Friday, March 03, 2017

Oregon Six Passes Super Randonnee 600 - Ride notes

I did the inaugural ride of my 6 Passes 600k Super Randonnee in August of 2013. I had an incredible time; the course is like the 10 most awesome rides on and around Mt Hood all strung together. Literally the only piece of road that is not ideal are the bits on US 26, and you do all but about 8 miles of that at 40+ mph. Otherwise, it's composed entirely of gorgeous, quiet roads, surrounded alternately by lush forests and sweeping vistas.

 It is also -- and this is someone speaking who has done Race Across Oregon, the Furnace Creek 508, and several 1200k's -- possibly the hardest ride that I've ever done. The RAO course I did had 36500' of climbing to the 6 Passes' 33000', but RAO also spreads out the climbing over 535 miles, 160 miles more than the 6 Passes, so RAO's way less climbing-dense, and the 6 Passes must be ridden self-supported. In terms of randonnees, the 6 Passes makes the Willamette Headwaters 600 look like a piece of piss.

 If you decide to tackle this, don't complain to me about how hard it is -- it had to be exactly at least this hard to qualify to be a SR 600. Just remember, the rewards are commensurate. Just gorgeous riding on amazing roads. I really can't muster the superlatives to do justice to how great a ride I had; I do know that I'll be cherishing the experience for a very long time.

 In tackling this ride, I broke it down in my mind into 14 climbing sections; 8 the first day and 6 the second. I'll break this recap down similarly.

Section 1: Larch Mountain All of the Oregon riders should be familiar with this section. If you're not, don't cheat yourself any longer. Get out and ride Larch -- it's a classic for a reason. The 6 Passes leaves Gresham by way of Division, Sweetbriar, and Stark, and then takes the scenic highway and Larch Mt Rd up the hill. The route turns onto Louden on the way down. There were a couple of gravel sections coming down Louden when I rode it, and they appear to be logging Larch at the lower elevations (a shame for the scenery), so watch out for log trucks. The descents are moderately technical -- not too much braking required (although watch out for the left-hand sweeper just below mp 12.)

Section 2: Bull Run and Marmot Not a huge amount of *total* elevation in this section, but some intense, steep climbing. Very pretty forest/rural scenery. Stupid technical descents, especially below Marmot -- there's a turn marked as a 15 mph turn, and then an even tighter one right after, so be careful.

Section 3: Lolo Pass A not terribly difficult section of river grade up Barlow Trail Rd, followed by increasingly steep sections as you go up to the pass. I put the route on NF 1828, which is the back way up the pass -- it's longer and steeper than the main road, but also quieter and prettier (the main route, NF 18, just goes up the high-ten powerline right of way, which, bleck.) There's a photo control at the junction with the road up to Topspur. The descent on the other side of the pass kicks off with 5.5 miles of gravel. The gravel was in ok shape for me -- some washboarding on the steeper parts and about 5 sections with potholes, but at least the surface was in general reasonably solid. All the same, best to keep a reign on your speed until you get to the asphalt (except for you 650b cultists, who can feel free to let it roll.)

Section 4: Lost Lake The climb up to Lost Lake is about 6 miles, and is steep but not absurdly so. The road shimmies back and forth across the volcanic hillside, through the drier foliage of the east side of the mountains. Traffic volume is a little higher on this road than you will have seen so far, but still quite light. The store at the resort is the control, and represents your first chance to get more food and water since the start. The route goes back the way you came, including heading back up NF 18 towards Lolo Pass, 3 miles to the junction with NF 16.

Section 5: Blue Ridge (NF 16) My first draft for this course went up to Cloud Cap. This road was my plan B when I learned that the road up to Tilly Jane is 9 miles of gravel and closed for at least a year, to boot (sue me, it's been years since I last went up there.) I had no idea that it would turn out this road (NF 16) is one of the major highlights of a highlight-ridden course. After you leave NF 18 again, NF 16 goes up pretty steeply. Then you get to the first switchback and it gets *insanely* steep. Fortunately, this is very short-lived -- I walked the steep section, and crested it very quickly. After that, the grade backs way off, going up very moderately over the course of 2 more switchbacks. At the top of the 3rd switchback, you're basically at the top. The road trends downhill gently for a few miles, and then up to a second summit. All along this section are breathtaking views of the surrounding hills and eventually the mountain. The photo control is just before the second summit, at a water hose hanging from a scaffolding. The descent on the other side down to Parkdale is *extremely* technical. WARNING: There is a giant crater in the middle of the road that's just at the start of the downhill -- it can be extremely hard to spot, as it's just below a rise. The rest of the pavement is in good shape.

Section 6: Cooper Spur Parkdale, at the beginning of this section, is a nice place to take a break and maybe get some dinner. There's a market and a few restaurants in town. The road up Cooper Spur isn't particularly difficult, but it does go up consistently for the next 8 miles. Then you're at the resort, where there's a well-regarded restaurant and a market (another good option for dinner.) You still have to go up another 2 miles to the gate of the ski area and the end of the pavement. Then you turn around and head back down the hill, bearing a right at the resort and heading down to OR 35.

Section 7: Surveyors Ridge A couple miles up OR 35, and then it's a left turn onto NF 44. This is one of my favorite roads anywhere. You start off climbing up through alpine doug fir forests, crest out in about 5 or 6 miles from the highway, and then scream downhill for 21 miles into Dufur, through forests that rapidly change from fir to pine to oaks. There is absolutely nothing technical about this descent. It's 21 miles straight down, and if you have a good aero tuck, there's no reason that it'll take you even 40 minutes to get from top to bottom. There's a greasy spoon tavern and a surprisingly nice antique hotel in Dufur if you want to call it a day here -- not quite halfway in terms of mileage, but with more than half your climbing finished.

Section 8: Tygh Ridge From Dufur, the route goes south on 197, but only for about a mile. Then it turns off onto Dufur Gap Rd, which is the back way up to Tygh Ridge Summit. It adds a little less than a mile to the distance, but the grade is way easier than the main highway, and obviously there's less traffic. The scenery is much more pleasant, too, if you're there in daylight (I wasn't.) There's photo control at the junction with Friend Rd to keep you honest. Dufur Gap Rd plops you back onto US 197 right at the top of the 6 mile descent into Tygh Valley. At the bottom of the hill you hang a left to go down to Sherrar's Falls, and then take the frontage road into Maupin. Plenty of motels and other services there -- I imagine this will be where most folks grab a little rest in preparation for the second day of riding. Note that none of the restaurants open before 7 am -- if you want a sit-down breakfast, one possible option would be to have a snack out of your supplies, and eat at the Sportsman's Pub and Grub in Wamic, which opens for breakfast at 8. (UPDATE: I am told that there is a breakfast place in Tygh Valley that opens at 7 called Molly B's Diner, though I have not confirmed its whereabouts or current operational status.) (UPDATE 2: Gary Prince confirmed for me last year that Molly B's is indeed a going concern, and it does open at 7, so that's my definite recommendation for a refueling stop and an early-ish start on day 2.)

Section 9: The Barlow Road Out of Maupin, riders will head up over the plateau to Tygh Valley, and then up Wamic Market Rd. In Wamic, in addition to the aforementioned pub, there's a market and an espresso stand. It's your last chance to resupply for a while, so stock up. Many of you are familiar with this road -- it's a long, long climb, and there's a 5 mile stretch with annoying, jarring frost heaves every 20 feet or so. They only really go away once the road starts to get steep. It's a gorgeous road, though, and no cars. Just past the signs for Boulder Lake and Bonney Meadow, the road points downhill for 2 miles to the White River.

Section 10: Cedar Burn Rd/High Rock This climbing section actually has two subsections. The first is the bit that gets you up out of the White River to US 26. The second is the climb up to High Rock. The road up to High Rock is the more significant undertaking by far. Some nice alpine forests in this stretch, but also a lot of logging activity. No water opportunities, but there are at least pit toilets at the Skyline sno-park. This section ends with a bugs-in-the-teeth, 6 mile descent down Shellrock Creek to the junction with NF 57, for a photo control.

Section 11: Anvil Creek/Frog Lake Butte Another climbing section with 2 subsections. From the photo control, the route goes back up Shellrock Canyon on NF 58 for a mile and turns onto NF 5810. It's a pretty steep but extremely quiet climb for 3.5 miles from the junction with 58, because 6 miles from 58, the road disappears. Not to worry, just follow the single track for a few dozen yards, hop across Anvil Creek (which was a trickle for my ride) and scramble up the bank on the opposite side. Voila! There's road again. It'll take you down to and around Timothy Lake (where there is water at the campgrounds); take 42 back up to US 26, and US 26 over Blue Box Pass. There's a quick descent down to the Salmon River, and a mini mart for you to resupply at. I had been extremely worried about doing this fast descent in heavy traffic, but I needn't have been -- the shoulder is HUGE and it's in great shape.

Section 12: Mt Hood Meadows From the mini mart, it's just 2 miles or so to the OR 35 junction. Once you turn off of US 26, the traffic really dies down. You climb up to Barlow Pass, and then up to the White River, and finally up to Bennett Pass. From Bennett, it's 2 fairly steep miles up to the ski area. The road is really wide and does not turn tightly at all, so it's a fun descent. The descents off the two passes are even better.

Section 13: Timberline It's fitting that this is the penultimate mountain section. It's a suitable climax for such an epic undertaking, cresting out at nearly 6000'. I was terrified. I'd ridden up to Timberline before as part of Race Across Oregon, and it was extremely difficult. I wasn't sure if I had enough left in my legs to winch my way up. As it happens, though, that route on RAO took the main highway up to the lodge. Since then, I've learned about West Leg Rd, which is the secret, awesome route that people in the know do. This was my first time on it, and oh my goodness, what an amazing road! No cars, classic alpine forest scenery, a twisty windy road that clawed its way up the hillside while keeping an amazingly consistent grade, and best of all, no cars! It dumps you out at Timberline just below the main parking lot, you loop up to the day lodge to get your photo, and then it's straight down the mountain.

Section 14: Marmot/Dodge Park The coda to the route begins after you've zoomed all the way down US 26 past Brightwood, and turned onto Sleepy Hollow Rd. You retrace your steps through Little Switzerland, and then attack the three ridiculously steep pitches on Marmot Rd with whatever your legs have left in them. Once you crest that last grade, your reward is a series of sweet descents, from Marmot to Shipley to Ten Eyck to Lusted, all the way down to Dodge Park. Take your photo for your last control out on the course, and then it's just Model T grade climbs up out of the Sandy River on Lusted and Dodge Park Blvd. The climb on Dodge Park Blvd takes a while, but only because it's such and incredibly easy grade (the road was built on an old interurban railroad right-of-way.) When you crest it, you get a nice gentle downhill into Orient, and then Orient Road and Powell take you to Hogan Road and back to where you started.


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