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PostPosted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 3:13 am 
Gold Trader / MacRetro rider
Gold Trader / MacRetro rider

Joined: Thu May 21, 2009 11:02 pm
Posts: 5253
Location: Falkirk! But I am a Fifer so that's OK...
Not sleepy. My head's still stuck 8 hours back, 10 degrees warmer and several thousand miles west, so if you're interested, here's a few more words and pics now that I've got access to a laptop.

Flume Trail, Lake Tahoe - Part 1, the climb to Lake Marlette
4th of July. America's favourite public holiday? Probably - a long weekend of beer, barbeque and friends. We've got the friends part sorted (staying with them up in their 'cabin' near Lake Tahoe), and the beer and barbeque will wait until later. I have at my disposal a 10 (ish) year old Giant XTC, and a recommendation from a hardcore roadie / occasional mountain biker to try the Flume Trail.

Sidenote: I chose to ride on the 4th to a) give me a couple of days to get used to the altitude, and b) some of the trails I was hoping to ride (rim trail) can only be ridden on even numbered days :?

So it's 8.30am, I've crammed the bike into the rental car, borrowed a helmet, bought a cheap Camelbak-lookee-likee, filled it with water, sweets and an extra water bottle. And sun-screen (that makes a change). The lycra is mine (of course!) as are the gloves. On a promise of 'should hopefully be done by 3', I hit the road for the 45 minute drive to Spooner Lake State Park.

It's already getting busy with folk heading to Lake Tahoe to grab the best spots on the shore (or even the lake - quite a few boats getting towed), but I also spot die-hards doing a fun-run before the day begins to heat up. I cross the border into Nevada after about 30 minutes (hallo tacky Casinos), and it's not long till I get to the park entrance, where there's a wee queue waiting for entry, including a couple of horse-riders (yeehaw).

Spooner Lak - Whaur's the wee mountain biking man on the sign?
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Spot the cyclist, the horse riders and the walkers waiting to get in
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The park was either $10 or $12 to get in, which seemed pretty reasonable to me. I could of course have done the Scottish thing and parked on the highway and cycled in for just $2, but 'when in Rome' as they say... For your money you get a nice map from the friendly park ranger (not quite laminated, but much tougher than just plain paper), plus some advice - ' the trail is rideable, but there's a bit of snow at higher elevations that you'll have to walk through'. Thank you ma'am.

Snow? In July? Yup, Lake Tahoe's at 1900m elevation, they had a beast of a winter and my route started at 2100m, with the highest point at just under 2500m. We'd been up here for 2 days already, and the day before I'd went out for a quick couple of hours on some very sweet singletrack near to the cabin just to make sure my lungs could take it. They did. Just.

My friend's Giant XTC - Incidently this was the first bike I tried with disc brakes when it was new - sent me straight over the bloody handlebars :oops:
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So I knew from looking at the elevation profile, that the first 4 miles of the ride were all uphill with just under 400m of climbing. So bike assembled, I set out in the still relatively cool morning weather, following the signs for the North Canyon Road. It started out fine, a dusty brown fire road trail spread occasionally with familiar pine needles, and I began to claim my first scalps - reeling in daytrippers on shiney hired Stumpies as well as a few other groups of what looked like more hardcore folks (lycra and lots of it!). My pace soon slowed though as I got higher - the trail was getting steeper, and probably by about 30 minutes I was down to granny gear. The terrain around me was also changing, from dense pine forest to a more open alpine feel - the trees became more sparse, the hillsides became steeper and boulder strewn. Eventually that gave way to green meadow on the right as the ridgeline receded. The track itself changed too, a few brief sections were very sandy (that came as a bit of a surprise), and as I got higher it hardened up to a lighter brown, firm, gravelly trail. An occasional shallow run off of water also crossed the trail. By 45 minutes though I'd blown up, admitted defeat and was walking, sweat stinging my eyes and cursing this as the hardest bloody climb I'd ever done...And still no end in sight. Where was the summit? How far had I come? At this point I was worried whether I'd even have any energy left for the rest of the ride. A couple of guys passed me just as I crested the final hill and bend, me still walking. Next time!

The top of the North Canyon Road climb - a nice wee bit of information to read while you stop breathing out your arse...
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History Lesson: Below me at the bottom of a 3/4 mile fire track descent lay Marlette Lake, which I believe was man-made when it was dammed to provide water for the log flume that was built to carry the logs required by the mine workings below. The remains of the flume were dismantled and replaced by aluminium pipe at some point early last century to supply water - I think the land was eventually bought by a defense contractor for some reason in the fifties, and they hauled most of the pipe out for recycling (although you can still see some of the bits they missed). At some point the land was finally bought by the State and became part of the State Park, then in the '90s a local MB racer (whose name escapes me) got permission to develop the trail specifically for MTB.

So... refreshed, rested and map consulted, it was back on the bike for a quick descent down to Marlette Lake. It began well, with a nice big snow bank across the track after the first corner :? Failing to crest that I walked over it and ripped down the track to the lake. Fast, simple fire road, with an occasional crest to pump for a wee bit of air. At this point, I was enjoying the views immensely, but wondering when I'd get onto something that resembled singletrack. I wouldn't have to wait long.

Marlette Lake
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It's really rather nice
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After a wrong turn and short dead-end, I found the shaded track that skirted the lake and would take me north towards the flume trail proper. More rocky hillsides to the left, lake to the right.

Half arsed bike / scenery / arty shot
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After another 1.5 miles of fire track and a couple of snow banks (one of which I actually cleared), the trail petered out at the waters edge. Confused, I double-backed and looked for the turn off - finding none, I consulted the map and seeing none there either, I returned again to the water for a closer look... Sure enough, about 15 metres along the water's edge, I could see the dam and the start of the Flume trail proper. I'm still not sure if the lake was unusually high due to all the snow this year, or if this was a feature - either way, I took the plunge, plowed through the water (definitely above the axles/BB) and made it back onto the trail. Brrrrr, cold.

Start of the Flume Trail proper - Note Shuttle Service for those who enjoy cycling in only one direction
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Last edited by zigzag on Sat Jul 16, 2011 8:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 3:13 am 
Gold Trader / MacRetro rider
Gold Trader / MacRetro rider

Joined: Thu May 21, 2009 11:02 pm
Posts: 5253
Location: Falkirk! But I am a Fifer so that's OK...
Part 2 - Riding the Flume
A quick stop for photos and some fuel, plus a chat with some hardcore runner who appeared out of nowhere at the trail entrance - he reckoned the trail wasn't too busy yet. Good news!

So, all fired up, I batter down past the signs onto the flume itself, which turns out to be really sandy causing me to wash out and almost lose the front-end immediately :oops: So, I calm it down and go again, hitting a rock-garden (carry speed, carry speed) as it descends down into the trees, running into a very tight right-hander almost immediately (woah, scrub off speed!) after the rocks which leads down to a shaded, narrow boardwalk bridge across a creek... which of course I walk. After that, there's a bump down across the rideable part of the rocky creek which I clear. And with that, I exited the trees onto the main part of the trail. The view across Lake Tahoe and the mountains beyond is simply spectacular - you're several hundred meters up from the Lake on a narrow almost white gravelly path as it snakes northward and very gradually downwards following the contour of the mountain. The slopes are dotted with scrub, boulders and large pine trees, some of them toppled and dead dried out shells.

View from the Flume over Lake Tahoe
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The trail itself turns out to be relatively wide, reasonably straight and with very little in the way of technical challenge... Which is probably just as well given the obvious price for failure on your side. And because it slopes gradually downwards, physically the flume trail itself is an easy ride. Once I'd stopped taking pictures every 50 metres, it was possible to build up a decent head of speed - I passed occasional riders, only for them to pass me once I'd stopped for photos.

The only trail I can compare it to would be the Quirang, but because this was custom built for bikes and not just a walkers trail that's bikeable, it's a very different proposition. On Skye, when I actually felt able to ride, I dropped the seatpost and didn't clip in for much of it, since the drop was always at the front of your mind and being able to bail safely was important. Here, the width and smoothness made all the difference - I was aware of the drop, but not distracted. There were quite a few blind and tight turns, but you would simply slow down and take it easy. There was one section that had to be walked, but this was due to a rockfall, and again it was nothing like any of the scrambling we did on the Quirang.

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Sand Harbour Below - hmm, yes, quite high (and busy)
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The last mile or so of the trail became a bit more forest-like as the dropoff lessened and the trail veered inwards away from the edge and into the trees - it also steepened as well, adding up to making this last part the most fun so far. Nice, fast singletrack with occasional splashes and muddy sections - a great end to the 4.5 mile flume trail.

I was now faced with deciding where to go next. I'd chatted with some riders earlier who'd been biking in the area all week - the rim trail that I'd fancied doing was effectively unrideable, still mostly covered in snow - they'd tried it and just ended up walking most of it. I didn't fancy the steep fire road final descent to Lake Tahoe and the shuttle back to the Lake Spooner car park, so I simply turned round and did the Flume in reverse :)

The Flume Trail in reverse - pretty much the same as forward
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It was obviously a wee bit harder, since you were heading uphill, but because the gradient was so shallow, it was still an enjoyable ride. Obviously I wasn't carrying as much speed, but it was still really enjoyable - it probably helped that I wasn't stopping to take so many photos.

More photos that I was still stopping to take
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The ride back and up was relatively uneventful, highlight being a couple of lycra'd loons hooring along on carbon hardtail stumpies, the rider behind riding one-handed, a camcorder in the other. In typical ZZ fashion, I saved my crashes until there was an audience, first of all falling off into a thorny bush for reasons I still don't understand, and then 20 metres later falling into the creek while trying to ride up and over it's rocky bed. While all tangled up in bike and relaxing in the ice cold water, I discovered to my pleasure that Time-Atac peddles don't unclip very easily with an outward twist of the feet.

The 4.5 Mile Final Rush
Not much else to tell apart from what goes up, must come down. The final 4.5 mile North Canyon fire road descent back down to the car park was probably the riding highlight for me. Fast, bumpy (air we go) and sketchy in parts thanks to the sandy bits - this had me laughing out loud. A great end, and a bit of a surprise - the joy of speed I suppose.

To summarise
Retro suitable? Definitely, although front sus was nice for the fast descent at the end.

Would I do it again? Yes, although I'd probably park and start at the shuttle pick up rather than Lake Spooner, and do it from there riding it in reverse up to Lake Marlette, and then back again. Much less tiring, which in turn probably opens up other riding options (rim trail, etc).

Were there any bears? I stopped looking for them after 30 minutes.

Embarrasing SportyPal GPS data here.


Last edited by zigzag on Sat Jul 16, 2011 8:53 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 9:29 am 
Classified Mod
Classified Mod

Joined: Wed Dec 30, 2009 8:34 pm
Posts: 12710
Location: Fife in Scotland
Nice one ZZ especially as it pissing it down right now in Fifeshire :wink:

.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 11:02 am 
P.o.T.M. Winner / MacRetro Rider
P.o.T.M. Winner / MacRetro Rider
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Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2009 1:03 am
Posts: 5502
Location: In the foothills of the foothills of The Cairngorm Massif :D
8)

Hissing down in Argyll too - but off out I go..........Ballachulish beckons


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 11:56 am 
Gold Trader / MacRetro rider
Gold Trader / MacRetro rider
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Joined: Wed Aug 22, 2007 12:23 am
Posts: 15608
pulling up a chair loving the tale so far- will there be a big bear latter on? (not the rangers kind).


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