Max Berkowitz – 21-year-old Max is definitely the recipient of the “No Quarter” MVP award. An exceptionally talented cinematographer, director and editor who has no fear both physically and artistically. Raised on Vancouver’s north shore he knows how to handle a bike, but until No Quarter he had only ever done two overnight bike trips to date. Margus and I brought him on his second overnight trip to the Chilcotins, immediately his attitude, bike skills and confidence sold us and he was on the team.
With our team assembled and a route ‘roughed out’ by Mcnab we were ready to pull the trigger. McNab had spent many hours researching Google Earth, topo maps, trip reports and local rider’s Instagram feeds to craft our route. Beginning at Quartz creek, to our food cache at Hobo lake, ending at CMH Bugaboo lodge. He estimated we could travel 25km a day, with 4 days to the food cache and another 4 days to the lodge. In classic McNab fashion this was a gross over-estimation.
With Brice set to fly in from South Africa, the team’s schedules’ cleared, 40 dehydrated meals purchased, I had even already added 40psi to my Genius to account for my pack’s weight. A quick trip to Bellingham to pickup Brice’s Genius and then I was pointing my truck east and heading to Revelstoke. Two cars from entry to the US boarder, my phone starts buzzing, it’s McNab. “Hey man, we have a small problem” he says. “I’m about to hit the boarder here, can I call you back?” I reply. “Okay, actually it’s a big problem…the back country is closed” he says (in a relaxed tone as if he had just cracked a beer in Mexico). Cue an exceptionally long and colourful stream of expletives, a full phone throwing moment, and I am at the boarder window. The summer of 2017 was exceptionally dry and hot, the perfect ingredient for a big forest fire year. The Fire Service had closed the entire southeast fire centre, of which half of our route was encapsulated. I managed to get in touch with Brice fewer than 4 hours before his plane was to board. Our only option was to watch the weather, do a rain dance and hope the restriction would be lifted before it were to start snowing. Our trip was postponed for several weeks.
Nothing of value comes easily; nothing that comes easily is valuable
The trip is back on, a few days of rain and the Fire Service has granted us a special exemption to travel through the closure. It is now mid September, what was to be a warm trip just several weeks ago has now become a race against the impending snow. Brice arrives the day before our exemption is valid, a 43-hour flight from South Africa, we break the news that we intend to leave the following day. He merely shrugs, “Of course we are!”
A Sense of Humour is Essential
Embarking along several kilometers of forest road, and 8kms of the only trail we anticipated riding in 8 days, spirits were high. Our nerves calmed, travel was easy, we were lured into a false sense of security. Then the trail ended. Choosing to eschew the traditional bike packing technique of saddlebags, frame and bar bags, everything but our ultra-light Thermarest sleeping bags was packed into our backpacks. Knowing that our bikes were likely to spend more time on our backs then on their wheels, it didn’t take long to learn that even 25 pound bikes are heavy and bushwhacking is arduously slow and tedious. As night fell and our camp was set up, our attention turned quickly to dinner.
Our stoves didn’t work.
At first we thought McNab was joking, but no, our stoves didn’t work. The canisters were full, were the proper size and fuel type, but they didn’t light. We neglected to test these specific canisters with these particular stoves. With the fire risk as high as it was we did not dare to light a fire, imagining the headlines, ‘Idiot mtn bikers light the Purcells on fire.’ Here is where sense of humour is really necessary, not once did anyone suggest turning around, instead making jokes about the delicate flavour profiles found in cold, barely rehydrated freeze dried meals. My pallet is quite sophisticated and discerning and I would recommend cold Chana Masala over cold Pad Thai any day of the week. Cold oatmeal is another story though.
Mother Nature Also has a Sense of Humor
Waking up in a snow covered meadow, our food is gone and our food cache is 2 days away at our current pace. Our group decides the only prudent option is to tuck our tails and bail out to Golden BC. It is snowing harder now and we have two options, follow a series of ridge lines into Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and descend their bike park to Golden, or follow a faint animal trail down the valley and hope to run into a logging road (which may or may not be there) and follow that to Golden. With snow piling up on our bikes we decide to forego the ridgeline option and begin our descent down the valley. The animal trail was a blast to ride, for about 600m. Ending as quickly as it begin we were back to bush whacking. As our elevation dropped the bush became thicker and thicker. This was the hardest bush whacking anyone on our team had ever navigated. Through a short break in the clouds we spotted an old clear cut, evidence that there likely was a road down there somewhere. At some point Brice blew out his knee, tearing several ligaments. In classic Brice fashion he neglected to mention this until we actually reached the road.
The logging road, sweet salvation- laughter and hilarious bush whacking moments are exchanged; our guard is down thinking it would be a casual ride down into Golden. Max quietly whispers “bear, guys bear, HOLY F$&% BEAR!!!!” 15 feet above the road bank from us a large Grizzly Bear is watching us chewing on grass chutes. Springing into action, we have formed a shoulder to shoulder line of defense our bikes in front of us. We look ready to stop the invaders at a castle wall. Shouting at the bear, bikes raised, it barely notices us casually retuning to its grass meal. Slowly backing away, our heart rates collectively lower and we saddle up and begin the descent to Golden.
Golden BC, Brice’s Knee and Mountain Biking on Trails
As tough as we pretend to be, 4 days of bush whacking with bikes-on-our-backs had taken its toll on the entire team. A late night arrival to McNab’s friend Ian’s place we shared our adventures with our gracious host. Thankfully Ian’s wife and young child were away visiting family as we talked his ear off late into the night with our misadventures from the past 4 days. From Ian’s our rolling junk show found ourselves in a gorgeous on mountain condo courtesy of low season and Tourism Golden. Here in the lap of luxury we strategized our options. It had not snowed yet, although pressure was dropping and you could feel winter was close, and our team was like a pack of rabid dogs ready to get back to the ridgelines. Our revised route would see us cut out the higher elevation Bugaboo range and work our way back from our food cache to just east of our bailout drainage. If we managed to complete this route we would have travelled ¾ of our original route. Brice was on the fence if he could join, his knee required professional assessment. Wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt we decided to stretch our legs on some of Golden’s fine singletrack. It was a refreshing change to leave the overnight packs at home and keep the throttles wide open on some fast trails… real trails!
Brice’s trip to the doctor and the physio left him with a new appreciation of Canada’s socialized medical system and a diagnosis that his MCL, PCL, and ACL were torn. Brice gracefully bowed out of the next leg and started his 43 hour journey home. With fresh fuel canisters and stoves that were tested, and tested again and independently confirmed by each team member we hit the road to Brisco, BC- the start of leg 2.
The Song Remains the Same
The first climb was reminiscent of our last beginning, with the first 10km once again on trail. We made good time and found that once more confidence was high. We had proved our original hypothesis; yes you can just pick a mountain range and ride it. Now it was time to write our dissertation, how far can you push it? Whereas the first leg was an exercise in discovery, the second leg presented more knife-edge ridges, more exposure, more snow but we were rewarded with some of the best riding I have ever done.
With stoves that worked our moral had increased considerably. Where cold Chana Masala is much better then cold Pad Thai, warm anything is better. Ice coffees replaced with warm lattes kept smiles on our face all day.
The terrain on leg 2 was much more inviting then we expected; our biking-to-carrying ratio was closer to 70:30. Ridgelines were rounded, rocks were smaller, our pace quickened. Deep into day 2 we came upon several lines that really made the connection between skiing and mountain biking. McNab had discovered a feature with 3 fingerling chutes, with a pitch steeper then Golden’s infamous Deaddog home of the old Red Bull Physcosis DH racecourse. To our surprise the run out was clear, free of big rocks and only a small channel from water runoff. It was on.
Things get Interesting
“Up and over that mountain, follow the ridge system, up that peak and we should be set up into a sweet trail right back to the truck,” McNab says casually over a warm instant latte. Riga, Max and I look to the ridge system he is talking about, it looks narrow and exposed, not a good sign when we are several kilometers away. “No, but seriously,” Max nervously says thinking McNab is pulling his leg. Knowing that we have a full day of ridgetop hogging in our future we take full advantage of the first descent of the day. What followed was a 10-hour odyssey over peaks and across knife-edge ridges. More mountaineering then bike riding, we preciously balanced along the ridgelines with sure death exposure on both sides, the banter continued but it was more gallows humour then anything. Riga had a close call almost falling down into sheer nothingness when a rock pulled out of the ridge. Max was having a hard time with the exposure, quiet and reserved, a side of him we had yet to see. “I can’t film this, I can’t even pull the camera out, it’s all Go Pro from here on boys,” says Max who eyes look like he has been in an Ibiza club for 2 weeks straight.
We have eyes on the drainage we will descend back to the truck- the end is near. Like any good adventure the crux separated us from our escape from this vertical environment. A 15-foot near vertical scramble, perched on the ridge, as if saying “Come on, I DARE YOU.” McNab reports back, the rock is impassable to the left and a sheer drop to the right. This current ridge was dirt covered on the west aspect, and covered in snow on the east aspect with just a narrow rideable line between the middle. Riga, McNab and I decide to shoot some still photos, it was the literal visual representation of our ski touring and mountain biking journey. It could not be ignored.
Looking further down the ridge we see Max, full backpack, bike on his shoulder gracefully climbing the crux move. He moves through the terrain with the calm precision of a Swiss Mountaineer, not a misstep, a slip or wasted calorie of energy. McNab remarks to me “Wow, I didn’t think he was going to get up that, let alone go first. I had only cleared two footholds; I was planning on kicking out the whole route so he knew where to go.” I respond, “Well let’s not tell him now, he is almost at the top”. Finishing our photos we pedal to the crux, each taking a position to hand the bikes up. Once Max learned that he had pioneered the crux climb of the entire pitch, and that McNab had not prepped it, his elation could not be contained.
It was this moment, this over coming of adversity, this is why we were here. This was our definition of adventure. In metaphorical terms we had left our place of safety, ventured into the unknown and come out the other side with new knowledge. This was our high alpine mountain bike version of the hero’s journey; we were acting out a tale as old as humanity itself. We were vulnerable, and at the absolute mercy of the mountains, the weather, the group dynamic, the equipment, our skills. This is why we came here…
Every adventure starts with an objective, and although we did not complete the exact objective we set out to accomplish, even though we had failed, we won. Over our first beer at the truck we started scheming when to come back, we know what we need to do differently to succeed next time and we are counting down the days until we can set out again.
- Photos: Margus Riga
- Video: Max Berkowitz
- Words: Kevin Landry