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:

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