Back in the day we prided ourselves on being the first of the season over Kachess Ridge. To us it was an annual rite of passage, marking the inaugural of a new season of mountain biking.
In recent years, though, “breaking in” the Ridge became more of a competition, and we typically lost out to a Cle Elum local. We didn’t mind, figuring we held the career record overall — and hey, more power to the younger gen. Kachess is no slacker of a ride and we were happy the trail was getting used by the chairlift set.
So when Jim and I headed up yesterday to Kachess, we weren’t counting on nabbing this year’s crown. Yet from all indications, we were the first to ride the entire loop (no shuttle!). We could find only one or two tire marks throughout the ride, and on the crucial snowy sections there was no indication of riders having gone through ahead of us.
From what we found, we weren’t surprised. There was still deep snow on Kachess’ infamous saddle, and the upper meadow is a muck fest. Creek crossings were high and some sections badly need brushing. The whole trail is in condition that we would generously classify as “unmaintained.”
For this late in the year, it’s the wettest we’ve seen on Kachess. The snow field was especially dicey because the saddle is so vertical at that point. By the final creek crossing our feet were soaked.
Not that we were complaining. The plus side was mid-70s temps (half my backpack bladder was full at the end of the ride) and a trail surface that, despite being pitted out by erosion and flooding, was dustless and grippy. The rerouting around the avalanche has tempered nicely, and the lower switchbacks are in better-than-expected shape. Even the run-in down to the trailhead has escaped butchering from the 4-wheelers so far.
On the long downhill we were reminded once again why we love cross-country the best. Kachess is about as technical as a high-country ride gets (no structures or artificial “enhancements” but lots of dinosaur teeth and talus, drops, roots, stream crossings and gnarly steeps), offering plenty of challenges straight from Mother Nature. You have the added benefits of solitude, silence, scenery and conditioning — no chair lifts, and we always do the long ride up sans shuttle. It’s a great 3-to-4 hour workout less than 90 minutes from Seattle, our only regret being that it isn’t a bit longer.
At any rate, the trail is clear and waiting. Head on up and say hi to our tracks!