Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Flat Creek / Salmon Creek Trail (OR)

I’ve done pretty much every trail in the Oakridge area, but the one that always seemed to elude me was Flat Creek Trail. The main reason for this is that every time I knew of a crew doing it I already had other plans, and the reason that I never tried to put together a ride myself (or do it solo), was based on how short the actual trail is, a mere 2.6 miles long. That said, It also had a reputation for being a rippin’ descent, and when coupled with Salmon Creek (both north and south sides), it’s makes for a great mid-length ride (~20 miles). So finally, based on those compelling reasons, I convinced my buddy Roman that we should ride it on Sunday, which he happily agreed to. Since neither of us knew the logistics of the ride, I did a little research on the internet, downloaded my wife’s tracks into my GPS, and made sure to pack a map.

Since we wanted to beat the heat, we tried to get a relatively early start, and left Eugene around 9:30am. From there we cruised through the city of Oakridge and looked for a good place to park as our start/end point. We ended up settling on the intersection of Salmon Creek Rd & Fish Hatchery Rd, since it had shade and a good place to change into riding gear – as opposed to hangin’ it out there in the middle of town… After suiting up, we rode our bikes back into town, passed by the Brewers Union (which we had a date with after the ride), and started the climb up High Prairie Rd. The climb up the road was actually quite pleasant, with unbelievable weather and a cool rural setting, passing well-kept farm houses and bright green fields.

At about the 5 mile mark (from the car), we took a right on Brock Rd, and followed it until it dead ended after a large meadow and some houses. At the dead-end, a double track continued straight, through a wooded area – there were some no trespassing signs posted, but it was a little hard to tell if it meant on the double-track. Since we were following the GPS tracks, we decided to continue on, leaving as small a footprint as possible. Eventually the doubletrack ended at a dirt road, which we took for a 100 yards or so before turning right on Dead Mountain Rd.

Roman, on Brock Rd

Nearing the end of Brock Rd

The doubletrack

The climb up Dead Mountain is a real bruiser, as it ascended in earnest to the upper Flat Creek TH. We had to stop a few times to catch our breath and rest our legs – I was just glad I had some gears, unlike ol’ Roman. Luckily, this part of the climb only lasted for ~1.5 miles, where we then found ourselves at a road intersection. After studying the GPS tracks, we decided we need to take a right. Not far after that we hit another intersection, which we mistakenly made another right on – luckily it dead ended quickly at the top of the hill. Once we realized our error, we headed down the small pitch and took the other road option around a closed gate. From the gate it was just a short distance to the Flat Creek TH, which was clearly marked on a sign fastened to a tree.

Roman, wishing for gears on this stretch

Nearing the summit of the ride

Um, this doesn't look right...

Both Roman and I had a quick snack, after which I jumped out ahead to take some shots. Almost as soon as I started the descent, I knew that I was going to love it – it was riding super-fast and I really didn’t feel like stopping to take photos. Eventually I did pullover at a place I thought would make for a good shot and waited for Roman to appear. Soon enough he came screaming by, literally yelling with joy. I quickly packed up my camera and gave chase! Before long, I caught up, where he had stopped to wait up for me. Again, I jumped out ahead to take a few more photos. I soon found another good spot, and after taking a few more of Roman, he came back up to take some of me.

Roman, having way too much fun on the first bit of Flat Creek Trail

Typical Oregon goodness!

A typical turn on Flat Creek Trail

Lots of speedy sections

The author with a rare photo op!
(photo by Roman Androsov)

After the second set of photos, I decided to ditch my duties as camera man and just enjoy the ride – which is exactly what happened. The trail continued on with most of it allowing for dangerous amounts of speed. There were a few switchbacks to navigate, but most of the turns were smooth transitions that you could really rail! Toward the bottom of the trail it did get a little more curvy and a bit slower, but certainly retained the fun factor. Then, all too soon, we hit the gravel road, ending this portion of the ride. From the end of the trail we headed down the gravel road to Salmon Creek, where we jumped on its namesake trail, on the north side. It should be noted that a trail is currently being constructed that would cut out the gravel road portion at the bottom, extending the fun a little more!

The north side of Salmon Creek (aka, The Warrior Fitness Trail) is a family friendly stretch that is populated with not only bikers, but hikers and fishermen as well – make sure to keep the peace and ride slowly past them. We followed this trail until it tee’d into a road with a bridge across the creek, which is used to access the upper trailhead on the south side. The South Salmon Creek trail starts off with a section of steep switchbacks as it climbs to the top of a ridge. The switchbacks in here are challenging, and I was stoked to bag almost every one! You only gain about 400’, but it happens in less than a mile of riding and it feels like quite a bit more. By the time we reached the top I was pretty relieved and ready for the descent, which was about the same character, steep switchbacks, but this time going down. As with climbing them, I was able to bag most, but there were a few that were just a bit outside my comfort zone/skill level. Before too long, we had made our way back down to creek level, where we started to parallel the water in a westerly direction.

The start of the Salmon Creek portion of the ride

Starting the climb on South Salmon Creek Trail

Fun switchbacks!

For some reason I felt the need to stare at my front tire.
Luckily, even with this sub-par technique, I still got 'er around.
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Taking a quick breather

Tight ones on the way back down as well

The section of trail that followed along Salmon Creek’s southbank is more difficult than the north side, exchanging its family friendliness for short/technical climbs & descents – fun stuff, if you're an experienced mountain biker! This section is also quite beautiful with fields of clover complementing the flowing creek. I was a bit surprised that we didn’t see another soul on this stretch, I would have expected to see at least a few other mountain bikers on such a beautiful Sunday afternoon – not that I was complaining about the seclusion. Just about the time that Roman and I were looking forward to getting back to the car so we could grab some lunch, the trail ended at a dirt road, near a dam structure that was recreated by a large group of kids and parents.

Salmon Creek - South

Some woodwork on the South side

Typical trail surface for the South side - roots & rocks

Next, we headed down the road and into the Salmon Creek Fish Hatchery, which ended up being a cool little distraction. Some of the long holding tanks were filled with baby trout, which were putting on quite a display as they attempted to jump up the inflows located at each end of the tanks -- like they were baby Salmon or Steelhead practicing for spawning season. After we had gotten enough of the show, we headed back to the car, which was just a short distance from the hatchery. Back at the car we changed up and headed to the Pub for some much needed food and beer. We ended up running into a couple of friends who we joined up with while we ate – gotta love the tight biking community!


Finishing up the ride!

Flat Creek is a fantastic descent, just a little too short to do as a standalone ride, unless of course you’re looking for a quick ride option. This is where Salmon Creek Trail really adds to the ride, both literally and with its juxtaposition in character. Together, they make for a perfect mid-length ride, which is exactly what we were looking for! I’ll certainly be adding this one to my standard arsenal of Oakridge riding options, and I’m already looking forward to getting back on it again – that descent is just too good!

The tracks from our ride:

King Castle / Castle Rock Trail (OR)

The King Castle Trail, near McKenzie Bridge (OR), is no secret to the local MTB community – Both XC and DH riders enjoy this trail for its amazing flow and spectacular summit scenery. This trail is certainly one of my favorites, and it would be easy to convince me to do this ride on just about any weekend. On this particular ride, Emily and I invited some other folks to come along, and in the end we would have 6 of us – Roman Androsov, Erin Hooten, Karly Barrett, Ken Hutchinson, and of course Emily & me.

After first meeting up in Springfield, we made the ~1 hour drive to the bottom trailhead. We quickly got changed into our riding gear before heading out on the paved road until we reached the intersection where the gravel road climb starts (NF-480). The gravel road climbs ~6 miles to where it dead-ends at the upper Castle Rock trailhead. There is one part of the climb that I affectionately refer to as “The Demoralizer” – after making a sharp left-hand bend, the road shoots straight up and provides no mercy or shade from the sun. Luckily this section is pretty short and is also followed by a short bit of downhill. Before you start to climb again, you’ll actually cross the trail (~4.5 miles up the gravel road) – this is technically the start of the King Castle trail, but I would highly advise you to continue up the road, to also nab the top part of the Castle Rock Trail – it’s a great section of trail and also provides access to a stellar view of the Three Sisters and Upper McKenzie watershed.

Ken, near the start of the climb, with our destination looming in the background.

Cars = dust

Karly making the grind

Emily starts the Demoralizer pitch

Ken rounding the last turn of the gravel road climb

After the dirt road ends, you once again have a choice to start the descent or to continue climbing. Again, I highly advise ascending all the way to the summit to catch the amazing view. Climbing the Castle Rock Trail is a little bit of a mixed bag, it starts off manageably enough, but eventually you reach the start of the switchbacks, which are steep and ultra-tight. I usually end up pushing my bike up this section until I get tired, at which point I ditch it at one of the switchbacks, and hike up the rest of the way to the summit.

Ascending the Castle Rock Trail

Emily rounds the first switchback of the steep section

Erin finishing up the traverse

Roman hammering with one gear

Cool rock formation near the summit

Tough switchbacks

Hiking the last bit to the summit

Just about there!

Once at the summit we took in the view and relaxed a bit in the sun while eating a snack. Being in places like this always reminds me of why I love Oregon so much and can’t imagine living anywhere other than the PNW. Another cool thing about going all the way to the top is that you get to see where you had started the ride from, giving you a pretty nice sense of accomplishment – hey, it’s not only about getting to ride some rippin’ downhill!

Erin and Karly take in the view of the Three Sisters

Male bonding

Not a bad place to enjoy a snack

Three Sisters

Three bad A$$ women!

After we had taken in all the views and food would could handle, we hiked back down to our bikes to start the descent. As with climbing them, most of the switchies coming down from the summit are just too tight for me, although I did make of a few of the right-handers (my good side). The section of trail that follows is a fun high-speed traverse that brings you back to where the dirt road, that you originally climbed, ends. However, instead of going all the way to the road, make a sharp right turn to continue down the Castle Rock Trail.

This section of the Castle Rock trail is great, with super fun switchbacks that are much more manageable but still provide some challenge. I’m always stoked to bag all the ones in this section, which I was able to do on this ride – woohoo! As the trail straightens back out, be on the lookout for a fork in the trail, which is pretty easy to miss as you're flying along. It’s here that you’ll want to make a left, where it climbs for a short bit before heading down another short section of trail, and eventually crosses the dirt road you climbed up on. Once you hit the road, make a right and ride 10 to 20 yards until you see the trail pick back up on the other side.

Ken finds one of the first manageable switchbacks

Emily in the heart of the switchback section

Erin makin' the turns look easy

From the road, the trail is more of a high speed doubletrack, which is easy to get out of control on due to the loose surface. Eventually the doubletrack narrows back down into singletrack, which is where the real fun begins! Now, I usually prefer technical riding to groomers, but I must say, this section of the King Castle Trail often has me questioning my favoritism – it’s that good! The trail is super buffed and flowy, with nicely bermed corners that are easy to rail. There is one surprise left-hand turn, at the end of a long fast straightway, that always seems to catch me off guard, and this time was no different; luckily I was able to slow down in time without skidding too much or flying off the trail.

Ken, in one of the speed sections

Roman gives chase

There is actually a short technical section mixed in, with the highlight being a low-angle rock drop. It’s totally good to go, just lean back and let your wheels roll. Another approach would probably be to air the damn thing out, but I have no personal experience with this approach. Right after the rock drop, the trail heads down and around a right-hand bend, before presenting another fun obstacle, a little rock over that could buck ya off if you don’t weight/unweight your wheels properly. Below the techie stretch, the trail resumes with its more peaceful nature for a mile or less, before ending at the bottom trailhead, where we started the ride.

Emily clears the rock drop

Making the turn between obstacles

Karly, enjoyin' the ride!

What a fantastic day with a great crew! Once again, King Castle is one of my favorite rides, and it’s good to do it again to remind myself why. For good reason, this trail is no secret to both the local XC and DH riders. Supposedly it also rides really well in the winter, but I have not done so firsthand. Basically, if you’re in the area and have your mountain bike, I would highly advise making it part of your riding plans. This is especially true if you came to do the famous McKenzie River Trail, which is right up the road!

The tracks from our ride: