Got in a mostly off pavement loop ride mid-week with a couple of adventurous type guys from work. We had been talking about Kurtis’ new Salsa Timberjack and adventure rides like the Olympic Discovery Trail and just adventure riding in general, when the discussion turned to how both Jason and I had contemplated a loop in the North Lake Whatcom area. This in the area that I had been binging on after completing my own Tour de Lake Whatcom in that area. The loop we both had in mind was one that would connect the Y-Road, North Shore drive, Wickersham Truck Trail and a series of gravel roads along the Stewart Mountain ridge line back to the Y Road. We had both laid out a route in gaiagps so we compared notes, then set a date the following week for all three of us to do the loop after work.
Even though individually we had been on various parts of this loop, there were several sections that none of us had travelled at all plus the hugish elevation gain made the after work time slot a bit sketchy. However, instead of being completely sensible by putting the ride off until a weekend we decided to just bring along headlamps. Boom, done ready to go.
I’ve included, or will be including a couple of maps with this post as well as links to the route on giagps and Endomondo as you don’t really want to do this loop without navigational aids, you know, gps and map.
We parked and began riding at the Forks, in Agate Bay thinking that ending our loop here with a beer made good sense. All three of us, on knobby tired mountain bikes, proceeded south along North Shore’s paved roadway and into the parking lot at the North Lake Whatcom Trailhead, about 3 miles. From there, at about 300 ft elevation, we took to the Chantrelle Trail and portions of the Wickersham before crossing the power line and then proceeding up to a 3000 ft peak that is not Stewart Mtn. I had been on this peak before and it wasn’t any easier to get there this time, but for this route reaching this peak meant that the seriously long climb was over.
We then proceeded north, towards the real Stewart Mtn, along the ridge that separates Lake Whatcom from the Acme/Van Zandt valley. For the most part, the ridge is fairly open, but on the day we went there were areas where it was curiously cold, moist and green which was quite refreshing given our weather of late. Track wise, the ridge is mile after mile of winding gravel roads with lots of short ups and downs but no real overall elevation change. Our route reaches it’s northern most point just past a peak which was simply marked as Slash 3054 ft on our map. At this point, the obviously more well traveled road continues north while the route we chose had us taking a hard left pointing us almost directly south. We expected this gravel double track road to carry us all the way back down to Y-Rd, but in fact it did not.
The road ended abruptly as it turned into a wide downhill creek bed/trail with all the big bowling ball rocks and logs you could want. It was also over grown in many areas making it difficult to see obstacles. On my old Frankenstein Stumpjumper with bouncy Judy forks, much of this trail was not rideable for me. The other guys with a new 29″ full suspension bike and a new 27.5 hardtail, both with big tires, didn’t look like they were having as much trouble as me. Next time I will ride something with a real suspension or find an alternate route that is the wide open gravel road we were expecting. On one of the images I penciled in an alternate route that looks like it will either have much less trail or maybe no trail. I plan to explore this alternate route from the Y-Road before doing the whole loop again.
The rough trail did eventually connect with a gravel road and led us right out to Y-Road as planned. Back at the car and we didn’t need headlamps.
Yesterday, I did go and revisit the part of the loop that was the unpleasant section of rough trail with the hopes of finding an all gravel road alternative. I will add to this short writeup when I get the chance, suffice to say I did not find an alternative in the area of the rough trail. I did find a Foot Path(s) that presented a much shorter alternative, just not a wide gravel road. I think that if I were to do the Stewart Loop again tomorrow, I’d use the shorter of the Foot Path connectors. Not sure if I’d do the whole loop clockwise or do it counterclockwise as we did the original loop.