Monday, September 17, 2012

Deception Butte Trail, OR (9.15.12)

Throughout all the years I've been biking the trails in Oakridge, there is one specific trail that has always eluded me, mainly because it's so hard to put a crew together to ride it. This trail, Deception Butte, has a bit of a reputation, which started back in the day from folks who stated that it was overly difficult & dangerous. However, more recently, I had heard of people riding it and saying, "yeah, there are some spots you need to be a bit careful, but it's a great trail and worth doing". With such conflicting information, I really wanted to find out for myself.

Like I stated above, it's tough finding a crew for this one, and after sending out an email early in the week, the only bite I got was from Emily, my wife. The plan was to ride on Saturday, and Friday night I got pretty excited about the whole affair -- I love doing new rides about as much as I like doing new runs in kayaking, especially when things may get a little adventurous. After looking over the maps and doing some brief research online, the plan was to park at the MF Ranger Station, ride west on hwy 58 for 2 miles (which I figured would be the scariest part), then climb up the gravel road #5847 for about 5 miles, and finally, traverse/climb ~3 miles on road #549 to the upper trailhead and the start of the singletrack.

The morning of the ride we got a somewhat late start (for various reasons), but we weren't too concerned since we knew we only had about 15 miles worth of riding, and most of it on roads. When we pulled into the parking lot at the ranger station, it was around noon, and we were the only car in the lot. The sun was shining bright, with projected temps of around 80 degrees, so I was glad that a majority of the climb would be on a north facing slope where we'd have more shade. After gearing up we headed off down hwy 58, where Emily was convinced we were putting our lives on the line by sharing the road with crazy drivers that would likely be drunk or playing with their cell phones. Somehow, we survived the ordeal and made it to the start of the climb, near Shady Dell campground.

The climb started off on a paved road which quickly turned to gravel. We each settled into a pace, with Emily way out in front, which would be the story of the day until we reached the trail. The climb itself was actually quite pleasant, a bearable/sustained grade with shade for a majority of it. Em and I regrouped a few times along the way to confirm our path and ensure that we hadn't missed our turn onto 549. Between the couple GPS units and the map, we weren't too worried, and before long we made it, at a very obvious Y junction.

Emily, ready for some climbin'!

Nice weather for the climb

Plenty of shade too

Emily checks our coordinates to ensure we're still on track

The 5845 / 549 intersection

At this point we had climbed about 1,500' or so, and I wasn't quite sure how much more we'd be doing on 549 vs. the trail -- what I did know was that we would end up climbing about 2,400' to the summit and topping out at about the 3,400' above sea level. The road actually flattened out for a bit as it traversed toward our destination, but before long the climb started back up, once again at a manageable pitch. Finally, after about 3 mile and ~600' of additional climbing, we reached the trail, where I knew that my curiosity would soon be quenched!

The trailhead!

Everyone that I had talked to that had done the trail said there was a pretty brutal hike-a-bike section up a steep hill near the beginning. Sure enough, after about a 1/2 mile of trail, it ran into the base of a hill and quickly climbed up a pretty steep set of switchbacks. To be honest I didn't find it all that bad, and have certainly done worse, especially in BC. Probably the hardest part was trying to get traction on the loose dirt with plastic soled elf shoes... After a few short breathers along the way, we finally reached the top of the climb, where a spur trail spun off, traveling a short distance to the summit of Deception Butte.

Emily starts the hike-a-bike. For the record, it feels much steeper than it looks in the photos.

Navigating some roots

Taking a breather partway up the hike-a-bike

The view from the top was pretty nice, but only really opened up to the south. Although not thick, smoke from the Pole Creek forest fire (near Sisters, OR) diffused the light a bit as we sat and enjoyed some lunch. After eating, taking some pictures, and making sure our Facebook friends were abreast to the details of our day, we headed back down the trail to do what we came for, see what this trail was all about and shred some downhill!

Emily takes in the view, which was a bit hazy from the Pole Creek fire

Enjoying a delicious Subway lunch

The first part headed down the mountain at a steady pace along a winding trail that was partially covered with leaves, pine needles, and pine cones, giving it a somewhat obscure feel. Soon enough, the first steep section started, with some tight switchbacks and some narrow chutes lined with thick vegetation of ferns and salal. Since we didn't know the trail, and based on the rumors, we proceeded with caution on the way down, stopping here and there to do a quick scout prior to dropping in with our bikes. Eventually we reached a noted spot, where the trail enters some sketchy exposure before making a sharp right hand turn. You'd really have to be bombing down the trail and not know where it's at to run into trouble. That said, you certainly don't want to take a tumble here, as it would probably lead to a pretty nasty injury, or worse.

Em rounds one of the first switchbacks of the ride

Dropping down one of the steep bits

Thick vegetation lined a good portion of the upper stretch

Emily leads the way

More fun switchies

Em poses at the exposure at the sharp right turn. For the record, it drops off pretty far.

After the exposed corner the trail traversed its way down the hill with a few switchbacks and steep drops along the way. Although I was able to ride a few of the drops, and they were fun enough, the dirt was pretty loose, making them more sketchy then they really would have been had it been packed down. We also walked a few, including one root drop that would have required a manual/wheelie drop to not mash your chain ring, and of course it had a loose run-out.

The author dropping down a steep/loose pitch (photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Workin' to keep it under control (photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Em jumps out ahead on one of the more mellow sections

The drop that would require some lift to prevent your chain ring from catching

From here the trail continued along where we eventually hit some really tight switchbacks (many that I couldn’t ride) and a narrow benched in section that had you very conscious of your pedal placement. The final pitch down to Deception Creek was probably the most difficult, with some more loose dirt and technical rock bits. This actually reminded me of the stuff we had just finished riding in Whistler/Squamish BC, but much less bedded/packed down – even so it was still pretty fun.

Emily approaches one of the stupidly steep/tight switchbacks

Emily on one of the narrower benched-in sections, although there are sections that are even more narrow.

Catching a rare bit of light in a mostly dark forest setting

You can pretty much walk anything you don't feel like riding that day

The author drops into a steep rocky pitch near the bottom of the descent (photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Kickin' up a bit of dust on the run-out, which was pretty typical (photo by Emily Pfeifer)

All too soon we reached the well-built bridge across the creek. On the other side the trail flattened out dramatically, and gave no indication of what we had just come down. This section was really quite fun, a flowing no brake/pedal ride with leaves blanketing the trail -- the setting really made it feel like Fall had arrived. Apparently we did make a wrong turn toward the bottom at an unmarked intersection. We went right, which sent us on a climb up to Deception Creek Rd -- I assume we should have gone left here. After the climb we got to lose all the elevation we had just gained on the road, which I really hate doing. The road finished off quickly and we were soon back at the ranger station and our awaiting car. We ended the ride with nearly 3000’ of total climbing in ~15 miles of road/trail.

Emily crosses Deception Creek

Emily, stoked on the final bit of trail

Finally I was able to check this one off the list -- it’s been a long time coming! This trail is certainly fun, and I could see doing it as a once a year type of ride. As for difficulty/sketch factor, I believe the early rumors are certainly blown out of proportion. Yes, it does have a relatively tough hike-a-bike near the start, there are some exposed areas, and of course some steep technical pitches and extremely tight switchbacks. However, this should not dissuade you from riding the trail, as the hike-a-bike is totally manageable, and you don’t have to ride anything you don’t want to – I actually like trails that have features above my skill/nerve level, since it gives me something to work on for the next time. All that said, mile for mile, it is probably the most difficult trail I’ve done in the Oakridge area, excluding ridiculous stuff like the notorious switchbacks on Bunchgrass.

In contrast to the fear based rumors of yesteryear, I’ve heard people recently say that this is one of their favorite trails in the area. Personally, I wouldn’t go that far, and I certainly wouldn’t consider it a classic --- the harder technical drops are just too trashy/loose for me to give it that kind of designation. I think that with some trail work (a little brushing and some serious armoring), it could definitely be one of the go-to trails for a lot of riders. In its current form, it's certainly rideable, but has more of an adventure feel, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Well, hopefully this gives some more information on Deception Butte and is helpful to anyone that has been curious or plans to ride it. To me it had always seemed to be one of those mysterious trails, even with the info/stories that were already out there. Obviously this write-up is only one person’s opinion of the trail, and I’m sure there are just as many as people that have ridden it. My suggestion would be to go find out for yourself. If you set realistic expectations of the ride, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed and will come away wanting to ride it again!

The tracks/stats from our ride:

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