Friday, July 30, 2010

Smith Creek/Plains of Abraham/Ape Canyon Mountain Bike Craziness

While I was planning the previously mentioned road bike ride near Mt. St. Helens, it came to my attention that there is quite a bit of good mountain biking in the area too, including the IMBA-designated epic ride up Ape Canyon to the Plains of Abraham. Given that we drove to WA, it was easy to thrown the mountain bikes on the top of the car in addition to the road bikes we now have stashed at my parents' place.

This one turned out to be even more of an adventure :)

The original plan was to drip up Forest Road 83 to the end and do and out-and-back ride up the Ape Canyon Trail to the Plains of Abraham. We got up there reasonably early, and found a trailhead near the end of the road heading vaguely in the right direction, so headed off into the woods headed for the mountain.

Naturally, this was the wrong trailhead. I was a little suspicious right off as it started going down, but the apparent old logging road we were on in the forest was pretty and kind of fun with the occasional not-too-big tree down across it, so it wasn't until a couple miles later when we stopped and consulted the map after dropping 1000 feet that it was clear that we had headed off on the wrong track. In typical Anna fashion, I did not want to backtrack, plus I remembered from my reading about the area that one could actually do a loop, including the neighboring Smith Canyon trail with the Ape Canyon and Plains of Abraham trails. We like loops! Never mind that I also had a vague memory of reading that there was a general consensus that one should do the loop in the clockwise direction rather than the counterclockwise fashion that we found ourselves on. Never mind that we had seen the great gaping maw of a steep-walled Smith Canyon from Windy Ridge on the road bikes a few days before... How bad could it really be?

Note to self: Don't attempt new log-hopping techniques at the beginning of a mountain bike ride that is escalating in scope. Not even on weenie small 8" logs. I crashed hard and whacked my hip on a lump on said log at about mile 3. Ouch. Fortunately nothing worse than a big colorful bruise (I didn't know one could get a goose-egg on one's hip!), but it did give me the heebie-jeebies and slow me down a bit for the next few miles.

As the old road we were on levelled off into the canyon bottom, we intersected a trail sign indicating the Smith Canyon trail. Yay! On the (new) right track.


You'll see lots of pictures with me in them, as Chad took over the camera. All photo credits go to him this time :)

My reading of trail descriptions indicated that there was the possibility of some complicated route finding needed along the Smith Creek drainage, but fortunately this was not the case for us. The trail was generally pretty easy to follow, with well-placed cairns marking the creek crossings. There was only one instance in which we had to look around for more than a couple of minutes; we built a new cairn there to help anyone else coming through. Later, I read that there had been a work party of mountain bikers out in the area the previous weekend; I suspect we have them to credit for the good shape the trail was in so early in the season.

Me, crossing the creek in a spot where I was too chicken to ride across the big log overhead. Note the wacky oxidation coloring where the creek has run through the ash.

There were quite a number of seldom-seen waterfalls plummeting from the sides of the canyon. Most scenic.

The trail was still pretty gentle for quite a while, though it occasionally was a bit treacherous along the unconsolidated and rapidly eroding ash-deposits.


I knew payback time had to come though -- we had dropped almost 1500 feet into the canyon, and I knew the top was a couple thousand feet above our starting point. As the canyon wall at the top approached, we knew we were in for some hike-a-bike action. Surely not more than a mile or so, right?


Wrong. Steep hiking on squirrelly loose pumice for almost 3 miles, including one slid-out section where Chad said "This is just stupid!" right before we ran across the remains of an old fixed rope someone had left out there. That's gotta be the toughest drag-the-bike-up-the-hill experience yet.

I suspect we could have ridden more of the top section had we not been tired and hungry from the bottom section of the climb. Somewhere in there, we spotted the only other mountain biker we saw all day -- he was headed in the other direction (the "smart" direction); he assured us we were close to the top and we assured him that the route-finding at the bottom of the canyon wasn't as bad as some make it out to be.

In the end, we did quite enjoy the views on the way up, and topped out at the Smith Canyon Viewpoint on the road with smiles on our faces and sore tired feets. You can see the giant hole we climbed up out of in the background.


A short ride up the road to the Windy Ridge viewpoint followed by a short section on dirt road brought us back to more singletrack on the pumice. This section along Windy Ridge at the top was pretty spectacular, as one really was on the knife-edge of the ride, with close up views of Mt. St. Helens on one side and the canyon and Mt Adams on the other. And it was actually rideable. Woo-hoo!



You can see the ridge we rode along the top of in the background below:

At one point, the trail got steep again, but there were ladders installed to help our footing in the pumice.

There were still some patches of snow present, even in July, and quite a number of wildflowers. The singletrack was fun, and mostly rideable through this section, though I was getting tired enough that I wasn't taking any chances.



We quite enjoyed riding through the plains of Abraham, a flat section near the top. If it weren't for all the plants, the flat landscape punctuated by black lava rocks would look like a moonscape; as it is, it struck me as a landscaped moonscape with a volcano looming in the background.



After crossing the plain, our photos stopped. Why might you ask? It's simple: at this point, we hit the actual Ape Canyon trail that was the original goal of the day, and it so exceeded all expectations that we just rode it and enjoyed it. The trail wound its way through old-growth forest along a ridge that hadn't been blasted in 1980, and exhibited all the characteristics one might hope for on a Pacific Northwest trail: a curvy flowing trail at a reasonable grade on a predictable pine-needle and dirt surface through the big forest along the top of a ridge as it wound down the mountain. The silence of riding on the needle-strewn dirt after all the pumice was stunning. The bugs couldn't keep up with us. What an amazing descent after all the earlier work.

We finally emerged at the bottom about 8 hours after we started, having used up all of our food and almost all our water. We both cracked up on discovering that the trailhead was only about 50 yards down the road from the place where we had mistakenly started. In retrospect, I'm glad we did it the way we did it, for two reasons: (a) we LIKE loops, and (b) I find it easier to get the hard stuff like route-finding and hike-a-bike done and over with in the first half of the ride before anyone (i.e. me) starts getting tired and grumpy. That last descent down the Ape Canyon Trail was really saving the best for last!

The route and profile:
Somewhere approaching 25 miles and cumulative 3000+ feet of climbing, but this one really felt like more than that...

Windy Ridge Road Ride

One of our goals during the recent trip to Washington was to explore some of the terrain around Mt. St. Helens by bike. The first ride I had planned was a road ride along some of the obscure forest roads to the east of the mountain, topping out at the Windy Ridge Viewpoint.

This was one of those rides that was just pure pleasure -- nice roads, not too much traffic, perfect weather in the mid-seventies, and spectacular scenery through the primeval-looking Gifford Pinchot National Forest, with views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and of course Mt. St. Helens.


Note that the perfect weather countered Stephan's warnings to Chad before we left to pack his cold-weather gear...just because we got snowed on once on this mountain in June...

We had another tourist snap a picture of us at the top of the road. This shot shows Spirit Lake in the background.


The last time I had seen this east side of the mountain was way back in the 80's, not too long after the big eruption. It was really incredible to see just how green the previously gray devastated landscape has become in just 30 years. Not just all the wildflowers and smaller shrubs, but big trees too.


On the way back down, we explored Forest Road 26, which had a delightful sign indicating "Cars Not Recommended" where it turned off of the main road. This was a very scenic, skinny road that almost seemed like a double-wide bike path due to the lack of cars or striping. The pavement was really pretty good, too, except for the unexpected spots where it was non-existent... I began to notice that I'd see Chad waiting up ahead every time there was a corner that looked like it might have a creek drainage -- he kindly waited at the edge of each washed-out stretch so that I'd have due warning of the rough patches.

(And yes, I had originally kinda-sorta meant to go up this road and down the other way on main road with good pavement, but missed the unsigned turn at the bottom.)


If you want to see a map, there's one here. We started in Randle, then followed Forest Road 25 to Forest Road 99 up to Windy Ridge, followed by a stint down Forest Road 26 on the way down. All told, it was about 70 miles and 6000 feet of climbing at relatively gentle grades. I think the loop portion of the ride might be even better in the opposite direction, but it was awfully nice as we did it too, with the mellow car-free section at the end.


The juxtaposition of the Humane Society of Silicon Valley's Adopt-an-adult-cat-free week with with Nimue's upcoming birthday proved irresistable. We now have a funny-looking but very sweet black-and-white-splotched four-year-old cat named Mariam in addition to the Bobber.


Nimue is quite pleased, of course. She spent all of last evening and this morning in the TV room where the new cat is confined for a few days during the "get used to the new house" period.


The Bobber, of course, knows something is up, and has installed herself just outside the door to that room. The two cats have looked at each other through the door without either one seeming unduly perturbed: a very good sign.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Trip to WA: the family stuff

We were out of town again... here's a set of snapshots of the family stuff that went on. Mt. St. Helens bike adventures to be dealt with in future posts.

My dad turned 60. Needless to say, this required a lot of flames.


Nimue got the "Go to Garage Sales with Gramma" experience while we were off on our bikes. I gave her $3.00 and she came back with many new stuffies, some of which are pictured with my dad below.


Hunting wabbits in the back yard.


Visit to see cousins Janika and Keldon, + more good Gramma time.



Chad's birthday, just two days after my dad's.


Lots of good trampoline time.


Three-generation bike rides. My mom is in the lead on her recumbent, my dad was behind me.


And the simple joys of toys from the grocery store gumball machine.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Rebuttal to Anna's Summer Solstice ride report

While I would never denigrate or impugn my lovely wife's perception of the Summer Solstice ride out of Quincy (as reported below) I would like to take this opportunity to say that I found it to be a delightful ride, full of charming yet ceaseless climbs, descents of suitable steepness, and happy microclimates varying from frigid breezes wafting off snowpack to oven-on-self-clean down in the valley.

I am not usually very tolerant of the heat, so I was surprised by how good I felt going up the big bakey climb. Other than suffering one flat thanks to the long stretch of evil and vicious chip-seal, I quite enjoyed this ride. For other riders' reference, I used a 34 x 27 low gear, and that was just perfect. Most of the hills I could have climbed in a slightly higher gear if I was pushing a faster pace, but we were taking it pretty easy and the low gear let me spin up the few steep climbs, and not get too cooked on the long hot ones.

I'd rate the Summer Solstice (S.S.) route as somewhat harder than the Death Ride (D.R.) route. The D.R. climbs, while long, aren't as steep and since in the D.R. you go back down what you rode up, you get a nice bit of rest coming back down the hills. Those relaxing descents are absent in the S.S. -- the good long descents are steep and twisty and demand your attention (I clocked something close to 50mph on a couple of them, without really going for max speed), and there are lots of small rollers that don't help you out much.

So now I need to figure out an angle to convince Anna it wasn't really so bad, and that we need to go ride it again next year...

New Skills


Nimue learned how to sew a straight seam with the machine today -- a great way to keep her from bouncing off the walls while waiting to go to the pool with her friend Aleksei.

Camping with friends at Portola Redwoods

Last weekend, we met our friends Todd and Sarah, along with several other of their friends out at Portola Redwoods State Park. The general idea was to let the kids go feral and enjoy nature down in the redwoods and creek; Nimue obliged.


Chad was a Very Good Sport. Of course the chance to relax, read, and nap helped considerably.


Nim quickly joined the kid pack. The trees around our campsites provided the perfect place for the pack to found "Camp Nitro". I don't really know why "Nitro"; I was told it was short for nitrogen, like that explains anything...


They had a Camp Nitro Pledge of Allegiance, and then tried to troop off into the woods in the dark on a puma hunt. Sarah patiently explained that this wasn't a good idea, while Nim tried to explain that she didn't think it was a good idea either and the only reason she was tailing along was to keep everyone else out of trouble. Patrick the puma hunt leader was unfazed.


There was also a fine creek running through the campground, which the kids took full advantage of.



Cold wet Nim.


Evenings brought toasted marshmallows (including some scary homemade ones generated in my kitchen) followed by glow stick fun for the kids. Kids include Chad.


More Crops

More stuff growing in the yard in the last couple of weeks.
Pumkin blossoms. Sadly eaten by evil squirrels, along with the rest of the apricots.

Raspberries. Mmmmm....

The first pepper. Appear not to be molested by squirrels despite the fact that I bravely planted them outside the cave. Ha. So far, at least.

Growing like a weed. Three new pounds of kid in the last month.

Fun in Downieville

While we were in up in the mountains for the Summer Solstice Century, there was also time for the required relaxation in Downieville. Nimue played and created:

We enjoyed lounging in the sunshine in the front yard while contemplating Linda's poppies:

And of course, Nim found a way to get wet while making her famous monkey face.