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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The Iron Horse Trail: Keechelus Lake

A few years ago, I bought a rack for my car, letting me move a bike and a kayak on the roof of my car.  And, by some stroke of bad luck, I got sick with bronchitis.  😦

In my infinite wisdom, I did the ride anyway;  a friend drove, and hiked off on her own with a book, which let me bring the codeine-laden cough syrup the doctor had given me.  I took it slow, to go easy on my throat … so slow, in fact, that a jogger passed me.  This was not my proudest moment!  😮  It was a long short ride (I took about 3 hours to cover 15 miles!), but it was a happy one.

So far all but one of the rides I’ve described have been on paved roads, and suitable for 23 mm tires.  I was on a cyclocross bike for this ride, with 28 mm cross tires, which were fine for this section of the trail, but just barely enough for others.

A Novara Element CX bike

My bike (at the time), leaning against a metal rod near the trail, with snowy peaks in the distance. Yes, I realize this is a Fredly setup.

Snoqualmie Pass is, well, a mountain pass. I feel like Captain Obvious for pointing that out, but the mountains surrounding the pass (pass being another word for low point) change the local weather systems. Clouds lose their moisture – as rain or as snow – as they climb higher into the sky to cross the Cascade Crest. West of the divide is wet country, the land of thick Douglas Fir forests; east is the dry side. There’s a sharp division, and a very slow fade. You can see it in these pictures, and in some of the other trips I’ve taken recently.

Looking toward Easton and Cle Elum

Looking east, the mountains are more rounded and less jagged, and not covered in snow.

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