Wednesday, June 26, 2013

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:

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had been smart enough to move west when I was still in my 20s. Looks amazing out there but pretty hard to land a job from back east plus I have to sell my house, etc. This is a nice blog, thanks.