Friday, April 19, 2013

Spring Break MTB Action.

New bike at Peterson Ridge

 We made it out to Bend for a few days over Spring Break, and I took the opportunity to get some mountain biking in. I'm constantly amazed at how awesome the trails are in Bend compared to our meager options in the metro area, even though 80% of them were still unrideable because of snow. Fortunately, the Central Oregon Trail Alliance has a great website that tells you at a glance what trails are open. The flagship Phils Trail complex was still closed, so I mapped out a plan to ride Peterson Ridge outside of Sisters on day 1, Horse Butte south of Bend on day 2, and Burma Road next to Smith Rock on day 3.
There are 8 or 10 gnome figurines perched on this rock alongside the Peterson Ridge Trail.

 The trailhead for Peterson Ridge is just a half mile south of Sisters. It's a complex of 3 or so parallel trails with a number of cross trails that you can use to connect up and create longer routes. It being my first time, I wanted to keep it simple, so I opted to do an out and back on the PRT West trail. It's a pretty good example of the awesome Central Oregon MTB experience;  fast, flowing trails winding around outcrops of volcanic rock and stands of Ponderosa pine. Elevation gain tends to be gradual, unlike the gut busting climbs typical of the Coast Range trails (I'm looking at you, Brown's Camp). I climbed 600 feet to where the trail opened up to a panoramic view.
Looking West toward the Sisters.

By the way, the new Ahearne is perfect for this type of riding. I built it up with a rigid fork mainly to avoid the expense involved in a new 29er suspension fork, but it ate up the moderately rocky terrain with no problems.
 The trail was mostly dry, with only a few soft and or muddy stretches, one of the other great things about Bend area riding. In addition to getting less rainfall, the sandy soil drains better and dries more quickly.

More Cascade views.

McKenzie Pass is over thataway somewhere.
DAY 2: Horse Butte

Horse Butte is south of Bend past the historic town dump, and is popular with both trail runners and (surprise!) equestrians. I can see why, as we passed numerous farms swarming with horses on the way out. After Peterson Ridge it was a bit of a letdown, mostly because it took me a while to find the good trail. I started off on the Swamp Wells trail, which is fairly wide and sandy at first, and not especially challenging or interesting. After climbing a bit, it started to get more technical, but I also began encountering more mud, which forced me to walk all the fun parts. This became so frequent I was forced to turn back in search of drier trails.
Looking south toward Bessie Butte.
 After returning to the trail head, I turned east onto what I think was the Arnold Ice Cave trail. The terrain here was flatter and more open, but the trail was narrower, windier, and much more fun. It was also much less scenic than the country around Sisters, so I didn't take as many photos.

Just in case you forgot what the Ahearne looks like.
DAY 3 Smith Rock
For our final day, we wanted to check out Smith Rock as it's just east of Terrebonne, on the way back to Portland. I had done some research, and knew that winter conditions should be good, but the riding would be steeper and rockier than the last two days had prepared me for.This would prove to be a severe understatement.
The trail up to Burma Road
First, let me just say Smith Rock is very cool, and worth checking out, but I wouldn't exactly call it a mountain bike destination. It's best known for rock climbing, as the numerous walls and spires rise almost vertically out of the Crooked River. Those same attributes that make for good rock climbing make for a challenging bike environment. Everything is rocky and STEEP. I had read about a ride utilizing Burma Road that wound up from the river in the direction of Grey's Butte. It sounded hard, and while I'm not a fast climber, I do a lot of it so I wasn't too worried. As it turns out, I probably should have been.  After descending a steep trail down to the , there was a pleasant 2 miles of mellow single track running along the river.
The view from the trailhead.
After that, it got interesting.

That's not encouraging...
First, I had to hike up a steep rocky trail for 300 or so yards before I even reached the road. Then it was a mile and a half of 14% grade. Awesome. It took waay too long, partly because it was so damn steep my front wheel would hit a baby head, or my rear wheel would spin out in loose gravel and I would be unable to get started again. Pathetic, I know, but also very demoralizing. The weather was better then expected as well, mostly sunny and pushing 70. I can't imagine what this would be like in the summer. Wait, I can imagine. Hellish is the word that comes to mind. 

At least the gate wasn't closed.

After much panting, puffing and pushing I arrived at the top. Of course, the singletrack that was my goal descended steeply from the crest, and the whole procedure of hiking and crawling up the grade had eroded most of my available time, so I took some photos, powered through some snacks, and prepared to return from whence I came.
View from the top.
The Crooked River as seen from the top of Burma Road.
The second peak from the right is where my ride ended.
In Summation:
Peterson Ridge: Great beginner to intermediate trail riding well worth the drive.
Horse Butte: Decent riding if you're in Bend and most of the trails are closed for winter.
Smith Rock: Crazy beautiful, but only worth taking your bike if you are ready for an all day epic.

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