Friday, September 27, 2013

Fuji Mountain Trail, OR (9.15.13)

Fuji Mountain (OR) had been on my radar for the last few years, ever since I started to do more riding in the Waldo Lake area. I had heard that it was fairly similar to Maiden Peak (on of my favorites), but with about 1,000' less climbing/descending. The opportunity for me to actually get on it came a few weekends ago, after a buddy (Jason Snook), put the ride plan together and sent out the invite. With the ride set for Sunday, I spent Saturday with some friends at Black Rock, while Emily (my wife) raced in the Fat55, taking the top spot in Women's Singlespeed!

On the day of the ride, we met up in Eugene before caravanning to Shadow Bay, at Waldo Lake, where we'd be starting the ride. The weather in Eugene was overcast and ominous, and that, coupled with the thunderstorms that were forecasted for the Waldo area had us wondering what we'd be getting ourselves into, climbing one of the higher peaks in the area. Luckily, near the top of the pass, we broke through the cloud layer and found a plethora of sunshine on the other side. With renewed energy, we turned onto the road into Waldo Lake and drove a few miles to the Shadow Bay recreational area. As we geared up, Emily discovered that she had forgotten a key piece of gear, her front wheel... After receiving some empathy and lighthearted harassment, she succumbed to the inevitable and bid a farewell to her fellow riders.

Under the cloud layer in Lowell

From Shadow Bay, we traveled around the lake in a clockwise direction until we hit the Betty Lake turnoff, where the trail headed up and away from the lake. The Betty Lake trail itself is pretty short, and feels like it gains much more elevation than it actually does, at least to me. It acts as a great warm-up for the ride ahead, and takes you past a couple of alpine lakes, with Betty being the predominant one. At about the 2 ½ mile mark, we hit the paved road, where we quickly crossed over and jumped onto the Bobby Lake Trail. We only rode this trail for a short bit before turning on to one of the best sections of singletrack in the Waldo area, Gold Lake Trail – a fantastic descent with a fairly modest gradient. The great part about it is that you don’t have to ride your brakes or pedal much either; it just has great flow!

Erin Hooten, on the boosters somewhere on Gold Lake Trail

All too soon our descent on Gold Lake came to an end, and we turned right on a short trail that led back up to the paved road. On the other side of the road is where Fuji Mountain Trail started, and I took a second to mentally prepare myself for the grunt to the summit. Since I knew I’d be the slowest ascender in the group, I stayed back and snapped some shots as the others started up the trail, knowing that I probably wouldn’t be seeing them again for a while. The climb itself wasn’t too ridiculous, but I did spend quite a bit of time in my granny gear. As with the other rides in the Waldo area, the scenery consisted of high alpine forest/meadows, which are much dryer and less dense than the lower elevation stuff on the west side of the Cascades. I actually don’t mind riding by myself, as it gives me the opportunity to look around and take it in, which helps distract my attention from my lungs/legs being on fire.

Kim McGovern climbs the spur trail, between
Gold Lake & the start of the Fuji Mtn Trail

Jason Snook, startin' it off!

A typical scene on the lower part of Fuji Mtn Trail

More great scenery

Before long, I reached Birthday Lake, where the others had stopped to eat a snack and wait up for me. To my (our) surprise, Emily had decided to hike the Fuji trail instead of heading back home! After hanging out a bit at the lake, Emily started up the hill on foot, while the rest of us gave her a little head start before heading out ourselves.

Regrouped at Birthday Lake

Birthday Lake

The next section of the trail climbed in fits, with Jason and I leapfrogging with our cameras on the way up. I would try to find a nice setup for a shot, while he would torture me by posting up at the top of various steep pitches, knowing that my pride wouldn’t allow me to step off the pedals; basically, I was expending a lot of energy for the camera, much to Jason’s delight…

Jason heads out from Birthday Lake

Riding past another mountain lake, this time Verde Lake.

Making tracks

The author, about to vomit near the top of a steep pitch
(photo by Jason Snook)

Jason finds an opening

More alpine meadow

We soon reached an intersection, where we hung a right and started up the crux of the climb. The trail eventually steepened to the point that I had to get off and push. In addition to the gradient, the trail became much more technical, becoming a rock garden for a most of the remaining stretch to the summit. At one point along the way, there is an amazing viewpoint (looking west) that would be very hard to miss. Jason, Erin, and I hung out for a little bit to take it in and document it with a few photos. The coolest part was the cloud layer, which sat like a blanket over Oakridge and into the Willamette Valley. It also looked onto Bunchgrass Ridge, were we knew a few friends of ours would probably be, in the middle of their adventure ride, from Bend to Oakridge!

Erin, lookin' fired up for the next section of trail!

The view beyond the trees

A panoramic from the first overlook

A closer view of the cloud layer

From the viewpoint to the top of Fuji was a steep stretch of trail that was marginally rideable, before it finally gave into a rock path that forced us to ditch our bikes off to the side and hike the remainder. At the top we ran into the rest of our crew, including Emily, who had made great time. The view was certainly spectacular, almost 360 degrees, with the only obstruction being some sparse trees to the south/southwest. Once again, the cloud blanket stole the show, as it moved across the landscape in an easterly direction. From the vista, you could see Shadow Bay, where we had started; although it was in the clear, the clouds were quickly closing in, which we knew might put a damper on our post-ride swim at the lake. We actually hung out for quite a while, relaxing and fueling up before the well-earned descent. This is where I started to feel a bit bad for Emily, who’d be on foot…

Jason digs in on the last ridable section of trail to the summit

The view from the top!

Diamond Peak, from the summit of Fuji

Maiden Peak, from the summit of Fuji

Another pano

The gals, taking it in. This is why we love Oregon!

What a view!

Back to our bikes

Back at our bikes we saddled up and dropped into our descent. I blasted out ahead so that I could find a good spot for photos, and as I did, I found myself at the start of technical mountain bike ecstasy -- Well, at least for Oregon! I only traveled a short distance before I pulled over at a switchback with a vista that would act as a great backdrop. As the others came through, I snapped off some shots, before packing back up and giving chase.

Randy Rimby finishes up the first section of the descent

Jason, hot on his heels

Erin, making the turn

Followed by Kim

The next section of trail contained the meat of the technical stuff, and I was happy to eat it up! The trail was fairly narrow, so line choices were limited, but luckily the rock was bedded down pretty well, so rock crawling wasn't too sketchy. Pound for pound, this might just be one of my new favorite sections of trail in Oregon, and I was a little bummed when I reached the end of it, at the trail intersection, where everyone was held up.

Looking back up at one of the amazing technical sections

Once again I jumped out ahead, this time through fast sections of trail, alternating between descents and short climbs. Although I was missing the rocky stuff up top, it was really hard to complain about the trail in front of me, it was just way too flowy and fast! There were also lots of natural kickers to get some air off of -- nothing huge, but enough to put a smile on your face! I only stopped in a few places to take photos, as the trail went by too quickly to be able to continue playing catch up. At least this time, Jason got some photos of me on the descent, in addition to the ones earlier, of me tasting puke while grinding up the climbs.

Jason gets ready for fast & flowy

Randy, enjoying the ride!

Getting up to speed is easy when you have sight-lines like this

Kickin' up dust

The author gets a boost off a small kicker rock
(photo by Jason Snook)

Kim drops into another speedy section

The author, making the turn
(photo by Jason Snook)

Jason, making a mess while coming in for a landing

Randy on the same jump

Kim speeds down another fun section of trail

Jason nears the bottom of the Fuji trail

Before long we hit the road, where we had a decision to make, climb pavement or dirt (Gold Lake Trail), back to Waldo Lake. Everyone decided to take the road, which was fine by me. It didn't take long before I found myself at the back of the pack, as we climbed up the road; every time I looked up from my front tire they seemed to get further and further away. After ~3 1/2 miles and 500' of elevation gain, we made it to the top of the Betty Lake Trail, the last section of singletrack on our ride.

A quick downhill just before the uphill grind

Headed toward Waldo Lake, the trail first heads up a modest/sustained climb past Betty Lake. From there, the descent only lasts a short bit, and the lake comes into view way too soon. Once we hit the lake we made a right and rode about 1/2 mile back to Shadow Bay. Unfortunately the clouds had indeed moved in, squashing our dreams of a post ride swim. As we were getting changed, Emily rolled up in the Subaru, way sooner than we had expected to see her -- Damn, who needs a bike?!

Randy speeds past Betty Lake

Kim too!

Now in our street clothes, we headed to The Brewer's Union, Oakridge's English Pub. The place was packed, but luckily we were able to pull a couple tables together to fit our crew. A burger and beer later, Emily and I headed out, after bidding farewell to our fellow riders.

A well earned reward!

Jason gets ready to enjoy one of the finer things in life

In one word, fantastic! I really liked this ride, in fact, I liked it more than Maiden Peak, and that's saying a lot. It doesn't have as good of a view from the summit, or the elevation drop, but you're also not on the brakes for a good part of the ride, like you are with Maiden. Furthermore, the technical stuff near the top is sweet, especially for Oregon, where it's a bit of a rarity. This trail is just one more feather in the cap for the Waldo area, where you could spend a week just riding the trails. I'll certainly be back for this one!

The tracks from our ride:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Sawtooth Struggle, OR (9.7.13)

Many years ago I was perusing the MTBR Oregon forums and came across a brief write-up and photos of a so-called “Sawtooth Struggle”, which was a combination of both mountain biking and hiking (to a couple of cascade peaks). I knew almost instantly that I wanted to do the ride, but it would be another few years before I actually got on it, and I remember loving every minute of it; Therefore, when another opportunity came around to do the ride again, a few weeks ago, I jumped on without hesitation.

Since Emily and I wouldn’t be camping out the night before, we would need to leave Eugene early to make the meet time at Timpanogas Lake, which is about a two hour drive from Eugene. Although it’s a fairly long drive, it’s plenty scenic, as you essentially drive up the entirety of the MF Willamette drainage – pretty cool in its own right! We reached Timpanogas CG right on time at 10am, but what we hadn’t expected was that everyone would already be geared up and ready to shred. With that being the case, we scrambled to get into our gear quickly so we wouldn’t hold up the ride too much – trust me, with the amount of gear I bring (camera, etc.) this is no easy feat. With barely enough time to apply a coat of Chamois Butt’r, we headed off, rounding the west end of the lake until we found the “Start O' Willamette” trail (TR 3642) , which headed north-east , up and away from the lake. After a ~1 mile grunt, we tee’d into the Windy Pass trail (TR 3643), where we regrouped before continuing on.

Tim "Mudflaps" Kaiser, startin' it off

Perry and Amanda powering up Start O' Willamette

Regathering at the top of the first climb

The trail was now traversing in a southeasterly direction, as we continued to climb, albeit at a lighter grade. At a couple of the tree breaks, you could catch a glimpse of Sawtooth Mountain, which loomed in the distance. Since I had been taking photos on the way up, I found myself near the back of the pack, but soon reached a spot where our group's bikes had been parked, apparently for a quick hike and snack at a view point. Sure enough I became reunited with the crew, who were nestled on a rock pile looking out onto an unobstructed view of Sawtooth.

Emily, still smiling early on

Bridget Hildreth gives chase

A glimpse of Sawtooth through the trees

Bridget takes in the view at an overlook

Paul Timm, doing the same

Vibrant lichen

After about 10 minutes I decided I'd jump ahead and setup for some shots near the junction with the trail that headed up to Cowhorn Mountain, which would be our first hike of the day. It didn’t take long for the crew to show up, and I snapped some pics as they grunted up the ~1/4 mile long section of trail to where it tee’d into the PCT. Since you can’t mountain bike on the PCT, we ditched our bikes and started our hike up to the summit of Cowhorn. It should be noted that after hiking south on the PCT for about ¼ mile, you’ll hang a sharp left, which is the spur trail that actually takes you to the summit.

Climbing the spur trail up toward Cowhorn Mountain

Dog friendly ride!

Kim McGovern heads toward Cowhorn

Emily, working second gear (aka standing) on her SS

About half of our group had brought hiking shoes, which they switched out with their biking shoes for this part of the adventure. The rest of us who either forgot or didn’t bother to bring some, were a bit jealous, as doing technical scrambles in plastic soled shoes can be a little difficult and sketchy; furthermore, by bringing separate hiking shoes, you’ll save your biking ones from a lot of unnecessary wear & tear. The hike itself is about as easy as it gets for one of the Cascade peaks, a short approach and no rope work required, although my lungs were definitely feeling the altitude. As we hiked up the ridge on the south flank of the mountain, we were treated to amazing views all around us, which helped build some motivation to get to the summit. The last pitch to the summit required some work with all four limbs, but we eventually all made it up to the small perch, with an amazing 360 degree panoramic view. With everyone up there it was a little hard to find a comfortable spot to sit without being precariously close to a sheer drop-off. Once we had all gotten our fill of studying the surrounding landscape we started the descent back to where we had parked our bikes.

Destination Cowhorn (in the distance)


Heading up the cinder ridge

Looking south, toward Mt Thielsen

Diamond Peak

Looking west, down the ridge toward Sawtooth

Paul giving a geography lesson 

Not the best footwear for rocky scrambles

Person space was a commodity at the summit

Headed back down


Pointing south

Finding the tree line

Hollow tree

Back at our bikes, we saddled up once again and rode back down to the Windy Pass Trail, where we turned left, heading toward Sawtooth Mountain. The section just after the trail junction was a super fun downhill traverse, on the north side of the ridge connecting Cowhorn and Sawtooth. The fun lasted about a mile and a half before we were forced to climb up and over the ridge to the south side, where more downhill goodness continued. After passing the Indigo Lake Trail on our right, the trail headed down further and through a beautiful meadow, which marked the start of the brutal climb up to Sawtooth.

Back at Windy Pass Trail

Roland Vilett leads the crew down a sweet traverse



Up and over the ridge line

Hidden meadow

The climb up to Sawtooth starts off innocently enough, but it gradually tilts more and more upward until eventually we were all off walking (or carrying) our bikes. At this point we were less than 10 miles into the ride/hike, but I was really feeling it, forcing me to take a few breaks as I continued up the steep benched-in trail, where I quickly found myself at the back of the pack. The section does contain some pretty cool “J” shaped trees, where they grew horizontally for a short bit before turning upwards and into the direction of the sun. The higher we climbed, the steeper it got, until it eventually crested at the top of yet another ridge, where a spur trail headed off to the right toward the summit of Sawtooth.

The "J "trees on the climb up to Sawtooth

Paul reaches the start of the hike-a-bike

More "J" trees

A ways to go...

Nearing the end of the hike-a-bike climb

The climb up Sawtooth was similar to Cowhorn, some technical scrambling, but nothing overly difficult/dangerous. There is one point in the climb that you have to get across a small saddle, but as long as you follow the most worn path, it’s good to go. On the other side of the saddle, we made our way up the path of loose shale to the north side of the mountain, where we ascended to the summit up a short/steep rocky bit. As with Cowhorn, the view was amazing, with Indigo Lake, Timpanogas Lake, and Diamond Peak lining up nicely in front of us. From our perch, we took some time to recharge and eat a quick snack, while taking in the grandeur of our surroundings. You could actually see where we had started the ride, near a little cabin on the northwest corner of Timpanogas Lake – it always gives me a huge sense of accomplishment when I get to see where we started from, at the summit of one of our rides!

Time for another foot hike

Cool rock formations

Ascending toward the first trail obstacle

Which way do we go?!

Sawtooth summit

More cool rock formations

Shale trail

Looking south

Summit #2

Nice line-up

Diamond, from the Sawtooth summit

The Sisters

Timpanogas Lake - where we started!

Cowhorn -- where we once were!

Happy crew

Headed back down

Up & over

This section proved harder going down

Back at our bikes, we continued east on the Windy Pass Trail for about a mile, where we reached the start of the descent down the Sawtooth Trail (TR 3634). The Sawtooth Trail, which would take us back to Timpanogas Lake, started off in earnest, descending down a series of steep/slightly technical pitches – really great stuff if you can stay on the pedals! After the first bit, it quickly mellowed out to a more reasonable gradient, but also mixed in some rocky bits for good measure. Unless you’re really on your game, you’ll probably walk at least a few short stretches in here. Then, as if out of nowhere, the trail seemed to be climbing again in front of us. Since I assumed we’d be heading down the Indigo Lake Trail (as we had the last time I did the Struggle), I didn't anticipate the climb or save a reserve for the obstacle that lay in front of me. Although short, it climbed nearly 300’ in just over a ¼ mile, which was enough to draw out a primal scream, from deep within my lungs. I pretty much had to push my bike for most of it, and even did some shouldering to get up the last section.

Back on our bikes!

Perry, in hot pursuit

Emily, looking relaxed

Kim closes in on the Sawtooth descent

Headed down, in a hurry

One last climb... Ugh

On the other side of the ridge we had another fun descent, which eventually tee’d into the Indigo Lake Trail (TR 3649), just a short distance above Timpanogas Lake. It was here that Emily and I parted ways with our fellow riding companions, who were planning to extend the ride by doing a quick out-n-back up to Indigo Lake – Unfortunately, we had to get back to the dogs, who we’d left at home. The short section of trail that remained between us and our car was wide, flowy, and buffed, which allowed you to gather some serious speed. Back at the car, we were greeted by some folks that had started the ride with us, but had opted for a different route on the second half. We had a beer and some snacks, while changing, before headed back to Eugene, still two hours away.

The Sawtooth Struggle is an awesome biking/hiking adventure! It also seems to draw a great group of folks that just want to go out and have a good time. The vistas from both Cowhorn and Sawtooth are wonderful, giving you a slightly different perspectives of the surrounding landmarks. As for riding surface, the trails are plenty fun, but by no means a classic – of course that’s not why you do this ride, instead you’re doing it for the adventure, which it certainly provides. I must say that physically it’s one of the hardest 15 mile rides I’ve done, and there is definitely a sense of accomplishment when you’re finished. This is a ride I’ll look forward to and hopefully be able to join each year.

The tracks from our ride: