With over a foot of heavy snow accumulating in Rapid City last weekend, I conducted some route reconnaissance of the Black Hills BackBone on some of the higher elevation roads, which happen to be pretty remote. Three days after a spring blizzard, the area around Deerfield Lake still held 4-6 inches of snow on much of the ground and several inches of snow on top of saturated gravel and dirt roads. I could not drive on the route very far from Deerfield Lake, either south on Williams Draw Road or north up to O'Neil Pass. Now would be one tough time to ride this thing.
|Along Deerfield Lake approaching NFS White Tail Campground at about Mile 195 of the Black Hills BackBone. The snow thinned with a little traffic and sun, but was deeper where more protected. All of it was very soft. May 12, 2015.|
Many of the Pennington County gravel roads had been plowed, were relatively clear and were only moderately soft. These likely will be great to ride with a few days of sun and wind. On the other hand, the National Forest Service roads had not been plowed and were stuffed with snow, with all that saturated gravel and dirt underneath. Most all of the Black Hills portion of the BackBone travels such Forest Service roads, many of which even the Forest Service calls "secondary." I could not even drive those this week.
|Williams Draw Road (691) south of Deerfield. Shortly after cresting that little incline, I had to turn around. |
Due to the altitude, remoteness and type of roads, the portion of the BackBone most likely to be problematic with snow is from O'Neil Pass south to Custer, roughly 60 miles. Next week, I plan to take paved U.S. Highway 85 to the top of O'Neil Pass for a look at the condition of the route going south from that end. More snow could always fall, but I'd like to know when this latest snow is gone.
|Looking up towards Flag Mountain. The BackBone route comes down this road to South Rochford Road. Again, this road very quickly turns to deep snow and soft gravel. No climbing Flag Mountain in the minivan today.|
By the way, l love my Black Mountain Cycles "monster cross" bike, which is basically a road bike designed for really-wide-for-a-road-bike tires (35 mm to 45 mm). My Black Mountain comfortably carries me through a wide variety of conditions, including 4-6 inches of fresh snow on hard surfaces, like frozen gravel or pavement. Not this stuff. I know I would be walking through much of this spring snow on soft gravel and dirt.
Take away: To ride the BackBone on a gravel rig, check the local forecast. Snow happens.
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