Get out of your comfort zone with new adventures and reward yourself with the right gear
by Sheila Miller
When summer comes and the urge to get outside overtakes you, there are always the old haunts—places you’ve been going for years. With so many amazing options in Washington, make 2019 the year you try something new.
To make sure your forays into the unknown are successful, we enlisted the experts. We picked a well-loved gear shop from the region and asked its employees for help—their favorite rides, their best advice. Then we rounded out each getaway with top restaurants and haute hotels you deserve on your summer adventures.
Climbing at Mazama
When spring and summer hit the Bellingham area, many outdoor enthusiasts trade skis for carabiners and head to the mountains for climbing. “When the North Cascades highway opens up it’s a great time to drive over the Cascades to the dry east side and do some climbing in between ski touring trips,” Chris Gerston of Backcountry Essentials said. “The drive over the North Cascades is also a road that I think everyone ought to drive over at least once in their life.
When that time of year arrives, Gerston recommends heading to Mazama, even if you’ve got kids in tow. He recommends heading to Fun Rock for single-pitch cragging. Climbing starts within 100 feet of the parking lot, Gerston said, and it’s a good spot for someone trying something new, with the hill terraced for easy belaying and anchors typically with chains for rappelling. “In general, I think the grades in Mazama are confidence inspiring,” Gerston said.
Climbs are rated into a class system developed by the Sierra Club—for example, walking on an established trail is a Class 1. Class 5 is where technical climbing begins, and within Class 5 are levels, from 5.0 to 5.15a. Every climb is rated by its hardest feature, and all ratings are, to some degree, subjective. Further, climbing is split into a number of styles, including sport climbing—climbing between and clipping into pre-drilled bolts, and traditional, or trad, climbing, where climbers carry a full rack of gear to clip into a rock’s natural features.
About half of the routes at Fun Rock are an easy to moderate 5.6 and 5.10a.
There are also several multi-pitch sport routes—long routes with an alpine feel. The most popular (and easiest) is Prime Rib, and Gerston said not to be nervous about the 5.9, eleven-pitch description. Or try Sisyphus, another route that has a higher grade (5.11a) that Gerston said is “more do-able than you might think.”
“For either route, combining some pitches with extra draws, skipping some bolts, and a 70-meter rope can speed the climb up considerably.”
Camp nearby at the various campgrounds off Highway 20 and close to the town’s only store. Or swing down to Winthrop, grab dinner and well-earned brews at Old Schoolhouse Brewery, and spend the night at Sun Mountain Lodge for an unforgettable resort-style stay in the North Cascades.
Chris Gerston, who with his wife, Erica, started Backcountry Essentials in Bellingham in 2006, knows the best climbing routes and climbing gear you’ll need to make your trip a success.
Petzl Adjama and Luna harnesses $79.95
Black Diamond Guide ATC $29.95
Trango Piranha knife $19.95
Petzl Elia helmet $64.95
Metolius personal anchor system 22 $33.95
Tenaya Tanta shoes $99
Mammut 9.5 Infinity dry 70 meter rope $299
Black Diamond 10mm Dynex Runner 240cm $24.95
Camp Photon locking carabiner $11.95
When it comes to Washington, Spokane may not seem like a destination for watersports. But with a river running through town and plenty of lakes, there is no shortage
John Schwartz, who is Mountain Gear’s resident expert in all things water, has two favorite paddling routes he offers to visitors, both of which are included in the guidebook he recommends. The first is a 7-mile route along the Little Spokane River. It runs through a wildlife refuge managed by Riverside State Park. The water, Schwartz said, moves gently enough to be navigated by paddlers of all experience levels, and there’s plenty of wildlife on hand.
“You will encounter deer, moose, eagles and osprey as you navigate this twisted, turning river,” he said. “It’s very close to the urban area of Spokane, but keep a close eye out for the occasional bear sighting.” Note that a Washington State Parks Discover pass is required for parking, and Spokane’s parks department operates a shuttle to the put-in on weekends during the summer for a small fee.
If flat water is more your speed, try Horseshoe Lake. This spot, about 40 minutes northwest of Spokane, prohibits motors, which means you won’t find any power boats or jet skis here. The lake forms a U-shape, and as you paddle north, Schwartz said, you’ll round the bend and find a waterfall directly in front of you. Paddle up to the bottom of the falls. “The amount of water and depth at the bottom of the waterfall does decrease dramatically towards the end of summer,” he said.
Once past the waterfall, you’ll paddle through a slot canyon to get to the rest of the lake. “Take your fishing pole, as the lake has a nice collection of bass,” he said. “After having a nice picnic lunch, paddle back the way you came to your car.” This paddle requires no shuttle, but does require the Discover pass for parking, and note that all the land surrounding the lake is privately owned.
Off the water, head to dinner at one of Spokane’s newest restaurants—Rüt, a plant-based gastropub with seasonal flavors, or High Tide Lobster Bar, which serves New England-style lobster rolls from Spokane native chef Chad White. Then rest your head at the Historic Davenport Hotel, which always pleases, or at the Oxford Suites right across the river from downtown.
John Schwartz, the boat expert at Mountain Gear in Spokane, recommends these products to get you water-ready this summer.
Astral Designs Ronny & Linda life jackets $99.95
Wenonah Aurora Tuffweave Canoe $2,449
Paddling Washington guidebook $24.95
2019 Mirage Outback Hobie $2,799
NRS Dura Cooler, size medium $59.95
BIC Wing SUP package $669.95
Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 kayak $999
When you think of Seattle, you might think of the ultimate urban setting—and it is. But part of the magic of Seattle is how close it is to wild landscapes, too.
For Katie Bock, an outdoor enthusiast with experience in the gear industry, that means an hour drive gets you to Mount Si and its surroundings, the perfect spot to hike.
Mount Si, located on the edge of North Bend, is an 8-mile roundtrip hike to the top of the mountain, with more than 3,000 feet of elevation. The challenge has a big payoff—when you reach the top, not only will you see the Olympics, on a clear day you can see Seattle and the Puget Sound.
“It makes you realize you’re not quite as far away as you feel,” Bock said. “It gives you some good perspective.”
If strolling is more your speed, try Little Si—a little over 4.5 miles roundtrip with about 1,500 feet of elevation gain, Bock recommends this one for those with less time or stamina. “It’s an easy trail, definitely good for people just starting to get into exploring,” she said. “You’ll be on a fairly large and accessible path with lots of roots and rocks, as well as giant trees.”
As you close in on your final destination, you’ll come upon massive, granite walls—and you probably won’t be alone. “On a lucky day you’ll see some climbers up there,” she said. “When the sun hits the granite wall, it really lights it up.”
Mailbox Peak is another challenging hike nearby—single track and more than 9 miles roundtrip, this one gets to a point near the top where you’ll have to scramble through a scree field to reach the top. But when you get there, yes, there’s a mailbox. Bring a memento, take a memento, leave a note for the next hiker, and enjoy your reward for a long, hard haul.
Bock encourages hikers to wear layers, make sure you’ve got comfortable shoes, and be prepared.
“If you’re too cold or too hot it’s really uncomfortable and you’ll have an overall negative feeling to an otherwise awesome hike,” she said. “Layers are always the way to go … and shoes are the make or break. If you have an uncomfortable shoe, you’ll be unhappy the entire 8 miles, and you’ll hate that trail, and you’ll hate hiking.”
When you’re done with the trails, kick up your feet at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco. It’s mere minutes from Pike Place Market and the Seattle Art Museum, as well as bars and upscale restaurants such as Matt’s in the Market, The Capitol Grille and Tulio.
Katie Bock suggests grabbing these essentials before hitting the trail.
Osprey 20Lday pack $110
BeFree microfilter water bottle $39.95
Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp $59.95
Patagonia Houdini jacket $99
Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants $79.99
Darn Tough socks $23.99
Honey Stinger Chews, Taos Energy Bar and ProBar Meal prices vary
Biking in Leavenworth
Scott Paton of Arlberg Sports, a bike shop with locations in Wenatchee and Leavenworth, said a great thing about the region is the variety of mountain biking options available. “The Leavenworth area has some really cool rides and they can range anywhere from epic to beginner,” Paton said.
His favorite is a figure-eight trail at Ski Hill, overlooking the city of Leavenworth. Head up the New Uphill Trail (also called NUT). The Central Washington chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance Evergreen Trail just finished building this trail last year (in fact, the group built about 25 miles of new trail in the region last year and have more planned for this summer). NUT runs uphill for about 3 miles, with 1,700 feet of gain, but it’s at a 4 to 6 percent grade. “It’s super rideable,” Paton said. “It’s a nice uphill climb through big Ponderosas, with gorgeous views of Leavenworth.”
From there, riders can cross over to Freund Canyon for a 3-mile descent of 2,300 vertical feet. Paton called this section big and swoopy with berm walls that anyone can ride. “It can be lightning fast or as slow as you want on it,” he said. “When you get to the bottom, ride up Freund Canyon for 3 miles of 1,800 vertical gain, then you figure-eight and cross over and go down a ridge trail called Rosie Boa.” This trail is about 2½ miles dropping 1,600 feet, but it’s more of an intermediate or advanced ride, with some exposure and some steep berm sections. “There’s views of the valley all the way down, and that’s a really fun loop,” Paton said. The nice thing is you can break it up into parts. If 12 miles and that elevation gain is too much, you can do half.”
Another nearby ride is through Freund Canyon. Head up Chumstick for about 2 miles until you get to the bottom of Freund Canyon, then ride 3 miles up (1,800 feet in elevation) and 3 miles down (2,300 feet in descent). “It’s a good hour or hour-and-a-half lap that’s really pretty and has a kind of mid-Alpine feel,” Paton said.
For the more experienced, head to Cashmere, about 15 miles away, and do a Devil’s Gulch-Mission Ridge ride. This is a 25-mile loop that will send you up 8,000 feet and then back down 8,000 feet. “It’s a big day,” Paton said. “This is a true, super fun, old-school downhill course.” Paton recommends riding up Devil’s Gulch and descending Mission Ridge, rather than the other way. This ride is for more advanced mountain bikers, as there are technical sections in the
Finally, Paton recommends Sage Hills, in the foothills outside Wenatchee. There are a variety of trails in this area, but Paton’s favorite is to drive to the top of Horse Lake Trailhead, then take Homestead, a 2½-mile climb to Glacier View, descending 2½ miles to Burt’s Trail, which will carry you back to the trailhead. Burt’s Trail was just finished earlier this year. With new trails underway, Paton said it’s important to respect the trail builders and stay off closed sections. He also said if the trails are wet, don’t ride them, because riding a muddy trail will result in ruts. With the amount of clay in the soil here, once the ruts are there, they’re almost impossible to remove.
When you’re dusty and tired, head back to Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort for a pampering session. If you still have some stamina, try Mana Restaurant, which has a three-hour, multi-course meal for the senses. Or go full Bavarian with Rhein Haus for pretzels and schnitzel.
Arlberg Sports’ Scott Paton offers his picks for making your mountain bike getaway in Central Washington.
Club Ride apparel prices vary
Bell Super 3R MIPS full-face helmet $230
Dakine Hot Laps hip pack $70
Specialized EMT chain breaker $30
Syncros Matchbox Coupe cage $40