Mazama to Twisp via Washington Pass

Twisping Time Is Here

Thursday 12th May – Stage 11

Our original plan was to climb Washington Pass from Newhalem as part of Stage 4 of our epic coast to coast adventure on 4th May. Due to heavy falls of snow (& avalanches) late into Spring, the Pass remained closed until 10th May. We made the decision very early to take an alternative route & see if we could perhaps climb Washington Pass from Mazama.

It’s taken us 8 days to reach Mazama from Mount Vernon (had the Pass been open, we’d have been here in 2) – in that time we’ve covered 451 miles & ascended 22,500 feet of elevation, so you’ll begin to appreciate how keen we were to ride Washington Pass. In spite of yesterday’s weather forecast predicting rain, we woke to clear blue skies.

The big early news of the day was that our hosts at The Freestone Inn had agreed that we could extend our room reservation by a couple of hours, so we’d be able to take on the climb without our panniers! After a quick breakfast, we were on our bikes by 8.45am & crossing Early Winter Creek which marked the start of the climb for us – it’s a 16 mile climb from Milepost 178, so we could count down the miles as we climbed. The North Cascades is designated a Scenic Highway & almost immediately we saw why, as we entered the Okanogan National Forest.

We had a rude awakening as the gradient kicked up to 5% & above almost immediately – we were expecting a gentle warm up, but that’s not what we got! Our minds were taken off the steepness of the slope by the stunning views up to the enormous mountain peaks all around us. We had the road to ourselves on the lower slopes & we could hear the creeks as they cascaded through the pine forest.

Snow started appearing at the side of the road at Mile 172 & as we carried on climbing, the isolated banks soon became larger. We also started getting bigger views of the towering cliffs to our right. Sean found the slopes much easier to deal with than me, so I found myself setting my own rhythm & simply enjoying the stunning scenery around me.

The further up the mountain we progressed, the more the blue sky was replaced by dark cloud – the risk of rain (or snow) increased the higher we climbed, but for the time being the rain stayed away. Sean chose to ride at my pace for this section, which meant that I could shoot a quick bit of video to capture my thoughts on the climb so far & have someone to focus the camera on.

By the time we reached Milepost 168 (10 miles into the climb), we were well above the snowline & passed the final summer campground, The Lone Fir – the significance of this campground will become clear later! The snowbanks at the side of the road were continuous & several feet thick.

The forest started to thin out over the final 5 miles of the climb & the wind started to pick up, luckily for the large part it remained a tailwind. By now, the cloud were looking very imposing & the temperature had dropped a few degrees centigrade. Another observation was that the big logging trucks had started work for the day, as they passed us every 5 or 10 minutes. In the last mile or so, we reached the one & only switchback of the climb. From here we had a great view back down the valley, possibly my favourite scenic shot of the climb.

Two hours & 18 minutes after we started climbing, we reached the summit, where we took a few minutes to recover from the climb, celebrate the achievement, enjoy the views & wrap up for the descent. I wanted to take a few more photos & planned to stop on the way down too, so Sean wisely chose to start descending as soon as he was ready. I’d completed the climb in shorts, short-sleeved jersey & gilet, so needed to put on my arm warmers, Castelli Gabba & long fingered gloves before I could set off.

While I was getting my kit on I heard the familiar rumble of a logging truck on its way up the final ramp of the Pass – I just had enough time to get my phone out & shoot a quick video – these trucks are noisy & big!!!

The descent was a dream for me – besides the one sweeping hairpin, the gradient was a consistent 6% with long, clear views of the road ahead. I was able to shoot a brief video as I descended, although the noise from the wind stopped me from adding any commentary!

You’ll remember that I mentioned the Lone Fir Campsite earlier – our original plan had us staying here for the night after climbing Washington Pass from Newhalem. I stopped to have a quick look around & it’s fair to say camping wouldn’t have been an option & won’t be for some time to come!

I finally caught up with Sean within a mile of so of The Freestone Inn, where we warmed up with a much appreciated cup of coffee before loading the panniers back onto our bikes. Although the Washington Pass element of today’s ride was over, we still had another 25 miles to ride. The good news was we were retracing our tyre-tracks from yesterday, so knew it was slightly downhill. The bad news was we were into a 20 mph gusting headwind!!

A real highlight was seeing a duet of 10 osprey soaring into the winds – I managed to capture 4 of them at one point. Before the trip started, seeing eagles & ospreys in their natural environment were on my wishlist, never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d have seen a pair of golden eagles & 10 ospreys in a duet by the end of our second week!

We shared the workload on the front & I took the opportunity to take photos whenever I got to recover in 2nd wheel. After about an hour of hard riding we reached Winthrop, which is themed as a Wild West town. It’s a really neat town, although it was difficult to get many decent photos because the town used horsepower produced from gas, rather than steeds.

Leaving Winthrop, we once more picked up the Methow river for the remaining 8 miles into Twisp, our overnight stop. We arrived just before 3pm, so made it to The Cinnamon Twisp just before it closed & bought ourselves a sandwich each for lunch – a great recommendation from our hosts at The Freestone Inn.

After a few hours to recover, we headed out to BJ’s Branding Iron Bar & Grill to celebrate another awesome day in the saddle – Lucille’s IPA was our drink of choice this evening with a bacon cheeseburger for dinner. Check out the suntan after the last few days!! We’d avoided the rain all day, but ironically we got absolutely soaked as we walked back to our motel. At least we’d taken our rain jackets with us.

Stage Stats – 57 miles, 4,549 feet of climbing. A Hors Category climb straight out the door, followed by a glorious descent. The final 25 miles were into a brutal headwind.

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