Mountain biking on the Sea to Sky Trail

And yes you can choose to make it easier if you do Sky to Sea

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With the 700 meter granite dome of the Stawamus Chief as a backdrop, my friend Ken and I climbed on our bikes in Squamish and started pedaling north. Our destination was Whistler, an uphill trek of about 80 km that we hoped to complete in two days.

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It would be easier to ride the other way from Whistler to Squamish as it is a downhill. But it wouldn’t be the Sea to Sky trail if we drove that way. By the way, how difficult can a vertical drop of more than 600 meters be?

I drove the Sea to Sky Highway several times to Whistler. This is arguably one of the best roads in Canada, but when I discovered the Sea to Sky Trail I knew I had to experience it on my bike. It’s a slower pace and way away from the highway, which would allow us to enjoy the journey – valleys, river gorges, lakes, and forests – in a way you can’t do in car.

While the Coast Salish and Interior Salish Indigenous peoples used this corridor as a historic route for travel and trade, the idea of ​​a Sea to Sky Multi-Use Trail was first envisioned early on. 1990s. But given the geographic and financial challenges, it was only in the last decade that the vision for the 180 km trail from Squamish to D’Arcy, north of Pemberton, came to fruition.

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The Cheakamus River near Whistler.
The Cheakamus River near Whistler. Photo by Ken Donohue

Coming out of Squamish, we joined the Corridor Trail, a paved path that winds pleasantly through the forest for several kilometers. Away from the hustle and bustle of the highway and sharing jokes with other cyclists and walkers, the start of the ride was surprisingly scenic.

About 10 kilometers north of Squamish to Brackendale, the road turns off the freeway and goes up Squamish Valley Road. We stopped for a break at the Cheekye Bridge, which spans the Cheakamus River, a body of water we would see on the way in its various moods.

As I continued north, I understood why Paradise Valley Road got its name. It was a gorgeous stretch through a burning forest of autumn reds and oranges.

Now that the adventure begins, I told myself as the road ended and a dirt road guided us forward. There was a delicious smell of cooking for breakfast, as we trespassed into what appeared to be a popular, but improvised camping area next to the Cheakamus River. This is where the hills began. Sometimes our bikes, and admittedly our physical fitness, were not up to the loose sand and rocks of the hilly trail. We had to walk several times with our bikes.

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The runners will pass several lakes.
The runners will pass several lakes. Photo by Ken Donohue

Along the trail we encountered a father and two sons who each held fishing rods. They walked to Starvation Lake, frequented by hikers. After cycling and walking uphill we were hungry when we reached the lake but decided it was too early for a lunch break. Instead, we soaked ourselves in the wonderful silence that surrounded the mirror-like lake.

The beautiful surroundings and the calm of the lake were almost unimaginable considering that highway 99 is less than a mile away. A small mountain between buffers all the noise of cars. It is this feeling of remoteness while being accessible that makes this district attractive.

As we continued our ascent, the silence was soon broken by the sound of the rapids of the Cheakamus River, crossing a narrow rocky canyon. Below us was an engineering marvel, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, which was built through Cheakamus Canyon in 1910, with its trestle bridges and tunnels running along the mountainside.

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The scenic Cheakamus Canyon.
The scenic Cheakamus Canyon. Photo by Ken Donohue

There are only two locations between Squamish and Whistler, where the Sea to Sky Trail meets Hwy 99. The first of these was near the Cheakamus Canyon picnic site. The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, which constructs and operates the trail, intends to build a path through this section of Cheakamus Canyon, but this is an expensive project due to the narrowness and the need to bridge fairly significant gaps.

After a five mile stretch along the freeway, we veered off at the Chance Creek intersection, where we took the trail back. Here we were treated to a scenic ride through an old growth stand near Lake Lucille. Nearby we passed Shadow Lake these two lakes would go unnoticed if you were driving.

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Forty-five kilometers and just over five hours after leaving Squamish, we arrived at Brandywine Falls, the end of the first day of our hike. Of all the times I’ve run into Brandywine on my way to Whistler, this is my first visit. I don’t know why I never stopped because the 70 meter drops are awesome. The many trails in the park made me want to plan a return.

After spending the night in Whistler, we returned in the morning to Brandywine and took the trail back that took us through the calm of the forest to the Whistler Bungee Bridge. Jumping off bridges isn’t my idea of ​​the fun, but we stopped to take in the view of the Cheakamus River raging through a narrow canyon 50 yards below.

After crossing the bridge the trail took us to the river, where we followed the Cal Cheak Forest Service Road for a while before heading back out into the forest. The Cheakamus River was like an old friend to us, and we met this friend again, on a new suspension bridge that was completed in 2016. It was this bridge that allowed the Sea to Sky Trail to connect with Whistler .

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We stopped for a short while to breathe in the spectacular scenery, before continuing a few miles uphill towards what is one of the most surreal things you have ever seen. Scattered across the forest, as if they’ve always been there, seven covered railroad cars are painted in the colors of decades of graffiti.

Train Wreck Trail near Whistler is a popular spot, where several derailed cars in the forest have been painted with colorful graffiti.
Train Wreck Trail near Whistler is a popular spot, where several derailed cars in the forest have been painted with colorful graffiti.

In 1956, a high-speed freight train derailed. The damaged cars were removed from the tracks and abandoned in the forest. And thanks to the completion of another bridge in 2016 that spans the Cheakamus River, this magical place is now a popular attraction, with an easy bike and walking route from the Cheakamus Crossing area, which was the Athletes’ Village of Whistler. during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

We encountered the Valley Trail and drove past Alpha, Nita, and Alta Lakes before going under the freeway and into the village of Whistler. There was a huge sense of accomplishment as we took a photo with our bikes near the Olympic rings. And lunch that day has never been so good.

Somewhere during our trip I saw a Sea to Sky Trail sign that said: Inspiration. Amusing. Adventure. The ride is all of this and more. But I would suggest doing the From the sky to the sea trail, so you can go down.

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