The 4 Seasons of Mountain Roads

The 4 Seasons of Mountain Roads

In Seattle, we don’t really have four seasons. The joke that we get a three months of summer and nine months of rain is fairly true.
Yet I love to see the landscape change with the seasons and the weather. That is why I love the Cascade Mountains. Every time I ride there, the landscape looks and feels different. Above is Tipsoo Lake near Chinook Pass in early April. The roads across the Cascades were closed for the winter. We skied 10 miles to core the lake during my Ph.D. field work as a geologist. We drilled through 15 feet (5 m) of snow before we reached the ice on top of the lake.
I was thinking of that geology trip when I rode across Chinook Pass a few weeks ago. In late Summer, Tipsoo Lake was easily accessible from the road, and dozens of visitors milled around on the trails that surround the lake. It really is the same view as in the first photo.
Looking through my photos, I compiled a selection that shows the road to Chinook Pass at different times in the year.
During that geology trip, Chinook Pass looked like this in early April. It was hard to imagine that just six weeks later, one could ride a bike up here.
On the way back, we encountered a snow storm as we skied down the road. We wore all the clothing we had brought despite working hard to pull heavy sleds with coring equipment.
In the spring, the snow melts fast. When I returned from the Oregon Outback last May, the road had just reopened after the winter closure. There still were huge snowbanks on either side.
It was raining, and visibility was reduced to half a mile or so. Even though I passed within a few miles of Mount Rainier’s summit, I didn’t even get a glimpse of the mountain. The brooding atmosphere of the high mountains in the clouds had its own appeal.
Same time of year, but on a sunny day. It was a pleasant place, we were wearing shorts, and sunscreen was at the top of our minds. The mountain views were spectacular.
In late summer, all the snow is gone. Hard to imagine that this road is closed 7 months out of the year, and that we worried about avalanches when we came through here on skis during that winter research trip.
Or perhaps not? Just a month after the above photo was taken, the snows start again… Above is the road in early October, just before it was closed for the season.
The dramatic changes are part of what makes the mountains so appealing. I ride this road 2 – 3 times a year. There may only be three months of summer in Seattle, but the mountains are spectacular even when it’s not sunny and dry.

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Comments (10)

  • Christian Bratina

    I am passionate about two things, cycling and cross country skiing, so you are tempting me TOO much. Since you have tantalized us with so many fantastic photos and cycling trip stories, we need you to put together a list of recommended routes for others such as us on the East Coast to make vacation cycle touring plans to experience. You could just draw them on RideWithGPS and list them on your website. Then others can fill in the routes, listing recommended places to stay, eat, and explore. You can start by just including the web address for the RideWithGPS route you are discussing, and then put together the compendium..

    October 20, 2014 at 8:26 am
  • starostneradost

    Do you know how lucky you are to live where you do? I guess so – still, I had to ask 🙂

    October 20, 2014 at 9:19 am
  • Rick Harker

    Spectacular. The story is interesting, the photos are even more so describing nature in its beauty and travelling by bike or foot would bring it all to its glory.
    Thank you for sharing that Jan.
    Here in Australia we don’t get that kind of opportunity as the snow fields are managed by Parks Authorities. In the snow season they are closed even if there is non and if after the season opens again in spring you may only be lucky, maybe.

    October 20, 2014 at 3:37 pm
  • alliwant

    I too enjoy all weather cycling, and here is Wisconsin we get all kinds. Actually, one of the best days I have ever spent on a bike was a day’s trek in southern Iowa on a mild, gloomy and drizzly day. When it’s 75 degrees, drizzle and light rain is much more comfortable. And I say to all, playing in the rain is lots of fun on your bike, try it!

    October 22, 2014 at 3:08 am
  • Michael

    Riding in very light rain can be fun for sure. Different environmental feel and all.
    Jan reported doing PBP in rain for 50 hours. I wonder what he wore during that ride and how warm and dry it kept him?

    October 22, 2014 at 10:37 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I wore woolistic jerseys and wool tights. I wasn’t dry on the outside, but warm and comfortable on the inside. I wore a GoreTex jacket a few times when it really poured… but most of the time, I found it was too warm for that. Of course, much of your perception of temperature depends on how much heat you are producing as you are riding.

      October 23, 2014 at 6:26 am
      • Michael

        I have heard wool keeps one warm even when wet.
        How did you keep your leather saddle from getting soaked though?

        October 24, 2014 at 8:33 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I sat on it! Seriously, only the nose gets wet, and it doesn’t seem to hurt it. We ride in rain all the time in the Pacific Northwest. I tried a saddle cover once, but it disappeared after just a few miles. I do slide around on the saddle a fair bit, moving back on steep uphills, etc.

          October 25, 2014 at 4:43 pm
  • Chad

    Great pictures. I love living in Washington as well. It is amazingly beautiful here. Your ride reports are inspiring, so thank you for sharing them. I agree with one of the above posts regarding the sharing of your routes. I would imagine that the numerous rides you’ve described in this blog would make a great guide book for cyclists looking for proven routes in the area. Maybe show the route, a queue sheet, some notes on the route like food stops and such. I’d buy it. Just a thought.

    October 23, 2014 at 4:57 pm
    • alliwant

      I second the idea of a guidebook. A new title from BQ Press!

      October 24, 2014 at 6:19 pm

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