February 2008 Bikepacking Trip
This was an incredible trip that went through several "change of plans" due to weather and other circumstances. Organized by Brian (MTBMaven) over on the STR web pages, we'd been talking about it for a few months.
Even though we rode the day before the trip to check out conditions, we were still subjected to some last minute changes during the ride. It was a great trip, and well worthwhile.
Day 1: Lake Ave to Eaton Saddle, then Idlehour Camprground
Lower Sam Merrill is a pretty solid climb on a normal day, but towing the Bob gave it that little extra oomph to really kick some butt (mine and Hans). The Bob did pretty well though, and only was a hindrance on three of the switchbacks and one of the loose rocky sections. It took a while to do the climb, but we knew we had all day... one of the great things about a ride like this.
We hung out at Echo Mtn and enjoyed the view for a while. It was warm, and really great riding weather. When we hit the Mt. Lowe Climb, MTBMaven and Donkey, both on 29'ers with saddle, frame and back packs took off ahead. Presidente and I hauling Bob trailers couldn't hold the pace with the extra 18 pounds of trailer. Maven, to his credit though, was running a 1x9 setup (which I think he later regretted climbing out of Idlehour).
The ice and snow on the final pitch to the top of Upper Sam Merrill was a hoot. Riding up, It wasn't too difficult to ride a good portion of it. Too much pedal pressure or too low a gear and the rear tire would just spin on the ice. Where there was some sun effect it got a little crunchy and had good traction, but over much of it was nothing but sheet ice. Where it got soft it was ski-biking and pretty tough going uphill.
As Hans and I were climbing the ice, both of us went down just walking bikes across the ice. It was pretty tricky. We started seeing large rocks fall down the hillside and heard voices. It sounded like there was a group up there doing trailwork. Then a couple of the people appeared up ahead on the trail. They'd hiked up the snow-filled Upper Merrill, boot stepped and helped each other across some icy sections, but once they got to the section that faces north-west and is in the shade, they came across a 45 degree sheet of ice that dropped off the side of the trail to a cliff-edge. They had already been spooked by the snow and ice they'd crossed, and chose to bush-whack it down the side of the hill to the fire road rather than return over the ice they'd already traversed. Here's where they slid down the last 40' of ice on their butts.
In light of the recent death at Chantry from a similar situation, we all agreed to err on the side of safety and head back down the fire road. Not that riding ice was safe. Brian mentioned his slide and near-tumble over the side, but I was right behind Hans when he went down. It was a hard and fast fall... the kind where I doubt he realized he'd crashed until he was sliding down the ice. He slide a good 20 or more feet before coming to a stop. After that he walked/shuffled most of the rest of the icy stretch.
We re-grouped at the top of the Idlehour trail, where Hans made the call to get himself checked out as the pain was worsening and he was tightening up. The prospect of a cold night on a thin pad followed by a solid hike-a-bike with a trailer didn't seem the best idea, given that he's riding the tour of california routes this week.
We also talked about our options. With the amount of ice up on the north side of USM, we likely wouldn't be able to get through the upper Wilson/Santa Anita trail, or any of our other options. We decided to do an out and back to Idlehour campground, and return down some of our favorite trails, MSM, Sunset, El P. The three of us cruised on down idlehour. Downed logs were the only real problems... but nothing insurmountable.
The bottom section was pretty cool.... tight rocky singletrack had the trailer bouncing off rocks behind me. I know some of those dents in the frame are new!
Camp was incredibly remote feeling. We were miles from anywhere, alone in the mountains (1.7 miles, as the crow flies, to be exact!) But it seemed and felt far more remote than one could think possible this close to such a large city. The only giveaway was a slight glow from the city after the moon had set.
I hiked up the canyon to take in the views, and look for Tedroy's cabin. We never found it, but had fun looking. It's amazing what lies just outside of the city, for those willing to work for it.
The night was pretty cold. I took a bunch of layers, and a 1 pound summer bag. For the most part I was fine, but I'll remember to take extra socks next time. I did take one pair of wool socks, but on my 3/4 length pad, my feet were in contact with the ground and got cold, and stayed that way all night.
The moon was incredibly bright for much of the night. I pulled my had down over my face to sleep and that seemed to work pretty well.
My totals for the day: 16.06 miles, 3:28:23 moving time, 4008' ascent, 2957' descent
El Presidente on LSM:
The two 29'ers
Riding up the ice:
Making it to the top:
How far did he slide after he hit the ice?
Far enough to pull out the camera!
Sun affected snow was rideable, downhill at least:
The last patch of snow:
MTBMaven, just for a second considered attaching helium-filled balloons to "take some weight off" his bike :)
Killing daylight at Inspiration:
Donkey Crusing on Idlehour:
Steve on Idlehour:
Downed Logs and Trees on Idlehour:
Trailwork, even on his days off:
Creek Crossings on Idlehour:
Maven with Mt. Wilson in the background:
Donkey under the tree:
Steve under the tree:
Bottom of Eaton Canyon:
The stream and waterfall:
Sitting around the (alcohol burning) campfire:
Turning in for the night:
Day 2: Idlehour to Middle Merrill, Sunset, El Prieto
Sunday meant for a cold morning. None of us were up as early as we'd expected, considering we were in bed by 8:30 or so. Deep in the canyon the sun didn't hit until well after we started the ride/hike a bike out.
One section of the trail was pretty sketchy... it was eroded and really narrow. From below it was undercut so we were riding on a 6" wide section of unsupported dirt. Maneuvering the bike and trailer around that was pretty difficult, even on foot. It was also at a pretty steep grade.
We cruised out Idlehour the same way we'd come in. It's deceptive, but the Idlehour campground is just 300' higher in elevation than the bottom of Sunset Ridge trail, so climbing out of there was like climbing Sunset Ridge and Middle Merrill in elevation gain. It took quite a while.
We took in the views from Inspiration one more time, and headed down the top of MSM, and were "buzzed" by a helicopter that flew about 30' over the saddle. We watched it from the side, but there were two other riders who it passed right over. We could smell the exhaust it was so close.
Donkey headed off down to Sunset Ridge. MTBMaven and I enjoyed the fruits of MSM with a fervor!
Much of the upper part of MSM is overgrown, but the trail tread is in great shape.
I got down the face and waited for Brian. A minute or so after he arrived, my back tire just started PHsssshing out of the blue and went flat. No biggie, but pretty funny since I'd been there nearly five minutes before it blew.
We cruised the tech/steep section of MSM at a steady pace. Having the trailer definitely steps it up a notch for difficulty and challenge, but it was so worth it.
Cruising out the bottom over all the railroad ties was pretty cool. I figured out pretty quickly that when airing off things with a trailer, you better be on your line at take off, as there's no correcting or adjusting in the air...
Sunset Ridge was cool. There's been some serious trailwork put in the bottom sections very recently (yesterday?) so much of it was loose new tread. The upper part hadn't been touched.
Lots of hikers on the trail today as we expected on a Sunday, but everyone was pretty cool, and interested in what was in the trailer... we had lots of nice conversations on the way down...
Finally we hit EL P for some icing on an already very sweet cake.... Not too many pics, but it was cool to ride some really familiar trails with a new feature.
Cruising back to the car was mentally tough, as Loma Alta never seems to end, but it was also very rewarding. We'd been able to go out and have a real "backcountry" adventure, just a short drive from where we live..... good times, good people... and good memories for sure.
I learned quite a bit.... though I wasn't nearly as light as MTBMaven or Donkey, I used everything I brought, with the exception of the first-aid kit and some extra food. I could have shed a pound or so by using a lighter tarp, iodine instead of a filter... and a few other minor items... Oh, and by using frame packs instead of a trailer... but then what fun would there be in taking middle merrill without a trailer?
Sunday: 17.77 miles, 3:05 moving time, 3495' ascent, 4302' descent
Rise and Shine...
My rig, Bionicon Edison and Bob trailer, ready for the ride out...
Very narrow eroded and undercut section of trail...
Hike a bike....and trailer....
Finally through the canyon bottom hike...
Buzzed by a chopper:
Delayed flat tire at the top of the face of MSM..
Steve on MSM:
MTBMaven on MSM:
Why you don't want to fall on MSM... MTNFiend setting up for the vid:
Steve on Sunset Ridge:
The slide over the lower trail on El Prieto:
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