Mt. Cartier trail: Polishing the gem

Heli-assisted trail crews tackle annual maintenance on Mount Cartier

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The crew gets ready to descend and clear trail on Mt. Cartier. Photo: Bryce Borlick

Our mission began before dawn as the rotors on our Bell 207 Jet Ranger started to turn. Minutes later the helicopter was high above Revelstoke and rocking gently with the rising air currents from Mount Cartier’s north ridge. The day’s first sun rays broke the eastern horizon and, suddenly, we plunged over a cliff face and arced hard around an alpine bowl.

“Not a bad way to start the day, eh?” crackled Dave Pearson’s voice over the radio, reassuring everyone that the acrobatics were just part of the show. Anyone still reeling from the 5 a.m. start was now wide awake and the energy in the crew was palpable.

We had signed up to help with the annual clearing of the Mount Cartier trail and, once the heli had set down on the ridge, we unloaded tools and gear quickly under the spinning blades. Our four-man crew — Dave, Brian Tress, Sandy Powell, and I — got lucky and were assigned the top third of the sixteen-kilometre singletrack. With a thumbs-up, our pilot departed and the thumping of the rotors faded into the distance, leaving us with stunning vistas and a mountain of work, literally.

Dave Pearson checks out the view from the heli. Photo: Bryce Borlick

The Cartier trail is a century-old singletrack that runs from the 2,600 metre peak all the way to valley bottom at 450 metres, and it’s one the signature trails that has earned Revelstoke its reputation for offering rugged backcountry experiences. However, this trail would be a little too rugged without the combined efforts of Wandering Wheels, Ted Morton of the BC Enduro series, Glacier Helicopters, and Arrow Helicopters to get multiple work crews up there for 2017.

Fresh out of excuses to linger on the alpine ridge, we fired up the saws and got to work. The chainsaw operator went first, cutting out encroaching tree limbs and deadfall. Next was the brush saw operator, trimming back shrubs and plants. The Pulaski then levelled the trail and the rake made a final pass to buff the surface. It’s relatively simple but, with five kilometres to cover and a 1 p.m. cut-off for using gas engines in the dry conditions, we had to keep a steady pace.

By 9 a.m. we reached lunchtime and were all happy to rehydrate and partake in the breaking of bread at a scenic spot. We had the upper mountain to ourselves and it was tempting to linger and zone out to the tunes pumping out of Dave’s pack but the building swarm of insects got us moving again. Cut, brush, level, rake, repeat. Before long, we were below treeline and nearing the lower cabin where the second crew had begun their day.

After eight hours of work, our 1 p.m. cutoff was upon us and we began the long trek down to the trailhead, still addressing some areas with hand tools as we went. A few hours later, we emerged at the trailhead to find Matt Yaki waiting with cold beers, a shuttle back to town, and a Village Idiot pizza dinner. I was wrecked. Sandy and Brian looked fresher and Dave, living up to his nickname as ‘The Viking’, was making plans to hike-a-bike the trail in the next couple of days.

The day was a win for all: commercial guides can provide an exceptional experience to their customers, the work crews have made some cold hard cash, and a freshly-brushed trail awaits any locals intrepid enough to tackle it on their own. As I take a long pull from an ice-cold Tall Timber, I consider this a mission accomplished.

This article first appeared in the August print issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

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Bryce Borlick is a world traveler, outdoor enthusiast, and urban refugee whom you’re most likely to find wandering the mountains in search of nothing in particular. With an unruly interest in sustainability and permaculture, he may be the only person in Revelstoke dreaming of one day doing burnouts in an electric F-250 towing a tiny house.