Given this ride’s razor-sharp ridges, slapping winds, and the lingering late-season snow, even experienced mountain bikers who attempt the strenuous route have sometimes wondered, Man, is this really worth it? The answer, of course, is yes, and the proof comes at about mile 10, where you’ll get a so-close-you-can-almost-smell-the-lava view of Mount St Helens’s north flank. But you’ve got to earn it first.
ROUTE: The uphill starts from Ape Canyon trailhead with a quad-killing pumpfest through more than four miles of dense forest, followed by a white-knuckle session along Ape Canyon’s exposed edge. If your legs are thoroughly jellied when you reach the otherworldly dry creek beds at the Plains of Abraham, don’t worry—you’ll get a respite with a small descent at about mile 7. From there, less than two miles and a set of stairs separate you from Windy Ridge, the turnaround point where that spectacular vista of Mount St Helens awaits. From your perch at 4,400 feet, take a moment to imagine what it was like 28 years ago when the mountain spewed its insides 14 miles into the sky. Then feel utterly relieved that you were nowhere near the angry dome that fateful day—and that the return ride is downhill from here. Maps: www.fs.fed.us/gpnf.
DIRECTIONS: From I-5 north, take Exit 21, and drive east on SR 503. After the road becomes FR 90, turn left on FR 83 and follow it to the Ape Canyon trailhead parking lot. (If it’s closed, park at Marble Mountain Sno-Park).