Group pix, carter creek.jpeg

Trip Report    

Bikepack - Moonlight ride and overnighter on the Palouse to Cascades Trail

Bikepacking overnighter up on the Palouse to Cascades trail – with a twist: riding after sunset to discover the beauty & thrills of night riding under a full moon. Trip was successful, with several riders not only discovering night riding, but also how to deal with below-freezing temperature when riding and sleeping under the stars.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Wide and well maintained gravel road, 2 to 3% grade throughout.

Bikepacking is fun! Chasing after goblins, witches and werewolves is fun! Looking at the full moon is fun! Let’s combine all those ingredients and turn it into a Mountaineers’ activity.

 4 adventurous riders joined leaders Dominique and Nina for the Seattle Bikepacking committee’s inaugural “(Full) Moonlight sonata bikepacking overnighter.” The idea was to leisurely ride a couple hours on the very accessible Palouse to Cascades (ex-Iron Horse) trail, set up camp and have dinner at the nice Carter creek (not so) primitive campground, then get back on our now much lighter bikes, and complete the ride up to the Pass via the 2.2-mile Snoqualmie tunnel – with a nice twist: leaving camp after sunset, and riding in the dark under the full moon.

A bit ominous, the area experienced its first winter storm a few days before the trip. Thankfully, the forecast called for clear skies for the w.e. The full moon should be there for us. But clear skies also mean that temperatures would be dropping at night: that same forecast called for 20ish temperatures at night. Before the trip, the group discussed via email various strategies to deal with cold camping, as well as lighting for bikes: this would be a first time for a few participants, both riding at night and camping in freezing conditions.

We started from Rattlesnake lake. We had to park outside the parking area, as overnight parking is not allowed: a wide spot by the road a few hundred yards before the gates provides good parking, with easy access to the trailhead.

group, riding.jpegWe loaded the bikes with all the gear and clothes needed to deal with the expected low temperatures, and after a quick trailhead chat the group left close to the scheduled 1PM feet-up time: a very civilized departure time in my opinion. After a couple stops for wardrobe adjustments, picture taking, and to check out the Alice creek campsites, 13 miles of easy riding brought us to the Carter creek campground. A pit toilet was added in recent years, and the eponymous creek runs through it, for ready access to water for our filters.

Carter creek sign.jpegCarter creek offers ½ dozen tent sites, each nicely separated from the others, and a couple picnic tables. We picked our spots, admiring the very bountiful crop of various mushrooms popping out here and there. After setting up our tents and hammock, we collected water at the creek and gathered at a picnic table to prepare and eat a very welcome dinner as the light was fading away. After cleaning up and hanging our food in handy trees, it was soon time to set up for the main event.

Mountaineers_Moonlight_23-10 - 1.jpegNina brought some cool rubber duckies to attach to our handlebars – they light up and proved the perfect whimsical accent for our night-riding steeds. In a bit of early holiday spirit, Amy also festooned her bike with Christmas lights. With the dark fully engulfing us, we rigged our powerful lights on our bikes and helmets. After some discussion on what to wear to fight the cold, we were ready to head out a bit past 6PM.

The question was: were we going to be able to see the moon, or was it going to be hidden behind the mountains…? We soon got our answer when a cheerful moon greeted us around a corner, silvery resplendent in its full rounded glory. Screeching stop for a photo op while it was still low enough over the mountain to make for good pictures. We noticed a bright spot right below the moon, making us wonder what planet it was. Turns out that it was Jupiter.Mountaineers_Moonlight_23-10 - 1 (1).jpeg

The ride went well, despite some original trepidation from riders for whom this was a first time riding in the dark on a dirt road: the Palouse to Cascade trail is very wide and smooth-ish, riding in a group with every rider sporting decent lights makes it easy to see where we’re going. We stopped a couple times to fine-tune the clothing (pedaling is really a good way to generate heat!) and to take more pictures, and made pretty good time up the gentle hill. I was hoping for werewolves and witches, a wish sadly left unfulfilled, but surprisingly enough we did meet a couple other night riders. They must have been as puzzled as we were at meeting weird people riding in the dark in the middle of nowhere. As we finally got close to the Snoqualmie tunnel, we started smelling smoke and seeing flames in the distance: a group of young and old merrymakers was enjoying a big bonfire by the exit/entrance to the tunnel. Of course, we exchanged howls and growls and whoops as greeting as we pedaled by. Good times.

Tunnel.jpegThe Snoqualmie tunnel is 2.2 mile long, left behind from the time when the trail was a railroad. It was built in 1912-14, and decommissioned in 1980. It’s a well-known and well-liked tourist attraction in the PNW and provides a thrilling ride or hike to countless locals. We could feel the temperature differential when we entered: the tunnel stays at a fairly even 40-ish temperature year-round. But although we felt a bit warmer when we entered, the wind that blows through proved pretty chilling, and it was still quite a cold ride through. The few stops for more photo ops were kept short, and we soon reached the other end. A few hundred yards further, the Hyak parking lot was waiting for us, with heated bathrooms and hot air hand dryers as a very welcome bonus.

We shared a few warming and reenergizing treats, oohed and aahed more at the moon winking at us, now much higher in the sky, and wasted no time setting off for the return leg: my thermometer reported 24F, not quite conducive to lingering much.

Fairly uneventful ride back. We met and howled at the bonfire revelers heading home through the tunnel. After an hour, we reached the entrance to the campsite, easy to spot in the dark thanks to the pit toilet set right by the trail.

After a bit of chitchatting and recounting of our experiences around the picnic table, we headed for our frosty beds with a final G’night Moon greeting.

Moonset.jpgEveryone happily survived the chilly night. The morning was a bit deconstructed, as we only had a short ride downhill back to the cars, and I had not set a firm time to get started. Nina got up early and caught and documented the moon setting over the mountains, as well as amazing thin tongues of frosty sculptures scattered here and there in cold spots: frost flowers. Lazy breakfast, lazy breaking camp, and we finally pushed the bikes up the short incline to get to the trail, then hopped on our beasts of burden and pointed them westwards back to our starting point. The ride went much faster, but quite chillier than the climb the previous day, as we did not get quite as much warming from the easy pedaling and coasting the slight incline afforded us. Like the day before, we met quite a few day riders heading up the mountain, lots of hikers and trail runners, the usual rock climbers at the 3 climbing crags along the trail -- and, a first for me, 6 horses (and riders) heading up the trail. We stopped to let them pass, trying not to spook the big beasties, and we mutually wished each other happy riding.shaved iice.jpg

We reached the trailhead much faster than we got to the camp the day before. After an obligatory group photo by Rattlesnake lake (very low!), some gawking at the ledge, imagining how busy it must be judging from the full parking lot, we rode the final few hundred yards to the cars.

A last trailhead debrief, some comments and suggestions from the participants, and part of the group headed to North Bend for a final social cuppa before returning to the Big City. Rookie lead mistake on my part, I didn’t wait for the whole group to depart, and of course, one car refused to start, its battery dead… Luckily, they were able to get a jump from a friendly hiker and were able to head home without any more trouble. Sorry!Group pix, rattlesnake.jpeg

Successful trip: we all shared and learned various tips and tricks on packing and riding our bikes, tackling a ride in the dark, spending the night in freezing temperatures. We lucked out with the forecast and were able to enjoy the gorgeous full moon and dry weather, exquisite natural displays and nice views of the snow – at a distance. The cold added a fun challenge to the outing. Thanks, Nina, for the kind and patient help and support. Thanks one and all for your cheerful participation and for being good sports with both experiences, riding at night, as well as tackling the cold. Despite the easy terrain and short distances, this was a bit of a challenging ride, taking into consideration the cold and riding in the dark. A job well done.

If you’re interested in bikepacking, still a fairly new activity with the Mountaineers, check out the website for activities and classes. You can also come join us for our first Bike and Brews get together November 30th.

(Photographs Nina Crampton & Dominique Blachon)

Stats: 42 miles total, ½ up, ½ down, average grade ~3%, elevation gain: ~1500 ft. Getting to the campground: 2 hr 30 mn. Getting back to the car from the campground, 1 hr 20 mn (including the obligatory photo session at Rattlesnake lake.) Getting to Hyak, 1 hr 40 mn, getting back to camp, 1 hr.