Another cascade triple crown

The area north of Mt. Rainier has some fantastic trails – and when the weather cooperates, has some fantastic views as well. On Saturday was the last ride of the WA endurance series. The ride started at 8 am at the Sun Top trailhead, covering 64 miles with 13k ft. elevation.

I woke up at 4 am, thinking that it’s a 2:30 hour drive there, but without traffic it’s only 1:30 hours. It was odd finding myself with plenty of time to fiddle around on a Saturday morning. The temperature dropped along the way there, and by the time I was at the trailhead, it was 46 F. The forecast was for clear skies and dropping humidity with a high of 70 F. That held true. It was perfect weather for this ride, quite the opposite of what I experienced last year, when I could see at most 200 ft. the entire day and frequently had to wipe my glasses from the dew building up.

6 people had signed up for the ride, but only 2 made it to the start line. Anthony informed me of some blasting work at Crystal Mountain where the trail has been rerouted. Good to know. We rode off at a very leisurely pace, better to underdo it in the beginning than overdo it on these long rides. The climb up Crystal Mountain trail was very pleasant with fresh legs. Enough of a challenge, but not so much that you’ll have to pay for it too dearly.

Views along the lower portion of Crystal Mountain trail.

Views along the lower portion of Crystal Mountain trail.

Ridge line riding on Chrystal Mountain trail with Mt. Rainier to the right.

Ridge line riding on Chrystal Mountain trail with Mt. Rainier to the right.

As I was riding up and thinking about the route, I came to the conclusion that going up this trail is the right thing to do: The views are so fabulous and the trail so nice, that riding it downhill instead wouldn’t leave much time to enjoy it all.
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Norse Peak Wilderness east of Crystal Mountain.

Norse Peak Wilderness east of Crystal Mountain.

Finally reaching the summit, the access to the trail was indeed blocked due to blasting. They had some small avalanches up there this winter by the looks of it.

Summit at Crystal Mountain.

Summit at Crystal Mountain.

The re-route goes down a pretty steep access road (for snowcats, I presume) before heading up 250 ft. along some switchbacks to join the trail again. It was nice to be able to see the mountain side from a distance, instead of just riding on it.
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Quite a few hikers were out by 11:30 am, some enjoying a picknick at Hen Skin lake. There were fish jumping in the crystal-clear water.

Hen Skin Lake

Hen Skin Lake

On the way down, I filled up with water at a creek and then quickly reached the next challenge: 2600 ft. of vertical on the Corral Pass Rd. Eating and drinking was my main goal along this section.

Along Corral Pass Road.

Along Corral Pass Road.

Still hungry and feeling bloated after the gravel climb, it was time to take a power break along the Noble Knob trail. A shady spot in the lawn did the trick. There were quite a few hikers and bikers out along the Noble Knob trail – it was a busy day there. Some bikers were probably getting ready for this week’s enduro race there. Glad that I am not hiking there this weekend as the trail won’t be closed – hikers are just supposed to yield to bikes. Sounds like a good plan … for a disaster.

Along Noble Knob trail

Along Noble Knob trail

What views! Mt. Rainier, Crystal Mountain (where I came from) and Sun Top (where I am going next).

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There’s the Knob!

The Palisades trail weaves in and out of the forest. When it weaves out of the forest, you’re basically at a cliff, like so:

Along Palisades trail

Along Palisades trail

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I filled up on water and oiled my chain near the ladder at the end of Palisades. Some trail runners were debating if they’d go up the ladder, but they turned around. One of the runners quickly caught up with me and wondered if he should pass me. I said “Yes!” – he was fast down the steep switchbacks and even on the straights, he was as fast as me. I admire trail runners – some do 50, 100 miles of single track in a day and are faster than mountain bikers. Quite the way to get around if you got the legs for it.

The White River trail was rooty as always, and I was just glad to be on the Skookum Flats trail afterwards. That was fun. I passed by a couple creeks without filling up, even though I noticed my water was getting low. I should have stopped…

The climb up to the Sun Top lookout took its toll on me. 3000 ft of vertical and I was starting to run low on energy and water. Snack break! Water, twizzlers, and pickles – I love pickles on a hot summer day. Quite a bit of walking was had in the middle section, not sure that riding would have been faster for me. The views from the top were once again amazing. And it sure was nice to be there before sunset – though right around sunset would have also suited me fine.

At the Sun top lookout.

At the Sun top lookout.

Crystal Mountain, where I came from, is just to the right of the middle drainage.

Crystal Mountain, where I came from, is just to the right of the middle drainage.

The initial downhill is steep and loose, and that’s the only place where my Rocket Ron didn’t bite down well. Otherwise, I was impressed by it, as I usually ride with a Hans Dampf in the front. Oh well, saved 200 grams.

I felt great on the first climb after the Sun Top view point heading up to the ridge .. for about 100 yards. Then I bonked. Hard. I was out of water. Shucks. All that’s left was for me to eat twizzlers and not think about drinking. They did go down pretty good on their own and kept me going. But, I was off the bike pushing it anytime the trail just slightly turned uphill. And going ‘down’ from the Sun Top lookout means that you’ll be climbing around 1000 ft., while also dropping 3000 ft. It took me 1:20 hours to get down, slow by any accounts. Towards the end it was getting dark in the woods, so I put the light on for the last mile. Felt refreshed after a downing a Coke, Gatorade, and Muscle Milk. I had managed to ride the course in under 13 hours, and was quite happy to have reduced my time by 40 minutes compared to last year. I waited for Anthony to finish for a while, but then headed home. He also had a big day – and did the whole route even with some major GI problems. Congrats!

64 miles, 13500 ft. el. gain, 12:39 hours, link to GPX track.

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Bikepacking Mt. Saint Helens

This year, my bikepacking trip at Mt. Saint Helens went along the northern bikeable boundary, which is in the Mount Margaret backcountry. I had scouted the Norway Pass trailhead to be open to bikes on my bikepacking trip last year, and this year I called the monument headquarters to verify that the Boundary trail westwards to the Coldwater visitor center is indeed open, where my ride would pick me up. Trails that I rode / pushed were: Green River -> Strawberry Mountain -> Boundary -> Coldwater -> Lakes.

I had helped with the Lakes trail cleanup last year, but could see that its in need of some more TLC in the botany 101 area. However, a lot of work had recently been done on the Coldwater trail up to the saddle overlooking the Johnston Ridge Observatory – thanks!

To summarize: It’s basically a fairy-tale land up there. I stopped to take pictures so many times, and still felt like I should have taken more. Of course, many pictures looked quite similar in the end so I left them out of the slideshow below which still has 80 pictures. Campsites in this area must be reserved in advance, but with minimal planning-ahead I was able to stay at Bear Camp – which seems like it must be one of the best. I had unbelievable views of a herd of mountain goats including a screaming baby goat, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helens. I am so appreciative that these trails are open for bikes – thanks Mount St. Helens Monument managers! Of course, there were lots of dismounts and pushing on the trails and I only took a few pictures of that, but the slow pace seemed more appropriate for enjoying the fragile and beautiful landscape. I hope these trails will stay open to responsible mountain biking for a long time to come.

Click on one of the images to start the slideshow at that point.

 

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Jolly Esmeralda endurance ride

This Saturday was the second ride of the Washington Endurance Series. 4 people had signed up, but only 2 made it to the starting location – same as on the last WES ride. We later met the other 2 riders along the Jolly Creek trail. They had started earlier from a different location, but had been deterred by the fallen trees along the Middle Fork trail and were hiking back up Jolly Creek trail (which is super tough!). I thanked them for coming out and felt bad for them; but everyone has to make their own decisions to keep themselves safe.

We rode the course as it was posted and had a great time. We met a lot of motorcycles, chatted a lot, didn’t ride particularly fast nor steady, and took a lot of pictures. We finished the 40 miles and 9000 ft. el. gain in 11:17 hours. This is one of my favorite rides. I think the variety of trails and gravel on this loop works great.

The ride started out with a dirt road climb that lead onto the Sasse Mountain trail. From there, it went up to Jolly Mountain (6460 ft.) where we spied Mt. Adams and Mt. Baker, besides the omnipresent Mt. Rainier. I’ll let the pictures and captions speak for themselves for the most part.

Mt. Rainer was popping up all the time.

Mt. Rainer was popping up all the time. This, and other pictures with the name “_Eric” are by Eric Kamila.

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Onwards on the Sasse Mountain trail.

Onwards on the Sasse Mountain trail.

Upwards on Jolly Mountain trail.

Upwards on Jolly Mountain trail. We had to push occasionally, but rode a lot. In my case, I paid for it later pretty hard, but it was so much fun getting over the technical terrain.

Mt. Stuart and Esmeralda Peaks

Mt. Stuart and Esmeralda Peaks. The trees casting long shadows looks cool.

Chatted with a couple guys on dirtbikes for a while, and then they even took our picture!

Chatted with a couple guys on dirtbikes for a while, and then they even took our picture!

One tiny patch of snow left.

One tiny patch of snow left on the last bit up Jolly Mountain.

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Eric found a fossilized rock - which he carried in his backpack the rest of the trip!

Eric found a fossilized rock – which he carried in his backpack the rest of the trip!

The dirtbikers were slow, here one of them is finally catching up with us near the top.

The dirtbikers were slow, here one of them is finally catching up with us near the top.

Reached the top of Jolly: 6460 ft. Lunch break amongst many biting flies made the 20 minutes go fast.

Reached the top of Jolly: 6460 ft. Lunch break amongst many biting flies made the 20 minutes go fast.

 

Down from Jolly Moutain.

Down from Jolly Moutain.

The lower portion of Jolly Creek trail and the 1st mile up on the Middle Fork trail had quite a bit of downfall that hadn't been cleared. We later learned that there is a fire ban in effect so that chain saws are not allowed. I counted 19 trees down on the Middle Fork within the 1st mile, then it was clear again.

The lower portion of Jolly Creek trail and the 1st mile up on the Middle Fork trail had quite a bit of downfall that hadn’t been cleared. We later learned that there is a fire ban in effect so that chain saws are not allowed. I counted 19 trees down on the Middle Fork within the 1st mile, then it was clear again.

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Up and over the ridge on the De Roux Spur trail.

Up and over the ridge on the De Roux Spur trail.

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Then up the Esmeralda Basin trail.

Then up the Esmeralda Basin trail.

At the Esmeralda ridge.

At the Esmeralda ridge.

I had been getting dehydrated and felt totally out of energy on the way up Esmeralda. Utterly drained, I lay down on the trail and waited for my stomach to start working again. I wasn’t sure if I could get down Esmeralda, it’s quite a tricky trail and it’s easy to make mistakes when you’re tired. Luckily, a shot of instant coffee revived me 10 minutes later. Whoot – time for the Esmeralda downhill.

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Down on Esmeralda.

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Earlier on the Middle Fork trail, Eric got a sidewall tear and had to mount his spare(!) tire. How dainty his 285g tire looks next to my 29er Hans Dampf. That tiny tire didn't slow him down much, surprisingly.

Earlier on the Middle Fork trail, Eric got a sidewall tear and had to mount his spare(!) tire. His 285g tire tire looks dainty next to my 29er Hans Dampf. But surprisingly, that tiny tire didn’t slow him down much.

Down Esmeralda.

Down Esmeralda.

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The fab downhill was of course followed by the hike-a-bike up Furtune Creek road. Lots of campers with Jeeps at Gallaher Head Lake.

The fab downhill was of course followed by the hike-a-bike up Furtune Creek road. Lots of campers with Jeeps at Gallaher Head Lake.

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Sunset is nearing.

Nice evening light is starting to light up the mountains. We have lights - so no worries.

Nice evening light is lighting up the mountains. We have bike lights – so no worries.

And then 3.5 downhill miles on Boulder de Roux.  Eric rode this with his tiny tire in the front - still not sure how exactly he did that.

And then 3.5 downhill miles on Boulder de Roux. Eric rode this with his tiny tire in the front – still not sure how exactly he did that.

Crossing the scree field.

Crossing the scree field.

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Made it back quickly on the gravel road to our cars. A couple astronomers had set up their gear. We talked shop for a while :)

The last bit on the gravel road back to our cars went quickly. An amateur astronomer, Ram Viswanathan, had set up his gear to take advantage of the new moon. Also, Eric turned out to be an amateur astronomer. So we 3 stood around and talked shop for a while :)

You should check out some of the astrophotography from Ram Viswanathan and from Andy, who was setting up just as I was leaving. The universe sure looks pretty with color.

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Bikepacking gear list

Lee’s gear list is somewhat up-to-date on bikepacking.net. My gear list for our mini Idaho Hot Springs route was:

  • Bike: Access 29’er hardtail with RockShox Reba RLT
  • Tires: Schwalbe SnakeSkin Rocket Ron and Racing Ralph
  • Eggbeaters pedals, Specialized Rime shoes
  • Revelate Design: Viscacha seatbag, handlebar harness, tangle framebag
  • Small $15 frame bags in bottom triangle and on top tube
  • Electronics: Garmin Oregon 300 (hard to read display), DeLorme InReach text messaging device (awesome), Samsung cell phone (this is my camera) preloaded with topomaps as a backup. 2 pairs of AA lithium batteries for Garmin and small USB charger.
  • Camping: Big Agnes Flycreek UL1 tent, Exped Synmat UL 7 mat + inflating bag, Marmot Helium 15F downbag, homemade ground cloth that rolls up into a dry-bag on the handlebar
  • Tools: spare tube, small Topeak Alien multi-tool, Lezyne Alloy Drive medium pump (shared with Lee)
  • Miscellaneous: bear rope, bug repellant, chammy cream, toothpaste& brush, floss, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, first aid kit
  • Backpack: Kelty Range (cheap&light)
  • Lights: Lezyne SuperDrive XL and a Planet Bike blinky for the rear
  • Food: bread, energy bars, freeze dried meals, individual bags of tuna, dried mashed potato, twizzlers, nuts, gummy bears, instant coffee, EmergenC, S-caps salt tablets, and some junk food. All food is hung at night in a dry bag.
  • Water: Sawyer in-line water filter attached to Platypus bag
  • Clothing: Ibex merino wool shorts and ultra-light shirt, L.L. Bean merino wool long sleeve shirt, Pearl Izumi vest, Outdoor Research Helium rain jacket, ancient long bikepants, Melanzana hat, Specialized riding gloves with touch-screen stitching, DeFeet Wooleater socks, Specialized helmet, Zoot cooling armsleeves (I hate sunscreen)

I was happy with my setup and nothing broke. The wool clothing worked really well for this multi-day bikepacking trip (no stink, except the t-shirt smells a bit like wet sheep when it’s wet :).

Handlebar attachments.

Handlebar attachments.

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