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Aug 27, 2017

Bikepacking Castlegar -> Penticton on the CW and KVR Trails - Alberta and British Columbia Canada

About to pedal off into the wilderness. From L to R: Jesse, Sean, Cory, and Tom.

A handful of us went on a 6-day rail trail adventure from Castlegar to Penticton on the Columbia Western and Kettle Valley rail lines. We drove a car out to Penticton then shuttled back to Castlegar and left another car there.

Weather conditions were HOT! No rain at all and the smokey air was never an issue - in fact, it seemed to get better as the trip went along. Even crazier: the day after we rolled through the Myra/McCullogh/Kelowna area a huge fire erupted not far from where we had been. That was close.

Please enjoy this photo essay of the adventure. If you have any questions, leave us a comment below.

Day 1
Castlegar Trailhead to Farron Summit 44km
Strava Link

Cub Creek Bridge above the beautiful Arrow Lake. As you can see on the Strava link, this day was basically 44kms straight up to Farron Station. Unrelenting 2-3% grade may not seem like a big deal but by the time we reached the summit we were all pretty pooched and ready to eat.

Jesse, doing his best troll with great teeth impression in one of the many fascinating rail line ruins that dot the route.

The longest tunnel on our trip - the Bulldog Tunnel - was as spooky inside as it looks from the outside. It has a slight curve in it thus requiring a light to navigate through it's murky, damp length. One of the fun features of the whole length of the trip we did was all the tunnels.

Home for the night. Farron Station had this nifty shelter that we all could set up under for the night. There is a nice clean outhouse just down the trail in the photo and very clean water in a stream just back on the trail. We used purifying tabs in all the water we took over the course of the trip, just to be sure. All of us agreed - we've never seen so many stars in the sky as we did this night, including the Milky Way in all it's glory.

Day 2
Farron Summit to Greenwood 103km
Strava Link

After a great sleep and camp coffee/breakfasts we set off for about 40kms of descending to Grand Forks. This section was one of the most interesting too: rolling down from a high mountain pass to baking desert heat in such a short span of distance. It was on this descent that we saw the only other people bikepacking the rails: a Euro fella and another from Colorado riding towards Calgary along the TCT.

Lovely views of Christina Lake, Canada's warmest lake which frequently stays ice-free through winter. The Columbia Western was really fun to ride on with generally good surfaces, better then most of the KVR from our point of view.

Lunch! Grand Forks Station Pub was a great spot for lunch and is the old rail station as well. Lovingly restored inside and the handy hitching post made watering our steel horses convenient. We spent 2hrs here eating and drinking until we were all about to pop. From here we still had another 43km to go, including a 25km climb to Eholt Summit.
At about the halfway mark of the climb to Eholt we came across Fisherman's Cabin, a relic preserved from when the trains were running. Lovingly maintained, it featured 4 bunk beds in one room and a giant dining table in the main room. There was also a fire pit, with a supply of split wood and outhouse on site - all with a stunning view of the valley below. We'd definitely recommend spending the night here if you get the opportunity.

On our way up the Eholt Summit climb, a lovely viewpoint of the Granby River valley opens up. Grand Forks and the pub we clobbered is off in the distance behind Jesse. Not sure why this climb seemed so easy (ok, it was probably because we were all drunk from our lunch stop) but we all agreed it seemed to roll under us with no effort. Once we reached the summit and saw that the site sucked for camping we decided to pin it for Greenwood 20km away, eventually arriving in the dark and finding a shelter like the one pictured above at Farron Summit.

Day 3
Greenwood to Kettle Recreation Area 48km
Strava Link

Proper coffee portions available at the Copper Eagle in Greenwood. After a night camped beside Hwy.3 - meaning only Jesse slept well since he had ear plugs - a couple of us were up at first light and stumbled into the Copper Eagle at 6am for some not-camp-coffee and we were pleasantly surprised by these giant cups and lovely space. Definitely worth a visit.

With a short day on tap - only 48kms - and superduper desert-like heat forecast, we decided to enjoy all the swimming holes and pub stops we could find along the way. This spot is in Midway and a little further up the trail, close to Rock Creek, we also found a sweet diving board and there was also a bridge jump in the Kettle Recreation Area, which was to be our destination for the night.

Home for the night. The Kettle campground was really nice. $30/site made for very inexpensive camping and the site had clean water! coming out of the taps, showers!, and the outhouses all had flush toilets! and sinks! in them. What a spot. Definitely recommend you stay here if coming through the area.

Day 4
Kettle Recreation Area to Arlington Lakes 75km
Strava Link

Beautiful views greeted us as we rolled out. It was another hot day with temperatures reaching 35c in the shade by midday. Today's route featured every surface from sand to pavement to rock to gravel. We were fortunate to have a slight tailwind pushing us up the valley as well. 

Reminders that this area experiences forest fires was all around us. And the Kettle River is so full of fish we all agreed that bringing fishing rods would have been a good idea (Cory had a mini-fly fishing rod that he used a couple of times).

Not far from Kettle is the famous "Cyclist Rest Stop" in Rhone. The owner has a sun shelter, some chairs, a hammock, and a big bell you can ring if you need fresh water. The interior of the shelter is plastered with the names of those who have come before. Markers were on hand as well so everyone had a chance to leave their mark. From here the trail became markedly more rough as it headed up the valley to Beaverdell, our lunch stop, and last resupply point before the end of our trip, 2 days from now.

Creepy. Weird. Bleached out stuffies on a wall in Carmi. Back to Beaverdell for a minute: the general store had a pretty good selection of groceries and a handful of picnic tables in the shade. We hung out here for a couple hours eating, drinking, and recharging our electronics. It was a pretty busy place with lots of travelers popping in on their way through the town. Sadly, the whole experience in Beaverdell was diminished by a couple of hardcore drug addicts in a broken down car out front of the shop, stumbling around, and acting sketchy. It was rough to watch, rough enough that we ended up calling the place "Needledell" for the rest of the trip.

Day 5
Arlington Lakes through Myra Canyon to Chute Lake 78km
Strava Link

Early morning camp vibes on Arlington Lake. $12/site here now meant our total accommodation cost per person for the trip was now at a stunning $10.50 each - hahaha. This is a pretty rustic campground but beautiful and quiet. The unvented outhouses were particularly unpleasant and take note: there are no garbage facilities here so you need to pack out your garbage all the way to McCullough Lake, the closest garbage spot. One drag for me: I suffered a bit of leg cramp overnight and would have sore legs for the whole next day.

The first and only mechanical on our trip. Fittingly it was an antique cotterpin that inserted itself into Cory's rear tire just past McCullough. Nice souvenir! The ride from Arlington to Myra was pretty uneventful but also kind of shitty as the trail was obviously open to vehicles and was subsequently bomb-holed and soft in spots. PLEASE BAN VEHICLES FROM USING THE KVR, BC GOVERNMENT!

4 pack-o-dudes at Myra Canyon. This area is truly spectacular. Even if you only go there to check this out, you should. Myra was also the final summit, so to speak, with only one more day to go and most of it downhill. Little did we know that the next 20ish kilometres were to be some of the softest, sandiest segments of the entire journey. PLEASE BAN VEHICLES FROM USING THE KVR, BC GOVERNMENT!

Chute Lake Resort - aka - An Oasis On A Road Of Sand. After leaving the Myra area is was mostly downhill into Chute but beware: the soft conditions were diabolically difficult/frustrating. When we arrived at Chute we were all pleasantly surprised to find beer, wine, hot dogs, burgers, and french fries at this rustic resort. I love places like this! The owners were super sweet too. There is camping here but it was kind of expensive so we elected to ride around the corner to the BC rec area where camping was free.

Sore. Dirty. Pretty much summed up what my whole body looked and felt like at the end of this day. Luckily, I managed to keep the leg cramps away today and for the rest of the trip.

Another free night in the woods. The road to this rec site was washed away so vehicle access is almost impossible meaning the site was clean, abandoned, and the outhouse were clean and smelled ok. There was only one other party in the campground with us, a mom/dad with 2 young daughters who were riding from Myra to Penticton. Chute Lake is pretty but if you go in, check yourself for leeches. I got one (was quick to remove it) and Tom got one that he didn't notice until it exploded in a shower of blood when he flicked it. Gross!

Day 6
Chute Lake to Penticton 46km
Strava Link

Starting the day off right with a complete breakfast. What a treat! You have to pre-order the night before and then show up at 9am sharp. If you do that, you are greeted by the owners with a table fully setup and a belly full of yummy. Positively heavenly.

We were warned that this area was really sandy and the warnings proved correct. We were all thankful that we road MTBs - making traversing segments like this - and much worse - possible without dismounting. From Chute Lake, down towards Penticton, there is about 4-5kms of this. Bring your beach volleyball gear, yo.

Getting close to Penticton and Lake Okanagan. What a view!

The last 10km of so down into Penticton has you descending through vineyards and orchards. If you want to check out a few tasting rooms, be sure to pop off the KVR and get yourself onto Naramata Road where you'll find plenty of options. We popped into a couple, including Hillside which had a lovely bistro.

Trip Notes:

- We all felt that the trip could have been done if 5 days instead of 6 but the relaxed nature on 2 of the 6 days made dealing with the excessive heat easier and was also a lot of fun.

- Besides the towns, there is no fresh water so bring your preferred water filtration system. We used tabs and had no issues.

- The red roofed huts along much of the Columbia Western rail trail were a really nice feature and would be even more useful if conditions were wet. Why are there none on the KVR?

- Surfaces on the Columbia Western were also generally much better then the KVR sections we rode. Why is that? Why do authorities allow OHV and vehicle use on these trails? All they seem to do is degrade the surface for cycling. This really needs to be reevaluated.

- The section from Chute Lake to Myra Canyon is a disaster. Only the most fit or experienced cyclists are going to be able to ride it. So is 4-5kms of the trail from Chute Lake down to Penticton. We saw lots of people struggling and walking.

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