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