A human-powered approach to Ruth Mountain
Story and photos by Jason D. Martin
My friend said he wanted to ride a bike to Mt. Baker, ski it and ride home in one day. Riding up to the mountain and skiing seemed reasonable, but doing it in a day sounded a little extreme.
Human-powered mountain adventure is becoming popular, but I hadn’t given it much thought until a coworker did something amazing.
In July 2010, mountain guide Lyle Haugsven rode his bike 110 miles from Seattle to Paradise on Mt. Rainier. He then climbed Rainier with his partner Dan Peterson, and the two rode their bikes back to Seattle. Haugsven took three days to complete his adventure.
Then Randall Nordfors rode 58 miles from Bellingham to the Mt. Shuksan trailhead. He climbed the peak via Fisher Chimneys, traversed to Mt. Baker, climbed Park Headwall, descended via Coleman Glacier and rode his bike back to Bellingham. His entire adventure took 33 hours and 29 minutes. It involved 15 volunteers, four hired hands and two years of meticulous planning.
Definitely cool, but this wasn’t Nordfors’ first time around the block. In 2008, the former bike racer started at sea level at the terminus of the Nisqually River and made his way up to Mt. Rainier. Less than 12 hours after he got onto his bike, he stood on the summit.
Nordfors’ feats were beyond anything that I had imagined. But that’s not to say others haven’t dreamed about multi-sport human-powered mountain adventure. This subgenre of climbing and bicycling has slowly become a specialty sport of its own.
Back in the day. In the 1920s and 1930s, poor climbers rode their bicycles from their hometowns in Europe to attempt serious faces in the Alps, largely because they couldn’t afford train tickets. Indeed, one of the most famous tragedies in mountaineering history started with a bike approach. Tony Kurtz and Andreas Hinterstoisser approached the Eiger Norwand on bicycles. Unfortunately, both men perished in their attempt of the famous face.
In the mid-90s, Goran Kropp rode his bicycle 8,000 miles from Stockholm, Sweden to the base of Mt. Everest. It took him more than seven months, but on May 23, 1996, Kropp stood on top of the world’s tallest mountain.
Kropp’s friend Erden Eruc, a Seattle-based climber, rode his bicycle from Seattle to Denali National Park in 2003. He then hiked 67 miles to basecamp, before reaching the 20,320-foot
Modified plan. I’m no Nordfors, Kropp or Eruc. Those guys are real athletes. I’m a mountain guide who bikes from here to there sometimes.
So I came up with my own plan – I decided I would climb Mt. Ruth because I wanted to start with something a little easier than Mt. Baker.
I’ve guided Mt. Ruth four times. It’s a pleasant beginner peak with a small glacier on its flanks. The views are absolutely stellar. You can see Mt. Shuksan the entire way up. As you get higher, Mt. Baker, Mt. Slesse, Glacier Peak and the Northern Pickets all come into view.
One Friday last summer, I left work and by 2:30 p.m., I was on my bike, pulling a cart full of gear up Mt. Baker Highway.
I rode the 33 miles from Bellingham to Glacier in about three hours. I stopped in Glacier for dinner, then continued up the highway.
The 18 miles to the Hannegan Pass Trailhead were slower. It took me two hours and 45 minutes to make the trailhead and my camp, gaining 2,500 feet on the way. The total approach on bike was 51 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
I arrived at camp at 9 p.m., put up my tent and went to sleep. The following morning, I woke at 4 a.m. and was hiking 15 minutes later.
After traveling a total of 56 miles and gaining 7,000 feet of elevation, I stood on the summit of Ruth Mountain at 8:15 a.m. It took me four hours from camp to reach the summit.
All told, it took nine hours and 45 minutes to get from Bellingham to the summit of Mt. Ruth, excluding time spent on breaks and sleep. I don’t believe this was any kind of speed record, but I was proud to have made the ascent.
I took my time bicycling back to Bellingham, arriving home about 5:30 p.m. The total time from house-to-house was 27 hours.
This adventure was by no means as big as what Kropp, Eruc, Haugsven and Nordfors did, but it was big for me.
A Mt. Baker dual-adventure is still on my radar. I feel that skiing the mountain in a day with a bike approach is definitely feasible.
I just need to do a lot more of this stuff to determine if it’s feasible for me. X
Jason D. Martin is a mountain guide and freelance writer.