Sunday, October 5, 2014

Scouting Westside Road (Mt. Rainier) With Les

Author:  Mike Hassur

Westside Road, which is located 0.9 of a mile inside of  Mt. Rainier’s Nisqually Entrance, was originally intended to be a portion of a road system that connected the Nisqually and Carbon River/Mowich Lake areas of Mt. Rainier.  Political squabbles between Pierce County, Washington State, and the federal government derailed the original project after completion of the Westside Road in the early 1930’s.  Westside Road, as it now stands, is a gravel road that extends approximately 13 miles up over Round Pass, down the other side and then climbs again up to Klapatche Point ).  Typically, you drive the first 3 miles of the road to the point where it is blocked to automobiles due to washouts and rock falls – time to get out the bikes.  The former parking area for vehicles, which was just a couple of hundred yards further up the road, was closed in May of this year due to a boulder bouncing down the mountain and crushing an unoccupied truck (see this short article and accompanying photo ).

Les and I got our bikes unpacked from my van and headed up the road through the “rock fall” area.  These are NOT rocks.  They are large boulders that - in some cases - hurtle down the slide area, launch themselves off the large boulders at the base of the slide area, and land in the roadway leaving large “craters” where they land.  Impressive!!

Les in the "crater" left where this boulder impacted the road...

Not far past the “rock fall” area, we encountered a stream that had to be crossed.  It was not a particularly wide stream, and it was shallow; but neither Les nor I entertained any thoughts of riding across.  The rocks in the stream bed were mossy and slick, and we knew how that story would end.  Had Dwaine Trummert and Scott Larson been with us, we figured we would have had some photos of guys riding across.  Fortunately for us, there was a bridge of sorts – a narrow log with a shaky rail.  We just had to figure out how to keep ourselves AND THE BIKES on that log as we crossed.  It was Les who came up with the idea to hold onto the handlebars and lead his bike across.  Les’ idea worked great, and we were soon heading on up the road.

Crossing narrow log bridge using the "Les Becker Method"...

We climbed steadily for a few miles until we came to Round Pass.  The trailhead for Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob is located here.  No trails for us today.  We just headed down the other side of Round Pass.  After descending for a couple of miles, we crossed a moss covered stone bridge (The South Puyallup River Bridge) that was built around 1931 as part of the original Westside Road Project.  The bridge was in remarkably good shape and was very distinctive in its appearance (it’s in the National Historic Registry).

After stopping and taking some photos, we were soon climbing again.  A brief rain shower made us take refuge under some roadside trees.  The shower only lasted about two minutes; but, during the stop we discovered some beautiful mushrooms.

Back on the road, we soon crossed the St. Andrews Creek Bridge – another stone bridge similar to The South Puyallup River Bridge.  This bridge was different in that it included steps that allowed you to walk right down to the river below – very cool.

After exploring the St. Andrews Creek Bridge and taking photos, we resumed climbing toward Klapatche Point which was the end of the road and the highest point on our ride at 4160 feet.  The climb went smoothly, and we were soon enjoying the views from the end of the road.

Retracing our path back to the cars was fun (mostly downhill) and uneventful.

I purposely did not send out an email to everyone about this ride; because it had been 15 years or so since I had last been on this road, and I was not certain what condition it was in.  I didn’t want to drag 6 – 8 guys up here and have the ride be a disappointment.  Now, having scouted the road, I think that any of us who have a mountain bike or cyclocross bike or even a road bike with 30-35 mm tires would enjoy doing this ride. 

Plan on us trying to make this a group ride next year. 

To see all of the photos associated with this ride, click on the following link:

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