Sunday, April 19, 2015

2015_04_18 Westside Road On Mt. Rainier Ride

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 (Klapatche Point Map ).  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 2014 due to a boulder bouncing down the mountain and crushing an unoccupied truck (see this short article and accompanying photo ).

2014 Photo:  Les, boulder, and "crater"...

2015 photo of same area:  no "craters" and boulders moved to side of road...

Les Becker and I scouted out this ride in October of 2014.  At that time, we found huge boulders that had tumbled down a boulder field, gone airborne, and hit the road with such impact that they left “craters”.  It was awesome (and a little bit terrifying).  Based on that experience, I used the following description “a rough, gravel road with the occasional boulder” when describing the route for this year’s (2015) ride.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The “craters” were gone, the boulders had been moved to the side of the road (or removed entirely), and the entire route had been “smoothed” so that it was much less “rough”.  This was perplexing, because most of the route is closed to motor vehicles anyway – one of the guys on yesterday’s ride suggested that maybe it was done due to the political power and savvy of The Puyallup Cyclopaths.  This hypothesis was rejected by the rest of us.

Yesterday’s edition of “The Westside Road Ride” turned out to be a great success!  Our group (Les Becker, John Winter, Scott Larson, Leon Matz, Kurt Maute, Martin Katzberg, Conor Collins, David Garate, and myself) enjoyed the benefits of ideal weather (sunny, no rain, and temperatures starting in the low 50’s and ending in the 70’s), beautiful scenery, and a greatly improved road surface to produce one of the most enjoyable rides that we’ve had since last year’s “West Side Of Mt. St. Helens Ride”.

Getting ready to go...

Our group convened at the starting point and were on our bikes heading up the road by a little after 9:00 AM.  It was a little chilly at the start (low 50’s); but it was tolerable.  Before we knew it, the temperature was in the high 50’s and we were nice and comfy.  We passed through the boulder field immediately after leaving the cars.  I love this area – a steep, huge boulder field to the left of the road and these amazing large boulders strewn around the road (although it is now less impressive because the National Park Service has filled in the “craters” and moved the boulders to the side of the road).

After leaving the boulder field, we came to a stream and had a decision to make – walk across the “log bridge” with our bike or ride across the stream.  Most of us chose the former of the two options, but Scott Larson, Conor Collins, and maybe another one of our group chose to ride through the stream.  This option was fraught with peril; because, if you fell, you probably were done for the ride.  The temperature was still cool enough that it would not be possible to do the ride if you were completely wet from falling into the stream!  Fortunately, all of the intrepid members of our group who opted for the “stream option” made it successfully; and we were on our way. 

That sign is supposed to read "Round Pass"...

We were busy riding and visiting, so the ride up to Round Pass was finished before we knew it.  From Round Pass, there is a 2-3 mile descent before you start climbing again.  This descent is northerly facing, so we encountered patches of snow on the road on the way down.  We were not going very fast, but riding through the snow (which was probably 6-8 inches deep in places) was disconcerting (at least, at first).  After awhile, we got used to the feel of our wheels sort of “swooshing” back and forth in the snow.  We still weren’t going particularly fast; as our confidence grew, we were able to begin to enjoy the snowy patches of road.  Pretty soon, if only one lane was snowy and the other was not; some of us were seeking out the snowy portion.  It was really fun, because it was so different from what we are used to.

About 2/3 of the way down this descent, we encountered one of the two beautiful “rustic” bridges on this ride.  We stopped, took photos, ate and drank and resumed our journey. 

This road must be very difficult/expensive to maintain (mud slides, tree fall, and flooding)...

Finally, we began climbing again and would find ourselves climbing for the remainder of the outward bound portion of the ride.  We passed the second of the two “rustic” bridges, continued to climb, and – eventually – found ourselves at Klapatche Point which marks the end of Westside Road.  We took a couple of group photos, took a few minutes to eat and drink, and were soon headed back.

Group photos at Klapatche Point...

Short video coming off Klapatche Pass

The first descent on the return portion of our trip seemed to pass quickly, and we were soon climbing the portion of the road with snowy patches that led back up to Round Pass.  Most of us had never had much experience riding uphill on a snowy, gravel road, and we were “uncertain” how it would turn out (i.e. whether we would be walking or not).  Once we got the hang of it (which didn’t take long), it turned out to be just as much (if not more) fun than going downhill through the snowy patches.

We cruised up to Round Pass where we visited a memorial that commemorates the crash of a WWII military transport plane (it crashed into Mt. Rainier) which killed the pilots and 32 Marines:  Marine Memorial Information .

From Round Pass, we headed down hill.  Eventually, not far from reaching our cars; we were – once again – at the stream facing the dilemma:  Log Bridge or Ride Through the stream.  The following very short video will answer the aforementioned question:

After the stream, it was back through the boulder field and to our cars (after, approximately, 3.25 hours).  We all had a smile on our face.  This had been such a “different” sort of ride for us, and everyone thought that it was great. 

For the perfect "apres ride activity", most of us met at the Subway Sandwich Shop in Eatonville and ate our fill of subs - awesome.

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

Photos: Westside Road Ride

No comments:

Post a Comment