Powell Butte is one of my favorite biking destinations: It’s just far enough away that I’ll get in a decent (around 20 mile) ride no matter what. Powell Butte is deep coniferous forests on the slopes and a big rolling meadow on top. The views of Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, and other Cascade mountains is superb. And the unpaved trails through the park are enough of a “mountain bike” experience for me. But I have to time my visits just right: It’s got to be a sunny and dry day, because I want those views and I want the trails to not be a bogfest.
And just like a lot of my fave biking destinations, it’s been too long since I’ve last been there. The last time I can recall was in July when Steve M and I rode up there. I was itching for a return. The first week of March was shaping up to be sunny, dry, and mild. Wednesday March 3rd was supposed to hit 60F/16C! Spring weather. So I decided to ride to Powell Butte that day. Of course I had a more ambitious route initially planned, but my later afternoon start (I didn’t get to bed until really late) meant that I just steered towards Powell Butte. I’ll do the other stuff another time, more good weather is on the way.
I decided to ride the Robin Hood. I’ve been enjoying it a bunch since I had some work done to it a couple months ago. And I had the rear cog swapped again, this time with a 21 tooth cog. This made the gearing easier than the 19th tooth cog I got to alleviate the “axle shift” problem when torquing. I rode the Robin Hood to Rocky Butte last month, so I knew it could handle climbs. I also loaded up two film cameras: The Olympus 35 RD would be testing out some Cinestill 50D color stock (my first try) and the Olympus Pen EES-2 would have good ol’ Kodak Tri-X Pan.
And once I entered Powell Butte Nature Park from the west entrance at SE Holgate Blvd, it was all climb. The first mile is the gradual climb on Old Holgate Lane Trail, a grind of around 6%. I needed to take a couple breaks, but managed, I was worried that I’d encounter a bog, but the trail was in good shape, just a few patches of mud. Heck, this trail has mud patches even deep into summer, do to seeps from the hillside.
Exiting Old Holgate, I was now in the meadowlands atop the butte. I was greeted with a glorious view of Mount Hood. There was still more winding and climbing to get to the top. There was a decent amount of people out, I guess everyone got the memo about the nice weather! I was hoping to hang out by the Mountain Finder at the summit, but there was people around. My biggest problem with Powell Butte is there’s lots of space but little in the way of amenities. There’s a token picnic table and bench at the top, and a few other benches scattered about. I wish there was more of a picnic area here. It’s the M.O. of most parks departments in the West: If it’s a “Natural Area”, they don’t want to do much if anything to it. I get it to an extent, but Powell Butte is not wilderness. The meadows at the top are there because it was a dairy farm for decades previous to its park status. Most of the city’s water is buried in tanks on the butte. I’m guessing that the forested slopes are all second growth. Mature second growth, but second-growth nonetheless. So is it too much to ask for a couple more picnic tables?
Instead, I headed for another spot on the far east side of the loop trail that goes around the summit. Here are a few strategically placed rocks for sitting. I hung out here for the better part of an hour, eating my banh mi while taking in the view. And what a view it was.
The day was growing short, so I decided to head home. After another loop around the top, I decided to exit the park from the west, not from the way I came, nor via down Elderberry Trail to Cedar Grove Trail, my usual way out. I decided to exit via Pipeline to the other part of Elderberry and then an obscure path that leads to a trailhead at SE Raymond St. I did this years ago, but haven’t since. Now I remember why I haven’t done it since: Elderberry here is more mountain-bikey than I want. The flowy/bumpy trail is great for those with full suspension, but on a fifty-year-old British three-speed I was underbiking. Heck, I was under-underbiking! And that exit on SE Raymond? YIKES! It features about a block or so descent hitting 18%! I rode the brakes the whole time, hoping and praying. The rims were pretty hot after that. Note to self: Don’t exit this way again!
The rest of the ride home was not that exciting, thankfully. I made it home just after dark, 18 miles total. Powell Butte was good as always. I just have to make a point to get back at up here a few more times this year.
As for the photos, I thought the Cinestill 50D was okay. Most shots were good, but any bright highlights had a weird orange tone to them. And I didn’t really get a good shot of Mount Hood, I think the day was just too hazy for me to pick it up well. The black and white shots came out fine.
For photos from the Powell Butte ride, see the dynamic flickr album below. Or, click here.