The Plains of Abraham

It has been hard to break the silence on Mountain lessons ever since Taylor and I returned from our epic two-month road trip through the American West and British Columbia. After weeks upon weeks of world-class adventures on America’s best mountain bike trails, returning home to Portland couldn’t feel anything but mundane. One day you’re redlining it on Whistler’s rocky, rooty Comfortably Numb epic, and the next you’re sorting through two months of mail and figuring out how to turn your utilities back on.

Mundane, everyday tasks just can't compete.
Mundane, everyday tasks just can’t compete. The author on Windy Ridge (Photo: @tschef).

The best cure for the end-of-adventure blues is just to have more adventures. These days, that means either trail running or mountain biking, and with hundreds of miles on the mountain bike legs this summer, taking advantage of that fitness is pretty fun.

Taylor on Windy Ridge
Taylor on Windy Ridge, with Mt Adams in the background.

Yesterday, to settle the adventure jonesing, Taylor and I went to ride the IMBA Epic ‘Plains of Abraham’ ride on Mt St Helens outside of Cougar. Washington. The ride climbs for five miles through large timber until breaking out into a world of pumice and eroded canyons. The Plains of Abraham themselves are a relatively flat zone at the base of the mountain which was devastated by the explosion of Mt St Helens. It’s a moonscape nearly devoid of plant life, and while it’s far from a good surface for mountain biking, it’s a really cool romp through a wacky landscape.

The ride itself can be either an out-and-back (21 mi) from the Ape Canyon trailhead, or it can be made into a loop with the truly backcountry Smith Creek trail for a true epic (26 mi). Taylor and I parked at the Smith Creek trailhead planning to do the big loop, and facing either a 5 mi gravel road climb or a 2 mi trail ride (at least, that’s what the map showed) to get to the Ape Canyon trailhead, we opted to ride on trail.

About a mile into the Lava Canyon trail towards Ape Canyon, there’s a sign that says “Mountain bikers use Road 8322, no mountain bikes on Lava Canyon trail”. Never one to let the forest service restrict my access to non-wilderness public lands, we ignored the sign and plowed on.

Ladder on Lava Cayon trail
Nearing the top of the ladder on the Lava Canyon trail

Some signs are there for a reason. The Lava Canyon trail climbs 1800′  in 2.5 miles, switchbacking up steep rock staircases, narrowly hugging the side of precipitous canyon walls, and ultimately leading to a 40′ steel ladder. But what is adventure without a good measure of considered stupidity? Up we went.

Climbing the Lava Canyon ladder with a bike.
Climbing the Lava Canyon ladder with a bike.  For the second time. (Photo: @tschef)

Finally onto real trail, we climbed through the woods and out onto the Plains of Abraham. There I decided that whomever had deemed the ride an Epic was an idiot. The surface on the plains is similar to dry Fruit Loops, and offers just as much traction. Riding into a headwind there and across Windy Ridge to our turn-around point I was pretty grumpy. Scenic though it might be, it’s no epic mountain bike ride.

Taylor on the Plains of Abraham
Taylor on the Plains of Abraham, with Mt Rainier on the horizon.

With limited water an energy, we opted to avoid the Smith Creek descent, which is, I’m told, some pretty atrocious mountain biking. Instead we opted for an out-and-back, and found the way back to be much more fun– with deflated tubeless tires, a headwind, and a slight downhill edge, the Fruit Loops made for a fun, drifty enduro downhill, and the buff trail through the timber rode fast and clean. Two-and-a-half hours up, one-and-a-half down.

Taylor, returning from Windy Ridge
Taylor, returning from Windy Ridge.

With now 760 miles of mountain biking under the belt this year, I hope to crack 1000 before skiing steals away my attention. And with school quickly approaching, no doubt there will be more posts here, as writing becomes not a duty but a joy and a distraction. Stay tuned!


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Category: Mountain Biking



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