Not Recommended: Bikepacking Strawberry Peak, Utah
I’ve been wanting to take a bikepacking trip for quite awhile now, so with nothing too pressing on my schedule I decided to go for it. I couldn’t get any of the boys to go with me, and it was probably a good thing as it turned into a very difficult ride. I’m not the most meticulous planner; I think deep down I like a sense of adventure, not knowing what is around every bend in the trail. I used mapmyride.com to look at some options, and while I was able to stick to my route, I failed to check the elevations of the route I would be taking. The second half of the trip I decided to take another route I had not planned on and that added significantly to the climbing.
This was a true S24O, or sub-24 hour overnighter. I left Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and arrived home Friday at 2:15 p.m., for a 23 hour and 45 minute outing. It’s amazing what you can do in just one day. I certainly saw a lot of beautiful scenery. And in two days in the mountains I saw only four ATVs and one motorcycle. My Surly Pugsley fatbike performed well. I am still amazed at how well these bikes float over rocks and sand and just about anything else.
I had my son drop me off at the beginning of Forest Road 046, located at the end of East Main Canyon Road in the small town of Wallsburg. The road was quite narrow, more like an ATV track. It climbed up through a beautiful valley along a nice creek. I knew there would be some climbing, as I was headed up toward Strawberry Ridge, which I knew was quite a bit higher. But I wasn’t prepared for just how much climbing I would have to do. Along this road I came upon a large herd of sheep; I actually split the herd as one half took off up another dirt road as the other half booked it up the road ahead of me.
This road ascended to a large, beautiful meadow called Big Glade. There was a truck with a trailer there, so I assumed they had come up the other way, probably from Daniel’s Summit, as there is no way a large trailer could have made it up the road I biked up. I passed one guy on an ATV in this meadow.
After the meadow, FR 046 climbed gently for another mile or so to the junction with FR 137. I took a right onto 137 and began climbing again.
A very rocky road/trail
This time the road/trail was very steep and rocky. I had to push my bike up several sections. I finally topped out in a pretty grove of aspen trees with views all around. The trail through here was nearly level, with a few gentle ups and downs on a soft dirt track amid the aspens. It was a really beautiful area.
Smooth riding through a shady aspen grove
A short descent led down into another large meadow. There was another track leading off to the right, so I got my map out and tried to figure out where I was. I also had a GPS app on my phone, but discovered that although it tracked my location via satellite, the maps didn’t show up because I didn’t have cell coverage. (I'm not very proficient with GPS technology; so far, I stick to old-fashioned map and compass.) Based on my elevation and the contour of the track I had taken, I could match that to where I was on the map. Not time to turn off yet.
Headed toward Strawberry Peak, I was about 8 miles into my ride and had gained over 3,400 feet of elevation. I was feeling it.
The trail began climbing again on the other side of the meadow, quite steep in places. I finally climbed up to a rounded grassy knoll and could see Strawberry Peak across the way, a large tower with solar panels on the summit.
Strawberry Peak, 9,714 feet above sea level
A short descent through a grassy area brought me to the base of Strawberry Peak, where it was only about a quarter mile to the top up a steep, rocky ATV track. I went to the top and took a break. Based on my map, it looked like the trail I needed actually went to the summit; once I got up there, however, I could see a junction and my trail below. So down I went to the junction of FR 037 and FR 135. I was really relieved that the roads were marked, as there are countless ATV tracks all over this country and I was afraid of getting lost.
Most of the roads in this area are part of the Strawberry OHV Trail system
I was so relieved to finally get to the top with a big descent ahead! The sun was setting and it was getting chilly, so I put my arm warmers on. The first part of FR 135 was great -- soft dirt and fast. It wound around through more aspen groves until I hit another junction. This one was not marked, which I believed meant I should stay on the same road, but it was hard to tell which one was that road. I went off a spur just to make certain; sure enough, it dead-ended at a rustic camping area. So, I turned around and went down the other road. By this time I was almost out of water and was really thirsty. I came across a spring, but it was muddy and slimy, so I decided to press on.
Sun setting through the aspens
My biggest fear was taking off on some road, headed downhill, only to discover that it was the wrong road and I would have to hoof it back up the hill. I was really tired at this point and not in any mood for more climbing. Twice more, I carefully explored side roads. Then, as I was descending, far below I glimpsed a dirt road that I thought I recognized from a previous ride. I continued down the very rough, very rocky road to another signed intersection, pointing me toward FR 132. Big relief.
I had been rationing my water for hours and was very thirsty. I knew there was a creek down along this road; as soon as I got down to FR 132, sure enough, I could hear a tiny babbling. I hopped off my bike, scrambled down off the road, and discovered a small creek, only a foot wide at this high elevation. I filtered water and drank until I couldn’t hold any more, then filled my bottles (I had a one-liter Nalgene bottle and a 20-ounce bike bottle).
I was at the junction of FR 132 and FR 136. My original plan was to take FR 136 toward either the Wardsworth Canyon Trail or into the junction of Hobble Creek Right Fork and Diamond Fork. But I was exhausted, cold, and it was getting dark. I knew of a nice place to camp a couple of miles down FR 132, so I took the path of least resistance and bombed down the road to this small meadow below the road next to the creek.
It was a really nice spot. I arrived at about 9 p.m., and immediately put on warmer clothes. I had ridden 17 miles with about 4,500 feet of elevation gain and around 3,200 feet of descent.
Finally at camp, and into warmer clothing
I cooked dinner, then got ready for bed. It was a nice, clear night with no bugs, so I just threw my tent (a Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid) down as a ground cloth and slept under the stars. A beautiful night with countless stars, it dipped down into the high thirties or low forties. I was in bed by 10 p.m. and didn’t get up until 7 a.m.
Bed for the night
In the morning I was feeling pretty good, and I began formulating a new plan. I didn’t want to ride back up the two to three miles of road I had descended the night before, so I looked at a couple of other options. One, I could just ride down this road, which was Hobble Creek Left Fork, then hit the road out to Springville and home to Provo. But I didn’t like the idea of riding the paved road for so many miles on my fatbike, so I decided instead to ride down to the Forest Service access road located about a mile up Left Fork from the junction.
I quickly descended Left Fork, passing a dozen cars and trucks on their way up to the nearby scout camp. After four or five miles I was at the turnoff for the Forest Service road that turns into the Squaw Peak Road. I had run this road a couple of times, in both directions, but it had been several years ago. It turned out to be a real grind. I knew that once I turned the corner and start heading north and could see Utah Valley, there would still more climbing before I finally topped out.
Just after turning the corner and feeling really wiped out
This section turned out to be even longer than I had remembered, and it really whipped me. By the time I topped out, after 3,000-plus feet of climbing, I was really beat, and getting very low on water again. It took me three hours and fifteen minutes to top out from the Left Fork Road. Part of the way I took the singletrack trail that cuts off a few of the switchbacks on the road. This is the trail that the Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run and the Kat'cina Mosa 100K Mountain Challenge Run use, so I was familiar with it.
Top of Camel Pass looking back toward Springville
It was really nice to finally get to the top at about 12:30 p.m. I was looking forward to several miles of downhill; of course, the downhill was rough and rutted and rocky. It beat me to a pulp. To make matters worse, my tent kept falling off the back of the bike, one time getting sucked into the back tire (luckily, no damage done). It is made of slippery silnylon (including the stuff sack), and my straps had a hard time hanging on to it. By the time I got down to the trail that heads to the Rock Canyon Campground I was pretty wasted. It didn’t help that the narrow singletrack trail was very overgrown and had several downed trees that I had to duck under, then drag my bike under. The Rock Canyon Trail is awful -- way too steep and rocky for my tastes, but I hammered it out pretty quickly, knowing I was almost home. I live only about 1.5 miles from the mouth of Rock Canyon, so I was home in no time.
Total distance for the trip was 45 miles, with around 8,000 feet of elevation gain. Of those 45 miles, only about 6 were on paved roads.
Tips for this adventure: I would not recommend this route. Though there were some really nice, smooth sections, there were too many rough, rocky stretches to make it enjoyable. I’m glad I did the ride and was able to see some new country, but next time I’ll pick another route. The Strawberry Peak area, all the way down to Diamond Fork, looks like it has tons of potential. I wonder if the other trails are as rocky as the ones I was on?
Favorite local bike shop: Mad Dog Cycles in Provo.