A Slog, but We Made It

Day 4: Butts Cabin to Eureka (73 miles)

Up Cabin Pass.

Today was easily our hardest day, to date—nearly our longest in terms of distance, with two significant climbs.

Thankfully, we were able to get off to an early start, but three days in and just getting my touring legs (and touring butt—I was starting to develop some major saddle-sore) under me, riding was slow going.

We started the day climbing to the top of Cabin Pass, where we were rewarded with some of the nicest views we’d seen all trip—majestic mountains on all sides of a narrow, flower-carpeted alpine valley.

The ascent to Cabin Pass
At Cabin Pass

A steep descent took us down a tighter valley and past a backcountry homestead on our way to Wigwam River.

Wigwam River

After a quick jaunt on a dirt road heading south, we crossed to the west side of the Wigam River, on a dirt track for non-motorized vehicle use. From here, we climbed away from the river and traveled south, ascending away from and descending to a number of mountain brooks that fed into the Wigwam River.

Loaded bikes.
Filtering water.

Shortly before arriving back at the Wigwam River, we headed right on a narrow single track that ran south, parallel to the river. The fun ended when we reached an extremely steep section of trail that ran straight up ahead of us—up we went, pushing our bikes, hoping that they didn’t push us back down over the hill.

At the start of the steep single track
Nearly there!

The hike-a-bike section was, thankfully, soon over, and we were back on a double track gravel road, which eventually intersected a road that took us up, slowly, 2500 feet to the top of Galton Pass. We bombed down the other side, descending 3000 feet in about 6 miles, before continuing, exhausted, to the USA/Canada border at Roosville and on to Eureka.

Smiley at the top of the pass.
It’s flat again!
Eureka town park.

To the Grizzly Highway

Day 3: Sparwood to Butts Cabin (57 miles)

From Sparwood, we had two route options: head east into the mountains to the Flathead River—called the “Grizzly Highway” by locals in the area (according to our guidebook)—or continue south along on a shorter and more moderate alternative route through the valley, toward Fernie.

Intrigued by the challenge of the backcountry and promise of rugged scenery, we’d opted to head for the hills. Since we’d have around 110 miles without resupply, we packed up food and gear for two days and a night out on the trail, and set off, planning to meet Anna, Silas, and Eleanor in two days in Eureka, Montana.

The first 20 miles of our route followed paved roads gradually gaining elevation all the way to Corbin. Upon reaching Corbin, we turned south on Flathead Valley Road, a decent dirt road that climbed gradually to Flathead Pass.

From the top of the pass, we began a rough decent down the other side. Significant portions of the road had been washed out, and we picked our way through gravel and large stones, which tested our technical abilities with weighted bikes. (We found ourselves walking multiple sections.)

Eventually, we arrived to the valley and Flathead River, which runs all the way down to Flathead Lake in Montana, passing on the West side of Glacier National Park along the way—unfortunately for us, we’d have to climb a couple of ridges to the West to get back to a paved road and legal border crossing. At a different time in history, we’d just follow the Flathead south.

Dave above the Flathead River.

After following along the east bank of the Flathead for several rolling miles along a dirt road, we arrived at the river, where a bridge was out. Thankfully, the water was low—about knee high (and we’d known about the missing bridge and low water in advance)—so were were able to carry our bikes across with few difficulties.

On the other side of the river, we passed a recreation area, where camping was permitted, on our left and continued a number of miles before arriving at Butts Cabin—a public cabin available on a first come-first serve basis until beds are full. We ended up having the place to ourselves.

Following a dirt road along the west side of the Flathead River toward Butt’s Cabin.
Look’in good.
Butts Cabin.
Glad we weren’t eating dehydrated meals every night.

Throughout the day, we’d been very cautious about bears, trying to make as much noise as possible, due to the warning in our guidebook that the Flathead River Valley was a major thoroughfare for grizzlies and had the highest density of grizzly bears of any location in North America. We, however, didn’t see any bear signs–no scat, no paw prints, no sightings. A bit of a let down, but certainly not a disappointment!

Not quite a bear…

Tomorrow, we’ve got a lot of climbing as we head east on our last day in Canada on our way to Montana.

We Cross the Divide!

Day 2: Elkwood Campground to Sparwood (77 miles)

This morning began with a short detour: we had intended to start the day along a paved bike path that reconnected with the route a few miles down the road, but shortly after our campsite the bike path was closed due to bear activity. After a short backtrack, we were back on the paved road and quickly arrived at the trailhead for the Elk Pass Trail.

Reaching the first Divide crossing.

After a slow but manageable climb, we arrived at Elk Pass. Here we crossed the continental divide—the first of many such crossings on this trip—and entered British Columbia for the first time on the trip.

Elk Valley, leaving Alberta and entering British Columbia.

From the pass crossing, we descended gradually to Elkford, where we stopped for snacks. From Elkford, we headed straight south on highway 43—trail issues to the east made the GDMBR impassable for a short section—before we rejoined the GDMBR north of Sparwood.

Time to go down.
Meeting our first fellow Divide riders.

All in all a good day, but I’m starting to notice some saddle sore. So far so good with our bike setups—no breakdowns so far—and David notes that his wider tires (2.5″ Surly Extraterrestrials), thudbuster seatpost, and leather Brooks saddle have made for comfortable riding.