Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Alder Flat - A Camping Slice of Paradise

This past weekend, 4 brave souls made the trek from Portland out up the Clackamas River to the gem known as Alder Flat. Alder Flat is the only USFS campground up the Clackamas with NO FEE. That’s right, NO FEE. Despite this, it’s rarely if ever full. Why? Because Alder Flat is a mile hike in from its parking lot, and the car-bound don’t want to schlep their gear by hand one mile down a dirt trail.

Psst… guess what? It’s a good enough trail to ride a fully-loaded touring bike up and down, and while the Forest Service doesn’t encourage bike use on the trail, they don’t PROHIBIT it either. If you know me, you know that that's all the encouragement I need - I totally respect the restrictions placed by property owners and government agencies, but if you don't tell me I need to stay out, I've just GOT to see what's there. And in this case, what's there to see is pretty awesome!

Alder Flat is 44.5 miles from the end of the MAX at Cleveland Avenue in Gresham, or 63 miles from downtown Portland if you want to do it the hard way. Don’t ask me why, but Steph, Ed, Tomas and I all decided to do it the HARD way, even though none of us got more than 4 hours of sleep and ALL of us had been drinking cocktails the night before.

The route climbs from basically sea level (Portland ranges from 0' to 1,100' in elevation) to about 1,500', and the trail to the campsite drops from there to about 1,300' elevation. You can see on the GPS elevation chart I've posted that there are two large hills - one between miles 8 and 10 and another one near mile 42. Both are about 300' tall, and both fairly steep. No matter which way you're headed, you have to go down one and up the other. Makes for an interesting trip.

We dragged our asses, but we made it, and made it fairly easily down the trail, which leads about 200’ down to the river through old-growth Douglas-Fir trees. We were welcomed by a completely empty campground, right on the river, with a tiny little sandy beach, a nice slow-moving area to swim in, fire pits, and picnic tables (granted, some of them are a little… worn).

A few of us promptly skinny-dipped in the water and dried off in front of the fire, and everyone else skinny-dipped the next morning. No road, no cars, no noise, no people. AWESOME.

I’m going to be leading another trek up to Alder Flat at the beginning of November, before the snow moves in, but the weather isn’t likely to be as nice as it was last weekend. Still, that late in the season, it’s guaranteed that we’ll be the only ones there. Keep an eye on http://www.cyclewild.org/ for details.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the event:

We rode 63 miles each way – it took about 6 hours heading out (slightly hung-over) and 5 hours heading back (mostly downhill). That’s actual riding time, plus another 2-3 hours of stops (we had lunch at the bakery in Estacada on the way out, and at the brew-pub on the way back). The day ended for half of us with a trip to the Kennedy School soaking pool. Yay McMennamins!


Alan said...

i realize this was a while ago, but I wanted to comment to say that I am trying this tomorrow. super excited. thanks for posting this.

Matt Picio said...

You're welcome - hope it's valuable! Enjoy Alder Flat, it's a great site!