Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pioneer Cabin

When I visited Sun Valley in 2013, I had a ride in mind east of town, away from the "mainstream" MTB trails west of town. Don't remember why I didn't get to it, especially considering almost everything west of town was closed due to recent fire. Maybe I thought it was too hard for tired legs...

I have more time dedicated to Sun Valley during my current trip, so I was definitely going to ride up to Pioneer Cabin. It sits on a ridge almost 4000ft above town overlooking the Pioneer Mountains. The loop is definitely Hill Junkie material. The climbs are steep and relentless. There's no way to shuttle to the top of these trails. Only those who earn their turns get to experience them.

The day started just like every day so far this week, chilly with bluebird skies. Also like my other rides so far this trip, a paved bike path is taken out of town to pick up dirt forest service road to trailhead. Ride right from the hotel with minimal interaction with cars. Really love this town.

Once on Pioneer Cabin Trail #122, the climbing got down to business. Even with destroyed legs, the buff 12% grade was manageable. I didn't clean every switchback, but vertical was gained at a pretty good rate. I thought what a gem this trail is, how can it not be more popular?

It didn't stay a buff 12% grade forever. Talus slopes were encountered where both the grade increased and the surface became chundery at the same time. I suspect strong locals might be able to clean these sections, but not me in the state I was in. Plus the altitude was noticeable, getting up around 8000ft.

As I climbed, I pondered the thought that maybe this should be an uphill-only direction for cyclists, since it was so buff, steep and lots of distance between switchbacks (meaning lots of quiet speed). I bet a lot of hikers use this trail on weekends. Cyclists could take a couple other routes down that are probably less frequented by hikers. Just a thought, not sure there is any user conflict here anyway, as there were no bike tracks on the trail.

Once popping out above treeline, the grade lets up. The view back down into the Corral Creek valley was sweet. I came to the junction with Johnstone Creek Trail #206 and noticed it was barely there. Crap, that was my way back down to make a loop out of it. Did Johnstone fall into disuse? I would find out later. First I had to take out-and-back spur up to cabin on Trail #123.

Another talus field had to be scaled to gain the last few hundred feet to cabin. It was all hike-a-bike for me, but the trail was well designed and constructed. Later I was able to ride it back down, save for a few switchbacks that were just too risky.

Popping over the saddle to the cabin opened an expansive view of the Pioneer Mountains. Literally jaw dropping. What an amazing place to put a cabin. I hung around a good while at the cabin, inside and out. Lot of interesting writings on the walls inside. There was nobody else around. So special to have a place like this to myself.

Heading out, I rode down the talus switchbacks to Johnstone trail. Once on the trail, it was easy to follow, although very narrow and probably not used as often as Trail #122. It is a much longer route up to the cabin. Johnstone rolled up and down and hugged very steep slopes for a good while up on the ridge. More views of the Pioneers opened along the way. Hyndman Peak, one of Idaho's nine 12,000 footers, dominated the profile of craggy peaks. I had thoughts about hiking it on this trip, but seeing it from this vantage point made me think only a mind on crack would hike it after trail riding with 6000ft climbing per day for most of a week. Plus it looked scary rough and steep.

Once Johnstone Creek Trail started down the drainage, things got interesting. The drainage is more like a rocky canyon than basin. The trail was very technical in spots and skirted serious exposure. There were a couple places I dismounted due to exposure. Just didn't want to risk it riding alone.

Popping out at the bottom on Hyndman Creek Rd, a fraction of a mile scoot took me to the base of Bear Gulch. To get back to town, a 2000ft climb up Bear Gulch Trail #121 is required, otherwise a lot of road miles would be needed. Cresting the saddle at top of Bear Gulch, Parker Gulch is descended back to Sun Valley.

Starting out on Bear Gulch, the grade was tame. I was thinking no, no, I don't want tame! Why, you ask? Because I knew the average grade bottom to top was 12%. For every bit I rode less than 12% meant the grade would be more than 12% somewhere else. My legs were not in a state to do more than 12%. Sure as shit, the grade eventually kicked up to 15% and pretty much stayed there for the rest of the climb. I was knackered. I found excuses to stop along the way, like to take mediocre pictures. The climb was mostly in full sun and I was going to run out of water. I did not bring my filter, as this ride was supposed to be "only" 33 miles.

Heading down the Parker Gulch side, the descent was just like the climb. Steep and buff. It was constant heavy on the brakes. Don't think I ever scrubbed so many kilojoules per minute before in a descent. About half way down, my rear brake started to fade. Just as I came to a complete stop, the lever went all the way down to the bar! Dang, that was close. I had this happen only once before with Hayes brakes, several years ago, descending Burke Mtn paved auto road. I waited a good while for the brake to cool and pump back up again. Not sure what happens to cause this, but the good thing is it recovers after cooling.

I was developing skinny singletrack descent fatigue by the time I reached the dirt road at the bottom. Yeah, it was hard keeping the tires on that 8" wide track with lips on the side. Scrub a lip, you were probably going down. Happened to me before, seen it happen to others. Not good when hauling-A.

I rolled back into town with 35mi, 6200ft in 4.6hrs on the Garmin. Another satisfying ride, but how much deeper can I dig this hole I'm putting myself into? Bluebird skies every day and limitless trails to explore in Sun Valley.

Bike path heading out of Sun Valley

Corral Creek Rd

Pioneer Cabin Trail #122. Pure bliss climbing this, even if my legs were AWOL.

Up on ridge en route to cabin.

Looking back down Corral Creek drainage, almost 3000ft of vertical climbed in this view.

All the cabin walls had creative writings and art on them.

"The higher you get, the higher you get" I have always felt this way.
Nothing like a long climb with rewarding view to put you into a flow state of mind.

Could have spent all afternoon up here gazing at the Pioneer Mountains.

Another view of Pioneer Cabin

Rolling along Johnstone Creek Trail

Less refined, at times barely there, Johnstone Creek Trail

The Pioneers. Second from left is Hyndman Peak at 12,009 feet, the ninth of
Idaho's nine 12,000 footers.

Scree section on Johnstone

Views of Pioneers to die for on Johnstone

Dropping into the Johnstone Creek basin

Crevice a hundred feet straight down along Johnstone Creek trail.

Steep, rowdy terrain coming down Johnstone

Climbing Bear Gulch Trail, near the saddle before dropping in Parker Gulch.
Is that a cloud?! So many days in a row with skies like this.

Parker Gulch Trail. Very narrow, angled downward steeply. Baldy ski mountain
in background, of which my hotel sits right at the base.


Jason said...

Outstanding in every way!

Falcon said...

Wow, incredible. Don't rest keep pointing the wheels uphill and soak in as much as you can everyday. Great photos!