Alpine Mountain Biking The Cascades — Angels Staircase


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | August 22, 2016      

Skiing is in the August air, cycling is good prep for the legs. To that end, we have incredible mountain biking in Washington. On the west side of the mountains where I live, you’ll find classic PNW trails — smooth loam, fast descents, and nicely built features are the norm. However, from growing up in Colorado, I do sometimes miss the long, rough xc adventures that remind me of the rocky trails back home, (and the epic ski tours we do in winter on those same routes). When I heard about Angels Staircase bike ride, a 22 mile high-alpine loop in the North Cascades, checking it out was mandatory.

Cruising through alpine meadows with the North Cascades as a backdrop.

Cruising through alpine wildflowers with the North Cascades as a backdrop.

Most alpine and above treeline areas are in wilderness areas (especially in Washington), so there aren’t that many mountain bike trails that venture above the trees. Angels Staircase is an exception. It gains 6,000 feet over its 22 mile length, and goes over two passes, one above 8,000 feet. Considering the highest non-volcanic peak in Washington is only 1,500 feet higher, that’s impressive.

The weather looked good last weekend. We wanted to escape the heat of the lowlands so we decided to give Angels a go. We left early and cranked several hours up the trail to Cooney Lake. After lunch at the beautiful lake, we started the climb up to our first pass of the day. I had heard that the climb was short but brutal. It was.

After 1,000 feet of hike-a-bike up the steep, rocky trail, we reached the top. I suspected the views along the ride would be aesthetic, but I wasn’t prepared for just how stunning it was. I’ve never been on a bike anywhere else that even came close. We were high above the surrounding lakes and valleys, and could see Rainier, Bonanza Peak, Glacier Peak, and the backbone of the North Cascades.

The first part of day was spent cranking up trail. We started in the trees, eventually reached alpine meadows, and finally onto rocky ridgelines.

The first part of day was spent cranking up trail. We started in the trees, eventually reach into alpine meadows, and finally onto rocky ridgelines.

Julia biking through beautiful alpine meadows.

Julia biking through beautiful alpine meadows.

The first part of day was spent cranking up trail. We began in the trees, eventually made into alpine meadows, and finally onto rocky ridgelines.

The dreaded hike-a-bike. 1,000 feet of switchbacks up a scree field. The picture doesn’t do it justice. Check out that view though!

After soaking up the views and cooling in the breeze, we began the descent. The first switchbacks were steep and rocky, but eventually smoothed out and mellowed. We cruised through wildflowers and alpine meadows all the way to Boiling Lake, where the next climb started. Although it wasn’t quite as long, this hike-a-bike felt even more brutal.

Eventually we crested the ridge with only downhill in our future. The first part of the descent was more rocky switchbacks, this time even more rough. With a bit of walking we made it through, and found smoother trails. The rip back to the car was fun and fast.

The ride was long, and the rough parts really put my skills (and 150mm of suspension) to the test. I hadn’t really known what to expect on the ride; I ended up worked, with a big smile on my dusty face. I love adventure, going off trail, and exploring places that are out of the way. That sense of exploration is tough on a bike; if you want to actually ride, you’re confined to comparatively manicured trails. Even though the trails are well established, and they see plenty of other bikers, the Angels Staircase was a full-value adventure. I felt more like I was on a backpacking trip than a bike trip. I’ll have to find more rides like this.

Phil wonders how far he could throw his bike down the mountainside.

Victory!

At 8,000 feet, our high point of the day. Lake Chelan is in the valley just beyond, with the North Cascades beyond that.

At 8,000 feet, our high point of the day. Lake Chelan is in the valley just beyond, with the North Cascades beyond that.

The initial descent down the pass was super rocky and steep. Eventually it turned into nice dirt. Phil kicking up some dust.

The initial descent down the pass was super rocky and steep. Eventually it turned into nice dirt. Phil kicking up some dust.

On our first descent of the day.

On our first descent of the day.

Beginning our second descent of the day. More rocks, and more awesome views. Only 3,000 vert to go.

Beginning our second descent of the day. More rocks and more awesome views. Only 3,000 vert to go, all downhill.

Just one of many unique experiences of the day; biking through boulderfields.

Just one of many unique experiences of the day; biking through boulder fields.



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Comments

5 Responses to “Alpine Mountain Biking The Cascades — Angels Staircase”

  1. Scott Allen August 22nd, 2016 12:43 pm

    As close to making turns in the alpine as it gets..in summer..love that last photo…

  2. Lou Dawson 2 August 22nd, 2016 4:32 pm

    This looks so wonderful, nice to see a multi-use trail in that type of location. Lou

  3. Lisa August 23rd, 2016 9:25 am

    Beautiful! I’m always impressed how you and your crew get after it.

  4. Dan Powers August 23rd, 2016 5:17 pm

    Nice!

  5. Mark Worley August 23rd, 2016 9:48 pm

    Stunning views. I have to agree with Lou; many trails in such places are not open to bikes. It is Nice to see some trails like this open to bikes.





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