Raid The North Extreme - A gruelling wilderness expedition raceWritten by Aaron Rinn Created Date: Monday, 15 August 2011 00:00
British Columbia’s West Kootnay Mountains were the stage for the thirty 4-person teams who started the eighth edition of the Raid the North Extreme adventure race - A World Championship qualifier. A hot Sunday morning in late July found us lined up with our mountain bikes behind an inflatable starting gate. The course started straight up a 5000+ foot fire road climb which served to spread out the teams. At the top, we dropped our bikes and started a pretty alpine trek that almost immediately gave way to bushwhacking. We picked our way down a ridge and then followed a canyon upstream, trying to find the best side of the river to travel. The snowpack was 150% of normal so travel was faster when we finally got to snow. We arrived at mandatory checkpoint 2 (CP2), which was the top of a pass, with teams Canadian Cellular and GearJunkie/YogaSlackers, We learned that Wilderness Traverse was already a half hour ahead of us. We sped down the other side of the mountains back to our bikes. Somehow our bikes had been transported from the first transition area (TA) but our helmets and bike shoes had not arrived. We had no choice but to wait. It was deep into the first night, so we went to sleep for an hour but waiting for our gear for almost 21/2 hours.
After our gear finally arrived, we hopped on our bikes and climbed to 7000 feet, only to come back down to 3000. We biked through the ghost town of Cody with its mining ruins and then climbed back up to a high pass off of Idaho Peak. We caught a sweet view of Slocan Lake where we would spend the afternoon canoeing. We dropped into a goat trail to get down to the town of Silverton and headed to the lakeshore. A short squall blew by us on our way to the end of the lake, and then the weather turned hot again. This was the last time the team would be warm for the next day. An all night rain started a couple hours into a huge 70 km trek through Valhalla Provincial Park high up into an alpine environment. Just after dark the team found a short refuge from the wet by sleeping under an overhanging rock for an hour while the rain came down hard and the upper mountains were covered in clouds.
After the short light sleep, we woke, put our Arc'Teryx rain jackets and pants on, and started what would become one of the most difficult bushwhacks we've ever encountered. It was an all night bush battle. The wet steep gullies were full of slide alder trees that grew sideways to block our path. Their branches also proved to be excellent handholds that allowed us to sometimes travel with Tarzan-like swings along the hillside. Although we kept dry with our rain gear, we had just enough warm layers with us to keep warm as long as we stayed moving. We picked along the south shore of Beatrice lake for 10 hours. We got to some steep cliffs that we thought we would not be able to get around. We climbed 700 feet and were able to pick our way through them. Finally we got a break in the terrain that allowed us to traverse and make forward progress. We passed raging waterfalls and six more lakes on our way to a high pass. The route was tricky from here down to CP8, which was a ski lodge accessed (usually) by helicopter. We arrived at the lodge on the afternoon of day 3 to find the woodstove cranking and Team Wild Rose sleeping upstairs. We found out that we were in third place. We took the opportunity to get some much needed sleep in a comfortable downstairs bedroom (yeah, unusual luxury in an adventure race!)
We woke after two hours and, to our surprise, no other teams had arrived. We left the lodge for the second half of the huge trek energized by the rest, hot soup, and dry socks. Plus the rain was tapering off and we were informed that the next TA was moved 17 km closer up a dirt road. This meant the trek was “only” going to be 53 not 70 km. The bike would be extended by 17 km, but these would be easy kilometers. A few showers and a rainbow kept things interesting as we climbed up and over two breathtaking passes. We were thrilled to be out of the bushwacking section of the previous night and traveling on the snow of the high alpine. We glissaded and shoe skied the downhills. It turned dark and we could see Wild Rose’s headlamps climbing the pass ahead. We also realized there was a team on our tail who must have spent zero time at the lodge. We heard what sounded like an avalanche on the climb to the last pass and then picked our way down the steep descent to the transition area (TA). Here we found Wild Rose sleeping next to their bikes. But there was no race staff at the checkpoint and our bikes were nowhere to be found.
It turns out that the checkpoint staff had tried to meet us on the trail but had traveled up the wrong way. They showed up a few minutes later with some bad news. The race organizers had decided that moving the TA was a bad idea because it would move teams too quickly through the course. The organizers would not be able to get teams the gear that they would need at the end of the bike in time. So the TA was moved 17 km back down the dirt road to the original location for all teams except Wilderness Traverse and Wild Rose. We had been looking forward to having our bins with our sleeping bags and fresh food after 33 hours on the trek but we were told to trek the road to meet our bikes. There was nothing to do but start walking. Wild Rose biked past us a few kilometers later and we walked for 3 hours on thee road with low food supplies.
The CP staff had told us that the average time it took Wild Rose to bike the 17 km and for us to trek would be assigned to both of our teams. Plus we would receive a 10% "pain and suffering" time credit. In reality, we felt there was no way to equalize either the toll the road trek took on our feet or the advantage that Wild Rose would gain by shifting ahead the sections they completed in daylight. But there was nothing we could do so we focused on moving forward.
We slept in our tent at the end of the trek and got on our bikes for a stunning but steep 65 km bike ride. We got a great view of the high peaks in Valhalla that we had climbed through the previous night. We arrived at the paddle TA and waited about 45 minutes for our gear bins. We loaded our bikes in our canoes and waited (yes, our bikes were coming with us on an epic paddle!). When our gear arrrived, we loaded our tents and lots of extra food into our canoes and set out for a 73 km paddle. We had dreaded this long of a canoeing leg but it turned out to be super fun. We watched the sun go down as we paddled into the night and then stopped at a checkpoint in the middle of the lake to sleep for 2 hours. We woke in the pitch dark, put on our wet clothes, and finished paddle in the morning. These middle of the night awakenings are always difficult and test our will.
Unfortunately, we arrived ahead of our gear bins again at the end of the paddle. We were told to continue on the course, rather than wait for them. This meant we had to complete a biking leg without bike shoes, helmets, backpacks, or all the maps. Two teammates were wearing neoprene booties that offered little protection from their “egg beater” bike pedals. We rigged a way to carry our mandatory gear in our dry bags using webbing. From here, we pushed our bikes up a steep road for several miles so it didn’t really matter what shoes we had on since we couldn't ride most of it because of the loose and very steep terrain. However, only having one water bottle apiece left us delirious and dehydrated in the heat. Fortunately, we found cold water just as we entered an inactive mile long train tunnel. It was so dark and cold underground that without our bright Light and Motion Solite headlamps, we would have had to crawl our way out. We exited the tunnel and pedaled 20 km on a smooth “rails to trail” which was the section for which we had no maps. We appreciated the awesome amount of labor it had taken workers to make the massive birms that crossed deep mountain ravines. The beauty of our surroundings was not enough, however, to ease the pain Matt and Mari’s feet were enduring in their neoprene booties. As the saying goes "necessity is the mother of invention" and that's exactly what motivated Matt to find a solution. On the rail to trail section, he found what he was looking for, somewhat flat rocks that he proceeded to ducktapping to his and Mari's pedals to provide a wider and smoother platform. His improvised solution worked quite well and allowed us to finish the bike ride quickly and reach the CP where our precious gear bins awaited us.
After a quick 15 minute nap in a cool tunnel, we set out on the last trek and found a good route up the first of two climbs. At this point, the sun went down and the mosquitoes came out in force. There was nothing we could do except keep moving in a futile attempt to deter these vicious miniature beasts. We tried several dirt roads/trails to get past a canyon, convinced there would be one since the map showed a trail through the steep terrain. When we couldn't quickly find the trail across, we should have bushwacked straight away but we became sleepy. Rather than wander the roads any more, we built a fire and slept except for Mari. She stayed up and stoked the fire. Now, that's a dedicated teammate! We got up at first light with renewed energy and started bushwacking. We had no problems with the rest of the trek and we headed into the last TA for a bike ride to the finish. The instructions were to take trails from here pass two mandatory waypoints to the next checkpoint. The road became too steep to ride and then turned into a bushwhack. We crested out and road a sweet downhill on our way to the Seven Summits trailhead. But there wasn’t a direct road that went there so we had to bushwack with our bikes one last time.
The Seven Summits, renowned as one of the world's most beautiful mountain bike trail, started out with a steep climb but then turned into an awesome ridge ride with spectacular views. It's reputation did not disappoint. Halfway through our bike ride, we stashed our bikes for a quick trek up to the summit of Old Glory, the highest peak in the area. When we got back to our bikes, what awaited us was almost all downhill to the finish, starting with 8 km of butter smooth singletrack.
After 5 1/2 days of racing, we crossed the finishline in 3rd place, the last team to complete the entire course.
DART-Nuun Sportmulti was comprised of Mari Chandler, Cyril Jay-Rayon, Matt Hayes, and Aaron Rinn. Overall the race went extremely well and we had a blast together. We took great satisfaction completing this expedition race. The course was stunning, grueling, and, at times, challenged us to our limits.
Thank you to Nuun and all our other sponors who made this incredible, rugged, and amazing journey possible.
For more photos, see our 2 photo albums in our Gallery section of our site:
Album 1 - Team taken photos
Album 2 - Photos taken by others including Christina Chacharon, Iris Neher, and Raven Photography