Indian Summer on Kachess Ridge

Ken emailed me late yesterday to see if I'd want to ride Kachess Ridge with him this afternoon. Despite the three-thousand foot ascent up the fire road from the lake to the trailhead, Kachess Ridge is one of my favorite rides in Washington and when I rode it back in September, it was the morning after I wrapped up a 5-day-90-hour work week with a 36-hour marathon. I pretty much sleepwalked through that ride and had to get off the bike numerous times on some of my favorite tech sections to prevent serious injury -- you know you're having an off day when you can count the seconds between mental decisions and physical reactions. And a technical, rocky, descent in the pseudo-backcountry is no place to be suffering a laggy reaction time. So, with that in mind, I was more than happy to say yes.

Knowing the trail down the ridge is primarily on the northeastern side of the mountain, I was a little concerned about the dwindling daylight and our late start time, but we made good time out to Exit 70 on I-90 and were off and peddling by 1:45pm. The ride starts with a 5.5 mile warmup along a dirt road on the shore of the lake. From there, it's a 5 mile climb up a switchbacking fire road to a mile-high elevation. The weather was spectacular for this time of year -- mid 60's with a slight breeze -- and the wispy clouds only served to make the mountain views that much grander. There's a few nice viewpoints along the climb which gives riders a chance to see exactly how high we've gone, but I always love it when we ascend higher than the ridge on the far side of the lake and Mt. Rainier finally comes into view. And what a view it was today! Ken was struggling a bit on the climb today -- probably had something to do with that double-bacon-cheeseburger he had sitting in his stomach -- so I had plenty of time to take some photos during the climb.

Despite not having my Canon 20D with me, this is one of my favorite shots of Rainier that I've taken to date. I posted a slightly higher res version of the photo on BBTC here.

Mt. Rainier from atop Kachess Ridge.

The wind was really blowing atop Kachess Ridge and it was already past 3:30 in the afternoon. Darkness could become an issue if we lolligagged. We both put on some warmer clothing, woofed down some jerky and Odwalla bars, and prepared for the 7 mile descent. But first the hike-a-bike. The initial descent off the back of the ridge is a bit of a tease, as it is quickly followed by a quarter-mile hike-a-bike section. Much of the ground in this area was partially frozen, but it broke apart into beautiful clumps of 3-inch long needles of ice.

With the hike-a-bike over, it was time to ride. Finally! The descent was as awesome as ever, with plenty of rocks and roots to drop from and pick your way around, as well as some very fast swoopy sections through picturesque high-altitude pastures. There was quite a bit of mud halfway down the mountain, which made for some cold, wet, shoes, but all in all it was a great ride. We planned on stopping and taking plenty of photos but, as is often the case, we were having too much fun riding. Ken hadn't ever ridden Kachess Ridge before so I let him lead most of the way down, then I took the lead when the trail started to get a bit more roller-coastery. I hadn't ridden for nearly a month before last week but my recent surge in saddle time has me feeling a bit fitter again. We arrived back at the cars at about 5 o'clock, with about 30 minutes of daylight to spare. We each had a Petzl headlamp with us to use in an emergency, but it was great to actually have enough natural light to ride. Fast.

A quick drive back down I-90 to the North Bend Bar & Grill had us gulping down enormous plates of nachos and a tasty pint of Snoquamie Brewery's Harvest Moon seasonal ale. If there's a better way to spend a Monday, I'd like to hear about it.

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