My first hut-to-hut mountain biking trip was 18 years ago in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado and the La Sals of eastern Utah. The seven-day, six-night, 215-mile trip from Telluride to Moab stuck in my mind as one of my best adventures ever. But, I hate to do the same thing twice, so I never returned. That is until two years ago, when the San Juan Hut System (www.sanjuanhuts.com) opened up a second route from Durango to Moab. As soon as I learned about that, I signed up and recruited a game group of friends from Bend, Hood River, Ashland and Taiwan. San Juan Hut Systems' slogan is "Adventure Without the Weight." They provide route directions, food and accommodations for do-it-yourself kind of people. Each hut is equipped with food, water, propane cook stove, cookware, and bunks and sleeping bags for eight people, so all you really need to lug along are some small panniers with clothes, a sleeping bag liner and personal items you can't live without. The routes follow mostly dirt roads from the high alpine tundra of the San Juan Mountains to the canyon country and desert slick rock of Utah.
As we were driving home from Colorado, I began to wonder why we didn't have a similar hut system in Oregon and began dreaming one up in my head. I happened to stop by Sunnyside and there it was - a brochure for the brand new Cascade Hut System!
As it turns out, Portlanders James Koski and Don Bain had the exact same revelation when returning from the San Juan Hut trip a year earlier. They modeled Cascade Huts (www.cascadehuts.com) after the San Juan Hut System and put together a four-day, three-night, 137-mile route around Mt. Hood.
Naturally, I signed up and proceeded to gather a game group of Bend friends to circumnavigate Mt. Hood on mountain bike. Last week, after fueling up at the Egg Harbor in Hood River, we embarked on the adventure.
The first day's 26-mile ride started out with a deceptively pleasant cruise on the Mark Hatfield Trail along the Columbia River. Unfortunately, the trail was closed because of a recent fire. Fortunately, we managed to sweet talk our way through, when stopped by a ranger. After that, it was pretty much uphill (6,000 feet of ascent) all day long (plus a few "bonus miles" due to really poor route description) to the hut on Surveyor's Ridge. The saving grace was the cooler of Tecate on ice that we discovered in the hut. Not surprisingly, no one decided to ride the optional singletrack.
Day Two was tough, a seven-hour, 36-mile day with 4,500 feet of climbing and 5,300 feet of descending on steep, rocky fire roads. We again bypassed the optional singletrack on Gunsight Ridge in order to get to the cooler of Tecate expediently. Perhaps it makes sense to throw in the singletrack if you're from Texas, but we'll just come back some other time without panniers for that. The Barlow hut features nearby Mineral Creek for skinny dipping and also does double duty as a winter ski-in destination. (By the way, I did the winter hut-to-hut version last year and I'll tell you more about that in an upcoming column.)
Our third day, even though it was the longest at 41 miles, was the best. We all enjoyed the long, smooth gravel road descent through cool green forest on Still Creek Road to Rhododendron. We also really enjoyed the long, peaceful paved climb up Road 1828 to our final hut on Lolo Pass. The spectacular view of the northwest side of Mt. Hood, framed by pink fireweed and white pearly everlasting, was even better than the cold Tecate, if you can believe that. To top it off, we slept outside on a balmy, bugless night under the shooting stars.
Our final day was an easy 34-mile coast on paved roads (for the most part) back into Hood River. We partook in some forbidden fruit from the roadside apple and pear trees in the Dee Flat orchard area on our way into town and were sipping on pints of Full Sail Amber at the brewery before noon.
I used to think the hut-to-hut trips were a good value, but they are getting more expensive. The San Juan Huts trip costs $850 per person, while the Cascade Huts trip costs $300 per person. For that much money, I think they could provide better maps and stock the shelves with something more than just canned goods from Grocery Outlet. Still, I can't complain. It was another great adventure.