Day Three: Sun Mountain Race Loop Revisited
The next day it was time to think about heading back to Seattle. But not before we got in a rollicking tour of Sun Mountain — the Sun Mountain Race Course.
Time was when Winthrop was a prime Washington State race destination, with spring and fall events on the calendar year in and out. Not so much any more. The cross-country race scene is pretty anemic, and in the fall at least the early winters kept infringing on rider comfort. The annual Methow Valley Mountain Bike Festival, now the Bike and Film Festival, has dropped racing from its calendar.
But the course is still in fine fettle. You follow the signs from Winthrop up to Sun Mountain — there’s a famous lodge right on top by the same name — and park at the Chickadee Parking Lot. (You can park at the Lodge higher up if you like, but the riding to and from the lodge is nothing special.) From there you’ve got lots of options all around the mountain on really nice, flowy trails. We decided to head up Thompson Road, a medium-steep fire road that rises all the way to the top of the ridge. After a short leg burner we turned right onto Overland Trail and were on our way.
Usually in late September and early October the trails around Sun Mountain have been pummeled to baking flour, but not so this time out. Rains the week before, and an unusually wet summer overall, had left the trails tacky and packed. We zipped down Overland, crossed over to Rodeo, hooked up with Black Bear all the way around the north side of the mountain, did a short stint on Patterson Lake Trail, doubled back via Rader Creek (the wrong way to go on Rader, the fastest trail on the mountain, but what the heck, we were just out for a ride), climbed up Thompson to the top and then came down some gnarly unmarked trails to the Inside Passage and back to the car.
It’d been at least a decade since I’d ridden Sun Mountain, and I’d forgotten what a hoot the trail network is. It was especially fun tailing Jim, who’s done countless races there and knows the trails like the veins on the back of his hand. Jim literally rides like he’s on a rail, flying around corners, ripping down G-outs and flitting up switchbacks. Most of the time I was happy just to keep him in sight.
You can pretty much ride the whole network in two to three hours. It’s a lot of fun and is a great workout. It’s not high-altitude, above-the-earth’s-curvature type stuff, but you get bucolic views of the valley and can easily navigate around occasional foot traffic. Winthrop is such a cornucopia of monster rides that it’s easy to forget the more modest Sun Mountain in the equation. But our romp was perfect capper to a great weekend — as well as the 2010 high-country riding season. Already we’re making plans for next year — Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Oregon. But always, always, Winthrop will be there, right in the middle of the mix.
[Distance: 15.6 miles / Elevation gain: 2,101 feet / Maximum grade: 10.4 percent / Time, including pondering Year 2010: 1 hr, 45 mins]