I know, another bike video, but I wanted to show the difference in the 11 mile section between Longmire and Paradise (MRNP); the repaving project has been going on for 4 years, the last two years improving and finishing this stretch. As one of my regular bike training routes, the difference is remarkable, with smooth sailing now from Paradise all the way to the park's Nisqually entrance. In the following video (available in 2K resolution), I have the upper portion showing the downhill ride (October 30, 2017) running concurrently with a 3 camera (Left, Center, Right) sequence I filmed in February of 2014. I frequently had to pause the latest ride for the 2014 sequence to "catch up", probably due to a number of factors: better bike, better road, better visibility with no snowbanks etc. In my 35 years of roaming this park, I like to document changes. Pour yourself a cool one, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Sometimes, when parking at trailheads or lots before a hike, I look longingly at that Sprinter Van conversion or cool RV and think how nice it would be to come back at the end of the hike and take a shower, change clothes, crank up the heat and cook a meal. Or how about taking off for a few weeks for far flung hikes, using my traveling home as base camp? As I near retirement I've been perusing all the options, but I keep coming back to the central drawback: cost. Even those bare bones tear drop trailers can run 10K; I think, for 10K I can stay in nice hotels or Inns, eat lavish food and never have to worry about insurance, maintenance and storage. And 10K is the low end when one starts looking at Sprinter conversions and the like (Earth Roamer anyone? just a quarter mil for the cheap one). So recently I decided on a much more practical and frugal alternative, making a few upgrades to my "vintage" 2002 Chevy Avalanche. For those unfamiliar, the Avalanche has a mid gate that folds on top of the rear folding seats, opening up the space from the front seats to the tailgate, essentially 8 feet in length by 4 feet wide. I've taken good care of it over the years and it is still in fine shape with just 145,000 miles, not bad considering it was my main vehicle for a decade, carting kids everywhere, going to work, loading it with construction materials, even hauling rocks, beauty bark and pallets. It's also a well balanced and capable 4WD.
I just needed to add a few lux items to give me those amenities I (we) needed. I fashioned a screen window for the removable rear window for those warm nights, cutting a piece of wood to matching dimensions of the window, then jigging cutouts for the screen. I addressed cramped quarters (the bed is 8 feet long, leaving 2 feet of storage at the tail gate area for gear), especially if two of us were sleeping in it, by adding a rear deck rack for gear with room for a bike rack. Here's where things like shoes, poles, snowshoes, stove, folding chairs and other miscellaneous equipment can reside without cramming things in the front seats or leaving them out in the open on the rear deck. The best addition has to be the Zodi hot shower and shower tent, as there is nothing better after a strenuous day than a hot shower and clean clothes. Cooking is easy on the tail gate or folding table, and I keep a container stocked with plates, utensils, folding sink, percolator (gotta have hot coffee) and the rest of the kitchen gear. If rain is in the forecast I can pack a folding canopy for the rear of the truck to stay dry while cooking. I've always had a small inverter stowed in the truck for charging electronics and a LumenAid solar powered light bathes the small interior with soft light. Add in a few bags or bins for clothes and gear and I've got everything I need for multiple nights out. Sure, I don't have the standup room of an RV or trailer and nature calls have to be done, well, in nature. But for a comparatively small expenditure of funds I've been comfortable this year so far with over 2 weeks of use, both solo and with my daughter or a buddy.
Just like gear, it all depends on the user's needs. This is intended as a base camp. It's stealthy, giving no hint of occupancy from the casual observer if parked in a lot (the rear windows are tinted). It can go anywhere with 4WD and excellent clearance, including skid plates. It's old enough to not worry about getting scratched, dirty or dinged. It's been paid for for years, and with regular maintenance it should go for many more as it is no longer my main vehicle. Best of all I am free from the thought of spending thousands of dollars on a trailer or vehicle for what in reality would be occasional use. Now, my chariot awaits for my next overnight this weekend!
This isn't a "thing" like the Bulger list. Unless you want it to be. In total these orbits work to be 403 miles with 82,500 feet of elevation, give or take. Although each of these 6 volcano orbits are posted on this blog, I'll synopsize each one and provide a link for those interested in the details. I will list them in order of difficulty, at least in my humble opinion. Orbiting the 6 major PNW volcanoes samples some of the best the Cascade Range has to offer. Loops in general are desirable, not having to repeat sections like out and backs. The eyes take in ever changing terrain as one orbits the central mass, each mountain presenting a new face from different angles and elevations and the trails taking the hiker through different ecological zones. In short, these are just very cool trips.
#1 MT. HOOD TIMBERLINE TRAIL (40 miles/8,000')
The Timberline is longer than St. Helens (Loowit) and Mt. Adams, but my daughter and I found this trail delightful in all aspects and fairly straightforward. Moderate elevation gains on forgiving trail and terrain, rife with crystalline water sources. When we did this trail it was still officially closed because of the eradicated section across Eliot Creek. It was still doable of course, one simply had to scurry on unofficial trail into the gorge. There were even fixed ropes on either side for assistance. Suitable fords could be found with minimal scanning of the roiling water. Now the trail is officially reopened with a rerouted section lower down with a bridge, eliminating the only real difficulty on the orbit. Aside from a number of feet wet crossings, the Timberline provided scenic nonstrenuous travel through various zones. Although we took 3 days for this trail, most of the first day was involved with travel and we finished early on the 3rd day.
#2 MT. ST HELENS LOOWIT TRAIL (30 miles/7,000')
Although shorter with less elevation gain than the Timberline, I would have to put the Loowit as slightly more difficult simply because of the boulder fields, exposed areas that offer little respite from the baking sun reflecting off the northern lava fields, fewer water sources and some scrambly ravine crossings (one with ropes). It's one of a kind though, in that the 1980 eruption evidence is still visible and ever changing. Ghostly trees are laid out in one direction, sometimes amidst grasses, flowers and new growth. Transiting the blast zone is surreal, especially as one enters or exits the two borders on the east and west sides. Go from moonscape to old growth in the same day. This trail should be on everyone's list.
#3 MT BAKER (95 miles/10,500')
Baker is an odd one for sure, as there is no trail that encircles the mountain. There have been ski circumnavigations and even a party of two that battled incessant devil's club in an off trail journey more than a decade ago. Emulating that trip would elevate this orbit to the most difficult spot, but if one thinks out of the box there is an easier way around. I completed this orbit in 2 days by transiting the west side via bike, eventually forging back closer to the mountain on FS Road 38, where I stashed the wheels (after 58 miles) and took to ambulation. By connecting various trails and roads (starting with Ridley Creek), I was able to regain my vehicle at the Lake Ann trail head after 37 miles of walking/trotting. I pushed hard on the first day, completing 22 miles of hiking after the bike portion, stopping around midnight for some rest. This allowed me to finish early enough on day 2 to drive around and retrieve my bike, which took almost 2 hours just for FS 38 (13 miles one way and rough) and be home that night. Plan accordingly if contemplating this orbit, not just for the logistics of involving a bike drop off and pickup, but for packing requirements for these two disciplines. In the grand scheme of things none of this was particularly difficult, just a bit odd. But the Mt. Baker Wilderness is a jewel and I found that riding Highway 542 and the other connecting roads around was extremely pleasant in its own right, something to be enjoyed and not endured.
#4 MT. RAINIER'S WONDERLAND TRAIL (93 miles/22,000')
The distance and elevation are not easy by any means, and the time commitment for some parties might make logistics a concern. The Wonderland also requires permits, adding to the logistics mix. However, this whole trail is well maintained and every backcountry camp has a loo and bear poles. One can also resupply from caches stowed beforehand, and there are multiple places for possible meetup with support (Longmire, Sunrise, White River, Box Canyon, Reflection Lakes, Mowich Lake and even Carbon River if you want to walk the 5 miles to the entrance). Mt. Rainier has been my stomping ground since the early 80's; I have done the Wonderland about 30 times, taking from 36 hours to 6 days. Obviously something keeps me coming back, so this destination hike is well worth the visit.
#5 MT. ADAMS (35 miles/8,000')
With stats akin to Hood and St. Helens, at first glance one might wonder why I rank this orbit harder than the Wonderland. A quick study of the map and the answer becomes evident....there is no trail on the rugged east side (on Yakama land). The "Round-The-Mountain" trail doesn't go 'round the mountain. In orbiting (lower than the Green Trail Map) one must contend with the 5 mile off trail section with a skill set that goes beyond basic backpacking. Map reading, route finding, river fording and confidence are a must. However, technically nothing more than mild scrambling is required. I transited the Yakama section in one day so permits were not an issue, and once back on trail the going is easy, scenic and delightful. This orbit is not often done, so this adds to one's sense of accomplishment. This was a two day trip for me.
#6 GLACIER PEAK CIRCUMNAVIGATION (110 miles/27,000')
Glacier Peak presents some difficulties above the others. There are various ways to orbit the mountain, the shortest using High Pass to the Napeequa on the east side. This requires off trail (although there is an evident path) travel, however. Going further east lengthens the trip to over 100 miles (110 for my iteration), with elevation gains upwards of 27,000'. Another tick of difficulty is negotiating the south side trails; White River is reportedly a nightmare of blowdown, washouts, brush and scant trail that hasn't seen maintenance in over 10 years. Indian River is better, but also unmaintained. It's hot, buggy with overgrown brush (frequently head high), rife with blowdown and washed out areas. 11 miles of pure delight. Bailout options are few and difficult, and resupply would also present challenges. Many parties take more than a week for this trip, carrying 7 to 12 days of food. But I'm just listing some difficulties here, the rewards are immense. Some consider this orbit, and the Glacier Peak Wilderness area in general, to be some of the best in the Cascades. I tend to agree.
My trips involved 17 days total, with 3 of these orbits taking 2 days (Loowit, Adams, Baker) and the Timberline certainly doable in 2. I fastpacked the Wonderland in 2015 in 3 days, and my recent and last Glacier Peak orbit was over 5 days. If the reader uses this info as a guide, consider that some of my days were quite long, i.e. a 35 mile day on the Wonderland, an 80 mile day on Baker (incl. biking), and a few longer days around Glacier Peak to average 22 miles per day (stopped at midnight on day 4). For max enjoyment and less punishment, I might suggest 2 for Loowit, 3 for Hood, 3 for Adams, 3 or 4 for Baker, at least 7 for Rainier's Wonderland and 9 for Glacier Peak, for a total of about 28 days. Glacier Peak offers the most variety for putting a trip together, limited only by your imagination. I got to enjoy half of these trips (Loowit, Timberline, Wonderland) with my daughter, adding to each unique sojourn. If anything, completing these orbits introduced me to fantastic areas outside my usual stomping ground; indeed, they kindled a desire to explore more of the North Cascades and helped open my eyes to the vast outdoor playground here in the Pacific Northwest.
MY sixth and last Pacific Northwest volcano orbit was realized from August 18 to August 22, 2017, with perhaps the hardest and most spectacular trip of them all. The circumnavigation of Glacier Peak was 5 days of travel over 110 miles of sometimes swift (the PCT portions), sometimes gritty (climb to Little Giant Pass) and sometimes downright miserable (Indian River trail) orbiting this iconic volcano. There are various ways to circle this mountain, with (it seems) most starting at Grasshopper Meadows (the closest access) and proceeding CW via Indian River trail, PCT and over High Pass to the Napeequa River and returning on the last leg over Boulder Pass to the parked vehicle. I chose to lengthen the trip a bit by proceeding CCW and continuing through the Napeequa Valley to the Chiwawa River and Buck Creek Pass, intercepting the PCT until finishing on the Indian River trail to road 6400. My daughter and I had attempted this trip last year, but due to various reasons ended up turning back on the second day.
Day 1: Grasshopper Meadows to Little Giant Pass: 19.5 miles
I departed on this trip without many hiking miles under my feet, another reason I wanted to get the harder parts done in the first two days. I set off at 6 AM, walking the closed road to the end of 6400, then Trail 1562 to Boulder Pass as I turned east. The first day is always easy in that everything is fresh and the body is starting with a clean slate. The climb to Boulder Pass was people free, and I enjoyed fine weather along with this solitude as I surveyed my next destination, the Napeequa Valley and river crossing. Even from the heights one can tell the Napeequa is a special place, a broad plain with a wandering yet consistent river that is green without being overgrown with brush and trees. Despite having 5 days of food in my pack, I barely noticed it on my back as my total weight (with food and water) was only 16 pounds. This light load is welcome, especially on this descent from 6300’ to 4400’. When I reached the valley floor and studied the ford point no searching was required. The gentle, broad waterway was but knee deep and I simply made a beeline straight for the opposite bank where the trail continued, glad to have the aid of trekking poles for the ford. It’s a short trip down the valley to the ascent point but incredibly serene. The trail was easy to follow and the grasses were gently swaying in the wind as I followed the river downstream. There’s just something surreal and Shangri-La like about this valley, so different from any other volcano spawned river course I have seen. I kept scanning the Chiwawa Ridge to see where the trail could possibly go, there seemed no obvious weakness. Turns out it simply goes right up, on an unmaintained trail that offered insecure footing and lots of class III moves. This 2,000 foot climb to Little Giant Pass took a toll on my energy levels, so when I espied a nice camp spot below Little Giant Pass as the hour approached 7:30 PM I decided to call it a day and set up camp. My overnight gear choices for this trip involved a ZPacks Pocket Tarp, ZPacks groundsheet/poncho, an Enlightened Equipment Recon bivy, a NeoAir XLite pad and an Enlightened Equipment 30 degree Enigma quilt. I also had my Skaha Apex jacket as insurance; strenuous days mean less heat output at night. I did not want to be cold while trying to recover in the bivy.
Day 2: Little Giant Pass to Buck Pass: 19.1 miles
No alarms for me, when it was light enough I got up and had breakfast (no cooking gear), thinking if I could at least make it to Buck Creek Pass I’d be OK. Unlike a trip like the Wonderland Trail, no permits are required here and I could be flexible in my itinerary, assessing my condition day to day and planning my stopping point based on that day’s progress. Like every day of this trip, the weather was warm, sunny and pleasant and the descent to the Chiwawa River was on good trail. A quick foot cleansing shallow ford brought me to the Chiwawa River road, which I had to walk approximately 3 miles to the Trinity trail head. From there I was back on trail #1513 to Buck Creek Pass. Transiting the 2016 burn area was somewhat hot and dusty, but the trail climbed slowly over the miles to Buck Creek Pass (2500’ to 6000’). What with the dusty road, the warmish conditions and the slower pace to conserve energy, I made Buck Creek Pass at about 6:30 PM, had a nice conversation with some chaps camped nearby, and settled down for the evening. Two days without using a headlamp, not my usual style. By now my legs were starting to remind me of their lack of training and I endured some twitching before finally dozing off, looking forward to perhaps swifter travel the following day once on the PCT.
Day 3: Buck Pass to Point 5900: 23.2 miles
Another beautiful morning greeted me for day 3, and not so far down the trail I stopped at Middle Ridge to relax and have some chow. My legs were sore, probably from day 1, but nothing more than a background annoyance. With bugs at a minimum, a warm sun on my face and alpine smells in the air, the day was ripe for outdoor infusion, charging my bod and soul. These feelings of outdoor bliss aren’t ubiquitous; in fact, in the grand scheme they are somewhat rare so I try to linger in these moments. I finally moved along and stopped to record a hillside for the audio…there was a loud animal or bird call, very consistent in regularity. I scanned the hillside but couldn’t see anything. I just couldn’t pin it down, at first I thought it was a juvenile elk but the consistency of the calls made me wonder if it were some large bird, amplified by the bowl we were in. Even after decades of being outside, there are always surprises. I finally left the calls or crying and they slowly faded behind me as I descended into the forest. Soon enough my feet were on the PCT and from this point forward I encountered many North Bound (NOBO) hikers, either thru or section hikers, some very friendly and chatty, some obviously jammin’ with their eyes on the border and in no mood to engage. I heard that many or most were returning to finish the Sierra portion, skipped earlier on due to very high snow levels. The forgiving grade and wide trail made for semi-speedy trotting all the way to Miners Creek, where I stopped to wash my feet, body and do some laundry. Others there had the same thought. The water was so cold I had to keep withdrawing my feet due to numbness bordering on pain, but boy, did that feel good! The PCT in this northern part of the wilderness has been rerouted way down the Suiattle River, adding about 5 miles of trail compared to the old crossing. It’s all through old growth forest on nice trail so who’s to complain? By the time I made my way around it was mid afternoon and I stopped to have some Chocolate Mousse. Here I ran into Barbara, a SOBO section hiker with whom I would cross paths over the next two days, she usually leaping ahead but lingering at nice spots when I finally caught up to her. We both had our eye on point 5900 on this climb as a place to camp for the night, and when I finally arrived as darkness was taking over (my BD Spot Headlamp had accidentally turned on in my pack and the batteries were dead) she lent me her light so I could set up my bivy and dig out my spare lamp. Another warm night made me leave the tarp packed, simply enjoying the stars shining through gaps in the tree above me as I finally drifted off.
Day 4: Point 5900 to Baekos Creek: 23.2 miles (again)
Eclipse Day! My plan was to linger at these high reaches and attempt some photography, having lugged a tripod and a 3.0 ND filter for this express purpose. I started hiking with an eye towards a good viewing spot, and this presented itself a few miles down the trail. I set up on a knoll with a commanding view of Glacier Peak and the bowl below Ptarmigan and Vista Glaciers. The time arrived but we were not in the totality zone; however, one could feel the temperature drop and there was a noticeable dimming of light. My filter was not dark enough to be of use but how could I complain, sitting on a knoll eating cheese dip on a tortilla and finishing with strawberry cheesecake with an outstanding view? After about an hour of dallying I finally packed up and headed down the trail, and as I rounded a corner I stopped to chat with a NOBO thru couple. She had carried eclipse glasses for over 2,000 miles so when she offered a looksie, I got to see the real deal. It was 85 percent totality cool. Although I had planned on this leisure time for the eclipse, I suddenly had the urge to cover some miles. However, when I arrived at Mica Lake, the setting looking like it had been scooped out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, I had to stop to relax, eat and take a dip in the clear blue/green waters. I figured I’d make up time by hiking into the evening on the manicured PCT. Transiting Fire Creek Pass at 6300’ I stopped again to eat and enjoy a stupendous view, continuing on to Kennedy Ridge as night time approached. I rounded a corner and gasped at the alpenglow settling on the mountain, and stopped frequently to take shots from various angles and levels of pinkness (see photo at end of blog). After protecting my headlamp in my pocket with my spare batteries, I lit up for the night hiking ahead. The "eclipse" thru hikers had described this section as “the worst section of PCT in Washington State”, and I can’t disagree. Figures that I was hitting it at night. Lots of blowdown, narrow rocky trail, overhanging trees and brush, and bog like sections that required detouring through the woods to avoid muck and water areas well above shoe height. As midnight approached I had covered enough ground to put day 5 in its proper place; I wanted to be on the Indian River trail around noon. At Baekos Creek (4000') I found a spot off the trail flat enough to lay out the bivy in the dark deep woods, but as my eyes adjusted the stars still twinkled through gaps in the canopy to keep me company.
Day 5: Baekos Creek to Grasshopper Meadows: 25.4 miles
I was on the trail at 5:30 AM, eyes on the prize. I had been on this section of the PCT a few times before so knew what to expect. I soon passed the area where my daughter and I had camped last year, turning around on day two, so I knew I had about 20 miles to go. I ran into another orbiter in the White Chuck basin who had actually battled through the White River Trail, an alternative to Indian River trail but reportedly so washed out, so rugged and so overgrown as to be almost impassable. His partner had turned around, unable to contend with the difficulties (on his day 1), but he pressed on, probably one of the few that will lay foot to that trail this year. As I continued on I ran into a couple near Red Pass who were section hiking, a dad daughter duo….dad was 85 averaging 13 miles per day. We should all be so fortunate! As I pressed on past White Pass to my final leg, I took few photos, becoming laser focused on what lay ahead. I tanked water near Indian Pass, filling up a two liter collapsible container brought for this express purpose, drinking a liter on the spot, and filling my shoulder mounted bottle. Why? I knew from experience that Indian River was going to be hot, dry, and overgrown with little opportunity to refill. I just didn’t expect it to be this overgrown, probably from the wetter year versus last year. 11 miles of foot grabbing, leg slapping, eye poking brush and grasses whilst being accosted by mosquitos and flies as the sun beat against my back and head. Indeed I lost the trail a few times but sometimes frustrating ‘schwacking eventually had my feet regaining it, as usually the tall brush offered few clues eye level. Barring disaster at least I knew I was going to make it through before it got dark as I had started this last section at 12:30. Although a trail like Indian River doesn’t seem to offer much, it’s a shame that trails like this have been abandoned….lack of budget, lack of interest? I endured this last portion, sometimes thinking I should have done what everyone else seemed to do, go CW and tackling this trail on fresh legs. I had no option but to suck it up and revel in reaching the bridge across the White River, leaving two miles of closed road walking to my waiting vehicle with a cooler of drinks and a bag full of food. Somehow I stumbled down to arrive at 9 PM, washing off on my tailgate as best I could and texting my wife via InReach that I was done and would spend the night. Like any good trip, this 5 day orbit had that mixture of good and bad, hard and easy, bliss and suffering. In other words, immensely rewarding. Of the six orbits I have done, Glacier Peak ranks as the hardest yet arguably the most beautiful, a fitting way to cap off the series.
NOTE: I have not listed elevation gain/loss as I did not employ Strava or a GPS track etc. However, two chaps who ran around Glacier Peak in 35 hours via a slightly different route but similar elevation profile recorded 27,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Mt. Rainier’s Wonderland Trail is 93 miles with 22,000 feet of elevation, the next longest orbit.
Background: It's only been in the last few years I have done much biking, with last year filming some classic climbs in Washington State and pretty much all of Mt. Rainier National Park. All of this was done on my vintage Gary Fisher circa 2000 Hoo Koo E Koo mountain bike. Recently I put some more road friendly tires on it and it has served me well over these past 17 years. In 2000 I bought my road bike, a Trek 5500, from a friend of mine. He custom built it with top components and a set of titanium wheels; this is what I ride STP (Seattle To Portland) on, 7 times now. My first two were one day events and the past 5 years an older buddy and I have kicked back and ridden this over the normal 2 days (206 miles), but this classic is now about 20 years old. However, recently I wanted to do a "somewhat difficult" ride that was harder than RAMROD, and termed it RIMROBOD (121 miles/15,600' elevation gain). That was the kicker, as my Trek is geared for speed with wimpy climbing gears and RIMROBOD killed my legs as I had to crank, not spin, all the climbs. I finally determined that it was time for a new bike.
Adventure/gravel bikes: I'm glad I waited, as this newer category of bike seemed to be perfect for my needs....a more relaxed geometry for long days, forgiving frames to mitigate vibrations and made to be decent on the macadam but able to handle crappy fire roads and even occasional single track. With an eye towards bike packing, I made my choice: the Salsa Cutthroat Rival.
The Test: If you want stats, gear ratios, weights etc there's info out there on the netherweb. I'm not a bike afficionado; I can change a tire (I think) but that's about it. Can it climb? is it heavy? Can it go fast? Is it stable? These things I can figure out for myself, so after purchasing one at a local bike shop, I had it fitted with different tires for mostly road work, a set of Compass Snoqualmie Pass 700cc's. No real tread but slightly siped, perfect for my uses, although the lightness of these tires means no kevlar lining for puncture resistance....I'll take my chances. I also purchased the made to fit frame bag and the EXP top tube bag. I installed two water bottle cages, one mounted on the front fork and the other in front of the frame, as the frame bag nixes using those mounts. Most of my previous jaunts I'm wearing a back pack, various sizes depending on the route, and I had my eye on freeing up that real estate. Cleared after minor surgery, I set out for my stomping ground of Mt. Rainier National Park to see what this puppy could do. My itinerary was flexible but I knew I wanted to first climb to Paradise and then hit the West Side Road, it being 22 miles of gravel with some moderate climbs.
Leg 1: Longmire to Paradise to Klapatche Point (on the West Side Road) to Longmire: 59.4 miles with 7320' of elevation gain. I did the leg up to Paradise first while traffic was light. I had just climbed this a few weeks prior on my Trek, taking 1:45 for the 2,600' climb. On the Salsa: 1:45, but with some noticeable differences. Granted, the skies were a bit overcast and the temps were cooler, but being able to spin with an efficient cadence meant I never broke a sweat. The bike felt solid and tracked straight without much fiddling. The relaxed geometry had ME relaxed, and in a testament to the stock seat, I went for long stretches without even thinking of standing up to relieve pressure. Once I arrived at Paradise, I took a short break and gassed up, then I was off on the descent. Here's where the difference in bikes really showed. On my Trek I essentially never got down in the drops, but the flared Cowchipper bars were like magnets, enticing my digits to drop down and play the hydraulic disc brakes with just my index finger. I immediately noticed the stability of this bike, giving me confidence even over the rougher parts. I also assume this is due to the fatter and lower pressure tires. My Trek was a little squirrely at high speeds, but the Salsa tracked true like it was on rails, carrying exactly where I wanted it to go even through the 180 degree turns. On a downside, I found that I maxed out on the high gear peddling around 25 MPH. If you look at the pics you can see how small the crankset is (SRAM GX 1000 36/24t) so the stock SRAM isn't going to give me 30 plus MPH spinning, but everything is a compromise and I gladly sacrifice fast spinning for efficient climbing. When I rolled back into Longmire I was grinning from ear to ear, so far enamored with this fine piece of machinery.
I switched out a few things and continued down to the junction with the West Side Road, eager to see how the bike handled the rough stuff. Climbing was efficient but the ride was better than my mountain bike, noticeably lighter yet more solid feeling. The true test came on the first 700 foot descent on the rocky road. For a bike that has no suspension it felt remarkably cushy, but due to the overall roughness with occasional potholes, runnels and sharp edged rocks, I rode the brakes to keep speed in the area of 15 MPH. Here I discovered an annoyance...the front brake chirped and squealed once I passed a certain pressure point, and this condition persisted no matter the surface or speed for the rest of the ride. I'm supposed to put a couple hundred miles on the bike, then take it back to the shop for an adjustment so I guess I'll wait and see what they say about this. Thankfully the brakes functioned as advertised despite the noise and I was able to comfortably negotiate the rough road in the drops just using my index fingers. The trip out was the same with the exception of the lower 3 miles of this road, which had developed serious washboard in some places. I let the bike run a little faster over this stuff, upwards of 25 MPH just to see how it would do. It was still easy to handle but there was a lota shakin' going on. I'm not sure how much better it would have been on a full suspension bike, but it would have been better. The Cutthroat's Class 5 Vibration Reduction System (see side bar) is probably more suited to the bumps of a gravel road versus the deep pitted waves of washboard hell. But I bought this bike for its versatility with an eye towards bike packing; one bike to do it all, and so far I'm pretty impressed.
Leg 2: White River Campground to Sunrise and return 23 miles with 2900' of elevation gain. Once back at Longmire I planned on repositioning my vehicle to continue biking without getting too far afield. Delayed by construction on the drive up towards the Stevens Canyon road cut off, I proceeded to the other side of the park thinking I could snag a campsite at the Ohanapecosh Campground, then bike back into the park for a late afternoon/evening climb back towards Paradise from the other side. However, Ohanapecosh was completely full, so I continued on around to White River (off highway 410) to try my luck there or at least camp in the parking lot. Oddly enough, plenty of sites were open so I parked and configured for the climb to Sunrise, the most suitable option. I stripped the bike of cameras and added my headlight, setting off at 6:40 PM. At this point, after over 7000' of climb, I noticed my knees were a little achy, not a usual occurrence for me. I'm thinking I need to go in for a better fitting for an adjustment of my seat position. It was merely an observation, not a detriment, so I set off on the climb, again enjoying the efficient gearing and noting the incredible difference between now and when I did RIMROBOD, which at that point was a grueling sufferfest up to Sunrise. As I climbed higher the temperatures cooled, and the broken cloud layers made for stunning vistas. My familiarity with the road meant that I knew eventually the grade lessens approaching Sunrise Point (the last 180 bend) and I covered the last few miles at a higher pace. Lingering light stayed with me but by the time I reached Sunrise it was pretty much dark. I donned some warmer gloves and an extra jacket but enjoyed an empty road on the descent. Once again I was in the drops playing the brakes all the way down as the roadside bankings here spit rocks onto the road bed with regularity; I'm certain the park service sweeps (as in removes rocks) this road every morning. Doing 35 MPH didn't seem prudent, as fun as it is. With the wind noise mitigating my chirping brake, I quite enjoyed this unique run down the road, with just enough ambient light left on the upper portions to still make out the mountain and the far vistas. A short climb up to White River had me back at my vehicle before 10, ravenous but happy, configuring my truck for sleeping whilst shoveling double stuffed Oreos into my pie hole.
Final thoughts: On this trip the Cutthroat saw some varied terrain over 82 miles and 10,200' of climb and descent. This really isn't a bike review, but I hope it's of some use to people like me who like to bike but don't know much about the equipment. I see the Cutthroat as a vehicle of opportunity; I can do just about anything with it. If I'm going to spend lots of time on gnarlier terrain, then I'll put either the stock tires back on that came with it or a set of tubeless on the tubeless ready rims. If I want to do some lengthy trips, I'll add the seat pannier and a front roll bag, or take advantage of the fork screws to add some dry bags there. I may even have my eyes on the Tour Divide, supposedly what this bike was designed for. The bike feels like a Towncar and Porsche at the same time....would that be a Tesla? It's solid feel, true tacking and relaxed geometry inspire confidence in at least the terrain I had it on...gravel, washboard, rocky and rutted to newly paved or patched surfaces. Now let's see what the shop can do about that chirpy brake.
No, this was not a climbing trip. The Success Cleaver route is touted as the only route on Mt. Rainier where one can summit without stepping foot on a glacier, but very long and tedious, best done early season when the route is mostly snow covered. However, as a day hike it delivers on solitude, views and effort. On Tuesday, August 1st, I departed Longmire with the goal of trying to forge up to 9,000 feet on the cleaver. The first 7 miles are on the Wonderland Trail to Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, then proceeds via the Mirror Lake trail to Pyramid Peak. Two years ago I did a day hike to the top of the Success Divide at 7800', but the extra 600 feet of elevation gain on this trip to 8300' gained access to the bottom of the Success Cleaver. Matter of semantics, I guess. Once contouring around Pyramid Peak, I dropped to the col for the scree, loose boulder choss fest, noticing that I had missed the obvious easier descent route, noting this for the return trip. The first part of the Divide isn't particularly rewarding, as I stayed right of the ridge for the easiest line, the ridge providing the best views. Contending with heat and insane bugs, one must be determined and dedicated to ascend higher, slowly watching Mt. St. Helens appear on the horizon and Pyramid Peak sink. The lower portion has some short sections of class 3 scrambling, but eventually I gained the plateau that determines the transition from the Divide to the Cleaver, and travel became noticeably better. The narrowing Cleaver allowed me to peer right side to the Pyramid Glacier and beyond that, the Kautz Glacier. The real show, though, is the South Tahoma Glacier to climber's left, and with the abating of bugs above 7,000', cooler breezes and easier travel, I soaked in the views as reward for my labors. I followed goat track on a snow finger to my high point of 8300' not because I couldn't go any higher but because I was nearing my turnaround time of 3:30 PM. This is an area where one could climb to at least 10,000' in essentially non technical terrain, with enough time of course. Full photo set here.
On NWHikers.org, a forum I contribute to, of late there have been discussions of wilderness areas overrun with visitors, discussions on the swelling population here, and the ethics of posting trip reports on visits to pristine areas, especially with GPS tracks. Many people avoid Mt. Rainier National Park because there are "just too many people" on the trails. I contend that one can find solitude and wilderness even in this park, and I have posted numerous trip reports attesting to the fact that I can go an entire day without seeing anybody. If one has the gumption to go off the beaten track, then solitude is there for the taking, but these trips are not leisurely strolls (this day hike involved @23 miles and 6,000' of hard earned climb, totaling 15 and a half hours). Yes, I am older (Senior Pass holder) and things are more difficult than when I was decades younger, but I'm not seeing 20 somethings out here either. My point being that, armed with only a map and an idea, one can still find pristine areas seldom visited, even in this National Park; you just have to work for it.
RAMROD (Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day) is a popular bike event every year, known as a scenic and hard ride, encompassing 150 miles and 10,000 feet of climb. Although I make the effort to sign up for STP (Seattle To Portland) every year, I've never gotten around to attempting the lottery for RAMROD, but I have been inspired by the route. In this regard, I recently rode RIMROBOD (Ride the Interior of Mt. Rainier Out and Back in One Day). Yes, I made that up if it wasn't painfully obvious. Last year I did a similar ride but was met at White River Campground by a buddy and we drove back to my vehicle at Longmire. This time, no support whatsoever; I had to carry repair items (no SAG wagons) in case of mechanical difficulty....there is no cell phone coverage in the park....plus carry all my food as well as basic resting gear. Once again I called on my Zimmerbuilt Ultimate pack for this, carrying an EE Recon bivy, a half sized ZRest pad and Nunatak Skaha jacket and half bag.
RIMROBOD stats are daunting, not so much in the distance (121 miles) but in the amount of climbing over that distance: 15,600 feet. Starting at Longmire (2800'), the route immediately climbs to Paradise (5400'), then descends through Stevens Canyon (low point 2200') before heading north on State Route 123 to Cayuse Pass (4700'). From Cayuse pass I descended 1300' to the White River park entrance and negotiated the climb (contending with midday heat) to Sunrise, the highest point at 6400'. Totals up to this point, 62 miles and 11,000 feet of climb. After refueling at the Sunrise snack bar, I enjoyed probably the best part of the ride, one that RAMRODers don't see; the exhilarating descent from Sunrise, especially the "S" curves in the lower portion of Sunrise Park road. Reversing the route, the climbing eases with a 1300' climb back to Cayuse Pass and a 3100' climb up Stevens Canyon to the high point of Reflection Lakes (4900'). On the return I did not go back up to Paradise.
To pull this off I had to rely more on my ability to suffer versus actually being trained for such a grueling event. My vintage Trek 5500 is built for speed, and the lack of a "granny gear" for the climbs meant I couldn't efficiently spin, putting undue stress on the quads. Add in the fact that I am officially a Senior Pass holder and don't really bike that much, well, you can imagine the discomfort, but also the rewards. I stopped on the return leg at Box Canyon to lay out my bivy and get some rest, falling asleep peering up at the milky way on a moonless night at 9:30 PM. I awoke at 2:30 feeling refreshed and set out with plenty of time to beat the clock for Longmire, as to officially do this ride in "One Day" I had to arrive before 6:40 AM, my starting time, for sub 24 hours. This was no problem and I rode the deserted road up to Reflection Lakes and only ran into a few early birds in the opposite direction, probably heading to Paradise, arriving back at my vehicle at 5 AM just as the skies were lightening.
To film this ride and document RIMROBOD, I employed a GoPro Hero 5 in a GenusTech aluminum housing with an Eclipse variable ND filter mounted on my left shoulder. For backup I had my Contour Roam2 mounted to the front fork but didn't end up using any of this footage. The much improved mic on the Hero 5 allows for narration on the move without employing a separate mic. In the video that follows, and keeping with my documentation of rides in the park, I incorporated two uninterrupted sequences, the first being the descent out of Paradise via the Paradise Valley road (at 6:50), and the second the lower "S" curves on the Sunrise Park road (21:50).
Get those thoughts out of your head. On July 4, 2017 I hiked/skinned/skied the Russell Glacier in Mt. Rainier National Park. Ever since I did Observation Rock and a bit of Ptarmigan Ridge, I wanted to come back and tag a point above 9,000 feet and in the process get in some skiing. With just 4 hours of sleep after returning from overseas, I drug myself out of bed and packed up, hitting the trailhead at Mowich Lake just before 9 AM. Yes, that washboard road from Hell still sucks. There were just a few cars and people on this Skindependence day, and I crossed paths occasionally with 3 other skiers until we parted ways at the bottom of the Flett Glacier....they were heading over to do the ski from the headwall and I broke left to contour above Echo Rock to bake on the Russell Glacier. Aside from 4 day hikers, these were the only people I saw all day, and once I hit the Russell I had the park to myself. I have to admit that this was a long, tough day, entailing about 16 miles RT and over 5,000 feet of climb/descent. It was very hot on the glacier(s), I spent a considerable amount of time schlepping my skis and boots, the terrain was sometimes challenging, and I ran out of water before topping out at 9510'. I resorted to eating some snow to keep my mouth from feeling like the Gobi, as no melting rivulets were to be found on the way up. The last stretch going up the Russell was steep enough to shed the skins and boot up, but the views were amazing from this height (complete photo set here). The Liberty Ice cap and the top of Willis Wall look completely different because of the angle, closeness and altitude from such an interesting part of the mountain. Perched on Ptarmigan Ridge, one can survey the entire Puget Sound and gaze down on the North Mowich Glacier and the rugged Mowich Face above. The Liberty Cap ice fall looks like it could shed at any moment (I did record the tail end of a minor avalanche). One can look across during the climb or descent to Curtis Ridge, and on the ski down it was strange indeed to see the rubble-y Carbon Glacier stretched out below the fall line. Generally the snow was good and not too mushy, although somewhat striated....every turn crossed mini ridges for a bumpy ride but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of having this entire glacier and environs to myself. I skied lower than my ascent, which necessitated a short carry over to the Flett, and soon I found myself at the bottom of the run with a melt pool to slake my thirst. Although I had short cut the ascent from Spray Park over snow, I decided to continue down the summer trail for the descent, basking in perfect afternoon weather on heather during a snack break, sipping on ice cold water caressed from a tiny stream off snow melt to ensure I was rehydrated. The only sounds were wind and birdsong, and eventually I donned my clumsy and heavy ski and boot laden pack for the last push back to the vehicle. Spray Park is awash in avalanche lilies and speckled between with red, purple and yellow, but nowhere near the peak, there is still a bit of snow coverage in the meadows. As evening approached the mountain blazed with low angle sun through the trees, and I finally emerged from the woods at 9:40 PM, no headlight required. There's always a let down when the day is done, but I could tell I was really spent from the physical demands of the day. I was still able to enjoy fireworks on the ride out, especially in clear areas facing west to all the myriad towns from the Mowich road. Today defined the phrase "earn your turns", but this Skindependence Day was one of the best times I've had on the mountain.
My daughter and I are just back from two days of hikes (photos here), trying to work around the very high snow year we have had. We decided to go from one extreme to the other, hitting the Olympics and day hiking to Enchanted Valley, then hitting Mt. Rainier and climbing to Steamboat Prow (9700'). One day awash in green, the other in blinding white. One day with high mileage (30 miles), the other with a point to point climb (5300 feet elevation gain).
ENCHANTED VALLEY We started on Wednesday, June 21 and headed to the Olympics and parked at the Graves Creek trail head. This is a 4 hour drive for us but we managed to be on the trail just before 9 AM. Now, the weathered wooden sign at the beginning of the hike reads Enchanted Valley 13.5 miles. However, what with reroutes and the such multiple sources (strava, GPS etc) put the actual mileage at 15 one way, making for a 30 mile round trip. This higher mileage is mitigated somewhat by the rather gentle elevation gain of about 2,000 feet over the entire distance. Perfect weather set the stage for this incredible journey through old growth elken (as in lots of elk) forest, inhaling green splendor with every breath, creek crossings either via established bridge or makeshift ones, keeping feet dry, with terrain gentle enough to let the feet carry us along as we let the ambiance infuse us with health. Doesn't get any better. We arrived at our destination, Enchanted Valley, early enough for the sun to still bathe the valley. Enchanted Valley is of course known not only for the incredible setting between mountains and cascading waterfalls, but for the iconic and historic 3 story Chalet, built so far into the wilderness in 1931. A few years back the wandering Quinault River eroded one end of the chalet, leaving it teetering with the probable demise of falling into the river. However, Jeff Monroe, a house mover from Sequim, instigated (along with much support) a plan to move the chalet from its foundation back 100 feet to save it from erosive destruction, and here it sits with the steel girders still under it, waiting to be moved further to a more permanent location about 200 feet away. Despite looking rather vagabondish with these temporary underpinnings, the chalet is still a sight, nestled in this beautiful valley so far from civilization. We enjoyed a respite from ambulation, sitting on the old foundation (what's left of it) and soaking in the sights, peering up the valley to Anderson Glacier. I orbited the chalet snapping pics and taking video, and we finally packed up for the 15 mile return leg when the sun dipped below the opposite peak. Our hike out was equally enjoyable, watching an elk family ford the river with newborns barely making it across, not using artificial light until 10 PM on this solstice day, and occasionally stopping to gaze at the unpolluted (both haze and light) star show above. We arrived physically sound but plain old tired at our vehicle at 1:30 AM, sleeping in our pseudo RV until 10 AM.
STEAMBOAT PROW We used the next day for R&R and travel, with another 4 hour drive to the White River Campground at Mt. Rainier National Park. We set up the truck in a camp spot with the gracious approval of a ranger; technically the campground didn't open until the next day. One of the best additions to our truck camping arsenal is a Zodi hot shower, and we emerged from the shower privacy pop up destinkified with fluffy hair, with plenty of time to lounge, eat dinner, sip Bailey's and enjoy a legal campfire. Mentally and physically we were ready the next morning to tackle blazing reflective sun and continuous climb. I had skied the Inter Glacier a few weeks before and the melt off was progressing well, but there is still an amazing amount of snow for this time of year, steady from 5400' elevation on. Although the river was emerging from the snow at Glacier Basin, we were still able to avoid wet feet by simply walking up the snowfield for a bit. Climbers and skiers were out bigly time, which made for a good boot track all the way up to about 9100 feet. We paid constant attention to multiple layers of sunscreen and sun protection. My daughter was dragging a bit on the steeper section of the Inter glacier (cracks are starting to show) as this was really her first climb of the season, but after a break at 8100' she felt fine all the way to Steamboat. I was feeling great until I had to kick steps for the last 600 feet or so in my trail runners, with the varying snow conditions eating up a bit of energy. However, the section was short and when we arrived at Steamboat (9700') the weather was perfect; not too hot, not too chilly, conducive to lounging for an hour and a half soaking in the 360 degree views. The Emmons and Winthrop glaciers slapping us in the face ahead (with numerous ski tracks and the Emmons climbing route clearly visible), Little Tahoma knife edged to the left, rising out of gleaming white and shadowy cracks, and views north to Mt. Baker and Glacier Peak, gazing down on the Mt. Ruth prominence (8700'), which my daughter had visited a few years prior. We could have spent all afternoon up there but the evening hours were approaching....we reluctantly hopped back on the glacier and plunge stepped our way down, marveling at our descent speed versus the climbing speed. The snow was even good enough to set in a glissade track, and we did just enough to avoid frost bitten buttocks. Lickety split we were back at Glacier Basin, and our further descent to the waiting food and beverage laden vehicle was just as quick. This day entailed 14 miles and 5300 feet of elevation gain and loss, just enough to know we did some work but not enough to detract from eye popping views, perfect weather and conditions. Two parks, two totally different eco zones, two totally different color schemes, one day of cleanliness and relaxation, how could it get any better?
(Caution: glacier travel should not be taken lightly, one should have the knowledge and skills necessary. Conditions on the Inter this early in the season were mild enough for unroped climbing and skiing by experienced outdoors afficionados, although crevasses were just starting to show themselves. We witnessed a group of 3 glissading towards the opening cracks, obviously not checking their position on the climb. Exercise good judgement and don't recreate on a glacier if you don't know what you are doing)
I've been using action cams since the early iterations, enabling outdoor footage impossible to capture on larger video cameras. For the past few years my main action cams in use have been the GoPro Hero 3+ and the Contour Roam 2. Skipping the Hero 4, I recently purchased the Hero 5 Black and have tested it in various outdoor settings and endeavors, like biking, hiking, skiing, even indoors in Kendo. This review offers a wide gamut of examples to give the viewer more info if considering a purchase. If the viewer wants more technical information on this camera, there are plenty of reviews available online that will show how to manage the myriad manual settings. Generally, I am shooting in 2.7K in either 30 or 60 fps, with the bike shots using "superview" and other shots "wide." The 2.7 K video gives me options for manipulation for online content that I master in 1080. I also set the max ISO at 800 as anything higher than this will produce too much grain. Like anything else, there are compromises when using a camera this size. Most of the stunning video one sees online is shot outside in excellent and unchanging lighting conditions, where this type of camera excels. However, it gets tricky when shooting in fast changing lighting conditions or different exposures in the same frame, and this video provides multiple examples of both the good and the not so good. For location reference, these scenes were captured in Mt. Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park (including Ruby beach), and one indoor sequence at the Bellevue Kendo Club.