Words: Celeste Pomerantz | Photo: Michael Overbeck
1 Woman, 3 Days, 4 Sports & One Epic Backyard Adventure. The Triple Crown Re-imagined.An Epic Connecting North America’s Southernmost Fjords.
As a kid growing up on the North Shore of Vancouver, you’re most likely going to be inclined to spend a lot of your time exploring the outdoors as you are shoved between beautifully accessible mountains and the sea. I was one of these kids combined with absolute powerhouse athletes for parents, I was positively brainwashed into becoming an outdoor addict myself. I would spend my summers in mountain bike camps riding the famous north shore mountains Seymour, Grouse and Cypress. My winters were spent ski racing on the same three mountains. After high school, I did my undergrad at the University of Calgary becoming at home in the Canadian Rockies and discovering what has now become an intense passion for backcountry skiing, adventure mountain biking and multi day hiking. After graduating in 2018, I immediately moved to Squamish where instead of getting a ‘big girl job’ I decided to “get by” for a couple years mostly as a server, thus creating tons of free time for myself to bike and ski as much as possible, which believe me – I did. In the beginning, I honestly tried to find a job within my studied field, but like many other young people these days, an undergraduate degree just doesn’t cut it anymore. So, here I am writing this from a desk at the University of British Columbia where I suddenly find myself nearly halfway through a master’s degree and freshly moved to the city of Vancouver.
THE SEA TO SKY
I have been exceptionally lucky these last few years to have been able to meet the incredible people who live and play on the north shore and Sea-to-Sky corridor. If you don’t know about Sea-to-Sky, think Squamish to Whistler. Everyone seems to have a very similar desire to get outside however not just in the sense of physically being outside, but emotionally and wholeheartedly devoted to being and doing outside. Many people I’ve met in Squamish could easily be considered the best, the fastest, the gnarliest in their chosen sport; constantly outdoing each other and pushing the limits of their bodies, minds and what is considered possible within these sports. Being immersed in this culture is like plugging into an immense amount of energy and inspiration, which with inescapable inevitably led me to pursue this ‘Epic’ or ‘Loop’.
Fast forward to mid-June 2021; my friend Joel Fuller was having a mini documentary made about himself and invited our mutual friend Michael Overbeck and myself, to be a participant (example 1 of these incredibly inspiring friends of mine). The plan was to spend a weekend gravel cycling and bike packing from Joel’s home in Squamish out to the end of the Squamish valley. Before the adventure began, one of the scene’s captured for the documentary was the three of us looking at a map of where we were headed. Between shots I started looking south of Squamish, and we all began chatting about two separate and relatively popular yet incredibly challenging single day epics that can be done along the North Shore and Sea to Sky highway. The boys hadn’t done them before, but I had on two separate occasions. They are The North Shore Triple Crown and the Howe Sound Crest Trail.
To describe the North Shore Triple crown to anyone not living out here is its own challenge but here’s my attempt; Essentially it was originally invented by road bikers. The beauty of the North Shore is that you have these three incredible mountains connecting the most eastern point of North Vancouver to the most western point of West Vancouver. Seymour Mountain being the farthest east, Grouse Mountain at the centre and Cypress Mountain being the farthest west. On either side of North and West Vancouver you have ocean inlets. The inlet on the North Vancouver side is called Indian Arm which connects to Deep Cove and the inlet on the West Vancouver side is the Howe Sound which connects to Horseshoe Bay. Here’s some fun geology facts that might be wrong: What defines a fjord is an ocean inlet shaped by glacial activity. Whereas a sound is defined as an ocean inlet shaped by rivers and tectonic activity. Both these inlets are North America’s southernmost fjords. Now you’re probably wondering why the Howe Sound is called a ‘sound’ and not a ‘fjord’… Apparently the Howe Sound is both a sound and a fjord as it was formed by both glaciers melting as well as some serious earthquake action. Confusing, but cool.
Anyways, back to the Triple Crown. Road cyclists decided it would be a fun thing to-do is to start in Deep Cove and pedal to the top of each of the three mountains to finish in Horseshoe Bay in one day. Thus, the North Shore Triple Crown. Sounds tough? Yeah, well mountain bikers one-upped that. While road cyclists obviously just stick to the roads, mountain bikers decided to pedal the roads all the way to the highest bike trail on each of the three mountains and descend these trails. Also, these trails are some of the most technical in the area. This ends up being around 2500m of climbing over 60km. The first time I did the Triple Crown, I was absolutely destroyed the next day. Worth it!
Now, the Howe Sound Crest Trail; it’s a very famous hiking trail that connects multiple mountains including the famous Lions and of course the ridge line along the Sea to Sky highway overlooking the Howe Sound (hence the name). The start is from the top of Cypress Mountain with the finish just 20 minutes south (by car) of Squamish in Porteau Cove. This is done as an overnight hike but is also can be “run” in one day. Regardless how you choose to do it, it is breathtakingly beautiful and equally difficult. The trail is approximately 30km long with approximately 2000m of elevation gain. Again, the day after the first time I did this, I was toast.
IDEAS INTO REALITIES
Remember that map I was looking at with my friends? Yeah well, I stared at it for a little too long. All I really remember about this moment was kind of one of those “oh shit” moments where your hands are suddenly clammy, and your stomach feels like you just went cliff jumping. This can be connected. Not just connected but a loop can be made from this. How? Well, there’s an old forest service road that runs from Squamish all the way to where the Indian Arm Inlet begins, it is approximately 40km long. The Indian Arm Inlet itself is 20km from the tip to the tail which just happens to be Deep Cove. Basically, “all” I would have to do is pedal a gravel bike from Porteau Cove to the end of the Indian Arm road, hop in a kayak and paddle to Deep Cove, camp/sleep, do the North Shore Triple Crown via mountain bike, get myself back to the top of Cypress Mountain with that gravel bike, camp/sleep and finally run the Howe Sound Crest trail back to Porteau Cove I would have created a loop in just three days… that would be pretty cool! Also, it turns out I would be the first. Now I am not saying that nobody has ever done this before. But I am saying that nobody has ever pedalled the Indian Arm forest service road to then kayak the entire Indian inlet/sound/fjord to then mountain bike the Triple Crown immediately followed by the Howe Sound Crest Trail, thus creating the subject loop.
Fast forward a month and suddenly I had a logistics sheet, a pitch deck, and I was meeting with a handful of brands for support as well as hiring my friend (previously mentioned) Michael Overbeck who just so happens to be an incredible athlete as well as a photographer to capture this adventure.
WHY? WHY NOT?
Why would I want to capture something like this? Who cares? Well first, I wanted to do it because I could. Because I can(hence the name).But also, because if someone like myself, an amateur athlete living in one of the most athlete dense and arguably in one of the most popular outdoor meccas on the planet could put together an idea like this, quite literally anyone else could too. Regardless of age, race, gender, or physical ability. I wanted to prove to myself that something that seemed so unachievable to me at first ultimately became something that I could do. Honestly, I’m not sure what led me to seriously decide to pursue this; maybe it was the impending doom of moving to the city and having to sit at a desk a few days a week or maybe it was the quarter life crisis that was promised by my older peers. Regardless, there I was at 6:30am on the morning of August 17th, 2021, wearing padded lycra shorts and a merino top (one that I wore for the entirety of the three days and fun fact, it never got stinky) mounted on a gravel bike ready to go. With the help from Stoko, one of the partnering brands for this project, they provided a support vehicle which carried Michael, the kayaks, the mountain bikes, the trail running shoes and all our food and camping gear for the next three days.
For this loop to be legit I had to start at the Porteau Cove exit because that is where I hoped to be finishing the loop in three days’ time. The pedal from Porteau Cove to Squamish was uneventful. My parents live just north of Porteau Cove, so I waved at their home on my way through. From the cove, it is 20km of just gorgeous highway, I was scared though, the biggest thing I’ve learnt from road cycling is that if you get hit by a car, there is nothing you can do about it. Whereas if you fall mountain biking, it’s almost guaranteed your fault. I met the support vehicle in Squamish, ate, and continued my pedal up some of the steepest gravel roads of my life to get up and over the pass before descending all the way down to where the Indian Arm inlet begins.
From when I began to where I transitioned to kayak it had been four hours. Michael and I then got into individual kayaks and made our way from the top of the inlet to the end of the inlet in just over three and a half hours. When people ask me “what was the hardest part of the three days?” honestly, kayaking. Siting up straight for over three hours is incredibly challenging and there’s no such thing as coasting in a kayak, especially when the tides are against you. Another interesting challenge we faced was trying to find a beach to pull over and pee. Turns out, when a piece of land is carved and shaped by glaciers, what remains is steep and aggressive terrain, the lack of beaches and the abundance of cliffs really made for some interesting bathroom break route finding. Even so, the Indian arm inlet is gorgeous and teeming with life and waterfalls. For my fellow stats nerds, I went a total distance of 80km with 1160m of climbing.
DAY TWO & THE CREW
Day two August 18th was my personal favourite of the three days. Michael and I woke up feeling relatively well rested even though we were glamping it up in the bed of a truck. The plan was to complete the North Shore Triple Crown starting in Deep Cove and ending at the bottom of Cypress Mountain. I invited a crew of incredible mountain bikers and some of my closest friends to join the day. Will Biname: my roommate and the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother. Tom Brownlee: kiwi, loose, high energy and merino wool advocate working for Mons Royale. Joël Ducrot: my partner, a quiet guy yet an absolute rocket on a bike. Tori Wood: new yet amazing friend, honestly, I’ve never met a girl who sends it harder. Stephane Pelletier: university friend who now works for Forbidden Bikes and should probably be a pro biker but doesn’t for some reason, also the greatest camcorder operator I’ve ever met. Michael was an absolute superstar, the original plan for him was to get shuttled by the support vehicle the entire day, only pedal when absolutely required and descend with the rest of us to capture photos. Unsurprisingly, he decided in the morning that he would do the entire Triple crown with us as well as haul his camera the entire time. Remember how tough the Triple Crown sounded before? Yeah, well…. one up that further. Encouragement from a psychopath friend of mine convinced me that the only way to make the Triple Crown legit was by physically touching the chairlift on each of these mountains before beginning the descent on trails. Those meters add up, this made our day 3000m of climbing and over 70km total distance.
Grouse mountain has a special place in my heart. It’s where I learned how to mountain bike for the first time. Of the three mountains, it is the one I frequented the most. As we were pedalling up to the top, we met a local legend named Digger. If anyone is familiar with the north shore mountain bike scene, they most likely have heard of Digger. He basically singlehandedly built a huge portion of the mountain bike trails on Grouse and continues to do so to this day. I had never personally met him but there he was at the fifth switchback hanging out in his truck. We stopped and had a chat with him re: which chairlift we should pedal to, which trail we should descend on, and I personally thanked him for creating the trails I learned to ride and love riding on to this day. Unforgettable, treasured moment.
I’d say Seymour has the most technical riding of the three mountains, which is a good thing as you want to get the trails that require the largest amount of concentration out of the way sooner rather than later. Mistakes and injury from exhaustion happen frequently even to the most talented riders. Although the most technical descent, the climb up the mountain was very uneventful, it is just 1000m of road climbing until you eventually summit at the ski hill lodge. After a wet, fun, slippery, muddy time down Seymour, snacks were had, and we continued onwards to Grouse Mountain. Lethargy settled in for this climb as the group was noticeably quieter, still stoked though.
And then – it was at the very bottom of Grouse where we had our only mishap of the entire three days. Tori falls and hits her head. The girl is such a bad ass, without hesitation she drops into the very last trail feature (it was also a hiking trail at this point), made a small mistake and went off the side, over her handlebars and into a ditch. Luckily, we had the Stoko support vehicle there with my Stoko support crew Scott Morgan and Allison Forsyth, both retired Olympians and fortunately both with first aid training. Helpful? You bet. Tori had to unfortunately head to the hospital for stitches while the rest of us carried on to the top of Cypress for the final descent.
This part of the day feels endless as you’re essentially traversing a huge part of the North Shore and West Vancouver through some insanely affluent neighborhoods before punching up a gravel road to Cypress Parkway. The Cypress descent is my favourite of the three mountains, but you need to stay awake as exhaustion is your companion and the trail is not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, I found my second wind at the top of this trail, so fun. That second wind faded fast at the bottom when I realized I still wasn’t done my day. The boys were able to keep going all the way to Horseshoe Bay however, since my third day begins back at the top of Cypress, I need to get my ass back to the top. So instead of continuing with the boys, Michael and I traversed at the end of the Cypress trail over to the main Cypress roadway where we met the support vehicle and my parents.
This is where I ripped off my knee pads and transitioned to gravel bike. What was special about this moment was that my dad joined me on his road bike, and we pedalled together to the top of Cypress. My dad for reference is 73 years old and I kid you not he was pulling away from me, often I was trying to draft behind him to make this climb easier. After already climbing 3000m that day, the extra 650m felt like eternity even with the gravel bike. I was stoked that Michael got a break here. Total distance for day two was 90km and 3660m.
DAY THREE, THE HURT LOCKER
Day three, August 19th the final day. Michael and I woke up feeling a bit worse for wear. Prior to this loop I was attempting to train my legs into understanding how they would feel after three intense days. I managed to pull my hip flexor trail running and I was super nervous it would have a major effect on the day. Michael of course was running along as if he didn’t have over 10lbs of camera gear in his backpack. As we came to the summit of the first mountain, St Marks, we were seriously hoping for the classically beautiful views that the Howe Sound Crest Trail provides, no luck. A cloud decided to take a firm seat on the ridge for the entire day, so we were locked into our own little world of rocks, trees, exposure, and handfuls of gummy bears. My hip flexors held up, our stomachs not so much. As we ascended and descended multiple mountains in the cloud, the day whizzed by relatively quickly. Suddenly we were beginning the large descent back into Porteau Cove. We sprinted; I’m not joking we literally got so excited we sprinted the last five kilometers back to where we met basically all our loved ones. My family was there, my roommates, my partner, Michael’s partner, the Stoko crew and some other friends. We trail ran 31km and 1940m of elevation in 9.5 hours.
It’s weird how your brain can stay so alert until the moment you tell it you’re done. Minutes after we arrived back at Porteau Cove, my brain shut down. I couldn’t drive, eat, walk, or formulate intelligent sentences for a few hours, makes sense considering I had just gone 200km, 6800m in three days. What I found even weirder is that I even though I did my loop, and it should be a moment to celebrate, I instantly wondered what’s next? I am still wondering and undeniably looking forward to what’s next.