Hot Post Of The Month

Jul 3, 2019

Bikepacking The Devil's Gap Alberta Canada

Last year, a few of us rode from the Waiprous area out to the Ghost River Valley to spend the night and I was blown away with how beautiful, rugged, and remote the place seemed. Fast forward about a year and here we are.

For the last 3 years, my brother and I (and sometimes a few others) plan a bike trip of some kind. Getting away for a week like we did for the Castlegar -> Pentiction trip is a little harder now as he has 2 little tykes at home so it was decided to go for a shorter trip together to keep the streak alive.

So, with these things in mind we decided to do something a few days shorter, a little closer to home, and something neither of us had done before.

Note: I have found that RideWithGPS is a pretty cool tool for creating routes - this is what I used to map out this particular route.

Leave a comment if you'd like or if you have any route, bike, or equipment questions.

Day 1 Strava
Distance: 85kms
Waiprous to Canmore

The Carter Brothers off on another goonie adventure.

The Transalta road more or less keeps climbing for it's entire length but this one particular section was really steep and knowing we had a long day ahead we were more than happy to hop off and walk when needed.

At the end of the road you drop down to the Ghost River. Route finding from here is just that - find it. Knowing the general location of the entrance to Devil's Gap, you basically have to sniff your way in and follow any available tracks - in this case - 4X4 tracks. There were 3 separate channels we had to cross with one of them being particularly fast flowing but thankfully only knee deep. Once on the other side it was really a matter of "shoot for the gap".

Achievement unlocked. Perfect spot for some sustenance and a regroup for the next section ahead - which turned out to be 15kms of devilishly difficult. From here all the way to the Wardens Cabin is not maintained at all it seems with many trees down, overgrown and narrow trail - a very wild place to be sure.

Hiking With An Awkward Cart - as my friend Doug likes to say. But it did give us time to look up and marvel at the mountains encroaching from both sides of the valley. Truly spectacular.

Looking east through Devil's Gap.

Jesse ACTUALLY pedaling instead of walking on a section of the east Minnewanka Trail. R-U-G-G-E-D is all you need to know. You've been warned.

So many trees down. Both of us were running out of steam, constantly getting on and off our heavily laden bikes, lifting them over downed trees, pedaling 200m, getting off again - rinse and repeat - when we came WAY TO CLOSE to a juvenile grizzly (maybe 25m away) and at the exact same time a very large black bear maybe 200m on the beach below us. Both Jesse and I are "bear aware" and if we hadn't been making noise we probably would have ran right into the griz. We scared the griz off and boogied out of there before the curious black bear below had time to come up and see what all the commotion was about. Whew! Once we reached the Wardens Cabin it was more or less smooth sailing all the way into Banff.

Dinner time in Banff. Not even sure I tasted what I ordered I ate it so fast.

Bellies full, downhill tailwinds all the way to Canmore on the Legacy Trail. We earned that.

Home for the night. Jesse's head literally popping off from the effort today. That was the longest day I've even spent on a bike - 7h52m - and no legs cramps. Winning!

Day 2 Strava
Distance: 83kms
Canmore to Little Elbow Campground

Knowing we had a long day ahead we were up at 6am aiming for the Summit Cafe opening at 630am when realized - "oh right, it's Canada Day, they're closed - SHIT" - so we packed our gear and trundled down the TransCanada to Dead Man's Flats where Husky House would surely be open.

And indeed it was, in all of its low-quality-terrible-service-greaseball-goodness kinda way - which was all good because we'd need all the calories we could consume for the day ahead. After breakfast we continued east along the highway to the entrance to the Quaite Valley Trail which would takes us up to Jewel Pass.

Trailhead at Jewel Pass achieved. Jewel is a popular MTB trail and it pretty fun - but also a little hairy for our loaded bikes so we took it easy on the way down to Barrier Lake.

It's been maybe 15 years since I'd ridden Jewel Pass and a lot of trail work has gone into it. Big thanks to those that advocate, build , and support trail access. This bridge-over-waterfall-to-sweet-switchback-drop was really nice.

Barrier Lake. From here we headed towards the Widow Maker, refilled our bottles, and began our gravel grinding segment of this adventure with Hwy.68 and the Powderface Road ahead.

The heat of the day was now upon us and while we were both thankful to have a tailwind up the long Sibbald Highway climb, it did make things feel even hotter with basically no wind.

The Powderface Road is 34kms from Hwy.68 to the gate at Hwy.66. All of it is on a fairly narrow road like you see here. From Hwy.68 it is pretty much nonstop climbing for the better part of 15kms which takes you up to the high point of the road at 1909m. The entirety of this road was very tough going with both of us getting off the bike and pushing a lot...

...but we made it and found ourselves a nice spot in the walk-in sites at Little Elbow campground. That. Was. A. Day. Oof. During the last 10kms of the day the weather started changing as a cold front blew in and we were certain we were about to get thunderstormed on. Once a the campground we both scrambled to get our shelters set up before the expected storm arrived - which held off until the night went the skies opened up and it poured like I've never experienced before while camping. This is a picture of my 1lb shelter which thankfully kept me 99% dry overnight.

Day 3 Strava
Distance: 73kms
Littte Elbow Campground to Calgary

It snowed overnight up there. Meanwhile, in our campsite it poured buckets the whole night. Around 7am the rain eased just long enough for both of us to get up, get some coffee in us, and then it started again as we packed up for the highway ride home. Once we got to Bragg Creek the rain was finished and it was a tailwind ride all the way back to Calgary.

Snacks and hot coffee onboard. That was a trip. Thanks for reading.

Trip Notes

  •  Depending on the time of year, the Ghost River might not be possible to cross safely, so best to attempt this in July and later but...
  • ...July 10 is when the Minnewanka Trail is entirely closed to bikes (until September) so you have a small window to get through in the Summer or wait until September
  • Wayfinding through the Devil's Gap is not obvious although there are a few Parks signs once you get into Banff NP
  • From the east end of the park to the Wardens Cabin is about 15kms and there are lots of trees down and a few washouts. Look to little rock cairns to guide you across the washouts. Be prepared for bears (we saw 2 at the same time) and expect to be hike-a-biking a bunch
  • Powderface Road is a tough slog from north to south, expect it to take you longer than you think
  • As always, because you're in the mountains, be prepared for bad weather no matter what time of year
  • Tout Terrain Outback, with Pinion 12-speed gearbox
  • Schwalbe Nobby Nic Tires 27.5 x 2.6
  • RockShox Revelation RC fork 120mm
  • Spank Spoon Pedals
  • Ortlieb Bikepacking Series handlebar bag, accessory pouch, frame bag, and seatpack
  • SQ Labs 30X Alloy Handlebars 16 degree sweep, 45mm rise, 780mm wide, and Innerbarends

No comments: