Helens-Rainier-Seattle-Vashon Tour: In Mount Rainier National Park (Wed Aug 15 through Friday August 17th)

Wednesday’s ride was relatively easy, all things considered. Initially I had planned on riding from Iron Creek to Packwood, then up over Skate Creek Road to the west entrance of Mount Rainier. This would have made for a sixty mile day, with a good climb on Skate Creek Road. But the climbs of the past two days made both Todd and I desire an easier entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. Plus I heard that the west entrance east of Ashford would be the busiest entrance. So plans rearranged: We would still ride to Packwood, but from there enter the park at Ohanapecosh in the SE corner. Forty miles with only a little climbing at the end.

It was about ten miles from Iron Creek Campground to the town of Randle, most of it downhill. Randle is where we would pick up US 12, at this point the busiest road we’d been on. Thankfully 12 to Packwood was pretty flat and wide, with a wide shoulder and good views of the Cowlitz valley. Randle was also the first grocery store we had seen since the start of the trip, so of course we headed on in, wandering the aisles in a daze. The selection was of course smaller than what I’d find in Portland so I had to think a little in order to figure out what would make an appropriate second breakfast pre-lunch, but I found it: Avocado and tomato sandwiches! Add some fresh pico de gallo and wrap it up in a flower tortilla and voila! Simple yet tasty.

The fifteen miles to Packwood were a breeze. In Packwood we had our actual lunch in a cafe where we also took advantage of the free internet. We also hit up the grocery store before we left, loading up on the important things, like beer. It was about another ten miles until we reached the Park entrance, and a couple miles after that we reached Ohanapecosh campground. Since we intended on camping there on Thursday, we decided to spend both Wednesday and Thursday night here. This was a good choice. The campground was almost full when we got there, and the next day we got to watch many a vehicle circle around the campground, looking for a spot. National Parks in August.

So Thursday was wide open. Todd opted to take a break from biking, mostly because there were mechanical concerns with his bike (bottom bracket issues.) I thought about also taking a break and maybe hike instead, but the temptation of doing a nice hard ride unloaded was too tempting. So I packed up a day’s worth of food and sundries and biked 23 miles from the campground up to the visitor center at Paradise (elevation 5,500 feet) via Stevens Canyon Road.

In retrospect, today was the best day of riding on the tour. While it was pretty much a climb the whole way (from 2,000 ft to 5,500 ft), the grades were more gentle than what I encountered on the first two days of tour, maybe 5-7%. Most of the ride had ample shade, which was nice, since it hit 100F/38C in Portland. It was also a bit surreal to see patches of snow in the high elevations while it was so warm out.*

And the scenery? Spectacular!

Stevens Canyon Road, carved into the mountainside

The only bummer was because I started later than I should have, and took plenty of stops, I got up to Paradise around 6pm. After breaking there for an hour, I had only 1 1/4 hours of daylight until the sun set. While most of the 23 miles back would be down, meaning I would go fast, I still didn’t get back until it was dark, making for some spooky lighting. Thankfully I have a good dynamo powered headlamp plus a strong helmet powered light!

Yeah, you can only call this “not as great” when you compare it to yesterday. Near Cayuse Pass.

Friday’s riding was not as great. Leaving Ohanapecosh, we had a 13 mile climb to Cayuse Pass at 4,694 feet (1,431 m). Not as high as Paradise, but still 2,500 feet of climbing, and in less distance, meaning a steeper climb. (Not to mention that the bike would be loaded.) It was slow going up the pass, and the views were lacking until the last few miles to the top.

Cayuse Pass? It’s about a half-acre of pavement where SR 123 (which we had been grinding up) meets SR 410. Not thrilling. A quick break and then several miles of descent!

Originally the plan was to camp at the White River Campground in Rainier National Park, but this would have meant 1,000 more feet of climbing. The main reason to camp at White River was so we could set up camp and then ride up to Sunrise (6,400 ft/1,950 m), the highest point in the park one could reach via paved road. But another 2,000 feet of climbing, even unloaded, did not sound appealing, especially since there would not be much daylight to play with after reaching White River.

But the bigger reason we bailed on White River was we feared there would not be any space. I didn’t want to climb up to the campground and find it full. (Which was true: We found afterwards that the campground filled up at 11am. We wouldn’t have gotten there until after 2pm.) The masses were coming to the park for the weekend. On 410 we saw a constant line of traffic heading in the opposite direction, towards the park. Traffic wasn’t as bad going our way, but it was still bad enough. We basically ran from the park.

We left Mount Rainier National Park, heading into Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, where we hoped camping choices would be more abundant. The first campground was already full, but we managed to squeak in to The Dalles campground by sweet-talking the camp hosts, who let us camp in the space next to their RV. (This is one of the benefits of cycle touring!)

*Take that, Minneapolis! We barely see snow when it’s winter, yet on one of the hottest days of the years I can go up a mountain and see snow.

One thought on “Helens-Rainier-Seattle-Vashon Tour: In Mount Rainier National Park (Wed Aug 15 through Friday August 17th)

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  1. Traffic aside I thought the climb to Paradise was mostly good times. Though a lot of it was in pretty hot sun I thought. Then once you get to Paradise it is just larded with people. Of course I made it up there early enough for Sunday Brunch :)Definitely a great little tour – the first few days near Helens has me hankering for the woods.

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