Elk Pass to Curly Creek

July 28-29, 2012

PHOTOS AND STORY by Jason L. Hummel


Summer has arrived. Yes, it is nearly august. Yes, I should’ve been hiking and biking long before now, but unlike the rest of the country which is facing record droughts, the northwest has had a very snowy winter and spring. With my main activity being skiing, it is difficult to stash the boards when it’s so good out. With 6 amazing days skiing on Mount Adams with good friends just the week before, I felt ready to hang up the skis.

So, what do I do now? Well, let’s go mountain bike backpacking on the Boundary Trail.

It was many years ago that I first rode the Boundary trail. With family, friends and cheap hardtail bikes, every trip featured at least a half dozen flats and multiple repairs of other necessary components. But somehow we always made it work. There was always adventure. We never shied away from that.

Now fast forward 15 years later. We all have great bikes now. My twin brother Josh and Aunt Jenny, both familiar faces in those long-ago adventures, were being joined by me.

As for the plan. It was awesome. For many years we’d wanted to mountain bike backpack. Taking our lightest gear, we parked a car at Elk Pass and Curly Creek. I know, it’s not a well known area, so don’t be worried if you don’t have a clue where this is. Think of the region that is between Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams in Southern Washington State. The shortest route possible is about 40 miles. Our hope was to extend this.

Starting out at Elk Pass we wound our way up steep trail. Progress was going well until Badger Lake. That’s when we were faced with snow. Not just ‘snow’, but a snowpack. To us the shortest way is not back to the car. Our ride wraps around very close to the summits of Badger Peak (5,664’), Shark Rock (5,296’) and Craggy Peak (5,725’). The ‘snow’ was not going to go away anytime soon.

But that’s what makes an adventure!

Setting off into the snowfields, we pushed our bikes along. At times we had to search hard for the trail. In places it melted out enough to ride for a short distance. Really that depended on the aspect. The worst was when we had to crawl over avalanche bent trees on steep switchbacks. There was some cursing here.

High meadows were full of avalanche lilly’s and lupin. Progress was slow, but it was being made. Eventually we turned onto the Craggy Peak Trail. It was here that our hope of extending our ride was dashed, but that wasn’t going to stop us from having fun. Every cut, bruise from every slip and fall was a mix of laughs and, well, more cursing of course.

There were moments along the Craggy Peak Trail where finding the trail was a real challenge. At a few points I was seriously asking, “Hey guys, maybe we should have brought our skis?”

Near Wright Meadows we found a nice camp saddled between a dry river bed and a running stream. It was perfect. Best of all - no bugs!

That night we enjoyed a nice fire, a small dinner and a big moon.

The next morning I awoke long before the others. With my camera I set off to take images. Having no schedule was thanked for. I rarely have that. I played with different images and experimented with the light while photographing monkey flowers, bear grass and lupin.

Once my brother and aunt awoke, we quickly set off. The downhill was awesome. Did I say awesome. So sorry, I really meant that it was AWESOME! Okay, now that I have that out of the way, you can imagine the miles and miles and miles of AWESOME trail.

At the junction of the Wright Meadows Trail and the Lewis River trail, we had descended 4000 feet. Snow was no longer a problem. What was a problem was the views of giant trees, carpeting ferns, hanging moss and the spectacular river. Progress was slowed, but honestly, we didn’t care.

There are several waterfalls, but lower falls takes the cake for me, especially when I saw a group of young guys cross the river and stand atop one of the outcroppings of rock in the middle of the waterfall. They were planning to jump. When they did, I rushed to get my camera lenses changed and capture a few images. Yeah...awesome...or rather, excuse me - AWESOME.

The riding over the remaining 14 miles is a mix of spectacular cross country trail. It’s smooth. There are sections of uphill where you have to push your bike, but almost all of the trail from there on out is ridable.

So that’s it. Our mountain bike backpacking adventure came to an end when we cruised out to Curly Creek and arrived back at Jenny’s truck. “How great was that,” I shouted to the others. We all agreed that it was an adventure. But adventure is good. Our satisfaction was enjoyed while sitting on the tailgate and enjoying cold drinks.

God I love summer!


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Jason Hummel