Porcupine Hills: 4 days of Up & Over

DAY 1 - Bring the Heat


artist rendering of mobile cosmodrome control module

Cosmonauts Gary, Mark & Bob docked at the Willow Creek Launch Facility at 1301 hours on Friday, Sept 2.  Bike loading preparations began immediately in 32 degree prairie heat. After 6 hands performed bungee cord adjustments on Gary's load, we set off on the first 65 kms leg. The landscape began to rise and fall as the wide Flying E gravel road pointed mostly west.  

Willow Creek basin

A quick stop for water at Chain Lakes was a welcome relief from the relentless heat. Gary discovered that the soles of his 20 year old shoes had delaminated and were held on by the cleats only. Problem solving is one of Gary's specialities and he quickly tied his extra long laces around the soles of his shoe. Somehow he rode and walked all 4 days with this jury-rigged setup. 
The heat of the day was upon us as we headed north on Highway 22 towards the next left turn into the hills. The high speed highway traffic was unnerving but the paved road surface was joyful. 
altered bovine warning signage

A beautious shaft of heavenly light to distract the cosmonauts from the choking traffic dust

At 1800 hours rush hour for RV and bikepacking campers began in earnest. A dead calm day, with 32C degree temperatures and recreational panic gripping all travellers on this road, conspired to make for challenging cycling conditions. The cosmonauts dispatched the 13 kms of rolling road (spiced with steep undulations) with alacrity. But it was an ugly hour of regular trailer traffic. We established base camp at Indian Graves, ate and slept soundly. 
artist rendering of stuffing tent into stuff sack

DAY 2 - Mountain Madness

The next morning, the cosmonauts got off to a late start. Water needed to be filtered, shoes needed to be tied and oatmeal needed to be eaten. This leg of the journey began almost immediately with a steep and unrelenting climb. For some it was a brutally long walk uphill pushing a push bike. The scene at the top of the pass was stunning however. 
looking east from Windy Peak
Cosmonaut Mark hydrates while Cosmonaut Gary rides away into the deep BG

Over the pass at Hailstone Butte, the road swept down. High speeds on all types and sizes of gravel were the order of the day. We stopped at Cataract Creek to filter water and drink mightily. Many have quenched their thirst here in the hopes of combatting the development of cloudy eyes. We pressed on to a logging road closed to traffic. The road began as double track smoothness and slowly disintegrated into bovine madness.  The cosmonauts crossed deep creek cuts and navigated single track chewed to hell by cattle. The herd felt they were being herded and kept up a fear-filled 2 mile lope. Poor trail quality, fresh cow shit and dumb cattle became tedious and annoying.

spoor of a rabid dog like creature
forest fire smoke obscuring Mt Farquhar (possibly)

As the light began to disappear, the cosmonauts decided to establish camp beside a 4 foot wide creek. After consulting various devices the moving water turned out to be a very small version of the Oldman River. We had crossed over into the Oldman drainage.

DAY 3 - Through the GAP to flatness

Camp was struck and we were on the road at 1100 hours

With the Oldman River on our right, we began a steady descent to Forestry Road 40. This was the easy day and although dusty and hot, it was a joy to follow the Oldman to the Gap. 
Cosmonauts with BC's Tornado Mountain in the BG
selfie at Oldman falls

The Livingstone Gap was a breezy & dusty affair. RV and sightseeing traffic was steady. We rolled eastward to the MayCroft Campground.  Situated on the banks of the Oldman beside Highway 22, the treeless site offered zero shade from the relentless sun. Picking my way down to the river's edge I witnessed a small snake swallowing a slightly larger fish gulp by gulp.  Fascinating and disgusting in equal measure, the fish's outline was obvious when the snake swam away into the water. My much anticipated wash-up and foot soak was tempered somewhat by the reptilian luncheon I had witnessed. A windy night in an improperly staked tent followed. 
Maycroft view

Oldman River looking west

DAY 4 - Over the Porcupine Spine

Waking up after a breezy night on the banks of the Oldman River at Maycroft, the party set a 0900 hrs launch goal.  I ate a heroically named Cuban Coconut Beef with Rice (a dinner for breakfast -see Day 2). Mark and Gary enjoyed their more traditional oatmeal repasts. 


The cosmonauts crossed the highway and headed east and north to the West Sharples Road.  The spectacular views of mountains to the west and the Porcupine Hills to the east was a highlight of the trip.  The lighter bags and the anticipation of the steep climb over the Porcupines lifted the spirits of the riders.                                          

the steady rise into the hills
looking west on West Sharples Road

The climb over the hills had been dubbed Shit Kicker hill for its relentless rise (6% average, 11% at its steepest).  The cosmonauts ground their way up through poplar, spruce and pine. The road wound its way past cattle and their fertilizer over 5 kilometres. We stopped for a bit of lunch and water before carrying on along the spine of the Porcupine to the descent back to the prairie. 

On the east side of the Porcupines, the temperature was higher and the roads have been well tended with new deep gravel. The cosmonauts powered on returning to the mobile cosmodrome that was docked at the Willow Creek Campground. 
old school house with caragana bower
Mark, Bob & Gary (left to right)


Karen said...

Can’t wait to read about the next cosmonauts adventure!

Anonymous said...

Cats all have retractable claws (except cheetahs) and I see claw marks on that track in the mud so I would suggest the track is from a canid.

Mark Woodhouse said...

Great account and pictures Bob. This is the best bike trip I have ever been on. It was great to do it with you.

Jeremy said...

Most enjoyable, as always. Great pose at the end...

Unknown said...

Your detailed condition descriptions and stunning visual accompaniments are impressive - professional, both artistically and academically.
So what gives with the floral bike apparel?