Want the GPX version of the map or just more detail? Click here.
Preliminary Route Shout-Out
After completing this ride, I must say, sometimes you just get lucky with a route. It turns out that snowmobile routes are ideal for winter bikepacking, and this route in particular offers wide hard-packed snow, scenic forest roads, gradual climbs and ascents (with only a few exceptions), only the occasional hike-a-bike if the conditions are right (which they weren’t on our second day), and relatively quiet travel, except for the occasional snowmobile group. If you’ve never done a ride in snow and would like to take a stab at it, this 2 day ride is DEFINITELY worth your time. In other words, Do. This. Ride.
It wasn’t until an hour and a half after leaving my house and heading for Frog Lake that I realized I had forgotten to download my GPX route onto my GPS. While I grant that this posh navigation style is a luxury, I hadn’t by any means memorized the route I had pieced together through one of Mount Hood Snowmobile Club’s maps. This means that at every intersection, Andrew, Dan, and I would have to stop, take out the map, and double check that we were on right road; an unnecessary hassle when with GPS one can simply make sure their trusty triangle-self is following the little blue line that designates the downloaded map. This was a classic low self-concept moment.
I had left for Mount Hood around 11:30am which meant that I would have some time to kill once I got to Frog Lake Campground, so I decided to test my luck and head into one of the many small ski-bowls located in Government Camp and see if there was a working computer inside that I could download my map onto my GPS.
When I walked into the small ski-bowl’s lodge, a male employee greeted me and I told him of my predicament, starting with the questionably nefarious beginning: “I have an odd request…” – never a good way to start a conversation, by the way. The employee said that the lodge unfortunately didn’t have a computer for public use. I thanked him for his time and got ready to consider life without GPS, when the employee enthusiastically exclaimed, “Wait, I think I have my laptop out in my car. You could just use that!” and without a confirmed affirmation rushed out to his car to retrieve his laptop. Who does that?
When he brought it over to me, he told me I could just sit down at one of the lodge tables and do my thing. Unfortunately, another impediment heeded my preferred navigation method in the form of a faulty usb cable. Again, the store clerk perked up behind his desk and told me that the cable looked like the same one his Go Pro uses and was off again to his car to fetch the cable. When he brought it back, he additionally downloaded the needed Garmin drives on his computer and then heartily congratulated me when the device finally downloaded my route. He wouldn’t even let me buy him a beer before I left. That’s what I call a good start to a trip.
The Rest of the Evening
Honestly, the rest of the afternoon was somewhat uneventful. I parked my car, rode the ½ mile route from the parking lot to Frog Lake, set up camp, and then went back to my car and took a nap until my two riding partners showed up around 10pm. We then all headed down to Frog Lake and went to bed.
Day 1: All Smiles
Day 1 had us all up around 8am making breakfast, catching up on the last month or so of new life happenings, and getting ourselves ready to ride. We didn’t actually leave Frog Lake until around 10:30am, a rather later start for us than usual.
The ride began on Forest Road 2610, and I had routed us veering right onto Forest Road 4320 after about 3 ½ miles. The snowmobilers had other plans for us, however. No one had ridden on NF 4320 so we ended up adding a couple miles to our route by staying on NF 2610, which eventually looped around and brought us back to the original route. We realized here that we were truly at the mercy of the snowmobile tracks, but outside of this small detour never had to deviate from the course.
All the while, the weather was suffering from severe identity crisis. Most of the ride was spent experiencing various forms of snowflake, i.e. piercing little pellets, downy flakes, and wet behemoths smacking you in the face like a slobbery kiss. However, every once in a while, the sun would pop out of its cavernous galactic hole and reign down rays of sweaty goodness. It made for rather challenging wardrobe choices, but the rare sunny patches were welcome respite from the otherwise snowy conditions.
Shortly after passing Clear Lake, we arrived at a very chaotic Skyline Sno Park, with 4-wheelers raging around the parking lot, Asian tourists gawking at our overburdened bikes, and rowdy snowmobilers with their massive RVs, mega-trucks, 30-foot trailers, and everything else in the world that none of us could or will ever relate to in any way. We confusedly rode around the park until we found the route we were supposed to take towards Timothy Lake – Skyline Road. We now only had 12 more miles to our destination.
After arriving at Timothy Lake, we decided to post-hole our way to its icy edge, which was a beautiful blur of blues and grays as dusk intermingled the colors of sky, lake, and ice. Instead of holing up for the night at this pristine location, we decided to keep riding for another 45 minutes, or once we ran out of daylight.
We finally pulled over on an unused Forest Road that intersected the main snowmobile route and set up camp. We all maxed out our layers, made dinner, chatted about the perfect snow conditions for riding, and then listened to some of the audiobook version of Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance before calling it a night. In total, we rode 28 miles, which made us all swell with pride at the thought, considering how low our expectations were for actually accomplishing the entirety of this route.
Day 2: Nothing Ever Goes Perfectly According to Plan, Right?
We had decided to set a leave time of 8am the next morning to try and get back to the car at a decent hour and beat the Mount Hood Meadows rush down the mountain. Unfortunately, the snow conditions had other plans for us. After riding a rather quick 5 ½ miles on NF 5890, we turned onto what was the steepest climb of the ride: NF 2660. Not only was it steep, the snow was soft and mushy, a result of the sunny conditions the morning brought as well as the lack of shade offered by dense forest and narrow roads we had enjoyed up ‘til that portion of the ride.
What followed was a three mile, mostly uphill hike-a-bike, with more interspersed throughout the following mile or two. It was around mile 9 that we were finally able to ride more than we walked, even if riding felt like pedaling through soft dry sand at the beach. It was tough going, but it worked.
Seeing Frog Lake reminded us that this epic trip was drawing to a close, and as we made our way to our cars, we all agreed that the trip was both gratifying and lucky. The trail conditions were great outside of the 3-mile hell that was NF 2660, and the weather was bearable, if only a little on the cold side (frozen feet were had by all the second day). We made our obligatory greasy diner stop at Calamity Jane’s, ate burgers that probably exceeded our needed daily caloric intake, and then headed our separate ways. Another re-energizing weekend excursion with some great guys.