Friday, August 29, 2008

CYCLOCROSS ADVENTURES

Check out the latest issue of Adventures NW magazine (http://www.adventuresnw.com/) which has my story about CX'ploring, exploring the trails and roads around Bellingham by cyclocross bike. Extree cool--that's my cover shot of Mark Peterson and Ryan Rickerts, a couple of local 'cross race promoters. Go to http://www.cyclocrazed.com/ for the latest info on their new race series.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

HIKING TO CAMP MUIR

Check out today's Seattle Times for my story about hiking to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier. Or just click here: (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/outdoors/2008142238_nwwcampmuir280.html)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

METHOW MOUNTAIN BIKING

The boy Baker and I headed east earlier this week--Winthrop, to be exact. Mountain biking and camping were on the agenda and well ... after that three-hour drive and then pedaling our bikes around for a few hours, then trying to figure out to microwave our dinner at our campsite, we figured one out of two ain't bad. So we stayed at a motel, the Winthrop Inn. (Truth be told, the dad finds camping to be a bit of a hassle 'lest there're others around to help take care of those hassles. Plus, he'd much rather sleep in a bed.)
On the way over we stopped at the Washington Pass Overlook. That's Liberty Bell. I've climbed South Early Winter Spire, the farthest nubbin there on the left, which I never cease to tell people in the hopes that they'll be impressed. (If you've climbed it, you know that you approach it from the other side where it's not nearly so burly.)

Monday afternoon, we mountain biked from the Chickadee Trailhead up by Sun Mountain Lodge where all the rich folks get to stay. We also had the unique opportunity to find out just what you do when the derailleur snaps off the nine-year-old's bike. You ... anyone? ... that's right, you carry the bike yourself and have your son ride yours. (That's Bake riding me K2 Lithium.)

Day two, after dropping Bake's bike at Methow Cycle and Sport, we headed east, up over Loup Loup Pass to Omak because there's a skateboard park there. Kinda. Pretty run down. Pretty depressing. Pretty much wanted to get the heck out of Omak almost as soon as we got there. But hey, it killed a few hours and Loup Loup is definitely something I shall return and ride someday. Perhaps soon. (The Methow's Fall Bike Festival www.mvsta.com/summer/bikefest.html?)
Back at our Methow motel, Bake swam ... ... then we picked up his bike--now with a new derailleur--and headed back up to Chickadee. Pedaled 'round Beaver Pond then climbed to Sun Mountain Lodge from where we enjoyed a screamin' descent back down. The boy's new derailleur worked like a charm.

Back to B'ham this afternoon. A great trip!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

TWO WEEKS 'TIL RIDE 542

The sassy John Clark and I rode once again to Artist Point for probably the last time before the Mount Baker Hill Climb which takes place Sept. 7. Came across lots of folks on bikes climbing and descending. Met up with Randy Olsen who was riding with (but on his own bike) the above tandem, powered by a very nice couple whose names unfortunately, escapes me.


Muriel Handschy and a friend were also up there. She's doing Ride 542 which should be a piece of cake for her. Click here http://www.bellinghamherald.com/513/story/488745.html to read about her family's epic six-week European bike vacation through Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. (Our sons are classmates and pals.)Bake and I are likely off to Winthrop tomorrow for a couple days of mountain biking and sleeping on the hard ground. That's right; we're camping, baby!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

HIDDEN LAKE HIKE

With hiking season being upon us, I thought it might be useful to revisit some stories I've written about my favorite places in the mountains. This one focuses on Hidden Lake Peak, a spectacular hike just east of Marblemount off Highway 20 in the North Cascades. Along with a really cool fire lookout cabin--that you can stay in overnight--it offers spectacular views. (You can read about it below or in my North Cascades book there to the right.)

In this story, me partner in crime is Rick Lingbloom, a super nice guy and teacher at Northern Heights Elementary School in B'ham. Unfortunately, ol' Rick has gone on to the dark side: he's no longer a trail runner but rather an elitist surf skier.
Here's the story, which first ran in The Seattle Times:
Lookout above: A classic North Cascades destination and a reminder of why to go
"Our mothers would not be happy right now."
That's the third time my friend Rick Lingbloom has said this, and like the two other times, it's not left me all a-burst with confidence. He's about 30 feet above me as we scramble up Hidden Lake Peak, a pyramid of rocks that tops out at 7,088 feet, about 15 miles east of Marblemount, Skagit County.
For a moment, I raise my eyes from the rock and wow as my personal IMAX-mountain-vision includes an all-star line-up of North Cascade peaks — Eldorado, Torment, Forbidden, Boston, Sahale, Snowking, Baker, Glacier, even Rainier. This is manna from heaven for mountain lovers.

This isn't a technical climb (no ropes needed), basically just a hands-and-feet crawl up a 500-foot pile of car-door-sized granite slabs that happen to lie on top of each other more or less horizontally. Holds are huge and we stick to the rock like Velcro, so it's a mostly safe-feeling climb. Except for when Rick, who like me is much more a hiker than a rock climber, steps on a slab that rocks a little bit.

"I don't know about this," he says. "Our mothers would definitely not be happy."
Usually, though, he's laughing when he says these things and that removes any fear that we'll end up in Outside magazine, the subjects of an "Into Thin Air"-type tragedy.

We set out early this September morning on a trail run/hike to Hidden Lake Lookout, a retired fire observation station built in 1931 and maintained for the past 30-plus years by Friends of the Hidden Lake Lookout, a Skagit County Group. The Hidden Lake Trail is steeper than I remembered — I'd hiked it before but not tried running it — and about a half-mile from the trailhead, our trail run morphs into a speed-hike. Which is fine, because not long after passing through a forest of silver fir, we begin a switchbacking, elevation-gobbling ascent up the Sibley Creek basin.

With the sun rising above the Hidden Lake Peaks — there are actually several Hidden Lake Peaks; the one we eventually climb is the most prominent — we ascend a grand amphitheater of purple lupine and crimson paintbrush, mini-waterfalls and jagged crags. Cheeky marmots, fuzzy lumps lazing on boulders in the sun, whistle at us from across the valley.

After about 2.5 miles and 1,800 feet of climbing, the grade eases as the trail traverses south across heathery meadows and granite boulder fields. We're running again and are rewarded with emerging views to the west of Mount Baker and Twin Sisters, and deep down into the evergreen valley of the Cascade River. About a mile farther, after a couple rock-garden switchbacks, the lookout comes into view a few hundred feet above us. I spot it before Rick and am impelled to pull one of the oldest (and dumbest) tricks in the book.

"Look out!" I yell, as if he were about to become prey for a low-flying pterodactyl.

"Oh yeah, there it is," Rick says, ignoring my attempt at humor.

After ascending a short, snow-filled, rock-rimmed gully we reach a notch at about four miles (6,500 feet) and are instantly awash in North Cascade peaks. It's all bright sun and glaciers, valleys, forests and sky-kissing spires as far as the eye can see. Below us, jewel-like Hidden Lake — the lake and peak's namesake — sparkles in the sun, a few mini-icebergs afloat in its shallows.

With the lookout in sight, we head to the right (south) and climb a technical trail that snakes through boulders and is at times hard to follow. It's about a half-mile more and 300 feet higher to the lookout. Fading red dots spray-painted on boulders at key spots lead the way, as do cairns placed by those who've gone before. After a hands-and-feet crawl up the final few yards, we reach the lookout: a small wood box bolted to a pile of rocks. It's available for overnight stays on a first-come basis and in fact, just as we arrive at about 11 a.m. on a Saturday, a couple who'd spent the night are heading down. "There's no charge if you're poor or a college student, but most people send between $10 and $25," said Dr. Fred Darvill, a Northwest climbing legend and author who heads up the Friends of Hidden Lake. "Of course if you're Bill Gates or someone like that, you probably should leave several thousand dollars."

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Sadly, Darvil, a true Northwest legend, recently passed away.)

Darvill said it costs about $300 a year to maintain the lookout. There are pre-addressed donation envelopes inside. We also find a double bed, blankets, dishes, propane stove, pots, pans, maps and 360-degrees worth of mountains — a room with a view if there ever was one.
A bookshelf stuffed with paperback bestsellers and mountain guidebooks offers a title that catches my eye: "The Madams of San Francisco" by Curt Gentry. Something to curl up with on a lonely night in the mountains, I suppose.

Rick and I made pretty good time to the lookout, so we spring for dessert — the scramble up Hidden Lake Peak. As the raven flies, it's about a half-mile northeast of the lookout and, at 7,088 feet, about 200 feet higher. First though, we descend to the notch where earlier we went right toward the lookout. Once there, we find a trail heading up in the opposite direction, which soon turns to large flat boulders and from there, we're pretty much on our own. We stay to the left of the ridge (the Mount Baker side) and are able to find mostly big, bomber-hold rocks — that only occasionally moved — all the way to the top.

"This is the peak, baby!" Rick calls back to me after about 20 minutes of scrambling.

I look up and above the large granite flake where he's perched, I see nothing but blue sky. A couple minutes later, I join him. Though it doesn't seem possible, the views, which were stupendous at the lookout (and the notch below the lookout), are even more so from the peak. It's like we've stepped out onto the wing of an airplane. Wedged in the rocks we find a plastic tube containing the summit register and while I click off photos, Rick fills it in.

"What kind of trail run is this, McQuaide?" he writes.

An amazing one. A little steep maybe, but amazing nonetheless.

TO GET THERE: For the Hidden Lake Lookout hike, take Interstate 5 to Exit 230 at Burlington, Skagit County, and go east on Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway) for about 40 miles to Marblemount. Just past Milepost 106, go straight onto Cascade River Road where Highway 20 takes a hard left. Cross a bridge over the Skagit River and continue on Cascade River Road for 9.8 miles to Forest Road 1540. Turn left and follow the rough, narrow gravel road for 4.7 miles to the road-end trailhead. Elevation: 3,500 feet. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking.
Statistics: Nine miles round-trip; add about a mile if you scramble up Hidden Lake Peak. Elevation gain: 3,400 feet. High point: 6,890 for lookout, 7,088 for Hidden Lake Peak.
Safety: This hike/run/climb took place on a windless, sunny day when there hadn't been precipitation for at least a month, and the trail was about as melted out as it ever gets. Snow, rain or any kind of bad weather will raise the difficulty level significantly and raise safety issues as well, especially the higher you go. Check the weather forecast and the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Web site (www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs) for the latest conditions, or call Mount Baker Ranger District, 360-856-5700. And always go prepared with the hiker's Ten Essentials (maps, compass, flashlight/headlamp, extra food and water, extra clothing, sunglasses, first-aid kit, pocket knife, matches and fire starter).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

THURSDAY'S SEATTLE TIMES

Check out Thursday's Northwest Weekend section of the Seattle Times (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/outdoors/2008127969_nwwbakerride210.html) for my story on this year's Ride 542 (http://www.norkarecreation.com/) coming up Sept. 7. Charlie Heggem's added a century ride for folks itching to ride to Artist Point twice (as well as ride the Powerhouse Hill twice), and a 10K Trail Run. And, like last year, there'll be a cyclocross race at Silver Lake Park the day before the hill climb. (If they could only have the 'cross race the day after the hill climb, I'd be all over it.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

FAIR DAYS OF AUGUST

Northwest Washington Fair last week. Lotsa heat, lotsa sun, lotsa Bake spinning 'round and 'round on the Sizzler. Kid next to him looks like she's holding on for dear life. Or trying to get comfortable so she can take a nap; one of the two.

Rode from Glacier to Artist Point Saturday during what passes for a heat wave here--temps in the 80s! Didn't hear from John or Scott so I headed up on my own. First time riding a big mountain since the Cayuse crack at RAMROD a few weeks ago. Felt good to get this one under my belt. Met a guy named Bob from Edmonds. (That's him below.) He was on his annual birthday ride wherein he rides twice as many miles as his age. He was doing 110 that day. From Maple Falls (I gather) to Artist Point, back to Bellingham and then Lummi Island. Kind of a cool idea. I didn't talk to him that long but he said he'd ridden the Alps, the Pyrenees, Alpe D'Huez, etc. Said he didn't do RAMROD this year b/c he was riding in Colorado and he's not doing the Mount Baker Hill Climb because he'll be in Japan. So I think he's some sort of captian of industry who spends his disposable income in the same way I would were I to have some.

Friday, August 08, 2008

CAMP MUIR - MOUNT RAINIER

So intrigued was I by the big mountain during last week's RAMROD that on Wednesday past I headed down to Mount Rainier for a story I'll be writing for the Seattle Times about day-hiking to Camp Muir. It's an incredible place, the Paradise area of Mount Rainier, akin to Mount Baker's Heather Meadows-Artist Point Area. Only bigger. Much bigger. Below, a field of magenta paintbrush, which are everywhere up there right now.
From Paradise, elev. 5,420 feet, I set out for Camp Muir, elev. 10,000 feet, just a hair lower than Mount Baker's summit. Once on the Muir Snowfield (not a glacier so no crevasses to worry about), I followed boot track and wands that were still in place from earlier in the summer.
It's a strenous hike--about 5 miles with 4,700 feet of climbing one-way--but after about 3-1/2 hours I arrived at the below-pictured Camp Muir. It's base camp for most of the 10,000-plus folks who annually climb to the summit of 14,441-foot Mount Rainier.
Camp Muir is a whole village unto itself with climbing rangers (who pretty much live up there and have their own hut), a stone shelter for those who want to stay inside away from the elements (and likely wrestle with mice all night long), and several privies.
Below, check out the trail runner descending Camp Muir. I've no idea if he ran up too.

Friday, August 01, 2008

RAMROD 2008

Team Unattacked attacked the big one, Mount Rainier, on Thursday as Johnny "America's Little Buttercup" Clark, Scott "Pink Boy" Young, and Mike "Cayuse Pass's Whipping Boy" McQuaide, took part in the 25th annual RAMROD (Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day).
At 151 miles with 9,750-feet of elevation gain, it was killer strenuous but truly spectacular. The best ride Scott and John had ever been on, they said. Above, we're about to start our journey at 5:15 a.m. under cover of semi-darkness. Below, check out the cool lenticular cloud hovering like a halo about the summit of 14,410-foot Mount Rainier. The thing grew and expanded throughout the day and at one point looked almost like the rings around Saturn.

Put on by the Redmond Cycling Club (http://www.redmondcyclingclub.org/), RAMROD is certainly one of the best events I've ever participated in. The food is good, the organization and volunteers are tops, and the course can't be beat. There're two big climbs--10 miles up to Inspiration Point and 11 miles to Cayuse Pass, both which top out at roughly 4,700 feet. In between, there's a smaller one to Backbone Ridge, which is fairly harmless.

Below, please note musicians who were up and playing for the pre-ride breakfast at 4:30 a.m. That's a tough gig. (I said to Scott, "Can you imagine having to play music at 4:30 in the morning?" To which some guy who overheard me, said: "Can you imagine having to listen to music at 4:30 in the morning?")

The first climb doesn't start 'til about 60 miles in so there's lots of time to eat, drink, try to warm up (it must've been in the high 40s at the start), as well as find lots of other wheels to tuck in behind. I did RAMROD four years ago and then we road all the way to Paradise, this time they had us top out Inspiration Point, about 600 feet lower. Which I was kind of glad about; for whatever reason, I wasn't feeling super stellar. (More on that in a moment.) The following descent was ridiculously fun, fast, and most important, felt relatively safe, wrote this author who's usually a pretty conservative (not politically, er anything) descender. Smooth roads, not a whole lot of turns, zero to very few cars, and long, long straightaways where you could see far ahead of you.

"There's no amusement park ride that's as fun as that," Scott said. (All the descents were like that in fact: screamin' meamie fun.)
After Backbone Ridge came the 11-mile, 2,500-foot climb to Cayuse Pass where I partook in an involuntary reenactment of Floyd Landis's famous crack on La Toussuire during Stage 16 of the 2006 Tour de France. (That's the one that spurred his epic beer-, testosterone-, whatever the hell else-fueled comeback the following day.) At the bottom of the hill, which starts at about mile 100, I didn't feel good. A mile into it, I felt less good and a mile later, blurted out an inadvertent "Oh fudge!" (or something that sounded like "Oh fudge!") and told the guys, Sorry, but I'm cooked, cracked, knackered, and no good to nobody nowhere. I was like a balloon with the air let out; I had no power at all.

John and Scott were great, super patient and just hung with me as we conquered the hill at a blistering 7 miles per hour! Oh well, as Tony Soprano would say, What'ya'gonna do? Below, see photo of a completely spent McQ after having finally made it to the top.


After the descent, we were treated to sandwiches of our choice and the best tasting icy cold can of Coke I've had in my entire life. From there, it was about 30 miles of downhill and flat during which the indefatigable John and Scott pulled about eight of us into the finish at Enumclaw. Below, that's us at the finish. Our stats: 151 miles with 9,750 feet elevation gain. Eight hours 57 minutes of riding time, about 10 hours and 15 minutes total time. (We finished at about 3:30 p.m.)
Coming up in the next few days: the harrowing story of lost motel reservations, our new digs next door to a casino and airport, and Mike wrestles with a roll-out bed. Here's a photo to whet your appetite: