Dark Meadow descent is the highlight of the route. It is steep and rowdy. It starts out on a few fairly smooth straights with scattered roots and rocks. Then as things get steeper, the ruts get deeper, and the rocks get bigger. Small stumps on the outside of the obvious lines allow you to boost across the rocks and back into the trail utilising the ruts as a small transition to keep your speed up. Be careful getting too wild as the downslope is rather steep and littered with rocks and sticks if you go down. There are a couple really tight switchbacks before the pitch transitions back into a shallower pitch with some loamy flow. we would call it a trail of Semi-flow-tech-gnar. We stopped to cut out some deadfall toward the end of our descent, but overall, the trail could use a good cleanup.
At the bottom, you have to cross a Dark Creek and East Canyon Creek. Dark Creek was easy to navigate. On East Canyon Creek, we decided to go low risk and take our shoes off. The frigid water felt great on the feet. We used the opportunity for our lunch break, and broke out the filter to replenish our water reserves and hydrate for the climb ahead.
The route back up to sunrise peak is a big 2800’ climb. Luckily for us, this was all on a beautiful gravel road free of waterbars and Moto ruts. While the climb was long, it was quite pleasant compared to pushing up ruts while fighting off horseflies. It took us about an hour to get up to the Sunrise Peak trailhead. After a short break we headed onto the trail. Which lasted only about 100 yards before we were pushing our bikes once again.
The Sunrise Peak trail is narrow, steep, and it’s one big rut. Unless you are a unnatural freak of nature, there’s 0% chance that you’re pedalling up this thing. It’s honestly even a pain to walk up. It is so skinny that you are either wheeling the bike up in front of you balancing it on the rear wheel, or you’re walking on the edge beside the trail. Both options are pretty miserable, so it is best to simply look at the view and try to forget about it. At the top we ditched our bikes to hike up to the summit. A short little scramble to the summit of Sunrise Peak leads to an uninterrupted 360º view of the majestic Gifford and the cascades. We took a short breather, but at this point it was close to 6pm and we still had 15 miles to go, so we ate quick and pushed down to the bikes.
The ridge has two high points, which meant we had to push, then descend, then push up again to get to the final descent. We survived the first push and got ready for the rowdiest section of descending. It all started out great. Surfing the big ruts, trying to keep the front wheel straight while navigating the rocks and holes in the trench. After a big rutted corner, I made a move to get out of the rut to try and avoid some oncoming rocks. The soil on the side of the rut had different plans, and just when I needed grip and support out of the front tire it gave out from under me. I went OTB off the side of the trail making impact with two rocks on my lower leg while sandwiching my knee between my bars and the frame. Luckily Matt was there to help me out, but my mind went to worry mode as I felt piercing pain from my knee. We were still about 13 miles from the trailhead and I was hobbling to get back onto my bike. We had another big climb (aka hike) and a very long descent ahead. I took a minute to breathe and get my head on straight before pushing on. The remainder of that descent my legs were shaking and I was way off my game. I had to dismount on a few tricky bits to hobble down. We made it to the bottom in one piece and I had a short breather before beginning the climb back up to Juniper Peak.