Sisters and Bend: A 6 Day Bikepacking Trip… With Some Hiking in Between

Every year, our friends Andy and Ali meet up with Trish and me at some sort of wilderness mecca to hike, bike, and pursue other outdoor festivities, all in the name of catching up on each others’ lives while doing what we all enjoy.  Trish and I do try our best to accommodate our friends by meeting in the middle of the country (they live in Indiana), but the majority of our vacations have ended up in Oregon, with the exception of going to Colorado to explore some of the Colorado Trail a couple years ago.  What can I say, there’s just too much to do here!

This year, Andy and Ali once again ventured west so that we could all enjoy some outdoor time in Central Oregon, mainly Sisters and Bend.  Andy and my itinerary was based mostly around bikepacking, but we met up with Trish and Ali at the beginning and end or our bikepacking trip for two hikes – South Sister and Smith Rock.  Below is a mostly visual description of the endeavor, with an overall map of the area Andy and I covered as well as individual maps for each day.

The Map in Full

Want the GPX version of this map, or just more detail?  Click here.

Day 1: Sisters to Devil’s Lake – Nothing Ever Goes Perfectly According to Plan, right?

Day 1 Map

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We knew the first day of riding was going to be tough.  According to the map, it was almost entirely uphill, our main trails from Sisters being the Peterson’s Ridge Trail Network and then the Metolius Windigo Trail.

Andy and I were able to ride unloaded to Devil’s Lake, since Trish and Ali would be meeting us at the campsite with the car; a luxury much-appreciated.
What happens when we’re told to do something funny. Not sure we entirely know the definition of the word.

When all was said and done, however, it was even more brutal than we had imagined.  The trail was not particularly steep, per se, just unrelentingly up.  It also didn’t help that Andy had just completed a half-marathon a couple weeks prior and while being in excellent condition for running, was not well-acclimated to long, sustained, loaded biking.

Peterson’s Ridge viewpoint.
The start of our journey on the Metolius-Windigo Trail.
Unrelentingly up.
The Three Sisters. We would be climbing the one on the left (South Sister) the next day.
The Metolius-Windigo Trail did have about a 3-mile section that was not cleared, resulting in a decent amount of tree maneuvering.

We also rode through a large burn area.

But we did make it safely to our destination – Devil’s Lake Campground – which is at the base of South Sister, a 10,000 foot mountain we would summit the next day.

Along the course of our travel, we ran out of water and filled up at a random campsite thanks to a friendly camp host who provided us with some from his RV supply, and there found out that the road and trail we had expected to take towards Devil’s Lake was closed due to large accumulations of snow that had not yet melted.

This unfortunately added additional miles to our trip as we were forced to head south instead of north on the Mrazek Trail, Farewell Trail, and a few others towards Swampy Lake Shelter and the Cascades Lakes Highway, and then take a 90 degree turn for another 10 miles or so on pavement towards the camp.  We made it unscathed, however, and were ready to switch from our hiking shoes to our biking shoes and summit South Sister the next day.

A tree obstacle along the Mrazek Trail.
Our final slog along the Cascade Lakes Highway. I think I can, I think I can…
The campsite was already set up when we arrived. Not bad for the first day of our ‘bikepacking’ trip.

Day 2: Summiting South Sister – New Friends and Sore Quads

Day 2 Map

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Day 2 had us up around 6:30am for a quick breakfast before heading out towards the South Sister Trail #36.

We were joined the previous evening by one of Trish’s work friends, Jules, and his girlfriend Sarah.  Jules is also an avid biker so he, Andy, and I had a lot to talk about on the way up the mountain.

Scarfing the oatmeal before heading out.
The group pre-hike.

While the hike up was challenging, the hike down was perhaps even more so.  By the end, we all were feeling our ages with creaky knees and burning quads.  I think that any lingering soreness I had during the remainder of Andy and my bike trip was a direct result of that 6 1/4 mile downhill.

The hike begins with switchbacks in the forest.
You can never have too many selfies.
Then opens up to a beautiful meadow overlooking the summit.
Broken Top and Moraine Lake.
Even in July, the mountain has large patches of snow.
A chipmunk that was a bit too comfortable around humans.
Ali tried to remind him that we are predators and would eat him if he weren’t so cute. He paid her no heed.
Teardrop Pool, Oregon’s highest lake.
The final push.

Made it to the top!
Mountain sightings.
And the treacherous descent begins!
Dinner and lounging were the chosen activities for the remainder of the evening.

After returning to camp, we all cracked a beer and talked about the hike as Jules and Sarah packed up and headed back to Salem that evening.  I was sad to see them go, but excited to have met a new bikepacking/Mountain Biking partner for future trips, because you can never have too many bikepacking partner prospects.

Day 3: Mount Bachelor Downhill Park to Swede Ridge Shelter – Downhill MTB on Hardtails?  Why NOT?!

Day 3 Map

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After our first day of riding as we headed down the Cascades Lake Highway, Andy and I noticed a sign pointing towards Bachelor that said ‘Downhill Mountain Biking’ and were both immediately intrigued.  Neither of us had ever ridden at a downhill MTB park before but had always wanted to, so instead of heading straight for our campsite that day, we headed for Bachelor, bought lift tickets, and spent most of our day letting the ski lift do the uphill climbing for us before racing our way down various machine-built tracks and testing our skills on technical terrain neither of us had much experience with.

Ready to ride!
Meanwhile, Trish and Ali spent the morning hiking around Bachelor.
‘Excited’ does not quite capture the intensity of our emotions on that first ride up the ski lift.
Bikes safely stowed in the lift chair ahead.

It was clear that as far as bike equipment was concerned, Andy and I were lacking the normal hardware associated with downhill racing.  We had to rent body armor, and saw almost no hardtails on the mountain other than our own, with most people sporting fancy big-travel bikes with full-suspension.  Still, we never felt we were slowing people down on the trails and had a great time riding unloaded once again, before calling it a day on the mountain, setting up our bikepacking rigs, and heading for the Swede Ridge Shelter, our campsite for the night.

Packed and ready to head out towards our campsite for the night.

Disclaimer: I should note that the Swede Ridge Shelter IS NOT an overnight shelter.  It is a day-use only warming shelter for Nordic skiers in the winter, and Andy and I did not use its amenities during our trip.  We simply used the space near the shelter for our home base, setting up camp about 100 feet away from the shelter as is requested by the Nordic club representative who I talked to before this trip.

Heading up towards Swede Ridge Shelter.
The campsite all set up.

Our view of the shelter as the sun disappeared behind Broken Top.

After arriving, we set up camp, talked about our awesome day of riding, and planned out our next day before going to bed.

Day 4: Swede Ridge Shelter and the Bend Trail Network – Rain, Thunder, and Seeking out High Exposed Buttes = Good Idea

Day 4 Map

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Day 4 was our opportunity to explore much of the trail system around Bend.  We started by riding down the South Fork Trail towards Tumalo Falls, then climbed back up the North Fork Trail and towards the Metolius Windigo, where we enjoyed some secluded riding on thickly forested and mosquitoed singletrack.

Early morning breakfast routine.
This little guy was trying to catch a free ride.

One of the many waterfall viewpoints along the North Fork Trail.

Water crossings were plentiful along the Metolius Windigo Trail.

The day surprised us with periodic cracks of thunder and moderate showers, but this didn’t stop us from continuing our ride.  In fact, it improved the quality of the ride by transforming the previously dusty and loose trails to firmer and safer hardpack, which we both appreciated.

We ran for cover as the steady rainfall turned into hail for a few minutes. No worries though; we’re patient.

A 1/2 mile detour brought us up to the top of Vista Butte, where we watched the thunder clouds continue to roll in and questioned our decision to ride up to an exposed high point in the middle of a thunder storm.  However, after making it safely back down we were glad to have put in the extra effort, and decided to continue our ride by heading back down South Fork Trail once again towards Skyliner’s Trail, which eventually wound its way back up to our campsite.

At the top of Vista Butte.
Mount Bachelor.

Once back at camp, we were greeted by a soaked tent with standing water sitting at its foot, not exactly a warm welcome.  With a bit of sun left on the horizon, we dried the tent as much as possible before once again setting it up and settling down for the night.

The stormy weather provided quite the light show at sunset.

Day 5: Swede Ridge Shelter to Phil’s Trailhead – Taking it Easy

Day 5 Map

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This was our rest day basically.  Andy and I packed up and headed back down the mountain on some of the Phil’s Trail Network to Phil’s Trailhead, where we met Trish and Ali and rested up a bit by exploring Bend and hanging out at our house in Sisters.

Bikepacking complete! Made it to Phil’s Trailhead.
And then we drank tiny coffees while wearing fleece turbans.
And bought gigantic vegan burgers because we thought we deserved them.

Day 6: Peterson’s Ridge Trail System and Smith Rock – Finishing Strong

Day 6 Peterson’s Ridge MTB Map

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The next morning, Andy and I got up early so that we could ride some of the Peterson’s Ridge Trail Network.  We were able to ride about 11 miles before it was time to turn around and head back towards Sisters, where it was time to pack up and say goodbye.

Day 6 Smith Rock Hiking Map

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After packing and locking up the house, we decided to hit up one last hike before heading back to Salem.  We drove 30 minutes east of Sisters to Smith Rock, near Redmond, and did a quick and strenuous 3.5 mile hike to end the trip.

Last hike of the trip.
Last selfie of the trip.
Getting close to the climb…
The climb to the top is relatively quick, but by no means painless.
Monkey Face is the rock in the middle. Makes sense…
And we made it!

The ride home included some reminiscing about the trip, gear talk, and conversations about the looming political climate, to which we of course had all the answers.  It was a great trip with two dear friends, and one Trish and I look forward to every year.

What’s the plan for next year?  Well Andy and I have 99% committed to riding the Colorado Trail Race (CTR) next year.  Can’t wait!

 

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