Author Topic: Best direction for portion of Northern Tier between Anacortes and Glacier  (Read 14458 times)

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Offline xenomera

My wife and I are planning on doing an unsupported bike tour starting in mid June, taking a portion of the Northern Tier.  We want to go from Anacortes to Montana, and end up either at Glacier park, Missoula or somewhere along the Amtrak a little farther east (Shelby maybe?).

Looking at the AC maps, we were thinking it might make more sense to take the Amtrak out to Montana and ride east to west, because it would allow us to avoid starting out and going up that 5500 Norther Cascades summit so early in our trip.  Also, east west is going from 4000 ft to sea level, which sounds good to us!

However, we're now thinking about wind direction and wonder if anyone has advice as to whether one direction would be significantly better in that respect.  That would probably trump it if it is clearly better one way or the other.

Thoughts?

Offline adventurepdx

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I rode much of that route last summer, heading eastbound from Anacortes and diverting from the NT in the Idaho Panhandle and NW Montana. I don't know if wind direction really makes a big deal on this section.

However, I think the bigger concern is mountain passes. There are two passes that are regularly closed due to winter because of snow: Rainy/Washington Pass on SR 20/North Cascades Hwy in Washington State, and Logan Pass/Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier. Each of these closures are at the end of your trip, no matter which way you choose. Last year Rainy/Washington opened around May 25 and Logan around July 10! These were both late openings for the respective passes, but it's something to keep in mind. Rainy/Washington tends to open earlier than Logan, so it might be prudent to head eastbound. Even if Logan is still closed by the time you start in mid-June, it could open by the time you get there.

Online John Nelson

Wind is almost never a big of a factor as people imagine (except in Wyoming). It's a game of chance. No matter which way you go, you're going to have some headwinds, some tailwinds and some crosswinds. The best you can do is bias the odds a bit.

The wind rose for Kalispell, MT for the month of June shows that the wind primarily comes out of the south, with SSE in second place. The winds from the east and west are much less frequent, with winds out of the west three percentage points more frequent than from the east.

The wind rose for Spokane, WA for the month of June shows winds primarily out of the SW. This might tend to bias you a bit to travel eastbound.
« Last Edit: March 27, 2012, 12:09:27 pm by John Nelson »

Offline Pat Lamb

I wouldn't worry about the wind on that stretch.  It never cooled me down when climbing.  :(

Although I've only done it E-W, I don't think there's going to be much difference in difficulty.  Getting out of Omak is going to be an effort in either direction, ditto the Washington/Rainy Pass climb.  People say there's 60 miles of climbing going east over Washington Pass, but there's some downhills in there too.  Not many, but some.  There's about 25 miles of serious, continuous climbing in either direction.

The only suggestion I'd have is to shoot for Colonial campground if you're going east, to shorten that day.


indyfabz

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We want to go from Anacortes to Montana, and end up either at Glacier park, Missoula or somewhere along the Amtrak a little farther east (Shelby maybe?).

I may be misinterpreting this, but Amtrak doesn't serve Missoula. And in case you don't know, if you want to travel on Amtrak with your bikes, you need to find a station with checked baggage service. Shelby has it.

Based on your timing, I would definitely go west to east west if you want the greatest chance of Logan Pass on Going to the Sun Road being open. As noted, last year it opened abnormally late (very late) as did Rainy and Washington Passes in the Cascades.  You can monitor the stauts of both roads. Once plowing starts, Glacier gives nearly daily updates on progress. WADOT also gives progress reports on SR 20 through the Cascades.

Ditto on not worrying about wind.

I have gone west to east twice. Both times I left from Seattle around the 25th of May. While, long the climb up the west side of the Cascades is not grueling in terms of overall steepness, and there is at least one section of downhill on the way to Rainy Pass and a short section after Rainy before you climb again to Washington Pass. As mentioned, Colonial Creek is a good jumping off point (and very pretty). If you stay at Newhalem you will enounter some good ups and dows before the climb starts in earnest, which it does right after Colonial Creek. From there, its about 32 miles to Washington.

Another consideration is Loup Loup Pass. There are some 8% sections going west. And I believe Whitefish to Eureka is a net elevation gain, albeit a very gradual one.

One thing you could do is start in Seattle and ride north to intersect with the NT route. That would give you a few more days to get your legs.

Send me a PM if you would like more info.

Offline adventurepdx

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I may be misinterpreting this, but Amtrak doesn't serve Missoula. And in case you don't know, if you want to travel on Amtrak with your bikes, you need to find a station with checked baggage service. Shelby has it.

Missed that one. For ending around Glacier, the two most convenient Amtrak stations with baggage service is East Glacier and Whitefish. (East Glacier is only open during summer months.) Shelby is a bit further east and in the High Plains at that point, about 70 miles east of the park.

I wish Amtrak went through Missoula and also by Yellowstone. Hopefully they'll reinstate the North Coast Hiawatha line that went from Seattle to Chicago via southern Montana and North Dakota.

I have gone west to east twice. Both times I left from Seattle around the 25th of May. While, long the climb up the west side of the Cascades is not grueling in terms of overall steepness, and there is at least one section of downhill on the way to Rainy Pass and a short section after Rainy before you climb again to Washington Pass. As mentioned, Colonial Creek is a good jumping off point (and very pretty). If you stay at Newhalem you will enounter some good ups and dows before the climb starts in earnest, which it does right after Colonial Creek. From there, its about 32 miles to Washington.

I second camping at Colonial Creek. If I remember correctly, it was 6-7 hours of climbing from the campground to Washington Pass. There's a few campgrounds after the screaming descent down the east side.

indyfabz

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Both times it took me about 7.25 hrs. from Colonial Creek Washington Pass including rest breaks.

There is a U.S.F.S. campground relatively early on during the descent. In the Mazama area, a couple recently opened a cyclist-only campground on their property. It's on SR 20, so it might be off route as I think the official route uses a smaller road on the other side of the river for a while.

IIRC, the first 16 miles are pretty much screaming. Once you get to Mazama, it cools out to Winthrop, where there is a nice KOA along the river. When I was there, the owners were really nice. They gave me a "cyclist discount" and even offered to let me sleep in one of their Kabins for the same price. Winthrop is a good place to take a rest day after the climb.

OP:  Something I forgot to mention. If you start somewhere like Shelby you are going to hit Going to the Sun pretty early.  Probably about the third day unless you take the route proper and go into Canada, which is not easy. The ride from Cut Bank, MT, just west of Shelby, to McGrath, A.B., is a lonely one.   IIRC, it's about 70 miles. The only thing in between was a small store in Del Bonito. Getting back into the U.S. via Chief Mountain is no piece of cake. Rode that direction in '09 as part of a loop from Whitefish . There is a very stiff climb of about 6 miles that starts not far from the road that takes you into Waterton Village. Then there is another climb up to the border crossing. When you finally make it to U.S. 89, you will likely have a major headwind to St. Mary.

If you skip Canada, ride from Cut Bank to East Glacier and take MT 49 and U.S. 89 to St. Mary, you will also have some climbing.  MT 49 offers some gorgeous views:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/davez2007/3676639154/in/set-72157620763740044

But there is a stiff climb up to the top, which is known as Looking Glass Hill. Fortunately, it's not super long. Taking U.S. 89 and possibly Starr School Rd. from Browning may be a flatter option. Never done it, so I don't know. Either way, there will be some ups and downs on U.S. 89 between the junction with MT 49 and St. Mary, but you finish a screaming descent of maybe 5-6 miles into town. After climbing it I took this shot looking back down towards St. Mary:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/davez2007/3676637404/in/set-72157620763740044

The point of all this being that regardless of which direction you opt for, you are going to do some climbing relatively early on. In the end, it's a beautiful route no matter which way you ride it.

Offline adventurepdx

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Getting back into the U.S. via Chief Mountain is no piece of cake. Rode that direction in '09 as part of a loop from Whitefish . There is a very stiff climb of about 6 miles that starts not far from the road that takes you into Waterton Village. Then there is another climb up to the border crossing. When you finally make it to U.S. 89, you will likely have a major headwind to St. Mary.

We rode that way last year, but going north. So we came down that hill into Waterton Village. I remember looking back up at it and being thankful that we went down, not up. And yeah, that area is pretty windy.

The point of all this being that regardless of which direction you opt for, you are going to do some climbing relatively early on. In the end, it's a beautiful route no matter which way you ride it.

We traveled eastbound from Whitefish, went over Marias Pass (Logan was closed), then used MT 49/US 89/Chief Mtn. Hwy. to get to Waterton and ultimately the Canadian Rockies parks. The two days we spent on 49/89/Chief Mtn. were tougher than the Marias Climb: lots of up and down. 89 between the junction of 49 to St. Mary was either climbing or descending with no flats. Chief Mountain was also challenging, though from the looks of things heading north may be slightly easier than south.

Offline JHamelman

In the Mazama area, a couple recently opened a cyclist-only campground on their property. It's on SR 20, so it might be off route as I think the official route uses a smaller road on the other side of the river for a while.

Might you be referring to the folks at the Bicycle Barn in Winthrop that I recently wrote about in a blog post?

http://blog.adventurecycling.org/2012/03/cyclists-only-camping-bicycle-barn-in.html

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indyfabz

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We traveled eastbound from Whitefish, went over Marias Pass (Logan was closed), then used MT 49/US 89/Chief Mtn. Hwy. to get to Waterton and ultimately the Canadian Rockies parks. The two days we spent on 49/89/Chief Mtn. were tougher than the Marias Climb: lots of up and down. 89 between the junction of 49 to St. Mary was either climbing or descending with no flats. Chief Mountain was also challenging, though from the looks of things heading north may be slightly easier than south.
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In '09 Logan was closed when we got to St. Mary. We did St. Mary to West Glacier then to Sprague Creek in the park via 89, 49 and Marias in one day so we could at least ride the west side up to Logan and then back down. About 100 miles. For all it's beauty, it's a day I don't think I would like to repeat. At the end of the day, my girlfriend was so dazed she entered a restroom and stood there for a few seconds trying to figure out why there were urinals in the women's room.  Ooops.

Your description of 89 and 49 is spot on. Not a flat spot to be found. I've done Chief Mountain both ways. Went north in '99 during ACA's NT tour. We grossly underestimated that day. It seemed much harder than crossing Logan Pass. You are right. If north is easier, it's only slightly.

Offline xenomera

Thank you to everyone for these incredibly informative responses.  They will be of great use to us in our trip.

I think we are convinced to do the trip west to east, in order to maximize the chance of getting to see Glacier Park at a time most likely to be open.  But we do like the suggestion of starting closer to Seattle to get our "legs" more up  to speed before Washington/Rainy pass.

We'll plan on staying at Colonial Creek and take that long 32 miler to the pass starting early the next day.  We might go to that nice looking B&B with a hot tub in Mazama (Mazama Country Inn) on our way down and take a rest day.  Anyone stay there?

One question.  My wife and I are not the speediest climbers and are a bit worried about having enough time to make it from Colonial campground to Washington pass in one day.  If we just poop out, is there anywhere on the way up to get water, or to bivouac for the night if need be?

FredHiltz

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... We might go to that nice looking B&B with a hot tub in Mazama (Mazama Country Inn) on our way down and take a rest day.  Anyone stay there?

One question.  My wife and I are not the speediest climbers and are a bit worried about having enough time to make it from Colonial campground to Washington pass in one day.  If we just poop out, is there anywhere on the way up to get water, or to bivouac for the night if need be?

It was expensive in 1999 by cyclist standards, but a wonderful treat. The rooms are huge and the dining was excellent. Let's hope the current chef is as good.

I ran out of water on Washington Pass, despite starting with extra. The overlooks were well populated with RVs, so I stopped and asked for a refill from one of their water tanks. The lady of the couple said,"No way! You come in here in the shade and have some ice water from the fridge."

The ACA maps show campgrounds near Rainy and Washington passes, which I have not used. There is also a trailhead with outhouses at Rainy Pass.

Fred

Offline adventurepdx

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My wife and I are not the speediest climbers and are a bit worried about having enough time to make it from Colonial campground to Washington pass in one day.  If we just poop out, is there anywhere on the way up to get water, or to bivouac for the night if need be?

I don't remember any campgrounds or water sources after Colonial Creek. As Fred pointed out, you might luck out and get water from people in cars. And if you have a water filtration system there are numerous streams you can use. There is a pit toilet between Rainy and Washington Passes, but no water.

As for camping, it could be possible to stealth camp off the road. But two important things: Camping outside of official campgrounds is not permitted in National Parks, and you'll be in North Cascades National Park on the climb. And there will probably be snow on the side of the road in higher elevations, even in mid-June. The snow will be deeper the higher up you go.

To give you an example, my girlfriend April and I crossed Washington/Rainy last year on June 11th. This was two weeks after the passes opened, and it was a very high snowfall winter. We started to see snow on the side of the road around 3,000 feet in elevation. And at either pass the snow was several feet deep. I'm not saying it will be the same when you cross, but there can still be snow up there!


This was at about 4,000 feet.


Rainy Pass, elevation 4,855 feet. Snow taller than our bikes.


Offline Pat Lamb

I don't remember any campgrounds or water sources after Colonial Creek. As Fred pointed out, you might luck out and get water from people in cars. And if you have a water filtration system there are numerous streams you can use. There is a pit toilet between Rainy and Washington Passes, but no water.

Ditto the recommendation for a water filter.  Lots of streams, right off the road. 

Note you probably won't need water once you hit Washington Pass -- it's literally all downhill from there!

Online John Nelson

How long of a distance between water sources are we talking about? Forewarned, I'd rather carry extra water than a water filter. I can and have carried two days worth of water before.