Ride over the 9,500' Bighorn Mountains...

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Red_Label, Dec 1, 2017.

  1. Red_Label

    Red_Label Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2017
    Oddometer:
    60
    On Sunday, I decided to take a ride over Northern Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains (since my Denver Broncos have been giving me LITTLE reason to sit around and watch them play on Sundays this year). I've been up there late in the season before on my Ninja and though there was snow, there was none on the road and only lots of sand down in the Shell Canyon from a previous snow.

    This time, I headed out of Billings, MT (where I live) with the wind blowing... maddeningly beating me up most of the way to Lovell, WY. The good thing about the wind was that temps were warm... in the 45-55 degree range. I generally hate the wind and wind chill, but on this trip I really came to appreciate the warmth that wind brings. As I got nearer to Lovell, I started to feel a chill. Was wearing several layers top and bottom, with my Klim Adventure Rally pants and Badlands jacket. So I wasn't wanting for clothing, but I was still feeling pretty chilled, and when I stopped to top on in Lovell, I had concerns that heading up over the 9,500' pass would cause hypothermic feelings. But I figured that I could always stop, warm-up, and turn around if need be. The wind was dead calm in Lovell, but I was colder than in windy Billings.

    As I got closer to the western flank of the Bighorns, I started to feel the wind again. And I noticed the ambient temperature on my Tiger's display shoot up from 43 degrees F to 62 within a ten mile stretch of road. I was probably at the 8,000' level on the switchbacks before I noticed that temp peak out and start to fall again. As I got up on top, there was more and more snow, and I passed many snowmobile trailers up there (it's always popular up there for "sledding"). I eventually went from patches of dry road with wet snowmelt, to more drifts across the right lane, to solid melted-and-refrozen ice.

    Lots of snow up there. I learned just how smooth I could be on the throttle/brakes/steering through a 10-mile stretch of snow drifts, and frozen meltwater on the road. One section of the latter was about a mile long. I was tightly puckered the entire section… SURE that I was going down. The other 9 miles I rode down the very left side of the road (sometimes on a very narrow left shoulder) because the drifts and icy sections were less there. When I’d see a car coming from the other direction (LOTS of visibility up there thankfully), I’d ease over into the right lane, and then ease back over to the left once I’d passed them. They were all looking at me like I was crazy (I assume). Would have been nice to have studded tires up there!

    Here is the lookout point, near the high point of the pass on the western edge. I wish that I could have taken a pic in the stretch of snow drifts and ice that came before this point (I REALLY wanted to), but I was so puckered while riding that stretch that I was afraid that any stoppage would increase my chances of dumping the bike. Plus, I doubt I would have been able to get it back up, because I wouldn't have been able to get enough traction from my boots on the ice to do so. I was really sticking my neck out on that section!

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    I eventually made it over the high point on the western side, and then road east towards Bear Lodge at Burgess Junction on the eastern side. While the temps had cooled a bit on top, they slowly raised up again as I rode east. Once past Burgess Junction, and dropping over the east side of the mountains, they peaked in the mid-high 60s down towards Dayton, WY at the bottom. I stopped at Steamboat Point to take a picture of the bike in front of it because it was beautiful and warm on this side of the mountains. So the opposite of 20 miles west of here.

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    After I bottomed-out at Dayton, I headed north towards Billings again and was happily home in time to see the donkeys... errrrr, the Broncos finish up losing their seventh straight game this year (worst record in my 50 year lifetime). So... it's a good thing that I had an adventure that day!
    #1
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  2. Moedad

    Moedad Bearded Member

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    57
    Location:
    Year round riding in Southern California
    I got to ride a chunk of that same ride in July of 2016. We came in from Greybull and Shell on the other 14, crossed over the mountains and down into Dayton on our way to Little Bighorn to see the battlefield (checked that one off the bucket list!). From there we went up through Hardin and on to Pompey's Pillar on the Yellowstone, had dinner at Applebee's in Billings and ended the day in Red Lodge with the Beartooth on the agenda the next day. That day crossing the Bighorns and seeing Custer's last stand, and Pompey's Pillar, was the highlight of the 3,100 mile trip! Fantastic!
    #2
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  3. Red_Label

    Red_Label Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2017
    Oddometer:
    60
    Very nice! I kind of take these things for granted at times, because I ride/drive over them so many times every summer that it gets a bit stale. That's why I bought my ADV... just to explore different, non-paved roads for a change! I've done countless trips over the Bighorns and Beartooths on my Ninja ZX6, FJR1300, Triumph Tiger, Pontiac Solstice convertible, and various trucks and SUVs over the years. I usually average about five trips a year over each range. I prefer the Bighorns to the Beartooths, because the 'Tooths are always more crowded. Shell Canyon used to be my favorite, but the last couple of years I've been doing Tensleep Canyon south of there a lot and that's becoming my favorite. I've done 400-500 mile days where I ran the Bearthooth and Chief Joseph Highways down to Cody, then ran over to Greybull and did the Shell Canyon over to Dayton, and back to Billings. I've also done the Lovell up to Burgess, then down to Shell, then down to Worland and over the Tensleep Canyon, then back from Buffalo to Billings. It's all starting to get stale, so when I got my Triumph in early September, I started exploring the logging roads up in the Bighorns as well as various jeep trails up in the Prior Mountains. I've had it up in the Horns three or four times already now, as well as twice over the Beartooths, and once over to the Black Hills. It's all bucket list stuff for many riders... but when you live here it's just where you recreate, and you long for other roads. I'll be branching-out more west next on the Tiger next summer. I spend a lot of time on Google maps, just plotting-out dirt road rides that I've never done.
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  4. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    477
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    @Red_Label - Sounds like quite a ride up the hills you had there. Maybe you do need your head examined riding on icy roads! I'm from Worland originally and know both Shell and Tensleep Canyon well. Your plan to use Google Earth to map out some big dirt up on top is a good one. Always wanted to do the same myself. I know, for example, that there are ways to get from Tensleep quite a ways up the mountain on dirt (try looking for the Hazleton Road, and maybe you can follow it down to Kaycee), but it might take you through ranches so ask around.

    Enjoy and watch out for the 9-ers!
    #4
  5. Moedad

    Moedad Bearded Member

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    57
    Location:
    Year round riding in Southern California
    We were going to ride Tensleep Canyon, but it was during Longmire days in Buffalo and we ended up gravitating further north to end up in Greybull because closer lodging was all booked up.
    #5
  6. Red_Label

    Red_Label Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2017
    Oddometer:
    60
    Last Saturday, I took a ride south to head through Prior Gap, a canyon in the Prior Mountains (basically, the northern section of the Bighorn Mountains pictured above). I got deep into it, but somehow lost the main road and then was just riding around on jeep trails that eventually came to a steep, rocky bank to the creek. As usual, I was alone, so I didn't want to get stuck down there and end-up walking out (it's deep in the Crow Indian Reservation and it's not someplace that most non-natives around here would feel comfortable walking out of).

    Here was my turn-around point...

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    Looking back towards where I'd come from...

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    I'm on the bike today (at work) and the weather is even better than last week. So tomorrow I'll get in one last day ride, before my buddy takes my bike down to Harris Motorsport in SLC for it's 12K service (though I'll be over 13K by then). He's hauling his boss' Ferrari 458 Spider down for its service, so he offered to take my bike as well.
    #6