Sunrise in the afternoon

It has been a long time waiting for this trip, 3 years maybe, so even I was a bit surprised when the weather, timing, and snow cooperated. Sunrise is the name of a visitor center in Mt. Rainier NP. I am not a fan of National Parks in general since they usually throw bikes in the same category as motorcycles. (Oh, the horrors of a mountain bike on a trail. The world will never recover, but why not pave roads up the mountain. That’s somehow less destructive. But, I digress.) In winter, bikes are still allowed on all roads, even when the roads are closed to motorized things, except snowmobiles up to certain places.

Getting up at 4 am wasn’t easy, and I started riding at 6:45 am from Silver Springs SnoPark. I hadn’t planned the trip much, didn’t even know the basic stats of miles and elevation (it’s 40 miles and 4000 ft vert). Years ago, I had read a blog of people who skied to Sunrise and back; took them 3 days. With the motto “go light and fast”, I left my bike light in the car. That clever decision ended up making my return trip quite slow and scary.

There were patches of no snow on Hwy 410, so that reduced the number of snowmobilers to 0. And I knew I would have the entire mountain to myself, today. Beautiful – I really needed to get away from all the craziness of Putin and suffering he’s bringing every day.

The real test of whether this trip was going to fly was at the White River campground turn-off. Beyond that, no snowmobiles go. Just the naturally-compacted snow.

White River
Oh yay: bikes, skiers and snowshoers!? Did the NP forsee that there would be 1 snowbiker doing this? I doubt that anyone has ever done this on a bike. But who knows, maybe I am just full of myself thinking I am special.

I had hoped that the snow would be frozen hard on the surface so I could ride on top. BTW: The scariest part of this trip was getting past this barricade – especially on the way down when the snow had gotten softer. There’s a creek flowing beneath the sign and so there is this big ditch about 6 feet deep right here. There was a very steep inclined way around on the north side of the gate, that lead 6 feet down should one be unlucky and fall through the thin snow bridge over it. Once across, I was delighted – hard frozen snow. Easy peazy to ride on. Steep, but rideable. -10 C will do that.

Landslide in progress whenever the sun comes out.

I walked a few times just to do something different than ride up in the granny gear while balancing over bumps.

Mt. Rainier

I thought I was getting closer, but there are a few switchbacks along the road. Call me surprised. After a while, the snow was getting soft on top and wobbly underfoot. Finally, I decided to just ditch my bike and hike since I wouldn’t be able to ride down on that snow in any case. I thought maybe another mile or 2, but after checking the map (finally!), I saw that it was still 4.5 miles to Sunrise. Ouch. I figured, I might as well try, I could always turn around by 3 pm and still be down before nightfall.

Of course, it pays to turn around and check out the view just in case.

And just keep stumbling up the wobbly, slick snow mess.

How peaceful everything looks. Whipped cream.

Just 3 miles left!

Snowshoes would have been grand. But, “light and fast” precludes such conveniences.

Left: where I came from. Right: where I am going.

Stump, stump, stump. I was getting pretty beat and tired and hungry. A chair would have been nice. Or a big tire to sit on. But, “light and fast” doesn’t allow for such niceties.

A serious break.

I did finally decide that a) I was cold, b) I was hungry, and c) I was tired. After having taken care of a) – b) with some white chocolate with strawberries, I decided to turn around and go back down. I had tortured myself enough.

But, my feet were not cooperating. They turn uphill, which was mostly flat at this point. By golly, I just had to see what the next 1.5 miles would bring. Stump, stump, stump. The wind really picked up near Sourdough Ridge and it got cloudy and cold. I was trying to hurry so I would be able to see a little of Mt. Rainier before the afternoon storm clouds enveloped it.

Love that glacier at the bottom.

Definitely getting closer, but still not NP lodge in sight. It was now 14:10 and I had set myself a bail-out time of 15:00. A bit more time, so to say, to dig my hole deeper. And yes, it was worth it. I savored 15 minutes of snacks and inhaled the views before 15:00. What a cloud show. If anyone ever asks me if I could spend an entire winter up here, let it be known that the answer is YES. What a place.

Sunrise day-lodge at Mt. Rainier in winter. Very few people get to see this AFAIK.

A long trek back, stumbling through the slick bumpy snow.

The sun is starting to set.

It was a race against time to get down before dark. To my dismay, the daily melt had softened the crust so that I had to push the pedals hard just to get down in quite a few places. The last 5 miles were ridden past twilight under big trees; it was dark and I was so lucky that I didn’t hit anything too big.

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Osborne loop

Back in September 2017, I rode a loop south of Mt. Rainier covering the trails:

  • Silver Creek
  • Allen Mountain
  • Cora Lake trail
  • Osborne Mountain

Trailforks calls this the Osborne Mt Mega Loop. Fun. The traffic along the paved road wasn’t bad as I don’t remember anything about it. This was the beginning of skipping trip reports on my blog, thinking I’ll catch up later. I definitely won’t catch up with everything.

Up Silver Creek, I think it was all rideable; really nice grade.

After a short FS road section, the next trail seemed also great.

Alas, the beginning was not rideable due to vegetation and lack of benched trail along the steep slide. Yes, there is a trail on the left through the bushes. See Mt. Rainier on the right peeking around the tree-covered hill?

But, then it was rideable along a 15 foot wide ridge.

This is one of my favorite pictures overall. There is even a little lake down there.

But, all good things come to an end with a somewhat brutal push up almost to Allen Mountain. Looking back what I had just ascended:

To be rewarded again – with blissful bench singletrack. There were a few holes in the meadow to keep you honest.

Then, a bit down/around and forward to the main event: Osborne Mt. 

Aehm, no: first there’s Cora Lake trail. It did not disappoint. A bit of a push initially, then techy and steep in parts, but all good.

Lastly comes a FS road climb to the final event: the Osborne Mountain descent. No views on this trail as it winds down through the woods. Nice trail with good sightlines, I seem to recall, but the camera did not want to come out.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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. 

 

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