The Knee Knackering course essentially follows the Baden Powell trail which traverses Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. Both ends of the trail are close to or at Sea Level and the high point on the course is 4,000 feet at the peak of Black Mountain. The race as a whole has some 16,000 feet of vertical climb and descent. The Baden Powell trail is a scenic and very technical trail through a Pacific Northwest rain forest. Most of the trail is within the forest, although there are some absolutely spectacular vistas at a number of points along the trail. The course is 30 miles long and the field is limited to about 200 starters.
The course mileage can be found here.
The course naturally divides itself into four sections, each being about 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) long. There are four mandatory check points along the way with full aid station facilities. In addition, a number of water stops are available. A description (written by Ron Adams, 2006) of each course section follows:
#1 — Start to Cypress ski area parking lot
- From starting parking lot (see Driving Directions to Start), go past the gate, & follow the wide trail under the highway.
- Go past the water towers and keep straight (don’t go over the bridge on your left).
- Follow the signs for the Trans Canada Trail east.
- Take the Trans Canada Trail east for 10 minutes until you come to a large rotten stump on your left hand side. Here you will see a trail going down to your left….take this trail. There are no signs – we will have flagging and a marshal here on race day.
- This trail crosses Nelson Creek over a footbridge.
- Follow the trail over Whyte Creek (pseudo bridge here) & Whyte Lake will be hidden on your right.
- When you get to a very obvious fork in the trail, stay left & follow this until it meets the Baden-Powell (about 2 min down and around the corner).
- Turn right onto the Baden-Powell.
- This section of the course is within forest and parts are quite rocky, but easy to navigate since it is uphill.
- At the top of this hill, the trail takes a sharp right and heads into a well canopied section of forest, with a soft bark mulch forest floor and a few stream crossings and then climbs steadily into Cypress Park itself, where the real climbing and the really technical part of the trail starts. This is about 1/2 way to the peak in time, but more than half way in distance.
- You emerge from the forest onto the first scree slope (Elev 2,000 ft). This is an open area of large rocks and boulders separated by sections of very steep switchback trail. Most of the scree slopes have a more or less easy way built across them, but it is sometimes difficult to find and often no faster than just clambering over the rocks. Some scree slopes are made of very large boulders so that climbing this section is quite technical. You may be looking for hand holds to help you (although it is not rock climbing per se).
- The switchback trail sections are very steep. Do not lean to the side along here … it is a long way down. In numerous places the trail comes to rocks or trees growing around rocks where the step up in the trail is 2 feet or more. Here you will be looking for toe holds in the rocks to step up and will likely be using the trees for hand holds to help pull you up. On the way up there are absolutely spectacular views back over the Strait of Georgia and the Gulf Islands. Don’t get your camera out too soon, though, the higher you go, the better the view. There are a couple of bluffs on the way up where you get good views, but on the last one (Eagle Bluff – Elev 3,550 ft) you get an incredible sweeping view where you can see all the way from Mount Garibaldi in the north (near Whistler) out over the Sunshine Coast and the Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island and the entire Strait of Georgia, the Olympic Mountains in Washington state, downtown Vancouver’s skyline and finally Mount Baker with its classic volcano shape on the eastern skyline. If you brought a camera, this is the spot to stop for a moment or two. Eagle Bluff is definitely the top of the climb from a psychological standpoint.
- After Eagle Bluff, the trail enters high country evergreen forest, with a soft forest floor, winding around a number of pretty alpine lakes. This part of the trail is somewhat rolling, although there is in fact still a net elevation gain of 450 ft to the Black Mountain peak.
- At the peak itself, there is a water station. All of the water here has been hauled in by the aid station crew.
- From this stop, there is a fairly short but pretty section through alpine lakes, meadows and high forest to the top of the ski runs. Be careful to watch for trail markings, since the parks people have built a number of hiking trails in this section. You could very easily take a wrong turn and although you would eventually wind up in the right place it could be by the “scenic” route with added mileage and time. There is often a lot of mud in this high country part of the trail, and the winter snowpack can persist in sections on race day, depending on the weather. When you emerge from the forest and can see the ski tow facility itself.
- From here there is a long (about 1 mile) stretch along the ski runs and an access road. This stretch is quite rocky and being downhill it is easy to pick up speed which makes navigation more difficult.
- The bottom of the ski runs is the first major checkpoint at 7.5 miles (Elev 3,000 ft) with a full aid station having all of the typical ultra foods.
#2 — Cypress to Cleveland Dam
On an elevation diagram, this part of the course appears to be falling off a cliff. It isn’t quite like that, but it is 7.5 miles of a lot of downhill. Having said that, upon leaving the aid station, you enter the forest and immediately embark upon about a mile and a half of mostly uphill climb gaining 500 ft in elevation. This section has quite a bit of up and down, is deep within forest and is very technical due to the amount of roots. The roots in this section are intertwined and interlaced and for the most part are 1 inch or so wide. They can be very tricky and if it is wet they can be very slippery. In fact anywhere you are stepping on wood can be tricky if it is wet. Emerging from this section of trail, is a junction with the trail up to Hollyburn Mountain (Elev 3,500). I always find this to be a tricky junction and it has never been marked to my satisfaction. The right turn is a right turn The trail to the left is a valid trail and has the normal orange trail markers, however, on race day the course will be marked with pink/black surveyors tape. The next stretch is over the cross-country ski trails. It is a portion of the course where you can really motor. The course is not overly technical, the downhill is gentle and the trail surface a pleasure to run on. This portion of the trail descends to First Lake, where you switchback down, skirt the lake, and reach the next water stop at the ranger station. This is a water only stop, and is at about the 10 mile mark (Elev 3,100 ft). Leaving the ranger station is a reasonable 1/2 mile or so stretch (the last part quite steep) down to Westlake Lodge and the top of the Hollyburn Chute.
- If Kamikaze is your middle name then you will love the Hollyburn Chute. It is about 1 to 1.5 miles of rocky and very steep firetrail type trail. To run fast on this stretch you have to do the Ultra downhill toe dance. Even so, it can be tricky because some stretches are very fast and runnable, immediately followed by very technical spots which can have you constantly changing gears. There is one very large downed tree about half way down Elev 2,250 ft). You have about 5 feet clearance under it, so be sure to duck.
- Just after crossing under a power line, the trail takes off to the left into the forest. This intersection is very easy to miss in training, but on race day will be so well marked that you would have to be blind to miss it.
- Shortly after this turn, you will steeply descend to Brothers Creek (Elev 1,650 ft) which is crossed on a wooden bridge. If you have a camera, get it out now, since the falls are spectacular and breathtaking.
- After a short steep climb back up from Brothers Creek, you enter one of my favourite sections of the course. The trail passes through about a mile of gentle descent of very soft forest trails under a thick forest canopy. It is always fairly dark through here, but the trail is nice. You still have to keep your wits though, since it is easy to take a tumble when the trail is deceptively easy. This stretch is interrupted by one section of rocky fire road about 200 yards long.
- You emerge from the forest (Elev 1,200 ft) at the top of the British Properties (an area of quite well-to-do homes). There are spectacular city views up here. You then descend for about a mile along very steep trail (with a number of sections with steps). There are about 4 road crossings through this residential area.
- When you re-enter the forest, you are approaching the Capilano Canyon. This stretch also has a soft floor of evergreen needles, but there is a very steep stretch which due to high usage (close to civilization) has deteriorated so that much of the trail is loose dirt and it can be very easy to slide on.
- The final stretch down to the dam is on watershed access road. The aid station is in the park on the far side of the dam. There is a 200 yard stretch across the dam and in the park. This is the first flat section of the course. The Cleveland Dam is built at the 2nd canyon of the Capilano River. As you cross the dam you can look to your left up Capilano Lake (which provides drinking water to Greater Vancouver) and look to the right down the dam spillway into the Canyon. The Capilano Canyon itself is a very narrow gorge with vertical rock walls. This is the half way point on the course at 15 miles (Elev 500 ft). The cut-off here is 5 hours. There are no cut-offs earlier in the course. The aid station captain/RD have discretion in exercising judgment regarding the cut-off since it is primarily an issue of safety/medical danger.
#3 — Cleveland Dam (Capilano River) to Lynn Creek
Leaving the aid station at Cleveland Dam, the next mile is on the roadway (Nancy Greene Way) climbing 500 ft in elevation to the base of the Grouse Mountain skyride. The trail then re-enters the forest which is deep and dark and steeper than ever. This first part is usually very busy as many hikers enjoy the Grouse Grind Trail on the left at 200m. A good 3/4 of a mile of steep uphill ensues until the top of this climb is reached (10–15 minutes! Elev 1,600 ft), then the trail meanders across the side of the mountain crossing 2 streams with deep valleys (one of which was scoured right out by flash floods a few years ago). The trail then drops sharply to a water stop at Skyline Drive. This section with the steep decline can be somewhat jolting since the trail traverses the side of the mountain with a number of vertical drops of 1.5 to 2 feet as you come over rocks or around trees. These aren’t too bad at the time, but by the end of the race your knees will be knackered (guaranteed).
- From Skyline, the trail drops very steeply down to Mosquito Creek (Elev 1,150 ft). This section has a short section of loose dirt which can make for very tricky and unstable footing. There is a new steel bridge at Mosquito Creek.
- From Mosquito Creek, it is a good mile (steeply up at first, then rolling trail through the forest) to the St. George’s junction (Elev 1,500 ft). There is nothing at St. George’s except a bench and a multiple intersection. This is however, a regular point to regroup on training runs. The intersection will be well marked.
- St Georges also marks the beginning of the trail down to Mountain Highway. This section is mostly dirt trail and is quite popular with mountain bikers. The result is that much of the trail is eroded and sometimes it is difficult to tell exactly where the real trail is. There are a few spots where the trail is so deteriorated that getting down safely through the loose dirt is a challenge. This stretch also has one quite technical stream crossing, where you have to pick your way down (about 10 vertical feet) a cliffside to the stream & then climb back up out of the little valley. The trail starts to really descend sharply as you begin to approach Mountain Hwy, then finally you can see the folks at the Mountain Hwy water stop way down below you (Elev 1,050 ft). It doesn’t take long to drop that last bit of vertical distance. Mountain Highway this high up is just a gravel road, so traffic is not a concern.
- From Mountain Hwy, the trail descends down and then meanders through a gentle forest on soft trails. This is not far from a residential area, consequently there are numerous trails in the area and care must be taken to not lose the real trail. On race day, it should be pretty well marked. This whole stretch is about 0.5 to 0.75 miles long and descends almost vertically to Lynn Valley Road on a very steep set of wooden steps which switchback across the cliffside.
- Once on Lynn Valley Road, we have the first really flat portion of the course for about a half mile to Rice Lake Road, where you drop down to Lynn Creek, run across a bike/pedestrian bridge and up to the 3rd major aid station. As you cross the bridge, pause a moment and gaze down to the bottom of the canyon where Lynn Creek dances and laughs over the rocks as it pursues its tortuous course to the sea. Lynn Creek is the 3rd major aid station and a mandatory check in point at about the 22 mile mark of the race (Elev 600 ft).
- The trail used to go across the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge (which is an experience all by itself), but has been changed for the last several years since to reroute around damaged trail and avoid conflict with the tourists on the suspension bridge.
#4 — Lynn Creek to Panorama Park
The trail leaving the aid station is a broad easy park trail but soon becomes rockier and after passing the turn-off for the suspension bridge abruptly descends down to Twin Falls. After passing the Twin Falls bridge, the trail follows the bottom of the canyon and then crosses a wetland area on a wooden walkway. This is a low point on this section (Elev 200 ft). After the wetlands, the trail climbs steeply (including some steps) turns a hard left (this junction should be well marked on race day) and meanders through the forest, crosses Lillooett Rd and heads over to the Seymour River where the trail switchbacks down sharply and makes a final descent down some very steep steps to the bridge across the Seymour.
- After the Seymour the trail rises and follows a creek valley to the next aid station at Hyannis Road. (25 mile mark Elev 500 ft). This is a water only stop, but the aid station captains have always put out an array of delightful, if not somewhat unorthodox, ultra foods.
- Leaving Hyannis you embark on the Seymour Grind, a steep uphill gaining 850 feet that is very obvious on the elevation diagrams. In fact most of this section is a very runnable gradual uphill on pleasant forest trails with most of the climb coming on a steep relatively short section about 1 mile long. This general stretch of trail has a number of cross trails. This can be very confusing on training runs but should be very well marked on race day.
- The top of the grind (Elev 1,350 ft) is at a fire road (Mushroom Trail) where the course turns a hard right and heads down.
- From here it is all downhill and at this point the race is psychologically in the bag. You can be almost dead at this point and recover on the downhill to look O.K. at the finish! This road is a bit rocky, but not too bad and then re-enters the forest for a short stretch to the Seymour Road crossing.
- As you approach Seymour Road you will hear the activity and sometimes music coming from the aid station. This is also a mandatory checkpoint, has full aid facilities and is about 27.5 miles into the race (Elev 1000 ft). I can usually smell the barn door at this point and often just run through the aid station.
- The last stretch involves a short drop down to Indian River Road. This section has been straightened and gravelled for ‘98 and you can’t help but fly through it.
- At Indian River Road the trail turns left and follows the pavement for a quarter mile or so, til it re-enters the forest. The next forest segment is somewhat technical with rocks and roots and one particular rock face with about a 3 to 3.5 foot drop, that I always negotiate carefully, no matter how crazy I run on the rest of it. The middle of this little section meets a road where you turn left, proceed up about 20 feet and right back onto the trail. This can be a confusing intersection.
- After passing under a high power line (Elev 400 ft), you begin the last trail segment. On the course diagram it looks like a sharp up and down. In fact, it is a series of short but steep ups and downs as you cross a series of valleys and creeks. There are a total of something like 5 serious valleys and a total of about 8 bridges. You can tell when you are getting near the end since you will likely see people on the trail and the last little descent to the road is a bit eroded so the footing is iffy, however this portion of the trail has recently been improved and new steps have been built in the worst part.
- When you come out on the road you are 300 yards from the finish. A short stretch on the road, into the park and a sea-level finish at the beach in Panorama Park in Deep Cove where finishers are rewarded with an aid station that includes Honey’s Fresh Baked Donuts.