Month: July 2012

Mt. Rainier steam train

My nephew, Mason, is ga-ga for cars, trucks, tractors, trains, etc. This one’s for you little man:

Ride Around Mt. Rainier in Two Days

Saddled up and ready to roll on day 2

With my Pickets trip cancelled, I had a whole weekend of nothing to fill with endless possibilities. In accordance with my duties as the family’s Chief Vacation Officer, I called Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier National Park to see if Nick and I could get a room on Saturday night. (A long shot, but one that proved successful.) So, on Saturday morning, we drove to Enumclaw, the start of our second sub-24-hour bike adventure of the year.

Our intention was to follow the grueling RAMROD route but in two days instead of one. We would ride in a counter-clockwise fashion 150 miles or so around the park, riding over two major hills for a total elevation gain of more than10,000’. Some people call this two-day ride “wimp-rod.” With loaded touring bikes, it’s anything but wimpy!

Day 1 dawned cloudy, which was just fine by me. Riding in the heat can be exhausting. We rolled out of the Safeway parking lot and headed toward the sleepy town of Buckley. The roads were flat and the traffic relatively light. Before long, we were enjoying the solitude of country roads near Lake Kapowsin. We took our first break at a public boat launch on the lake where we met the local sheriff and a sheriff-in-training. Both were quite friendly and advised us to ride Camp 1 Rd for beautiful views of the surrounding area. We agreed to follow up on his suggestion on our next ride in the area.

Relaxing on the public dock at Lake Kapowsin

From the lake it was a short ride into Eatonville and the start of hand to hand combat to get to Hwy 7. The Alder Road Cutoff is not for the faint of heart. There is no shoulder, traffic is heavy, and cars generally don’t care much about bikes. We rode defensively and made it through this section of the ride without incident. Needless to say, Alder Lake and the 8’ wide shoulders along Hwy 7 were a welcome sight.

Riding along Hwy 7 next to Alder Lake

We stopped in Elbe for the obligatory French fries at Scale Burger and were treated to the sight of the Mt. Rainier steam train heading out on its afternoon tour. If you’ve never seen a steam train take off, it’s a pretty awesome. Very loud actually. But cool. I was surprised to discover that even after it got going, we could ride our bikes faster than the train. Maybe it wasn’t at full throttle pulling tourists.

The Mt. Rainier steam train in Elbe, WA

We continued to roll east towards the park and were happy to see the big log arch entrance, welcoming us to the final 17-miles of our first day’s ride. We rolled along the twisty forested road through dappled sunlight to Longmire where we took a brief break before what would prove to be one of the most grueling climbs I’ve ever ridden.

Measuring time at the Longmire Museum

Beauty is commensurate with how hard you have to work to find it. And Mt. Rainier is one spectacular mountain (even if we only got peek-a-boo views on Saturday).

Christine Falls

My first view of the Mountain. Almost to Paradise!

We arrived at Paradise in plenty of time to enjoy a beer on the patio and chat with fellow tourists before indulging in salads and a big plate of pasta at the Inn’s dining room. A ranger talk capped off the evening and we dropped off to sleep, dreaming of the next day’s ride.

We intended to sleep in, but bright sunshine drove us from our beds at 7 a.m. No matter, when the mountain is out, there’s hiking to be done! After a big buffet breakfasts, we headed out for a short hike to Myrtle Falls and Alta Vista. The mountain didn’t disappoint! Wildflowers, mountain vistas, THIS is what it’s all about!

Myrtle Falls

From L to R: Stevens Peak, Boundary Peak, Unicorn Peak and Little Unicorn Peak. Oh, and Mt. Adams too!

Avalanche lillies

Remembering that we had a many-thousand foot descent ahead of us, we didn’t linger. The ride into Stevens Canyon was cold but oh-so-amazing! Twisty, mostly sans cars, and with views galore!

Box Canyon

We stopped briefly to look at Box Canyon – a river carved slot hundreds of feet below the road. Then it was on to the hardest part of the day’s ride – the ascent over Cayuse Pass. Nick thought it was the most beautiful part of the ride. Long, winding, not too steep and very rewarding.

We were somewhat surprised to find no happy resting spot at the top for lunch, but when you have another fast descent ahead of you, the miles roll by until a more suitable spot presents itself. There’s not much to say about the final 30 miles or so of the ride. Once you’re out of the park, cruising along 410 to Enumclaw, the road is busy and cars don’t give you a lot of room. We simply put our heads down and rode. It wasn’t long before we were pulling back into the Safeway parking lot, dreaming of a big bag of cherries to refuel us on our way home.

Was this ride worth it? Absolutely. I’ve grown up with Mt. Rainier in my back pocket, and it was amazing to experience the mountain at a different pace, on two wheels instead of two feet.

Thoughts in the aftermath of the Batman shooting

Like many of you, I woke up this morning to the tragic news of the shooting in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. The Wall Street Journal is wondering if this will lead to increased scrutiny of our gun laws. New York Mayor Bloomberg is calling on President Obama and Mitt Romney to clarify their position on gun regulations. Meanwhile conservatives are criticizing anybody who brings up gun control for trying to “politicize” the moment.

Amid all this banter, I have to wonder if we’re having the right discussion. I firmly believe that the aftermath of tragedies is a terrible time to make policy, and I don’t think any law could have stopped a madman who wanted to kill people in a movie theater. As Alfred said: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

If we’re going to ponder something today, let’s think about our culture – a culture that celebrates gun violence.

Don’t believe me? Think about the protagonist in the movie people were watching – Batman. Have you noticed that he is the only character in the movie that doesn’t use guns? (He’s a “muscular genius,” according to Phil Dunphy, but he doesn’t use firearms.) Everyone else does. In fact, the only people in our country who don’t need guns in order to get things done are comic book heroes.  Why do we believe that you need a superpower in order to live your life and defend your values without guns?

And sorry moms, this love of guns isn’t restricted to movies and video games either. The signature achievement of our current President is the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

Our gun laws are the result of our gun culture. Fighting against our lax regulations or blindly supporting the rights of gun owners seems to me to miss the point today.

Spickard & Redoubt adventure

Summit of Redoubt

When the fireworks explode, that can mean only one thing in Seattle – time to dust off the climbing gear and spend some quality time in the mountains. On Thursday, Manisha, Vineeth, Brian N, Patty, Sean and I headed for the border. Our goals were two peaks in the North Cascades – Spickard and Redoubt – but to get there, we would have to drive to Canada and hike back into the United States.

The border patrol people do not like it when you walk across the border for this type activity, so we spun some tale about backpacking in the Chilliwack area. Finding the trailhead proved to be a bit of a challenge. I’ll spare you the details, except to say we added about an hour of hiking to our approach. Once we were finally off in the right direction, we made tracks on the old overgrown road which quickly narrowed into an overgrown trail. In no time, we arrived at the obelisk marking the 49th parallel. The border was clearly marked by a clear cut through the thick forest.

After a brief snack break, we continued in the woods working our way up Depot Creek. In July the “creek” is actually a swollen river, full of snow melt run off. Conversation was kept to a minimum, simply because we couldn’t hear each other.

In no time, we arrived at the famous Depot Creek waterfalls. It’s hard to describe this and pictures do not do it justice. Imagine two waterfalls that cascade for nearly 800’ over rocky slabs, finally converging and disappearing in the thick forest below. Our route was somewhere up the middle of them.

We worked our way across the first waterfall and found a fixed line that previous adventurers had installed to assist climbers in ascending a slippery 15’ step. At the top of the step, we found ourselves in the equivalent of an icy car wash. Water from the waterfall on the right blasted us as we scrambled up another 100’ of greasy rock and into the protection of the forest. Whew!

From here, the relatively easy approach turned absolutely grueling. Like all good climbing “trails” the route went straight up. We climbed hand and foot up talus and forested trail with roots for balance. We topped out at 4800’ and took a well-deserved break. From there the route went up a moderate valley to Lake Ouzel at the head of the valley. After 8 hours and 15 minutes we had arrived at our base camp for the next three days.

The next morning, we slept in and made a lazy 9 a.m. start toward our first objective – Spickard. The snow cover made hiking up easy and quick. We walked toward the col between Custer and Spickard then turned right at about 6800’. We quickly traversed the slopes toward Peak 8140 and headed up to a notch on the ridgline. Our friend Brian and his friend Steph had been there the day before, so we followed their footsteps around the back of Spickard and up to the summit. Normally this peak takes about 5 hours to climb. Thanks to the snow we were able to top out in 3 hours 45 minutes. Not bad!

Many glissades later, we were happily back at our camp with plenty of time to nap before dinner and think about tomorrow’s ascent of Redoubt.

Morning came early and we were off at 6 a.m. We ascended the rock slabs southeast of Ouzel Lake. At the top of the slabs, the rock gave way to snow, and we worked our way up the Redoubt glacier. The slopes were moderate and we enjoyed the views. The ridge to the left of the flying buttress was almost entirely snow covered. It only took two easy 4th class moves to get over the top. From here, we traversed to the snow gulley that would lead us to the final rock scramble.

I’ve been on some unstable mountains, but Redoubt takes the cake. Every third handhold was loose and every second step resulted in a shower of pebbles and the occasional rock. Yuck! We worked our way up the gullies, staying generally left and before we knew it, we were looking at the “cannon hole” – a narrow slot of rock that leads to the final 50’ of scrambling to the summit. Snow made it pretty difficult to get through, but we made it to the summit in time for lunch!

The descent was unremarkable, except for the amount of rock that kept showering down the gullies as we descended. We made it back to camp at 5:45, thirsty and excited about having topped out on two peaks. The only thing left to do was make it back to our cars safely the next day.

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Can you guess what this is?

Photo by Nicholas Brown