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Already mid-summer in a mountain biking season that kicked off in early spring, we’d been patiently waiting for the alpine routes throughout British Columbia to thaw out and dry up for our first hit of high-altitude riding. Revelstoke’s Frisby Ridge was first on the list, a flowy intermediate out-and-back cross country trail that has become very popular in recent years, for good reason. The trail was set to open July 15 after the annual Cariboo closure but a number of challenges converged to create the perfect storm last autumn. The surprising announcement of Frisby Ridge’s closure for summer 2016 has many alpine addicts looking elsewhere for their fix. Fortunately just a bit further up the road, tucked deeper in the mountains and not without a certain shroud of mystery, sits Revelstoke’s classic alpine trail Keystoke Standard Basin.
Keystone Standard Basin is about 50km/31mi north of Revelstoke on Highway 23, towards Mica Creek, and another 15km up a reasonably well maintained FSR to the trailhead. This is a classic multi-use trail and both a bit more remote, and the trail itself more exposed and technically challenging, than the more accessible Frisby Ridge.
Upon departing the parking lot, already perched high in the mountains, you ascend through the final stretch of sub-alpine forest along some technical and steep singletrack. We opted to hike a good chunk of this first ascent, the steep, hairy pitch, knowing it would balance out with ear-to-ear grins hours later on the descent.
Once you arrive in the alpine, nearly the entire trail is laid out in front of your eyes and suddenly the landscape makes you feel very, very small. You can just barely make out the distant trail as it traverses across the Basin, if you squint just right. In your immediate foreground, however, a long stretch of flowing singletrack presents itself like an oasis in the desert after a sweaty climb to the tree line.
Although the trail does crest at something resembling a proper apex, complete with elevated lookout and numerous cairns, before beginning your descent down the cabin, the trail maintains a mostly undulating momentum for the majority of its length that will have you grabbing for your dropper post and jumping off regularly to navigate treacherous sections.
This is the main differentiating factor between Keystone and the more modern Frisby Ridge; where Frisby was a purpose-built mountain bike trail with funding provided, Keystone is an old multi-use route built by hikers and refined over decades of travel.
The majority of the trail is still magnificent, flowing singletrack with plenty of roots and rocks in all the right places, but there are also plenty of grueling climbs and exposed features that will have you hiking your bike to the next ribbon of rideable trail.
The Keystoke Standard Basin trail runs 11km/7mi from the trailhead to the usual turnaround spot, a backcountry cabin primarily used by snowmobilers in the winter, on a small alpine lake surrounded by jagged peaks towering in all directions. While routes continue beyond the cabin to the summit of Standard Peak and beyond, the adventure quotient gets turned up significantly from here and it doesn’t appear many venture much further. The cabin is open for shelter but this is a pack-in pack-out site, luckily aluminum cans are much lighter when emptied.
We were thankful to have stocked up on more snacks and water than we thought we’d need for 22km/14mi. La Baguette in downtown Revelstoke provided both a morning caffeine boost and a healthy lunch to pack along, and along the way we were treated to a crystal clear alpine stream to top up our quickly depleting reservoirs.
You’ll be spending the majority of the ride under the direct assault of the high alpine sun, likely amongst swarms of alpine bugs, so don’t forget to lather on heaps of sunscreen and bug dope to keep the elements at bay so you can enjoy your humbling surroundings without distraction.
Upon arriving back at the parking lot after a big ride in the alpine, heck after a long ride anywhere, there’s never a better sight than a cold beer. Out of the ice box, chilled and sweating in the afternoon sun, come a number of options from the local Mt. Begbie Brewery. Self-proclaimed as “the ultimate summer beer”, their Attila the Honey lives up to its legendary status if you’re having trouble choosing from the dozen craft options at the downtown brewery.
After the obligatory tailgate libations and back on the valley floor, there are plenty of boat launches and stretches of beach along the highway to stop for a swim and cool off, with Martha Creek Provincial Park the official spot closer to town. Both the Village Idiot and The Nomad are classic post-ride refueling options that have earned that distinction over the years, the former has Mt. Begbie beers on tap and a sunny patio if you’ve got time to spare and the latter is perfect for take-out or a quick, hearty meal on the way out of town if you’re due for work the next morning.