Busted at Pot Peak|
Thursday, December 16, 2004
|Photo by Andrew Pickering
|Phil and Marc Fortier getting called
in to see if they have any priors...
It started with a yawn, belch, and possibly even a fart. I can't recall the exact order of these orchestral sounds, but the time was 7:30 am and we were awake. Not following the same ritual as the day before where too much ale and hot tub usage prevented us from crawling out of our caves until almost noon.
Anyway the weather was perfect, no hangovers, and plenty of time left in the day for a long "epic" mountain bike ride. We quickly loaded up our bikes, riding gear, including lots of spandex and Powerbars, and were on the road to 25 Mile Creek about half way up the west side of Lake Chelan in Washington state. Both of our trail guides had mentioned Pot Peak as one of the best, but hardest, rides in the state. The ride was 30 miles with roughly 5500ft of vertical gain...definitely qualifying it as an epic. The expected time ranged from six to 10 hours, and with the short days, we knew we wouldn't have much margin for error if we got lost.
Marc Fortier, his brother Phil, and I got to the trail around 9:30 and were ready to ride by 10. Our Camelbacks were stuffed to their bursting points with as much food and riding layers as possible. Much of this trail was between 6,000 and 7000ft and in mid-October we knew the temps were going to be at least cold enough for some serious shrinkage.
From the snowpark where we left the truck, we started to climb a logging road. After about a quarter mile we saw a sign saying the road was closed because of a fire some time ago and there was danger of falling trees and sink holes. Referring back to our photocopies of the trail guide, we saw a trail which broke off the road less than 100 yards after the gate and decided to check it out. At that trail head, we saw a sign saying that a trail was closed because of the fire.
After examining our photocopies again, we decided that this trail was different than the regular one and this sign probably meant that this trail bypassed the closed one. The trail looked clear and there were fresh motor bike tire marks. Two minutes later we were clipped in and riding.
The first couple miles were very scenic, just above a small creek and mostly rideable except for a few short steep areas where our tires would slip out in the loose soil. At roughly four miles we came to a trail junction thinking that now we were back to the normal trail, bypassing the closed area. Here, as before, the trail was in perfect shape and we were feeling great. From this point, as we continued up the trail, it got steeper and steeper. As we continued, I was wishing that I was in as good of shape as the trail. Switchback after switchback of single track, we were in for the climb of our lives.
At eight miles, I was struggling not to pass out, Marc was charging with full steam (a gift of semi-retirement and the ability to ride Squamish trails every day), Phil was shot and said that he was going to take the bail out forest road at 11 miles. We took a 15 minute rest, swallowed a couple energy bars and continued up, up, and up...
Just before the 11 mile junction, my legs gave out, I could no longer continue to ride up the steep trail without walking up the slightly technical parts...I too considered taking the bail out route, although my testosterone level would never allow me to admit it.
I passed Marc at around 10.75 miles where he said he wanted to take a breather and wait for Phil who was taking up the rear with a half full bomb bag (twice the size of our camelbacks). At the junction I practically fell off my bike and laid on the ground for a few minutes, gasping for air and reaching for my water. The air was very cold and when I built up the energy I was able to see the amazing view of Glacier Peak and the North Cascades. I quickly threw on my wind jacket and turned to see Marc come up the trail and around a bright orange sign saying "Area Closed to Public".
That's odd, we didn't see any signs like that below. Oh well, I snapped a shot of Marc and we waited for Phil. Shortly thereafter we noticed a motor-biker coming down the Devils Backbone ridge toward us. About the same time as Phil came by the closed sign, the biker pulled into our vicinity and we made out his very bright police badge.
Totally exhausted, the three of us greeted the officer who asked us if we saw a truck driving around up there. We looked at each other with confusion and thought he must have meant somewhere around this junction or something. Anyway, the answer was no. Next he called in on his CB and said that he had found the three mountain bikers coming up the closed trail. He asked us to follow him down this trail to talk with some other men and, still gasping from the epic climb and not thinking we did anything wrong, we followed him. A couple minutes later we were greeted by three other forest rangers — carrying guns. One told us that we weren't supposed to be on that trail and asked us if we saw the signs.
We quickly exclaimed that we thought the road below was closed and we took a different trail to bypass the closed one, and it wasn't until we got to top that we saw this bright orange sign saying the trail was closed to the public. His reply was something in the order of, "Well that was your first mistake wasn't it!" I couldn't believe this guy. We told him the trails below were very confusing and we thought we were on the right one according to our infamous photocopy of the Pot Peak trail. He mumbled something, and said that he would need to escort us to his vehicles down another trail.
Once down to this small parking area and in the company of federal officers, I couldn't help but to think of the humor of this moment. Let me paint a picture: We climbed this super grueling trail for nearly 5500ft and 11 miles, a good example would be like riding a mountain bike up Seattle's Mt. Si, twice. We are on the top of a ridge skirting the North Cascades just under 7000 feet, with one of the most scenic ridge lines I have ever seen in the background, and here we get swarmed by COPS!...It was like the end of Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail, where King Arthur gets arrested by a bunch of British police officers.
An hour later, we all get $100 tickets for traveling on a closed trail. To make things worse, we had lost an hour of light and had to rethink our situation. In case I didn't clarify, we came up the first third of this Pot Peak route, which was closed, however, the rest was open...Go figure the logic here. Anyway we decided that we probably didn't have enough daylight, being that it was nearly 3pm to do the remaining 19 miles.
We asked the trooper if it was possible to take the bail out road back to the car since we probably weren't going to be able to finish that route before dark. To this he replied that that road was also closed and we would HAVE to go the remaining 19 miles. This guy was a hard ass.
Instead of spending energy trying to come up with inventive ways to insult this federal orificer, we decided to get back to the Pot Peak trail...along with the extra weight of our $100 violations.
Through the next few miles along the Devils Backbone ridge, our anger kept us focused and driven to make it back to the truck before dark. We had some short climbs with many quick rocky downhills...nothing major. At 15 miles or so, half way, we came to what the photocopy said was a double diamond technical downhill. At this point the sun was starting to set and we knew we couldn't waste any time.
|Photo by Andrew Pickering
|Going down the 7,000 ft ridge to beat the dark
The short but sketchy downhill has enough to get us focused on riding again and now we were back to kicking this trail's butt. At the bottom of the technical section, blue square by our standards, we had to climb about 500 ft up a talus field with the bikes on our shoulders; no easy task, we still had 13 miles left and it was now nearly 5 pm. At the top of the hike-a-bike we threw down some energy bars, jumped on our bikes, and headed to the legendary Pot Peak downhill.
A short while later I ripped by a sign that had said something about Pot Peak, camping, and 10 miles...this to me read...'It's now getting dark, you have 10 miles to the campground (very close to truck), and you are going to finally get to hit the so called best downhill ever.'
I once spent three days skiing and boarding in Utah after a six ft dump of the driest powder you could imagine. Next to that, this was the most spiritual, natural, adrenaline rush I have ever had. I stopped three times in 10 miles only to make sure my friends were still alive. This trail was perfectly buffed out, banked in all the right places, and was too good to be true. I remember looking down for a split second seeing my computer read between 15 and 20mph, a speed I maintained the entire distance. Sometimes you were in tight hallways of a thick forest and other times you were sitting way back while descending around steep tight turns — the entire time pushing the limits.
At each of the brief stops, almost no words were shared, just big head nods and a universal orgasmic feeling.
At the bottom we had to ride a quarter mile back to the truck where we saw one of the COPulators harassing some guy for chopping too much wood. We cruised back to the condo for a Pyramid SnowCap Ale and a hot tub.