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