Have you thought about riding the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) epic trail Beowulf, but aren’t sure if it’s right for you? Or maybe you know it’s right for you and just need more information? Well, look no further. This in-depth review will provide you with all the information you’ll need to be a hero and conquer every challenge that awaits you on this epic ride. This review goes into a lot of detail. An epic ride such as Beowulf deserves this kind of trail review. It is a ride you need to be well prepared for, but the rewards are certainly worth the effort.
Beowulf is full of challenges. From big descents to big climbs, from alpine views to temperate rainforest, this trail has it all. Read on and prepare yourself to slay this trail, just as Beowulf the hero slayed his dragons.
Who is Beowulf?
Beowulf the trail is named after the Old English poem of the same name. Scholars aren’t sure of the exact date, but there seems to be consensus that it was written some time between the 7th and 10th centuries.
It is the story of a mighty hero named Beowulf who tasks himself with slaying three menacing dragons. The story begins when Beowulf travels to another land to save its citizens from a dragon named Grendel. He handily slays Grendel but is soon set upon by Grendel’s mother who is seeking revenge for the death of her son. Unflinchingly, Beowulf also manages to kill Grendel’s mother and again save many lives. After the second dragon’s death, Beowulf returns home and rules his homeland as a king for 50 years until another challenge presents itself. This challenge comes in the form of a third menacing dragon who has become incensed by the theft of treasure from his lair and attacks Beowulf’s kingdom. Beowulf sets out to save the day. He is victorious, but this time he is fatally wounded in the process and dies shortly after the battle. The poem ends with uncertainty for the people of Beowulf’s kingdom now that their hero is no longer there for protection.
Why name this trail Beowulf?
According to SilverStar Mountain Resort’s Communications and Sponsorship Manager, Michelle Deacon, the resort intentionally set out to build a trail that would make it onto the list of IMBA epic trails. The name Beowulf, Deacon goes on to note, “…is a true fit for the trail, capturing the undertaking of building it from beginning to end.”
The title of IMBA epic trail is reserved for those trails that are truly epic in nature. They must be mostly singletrack, long, challenging, and remote, among other things. In this review of the Beowulf trail, I won’t dwell on the specifics of what makes an IMBA epic trail. For more information, and to find out about the criteria that IMBA uses to determine if a trail is worthy to be on their epics list, visit the IMBA epics web page.
While SilverStar may have named the trail Beowulf as a nod to the building of the trail, it can also be applied to the character of the trail as a ride. As you’ll discover later in this review, the trail presents the rider with three main challenges that he or she must overcome, just as Beowulf was presented with three challenges of his own.
Beowulf – the trail at a glance
Beowulf, the trail, was built by SilverStar Mountain Resort and opened in 2017. The entire Beowulf ride, as described in this article, is made up of several different trails, and it begins and ends at the SilverStar Mountain Resort village. I’ll refer to the entire ride as the Beowulf Loop from now on, even though the first and last sections are ridden along the same stretch of trail.
See the trailforks map of Beowulf – The Loop below
According to Trailforks, the Beowulf Loop is approximately 36km long with 1200m of climbing and descending. However, that length and vertical gain can vary depending on the device and recording method used. For example, my Garmin cycling computer recorded a distance of approximately 39km with 809m of climbing. In order to keep things consistent and accessible to everyone, I’ll be using the Trailforks numbers throughout the rest of this article.
A hero needs to start somewhere
Getting to the Beowulf trailhead is easy. From Vernon, head up Silver Star Road to the SilverStar Mountain Resort village. Just before you reach the village, you will come across the day-use parking lot on your right. This is a large parking lot with plenty of space.
If you’re camping, either in a tent or an RV, there is a campground called Cedar Falls located on Silver Star Road between Vernon and the resort. Check out my review of the Cedar Falls Campground for more information.
Once you’re parked, it’s a short walk across the lot to the SilverStar Mountain Resort village. Here you will need to buy a ticket to ride Beowulf. Tickets are $10 + tax and the money goes toward trail upkeep and maintenance. The ticket counter opens at 9:30am, and the access gate to the Cross-Mountain Trail, which is the start of the Beowulf Loop, opens with the bike park at 10:00am.
If you’re like me, then you like to get an early start on long rides like Beowulf. This makes buying a ticket at 9:30am and then waiting until the gate opens at 10:00am to start your ride less than ideal. However, if you plan to buy your ticket in advance to try and get an earlier start, it’s worth noting that the ticket counter attendant told me that they don’t want riders on the mountain before 10:00am because there could be equipment working on or near the trails.
To access the Cross-Mountain Trail, you simply walk from the ticket counter, through the centre of the village until you reach the other side. Here you will find a gate and that is the start of the trail.
One-way traffic only!
Much of the Beowulf Loop is one-way and riders should tackle it in a clockwise direction. The Beowulf – Into Putnam Creek (see the Trailforks map above) section of the loop is the one-way section and it makes up the bulk of the Beowulf Loop. The trails at either end of this part of the trail are meant for two-way traffic. If you accidentally set out onto the loop riding in a counter-clockwise direction, you will travel approximately 4.2km to the Aunt Gladys Lookout before reaching a signed gate informing you that you are about to enter the trail going the wrong direction.
Be prepared for battle!
I won’t presume to tell you what to bring on a ride like this, as everyone is different, but I will tell you about a number of things you should be prepared for:
- A long day in the saddle
- A remote ride with no bailouts in case of emergency
- No cell phone service
- A long climb at the end of the loop
This is a long ride with a significant amount of climbing. It’s true that everyone is different and that some riders are faster than others. As such, if you’re unsure of your ability, prepare accordingly for a long day.
Once you leave the village there are no services along the trail, nor is there cell service. You will need to be self-sufficient, and there are no shortcuts back to the village in case of mechanical or other problems.
Beowulf is a bit odd in that the trail’s big descent comes near the beginning of the loop. Generally, other trails would have you climb up to a high point and descend from there. Not Beowulf. Descending first means that you must save a significant amount of energy for the end of the ride in order to climb back up to the village. It also means that at the furthest point from the village, you are at the lowest point on the trail, so there is no way out but up!
Now, all this may sound negative, but it is a great ride. If you’re prepared and know what to expect you will have a great time. It’s well worth the effort!
The Beowulf poem can be broken up into five sections that fit nicely with what I consider to be the five distinct sections of the Beowulf trail. In the following, I refer to those sections as the introduction, chapters 1, 2 and 3 and the conclusion. It’s time to ride!
Your journey to the challenges that await – Introduction
“He announced his plan: / to sail the swan’s road and search out that king, / the famous prince who needed defenders. / Nobody tried to keep him from going, / no elder denied him, dear as he was to them.”Beowulf, A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney (Bilingual Edition) – pg. 15
In the story of Beowulf, the hero slays the first two of three dragons far from his home, in the land of the Danes. He travels across the sea to help this kingdom that is being devastated by a dragon known as Grendel. As in the story of Beowulf, the first section of the Beowulf Loop sees riders travel from the safety of SilverStar village to the beginning of the three larger challenges that await: the descent, the flats and the climb.
Finding the real Beowulf!
Your introductory journey to the start of the first descent is made up of a number of trails and is approximately 8.3km in length. You begin by leaving SilverStar Mountain village on the paved Cross-Mountain Trail. This trail is wide enough for two bikes and the terrain is gently rolling.
After about 2.1km, the Cross-Mountain Trail turns into the Silver Shack Trail. Here the trail becomes single track and is approximately 3.2km in length. Silver Shack is an intermediate trail with some minor technical features. It climbs gradually until it meets up with the Paradise Trail.
The Paradise Trail is a section of easy double track which passes underneath SilverStar Mountain Resort’s Powder Gulch Express lift. After about 700m on this trail you will reach a large timber-framed sign indicating the beginning of the Beowulf trail. From here you continue for about 4.8km to the Alder Point Lookout. This section of trail is similar to Silver Shack in that it is moderately technical. For most of this section you gradually descend before climbing briefly to the Alder Point Lookout.
From the Lookout, the views are spectacular. You will be able to see down into the valley you will soon be riding through. The Lookout also has two benches to rest on and prepare for the challenges that await!
Into Putnam Creek
Once you’ve made it to the Alder Point Lookout, you are at the beginning of the section of trail known as Beowulf – Into Putnam Creek. This section is where your three main challenges begin: the large descent, the ride along Putnam Creek, and the large climb. Like Beowulf, you will need to complete these three challenges to be successful.
Into Putnam Creek is approximately 18.2km in length and there is a descent of approximately 600m vertical, followed by a climb of approximately 500m vertical. It is rated advanced (black), but in my opinion this is mainly due to the strenuousness of the descent and climb as well as the remoteness of the trail. I would rate the trail as intermediate from a technical standpoint, with only moderately technical sections throughout.
Slaying your first dragon (the descent) – Chapter 1
“In off the moors, down through the mist bands / God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.”Beowulf, A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney (Bilingual Edition) – pg. 49
Now that you are through the introductory section of the Beowulf Loop, the first of your three challenges begins: the descent. Beowulf uses his strength and coordination to defeat the dragon Grendel, and you will need to use yours to conquer this challenge. The challenging part of this descent is its length. It will take everything you have to hang on and stay sharp all the way to the bottom so be sure to pace yourself! Beowulf defeats Grendel alone, and it will similarly be only you against the trail as you tackle this monstrous descent.
The point of no return?
The beginning of this descent can also be thought of as the point of no return. Once you reach the bottom, you will be roughly halfway through the Loop and at the furthest point from the start/finish. Whether you turn back at the bottom of this descent or continue on, be aware that it is ALL uphill to get back to the village.
It would seem that the trail builders also saw the beginning of this descent as the last place to turn back; there is a gate of sorts at this point, as well as a sign reiterating the challenges that lie ahead. Another sign on the gate also notes that if you haven’t reached this point by 2pm, it would be wise to turn back.
From the gate, the trail ascends for a very short stretch before sloping downward. The descent is long, but for the most part it is non-technical and comprised of a seemingly never-ending series of switchbacks. Most of the switchbacks are reasonably wide with nice berms, making them easy enough to ride through. There are a few that are quite tight and they will test your skills but you will be warned of these in advance by a small sign as you approach.
The descent is very long and hard on the legs. Luckily, I found that many of the sections between switchbacks are not steep and you will be able to sit on your saddle to rest without having to stop. Once you reach the bottom, it feels like you’re in a different world. You’ve descended from a sub-alpine environment down into a temperate rainforest. You’re now in a world with challenges different from the descent, but there are challenges nonetheless.
Want to get an idea of what riding the descent is like? Check out the video below!
First dragon down – on to dragon #2!
Back for revenge (along the creek) – Chapter 2
“The forest paths / were marked all over with the monster’s tracks, / her trail on the ground wherever she had gone / across the dark moors”Beowulf, A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney (Bilingual Edition) – pg. 97-99
Once at the base of the descent, the grade begins to moderate and you’re now riding close to Putnam Creek. Here it’s easy to be lulled into a sense of security by the sound of the water and the lush green rainforest. But don’t become complacent. After his defeat of Grendel, Beowulf believed that his mission was over. He was congratulated by those he had saved, and a celebration ensued. But it wasn’t long before he was challenged by another dragon seeking revenge: Grendel’s mother.
This section of the Beowulf Loop is a beautiful ride through temperate rainforest. There aren’t any spectacular views, but the trailside scenery is inspiring as you ride through stands of large trees, and moss-covered rocks and stumps. But don’t be fooled, you need to keep your wits about you here. This is the farthest point from the beginning/end of the Beowulf trail and help is a long way away. You will also need to conserve some energy through this section for the impending climb, and to stay alert to the possible dangers that lurk around each corner. As you progress along the trail, you can hear the creek and catch glimpses of it from time to time. The air is humid, and there are stretches where the stones are wet from the spray of the creek.
Along the creek
The terrain along this section of the trail is winding and moderately technical. Along the trail you will find sections of roots, rocks and the odd bridge. There are flat sections as well as short climbs and descents. I would suggest taking your time here; there are many places to stop, take in the lush scenery, and check out the creek.
I tried to make a lot of noise through this section as the constant sound from the creek meant it was unlikely wildlife would hear me coming. Nobody wants to round a corner and have a bear staring them in the face!
I would stop short of calling this section of the trail rolling as you are still slowly descending to the low point of the ride where you will cross Putnam Creek. It is on the other side of this creek that your next, and most difficult challenge awaits.
Want to get an idea of what the riding is like along Putnam Creek? Check out the video below!
Consider Grendel’s mom taken care of – now on to dragon #3!
The final showdown (the climb) – Chapter 3
“The dragon began to belch out flames / and burn bright homesteads; there was a hot glow / that scared everyone, for the vile sky-winger / would leave nothing alive in his wake.”Beowulf, A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney (Bilingual Edition) – pg. 157
It’s easy to let your guard down as you ride through the valley. Similarly, after the fierce battle during which Beowulf defeats Grendel’s mother, the hero returns home and rules as a king there for 50 years. But it’s at this point that Beowulf must face his greatest and final challenge: a third dragon. This dragon became enraged when an intruder stole treasure from his lair. In retaliation, the dragon threatens to destroy Beowulf’s kingdom.
Like Beowulf, your greatest challenge is about to begin. Now, it’s time to pay the price for the long, initial descent and a magical ride through the forest – with a huge climb! You will know the climb is about to begin once you cross over Putnam Creek. What goes up, must come down, and since you’ve already come down, you must go up! You must conquer this next challenge!
For the most part, the climb is a series of switchbacks that ascend 500-600 vertical metres to the end of the Beowulf – Into Putnam Creek Trail. The trail is non-technical, wide and forgiving, which will come as welcome news if you are beginning to feel tired.
Most of the switchbacks provide ample room to turn, but the corners can be quite steep. As such, I found it useful to keep a small amount of energy in reserve between switchbacks in case a bit of extra power is required to get up and around the corners. I would also suggest trying to settle into a climbing rhythm you can sustain for a long period of time.
The climbing grade is consistent, but the climb is very long. Eventually you will come to the gate, similar to the one you passed at the beginning of the main descent. This marks the end of the final chapter in the story of the Beowulf – Into Putnam Creek Trail. From here it’s up to you to decide how your story will end.
Want to get an idea of what the riding is like on the climb? Check out the video below!
You’ve now slayed all three of Beowulf’s dragons and it’s time to ride off into the sunset!
Tired, but victorious! (the home stretch) – Conclusion
“The fabled warrior in his warshirt and helmet / trusted in his own strength entirely / and went under the crag. No coward path.”Beowulf, A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney (Bilingual Edition) – pg. 171
Beowulf’s final challenge ends with him killing the dragon, but during the battle he receives a fatal wound. This was the end for Beowulf, but don’t let your story end as his did. It’s time to push through to the end!
You may feel as if you have been defeated once you reach the top of the climb but this is no time to give up. You have no choice but to press on and finish this final stretch of your journey.
At the top of the climb, you’ll find another gate, similar to the one at the top of the descent. It represents the end of the Beowulf trail proper, and it also represents the end of the most challenging parts of the Loop.
Just past this gate at the top of the climb there is an optional detour to Aunt Gladys Lookout. If you have the energy, riding up to this lookout will help lift your spirits for the final push back to SilverStar village. From the lookout you’ll be able to gaze out across much of the terrain you just travelled through and you can get a real sense of your accomplishment.
The home stretch
Once you’ve checked out the optional lookout, it’s time to power through the final stretch of trail. The first part is called Beowulf – Aunt Gladys Lookout. This section marks the end of the unidirectional section of the Beowulf Loop and it is also open to hikers. It continues for approximately 4.2km and is windy and rolling. Although the terrain feels rolling, you are still gradually climbing toward your starting/ending point. At the end of the 4.2km you will come to an intersection with the Silver Shack trail. Turn left here and you will have closed the loop section of the trail and find yourself back on familiar ground!
For me, this last section of trail seemed to be the longest of the entire loop. But don’t give up! Once I made it back to the familiar Silver Shack trail, I was treated to a second wind and was able to finish strong. From the intersection, follow Silver Shack for a short distance until it turns into the paved Cross-Mountain Trail that leads directly back to SilverStar village.
Stop to enjoy the scenery!
Resist the urge to make a beeline back to the village. I found it worth taking some time to stop along the Cross-Mountain Trail to marvel at the view afforded by some of the treeless ski runs. You’ve earned it!
Once you arrive back at the village, there are numerous places to get a drink and/or food and bask in the glory of your accomplishment.
Unlike Beowulf, you made it through your final ordeal and lived to tell the tale!
A trail worthy of the Beowulf name
Beowulf certainly deserves its place among the other IMBA epic trails. It’s challenging, remote, and when you finish the ride you can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment. I hope this trail review has been helpful in preparing you for the great adventure that is Beowulf. It is an epic ride and one that is well worth the effort.
The Beowulf trail is also deserving of its name. Like the tale of the mythical hero dragon-slayer, this trail is a true epic, and with the right knowledge and preparation, you’ll be able to slay its dragons. Now, get out there and be a hero!
I’d like to hear from you!
Have you had the chance to ride Beowulf or do you have any additional questions? If so, please leave a comment below so that others in the Sphere can benefit. I will answer any questions to the best of my ability. If comments aren’t your thing, please visit my Contact page and send me a message. I look forward to hearing from you!