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.
Entering the national park on Route 410. To the left are some maps.
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.
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.
A mountain goat, giving me the evil eye. Both of us appreciated the road closure for the lack of traffic.
Entering the hairpin turn section below Chinook Pass, cliffs and tree tops stick out here and there above the snow line.
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.
One of the sweeping turns below Chinook Pass. There are no words to describe just how much fun these hairpin curves are at speed.
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.
15 feet or more of snow at Chinook Pass, and the park exit.
High among the high peaks, near the Pacific Crest Trail.
A wider view of the peaks near Chinook Pass.
Wider still, a 180-degree panorama of the peaks and the ocean of snow (or so it felt) near my turn-around point.
I’m not going to recommend this route, because I think the southern approach to the pass is more scenic. But if you’re interested in giving it a try, the map and elevation chart will be useful.
My route to Cayuse and Chinook Passes.
Elevation chart, based off my Garmin data, with altitude corrections.
Temperature, as measured by my Garmin Edge 800. I’m not sure if the sawtooth/stair step pattern was due to sun-breaks, cold air sinking in the valleys which I moved across, or from unreliable Garmin readings?
Finally, a few more pictures.
A close-up view of Rainier’s massive summit, with clouds moving across the glaciers.
My bike leaning against the snow bank below Chinook Pass. I shared another version of this photo without the bike, above.
Snow on the ground, and a distant valley between the surrounding mountains.
Tunnel vision. I like this photo, but I’m hard pressed to explain why.