Cline Butte Loop

Directions: From Tumalo, drive north on Cline Falls Highway. The trailhead is hard to find but is located on the left about 2 miles before the Juniper Trailhead (about 30 minutes from Bend). The trailhead includes a gated cattle guard and some mailboxes, as well as a Cline Buttes Recreation Area sign. The singletrack starts about 100 yards up the dirt road, on the left. For a complete ride description, visit www.mtbproject.com.

Distance: 8-mile loop.

Features: Rolling, narrow singletrack around the buttes and a challenging road climb to the top of the highest butte; two downhill trails that are steep and technical, for advanced riders only; loop includes 1,250 feet of climbing and the same amount of descent.

Rating: Aerobically intermediate to advanced; technically advanced.

Information: Other maps and ride descriptions on Cline Buttes can be found at www.mtbproject.com.

REDMOND — After a historically mild winter, mountain bike season is starting early in Central Oregon. Trails west of Bend that are normally not ridable until June have been busy since February.

The Wanoga complex has been snow-free for weeks, at least before these most recent storms.

But even with all the mountain biking available close to Bend, I still wanted to explore more traditional early-season trails on the high desert to start out the 2015 edition of Mountain Bike Trail Guide.

I texted a mountain biking friend last week, asking if he would join me on a ride at Cline Buttes, west of Redmond.

His response: “Wanoga is clear. You should be riding closer to town.”

Well, Cline Buttes was an area I had never really ridden much, and I figured now was the time, as such desertlike trails will no doubt become too sandy earlier than normal this year.

The trails on Cline Buttes, including a narrow singletrack path that wraps around the buttes and two downhill trails that start from the top of the highest butte, are part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Cline Buttes Recreation Area. The area, which is undergoing trail and trailhead developments, also includes the sprawling trail network at Maston, across Cline Falls Highway from the buttes.

Although I have experienced Maston many times, I had never biked the singletrack on Cline Buttes.

Part of that was the fact I had never found the singletrack there. Maps of the area are hard to find, but I located one on the website www.mtbproject.com, as well as a description of an 8-mile loop on the buttes.

After some persuading, my friend came along on the drive north from Bend through Tumalo and toward Eagle Crest Resort on a crisp, sunny day last week.

The “trailhead” is not well-marked. We made a left-hand turn off Cline Falls Highway and drove through a cattle guard gate a couple of miles before Maston’s Juniper Trailhead and parked the car.

The singletrack started about 100 yards to the left off the dirt road. The trail was already somewhat dusty and extremely narrow.

We rolled through juniper trees and sagebrush and soon began to climb in earnest. The trail went from dusty to hard and tacky, even with some shale. And it became increasingly narrow as we climbed.

We made a left onto a rocky road, then picked up the singletrack again to the right after climbing a few hundred yards.

The singletrack narrowed to almost 10 inches in spots, and to our right was a fairly treacherous drop-off. Redmond, Smith Rock State Park and the Ochoco Mountains sprawled out to the east, and soon we turned west as we wrapped our way around Cline Buttes.

Once we were on the west side, snow-covered Cascade peaks dominated the horizon. I knew we would climb a dirt road to the summit of the butte — but I wasn’t sure which road and which butte.

We made a left on a dirt road that went to the top of the middle of the three buttes, then, after some searching, descended a dangerously steep trail all the way back to the car.

At the car, after some discussion, we realized we had taken the wrong dirt road and climbed the wrong butte.

So we decided to go again, since we had ridden 6 miles and were not gassed just yet.

We climbed the singletrack a second time, but this time, we stayed on said singletrack until we wrapped around the highest butte, then made a left on a dirt road to the summit.

The singletrack on the west side of Cline Buttes is special, not only because of the view of the Cascades towering over an endless expanse of juniper trees, but also because of the unique, rolling, side-hill character of the trail.

The climb up the road to the top is tough, but not impossible, and we stayed on our bikes for most of the ascent.

Surrounding the summit of the butte, at 4,067 feet, is a barbed-wire fence that protects a radio facility, and the two downhill trails can be found after riding for a bit to the right of the fence.

We took the second trail we came to, and it was one of the steepest I have ever encountered, with several technical rock sections. We walked several portions of the descent, but we became more confident as the trail flattened out a bit toward the bottom. We rode over a few jumps, and then the trail eventually merged into the singletrack trail that we rode from the start of the ride.

Both downhill trails are for advanced riders only, and riding the original singletrack as an out-and-back route is an option for those who want to avoid the challenging downhill.

The ride ended up being about 14 miles, although the loop itself is about 8 miles.

It was a perfect way to start the season, with rolling singletrack, gut-busting climbs and impressive views.

Now, on to the endless other mountain biking options this spring in Central Oregon.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318

or mmorical@bendbulletin.com .

Editor’s note: Mountain Bike Trail Guide, by Bulletin sports and outdoors writer Mark Morical, features trails in Central Oregon and beyond. The guide runs in the Outdoors section on alternating Wednesdays throughout the riding season.

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