Keechelus Ridge

April 26-27, 2005

a ride report

by Kent Peterson

"Why in my day, we didn't have bikes with fancy gears. Nope, one gear was enough and we didn't need any of them new-fangled indexed shifters neither. And we didn't just stick to paved roads, no sir. We'd ride up old jeep tracks and logging roads and mountain trails and when it got too steep and snowy, well then we'd just push our bikes up through the snow. And we liked it..."

The old codger's voice is clear in my head. The noisy world of men is far away now and I'm high up on the Keechelus Ridge. My tires crunch through the foot-deep snow and I'm slowly making tracks as I trudge along beside the bike. It's late April in 2005 and even though I'm deep in snow, the air is warm. The effort of the climb is good; sweat drips off my brow and my arms ache from pushing the bike, but I know this effort is not just making me tired. The mountain is working to make me strong. My day is today and the codger's voice is my own. And I like it...

The trip began, like most good adventures, with a vague map and a plan sketched in broad, fuzzy strokes. On May 1st my friends Robin and Amy will be holding a ride to help raise money for my Great Divide Race Fund. Robin had plotted out a reasonably sane 100 kilometer loop from North Bend to Snoqualmie Pass and back and I told him I'd check out the mileage and work up a cue-sheet. Of course, 100 kilometers is just a little jaunt, so I figured I'd add a side run up the Keechelus Ridge. I'd find a place to camp and test out some more of my equipment.

I've been very blessed by the outpouring of support I've gotten from various people to help me in my Great Divide Adventure. I try to keep up to date with thanking everyone on my sponsor page but I also want to keep folks up to date on my preparations. I never really feel like I'm alone on these trips, I'm out here with the good wishes of many many folks and I try in some small way to convey a bit of what it's like out on the trail.

I leave home at the completely civilized hour of 8:30 AM and ride the familiar roads and trails to North Bend. Here I start checking mileage for Sunday's ride, so I'm stopping at each turn to jot down miles and cues. I ride past Rattlesnake Lake and get on the John Wayne Trail.

Robin's directions mentioned turning off the trail before the first trestle but I'm not quite sure how he defines "trestle". There is a tiny bridge over Boxley Creek and just before the creek I see a tiny single-track trail heading off to the left. The Monocog and I are suckers for tiny single-track trails and we follow this trail down as it gets smaller and eventually ends at a "NO TRESPASSING" sign. As I backtrack up to the main trail it occurs to me that even someone with as well developed a sense of adventure as Robin wouldn't send a group of roadie randonneurs down such a tiny trail. I press onward.

Stopped by Boxley Creek

Back at the Boxley Creek bridge I see a little toad who is too small and looking too much like a stone to be captured in a photo. Only the motion of this tiny creature caught my eye as he scrambled across the rocky trail.

After several miles and several more smallish bridges, I see the trail fork off to the left and follow a gravel road down Robin's intended exit from the trail. From here I follow a paved frontage road and then join ride on the shoulder of the I-90 freeway for a couple of miles before turning off onto Tinkham Road.

Tinkham Road is gravel and winds east through the woods for five miles. At the end of Tinkham road I cross over the river and Interstate 90 and then climb the pass on Denny Creek Road. It's clear and warm now and I have a great view of Snoqualmie Pass.

The Road to the Pass

At Snoqualmie Summit I stop to fill my water bottles and I buy a couple of Payday bars and a pint of milk at the gas station. Then I ride the three miles down to Hyak.

Now I'm done with logging cues for the day and the real adventure can begin. My vague map shows that Gold Creek Road connects up with some some small gravel roads that wind over the Keechelus Ridge in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, so that's where I'm headed.

I cross north over the freeway and follow Gold Creek Road as it gets smaller and less civilized. The road turns to gravel and at various forks in the road I take the motto of the Mountain Gazette as my navigational adviser: "When in Doubt, Go Higher."

This advice leads me to the snow. At first there is a little snow.

The start of the snow

Just when I start to think I'm really out in the woods, I see a sign like this:

High Voltage Tree

Yes, that high voltage tree is warning about an underground power cable that runs right over this wilderness ridge. I guess you have to be cautious about how deep to drive those tent stakes.

Mountain View

The views, of course, are spectacular. I'm a poor photographer and the camera tries to flatten the land and pack it into a little rectangle. But the deep green of the trees and the grays of the mountains and the fog, the blues of the sky and the water and the silence and the sounds and the scents and all that is a part of this high hard land are far more than can be contained in words or pictures. You can only know if you go and that is what keeps me coming back.

At one point I see a small grouse. The human brain is always working, trying to shape what we see into what we know. So when the oddly shaped rock moves, I can recognize it as a grouse and when the big bear up ahead stays still it eventually resolves into it's true nature as a fallen log. From the woods later I hear a "whoom, whoom, whoom," a sound like a cross between a bullfrog croak and a vacuum cleaner. Since I doubt that either bullfrogs or vacuum cleaners are found at this elevation, I conclude that the sound is probably the mating drumming of a grouse against a fallen log.

The snow is getting much deeper now. I'm reduced to walking. Since I spent the first two decades of my life in northern Minnesota, as a child I really did walk miles through the snow to get to school. Actually, many days I walked through the snow to the bus stop but I soon learned that you get a lot colder standing around waiting for a bus than you do walking.

Slogging through the snow

I take short steps through the snow, leaning on the bike and trying to plot the path of least resistance. I keep thinking that eventually I'll crest the ridge but the road twists, mostly up with a bit of down, for miles.

Still slogging though the snow

I have to stop every now and then to break the caked snow out of the bike's spokes. My feet sink into the snow. The air is still warm but the damp snow soaks into my shoes and socks.

That's an icy bike

In the distance I see a microwave relay tower which must be located on the highest spot on the ridge. I'd been thinking that I could cross the ridge and camp somewhere along Kachess Lake but I know now that I'll run out of daylight before that happens.

The Tower must be at the top of the ridge

At 7:30 PM, I find a nice spot to camp. I pitch my tarptent, roll out my sleeping bag and settle in as the sun is setting. I'd just gotten the Tarptent last week and this is it's first field test. The tent is a brilliantly designed bit of minimalist gear. With the poles packed inside my folded sleeping pad my tent, sleeping bag and spare clothes all fit inside a single nylon drybag that rides on the Monocog's rear rack.

Dinner is a continuation of the day's snacks, mostly Clif and Mojo bars. I save weight on these trips by not packing cooking gear. When I'm near towns I can load up on foods but I always try to have at least a day's worth of food with me on the bike.

A few weeks ago I met up with a couple of former colleagues for breakfast at a local diner and Ken commented on my bike. "I can't believe how much stuff you carry with you!" I pointed out that what was on my bike was basically the full load I'd be carrying for the Great Divide Race. Ken amended his assessment to "I can't believe how little stuff you carry with you!"

Home for the evening

As this part of the earth turns away from the sun the sky fades through from blue to red and then becomes infinitely black. The stars shine bright and steady in shades of blue and white. The air gets colder. I layer on almost all my clothes, feeling like a genius because I have a spare pair of wool socks. I wring out one wet pair of socks, try my best to blot my shoes dry and settle in for the night.

The view in the morning

In the morning the sky is clear but a layer of fog hangs below my campsite. The sun rises before 6:00 AM and so do I. I break camp and am back on the trail by 6:30 AM. I'm following my tracks from yesterday back down through the snow. Even walking it is faster to descend than it was to climb and after an hour and half I reach the first section that is clear enough to ride for a bit. At 8:30 AM I'm back down below the snowline and at 9:00 AM, I'm back at the paved road. I follow Gold Creek Road back to Hyak, resume my logging of ride cues and follow the John Wayne Trail back to Rattlesnake Lake. At North Bend I put the finishing touches on the cue sheet and then ride familiar trails and roads to home.