Up & over Table Mountain

  • Day 5, July 19: 39.5 miles, total miles: 244.8 – bike on rural roads, Forest Service roads paved, gravel, and very rocky
  • Parks, Trails, & Places of Significance: Reecer Creek Canyon, Lion Rock, Blewett Pass, cache #1

This morning we had coffee with Steve and the kitties. Then it was time to pack up and get on the road. After yesterday’s taste of the head winds we reevaluated everything we’d planned to take with us and shed a few pounds of gear we could pick from Steve and Anita after we finished. Figured less weight on our bikes would make a difference on our first big elevation gain day of the trip (5,000+ feet).

We peddled out of Ellensburg amid suburbs, farm fields, and decent road shoulders to join up with Reecer Creek Road. Then we began the gradual uphill slog with the wind in our faces. Blackbirds and horned meadowlarks sang in the pastures. We’d watch flocks rise together, stopped in flight by the wind and sink back down to the ground – so much effort and just a few feet gained. We felt for them!

We kept the gears low and just kept spinning. Stopping where we could find windbreaks -behind a volunteer fire station and in a ditch. Eventually the road turned onto the winding, twisting up hill segment of Reecer Creek Road. We got out of the wind and started to go up hill in earnest.

Sagebrush turned to willow thickets. Willows transitioned to ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests. The road shoulder spilled over with fragrant wild rose and mock orange. Chipmunks scurried across the road oh so speedy with their parkour moves. We’d take brief stand up breaks every couple of switchbacks to suck in water, inhale calories, and take in the beautiful views. The vantage point and landscapes seen along the road are oh-so-worth the effort.

Then we kept going up, Up, UP. The road winding into cool montane forests of lodgepole, grand fir, and spruce. Some stands silver with the snags from the 2012 Table Mountain fire. Such contrast from the mornings hay fields and sagebrush.

Late afternoon and we were pushing our bikes up the rocky gravel roads that I was impressed our Subaru Forester had made it up the week before (water caching). Always getting closer to the top. By 4-something we’d gone 20-ish miles, gained 5,200+ feet and made it to the top of Table Mountain! No records, but it was beautiful to be in the sagebrush meadows looking out to Rainier (Tahoma) and Adams (Klickitat) to the south and their vast domains, the Stuart Range and Wenatchee Mountains to the west, and the Entiats to the northeast. We took a break at Lion Rock to admire the landscape.

Time to get a moving, we got on our bikes for a some somewhat technical (at least for a beginning mountain biker like myself) ride along some rolling hills with thick forest interspersed with wildflower meadows. Eventually we got back to nicer gravel and started the fast down hill to Blewett Pass. Hours of uphill huffing and puffing exchanged for minutes of breezy downhill exhilaration.

At the pass with the beautiful, long slantly light of alpenglow we paused long enough to safely cross busy Highway 97. Then we started peddling uphill (again!) to our cache spot near Old Pass Hill. After a few surprises, we reached our cache just before 9 pm and started a flurry of tired efficiency. Found our gear, food, and water (2 gallons each for the next 1.8 days with no water on route). Sorted gear. Repacked. Chained our bikes to a tree. Ate food. And were camping for the first time on the trip by 10 pm.

It felt good to fall asleep looking up at the stars and listening to the breeze rustling in the trees.

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Big Steve (post-knee surgery) advises us on the best route to take through town to get to Reecer Creek Road.

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Diz, you are so cute! But you are NOT supposed to be on the counter!

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Gabriel rides into the wind up Reecer Creek Road.

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We took a break in a ditch. It’s officially a G&L vacation! It was WINDY and sunny, the ditch was the best option. Our family and friends take vacations to Hawaii, the cenotes of the Yucatan, and Europe. We take vacations where we sit in ditches.

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Starting to gain some elevation and some views as we go up Table Mountain. The windmills we were close to down below are tiny now. Rainier is watching over us. The sagebrush meadows were full of butterflies.

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Transitioning into montane vegetation. Lovely lupine and scarlet gilia amid the roadside sage. We felt like the flowers were cheering us on. The butterflies too!

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Our ride over Table Mountain went through the 2012 Table Mountain fire. It was really interesting to ride through the burn and glimpse the landscape’s varied response to the fire. There were patches of completely unburned forest interspersed with areas where the overstory trees were killed and the understory is now full of new seedlings and wildflowers. We could hear woodpeckers excavating away in the canopy of snags and lots of bird song. It reminded me of a favorite book that I love giving to kiddos (and their parents): The Charcoal Forest by Beth Peluso.

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From Lion Rock (6,360 feet and top of Table Mountain) we had a fantastic view of our route for the next few days across the Wentachee Mountains.

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It was Mukmuk and Gabriel’s first time to Lion Rock. For me, it had been a while. I was last here in fall 2002 as part of a UW mammalogy field class. I have fond memories from that trip: a crew of great wildlife science friends, cooking cans of stew on an open fire, freezing all night in my department store sleeping bag, not catching a single specimen for class, and western larch golden and scattered about the hillside.

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There wasn’t any running water along our bike route – so we cached water near the Lion Rock Campground. Since we weren’t sure if we’d need to camp here over night, we wanted to be prepared. We were really happy that we hadn’t carried an extra gallon of water 5,200 feet and 20-some miles up from Ellensburg. (And of course, we carried the empty bottles out with us!)

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Subalpine daisies were all a-flower in the meadows on Table Mountain.

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False hellebore meadow on edge of burned stand.

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We made it down to Blewett Pass and carefully crossed Highway 97 – which was a bustling with cars and loaded semis just after I took this picture.

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Less than a mile from our cache we came across what looked like hundreds of deer tracks. A deer stampede! We rode on a for a few seconds and as I observed the scat I got to thinking: “These aren’t deer they’re…” When all of sudden five dogs ran in front of us and started barking. Herding dogs! All those tracks were sheep! I’d known that 50 years ago sheep herders took flocks into the Swauk Hills and some grazing still occurs each summer. I soon remembered the story I read last fall about the Peruvian sheepherders that work in this area. The herder came out and called off the dogs – but seem bemused to find us here on bikes at this hour. We were all surprised to see each other. It was getting late and we needed to get to our cache and get ready for the next day – so I gave a friendly greeting mumbling something about being in a hurry to camp and peddled on. When Gabriel came back to get our bikes that we’d chained to a tree – the sheep had grazed all around the tires.

 

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