Bikepacking the Silver Siouxon Route
Labor Day Weekend. Moira and I are invited to do a bikepacking trip with trail veteran, Monica Gallagher along the the Silver Siouxon route (as detailed on bikepacking.com). None of us had been down there before but the trail reports looked great and I'd recently bought a Marin Pine Mountain 2. This looked like a good opportunity to see what it could do. The route would have us out for 3 days, 25 miles a day, on a course rated 6/10 in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest - what's not to like?
Well, a few things it turns out.
GoPro Videos (shitty):
Day 1 - Ate breakfast at the diner in Yacolt, left cars there and headed into the mountains. There was 5 of us - Monica, Squirrel, Andrew Cole, Moira (my wife), and myself. Late summer had the leaves already changing color, and the day was cool with a high overcast which was nice, because we almost immediately launched into some brutal push-a-bike which would go on for probably half the day, off and on.
And then we ran into wasps.
A few miles shy of the Cold Creek Campsite a dad and his two kids (aged maybe 9 and 11?) with a dog came running down the trail dressed in mountain biking gear, but without bikes and swatting at their heads. They'd just been swarmed by wasps and were still being chased by them. The kids had been stung multiple times, as had the dad. They were in pretty good spirits considering, but the dog - the wasps had tunneled into his fur and was really going for him. We spent time digging the wasps out of the fur (only to then have them attack us once freed). Afterwards we put our rain gear on (for protection) and helped the dad collect bikes and get them out of the danger area. Then Moira and I gathered our own gear and hustled through there. Moira got hit twice in the knuckle, I didn't get hit at all. Later we would find out Monica (who was 20 mins ahead of us) got stung 24 times. She was not stoked.
By the end of the day, between the wasps and the climb, we could only make 15 of the 25 miles the route called for; the Tarbell Trail promised to be even steeper than the stretch that just spent the last 6~8 hours kicking our asses - there's no way we'd cover the next 10 miles that day. We went to bed resolved to make up the 10 miles in the coming 2 days - that meant the next two days would be 30 mile days. But we didn't have a lot of options - we were beat and running out of daylight, so camped at Tarbell Trailhead and was grateful for it.
Day 2 - Monica would bail the next morning to take herself to the nearest clinic. The wasp stings kept her up all night and she was in a lot of pain/misery. We elected to continue on.
And then we were 4.
We spent the morning climbing/pushing our way to Silver Star Summit. If we thought yesterdays push-a-bike was tough, that wasn’t anything compared to today. That said, once we got to the top it was just immaculate. You could see 5 separate peaks (St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, Hood, Jefferson) from up there.
Weather was amazing, the sky was clear, but the climb was a lot of work and both Moira and I ran out of water by the time we hit the summit. We needed to reload/filter more and assumed there was somewhere to filter further down, so started to descend the narrow little trail on the other side. Also, we were tired of climbing and pushing our bikes and ready to do some actual riding now that we'd crested the Silver Start Summit.
Boy were we in for a rude awakening. Not only did we have to push bikes up that mountain, we’d have to push them back down this narrow little knifes-edge goat track covered in shale and babyhead rocks - that is, when it wasn’t plunging you into grossly overgrown trail sections that you had to bodily push your way through. The trail was just beautiful but you were on the edge of a cliff most of the time with a loaded bike, so a wrong slip had some pretty shitty consequences. It was beautiful and dangerous and very difficult to traverse. To make matters tougher, it was also becoming clear that our big mistake was that we missed our water reload point at the summit - apparently there's a spring up there. You’re not going to come on water on top of a ridge, and it was a long ridge in front of us.
We’d spend the next 4~5 hours working our way across this narrow little exposed goat track, in the sun, completely out of water, clutching our bikes to our bodies, trying not to fall off the trail or twist an ankle, in some of the most beautiful country I’d ever been in. By the time we reached the end of it, we were pretty thoroughly demoralized. 4 hours got us 6 grueling miles and we'd only gotten 9 miles all day long. It was 3pm and there still wasn’t any water for another 12 miles of push-a-bike according to the map.
Fortunately we ran into a second party of 4x from Portland who shared some of their water with us. But they were in the same boat and were discouraged as well. We did the next 6 miles more or less leap frogging each other until we hit Cougar Rock.
To the right was the trail we were to continue on - another 4 or 5 miles of push-a-bike MIGHT get us to a water crossing, but we'd still be well short of our 30 mile goal meaning we'd be more than 40 miles out for day 3; to the left was a broad flat gravel road that would take us all the way down into the bottom of the river canyon, and a campsite, and water.
It was just after 4:30pm, we'd just spent the entire day pushing bikes both up a mountain and then back down it, went 5+ hours without water, and was still 15 miles short of the 30 mile goal we needed to maintain our schedule - we'd had it. Both our party and the Portland party who caught up with us also bailed out. We took the left and for the first time that day actually rode our bikes for more than 10 minutes. I came to a skidding halt 2 miles down the road and filtered water out of a fucking mud puddle dribbling out of the side of the hill (5+ hours without water, except what little I scored off others had put me in a foul mood and I wasn’t passing up any chances).
After that it was a super fast/chill gravel bomb into the bottom and into an established camp ground, with a metal ring fire pit and a grumpy camp host selling bundles of wood for $6. We bought two, had a big dinner around the fire, drank a lot of water, and crashed out.
Day 3 - we got up and rode the 10 miles down hill by pavement into Yacolt. Monica stayed in a hotel the night before and met us with the car, and we headed home.
The route was beautiful but more than we anticipated, and certainly more than was described. How this was a 6/10 but the Oregon Outback a 7/10, we'll never know. Day 2 was a 10/10, no question. Gotta really read the fine print and assume it’s going to be a bit tougher than advertised. Like on tab 3 or 4 or whatever there’s a one liner that says “water may be a little scarce in the summer between miles 27 and 47”. Yeah, no shit, thanks. This little one liner meant a lot more to us after the fact than it did before.
The bikes performed flawlessly. Nobody had any mechanicals to speak of. Not even a flat tire.
In the end we think this is two separate, very cool loops, linked with that crappy goat trail. The Tarbell Trail system could have been it's own loop and it would have been great. Silver Siouxon promises to be likewise amazing. But the route as mapped - it's not a 6/10, it's more of a 9/10 and not for the faint of heart. Or lung. Or leg. Ho man, I'm getting tired just writing about it again.
That said, we’re already planning a return trip to finish it out. Will try to get someone to ferry us back up to Cougar Rock to pick up where we left off. There remains another 12 miles of push-a-bike but after that he rest of it is supposed to be just incredible downhill smooth flowing trail, all the way back into Yacolt. We’re all pretty eager to get at it.
Personal Take Aways
- Locus maps is awesome and I am dumb for forgetting I had it. Load maps into bike computer AND Locus in the future. Locus takes GPX files. Don’t fuck about.
- Water is very very important. Note water reload points on map prior to adventuring. Note excessive waterless points. Note bailout points and PNR. See above.
- Sea to Summit front roller bags (500d 4L)
- Get a different helmet. That thing is ridiculous.
- Sleeping sleeve worked better than anticipated
- Smartwool socks are incredible. Super thick hiking socks.
- Consider point and shoot instead of camera phone. Make sure gopro lens is clean and set for linear, not wide or superview unless you want fish eye.
- You dont eat as much gorp as you think
- Radios could be awesome. In lieu of that, clearly defining mass-up points a good idea.
- Keep medication on hand in tent when you go to bed, save yourself an out-of-bed trip. Keep benadryl on hand for sleep aid and allergens.
- Crocs on the side of your buttrocket (instead of on top) because getting your leg over your saddle becomes really difficult esp when you’re tired. Find somewhere else for your camp cup if you you’re doing a lot of dismounting.
- Dropper posts kick a lot of ass. So does this Porcelain Rocket Albert. See above.
- Get a frame bag. But don’t pack more.
- Make sure you grab the right tent poles next time, dummy
- Bring more than one bandanna
- Consider protein powder?
- Its almost impossible to have too many voile straps
- Wasps do not fuck around.
- Bear shit looks like a small wad of berries in a mash. Cougar shit looks like white dogshit. Deer shit looks like raisinettes. I know this seems like random information, but it’s really not. Pay attention.
- Trailforks wont cache maps offline and it’s stupid. Trailforks knows it. Don’t count on Trailforks to help you in the bush.
- I need to drop another 25lbs and do more cardio
This was some of the better trail. Beautiful, but nerve wracking and dangerous when you could ride it at all. Which was almost never.
- Scott Gamble - 09/11/18