Mountain biking on Oregon's North Umpqua Trail
Saturday, August 4, 2012View full version
LEMOLO LAKE, Ore. (AP) — The water sprung forth from an unknown source and cascaded down the slope onto a thin ribbon of dirt singletrack. I pedaled down the rocky section of trail, splashing through the puddle that had collected at the bottom of the hill.
It was the type of feature that seems unique to the North Umpqua River Trail. Where else can mountain bikers pedal through natural water flows and then continue merrily on their way?
The Lemolo segment of the North Umpqua River Trail is probably not the most well-traveled section of the 79-mile long path that runs from the southern Oregon Cascades to just west of Roseburg. But it is the closest ridable section to Bend (two hours away) and it provides an aerobic challenge without being ridiculously technical like other sections of the North Umpqua Trail.
On Tuesday, I drove to where the trail crosses gravel U.S. Forest Service Road 60 deep in a remote area of the lush Umpqua National Forest in southwest Oregon. The first thing I noticed when I hopped out of my car were the large, ravenous mosquitoes that swarmed me. I doused my arms and legs with insect repellent and that seemed to do the trick.
The plan was to ride west five miles to Lemolo Lake, then ride back. The trail began off Road 60 with a short, steep climb up Bunker Hill. The North Umpqua trail is so different from trails in Central Oregon. Rather than tire-packed high desert soil, the trail has a rugged, less-traveled feel — a narrow path cutting through green foliage and wildflowers.
As I rode along the hill, I glimpsed snow-capped Mount Bailey to the south. The Lemolo section of trail is one of the few segments of the North Umpqua trail that does not run alongside the river. Instead, it runs above Road 2612 and Lemolo Lake amid towering Douglas-fir and lodgepole pine trees.
The Lemolo trail is not excessively technical or aerobically grueling, so by the time I reached the White Mule Trailhead, I felt strong enough to tackle a mile or two of the Dread and Terror segment, which begins at the east end of picturesque Lemolo Lake.
The Dread and Terror section runs right along the surging North Umpqua River. I rode it for about a mile to a short, roaring waterfall, stopping to eat lunch before turning back west.
Two miles of the Dread and Terror were enough. Two years ago, I rode the entire 13 miles of the segment, and the demanding rocky terrain and steep climbs got the better of me.
The Lemolo section is much more approachable for intermediate mountain bikers, and enough of a challenge to satisfy advanced riders.
On my way back to the car, I turned off onto a forest road to take in views of Lemolo Lake, the largest reservoir in the North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project, according to the Bureau of Land Management. The lake was formed in 1954 behind a 120-foot rock dam and covers 435 acres. Mount Thielsen towers above the southeast shore of Lemolo.
I was expecting a rather tough climb back to Road 60, as the trail seemed mostly downhill on the way to the lake. But, like most river trails, riding upstream was only a little more taxing than riding downstream.
I reached my car with plenty of time to spare, so I decided to continue east 1½ miles to the Kelsay Valley Trailhead. The trail there runs just a few feet from the North Umpqua, which changes from a rushing river to a peaceful stream meandering through high alpine meadows dotted with yellow and red wildflowers. The path was relatively flat and easy all the way to the trailhead.
The Kelsay Valley Trailhead marks the west end of the 9-mile Maidu section, which is closed to mountain bikers because the trail is located within the Mount Thielsen Wilderness.
At the trailhead, I turned around to ride back west and complete the 15-mile ride, following the crystal-clear river that cuts a breathtakingly beautiful swath through the Umpqua National Forest.