Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mountain Biking Warm Springs

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 2:21 PM

I stopped by Valley Bike in Hamilton yesterday to get a screw for my shoe cleat and talk about some mountain bike routes near Lost Trail Pass. After securing a new screw to keep me secure in my pedal, I had decided, with Randy's guidance on pedaling up Warm Springs Creek and completing the loop to Overwich Falls, clockwise.

Shields Ridge

I had been in this area before but had never completed one of the demanding loops into the high country. With beautiful weather and a full afternoon, I began the ascent of Warm Springs Creek about 11 a.m. Passing some friendly horses and mules almost to the loop junction, I scurried on ahead of them up to the TwoGood Cabin for my first break in the sunshine. The demanding switchbacks of the trail to Porcupine Saddle are well engineered and a solid biker might be able to pedal them all. I wheezed my way to the top with one solid break to clean the sunglasses and take a rest. The riding along the ridge was spectacular with open side hill meadows and a clean and cleared trail. I missed the junction and dropped the half mile to the Porcupine trailhead above Camp Creek, realizing my mistake within a hundred yards of the trailhead. Turning around and pedaling back to the junction it was easy to see why I missed the junction here. There are two trails descending from the north to the saddle.

The ascent and traverse to the Shields Ridge was one of the nicer portions of the trail in roller coaster style. Gaining the high spot on the Shields Trail about 8000', I began the long descent back to the trailhead. After five hours of mostly continuous climbing I was tired and eager for the single track descent. With more than a dozen switchbacks following a long open ridge descent, this is another highlight of the loop to Overwich Falls. Once in the creek bottom the trail is quite nice and moderate before it begins a scree climb up and around to reach Overwich Falls on the left. A long falls dropping through a cleft and down into and deep canyon the cascades were catching the warm afternoon sunshine and glowed spectacularly through my sweat soaked eyes. I did not rest long here as the day was cooling off and I still had miles to go. Almost at 7000 feet elevation the remote falls and Capri Lake will be a nice place to further explore sometime. Climbing out of the drainage to the final pass to cross, the trail traverses areas burned likely in 2000. I took another detour into the food bag at the pass before committing to the descent back to the junction in the valley far below. The upper part of this trail was rough and would have been a push had I came that way. Thank you Randy for steering me to the Porcupine Saddle Trail. I was on a roll now and zooming along the lower, steep sidehill trail I felt totally calm and smooth, until I hit some scree patch; I flailed off the downhill side of the trail to catch myself before falling.

With numerous steep switchbacks to navigate here, I crouched off the back of my bike and made the turns all but one. The lower portion of the trail was good solid dirt and I was able to fly along all the way to the bottom. Now retracing the popsicle portion of the trip I knew the trail fairly well and also knew there were a few rocky patches. This did not stop me from easing up on the brakes, and I got snarled up in some turns and rocks and almost head planted. I was going slowly though and stopped myself with my index finger outstretched. Mountain biking can be so dangerous! With the sun having set in the valley and cool air to wind up the day, I groaned the last five miles down the trail, forcing a smile to feel better and stumbling over the four large uncleared blowdown on this portion of the trail. Rallying back to the car, I eased up to the Toyota quite spent, happy to have seen such a beautiful stretch of Montana mountains all in an afternoon. I highly recommend this tour for the hardy single track specialist. There was about 4500'-5000' of climbing over about a 28 mile course. With most kinds of western Montana forest and meadow traversed, it has lots of appeal and generally quite far from any crowds. I look forward to further adventures in this neighborhood.

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