July 7, 2010
This is one cool trail that I have done a couple times before. For this trip we were a little pressed for time, so we just did the North side up to Bench Lake and then back, to avoid having to shuttle cars around from the south end trail lakes area. From this end the ride starts out pretty tame, but starts to mix in big roots, rocks, and a bunch of drainage channels cut across the trail at low points over the first 3 miles. Climbs then begin to get steeper, punctuated by very steep sections. One nasty stretch is covered in loose shale for one of the climbs above a steep drop and the river channel below. I could not get a good bite ont he trail, rooster tailing up, and had to dismount to climb out of the loose rock. If you travel from south to north side and dont know this is there you could get carried away (litteraly) by the cool drops and find yourself with too much speed coming into the shale at the corners above the drop. :O
Mile 3 through 6 is a nice mixed bag of roller coaster through trees, and higher meadows, with trail widths from 4 feet down to 9 inches and overhung with devils club, cow parsnip, raspberry, and such. I think the rains this year have it overgrown a bit earlier.
Trail conditions on Friday 7/2/10 were really quite good, with little mud except way up on top, where we had to eke through a few trail sections with mud 2 to 4" deep. Note that in the lower trail section from mile 1.0 to 2.5 there were several avalanches with deep snow crossing the trail. Not a big deal, but if you ride it soon watch the creek crossings, as the snow bridges were soft in midday and eroding from creeks underneath. The final avalanche as you ride in ends in a 5' drop, but some nice souls had cut in a set of steps to get you down.
The rains came down pretty good in the afternoon and evening, and by Saturday midday the trail conditions had totally changed the previously firm lower trails to soup and goop.
This is a very cool ride, with great views, wildlife (yes bears), and plenty of intermediate challenge to keep your attention.
Whoop it up or use bear bells - not only will the wildlife give you wider berth, but the hikers on the trail appreciate the warning as you bomb down and around the often blind corners.