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Old 07-03-2009, 09:45 AM   #1
Destructo the Mad OP
Destructo the Mad's Avatar
Joined: Feb 2007
Location: Great White North
Oddometer: 81
Cutting the Corner - Shortcut (?) to Hwy 37

Cutting the corner Ė exploring a shortcut (sort of) to Hwy 37.

Normally, Hwy 37, (the best way to ride to Alaska, via Dease Lake and the Yukon) starts at the junction with Hwy 16 at Kitwanga, about 100 km west of Smithers (where I live). This stretch of highway, while scenic, isnít that interesting to ride.

The Backroad Mapbook shows that it should be possible to get to Highway 37 by turning off Hwy 16 at Hazelton (~75 km west of Smithers), riding to Kispiox, and then riding on logging roads until they connect up to Hwy 37 near Cranberry Junction, about 80 km up Hwy 37 north of Kitwanga. This would be more fun, and would probably be 30-50 km shorter than the highway.

Here's a map of the general area:

The choice is riding the wiggly pink line, compared to the yellow lines. You can see which one looks like more fun.

The problem is that the last time I drove/rode into Kispiox, there were signs up saying that several logging roads in the area were closed, but I wasnít sure that they said the one that connected to Hwy 37 was one of them. Of course, closed doesnít mean impassable.

So, pure of heart and with a full tank of gas, the GS and me went to find out.

When you see something all the time, it becomes routine, so when I skip parts of the route, itís not because itís not scenic, but because I drive it several times a month. So I rode Hwy 16 to Hazelton, turned off on the road to Old Hazelton (just after the bridge), took the bridge over Hagwiliget Canyon (check it out when you go), and took the right to Kispiox Village. The road to Kispiox is quite curvy and fun, and the scenery is lovely, as the road parallels the Skeena River for part of its length. Follow the road through Kispiox village. Just after you leave Kispiox it becomes gravel. About 15- 20 km up, there is a road off to the left, which leads directly onto a bridge that crosses the Kispiox River. This is the road I wanted. I found this out in my usual fashion by riding down the other road for another 10 km, until I was absolutely clear that I was heading in the wrong direction.

This road, that eventually became the Helen Lake FSR (Forest Service Road), was smooth, dirt, and had a lot of esses that made it feel like a TT course designed for gargantuan German dirtbikes. I was having a great time doing my staid, middle-aged Chris Carr impression. I donít know if it was the road conditions, the tire combo of a half worn front TKC and a completely shagged rear, or the alignment of the planets, but the bikeís handling was fantastic. I was getting great feedback through the front end, and could be confident that it would be the rear end, not the front, that would step out when I railed through corners. As my confidence went up, so did my aggression level going into corners, and the GS just kept feeling better and better. After about 10-15 km, the road forked, with the right hand fork going to the Pentz Lake Recreation Site, and the left being the start of the Helen Lake FSR (the one I wanted).

The road got narrower and slightly rockier, and potholed. I cut back on the flat-tracking and spent more of the time riding standing up to so I could better see the lines through/around the potholes. The road also got twistier, especially when it started to gain elevation. At one point the road popped out of the trees to this view:

This is looking east across the Kispiox valley. For full disclosure, I should also say that I was actually traveling from right to left on this road. I did I u-turn to stop and take this photo, so that is why the bike is facing the wrong direction.

Another photo from that spot.

Pretty soon I reached the Mitten Lake Rec site.

It consisted of a campsite, an outhouse, and a dock onto the lake, but there was something wonky with the dock:

There was this huge pile of crap that had completely swamped the dock. As I got closer, I thought that it looked kind of like a beaver lodge. When I got even closer, I saw that all of the sticks on the pile had gnaw marks on the ends.

When I walked around the front of the pile, I saw the entrance to the lodge. So, out of anywhere on this kilometre-long lake, the beavers (notoriously shy creatures) decided to make their home beside the campsite. Clearly Mitten Lake wasnít getting that much tourist traffic. I donít know why, because it was beautiful:

Next time I ride out here, Iím bringing my fishing rod.

Just after Mitten Lake, the road forked east and west. Both forks had big signs saying that the road was closed. The sign for the west for said that it was closed 7 km on. Closed doesnít necessarily mean impassable, and I was out here to explore, so off we went.

Sure enough, 7km on, the road was closed. There was a dilapidated bridge over a creek, and a 4 ft-deep trench had been dug at the front of the bridge to stop any 4-wheeled traffic. But, there was a rocky path that went around the end of the trench and over the bridge wide enough for a motorcycle. So over we went, being careful to ride around the holes in the bridge deck.

Now the road was clearly disused and overgrown in places. It was one lane wide, and in places, tree branches hung over the road so I had to duck when I rode under them, or in some cases, push my way through them. The lack of human traffic also meant that there were more signs of animal life. I road through a partially flooded patch, that had the beginnings of a beaver dam built across the road. Just past that there was another flooded patch, about 8 inches deep and maybe 70 ft long.

After seeing the dam across the road, I was prepared to blame beavers for any puddles on the road, and the trench in front of the bridge. After this impromptu bike wash, the road started going up again, as we had some mountains/hills to ride over before dropping down into the valley that Hwy 37 is situated in. The terrain got more mountainous, and then I came across a rockslide.

Iím not sure I could blame this on the beavers. Hereís the view from the other side:

It looked like there was a path around the rocks that was just wide enough to take the GS through without having to ride on any section where the rocks looked too, um, well, rocky. While it didnít look completely sketchy, I was conscious that I was alone and well out of cell phone range. I also really wanted to avoid dropping the GS down the ravine at the outside of the road. So after a little planning about what line to take, a little landscaping, and a few deep breaths, I paddled the GS through. The road paralleled the escarpment that had dropped the rockslide for another kilometre or so, and I had to adjust my line around some more rocks and boulders that had dropped onto the road until the road popped out above the forest again, giving me another view of the Kispiox Valley.


I rode on until I had an incident with some geese. I rode around a corner to discover a Canada goose and gander, standing in the middle of the road, with four goslings. On seeing me, the goose family immediately started running down the middle of the road. I slowed down and followed them, hoping that at some point they would deke off into the underbrush and I could pass them. This was clearly beyond goose deductive reasoning skills. They kept running straight down the road, with the goslings sprinting along behind them. I started to get worried when some of the goslings started to drop behind from their parents, so I stopped, turned off the bike, and waited for a minute. Mom and Dad slowed down, the kids caught up, and they waddled as a family down a hill and out of sight. I coasted down the hill in the hopes they would have made it to whatever stream or pond they were heading to, and got off the road. No luck. When I came into sight, the goose family started charging straight down the road again. We repeated this bit of theatre a few more times.

I wasnít sure what to do. If I blasted by them, I would stress them out more, and there was a chance that one of the parents might try to (they have been known to do that in defence of their young). If I simply followed them, it might take them hours to decide to get off the road, and it couldnít be good for the goslings to keep running for kilometres on end. I eventually decided to ride past them, on the basis that while it would be stressful to them, at least it would be short. When I did that the goslings ran for the underbrush, except one who just flopped down in the road, and the parents took flight, but true to form, they flew straight down the logging road for a couple hundred yards before peeling off.

After that, the road descended a bit into another area of beaver ponds and flooded patches, and a duck played chicken with me. No, really. Let me explain:

I was riding through another flooded patch of road when a female mallard jumped out of the bushes at the side of the road and started half-swimming and half flying on the water in front of the bike, staying just a couple feet ahead of my front TKC. When we ran out of water, the mallard took flight and buggered off. I assume that she had ducklings near her, and did this wacky stunt to try and protect them from me.

Scene of the over-protective duck attack:

Note to any waterfowl that might be reading this: Look, I really donít want to upset you or your offspring, or disturb your pastoral existence in any way, but can you to meet me halfway by not raising your kids in the middle of the damn road?

Another beaver-assisted pond where I recuperated from the duck attack:

After this, the road started to descend. There was one reasonably steep, somewhat rocky downhill stretch that I would estimate was at least a kilometre. There were also barriers set up closing the logging road from this end also, but instead of a trench, they had simply dumped some concrete blocks on the road, with a motorcycle-sized gap between the blocks. The road got smoother and wider for a couple of fast kilometres until it joined up with Hwy 37.

At this point, if you were going to the Yukon or Alaska, you would simply turn right and continue north up Hwy 37. I was continuing going to take the Nass Forest Service Road to New Aiyansh and ride down through the Nisga'a Memorial Lava Beds Provincial Park, so I turned left. Well, actually I turned right first and rode up Hwy 37 for a few kilometres to confirm that I was riding in the wrong direction, then I turned around and went the right way.

The Nass FSR is about 50 km of gravel road. Fairly smooth, fairly fast, but less traction than the dirt roads that got me here from Kispiox. With the worn rear TKC, the back of the bike was moving around a lot more through corners. Again, there were portions of the road that I rode standing up, better to see the line around the potholes, but there were also a series of smooth corners where I could indulge my inner Jay Springsteen. It was pretty dusty when cars went by in the opposite direction, but I think there were only four of them over the entire route to New Aiyansh.

After putting through New Aiyansh (they have an RCMP detachment), I turned left down the Nisgaía Highway through Lava Beds Provincial Park. Again, Iíve seen the park several times, so no photos, but if youíre ever anywhere near the area, itís really worth a look. About 200 years ago, a volcanic eruption covered the bottom of the valley (an area of several square miles) in 50 to 100 ft of lava, including several native villages. Now, the road goes through several kilometres where you are surrounded by black lava, with virtually no vegetation, even after 200 years. Itís beautiful and spooky at the same time. After the park, the road follows the shore of Kitsumkalum Lake, which means it is basically all corners. The pavement quality isnít the best, so be warned, but roads like that really suit the GS. The fun continues until the road ends at Terrace, where it was time to refuel me and the bike, and then drone home on Hwy 16 to walk the dogs before they exploded.

Wildlife seen: 1 family of brain-damaged geese, 1 psychotic mallard, 1 eagle (scared the crap out of it when I came around the corner), and 8 black bears, (including 1 pretty cinnamon-coloured one). No RCMP seen outside of developed areas (where I ride close to the speed limit anyway).

I love my bike.
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Old 07-03-2009, 09:52 AM   #2
The GS Store.
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Joined: Aug 2002
Location: Northern BC Canada
Oddometer: 2,070
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Great report and your just in my back yard.. I sent you an e-mail
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