Saturday, April 19, 2014

Snow Ride up 410 to Heaven (Cayuse Pass), Down South Cayuse… and back

Author:  Nick Iverson

Climbing Hwy 410 toward Cayuse Pass
An Epic snow ride in mid April, requires a conjunction of phenomena:  several near crazed cyclists willing to pull off a ride into the unknown, roads cleared of snow and ice, and the weather Gods in an impish mood.  On a fabulous April 13, 2014, there was a small group of pretty good cyclists who decided to take on the slopes, and hope for a spectacular ride.  Pulling into the ranger station just west of Crystal Mtn. Blvd. the four of us (Bram, Steve, Michaela, Nick) headed toward the “Road Closed” sign on Hwy 410.  After ducking under the sign, we glanced up at the eastbound lane that was clear of debris and snow.  The air was crisp, but we were dressed well, and the sun was streaming gloriously through the trees that line the Park Entrance.  There was not a cloud in the sky.  We headed up the hill, planning to descend Hwy 123 (the south side of Cayuse Pass), if possible, but did not know if we would be facing some treacherous road conditions.  As we continued up the hill, we passed many beautiful views of Mt. Rainier in all its glory, snuggling up to “Little Tahoma” snow clad and etched into the clear blue sky.  There was a bit of urgency to climb up to the top of Cayuse Pass, as we were not sure we would be lucky enough to descend that hill.  We had forgotten our tire chains.  There were a few potholes on the ascent, and I tried to take notice of their location, as this part of the hill has lots of shadows later in the day.  One in particular appeared to be a minor sinkhole, beckoning the unfortunate descent riders a chance to catch some air… or worse.   Some snow had fallen off the snow “tunnel” as we continued, and some of the rocks were nearly the size of a medium Winnebago.

At the top of Cayuse, we could see that the continuation up toward Chinook Pass would require some sort of all terrain vehicle, good boots or snowshoes.  We started the Cayuse descent, and
Nick at the top of Cayuse Pass
were pleased that the road was clear and dry; however, rounding the next bend we could see areas that included melted snow crossing the Highway, occasionally 10 feet across, and the areas that appeared wet were still frozen.  Personally, I am not one to bomb down sketchy roads on skinny tires with 110 psi.  Doing some quick math, I figured that I had less than one square inch of tire sitting on the road.  I walked around a couple of the icy stretches, and watched the other three take their chances rolling carefully across the slick stretches of glistening terror.  Perhaps my butt hitting the ground only two days before when my left cleat was stuck at our garage door, reinforced the notion that riding across these patches was not a good idea.  However, in less than one quarter mile, the road was again clear and dry, and we could continue down the snow tunnel and take quick peeks of the beauty of the snowy terrain and mountain.  Speeds soon picked up, but there were still occasional icy streaks across the road.  Near the bottom of the hill, a log crossed the road, and there was about one foot thick
End of the road at bottom of Hwy 123
of ice and snow blocking the road for about 10 feet, but the road was clear beyond this impediment.  The log was a sign.  Go back.  The ride was great, the company good, and we had some climbing to do.  The ascent was uneventful, and Dr. Nick cleverly brought up the rear.  The upper descent down 410 was ecstasy!  The road had great visibility, was dry and had very little debris.  For me, a bit visually challenged, the descent into the trees, creating quick changes of sun and shade, provided the perfect opportunity not to see a sinkhole the size of the Grand Canyon.  With precision, I hit the middle of this killer hole, bounced airborne and landed slightly sideways, but somehow managed not to crash.  I had watched Steve and Bram bomb down past this area at sub light speed.  I was not afraid, just terrified.  Maybe a passing cycling angel gave me a lift.  We regrouped at the “Road Closed” gate, and with a sense of euphoria, (along with the reminder that cycling can be dangerous), we proceeded to the car, then headed back to 70 degrees in Puyallup, babbling like children.  Was this a perfect ride?  Perhaps!  Days like these are pure joy.

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