Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mount Fromme - North Shore (BC)

Having been to Mount Fromme (North Vancouver, BC) once before, I highly recommended it as one of our ride days during our 4th of July mountain bike trip to Bellingham, WA. Mount Fromme is one of the three main riding areas of the North Shore (aka “The Shore”), with the other two being Mount Seymour and Cypress Mountain. Fromme is located smack dab in the middle of the other two and according to the guide book (here), considered the crown jewel of the three. Although I’ve not been to Cypress, my experience has been that Fromme feels a bit more polished than Seymour. Fromme is also the only one that requires you to earn your turns, by pedaling (or pushing) your bike up a gravel road. In fact, you also have to do a steep road climb up Mountain Hwy and out of the neighborhood just to get to the trail staging area; although this is about to change, since they're putting in a new parking area at the trailhead to accommodate the different user groups of this area.

After riding at Galbraith on day one of our trip, we felt a bit warmed up, but I also knew that The Shore was on another level and was going to test our skills and fortitude. Instead of beginning on one of the easier trails, we decided to start off the ride with a bang, riding to the top and dropping in on Upper Oilcan. The climb itself (including the paved section) ascended ~1,600’ in just under 4 miles – luckily, the grade was friendly and the large trees shaded much of the road along the way. By the time we got to the top, we were all sweating and wheezing a bit, but the excitement was still high, as we knew we were about to drop into some of the most classic technical downhill on the planet.

While the others armored up and unlocked their suspension, I jumped out ahead to set up for some photos. Upper Oilcan started off in earnest, dropping down the hill on a narrow technical path of rock and woodwork. This is the type of trail that will let you know how good your technical riding skills really are, with its relentless terrain that does its best to force you off the pedals. I eventually found a good place to pull over and take some shots, and soon after this, Chris and Roman came crawling down the trail, with an intense look in their eyes. Although I had done my best to explain what the trail would be like, if you haven’t ridden this type of terrain before, it’s almost impossible to describe. About all I could say at this point was, “Welcome to The Shore!”…

Chris gets acquainted with Upper Oilcan  

Ridin' it out

Roman studies the next part of the puzzle

The three of us continued down Upper Oilcan, with me in the lead so that I could stop and take pictures at the more exciting stretches, of which there were plenty. There aren't many resting places on this trail, only less steep/technical spots to put a foot down. We were able to ride most everything, sans some of the more burly alternate routes. I did attempt to ride a few of the big ones, but I wasn’t feeling warmed up and ended up chickening out, partway through. Before long we reached the road, which we had originally climbed up on, signaling the end of Upper Oilcan. The trail had dropped ~300 vertical feet in about a third of a mile. Although it would be considered very short for a trail segment, it packed a big punch and felt quite a bit longer – I’m sure this would change once you knew the trail and could rally it without stopping.

Finding balance

Chris on a fun root drop

More roots & rocks

Chris, somewhere on Upper Oilcan

Next on the ride agenda was “Espresso”, which I had heard really good things about. We quickly rode down the gravel road to the trailhead, where we found Scott awaiting our arrival. Just like Upper Oilcan, Espresso started off with a bang, this time in the form of a steep up & over wood ladder bridge. Just below, the trail dropped down a steep/rocky pitch, which proved a bit difficult to line up for, after exiting the ladder bridge.

The author drops into Espresso
(photo by Chris Arnold)

Chris takes his turn

Below the initial plunge, Espresso made its way over (or past) many man-made wood skinnies and ladder bridges. Almost all of them were just off the ground, which made for good practice opportunities without serious consequences for a botched line. There were also a few taller skinnies/bridges, which were optional and beckoning anyone who was feeling spunky. It should be noted that some of the optional ones were fairly dilapidated, so if you haven’t done this trail before or recently, it would be wise to scout the line before attempting them. All of us were having a good time, riding most everything and sessioning some of the bigger ones, which allowed for some good photo ops. Espresso eventually smoothed out a bit and allowed for some higher speeds as we made our way to the bottom of the trail. I’m not sure I’d call it flow trail, but it did contrast the technical riding that we encountered on Upper Oilcan and the top half of Espresso. Before long, Espresso tee’d into the Baden Powell, a mixed use trail that was built by the Boy Scouts back in the 1960s.

Typical terrain at Mount Fromme - steep & techy

Up & over

Roman on one of a few fun ladder bridges on Espresso

Chris, on the same bridge


The author takes one of the optional lines
(photo by Chris Arnold)

Chris on one of the rare rock slabs on Espresso

Although Baden Powell is a wide/mixed use trail with both small ups and downs, make no mistake, it is very technical and provides plenty of challenges, even for seasoned riders. Since we were heading back to the Mount Fromme staging area, we turned left, riding in a easterly direction. Much of the trail had us crawling along both rocks and roots, but without the assistance of gravity that we had on the previous trails. As we neared Mountain Hwy, the Baden Powell did descend rather rapidly, providing some very entertaining pitches and plenty of smiles along the way – super fun stuff!

Roman on a typical section of the Baden Powell Trail

By the time Baden Powell dropped down to Mountain Hwy, I was feeling a bit tired but not ready to call it a day, especially since we hadn’t ridden the trail I was really interested in, “Ladies Only”, considered one of the classic Fromme trails and rated as double black. Neither Roman nor Scott were particularly interested in climbing back up for that one, but Chris was game. On my previous trip to Fromme, I had ridden both Floppy Bunny and Bobsled and I knew that Roman & Scott would love them. Figuring it would be a great opportunity to get in some more miles without the commitment factor, I suggested it to them, which they excitedly latched onto. With that, we split into two groups and headed out on separate rides.

Regarding Floppy Bunny & Bobsled, both are relatively short trails that require an equally short climb up the gravel road to access. Floppy Bunny is rated as a black diamond; although it’s technical in nature, it’s not overly difficult and could also be enjoyed by less advanced riders. In my opinion, it should be rated as blue, at least by Shore standards. Bobsled, on the other hand, is a flow trail, with lots of banked turns and roller jumps to play around on. This trail, which is rated as green, can be enjoyed by almost anyone who knows how to ride a bike; even expert riders would have a good time on this aptly named trail.

Emily finds a fun root drop on Floppy Bunny
(taken on a previous trip)

Floppy Bunny has some good ladder bridges to practice on
(taken on a previous trip)

Another fun ladder bridge on Floppy Bunny
(taken on a previous trip)

The author exits a wooden berm, on Bobsled
(photo by Emily Pfeifer; taken on a previous trip)

The second climb up Mountain Hwy was definitely at a slow & steady pace, and luckily the trees were still proving some shade from the afternoon sun. By the time I reached the picnic table at the top of Ladies, I was pretty glad to be done with the climbing for the day. Once Chris showed up, we hung out for a bit and rested, before dropping into the final descent of our ride.

Ladies started off fairly tame, but I knew it was only a matter of time before the bottom dropped out. Sure enough, a little ways into the trail, it happened. Although it wasn’t necessarily steeper than the other two descents we had done, almost everything was mandatory, unless you got off of your bike and walked. As it made its way down the hillside, it alternated between steep pitches of rocks/roots and wood ladders/skinnies. The action was non-stop but I somehow managed to find a groove, dropping into things that I would have normally scouted – things were just clicking! Of course there were a few bigger and/or more complex puzzles that I wasn’t able to put together, but all in all, I was happy with how much I was able to actually ride. I did have one good crash along the way, where the trail went up and over a fallen log, via a planked bridge. Basically, I didn’t muster enough speed and stalled out at the top. Unable to keep my balance or get in a pedal stroke, I fell about 3 or 4 feet to the ground below. Luckily no damage was done, other than to my pride…

Chris, discovering what Ladies is all about

The author on a wooden roller-coaster
(photo by Chris Arnold)

The author drops down a steep rocky pitch, somewhere on Ladies Only.
(photo by Chris Arnold)

Chris goes up and over another fun ladder bridge 

A typical stretch on Ladies Only

Just after the crash site, the trail made a short climb up to a bench, where it split in two different directions. It was at this point that I realized that my Garmin GPS was gone from my handlebars, apparently knocked off somewhere along Ladies Only. I assumed that it was probably back where I had crashed, but a quick search of that area turned up nothing. Since a new GPS was not in the budget, I knew that I would be hiking back up the trail, hoping it had fallen off in a highly visible location. Although I was not super stoked to be hiking up the trail, it did allow me to study the amazing trail work that had gone into creating such a masterpiece – an impressive amount of work and ingenuity has gone into building this trail! I was also taken aback by how steep and technical it was, which once again made me feel pretty good about what I was able to actually ride. Unfortunately, finding my GPS didn’t go nearly as well, and I soon found myself at the top of the trail and the picnic bench that marked the trailhead. It wasn’t until about halfway back down the trail that I caught a glimpse of it, laying on a pile of rocks, and barely visible from the confines of the trail. Relieved, I quickly jogged back down the trail, hoping to meet back up with Chris before he started getting worried.

Now back with my bike and Chris at the top of the small hill, we decided to go right at the trail intersection, since it appeared to be the most traveled. This section was very short, but provided a few more fun turns before reaching the Baden Powell trail at the bottom. Both Chris and I were feeling pretty spent by the time we got back to Mountain Hwy, where we had planned to meet back up with Scott and Roman. After finding no sign of them, we gave them a shout on the walky-talky and found out that they had already headed back to the car. With that we headed down Mountain Hwy, where I ended up walking my bike, so I wouldn’t burn through my brake pads – the road is wicked steep!

Once back at the car, we changed into our street clothes, before heading out in search of some food. Surprisingly, it took us some time to actually find a decent restaurant. After dinner, we headed back to our rental house. Although I won’t go into all the details, getting back across the border and into the US proved to be a daunting task. Both being behind a family that was detained with guns drawn, and having our own car searched after tying to transport avocado and eggs across the border, it took about two hours just to make it across. I guess it was somewhat understandable since it was America’s birthday…

Riding Mount Fromme, for my second time, confirmed that it is truly a world class trail network. Due to its location in North Vancouver (BC), it could easily be considered as a destination, if combined with either Bellingham (WA) or the Squamish/Whistler areas. In comparison to Squamish and Whistler, I would say the trails at Mount Fromme are of the same (but different) build quality. However, the other two areas have a lot more trails and variety to choose from, even when you include the other two Shore areas, Seymour and Cypress. Although I can’t speak for Cypress, from my experience, Fromme is a more polished riding area than Seymour, and if I was going to suggest a North Shore area to a friend, it would certainly be Fromme.

As for the trails we did, all were a fantastic technical playground, which the planners and builders should be extremely proud of; I certainly wish we had this type of a trail network in our area. Ladies Only is considered one of the classic Shore rides, and although I haven’t ridden everything there, I can’t imagine it getting much better. You won’t find any huge single drops, but its relentless nature will challenge the focus power of just about anyone, especially if it’s your first time riding the trail. The Shore will definitely be on my ride agenda anytime I’m in the area, which for me is the highest praise you can give!

The tracks from our ride:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Armstrong Connector, Corral & Sidewinder (South Lake Tahoe, CA)

During our 2015 Memorial Day pilgrimage to the California Sierra, we had planned to get in at least one day of riding in Tahoe, hoping to hit one or more of the classics. It was only due to the drought and extremely low snowpack that we could even entertain riding in Tahoe this early in the season -- in fact, we'd usually be here for kayaking. Unfortunately for us, Northern Cali had been hit with a few storms both right before and during our trip; therefore, we would be limited to the lower elevation trails in the area. Our weather over the previous days had forced us to drive from our base camp in Downieville to trail networks in both Nevada City and Auburn – Although we rode some fun trails in both locations, it wasn’t what I was really hoping to get out of our vacation and the long drive from Oregon. We did get to do a shuttle ride on the Downieville Downhill, but got hit by a thunderstorm about halfway down, which dropped copious amounts of rain and completely flooded out the trail – we now refer to that event as the Downieville Downpour… With our spirits a bit battered but not broken, we held out hope for an epic final day of riding in Tahoe.

It was now Monday morning and the last day of our trip. As I peered out the window of our abode in Tahoe City, I was greeted by puffy white clouds dotting a bright blue sky. I quickly searched out my phone so that I could check the forecast, where I found some good news – supposedly, there was only a 20% chance of showers for the day! With the change in weather, we discussed options. Bill, who was from Sacramento and had ridden Tahoe quite a few times before, came up with the ride agenda, which would have us shuttling some trails near the Northstar ski area. Reinvigorated, we quickly packed up our stuff, loaded up the cars and headed out. We headed northeast from Tahoe City, where along the way the sky began to change and a storm appeared to be moving in. A few minutes later, Bill pulled over and informed us that he had just gotten a severe weather update on his phone, which called for an 80% chance of heavy rain and hail in the area. Scrambling to come up with a new plan, we found that South Lake Tahoe looked like it would stay relatively dry throughout the day. With that, we turned the cars around and headed back south…

As we drove toward South Lake Tahoe it became clear that our trail options would be somewhat limited, due to the snow levels. Bill suggested we ride some of the lower trails off of Oneidas Drive / Fountain Place Rd. As we pulled into the bottom parking area, we found many other riders gearing up and preparing to ride – a good sign indeed! Our plan was to get in as many shuttle rides as we could, starting at the top of the Armstrong Connector and alternating between Corral and Sidewinder for the second half of the descent. Once we had loaded up Bill’s truck with all 6 bikes and people, we drove up Fountain Place Rd toward the upper trailhead. Of course our adversity continued, as we found our path blocked by a locked gate, partway up the road. In a state of disbelief, we were once again forced to evaluate our options. Since it was too late to find another ride area, we really only had a few choices – 1) Do the rest of the road climb on our bikes, or 2) limit our shuttles to Corral and Sidewinder. Almost all of us agreed that we should climb up for the Armstrong Connector at least once, so we parked the car and geared up for the climb.

The climb up the road was steep, ascending ~550' in a little over a mile. Being paved made it a little more manageable, but I still found myself weaving back & forth to help lessen the grade a bit. When we reached the top, at another locked gate, we found a couple other riders who had also decided to make the climb. It was here that we also saw a small black bear, which was cinnamon colored -- if I didn't know better, it could have been easily mistaken for a brown bear. This particular bear seemed very apathetic to our presence, as it snacked on grass for a bit before heading off into the woods on the other side of the fence. Once everyone had reached the top and we were all rested up, we headed out on the Armstrong Connector, which headed off to the north, just before the gate.

Three's Company 

"What are you looking at..."


The first part of the trail meandered through the forest, staying relatively flat and passing a few man-made log rides. What I noticed immediately were the perfect trail conditions, which were neither too wet nor too dry -- it looked like we were going to have ourselves some hero dirt! Eventually, the trail started to lose some elevation, and we were presented with a nice view of the high Sierra, just before dropping down and around a couple of switchbacks.

Bill gets ready to round the first switchback...while keeping his eye on the trail, not the view.

Just after the switchbacks, the trail traversed the hillside and offered up the goods! Along the way we were treated to some really fun and technical boulder lines -- really classic stuff and just what I had imagined riding in Tahoe to be like. In fact, it felt very similar to the riding in Squamish and Whistler, which is probably my favorite place to ride and where my wife and I go every year for our anniversary. Everyone in the group was having a good time, even the less technically experienced riders. Although there were more than a few nice rock drops to air off of, almost everything was rollable if you didn't feel like leaving the ground.

A typical section of trail along the hillside traverse 

Up & over

Bill, gettin' a boost

Shawn drops down a nice technical bit

Roman rolls a nice little rock drop

...and another

Bill takes a small detour to air this one out

The masked avenger

Chris gives chase

At the end of the long traverse, the trail switchbacked to the south, and soon after, a rather large horizon line presented itself. I quickly jumped off my bike to take a look and found a nice granite slab that was fairly steep but also very straightforward, with no real technicality. There was a sneak route around it to the right, which some in the group had opted for. For the rest of us that rode it, we entered high on the left and dropped down the middle of it. After the slab, the trail made haste around a few banked turns, with some rock kickers thrown in here & there for good measure. All too soon, we found ourselves back at the road, where we had been stopped by the first locked gate. We now had a choice between one of two descents down to the bottom, Corral or Sidewinder.

Bill finds one of the smother sections of the Armstrong Connector

The author drops a fun granite slab, which felt much steeper than this photo would suggest.
(photo by Bill Reidl)

Bill had recalled Corral being a bit better and the more technical route, with Sidewinder being more of a flow trail, consisting mostly of zigzagging banked turns. Technical riding is certainly my preference, so I was pretty happy when the group decided on Corral. With an agreed upon plan of attack, I jumped out ahead so that I could find a place to take some shots. As I rode along, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the trail. It's not that I was expecting it to be bad, I just figured it wouldn't be nearly as good as the Armstrong Connector. Although it didn't provide the views or classic rock lines like the previous trail had, it certainly had its share of rocky goodness for all to enjoy! During this stretch, I ended up stopping at a few of the better drops to take photos of the crew as they flew by.

Another fun rock drop, this time on Corral.

Follow the granite brick road

Exit stage left.

Bill drops into a fun series of berms 

One of the chunkier sections on Corral

Shawn, partway down the same rock garden

Roman drops into another technical pitch

About a mile into Corral, Sidewinder entered back in on our right. With the two routes now merged, it turned into a flow trail, with many dirt kickers and berms to play on. There were also some extremely fast stretches where we were able to reach speeds in excess of 25 MPH. The most notable features in this section were a series of tabletops and a built up gap jump. The trail eventually ended at a dirt road, about a quarter mile from where we had parked the cars. I must say, it was really cool to get both high quality technical terrain and flow trail out of one descent!

Bill finds some air even on the small rock booters

Chris lines it up nicely

Bill on the entrance drop to the tabletop section

Chris fires up one of the first tabletops

Lift off! 

Bill, in a rhythm.

Bill, clearing the built-up gap jump.

Once we were back at the parking lot, I drove Bill back up to the top of Corral/Sidewinder so that he could grab his truck. After running the back shuttle, we loaded up the bikes again for another lap, utilizing the same route. This time around we were down two riders, Chris & Shawn, who had opted for an earlier start for heading back home. I also decided not to take photos on this lap, which made the ride go much faster and be a bit more fun!

For the 3rd and 4th laps we didn't ride all the way to the top, instead we decided to just bite off the lower trails. Since we hadn't done Sidewinder, we rode that one next, which ended up being way better than I had expected. The first half of it actually had some fun technical stuff, which Bill had forgotten about. It did eventually turn into a zigzagging berm-fest, but even that ended up being pretty damn fun as well as offering a great practice session for banked turns. As with the first two laps, we got to ride the flow after it merged back in with Corral, which allowed me to learn the lines in that section a bit better. By the end of the 4th lap, where we rode Sidewinder again, I was clearing most of the tabletops and had really gotten into a groove.

Roman does some rock crawling near the top of Sidewinder

Bill finds the line through the air to be much smoother...

A fun distraction along the trail

More air time

The author partway through a alternate log ride
(photo by Bill Reidl)

More granite goodness

We were all pretty tired by the end of the 4th lap and decided to call it a day, which was probably wise, since we were also running low on available daylight. After running the back shuttle one more time and then loading up all our gear, we headed into Meyers for some much deserved pizza and beer. That night we crashed at Bills pad in Sacramento and the next morning we started our long drive back to Oregon, ending our 2015 Memorial Day extravaganza.

Parting thoughts:
I really wish the weather would have worked out a bit more for us and that we could have ridden at least another day in Tahoe. The trails that we did ride (Armstrong Connector, Corral and Sidewinder) were fantastic, but only served as an appetizer for the area as a whole. Even with how good these trails were, my understanding is that they are very average by Tahoe standards. As I stated earlier, it definitely reminded me of the riding in the Squamish/Whistler area, which makes sense, with the granite rock being the foundation of the natural/technical terrain. The only thing it was really missing was the intricate wood structures that are prevalent in that area (i.e. ladder bridges, etc.). Based on this small taste, I know I'll be back to Tahoe to ride at some point, hopefully in the very near future.

From the top:

Sidewinder/Corral only: