Sunday, June 27, 2010

Biking in the Gorge (6.12.10 & 6.13.10)

For some time now, the ESE Riders club, consisting of Emily Coonrod (Coonabomber), Sarah Erslev (Serslev), and my wife, Emily (EGP), had been talking about and planning a trip up to the Columbia River Gorge /Hood River area. The plan was for the three couples to camp-out and play hard on our mountain bikes for a few days. If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll know that it's not hard to convince me to travel to the gorge, as it's one of my favorite places anywhere and has almost become a home away from home. The reason, in part, is due to the fact that it holds both world class mountain biking and kayaking, my two favorite sports (hence the name of my blog). The second reason for my draw to the area is its sheer beauty. Many waterfalls flow over the moss covered basalt cliffs into the Columbia River, and depending on where you're located, both Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams loom in the background; even Mount St. Helens can be seen from the higher elevations on a clear day. It's really a place you should visit if you're at all an outdoor enthusiast.

The girls had established the plan, and mid June was the target date and soon enough, the time had arrived to turn their plan into action.
With all of the cold rainy late spring weather we'd been having, it was a nice surprise that the weather for the weekend was shaping up to be pretty nice. From a kayaking perspective, the unseasonably wet weather we were having was a mixed blessing; on one hand, it brought back in some of the creeks and rivers, but on the other, I was ready for summer to start, especially since I've been eager to switch back into MTB mode.

Arthur and Emily C. had driven up to the gorge mid-day on Friday to secure a campsite for us at Tucker Park; certainly not my favorite campground, but it's about the only camping close to Hood River and is fairly convenient. As a bonus, it also has warm showers, which I must say is pretty nice after a day of riding through the woods.
Emily P. and I headed up that evening, but didn't get to Tucker until pretty late (between 11pm and 12am). By the time we got there, the other two were already fast asleep. With that, Em and I didn't even bother setting up a tent and instead threw our sleeping bags onto our Paco Pads and slept under the stars. The other couple, Pete and Sarah, would be joining us in the morning, since Sarah was picking Pete up after his flight back from France on Friday night (and some long hours on the plane).

Loaded up at Tucker Park
(photo by Pete Erslev)

The next morning, the two Emilys, Arthur, and I arose and set-up for some breakfast and coffee. Arthur and I each pulled out our double-burner Coleman stoves and started cooking up some grub. On the menu was breakfast burritos made with eggs, ham and veggies; Coonabomber substituted some veggie links for the ham on hers.
Soon after we had finished eating, Pete and Sarah showed up and quickly set-up their tent while the rest of us cleaned up the kitchen. You could tell that Pete was still pretty jet lagged which gave me a glimmer of hope that I might be able to keep up on the day's ride. You see, both Pete and Arthur have been training hard for the 100 mile Cascade Cream Puff, so they're in awesome riding shape. On the other side of the coin, the ESE crew had also been laying down the tread and were also in prime condition.

Once we had all filled up our Camelbacks with water and snacks, we headed south out of camp through the apple and pear orchards of the Hood River valley. Although it was a good 1/2 hour or more of driving to the trailhead, the scenery makes it go pretty fast, and I was tempted more than once to have Emily stop the car so I could take some photos. However, I often try her patience with this type of behavior, so I just snapped a couple from the car instead.

A view of Mt. Hood on the way to the trailhead

Fifteenmile Creek (or not...):
The trail that we had planned to ride on this day was Fifteenmile Creek, a fantastic ride that I had done once before and was excited to get back on. When we pulled into the main parking area we found it packed to the brim with other riders and hikers. Obviously they also wanted to take advantage of some vitamin E intake, since we were all pretty deficient up to this point. Finding no available parking spots, we crossed the road and instead parked in the smaller lot that sits directly in front of our trail, rather conveniently.

We all got changed into our biking gear, applied the appropriate amount of sunscreen & Chamois Butt'r, and headed up the trail. From the trailhead the plan was to ride up Eightmile Creek via trail 450 and then hit trail 456 to the Fifteenmile trailhead; this is a fairly standard approach for doing this ride. The trail that follows along upper Eightmile Creek is a fun gradual climb with a couple of waterbars and rock gardens to navigate over and around. This is also a great way to warm up the legs right off the bat since the pitches aren't super steep. Everyone was riding in a tight group and strong. We soon came to a rider that was coming down the trail and signaled for us to stop for a second. Basically, he told us that he had planned to do the same ride but had been turned back due to a ridiculous amount of tree fall that was caused by the late season snow, and therefore had not been cleared yet. He also mentioned that the trail was still clear for the next couple of miles and worth going up that far before turning around and enjoying the downhill.
After a quick group pow-wow, we decided we'd continue up the trail until we hit the first couple of fall downs and then head back and ride Eightmile and Knebal loops instead. I was actually excited about this plan, since I had not done either one of them and I'm always happy to check another trail off the list.

After a couple more miles of gradual climbing we came to the first log across the trail. We all decided to hop over and ride until it got worse. About 100 yards further we encountered another, so this became our turnaround point. I asked the others to give me a head-start so I could set-up for some shots, and all agreed.
Soon I was buzzing down the trail, and what a great section of downhill! I almost didn't want to stop but decided to pull over at one of the waterbars to hopefully snap some good air by the crew. I was able to get a couple good ones of Arthur and Pete, but started having camera issues while the girls were coming through, grrr. Luckily I figured out the issue, and after doing so, I packed up and gave chase to my fellow riders.

The girls pause for a photo on the
climb toward Fifteenmile Creek trail

Arthur using a waterbar for some lift
on the descent back down the trail

Pete tries to jump out of the frame on the same waterbar

I finally caught up to them as we encountered another set of riders, where Arthur stopped to give them the unfortunate news that we had received (and somewhat witnessed) while the rest of us headed back toward the car. There was also a nice little lip as you come into the parking lot which you could get a pretty good boost off of, fun stuff indeed!

Arthur airs it out into the parking lot

Eightmile & Knebal Springs Loops: Once we had all reconvened, we hopped over the road to the trailhead for the other two loops. We decided to hit Eightmile first which starts off immediately with a super fun, swoopy downhill that will leaving you grinning ear to ear. I just remember being hot on Pete and Arthur's tail as we flew down it Blue Angels style; I'm sure ESE was following in similar fashion. As we rounded a switchback at the end of the downhill, a small bridge crossed over Eightmile Creek, marking the beginning of the second climb of the day.

Sarah rounds the corner at the end of the descent on Eightmile Creek trail

Emily C. is all smiles after a great downhill

EGP crosses the bridge over Eightmile Creek

As we headed up, I slowly started to slow down the pace and toward the back of the pack, until eventually I was the last rider. Needing a break about halfway up, I stopped to take some shots of Mount Adams, which could be seen in the distance. It was a really beautiful section of trail and I felt a calmness come over me as I took in the view.

View of Mt. Adams from my rest spot

A view looking up the trail from the same spot

This relaxed feeling did not last as I started grinding up the trail once again. I was certainly not in tip-top biking shape and my lungs and legs were letting me know it! I could definitely feel the elevation change from back home. After slogging up the rest of the climb, I met up with our group who were eating a snack and taking in some of the other great views.

The group enjoying the scenery at the top of the climb

The Emilys enjoying the moment,
or laughing about my snail's pace
(photo by Pete Erslev)

After I had caught my breath, we started our next fun descent, where I once again jumped ahead for some shots. This section included some more fun fast stretches with a couple of little rocks and roots to get a lift off of. It also had a fun little log over at some point.

Pete splits the uprights on the Knebal Springs descent

Emily C. and Sarah fly down Knebal Springs trail

Arthur hits yet another kicker...

...Then turns his attention to climbing over log piles

EGP lovin' the trail (not the log pile)

All too soon, we were at the end of the downhill and started to climb once again. This one was steeper than the rest and definitely put a hurtin' on me. Along with my lungs, my knee started giving me some grief, but nether were bad enough to deter me from enjoying the trail. I caught up with the crew once again, and we had a quick lunch break about halfway up the ascent. After our quick break, we took turns on a fun little log over where Coonabomber had the line of the day and Pete captured the winning shot of it.

Coonabomber makes sure her
brake pads are installed correctly
(photo by Pete Erslev)

Nailin' it on the second try!
(photo by Pete Erslev)

Some climbing later, we came to a thinned out area that allowed for some great views of Mt. Hood. Pete happened to be taking shots when I rolled by. As I went to stop and put my foot down, both thighs completely seized up from cramps and I fell down, much to his amusement. Emily C. had some electrolyte pills which she graciously shared with me which really saved my bacon. We then snapped some group photos before finishing the remainder of the climb.

Seconds before I fell down with leg cramps
(photo by Pete Erslev)

A shot with my wife after my recovery
(photo by Emily Coonrod)

Sarah poses with a two-headed Emily creature

Finishing up the climb (Mt. Hood in the foreground)

Another view of Mt. Hood from Knebal Springs trail

The only thing that stood between us and the car was a short downhill. I was actually expecting it to be a little longer after all the climbing, but I couldn't complain too much since we had already enjoyed quite a bit and there was beer at the car...

The author cruises down the final descent,
already smelling the beer at the car.
(photo by Pete Erslev)

Back at the parking lot, we broke up into three separate groups. Arthur wanted some more seat time so he headed off for an extra 20+ mile ride along Surveyor's Ridge. Pete, Sarah, and both Emilys, headed for Dog River, one of the more popular downhills in the area. I had my fill of riding for the day, so agreed to run shuttle for Pete and the gals by meeting them at the end of the Dog River trail.

Coonabomber somewhere on Dog River trail
(photo by Pete Erslev)

I took my time driving to the meeting spot and checked out the upper EF Hood River, which I've always wanted to run in my kayak, but for some reason have never made a serious effort to do so. Once at the Dog River parking lot, I had a beer or two and walked up the trail to hopefully take some more photos of our riders coming down. As I rounded a switchback, I spooked a deer that was eating some foliage. She turned tail and leaped down the trail away from me, and somehow I managed to snap off a fuzzy picture of the event.

The fuzzy deer picture...

Not long after, the Dog River Crew came down and I got a couple of good shots as they made the switchy.

EGP styles the switchback

Pete follows in similar fashion

I walked back down to the parking area and hung out with Pete while the girls went back up to gather the other cars. After that, we headed back to camp, stopping to pick up Arthur on the way (at the end of Surveyor's Ridge). Once back at camp, we cooked up a large batch of pasta, which was complemented with garlic bread, salad, and dessert. Everyone's contribution made for a very worthy dinner and calorie reload. Next, we sat around the fire and told stories before turning in for the night one-by-one.
The next morning we packed up camp and headed into Hood River for some breakfast. Since we weren't staying another night, and we had a ways to drive to Falls Creek (one of our rides for that day), we decided it was best to eat out. On top of that, I love going to Bette's Place for breakfast, and consider it a treat anytime I'm in the area; they have the best eggs Benedict I've ever had, and their cinnamon rolls are off the hook! We all agreed it was a great meal and a good way to load up for the day's rides.

Our first riding stop of the day was Syncline, where we planned to do a quick shuttle from the top. This is one of my all-time favorite riding areas, but most of the trails are not recommended this time of year due to the copious amounts of poison oak; it's really thick. With that, we chose the least P.O. populated section and rode down via Crybaby and Little Moab. Our ride down can be seen from my perspective on the video at the end of this post, or at Vimeo, here.

Emily C. and Sarah head down
Syncline toward the Columbia River
(photo by Pete Erslev)

Emily P. enjoying Little Moab
(photo by Pete Erslev)

Sarah too!
(photo by Pete Erslev)

The author takes the hero line at the bottom of Little Moab/Maui.
The first attempt resulted in a ripped elbow and shoulder. Like they
say, "No pain, no gain". Hmm, I think I'm getting too old for this...
(photo by Pete Erslev)

I also have a separate trip report from a few months back where we rode many of the trails due to the suppressed poison oak; although even then, I still got a pretty good case of it. The write-up for that ride can be found here.

Falls Creek:
After we finished up at Syncline, we headed towards our next destination, Falls Creek Trail. To get to it, we drove west along the Columbia River (on the Washington side) until we came to a the Wind River drainage, where we headed north into (and past) the town of Carson. I have actually been to this area many times to run both the Upper and Lower runs of the Wind, as well as Panther Creek. All of them offer great whitewater in a lush forested setting. However, this time I was back again for mountain biking, and on another one of my favorite trails in the PNW. The riding actually reminds me quite a bit of Flagstaff due to its random technical bits, something we really lack in the Willamette Valley, where almost everything is fast and flowy.
Once we had dropped off the car at the lower Falls Creek trailhead, we headed further up Wind River Road, which winds steeply up to Old Man Pass, where we would start our ride. I certainly wouldn't recommend using this road as a loop option since it has lots of blind corners and a minimal shoulder. If you feel the need for more climbing than shuttling will provide, it's probably best to do it as an out-and-back.

From Old Man Pass, we rode a 1 to 2 mile stretch of relatively flat single track (tr. 150) to where it ended at a dirt road (#3053). From here, we turned right and climbed up the road until it made a sharp right (after ~1.5 miles) and the singletrack started straight out in front of us. We then began our climb up the trail which went for ~3 miles before hitting a paved road. The climb wasn't too bad, and is somewhat reminiscent of the climb we did the day before to access Fifteenmile Creek, before getting turned back by blow-down. That said, my legs felt like jello as I tried to keep up with Coonabomber, who was climbing like a mountain goat. At one point EGP exclaimed "I want what she's eating!". Luckily I was able to make it to the top of the hill without too much pain, and after regathering we headed to the right, down the paved road to Falls Creek Horse Camp, which marks the start of the epic downhill.

The first half of the descent is actually my favorite as it provides the most technical sections, which is what I crave; it actually reminds me of creekboating and vice-versa, which I've also heard from other folks that kayak as well.
This section also has some tight twisty spots and every once in a while you come to the top of a rise and find a nice rock garden on the other side to weave through at high speed.

Team ESE Riders rips down a technical chute

Coonabomber getting technical on Falls Creek

Sarah and Monkey take the left line

Pete gets some air (hard to see in this picture)
just before dropping into the technical stretch

Everyone in the group seemed to really enjoy the downhill as I heard some hootin' & hollerin', especially from the gals. I'd been talking this trail up to Emily for some time now, and was glad to be there for her first time down it. On the way down, we also found a couple of puddles that we needed to ride through (some verging on lakes), of which Pete got some nice action shots.

Sarah makes a splash for the camera
with Coonabomber in hot pursuit
(photo by Pete Erslev)

The author making a splash of his own
(photo by Pete Erslev)

At one particularly large water crossing, I was one of the first ones through, so I decided to try and get out ahead to take some shots once again. I actually had a spot picked out at a nice technical drop that deposits you at a crude camping spot beside a small waterfall on Falls Creek. I ended up misjudging how far away this spot was and tired myself out pretty good trying to get to it quickly. It ended up that I had allowed plenty of time and was able to snap a couple nice ones, including one of the small waterfall.

Emily C. takes the left line at this fun drop

Her hubby Arthur opts for the center chute

The waterfall on Falls Creek, right next to the drop shown above

From this point the trail starts to climb again with a nice steep bit (with some rock obstacles) toward the beginning; I was pretty stoked I was able to clean it.
The climb doesn't last too long, and puts you at the edge of a cliff-band (via a short side trail) with an obstructed view of some large cascading waterfalls that drop into the canyon below. One thing that becomes clear from the viewpoint is that you're about to lose some serious elevation. The downhill from here can best be described as a high speed roller-coaster ride. It should be noted that there is a large population of hikers that use this portion of the trail to share the same view you just enjoyed. That said, it would be very easy for your speed to get out of control on this section, so carrying your speed through blind corners is not recommended. We passed by a few groups and had pleasant encounters with all of them; I'm sure this is due in part because we scrubbed our speed where necessary.
When we got to the parking lot were the car was, everyone had a huge smile on their face and talked about what a great descent it was. My top speed was somewhere in the 30s according to my GPS.

At this point, the girls decided it was time for the boys to do their part in rounding up the cars, since the girls had run the back-shuttle yesterday. Without argument, Pete, Arthur and I headed back up Wind River Road to pick up the other cars. On the way, I commented on how great the weekend had been and how I was looking forward to the rest of the mountain biking season, which for me was just starting.

As soon as we returned, we loaded up and started the search for some much needed calories. The plan was to hit Walking Man Brewing in Stevenson, WA. Unfortunately, when we got there the place was packed, and they didn't really have any order for who would be seated next. It was basically a first-come, first-serve basis, with no one really knowing who was there first. We decided to skip the confusion and potential drama, and walked up a couple of blocks to a small Mexican food restaurant/bar. I don't remember the name of the place, but I'm sure there are only one or two in this small town. I must say that I wasn't impressed with the service or the food, and will probably never return. Even with that, it was a great weekend from start to finish, and I'm already looking forward to the next one.

The following is the head-cam footage of our ride down Syncline:

A ride down Syncline from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

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