The Brice Creek area is one of my favorite places. The trail is actually the first hike that Emily and I did after moving to Oregon. Not only does it offer great hiking, it also provides excellent mountain biking by use of the same trails, and some of the best class 4/4+ kayaking in the area during winter months after a good hard rain.
Since Saturday was spent playboating on Lake Creek, and sunny skies were in the forecast for Sunday, I was pretty excited to get back on my bike after some extended down time. For the record, I'm not much of a playboater, and mountain biking in the winter has never really appealed to me; however for some reason this weekend I felt like breaking the norm, and I'm glad I did.
The great thing about Brice Creek, like most river tails, is that the trail surface holds up really well during the wet season, which can be attributed to a greater rock to soil ratio. Another thing I like about Brice Creek Trail is that it's one of the more technical trails in the area. By no means does it rival or come close to places like Moab, Whistler, or even Flagstaff, (where I learned to ride more than 15 years ago) but compared to most of the buffed, flowy trails in the Willamette forest, it does keep you on your toes a bit. Another thing that the trail has is some exposed areas where the side of the trail drops off steeply toward the creek below. Because of these reasons, this may not be the best place to bring a novice, however, an intermediate rider would do just fine. As for physical difficulty, it not very long (~12 miles as an out & back) and only has a couple of climbs, which aren't too tough. That said, if you were really pushin' hard, I'm sure you could wear yourself out. Also note, the trail can be extended and turned into a lollipop by adding the Upper Trestle Creek Falls Trail. Unfortunately, in the winter time this trail gets pretty sloppy and should probably be avoided.
I was actually the latecomer to the trip, which had been planned by my wife Emily (EGP), Emily Coonrod, (Coonabomber) and Kim McGovern. I was looking forward to riding with this all girl crew which typically doesn't generate the competitive atmosphere that can occur with the fellas. Basically, I was just along for the ride, so I loaded my bike and myself into Emily's car and headed to wherever it was taking me. The first stop ended up being LCC, where we met up with Coonabomber and Kim. From there we caravanned about an hours' drive southeast to the lower trailhead of Brice Creek.
After quickly gearing up in ~40 degree temps, we pedaled around the parking lot a bit to warm up. Once everyone was ready, we crossed the road and started riding up the trail on the other side. The first thing I noticed was how out of practice I was, and after bobbling on some easy rocky sections I told myself to loosen up and get into a flow. Wanting to do a post about mountain biking, I asked the girls if it would be okay if I jumped out ahead so I could get some photos for it. They all agreed, and I set off to find a spot. This is where I also noticed that I was a little out of shape as well. (cardio wise) This, plus the fact that these girls are super fast riders, had me hammering away while still hearing their voices behind me. After some time I was able to make up enough distance to set up for a couple of quick shots.
Once they passed by with big smiles, I quickly put my camera away so I could try and catch back up. By the time I did, I was starting to feel a little overdressed and needed to shed a couple of layers. After giving the signal to Coonabomber, she said there was a great spot coming up just past Cedar Creek Falls (a.k.a. Laura's Thighs by the kayaking community). She was right, and we stopped at a nice little pullout overlooking a small rapid leading into the falls.
Once everyone had a chance to un-layer, we were off again with the girls in the lead. As we tore down the trail, I could hear yips and ye-haws as they took turns cleaning some of the more rooty and rocky stretches. Soon after, we approached the first real climb, and once again I tried to get out ahead to take pictures of them coming up. This is where both my lungs and legs really started to burn. Luckily, I was able to get far enough ahead that they couldn't see me walk the last pitch of the climb...hee-hee, they would never know... Just after setting my bike down and grabbing my camera, I caught a glimpse of Coonabomber powerin' through the climb on her 29er single-speed, making it all the way to the top without having to dab. Right on her heels, both EGP and Kim made it up with the same success.
A couple of quick breaths, and we were back on our way. We had one more hill to climb, and this time I paced myself a little beforehand, so I was able to make it all the way up without touching down. (but still panting!) Once you're past the two hills, the trail starts to gradually head back down to the river, and pretty much stays there for the remaining mile our so to the upper trailhead, near Champion Creek. There is a fun little rock garden in this stretch, which usually isn't a problem getting down, however making it up without dabbing can be tough.
Once we made it to the upper trailhead, we lounged around a bit and ate some energy bars and GUs. By this time, the temps had increased and it was turning out to be really nice day. I was looking forward to putting away the camera and just enjoying the ride back. The pace also picks up a bit on the way back since the lower trail head is ~500' lower, that and you don't have to contend with the two hills.
On the way back down the trail, we ran into quite a few hikers. This is a high-use area on the weekends, so it's a good idea to check your speed, especially around blind corners. Everyone that we encountered was pleasant, which was good since biker/hiker confrontations are not uncommon. Another thing we encountered was Emily C's chain falling off a few times. After the third or forth time we decided it would be best to pull over and tighten it up. After turning a couple of bolts she had the tension set nicely, and we were off again. About 2 miles from the trailhead where we had started the ride, there's a nice little root drop that I rolled up on too quickly and ended up dabbing and and walking it down. As I looked behind me the gals had held up to take a look. After a quick talk about what would be the best line they all fired it up and had great lines with no dabs. It's cool to see how good of riders they've turned into.
Soon enough, the bridge came into view marking the end of ride. What a great day! I'm glad the girls were cool with me comin' along.