The night was mild, maybe in the 40s, with a beautifully clear star sky. We woke to sunshine and birds, and broke camp. The day started with a mix of pushing and riding up Johnson Creek trail.
The trail contoured the mountain and was rideable in many parts – even with bikepacking gear. Lee was in HAB mode and soon passed me while I was taking a break by the creek to refill water and eat.
A short break / nap was had after we reached the ridge, and before we continued towards the Ross Fork – Alturas Divide.
Riding up higher, we closed in on patches of snow and a nice big snow cornice at the ridge – which required a small detour before the downhill fun could begin.
The North Fork-Ross Fork trail went near some recent avalanches as evidenced by huge piles of snow in the river banks and lots of broken off trees.
And as any good climb or downhill would demand: a lunch break was head and followed by a nap.
Next, we crossed the Ross Fork and headed up the South Fork-Ross Fork trail. This trail is double-track for the first bit until it crosses the South Fork-Ross Fork creek.
After a bit of technical climbing, the terrain opened wide, trees were sporadic and big blue skies, green meadows and huge towering mountain slopes hovered on either side.
Past the big avalanche field, the trail had not been maintained this year and it generally turned rocky and steep. A lot of pushing was had. We were both in need of break and some snacks. Both were easily had as there are many fallen trees that can be used as benches and we still had more than a 24 hours of food in our packs.
After this break, the real huffing and puffing started. While Lee somehow caught a second wind (more like a storm!), I was short on breath at 8000 ft altitude and generally feeling pretty weak. We did a lot of pushing over/around fallen trees and snow patches, and worked our way upwards, which was ever increasing in the amount of snow. Our shoes had been thoroughly soaked by now and even Lee had given up trying to keep them dry.
More snow and still not even near the top of the pass – we were looking at the clock and the topomaps. If these snow patches keep increasing, we’ll be in full-on snowhiking mode in a few more minutes – and we only have 2.5 hours until sunset. Should we keep going, or turn around? Ever beeing the explorers, we decided to keep pushing until we hit some sort of really stupid snow wall or things got too sketchy/steep. Lee was definitely worried, I was laughing at the ridiculousness of this adventure. It would be crazy if we have to turn around – after all this work we did just to get to this point, but we just might have to turn around. We had tents, food, water, so basically we’d be alright except for our egos if we didn’t make it over the pass.
But, one question still loomed over us: Would we be pushing through snow on the way down? A big snow cornice lay between us and the other side right now. And then we saw our luck: rideable single track! We made it! We sort-of couldn’t believe how lucky we got with this crossing. Willow Creek trail was fantastic, at time techy, flowy, but always views. Yes, more please!
At the next trail junction, the plan had been to just cruise down Willow Creek trail, but a sign warned that the trail was closed down below due to fire damage. Reroute.. Ok, the Bear-Willow Connector trails contours over to the east, and from there we are within a few miles of trails connecting to roads, connecting to bigger roads.
At the next saddle, we had 3 options, none looking too appealing, with the best option being blocked by this big nasty looking snow patch. With the shadows getting longer, we were seriously looking for a camping spot for the night. We were also out of water, so we couldn’t stop right at the saddle.
By myself, I probably would have turned around and gone back to Willow Creek trail, but a bit of careful looking by Lee revealed a fairly safe crossing over the top of the snow patch. I carefully eyed it, and then hiked my bike along it. Not difficult – this was one of those times when it looks a lot more dangerous than it really was.
Then, down a 1 mile long single track which I took at snails pace because it was covered in rolly-polly rocks that didn’t inspire any confidence in me. Lee cruised it like it was nothing. Impressive.
With eyes on potential campsites, we proceeded down National Forest Development Road 80, and after one big creek crossing, found the perfect place to dry our shoes and pitch our tents.
What an adventure this day had been! Great trails, great challenges, great friendship.
Check out the other days and gpx track of route on the main page.