Saturday, September 11, 2010

Devils Gulch-Mission Ridge

Soon after returning from my trip to France with Roanne, the realization struck me that I haven't done nearly enough mountain biking this summer. That isn't too say that I haven't had enough fun, as I have been putting my time in with climbing and other forms of cycling, but nonetheless I needed to get my trusty Blur out for a workout so that he didn't die of boredom from hanging out in the the garage day after day. There are a pair of trails near Leavenworth called Devil's Gulch and Mission Ridge that are reputed to be among the best in the state and I had only ridden one of them before (I had ridden Devil's Gulch a few years ago with my friend Ryan), so I set my sights on Mission Ridge and began searching for a fellow enthusiast to join me on this adventure.

I didn't have to look far as my friend Andrew the young buck was also excited to to this classic Washington ride. Andrew drove up from Tacoma on Saturday morning, and after paying our respects to the wizard we threw our bikes on the back of his Tacoma and headed east. As we drove along Highway 2 we felt a very strong pull from the Sultan Bakery and were forced to stop and sample their apple cups (a cross between an apple fritter and a giant apple muffin) and their delicious donuts before continuing on. An apple cup probably has enough calories for an entire day, but we justified it with the long ride we had planned for ourselves.

It turns out that Andrew's truck is in dire need of a new engine which meant that it was a slow journey up and over Steven's Pass, but finally we made it and rolled down the other side and on toward the Devil's Gulch trailhead. Devil's Gulch and Mission Ridge roughly parallel each other and start at the same trailhead at the bottom. They actually cross over midway up, and are connected at the top by a stretch of dirt road. Each trail is about 15-20 km long, with about 4500 feet of elevation loss from top to bottom. There are several ways to ride them: many average people choose to ride up a long dirt road climb and then down one of the two trails, many soft people choose to shuttle up in their cars and then ride down one of the trails, and many hard men choose to ride up one of the trails and then down the other for maximum value. I think you can guess which ride option I was advocating, and after a little bit of reasoning, Andrew agreed that this was the best choice.

As we drove up the final dirt road to the trail head, we were dismayed to find that the road was closed and we would have to access the trails from an alternate parking area. We found the other parking area without any problems (trailhead for the Red Hill and Red Devil trails), and from our map we realized that the Red Hill trail connected into Devil's Gulch, so instead of having to ride up the dirt road to the Devil's Gulch trailhead, we could ride the Red Hill trail and connect into the Devil's Gulch trail a few km in. We changed into our gear and set off around noon, happy to be out riding in such amazing weather. The Red Hill trail was about 15 km long in itself which wouldn't have been too bad, but it also climbed and then descended over 2000 feet which made for an interesting prelude to the actual ride that we had planned.

Eventually we linked into the Devil's Gulch trail, and began the long and steady climb up the single track of Devil's Gulch. The riding was really fun and varied, with a few stream crossings and lots of smooth single track. The only stinker about these trails is that dirt bikes are allowed on them, and in some places they have caused some pretty significant trail damage where they have created huge ruts that make the trail unrideable on a mountain bike. Midway up Devil's Gulch it became clear that we hadn't brought enough food (this happens to me on long bike rides with surprising regularity), but luckily Andrew knows a lot about Northwest flora and was able to advise me on which berries were edible. After fortifying ourselves with some bitter berries to supplement our Clif bars, we continued on our way. After some time we made it to the intersection between Devil's Gulch and Mission Ridge, and continued on up, eventually making it to the viewpoint at the top of the Devil's Gulch trail.

From here it was another few km and 700 feet of climbing on a dirt road to the top of Mission Ridge. We were starting to feel the effects of the 6000 or so feet of climbing that we had done up until this point, but we soldiered on and after stopping for a brief converstation with a local who was higher than a kite and driving his bronco down the road we finally reached the top of the Mission Ridge trail.

By this point it was almost 6pm and there was a good chance that if we didn't hustle we would be finishing in the dark, so without further ado we set off down the trail. The riding was awesome, with great views from the ridge crest and the terrain alternating between more technical rocky sections and loamy dirt sections through alpine forest. It was a pretty steady down hill with very little pedaling involved since we had already done all the pedaling on the way up. Before long we reached the intersection with Devil's Gulch, and continued on the Mission Ridge trail. Unfortunately at this point the trail had another pretty significant climb, so with our legs screaming in protest we continued on up the climb before resuming our descent down the ridge. The section of Mission Ridge below the intersection wasn't actually all that good, mostly because it had suffered the most abuse from idiots on motocross bikes, creating huge ruts that were dangerous to descend through at any higher speed.

It was getting pretty dark as we reached the final section of single track, with it almost complete darkness by the time we rode out from the Mission Ridge trailhead onto the dirt road. Unfortunately our car was not parked here as we had ridden from Red Hill trailhead, so we rode the last few km of dirt road back to our car by feel, all the while dreaming of food as we had both run out a few hours ago. Finally we made it back to the car around 8:30pm, and after a quick change we loaded our bikes onto the car and headed out:

It was a great ride, but if I had to do it again I would probably do two things differently: I wouldn't ride up and over the Red Hill trail to access Devil's Gulch, this trail had a lot of climbing which normally isn't a bad thing when you get a payoff of an awesome descent (like on Mission Ridge), but the descent off of Red Hill down to the Devil's Gulch trail was not very fun, with most of it being straight down on very steep and loose terrain that is more scary than fun. The second thing I would do differently is that I would ride the Devil's Gulch trail as a "lollipop" instead of a "figure 8", meaning that I would still climb up Devil's Gulch and descend the top part of Mission Ridge, but then I would descend the lower part of Devil's Gulch instead of the lower part of Mission Ridge.

Still no complaints though, it was an awesome day of riding with the young buck. We were pretty hungry, so we made a bee line for Leavenworth where we went to Gustav's for a Gustav burger and some local beer. The beer was good, but the Gustav burger was a little lacking, I would suggest that anyone looking for dining options in Leavenworth should try their luck elsewhere. We had plans to do some bouldering in Leavenworth the next day and it would have been awesome to have checked into a hotel and had a hot shower and then slept in a bed. Unfortunately, Andrew and I are both cheap climbers so instead of that we parked at the Swiftwater Picnic area and slept under the stars near the river so that the noise of the rushing water would drown out the noise of the rushing cars on the nearby Highway 2.

We had an amazing sleep, not waking up until 9am at which point we brewed some coffee using Andrew's new Jetboil french press apparatus, ate the delicious breakfast that we had acquired at Safeway the night before, and then pulled out the crash pads and began our day of climbing. Nothing much happened during climbing (how much adventure can you have bouldering?) so I won't go into great detail about our day, but here is a picture of me on a fun V3 dyno-to-mantel problem at Swiftwater that we both enjoyed immensely:

After lots of good climbing we finished out on the footless traverse where Andrew pumped laps while I sat on a rock and pondered my sore fingertips. Andrew turns out to be a more motivated climber than I am, as he was still doing pull-ups on the finishing jugs of the traverse while I had started experiments to see how much nutella coudl be applied to a single bagel. After Andrew got bored of doing pull ups and I ran out of nutella, we both climbed back into his under-powered Tacoma and headed back to Seattle with another great L-dub weekend in the books.

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