Road ride turned epic mountain bike adventure on touring bikes.
Sunday’s planned three hour 48ish mile mixed paved and packed dirt road became a six hour off – road, 3536 ft of elevation gain mountain bike adventure…on touring bikes.
We headed up Umptanum road from our hotel which put us onto the ridgeline directly south of Ellensburg. Our route traversed along Umptanum Ridge road with spectacular views of Mt. Rainier to the SW and Mt. Stewart to the North. Umptanum ridge climbs steeply on pavement for about three miles and then turns to a hard pack dirt road.
We both knew that the ride was clearly going to be more than we had planned once the ridge road took a step turn down into the canyon – which could only mean that we would have to
climb out. And climb out we did. We left the hard pack relatively easy riding and turned north on Observatory Road. Based on the map it seemed as though we would sail down Observatory Road and end up dropping down the ridge and pop back into town easily by lunch.
You have to go up to go down….
We could see the observatory up ahead just on the next ridge. We were mislead by the smaller ridges and gullies that lay in between here and there which you couldn’t see until you were heading down into them. Mix the ups and downs with a relatively rough rocky, technical road and you have a fantastic mountain bike adventure…on our touring bikes. We bumped and bounced over rocky terrain and dropped into and climbed out of gullies until we finally climbed up to the observatory. The rewards for our efforts were the fantastic views of Mt. Rainier – Even so, we really wished we had our mountain bike with front suspension and knobby tires.
At the observatory, we were at the high point of the trip so it had to be all downhill from here, right? Not a chance. To get off the ridge we had to mash up and roll down over unmaintained rutted and rocky roads until we came across a single track- the quickest route to the valley floor below. After dropping about 100m we decided that an overly steep super technical single track crowded with hikers and their pups was probably not the best option. And besides, the ridge road was just 100 or so feet to the south – an easy bush-whack through the sage brush. Don’t step on any rattlesnakes! (We only saw one- stretched across the road).
We picked our way along the road, stopping at each intersection to consider our options. At each turn we thought we would be done, only to find another ridge to cross over which meant another long steep decent followed by an equally steep rutted and rocky climb. At least the views were spectacular which prompted us to stop, drink some water and take in the scenery. Nearing the bottom we decided to use a fence line as a handrail (fence lines are good to follow, right?) which did take us in the right direction on a very technical, long-ass steep (20%+ at one point) decent – our hands were cramping from working the brakes and negotiating the steep terrain. We chose to walk the last 100 feet as the road dropped off a small cliff. If only we had our mountain bikes ….
The ride back to the hotel was a breeze as we dropped back down Manastash Road with the wind at our back. We were hoping the hotel had not cleared the gear out of our room as we were due back by 1pm. We finally checked out by 3pm. The staff at the Holiday Inn Express were very understanding and allowed us to clean up before we checked out without charging us extra for a really late checkout.
We look forward to spending more time exploring the beautiful outdoor adventures offered by Central Washington.