Tails from the trails: riding New Denver

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Relics of the mining boom are strewn across the sides of Idaho Peak and Mount Payne. The rush to strike it rich mining silver gave the towns of New Denver and Silverton their names. Riding the local trails you’ll see just how important this area was to the economic development of British Columbia. Most of the trails follow old rail lines or donkey tracks that the miners used to access their claims and move ore and supplies in and out of their camps. Idaho Peak itself is a swiss cheese of shafts and adits, every trail crosses a memory of the boom times: collapsing buildings, open mines and rail tracks jutting from the hillside from a collapsed mine. Pick up a trail map from Wilds of Canada Cycles in New Denver and you’ll see the old buildings and the tailings dumps clearly marked.

Wild of Canada Cycles
Wild of Canada Cycles

My first goal was to ride the Wakefield trail. It’s an epic 1,500 metre drop from the top of Silver Ridge under Idaho Peak down to Silverton. Back in the day the Wakefield was used to transport supplies from Silverton up to the miners working the ridge. Nowadays it’s a thrill ride down, or a long slog up. The round trip from New Denver is a bit less than 50km and since I’d barely pedaled a bike this season I was pessimistic on my chances of making the circuit. I rode The Galena, the H-Road and made it to within 6km of the trailhead before admitting defeat and jumping in the back of a pickup. Both of these trails are in great shape and a pleasure to ride. Thanks to the North Slocan Trails Society for maintaining the trails. This year they repaired a 5 metre section of the Galena which was ripped out by a large avalanche. It had enough force to bring a concrete barrier several hundred metres down the hillside, leaving it right beside the trail! It’s awesome that there are volunteers who give their time to keep these trails open for everyone to use.

Wakefield
The Wakefield trail passes through some wider sections.
Wakefield
Keep your focus on the trail. In the background is the Idaho Peak lookout.
Viola Mac Mine
The Viola Mac mine was open until 1958. You can explore the wreckage if you like, but be careful and make you’ve had a tetanus shot.

Ripping off the top of the ridge and down the Wakefield is like launching on a hang glider. You fly through some trees and out onto a narrow, bench-cut trail that runs back and forth across the steep western face of Idaho Peak. The first few switchbacks are frighteningly steep and some of the later ones are just as dicey, but if you pause to stop you can enjoy spectacular views of the Slocan Valley and Mount Denver across the lake. But only if you stop; it’s best not to try to look around while you’re riding. You can take a break on the trail, or go and check out some of the old mine sites nearby. These days they’re not much more than a slide of tailings and a pair of rails poking out of the mountainside, but I love to picture what they would have been like the in 1890s. I’ve heard some locals call the Wakefield the biggest waste of brakes in the valley. They’d rather ride the flowy railbed trails which are faster, because they lack the gnarly switchbacks, and because they’ve built jumps along these wider trails. It’s true you’re on the brakes for most of the trail, but the experience is more than worth it and when you get back to town you can soak your hands in the lake.

Wakefield
This is all that’s left of an old mine. The tailings are from this mine, and one located directly above it. Now there’s nothing left but the rails.
Galena Trailhead
The Galena trail crosses highway 31A and this is where it starts heading uphill towards Three Forks.
Galena Cable Car
Riding the cable car across Carpenter Creek.

My wife and I are lucky that our friends are the kindest people in the world. They not only shuttled us for a couple of rides but babysat our 6 month old daughter until we got back. We are forever in their debt, these days we rarely get the chance to ride together.

Our first ride together was on the K and S Trail, named for the Kaslo to Sandon Railway. The old railbed runs across the flank of Mount Payne from Sandon to the Payne bluffs above Three Forks. Halfway along we found an old adit that was half filled with water. I climbed in about 15 feet, to where the water was too deep and cold to go any further. It was thrilling to imagine what a miner’s life was like. When the train was running it took a precarious route across the bluffs. You can ride out the point where the railbed disappears and see what’s left of the tracks still clinging to the cliff. The trail itself takes a series of tight switchbacks down to the highway 31A. If you like suffering you could ride up this way, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Thanks to the organizers of the Kaslo Sufferfest, who are going to force their participants to ride up this steep, gnarly section, there was a volunteer hard at work repairing a washed out section of trail when we rode past, and I hear that they’re paying a crew to work on the K&S switchbacks. It’s great to see work going into these trails.

K&S Trail
Sarah rides past the open mine on the K&S trail.

From Three Forks, we took the Old Sandon Road back down to New Denver. It’s more technical and exposed than the Galena, with a few more ups and downs, but it’s a more exciting ride and we’d take the Galena the next day.

Old Sandon Road
The Old Sandon Road features a few technical challenges. This is one of the easier ones. (photo by Sarah Gillett).

The combination of Sundowner, Alamo and Galena is the smoothest way to descend Idaho Peak. All three follow old roads or railbeds, but for more excitement there’s a series of jumps built up on Sundowner. These make great photo ops with Idaho Peak in the background. (see example #1) The Alamo Wagon Road is mostly singletrack and there were some construction materials piled at the second Alamo trailhead. We later learned that a crew of local volunteers were going to repair the sketchy bridge on the lower section of Alamo and brush things out a bit. This will make the trail a lot faster. In some places it was hard to see if there were any rocks or stumps near the trail, and I was worried about tagging my toes on something hard. Most of the trail is a fantastic rip. All three trails are low-angle and can easily be climbed, so they make for unbelievably smooth descents.

Alamo
The Alamo Wagon Road has a few open sections like this one where it crosses a big shale slope.
Alamo
Switchbacks on the Alamo are big and wide. You barely have to slow down.
Alamo
The Alamo meets the Galena at Carpenter Creek. Sarah rides past the mine concentrator at Alamo Siding.
Sundowner
Boosting the jumps on Sundowner. You can see the Idaho Peak lookout between the trees on the left.

I was on baby duty on day four when my wife pedaled up the Alamo to ride Choices. It’s one of the trails that doesn’t follow an old rail or wagon road. It’s a lot more challenging, and I would have loved to get out and ride it, but fair is fair. I’ll make a point of riding it next year.

Article by Lars Goeller

Bike Shops

Wilds of Canada Cycle: Rob Farrell  at 250-358-7941

Places to stay

Villa Dome Quixote

Places to eat

The Apple Tree: 210 6th Avenue, New Denver (250) 358-2691