One end of Whistler to the other and back, all off road
Words and photos by Kate Whitley and Dom Wrapson
To celebrate the extra daylight afforded by the Summer Solstice, we planned a ride which would take maximum advantage of all sixteen hours of it. We plotted a loop to ride from the south end of Whistler to the north along one side of the valley, returning on the opposite side, and riding all off-road. For context: Whistler village, from one end to the other and back, is roughly 40km on tarmac road with about 260m of vertical rise. Our planned route was nearly 65km and around 3,500m of elevation.
Tom and Kate competed in the Crankworx EWS last year and in a few other races held in the area, they also gained a bit more fitness this summer, so we know we had the mental strength to get through this huge day! And Dom was fitter and stronger than both of us.
At 05:01, the sun just rising, we left from Function Junction on South Flank starting our first climb of the day – probably still half asleep and not fully comprehending the long and epic journey we were embarking on. We started at a nice mellow pace, chatting and catching up, arriving at the entrance to Pura Vida relatively quickly; this, our first descent down this fun flowy trail, making for a great way to start the day! The early morning dew left the trail pretty slick, waking us up quickly.
We connected onto Baby Snakes – which had seen some great recent trail work – and then over to start the climb up A La Mode. A La Mode is always enjoyable; it flows nicely in comparison to some of the other punchy grinds in the valley and this time was especially welcoming as we knew that some of the later climbs were going to be brutal efforts for our tired bodies.
We used Lower Sproatt to connect across to the Stonebridge area and then headed down the Whistler classic Danimal North. At its end, as most of Whistler were just starting to get out of bed, we started to ascend again on Whip me, Snip Me.
The rebuild work on this climbing trail made it quick and painless. Once over the 19 Mile Creek bridge we stopped for ‘breakfast’ on a fallen tree overlooking the waterfall. Not a bad spot for a bite to eat and one that we had never noticed before despite riding past it so many times!
Refueled, we made quick work of the climb leading to the bottom of 27 Switchbacks. Next to come was the descent down Binty’s, after which we climbed and meandered along Bob’s ReBob, Get Over It and part of Mel’s Dilemma. In keeping with our goal of staying on single track, avoiding tarmac road where possible, we headed up Mandatory Suicide backwards. Yes, up the descent trail. It is a short piece of trail which is surprisingly rideable in reverse, aside from the few hike-a-bikes and rock-faces.
Mandatory Suicide connected us to the bottom of Rick’s Roost, which we climbed to connect once again with our old friend the Flank Trail.
The final part of the Flank climb is relentlessly steep, and, although recently regraded and now beautifully smooth, we pushed most of it to conserve our legs. The view from the top of Howler is worth the effort to get there every single time.
After taking in the valley vista, and grabbing a few photos, we enjoyed a long and fun descent. Once at the bottom, and after a quick patch-up from a small tumble, we started along the newly community-built (on a WORCA trail night) section of Delineator to reach the Emerald neighbourhood.
As we entered the Emerald Zone we had been led into a false sense of security by the fresh work on Delineator. We started to think “why is this called the ‘no flow’ zone, what is everyone talking about?” Alas. For this group the ‘Emerald Zone’ is now referred to as the ‘NOPE’ zone, for many reasons. The main one being it’s the only area of Whistler none of us had spent too much time (Dom ever), so navigation was mostly by map (incomplete, it turns out). I’m sure if you ride there regularly and have a good understanding of where you are going and don’t need signs it is enjoyable. Maybe? But how does one gain this understanding if it’s impossible to navigate. Catch 22. Emerald voodoo.
By the end of Creamsicle to Big Kahuna to Section 102 our spirits were a little broken. Insult to injury were the numerous trees down on the final (read: only?) descent, on Section 102. Luckily our saviour Vicky was (patiently) waiting at Cougar Mountain car park with water, snacks, and to cheer us on. After a quick play with Mika the dog, fuelled up we put ‘Nope Zone’ behind us and pressed forward.
In comparison to the trails before, Kill Me Thrill Me was a joy and seemed to flow beautifully. We ticked this one off effortlessly, not really stopping, pausing only to regroup; we even achieved a few PRs and cleaned some previously un-conquered climbs. The surprising enjoyment of Kill Me Thrill Me – which some of us hadn’t ridden in years – the food kicking in, and hitting the halfway point all returned the mental energy we needed to commit to finishing. West Whistler complete.
Crossing the highway to the valley’s east-side, we paused by the river at Wedgemount bridge to splash over us some refreshing water, wash off some dried sweat (gross), and to check the time. Emerald had taken nearly an hour-and-a-half longer than anticipated to get through, but we still had plenty of time for the next section, Wedge to the Village, to ensure we arrived with time to refuel and catch the chairlift.
Usually a solid day’s ride in itself, next up was Comfortably Numb. Here, for the first time, we encountered other riders: all offering plenty of support, though mostly heading in the opposite direction. We bumped into a few familiar faces and unsurprisingly they called us crazy when we told them how far we had come, and how far we still had to go, but all wished us well on our adventure.
We chose the minimalists route in the Comfortably Numb area, climbing/pushing the fire road (skipped the first loop), and taking the Golden Door shortcut to cut out a chunk around the halfway point, and then descended Yumby Numby (or should that now be Yumby Highway?). The Numby descent was surprisingly fun – euro style ripping around the sharp corners and then full throttle on the cross cut. We then ventured onto Yummy Pants which had some fun rock rolls, before rejoining the last section of Yummy Numby to cross the creek. Once we popped out by the golf course we climbed fire road to the lower entrance of Roam in the Loam. That ticked off, we crossed Base 2 and then ripped full speed down Haulback (Staff Hill), through the Whistler Bike Park berms, to the GBB patio.
The ensuing Garbo’s burger was at that moment probably the best tasting food of our lives. After that was inhaled, and we had regaled friends with stories of our day so far, we jumped on the Fitzsimmons Chair before heading up to the Garbanzo Zone. For the last section of the day we ‘cheated’ and took advantage of the lift service of Whistler Bike Park. From the top of the Garbo chairlift we followed Blue Velvet to New Joke and then cut off and got ready for the final climb from the bridge on Highway 86. Destination, Ride Don’t Slide.
Just as we were about to start pushing up, we spotted a bright red helmet and aqua bike heading down the hill. In gear matching Kate’s, it was easy to spot it, was her Arbutus Routes teammate Austin! Joining us for the last section of the day, Whistler Bike Park to Creekside, Austin definitely helped lift our spirits further and battle through the pain of pushing up the final hill of Highway 86.
Once the push/pedal up was done (so, so done) we knew it was pretty much downhill all the way. However, knowing the difficulty of the mid-lower section of RDS, and our fatigue setting in at this late in the day, we had already made the plan to cut out just after the creek crossing to minimize risk… that and Kashmir is such a fun trail. But before we could get there, we dropped in on some ridiculously fun fresh turns on a new upper section of Ride Don’t Slide which produced huge grins and hollas from everyone.
Cutting out of RDS, a short ride across the ski run and down some fire road we dropped into Kashmir. As we rode through, however, the day started to catch up with some of us. We had to push through fatigue and just run on adrenaline. Knowing we were on the home straight and reflecting on what we had achieved keept us going. Kashmir is a favourite amongst the group, but it is a physical track, especially that late in the day. Luckily Dom (now somewhat in guide-mode) hung back to cheer on the rear and got everyone through with a smile; just not as cleanly as normal.
After a quick phone call from the entrance of Kush to let people know we were alive and enroute to Creekside, we dropped in. The recent trail work on Kush meant it was running well with some fresh lines. It was a welcome relief to our tired bodies that the trail wasn’t as high-commitment and consequential as normal. Once out of the short fall line of Kush we rolled down the fire access road into Kadenwood estates and then up the stairs for our final descent down Big Timber.
Emerging at the other end of Big Timber, everybody safely down and the route complete, it was multiple high fives all-round and a straight shot down the ski run to Dusty’s. Spirits where high when we reached the patio for some well-earned beers, and friends came to join us just before the sun set. OK, technically we didn’t go back to the point from which we started (Function Junction), but there was good reason, beer! We worked out that by the time we would be down to the valley again Whistler Brewery would be closed… hence changing the route and ending at Dusty’s.
This loop was a great way to explore Whistler and ride trails we hadn’t ridden before or would not otherwise have necessarily ventured on. Between us we had ridden (at least sections of) all of the trails at some point in time and we have to credit the WORCA Toonie Rides for expanding our repertoire of Whistler trails, and for saving our butts a few times – we definitely at times had to think back to past Toonies to try and work out which way to go.
We would highly recommend this challenge to anyone with some decent fitness and bike skills looking for an adventure in Whistler. It was a long day, and we rode mostly black to double black descents which, with our fatigue, meant the risk factor was a lot higher than normal. Fortunately we had no real mechanicals (just a bit of a bent mech-cage and a few paint scratches) and only one of us had a minor crash, which was easily patched up with a band aid.
Over the years of racing and epic rides we have definitely learnt a few key elements to surviving and getting the most enjoyment out of long days riding. For me, regular fuel and water are so important. We made a point of continually eating and hydrating a lot more so than we would on any average ride. When you are burning thousands of calories and have lots of mental and physical battles to get through, the tank can never get close to empty! Also, with the length of what we took on, we had to ensure our stops were short to prevent cramping and stiffening up, and to communicate and be patient with each other when we did need breaks. Burning out and blowing up were not options we had.
Kate Whitley: Originally from England, I have called Whistler home for nearly 10 years – the perfect playground for all my adventurous desires. Any chance I have, you will normally find me on 2 wheels, 2 planks or 2 legs exploring and taking on the latest challenge I have dreamt up.