Fresh rolling on our new Salsa Mukluks, and fearing that winter would never come, Pat and I set off on the search for our first snow ride. There was a light dusting in our area so we thought that certainly the highest peak in Massachusetts would have some snow that stuck around. We weren't disappointed.
I started the planning. Scoping out the mountain for shelters, routes, and bail options was only building the excitement of our first snow ride. The only thing holding us back was the concern of the trails being off limits to bikes. Fortunately for our trip, we were granted some good favor. I believe it was half to do with the conditions on the mountain and half in curiosity of this large tire bike thing. The park staff on duty didn't think the trails in their light snow cover and icy state would be very rideable or enjoyable, but invited us to try them out. We stayed off of the trails specifically prohibiting mountain bikes (mostly since they were just not something that could be ridden), but ski trails were ready to go. The ground was hard and frozen, the tires are soft, and the impact was low!
We started off on a pavement grind up Rockwell Rd. This is the main access road and is open to cars in the summer. Currently the road was closed to vehicles so we had it to ourselves except to pass the occasional hikers. As soon as we reached the first "legal" trail we hopped on.
SNOW! The trails started as hardpack, switched to bit of snow on the sides, and then finally turned to a thin layer of snow. There were low sections of the trail that surprised us with snow over ice, but the temperature cycle has mostly created some grit on the ice from adhering to the snow. As the trails moved up the mountain the coverage increased. On a few of the exposed ridges the snow depth was even more impressive from wind drifts. As amateurs we navigated through the inches of this new riding terrain that we had never experienced.
We walked sections of the trails as ice flows became more frequent. There were a few bridges buried under snow that had us daring each other to ride sight unseen over the flowing water below. Once we were well into the woods we decided we should take a snack break and really take in the temporary winter microclimate that Mt. Greylock was offering.
As we neared the summit the trails became more steep. The "No Mountainbikes" signs started popping up more often, so we decided to drop back out to Rockwell Rd. This turned out to be nearly as much fun as the trails! A solid pack of snow alternating with icy patches proved the stability of the 4" Surly Nate fat tire. The sound of the tires digging into the snow really brought to life the fact that we were actually biking on real snow!
The conditions on the main access road only got better ("worse") as we climbed. Steep pavement switchbacks littered with ATV and snowmobile tracks in hardpack snow kept the core working for balance. Sections of sheer ice kept our attention, and made sure we still had some "danger". As we reached the summit, the day out on the mountain kept our satisfaction high. Salsa is all about "adventure by bike", and the Mukluks definitely provided the adventure.. by fat bike.
After a few pictures and quick cup of hot tea we were headed back down to find our campsite.
On our descent to camp, we took a downhill trail to a shelter marked on the map. This shelter was taken.. by a small group of three's gear. Their tents were pitched elsewhere and they had a small amount of gear strewn out taking up the whole shelter. They didn't seem very interested in sharing the space so we decided we'd move along.
I realized once we hit the shelter that the contour lines on the map were a bit closer together than we had first figured. After riding down this way I knew that I didn't want to walk my bike back up. We headed further into the valley seeing as the way out on the other side was going to be shorter than the hike back up this hill. Sure, the trail was a *little* steeper, but how bad could it be?
The final few hundred feet down into the valley were a complete hike (44% grade according to GPS). Once we reached the bottom we stared up at the trail ahead of us. With rocks jutting out and steep loose trail, this was easily a class II scramble.. with loaded fat bikes.. great.. We started up the trail, daylight slowly disappearing and energy draining fast.
I alternated between carrying my bike and pushing it up the trail, grabbing front and rear brakes and using it to pull myself up. The fat tires had EXCELLENT traction for this type of travel... I guess that's the plus side. We were both wiped out at this point and then things got even better. My rear Avid Juicy 3 brake (that I just HADDD to "upgrade to" before the trip) started to get softer and softer. Eventually, my lever pull was bottomed out on the handle bar and getting no response from the caliper. (insert whatever expletive you see fit here)
We were out for an adventure. I expected adventure. It's not an adventure until something goes wrong. Bad route judgement, bad hardware, oh - and now it's starting to rain. Wrong: check, check, and CHECK! This seemed too funny for everything to suck this bad. As I was pointing this out, my front brake decided to go soft as well. At this point I suggested we find a relatively flat spot and make camp. I did not expect to get out of the valley before sunset, and if we did, I didn't expect it to be on any good terms.
Pat kept insisting that we go on, even though he could no longer push his bike. I insisted we set out tents and get out of the rain (which was now frozen and alternating to snow - a little better). Pat won, and we carried on. I pushed for the top with the energy I had left. Looking at the map, once we passed the falls the grade should mellow out.. sure enough I could see the trail rounding off. Once I made it to the flat section I got on my bike and pedaled my way out. Even with no energy left, pedaling was a million times easier than hiking and hauling my bike.
With some final trail decisions, we pedaled into a group of shelters, set tents, and fire pit equipped sites. We set up camp, and I set to making a fire. The wood was wet, kneeling on the rocks to work the fire was hard on my knees, and the warmth was minimal.. I'm going to sleep.
Overnight storms and warming temperatures got rid of most of the snow and ice on the road. I was a bit worried about having no brakes AND a layer of ice to bike over, but at least one of those problems was solved. I was able to get some action from the calipers by rapidly pumping the brake levers. I rode out the hills that I could see had an uphill, but the final stretch out was very steep and I constantly was pumping the brakes alternating them to keep some speed control. Back to my Avid BB7 mechanical brakes... I knew there was a reason I regretted swapping.
We were able to make it back down to the parking lot without much issue. This trip was a great one for worst case scenarios. It really helps tone down other trips when stuff starts to go south. Bail out options passed and untested equipment all made for a good experience in the end.
“Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.”