Heart Mountain parking lot. We roughly followed along not far from the highway (within in hearing distance, but not sight) under Mt McGillivray (thought you might appreciate that, Neil), crossed the Heart Creek & continued for another couple of kilometres. This part was a pretty narrow hiking/biking trail & was overall pretty flat - but a nice mellow downhill with lots of perpendicular roots to drop off.

Quite soon we were climbing a nicely gravelled, gradual climb up towards Quaite Campsite. By now we were passing a lot of mountain runners coming the opposite direction & some climbers walking up to a crag that we spotted shortly after. There was a big party of school-aged kids at the campsite, setting off for the day. Not long after the campsite, Alex started hunting for the first geocache (basically a worldwide treasure hunt using GPS) of the day. From here the trail got a bit narrower, a lot steeper & rockier. It was mostly middle-ring rideable though & after a another couple of kilometres we were at junction & seemingly the high-point for this part of the ride. The old skinny fire road changed to a much narrower hiking/biking trail down to Barrier Lake. This part was a sweet downhill - there were heaps of roots & rocks to make things interesting. But it was never steep, rocky or slippery enough to be too much to handle. We passed many hikers coming up the other way (& a few bikers going down) - it would seem this area is popular for day-hikers starting the opposite side of the pass to that which we started from. We spent a fair bit of time looking for various geocaches around here too - some we found, some we didn't.Somewhere through here we went through Jewell Pass - but it was never completely clear where exactly. Before long the trail flattened out a little & started to go around the edge of a hill & the trees & view opened up a bit.It wasn't too much longer & we were down beside the lake (& another geocache):
Now we just had to get back up to that junction that was at the top of the hill (it turned out, that it wasn't the top). Mostly it was a gradual switched-backed climb on a fireroad where the biggest obstacle was the scores of Calgarian day-walkers out for a pretty pleasant walk in the sunshine. It got pretty steep near the end & then plateaued for a little bit - this part turned out to be a very popular lunch spot - the view may give some indication why.
The last part of our climbing for the day was a hard slog that progressed from the easiest gear on the bike to pushing & then to carrying on one's shoulder up a rockface. The fact that we passed two women carrying drums should have started alarm bells ringing. The lookout was teeming with people & for good reason.The biggest crowd at the lookout was all the hippies with drums making a lot of (awful) noise & stinking the place out with some sort of incense (that might well have had a bit weed in it - it stunk). Needless to say, we didn't hang around long. Walking a little of the shingle trail down from the lookout (mainly because it was skinny & fast & there were a lot of hikers coming up the other way) we passed quite a few of the hikers that we had passed earlier going through Jewell Pass. Back on the bikes & away from the traffic & hippies, the downhill was spectacular - not too steep & lots more roots & twists & turns to keep one on the ball. I was smiling so much that it looked like I was there "to kill Batman" (two TV episodes I've watched recently have referenced the Joker's facial appearance - The Griffin Equivalency of The Big Bang Theory & the Friendface episode of The IT Crowd - both very funny shows). Our hands needed resting every so often as the handlebars were bouncing around so much. Returning to the junction that took us to Jewell Pass, we knew it was all down a fire road towards the highway. The first section was nicely rocky & I took it a bit faster than I normally would & flew down. Just as I thought I would hit a rock & get a puncture, I hit a rock & got a puncture ("Before I could say - 'Don't tread on a mine', she trod on a mine." - Blackadder Goes Forth [my favourite of the four series] - Major Star). I took my time replacing the tube - I was in time credit with Alex after all the geocaching. The rest of the blast down to the highway was smoother & I enjoyed jumping off the water channels (small ditches across the trail).

Here a few photos from the last fifteen minutes' ride back to the car. The last shows what sunny Sunday afternoons in the area are like - beautiful clear sky, lakes, trees, mountains & the holiday traffic & day trippers in their RVs & on their motorbikes.
We were gone for four hours, only did the twenty-six kilometres - but got a great taste of K-Country riding. I must buy a guidebook & find more great back country rides to do around here.

Not long after we got home, Ben - a young guy from Devon (UK) arrived for the night. He is touring across Canada from west to east & had arranged to stay at Megan & Alex's place through warmshowers - which is a bit like couch-surfing, but for cyclists. Good to hear some of his stories...

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