Gifford Gravel Epic S48OGifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF) is located in Southwest Washington State, the GPNF encompasses 1,368,300 acres of forests, mountains, river valleys, waterfalls, wildernesses, and the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and miles of forest service roads connecting everything together. I’ve been enamored with this national forest area since I moved to the Pacific NW from Maryland 16 years ago, and have spent countless hours riding the trails and gravel roads discovering new areas of interest all of the time. This past year I founded the Gifford Gravel 50, an underground ride that takes on some of the toughest roads in the GPNF covering 58 miles with a little more than 8,000 feet of climbing. It was tough. Not only are the climbs steep, they are rocky and unmaintained and remote with spotty cell service. I invited a few close buddies for a weekend bikepacking trip in the GPNF to do a little scouting and recon for what will become part of an 80 mile option for next year’s Gifford Gravel 50/80. A new route was mapped, permission was acquired from private land owners, and set a weekend for the 5 of us to do a S48O. The planned route had big climbs, steep descents and sweeping vistas from the top of each hill.

Gifford Gravel Epic S48OWe set off from Rock Creek Campground in the Yacolt Burn State Forest to cover approximately 106 miles and 13,000 feet of climbing over 3 long days.

Bikepacking never goes as planned, having a bailout or backup plan is always a good idea, such in our case.

The first leg of the route was about 22 miles to 4th of July Camp figuring this would be great place to end the day. Five long foggy, wet, cold, and windy hours later we reached camp and settled in for the night. Gifford Gravel Epic S48O

Gifford Gravel Epic S48ODay two was going to be tough, so we headed out for an early start to get to Yale Lake before sundown.

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Our route took us on the Siouxon Trail, but we first had to traverse a goat trail and then descend an extremely steep slope trying to keep our bikes from careening down the hillside with us. After many hours of hike a biking we made it to the bottom of the Horseshoe Ridge Trail to Siouxon Creek

pic21Taking a break along Siouxon Creek to grab lunch and dry our gear from the heavy rains we encountered the first night was a good idea and provided the mental break we all needed at this point. We created a new plan where we would camp that night even though the loamy trails and fuzzy trees with moss were really inviting.

pic22We pushed on for a couple more hours to get our spirits lifted. At this point one of the group had to drop out, and then there were four.

pic23The only mechanical was a gashed sidewall on a new tire.

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We decided to camp along an old abandoned road just at the base of what would become the steepest climb on the route the following day. The four of us settled into camp and had a nice evening hanging out telling stories and passing around the whiskey.

pic26The third day started out cold with all of the overnight dew freezing on everything exposed to the elements overnight. The first hill from camp was the toughest.

pic27We rose early to a 30º morning jonesing for the warmth of the sun.

pic28Mt. St Helens in the background

Hunger after a trip of this magnitude compounds as you get closer to finishing. We decided burgers and shakes were in order, so we headed to Old Town Burger in Battle Ground, WA. We finally had a chance to talk about our trip and made the decision to start planning the next adventure.

Photo contributions and a special thanks to CR, SB, CB and DF for coming along for the fun and not so much fun.


Todd Shank is an avid cyclist who moved to the PNW 16 years ago. 3 years ago he became the owner of Salmon Creek Cycle Co in Vancouver, WA. Be sure to stop by his bikepacking bike shop if you are in the neighborhood.  

4 Comments

  1. Thanks Neil!

  2. Chris Brannen

    Thanks guys (and especially Todd) for the Gifford Natl Forest ride.

  3. Having a backup plan to a backup plan is always a good idea, too!

    Seems like you had a swell of a time. Looking forward to reading about your next adventure.

  4. Steve Ward

    Hi Todd, this is Steve Ward from Ride the Willipa. Nice post. I’m looking to some time in the GPNF over the next month. Mostly from the north, and between Adams and St. Helens. Will let you know the outcome.

    Steve

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