Winter: Ester Dome - Saulich Loop
This ride can be done pretty comfortably when the trails are in tip-top shape. March is a great time, but first suss out the trails up on Ester Dome and the western Goldtream valley. If they look good then you'll probably ride virtually the whole thing, no pushing. Bring H20 and a bunch of calories. Figure four hours of riding, add some time in for goofing off.
Start at Ivory Jacks / Goldstream General store. Ride west to O'Brien, follow the trail alongside O'Brien south, take the mushing trail all the way over to the RR tracks at Sheep Creek. Go to the top of Ester Dome somehow. As mapped, we rode through the field near Annes, jumped on Ester Dome road which we took to St. Pats, and then took the trail up behind the mine (doubletrack uphill, shortly before getting to the mining buildings). This put us out on Henderson. Astute map readers might note that we did not take this trail all the way to the wooden gates on Henderson. We found a trail that lopped a little bit of distance off, at the expense of having to push the bikes a little.
Once at Henderson, we just went up the road, got to Ester Dome Road and continued to the top. Not stopping at the first flat area, we continued through the saddle and up to the antenna farms. First "bail out point". If you don't think that you want to do the whole ride, why not cut it in half? Ride up to the first group of antennas, and take the Nugget Creek trail (roughly shown as a black dashed line on the topo). Keep on going? Then ride past the second group of antennas, down then up a short grade. Follow the main trail, veering right. At the bottom of a short but fast descent, veer right. You'll make a couple of granny gear climbs and then when you start descending again, veer left. You'll follow this trail for over a mile, until you hook up with...
The Fireplug trail. This is another "bail out point". Had enough? Go left down the fast descent. You'll end up in the Ester Creek valley. Follow the road all the way out to Ester, and find your way back to your car from there. Otherwise, turn right, and follow the Fireplug for about three miles. You'll pass a section line trail, just keep going straight. Toward the end of the three miles, things get steeper. Once the trees go from big, tall, beautiful spruce to the scrubby lowland stuff, slow way down. Be vigilant for an intersection.
If you look around at the intersection, you'll even find some faded wooden signs in a tree. I wish that I knew what had been painted on them; it would be nice to refresh the paint job. Anyway, turn right at the three way intersection. This will take you across the valley to Saulich, a waypoint on the Alaska Railroad. You'll cross the tracks (making sure there are no trains, right?) and presto!, you are on the Dunbar Trail. Turn right, and begin the long, flat, but still interesting, trek home.
You'll pass a "Y" going the other way, then come to a "Y" where you need to take a left. Going right is technically shorter, but the trail conditions always favor the slightly longer trail to the left. You'll then come to your last "bail out point". If you need to save energy, turn left, grind up the hill and you'll come out on Murphy Dome road. You can ride the road out, or flag a motorist if you are really in trouble. Good to go? Turn right, heading downhill, and take your next left about 150 yards down the trail. Cross the tracks and ride.
There's a few intersections left, but none of them particularly critical. After about a mile and a half (maybe 2?) turn right. This leads across a couple of lakes and down an odd straight stretch behind a berm. Eventually, you empty out onto a lake and you need to aim for about the 10 o'clock position. Avoid the trail going steeply uphill to the yellow shed. Assuming you find the trail paralleling the tracks again, ride on. At another lake, follow the trail that most closely follows the tracks. The other way takes you up the Dumb Ride (up the Nugget Creek trail which becomes an arduous push).
Not much left to do but ride. You get to a road. Cross the tracks, and follow the trail. It leaves the tracks and takes you past three houses then dumps you out on Sheep Creek. If you want to ride the road back to the car, fine. If not, cross the road, and follow the best packed trail. It will take you past another house and finally to O'Brien road. Ride up O'Brien, congratulate yourself for not taking the road back.