Chinook Pass links Eastern Washington with the west side on Highway 410 at 5,430 feet. It’s closed during the winter months due to a heavy snow load and avalanche hazards. With rain predicted at my home on the west side, I decided to head east.
Last week, I planned the trip out and kept a watchful eye on the weather forecast. I tracked the Washington State Department of Transportation pass clearing progress. On Friday, the pass was opened for the first time this year. The mountain weather forecast for the weekend was partly cloudy with a chance or rain or snow.
I decided to pull the trigger and make the trip on Sunday and Monday. My goal was to park my truck at the ski area of White Pass on Highway 12. I would head down the west side then take Highway 123 to Hwy 410 and then up Chinook Pass. I knew this was a gamble and that I may have to change my plans if the snow and road conditions were not favorable.
I left home at 5:30 am and started the three hour drive. I had my bike trunk and pannier bags stuffed full of equipment, food, extra clothes, and inclement weather gear.
I popped over Cayuse Pass on Highway 410 and was a little concerned as there was a slight rain that was very close to becoming snow. White Pass was pretty wet as well. I sat in my truck for ten minutes and waited out a downpour of rain. The sky held promise of dryer weather so I maintained my hope that I would be able to make this trip as planned.
The plan was to make it to Chinook Pass then down the east side to the Whislin’ Jack Lodge which was approximately 61 miles from where I started. On day two, I would continue east towards Yakima then take Highway 12 west to the top of White Pass.
The clouds thinned a bit and the rain turned to a slight mist. I loaded up my bike, put on many layers of clothes and rain gear, before rolling down the mountain.
I was at 4,483 feet and hoped that as I dropped into the valley it would be a little dryer and warmer. I initially retraced the route I had just passed through with my truck. I hit the low lands of Mount Rainier National Park and took off some of my clothes and rain gear in preparation for the almost 3,000 foot climb that awaited me. This part of the road is at approximately 1,500 feet and is fairly flat. There was still large patches of snow in the thick trees bordering the road. Many roadside streams provide photo opportunities and relaxing background.
It is just amazing how much more you see on two wheels rather than four. I was thrilled to see an elk herd very close to me. Approximately 25 yards into the tree line next to the road I had the herd moving very slowly parallel to me. They did not seem alarmed by me at all. I saw many deer over the next two days as they crossed the road in front of me or were grazing just off of the road. An adult black bear was sitting in the middle of one of the gravel side roads as I rode by it. Male mountain grouse were very enthusiastic as they attempted to call in a mate. Being able to experience all of these animals in nature is another reason I love these mountain rides so much.
The workout began as I hit the pedals to ascend the pass. It got very cold at the top and felt like it was well below freezing temperatures. I stopped at the snow covered restroom area and was pleased to see the clouds part to allow some sunshine through. I met a couple of guys that were traveling from England. After swapping a few stories, I decided it was time to head down the east side of the pass. The photo at the beginning of this page was taken at that area. I put a few more layers of clothing on in preparation for the many miles of downhill I would coast.
The deep snow pack was very impressive on Chinook Pass. This was only the second day it had been open and there was very little vehicle traffic. The view of the mountains and valleys below were incredibly beautiful.
The temperature went up substantially as I dropped elevation. I was soon free of my bulky raingear and extra layers of clothing. The scene around me changes as I continued down the road. The snow covered mountain heather meadows had turned into to pine trees surrounded by nature’s volcanic rock sculptures.
I took a side trip near my destination to check out Boulder Cave. I had not been there in over 20 years and remembered it to be fascinating. The cave was a creation of volcanic activity and water erosion which took place over 25,000 years ago. These forces left a 350 foot long by 30 foot high cave. I made it to the trailhead a couple miles down the road. I had forgotten that there is a 1.5 mile trail to get to the cave. I elected not to take my bike down the trail and didn’t feel comfortable leaving it behind. I added photos I found on the web to give you an idea of what the cave looks like. I suggest you put this location on you bucket list as it is well worth the short walk. Even in the summer it can get cool in the cave so bring warmer clothes and a flashlight with you.
Once I made it back to Highway 410 it was only a few miles to the Whislin’ Jack Lodge. The lodge was built in 1931 and offers great food, lodging, camping, and a store that has a variety of items you may need. All of the staff were great and very friendly. It has been many years since I lived in Eastern Washington. I do miss the down home, country feel that is prevalent in this area. The office and entrance to the restaurant is very cozy. There is an ornamented old stove in the corner with an area set aside for lounging or reading a book. There are many mounted deer, elk, bear, sheep, and cougar on the walls and beams above to watch over you in the office. I had reserved a room in the lodge building next door which was right next to the Naches River. My room was very comfortable and offered a great view of the river just below the bay window seat. After a much needed shower and change of clothes, I sat down for a great dinner and some red wine. I met a local cowboy at the store and sat down to chat for a bit. This old timer showed some wear from the cowboy life. He had turned in his saddle and spurs years ago and replaced them with a boat and fishing pole. He shared stories of his cowboy days and fishing guide business. I hope to meet this fishing cowboy again some day.
I finished off the evening with some desert which I enjoyed sitting in my room’s window seat. It was warm enough to open the window and enjoy the soothing sounds of the river and birds outside. This day had been a great experience and I logged 65 miles on the bike. It was an early night to bed as I had another ride planned the next day.
I’ll see you then.