Guest Column: Three peaks, 481 miles in 15 days
July 10, 2014
On June 8 we started pedaling our 200-pound rigs that somewhat resembled bicycles. These contraptions were loaded down with camping, cooking, biking, skiing, and mountaineering gear that we would be using for the next three weeks. We headed east from Portland, Ore. Our goal was to climb and ski Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Rainier —in that order— before ending in Seattle. This was going to be a fully self-supported, human-powered, bike and ski trip.
The first part of the journey was effortless as a tailwind blew us along the Columbia River. The scenery was beautiful and the biking seemed painless. As we approached Mount Adams the tailwind reversed itself and we both realized that this was going to be much harder than we anticipated. We left the ranger station in Trout Lake with our needed permits to climb Adams. Trout Lake is 2000 feet above sea level and we just found out that the trailhead that we would be hiking out of was at almost 6000 feet. The road to the trailhead was completely dirt and steep. This access road proved to be one of the toughest challenges we faced. After five gripped hours in the saddle we reached the trailhead. Drenched in sweat we set up camp, ate dinner, and said very little to each other knowing that we had to summit Mount Adams the following day because our good weather window was shutting fast.
The next morning we woke up at 4 a.m. I had my coffee, we ate breakfast, grabbed our gear and started the 7,000 foot climb to the summit. The weather was great on this particular day. There was little wind and the sun was just the right temperature. As we approached the summit Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier came into view, so did the bike route. We were going to have to pedal nearly 400 miles through terrain resembling Mordor from the Lord of the Rings. We stared in awe at the pending route for a good while, before I put my splitboard into ride mode and Brody clicked into his skis. We enjoyed corn skiing through the southwest chutes of Mount Adams for nearly an hour. We descended the 7,000 vertical feet so fast and the skiing was so good.
The weather forecasts came true. It started raining the next day and just would not let up. We continued pedaling through the moisture. Soaked, we climbed passes and descended into valleys only to wake up and do the same thing the next day. For the first week, I felt as though I was riding in the Death Ride every day.
We received rain even the day we summited Mount St. Helens. As we neared the top of Helens, we popped through the cloud bank and there was the sun! It was an amazing sight to see just the tops of the volcanoes around us. The volcano we already had summited (Adams) and the volcano still to be climbed (Rainier). As we rode back into the cloudbank thoughts drifted into my mind. I realized that I might have reached the halfway point of this journey.
This trip started out like most things in my life, just a pipe dream. For the last year, my life has been consumed with shop work. A friend and I decided to start a splitboard, snowboard, and ski manufacturing company in 2012. TahoeLab is a grassroots company based here in South Lake Tahoe. We manufacture everything by hand and do it in-house. From the core to the layup process. We are super dedicated to the art of making the best possible product on the market. With that said I needed a break. I always thought about a bike and ski trip but just didn’t know when and where it would go down. But now I had the perfect reason to do it. TahoeLab. I wanted to show the world that we were making a quality product that could stand up to any challenge put in front of it. I also wanted to pursue the human powered movement and Brody Leven was right there at my side. Brody is also a “go-getter” and had no trouble committing to this trip. OK, so I found my partner and I was good to go but I knew that this was going to be hard, real hard. Before I left I asked myself why I was doing this. The answer was simple, I was doing this to challenge myself and I was doing this for TahoeLab.
Being exhausted day after day takes a toll not only on your body but more so on your mind. As I reached my bike at the base of Mount St. Helens I reached a boiling point. I just didn’t know if I could go on. This was by far the hardest thing I had ever attempted in my life and I still had the hardest part to come (Rainier). I took many deep breaths and started packing all of my gear back onto my bike, again. I hopped onto my bike and we descended back to the valley floor. It was still raining so we both decided that we would stay at a campground about 20 miles from the base of Helens. This way we would be able to shower and dry our things out. Summiting a mountain is always tough but when you have to get on a bike that weighs nearly 200 pounds, ride it for a few hours after you’ve climbed and skied, you come up with a different definition of tough.
“We had it dialed in,” Brody Said. “We couldn’t have gone any lighter than we did. There’s a reason people don’t commonly do trips like this. There’s just no efficient way to bring all the necessary gear by bike. It’s straight up hard work.”
The next morning I woke up and did as I always do. I started packing up my bike. I realized the night before I had hung my jacket under an awning to dry. When I went to where it had been I realized it was gone. Someone had stolen it! How could this be? I was in the middle of nowhere and this was my lifeline. This one thing kept me somewhat dry. It kept me going, it kept me happy. What was I going to do? It was already raining and didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon. I had to find my jacket. This was my snowboard shell, my bike shell, my sanity. It was nowhere to be found. It was gone. Abe you can’t break down, it’s going to be OK, I tried to tell myself. Wait it is not going to be OK. I am three hours from Portland and four hours from Seattle by car. No one is going to bring me a jacket I am on my own. Without crying (because that is what I wanted to do), I went over to the owner of the campground and asked if he had anything that I could borrow? He thought about it for a moment and shook his head “I don’t think so and I really can’t believe that anyone would steal a jacket”. This did not help me. As I was about to lose hope he said, “Ya know, when I bought this place I think the old owners left some things behind. Let’s go out to the shed and take a look.” We walked in the rain towards the shed and I prayed that there would be something helpful in the dilapidated old building. He opened the door to about a million spider webs. This building looked like it hadn’t been opened in years. Sure enough, there hung three different raincoats each one more tattered and beat than the next. He smiled at me and said, “Will any of these work?” I looked the three over and couldn’t believe that my fate lied in one of these coats. I was going to wear this for the next two hundred miles and who knows how may inches of rain water. This sucked. I decided on a bright yellow fishing style poncho. The reason I decided on this one was because it had a hood not to mention too many rips to count. It was filthy. Beyond filthy. The owner joked that the coat had experienced the Mount St. Helens eruption. I don’t think he was kidding. “You can wash it if you want,” he said. This coat is beyond washing, I thought to myself. Brody finished packing his bike, rode over to where I was standing in my new yellow slicker and started hysterically laughing. “You’ve got to be kidding” he says. I look at him and don’t say a word.
We pedaled 50 miles that day and it rained the whole time. The jacket never came off. It was so dirty and my morale was so low. I would even take it off sometimes while it was pouring just to feel clean again. I was soaked inside and out. We still had 75 miles until we reached Mount Rainier National Park. The forecast for the next few days called for more rain with one clear day in the middle of the week. We both knew that we would have to make it to Rainier and be standing on the summit when it went clear. This was our only chance. The outlook after that called for unstable weather for a week straight. We had one day to complete what would normally be two days of biking. Yes, it kept raining and yes my volcano jacket stayed on.
Two days later we summited Mount Rainier via the Emmons glacier. The route was long, real long. Climbing nearly 8,000 vertical on our bikes the day before didn’t help. At first the mountain wasn’t very friendly, we nearly got lost in a thick fog trying to find the 10,000 foot camp Sherman. We eventually found the camp. We dug a pit to pitch our tent in and right before we crawled in for the night the mountain showed its face. Rainier was different from the previous two mountains we climbed. It had real risks. There are unmarked crevasse crossings everywhere. Ice and rock fall are a common occurrence not to mention Rainier is just a bigger beast. As we looked up at the nearly 5,000 vertical feet we would cover in the morning the clouds rolled back in and we could barely see each other again. We went to sleep not know what the morning would bring.
Our alarm went off at 2:30 a.m. We opened the tent door and saw stars. We knew it was on. We grabbed our gear, tied ourselves to either end of our rope and began the slog to the summit of Mount Rainier.
On June 23, Brody Leven and I completed the first human-powered multi-peak ski mountaineering expedition in the Cascades. In total, Brody and I ascended 51,810 feet during our 15-day journey. We spent 71 hours in the saddle and 36 hours on skis, either hiking up or skiing down the three iconic peaks.
—Abe Greenspan is a South Lake Tahoe resident who completed the “Pedals to Peaks” bringing him from Portland, Ore. to Seattle, Wash and across three of the most challenging peaks in the northwest along with his good friend Brody Leven.