barlow Road to bennett pass
The Barlow Road is one of the most significant historic roadways in the state of Oregon. Prior to it's development, pioneers traveling to the Willamette Valley would board rafts at Wascopam Mission (modern day The Dalles) and float down the Columbia River to reach Fort Vancouver - a financially costly and dangerous conclusion to their long journey west. Sam Barlow sought to establish an overland route and in 1846 began construction on the road which would provide passage to hundreds of covered wagons and their animal herds to Oregon City. The construction of the Mount Hood Highway in the 1990s made the Barlow Road irrelevant for most modern day travel - but the unpaved remnants provide a most excellent cycling experience .
In planning this ride, we pulled information and inspiration from Oregon Bikepacking and RidewithGPS Ambassador Our Mother The Mountain. Starting at Still Creek Campground, we'd follow the Barlow Trail southbound, then turn east to stay the night at Keeps Mill Campground. Our second day would see us climbing up to Bonney Meadows to Bennett Pass with only a few miles of pavement back to our cars, parked in Government Camp.
On Friday afternoon, we met again at PDW HQ and welcomed Krissy Brunsman and Betsy Platt, two of our weekend guest riders, into the crew. Cars loaded, we headed eastbound on Highway 26 and set up our tents at Still Creek Campground. We were also joined by a third guest rider - Betsey Miller. With hours of daylight to spare, we chose to head into Government Camp for some dinner, beer and local flair. The day was finished with a smores around the campfire and Betsey serenading us to sleep with her beautiful guitar strumming and vocals.
We woke to low hanging clouds in the tall trees around us and a soft drizzle began to fall as we pushed off on our ride. As the summer has been record-breaking hot, it was refreshing to feel the cool raindrops on our cheeks. The group quietly cruised through Red Top Meadows before a quick single-file pedal along the shoulder Highway 26 through the interchange with Highway 35. The first left off of 35 lead us directly onto the old Barlow Road and after only half a mile we stopped for our first historical marker - the Pioneer Woman's Grave. At this site, construction crews building the Mt. Hood highway uncovered a wagon wood casket holding the remains of an emigrant women. They reburied her in the same spot and placed a cross as a tribute. We placed a rock on the large cairn beside the grave and road on.
Just down the road, we passed beside the proper Barlow Road trailhead and stopped for a quick picture. From there, we rode onto the soft surface road and began losing elevation as we followed Barlow Creek southbound. The well maintained road led us into a dense forest of tall pines, sprawling vine maples and a brilliant green fern understory. We stopped to read the educational kiosks with stories from the not-so-distant history of the space. Less than two hundred years ago, people risked their lives traveling this stretch of road - hoping to find the lush valley on the other side of the range where they could rebuild their lives. Now, we were there. We fancied ourselves as pioneers as well, albeit outfit with the most modern of recreation luxuries. Our bicycles served as The occasional patch of soft sand and deep ruts - left behind from the many wagon wheels that passed through - kept us on our toes. But our group was in sky-high spirits, laughing as Betsey led us in group sing-a-longs. We stopped for a lingering lunch and an amature game of hacky sack beside Frog Creek .
The group was riding strong and we quickly arrive at the edge of the descent into the river valley where we would camp that evening. Before diving down, we spied a rock outcropped that warranted some exploration. Huge slabs of exposed stone provided us with a sweet vantage point over the heads of hundreds of trees in the narrow gorge - and we got a peek of the grade we'd be climbing out on the next morning. It would definitely be a quick warm up. But that was for worrying about later. Immediately before us was a rocky, steep switchback descent that tested our wheelsets and our nerves. We whooped our way down and into the Keeps Mill Campground, where we set up our tents alongside the silty water of the White River. Only a few days past the summer solstice, the day waned long, lazily and absolutely beautiful. We made art, played games, hung out with the other campers' dogs and stitched patches onto our frame bags. Golden hour set the little river valley on fire in shiny shades of pinks and oranges. We ate dinner, then second dinner. The river whispered goodnight and we called it a day.
The next morning, while water got to boiling for coffee, a few of us scouted the western bank of the White River. Our route continued on the other side, necessitating that we cross with loaded bikes. The White River's headwaters flow out from under the White River Glacier which lives on the southeast flank of Mount Hood. Throughout the summer and fall seasons, the river turns milky-white with suspended sediment concentrations from glacial outflow. It looks other-worldly and makes it darn tough to determine depth or proper placement for feet. Considering the visible rocks, we decided on a crossing just up river from a particularly rough water patch. We packed up our bags and gathered on the small sand beach to ready ourselves for the wet passage. Betsey and Betsy crossed first without any drama and cheered us on from the west side as we each inched across without any accidental baths. Back on course, we put our socks and shoes on prepared for the long climb out.
Pedaling away from the water, we started up a 15 mile climb that would gain us over 3k in elevation. Additional challenges, like large piles of fallen trees, made the going tough. But the weather was comfortably cool and near the top of the climb we rode past an alpine meadow absolutely packed with huckleberry bushes ladened with ripe berries! We stuffed our faces, then picked and packed our water bottles full for enjoying down the trail. The higher we got, the rocker the terrain became - we passed beside huge scree fields and through huge vertical rock outcroppings. The view from the top was expansive and we took our time to take it in.
From there, it was a quick descent back down to the highway and to the cars. It was another incredible ride with strong women, no mechanicals or injuries and only one short backtrack due to a wrong turn on the Barlow Road. We mostly definitely recommend the route in the mid to late summer through fall - when the White River will be the safest to cross. Also, navigating by GPS was very helpful along the Barlow Road and be mindful of the wagon ruts!
Post by Jocelyn Gaudi.