Sunday, July 6, 2008

Loon Lake Loop trail is in great shape

I got a late start on Saturday afternoon, but I couldn't wait to mountain bike the 10-mile Loon Lake Loop from Chinook Campground in the Payette National Forest (20 miles north of McCall) and check out the setting after a 215,500-acre wildfire burned hot and long last summer.

Turns out it was a gorgeous late-afternoon ride. The mushroom pickers were out in force, combing the countryside for fresh morels, and I ran into a trio of horseback riders, several groups of mountain bikers, a group of backpackers heading up to Loon Lake, and a group of llama-packers, who were camped in the penstamin-covered grassy meadow just before Loon Lake.

The wildfires had burned in a "mosaic" type of random pattern through the countryside, sparing some meadows and mountainsides, darting through others, and blackening whole slopes. Judging from a map of the lightning-strikes associated with the Zena-Loon wildfire, there had to be scores of small blazes burning amid the big one.

The fire's impacts on the Loon Lake Loop were insignificant, thanks to the efforts of the Payette National Forest trail crew and a high amount of use by commercial pickers due to the morel-money-making potential. My feeling is that forest trails on sustainable grades often smooth out when they're getting lots of use.

So going over to Loon Lake on the Victor Creek Trail #081, the trail was buttery-smooth, and FAST! But you couldn't let things get too out of control because there's always those unforeseen rock formations, or other people on the trail. I was zooming along, and then I saw a guy on horseback coming up a steep grade, just as I was about to banzai down there. I managed to slam on the brakes and avoid a collision.

I climbed the multiple grades to a point where you reach a mini-perch and can see the big meadow approaching Loon Lake. Now, after the fire, you can see Loon Lake through the trees. That's kind of a cool new feature of the scenery. Overall, the fire has cleared out a thick lodgepole pine forest canopy and opened up the views. Nice secondary benefit.

I saw fire impacts all the way to the Secesh River and then back along the Secesh to Chinook Campground. Along this section, you'd ride in and out of the fire impact area throughout the ride.

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