Snow bikepacking in the Cascades

Napping on the bench atop of Sugarloaf Peak last year, it wasn’t hard to imagine camping there. Some serious insulation would be required, as would some means to transport those items on my bike. With a couple winter-backpacking trips under my belt now, I felt ready to tackle such an adventure.

As many plans of man often go awry, so did this one – at least in the specifics. The canadian epic that I had been dreaming off would not be happening, as a last minute job interview brought that idea to a screeching halt. After being bummed out about that, the suggestion was made to do a shorter, more local, bikepacking trip. You mean a sub-24 hour overnighter? Yep. I suddenly remembered that Sugarloaf Peak had started this chain of thoughts last year, and so pointed my car towards the eastern Cascades the next day.

It was about 3 pm on Saturday when I finally started to ride from the Eagle Creek Rd. parking area. There were a few ‘bilers coming down, but as this was superbowl weekend, I was hoping that on Sunday I’d have the entire mountain to myself.

After a pedaling for a while, the first view point was reached. Lots of climbing was to be done, about 4000’ worth in total.

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My new Motobecane Nighttrain Bullet looks pretty smart with all its gear and extra big wheels.

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The handlebar bag contained a couple freeze dried meals, sleeping bag, down pants + jacket and mittens. The drysack was securely attached via 5 straps in total. Easy.

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The snow was ok to ride on at 35 F. Traction was outstanding, even with relatively high tire pressure (6-8 psi?), and I rode the entire section up to the first outhouse. There, a large group of ‘bilers were hanging out and all were looking straight at me as I turned the corner and headed towards them. “Don’t slip at the corner, now!”, I was telling myself. They were surprised to see my bike, and one guy commented “Dude, they ride these things in Anchorage!”. Offers of beer and Whiskey were made – and declined. I was warned about the unruly weather atop Sugarloaf Peak: clouds, wind and cold had force them to turn around early. An older gent was quite concerned for my welfare; I suppose my skimpy clothing did not inspire confidence in my winter survival skills. It was about 30 F at this point and the temperature was starting to drop as the sun was setting.

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Onwards, upwards, and no dang slip-ups as the ‘bilers watch me ride the first hundred yards, please! I cleaned the initial climb, and most of the rest. The sun was setting and it was beginning to sink in that I was doing a winter-bikepacking trip. The thing I had planned for so long – I was out here doing it. The evening light faded very slowly as the snow reflected every last bit of light. 20160206_17030820160206_171105

Through the dimming light, I did not fail to notice that clouds were blocking the view of Sugarloaf Peak. Had the ‘bilers been correct about the abysmal conditions on top?

And sure enough, nearing the top of Sugarloaf Peak, it became windier and colder. Frosty fog formed on the handlebar bag. I stopped to put my baclava and windjacket on, and continued to push my bike up the hard snow; mostly rideable snow, if it hadn’t been for the wind. I was looking for a sheltered spot to pitch my tent, but nothing seemed adequate by the time I reached the summit. Freezing fog was blown by the ~20 mph wind. A nice little storm. Time to head down and find a more sheltered place.

From last year, I recalled seeing trees west of the summit along the main road, so I headed down. The fog made it difficult to see very far with the beam of my light. I kept on pushing through the snow until the wind lessened. Was this the sheltered place I had been looking for? I couldn’t tell as it was so dark, but it felt nice here. Time to put the carefully orchestrated evening ritual to the test:

  1. Put on down pants and jacket.
  2. Stomp down snow for tent site while connecting tent poles.
  3. Crawl in tent and insert poles.
  4. Inflate mattress (what a piece of $%^& the NeoAir XTerm inflation method is!)
  5. Down a couple hot meals and go to bed.

After setting up camp, I noticed that the wind had ceased. Should I break camp and head back up to the summit? It sure would be nice to wake up atop the mountain and see the sun rise from the comfort of my sleeping bag. But, laziness won out and instead I promised myself to get up before sunrise and head to the summit.

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Day 2

A clear and cold night followed the storm. Stars were out all over. Too pretty to go to sleep! But, my eyes did fall shut after a while. I zipped up the tent door a bit to keep the ice cold air from my eyes, but I still needed to throw a sweater over my face. The new NeoAir XTerm mattress was very warm: I had moved all the down in my bag to the top and was basically insulated only by the mattress. It was a bit difficult to stay on top though and not slide off sideways.

After almost 10 hours of sleeping, I was blinking to see red sky all around me. Get up! – I was telling myself and barely made it out of the tent to snap a couple pictures of the quickly fading red sunrise show.

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Now it became obvious that I had not found a sheltered spot at all!

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I hopped on my bike to ride up Sugarloaf Peak (a bit downhill east from here and then back up).

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What a view from the top!

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The views to the east were not as stellar, but interesting to see where a couple roads go:

After spending an hour snapping pictures, I headed back to my tent with cold feet.

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A storm quickly approached and left.

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Being up early in the middle of nowhere meant that some exploring had to be done. The easiest seemed to do the lollipop-route to Miner’s Ridge. It’s the far-right ridge in the picture below:

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I hid my gear behind trees and set out with a light fatbike to ride what could be ridden. And the riding was wonderful. The snow had setup nicely overnight; not quite hardpack, but good enough and the sun was heating my back. Not long and I was removing my layers to stay ahead of sweating.

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Which way shall I ride the loop? Start off on the path less traveled and see how it goes…

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Yup, rideable! Not sure how I kept getting away with riding the big 32T ring in front on this section.

Soon, I heard the shrill sound of snowmobilers gassing it. Here they come! Turns out they were escaping the pre-superbowl madness for a bit. The three guys were a most chatty and friendly group.

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Soon, they took off and I was left to enjoy the fairytale snowscape on my own. There’s Sugarloaf Peak in the distance! (a bit left of center).

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To test just how perfect the snow conditions were, I pointed my bike on a single snowmobile track – and stayed afloat! Riding cross-country on the narrow path, a big grin may have been plastered to my face.

Somehow, I either missed the main part of Miner’s Ridge, or it just hadn’t been traversed by snowmobiles, yet, but I ended up coming down to the road quickly.

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I tried to ride the Miner’s Ridge trail clockwise, now, but I never found the turn off. Instead, I ended up at a nice viewpoint of Fish Lake.

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The ride back was quite a slog, but not too bad. The snow was still good, even as it was  around 40 F by now.

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Made it back down to my car just around 4 pm. An excellent overnight trip this had been.

 

 

 

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6 Responses to Snow bikepacking in the Cascades

  1. Martin, yer a tuffy!

    On Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 9:57 PM, 2wheeltrails wrote:

    > 2wheeltrails posted: “Napping on the bench atop of Sugarloaf Peak last > year, it wasn’t hard to imagine camping up here. Some serious insulation > would be required, as would some means to transport those items on my bike. > With a couple winter-backpacking trips under my belt now,” >

    • 2wheeltrails says:

      Not sure about tough, but big piles of down! I was warmer at night than on any of our bikepacking trips! Yup, even down in AZ I’ve been more chilly on more than one occasion 🙂

  2. Olaf says:

    Perfect conditions for a skiing trip! It looks like you could use snow mobile tracks for most of the ride. How is the big wheel doing in 1m of soft snow?

    • 2wheeltrails says:

      Skiing? I am not sure. There were many rolling bumps in the snow from the snowmobilers gassing it, and would have made the ascent and descent quite challenging. Think of washboard on a dirt road, but now make the wobbles 0.5 m big. Riding it was fun on a bike, though 🙂

      It is very hard to ride through more than 6″ of fresh powder. The floatation of the fat tires is about equivalent to walking in winter boots. It’s not like having snowshoes at all.

  3. mujozen says:

    Nice! How much condensation does that BD single wall tent have when it’s so cold at night? I have a BD bivy of same material but I have never used it in snow.

    • 2wheeltrails says:

      Condensation, in the form of hoarfrost, forms on the inside of the tent from breath. I doubt that breathable/non-breathable material makes a difference for the tent body below freezing. I leave the door almost wide open, unless it gets windy. In my sleep system, the tent forms a wind and precipitation barrier, as warmth comes from down clothing/bag. In the morning, the hoarfrost easily shakes out, or evaporates if its sunny.

      I can image that a bivy would perform quite differently from a wide-open tent, though. You would be heating the inside of the bivy and when the warm air escapes, it would be carrying moisture through the material. If you do try it out, please let me know how it went! I’ve never been brave enough to rely on a bivy – though they are a bit lighter and smaller and always look tempting.

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