MTB in the Methow Valley, Washington

Pipestone Canyon near Winthrop, Washington

Here's a ride first scouted out via hiking near it, from one of numerous trips up into the Methow Valley area. Finally, however, while spending a gorgeous fall weekend with friends in Mazama, I find myself wondering: why not tack on a little physical activity to round out the trip? Roughhousing with kids has been a fun enough activity, but outside of a minor fat lip I receive (which hinders my trumpet playing for a few days), I need to do something that actually counts as active.

This ride only marginally does that, to be fair. That's because said scouting only has gone as far as determining HOW to get to Pipestone Canyon, where I admired what it LOOKED like from above. And that'd be positively great, no question about that: what's not to like about canyon walls which create a narrow gorge that drops away? Are we talking scenic? Duh: Damn straight!

What I haven't properly scouted out is that this ride actually transpires as primarily a road ride, just one done on a mountain bike! That's not to say that a roadie bike would handle the necessary logging roads for access well, but there just isn't much singletrack on this one. Also, it turns out that the zip through the canyon proves rather short, even if from the scouting it just disappears to nowhere to imply goodies far beyond the scope of such a vision. This visible entreatment to nowhere is actually the very end of the canyon, surprisingly lying just beyond the view.

Still, it's a pleasant ride all in all, even taking into account that it's about an hour less riding than hoped for - and minus any mountain biking challenge whatsoever. Why? That's simple - it's always a good day to ride!

DIRECTIONS: From Winthrop, head east on SR-20 until you come to the bridge over the Methow River past downtown Winthrop. Just before the bridge, take a left (actually you will head straight) instead of crossing the river. A few miles later, you'll come to Bear Creek Road. Park here (you're on the Winthrop-Twisp backroad, which parallels HWY 20 across the Methow River from Twisp to Winthrop), below the golf course. Then head up paved Bear Creek Road, taking a right turn at pavement's end onto the logging roads that lead to the canyon. Follow this for a mile or three, until you see the sign for Pipestone Canyon. Head through the canyon itself, then follow this with a right turn upon exiting to the road. This is an up and down traverse of the Bunky Hill connector to the Winthrop-Twisp backroad again. It's a flat spin on pavement back along the road to the car. And that's all she wrote. Rode.

Up To Hart's Pass near Mazama, Washington

This is a rather single-minded ride, and that mind is all about climbing. From the Mazama store, it's all smooth going at first along Lost River Road. But eventually parkland is entered, and washboard road becomes the norm for a few miles even if the road only lopes along in its climbing. From the junction near the Ballard Campground, however, the work begins. It's about six or seven miles of steady climbing on a logging road in okay nick - when not having to contend with cars crowding your bike against the mountain or the edge of the abyss. Hart's Pass is the highest drive-able pass in the state, at 6000+ft, so with the altitude gain comes a bit of pain and without a doubt a good drop in temperature.

At the pass itself, reaching after only too many false summits, one has the choice of continuing something like forever onto the logging road, hanging a right to climb three more miles on up to Slate Peak, or turning around and getting to that coffee or beer as soon as possible. Or ditching the bike and jumping onto the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), where intersects here. On my first go-round, the choice was obvious: I had gone from 60-something Fahrenheit to the low 40s, the only idiot at the Pass a) on a bike and b) in a t-shirt and shorts. Every one else had several layers on, some in parkas. There's hopefully always a hot tub waiting below...

DIRECTIONS: From Mazama store, one needs only head west by car or bike as far as desired on Lost River Road. Obvious places to park and get the ride on are at the end of the pavement (6mi. from the store) or at the junction in the road just after Ballard Campground (3mi. more).

Yellowjacket MTB near Mazama, Washington

28 Sep 2009 (26 miles) - the first time

Why Yellowjacket? Why not "Goat Peak - The Long Way"? Based on the beginning of this one, I shortly determine that if REAL yellowjackets were involved, like in an attack involving FLEEing, yellowjackets would be the least of your problems. That's the down side. On the UPHILL side - and I literally mean uphill - a HEART ATTACK would figure far more largely in short order. That'd render any pesky little yellowjackets to be nothing of concern.

But that observation is getting ahead of myself. Indeed, I've been warned about this one: It's a considerable bit of uphill, and there're some 26 miles to the loop, M's said. Additionally he dares me to climb without stopping while sketching a rough map on a scrap of paper. The nerve - can't he see I'm a decade more old and decrepit? (I find more excuses as I need them, evidently.)

Not that I doubt him. M, like seemingly the rest of the entire male half of the Czech community/brigade/mafia I've come to know in Seattle, is an engineer. And based on other observations I have made of this male gender of the Czech species, of engineering exactitudes coupled with intelligence, there's a compulsive need to summit the nearest peak (at speed) that generally goes in tandem with a quest to guzzle enough beer daily to float the Titanic. That should sufficiently complete the picture, right? Right. (I do come to doubt the engineering/summit parts of the equation somewhat after a fact-finding trip to the Czech Republic in 2005, but that's a different animal than what I repeatedly encounter in Seattle.)

What I really want to say is that there's an uphill followed by more uphill on a gravel road. That's followed by a sweeping downhill, an extended moderate uphill, then a large descent. All goes as prescribed, thank M very much. Views do abound as advertised, too, especially that of Goat Peak with its fire lookout "hat" surrounded by impenetrable wilderness. There's also the Methow Valley in view plus the craggy peaks that lead back toward Washington Pass and the west. That stated, and armed with a camera and delighted by said expansive views, the hazy and sun-blasted reality of the day make for poor snapshots at midday. So be it - the eyes are plenty happy to behold in the present.

See? I don't lie. Magnificent views; lousy photos; need filter.

But first I have to climb, climb, and climb to achieve them. Rueful of the challenge I've been presented, I doggedly keep my pedals in motion. When I think of quitting for a spell to rest, I instead start humming America the Beautiful for comfort. This later alternates with the Star-Spangled Banner. Then, when such rousing renditions failed to negotiate terms successfully for inspiration to spit all that is the Czech Republic and their I-WILL-SUMMIT-AT-ALL-COSTS-dom, I next take to waving an American flag I whip out of my a-- - I mean camelbak! - as I simultaneously shout "USA #1" to the heavens. Maybe I lie.

But there's more. On an especially inspired note - and respectful of my (half) Slovak heritage - I begin grabbing fistfuls of silver dollar-sized stones while maintaining my implacably forward motion. I stuff them in my mouth, naturally. Chewing the pesky hunks of granite to pebbled pieces, I defiantly mumble "MrazIK (the Slovak spelling), not MrazEK (the dreaded Czech)" and "Remember the Velvet Divorce!!! (between Slovakia and the Czech Republic)" as I make my way to the saddle summit. Yeah, who do these Czechs think they are to challenge me, heir to the Slovaks that marched to Count Dracula's Castle? Ha-RUMPH!

Possibly the last paragraph is a fabrication. Moreover, a minute chance exists that I hop off of the bike for a few sharp and dusted-out pitches. MAYbe. I might have foolishly worn my (cracked) helmet for the entire hot climb and forgotten to lock out the fork, too. I may have sweated profusely. COULD be.

What I DO do is make it to the saddle after several such miles. A cattleguard gate awaits me there as my iPod falls silent. The jazz of the "Best of Blue Note" has proven adequate music for an ascent, but using the rapid-fire guitar works of Dick "Better Shred Than Dead" Dale for a final summiting selection of several tunes is not the most apropos choice for grinding, grunting summit.

The best is now to come, however: The rest of the ride more aptly follows the deft speedvalving of Clifford Brown's silenced-too-young trumpet. This works superbly for the great amount of descent to follow, even if it's less than perfect when a few ballads mix in that don't manage to align with any remaining uphills.

Yet perfection is about what I receive on this one, regardless. Sunny cloudless skies and temps from the 80s to the 70s? Hell, yeah! Plus there's been enough climbing to be more than honest, with sufficient gobs of descent to amaze myself that I indeed ascended so much. Oh InDEEDly do, as the gabbulous Flanders would utter. This IS a good one, how improbably that should seem for an MTB technically without singletrack. The upshot? Yellowjacket? I own you.

DIRECTIONS: Start on Lost River Road in Mazama and make it to about 6 miles from the Mazama store to the west (i.e. NOT toward Winthrop). There enter the SNO PARK parking lot roughly across from the wee airport and begin the double track climb across the lot marked Yellowjacket. Follow this main road/doubletrack up and ignore the few offshoots to the left and right to continue with the obviously main drag. You will know when you hit the graveled Goat Road (well-maintained): Turn left there. Stay on this road as you continue ascending, then pass over the cattleguard at its summit for some broad descent. This is followed by more ascent (and the offshoot for Goat Peak - at various times you can see the fire lookout atop it), up to the next cattleguard gate and the massive viewpoint that soon follows. Continue on the road, heading all the way down the huge descent until you hit the paved road again. Head to the right to complete the loop as you pass the Mazama Store two miles later.

Upper Methow River MTB near Mazama, Washington

26 May 2013 (12 miles?) - the second time

I say "the second time" because it's true, but if it's been five or eight years since I last did this one, I couldn't tell ya. What I can say is that it's a steady up that neither overly strains the legs or gives them a happy rest. A bridge crossing, some large chunks of rocks from landslides to gingerly negotiate while maintaining momentum, a valley that eventually opens to reveal a large fire from not too many years back, etc. With weather that can't decide between starting a cool rain and an intermittant hot sun, I head up with Jiri until we feel we've had enough. Logically perhaps, this is right around the place where I think the going is going to get a lot steeper. If we did continue, we'd hit the Pacific Crest Trail at Hart's Pass. We don't.

DIRECTIONS: From the Mazama Store, follow Lost River Road for several miles until you reach the national forest area right after crossing a bridge over the river. Now on a dirt road, continue the few miles on it until it hits the big bend to the right which is sign marked to head up to Slate's Peak. Instead continue straight for less than a mile more, until you reach the parking lot and (horse) trailhead. Take the trail; don't look back!

Buck Mountain MTB near Winthrop, Washington

24 May 2013 (6-8 miles?) - the second time

Another "second time" where I can't remember how long it's been since the "first". I just know it was with about six or seven friends and easily over ten years and a couple of fitness levels before. I'm rejoined by on of those friends, Kevin, for what turns out to be a pretty loop with a fair amount of climbing. But the views and downhill are worth the work, as always.

DIRECTION: Head out of Winthrop on Westside Chewuch Road, by the baseball diamond just a hair before the bridge that immediately places you in downtown Winthrop when coming from the west. After a number of miles down W. Chewuch, take a left up Cub Creek Road until reaching the split where the right side is marked with a forestry marker as "100", a good place to park the car. From here it's easy to make the bike loop, starting with an uphill of logging road for a few miles. Eventually you'll see bike trail signs to head off to the right, about a mile and a half past the "cattle" sign. Take the indicated right and continue up a broad track until finally topping out in a mile or two atop a ridge... where you'll stay for a good while, loping up and down more than expected before finally plunging though some open terrain for a fast descent. Eventually you'll hit a dirt road, where you take a left for a speedy descent to eventually rejoin Cub Creek Road less than a mile below where the car is parked.

Back to Cycling
Back to