The ATCA route is an acronym Upper Alpine, Tire Mountain, Cloverpatch, and Lower Alpine and generally ridden as a one-way descent by shuttled mountain bikers.
The Alpine Trail System, including Tire Mountain, and more recently, the Cloverpatch extension, offers a diverse biological front-country wilderness experience. “Cell phone service is mostly available on this system, and trail users are generally not more than an hour from emergency services or town – being Lowell, Westfir, or Oakridge. One of the most popular trails in the Middle Fork Willamette Ranger District, Alpine is open to all users – including motorcycles and mountain bikes, as well as hikers and equestrians,” asserts Michelle Emmons McPharlin, Alpine Trail Crew Association communications coordinator.
Starting at the north Alpine Loop heading to Elk Camp Shelter, McPharlin says users will enjoy a high Cascade alpine feel, as the trail weaves through rhododendrons, Oregon iris, valerian, and beargrass, and lush meadows of wildflowers. “The bloom cycle in this section, (also known as the “Chrome Toilet” loop) is often delayed and boasts an extended blast of color and a variety of flowering vegetation through late summer.” Heading south on the trail, one climbs into a beargrass meadow at the highest point on the trail (aka Sourgrass Meadow) where the forest opens up to a large clearing. Every seven years, the beargrass here goes into a super bloom – creating an ethereal “cloud” of tall white flowering stalks. Further down this main trail, after crossing the 1912 road, users will pass through an old-growth forest before heading to Windy Pass, where FS roads 1910/1912/1911 intersect, and the trail begins to zig-zag up a ridgeline to what has been dubbed “Beautimous Meadow” – and on a clear day, this spot offers unparallel views of Diamond Peak, Cowhorn and the Sawtooth Mountains, the Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor, along with a highly sought-after early summer wildflower explosion.
From here, users can choose to continue down “Alpine Proper” past Buckhead Mountain and back to town in Westfir, or veer to the west for another eye-popping meadow on Tire Mountain – featuring late spring displays of Mule’s Ear, and later season bursts of Indian Paintbrush, larkspur, alliums, tiger lilies, and columbine; all while wandering through a moss-laden rock outcropping until the trails drop into another old-growth section before winding down to Cloverpatch extension (named for the oxalis “clover-like” ground cover), another gravel road, and up 22 switchbacks before reaching the Alpine trail again just below Buckhead shelter. From here, users will experience a rugged section of shale-covered trail on an exposed ridgeline, as the trail works its way through thickets of Douglas Fir, sword ferns, and maple trees near its conclusion. “The variation of character and scenery on this system, as well as its easy access from the Oakridge/Westfir township, have earned it the title of Oakridge’s “Crown Jewel” trail,” explains McPharlin.
Trail runners can start in Westfir at the Office Covered Bridge for a loop that will cut out the Upper Alpine and climb up and down the Lower Alpine. The route features wondrous sections of the Willamette National Forest, striking views, and loads of sweet singletrack manicured by the Alpine Trail Crew Association.
Start the ATCA loop by running up Lower Alpine from the trailhead and continue on the 4.7-mile, 2152′ ascent Through densely forested area features lichen-covered Hemlock and Douglas Firs described by McPharlin. Save the quads and the route ends by descending on this section of trail. The trail descends slightly to an intersection and some doubletrack.
Take a hairpin left turn and keep descending down the Forest Road NF-683 to the Cloverpatch Tie Trail. This trail is most of the 4.3-mile descent that serpentines switchbacks to NF-130. The downhill continues until Tire Creek Rd. the intersection where a right run starts the next climb.
Stay on Tire Creek Road for 1.25 miles where Cloverpatch Trail begins on the left side of the road. Continue the climb up Cloverpatch Trail. Cloverpatch has a few creek crossings among the surrounding evergreens. The trail eventually finds some exposed ridge and adds some technicality with some scree patches. The 1600′ climb ends after a few switchbacks at the top before descending again at the FS-12 crossing.