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.

 

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Echo Valley, Cooper Mountain and Yukon Hut

The Echo Valley winter recreation area has a lot for everyone. Besides a non-profit community-run ski and tubing hill, there are trails for snowmobilers, snowshoers, cross-country ski, and fat-bikers.

I was able to pick another day that was forecasted to be cold and sunny. And, since we were staying nearby Lake Chelan, an 8:00 am start was easy to achieve.

Leaving from the Echo Valley ski hill, the snowmobile trail heads up to the Echo Valley Ridge.

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From Echo ridge, the road winds nearly level along the north-side.

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After passing a few blowdowns after the up-turn from FS 8021, the fresh-ish snowmobile tracks ended after another 1/2 mile. From there, I pushed up along the side of the valley, knowing I’d be all alone for a little while longer. The toe warmers were getting really hot in my shoes, but I didn’t want to take them out because, a) it’s awkward, and b) I’d need them 5 minutes later, and c) they swell up and get really hot when they are exposed to a lot of air.   So, with nearly burning soles of my feet, I kept pushing up.

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Finally, I could ride again and cool down my feet. Up along the ridge, there still wasn’t any sign of recent traffic. How nice.

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That’s how I like my bike rides: spinning a low gear and churning the big tires through the snow. With great views.

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The top of Cooper Mountain was wind-blown over an icy crust. Perfect for biking.

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Lake Chelan down below.

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That was the last ride of the year 2018. Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!

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Interesting geography south-east of here across the Columbia; almost looks like what used to be the edge of a big lake in the far far distance.

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Looking north-west:

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And the Entiat mountain range across Lake Chelan looks like it also has a good snowmobile trail system as well; now I need to find a good weather-window to check it out.

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Since riding the ridge had gone pretty well so far, I decided to go another 4 miles and check out the Yukon Warming Hut. The trail was mostly hardpacked as it hadn’t been traveled by snowmobilers in at least a day – just perfect conditions. It was 18 F, and going downhill in the shade meant I had to put on all my warm clothes. Hands get cold quickly when stopping to take pictures frequently!20181231_115808_small

The Yukon Warming Hut is located just off the main snowmobile route in the woods. Originally, I had planned to have a snack break there, but as it was cold and dark inside and outside the hut, I decided to stop along one of the many sunny spots with a view on the way back.

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Inside the hut, is a big stove with firewood. Reminder: a lighter might be handy in my winter tool kit.

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Here’s a much better snack-break spot: it’s just so beautiful up here!

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On the way down, I decided to try out the supposedly closed FS 8020, as some snowmobiles had groomed the snow a bit. This route was much more scenic compared to going up on FS 8021, which is often in the trees and valleys.

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But, I can see why 8020 isn’t the main snowmobile trail since it was completely covered in snowdrifts in places, like here:

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Most snowdrifts were frozen enough to ride on!  Unfortunately, that ended all too soon as vehicles had gone around the road closure on FS 8020 and left big ruts to navigate through.

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The sun was bathing the hillside in a geometric pattern.

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Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/30605027Screen Shot 2019-01-05 at 8.43.30 PM.png

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Winthrop Snow Riding

Winthrop heavily advertises to be a winter fatbiking mecca – and they do have high-quality trails that are worth doing. Coming here the 3rd year in a row, we had been looking forward to our vacation for the last 12 months. However, the Methow River Cabins was a total disaster, and we left after 1 night. But, before we drove away, I went for a ride on new-to-me trails.

Previously, the Pearrygin Lake and Lloyd Ranch had entertained me under cloudy skies, and with a bit of night-riding.

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But, today, the blue sky was calling to explore trails higher up, even if it would cost $10 / 6 miles.  The Methow Trails organization opens up about 10% of the 120 miles cross-country ski trails to fatbiking. Not quite fair to open up only so few miles, given that:

a) 5″ tires at 3 psi damage the trails slightly less than skate-skiers

b) I take up way less space than skate-skiers

c) I ride in control down-hill, unlike skiers

But, thanks for sharing a little bit, Methow Trails, and it was worth to try it out once. If someone is just getting into snow fatbiking, I can recommend the 6 mile Gunn Ranch trail to the Grizzley hut. Most skiers smiled or waved ‘hello’, and one even took up my offer to try out my fatbike (and came back with a big grin saying ‘This is stable!’).

After stopping by Method Cycle and Sport for my day pass, the ride to the trailhead gets you up 1000′ on somewhat-busy roads. It would have been quieter on a weekday, I was told. But, not too bad, except for that one diesel pickup truck that just had to accelerate a bit more while passing me.

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A bit of smoke was gathering in the Methow Valley around Winthrop, but up here, it was beautiful.

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Let’s see how good the Goods are:

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Pretty good!

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With reservations, one can stay at these cabins – they look cozy and comfy!20181227_114729_small.jpg

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I was told by the Methow Cycle shop to check out a new trail on my way back if snowshoers had been on it already this morning. And, yes they had! The temperature was still < 30 F, so I went for it. Surprisingly rideable for first 1/2 of it – then the sustainable trail layout ends (at least in winter?), and one goes up a 25% grade.

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After 3 years on Dillinger 5’s, I was happy to see that the Johnny 5 tires fit in the Motobecane Ti-frame and Bluto fork on 100 mm rims. I did have to move out the rear-cassette by 5 mm to avoid scraping the chain in the lowest gear on the tire. So, the bike now is set up as a 2×9 speed.

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Terrene’s Johnny 5, partially studded

The descent with these tires was awesome, and actually rode all of it. The Johnny 5 actually measures 5″ wide on 100 mm rims at 10 psi, while the D5’s are only 4.6″. And the tread blocks have much better grip in the front. However, the rear-tire traction didn’t seem any better with the Johnny 5, probably because the tire casing is a bit thicker compared to the D5, and doesn’t conform as easily to the terrain. Lastly, the increased rolling resistance of the Johnny 5 was noticeable on the road ride, but well was worth it while riding singletrack.

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Good day on the bike.

 

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Foggy Dew and Angel’s Staircase

The Angel’s Staircase loop had been firmly in my mind for a number of months, mostly due to the many comments on MTBR about the fire conditions. With clear weather in the forecast, and the main trailhead still closed, a quick re-route via Foggy Dew trail added much yearned-for distance and elevation: 30 miles and 8000 ft., instead of the usual 20 miles and 6000 ft. This comes in addition to a 4.5-hour drive one-way from Seattle. Big day.

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Link to RideWithGPS

I started my ride at the crack of 10 am, with about 20 cars in the Foggy Dew parking lot. Busy! A large crew of runners and 2 motorcycles departed almost simultaneously as I arrived, and the stench from the engines lingered in the air for a few minutes while I got ready.

While Foggy Dew is a river trail for the first few miles, it is surprisingly rocky and steep in places. After 1.5 hours, the shade from the trees lessens and the views start to open up.

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Gaining elevation brought snow in the shady sections and even rougher terrain. Some first-class hike-a-bike here!

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And with that big push, one enters the astounding alpine known as Merchant Basin.

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This had to be ridden as much as possible, though it was still relentlessly steep.

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Soon, it was unrideably steep and bumpy, with larches next to me turning color. No more words needed.

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The descent into this valley went across a few patches of pretty big shale, which required me to walk. No easy miles so far.

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Finally, riding commenced for a few miles to the next lake. Though a lot of stopping was required to take pictures.

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After finding some goodies to eat in my bag, it was time for the next hike-a-bike that would have been rideable if I had more power. Though walking is not bad at all in a place like this.

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After 5 miles of (mostly) descending the sometimes pretty rough Eagle Lakes trail, it was dusk. Time for the last climb up Martin Creek trail: tough, but almost all of it rideable even with the thin layer of snow. It was good that I rode this later in the day, as there were basically no views in the forest. With the last bit of daylight gone, I reached the pass at the Cooney Lake trail cut-off.

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Time to put on all my warm clothes and prepare to descend for a long while.

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The Foggy Dew descend was sublime: the headlight shining a clear path in front of me, while I was certain there wouldn’t be any hikers on this dark cold night without a flashlight of their own. I stopped briefly to chat with a couple backpackers, who had set up camp about an hour before reaching the alpine. It’d be good to get out here for an overnight sometime.

 

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