Saturday Night Lake Loop: Birkenhead Bikepack

The Vitals

Date: May 22-23, 2021

Location: Birkenhead

Distance: ~100 km

Partner: Brittany

Bears: 4

Photos: Brittany

The Trip

Saturday Night Lake Loop is a ~25km trail in Jasper National Park that Brittany and I rode in 2016. We did not have a good time as we slipped and skidded over greasy roots in clouds of mosquitos but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about a wonderful lollipop from Pemberton around Birkenhead Lake and Birkenhead Peak with a rejuvenating camp on the FSR that leads up to Brian Waddington hut.

Sandy start to the trail along the north shore of Birkenhead Lake

Currently the only bike I own is the 2011 Kona Sutra I bought in 2012 before doing my first tour along the Danube River from Vienna to the Black Sea and then to Istanbul and beyond. I’ve put a lot of miles on this bike and it’s a bit of a Ship of Theseus situation as very little of the bike apart from the frame is original. The bike alone weighs in at a portly 33 pounds but our lightweight kit (tent, sleeping bag, pad, stove, fuel, pot, clothes…) only brought the total to a manageable 53 pounds. All of the roads and trails were rideable on our 32 mm tires with a little pressure off but would be more fun with a bit more grip and cushion. Brittany’s bike is also her daily workhorse for commuting, weekend rides, and cyclocross.

Suspension bridge on the trail next to Birkenhead Lake

The route itself began in Pemberton when we joined the gravel path that parallels Hwy 99 on the south side near the McDonalds. We rode around 3 km and crossed the Lillooet River before turning north to bypass the town of Mt. Currie via the McKenzie Basin FSR and Reid Road. Thirteen kilometers of riding on the Pemberton Portage road with a welcome tailwind brought us to Old Portage Rd with some deer and nice views of the Birkenhead River along the way.

The road access to Birkenhead Provincial Park is from the north/east end of the lake, but at this point we joined the Birkenhead FSR and pushed our bikes up the initial steeper switchbacks. These bikes are not geared for steep inclines with heavy loads. After a few kilometers we were back on familiar terrain as we joined a trail near the lake that connects the FSR to the provincial park campground. This was the same trail we finished our traverse of the Sockeye Creek Watershed on last summer.

The trail was a pleasant cycle apart from the three washouts that require some shuttling of bikes. We were spit out on the paved road through the campground which we followed out to the junction with the Phelix Creek FSR. About 250 meters up the Phelix Creek FSR a tree was down and beyond that the typical landslide slope had shifted again. Between the two of them there would be no car traffic on the upper reaches of the road.

Carrying bikes across a washout

It was nearing 7:00 pm (having started in mid-afternoon) as we pushed our bikes again until the road flattens out after the first two switchbacks. As discovered on previous trips to the area, there were nice flat camping areas just beyond the first bridge over the creek. We made dinner and hung our food off the bridge over the raging creek full of spring melt.

Camping on the FSR

In the morning we decided to try taking the Blackwater Lake Rd. out to Pemberton Portage Road rather than precisely retracing our steps. The descent on the gravel road was surprisingly smooth and only a dozen or so cars passed us so it wasn’t too dusty. Back on the main road we were met with a strong wind pushing up the valley. Fortunately we had actually gained quite a bit of elevation the day before and had gravity on our side as we descended the valley and by the picturesque Gates Lake.

Blackwater Lake Rd. towards Pemberton Portage Rd.

We bypassed Mt. Currie again and rolled into Pemberton in the early afternoon ready for ice cream. On our way to the shop, we met our fourth bear of the weekend chomping some vegetation in a ditch next to the Dyke Trail right in town.

Gates Lake looking back towards the Marriott Group
A lunch spot with shade and a view of the Birkenhead River
Reid Road with Mt. Currie in the background. Almost done.