2 Day Bikepacking (pushing) Trip in Bend, OR: Swamp Wells Trail to Newberry Crater
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Okay, We’ll Attempt this Ride Again in a Month…
“My bike is acting like a petulant child.” – Quote from Brandon (the bearded guy), spoken while dragging our gear-laden bikes up a snowy mountain for six miles.
Yes, that pretty much sums up a large portion of this particular bikepacking/bikepushing escapade. Of course, I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but hiking up slushy snow for hours wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for this trip. I guess the locals were right, Newberry Crater is still covered in impassible snow… but we had to find out for ourselves, and we definitely made the best of this two-day bikepacking trip despite the six-hour hike-a-bike/pull-a-bike/push-a-bike/carry-a-bike detour.
The Land of Milk and Honey
Trish and I LOVE Sisters and Bend. So much so, that if the right jobs opened up, we would both likely pack up and head there tomorrow. However, visits are great too, and on this particular trip, Trish had her inaugural mountain bike ride on the gentle, sweeping slopes of Peterson’s Ridge. And it was a huge success. She not only rocked the singletrack, but seemed to have a good time doing it as well.
That was Friday afternoon. Friday evening we were joined by Brandon and Dan, both of whom I’ve ridden with before, and Dan’s friend, Dan – who we informally referred to as Dan 2.0 to keep them apart. Anyway, the ride officially started Saturday morning after we made the 40 minute drive down to Horse Butte Trailhead.
My initial route had us going up to Newberry Crater, riding around it on snowmobile trails, and then heading back the way we came. Ideally, it would look something like this:
However, as I’ve found with many of my winter rides, bike route ‘plans’ are usually just a rough draft, with countless revisions made along the way. This route would be no exception.
We started on Swamp Wells Trail, which would take us all the way to Swamp Wells Horse Campground, one of the potential campsites we could stay at along the trail.
Our lunch stop was at a junction just before Swamp Wells Horse Campground. Shortly after the campground, the trail is labeled as ‘primitive’ on most maps. I would agree with this statement, as the trail is littered with downed trees, zero signage, and poor trail conditions throughout. This is also where a hike-a-bike of epic proportions began.
After over five miles of VERY slow hiking (it took us over three hours), we got to a junction where forest road 9710 (or forest road 80, we’re not exactly sure) intersects with the ‘trail.’ We did see some signage here, one of which said we were 3 miles from Paulina Peak. While that had been our original destination, 3 more miles of hiking up 1,000 more feet of elevation gain didn’t seem like our best option, especially since we weren’t even sure that the snowmobile trails would be rideable up there.
So it was at this junction that we decided to count our losses and head for lower elevation. We opted to take the mysterious forest road we were on back towards Swamp Wells Horse Campground, and then spend the night down there. This proved to be an excellent choice.
We made it to the campground around 6pm. We left from Horse Butte Trailhead around 8:30am. That means we covered a measly 31 miles in 9 1/2 hours. Curse you, hike-a-bike! However, the last 2 miles into Swamp Wells Horse Campground were mostly rideable and all downhill, so the frustration of hours spent hiking melted away, replaced with grins and a sense of renewed energy for our ride back the next day.
Outside of the slightly colder temperatures than we had anticipated in the night time, the ride back to the cars was – in a word – magical. 14 miles of almost uninterrupted downhill singletrack. The only times we stopped on the descent were to talk about how fast we went around a berm, how an unexpected rock garden nearly bucked us off the bike, or, more generally, how awesome the riding was, grinning like a bunch of petulant schoolboys (that one’s for you Brandon). Ride, grin, discuss, repeat; this was the pattern all the way back to the car.
We may attempt this ride again in the summer, when the snow up at Newberry Crater has melted. However, for the next couple months I think I’ll make a point to find routes at lower elevations.