Jolly Esmeralda endurance ride

This Saturday was the second ride of the Washington Endurance Series. 4 people had signed up, but only 2 made it to the starting location – same as on the last WES ride. We later met the other 2 riders along the Jolly Creek trail. They had started earlier from a different location, but had been deterred by the fallen trees along the Middle Fork trail and were hiking back up Jolly Creek trail (which is super tough!). I thanked them for coming out and felt bad for them; but everyone has to make their own decisions to keep themselves safe.

We rode the course as it was posted and had a great time. We met a lot of motorcycles, chatted a lot, didn’t ride particularly fast nor steady, and took a lot of pictures. We finished the 40 miles and 9000 ft. el. gain in 11:17 hours. This is one of my favorite rides. I think the variety of trails and gravel on this loop works great.

The ride started out with a dirt road climb that lead onto the Sasse Mountain trail. From there, it went up to Jolly Mountain (6460 ft.) where we spied Mt. Adams and Mt. Baker, besides the omnipresent Mt. Rainier. I’ll let the pictures and captions speak for themselves for the most part.

Mt. Rainer was popping up all the time.

Mt. Rainer was popping up all the time. This, and other pictures with the name “_Eric” are by Eric Kamila.

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Onwards on the Sasse Mountain trail.

Onwards on the Sasse Mountain trail.

Upwards on Jolly Mountain trail.

Upwards on Jolly Mountain trail. We had to push occasionally, but rode a lot. In my case, I paid for it later pretty hard, but it was so much fun getting over the technical terrain.

Mt. Stuart and Esmeralda Peaks

Mt. Stuart and Esmeralda Peaks. The trees casting long shadows looks cool.

Chatted with a couple guys on dirtbikes for a while, and then they even took our picture!

Chatted with a couple guys on dirtbikes for a while, and then they even took our picture!

One tiny patch of snow left.

One tiny patch of snow left on the last bit up Jolly Mountain.

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Eric found a fossilized rock - which he carried in his backpack the rest of the trip!

Eric found a fossilized rock – which he carried in his backpack the rest of the trip!

The dirtbikers were slow, here one of them is finally catching up with us near the top.

The dirtbikers were slow, here one of them is finally catching up with us near the top.

Reached the top of Jolly: 6460 ft. Lunch break amongst many biting flies made the 20 minutes go fast.

Reached the top of Jolly: 6460 ft. Lunch break amongst many biting flies made the 20 minutes go fast.

 

Down from Jolly Moutain.

Down from Jolly Moutain.

The lower portion of Jolly Creek trail and the 1st mile up on the Middle Fork trail had quite a bit of downfall that hadn't been cleared. We later learned that there is a fire ban in effect so that chain saws are not allowed. I counted 19 trees down on the Middle Fork within the 1st mile, then it was clear again.

The lower portion of Jolly Creek trail and the 1st mile up on the Middle Fork trail had quite a bit of downfall that hadn’t been cleared. We later learned that there is a fire ban in effect so that chain saws are not allowed. I counted 19 trees down on the Middle Fork within the 1st mile, then it was clear again.

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Up and over the ridge on the De Roux Spur trail.

Up and over the ridge on the De Roux Spur trail.

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Then up the Esmeralda Basin trail.

Then up the Esmeralda Basin trail.

At the Esmeralda ridge.

At the Esmeralda ridge.

I had been getting dehydrated and felt totally out of energy on the way up Esmeralda. Utterly drained, I lay down on the trail and waited for my stomach to start working again. I wasn’t sure if I could get down Esmeralda, it’s quite a tricky trail and it’s easy to make mistakes when you’re tired. Luckily, a shot of instant coffee revived me 10 minutes later. Whoot – time for the Esmeralda downhill.

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Down on Esmeralda.

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Earlier on the Middle Fork trail, Eric got a sidewall tear and had to mount his spare(!) tire. How dainty his 285g tire looks next to my 29er Hans Dampf. That tiny tire didn't slow him down much, surprisingly.

Earlier on the Middle Fork trail, Eric got a sidewall tear and had to mount his spare(!) tire. His 285g tire tire looks dainty next to my 29er Hans Dampf. But surprisingly, that tiny tire didn’t slow him down much.

Down Esmeralda.

Down Esmeralda.

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The fab downhill was of course followed by the hike-a-bike up Furtune Creek road. Lots of campers with Jeeps at Gallaher Head Lake.

The fab downhill was of course followed by the hike-a-bike up Furtune Creek road. Lots of campers with Jeeps at Gallaher Head Lake.

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Sunset is nearing.

Nice evening light is starting to light up the mountains. We have lights - so no worries.

Nice evening light is lighting up the mountains. We have bike lights – so no worries.

And then 3.5 downhill miles on Boulder de Roux.  Eric rode this with his tiny tire in the front - still not sure how exactly he did that.

And then 3.5 downhill miles on Boulder de Roux. Eric rode this with his tiny tire in the front – still not sure how exactly he did that.

Crossing the scree field.

Crossing the scree field.

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Made it back quickly on the gravel road to our cars. A couple astronomers had set up their gear. We talked shop for a while :)

The last bit on the gravel road back to our cars went quickly. An amateur astronomer, Ram Viswanathan, had set up his gear to take advantage of the new moon. Also, Eric turned out to be an amateur astronomer. So we 3 stood around and talked shop for a while :)

You should check out some of the astrophotography from Ram Viswanathan and from Andy, who was setting up just as I was leaving. The universe sure looks pretty with color.

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Bikepacking gear list

Lee’s gear list is somewhat up-to-date on bikepacking.net. My gear list for our mini Idaho Hot Springs route was:

  • Bike: Access 29’er hardtail with RockShox Reba RLT
  • Tires: Schwalbe SnakeSkin Rocket Ron and Racing Ralph
  • Eggbeaters pedals, Specialized Rime shoes
  • Revelate Design: Viscacha seatbag, handlebar harness, tangle framebag
  • Small $15 frame bags in bottom triangle and on top tube
  • Electronics: Garmin Oregon 300 (hard to read display), DeLorme InReach text messaging device (awesome), Samsung cell phone (this is my camera) preloaded with topomaps as a backup. 2 pairs of AA lithium batteries for Garmin and small USB charger.
  • Camping: Big Agnes Flycreek UL1 tent, Exped Synmat UL 7 mat + inflating bag, Marmot Helium 15F downbag, homemade ground cloth that rolls up into a dry-bag on the handlebar
  • Tools: spare tube, small Topeak Alien multi-tool, Lezyne Alloy Drive medium pump (shared with Lee)
  • Miscellaneous: bear rope, bug repellant, chammy cream, toothpaste& brush, floss, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, first aid kit
  • Backpack: Kelty Range (cheap&light)
  • Lights: Lezyne SuperDrive XL and a Planet Bike blinky for the rear
  • Food: bread, energy bars, freeze dried meals, individual bags of tuna, dried mashed potato, twizzlers, nuts, gummy bears, instant coffee, EmergenC, S-caps salt tablets, and some junk food. All food is hung at night in a dry bag.
  • Water: Sawyer in-line water filter attached to Platypus bag
  • Clothing: Ibex merino wool shorts and ultra-light shirt, L.L. Bean merino wool long sleeve shirt, Pearl Izumi vest, Outdoor Research Helium rain jacket, ancient long bikepants, Melanzana hat, Specialized riding gloves with touch-screen stitching, DeFeet Wooleater socks, Specialized helmet, Zoot cooling armsleeves (I hate sunscreen)

I was happy with my setup and nothing broke. The wool clothing worked really well for this multi-day bikepacking trip (no stink, except the t-shirt smells a bit like wet sheep when it’s wet :).

Handlebar attachments.

Handlebar attachments.

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Idaho’s Hot Spring and Cold Creeks, Day 3: to Smiley Creek Lodge

Route of Day 3, 41 miles.

Route of Day 3, 41 miles.

Elevation profile of Day 3. 4100 ft. el. gain.

Elevation profile of Day 3. 4100 ft. el. gain.

It was a clear and cold night, just around freezing I think. We hadn’t set up our tents, instead slept on the front porch of the cabin at Bowery Guard Station. In addition, the morning sun was blocked behind mountains, so in order to get warm, we just had to get going. Luckily, a 2000 ft. hike-a-bike lay ahead for just that purpose. Lee hadn’t had a good night’s sleep, and was up&gone a little after 6 am. I took my sweet time to get going, which meant I was getting really cold while fiddling around. With painfully icy fingers and toes, I started 40 minutes after him.

Packing up in the morning at the Bowery cabin.

Packing up in the morning at the Bowery cabin.

Can't wait to be up there in the sun!

Can’t wait to be up there in the sun!

Once out of the shade of the East Fork Salmon River valley, the sun’s powerful rays heated me quickly and had me shed all winter layers. Though the trail was occasionally rideable, the 17% grade would have been too steep to sustain and instead a sustainable hiking pace made much more sense to fully take in the absolutely gorgeous scenery.

Brrr, it was cold down in the valley.

Brrr, it was cold down in the valley.

Bowery trail

Bowery trail

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Deer peek-a-boo

Higher up on Bowery trail were aspen grooves and big trees. Even some possible bivy sites.

Higher up on Bowery trail were aspen grooves and big trees. Even some possible bivy sites.

Looking back, we didn’t take nearly enough pictures along this portion of the trail. I caught up with Lee at the top. After a tuna sandwich I was eager to keep going, while Lee’s stomach was unhappy and not gang-ho on continuing. After mulling it over, we made the decision to split up and meet again in Stanley in a couple days time. The plan was to keep in contact in the backcountry via my DeLorme InReach 2-way text messaging device, while Lee either rode to Stanley, or drove the car there. Half-ways down, I realized that I had forgotten to give him my car keys. Strike 1. I thought about dangling the key from a branch on the trail, but what if Lee decided to not ride this way? So I kept descending. BTW: The descent on Bowery trail (heading north) is not a worthy descent. It was steep, loose, and then got even looser and steeper. I rode most of it, which probably wasn’t the best idea – but it wasn’t exposed so the price for failure wasn’t astronomical. Also, there were basically no views, except a short glimpse of where the next hike-a-bike would go up to the White Clouds / Castle Divide mountains. Again, my topomap doesn’t have a name for this giant mountain shown below.
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At the bottom of Bowery trail, Germania creek was full with spring runoff. I scouted up and down for 1/2 mile, and ascertained that the best chance for crossing was just downstream of the normal stream crossing. I gave myself a 90% of making it. Having seen what Germania creek does afterwards (waterfall!), I was not terribly excited to continue. Strike 2.

So, I waited for Lee to arrive. He came down cheerfully and telling me that I didn’t have a pump as we only carried 1 between the 2 of us. Strike 3. We decided that it was all for the best to continue together and not split up in the middle of a backcountry adventure. Lesson learned. We took Germania Creek trail out towards Smiley Creek Lodge. Germania Creek trail was fun. Quite techy in a few places, and we were astonished that the 3 motorcycle guys from yesterday had come this way.

About a mile upstream on Germania Creek, we found this possible place to cross.

About a mile upstream on Germania Creek, we found this possible place to cross.

Or a bit farther upstream, we could (and had to) walk through Germania Creek.

Or a bit farther upstream, we could (and had to) walk through Germania Creek.

Along Germania Creek trail.

Along Germania Creek trail.

We met a small group of motorcycles who were clearing out the trail with chain saws. Thanks guys!

See that bridge? Yes, that was sketchy.

See that bridge? Yes, that was sketchy.

Yummy Germania Creek single track.

Yummy Germania Creek single track.

We then proceeded on Pole Creek Road. Quite a few stream crossings kept me trying to dry my shoes out, while Lee simply took off his shoes and put them on (dry) on the other side. He was picking up speed and waited for me several times, once even taking a nap. My energy level was heading down, while Lee’s seemed to pick up!

Finally, Pole Creek summit.

Finally, Pole Creek summit.

Down Pole Creek Road, we could see the Grand Prize canyon and drainage where we had been just 24 hours ago. This was a beautiful loop indeed.

Looking towards Grand Prize gulch trail.

Looking towards Grand Prize gulch trail.

Riding down next to Grand Prize canyon.

Riding down next to Grand Prize canyon.

We took the dirt road to Smiley Creek lodge. The long, windy road made it look like we were on the Great Divide Tour.

Down Forest Road 197 towards Smiley Creek lodge.

Down Forest Road 197 towards Smiley Creek lodge.

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At Smiley Creek lodge, we ordered a big lunch, and a room with shower! While I napped, Lee took up the invitation of Glasair fly-in pilots&family for a BBQ.
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Check out the other days and gpx track of route on the main page.

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Idaho’s Hot Spring and Cold Creeks, Day 2: to Bowery Guard Station

Route of Day 2, 30 miles.

Route of Day 2, 30 miles.

Elevation profile of Day 2. 3600 ft. el. gain.

Elevation profile of Day 2. 3600 ft. el. gain.

Monday night brought rain and woke us up several times. Warm and dry in my Big Agnes Flycreek tent, I enjoyed listening to the rain and munching on an energy bar in the early moring.
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Single wall tent = some problems with humidity build-up.

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Lee delivers my food bag from the bear wire. Thanks for not making me get out in the wet!

Finally, the sun came out and we let our tents dry while we packed and ate more breakfast. Having put up the tents in an east-facing direction really helped to get the morning off to a drier start than if we would have camped on the other side of the pass in the shade. Lee got his stuff together a bit before me and set off; I left at almost 9 am.

Riding the old toll road up in the morning was a delight. There was a small trestle bridge out, with a cairn marking the spot where one should get off the trail and bypass through a small creek.
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Old Galena Pass toll road.

Old Galena Pass toll road.

Our Adventure Cycling track then routed us around the mountain, where we almost doubted that the trail would continue.
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A strong gust greeted us at the top of Galena Pass, and the most incredible views of the Sawtooth Wilderness. Wow! 20140628_112312small

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After the descent, it warmed up quickly. With no wind to cool us, we shed all layers at once. We were going to hit single track today – the White Clouds single track option of the Idaho Hot Springs route. I was excited and wanted to get there quickly. How far would we get today? What all would we see? Would there be too much snow on the trails to make it through? I had checked the Snotel reports and bikepacking.net’s discussion of the ACA Idaho route, and it appeared that the route should be snow-free. But, there was clearly snow on the mountains. Exploring lay ahead. And a bit of gravel road before we’d be on the Grand Prize trail.
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I was feeling energetic and wanted to get a good portion of the single track behind us. Lee was in vacation mode and had some stomach issues. It took us a bit to sort out our differences in riding speed – and then managed to keep riding together fairly well. With my legs still feeling fresh, I decided to go for a few of the climbs on Grand Prize trail. Ah! How much fun it is to burn a few matches, even when I am sure I’d have to pay for it later.
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As we were getting close to the pass at 9000 ft., the valley in front of us looked odd. Trees, shrubs, all looked rather disheveled until Lee explained to me that an avalanche had happened here. I had never seen that before.
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Brown cubical butt rot. Gotta love it!

Brown cubical butt rot. Gotta love it!

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And then, we came to the remains of the avalanche. One big snow pile. The top of the pass was still another 0.3 miles off. Would we have to push through snow the entire time? Only one way to find out: push, push, push.

Avalanche at the pass on Grand Prize trail.

Avalanche at the pass on Grand Prize trail.

Lucky, only maybe 200 yards of that stuff. Then we came to some of the most extraordinary alpine riding. We were putting first tracks on this area since last fall. The trail was mostly dry, with a few snowy and wet patches in place that didn’t get disturbed much by our tires. 20140628_151256small

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Then came the long and wonderfully scenic descent on Grand Prize trail towards Bowery. 20140628_152551small

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See that big mountain in the background? Huge, just huge! 11,000 feet and it doesn't even have a name on my topomap.

See that big mountain in the background? Huge, just huge! 11,000 feet and it doesn’t even have a name on my topomap.

While Lee was having his afternoon nap, I rode on ahead and we planned to meet up at Bowery hot springs.

Grand Prize trail ... we felt like we had won the grand prize alright!

Grand Prize trail … we felt like we had won the grand prize alright!

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Ibex creek

Ibex creek

However, the East Fork Salmon River was big, way too big to cross. I scouted up and downstream and presented the options to Lee when he arrived. Would could ride up about a mile and cross there, then hike-a-bike back down, we could try to cross a few hundred feet downstream where the river forked, or we could see where a tiny bit of trail visible north of here connects to. Without much delay, Lee decided that the little itsy trail might be the way to go, and the contour lines looked like we could probably bushwhack and rejoin the trail on the same side of the river later on.

East Fork Salmon crossing near Bowery Hot Springs - probably not crossable for another month or 2.

East Fork Salmon crossing near Bowery Hot Springs – probably not crossable for another month or 2.

We headed to the little bit of trail sticking up on the hump just north of the river crossing.

We headed to the little bit of trail sticking up on the hump just north of the river crossing.

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See that chainsaw hanging off the handlebar? They are ready for whatever, except riding up avalanches. :-]

And the little bit of trail turned out to be the route to take. We watched as 3 motorcycle guys rode up on their big machines. Crazy how much skill they have. We walked our bikes down that section afterwards. We chatted for a while and as they were intending on headed up and over the avalanched-in area, they wanted to know how long it was. Lee wasn’t sure they’d make it, but they insisted that their motorcycles can go down anything, just not up snow – which is why they had turned around and were riding the loop in reverse. Lee and I were both a little sad that all the alpine beauty would be torn up by motorcycles in just a few minutes. It sure was beautiful to be the first ones over the pass; not seeing anything but virgin snow under our feet and single track that hadn’t been touched since last fall when it iced over.

We kept thinking back to this encounter several more times during our trip. Always remarking how much skill they had shown in riding up those rocks in front of us – and how little damage we had seen to the trail were they had been. I think now that it’s not simply “motorcycles” that tear up the trail, it really is bad riding. And there’s certainly a fair amount of poor mountain bike riding going around that is making disasters of the switchbacks on trails. Lesson learned: don’t just judge them all in one lump: they are all unique riders – some care about the environment and are good at riding carefully, and then there are others who do leave nasty big ruts in the trail, which is all we ever seem to notice.

Bowery Guard Station was off to our right, and a bit after we rode past it, we wondered more and more if we should check it out. Lee was excited to see what it is and find the hot spring.

Bowery Guard Station - a national forest campground of sorts.

Bowery Guard Station – a national forest campground of sorts.

The guard station looked neat, 2 houses that appeared to be rentable? I can tell you that the privy was first class there. Huge, clean, and non-smelly. Almost pristine :)?

We headed over to the hot springs, filled up the hot tub, and Lee soaked for a while. I am not much for water, so I checked the maps – worrying that we might not make it through the White Cloud Mountains at the rate we were going vs. how much food we had left.
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Bower Guard Station hot tub.

Bower Guard Station hot tub.

After half an hour, a couple mountain bikers rode up and introduced themselves as Ryan and Bryan, from Vancouver, BC, and Ames, IA. They let us take a peak at the ACA maps of the Idaho Hot Springs route, which hadn’t arrive in time for me to take with me. We then headed off to eat dinner, and Lee was ready to camp and call it a night. With nightfall, we socialized with Ryan and Bryan for a while, then I went to bed, while they stayed up until the wee hours of morning with a couple flasks of Whiskey.

Looking back upon this day now, I see that we had a lot of experiences that day. Perhaps as many good ones as I usually have in a whole week. Being out here, I was impatient for more riding and more views and experiences than I could process. Sometimes it’s good to have someone to slow you down and take the time to enjoy.

Check out the other days and gpx track of route on the main page.

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