The 4 Seasons of Mountain Roads

tipsoo_lake

In Seattle, we don’t really have four seasons. The joke that we get a three months of summer and nine months of rain is fairly true.

Yet I love to see the landscape change with the seasons and the weather. That is why I love the Cascade Mountains. Every time I ride there, the landscape looks and feels different. Above is Tipsoo Lake near Chinook Pass in early April. The roads across the Cascades were closed for the winter. We skied 10 miles to core the lake during my Ph.D. field work as a geologist. We drilled through 15 feet (5 m) of snow before we reached the ice on top of the lake.

tipsoo_summer

I was thinking of that geology trip when I rode across Chinook Pass a few weeks ago. In late Summer, Tipsoo Lake was easily accessible from the road, and dozens of visitors milled around on the trails that surround the lake. It really is the same view as in the first photo.

Looking through my photos, I compiled a selection that shows the road to Chinook Pass at different times in the year.

chinook_snow

During that geology trip, Chinook Pass looked like this in early April. It was hard to imagine that just six weeks later, one could ride a bike up here.

chinook_storm

On the way back, we encountered a snow storm as we skied down the road. We wore all the clothing we had brought despite working hard to pull heavy sleds with coring equipment.

chinook_pass

In the spring, the snow melts fast. When I returned from the Oregon Outback last May, the road had just reopened after the winter closure. There still were huge snowbanks on either side.

toward_cayuse

It was raining, and visibility was reduced to half a mile or so. Even though I passed within a few miles of Mount Rainier’s summit, I didn’t even get a glimpse of the mountain. The brooding atmosphere of the high mountains in the clouds had its own appeal.

chinook_pass

Same time of year, but on a sunny day. It was a pleasant place, we were wearing shorts, and sunscreen was at the top of our minds. The mountain views were spectacular.

rockface_summer

In late summer, all the snow is gone. Hard to imagine that this road is closed 7 months out of the year, and that we worried about avalanches when we came through here on skis during that winter research trip.

chinook_snow

Or perhaps not? Just a month after the above photo was taken, the snows start again… Above is the road in early October, just before it was closed for the season.

The dramatic changes are part of what makes the mountains so appealing. I ride this road 2 – 3 times a year. There may only be three months of summer in Seattle, but the mountains are spectacular even when it’s not sunny and dry.

 

 

 

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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10 Responses to The 4 Seasons of Mountain Roads

  1. Christian Bratina says:

    I am passionate about two things, cycling and cross country skiing, so you are tempting me TOO much. Since you have tantalized us with so many fantastic photos and cycling trip stories, we need you to put together a list of recommended routes for others such as us on the East Coast to make vacation cycle touring plans to experience. You could just draw them on RideWithGPS and list them on your website. Then others can fill in the routes, listing recommended places to stay, eat, and explore. You can start by just including the web address for the RideWithGPS route you are discussing, and then put together the compendium..

  2. Do you know how lucky you are to live where you do? I guess so – still, I had to ask🙂

  3. Rick Harker says:

    Spectacular. The story is interesting, the photos are even more so describing nature in its beauty and travelling by bike or foot would bring it all to its glory.
    Thank you for sharing that Jan.
    Here in Australia we don’t get that kind of opportunity as the snow fields are managed by Parks Authorities. In the snow season they are closed even if there is non and if after the season opens again in spring you may only be lucky, maybe.

  4. alliwant says:

    I too enjoy all weather cycling, and here is Wisconsin we get all kinds. Actually, one of the best days I have ever spent on a bike was a day’s trek in southern Iowa on a mild, gloomy and drizzly day. When it’s 75 degrees, drizzle and light rain is much more comfortable. And I say to all, playing in the rain is lots of fun on your bike, try it!

  5. Michael says:

    Riding in very light rain can be fun for sure. Different environmental feel and all.
    Jan reported doing PBP in rain for 50 hours. I wonder what he wore during that ride and how warm and dry it kept him?

    • I wore woolistic jerseys and wool tights. I wasn’t dry on the outside, but warm and comfortable on the inside. I wore a GoreTex jacket a few times when it really poured… but most of the time, I found it was too warm for that. Of course, much of your perception of temperature depends on how much heat you are producing as you are riding.

      • Michael says:

        I have heard wool keeps one warm even when wet.
        How did you keep your leather saddle from getting soaked though?

      • I sat on it! Seriously, only the nose gets wet, and it doesn’t seem to hurt it. We ride in rain all the time in the Pacific Northwest. I tried a saddle cover once, but it disappeared after just a few miles. I do slide around on the saddle a fair bit, moving back on steep uphills, etc.

  6. Chad says:

    Great pictures. I love living in Washington as well. It is amazingly beautiful here. Your ride reports are inspiring, so thank you for sharing them. I agree with one of the above posts regarding the sharing of your routes. I would imagine that the numerous rides you’ve described in this blog would make a great guide book for cyclists looking for proven routes in the area. Maybe show the route, a queue sheet, some notes on the route like food stops and such. I’d buy it. Just a thought.

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