2-Day Bikepacking Trip around Silver Star Mountain
Back to What I Love
After devoting the last two months of workouts solely to running, this past weekend was my opportunity to finally get back to what I love: two-wheeled adventures! the weekend also was a reunion of sorts with two good friends who I see too little of: Dan Cassiopo from Seattle and Andrew Glick from Portland. I’ve ridden with both many times and, after hashing out the wheres and whens of our trip, we all settled on a route that criss-crossed all over the Silver Star Mountain area.
Our original plan was to ride 40 miles Saturday, and then 15 miles Sunday, but I’m not going to even bother posting that route. We ended up getting VERY turned around midway into the ride and having to cut our first day’s riding literally in half… but more on that later. Below is the route we were able to complete over the weekend in the end.
Want more detail, or the GPX version of this map? Click here.
It had been awhile since I had last bikepacked – since the Colorado Trail this summer, to be exact. So when I rolled up to Andrew’s house in the late afternoon, loaded all his gear, and then got to Rockcreek Campground, our home-base for the night, the familiar habits and patterns all fell into place as if I were becoming reacquainted with an old friend. We scouted the campground, picked a site, popped some beers while we set up our tents, and then chatted late into the night and long after darkness had enveloped our surroundings. All we could see in the night-vision red hue of our headlamps was the brown glow of our beers bottles and the silver sheen of tent reflectors, and we were both home.
The goal was to stay up ’til Dan rolled in from Seattle, but 9:30pm rolled around and the fatigue of a 40-hour+ work week trumped Andrew and my determination to greet Dan as he rolled in. We both reluctantly dragged ourselves into our separate tents and immediately fell asleep, like giddy children awaiting the wonder and promise of Christmas morning.
Fall is in the Air… and in the Trees
It turned out that Dan rolled in around 11:30pm, and we all shivered through sub-freezing temps in the early morning and awoke to frost on our tents and a smothering cold aided by the nearby Rock Creek. After exchanging greetings and other verbal sundries, we all began packing our gear, shaking off the morning frost, and eventually heading out from Rock Creek Campground around 9:30am.
The first 6 or 7 miles were a pleasant uphill grade with forgiving stints – albeit short – of downhill until we got to Hidden Falls at mile 8, a beautiful 50 foot waterfall situated less than a mile from where we set up camp. Our campsite was an old abandoned forest road that was somewhat level and provided a stunning view of the rolling landscape around Silver Star Mountain. Fall colors were on full display throughout this section of trail, with reds, yellows, and oranges mixing with the greens and browns ubiquitous with Oregon and Washington evergreen forests.
We set up camp, ate some lunch, and then once again set out to complete as much of the route as we could, although at this point we knew we might not be able to ride as much as we had originally planned, since it was already 1pm.
Logging Foibles and the Death March
We continued riding along the Tarbell Trail after lunch for a couple miles, but then ran into some logging roads that looked brand new. We didn’t see them on any of our fancy digital maps, i.e. Ride With GPS, Gaia, MTB Project, and the Garmin Etrex pre-loaded maps. Naturally, the logging roads also destroyed a section of the trail we were on and we couldn’t figure out where it picked back up.
After yo-yo-ing up and down a number of these gravel roads – each return yo-yo pocked with perplexed remarks such as “This doesn’t seem right…” and “Wait… what direction are we headed on this one?” – we eventually found a strange-looking ramp-like trail up the side of one of the gravel road walls. We climbed it and found an old 4-wheel drive road that appeared to climb up to the trail network around Silver Star Mountain, and just like that, the Death March began.
The ‘road’ was mostly between 15-20% grades, and consisted of grapefruit-sized rocks that we laboriously navigated, keeping spirits high with occasional conversation while simultaneously acknowledging that our ride was going to be substantially shorter than we even thought after leaving our campsite after lunch.
The death march ended after about a mile, but the hike-a-bike slog continued in the form of barely used trails and snow. After an additional 10 minutes of hike-a-bike through very overgrown trail though, we popped out to a trail junction where suddenly the trail systems were all beautiful again, as if the last 2 hours hadn’t even happened. Clearly we had decided to take the few sections of trail around the mountain that are no longer maintained, because from the junction of Ed’s Trail, Silver Star Trail, and Bluff Mountain Trail, everything was rideable again, or at least pleasantly walkable.
We climbed the rest of the way up to the top of Silver Star Mountain and spent a good amount of time up there soaking in the views, admiring singletrack that we would have taken had we more time left in the day, and talking to some hikers and a Forest Service Ranger about trails back down. We settled on taking the Silver Star Trail down to the Chinook Trail, which eventually connected back to Tarbell and our campsite. The descent was AWESOME. Silver Star Trail was a chunky mess of rocks similar to the death march, but when descending, chunky rocks are not such a bad thing. We were able to absolutely fly down this section of trail before getting to the Chinook Trail, which was a narrow ribbon of singletrack that, although less heavily used, still presented beautiful riding and STEEP descents.
We rolled into our campsite around 6pm, which was the perfect amount of time for us all to cook dinner, get a fire going, and enjoy some wine and bourbon while looking at the stars.
An Exciting Conclusion to the Logging Road Saga
The next morning, we pulled out our trusty electronic maps and discussed what we should do to end the ride. My intended route had long ago been thrown out the window, so we decided to complete the rest of the Tarbell loop, which meant venturing back into the maze of new logging roads that had destroyed parts of the trail.
After packing up and getting the bikes loaded, we headed for the initial section of trail where we got lost and once again found ourselves scratching our heads in confusion at where the trail might be. We eventually found it by looking at the angle of the Tarbell Trail that was in tact and cut off by the road and then following that angle down one of the gravel roads about 200 feet. Sure enough, we found a washed out and debris-filled section of trail that eventually was beautiful singletrack after getting past the first 50 feet.
This process continued for the next hour of riding as the logging roads criss-crossed the trail a few more times and we had to sleuth out the trail’s continuation using various methods. Eventually, however, the trail was unencumbered by logging roads and an incredible experience. It was fast-rolling singletrack with varied terrain and the lower we got, the more mountain bike specific the trail got, with jumps and berms galore as we rode the last 5 or 6 miles back to Rock Creek Camp.
More Habitual Comforts
As we pulled into camp, we all popped one more celebratory beer and chatted about the trip as we packed up our cars and prepared for home. No trip would be complete of course if we didn’t stop at a greasy bar on our way home, and that’s exactly what we did. Bad beer and slow service were no hindrance on our spirits as we enjoyed our last hour of time together chatting about the ride, our next trip, and the joys of two-wheeled travel. As I said before, running is great and all, but it’s good to be back to what I love.