July 28, 2006
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Reviewed by: Jim from CR
Cross Country Rider
If anyone tells you they’ve cleaned every hill and obstacle on the Boundary Trail between Adams and St. Helens, they’re full of it. This 50+-mile mountain biking trek is an epic on steroids.
We started at Council Lake near Mount Adams on Tuesday morning and finished at Coldwater Lake north of Mount St. Helens on Wednesday afternoon. In between, we followed the Boundary Trail through the Dark Divide, one of the largest and wildest undeveloped areas in the West.
The ride team and I were poster children for AARP. My partners included outdoor extremist Brian Mahon, 49; former U.S. Cycling Team member John Platt, 50; and my brother, Dave, 52.
As Mahon described it, the plan was simple – “First, we’ll go up; then we’ll go down.”
In a 1995 book titled 50 Choice Single-Tracks, author and rider Michael Orendurff described the Boundary Trail as “a CAT tour – Constant Anaerobic Threshold.”
Orendurff rated the trails in his book as Easy, Intermediate, Advanced, or Absurd. He tabbed the Boundary Trail as “triple-plus” Absurd. “The surface is all the worst of everything you could imagine –,” Orendurff wrote, “sharp rocks, big boulders, scree fields, washouts, blowdown, unrideable up- and downhills, snow late into the summer . . . complete hysteria.”
The stretch between Council Lake and Norway Pass features 11 climbs of 700 feet or more, all above 4000 feet. Some of the ascents are so steep and so rutted by motorcycle traffic that they are ridiculously unrideable.
Orendurff failed to mention that there is virtually no water source during a brutal 10-mile stretch from Hat Rock to Badger Lake. We filtered water at Badger and staggered on to Elk Pass, where our support crew provided fuel and fluid. We gutted out the last 10 miles of the day from Elk Pass to Bear Meadows and then on to the trailhead at Norway.
We calculated the first day at 35+ miles – please note that these felt like nautical miles – with 12,000-15,000 feet of climbing.
The next morning, we worked our way through the Mount Margaret backcountry before descending near St. Helens Lake and pedaling up to the intersection with South Coldwater Trail 230A. It took 6.5 hours to cover the final 16 to 20 miles from Norway to the South Coldwater Trailhead.
My therapist and I will be discussing the Boundary Trail for some time, although I suppose it wasn’t all bad. I got to see spectacular terrain, came away with incredible photos, and, even at 55, was able to survive the ride.
I’m probably too whacked out to rationally estimate how much climbing we did during the entire ride, but I’d put the quad-popping, two-day total at close to 20,000 feet.
If you decide this is something you really want to do, be prepared. Orendurff recommends allowing three days for the ride, as well as a support vehicle to meet you at Elk Pass and Norway Pass. There is no cell reception.
“Excellent physical condition, flawless equipment and sound planning are mandatory.”
A little luck wouldn’t hurt either.
Council Lake to Elk Pass to Norway Pass to South Colwater Trailhead.