Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mountain Biking Plains of Abraham on Mt. St. Helens

Today I had an amazing day biking around the west side of Mt. St. Helens with Eric Porter and Logan McConnell.  It was a long day of over 25 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain but the temperature was great and the trail was a lot of fun despite some thick ash challenging sections.  No flat tires, or hurt bodies despite a bunch of crashes on the way down into Smith Creek.  Read on.....

Today I had a wonderful bike ride with my new friend Eric Porter and my friend Logan McConnell from work.  I had been thinking about the 25+ mile loop ever since I saw a photo from it on a Facebook Mountain Biking group page Eric had invited me to join.  It was a long ride with over 4000 ft of elevation gain and the weather looked cool and cloudy, perfect for biking.  We had an amazing, yet exhausting day with amazing views.  Click below or the title to read more....

Eric arrived at my place around 8am right on time but I got a text from Logan saying he was running late.  At 8:45 I tried to call Logan with no answer.  At 9 I got a text saying to leave without him because he was lost.  I finally got through to him and found out he was hopelessly lost on the wrong side of I-5 trying to find our place.  After some quick directions he got to our place around 9:20 or so.  We loaded the bikes my truck and made a quick stop at Albertsons and hit the road but by then we were an hour and half later than I had hoped.

We got to the trailhead around and began our ascent up the Ape Canyon trail around 11am.  The trail was super smooth and Logan definitely had an advantage with his hard-tail 29er on the ascent.  I am fat and out of shape so lingered behind a bit and stopped to take photos with my heavy D7000 DSLR I had taken along as well.  Although it was a long 1,500 foot ascent we made it to the top of Ape Canyon by 12:30pm.  

From there we slowly made our way up the slippery trail of ash and rock onto the plains of Abraham which were amazing.  It felt like we were on the surface of the moon.  We were above tree line on a very flat plateau of land that was obviously made of hundreds of feet of ash after the 1980 eruption.  Although it was getting progressively cloudier and even sprinkling on us a little I was able to grab some great photos of Mt. St. Helens above us as we easily biked across the flat land towards Windy Ridge.

We came to an intersection were the Loowit trail branched off to wind closer to the volcano while the Abraham Trail descended a really fun ridge down towards the access road to Windy Ridge Viewpoint.  It was a really fun and narrow ridge descent of loose ash and rock all the way down.  Eric did just fine on his 26er with a huge fat tire in front but Logan began to have trouble in the ash with his huge 29er tires.  My 27.5 tires in between served me well.  

After biking up the access road for a while we came to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint and stopped for lunch.  There was an interpretive talk going on about the 1980 eruption by a forest service employee that we rolled over to listen to while we ate our sandwiches.  I had never been to this viewpoint.  Unfortunately, by this time the summit of the volcano was completely engulfed in clouds and we couldn’t see much except for the southern end of Spirit Lake which was filled with logs along the shore that used to be standing trees before the eruption.  

We stopped briefly for another broader view of Spirit Lake before dropping into a wild ride down from the Smith Creek trailhead into the Smith Creek drainage.  When I say “wild” I mean it was negotiating our bike tires down a rut through 4-6 inches of ash for 80% of the way down.  Eric was slaying it with his fatty front tire and I was managing but Logan with his 29er clearly had the wrong tool for the job and was having a really rough time controlling the direction of his bike.  I ended up jumping into a rut and pinning myself into a pine tree at one point the descent was so sketchy.  There is no way anyone would possibly be able to bike up this direction if doing the loop in the opposite direction.  

Once in the drainage we had several creek crossings that were impossible to ride as they were washed out and along the trail we encountered some sketchy and very narrow ridges and log bridges to bike over that were a challenge.  On one steep switchback Eric lost it and ended up falling into a small drainage next to a log.  I had several spills and close calls myself.  We passed a beautiful waterfall near the head of the drainage and towards the end the trail flattened out a lot and the singletrack became fast and flowing.

That’s when we saw the cairns marking the way for us to bike back up 1,100 feet to the trailhead.  I checked the map and noticed that it definitely wasn’t the route from the website I had found so we decided to ride a little further and check it out.  This turned out to be a poor choice as the trail we ended up on was closed to bikes and a group of hikers told us there was a 30ft vertical ladder we would need to climb... not with the bikes!  So, we turned around and headed back about a mile to the cairns to start the slow churn uphill to the trailhead.  Thankfully, I had bought a Snickers bar in the morning because it saved me on the uphill and gave me enough strength to reach the trailhead right behind Logan.  The Cliff Shot Blocks I had been eating all day were nothing compared to the energy the Snickers gave me!

Back at the truck we cracked the beers we had bought that morning and enjoyed slipping our feet into sandles out of our bike shoes.  Logan was nice enough to even buy dinner for us both at Burgerville in Cougar, Wa for being so late that morning.  We were all exhausted after the long ride but it really was amazing and someplace I’ll definitely take Emily too.

No comments: