Rainy and Washington Passes

I spent this past weekend camping in the best of all places: the North Cascades. While I camped on the shores of lovely Diablo Lake (a medium-sized glacial lake surrounded by high, snow-capped peaks just east of the Cascade Crest), my bike stayed locked in my car until Sunday when I had a chance to bring it to the high country for a ride.

This was the warmest and clearest weather we’ve enjoyed all year, with the temperature reaching into the 90s Fahrenheit, although during the course of this ride I got hit with several blasts of 45 degree air. It would happen whenever I’d go through the shade of a grove of trees, or by a waterfall, and it was a relief every time.

My pocket-sized camera died about a month ago on a rock climbing trip, and I haven’t replaced it yet (hence the lack of trip reports). For this ride, I took my SLR camera, which was a bit unnerving (it will hurt a lot if I crash). But it turned out well, and this was a fantastic ride.

The North Cascades Highway

The approach to Rainy Pass, with an almost empty road.

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Darrington to Rockport

Like Friday before it, Saturday was a fine day in the Pacific Northwest, and unlike its predecessor, it wasn’t filled by work. So I took my bike to Darrington, and rode it to Rockport. This was an out-and-back from the Mountain Loop “highway” to the North Cascades Highway.

White Horse Mountain, standing over Darrington, WA

Heavily glaciated White Horse Mountain over “downtown” Darrington, WA.

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Rainy Pass

This is a ride I did last July (7/8/2012), and apparently never got around to writing about, probably because the photos wound up not being as spectacular as the ones from other rides. 😦 Yesterday was a sunny day, with a clear blue sky and glorious views of the surrounding mountain ranges, and as I’ve been sitting in front of a computer most of the day for work, my mind has wandered toward the high country. Also, I miss summertime.

Last year I spent four days camping in the North Cascades at Diablo Lake (Colonial Creek Campground) and used the time to enjoy two great road rides. One of these was a short and sweet climb over Rainy Pass.

Snowy peaks above SF 20

Snowy, craggy peaks above the North Cascades Highway, heading east.

Rainy is one of the two passes along SR-20, move lovingly known as the (gorgeous) North Cascades Highway. The road mostly follows valleys, but must cross two ridges, first over Rainy Pass and then Washington Pass, before it descends into the Methow Valley.

Snowy peaks above SF 20

Rainy Pass on a hot day, with July snow.

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My little brother used to work in Edmonds, and it’s the ferry terminal that’s most convenient to visit my mother on the peninsula. So I’m familiar with the seashore town of Edmonds, meaning it’s never seemed very exotic to me. But this isn’t the time for exotic; the sun sets at 4:30 pm, and rain is an almost daily problem. We had a sunny day, and I decided to bring my bike up north and explore Edmonds in more detail.

My bike and one of the Washington State Ferries.

The beach and the ferry terminal at Edmonds.

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Falls Creek Road: Up and out of the Methow Valley

This is something I should have posted in the summer, and never got around to. In fact, I did this ride in early July; it’s on my mind because winter has once again found the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve been reminiscing about warmer, sunnier times while planning snow shoe trips. And I realized I’d never written about this ride from Winthrop.

Winthrop is a small town in northern Washington, and depends heavily on tourism. It has a cowboy facade, much like Leavenworth has a Bavarian character. Situated near North Cascades National Park, Winthrop attracts the outdoor crowd. Skiing and mountain biking are popular here, but I’d heard a lot of buzz about road riding in the Methow Valley, and, on a short vacation for the 4th of July, I decided to go find out for myself.

The edge of town

Looking west toward the North Cascades and the edge of town, at Methow Cycle & Sport. This ride departs SR 20 here for Chewuch Road.

I parked at “the red barn” next to Methow Cycle & Sport, left my car, and rode into town for lunch. The kind folks at the bike shop told me I’d be able to leave my car there without it being towed or stolen. They were right!

Entering Okanogan National Forest

Leaving civilization behind and coming into the Okanogan Highlands near the Pasayten wilderness. Like the last adventure, this is a hot and dusty place, parched by the sun, fed by the occasional creek.

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Mount Rainier: Cayuse and Chinook Passes, and Wildlife!

I got up early on Saturday and drove my bike toward Mount Rainier, parked on a forest service dirt road, and then rode into the national park, coming out the other end.  I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’ve ridden a bike inside a national park (North Cascades Nat’l Park is ends at the road, divided into two pieces), which was a little bit of extra fun.

Cayuse Pass has been open for a while, but Chinook is still closed – they’re hoping to have it opened this week.  But the road itself is bare.  You can ride all the way to Yakima, if the spirit moves you.

I rode a little beyond Chinook Pass, by Tipsoo Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail, then turned back.  (My turn-around point was at the trailhead for the Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap trail, which looks like it’s been getting snowshoe use.  Beautiful place in the summer.)  Coming back down, the road that had been closed off with a sign and a few cones, at Cayuse Pass, was now chained off with a sign about avalanche blasting east of the pass!

On the way up, I passed a group of backcountry skiers, grinning ear-to-ear, who pointed the mountain goat out.

This came to 40.6 miles round trip, with 3,700 feet elevation gain. Cayuse Pass sits at 4,675 feet, and Chinook Pass is 5,430 feet.

Welcome to Mount Rainier

Entering the national park on Route 410. To the left are some maps.

The Mountain

The White River flowing from Mount Rainier, with a lenticular cloud forming over the summit. “When Mount Rainier wears a hat, bad weather follows.” Sure enough, the rains came a few hours later.

Road Closed at Cayuse Pass

Cayuse Pass, at 4,675 feet above sea level. I couldn’t get a picture of my bike in front of the sign saying as much, because it was buried under the snow. The closed road leads to Chinook Pass.

At Cayuse Pass, SR-410 makes a sharp turn, heading toward Yakima, and meets SR-123 which continues south through the park. The road up is closed. There were a lot of cars here, and people congratulating themselves on their trip, skis and bikes still at hand. I stopped briefly to make sure this really was my destination, Cayuse Pass. The people I met were animated and jovial, and encouraged me with news that the road is free of snow all the way up. I had secretly hoped to climb both passes, but didn’t think it would be possible that day.

Wildlife on Mount Rainier

A mountain goat, giving me the evil eye. Both of us appreciated the road closure for the lack of traffic.

Snow, and more snow

Entering the hairpin turn section below Chinook Pass, cliffs and tree tops stick out here and there above the snow line.

Near Chinook Pass

Part of a switchback to the left, and mountains surrounding Rainier to the right. The clouds are graying, as the weather starts to turn foul.

Below Chinook Pass

One of the sweeping turns below Chinook Pass. There are no words to describe just how much fun these hairpin curves are at speed.

Proud of having finished the climb

My bike, just below (and to the east of) Chinook Pass, and about to descend. A water purifier hangs from the rails of my saddle.

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