Throughout the summer, a couple of guys from my church and I were planning on riding up Paulina Peak and around the Newberry Crater. Paulina Peak and Newberry Crater are all that remains of an old shield volcano. The summit eventually collapsed and left behind a huge crater in its place. The Crater Rim Trail follows, for the most part, the crater rim and is about 20 miles in length. It does not go all the way to the top of Paulina Peak, the highest point of what remains, so we added a side trip up to the top. Paulina Peak is just under 8,000 feet tall and sits about 1,500 feet above the lakes in the crater. We decided to do the ride starting at the day-use parking area along Paulina Lake. We wanted to ride the trail counterclockwise, so we could tackle the Paulina Peak Climb first, by far the toughest part of the trail. We would ride up to the top of the peak and then come partially back down to catch the turn onto the Crater rim Trail and then follow that around. Our plan was to do the whole trail as all three of us had ridden longer rides together the last fall.
I was especially excited for the ride as I had just recently gotten a new mountain bike for my birthday. I do not put nearly as many miles into my mountain bike riding as I do road and tri, so I was not looking for a top of the line bike. I was looking for an upgrade of my thrown together starter bike. The other fun element of my new bike was that is a 29er. I was excited to be able and truly get a good ride on it now that my racing season was over.
The weather for our ride turned out to be very nice. Temperatures in Bend were forecasted for the upper 60s with only a slight breeze and lots of sun. It would be slightly colder up at the crater as the crater floor sits at 6,300 feet, and we would top out just below 8,000 feet. The only drawback we had was the sir was still rather hazy from the Pole Creek Fire which was still burning, and I cannot remember the last time it rained. This meant that the trail would be very dusty. We were still stoked and got to the trailhead around 11 am. Since the trail was only going to be 21 miles or so with about 3,000 feet of climbing we all took it a little for granted. I was riding with my good friends John and Matt, who I knew would be able to handle themselves on the route.
It did not take long for us to realize that we may have underestimated the route. After about a ¼ of a mile the ride turns onto Paulina Peak Road for the climb. It is a dusty dirt road with a fair amount of washboard sections thrown in. Not exactly my favorite surface to ride. The climb itself was 4 miles in length with over 1,600 feet of vertical gain at an average gradient of 7.7%. Some of us have put in more miles than the others, and it showed in the climb. There are not many substitutes for saddle time, and I was able to rather easily ride to the top as my new bike has some easy gearing. The road to the top spirals around the peak on the way up and gives you views ranging from the north then to the west, then south and finally to the east. It is s pretty cool backdrop to help take your mind off things. Fortunately, there was also only a bit of traffic, so we did not get dusted too many times. The Crater Rim Trail turns off of this road about a mile below the summit, we were going to have to descend back down the road before getting on the trail. At the top though we took a good size break for pictures and snack before taking back off again for the trail.
Turning onto the trail the first couple of hundred feet was both technical and rocky. I immediately hoped that this was not the way the whole ride would be. Fortunately, it smoothed out shortly thereafter, and the ride had more of a flow to it. After some small climbs and descents, we stopped to regroup. The ride was already taking its toll as the soft pumice rock and higher altitude was making much harder than we expected. We cruised along though the forest with occasional views off to the desert in the south or the lakes to the north. The trail has lots of sections where you would build up speed just before hitting a log in the trail or many small drops from tree roots. Combine this with the loose rock and it made for lots of bare-knuckle sections. After a while, we got to an area where the trail has some extended descent, and now we mix speed into the equation. I managed to ram a stump at one point and John washed out a couple of times, but it was still all in good fun. We joked that since the pumice rock was so light, a baseball sized rock felt like a sponge, that if you did crash it would be like crashing on pillows.
John, for some reason, thought that it would be fun to test this theory, and as we went each of his crashes pushed it a little farther. We were still cruising along even though we had agreed that loose rock was not too much fun. There is an unofficial half way point when the trail reaches the crossing of Forest Service Road 21. At this point, is the line that separates the North Half from the Southern half of the trail. Matt and I arrived at the road first and decided we would take a break there. I busted out a snack and the map as we waited for John. Then we waited, and waited, until after about 5 minutes, or so we decided to back tracks and look for him. It was only a mile from the last time we were together, and we wondered what had happened. I thought maybe the short steep climb had got him to walk but at the bottom of the climb, we still had not seen him. When we finally did run into him; he was stretching with the bike leaned up against the tree. He told us he had crashed and when we finally got a glimpse of his face, we realized he had really crashed. He is still not sure what he hit but turns out he went over the bars and landed on the right side of his face. It turns out the pumice is not entirely like pillows, maybe pillows with sandpaper pillow cases as he got scratched up pretty good. There was lots of trail rash and dirt in his lips, cheek, ears, and hair not to mention some tightness in his quad.
The big issue was that he had also bent the front wheel of his bike a good couple inches out of true. I tried to take a couple of pictures and do not think it does it justice. I yanked the wheel off and after banging against a tree a couple of times I got it mostly straightened out. Enough so that with the front brakes unhooked he could at least ride it back to the car. We obviously decided to call it a day at this point and were actually quite fortunate to be right at the road that could lead us back to the car. Even though it was 7 miles back to the trail head, it was mostly downhill and on pavement or forest service road. Matt and I decided to head for the truck, and John would follow as he felt good, and we would just come back for him. He made it rather far and was only 2 miles from the truck when we picked him up.
We all laughed about the crash and decided we needed some food and John needed to clean up, so we dropped down to Taco Bell in LaPine real quickly. It was funny to see the reactions of the staff when they saw his face, it looked much worse than it felt fortunately. After some late lunch, we headed back to Bend, now with increased motivation to finish the ride next time. If you have never done the crater rim ride, then I would definitely suggest it. The views are fantastic and apart from some loose sections, the ride was pretty good too. I would like to do it again after we have received some rain to help pack it down and clean up the dust. Furthermore, do not underestimate the difficulty of this ride. The altitude and loose trail make it much more difficult that you think it will be. As for my new bike, I liked it. I am not sure I can tell much of a difference on the obstacles, but the geometry was more comfortable for me. I look forward to putting in some more rides this fall. Maybe one more try at the loop. As always, your mileage may vary.
- Hydrapak Reyes Backpack – Very comfortable and I like their reservoir a lot.
- Zoic Highland Fleece Jersey – Slightly baggy on me, breathes well but was too much for most of the day.
- Zoic Hoodoo Shorts – I like these shorts, they fit well at the waist.
- Hincapie Arenberg Knee Warmers – These stay in place! Over 5 hours the gripper did start to bite.
- Smith Pivlock V2 Sunglasses – The nose is adjustable and I am still working on finding my favorite position.