Thursday, September 10, 2015

Grasshopper Mountain Trail (OR)


After seeing photos on social media of a trail crew clearing Grasshopper Mountain Trail, I knew that I wanted to get on it before the end of the season. From the photos, it appeared to have the same style of riding as the nearby Chucksney Mountain Trail, with some sections that rode through large grass meadows. Although I had already done the section of Grasshopper between the Chucksney Mountain turnoff and the Box Canyon trail, as a climb (ride report, here), I hadn’t done the upper section of trail that followed along the ridge to the west. From what I could gather, it looked like a real adventure style ride, which happens to be one of my favorite types of riding.

The following weekend, Emily (my wife), floated the idea of doing Grasshopper, which I immediately jumped on. Of course, not everyone likes this style of riding, so I figured that pulling together a crew might require some effort. To my surprise we ended up with a team of 7 willing participants, which included Erin Hooten, Evan Lawrence, Kim McGovern, Randy Rimby, Danika Williams, Emily and me. There was also another crew planning to do it the same day as us, but they were getting an earlier start.

Regarding logistics and according to Derrick Bell, who had led the trail work crew to revitalize the Grasshopper trail, the best way to start the ride was as a shuttle, starting at the west end (by driving up NF-1940 / NF-1929) and ending at the bottom of Box Canyon. Poring over the map of the area, it looked pretty straightforward. From Eugene, we caravanned up Hwy 58 to Westfir. From there, we continued driving up the NFMF Willamette about 30 miles to the lower Box Canyon trailhead. After dropping Erin’s car off, we headed back down the paved road (~ 7 miles) to NF-1940, where we began the long gravel road climb to the Grasshopper Meadows trailhead (#3314).

At the trailhead, we found a few vehicles that were obviously from the first crew that had gotten an earlier start. Once everyone had geared up we started up the crude trail, which quickly began to climb. As we made our way up the hillside, our progress was slow as we alternated between pedaling and pushing our bikes up the steep pitches. Along the way, we were treated to some wide sightlines and amazing views, facilitated by the treeless meadow that we were climbing along. By the time we reached the first trail intersection (with Grasshopper Mountain Trail; #3569), we had climbed about 800 vertical feet in just over a mile – whoa!


"Hey there's a sign... Shoot it!

The trail started off mellow enough

Evan starts up the first meadow

The start of the hike-a-bike

Catching some shade before continuing on

One of the rideable sections of the climb

Setting a pace up the hill

More hike-a-bike near the top of the Grasshopper Meadows Trail

Since we had planned to summit Grasshopper Mountain, we turned left and headed north along the ridge. After riding for another ½” mile or so, we reached an obvious overlook that presented a nice view of the Three Sisters. Unfortunately, the trail did not lead all the way to the summit, so we were forced off of our bikes to bushwhack the remaining 200 vertical feet to the top. Although it was rough going, I do feel like the extra effort was worth it, both for the vista and the sense of accomplishment. Once we were done taking in the view, we hiked back down to our bikes to continue the ride.


Taking a short side trip to Grasshopper Mountain

Amazing panoramic views, early in the ride.

Randy closes in on Grasshopper Mountain, seen in the distance.

Taking in the Three Sisters from the viewpoint

Three Sisters -- not much snow hangin' on.

Hiking (sans bikes) to the summit of Grasshopper Mountain

"Um... Where's the trail?"

We made it! Lola too!

Proof

Now back at the intersection, we continued south on Grasshopper Mountain Trail, where it soon turned to the east and followed along another ridge. From here the trail continued to climb up toward Grasshopper Point, which some in the crew had stopped at to take in the view to the south. Just past this point, the trail dropped steeply and roughly down a few switchbacks which required solid technical skills to ride cleanly. As the trail continued to traverse along the ridge, it alternated between dark forest settings and wide open meadows. It also went through fits of short climbs and descents, which I find to be quite common on ridgeline trails. The meadows provided some more unobstructed views to the south, but the rough trail surface required my full attention, forcing me to put a foot down anytime I wanted to take them in. The trail also led through dense fields of Beargrass, whose dried out stocks smacked into us as we rode past.


Evan starts back south

Lola, in hot pursuit

Randy enters a tricky technical pitch 

Emily rounds the corner, wondering where to go next.

Cruisin' past a small cliff band 

The start of the Beargrass

Typical trail conditions 

Route finding

Kim enters another large meadow

One of the coolest parts of the ride occurred where the trail dropped down a technical rock section and entered a massive meadow. The trail was hard to follow at this point, but luckily the crew before us had tamped down the grass, showing us the general direction of where we needed to go. Of course, what goes down must go up, and we soon found ourselves faced with another climb, through an equally impressive meadow. We did get to enjoy one more descent before the trail again pitched upward, this time in earnest. Over the next mile the trail would climb 700 vertical feet, cresting at the intersection with the Chucksney Mountain Trail (#3306), which headed off in a northerly direction.


Evan, showing Lola the way.

Randy drops down some tech

More expansive sightlines

The mega meadow

Free-ranging mountainbikers
Lovin' it!

An example of the awesome trail work that was done!

Settling in for another climb

Fresh tracks

In and out of meadows was the story of the day

Navigating the walls of Beargrass

Some parts of the trail, like this, were more reminiscent of Oregon singletrack 

Randy just about to start one of the tougher climbs

Making our way up, slow and steady.

Our crew now had a decision to make, continue down Grasshopper or detour onto the Chucksney Mountain Trail. Since I had done both a few times in the past, I knew that Grasshopper was more traveled and probably a better descent. However, I also felt like the Chucksney Mountain option provided better views and more of an adventurous feel, which was the whole purpose of doing this ride, correct?! With that, my vote was for Chucksney, which everyone eventually agreed to.

Since I wanted to grab some more photos, I jumped out ahead of the group so that I could find a good place to set-up. Almost immediately I came face to face with more dense Beargrass, only this time it was much worse than what we had experienced before. As I plowed my way through I was clubbed rapidly and repeatedly by their stalks, filling all of my uncovered orifices with their seeds. The on and off beatings lasted for about a mile until the trail reached another large meadow, this time adorned with silver tree trunks that were the result of a fire.

The summit of Chucksney Mountain was now clearly in view, which the trail itself does not actually climb to. Instead it takes you to a nice vista and eventually drops you down the saddle to the east, starting the descent toward Box Canyon. We decided to hang out at the viewpoint for a bit and relax, since this was one of the main reasons we had decided to come this way. Everyone was pretty tired at this point, so I didn’t dare suggest that we hike up to the summit on Chucksney Mountain. However, the view from our current lookout was unobstructed and gave us little reason to actually make the additional ascent.


Erin, somewhere in the burn section.

Chucksney Mountain comes into view

Chucksney Mountain -- The high point in the background

Rest stop

Taking in another amazing view of The Sisters

Once everyone had a chance to regain some energy, we headed off down the trail and continued our day’s adventure. From this point on we’d be mostly descending, losing about 2700’ in 6 miles. The first part of the descent was rough and fairly overgrown – you really had to go slow and be on the lookout for hidden dangers that were located directly on the trail. Eventually the foliage peeled back a bit and allowed for some higher speeds, but even then you had to be cautious of what lurked just around the corner. At one point the trail gave way to a deep rut that was filled with large / loose boulders, and it was pretty easy to fly into this section unknowingly. There were also a few climbs along the way, with one of them being more substantial than the others. Although it only climbed about 100 vertical feet, I was pretty spent at this point and it certainly felt like more. Before long the climb topped out at a small viewpoint, which once again looked out onto the Three Sisters.

Danika starts the descent, down from the saddle
(photo from a previous trip)

A little overgrown in sections
(photo from a previous trip)

More obscurity

Emily, still in good spirits

Between this viewpoint and Box Canyon, the trail dramatically changed character as it traversed along the hillside along a relatively manicured trail surface. We were now able to open it up a bit, which I’m sure was a relief to the whole crew and probably produced some much needed enthusiasm. All too soon, Chucksney Mountain Trail teed back into the Grasshopper Mountain Trail, where we turned left, and shortly after that, made a right onto the Box Canyon Trail. Immediately, the trail descended steeply down to and across the creek at the bottom of Box Canyon. The last time I had done this trail, there were a couple of logs down, which made it impossible to even attempt cleaning this section. However, this time it was all clear and completely rideable, making for a fun little challenge!


One of a couple of steam crossings on the best descent of the ride.

Lots of sidehill traversing on this section
(photo from a previous trip)

Dropping to the bottom of Box Canyon, steeply.

On the other side of the dry streambed, the trail made a short climb and then started heading down once again. Between here and the end of our ride was a great little descent. We did have to hike around a blowout in the trail at another dry stream crossing, but it was pretty straightforward and we were soon back on track. With the sun starting to dip toward the horizon, we rounded the last few switchbacks and finally reached the car, bringing an end to our ride, which was bittersweet. Since we still had a couple of cars up top, our day wasn’t over. It ended up taking us another hour so just to run the back shuttle and by the time we were done, I was ready for some food and a soft couch.


The blowout that required a hike-around

Emily rounds one of the final turns, at the bottom of the Box Canyon Trail

Conclusion:
This ride is a true adventure, of which I loved almost every aspect. The abundance of views from the many meadow sections is simply amazing and the scale of it is unlike anything else I’ve ridden in Oregon – it’s extremely unique. Even all the steep hike-a-bike and overgrown sections of trail weren’t enough to ruin the experience and (arguably) added to its charm. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to the other more obscure adventuresome rides in the area, like Bunchgrass and O’Leary, to which it offers both similarities and differences. It has been many years since I’ve been down Bunchgrass, but I would say it’s about on the same difficulty level, from an endurance, skillset and route finding standpoint. It does seem like Grasshopper has a bit more hike-a-bike, but once again this is going off of memory.

As stated earlier on in the ride report, you’ll have a choice on whether to descend on Grasshopper or Chucksney Mountain Trail. If you’re looking for some more adventure and stellar views, go with Chucksney. On the  other hand, if you’d prefer a rippin’ descent, you’d probably be better off with Grasshopper – really, you can’t go wrong with either! Another option of note comes at the end of the ride, where you can cross Aufderheide Rd. and collect another ~4 miles on the river trail, heading west (North Fork - Segment 5; #3666). According to the crew that started a littler earlier than us and decided to give it a go, it was fairly overgrown and hard to find in spots – basically, more adventure riding for those who haven’t had enough.

With all of that said, this trail will not appeal to everyone. If you like yours manicured and don’t like to push or carry your bike for long sections of trail, you are advised to go elsewhere. However, if adventure biking lights your fire and you’re willing to go through some hardships in exchange for an extremely rewarding experience, than Grasshopper Mountain Trail is for you!

Finally, a big thanks to Oakridge local Derrick Bell and the rest of the work crew who resurrected this trail – adding yet another classic adventure ride to the area!

Here is a Google Earth look at our ride, as well as the Garmin tracks:


2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the great trail report - we're heading out there tomorrow starting at the Box Canyon Trailhead - really nice to have some info on the current trail conditions!

    ReplyDelete