I was surprised to learn earlier in the week that Emma & Brent were going to be up around Canmore so soon in their big American roadtrip (we saw them mid-June in San Luis Obispo, CA) as this weekend just gone. But they managed to get up here just in time before I go back to London next week (which I’m not looking forward to so much after the last few days’ news) & I was very pleased to have my first Kiwi visitors to Canmore. A lot of Saturday evening was spent sharing roadtrip & mountain-biking stories – I hope we didn’t bore Megan & Alex too much. A small period of time was given over to discussing the ride we were to take them on the next day. My favourite ride from last summer was Jumpingpound Ridge & Cox Hill, so I was keen to show off some good backcountry riding in Kananaskis Country. I think Alex has been missing big rides this summer – he wanted to go over Lusk Pass to start & finish the loop (making more of a lasso). We, perhaps naively, were up for this.
Parking at the University of Calgary Barrier Lake Field Station, we were soon climbing up towards the top of Lusk Pass. It was mostly double-track (we followed the Trans-Canada Trail for a while towards Baldy Pass) & steady climbing. However, near the top of the pass it got really quite steep & so loose in parts that we were all walking. I was beginning to think that we were spending a lot of energy that we would want later in the day. Nonetheless, we had a little descent from the pass to the road, Powderface Trail, where we turned south & headed ten kilometres or so to the trailhead. We were fortunate to have a thin layer of cloud keeping the sun off us & not much wind to contend with.
I covered most of the trail last year, but that climb up to Jumpingpound Ridge is still brutal. Looking back on my last trip report, I think I was able to ride the same as last year – but the big wheels made it a bit easier & less energy sapping. We all kept a good pace up – well three of us kept a good pace & Brent was noticeably ahead of us as he cleared everything. That hardtail with a single (30T) chainring obviously works for him. The rocky part along the ridge was definitely easier for me on a 29er; soon we were out of the trees & at the summit as the clouds cleared & we got the views we deserved.
Before long we were snaking along the ridge – the lack of wind compared to last year was great.
After the ridge-riding, the trail drops nicely through a couple of hundred vertical metres & is great fun. There’s a few rocky bits & small periods of unobstructed panoramas.
Can you tell I was enjoying myself?
It’s more steep climbing to regain most of the altitude just lost to summit Cox Hill. That first Lusk Pass bit must have had me tired, because I feel that I didn’t ride quite as much as I did last year & this time there were no insane gusts to contend with. We all rejoiced (well, three of us) when Brent’s climbing ability was finally defeated by a lack of traction less than fifty metres from the end – he is human after all.
Once again, the huge downhill off Cox Hill made the 1800m of climbing we did in the day worthwhile. Starting with those big open traversing switchbacks on loose rock before diving in to the trees & the trail changing to roots, to rocks & frequently back again it was a blast all the way down. I was pleased to mostly be keeping pace with Brent – I’m still not completely used to having the brake levers on the opposite side, so I’ll stick to that as some sort of lame excuse.
We had a steady climb along the road for seven or eight kilometres & after being out for six hours & climbing so much, we were all starting to feel rather exhausted. But we kept a good pace along the road & were eventually back at the Lusk Pass trail – which, naturally, had more of a climb to the top than we remembered going down earlier in the day. But those steep bits we had to walk up were a complete blast on the way down as we blew through many loose rocks. Brent & I got a nice little surprise to come around a corner at speed & see a bear cub running off down the trail – we started making a lot more noise after that. The last part of the old fireroad had a lot of logged trees across it, which was a bit of drag.
We persevered & were back at the car 56 km & almost seven and a half hours after leaving it. Truly the longest, most epic & best ride that I’ve done all summer – which is great, as I’ve been looking forward to it for many months. We all hurt, but were pretty happy with the riding & that we’d achieved it. Joel & Kristy had us all (Megan & Finn included) around for barbecued beer-can chicken dinner, all that meat was much needed & deserved!
– Some photos taken shamelessly from Alex & Emma.