Course description

Overview

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.

Course sections

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 to Cabin lake. Veer right from Cabin lake and follow the signs to the groomed trail that will take you all the way down to the first major aid stations at Cypress. You will run close to the ski runs but won’t have to run on them as in the past. 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 you can see the ski tow facil­ity and day lodge. Course flagging and marshals will guide you in from here.

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). 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  sur­vey­ors tape. The next stretch winds 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 minor aid station outside Hollyburn Lodge. This is a water only stop, and is at about the 10 mile mark (Elev 3,100 ft). Leav­ing the lodge 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 skid road ­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 four road cross­ings through this res­i­den­tial area. Please look both ways. Most people have no idea a race is happening.

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 into 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 climbs Nancy Greene Way for 500 ft ele­va­tion to the base of the Grouse Moun­tain. The trail then re-enters the forest which is deeper, darker 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 pea gravel 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.

Go left on Lynn Valley Road for about 50 meters and turn right on Varley Trail. This is  a failry flat por­tion of the course for about one kilometer to Rice Lake Road, where you turn left to cross Lynn Creek on 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 up a long stairway section. At the top, the trail turns a hard left (this junc­tion should be well marked on race day) and mean­ders through the forest before crossing 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 River crossing, the trail rises and turns left through several wooden gates before turning right to get back onto Baden Powell again. Baden Powell fol­lows a small creek up to the next aid sta­tion at Hyan­nis Road. (25 mile mark Elev 500 ft). This is a smaller aid station but the aid sta­tion cap­tains have always put out an array of delight­ful, if not some­what unortho­dox, ultra foods. And sponges for those who are overheating.

Leav­ing Hyan­nis you climb somewhat incessantly before reaching the Sey­mour Grind, a steep uphill section 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 finish line 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 is fast, windy and pea-graveled so 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 until 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. Watch for flagging on race day.

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 eight 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.