(2006) Leavenworth

Fall Foliage search – part II

Disappointed with my search last week (see Lena Lake) I set out once again to find the elusive Pacific Northwest fall colors.

October 14, 2006
Total Miles: 378 miles, 1 day
Seattle, WA to Leavenworth, WA
Map Link

I sent out a call to my friends that I was going out in search of dirt and leaves on Saturday and Ron answered. He has a Buell Ulysses and was ready to go exploring with me. We agreed to meet at 8am the next morning up near Lynnwood, which meant that I didn’t even have to change my alarm clock from my normal workday time. I got up, threw some last minute stuff on the KLR and headed out in the chilly early morning fog. Ron was waiting for me when I got there and we took off for the mountains. The goal was to reach at least 4,000′ in elevation, as that’s where I understood the foliage I was after could be found. We darted east on Hwy 2 through the heavy clouds, waiting for the sun to get warmer and the roads drier. I spied mounds of manure piled in a field, each stack steaming like a miniature volcano. The sign outside of Monroe told me that it was 43 degrees out. Combined with the damp air it made for a cold ride even though I was making my bike’s electrical system work extra hard by powering my heated grips and my heated jacket.

As we neared the town of Index the clouds broke. The sun streamed down through them, blinding me with its intensity. Each bend in the road brought us out from under the heavy layer of clouds and into warmer temperatures. At the summit of Stevens Pass I stopped for some pictures of the avalanche chute plant life, which was at least a start to finding some color! But I wanted to see it up close, and I wanted to see, of all things, Larch trees.

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Stevens Pass colors

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Close of up the colors

We kept on riding, dropping down the east side of the Cascades where the air cooled off surprisingly until we reached Leavenworth. A quick stop for coffee and hot cocoa and then we were on our way up Icicle Creek Canyon. My “Washington State Atlas and Gazetteer” showed that there were many logging and forest service roads in that area, and I felt that it would be an optimum place to explore. Icicle Creek Canyon is nicely paved with frequent pullouts for hikers to park. The popularity of this area for leaf peepers was evident by how many cars were parked along the side of the road and various people wandering around with backpacks and cameras. We rode past them all, looking for the end of the road. Ron and I stopped to check our maps and consider our options. A young guy in an Acura stopped to ask if we needed any help and when we declined, he then asked us about the road we were on. We told him what we knew (that it was an in/out road and not a loop) and after thanking us he continued on his way. We eventually found the end of the pavement, but the road kept going. Instead of staying on the canyon road, we took an offshoot over a bridge to see where it would lead us. It went up.

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Icicle Creek Canyon road

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Burned area from forest fires a few years ago

Up and dirt, that’s what we had found. I took the lead and blasted my way round corners and over rocks. I was grinning from ear to ear. The road that we had found climbed the side of the canyon, snaking its way along the sides, curving sinuously with the terrain. An early stop gave us a glimpse of the canyon floor we were leaving behind and a suggestion of what we were headed for. The road was by no means difficult and I took the lead to race up and around the mountainside.

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Looking back

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Looking forward

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View from near the bottom of the canyon

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The bikes

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Fall colors!

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Dirt! dirt! dirt!

I had mentioned that this road was not technical at all and as if to prove the point, we had company. As Ron and I stood there admiring the scene laid out below us and the various skills necessary to accurately photograph elevation changes (something that I have to practice) I heard a rhythmic “thump thump” in the distance. It sounded oddly like someone with their car stereo up too loud. We looked at each other in curiosity when our question was answered: the young guy from Icicle Creek had followed us up this road in search of his own photographic subjects. We all laughed at his presence and he continued up the road. Ron and I followed shortly after it and it didn’t take us long to overtake him. He let us by and we continued up on roads that hugged the exposed side of the mountain, the outer edge of the road dropping off to the canyon floor far below us.

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Heading up

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Climbing the canyon walls

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Surprise! (he gave up shortly after here)

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Note the slope of the mountain in the background

It didn’t take long after passing the Acura that we came to a switch back that marked the end of the car’s advance. A hefty washout, large rocks and loose soil grabbed my total attention, as well as my front tire. I wrestled the KLR through the surprise turn and immediately began climbing again, this time a little more seriously. In addition, the road appeared to dive back into a side canyon and away from the openness I had enjoyed previously. The trees closed in over the road and the surface varied from heavy rocks to smooth hardpacked dirt. Brush from the side became more frequent and we even had a tree that had fallen across the road, just high enough to duck under on the high side. Occasionally the road would almost disappear in overgrown bushes and grasses, small twigs slapping against my gear and the bike. The road periodically became a trail, opening back up to the sunshine that we had been blessed with since leaving Index that morning.

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No Acuras up here!

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Views from further up

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The glowing larch

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The road gets more primitive

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Still climbing

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The bikes just after cresting a small ridge

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Rougher rocks

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Looking back down

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Ron ducks under a tree

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Ron cresting another ridge

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Views from further up

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Golden trees and hillsides

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The road becomes a trail

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The trail becomes a path

Ron took the lead and not more than five minutes later he stopped short. I pulled up behind him, curious. He stopped because the road had stopped. Well, part of the road was still there, but not a whole lot of it. We walked to the other side to see the condition of the road on the other side and also to better gauge the width of the trail that was left. The other side looked very overgrown, but that could have cleared up 20 yards further on for all we knew. But what we didn’t know was if this road looped back down into the canyon or if we’d have to backtrack down through here. Ron’s Ulysses could fit, and if I took a bag off the KLR it would fit. But it was a long way down. And we weren’t sure where we were headed. So we left the single track for another day and retreated back down the mountain.

A side road that we had noticed on the way up deserved some exploration, so I hauled the KLR up the steep incline and into more trees. The road opened up and was in beautiful condition. I kept up a healthy pace and reached a good spot to wait for Ron in order to get his picture. I sat and waited and caught him as he came up a small rise. We discussed where this road might go and eagerly guessed that it must loop back down the other side of the side canyon and into the main canyon of Icicle Creek I hopped on the KLR eager to continue, came around the next bend and found… a field. I big, open, gravel/grass/tree chip field. There was no other way out, so we laughed, wheeled the bikes around and went back to the main road, all the way to Icicle Creek Canyon road. From the pavement it was but a short hop to Leavenworth, a quick gas stop and then back over Hwy 2. At Stevens Pass I took the Old Cascade Highway for its brief parallel along the new highway, enjoying the seclusion and sharp corners. I think I surprised Ron when I took us across the wooden bridge that Steve and I had ridden across a couple of weeks before when coming back from Entiat. It was warm and sunny until we got to Index. Oddly enough, the morning clouds had never burned off or blew away, so we had the same cold and damp weather coming back into Seattle that we did on the way out. It was a very hot shower I took when I got home that evening.

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Exploring a different road

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Fast dirt

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Returning down Icicle Creek Canyon road

Tell me what you think! I want to know!