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Chuckanut and Ranger Creek

I've had my fair share of days mountain biking on the best trails around and I've come to realize that it doesn't really matter where you go. All of it is good. Every trail has its own quirks that create a distinctly unique experience for everybody.

I returned to Larrabee State Park in the Chuckanut Mountains on Saturday, August 29th, to ride the place that I was thoroughly surprised with after my first visit. I started a bit later than expected, getting on the trail at 1030. The sun was already high in the sky, but luckily most of the trail is in the shade, under heavy tree cover, keeping it cool and comfortable for the climb up.

Once again, the downhill was so much fun. I did learn something though: if you're going to commit to doing something, you really need to fully commit or else you're going to fall. And that's just what happened. Nothing major, just a dismount and quick barrel roll due to a minor commitment issue on a rock roll that I haven't done before. I didn't feel 100% comfortable so I didn't quite have the speed and balance that I should have had to successfully ride the roll, so I bailed instead of trying to save it. Can always take another crack at it later.

After two laps, over 3300 feet of vertical climbed and just over 12 miles, I opted to drive my car up to the top to get some photos of Mount Baker to the east. The road was rough, but the photos were worth the 30 minute drive up the 4 miles of pot holes and washboard.

Mount Baker and the Twins

For Sunday, August 29th, the plan was to bike at Ranger Creek, just east of Mount Rainier off of WA route 410. Myself and one of my riding buddies, Evan, had a loop picked out that we have both been itching to try. We planned out the day with two others, Terry and Tyler, and we were good to go. It was a 5+ mile climb with a gain of 2000+ vertical feet. What we didn't realize was that nearly 1000 vertical feet would be covered in the first 2 miles on tight switchbacks cut into the mountainside.

I should probably mention that this is a hiking trail, Palisades Trail #1198, that happens to allow bikes. We spent most of our time in this early section on the hike-a-bike train, which was brutal. Some sections required us to shoulder our bikes to scramble over small boulders or up stairs cut into a down tree. And, I made it in front of the camera for once.

Checking out some big trees

Legit hike-a-bike situation

Moss and mountain runoff

One of the bridges we crossed

Loamy single track climbing trail

Once we got up on the ridge, the views quickly made up for the energy spent on the way to the top. We played peekaboo with Mount Rainier as we traversed across the ridge top. (p.s. don't look down, the ridge had some serious exposure in some spots)

First glimpse of Mount Rainier

The last section of ridge line had the best view of Rainier

The trail led us into a section of forest that had been hit by the 2018 wildfires. Trees were charred and blackened, wildflowers peppered the sides of the trail; the bright greens and purples of fresh life amongst the flowers, mixed with the shades of grey and brown left from the inferno just two years ago, creating an incredible contrast of colors.

Riding through the new undergrowth

Terry getting stoked because we're close to the top

Reaching the top was a welcome surprise, no views to be had, but a small area to rest and sit on some logs was quite nice after the two hour climb.

The trail we took down was Ranger Creek Trail #1197 and it was an interesting decent. Switchbacks forced you to check your speed often, and with how dry the trail was, grip was not easy to come by in some turns. To add to the fun, the overall mountain slope was 35+ degrees, so staying on the bench cut and staying wheels down was critical. The pucker factor was high when roots were erupting from the trail on the soft turns; do I roll over the slippery root or do I find grip in the sandy dirt? Certain spots, there were no good options. The one nice thing was that every switchback had a small run out spot, because quite honestly, they were all hairpin turns and the risk factor was too high to try and ride the turn. Getting off and walking your bike around the turn became the norm very quickly.

I had a slow, braking, sliding, fall on some loose dirt into one of the switchbacks, Evan took a pretty hard fall on one of the rooted sections when his front tire washed out. We all had "oh $@%#" moments on the way down.

There wasn't anything that stood out as special about the trail on the descent. Once we got down a little bit lower, off the tight switchbacks, the loose dirt disappeared and the trail was loam, the dream for every mountain biker. It was really fast and the pitch was such that you didn't need to brake or pedal when you got up to speed. The longer straight sections were fun to blast through after having the tight, twisting trail up high.

Evan dropping off a large stump

Tyler riding fresh, loamy dirt

The trail

Once again, another great weekend of riding. I've been thinking I may need to give the bike a break for a weekend or two and start hiking into some of the wilderness my bike may not be suited for. We'll have to see how my knee feels about that though, going to be a tough balance because there are so many incredible hikes to do...and I need to start scoping out some areas for ski touring...lots of plans in the works there.

With Labor Day Weekend coming up, I'll likely have my initial report on few zones out in the North Cascades sometime mid-late next week. Stay posted for updates!

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