I have driven up the Cascade River Road a number of times in the past few years and really love the area. You can get ‘into the mountains’ and are in a pretty isolated area in a relatively short time. I had it in my mind that I could drive a ways past the pavement and then mountain bike as far as I was capable, then just head back mostly downhill to the rig.
You get to this place where I parked by heading east on SR-20, from Sedro-Woolley or the South Skagit Highway, from Clear Lake. Pass through Concrete and Rockport. You get off the main road at Marblemount, heading across the Skagit River on the Cascade River Road. You are almost to this turnoff when you see this sign as you come into Marblemount. This is the last gas, or anything else commercial, until you get to Winthrop, if you are staying on SR-20, for 74 miles.
On the Cascade River Road the pavement ends at Sibley Creek, out about 12 miles from Marblemount. This portion has been freshly oiled and gravelled and is very easy driving. After the pavement ends, the washboard begins. This is the worst that I have seen for this road. I guess the spring and summer traffic created these millions of little ridges. I was driving the Tracker that has a short wheelbase; this seems to alleviate most of the jarring ride. I think that the washboard condition was created by trucks and regular passenger cars with a longer wheelbase and the short wheelbase of the Tracker hops over a lot of the bumps. I have noticed this on roads in the Okanogan, too.
I had it in my mind to park at Hard Creek, where I knew of a large pulloff just past the creek. This is now about 65 miles from Mt. Vernon. What I did not take into account was that this place was really a ‘pass’ and was the high point of the entire length of the road from the start to the campground at Mineral Park, both of which are at river level. I unloaded the bike and started ‘up.’ But it was not up, it was down and down and down, on a washboard surface! You naturally want to speed up on the downhill legs of any ride, but this is disastrous! You lose control in a very short time on the washboard. If you are going too fast, you cannot stop and cannot steer! Not good! So, here we go slow and slower, down and down(er). The landscape is very nice, though. Here is picture of one of the many small creeks that you cross. The only sounds you hear are the rushing of the creeks.
I did not even make it to Mineral Park, my first goal. I turned around and headed back to Hard Creek. Then another issue presented itself: the grade was such that I had to stand on the pedals some of the time. When I did this, my weight was off the rear wheel and the tire slipped in the loose gravel. This on a mountain bike with very nobby treads. Too steep meant I had to walk some of the way back.
I think that this little adventure taught me a few lessons:
- Don’t take such a long day trip when you have guests at HGH
- Determine your start and end elevations before you start out
- Don’t assume that the road conditions were the same as last time
- Washboard is for clothes, or musicians, not cycling
- Forget depending on your cell phone in the mountains
There is a great look out view just inside the National Forest boundry on this road. One map I saw calls it Cascade Overlook, but I am more inclined to call it ‘Puckerbutt Point.’ Here is the view of the Cascade River from this point. This is a nice place to park and enjoy the view of the mountains too. Here is the same view looking up and east toward the Cascade Mountains. Any help from someone on the names of these ridges and peaks?
If I try this road again, I will be driving and parking at Mineral Park, near the campground and will head north and east up the North Fork of the Cascade River toward Cascade Pass. And allowing at least 8 hours for the drive leg and bike leg. At least I know that the outbound leg will be ascending, mostly, and the inbound leg will be descending, mostly!
Note added 3/24/13: Here is what American Whitewater says about the Cascade River: “DESCRIPTION: Located just outside of the North Cascades National Park, the Cascade flows through one of the most beautiful areas in the nation. The Cascade River provides some of the best continuous whitewater in the state. While none of the individual drops on the Cascade are overly difficult, the continuous nature of the run makes it suitable for advanced boaters. A high water run on the Cascade provides one of the best class V big water runs in the state. Lower water runs also give paddlers a great, albeit slower, class IV-V run over countless ledges and through numerous boulder gardens.”