Highway 20 is open!

…that is, if you enjoy winter recreation!

With the annual closure of SR-20 comes the opportunity to enjoy the area with my favorite method: mountain biking without anyone around. It’s a highway, true, but encountering 0 cars and only 2 snowmobiles, this was a win. Not a win for fatbikes, necessarily.

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The highway is currently closed at Ross Dam trailhead, which is a big parking lot with a decent outhouse. The first few miles were pretty devoid of snow and icicles were melting on the cliffs at ~35 F.20151122_09134620151122_091451

After a few miles in, a light dusting of snow covered the road; combined with the sunshine it was toasty warm. Time to peel off all the layers in an effort to avoid sweating through my clothes.


Though the snow was thin, it was notably increasing the rolling resistance. “Medium-firm snow, about to turn to slush”: I am sure the Eskimos have a better word for it.

This kept up for quite a while, until the snowplow had stopped a couple weeks ago and the rolling resistance increased yet again. Still, riding was possible and after letting out a bit of air, more progress was made. It was quiet along the road except for the occasional snow falling of branches. Not much wind, if any, made this stretch a good snow-grinder.



Fisher Peak (mid right) and Black Peak (mid left in far back). Fatbike below on roadway.

Past this point, about 20 miles in, was mostly pushing the last 4 miles up to Rainy Pass. The snow was deep and soft, temp around 25-30F. I would have thought that at this temperature the snow would be harder, but it wasn’t. Lots of postholing. I cinched the drawstring on the my overshoes a bit tighter to prevent snow from getting in when I sunk knee deep – which luckily didn’t happen often. The wind was picking up considerably and I was still in my skimpy outfit. I headed for the bushes and put on some clothes. Put on a dry, warm shirt and zipped my windbreaker. Ahh! An orange emergency bivy served as an ultralight trench coat. I was also getting low on water and melted some snow while I was already stopped. That was the first time that I’ve melted snow, and it was about as easy as boiling water. The Kovea inverted canister stove worked great, but I had to ditch the windscreen as it was preventing enough oxygen from getting through. The snow-water was tasty, or tastless, but in a good way. I am hooked.20151122_133021

A couple snowmobilers came down while I was hiding out in the woods, and shortly after getting back on the road, they zoomed up behind me. We chatted about my stupidity, the bike and snow conditions ahead. There’s snow down to Mazama and deep soft snow at the top of the pass waiting for me. More slogging lay ahead, in other words. The views were pretty good, a bit overcast, but quite spectacularly for a while:20151122_135851

Eventually, I reached Rainy Pass. It was a feeling of accomplishment, though I had secretly hoped to make it to the coffee shop in Mazama and back in one day. In retrospect, I think that would be only possible during the best of snow conditions, which these were definitely not.


Rainy Pass on a snowy day.


These 4.5″ wide tires were maybe half as wide as would have been necessary to ride on this snow.

I was hoping to take a few pictures during sunset, so I got out my emergency “overcoat” again and meandered around for an hour. Mt. Hardy was prominently behind me, so I snapped a couple pictures.


Mount Hardy before sunset.


At sunset.


Whistler Mountain to the east.



More snow adventure in that direction?

With sunset behind, it was time to see what could be ridden downhill. The answer was: Not much, but that didn’t stop me from trying. How you’re gonna find out if you don’t try and make a real good fool of yourself? After a half mile down, the downward slope and snow were just passable on the super soft Dillinger 5’s on the 100 mm rims. I even unlocked my front suspension to help feather out the front tire as it was seeking out more compacted snow down low. Technical and hard work, but there may have been a big grin on my face (behind my balaclava).

Sunset time is always a pretty time to be out and the sky was on fire while I was concentrating on not getting thrown off the bumpy ride.20151122_161921.jpg

As  darkness came, the snowy landscape sparkled back at me. Imagine all the flickering lights you see when each snow flake is illuminated from different angles, riding at 10 mph.20151122_171208

The end of the ride was a bit painful, as one picks up 500′ of elevation to get back to Ross Dam trailhead.

Pretty good ride early season snow ride on the fatbike!

Stats: Distance: 47 miles, elevation gain: 4000′, time: 10 hours. GPX track

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4 Responses to Highway 20 is open!

  1. brewermd says:

    That sounds great! What fun and how beautiful. I love snow.

  2. Martin,

    nice views for sure and all fresh snow.


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