Third year of Bike Tour Mountaineering with Terry. This years plan was the same as last year; bike to Mt. Rainier, climb it, then bike home. We event spent a night practicing crevasse rescue in anticipation of someone else falling into a bottomless pit.
Schedule was for three days to bike to Paradise, three days to rest and climb, then another three to bike home.
Bike to Rainier
After looking at the elevation gain to Paradise, some 18,000’, we decided to ditch the ride up to Crown Point and the old highway in the Gorge, instead taking the smooth and flat I-84 for a while. The freeway riding wasn’t too horrible, in fact there was more room for cars and bikes than anywhere else on the ride, though more nerve racking. We booked through the Gorge on the old highway to The Bridge of The Gods, riding on nice unmotorized roads for a good portion. We stopped in Stevenson for Terry to get food and chat up the local folk. Then the hills began.
It was nice (hot) riding all the way to Old Man’s Pass, our intended camp site. We were informed that there is no water there, so we said goodbye to the biting flies and floated down the 5 mile hill to the Swift Reservoir near Mt. St. Helens (47mph!). Had nice camping with running water and a large tub for us to clean off in. Terry manned up and swam around while I just stood in ankle deep water kindof splashing water on my arms to ‘clean’ up.
As we had done close to 90 miles on the first day, we pushed our second camp to Packwood so our third day would be shorter. There was another pass in the way but we hit it in the morning so it was nice and cool. We got passed by some folks doing supported touring, so their bikes just had water and not 25lbs of crappy food like us. I tried to lasso them to help with the hills but they were too fast. We had an awesome downhill ride along the ridges and had great views of Mt. St. Helens while coasting at 30. After another hill (that I complained about) we had another picnic before heading down the pass. It turned out to be a 20 mile hill with fairly broken pavement. This cemented the idea of us taking a flatter way out from Rainier, as we didn’t want to do a 5 hour bike ride up a stupid hill. Uphill.
We made it into Packwood a few hours after the ‘hill’ and Terry found us a nice camp site just outside of town by a watering hole. We portaged our bikes down a rocky slope and made camp right by a nice river and relaxed until the sun went down.
The next day was all hill all the time. Pushing our bikes back up the slope to the road was the hardest thing we did the entire trip. I pushed first and ended up gasping for air (it was around 1400’ of elevation, so there’s a scientific reason here..) with my hands on my knees. Terry looked concerned as this was his climbing partner looking winded after pushing a bike up a small hill (which would be a runup in Cyclocross). Then he helped push the next bike and ended up wheezing like me. We ignored the signs of being out of shape and started riding up to Paradise Park.
Terry My-Legs-Never-Tire Campbell booked up all of the hills to Paradise, while my slow bike took its time eeking its way up the hill. I tried listening to AC/DC to get inspired and ride faster, but all my iPod would play was Enya, so I was stuck going 0.2mph up the mountain.
We checked in with the Rangers, getting our tent spots in Camp Muir and Ingram Flats (just in case we wanted to do 2 nights up there). We were informed weather was coming in Saturday, so we made a tentitive plan to summit the next day instead of resting a day at Camp Muir. After packing our gear into backpacks and stowing our bikes and other gear behind a secret hidey hole, we descended on the dining room of the Paradise Inn. After being in the forest for 2 whole nights, it was awesome to get real food (huge quesadillas, humus & pita, bacon wrapped meatloaf and blackberry cobbler with ice cream) and 12 glasses of water.
We got up reasonibly early to destroy the all-you-can-eat-buffet at the hotel. Unfortunetly they didn’t have the super crispy bacon and waffles we were expecting to make sandwiches out of. Pro tip: don’t eat a lot of sausage and bacon right before hiking straight up hill.
We aimed to take our time going up to Camp Muir (5000’ above us), so we would have reasonably fresh legs for summit day. It ended up taking around 4 1/2 hours to get to Muir, how people climb this whole thing in 4 hours roundtrip is beyond me. We shooed away the Paparazzi and made camp above everyone else (one Lords over others by being above, right?). Terry melted and filtered water while I sat with a bag of snow on my knee. Turns out that age/lameness has crept up on me and my right knee had been hurting for a day or so and started to really flare up at camp. We discussed options and decided it’d be OK to have just made it to Muir and go down if the knee didn’t get better. But if it felt good at departure time, we’d go for the summit.
After hours and hours of me watching Terry do work we tried to get some sleep for a 11 o’clock departure time. As it was like 3pm and 80 degrees in the sun it was hard to fall asleep in the tent. As everyone else was leaving at 11:30 or later, we hatched a new plan to leave at 9pm, giving us a two hour headstart. This would be ideal giving our anticipated slow progress, read: the rocks Terry put in my pack would be slowing me down.
We rose at 8:30, and after an hour of screwing around with gear we started up the boot pack to the summit. It was still light out. Good steady progress was made all the way up past Ingram Flats, where the open crevasses started. We came across the first real one that has a ladder and ‘plywood’ to help cross. I stood at the lip of the crevasse (ok, 20 feet back) and realized I couldn’t walk across. Terry mentioned I could go on my hands and knees across. His secret plan was to film it while I slowly crawled across it, muttering “don’t look down” to myself repeatedly. So that was awesome.
After more crevasse crossings and uphill wanderings we made it to the summit rim around 5am, with the horizon just starting to brighten from the sun. We crossed the crater in a cool path among the penitentes (extreme sun cups) to the base of the summit hill. We discussed if this would count as the summit, as lots of people hit the summit rim and call it good. I took a quick rest as did Terry and then decided we should just put in the energy and go to the top. 2 minutes later (why had we balked?) we were on the true summit in a gale, looking at Seattle and screaming at each other how cool it was. Terry signed the summit register for us, hoping to get a TV deal for how badass our trip was. On our way back to the rim we saw the next party just getting settled at the rim. We walked over triumphant at being the first on summit and ready to sign autographs. Funny none of them had paper and pen out for us.
We moseyed down the hill, stepping out of the bootpack for the teams coming up. We took our time going down as were still fairly tired, though the sunrise made everything 100 times better. A few hours later we were back at Camp Muir feeling triumphant. After breaking down camp we started our hike down to the bikes and home. I did a little glissading on the shovel, which worked surprisingly well. The cold snow was really theraputic on our biking parts so it was very welcome.
After checking out with the climbing rangers we scarfed a bunch of food and decided what to do for the night. Weather was still supposed to come in the next day, so we figured it’d be best to be off the mountain as no one likes riding down hill in the rain with wet brakes. We started unpacking and repacking everything near the parking lot.
We had originally planned on two full days of biking home, taking it easy and such, then I found out that my little pooch Rocky had just passed. Terry said he could do a century ride the next day so we could be home Saturday so I could see Rocks sooner. We booked down the hill towards Morton for the night. Once there we found out there were no open hotels or campsites anywhere near. We sat around at the Chevron trying to figure what to do. In the end we lucked out by Rachel being kind enough to drive two hours to schlep us to Randle for the night. The next morning we destroyed multiple breakfasts and Rachel dropped us off back at the Chevron so we could ride home. It was hard not to throw our trailers in the truck.
On the epic 128 mile ride home we just stopped at various Chevrons along the way (ostensibly our favorite haunt). After crossing the scary ass bridge in Kelso it was easy riding on Highway 30 all the way home. Minus the flats we both received just outside of St. Helens. We made up for it by scarfing french fries at Burgerville. We ended up the ride with sunset as we rode over the St. Johns bridge in perfect light.
Many thanks to Terry for proposing this dumb idea and for pulling through on the hard ride home.
Slightly inaccurate mileage, we were closer to 360 total.