Monday, October 15, 2012

Chucksney Mountain Trail (10.12)

Ever since I had read about Chucksney Mountain trail in the Lane County Mountain Bike Ride Guide, I was itchin' to get on it, and that was nearly 10 years ago. Of course with gobs of great/easily accessible trails around the area it somewhat fell off the radar, and frankly, it's always difficult to find people that are willing to take a risk on exploring a relatively obscure trail. For me, as with whitewater kayaking, this is one of my favorite parts of the sport, I just really enjoy the adventure side of it.

Fast forward to present day, I had gotten word/read that another crew had just ridden Box Canyon/Chucksney Mountain and had a great time. That was it, it was time to make it a priority. With that, I talked Emily into it, and together we tried to rally some troops. With little to no response (not surprisingly), we figured it would be a party of two. The plan (from our limited research) was to park/start at the bottom of Box Canyon trail, and use that along with Grasshopper Mountain trail and Chucksney Mountain trail to form a lollypop trail route.

The Ride

Knowing that the trail wasn't ridden very often we assumed it would be a little slower going than one that was routinely brushed and bedded down. Therefore we wanted to get an early-ish start, but that was not to be the case, and we didn't make it to the trailhead until ~12:30pm. We were pretty confident that we could finish before it started getting too dark, but at the same time we wanted to a have a little extra time in case we had any issues (e.g. mechanicals/injury). We quickly got changed into our gear and prepared for our ride. Since I wanted to do a photo-rich ride report, I planned to bring my DSLR, carrying it via my chest mount camera pouch. Unfortunately I forgot the harness part of it, so I had to fashion one out of a webbing style cam-strap -- It actually worked pretty good, and might just be more comfortable than the real one.

Once we were suited up, we hit the trail. Speaking of up, that was the story of the first half of the ride -- climbing ~2,800 vertical feet in 6 miles (all on singletrack), and it never really lets up. As we made our way up Box Canyon, our assumptions about the trail condition were fairly accurate. It was not too overgrown, but the surface was mainly comprised of pine needles/cones. Along the way we encountered a few switchbacks and some long traverses. The trail eventually entered the Box Canyon Creek drainage where it paralleled it for a little bit. I was hoping to get a better peek of the creek itself, but it was pretty far down from the benched in trail and the view was also obscured by trees. Toward the end of the Box Canyon trail, it did finally drop down and cross over the creek. On the other side, the trail climbed in earnest up to the start of the Grasshopper Mountain trail, requiring a bit of hike-a-bike.

Gettin' mentally pumped for the climb

Starting it off

Emily rides along Box Canyon Creek

Some sloppiness 

The steep hike-a-bike up to Grasshopper Mountain trail

As soon as we did reach the Grasshopper trail, we made a left and continued up. Very quickly we reached another trail intersection, with the Chucksney Mountain trail heading off to the right in a northerly direction. Since we were doing the ride in a clockwise direction we went left, continuing along the Grasshopper trail. We crossed over Box Canyon Creek one more time before the trail started to climb up the slope and away from the creek.

Emily starts the climb out of Box Canyon

Taking in some sun rays

Somewhere on Grasshopper Mountain trail

Emily enjoying the cool mountain air

The climb from here had minimal switchbacks and headed up at a fairly sustained pitch. The higher we climbed the more it felt like fall, with the foliage turning more and more yellow and the temps getting a bit cooler. Although it was not overly steep, it was still a tough climb, mainly due to the trail surface -- it was just hard to keep a steady pace with all the dabs and short walks. What this did allow for was lots of photos, much to Emily's chagrin. Along with the tough climbing conditions and my incessant need for a camera subject, she also hadn't brought her music/headphones, which she's used to climbing with. The combination of these things eventually pushed her to the breaking point, which happened as I was taking photos of her while she was struggling on a steep climb (as well as having some branches jam into her drive train). Needless to say the next part of the ride was a little bit lonelier for me.

The forest starting to change a bit

Lots of Old Man's Beard

Em finds a small alpine meadow

The climb I probably should have refrained from taking photos on

"Hey, do you mind if I take photos of you while you pull debris out of your drive-train?"

Before long the sun started to peek through the trees and we reached some sections of Beargrass, which I really like for some reason. Both indicated we were near the summit of our climb, and sure enough we soon reached another intersection, this time with Chucksney Mountain trail. We took a right onto the trail, which would traverse along a ridge to ol' Chucksney himself.


The final pitch to Chucksney Mountain trail

Emily confirms our coordinates at the intersection

We had one more short pitch before the trail flattened out and traversed along the knife edge. Then the environment changed from a forest setting to a burn section, opening up to one of the coolest mountain views I've seen in Oregon. As decimating as a fire can be, it also brings a whole different beauty, as the forest starts the regrowth process. The slope coming off the ridge was blanketed in a tan colored grass, with some sparse wildflowers scattered throughout. The burnt/weathered trees had a white/silver skin and contrasted beautifully against the dormant grass.

Starting the traverse

Emily continuing along the ridge-top toward Chucksney Mountain

More Beargrass!

Emily takes in the view at the start of the burn section

Another kind of beauty

On the other end of the ridge, we a found a panoramic view that was better than we had hoped for -- looking east, there was quite a view of the Three Sisters. The visibility was actually much clearer than I was expecting. I assumed it would be greatly obstructed by smoke from the Pole Creek Fire, which has scorched tens of thousands of acres along the eastern foothills of the Sisters. Another thing we found at the viewpoint was a memorial plaque for one Michael Wayne Prechel. A quick search on the internet turned up a big goose egg -- who knows, maybe he just liked this vista and wanted his ashes scattered from it.

Who knew that Chucksney was so bald!

Emily grabs a snack at the view point

The Sisters (looking east)

The view to the west

A fitting place for a memorial plaque

Once we had taken in the view and a quick break, we saddled back up and got ready for what we had come for, riding our bikes down a mountain at a high rate of speed, with a smidgen of reckless endangerment to ourselves. As we dipped into the woods the trail surface started out a bit rough, with loose sections and trail obstacles that required some attention. It was now late afternoon, making the forest feel pretty dark. Even so, occasionally the light would peek through the trees, producing some pretty nice lighting effects.

On the trail again

Emily heads out of the light, just down from the ridge

One thing I was a little surprised about was how fast the trail became, once we had dropped down from the ridge a bit. Since there were minimal switchbacks and relatively long side hill traverses, you could build up quite a bit of speed. Furthermore, the trail was smoother than I had expected, from reading the Lane County Ride Guide, which stated that the technicality was "Extreme” -- I'm sure that some of this had to do with the fully rigid bikes everyone rode back then. Due to the low light and based on how fun the trail was to rail, I didn’t take too many photos on the way down, which I’m sure Emily was just fine with… There was one short climb in the middle of the downhill that my legs weren’t quite ready for. On the other side of this short ascent, the trail headed back down again with more fast/flowy stretches.

Em finds some speed as the trail opens up a bit

Continuing the descent

Emily at one of the small stream crossings

Finding some patches of light

Emily heads down one of the long traverses toward the end of Chucksney Mtn trail

Before long, we reached the end of the Chucksney Mountain trail, teeing back into the Grasshopper Mountain trail. Now back in familiar territory we traveled the short distance to the Box Canyon trail, which we’d headed down the final two miles on back to the car, completing the lollipop. As always, the descent was much more fun than the climb on this one, and we only stopped briefly here and there for me to take a few more pics before it was all over.

Em rounds a switchback on the Box Canyon trail

Chasing sunlight

Rounding one of last few turns

Finishing up a great day of riding!

Well I was finally able to check this one off the list. I must say that I really liked this ride, although I’m not sure I’d call it a classic. I actually like the more adventure-style rides and getting off the beaten path a bit, which this ride certainly provides; however, most folks I know would rather hit one of the more well-known/bedded down trails. The views and the downhill were amazing, but the climb was a bit of a bitch, mainly because it was hard to stay in the pedals during a good portion of it. That said, and in contrast to a mind numbing gravel road, the trail ascends through an amazing forest setting, you'll just need to go into it with the right frame of mind and not plan on hammering out the climb. All that said, I could certainly see myself doing this as a once a year type of ride.

The tracks from our ride:

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy reading your riding adventures! My husband and I prefer adventure-style trails too so your posts give us ideas of trails to ride in the future (the next time we are in the Oakridge/MacKenzie River area).