Friday, September 3, 2010

The Final Frontier…Artist Point at Mt. Baker

Miles: 100.0 Climbing: 7208’ Route: Everson—Nooksack—Sumas—Reese Hill—Kendall—Maple Valley—Glacier—Artist Point—Glacier—Maple Valley—Kendall—Peaceful Valley—South Pass Rd—Everson Participants: David Longdon/Mark Clausen/Carol Potts/Mike McQuaid/me

Mike McQuaid’s article in the Seattle Times last week on the best cycling climbs in Washington reminded me that there was a great climb that I had never ridden:

After reading the article, I reflected that the ride up to Artist Point at Mt. Baker was the only major well known climb in Washington that I had not done. More on this later. I don’t know if it was the power of subliminal suggestion, but the next thing I knew David Longdon hatched a plan to ride to Artist Point and he recruited Mike to be our own personal tour guide.

I think one of the reasons I have not done this ride before is that most riders start from Glacier. This approach yields a wonderful ride, but it’s only 49 miles round trip. The 2 hour+ drive each way means a lot of time and aggravation for a pretty short ride, and I have always found a reason not to make the trip.

Mike has lived in Bellingham for a long time, and he knows all of the local little farm roads. Mike put together a circuitous route for us starting in Everson that was exactly 100 miles with 7208’ of climbing.

Everson to Artist Point:

Artist Point to Everson:

This was simply an absolutely stunning ride. It took us 2 hours and 8 minutes to reach Everson from Downtown Seattle, roughly the same as the drive to the Sunrise turnoff at Rainier, and shorter than the drive to Ashford near Longmire. Most of the drive to Everson is via Interstate 5, which is a lot less tiring than the back roads to Rainier. It was still a long drive and a long day, but not as bad as I thought it would be.

For my money, the ride we did yesterday was more fun and more interesting than any of the rides at Rainier. Perhaps the freshness of the Artist Point ride has something to do with it, as I have done all of the Rainier rides a number of times. If I try to factor that out and look at it objectively, well, I still think I’d rather go back to Artist Point (especially now that they have freshly chipsealed Sunrise and Cayuse at Rainier).

David put our trip together quickly, and I might have bailed had I thought it through and realized that we would be going the day before the start of the Labor Day weekend. We were well into yesterday’s ride before it hit me that we were indeed riding on a day when there should be a lot of cars and a lot of drivers impatient to get on the road. Traffic was never an issue, and for the majority of the day we had few cars in sight.

For most of the ride, we were cruising through beautiful forest on smooth roads. We came within a mile of Canada in Sumas, and then had the nice Reese Hill climb to get the blood flowing. After the start of this climb at mile nine of the ride, we would be going uphill for almost all of the next 43 miles. We had a few short downhill sections, and the climbing was pretty gradual until the last 10.4 miles. Those last miles yielded a little over 3000’ of climbing for an average of 5.46% and a max of 12% on this section. The grade was very consistent, the climb was never super hard, and it was easy to find a rhythm. At Artist Point, we had 6014’ of climbing for the 51.7 miles it took us to get there. Sounds about like a typical Hills of the West Coast ride, except that we were only half done!

I had not been to Artist Point in a car for a long time, and I had forgotten how stunningly alpine the views of Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker were. During the final 10 miles you are in the sub-alpine and the views are expansive as you switch direction through the hairpin turns. Certainly the views from Sunrise and Paradise make those climbs sensational, but Artist Point is right up with them in my opinion.

While we were enjoying the spectacular views from Artist Point, at least five different people came up to us and wanted to take out picture! Normally, people want to chat a little at the top of a long climb that finishes when the road ends. They want to know where you started, how hard it was, etc. Yesterday, we felt like mini-celebrities. Maybe it was just the nice contrast of our kit with the deep blue skies and the shimmering ice of Mount Shuksan in the background. There were still plenty of large patches of snow on the ground, proof positive that Mt. Baker gets a boat load of the white stuff.

I had 5:53 ride time for the ride, not bad considering all of the climbing and a lot of slow pedaling and stops for re-grouping. We weren’t on a hammer mission, but we rode at a very solid pace, and the group worked together. With 100 miles and 7208’ of climbing, this route was a perfect preliminary to the High Pass Challenge at 114 miles and 7500’. I’ll have to ride a little harder and cut out the stops:)

I’m pretty sure that I have now done every major and many of the minor climbs in Washington, at least the climbs that I consider safe and somewhat interesting. A lot of the more remote climbs were done as part of one multi-day trip or another that I have taken on my bike. I’m sure I’ll forget a few (maybe subconsciously on purpose?), but here is a list in no particular order:

Sherman Pass/Wauconda Pass/Loop Loop Pass/McNeil Canyon/the 2000’ climb from Bridgeport south to the top of McNeil Canyon/the Butte “Brute”/Navarre Coulee/Echo Lake Ski Area/Waterville Canyon/Entiat to trailhead at Ardenvoir/Washington Pass/Rainy Pass/Rosario to Mt. Constitution/all of the Kitsap Peninsula, Orcas, San Juan, Whidbey, Bainbridge, and Vashon Island climbs/Hurricane Ridge/Johnson Ridge Observatory on Mt. St. Helens/Windy Ridge on Mt. St. Helens/White Pass/Paradise at Rainier/Sunrise at Rainier/Cayuse Pass/Chinook Pass/Crystal Mountain/Blewett Pass/Old Blewett Pass/Umtanum Canyon climbs/everything paved at Cougar, Tiger, and Squak Mountains/every climb I know of in King County, Snohomish County, and Pierce County/Reese Hill/Artist Point!

A few others: a pretty big hill near Spokane that I can’t remember the name of/a steep climb north of Grand Coulee heading east from Elmer City towards Keller/a very remote climb west of Inchelium/a steep 2500’ climb on FS25 south of the Windy Ridge turnoff at St. Helens/the Longview Bridge during STP One Day:)

Just last week, I learned of a climb north of Ellensburg that I (nor anyone I have asked) have ever heard of. I guess I won’t know if I consider it a “major” climb for my list until I get there.


Robert Thompson said...

Hi Tom,
I am looking for a photo of cyclists riding on Mt Baker and I came across an excellent photo on your blog. I was wondering if you would be ok if i used it. It will be used to promote our destination ride trips to Mt Baker from Vancouver BC. We are an indoor/outdoor cycling studio. Let me know your thoughts and I will share the website and more details with you! Thanks. Rob

Tom Meloy said...


Sure, go ahead and use the photo if you like. That is me on the front bike, and both of us are wearing our Team High Performance kit.