Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why do I ever doubt that I'll enjoy a G8 loop?

It was another beautiful fall day in town today & after Saturday morning chores, discovering some drunken lout had kicked one of my tail lights in (grrrrrr) & a trip to the grocery store my thoughts turned to going for a ride.

There was a bitter cold wind blowing down the valley today & riding across to get to the G8 was on the chilly side - I wasn't enjoying that at all.  Feeling rather lethargic I failed to clear that first steep climb & was pretty slow until some guy caught up to me & I got a bit of motivation to get going.  From then on the ride was great & as I was by myself I decided I wouldn't complete the last part of the figure-eight - I rode back up the first part I did to make more of a Gp or Gd ride.  This was a stroke of genius as I could finally check out a side trail I'd seen many times shoot off up the hill a bit further.  At some stage after climbing a while & then a little pushing I felt that I was going to hit the hiking trail going all the way up Grotto.   I really wanted to turn around at the top of the loop & come back the way I'd come as it looked really fun, but this desire was less than the one to see where the loop came out on the main trail.  There were small bits of steep slickrock & some fun parts in the descent.  I finally knew where I was after another couple of junctions & I shot down the last descents to come back out at Cougar Creek.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Work Changes

Just a quick update for those (or the one person) wondering how I'm supporting myself on my travels at the moment.  After five months working for a temping agency doing all sorts of things (mostly low paying & not all that interesting) & the last two months here at the cement plant for the same temping agency, today is my last day for PPP for a while.  For on Monday, I start as a temp employee of the cement company.  This is great as it gives me five months of the same job & a large chunk of what the company is paying is no longer being siphoned off by PPP - therefore I get a nice bump up in my pay checks & I will be able to save more.  I'll be doing the same sort of little projects for a while (at the moment I'm working on the equipment downtime reporting - quite like those many hours I spent working with & redesigning the OEE system in the Iron Plant) until those projects run out & then I'll just be general (but well paid) labour helping keep the place tidy (there's a lot of dust & spillage around - as I found out during those exhaustive safety & equipment audits).  Now that I'll have a decent amount of money coming in (well decent compared to the last year and a half since I left shift work), I must start budgeting & saving well if next year's three month MTB roadtrip around the western USA is to be everything it should be (more about that another time).

All this means that I shortly won't be baking bagels on Tuesday & Wednesday evenings - can't say I'll miss the two double-shifts & 55 hour each week.  I definitely didn't come to Canada to do that - although, it was good for a time to learn something new & different & it helped me buy the Outback off Megan & Alex.  This weekend is Halloween - a much bigger deal over here than it is back home.  Still, I won't be dressing up or anything - but this self-portrait of me trying not to fall to my death off the top of the Clinker Stacker in the dark depths of the Storage Hall is not my usual get-up & worthy of posting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cement visitors

We never had these guys wandering around the steel mill back in NZ - bighorn sheep apparently.  I'm told with the combination of hunting (bows only, no guns) & mating seasons, these males are down from the hills for a bit as its safer & there are better prospects.  But that does mean that there are more cougars wandering around Exshaw now.  Still, I suppose it's better than the grizzly bear visitor we had a month or two back.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Three Sisters Pass

Somehow Alex & Megan managed to find a short local hike that they hadn't done before.  Shortly after noon today we headed up the Spray Valley (about twenty to thirty minutes drive) to walk up to Three Sisters Pass.  We found the deserted trailhead & proceeded up; not too sure of where the trail was, we found it eventually next to the (dry) drainage for the valley.  We followed this up, mostly on our left of it & sometimes on the drainage & occasionally on the right.  This trail doesn't get a lot of use it would seem, but there were just enough cairns for us to find a good route up.  Once out of the trees after the first third we on a lot of rocks of varying stability. 

A brief section had us choosing to go straight up & a through a small, and mostly dry, canyon - this was much easier than negotiating the loose rocks above it.  In the bottom of the drainage for a while we could look back across the Spray Valley until it disappeared as we followed a corner around some rocks.
There was some nice slickrock around & we displayed our different mindsets - it wasn't steep enough to climb for Megan & I thought it was a little to steep for me to ride comfortably.  We chased the elusive sunshine up the valley & eventually struck the golden light - & of course started complaining about how hot it was (must have been all of 10ºC) & shed some layers.  The final twenty minutes or so of climbing up to the pass was through the trees, and ninety-five minutes after setting out we were at the pass looking out over the east end of Canmore & the Three Sisters.  The wind picked up a little here (it was slightly exposed after all), but we hung around taking pictures & feeding our faces.  Finnian had been quiet the whole way up - apparently being carried up big hills in a sling is quite relaxing; after his feed he was not so thrilled with the wind, so we headed down.

Of course, heading down was a lot trickier with all the loose rock in places.  We were keen to get down quickly as the ranges in the distance were now obscured by clouds & it looked like it was rolling towards us pretty quickly.   Thanks to Megan talking about the distant future and the year two-thousand we all quickly had Conchords' songs rattling around in our heads - at least we now have some compulsory background noise for our game(s) of Settlers tonight.  After a little slipping, we managed to get through all the rocks without damage to anyone's head and then it was easy to get back to the car in sixty minutes.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Gondola & a bit of snow on the G8

Last Saturday was locals' day at the gondola on Sulphur Mountain in Banff.  As I apparently qualify as a local now - at least my Alberta Driver's Licence says so - I thought I would go & check it out as the passes were complimentary ("yeah, they were for free").  We'd had a little snow on Friday morning in the Bow Valley (quite a bit more out at work at Exshaw), but as the rest of Friday was pretty clear there wasn't a whole heap left on the surrounding peaks.  I joined the line & then played guess the accent as I shared a gondola car with some tourists.  I find I'm not so good at picking Canadian accents - as Megan said last week while we were watching The Trotsky, "this must be a Canadian film - they don't sound unusual" (or words to that effect) - but other accents are a bit easier.

I was a little under-dressed with only three layers on & it was chilly so early in the morning at the top.  There was a lot more up there than I expected - I think I thought there would be a food outlet of some description & not a lot else.  There was a bit of a paved trail to the summit, that took about ten or fifteen minutes & heaps of boards pointing out various peaks, flora, fauna & some history of the summit. 
There's Banff in the bottom left.  That small lump near the centre is Tunnel Mountain (the trail I rode the previous week, Star Warz, is on the back of that hill).  In the distance in the centre Lake Minnewanka - it's been a few months since Alex & I rode there a bit.   Cascade is the mountain on the left & you can see the Bow River running past Tunnel Mountain & off down to Canmore & then Calgary.

The light's not great, but that is Mt Rundle running from left to centre - Canmore is behind the far end of that.

Amusing Asian tourists obliged with this photo - up the Bow Valley on the left, the summit over my left shoulder.

After only getting a pair of cheap skates at the local ski swap, we mooched around town a bit on Saturday afternoon & I finally relented & bought Settlers.  So of course Saturday night was spent teaching Alex & Megan how to play, getting beaten a couple of times before I finally got on the board in resounding fashion.  It's nice having Settlers again - reminds me of many good friends in Pukekohe, Warkworth, Kenya, & London.  I wonder how long it will before Knights & Cities becomes necessary.

Returning home after a car maintenance & shopping trip to Calgary on Sunday, I finally remembered to pack my camera for a gentle loop of the G8.  This is easily the trail around here that I have ridden the most (up to eleven times now) - that's probably because it's usually the driest (gets more sun & is more open than the others) & it's the easiest to complete if you don't have a lot of time.  The first part of the 8 still had a fair few patches of snow lying around, but the far section of the 8 was really dry.  We had a cruisy loop (it's been a while since I've done just over an hour door to door on this trail) & it was very enjoyable stopping to take photos & appreciate the views.
 Alex riding off down the valley.

The other side of Mt Rundle - & me, of course.

Probably the jump I've hit the most in the Bow Valley (not that you can really see it) - just beside the path on the side of Benchlands Trail.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Local rides & my first Thanksgiving

Sunday I popped over to Banff to ride with a mate, Dale, I met construction temping at the Banff Center.  Dale was just back from some time in England visiting friends & family & was keen to hit some local trails.  I, of course, was up for that & we first rode part way around & up Tunnel Mountain to check out a new trail - Star Warz.  It's not a particularly long trail, but its all downhill & the local MTB organisation had built a lot of structures on the top half (they are still working on the bottom half).  Dale managed to quite spectacularly stack it on the first, & easiest, trail feature - a flat low bridge like structure.  It was a quite a sight, unfortunately I didn't have the camera out.  This was followed by a series of tight berms that I couldn't quite get right, but fun all the same.  Further down the trail, as we passed a group of riders pushing their big DH bikes up the trail, I popped over a little jump on the side of the trail & was immediately confronted by a stump that my front wheel was determined to make its acquaintance with.  Somehow I managed to jump off the side & down the bank & grab on to a small tree with only my pride injured.

Straight after these little incidents there was a nice wall ride that we rode a few times - it doesn't require a lot of speed to get up high, but I'm not sure that I ever got the line completely right.  It was quite fun to able to ride the same feature a few times as we traded my camera & tried to get decent photos.
 Here is Dale

 And here is me

Shortly after leaving the wall we found this jump.  For those with sufficient skills, it was pretty easy to clear and land on the other side - while I could still get a little air and land on the horizontal platform.  Here's Dale showing me how it's done:

And here I am getting about the amount of air I am comfortable with (that said, we both had some rather interesting landings).

From here we rode through a few berms that had just been built the day before - they were pretty soft & loose, as one would expect.  Then it was time turn up the hill back to the road that would take us back to town.  Riding through some sort of holiday camp, I was amused by this sign:
Is this for obese children that spend all day in the living room playing video games?  I'm still unsure.

Cruising back down the hill to Dale's place we loaded up his car, jump-started it & drove up to Norquay to ride Lower Stoney Squaw.  We rode both the Upper & Lower trails back at the end of August - this time due to time, fitness & motivational constraints we bypassed the steep climb to the summit & rolled in to one of our favourite downhill trail sections around Banff & Canmore.  Dale, with his big DH, bike was pushing on the slightest hint of a climb - suits me, finally someone taking photos, on my camera, of me riding trails.

I had a lot of trouble remembering any of the trail, even though it was only about six weeks since I first rode it - due in part from joining the trail from a different direction.  Nonetheless, it was a blast riding down here & there were plenty of little rises to launch off - although, I did, somehow, keep landing right before rocks I would've preferred not to hit.  Just before the end of the trail there is a nice easy jump that one can get a little or a lot of air off - compulsory photos stop.

Crossing the TCH, we battled a headwind back in to Banff & I split quickly to get back for my first Thanksgiving dinner - I was quietly excited by this prospect.  We had enough people around in the evening to take a fair chunk out of two turkeys & all the other food our guests brought.  Steve had some how managed to wangle himself a complimentary rotisserie for the barbecue - so one turkey went on there, while the other, wrapped in bacon & stuffed with pork sausages went in the oven. 
 James sniffing & trying his best, I think, not to lick this turkey delight.

 Steve basting this bird of goodness - I think mostly with beer; whatever, it was brilliant.

Thanksgiving didn't disappoint my preconceptions - masses of great food with good friends & (pseudo-) family (that's you Alex & Megan [& Finnian - although I suppose he can't quite comprehend it yet] - thanks, I'm pretty sure Canmore wouldn't be what it is to me without you).  For some reason, I'd scheduled (yet) another ride on Monday morning with a random on the forums at - so it was an earlyish night for me.

Dragging myself out of bed, breaking the fast, loading & de-icing the car I headed out to meet Jeff at the trailhead at nine o'clock (he came in from Calgary) so I could show him Razor's Edge.  The first bit of the trail along the highway was good fun & in nice condition with no other users around - it was bloody cold though, the clear skies lulled me in to a full sense of warmth.  What was I thinking riding in short sleeves?  The ride up to the pass warmed us up a bit - I was particularly pleased to finally clear a steep, rocky section in which you have to choose your line carefully as the rocks are loose & send you in directions you really don't want to go.  This photo doesn't show just how much difficulty I have had in clearing it the previous half-dozen times (it's steep, I promise you - & it comes in the middle of a tough, long climb).

After somehow missing the unsigned turnoff, we were finally on the new trail.  There is lots of cool moss & general undisturbed growth.  The first half was OK, but being a new loose & moist trail it became increasingly difficult to get any sort of rhythm to make the climb to saddle.

Before long we were riding along what I assume the trail is named after - the exposed jagged rock on the ridge line that you have to transverse.  Sometimes, it's difficult to see how one could ever get the front tire to negotiate such a narrow path; but you do know that if you can, it will grip like crazy.  Unfortunately for Jeff, he had left his helmet behind - so he had to walk a lot of obstacles that he would have otherwise ridden.  There are no man made features on this trail, but the rock provides more than enough great drops & drop-offs.  I was pleased to ride things that I avoided last time I was up here - & perhaps even more pleased to have a willing photographer to capture me pushing my limits.  As always - I assure you it's steeper & trickier than it looks (at least for me, especially the first feature [the next two images])

Just before the annoying hike-a-bike section up a hill & after negotiating more of the jagged rock there is this cool wall ride (I suppose about a forty-five degree angle) that is so grippy that it doesn't really matter how much you stuff up the entry (I should know - damn chain dropping a ring on bumpy descents), you can still ride along this slope with a lot of confidence.

Getting back on the bikes after the push up through the trees we were on dirt for a change - a very steep plunge had us walking briefly before blasting down (stopping briefly to look out over towards the prairies) & then a short little climb before on the slick rock.  It can be quite difficult to spot the trail as you drop many metres towards the road - & this particular spot is a wind funnel.  For the second time in as many days I was struggling to negotiate tricky trail with the wind buffeting me incessantly.  Still, it was greatly challenging & very fun.  Down one part with particularly loose rock & then a sharp drop off my front tire & some rocks decided it was time I had a little rest - I firmly planted my butt on a very hard rock.  Shortly after we turned the hard left to avoid riding off the cutting on to the highway & were heading back to the parking lot. 

Four great rides in one long weekend & a lot of turkey - I love it.  Although, the end of the riding season can't come soon enough for that big buy up - my rear tyre & drive chain are decidedly sub-par.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jumpingpound Ridge & Cox Hill

Yesterday we finally got the chance to ride a loop that I had wanted to do for quite some months.  Billed by the local guidebook as "probably the only legal world-class ride in the Canadian Rockies", we were all set early Saturday morning to try our hands (& legs) at the Jumpingpound Ridge & Cox Hill combo.  We'd put it off so long trying to avoid eighteen kilometres of gravel to make it a loop by organising enough riders & cars to shuttle.  This never happened, so we bit the bullet & parked at the Dawson Trailhead & proceeded to hit the road south.  The morning was quite overcast & breezy, so we all started off in long sleeves - these were ditched after a couple of climbs.  Another blessing of the early hour was that there was much less traffic than we have previously seen on this road on busy weekends (this particular weekend being Thanksgiving) - so with a little moisture on the road as well, we didn't choke in a cloud of dust every time a car drove past.  It took about ninety minutes before we got to Canyon Creek & the Jumpingpound Ridge trailhead.  Pleasingly, there was a long big-ring descent as the last section of road - it was fun to have the wheels slewing around a bit in the loose gravel at speed.
Approaching the high point of the road part - Gerry trying to stretch out a week's worth of roofing.

We then hit six hundred vertical metres of climbing.  It started off flattish for all too short a period, & then hit some steep technical switchbacks - this turned out to be one long climb in the granny ring.  I was pretty pleased with how I climbed - there was only one really rooty steep section that I had to walk.  It must be said that I did have a lot of rests to catch my breath as we dropped Gerry pretty quickly - he was much slower than last weekend, after a hard week's work.  
Riding out of the gully we had been switchbacking our way up, we were on to the end of the ridge & could actually see out to the road & beyond.
For the start of the ridge it was a little easier to ride, but then we hit a pile more roots & rocks that were rather difficult to negotiate - I was well pleased to be able to ride the whole way up, with just the one dab.
During our ascent on to the ridge the cloud was starting to burn off & blow away.  There was a brief side trail up to the lookout - we mostly walked up here.  The summit didn't look too much higher than where we were, but was a kilometre or so off & as it wasn't part of the trail the possibility of going over there was not even mentioned.  The lookout afforded us a 360º panorama - including a few of the places that Alex & I have ridden in the last few months: Moose Mountain, Elbow Loop, Barrier Mountain and Mt Baldy (I think Powderface was obscured).  Also off in the distance was Calgary sitting on the edge of the prairies.



It was a little demoralising to see a helicopter sitting on the ridge - when we had worked so hard to get up there, but we were quickly past it as we snaked our way quickly down through the meadows & north along the ridge.

Alex was interested to see how the chopper would go taking off in such high winds - so we had a rest stop sheltered behind some trees in the sun.  In the end, the take off was uneventful - but there were some nice clouds around.

We rode along the ridge for a little, dropping altitude gently, but at speed, before we reached a junction - straight ahead would have taken us to the road.  As for many of the rides around here - I was constantly in that wonderful dilemma of not know which to pay more attention to: the wonderful scenery or the great singletrack.

We went right & plunged down through about three hundred metres of great trail to the bottom of the gully before another brutal climb up on to Cox Hill.

Through the trees it was quite steep again, particularly some of the switchback corners.  The legs were starting to feel a little weary, but not overly so.  Coming out of the trees we could see the trail snaking its way up well in to the distance to the summit.  We were by now back exposed to the very strong wind - the terrain itself was challenging enough, but never before have I had to walk the last ten metres because it was too windy.

Once again, the views were quite something, but we weren't so keen on hanging around for too long as the huge downhill that we had been earning all day was awaiting us.

It started off with a little of the descent on the ridge before dropping off the left hand side on to some big banked corners that lead through loose rocks & a gnarly couple of chutes.  We started to meet a few hikers climbing - we must have been making a bit of noise as they all cleared well out of way, very nice of them.  Back in to the trees the trail would switch from bumpy roots, to flowing smooth trail & then to rocks quite quickly.  Gerry had picked up his pace a bit now that we were on the fun stuff & we all took turns leading as I tried to get in front & get some photos.  As always I was having too much fun on the best part of the trail to stop & get photos - but here are couple on some of the flatter sections.

We were back at the car five and a quarter hours after leaving - not too bad considering the wind & all the climbing we did (I think about 1400 m).  I was pretty stoked - I'm definitely rating that as the best ride I've done since I've been here (I'm nearing sixty for the total number of Canadian rides so far).  I have definitely earned my first Thanksgiving feast.