Thursday, August 19, 2010

Maiden Peak Trail (8.15.10)

After picking up the Oakridge area Adventure Map at Mountain Biking Oregon (MBO), I studied the area to look for new rides or ones I had not done before. My eye was immediately drawn to Maiden Peak, and after reading the description, which stated it had one of the best views and descents in the area, I wondered why I had not heard or thought of it as a ride option. After searching online posts and writing my own on MTBR, information started trickling in. Verification of the view and downhill, along with talk of mosquito swarms and ridiculously steep climbs, only increased my interest. I soon started pitching the idea of riding it to Emily, my wife. Not one to turn down a new ride, she agreed we definitely should try it, and it was just a matter of when. Based on advice, we decided to wait a little while to let the skeeters die down, as well as ensure we wouldn’t run into snow, since it tops out at 7,800’.

The Ride - Maiden Peak Trail

It was now mid-August, and although the bug threat was still there, temps were forecasted for the mid-90’s in the valley, so a high elevation ride might be a great way to escape the heat. Emily had been in contact with our friends Brad and Michelle who were also interested in a ride. Since I had planned to do The Truss on Saturday and Emily was dropping her brother off at the airport, we set the double-date for Sunday. Saturday’s boating trip turned into quite an adventure as we also decided to run the falls on the Lower Wind and hangout in the hot springs right below them. We also spent a ridiculous amount of time at Walking Man Brewing due to less than stellar wait service. When all was said and done I didn’t get back in town and to bed until 1am; it was going to be a rough ride on Sunday…

The next morning I awoke with sore muscles and the dogs licking my hands and face--time for coffee! Emily wasn’t in the mood to eat a big breakfast so I threw together a quick breakfast burrito with random things from the fridge, and it was surprisingly good. Emily walked the dogs while I prepared the bikes before jumping in the car and joining up with Brad and Michelle. Our meeting time was at 10:30am at the DQ in Pleasant Hill. Once there, we quickly consolidated into Emily’s car and headed east towards Willamette Pass. We quickly drove through Oakridge and started heading up the mountain pass, which turned into a verbal bitchfest as we found ourselves behind one slow car after another with little option for passing. In the end it was hard to complain too much, since we had bright sunny skies and it really is a beautiful drive. Before reaching the Willamette Pass Ski resort we made a left at the turnoff for Gold Lake; after about two miles of gravel road we found the trailhead for our ride on the right. We all changed into our gear while I also setup my GPS and new camera, which only encouraged heckling from Em who was anxious to start riding. After convincing everyone to let me take a group shot, we started the climb.

Group photo at the trailhead (Michelle, Emily, and Brad)

The temps were very pleasant, probably in the mid 70s, which made me feel good about our ride selection for the day; however, the high elevation not only gave us great riding weather, it also put a hurtin' on lung capacity and I found myself breathing heavy early on. Another thing that became apparent was the compete lack of mosquitoes that everyone had warned me about. I assume it was because of the extremely dry conditions which also made the trail a little dusty in spots. Both Brad and Emily climbed with authority while Michelle and I climbed at a more leisurely pace enjoying the high alpine forest. We soon regrouped at a small stream crossing and took a short breather before continuing on. The trail actually reminded me a lot of The Twins, which makes sense since it's in the same area and around the same elevation. This was verified by Emily who made the same comment.

Michelle on the first part of the climb

Brad makes the stream crossing

Emily rides away from the stream after a quick break

From here, the climb steepened up a bit and there were actually a couple of short sections that required me to do a little pushing off my bike. Being at different fitness levels, we would spread out and regroup from time to time, which is helpful for me, for being alone kills some of the motivation to power up the really steep pitches. Once past the PCT intersection, the trail really increased in gradient and I found myself hike-a-biking more and more the higher I climbed. It's pretty amazing, with almost 3,000' feet of climbing there isn't a single true switchback, it essentially goes straight up with only soft turns in the trail. Just as I was starting to think that the climbing would never let up, I came to a clearing which offered a fantastic view of Diamond Peak. I figured this was a good place to take another breather and also take some photos of the crew as they passed by with Diamond in the background.

One of the first hike-a-bike pitches.
This photo doesn't do the steepness justice.

Brad continues the climb

and climbs...

Emily enters a small meadow during the climb

Gettin' close! Emily with Diamond Peak in the background.

Brad inches closer to the summit

Luckily, this location also marked the final pitch of the ascent, and after a short bit all of us but Brad ditched our bikes and hiked the last portion to the top. Just before the summit the trail makes a hard right-hand bend and opens up to one of the most spectacular panoramic views I’ve ever seen. Looking north, you see Waldo Lake, The Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, and many other smaller mountains and lakes. Of course we couldn’t resist stopping for a couple of photo-ops before continuing on. Just past this, and at the summit, we had a 360 degree unobstructed view of the area, since there were only small and sparse trees to contend with. The view to the south included Odell Lake, Diamond Peak, Mt. Thielsen, and Mt. McLaughlin, and all were clearly visible. After spending 15 or so minutes to take in our surroundings and grab a snack, we made our way back down the trail to our bikes.

Em and I pose in front of the
southern view near the summit
(photo by Brad Bassi)

Michelle and Brad get their couples shot as well

Emily and Brad take in the view

A view of Waldo Lake near the summit

Looking North from the summit. Odell Lake,
Mt. Thielsen, and Mt. McLaughlin are visible.

Diamond peak in the background and
Willamette Pass Ski Resort in the foreground

It was time for all of our hard work to pay off and the fun to begin (not that climbing wasn’t fun, but…). After strapping on the helmet, lowering the seat, and setting the rear shock to fully open, I dropped into the descent. It was agreed that I would ride out in front and setup for some photos at the best obstacles I could find; although after I started I didn’t want to stop, the flow was of the trail was amazing! I soon came to a rocky pitch that made for a good photo op, so I jumped off my bike and grabbed for the camera. No sooner had I pulled it out of my Feedbag did Emily come blasting through with a big smile on her face; obviously she was enjoying it as well.

Emily drops down one of the few
technical section during the descent

Emily enjoying one of the high speed sections

On the way up, I had kept my eye out for jumps and log rides, of which there were quite a few. Knowing this, I told Emily to give me enough of a head start to setup for some more photos at a couple of them, to which she graciously agreed. No sooner did I start getting into another rhythm did I find a fun little kicker formed by a propped up piece of wood, super fun at speed. Soon Em showed up, and she agreed to take a couple shots while I rode it again.

The author hits the small log jump
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Brad and Michelle soon arrived, and we all raved about how great the trail and the flow were. I once again took off, looking for more fun things to play on. Next up was a little log ride with a great manual drop for an exit.

The author drops off one of the fun log rides
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Off again. This time I stopped at a couple of back-to-back ramps that were once again formed by propped up pieces of logs. The first was bigger and a little springy, which allowed you to get quite a bit of lift. Since I came off with some good speed I had to line up quickly for the second. Great stuff!

The author on the first jump of the two...
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

...and the second
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

EGP gets some air on the second jump

The logs and jumps are certainly not the only good aspects to the downhill. Since there is a complete lack of switchbacks, the trail weaves back and forth as it makes its way down the mountain. This allows you to build up some serious speed, especially since the forest is more wide open than the lower elevation rides in the Oakridge area, and this gives you plenty of visible trail in front of you. Here are some shots of the in-between stuff which is pretty typical of the trail:

Michelle and Brad are all smiles and lovin' the downhill

Michelle still enjoying it

Emily too!

Emily builds up speed on some of the typical turns

We once again found ourselves at the small creek crossing toward the bottom of the mountain, so we knew that the epic downhill was coming to an end. I decided that I still needed to conquer one more obstacle, a small narrow log over the creek. The entrance was a little tricky since you couldn’t ride straight into it, and instead had to turn a soft corner beforehand. After sizing it up, I got back on my bike to give it a go. As I came onto the log I felt I was a little far to the left but was able to ride it all the way across before being stopped by a tree on the other side. Wanting to completely clean it, I hiked back to do it again. This time I failed miserably and my wheel fell off the right side, sending me over the bars and planting my chest into the log in front of me. It was quite dramatic and unfortunately the camera ran out of memory right before the crash, I swear! Luckily, no real damage was done to either me or my bike, but I still decided to take it easy for the remainder of the trail, which wasn’t far.

My first attempt at the log over the steam
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Now back at the car, we reflected on the ride and once again talked about how we can’t believe we’d never done it before. Typically I prefer more technical riding, but even with that, I would consider this to be one of my favorite downhills in the Oakridge area, if not the whole Pacific Northwest. The climb is a complete bitch and a bit humbling, but it’s fairly short (~5 ½ miles) and the downhill is soooo worth it! On the way home, we stopped at The Trailhead Cafe, for a beer and a bite to eat.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Alpine Trail with a Bro (8.8.10)

I’ve ridden the Alpine Trail in Oakridge probably more times than I can count, but this time was different, for it was the first time I got to lay down some tread with Jon, my brother in-law!

Jon had come up from Flagstaff to spend some much needed time with Emily and me. As some of you may know, Flagstaff is my hometown and where I first learned to mountain bike more than 15 years ago. I still consider the Schultz Creek/Elden trail system one of my favorite riding areas, and it is where I cut my teeth. I often catch myself longing for the more technical style trails that I used to ride with my buddies in Flag. Jon’s plane flew into Eugene on Saturday evening and we would waste no time getting him on the trails of the Pacific Northwest. The first ride, and only one I attended (due to work), was Alpine, which was scheduled for Sunday.

After cooking up our normal Sunday pancake feast, we headed southeast towards one of Oregon’s mountain biking meccas, Oakridge. We were also joined by one of my most reliable kayaking buddies, Roman, who I drove up with in his car so we could shuttle. I usually feel a little guilty about shuttling, but this trip was all about showing Jon what Oakridge was all about: long, fast, and swoopy downhills. Alpine is considered the crown jewel of the area, and a must for anyone who has come to visit. Even though it’s a shuttle, it is worth noting that there is a fair bit of climbing involved, so bringing a big-hit bike might be a bad decision depending on your fitness level and will to climb.

Packed up and ready to shred!
(photo by Jon Gustafson)

After dropping Roman’s car off at the red covered bridge in Westfir, we drove uphill towards our trailhead, Kate’s Cut-in. The first bit of the ride consists of a climb up to Sourgrass Meadow, and includes a mile or so on the gravel road before you reach the actual trail. We all made good time up the hill with both Jon and Roman mashin’ up on singlespeeds. Once at the meadow, we paused to take in the view which was partially obstructed by some low clouds. From here it’s a screaming downhill for a couple of miles down which ends abruptly at FR1912, the same gravel road you drive on to get to Kate’s Cut-in.

View of the Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor at the start of the ride

Team Alpine (Jon, Emily, me, and Roman)

Jon and Emily stop for a photo-op halfway up the first climb

Emily leads the crew through Sourgrass Meadow

Roman feelin' peaceful on top of Sourgrass Meadow

Leaving the meadow

From here it’s another grunt up to the top of the Jedi section, one of the most beloved stretches of the trail. The name is pretty fitting as you feel like you’re riding a speeder bike through the forests of Endor, swooping in and out of massive trees at warp speed. This section also ends abruptly, this time at the gravel intersection of Windy Pass. I was glad to see a big smile on Jon’s face, signifying his approval of what our state had to offer him.

Emily pilots down the the Jedi stretch

Roman in quick pursuit on the Jedi

Followed quickly by Jon

After a short ride on the gravel road, we once again ducked onto the trail and attacked the third climb of the ride. This one keeps a nice sustained pitch all the way up to a spectacular panoramic view from the cliffs that open up to the south. From this viewpoint, if you look to the east you can see the Three Sisters and Mount Bachelor, and to the southeast, Diamond Peak. With such a backdrop we decided that this was a great place to relax and grab a bite to eat, some good ol' PB&Js which Jon had prepared for us.

Riding the gravel road between Windy Pass and the third climb
(photo by Jon Gustafson)

Emily showing us the way on the climb to the viewpoint
(photo by Jon Gustafson)

A southern looking view of Diamond Peak from the viewpoint

The crew enjoys some lunch while taking in the view

Jon, Emily, and Roman ham it up for the camera

Em and Jon. In case you can't tell, they're related...

Once past the overlook, it's pretty much all downhill which lasts for many miles; there are a couple of small pitches but nothing too significant. A lot of the riding from here is a straight trail along a ridge, and this allows the opportunity to reach breakneck speeds which border on exhilarating and frightening at the same time. If you’re not used to this style of riding you’re probably gonna heat up your rotors and have sore brake hands by the time you reach the bottom. That said, not all of the riding consists of straight shots, for there are also some great switchbacks and other obstacles to practice on. We all took turns leading and changing the order up a bit, and staying in a tight formation at times. I was really impressed with Jon's endurance and speed, he obviously keeps in riding condition, probably using the same trails that I used to call my own. All too soon, we came to the last part of the trail, which gives some good views of Oakridge as you ride east back to the car. Make sure to keep your eyes on the trail however, since poison oak abounds on this stretch and a crash could have lingering effects of the oozy kind.

Emily rockin' one of the many fun switchbacks

Jon finishing up the same switchie

Em cruizin' on one of the ridge sections

Jon makes his way toward another great viewpoint

Roman rides past another great view

A view of Oakridge near the end of the trail.
This is right before the poison oak section starts.

Luckily we were all able to keep it on the trail, and once back at the car we celebrated with some beers at the covered picnic tables. After we had cooled down a bit, Roman and I drove back up to grab the other car, which always seems to take longer than I remembered. Once we had retrieved the vehicle, we headed to the Trailhead Cafe in Oakridge, one of my favorite places to grab a sandwich and a beer. It was great getting to ride with Jon, and I only wish I could have joined them for the rest of the week's rides, which were said to be just as enjoyable.

Brother and Sister relaxing after a great ride on Alpine!

Until the next visit…