For several years I have wanted to do an epic muni ride. However, I have never been in good enough shape to actually do it. Until now. Last Sunday I set out on my epic.
Epic means that it’s a long ride with lots of climbing. People will debate on what exactly constitutes an epic ride. I set my definition of a muni epic at more than 20 miles and more than 5000 feet of climbing.
The ride I planned is called The Palisades Trail out near Mt. Rainier. The route I took is detailed in a local guide book called Kissing The Trail by John Zilly. The ride also goes by several other names depending on who you talk to. It’s also known as Noble Knob or Dalles Ridge. There are several starting points and ending points. Not everyone does the same loop. The route I took is detailed online here: Noble Knob Ride Summary Take a look at the elevation profile. Espicially the first 5.2 miles.
The ride stats that John Zilly gives for Palisades is:
21.7 miles, loop
cumulative gain: 5,100 feet
There is also a similar ride called Ranger Creek:
18.1 miles, loop
cumulative gain: 4,100 feet
Both the Palisades ride and Ranger Creek ride are the same for the first 10 miles. At mile 10 the rides split. Go left for Ranger Creek and go right for Palisades.
I think his elevation gain is under-reported because of the little climbs along the trail. But from a macro view (ignoring the small stuff) it’s probably an accurate number.
The ride starts with a climb from hell up Forest Service Road 7174 (a.k.a. Corral Pass Road). The climb is 5.2 miles long and climbs from an elevation of 3,100 feet to 5,700 feet. I’ll save you the math, that’s 2600 vertical feet of torture. If you’re so inclined, you can do the math to figure out the average percent grade. The climb is a bit steep and the road is a bit rough. The combination makes it very unfun. The steepness is just beyond my ability to do a sustained climb without blowing up and the legs turning to rubber. I desperately needed a granny gear on my muni. I had to walk parts of the climb. I had to walk more of the climb than I would have liked. It took me two hours to finish that 5.2 mile death march. The bikes do it in around 1:40 using their granny gear and the 2nd and 3rd largest cogs on the rear cluster. The climb is a bitch. Mostly the grade is fairly constant. The grade steepens in the switchback turns and there is a short flatish section. But mostly the grade is constant. Next time I want to shuttle the climb.
To top it off, my air seat went flat on me during the climb. I wasn’t sitting in the saddle much during the climb so it wasn’t a big deal. I also have foam on top of the inner tube so I still had some cushioning.
At the top of the Corral Pass Road climb you rest. The legs are not very happy. You’ll feel the effects of that climb in the legs for the rest of the ride. I was too lazy to fix the air seat so I just pumped it up and hoped that it would hold air for a little bit. I didn’t want to take the seat apart on the trail and patch the tube.
Here the single track begins. It starts out on a trail called Nobel Knob. The trail climbs a little bit but the grade is easy (although the legs are still not ready to give you full power after that Corral Pass Road climb). The Nobel Knob trail offers some stunning views of Mt. Rainier. See the picture listed in the Nobel Knob Ride Summary trail log at mile 5.75 here <www.geocities.com/lapiche2/NobleKnob/NobleKnobMtRainier1.jpg>. (yeah that second link directly to the jpg isn’t going to work because of geocities, but if you paste it into a browser window that’s already open to geocities.com you can get it to work) That view makes the climb worthwhile. Mt. Rainier looks different when you’re up on a ridge looking at it across the valley. There are a few bits of exposure on the trail where you don’t want to be doing a cliffside uni retrieval. So hang on to the muni when you UPD.
The air seat held air for a short bit, but I was soon riding with just the foam for padding. I stilll didn’t feel like taking the seat apart on the trail so I just pumped it up again and left the tube unpatched.
The trail mostly follows the ridge. There are some downhill switchbacks and a nice short rocky downhill bit. Your typical ridge trail stuff Washington style. My legs were still feeling the effects of the death march climb up Corral Pass Road so I tried to take it easy on the trail so my legs would have some chance to recover.
After a little bit of a descent you end up at mile 10.6 which is the decision point. Do I turn right to take the trail to Palisades or do I turn left and take the shorter ride down Ranger Creek. So I had to make a decision – Am I a man or am I a wimp. I’m a wimp. I opted for the shorter ride. That would make the trip less than epic, but the legs were not feeling like doing any more climbing or any extra mileage. I’ll have to save Palisades for another day.
Palisades would be a great ride with great views of Mt. Rainier from up on the cliffs. The switchback turns on Palisades go right to the edge of the cliff. See picture here If you overshoot the switchback turn you better hope you can fly like Chris LeFay. The views from up there would be worth it. Unfortunately I’m not man enough to have experienced those views. There are no great views on the Ranger Creek trail. The trail is all in the forest which strategically shields any magnificent views of Mt. Rainier.
There is a very modest log cabin structure here with some nice large logs to sit on. I finally decided that this would be a good point to repair the air seat. I took the air seat apart and patched up the little pinhole leak in the tube. Ah… The seat is much more comfortable with air in it.
I also met up with several riders from the BBTC at the cabin. The BBTC is the Seattle area mountain bike club I belong to. There were a lot of BBTC riders on the trail that day because they were showing two IMBA reps their favorite trails in the area. Unfortunately I also got outed while I was waiting at the cabin. I put my feet up on a log and someone noticed I was wearing Vans. He was wondering who was wearing Vans and riding platform pedals because there were Vans footprints going up Corral Pass Road.
The rest of the ride down Ranger Creek is all downhill. There are some very tight switchbacks that drive the bikes nuts, but they’re easy on a unicycle. I made every switchback but one on the way down. That one switchback was like a scree field with deep and loose fist size rocks. No traction. You just go sliding. No way to stop to make the turn.
From the end of the Ranger Creek Trail it was a little over a mile along a contour line trail back to the car. A little bit of short climbing, but nothing too long.
The ride started at 10:15 AM and finished at 5:30 PM. I don’t know how much of that time was ride time and how much was rest time. I spent a lot of time sitting, talking and patching my air seat at the cabin. I also spent time elsewhere along the trail resting.
After the ride there was dinner at a pub with some of the BBTC folks and the two IMBA reps. What a way to cap off the ride.
Next time I’m doing the Palisades Trail. I think it would be possible to climb up the Ranger Creek Trail to the cabin where the Palisades Trail starts. I think the climb up The Ranger Creek would be easier than doing the Corral Pass Road climb. The climb would also be less elevation and the total distance for the ride would also be less. I’ll have to investigate that possibility. But then, that would make it less than epic.
It was a great ride with some suffering thrown in to make it epic. If we ever have a muni weekend here in Washington that trail will be on the list for the expert ride. We could shuttle up Corral Pass Road and avoid the nasty part of the ride and get to enjoy the good parts.
John “still need to do an epic” Childs