To the Sunny Top!

In planning this trip, I was sure that I wanted peace, quiet, and an amazing view. The non-groomed non-motorized SnoParks are not well advertised, so it’s not clear what to expect. Occasional reports on the WTA forum mentioned snowshoe trips up to Sun Top. If snowshoers groom the trail for me, I can probably ride up! And so, I started just early enough to avoid the mid-day heat during the ascend.

4 Subarus were parked at the Sun Top SnoPark when I arrived. Looks like I am right at home here. Then, a black full-size pickup truck parks.

And then it drives away again.

Right. Subis only. Exactly the oppose of the motorized SnoParks where it’s all big pickup trucks, all the time.

The snowed-in road was quite well traveled, and fairly easy to ride at first, but a bit higher where the snow was deeper and looser, some moron had postholed right through the snowshoe path. This made riding excruciatingly tedious and resulted in many dismounts.

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Luckily, that person finally gave up after 3 miles and turned around at the first crappy view point. Then, it was amazing snow. Just tampered enough from XC skiers and snowshoers that I was able to ride, after letting air out of the tires multiple times. Each time I thought: “That’s it, I can’t let any more air out. I am going to have to turn around if it gets softer.” But then, I needed just a bit more flotation and opened the valves once more. In the end, my tires didn’t punch trough, and the tracks looked like some huge bird had left big claws marks in the snow. Thus, the climbing was slow, but successful!

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Until, I came to the gate near the top, where the snowshoers had gone up the steep summer trail. From there on, it was 95% pushing. No problem, when the views are this!

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I tried to ride every now and then, but the extra force required to climb pushed the tire too deep in the snow that I ended up pushing most of the way.  And then, Mt. Rainier shows up suddenly.

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Finally, on the approach I could ride the last bit to the lookout.

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The lookout sits at just over 5000 ft.

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Look a little bit closer and you see Mt. Stuart.  The little house down there is the new bathroom.

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The night before, a group of XC skiers had camped just below at the intersection, and on their way down, told me that I’d be the only one up here. And so it was.  Beautiful weather. Good food. And quiet. Occasionally, I could hear snowmobiles or snowbikes across the valley, a good 5 miles away. I was so glad not to be over there.

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After an hour, it was time to head down and see if I could ride what I had just pushed up.

Yes! Rideable.

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All the way fun.

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As I was to driving out of the SnoPark, I was stopped as some bozos blocked the road. One with with an Audi, which was lowered and running on summer tires. And his buddies got their red Jeep stuck, too, when they just had to drive into the deep snow to get around. After they winched themselves out, they towed the Audi backwards 500 ft. Entertainment of a different kind.

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This was certainly a great late-season trip. I got lucky that the snow conditions were just rideable most of the way and thank the snowshoers for their grooming efforts. It took about 3 hours up, which is about how long it took me in summer when I did the Cascade Triple Crown rides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in fatbike, snowbike, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Wakepish won’t wake you up

There are still many SnoParks that I haven’t visited in Washington. As it has been rather snowy and cold this winter, even near Mount St. Helens, I decided to ride Wakepish. This time the proper groomed snowmobile route which goes along FS-25, not the FS-99 which I did a couple years ago. This time driving a Subaru, I would have been able to drive to the SnoPark, if it hadn’t been for the fact that the last 1/4 mile was completely unplowed. There were 2 big RVs with oodles of snowmobiles camped out at the end of the plowed road, just making breakfast as I got ready to ride.

Since the FS-25 road is along a ridge surrounded by Mt. Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, and Mt. Hood, it seemed possible that there would be many stunning views along the way.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any clear-cuts and 99% of the ride is in the woods without views of the surroundings.

At first, there is Mt. Hood:

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Then, there’s a decent view of St. Helens. Finally.

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I had planned to go quite a bit farther south in case there was another view, but after another hour I was suddenly done with the boredom induced by the tree-lined road so that I turned around. I think that’s the first time I didn’t finish a planned ride. On the plus side, I didn’t encounter any snowmobiles, so it was very quiet with clean air. Interestingly, the groomer had put in XC ski tracks, which seems odd given that its shared with snowmobiles and isn’t even advertised as such. Like a bloodhound looking for the best riding snow, I found out the snow was hardpacked just to the inside of the XC ski track so that my fatbike tires at around 3 psi were just fine.

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On the way back, there is a tiny spot where one can spy Mt. Rainier.

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Back at the snowpark, I found out that the snowmobilers had done FS-99 to the Spirit Lake overview. Having ridden FS-99 and FS-25, I am not surprised by their choice. 

 

Posted in fatbike, snowbike, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Big Views from the Big Hill

I suppose not many people plan a trip from Seattle to the Entiat mountains during a weekday, just because the European medium-range weather forecast looks good, even though the US weather model is forecasting very high winds. Luckily, the US model converged to the European model just the day before, so the weather question was settled.

Starting the drive at 3.30 am, I was riding by 8.30 am. Trouble is, this was supposed to be a 3.30 hour drive. Where did the time go?

The ride destination was Big Hill and the cabin there, which can be reached via 2 ways: either from the Ardenvoir side or from Lake Chelan. I thought that the views might be better climbing up from Lake Chelan’s Twentyfive Mile Creek SnoPark, opposite of Manson where I rode last month.

And I got really lucky: freshly groomed trail – this will be my day! The first view of Lake Chelan came quickly – I am sure this is the scenic way.

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Not surprisingly, as 9 am came and went, no snowmobiles passed by – which is typically the time when I get passed by them. The road enters a forest a bit higher and passes by a campground.

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The weather forecast seemed to hold true, as it was sunny now, but I could see clouds building in the distance – which were supposed to dissipate again in the late afternoon.

Across the lake is Cooper mountain, but I am not sure where it is exactly.

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I had only taken about 1.5 liters of water, but no stove. My idea was to see if I could melt water with my body heat simply by adding snow to the reservoir. When I was down to only 0.5 liters, I stuffed snow in the bladder. It was an ice-water mixture. Hopefully it will melt soon – as I was rather hot in the sun when the wind died down. After many grand vistas along mile-long switchbacks, the road leveled off. Did I reach the ridge?

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While I could see a nice descent coming up, the only ascent seemed a bit hideous going up the next ridge to the left! I was hoping that that wouldn’t be true.

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But, first there was a grand view of Lake Chelan to the right. Wow. Snowbiking is miraculous.

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But, yes, the road went up the ridge – luckily only part-ways before bypassing the peak on the right. I was sure glad the groomer was doing such a great job on this section.

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I thought for sure, that I would ride along the ridge now, but as ridge-line roads have it, they are never flat.

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Plenty more pushing up to a hut which I had forgotten about, just as I was looking for a lunch spot.

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It took some effort to yank the frozen door open.

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Inside where all the goodies one could hope for in a mountain hotel, and I plopped myself down on a bench.

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It could have been a pretty warm place with the sunshine, but unfortunately the window on the right was missing, and only -mostly- covered with tarp. The snow still hadn’t melted in my hydration bladder, so I propped it up next to some logs where the sun shone in though the sky-window. After checking text messages and eating some chips, I was getting rather cold inside and quickly packed up, and bundled up for the mile-long descent that I saw on the Google elevation profile. Yep, 4G up here! The directions said 1.5 hours to Big Hill by bike, or 2.5 hours by foot. I figured I’d probably be around 2 hours, which would be correct.

Impressive stormy clouds were hovering just south over the 4-mile ridge and beyond at Sugarloaf Pk / Miners Ridge areas.

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Suddenly, I bonked hard. I could barely push my bike up a slight incline. Would this be the end of the trip? Then, I remembered that I had packed a Coke (non-diet) and slowly drank the extremely bubbly beverage. At high altitude, sparkly beverages seem to be much foamier than at sea level.  Much to my delight, the sugar, caffein and phosphoric acid nourished me much more than such junk should, and I was able to continue after what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only 5 minutes.

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In the distance, I saw what could be called ‘a big hill’, but it still seemed quite far away.

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It turns out, the Big Hill was just beyond the first mountain on the right, not in the far back. I could see from here a road cut through the side of the mountain, but it would turn out to be the summer road; in winter the snowmobile trail is a fall-line going straight up at 35%. But, I did not know that at this time, and happily pedaled along the nicely groomed road.

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Then I started to wonder, did snowmobiles randomly go up this mountain instead of following the road to the left, or is that my route? That can’t be my route!

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But, it was.

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While it was pretty steep, the real problem was the ice on the groomed trail covered in snow. Try as I did, I kept sliding down. So, I had to push up in the soft shoulder where at least I didn’t slide down – but it took a lot more work to push the bike up through the snow.

Pheew!

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My goal was to make it to the top of this ‘hill’, and then turn around. This pushing is ridiculous even for me. And reaching the top, I could see the fall-line trail madness continuing. I am done!

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But wait, not so fast. The next hill is “Big Hill”! I can do one more of these, and this one doesn’t look as steep, nor as long. Destination reached, I completely forgot about the pain getting here, and the fact that there was supposed to be a cabin up here.

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A wee-bit snowed in, but I think one could dig the door out quickly with a small shovel.

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The inside looked baren and clean, but troubling was the lack of firewood for the stove inside. But, maybe the sun shining through the window would have warmed this ice cave up a bit?

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Time to geek out with my camera.

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On turning around, I noticed that it was 4.30 pm. Sunset would be in one hour already! What a long day this will be be. But, first I get to enjoy the downhill-fruit of my pushing. Oh what fun rolling down the snowy, icy trail in complete control on the Johnny 5 tires!

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A little bit later, I met the groomer. Not that I thought the trail needed much, if any, grooming! He hasn’t put down the grooming attachment and was digging up the trail with the wide tracks. Luckily, there was a smooth path left in the middle. I was wondering which way the groomer had gone up. It turns out he had come up from the Ardenvoir side, and would now likely follow me down to the 25 Mile Creek side.

I was worried that he might catch up and pass me on the next climb (there was no room to pass), and then I’d be stuck behind him on the downhill, which would be 10 miles long. The groomer is quiet, sometimes you can’t hear the machine until you suddenly see it coming around a corner.

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Back at the yurt, I got ready for the long downhill: put on my warm clothes, ate an Egg-McMuffin, and put shoe warmers in. I still had some ice-water mixture left in the hydration bladder; enough to make it home.

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Just as I was ready to leave the yurt, the groomer passed by! Oh no, did I miss my chance to beat him to the downhill race?  But, as I looked out the door, I saw that he turned up to the Junior Pt. campground / viewpoint. I think I’ve got myself a 2 min head start!

I raced down and as I was pushing up the last hill, I kept looking back to check if I’d make it to the top before him.

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He came up quickly to where I was walking, but I also was able to keep moving and made it to the top before him. A 10 mile, 4000 ft. descent under dark, starry skies, brought me back to the car by 7.30 pm. 11 hours of quality fatbike time.

 

Posted in fatbike, snowbike, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Lone Goat Cabin

Clear skies, cold temperatures, and many other things aligned to make an overnight fatbike trip happen. But, where should I go? One difficulty is always to come up with a route that looks challenging, yet is probably doable. After mulling over the Rutherford Creek snowmobile trail to the Pemberton Ice Cap, I really wanted something a bit longer, more isolated, and with better views along the way – as I was not going to go up any glacier alone where the really good views would be.

Then I found it: a snowmobile trail that branches off the Hurley FSR, and ends at a cabin. A cabin? Yup, maintained the Bridge River snowmobilers. But, would it be mouse-free, open, and most importantly: still standing? Just in case, I still took all my winter camping gear.

The drive to the Pemberton Meadows is about 5 hours from Seattle, so I left the night before and stayed near Squamish to get an early start. By 9.30 am on a Monday, I was starting my ascend of the Hurley. 3 groups of snowmobilers started right behind me. Why are those machines so stinky!?

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Even though the conditions were much better than last time, it was still slow going and I only rode about half of the 3000 ft. climb. The views opened up quite nicely higher up.

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Last time, I was able to ride the groomed snow up on this stretch, but today I was walking most of this upper section. The sun was heating me up when the 20 F breeze blowing out of the north would suddenly stop.

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At the top of the pass, I munched some cream-cheese sandwiches, and put on rain pants/jacket. It was a good call to bring the rain pants this time even though it wasn’t raining; their full-length zipper means adjustable protection from wind without sweating.

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I didn’t meet anyone else for the next 5 hours. Just riding and pushing along the Hurley. Unfortunately, I was even pedaling on most downhills; I took a mental note that the way back would be tough given that I was not even coasting downhill.

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My bikepacking setup was just like last time, with the one difference that I hung the big gloves on the grips so I could quickly put them on when needed.

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Just before 4 pm, I could see my objective: the Loan Goat creek valley heading up to the left. It looked steep and imposing from here, certainly avalanche terrain.

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The snow was just riding so slowly, and I finally had the idea of letting some air out of my tires. Instant success – I can coast again!  Squishy, but not super soft, maybe 3 psi? The Johnny 5 tires have a nice size, but I am pretty sure they roll slower than the Dillinger 5’s that they replaced.

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At the bridge with the bucket on a cable, I briefly chatted with a couple ‘bilers who were returning from a Gold Bridge pub run. They mentioned there would be a temperature inversion again tonight.

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I would meet them again the next day as they were on their way to the Lone Goat creek. Apparently it’s popular. And groomed. At least for the first 6 km. At first it looks like it just might be a really nice ride:

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But, then the trail goes up and is at times ratchety steep: push bike, lock brakes, take a step, push bike…  I took an extended snack break around 5.30 pm at a clearing that was flat enough for camping. Should I stay here?

I decided to keep trying to make progress until 10 pm and then re-evaluate. It was now dark, and I was almost out of water. I added fists full of snow to my hydration bladder, in the hopes that the remaining water and my body heat would melt the snow. It kind-of worked, definitely ice water.

I had also brought my little LED headlight this time, and strapped it to the front of the stuff sack. It was just bright enough to illuminate the snow, but without causing me to loose my night vision. I could see the stars, the mountains, and the trail at the same time. That’s night riding / pushing at it’s best.

And there were so many stars on this moonless night. Milky Way, Orion, everything was sparkling in the sky, and ice crystals were reflecting on the ground.

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Suddenly, there was a big reflection. It was a sign warning of avalanche danger in the section ahead. I assumed my position on the map was marked with “Decision Point”. Which meant that after 3:45 hours, I had only covered 1/4 of the Lone Goat trail.  What? Would I make it at all, or even before 10 pm? Checking my current elevation, it seemed that there was only 1000 ft. more of climbing, so it seemed possible. Looking carefully at the map now, the avalanche sign was at the wrong place and I had in fact covered 1/2 of the trail already.

Now, should I go through avalanche terrain by myself, late at night? The avalanche forecast from the night before was low to moderate (below / at tree line). I had also checked the snow by digging a foot down and finding powder below a hard crust. Hmm, not good. But, given that it was now night and colder than during the day, it seemed less likely for a slide to occur now. I also hadn’t heard any whoomps, and there hadn’t been any new snow in 3, 4 days. Coupled with the low/moderate forecasted danger, I decided to proceed.

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And just like that, the trail became a narrow single-track snowmobile trail through the trees. Trees are a good sign if you’re in avalanche terrain. Occasionally, the single-track would turn stupid-steep amidst an onslaught of 2 ft. rollers. Not sure how ‘bilers manage the tight corners and rollers, but they do. Repeatedly, the trail would open into a large meadow from where I could see the avalanche slopes. They weren’t that close: the run-out was maybe a 100 m from the trail for the closest ones, which made me feel better.  I was frequently ratcheting myself and my bike up: one time for a 0.4 miles, only to reach more steep parts. Un-believable hike-a-bike, and fully loaded with overnight gear. The hardest part was just before the supposed cabin: a steep hillside where I kept sliding down; it probably took me 5 minutes to ascend 10 meters. But then, there it was. I made it! 9.30 pm. Hooray!

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Can I open the door? Yes.

Was it clean? Good enough.

Mice? No.

I was in luck, not so much that I don’t like snow camping, but sitting down on a chair at the end of a long hard day is really quite nice.  First-class hotel nice, I might add. Starting the fire took more effort than I expected; toilet paper helped a lot.

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2 Mountain House dinners later, I was finally in bed by 11.30 pm. Such a quiet night. The moon was just a sliver and was shining in the windows early in the morning. I turned around again, and pulled up the sleeping bag over my head, reminding myself how cool it is that I am out here at the foot of glaciers.

The morning light came slowly – it was not the light show that I had expected. Time to chop some wood and melt more snow for breakfast and to take with.

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I kept careful watch for the sunrise to light up the tips of the mountains in between boiling water, eating, and getting ready. This will have to do:

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Cabin cleaned, a bit of firewood stacked for the next party, I was feeling nostalgic to leave already. This would be a perfect basecamp for an excursion going up higher. But, I was out of time, and in any case I didn’t want to go up the glaciers alone.

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Ready to roll down this steep hillside that I struggled with last night.

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From the valley floor, I could finally see west. It might have been worth it to be here at sunrise, but it’d have been a slow slog back up to the cabin from here.

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The big poofy jacket came off not long after. The temperature inversion was making things relatively warm.

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And then starts the snowmobile singletrack route through the trees. What fun!

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Of course, the next steep push came soon enough, but all much shorter and less steep than the night before.

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And mountain views everywhere!

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Down into the valley I go! Oh ja, that was a big push last night.

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And down and down and down.

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The outlet of the valley came into view, and made me realize how much I still had to pedal today.

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It got a lot colder the lower I went.

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Down at the Hurley, I had to get the obligatory picture with the groomer. Thanks Bridge River Snowmobile Club!

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It was a long slow slog back up the Hurley. Luckily, it’s not as steep as the southern side. My tires weren’t sinking deep at all in the snow, but it was just not easy rolling, ever. Not sure if it was due to the tires, tire pressure, or snow.

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After noon, I met the 2 snowmobilers from the day before and we chatted for a minute. They were heading out to play up at the Lone Goat glaciers. Apparently, there are some ice caves, too.

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On the way down, my tires became flatter and flatter. Going from 5000 ft. to 500 ft. elevation will do that. Finally, at just past 4 pm, I was rolling into the parking lot with about 1 psi left in the tires.

The Lone Goat trail was extreme hike-a-bike, coupled with a long approach. Pretty tough for a single overnighter. If I were to do it again, I’d pack more food and try to stay a couple nights to make it more worthwhile. But, what a beautiful escape it was.

 

Posted in bikepacking, fatbike, snowbike | 2 Comments