After experiencing a bikepacking race, the BC Epic 1000, last year and roaming some nearby routes, I decided to put together a multi-day bikepacking route to highlight our local area. I have lived in the North Cariboo now for 40 years and enjoyed a great variety of outdoor activities while here. I know there is much for visitors to see and explore.
Two years ago I renewed my interest in bicycle touring, but wasn’t keen on touring the highways or in traffic as I’d done in the 80s. I decided I wanted to tour gravel roads. Although the remoteness meant a higher degree of self-support than traditional touring, my background experience was that of road touring and I based my planning on that. I sought a chromemoly framed bike with racking capability but with tires suitable for gravel. I came upon a Brodie Argus that met that criteria. I bought strong Tubus rear and lowrider racks, and one new set of Arkel waterproof panniers. Together with some panniers I already had, my steed was ready.
Having done most of my recent wandering by RV, I found I also had to resupply my camping needs. I acquired a new lighter inflatable pad, solo tent, stove and pot. I was set to go.
My first excursion, planned as a multi-day solo trip down the West side of the Fraser River from Quesnel to Clinton, in May of 2015, proved too intimidating. I modified my plans to going down the West side to Williams Lake, over to Horsefly, up to Likely, then through a route I hadn’t been through in 30 years down the Quesnel River to home.
I did enjoy that ride and saw some great scenery.
But I did run into problems that have been educational.
When traveling solo through remote areas, the solitude can create loneliness and even boredom. After my first day of 120kms with a good amount of climbing, I was glad to get off the bike at dinner time. Setting up camp and cooking dinner for the first time with this new equipment had enough challenge to entertain me. That and a stroll around the camp area were enough to occupy my time until nightfall. However, day 2 saw me travel only 75kms to my next campsite. It did come with plenty of climbing and was tiring enough, but I arrived at my destination mid-afternoon. I was also disappointed on arriving in Horsefly where I planned to treat myself to a nice restaurant meal. There were no facilities open in town except the convenience and hardware stores. So I grabbed some rudimentary supplies and headed out the 13kms to the Provincial Park on Horsefly Lake. Now it was only the end of May and during the week, but I did not expect to have the whole 40+ site campground all to myself. With the lake still too cold for enjoyable swimming, and no one around, it seemed an interminable time till darkness and bedtime. Lesson here – when solo bike touring through remote areas, one might as well keep travelling throughout the whole day.
On day 3, the plan was to head up through Mitchell Bay on Quesnel Lake to Likely. Now I know this route passes over the Mt. Polley mine tailings dam breach, but I’d heard that the road was open. I stopped at the hardware store in Horsefly to get an update. I talked to two people and got two different responses. One casually commented that the route must be restored and in any event, “I’d likely find out.” The other suggested that though the road might be restored, the mine had fenced and gated it, denying public access. He too suggested that if that was so, being on a bike, I could likely find my way around it. Now it was some 40+ kms out through Mitchell Bay to the dam breach area, and for some reason that seemed too much for me if I was only to find I’d have to backtrack it. I decided to reroute through the Beaver Valley. Lesson here – do more thorough research and also be more flexible.
I did thoroughly enjoy the trip through Beaver Valley. It is a nice rolling road with little traffic and lots of lakes and farms.
When I’d passed through Beaver Valley, and reached the Likely road, I chose to skip Likely and the unknown connection to the road back North on the Quesnel River. Instead I headed West on Likely Rd. and instead of the gravel road through to McLeese Lake, chose to stick to the more Southerly, paved road to Wildwood. Apparently my sense of adventure had waned. When I achieved cell service again, I called my spouse (who I had kept informed through Spot messages) to see if she felt like fetching me from Wildwood. She was as keen as I was to have me avoid that 100kms on Hwy 97, and picked me up not long after I’d ridden through rain and arrived.
I knew that I’d enjoyed this adventure, but also knew I needed to do more research in advance on both main and alternate routes. This is especially the case in remote wilderness solo travelling. The Spot SOS is after all supposed to only be for unavoidable and desperate rescue.
B. The Plan
Last year, I finally completed the bikepacking route, the BC Epic 1000, and in so doing acquired a new trail/bikepacking bike with bikepacking specific bags requiring no panniers. (See account in “2nd Chance Epic” blog.) Then I heard Lennard Pretorius, the developer of that route had already planned and offered another route, The Buckshot, so I decided that I should try to plan a route around our own scenic and historic Cariboo gold fields. I wanted to create a challenging route requiring several days to circumnavigate. I also wanted it to be a loop beginning and ending in historical Barkerville. I would try to avoid pavement and highways as much as possible but to include some civilization for resupply and access should things go amiss.
Now this area is all quite remote and with starting and ending it in Barkerville, situated as it is on the north slope of the Cariboo Plateau near the Cariboo Mountains, already builds in over 4000′ of elevation. The snow doesn’t leave the areas above Barkerville until well into June, and can fall during every month. This gives a limited window in which to ride this route, but even more limiting is the time to explore and develop it.
I hope to include both historical routes and more recent areas that will reflect the long-standing pursuit of gold that has pervaded this area for 150+ years. Along the route one should see the effects of this pursuit, both positive and negative, historic and modern.
The intended route will begin in Barkerville, and climb up the original pack trail over the flanks of Yanks Peak that predated the development of the Cariboo Wagon Road. From Likely it proceeds South along the shores of Quesnel Lake, BC’s deepest lake, and past the Mt. Polley mine disaster to Horsefly. Likely and Horsefly being the main resupply opportunities on the route. From Horsefly the route heads back up the scenic Beaver Valley, past several more lakes culminating at Morehead Lake and a more limited resupply possibility. Continuing northwest the route crosses the plateau to join the Quesnel River, site of much dynamic hydraulic mining efforts up to current times. The Quesnel/Hydraulic Road takes one to the only crossing of the river between Likely and Quesnel at the site of the former Gravelle ferry.
This route bypasses the city of Quesnel to avoid the traffic and as much pavement as possible. To this point, only limited pavement will have been encountered entering and exiting Likely and Horsefly. After crossing the Quesnel River at Gravelle the route continues North on FSRs up to the Cottonwood House historic site on the original Cariboo Wagon Road which is mostly now the Barkerville Highway #26.
From there it parallels the highway by following a FSR route to the Beaver Pass FSR which is alive with active and transient placer mines. The next point is the historic site of Stanley on Lightning creek which had been nearly as prolific in yielding gold as Williams Creek which flows through Barkerville.
The last leg of the route will hopefully follow the old Cariboo Wagon Road from Stanley up Lightning Creek and over the flank of Mt. Agnes and down the Hydraulic ditchline back to Barkerville. This last section and the one leading out of Barkerville over to the Mitchell Pass FSR are the most tenuous at the moment. They will have to wait for more snow melt to be scouted and confirmed, or alternatives provided.
The route over to Keithley Creek, and the section past Mt. Polley mine also need confirmation. The route through to Beaver Pass will require permissions as the crucial last kilometre has been blocked and gated by placer mines. The issue of closing and privatizing FSRs is problematic for recreational access to several areas and affects more users than just us lonely bikepackers. That’s an issue that requires solutions both in isolated cases like this, but also in the more general sense of providing safe access for all citizens wishing to recreate in the backcountry. Hopefully we can work around the issue to complete this route.
The ideal time to hold a Grand Depart from Barkerville would be the August long weekend, giving working riders 3 days to complete it. The problem with that time is that accommodations will be at an all-time premium in the Wells-Barkerville area as it hits the very popular Arts Wells Festival. On the other hand, that would give the riders’ families/support crews something very worthwhile to do while they wait!
A. One option is to skip the section through Gavin, Morehead Lakes and over to the Quesnel River and add a section across and up the Fraser River. This whole route should be about 484 kms in length and contain 7385m of elevation gain. This would probably require 2 or 3 nights, (3-4 days riding), for most bikepackers but provides more resupply options in McCleese Lake and Quesnel.
B. The other, original option sticking more to the Cariboo goldfields currently sits at 357kms and 5323m of elevation. This would be a 1 or 2 night trip for most bikepackers, but with much less provision of resupply opportunities.
Meanwhile the scouting will continue, and this blog will be updated as the plan develops. Stay tuned.