Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mt. Scott - Crater Lake (OR)

Desperate to squeeze in one last tour for the season, I looked over my potential options and finally decided on Mt. Scott, the tallest peak in Crater Lake National Park. Although the road was closed to cars about two miles from the base of the mountain, it was open to non-motorized transportation, so I figured it would be a super easy approach on my road bike. With the temperatures forecasted to be in the mid to high 70s, I got an early start in hopes of getting in some turns before the snow got to mushy. I felt pretty alone as I drove through the park during the early morning, with only a few other cars other than myself. Without traffic slowing me down and not seeing the posted speed limit, I was on the receiving end of a healthy speeding ticket, doing over 70 in a 45. The ranger who wrote me up was actually pretty nice and gave me some beta on snow conditions, before telling me to slow it down and sending me on my way (with said ticket). By the time I reached the Skell Head overlook it was ~8:30am. Stepping out of the car I was immediately accosted by hungry mosquitoes, doing their best to dissuade me from starting my planned adventure. Luckily I was already geared up and only needed to throw on my pack and start pedaling.

Mount Scott looms in the distance on the way in

Morning at Crater Lake 

Since I hadn’t done a practice run of biking with my splitboard tied to my pack, I wasn’t sure what to expect. With it secured as separate planks and A-Frame style, it worked really well – in fact, I barely noticed it other than when I was getting off and on the bike. On the other side of the gated closure, the road began to climb at a sustained rate, and even though it was paved it had quite a bit of debris to navigate around. A little over 2 miles and 500' of pedaling uphill, I reached the trailhead that led to the summit of Mount Scott. With the SW bowl now in clear view it became apparent that the ski conditions were not going to be optimal. Not only was the snow coverage thin it also looked fairly sun-cupped. My hope was that when I got to the drop-in point that it would look better than it did from below.

Looking sparse

The start of the summit trail

I pushed my bike up the dirt trail a short distance before leaning it against a tree and throwing a lock around it. It was here that I saw a couple of other bikes with trailers, which I assumed were fellow backcountry skiers or backpackers. A bit curious I began my hike up the Mt. Scott summit trail, which headed up the western flank. The trail itself alternated between bare dirt and snowdrifts which provided a bit of a challenge to navigate in my hiking shoes. Even with the warm temps the snow was fairly firm and a bit slick. As I wrapped around onto the southern aspect the tree cover and snow patches became sparser. Eventually the trail started to switchback up the south face, where at the second corner I found the drop zone for the SW bowl. Although there was enough coverage for a nice line, it was heavily sun-cupped, just as I had feared. I spent a few minutes debating whether or not to take a run; Eventually I deciding to head up to the summit and see if there was a better looking run down the northeast bowl.

In between snow drifts 

A typical view on the south side traverse

Heading up the switchbacks

The drop-in zone for the SW bowl -- looking a bit sun-cupped 

A couple more switchbacks later I reached the summit ridge, which provided some amazing views of Crater Lake and the surrounding area. I also heard a couple of voices in the distance and soon after that I came across two other guys looking for a good line to drop in on. After a quick meet and greet and chatting about the less than ideal conditions, they told me that the best snow they had found was directly off the north face. According to them, it started off at the base of a 30' cliff band on a wide/steep bowl, which eventually necked down to a long / low-angle chute that terminated in the trees about a half mile and over a thousand feet below. With some renewed hope that I might actually get in some good runs, I bid them a farewell and continued toward the summit.

The SW bowl, with Crater Lake in the background.

Continuing up the trail, with Mount Thielsen in the background

The summit within sight

The final straightaway up to the lookout hut went quickly and I was soon standing at the base of the structure. From the summit I could see the NE bowl, which I had hoped would hold some good snow. Unfortunately, it looked pretty bad and certainly not worth dropping into. Therefore, I continue hiking around to the north aspect, hoping to find the bowl/chute that I had been told about. The hike down and toward the northwest did not follow along any trail; instead I was traveling along a talus field which proved to be bit sketchy in a few spots.

The final pitch to the summit of Mount Scott

Before long I reached what I believed to be the line that they were talking about, where I could see a long narrow run of snow that looked pretty darn good. Now at the top of the cliff band I looked for the best place to descend onto the top of the bowl -- unfortunately, there didn’t appear to be any easy route down. I finally settled on a steep & narrow chute on the western end of the cliff, where I soon found myself in a rather precarious position, which in hindsight I should have never gotten myself into. Basically, the rock, including pieces that were as large as me, was extremely loose and only being held in place by each other. Had I dislodged one it could have been a very bad situation. Further complicating things was my backpack with my skis attached, which kept getting hung up on the surrounding rock. I finally decided that I needed to jettison the pack, if I had any hope of getting down safely. As I held onto a rather large and loose rock, I unbuckled my pack, worked it off my shoulders and lowered it down behind me. My plan was to drop it onto the snowfield, lining it up so that it stopped near the base of the cliff in a small grotto. After letting go of the pack it landed on the snow and hit its intended target. In disbelief, a huge sense of relief came over me, and I only hoped that my luck would continue for a wee bit longer. After what seemed like a lifetime I finally reached the snow line and began the boot-pack down to my abandoned pack, which was about 15’ below me.

Target aquired

Looking back up toward the cliff band, from the grotto.

Now reunited with my gear I took a few minutes to rest and let my adrenaline level off a bit. Sitting at the top of the bowl I could now see the entire line laid out in front of me, and it looked pretty sweet. The upper bowl was fairly steep, with an angle that was probably in the mid-40s. Balancing on a small bench that I had dug into the snow, I strapped into my bindings and prepared to drop in. From my perch I slid in on my heel side edge and traversed over to the center of the bowl, where I found a few more sets of tracks heading down the mountain. The snow was surprisingly firm for how warm it was and I really had to work to keep my edge hold for the first few turns. I quickly settled into a groove and started adding my tracks to the mix. As I reached the bottom of the bowl the slope angle began to lessen and snowfield narrowed down on either side of me. The lower I went the more sun-cupped it became and was almost unrideable by the time I got to the end. Even though the snow conditions certainly weren't optimal, the run was still super fun, and only made me want to do it again under better conditions.

Time for some fun!

Looking back up at the bowl, from partway down.

The snowfield was getting narrow and pretty pitted by this point in the run

Nearing the end of the run

Looking back up at my tracks

At the bottom of the chute I found many freshly broken trees, which gave a clear indication of what had created the path I had just come down -- it was really quite remarkable and a sobering reminder of what an avalanche is truly capable of. At this point I was not quite sure what would be the best way to get back to my bike, head back up the run I'd just come down or traverse through the woods to the west. Looking at the satellite imagery on my phone it looked like there might be another good line to the west, so I decided to head through the forest. The woods near the avalanche path also contained many downed trees and was pretty hard to walk through, but eventually it opened up and was fairly easy going. While stopping to rest a few times I was bombarded by mosquitoes, which forced me to keep moving. I soon reached the other bowl/avalanche path, which was also a bit sun-cupped but looked like it would be worth getting a run on.

An obvious avalanche path

Hiking through the woods ended up being pretty straight forward

Looking up at the second possible run of the day

On the ascent I alternated between climbing up through the forest and on the snowfield, which was dictated by the various hurdles along the way. As I got close to the top I tried to climb up the scree to the side of the run, which ended up being pretty terrible. After a bit I decided it was better to just kick steps into the snow and ascend the rest of the way up the run. Once I had reached the top I took a quick break and ate a snack before dropping in. The descent itself was much like the previous one to the east, not the best snow conditions but still worth the effort. It wasn’t quite as steep up top but the bottom was a little less sun-cupped. As with the other run, it would be pretty sweet if it would have been covered in a few inches of Spring corn or a foot of fresh powder.

A little sun-cupped but still looking rideable

A nice slope angle for some low-stress turns

From the top

Looking back up the at line from my second run

At the bottom I once again found myself having to decide between climbing back up or traversing out. Since I wasn’t planning on doing another run I decided the traverse made more sense. Just a short bushwhack later I reached the west side of the mountain where I had started the hike. I had originally intended to grab my bike and start heading down the road to my car, but for whatever reason the sun-cupped SW bowl was calling to me. I think this was mostly due to it being the last run of the season and wanting to make the most of the trip, especially after earning that speeding ticket on the way in…

I was pretty beat down at this point and the hike back up the trail was pretty tiring. When I finally reached the drop-in point I was exhausted, so I sat on a rock for about 10 minutes and took in the view of the lake and my amazing surroundings. The snow conditions ended up being much worse than on the north aspect, and maintaining edge control over the pitted surface was almost impossible, especially with my leg muscles being completely drained.

The view from the top of the SW bowl

Looking back up from halfway down the SW bowl

By the time I got to the bottom I was ready to call it a day, so I packed up my gear and headed back toward my bike. Luckily the road was almost all downhill and I only had to throw in a few pedal strokes to keep my momentum. When I got back to the parking lot it was completely full, with hikers and sightseers frantically swatting away the mosquitoes that filled the sky. I didn’t even bother to change into different clothes, and after loading up my pack and bike I zoomed out of the parking lot and headed back to Eugene, while making sure to obey the posted speed limits…

Callin' it a day

Mount Scott certainly has a lot of potential for backcountry skiing, with great terrain on all of its aspects. I’m not sure I’d come back to it this late in the season, with minimal snow coverage and sun-cups, but with fresh powder or Spring corn it would be pretty amazing. The main obstacle for hitting it during prime conditions is access, since east Rim Drive is closed and unplowed until late Spring / Early Summer, requiring a ~12 mile one-way approach. I know that there is also a way to approach it from the east side (outside of the park), but the forest roads to get there are also unmaintained, so they’d need to be snow free. Even with the sub-par conditions, it’s hard to have a bad time at Crater Lake, it really is a special place – just make sure you watch your speed while driving through it!

The tracks from my tour:

Google Earth

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Olallie / O'Leary / King Castle Trail Loop (OR) - IMBA Epic +

Although I’ve already done a write-up on the O’Leary Trail (here), a lot of work has gone into revitalizing the trail, which provides a little different experience from my original write-up. What was once an overgrown piece of singletrack that was hard to find in spots as been transformed into a much more legitimate trail, and that will certainly have an impact on its popularity. Although the trail did lose some of its rugged nature, it still feels like an adventure ride that’s a bit off the beaten path. Furthermore, when I did my previous post it didn’t include the Olallie Trail climb, which has helped to solidify it as a true IMBA Epic. With that said, let’s get started.

When I saw the email invite for this ride I was immediately on board. I’d had done it a few times before, and although I knew it was savage and had you questioning your decision to ride it during the climb, I also knew that it was extremely rewarding and probably my favorite type of XC riding. The morning of the ride, Emily and I left Eugene around 9am, meeting the rest of the crew where we’d start the ride, at the Blue Sky Market in Blue River (OR). After a quick meet and greet we saddled up and started the ~8 mile road ride to the start of the Olallie Trail.

Suitin' up for the ride

The weather was just about perfect as we pedaled east on King Road, and were we were treated to some really nice views of the Three Sisters looming in the distance. My legs and lungs were feeling great, but I had to remind myself to take it easy and pace myself, since we’d have nearly 6,000’ of climbing piled on over the next 25+ miles. Once King Road tee’d into Horse Creek Rd. we made a right and traveled a short distance before turning right again onto NF-1993. Over the next 3 miles the road climbed around 1,000’ until we reached the gate and the Olallie trailhead, where the real suffering would begin.

Starting things off

Kim warms up the legs on the road spin

Great views of The Sisters from the road

Almost immediately the trail began its ascent up the ridge, with a sustained pitch that wouldn't let up for the next three miles. Based on a solid layer of evergreen needles and cones, it’s obvious that this trail doesn’t get the traffic that the more popular trails in the area do (e.g. the MRT and King Castle), which only added to the difficulty of the climb. I’d be lying if I said that I climbed the whole thing without resting; in actuality, I had to stop frequently to bring my heart rate down and even pushed my bike up more than a few sections. From these statements you’re probably wondering why I even like riding this trail… Well, for one it’s beautiful, and for another, it’s good to have your ass kicked every now and again.

Evan rounds one of the switchbacks on the way up Olallie 

Light at the end of the tunnel? Nope, keep climbing Randy!

A typical scene on Olallie

More classic Olallie

A little more than halfway up Ollalie it became even more beautiful, with a blanket of bright green clover lining both sides of the trail. Although the switchbacks were behind us, the climb was far from over and did its best to overshadow the amazing setting. By the time we reached the intersection with the O’Leary Trail, we were all pretty beat down but encouraged that we had just knocked out two-thirds of the climbing.

Kim enters a field of clover

You gotta love Oregon singletrack!

Sandra, getting closer to the top.

Plenty of evergreens, ferns and clover.

Now on the O’Leary Trail, the work that had been done to it became immediately apparent. Going from what was essentially bushwhacking near the start of the trail had been replaced with brushed and widened singletrack. The previous times riding this section, my full attention was spent ensuring that my front wheel didn’t fall into any holes or plow into any hidden rocks. This time I was able to actually enjoy the views as we traveled through the meadows that lined O’Leary Ridge. I was also happy to see that the trail wasn’t completely manicured and that it struck a good balance between bike friendly singletrack and an unpolished adventure ride.

Evan, near the start of the O'Leary.

Randy enjoying the ridge meadows after the tough climb

This trail was almost nonexistent in this section, prior to the many hours of trail work -- thanks trail crew! 

Emily, all smiles on O'Leary

Sandra & Tait

Tait, happy for some downhill. 

As the trail alternated between small meadows and evergreen forest it climbed and descended in short fits until we reached the curse-worthy push-a-bike section up Macduff Mountain. After climbing for around a half mile and 400 vertical feet we topped out on the ridge, where a short hike up the side of the hill brought us to the summit and a nice place to take a lunch break. The vista atop Macduff certainly didn't disappoint, with amazing views of the Three Sisters, Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson.

More meadows

O'Leary constantly transitions between meadows and forests

Sandra crossing another meadow

Lots of trail work being done on the downhill prior to Macduff


The Sisters

Mount Washington

Shenanigans on Macduff, from the Great Cornholio.

From Macduff, the trail started its 5 mile descent down the ridge and toward Cougar Reservoir. The first half of the descent was a bit pedally. It also traveled along some sections of impressive rock wall, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) back in the late 30s. The trail soon dumped out onto a gravel road, which we traveled along for about ¾ of a mile before jumping back on the O’Leary trail.

Heading down from Macduff

Jumping into the descent

Emily rails a switchback during the long descent

A couple bad dogs off their leash

Sandra, enjoying the descent

The road between trail sections

On the other side of the road, the trail headed down at a more rapid pace, with lots of new reroutes along the way. It became a little confusing at some of the offshoots, since neither the old or new trail was blocked off, creating a choose your own adventure type of ride. It was actually kinda fun and comical on some sections of the trail, where half our crew would take a different route than the other, not knowing who was going to come out ahead. I have to say that I do prefer some of the older sections, which has lots of steep switchbacks and pitches, perfect for challenging your braking and balance skills. However, from an erosion standpoint I understand why the reroutes are necessary and I look forward to seeing them in their completed state.

Evan, keepin' it tight on another steep one.

Randy drops into a series of steep switchbacks on the old section of trail

Sandra between the steeps

Some beautiful trail work on one of the reroutes

More switchies

At the bottom of the descent, the trail crossed a small road, traveled a short distance, and tee’d into the Castle Rock Trail. Turning right on Castle Rock, the trail traveled 2 ½ miles in a northeast direction. This section of the ride is akin to many of the river trails in Oregon, relatively flat with short climbs and descents thrown in here and there. This isn’t my preferred type of riding and I was somewhat happy when it ended at O’Leary Road, which we’d use to access the King-Castle Trail.

Emily, starting off the Castle Rock connector trail.

Kim and some big timber on Castle Rock

The creek crossing on Castle Rock. Luckily it was fairly dry.

Randy on the Castle Rock Trail

Finishing up the Castle Rock Trail

During my previous O’Leary rides I didn’t have the legs or lungs to climb up for the full King Castle descent, and I've always regretted not doing so. Even though I was certainly tired this time as well, I really wanted to challenge myself, especially since I had all of the next day to recover. The only other person in the crew that was interested in the extra-credit was Emily, so after reaching the lower section of King Castle, we bid our companions a farewell and continued up the road.

Climbing up toward King Castle

The ride up the road wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting, which I attribute more to it being shaded than my energy level – on almost all of my King Castle rides this road has been directly in line with the sun and would beat me down pretty good. Eventually the road dead-ended at the upper trailhead, where we stated our climb up to the summit of Castle Rock. This part was definitely not easier than the other times I’d done it, and lactic acid buildup in my quads was reaching its threshold. For the final series of switchbacks to the top I didn’t even pretend to attempt them and pretty much walked my bike up the entire way. When we finally reached the summit I was both elated and exhausted. We spent only a few minutes taking in the view before hiking down to our bikes and starting the much deserved descent.

Emily, nearing the summit of Castle Rock

Taking a quick break before the descent

Looking south from the top of Castle Rock

In my tired state I wanted to concentrate on the riding, so I didn’t take any photo documentation of our descent. That said, the King Castle Trail provides one of my favorite downhills in all of Oregon. The top half is filled with challenging switchbacks & zippy traverses, and the bottom half takes the form of a natural flow trail. For a trip report of King Castle prior to the middle re-route, go here.

Unfortunately, I botched a few of the tight left-hand switchies up top, but soon found more of a rhythm as we got into the trail a bit. Emily, who seemed to have as much energy was when we started the ride, was killin’ it, bagging almost all of them along the way. Once we reached the bottom section of King Castle, we jumped on the new section of trail that cuts out the old double-track you had to ride. I must say, this is one of the best reroutes I've ridden, and truly a testament to the hard work and creativity of everyone that worked on it – thank you so much! Although it’s not completely bedded down it rides extremely well, and appeared to be well armored for lots of use and low maintenance. It also seamlessly transitioned back into the old trail, and if you didn’t know better you’d never know they were ever separate trails.

Tait, starting off the reroute on King Castle

Kim gives chase, near the start of the reroute.

Some nice bridgework near the end of the reroute

Of course the lower/original section of King Castle didn’t disappoint either, with its breakneck speed straightaways and banked turns that both enter and exit perfectly. I only wish I would have had the legs to fully enjoy it and to keep up with my wife. By the time I got to the bottom, I was ready to be done with the ride.

A short spin on paved road brought us back to our awaiting car, where I admired the stats on my GPS, before saving my tracks and turning it off. I’m super happy that I forced myself to climb up for King Castle, although I certainly needed all of Sunday to recover from the experience.

With the ever-growing list of IMBA Epics, to me it’s feeling a little bit like everyone gets a trophy. In my opinion an “epic” should be reserved for long, difficult rides that leave you questioning your decision during the ride and feeling highly rewarded afterward. As an example, although Black Rock (OR) is an amazing freeride area and one of my favorite places to ride, I don’t feel it belongs on the list. That said, IMBA did get it right with the O’Leary Trail, assuming you do the whole ride as a loop and include the Ollalie Trail climb and at least the bottom half of the King Castle Trail.

Be assured, this ride will take you through classic Oregon wildness – Wildflower adorned meadows, evergreen forests and some amazing vistas that look out onto the Cascades. It you’ve traveled here to ride the famed McKenzie River Trail (MRT), make sure you hit this one as well – it’s well worth the effort. In fact, I would strongly recommend this over the MRT on the weekends. Although the MRT is an absolute classic, it’s unbelievably crowded on the weekends and almost unrideable between Tamolitch (Blue) Pool & Trail Bridge Reservoir, due to the amount of hikers that you must yield to. One final bit of advice, if you plan on riding the O’Leary Epic, also plan for a rest day afterward, unless you’re an endurance rider and/or have a masochistic bend.

The tracks from our ride: