Has the world gone a little crazy when wanna-be tough guys prove their machismo completing manufactured obstacle courses that smack more of reality TV than reality? What kind of fatuous behavior has people paying $200 to complete a three-hour-long obstacle course like a Tough Mudder when, for free, they could head out into a million corners of the Pacific Northwest and attack a bushwhack that could completely spank them? A thrash to a trail-free summit or mountain lake could consume a muscular weekend rather than a few wimpy hours. And rather than receiving a trifling electric shock for a mistake, the full-meal deal of navigating forests, surmounting deadfall, crossing creeks, wading swamps, fighting slide alder, hopping boulders, and scrambling crags could reward careless adventurers with a broken leg in a place where only carrion feeders would find their carcasses. Modern men with their manufactured obstacle courses, après-mud beers, trophy T-shirts, and endless albums of selfies are such laughable cream puffs.
These were among my unhinged musings as I dragged a mountain bike over the Border Camp Trail in the northernmost forests of the Loomis Natural Resource Conservation Area (NRCA) of Okanogan County. On the huge, wood-carved schematic map located at various trailheads of the NRCA, the Border Camp Trail was a prominent option among the quiver of trails displayed. With a picture of the wooden schematic loaded into a camera and a topographic map (showing no evidence whatsoever of this trail) tucked into my pocket, I headed out on a mountain bike loop circumnavigating the perimeter of the NCRA.
Leaving camp at 8:30 a.m., the first part of the loop –the silver jeep trail on my photographed schematic map — goes swimmingly well. I complete this four-mile segment in an hour and move onto Border Camp Trail shown as a prominent green line on the schematic map. The first segment of this green trail flies by – it is simply a degraded dirt road that, perhaps, serviced the creation of that endless swath of mowed-down trees marking the nearby US/Canada border. I’m brimming with confidence that I overestimated the time needed to complete the circuit — soon my manly vigor will be celebrated by my awestruck wife when I roll into camp hours ahead of schedule.
The nature of the green trail shifts gears abruptly a mile along its length when it moves off the old road into a decadent stand of lodgepole pines littered with more fallen logs than living trees. Between the steep pitch, the occasional fallen tree spanning the path, and the stone volleyballs paving the route, this segment of trail is not ridable. Nonchalantly I dismount and push the bike onward — even several miles of such a trail will be easily traveled in an hour or two. I walk through the welcome gates of Hell with overflowing cockiness.
Slowly the path’s dirt surface is replaced by knee-high grasses and shrubs. Equally gradually the density of deadfall increases. Rather than small single logs gating the trail, more intertwined tangles of trunks block the way. Well over a hundred times I lift the bike over a woody obstacle and then scramble over or worm under the barrier. Sometimes, however, the hurdle is too messy to lift the bike over. Then my 30-pound companion is hoisted across my shoulders and I step up onto the offending log jams, balancing tenuously as the tires of my awkward antlers snag branches and threaten to dislodge me. Traveling solo I’m particularly deliberate about my movements — slips on such tangles could easily ensnare a foot and snap a leg as body and bike tumbled.
Blessedly these jumbled forests occasionally give way to inclined marshes where trees and deadfall are scarce. Here I splash through a combination of swampy sedges and sticky mud. Part of the swamp travels with me in my shoes and wet toes begin to blister.
The larger problem in this maze of shrubs, fallen trees, and bogs is that I frequently lose the blazes, orange triangles, and cut logs marking the ‘trail.’ With no topographic map accurately depicting where I’m headed, I need this trail, terrible though it may be, to guide me out of this green hall of horror. Half a dozen times I drop the bike and walk large circles searching for the clues on how to navigate the labyrinth. Often 30 minutes evaporate before I’m back on track.
Time starts taking on weight. My wife expects me at the Fourteen Mile Campground at 1 pm. That estimation has a generous slop factor built into it should the riding prove difficult. It doesn’t, however, calculate for a route that is a directional suggestion rather than a legitimate trail. At 1 pm I think, “I’ll make it out by 2:30.” At 2:30 I think, “I’ll make it out by 4:30.”
At 4:30, I’ve lost the Border Camp Trail yet again but the Snowshoe Trail is nearby. Past reconnaissance had me on the lower portion of the Snowshoe Trail and I’m confident it will accommodate rapid progress once found. Unfortunately, Snowshoe Meadows (a euphemism for a mile-long marsh) separates me from the Snowshoe Trail. Furthermore I can’t tell from my schematic whether the Boundary Camp Trail circumnavigates the marsh to the north or south. I study my topographic map and the sensible location for a trail would be on the south side. I wade the width of the marsh and work up the far banks several hundred feet. Nothing. I walk down the marsh a ways, wade its width again, and explore the north bank for a trail. Nothing. I throw in the towel and splash down the center of the marsh to the outlet stream.
Here I pull out the camera again and carefully study the photo of the schematic map. The stream is depicted and the trail is clearly shown north of the stream. I’m almost found! I scramble over a waste land of deadfall sure my lifeline is within reach. Fifteen minutes later I’m several hundred vertical feet higher but no closer to a trail.
It’s 5:30 pm and I’m minutes away from ditching the bike so I can travel double speed and beat nightfall. I know if I spend the night out my worried wife will age a year; she’s too old to appreciate such a gift. In case my wooden map could possibly be in error, I make a quick search of the south side of the stream before abandoning my wheeled companion who has sweated and cursed with me over this long day.
Sometimes at your darkest hour Fate shines a her light your way. Where I didn’t expect it, I intersect a legitimate trail. Fallen logs, varicose roots, mud, and baby-head cobbles still have me walking the bike downward, but finally I’m making progress.
In a mile, the terrain flattens and the trail surface improves enough for the bike and I to reverse rolls. Four miles of decent trail and double track flash by in a dizzying 30 minutes. At 6:30 pm I roll into camp where my hand-wringing wife hasn’t known whether I’ve simply gotten lost (a problem she knows I can extract myself from) or whether I’ve been hurt (a problem requiring the cavalry). She’s been paralyzed with indecision about whether to call in help. Now she has a new dilemma, “I don’t know whether to hug or slap you.”
“Go ahead and slap me,” I tell her, “I’m a tough mudder.”
Details, Details: Border Camp Trail and Snowshoe Mountain
Attractions. Frankly, most outdoor enthusiasts will avoid this thrash. However, Tough Mudders enjoying the challenge of navigating a tricky route, crawling over and under logs, and wading through mud and swamps will have a great adventure out here along the Canada/US border. Also, peak baggers wanting to reach the summit of Snowshoe Mountain, a summit with a very aesthetic final ridge walk and a commanding overlook of the area, will want to follow some portion of the Border Camp Trail to Border Monument 106 and then follow the north ridge to the summit.
Activities. Hiking and climbing Snowshoe Mountain. If you’re doing an out-back trip up Snowshoe Mountain, a mountain bike will be useful for the first 4.5 miles of the route. If doing the complete loop described below, a mountain bike would be useful for the first 3.7 miles.
Length. 7.6 miles (one way) to Border Monument 106, 8.5 miles (one way) to the top of Snowshoe Mountain. The complete loop is about 16 miles without climbing to the summit of Snowshoe Mountain and just under 18 miles if you climb the peak.
Elevation Gain: 3,000 (out and back), 3,400 (loop) if you climb Snowshoe Mountain.
Difficulty. Hikers: 4 (expert). Mountaineers: 2+ (advanced intermediate). Note: Mountaineers are used to difficult approaches, bushwhacking, and navigational challenges and only the approach to Snowshoe Mountain is tricky – the ridge walk to the top is easy and very pleasant.
Fitness: 3 (advanced).
Access. From Loomis, follow the Loomis-Oroville Hwy 2.2 miles north. Turn left on Toats Coulee Road (Road 39), go 7.7 miles. Turn right onto Ninemile Creek Road. For the Disappointment Trailhead, go 0.4 miles up Ninemile Creek Road, turn left, and follow Fourteen Mile Road 5.3 miles to its end (Discover Pass required).
Maps: See our topo maps of the Loomis NRCA: 1) southern map 2) northern map
GPS. Download a GPX file with the waypoints shown on our maps.
- We recommend starting at the Disappointment Trailhead, walking up the Fourteen Mile Trail) 3.7 miles (this is actually a double-track road and then an ATV road). Next follow the Snowshoe Trail (easy at first but very rooty, muddy, and rocky once the trail steepens) to the stream crossing near waypoint G15. Here the trail switches names to the Border Camp Trail (no signage indicates this). We didn’t find the official connection between waypoints G14 and G13 when we did the route, we think the trail follows clockwise around Snowshoe Meadows but, if necessary, wade the marsh in the meadows and pick-up the route again at waypoint G13 — your feet are going to get anyway so don’t let the swamp deter you now. Follow the route shown on the map in a northeasterly direction to Border Monument 106 (near waypoint G10). If climbing Snowshoe Mountain, walk the north ridge a mile to the summit. This is the prettiest part of the route, so do it.
- The fastest, easiest option is to retrace the route from Border Monument 106 back to the start.
- For the full-meal deal, however, continue on the Border Trail from G10 to G1 until the trail hits an old road at waypoint G1. Our map shows the trail fairly accurately and our waypoints were taken when we were actually on the trail. We definitely recommend taking our topo map over a picture of the schematic map at the trailhead and we strongly recommend downloading our waypoints into a GPS or smartphone so you can find yourself should you lose the trail. At G1 follow an old road for 1 mile to waypoint S6 and turn right onto a smaller trail. Now follow the Ollalie Trail (which is rooty, rocky, and muddy) 1.2 miles back to the Fourteen Mile Trail. Turn left at the Fourteen Mile Trail and retrace it 3.7 miles back to the start.
Land Managers. These trails are all in the Loomis Natural Resources Conservation Area and are managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Fees/Permits. Discover Pass required for parking at the different trailheads and for camping at Cold Springs.
Other Trips. For dozens of additional hikes or peaks in Okanogan County see our on-line hiking and our on-line mountaineering guidebooks.
Reporter (and date). First posted 8/31/2014 by Andy Dappen.
Leave It Better than You Found It. This should be every user’s goal. Do no damage and pick up trash left by others.
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.