2 Day Bikepacking (pushing) Trip in Bend, OR: Swamp Wells Trail to Newberry Crater

The Map

Want the GPX version of the map or just more detail?  Click here.

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.

The ride started Friday morning, with Trish and me riding Peterson’s Ridge in Sisters, Oregon.

She was a natural!

So pretty…

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.

From Left: Brandon (the beard), Ben (me), Dan 2.0 (kneeling), and Dan, with our chosen steeds: three Krampuses (Krampi?) and an Ice Cream Truck.  Surly should really be paying us.

Brandon wasn’t impressed by my camera-over-the-shoulder routine.

From Brandon’s angle.

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.

And now it begins!

The ascending started almost immediately.

So much Krampi…

Lunch stop. This is right before the pain begins.

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.

Here comes the snow.

And unrideably-steep hills.

And more snow…

and ticks burrowing into my leg hair.

And downed trees EVERYWHERE.  It was fun, I swear.

Here’s my Krampus acting like a ‘petulant child’ as I drag it over a particularly slippery section of trail.

At this point, we’re just following where my GPS says the trail is, because we have no idea where it is.

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.

Finally, it was time to make a decision about our goals for the trip. We decided to fill back up on water and look at our map.

Decision made! Follow a primitive forest road back towards Spring Wells Horse Campground so we can get back to more singletrack riding.

So we followed the road.

Took some shortcuts.

Fell a lot (Exhibit A: Dan 2.0 down in the back).

And postholed our way towards lower elevations (Exhibit B: Brandon postholing knee-deep in the background.

A tree tried to stab me in the foot on our way down, but to no avail.

Most of us grew tired of getting off our bikes for fallen trees, so instead we’d simply bust through them. Here was one of the easier trees to clear.

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.

Finally, we made it to the campground.

Fires and meals were the first order of business.

The night ended with some quintessential bike gear nerdery talk.

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.

The morning proved cooler than we had anticipated, and all of our gear was covered in a layer of frost, plus all of our water was frozen.  This surprise was a bit more of a shock for Dan and Dan 2.0, both of whom were sleeping in Bivvies.

And then it was all beautiful downhill singletrack the rest of the ride home.

Only one minor route confusion on the way back.

This could be my Krampus’s final voyage with me, as I’m upgrading to a steel-framed hardtail. You’ve been a good bike Krampus. I’ll be sad to see you go.

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.

Categories: Oregon Bikepacking, Pedals and Packs

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6 replies »

  1. This is the most “Pacific Northwest” blog entry yet. Also, do you not wear clip in shoes for mountain biking and if not why?

    • Ha! are you just saying it’s ‘pacific northwest’ because there’s a dude with a big beard?

      Anyway, to answer your question, I don’t wear clipless pedals because they are less comfortable to wear for long periods of time and they’re harder to hike in. A lot of people do use them for mountain biking, but I’d say most bikepackers go the flat pedal route. But nice observation!

  2. Hello! Great post. I’m curious if you ever attempted the route again? I am considering bike-packing from Horse Butte to Newberry Crater this summer if the trail is OK.

  3. This one is on my list! Either as a one-day big ride or an overnight bikepack, we shall see… Balancing the dusty BS of Swamp Wells in the summer with the snow around Paulina makes it a tough one to line up, so good on ya for trying it.

    • Hey Dakota,
      I actually have another post of us trying and succeeding on the ride up Swamp Wells to Paulina, if you’re willing to sift through some of the bikepacking rides after that post. But yeah, that’s another ride I’d like to return to sometime this summer. The ride down from Paulina Peak is absolutely thrilling, and beautiful as well.

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