Lovely day in the mountains

Late October and it is definitely getting dark ’round here. Starting to get cold. Big storm came in and blanketed the cascades with snow. Places that were refuges from the heat a month ago are now unreachable by bike.

Fortunately we had a week of warmer weather, some rain. I was watching the Snotel for Corral Pass and saw the snow density and thickness dropping day by day.

Corral Pass SNOTEL

Snow starts to get preeety thin… Hmm. I bet I could get another ride of Corral pass in? Wow that would feel good to have another go.

Saturday I leave the house at 7:30, drive up the Cedar river, across to Enumclaw, and along hwy410 out to Buck Creek airfield on the white river.


Misty morning up maple valley


Rainier from outside Enumclaw


Rainier outside enumclaw


fog and sun heading up white river valley

Turn off at Buck Creek/Ranger Creek Airfield, across the single lane cement bridge and into the parking lot. There’s one guy there readying his bike, air into rear tire. I speak with him briefly, he’s going up Ranger Creek trail, then down ‘deep creek’. Claims Deep Creek is the best thing here. Hmm. I’ve never ridden it. Tempting to give it a go, but with a day like this it’d be a shame to miss out on the views from palisades. I also don’t see the charm in pushing my bike up from the Ranger Creek shelter to Dalles Ridge. Too steep! Too much work, much better to ride down I think.

Rider has a sweet softshell, gloves. I’m wondering what might be appropriate attire… how much snow will there be? Is ride even doable? Rider takes off, I am getting ready, and then realize I seriously need to take a shit. Nothing worse than having to ride up Corral Pass Road with a big dump in one’s gut – which has now happened to me twice. I think it happens as a combination of long drive after breakfast, and the sheer adrenalin of looking forward to that damn 7174 road… it is a body response similar to having to shit before leading a rock climb.

So… back into truck, drive the 1/2 mile to the restrooms at ranger creek airfield. Usual collection of motor homes, circles of pickups, smouldering camp fires.

But… Woo!! What a relief! Take a big ‘ol shit at the restroom, looking up I see there’s still snow along the ridge. Its even a bit nippy at the valley floor but wow is that sky blue. Looking like a great day.


Just a light dusting of snow along Dalles Ridge. Pallisades cliffs in the foreground, the trail conscientiously visits every one.

I head out wearing long wool pearl izumi cycling pants (thrift store), long sleeve polypro (rei, had for 20 years), long sleeve stretch wool shirt (Ibex, gift from mother), awesome headband Mc HeadBand (Rei, $12!), clear glasses (backcountry Tifosi veloce), and my climbing/biking pack (black diamond bolt 24), gloves, pearl izumi high socks, giro vr90 shoes. Figure I’ll be too warm in a bit.

Pack has:

  • lezyne pocket tool
  • emergency blanket
  • baofeng uv5 radio
  • cell phone
  • spare tube
  • feathered friends down vest
  • raincoat
  • canadian logging sweater
  • bunch of tube patches
  • 5 clif bars
  • 100 oz of water in osprey bladder

I bring all that crap because I’m going to be out alone in the cold for 5-7 hours, and longer if I come off the bike and zonk myself. Good idea to be prepared to survive the night.

White river trail to corral pass road is its usual difficult self, at least I know it well enough to stop and carry/push bike at the tough spots. Turns out you might be able to ride a section but… if you crash your ride might end, if you go too hard in a little section you’ll be busted for the rest of the day.

I pass the inviting turn off for ranger creek trail, then continue past deep creek.

Between ranger and deep creek trailheads the white river trail meanders through varied terrain above some very old vacation cabins. Along this trail I pass some older hikers (like > 65 years old) dressed in hearty all weather gear, hats, etc. The morning is still brisk but they’re happy to be out. A few minutes later I round a corner to see an older Japanese man in a rubber raincoat and boots stomping around below the trail. He looks really happy, has a bag to collect mushrooms. I stop and call out “what are you up to down there!” He calls back happily (and sarcastically) “none of your business – keep riding”. Then stomps up the duff to the trail. He’s picking Matsutake mushrooms. I tell him I can’t tell them apart so am afraid of them. His eyes light up… “well… its your lucky day then! here! A gift for you!” He plunges his spear/rake thing into the ground right below my feet and out comes a matsutake as big as my fist. He holds it out, explains the smell which is a very quiet pine smell with a bit of onion. We talk for a bit: he’s 74 years old. Smooth face and big smile he looks 50 to me, or ageless. I stuff the ‘shroom into my pack pocket and bid farewell.

Ride on until I reach fs road 7174. The old forest service road to corral pass. To my surprise, even with the snow the gate is still open.


Ok, never done this bitch of a climb on a single speed… I stop and eat a clif bar, then start up taking it real easy. Everything seems fine so long as I keep my pace down, measured by breathing. Sometimes it gets steep and I need to slow waay down, like 1 breath per pedal stroke.


Corral Pass Road 7174: You spend a lot of time looking at this. Up and up. And guess what is around that corner…

It is cold though so I stop and for the first time ever pull the stupid long sleeves over my hands and put my hole through the thumb holes. Never used that dumb feature before – hey it keeps my hands warm. My goggles are fogging but not really a problem.


Nasty! Took too much energy to climb this, stressful because kept slipping out, so ended up walking it. I think this might have been the last steep bit before the viewpoint.

The corral pass road climb is pretty interesting, from the gate it is 2700 vertical feet in 4.5 miles. It wiggles and winds back and forth up a face, from one steep ridge to another. The main thing is it is a relentless climb, it just never stops until you’re almost at the top, and you can’t see very far because of all the turns. There are some really steep parts I need to push hard on, and then less steep parts where I can rest, but never can I actually sit on saddle. Oh, and there’s pretty much no view at all until the top, just looking through the trees, and looking up the road, and think wow its steep on either side of the road.

A big diesel pickup passes me, then a highlander.

I guess average is 7% over the entire distance but for the steep 3 miles the average is 15% and there are short bits that are 20% or so. There’s muddy tracks in the road that I studiously avoid, try to stick to the rock or hard pack. You work hard in those steep bits, and then you can get your breath back on the not so steep bits, but you never actually get to rest. Up up up. Round the corner, oh my god… up, up up… breathe deep… relax… don’t lose your shit… don’t give up.

Funny thing happens though, I reach one of the last steep parts the road changes from wet dirty to… ice? There’s a crisp line across the road where it changes from brown to white. For a few hundred meters the riding is easier, rolling over ice is easier than through mud, but then the snow has stuck and its ice, and then I start slipping. Pain in the ass I get off and walk.

This is the real unknown… how deep will the snow be at the top? Will I be able to get through? Or need to turn around and ride down the road. OMG that would suck!

Fortunately this is the last part of the climb, the steep part before you finally get a view. The view point is dusted with powder, maybe 2 inches that is easy to ride through, grippy, then onward I see sun!

Here’s a panorama of the first view point from corral pass road. The skyline is Dalles Ridge and mutton mountain prominent in the center.

There’s big melty patches in the road, muddy between the places where the snow is frozen.

This is the part where the steepness eases off, I pedal harder and enjoy some speed and the fresh air. I pull over so the highlander can pass me heading back down.


Sun glorious sun. Once you pass the view point the road is much easier. So much warmer than that dark cold steep corral pass road. Still a steep part ahead but nothing like the nightmare that came before.


At corral pass the parking lot is blanketed with new snow. Sort of cool that no one’s been up here.



Being funny with intentional silhouette. Whose the freak with the backpack?


I head out onto Dalles ridge trail, wary of the snow but it turns out its quite grippy stuff and maybe easier to ride than in the summer dry.

Follow bobcat tracks for 1/2 mile or so, also see elk tracks. Wish I’d taken pictures. In hindsite the bobcat tracks were sorta big… cougar?


Get to the ‘turnaround’ below mutton mountain (back a long time ago and the trail was a forest ‘access’ road (read ‘resource access’ and this was some big turnaround for the roadbuilding equipment) and take some snaps. Rainier is looking particularly good, its just a very very fine day.


As you ride Dalles Ridge, in the middle of some wiggles between gullies, on that narrow trail… there’s this one spot that I think has the best view of rainier. If you notice this place, stop and enjoy that spot because it never gets better from the trail.



A little more climbing, then descend to a notch and then ‘the wall’ the trail goes straight up a steep face. In the snow I had to actually kick steps.


Pano from the top of ‘the wall’ on dalles ridge, looking back at Mutton Mountain


Mutton Mountain


View from top of the wall on dalles ridge, mount stuart in the distance (to the left of that cloud)


I pass the left turn to ‘Deep Creek’ trail, see that the rider from the parking lot has ridden up ranger today, pushed up to dalles ridge and turned down deep creek. Whoa! Cool. On such a fine day though I’m looking forward to sun bathing on the palisades cliffs. Tempting though…

Bit further on and I meet a female runner, she’s come up ranger this morning. Awesome. Standing in the snow, in the sun, messing with her ipod earbuds. That’s livin’. For some reason I have the highest respect for trail runners. Too bad I hate running… so painful for me.

It is a bit more riding until the high point of the ride, before trail descends briefly to the north and winds around to the south and down to the ranger creek shelter. I stop and scout around in the snow, hike a nearby summit looking for better views but all I can find without very wet bushwacking are some steep cliffs.


Parked bike and scouted around for a good view before descending off Dalles Ridge.


Noble knob from trail as it starts descending the north side of Dalles Ridge. Can see the steps of the trail runner and the cyclist I met at the parking lot.


Back to bike and down, great view of Noble Knob, then down some steep slippery gullies to the Ranger Creek shelter. On one of these sections I went over the bars and highsided downhill. Slide on my back for 12-15 feet until I came to rest tangled in bushes. Bike was still clipped in. I untangled myself and was glad to be unhurt though COVERED in snow and duff. Serious dirt creature. Right after this I ran into some hikers, a guy with a big camera. The snow ended 1/4 mile above the shelter, then mud, and then lovely dry. From shelter there’s a bunch of steep up and down and arounds as the trail follows a ridge. There’s a big blowdown to climb through and then… the trail is nicely designed to visit each and every cliffs. Usually its a great place to picnic but wind is gusting and very cold so I continue.

I do have a bit of a gear failure. In the slop before the shelter my pedals fill with ice and mud, I can’t clip in…


The palisades trail is in really good shape, really nice riding down from cliff to cliff. There is a downed tree right after the shelter that I must climb through.


Stop briefly at the highest cliffs but the wind is icy and blustery. Not a comfortable spot.


Looking back at ranger creek airfield from top of pallisades


At the last cliffs I almost ride by but stop to check it out. Warm, warm rocks, no wind, nice hiker to chat with. Take off my helmet and have a quick snooze. That’s living!

Then down the short nice trail to the infamous switchbacks. You cross the creek, ride a short distance and suddenly you’re at a wooden ladder. After ladder is a very steep rough mile or so, lots of rockfall and downed trees across the trail so many places to walk and carry bike.


Beautiful forest on trail between palisades and the ladder. Really stupendous.



The infamous ladder. Warning: the most miserable part of the trail is below this ladder.


Another view of the ‘busy’ canyon below the ladder. Its quite steep and loose and full of stuff! Boulders, downed trees, loose rock… but also amazing to walk/bike-carry through.


Finally down and intersect the white river trail. Usually this trail kicks my ass because its so rough and relentlessly steep and rooty but today for whatever the reason the trail is pretty fun. I blame the nap and that fun easy-wheelie-ing singlespeed. In almost no time I’m back at the truck. Nice day!


Kona Raijin on NSR4 rack.



Strava says 22 miles and 5400 feet of climbing. 4.5 hours of riding but I spent 5.5 hours away from car.

I’m really impressed with the bike. I really felt unworthy and the whole time I felt like the bike was being very very patient with me. I think a better rider could do amazing things on it. I bet its happy to be brought along on a ride like this.

So… I think I would have been really unhappy trying to do this ride on that old Jabberwocky. This bike has no trouble manualling and the tight wheelbase makes it terrific in the twisties. I only crashed once, and pretty much rode everything above the palisades ladder except for 2 sketchy wet root sections above the creek. I am SUPER GLAD that I have this bike, really enables me. I am just as SUPER GLAD that I have the fitness to be able to casually enjoy a ride like this. A few years ago this would have destroyed me, and now I was manualling up root sections on the white river trail, and even getting air off features while descending. I’m surprised I don’t mind the high seat but will probably need to do something if I start riding steeper stuff.



About esc

I'm a programmer in the Seattle area. Mostly work on compilers but also on optimization. Currently focused on gpu stuff...
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