With the snow receding and the temperatures warming my buddy Dan and I decided to drive from Seattle to Cle Elum in order to ride the GRiT L course. Course meister Erik has put together a challenging route, and despite having ridden much of it in a piece-by-piece fashion I had yet to link it all up into one continuous ride.
Before I get started let me share a few route facts:
Distance:47 miles – 40 miles off-pavement
Total Elevation: 6000’ distributed over three major climbs
Technical Difficulty: High – steep climbs/descents, water bar and stream crossings
I rode my monster gravel rig: a 2011 Yeti ARC retrofitted with drop bars a rigid fork and 650B wheels with 2.1” Teravail Rutlands. Dan rode a Specialized Diverge with 700cX38mm gravel tires.
Dan and I rolled out of the expansive Dru Bru parking at mid-morning. After a mile and a half on pavement we turned onto gravel and soon we were on the first climb of the day. I’ve been up this road a few times now and I’ve come to call it “Granny Gear Hill.” The road surface is buff – totally drivable, even in a minivan – but it’s steep. Basically this is your good old-fashioned mountain bike ascent route (mountain bikers use it to access the Teanaway classic Rat Pack).
We crested Granny Gear Hill at mile six, where we took a few photos of a snow enshrined Mt Steward before turning right and dropping towards the West Fork of the Teanaway River. The descent is steep, rutted and potentially sandy. I say “potentially” because Dan and I were riding the day after a large thunderstorm and the old road cut was packed like beach sand, but as the ground dries this section will become deep and loose. A critical right-hand turn leads into the forest from where a decommissioned road leads to some flowy single-track. Be careful here as there are (I think) three log crossings. The logs are less than ten inches in diameter and partially buried, no problem for a mountain bike, but unless you’re confident I suggest walking a gravel rig. From there it was a coast all the way to Illahee Campground, which is located at the end of the paved section of the West Fork Road. On event day this will be the location of Aid Station #1.
The next ten miles of the course are fairly cruiser on a dirt/gravel road leading to the Middle Fork Road (careful there might be a few cars/trucks here) and the Indian Camp trailhead (note that riders doing the regular GRiT route will turn approximately a mile short of Indian Camp). The yellow gate marks the beginning of the second big climb. The road is drivable (maybe not by a minivan) albeit rutted in places. Once on top we were rewarded with some nice south gazing views.
The next five miles – a steady descent to the Teanaway River Road – is crux of the route. The descent follows a long-ago abandoned roadbed with as few as two and possibly as many as five hike-a-bike sections. The road has been bisected by numerous water bars, most of which are deep and steep; best to pass these at the edge of the old road. At Camp Lake the trail rolls through some tall grass that can obscure the trail a bit, but don’t worry continue straight you’ll pick up the trail soon enough. Camp Lake is more meadow than lake and as we rode through the waving grass, a mule deer looked up from her grazing, gave us a good look and then gently bound in the direction of the surrounding forest.
After Camp Lake be careful of three stream cro/”ssings that have been lined with baseball-sized ballast rock. The larger rocks have the potential to tear up tires and break rims so a little prudence here is advisable. After passing around a yellow gate and crossing the North Fork of the Teanaway River we hit the pavement at the Twenty Nine Pines Campground (location of GRiT Aid Station #2). After all of the hard-earned miles it was pleasant to roll a few miles on smooth tarmac. A right turn onto the West Fork Road returned us to the Ilahee Campground.
From here the route retraces itself: what was down is now up and what was up is now down. The climb is tough, but like all tough things you put one pedal in front of the other, keep going forward and soon enough you’ll be looking at a sweet descent.
The drop of Granny Gear Hill is fast and smooth. This is a deceptively dangerous section of the course as it’s tempting to really open it up, but be careful of sharp curves and loose gravel. It’s best to ride within one’s abilities here.
Dan and I returned to the car feeling like we’d had a full day. This is a “gravel adventure.” The course reminded me of what we used to ride on our, Ritcheys, Stumpjumpers and Trek 990s back in the late eighties and early nineties. The challenge of this course is not in its length, but in its climbing and technical difficulty. While putting the route together we’ve come to realize that there isn’t an easy way through the Teanaway, but what it takes in effort it gives back double in natural beauty and the bliss that comes from spending a day in the mountains.