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RR: Ape Canyon/Plains of Abraham

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RR: Ape Canyon/Plains of Abraham

Old 09-10-12, 08:33 AM
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woodway
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RR: Ape Canyon/Plains of Abraham

This past weekend, my wife and I drove a few hours south from Seattle and rode through one of the most unique landscapes you'll ever see anywhere. We saddled up on our Mountain Bikes and climbed the Ape Canyon trail and then rode across the shoulder of Mt. St. Helens on the Plains of Abraham. It's a short ride at a little over 16 miles, but in that 16 miles you get over 3,200 feet of climbing and some amazing views that make it hard to keep your eyes on the trail.

The ride starts with a stiff climb up the Ape Canyon trail which takes you through a lush green forest with huge trees. Such a contrast with what is to come!

As you climb higher, views of St. Helens appear through the trees. This is the southeast side of the Mountain, the Muddy River drainage - the 1980 eruption blew out the mountain to the northeast. In the eruption, the Shoestring Glacier (the notch in the mountain) mostly melted sending lahars down the Muddy River channel that you see in the foreground of the photo.



After about four miles of climbing, you break out of the trees into spectacular views towards the Plains of Abraham (looking towards the east flank of the mountain). What was a nice buff trail has now become loose with pumice and sand and is more difficult to ride.



Over thirty years later, remains of trees can still be seen, all pointing in the same direction.



Here is my wife riding across the Plains of Abraham. Pre-1980 we would have been riding through a thick forest with huge trees.



I remember when my wife and I visited Mt. St. Helens in 1984, just after the area was re-opened to visitors. At the time I thought we had gone to the moon. Thirty-two years later things are a little greener, but a visit to the mountain is still a humbling experience.



Here is a look up and into the crater - that hump you see is part of the lava dome rebuilding inside the mountain.



My wife riding along a ridge:



Views on this ride are amazing. You can see a few of the other Cascade Range volcanos including Mt. Rainer, and seen here, Mt. Adams:



Here is a 360 panorama that I took from the trail

This is really a spectacular ride, well worth the effort. If you don't mountain bike, you can take your road bike and the rides to Windy Ridge or Johnston Observatory are really nice. But for getting really up close to the Mountain there is nothing like getting onto the trails.

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Old 09-10-12, 08:57 AM
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Wow! That sounds like a wonderful experience.

Back in the summer of 1980, shortly after the Mt St Helens eruption I went to a downhill ski race camp on nearby Mt Hood. In the summer they ski from about 2 miles above Timberline Lodge -- which is at the timberline at 6000 feet -- down to the lodge. In the winter they ski below the lodge.

But that really opened my eyes to the awesomness of nature... I had never seen or experienced anything like that. I had seen pictures, but pictures cannot portray the awesome scale of things. Previously I had thought of our Allegheny Mountains as, well, mountains. Afterwards I started thinking of them as big hills...

I would recommend that to anyone -- but especially to easterners and flatlanders...
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Old 09-10-12, 09:06 AM
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Great post and pics. Doesn't look like an easy ride, either.
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Old 09-10-12, 09:21 AM
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I gotta do that this month, always wondered what the riding was like down there. is that do-able on a cyclocrosser with knobbies? how steep are the steeps, would a 34-28 get me there? great pictures by the way.
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Old 09-10-12, 09:36 AM
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woodway
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Altamont, I would not take a cross bike on this trail. Climbing up the Ape Canyon trail, your looking at sustained 12-15% grades with higher pitches (that are a grunt with the 22-34 granny gear on my MTB). On the Plains of Abraham you've got lot's of rocks, the pumice is like marbles and you really need fat tires or you'll be mostly pushing and probably flatting.

You can always look to rent a Mountain bike in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia or Portland. Not a ride for beginners however.

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Old 09-12-12, 09:37 PM
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Thanks so much for such an interesting ride report and great pictures. Quite unique!!
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