Thursday, April 30, 2015

Cline Butte (OR)

After reading about Cline Butte earlier this year, while researching trails to ride near Bend (OR), I knew I wanted to check it out. From what I could discern, it was a rather short climb to the top of the Butte, with two main trail options to descend on, Trail #1 and Trail #2 respectively. Supposedly, both trails provided a steep technical challenge with #1 being the easier route and everything being rollable. On the other hand, #2 was quite a step up in difficulty and known for forcing riders into doing more hiking than actual biking, with a few drops requiring mandatory air. Naturally, #2 was the one that actually intrigued me the most – not because I like to huck big shit but rather I always enjoy an adventure and the problem solving that usually goes along with them, even if it means lots of hiking. Regardless of which trail you choose to descend, one loop would only be about 3 ½ miles long with ~900’ of climbing, which was not really worth driving all the way from Eugene for, assuming it was the only thing you were planning to ride. That said, there is supposedly a XC trail that circumnavigates the Butte, which could be used to extend the ride.

Fast forward to late April and the Disciples of Dirt's Spring Barbie Camp 2015. After finishing up a super fun shuttle ride on Trail 99 (through both snow and sun) , Jason Snook and I were looking to get in a little bit more riding. Of course we could have spun up some more miles on the Peterson Ridge Trail network, but both of us were looking for something with a little more bite, either in the form of technical riding or a steep descent. With Cline Butte still in the back of my mind, I suggested it as one possible option, which he instantly agreed to. We pulled out the map and laid it across the hood of my car to determine the best way to get there, since neither of us had been there before. The directions looked pretty straightforward and I guessed it was only about 20 minutes away from our camp (near Sisters). With the plan set we loaded up the Forester with our biking gear & my dog Grace and headed out.

Navigating to Cline Butte went smoothly, although the gravel road up to Cline Butte is not very well marked and can certainly sneak up on you. We found the route without too much trouble and just a little way up the gavel road we parked the car into a pullout on the right side of the road. Our original plan was to get in two laps and decide which trail to descend on once we had reached the summit. Both my legs and lungs were feeling pretty tired right out of the gate and the beer that I had in camp certainly wasn’t helping me get up the hill. I was glad that Jason was also feeling less than 100%, since it was going to be a pretty slow grind for me. Grace on the other hand was well rested and seemed completely unaffected by the climb, seeming bored from time to time along the way. The road itself ascended at a pretty reasonable grade but it did have a couple of steep pitches and the surface was heavily washboarded. We eventually reached the spur road that would take us around the north side of the summit and to the start of the descent. It looked like you could also keep climbing up the road to a gate and then follow the fence line to the trail, but that seemed like the long way to go about getting there. We wrapped around the backside until we reached a clearing that had a few large boulders resting in the middle of it, which looked somewhat out of place.

Jason starts the short climb to the top of Cline Butte

Great views of the Sisters along the way

and Black Butte!

Jason and Grace, about halfway up.

The rocks that mark the start of the descent(s)

It was now time to decide what trail to ride down on. I quickly pulled out an aerial image from my Camelbak which I had printed from Google Maps to help locate the trails. It didn't take us long to find Trail #2 (the harder option), which started right at the fence line. We took a few minutes to assess the entrance drop and determined that we’d go for it, knowing that we might end up walking some of the drops lower down. We also planned for a fairly slow pace, with plenty of scouting and shooting photos. The entrance itself drops off or over a large boulder, depending on which line you choose -- The left line had mandatory air and the right was easily rollable. I offered to go first and ran it center, which was pretty steep but still rollable. All went well, but the run out was definitely loose and required some delicate braking to stay in control. Now below the drop, I quickly pulled out my camera and grabbed some shots of Jason coming through, who also had a clean line.

Jason finds Trail #2, right off the fence line.

The author drops down the entrance to #2, while Grace looks on.
(photo by Jason Snook)

Jason takes his turn

Rounding the corner, just down from the entrance

The next major drop we came to definitely had a hero line, with mandatory air and another loose run-out that led directly into another small drop. Luckily this one had an alternate line, which wrapped around steeply to the right of it. The big boy (or girl) line would send you off a ~6’ drop that had me felling pretty inadequate in both gear and skillset. Both Jason and I had wisely chose the ride-around, but even then, the loose trail surface proved to be a challenge.

Jason takes the safe line around the second major drop.
Note the main line, which is the rock drop between the trees.

The loose run-out to the drop that's shown in the photo above

The rest of Trail #2 alternated between steep loose sections and technical rock drops, with minimal spots to relax and regain composure on. We essentially scouted every major drop on the way down, taking a few minutes to pick out a line or deciding if we even wanted to ride it. Most of the drops had at least one line that was rollable, with the main challenge being the steep/loose trail surface, either leading into or out of it. Of course there were a few that did require some air under one or both tires, but luckily they were fairly easy to walk.

Great views on the way down too!

A downed juniper, which now doubles as a technical trail feature.

The author, partway down one of the bigger drops of the trail.
(photo by Jason Snook)

Easy does it
(photo by Jason Snook)

Jason, doing his darnedest to ride not slide.

The author enters another steep one
(photo by Jason Snook)

One of a few steep switchbacks along the way

One of the easier drops

Kickin' up dust, but not on purpose...

Jason, safely below one of the chunkier drops. The bottom step on this one was
not rollable and it would have been tricky to get your wheel up -- we both walked it...

Snook finds a mellow bit to relax on

Shreddin' the draw

Jason exits the crux section

Pretty easy going from this point on

About ½ mile from where we started the descent, we exited the small draw that Trail #2 had ridden along, which signaled the end of the hard stuff. As we passed by the intersection with Trail #1, it continued down the hill at a much smoother and gentler grade. There were a few dirt jumps in this section that had quite a bit of upward kick to them and fairly flat landings, which aren’t really my cup of tea – to each their own, I guess…

Takin' it home, below the confluence with Trail #1.

Getting back to the car was not as straightforward as finding the start of the trail, as we alternated between doubletrack and singletrack while trying to find our way. Since we knew the general direction of where we needed to go, we eventually got there, with very little backtracking. Back at where we had parked the car, neither of us had the energy nor the enthusiasm to ride back up to the top for another loop, as we had initially planned for. Furthermore, we wanted to get back to camp before it got too late and although I was really curious about Trail #1, sitting around and drinking free beer with friends seemed like a good contingency prize.

Good folks and big fire!

The following day we got in another group ride at Smith Rock, which is highly recommended, even if for the scenery alone. After that ride, Emily offered to shuttle me to the top of Cline Butte, since it was on the way home and it would allow Grace to tag along and stretch her four legs. Once she had dropped us off about as far up the road as you can, Grace and I set out to discover what this other trail was all about. Like trail #2 it started in the same general area and traveled in a southeasterly direction. However, instead of dropping into the wash, it zig-zagged down the hillside just to the east of it. Just as the descriptions I read had suggested, Trail #1 was also steep and technical, but not as difficult and everything was rollable. Even riding solo, I rode everything on the trail and never felt that I was putting myself in undue danger. Furthermore, if I hadn't stopped multiple times to take photos or corral the dog, I probably could have bombed the trail in less than 5 minutes – although it was really short, it was fun while it lasted!

The entrance to Trail #1 

Grace gets out ahead to scout

Typical trail surface on Trail #1

A few banked turns on this one

Some techie stuff as well

One of the steeper/rockier drops on #1

More steeps

A few of the jumps below the intersection with Trail #2

Having cured my curiosity and running some of the pent up energy out of Grace, I loaded my bike back onto the car and we headed back toward the wet side of the Cascades. We did stop in Sisters for some much needed pizza and coffee before driving up and over the pass, which was the perfect way to say goodbye to the dry side.

First impressions:
Cline Butte is a very interesting riding area and I'm glad I finally got in a few miles there. Since I haven't ridden the XC trail(s) that wrap around the base of the butte, I don't feel that I can pass judgment for the network as a whole. That said, and from a strictly DH standpoint, I would say that it might be worth getting in a lap or two if you're already in the area but I certainly wouldn't call it a ride destination; of course it's not sold as that either. In fact, there is very little public information about it. It actually reminds me a bit of Syncline (in the Columbia River Gorge), although not as good. To me the main drawbacks are the shortness of the descents and the extremely loose trail surface. Regarding the latter, I do my best to abide by the "ride don't slide" motto, but even with delicate brake work it was almost impossible not to skid out or kick up dirt from time to time.

From reading the above statement, you would think that I'm completely down on the these trails, however that is certainly not the case -- I think they would be a great local ride option if conditions were favorable (i.e. not too wet or too dry). Also, technically speaking, #2 is the hardest trail I have ridden in the Bend/Sisters area, which I consider a plus, since I actually enjoy riding trails that force me to walk a few of the drops and give you something to work up to. I will say that there are a couple in there that I would probably never ride, at least with my current bike setup. With someone of my DH skill level, you need all the help you can get, and more travel and raked-out front end would certainly help fill in some of my deficiencies. Of course a set of pads might be a wise idea for this area as well...

Tracks from Saturday (Trail #2):

Tracks from Sunday (Trail #1):

Monday, April 27, 2015

Sandy Ridge (OR)

Sandy Ridge is a very popular mountain biking trail network, at least for those that live in the Portland metropolitan area. Living in Eugene, it’s certainly not one of our “go-to” rides, in fact I had not ridden there until this trip. Of course I had heard plenty of good things about it and my lack of riding there was certainly not due to my interest level in doing so. I really just needed to have a good reason to drive the 2.5 hours north-east, and getting to meet up and ride with some old friends provided just the opportunity I was looking for.

Deciding to go north for the weekend, Roman and I left Eugene on Friday morning and planned to meet our buddy Chris at the trailhead, who would be coming from the Portland area. Chris had told us that the trailhead was pretty easy to find, at a large parking area off of Sleepy Hollow Drive. I must say, I was a bit taken back by the amount of bike laden vehicles parked shoulder to shoulder in the parking lot – obviously, a much bigger biking community than you’d find in the south Willamette Valley. The riding weather was perfect, at 70° and sunny, which was unseasonably warm and I’m guessing it helped contribute to the crowded parking lot.

Before long Chris pulled in. After some catching up, we changed into our riding gear and started the climb up Homestead Rd, the main route up the hill to the top of the trail network. As Chris explained, most of the trails (excluding a few of the top ones) are directional and only meant to be ridden downhill. The benefits are that it limits the possibility of a collision with another rider and also provides more solitude along the trails.

The road was paved and had a nice steady grade to it, and felt neither too steep nor too long. The ~3.5 mile climb gained 1,300’ of elevation and took me around 35 minutes to complete. At the top of the road climb we were greeted by a well-built kiosk, complete with a bike rack, seating and a large wall map of the trail system. It was now decision time, and since Chris was the only one who had ridden at Sandy before, he became our de facto trail guide. The plan was to ride up and down a rather short trail called “Rock Drop”, transition onto “Quid Pro Flow”, do an easy climb up “Three Thirty Eight”, and drop down “Two Turntables”, which would lead us back to Homestead Rd, about halfway up the climb. From there we would make a decision on how to continue our ride. With our agenda laid out, we saddled up and headed out.

A map of the Sandy Ridge trail network, which can be found here.

The kiosk, at the top of the road climb

The first half of Rock Drop had us ascending another 100 vertical feet up a fun bit of singletrack. After topping out rather quickly, we reached a small boulder drop, which I can only assume is what gives the trail its name. You can either take the small chute on the left, drop off the main part of the rock down the center, or completely sneak it on the right. I actually did two laps on it, going off the middle of the rock both times. Based on my second line, for which I didn’t get my front wheel up very well, I can say that it’s much more forgiving than it looks… mainly due to the nicely transitioned run out. Just below the rock drop, the trail turns into a flow trail with lots of rolling jumps and banked turns – really fun stuff!

Chris goes for the left line at Rock Drop

The author takes the rock line
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Roman drops down some fun rock stairs, near the start of Rock Drop 

Now on Quid Pro Flow, we had reached the goods – technical rock gardens, which is one of my favorite types of riding! At first, the trail traveled along a jagged rock pathway which did its best to draw out some dabs. Luckily I was able to keep my feet clipped into the pedals, as getting back on in the middle of it would have been rather tricky. After a short bit, the fragmented trail relented to larger and more defined boulder crawling, setting up some fun moves over & around them. Just as I was starting to get into a technical groove, QPF turned back into a flow trail, similar to Rock Drop but with some optional rock kickers to get a boost off of. Eventually, the zig-zaggy bermfest gave way to a rolly traverse, sending us back in an easterly direction.Once we hit the intersection with Three Thirty Eight, we made a right and did a short climb to the start of Two Turntables.

Rock crawling

After dropping over a small rock feature, Two Turntables starts its descent with typical flow trail character. The trail eventually straightened out and turned into a high-speed side-hill traverse. It was pretty easy to hit speeds on the edge of control and I had to force myself to slow down a bit, especially since there were a few sections with some loose dirt and rock. Unlike most of the mixed use trails that I typically ride, the switchbacks along the way were banked and could also be hit with generous speed. With a length of just over a mile long, the descent on Two Turntables ended way too soon, at a bridge that spans Little Joe Creek. Getting onto the bridge provided a fun final challenge, where the trail narrowed and dropped down some wet rock before making a sharp right turn onto the bridge.

Chris finds some flow on Two Turntables

Roman, somewhere on Two Turntables

A rare viewpoint at Sandy Ridge

Unfortunately, since I had jumped out in front to take photos, I didn’t see the spur trial up to the road that we had planned to take. Instead I inadvertently continued down the next trail that it transitioned into, Hide & Seek. After setting up for some photos at a nice little kicker, I waited for Chris and Roman to come through. As rider after rider passed by with no sign of them, I pulled out my map to make sure I hadn’t missed something. Realizing my error, I packed up my gear and started heading back up the trail to where the bridge crossed the creek. As I climbed up Hide & Seek, I definitely got a few “you’re going the wrong way” looks. Once I reached the bridge I found Chris and Roman relaxing at the start of the spur trail, both of whom seemed to enjoy the extra bit of riding I had to put in. Of course that wasn’t the end of it, as I realized I had forgotten my riding glasses, which forced me to make the back & forth detour one more time…

Now that we were finally back at the paved road, we settled back into a climb, headed toward the upper trails once again. This time, after passing the kiosk at the top of the road climb, we made a right onto Follow the Leader, where we continued to ascend. The climb on the dirt singletrack was very manageable, although my legs were definitely starting to feel all of the riding we had already done. At one point the trail crossed over Little Joe Creek (again), only this time without the benefit of a bridge. Luckily the creek wasn’t flowing too heavily and we were able to ride through it along the well armored section of trail.

Armored crossing across Little Joe Creek

Not far after the creek crossing, the trail dropped steeply down the hillside with a couple of rock drops near the start. The first one was pretty straightforward and occurred just after a left-hand bend. The runout from this led directly into the next one, which was a bit more demanding. The line options consisted of 1) a tight / right side sneak line that threaded between a tree and a large boulder, or 2) going off said boulder, which became taller the further left you went. Chris opted for option one and greased it, while I opted for option 2 and didn’t fare so well… Although I don’t remember much from the crash, I do know that as my front wheel landed on the downhill side of the rock, I was pitched over the bars, hit a tree, and somersaulted, using my head as the pivot point. After coming to, I could feel a sharp pain in my neck and I felt a little dizzy. I took a few moments to regain my thoughts and hoped that I hadn’t done any serious damage.

The first drop on Follow the Leader

The author with a bad line on the second drop of Follow the Leader
(photo by Chris Arnold)

Payin' the price
(photo by Chris Arnold)

Once we confirmed that I hadn’t sustained any life-altering injuries, we saddled up and started down the trail once again. As it switchbacked steeply down the side of the hill, I found myself being overly cautious and not wanting to take another header. I will say that aside from the wreck, this section of trail was awesome and I’d love to get back on it with a fresh start.

The next major obstacle we came to was an extremely long and chunky rock field. I did my best to stay in the pedals but ended up having to dab about halfway through. Getting set back up proved more than a little difficult, and I soon found myself pushing my bike in hopes of finding a clear spot to get back on the bike. Once I was able to clip back in, I mashed my way through the rest of it, leaving behind both style & grace.

Roman, partway through the rock field on Follow the Leader

Rough terrain

Right after the rocky section, the trail threw in a couple of small rock jumps before transitioning into Flow Motion, which ended up being a narrow strip of flow trail that zig-zagged its way down the hillside, alternating between short straightaways and tight 180 degree turns. Although it was a fairly short trail at less than a mile long, it was super fun and also allowed me to get back in the groove a bit, after being a bit rattled by my wreck on Follow the Leader. Flow Motion eventually ended at the paved road, just across from the spur trail leading to the halfway point of Hide & Seek, which is the only trail leading back down to the parking lot, where we’d be heading.

Hide & Seek also ended up being another flow trail, although starting off a bit slow and tight before finally opening up into a high speed rollercoaster ride. The trail was built to withstand a lot of traffic, with well armored berms and seemingly good drainage. At one point, I came around a sweeping turn a little too hot and once again deflected off a tree. Luckily I had only shouldered checked it this time and didn’t sustain any injuries. I couldn’t believe it -- before coming to Sandy Ridge, I had never hit a tree while mountain biking, and now I had done it twice in one day! I figured it was probably due to a combination of leftover nerves and a bit of fatigue, so I decided that I really needed to dial it back for the remainder of the ride. Although we had slowed the pace a bit, the trail was still super fun and a great way to end the day. Eventually, the trail deposited us right back at the parking lot and our awaiting cars.

Chris digs into the turn on Hide & Seek 

Roman gives chase

More well armored terrain

Conclusion / First Impressions:
I must say, Sandy Ridge is a shining example of what a mountain bike specific ride area can (and should) be – it is simply fantastic. It has a nice variety of terrain, with trail options for both novice and experienced riders. Probably my favorite parts were the technical sections on both Quid Pro Flow and Follow the Leader, but it was nice to mix it up with the flow style trails as well. I would say that it’s the most well-rounded and complete mountain bike specific trail system in Oregon and I’m excited to see it grow even more. My hope is that cities like Eugene will take note and realize the benefits of such a great recreational opportunity like Sandy Ridge, and that maybe someday we’ll be able to enjoy the same, just outside our back door.

The tracks from our ride: