Riding Chilcoot Pass Loop – Epic Backcountry MTB

Riding through the fireweed on the Chillcoot Pass Loop

 With a quick stop in Missoula to get some resupplies that included a trip to Costco. I cooked food in a city park and checked out the bank of the Clarks Fork River. Missoula was a big city and very busy. The city was blazing hot and socked in with wildfire smoke. It seemed to be making everybody uncomfortable including myself.

 I headed northwest and found a free campsite about an hour away at the Big Pine campground. I was tired from driving and running errands in Missoula. It was relieving to run into a free developed campground with a table and pit toilets. The Clarks Fork River was rushing off in the distance along with the chatter of many other campers taking advantage of the area.

This is a very common view from inside my van with me sitting on the futon. This space felt very good despite how small my campervan is. My fridge, cook system, propane tank, table, and water dispenser, all work amazingly well. Everything fits snug and stays well organized.

This night I was studying the route for tomorrow’s bike ride. So far my rides have been pretty mild except for that 40 miler in Steamboat. Back in June Paul and Becca came down to my hometown of Colorado Springs and visited me while I was pet sitting for my friend Mike. We were scheming up ideas for the summer portion of my van trip and we came across the Chilcoot Pass Loop in the Lolo National Forest northwest of Missoula.

Great Burn – Chilcoot Pass Loop

I didn’t take into account the difficulty of this route at the time, but after reading the description of this double black ride on MTB Project in a bit more in detail I knew I was in for a challenge. This route was super remote and included long water crossings, steep hike a bike, overgrowth, and difficult route finding. Even though the route is just  24 miles, the guide recommended to pack for full days ride and be prepared for an epic backcountry adventure!

The next morning I made my way to the trailhead at the end of Fish Creek Road. It was a bit disorienting finding the start of the trail. I misjudged the start and crossed Fish Creek needlessly and got my feet soaked right away. After about a mile I found out I was heading the wrong direction and crossed Fish Creek again to find the proper start of the loop.

After finding the correct trail I was treated to 2 or 3 additional creek crossings in a row. Unfortunately these are not the type of creek crossings you can ride. Just get used to your feet being wet on this  adventure.

The singletrack was immediately lush and overgrown. It was hard to find my flow on this trail. There was a ton of tree fall that needed to be negotiated a little more frequently than I like. Progress was slow right of the bat. But this place is different. Since leaving Butte Montana the vegetation has changed to a more Pacific Northwest feel. This was my first time experiencing a wet lush forest like this.

Along the way I was treated to a neat series of small waterfalls. The miles were hard earned but the rewards were plentiful!

The wild flowers were in full bloom in a rare open meadow.

I fell in love with this ancient cedar tree. This one had a rather large trunk. Sporadically I would get dank stretches of singletrack zipping through the old growth ceder trees. It was quite the treat. I felt my senses heighten as I traveled deeper into this exotic backcountry.

Look at this little garden of eden that I found! I had to stop here and take a few pictures. Being from the dry climate of Colorado I am not used to seeing so much green. Click this picture to enlarge. Its worth it!

Immediately after the garden of eden, the trail forked sharply uphill and the steep hike a bike began. Not only did the terrain require hike a bike, but the trail was completely overgrown and tough to follow.

After about 2 – 3 hours of hike a bike the vegetation cleared and I could see the summit of Chilcoot Pass. I also had my first encounter with bear grass! They were more beautiful than I imagined and  felt elated to be close to the top. I remember letting out a big hollar of relief!

After cresting the top I was treated to views of the Great Burn.  I was literally on the border of Idaho/Montana..

Making my way across the ridge of the pass I had to stop and take lots of photos. It was spectacular up here and I felt very remote. 

After a brief traverse it was time to start descending. Thank goodness! I was beat and ready for a change of pace.

Some steep loose switchbacks took me down to Sesame Lake. I was getting hungry and needed a break after that tough hike a bike to the pass. Lunch by the lake side seemed like a great idea.

Sesame Lake was gorgeous. It looked deep, dark, and cold.

Little did I know there was a female moose splish splashing in the lake next to me while I was eating my lunch. Somehow I didn’t notice despite all the nose she was making. I caught this shot and video as she was heading off into the woods. Still, it was another great wildlife moment.

After a short climb past the lake, the trail starts descending again but it’s hard to make quick progress. Fallen tree after fallen tree combined with tough route finding in thick overgrowth.
.

Fireweed up to my bars!

More amazing old growth cedar trees and ferns. I was blown away by the beauty of this forest.

After what seemed like an eternity the trail opened up and I was able to make quicker ground.

I came across this bend in the creek and the water was crystal clear with a tint of emerald green..

Cedar planks like this were common across the muddy parts of the trail.

I was blown away by this ride! Truly an epic MTB backcountry adventure. It felt exotic. With breaks it took me 8 hours to complete a 25 mile loop. I was beat!

When I finished I said to myself how I was thrilled to have completed it,  but knew it was a route I would never want to do again.

After the ride I made my way to a dispersed campsite that I spotted on the way to the trail head. It was the perfect Montana campsite except for one thing. The wasps! I was setting up camp and noticed that there were no mosquitoes. I thought it was to good to be true until I started cooking. When I brought out my food a yellow jacket showed up. Then another until I had a swarm of a couple dozen wasps harassing me and crawling all over my food. Then, what I call the yellow jacket killer came out. This was an all black wasp with a couple white dots on its back. It was much larger. About 3 times bigger than the yellow jackets. When a certain number of yellow jackets would show up the giant yellow jacket killer wasps would appear and attack the smaller yellow jackets. Occasionally I would see one of these giant black wasps flying off with a yellow jacket in its mandibles.

I did take a dip in the creek but for the most part I had to hang out inside my van to avoid the mass of intimidating wasps out my front door. I could no longer cook outside. Being from Colorado I have seen my share of wasps but never in such hordes and so aggressive. Little did I know this was the beginning of the Great Montanna Wasp Battle of 2018.

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