The Columbia Plateau Trail – WAY HARDER THAN IT LOOKS

3/18 to 3/21/2015 – Looking for a quick way to buck the recent “routine” Grete and I have developed around Whitefish (given the little snow and rainy forecast), we began searching for a quality adventure that would be low stress in a slightly drier place.  Soon, I discovered the Columbia Plateau Trail – an old railroad bed converted for bicycle travel – connecting Spokane with the Tri-Cities and figured out that we could connect to the trail and back purely with Amtrak.  What really sealed the deal was a review stating part of the trail “isn’t really meant for the tires of a bike unless you have the great big fat ones for riding in sand…” With eastern-Washington calling for a couple days of warm and dry weather, it seemed like the perfect mellow bikepacking trip to get the wheels turning for summer!

Beginning the journey with a late-arrived train, we headed out of Whitefish at 1030pm, arriving into the heart of a dark downtown Spokane at 3am with bikes, gear, and no place to be…  We assembled the bikes, contemplated safe and free places to sleep, then opted to just ride out of town (15 miles) to the trailhead and hopefully catch a couple hours of sleep there.  Nighttime navigation of unfamiliar cities is EXCITING!  We ended up hopping into our sleeping bags right at the crack of dawn, and slept until mid-morning… not the best start to a tour…

Later that day we rode ~25 miles of paved then maintained gravel trail through Turnbill National Wildlife Sanctuary, and the beautiful rolling Palouse Hills, to the Martin Road trailhead and crashed early to try to catch up on sleep.  The next morning, we began rolling through the ballast… and the hopes of 2nd-ring spinning quickly diminished into a slow, bumpy slog of a day.  Brief sections the trail offered some variety, with swampy grasslands overcoming the old railroad beds, offering quality cattle-track-singletrack as well as character-building bushwacking-granny-gear-riding-hike-a-biking.  Occasionally, we’d pass a nearly deserted little farm town with ghostly silos standing proud in the horizon.

After 30 miles of brutal riding, we swung into Benge, WA to stretch and consider our options. From there it seemed the trail would parallel a couple of state routes and cross through a few small towns, but would not improve.  Also, considering that Grete’s knee had begun acting up due to the constant rattling of the ballast, the pavement bliss sounded magnificent when compared to more low-speed, jarring “bicycling.”  We rallied onward, arriving in Wastucna, WA just before nightfall, and camped out in their lovely town park.

Waking to a symphony of birds singing all around us, we had renewed hopes for the trail ahead.  We opted, again, for a bit more paved road to Kahlotus, WA and began to descend down to the Snake River.  We hoped to regain the trail (though always within sight of our road riding) near Burr Canyon, but were concerned with little gaps in the trail map along the Snake River section.  Turns out those gaps are old, un-maintained, barbed-wired and fenced-off (un-passable) railroad bridges crossing over small canyons.  Having discovered that, we continued linking small dirt farm-roads and pavement to the Snake River Road Junction/Trailhead and camped there that night.

The next morning we awoke excited at the mellow (assumed) day ahead, with 15 miles of maintained gravel trail left, then a short road jaunt into Pasco.  It turns out that when the road surface improves, this trail wants to keep it challenging.  As we pedalled off towards the Tri-Cities, the winds began to roar… directly at us… again bringing our hopes of high-gear cruising to a halt.  We rallied-on and made decent time through the stout head-winds to the Ice Harbor Trailhead, where the winds were nearly strong enough to blow you over while standing.  From there, the winds -unbelievably and hysterically- increased as we toiled our final miles into Pasco; battling in nearly our granny gears for almost two hours to ride a mere 12 paved miles.

Once in the Tri-Cities, a huge plate of curly fries, a chocolate milkshake, then dinner with family friends at the local brewery served as a glorious morale-boosters.  As we loaded the train back to Whitefish that night, we knew that we could sleep well after toiling through four days of far-more adventure than we had planned for!

So it turns out that the Columbia Plateau Trail is not very “converted” or “developed” for bicycle travel (or any decent travel)… The surface was leftover loose railroad ballast (2-4″ diameter basalt rock) for a majority of the trail, which rides “like sand, but with in-cohesive fist-sized grains,” as Grete described it. Also worth mentioning – if you are riding south-west towards the Columbia River Basin, expect a constant headwind… One plus of the ride is that it will tickle the ornithologist within each of us, with plentiful birds throughout singing and cheering you on.  Overall, I don’t think I would recommend this trail to anybody (except some really masochistic folks), but if it is improved over time, it could be a hidden gem of South-Eastern Washington.

Oh and the photos I’m sure you are expecting:

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The Forgotten Season

December 2012 to April 2013 – My second winter out in the Wasatch I skied alot.  I was fortunate to meet a new (and always available) friend and touring partner – Jesse Dudley – who was just as stoked to get out and after the mountains! The season also offered the most snow of my three seasons in the Wasatch, and most of it came in small consistent storms – the best type for backcountry skiing.  It turned out I was skiing so much that I largely stopped editing photos and definitely lost touch with my blog…

So this post is looking back at the many adventures of an excellent winter spent with incredible folks and fills the gap between A Couple More Tours and The Sawtooths… or is it Sawteeth?.  The people photographed here are (in no particular order): Jesse Dudley, Hannah Rossman, Kyle and Heidi Gilbert, Scot Livingstone, Dave Reed, Jonny Cromwell, Jay Bohlin, Jeremy Brodney, Doug Catherine, Aaron Goeller (aka Uncle Jimmy), Ian Reddell and Alex Jenson.  Mentionable adventures include: overnight under the Pfiefferhorn, Moonlight Basin, the Heart of Darkness, Terminal Cancer, and even more couloir/chute skiing!

Thanks to everybody that I had the opportunity to adventure with that season!  You folks made it as AWESOME and I apologize the photos are a little late…

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Fatbikes + Skiing = Adventure

2/28 & 3/2/2015 – Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much snow up in Northwestern Montana recently, but -on the plus side- the fatbiking has been excellent.  The trails have generally re-frozen or melted out and there is a quality weekly night group ride through Glacier Cyclery that we’ve been enjoying. Also, Grete and I grabbed the “Galloping Goober” (you may recognize from the Idaho Hot Springs Tour and the White Rim) and borrowed him (indefinitely) from Jonny… so that Grete could have a bike for skiing access and general enjoyment!  With all of these factors coming into play, I’ve spent a whole lot more time on my beloved Coutseau than on my skis as of recent!

We’ve learned that the real utility of the bicycles shine when used on snowmobile roads to access skiing that would normally be a toilsome and blistering affair merely hiking or skinning.  Two recent outings – to Chicken Creek in the Whitefish Range and Greater Jewel Basin in the Swan Range – proved this idea thoroughly… We enjoyed a clear day and awesome views up Chicken Creek, and finally skied some powder between wind gusts in Greater Jewel Basin! Excellent days of exploration…

PS – I think she’s finally coming around to the idea of fatbikes!

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First Tastes of the Whitefish Backcountry Goods…

2/15/2015 & 2/18/2015 – As many of you may know, Grete and I recently pulled the trigger and moved north to Whitefish, MT.  Upon committing to a move, the whole American West dried up and got warm… and with it our ambitions of quality backcountry adventuring in our new home.  Finally, after weeks of unseasonably warm temperatures and frequent rainstorms, a colder weather system dropped into NW Montana and locked up the super-moist snowpack. Although it wasn’t snowing (until today!), the skies cleared and we had the opportunity to stumble ourselves into a couple of excellent tours.

One of these was our first day of skiing (and Grete’s first day of her life) in Glacier National Park.  We went in with low expectations and planned to merely “walk with skis on” up Going-To-The-Sun Road to enjoy some views.  Thankfully, there was another trailhead where the road ended that led to either a backcountry chalet or a fire lookout.  Being the clear skies we figured the fire lookout would provide excellent views so long as we could get there.  A few hours and 4200′ later we arrived at the Mt. Brown lookout and were simply stunned with the terrain surrounding us!  The real icing on the cake was getting decent skiable turns (dust on crust leading to sloppy cream) for the upper 2k’ back down.  Yes, skis-on packs-booting on dirt trails was involved, but it was WELL worth it, as you will see:

A couple days later, we headed out to the “popular” Rescue Creek drainage in the Flathead Range, again with low-expectations exploring in mind.  At the trailhead we met Charlie, a friend of good friends of ours from Vermont through a random twist of fate!  The trail up to the base of Mt. Penrose was very firm and presented challenging skinning frequently.  We easily booted from the saddle (with Mt. Nyack) up to the summit of Mt. Penrose then enjoyed the glorious weather and views for a good while.  What glorious luck we had with weather!  The sun had heated the SW aspect of the mountain enough to enjoy firm but fun skiing back to the saddle.  From there, the turns back down the drainage to the trailhead were adventurous to say the least! All-in-all it was another great day out with a new a friend!

In conclusion, Grete and I couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities of our new home!  The spring looks to hold plenty of high-quality toiling and skiing given the size, beauty and challenge of the mountains in NW Montana… Its gonna be great!

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Summer 2014

I didn’t take my camera along much on last summer’s day trips, but still managed to get a couple photos worth tossing up on the blog… Here we have one of Grete’s favorite free campsites in Crested Butte (up past Gothic), a Bonnie portrait, and two photos from Grete’s valiant Steamboat Stinger race.  During the two-day race, Grete rode her first 50-mile day and followed the next day with her first full marathon… recreational toiling at its finest!  The photo of her cycling is during lap one (of two), hence the smile.  The other photo is of her recovery morning the day following the races at our campsite on Rabbit Ear’s Pass… and the our little Airstream in its element! More pictures to come (as the editing continues)… Enjoy!

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A Few Finds from Winter 2013/2014

The photos below are a random assortment of miscellaneous shots from last winter.  They include a couple images from patrolling, a handful of touring photos, and, even, another Bonnie portrait. The folks featured in the images are: Grete, Eli, Doug, Chris (Noyes), Mike (Vermonter), Will (son of Mike) and Rio… Enjoy!

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Spring in Washington

Late April through early May – After the season had wrapped up in Utah, Grete and I headed to visit my folks in Seattle and to start work on our new summer home… A 1973 Airstream Argosy 24′.  The project was all-consuming for roughly three weeks but we occasionally got out for quick hikes and brief escapes into the Cascades (to keep our sanity)!  The photos below clearly illustrate where the project started and what work we put into it.  In all, we repainted the whole exterior (special painted model of Airstream), painted a few interior walls, installed new laminate wood floors, built and sewed totally new upholstery, and installed a new “tiny tot” wood burning stove.  It was an excellent project that required extensive teamwork and created a wonderful (mobile) home for Grete, Bonnie, and I!  I’ll get some glamour shots up of the trailer eventually…

Also while in Washington, Grete, Cam, and I skied Mt. Adams (previously posted), skied Cinco-de-Mayo (closing day) at Alpental and the included ski photos are from (another) attempt at the Hidden Lake Lookout.  The trip again included: big packs, a super slog, raining until tree-line, whiteout in the alpine, natural avalanches raining mysteriously from above in the fog, and another turn around and toil-out back to the truck… Maybe the third time’s the charm?

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