Feet Banks Scott Serfas

It sounds like the start of a joke: What do you get when you put four mountain bikers in a rubber raft for two weeks?

Answer: The trip of a lifetime.

Wedged into the very Northwestern corner of British Columbia, Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park contains nearly one million hectares of glacier-covered mountains and pure untamed wilderness. Combined with the Yukon’s Kluane National Park and Reserve to the north and Alaska’s Glacier Bay and Wrangell St. Elias National Parks to the west, the area is the largest swath of protected lands on the planet.

“People raft the river all the time, but this is the very first time that anyone’s brought bikes to explore the zone from river to the alpine,“ says Serfas. “We paddled for three days before hitting some alpine zones like the photo on the right, in the helicopter.”

And a river runs through it – a big one. At 255 kilometres (140 miles) long, the Tatshenshini-Lower Alsek River passes numerous 10,000-foot-plus peaks and deep, glacier-carved gorges. It also provides access to what used to be some of North America’s most incredible, undiscovered big mountain freeriding terrain.

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Before we put into the river at the ‘Long Ago Peoples Place,’ Harold Johnson tells us about the traditional ways in which his people have lived for thousands of years, and how the river was used back in the day for trading between the coastal and interior First Nations.

Until these guys showed up: Wade Simmons (the Godfather), Darren Berrecloth (the Legend), Tyler McCaul (the Millennial) and Carson Storch (the Kid). And if unleashing four generations of MTB mayhem on a 14-day floating, sightseeing tour for rich tourists sounds like an odd match, it’s because I forgot to mention the helicopter.

 

“The glaciers all feed into Alsek Lake and it’s littered with icebergs that have peeled off of the glaciers. It was a pretty surreal experience to be drifting along beside these huge icebergs, watching them calf as we cruised by-it was definitely a highlight for us.”

“It was surreal,” says Wade Simmons. “Floating down one of the top five river trips in the world is incredible enough, but to then be picked up by helicopter to window-shop for lines anywhere you want?!”

 

“Heading towards camp on the first day on the river. It was one of those times where you wondered what the river will hold for us for the next two weeks-a brand-new experience for all of us.” The river to ocean epic went as follows: Float the Tatshenshini River until it meets up with the Alsek River. Paddle the Alsek into the Alsek Lake and then into Dry Bay, Alaska. Get picked up in a plane and fly back to the Yukon.”

At 24 years old, Carson Storch found himself on his first big expedition, doing his first ever heli-drops, and sharing it all with a personal hero. “I’ve looked at Wade’s mug on a poster at my local bike shop since I was 12 years old,” Storch says. “So, on an epic expedition with him… I never would have expected this to happen as a young grom, to get to know and ride with the Godfather of Freeride.”

 

“People have died on this river before and the water was super cold so the guides were pretty serious about keeping us safe, but it was nice to feel some whitewater adrenaline on this stretch of the river.”

One of the pioneers of the sport (see page 28), Simmons was excited to pioneer new terrain. Other than the original First Nations inhabitants, very few – if any – humans have even stepped foot on some of the mountain slopes and ridges they accessed, there’s no doubt they were the first to ride it.

 

“I was lucky and got to spend a bunch of time alone in the heli, chasing Darren Berrecloth as he flew down the mountain back to the river. He was doing his thing, and I knew that we had a pretty special story so I pushed to get some time on my own to get some quality shots.”

“The terrain was endless,” Storch says, “and we ended up deciding to go with high alpine stuff. For the most part, it was perfect dirt/shale faces and ridges, but some of the lines were deceivingly rocky and pretty damn steep.”

 

Wade Simmons (The Godfather).

“As freeriders, we apply our skills to the landscape,” adds Simmons. “You go in with no expectations and decide how much you want to leave on the hill on any given day. This time, Darren put it all out there.”

 

Tyler McCaul (The Millennial).

Darren Berrecloth is known as a jumping and competition slayer, but according to Simmons, “He tapped into the gnarliness out there, really pushing the limits of and dropping into stuff where the severity was: ride it out and there is no other alternative. It was impressive, like he found his calling.”

 

“People normally only get to see these peaks from the river, so getting the chance to get up into the high alpine amongst these massive peaks in this huge, expansive terrain and uncharted lines and faces was pretty wild. Darren was really in his element here, charging hard. He felt pretty comfortable in this big-mountain environment.”

Of course, those three-days of heli-drop shredding were offset with 11 days on the river, where high-adrenaline moments took a backseat to serenity and natural wonderment.

 

Darren Berrecloth checks into the alpine spa for a free facial. “The lines were so continuously long so it was just a matter of time before something like this happened. He was fine though, he’s a tough dude.”

“I honestly expected the river to be a bit gnarlier,” says Carson Storch. “Although we did have our moments of sketchiness, like almost getting sucked into a whirlpool. The floats were definitely not like the riding we did, but it made for a nice balance. It’s true wilderness and being up there made me respect Mother Nature that much more. You’re at the mercy of the elements when you’re that deep in the bush.”

 

(L to R) “The Claw, Tyler McCaul and filmmaker Shin Campos were the only ones smart enough to get a fishing license before the trip. This was a spectaular end to the trip, magical light and Mt. Fairweather not surrounded by clouds, apparently VERY rare. These guys caught the limit and we feasted on wild coho salmon where the river meets the sea at Dry Bay, Alaska.”

For Simmons, the peace and slow pace of the river was equally satisfying.

“It was great to be taken out of our daily life and cut off from the world. To be able to hang with these guys and shred with them at the height of their careers was pretty special. We made stories for life. Part of being a conscious human, I think, is a desire to pass the torch. This trip was a dream – life is always surprising me, you never know what is around the corner.”

The Tatshenshini Movie, produced by Freeride Entertainment and Red Bull Media House, is slated for release sometime this autumn.

“We set up midday and wanted to get some air shots, so the riders were able to session it for a while on their DH bikes. The young gun Carson Storch was the only one who laid out a backflip.”

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