Do it for the views
A couple weeks ago, I took a little extended weekend with fellow Pedalheader, Huy, to do some mountain biking in one of my favorite places to ride a bike: Valemount, BC. You may recall reading some posts in the past that have mentioned Valemount, including a video from the Cape Epic Diaries in 2015. Or if you follow me on social media, you are likely used to being bombarded with pictures from Valemount whenever I find the chance to escape away there.
Canoe Mountain in the winter, as seen from the Village of Valemount
Why Valemount you might ask? Well, it started as just another mountain getaway, as my parents own a house there. And I should never have to justify why I enjoy being in the mountains. But now, the town of Valemount has gotten even better!
A fantastic, authentic Swiss Bakery, the best beer I've ever had at Three Ranges Brewery, scenic vistas as far as the eye can see, and more recently, an exponentially growing, ridiculously fun mountain bike trail network. The crew of volunteers and residents who dedicate their time to this park deserve MAJOR kudos, as the trail work they are putting out is FANTASTIC, and it keeps growing. And growing. And growing.
So we spent some time checking out new climbing trails at the bike park, where they have somehow managed to create a trail that climbs to the middle of the mountain, with a little over 400 meters of vertical, without ever feeling like a nasty climb! From there you can ride Tinfoil Hat, an intermediate downhill trail with fun berms, a few rollable jumps, and some crazier features with ride-arounds. I've ridden an XC bike many a time on Tinfoil Hat, so don't feel like you need something bigger to tackle it!
But I'm not going to write about the bike park in this post, because I was having too much fun to stop and take pictures. But what we decided to tackle on our last day gave me a valid reason to take some breaks and bust out the camera - Canoe Mountain.
Canoe Mountain is the most imposing peak in the vicinity of Valemount - you can't miss it! To think the plan was to ride/hike up it seemed foolish when the massive peak stood in the background the view from the Brewery, as we relaxed in the evenings with a beer in hand.
From the Village of Valemount, head South on Highway 5 for 15.5 km. The turnoff is easy to miss, so keep a close eye on the left hand side of the road. A small gravel road awaits. You'll know you're at the correct one if it climbs up for a short 50 meters to a flat area that you can park at on the left hand side. The gravel road continues up, which is what you'll be riding. (It quickly turns to rocky, rough 4x4/quad track)
I'll be the first to tell you the ride itself isn't that much fun. Even a masochist won't have too much fun on the climb, as large sections of it tend to be unrideable based on the gradient and loose rocks. Just one or the other, and it would be fine, but 20% AND loose boulders strewn across the trail? Good luck!
This isn't a ride to do because it's fun, it's a ride to do for the views.
The first, oh I don't know, 6-7 km are in the trees. There were more than a few hike-a-bike sections, and the lack of views make this a tedious section. Thankfully, it is also early in the ride, so it's relatively easy to push through.
A smarter person would wear a walking-friendly cycling shoe... We are not those people.
Around km 4 or 5, you'll probably start wondering if it's worth it. You might start considering turning around, but don't! It's not much further until the views get better! Just ignore the fact that you are less than halfway - it gets better, I promise!
Rideable bits in the first few km.
I don't remember the exact kilometer number, but somewhere around 7-8 kms, you start to get near the treeline. That's where the views start to take your mind off the climbing still to be done. A welcome distraction! Haze from the BC forest fires started to roll in around this time, hampering the views a bit, but we seemed to have climbed so high, the haze was below us. At least our lungs would be fine!
The valley below, and in the background: the range of mountains including Mt. Trudeau and the under-construction Valemount Glaciers Year-Round Ski Resort.
It's around the same point as the views start to open up that the road has some of it's easiest sections. Less walking and more riding is a good thing!
Mountain switchbacks and more (and more and more) elevation
Not much further, and you get above the treeline entirely. You truly start to feel like you're riding among giants, as you look across the valley to the surrounding mountain peaks, and realize you are up just as high as them!
Panoramic views, shortly before the 'easier' rideable bits turn back into sections of hike-a-bike
As the rocky switchbacks continue up the slopes, the views only get better and better, and at 11 km, you think you might be getting close to done...
There's a bike somewhere in this picture!
And at 11 km, you do get a brief respite. The road levels off as you ride past a pristine alpine meadow.
Coming up onto the short, flat meadow before the final ascent
On this short, flat section, you see what's left ahead - about 350 meters of vertical in 2 km. Unfortunately, this last push to the true summit is also on the rockiest, loosest terrain.
The peak of Canoe Mountain so close, yet still so far...
These final few kilometers are the toughest, but also because of the views, seem to tick by faster than the rest. Still, be prepared for a push. On the brightside, you can keep your eye out for Marmots. I saw no less than 6 in the final 2 km.
Taking another break, on a rocky ledge with Mt. Thompson in the background. Only about 1 km to go from here.
Make sure to take in the views around the second last switchback. Being surrounded so closely by towering peaks definitely makes you feel small!
Temperatures hit 35 degrees on the way up, which means it wasn't a bad idea to air out the jersey, at well over 8000 feet.
And just like that, you finally hit the top! And even in the haze, the views are spectacular! All 3 ranges of mountains that converge on Valemount are spread out below you - The Rockies, Cariboos, and Monashees. You are standing on the peak of one of the tallest mountains anywhere near Valemount. On a clear day, you'll even be able to see Mount Robson! In the trench to the East sits Kinbasket lake.
Norco likes the hashtag #AdventureBeginsHere, and I like to think that was accurate on this ride. Sure, a ride like Canoe Mountain was nowhere near what the engineers envisioned when they designed the Optic, but it was a great bike for this kind of ride. Super lightweight, a great climber, but a bit more forgiving on the loose and rocky descent than a true XC race rig.
The descent down is steep, loose, rocky and a brake-burner, so pick your way down carefully. And if you have the capabilities, go tubeless tires. I was on a demo bike with tubes in the tires, and flatted on the way down (first flat on a MTB for me in at least 5+ years! Tubeless FTW).
Like I said, this is a ride to do for the views, because the descent down is no fun either. It's a rough coast where you'll likely ride the brakes most of the way down. At least the pain from the climb up is a distant memory by this point!
And just like that, it was done. A full day outing on Canoe Mountain. To give you an idea of times, the first time I rode Canoe Mountain, the climb took 3:30. With Huy we took it a lot easier, took some long breaks to enjoy the views, and got up in 5:20. The ride back down to the bottom is around an hour.
If you're planning on checking out Canoe Mountain and have questions about the ride, by all means send me a note! It is definitely one of my highly recommended rides, but again, to clarify: it's recommended for the views, not the actual ride experience! ;)
Moving Time: 4:39 | Distance 27.4 km | Elevation 1768 m | Average Grade 13% | Max Grade 27.4%
A couple Pedalheaders almost to the top of one of Western Canada's biggest mountains. Thumbs up!