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Jun 8, 2016

Bikepacking the Powderface Trail

Friend: Hey! I was looking at the map and it looks like a 2-day/1-night bikeovernight from Calgary along the Powderface Trail and back again would be fun.

Me: Whoa. Ya. Could be fun. In between the crazy elevation gains and complete lack of services for 100+kms.

Friend: Exactly!


Fast forward a couple of years and we finally rode it. Starting at the shop, we headed out during a very hot afternoon with a light breeze pushing us towards the mountains. Our route would take us:

Calgary -> Bragg Creek
Bragg Creek -> West Bragg Creek trails -> Station Flats
Station Flats -> Rainy Pass
Rainy Pass -> Powderface Trail
Powderface Trail -> Sibbald Area
Sibbald -> Calgary

Day 1

The ride out was uneventful, save the rare tailwind, and within a couple of hours we were at the West Bragg Creek trailhead. We decided to use a combination of MTB trails and XC ski trails since our bikes do not have the "granny gears" to tackle steeper climbs found on regular mountain bikes. Besides that, the Raleigh gravel bikes we were both riding handled the singletrack amazingly well, feeling sort of like rigid 29'rs. Climbing up through the forest on the "Boundary" trail was great and we were able to ride 99% of the trail on our bikes - just a couple too-steep spots caused us to dismount and push.

Pushing...would end up being the theme for the next 24hrs...

Once onto the "Iron Springs" xc ski trail we were making great time and before we knew it we popped out at Hwy 66 near Staion Flats with that sweet tailwind still blowing us towards Rainy Pass.

The climb to the summit of Rainy Pass hurt - a lot. Slowly grinding in a not-low-enough-gear on our loaded bikes, combined with the heat of the afternoon, got too me and I had to get off and push for a short while, just to give the legs a little break. Before too long we were at the summit and enjoying the beautiful views of the front range of the Rockies near Big Elbow/Little Elbow.

After a crazy fast decent off Rainy Pass we found ourselves immediately arriving at the start of the Powderface Road. The road has been officially closed since the floods in 2013 and the barriers were up, but it looked like people had been driving on it and a quick conversation with one driver informed us that it was indeed open from end-to-end.

So off we went, climbing, climbing, climbing into the unknown. One nice feature of the pseudo-closed road was the lack of cars allowing us to zigzag back and forth and chose the smoothest line. There were a few fun decents interspersed between the (what seemed like never ending) climbs and before long we found ourselves at our designated end point for the day: an open meadow at the trailhead of Prairie Creek Trail.

We both immediately unpacked our sleep systems and layed down for a nap - which turned out to be perfect timing as the mosquitos came out and had to find dinner somewhere else! There was only one downside - both of us began to experinence leg cramps once we were resting. My guess is the heat of the day was reminding us that although we drank a lot of water, we probably should have drank more (I'm also thinking the multiple jugs of sangria at a dinner party the night before didn't help).

Once the sun was down and the mosquitos gone, we got up, made a small fire and some dinner, and enjoyed the stunning number of stars visable. It's easy to forget what the sky really looks like at night when you're away from the city's light pollution. Absolutely mesmerizing.

The weather forecast called for a low of 9c overnight so in my prepanning and packing I decided to bring a lighter (meaning not as warm) sleep system. This was a mistake. After tossing and turning all night due to the cold and reoccuring leg cramps, sometime around 5am I awoke to myself shivering uncontrollably and ice on the outside of my bivvy. I immediately got up and started running laps to bring my core temperature up to get try and get rid of those horrible deep/core shivers.

After about 20 minutes of that I climbed back into my bivvy and was able to get another couple hours of restful sleep.

Day 2

The waking up shot:

Although it was freezing cold overnight, as soon as the sun crested the mountains, it was instantly hot and muggy. there anything more tasty then camp coffee?

Todays route would have us finishing up the arduous Powderface Trail, the road through the Sibbald Flats area, and the highway back to Calgary.

Immediately leaving our camp spot we began climbing again and on the very first steep up I could feel those muscles that were cramping overnight twinging with unhappiness again. I chose to start pushing again knowing that the day would be long and we were having to rely only on the supplies we had with us all the way home.

It wasn't too long before we reached the summit of the road and were then treated to 10+kms of mostly downhill - and oh boy - what a downhill! Some sections were really smooth seeing us reach speeds in excess of 60kph, full tuck, looking for more speed! SO FUN!

Before long we were off the Powderface Trail and onto Hwy 68 which would bring us through the Sibbald area and back onto the Hiway 1 (Trans Canada). We found ourselves on smooth pavement straight away and were happy to be enoying some smooth, easy road. However, within a couple of kilometres we were back onto gravel, but also the worst kind of gravel: freshly graded, deep and soft, forcing us to the edge of the roadway for most of it, swerving uncontrolably for some of it.

Sibbald Road aka Hiway 68. The last shot with my phone before the washboard launched it from my handlebar bag and under my back wheel.

Not long after the photo above we were off the gravel for good and making our way back eventually to the Trans Canada east to Calgary. Unfortunately for me, those nasty legs cramps reared their ugliness again and I had to bail out at the service station at Hwy 22 & Hwy 1, catching a ride back to Calgary.

All in all, it was most definitely a fun adventure and am hoping to ride it again soon.

I was riding the 2016 Raleigh Roker Comp and Ryan was on the 2016 Willard 2. Both bikes performed flawlessly on all the surfaces we encountered, offering inspiring performance and shit eating grins - in between the leg cramps. :)

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