I was idly surfing websites around Port Alberni the other day when I happened upon this year’s version of the Tri-Conic Challenge. Building on last year’s success the organizers have changed the routes for the different events, making the home of the festival Sproat Lake Provincial Park.
One of these routes, the Tri-Conic “Iconic” bicycling route is an excellent choice as it features many of the wonderful things for which people come to visit Vancouver Island.
I’ve known about this route for a long time. I’ve given tours along the route when I was with Rainbird Excursions. Essentially it is an excellent driving day trip rather than a cycling tour. And at the pace I cycle nowadays, it’s much more practical to drive.
Let me tell you a little bit about the sites you’ll see and the opportunities to explore. Starting from the “Orange” Bridge over the Somass River, the entire drive is a little more than 80 kilometres over logging roads that are at times quite steep and rough. But it is all two-wheel drive as long as you have enough clearance. An SUV should be fine.
You can start by turning off Stirling Arm Drive onto the Ash Mainline and then onto Taylor Main heading west along Sproat Lake. On the way you can stop for a quick hike across a small suspension bridge to a waterfall called Fossli Falls, and a beach on Sproat Lake.
Driving on, the road will take you away from the Stirling Arm part of the lake and then return to Two Rivers Arm enjoying the lake and mountain views. Along the way you will pass the remains of a large landslide that blocked the road a few years ago.
Once you get past Two Rivers Arm the route turns left and begins to climb. Keep your eyes peeled for an enormous eagle’s nest at the top of a huge dead Douglas Fir near the bottom. The road up is rough and steep. You can call it part of the adventure.
Once you get to the pass at the top, there are two places to check out. The first is a short little lane into a campsite by Gracie Lake on your right and a short hike to a wonderful lookout about 400 m up on your left. The hike is up an old logging road grown over by alder. Take the left fork. The view is of Two Rivers Arm and the rest of Sproat Lake. The remains of the Dog Mountain Fire are visible on the large hill between the arms of Sproat Lake. Beyond that, is the Alberni Valley and the Beaufort Range.
The drive down into the Nahmint Valley produces more wonderful views of the local mountains. Mount Anderson is on your left, and up the valley is Nahmint Mountain and the access to Mount Klitsa. You will be very tempted to stop for a photo!
If you turn right at the fork at the bottom you will shortly come to a high bridge over the upper Nahmint River with crystal clear water running under it. There is a crude route down to the rocks below where you can take a dip in the water if you are brave enough. Speaking from experience, it’s mighty cold!
But if you need to stay on schedule, turn left at the fork, and look for a lane down toward Nahmint Lake about a kilometre further on. This leads through old growth forest to a BC Government Recreation Site with space for campers and tent camping too. There is also a beach and a short trail along a roaring mountain creek. Keep your camera handy.
From there the road winds along the valley wall above Nahmint Lake. There are lots of views of the lake and patches of old forest between the young plantations. When you reach the end of the lake the old forest is replaced by mature second-growth forest. Shortly after you come to a viewpoint where you finally see the Alberni Inlet and Nahmint Bay.
The road bends northward following the inlet back toward Port Alberni. On the way you can stop at Macktush Campsite, and at Arden Creek Campsite for looks at the inlet.
I am so glad that the folks organizing this year’s Tri-Conic Challenge are featuring this route. Although it has been selected for a very challenging bike race, it is ideal for a really nice family day out.
It’s something to dream about during those days when the discouraging rain pounds down.