I'm Only Happy when I'm Miserable
Words by: Brent Hillier Photos by: Brent Hillier & Eli Relke
With just the right amount of gear (we hoped) Eli and I set off for Part 2 of our mountain bike adventure of 2013. The plan was to start in Lions Bay and "ride" up towards the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Our goal was to access the ridge between Unnecessary Mountain and the West Lion where we would spend the night. The next morning we would begin our decent towards the Cypress Ski Area and finally to West Vancouver via the Cypress bike network.
I had managed to hook Eli on the plan pretty early. The planning stages meant the usual pre-trip stop at the North Vancouver MEC. Both of us had at different times worked there. As a result, every shopping trip proves to take five times longer than expected, as we catch up with friends and former co-workers. This visit was no different but each time we explained what we were preparing for, we would receive puzzled looks and confused inquiries. I could see Eli was starting to question my plan but I assured him that if everyone thought it was a good idea then it wouldn't really be an adventure.
Eli and I had minimized our vocabulary to two words: "No" and "Yea".
We started to get to a point where we could see the trees thinning out. We hoped it was the Howe Sound Crest Trail, but it wasn't and I think, deep down, I knew that. Once we finally got to tree-line we started to make some progress and put some distance behind us. It was at this point that the snow began to really dump. The combination of loose rock and fresh snow was becoming not just more challenging, but dangerous.
Our options were to continue and hope that we'd eventually find a pocket of trees that could provide some protection, or down climb with bikes. Our concern with the later was that with the snow rapidly accumulating, this was becoming more and more dangerous. We opted to push on and kept our fingers crossed.
After some interesting scrambles of passing each others bikes to one another, we had made it to the trail junction. With the West Lion on our left and Unnecessary Mountain on our right, we made the call to find somewhere suitable for a camp. This task proved to be an adventure in itself. Cold and wet, I poked around looking for any spot that was sheltered by trees and not saturated with snow and rain water. Eli and I had minimized our vocabulary to two words: "No" and "Yea".
Every time I would ditch my bike to go check out if a spot was as good as it looked from afar, Eli would yell, "Yea?". With disappointment I'd shout back, "No!" This repeated about six or seven times. By the last time, we were both starting to lose our patience, and my final response came out with a bit more anger, "NO!!!" At that point we stopped communicating completely. We finally did find a spot that would suffice; it wasn't perfect but we were stoked!
We spared no time in setting up our tarp and with dry clothes our morale was back up along with our vocabulary. The great thing about a miserable day in the backcountry is that no matter what's for dinner, it's the second best meal of your life. Second only to the first meal you have once you get out of the backcountry.
Both Eli and I assumed we were in for another daunting experience the next day, so when we woke up to find the sun rising up over the horizon we were pumped. We packed up our bivy sacs and tarp and found the sunniest spot to make breakfast as we took in the views of Howe Sound and the Lions.
We had come a long way the day before but we could see that a good chunk of Unnecasary Mountain was still ahead of us. We took our time with getting things underway. The more the sun rose, the faster the snow and ice that had formed the day before melted.
The summit was a huge victory. To ride up 1500m is one thing but to carry and push your bike for practically the whole time provides an amazing sense of accomplishment. Like so much of this trip, it was only beginning. Our descent back through the Cypress Bowl Provincial Park was almost as difficult as our ascent up the backside.
"Where did you come from?" he yelled at us. We replied in exhausted unison "Lions Bay!". His jaw dropped, "Holy Shit!"
At the base of Australian gully we topped up our water. It was there we bumped into one of the trail-builders. Knowing we were now within the park boundary where mountain biking is not allowed we braced for a confrontation. "Where did you come from?" he yelled at us. We replied in exhausted unison "Lions Bay!". His jaw dropped, "Holy Shit!" He went from angry to amazed. We chatted for a good while and apologized for being there with our bikes and assured him we would never do it again.
The usual after affects of a trip of this nature is a cycle I've been through before. Immediately afterwards, I vow to never to do it again. Then a few days go by and I get nostalgic about the good moments, like summiting a peak or enjoying the view. Many backcountry users cite this as being the reason they do what they do. I do what I do not for the views or summits, but because two weeks after a "gong-show" trip, I become nostalgic about being cold, wet and miserable on the side of a mountain. In some strange way those are the moments I live for. That said, I certainly don't complain about a sunny day in the back-country, and hopefully the next adventure will provide amazing weather and lots of snow.
Stories, Pictures and Video of all my adventures, on skis and bike.