Angel’s Staircase MTB Ride – Methow Valley WA – August 13 2016

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Like a spiral, moving ever further from its point of origin, any long-term Portland mountain biker will slowly but surely find themselves looking for trails further and further from home; you can only ride Hood River, Oakridge, and Bend so many times before you begin to crave a different vista, a bigger climb, a longer descent. In this spirit, I performed an internet search and learned about Angel’s Landing in far North Central Washington. I enlisted David and Dan, and waited patiently as the stars, meteors, and fork stanchions aligned and we hit the road on a Friday after work.

We headed east and stopped at the Dalles Burgerville. We were fortunate enough to arrive in town as a classic auto show was going on and everyone was out in the warm summer evening to celebrate. We slid our station wagon in amongst the Hot-Rods and T-Birds on the main street drag and then ate our food while checking out the scene. Spirits were high as we loaded up and hit the road, punching up US-97, past the Maryhill Loops and into a long dark evening of the central Washington countryside.

5 hours later, we pulled into the Foggy Dew campground in the Okanogan National Forest, set up tents, drank some flavored carbonated water and watched the Perseid Meteor shower for a bit. We slept well and woke up early, drank coffee and broke camp. The trailhead was another 15 minute drive up a Forest Service road and we pulled in to see a surprising number of other vehicles for hikers, bikers, and horse folk. We got ready and set-off quickly, settling into the massive beginning climb that starts the ride.

We passed a few other riders as we climbed and the time ticked by. I watched the elevation climb on my Garmin by the hundreds of feet and started calculating how much time we had left. After 2500ft of kinda-tricky climbing, we hit beautiful Cooney Lake. This was the first point of the ride with some real views and we soaked them in and filtered water. Eventually, the horse flies got to biting, and we hit the trail again.

 

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We only rode for 5-10 minutes before the first massive hike-a-bike of the day began.

 

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Our new running enthusiast, David, claimed he was going to run up the hike, but we were already pretty tired by the time we started up, and we were all dragging. We passed a hiker coming down he laughed at us for what we were about to do, saying it only got more brutal. Up and up we slugged, with the joke-cracking and ‘gramming slowly turning into a quiet get-er-done feeling. Eventually, we crested on the ridge, and as the video shows, we were very satisfied with our reward. We hung out a bit more and then rode what we could and hiked what we couldn’t along the ridgeline to the high point above 8000 feet. This point offered the greatest rewards in terms of scenery and we enjoyed our time in the alpine air, looking out into the mountains beyond mountains of the North Cascades National Park.

The descent started off very steep, very rocky, and with extremely tight switchbacks. I wasn’t even trying to make the turns, instead stopping in each corner, flipping the bike around, and going again. A few hundred feet down, and I heard a yell from Dan that he was flatting. We got to work and got things repaired relatively quickly. A short while later, Dan nearly suffered a pretty scary crash off the steep side of the trail, but he held it together and we babied our way down. Along the way, the density of wildflowers increased and we could see some beautiful meadows below that we’d soon be riding through. The trails in this section were lots of fun, though very tight and still quite raw with many unexpected rocks and drops. David flatted in a little rough section of trail, and I began to get nervous that we didn’t have enough tubes to get us through the day. We stopped at a trail junction with a cool camp table and hewn benches for snacks and then rode to the second big lake of the day, Boiling Lake.

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Despite some nearby hikers and campers, David and I decided it was high time to do some serious cooling off, so we stripped down to our bike helmets and ran into the mushy lake bed. Coming back to shore, the bugs attacked, so we quickly got dressed, filtered some water and then hit the trail. Almost immediately, we were back to doing some hike-a-bike, though there were some more rideable sections mixed in. The climb lasted 30-40 minutes and we emerged onto Horsehead Pass. We spent a few minutes taking in the terrifically jagged mountains to the west, and then we began the descent.

 

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The descending trail was very rough and loose, with many babyhead slab sections. We were having a blast, but almost immediately, Dan flatted again. We threw in our last tube, pumped it extra high, and said a little prayer to the bike gods. Then David and I got to raging with occasional stops to make sure that Dan, who was taking it easy, hadn’t flatted again. The descent seemed to last an incredibly long time, which meant we were getting very tired. According to Strava, it dropped 2700ft but the roughness and dust-blind corners of the trail made it feel like much more. The only other event of note was me getting stung above my left eye by a bee and screaming like a baby about it, I luckily held it together and avoided crashing. Even though the descent felt long, it still ended before I wanted it to.

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We rode over to the car, pulled out the cooler, and enjoyed some well deserved cans of flavored, carbonated water and corn chips. We spoke to some friendly locals about the trails in the Methow Valley, and then it was back in the car to do the 6.5 hour drive home. We made a special point to stop by Leavenworth to see the hilarious olde-timey signs and get some olde-timey iced coffees from Starbucks. After some solid Mexican food from a cart on the outskirts of town, we punched it for another 4 hours, all the way back to the Dalles Burgerville, for one last round of cheeseburgers to see us home.

Even with a few days space, I’m still feeling the vibrations of the trail. When you fall into a routine with your rides or hikes, it’s easy to forget that there really is a feeling of wild unknown that only a new, unseen piece of territory can provide, I can’t wait to see the place that gives me that jolt next.