This ride has been on my bucket list since 2019. It was part of the Rapha Triple Crown X OMTM collab up in Winthrop and Twisp area. I've never been that far north in Washington before, and I needed to venture north of Leavenworth for once.
Every time I read about the Northern Cascades and the endless summits towering over hundreds of glacial-fed lakes, I feel that it was inspired by fairytales and not the other way around.
Heck, There's a whole area up there called "The Enchantments"!!
This photo is just one example of how beautiful it is up there. I might write up a post about this fantastic hike whenever I get the time!
First Attempt Climbing Slate Peak
As I said earlier, I first heard about this ride thanks to the OMTM X Rapha collab for the Tripple Crown series. The first stage of the triple crown was up north in Winthrop, which is a small town where time stopped almost 100 years ago. It's a town straight out of the Wild West era. Boardwalks connecting small shops, saloons, and a bakery alongside the Methow River (Met-how).
I'm betting that the town's spirit hasn't changed as much over those years. Aside from the tourist traffic, Winthrop is a dream for anyone looking to enjoy a quiet place at the gateway to the Northern Cascades. You honestly can't go wrong camping or lodging in that area.
The first stage of the 2019 Cascade Triple Crown is a two-day riding weekend with a total of 190 miles and 20k ft of elevation, otherwise known as a "pretty solid weekend." We road over three major climbs the first day, passing through Conconully and Twisp before returning to Winthrop on primarily gravel roads. With a lunch stop in the middle by two extraordinary chefs from Portland. Chef Rick Gencarelli & Chef Chris Diminno
What made the first-day challenging wasn't the climb up to Baldy Peak or up to Col De LoupLoup; those were relatively enjoyable ascents. The washboard, though... I can still feel the vibrations years after the ride. I know I'm exaggerating, but it was rough bombing down the hills.
I had a Specialized Diverge as my main bike back then. It was the first model with the Futureshock headset, with 20mm of travel. I loved that bike so much that I pretty much road it to the ground in just over a year. I put about 10k miles on that frame alone, and I pretty much went everywhere with it.
Although I loved having the Futureshock, it was a bit of a risky gamble, for the long term at least. The first model of everything tends to have its issues, and this Diverge was known to have issues with the collar holding the whole Shock system together. The collar pretty much loosens up over time, and you have to keep up with it, which is something I was not aware of since I always took it to where I bought it from for maintenance.
Back to those washboards, as you could probably imagine what happened to the bike. The headset rattled itself loose over miles on the first day, and it only took one semi-deep
washboard to wallow out my headtube! The snap was loud enough for me to hear it coming
down a hill with the wind in my ears. Thankfully I was able to limb back to my campsite, but the bike was done after that. And the best thing about it is that I got to keep all of my front teeth that day!
Broken bike = no riding the next day.
I was sad to miss out on the ride up to Slate peak the next day, but I took advantage of the day and drove up instead.
Also, without that trip, I wouldn't have met the awesome Seattle and Washington folks who ended up becoming great friends. A small price to pay for a beautiful outcome.
Regardless of what happened, that was a great trip up north to a place I'd never been to before.
Also, a BIG shout out to the best bike shop in PDX, River City Bicycles, and the incredible team who went above and beyond to make things right.
I was set on riding up to Slate Peak when planning my trip across the west with my DIY camper. I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on Slate Peak, as it might have been my last chance to do so. So I made it stop #2 in Washington, after Hurricane Ridge and Port Angeles.
I came back with my trusty B-road Breadwinner. This bike has seen it all, from fast roadie rides to cross-country trips to +400km brevets and ultra-poachy explorations. I came prepared this time with the Hendo special. A 650b wheelset, running 47mm Rutlands in the front, and Ramparts in the back. I feel confident going anywhere with that setup. Whether it's up a mountain pass on gravel roads or uncharted Weyerhaeuser, Hogbacks, you name it, this setup can and will handle it.
The Ride up to the Peak
There are many variations to this route, depending on where you start. My original plan was to ride out of Winthrop as the OMTM X Rapha collab originally did. However, that changed over minutes. The trip was at the beginning of July, and 2021 was an unusually dry year. I've heard about a few active fires across Washington, but nothing was on that side of the mountains, or so I've thought.
The day I drove over from Seattle to Winthrop, the wind picked up and turned east, funneling into the Northern Cascades Highway, intensifying the small shrub fires into what you see in the picture above. It was a scary thing to see the whole side of the mountain on fire with my own eyes, and you could feel the heat from miles away. There's something so depressing about forest fires. I feel this change in the energy of the area. The same way I feel when I see another human being battling an illness, quietly.
Due to the fires around, I decided to drive over to Mazama and start from there. Starting from Winthrop would've made it more stressful to beat the wind and get to the summit before the whole area is engulfed with smoke. But, the sacrifice was worth it.
Biking out west towards Hart Pass alongside the Methow River is a great way to warm up for what will come as soon as you hit the gravel roads. The climb up the first switchback is no joke. It's steep, dry with babyhead rocks spread throughout the road. Picking a lane and keeping the momentum was a winning strategy to get up the first leg of the climb.
I remember the feeling of possibly having to turn around and not finishing this ride on the second try. The wildfire was south of the road leading up to Slate Peak. I mean, the whole side of the mountain facing me was on fire, and the wind started picking up.
I just had to keep going on. I knew that I wouldn't really forgive myself for not checking this one off of the list since it has a very special place in my heart.
To me, this was more than a ride. It was about the deep connection and love I have for this land and the Pacific Northwest.
A bittersweet journey through this beautiful land.
I decided to take a break on the side of the road to grab a snack. My mind was preoccupied thinking about life and trying to process some major life changes I was going through at that time. So running into these guys chilling on the side of the road was the right pick-me-up I needed right then and there!
I didn't realize that I was in their territory, but they ensured I knew about that. I honestly couldn't see them at first, but I heard something shuffling around. The mountain goats blend in well with the background.
Keeping your eyes on the road is quite the challenge. The vast backdrops of deep valleys and what was supposed to be glacial-capped mountains inflicts a mix of emotion with every pedal stroke.
Nearing the last switchback before the dreadful 25% grade up to the summit at 7400ft is a godsent glacial-fed creek. This was the second water filtering stop on this climb. The heat from the sun and the wildfires around me were enough to make you sweat yourself dry.
Finally, the summit!
Out of breath, thirsty and stoked to be there.
I felt like I was on top of the world for a minute. The views from Slate Peak never disappoint. A seemingly endless sea of Cascade peaks
This one is for me.
I needed this more than I could've imagined. It was only the butterflies and me up there, a gentle breeze occasionally rushing through and a half-eaten PB&J sandwich.
I sat there on the edge with the biggest smile on my face, tears rushing down, and a heart so full of love for what was in front of me.
The great thing about riding up is coming down. I aired down my tires for the washboard and the 38-mile descent ahead. I wish I had a GoPro for that downhill, to show y'all how crazy fast you can go tucked in and hoping the occasional rut here and there.
Staying on high alert for any hazards on the downhill and enjoying the views.
The cherry on the top was an elderly couple more excited than I was, I bet, seeing me zoom by them, which they ended up at the same snack shop later in the day.
I could tell that this trip was only going to get better. This much stoke at day 3 set the bar way too high, but little did I know what Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado still had to offer.
I highly recommend this ride. It's worth the effort and trek across the Northern Cascades if you're coming from the wet end of the cascades, of course.
This ride will forever be on my bucket list.