PNW MTB Explorations & More: Celebrating the Elwha River ecosystem restoration, getting in the Coleville flow & sunset at the beach

I was on (and off) a mountain bike for this wondrous single-track traverse through low-land forest and low-land river ecosystems. I’m not a very technical rider so I had to get off for the roots and rocks. Would love to come back to hike it sometime. Can’t provide much guidance about the trail as there was a major washout that I had to navigate with some detours. While the Elwha River Trail (ERT) spans the entire Elwha Valley, I was only able to make it up to the Glines Canyon Overlook before sunset.

elwah river mtb trail

History

Back in the day, the Elwha River ran wild from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and its valley supported many plants and animal species. As far back as ~ 2700 years ago (per radiocarbon dating), the Klallam people lived off the land, largely relying on fishing in the Elwha River. But that all changed 1913, when the Elwha Dam was built in 1913 to address demand for the lumber. To add insult to injury, the Glines Canyon Dam was built upstream in 1927.

Despite a state law that required accommodating for fish passage, neither dam did and fish runs were blocked. The consequences were devastating—impacting thousands of salmon per year and irrevocably changing the Klallam way of life.

Finally in 1992, Congress passed a law that required the removal of both dams and restoration of the Elwah River watershed. At 210 feet The Glines Canyon Dam is the tallest dam removed to date. It took 15 tons of explosives and 12,000 cubic feet of concrete were removed, Within months of the removal of the 2 dams, salmon were spawning and trout were returning for the first time in 100 years!

The Elwha River is one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in National Park Service history.

Elwah River vertical

Glines Canyon Bridge
Glines Canyon Bridge

Feeding the Forest.jpg

scene from the trailhead
Meanwhile back at the trail head, it’s feeding time

 

 
Note: As of 12/4/2018 Elwha Road was closed to vehicles beyond Madison Falls parking lot due to washout.
Side trip: Madison Falls
This lovely 60-foot waterfall is wheelchair accessible via a .01 mile paved trail.

Madison Creek Falls Elwah River

Side trip: Colville MTB Trails
Sneaked in a quickie mountain bike right before dark at the Coleville bike park on the way back to Port Angeles. Currently under construction, the completed trails include a flowy, fun perimeter trail, a pump track, drop zone and several jump lines (whatever the last 3 are – nontechnical me, just enjoyed the 1st).
Coleville mtb

Side Trip: West Elwah Beach

West Elwha Beacj Sign

little wave elwah beachLogs and moon elwah beachsunset 3 elwah beach

So ends a gloriously full day that included a hike on Hurricane Ridge, 2 mountain bike rides, and a sunset stroll on the beach. Yes, I like to pack as much adventure and exploration into my days.

Mt. Biking Noble Canyon, Pine Valley, CA: from Heavenly to Hellacious

Was gunho to get away to somewhere new this weekend. Perhaps a little too gunho…Wasn’t quite as thorough with the research as I usually am, but had done enough to know that the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area is a great spot for mountain biking and enjoying great scenery as you traverse 3 ecosystems: mixed-conifer/black oak forest, alpine meadows and desert.

And it certainly served up some heavenly single track around Laguna Meadow and beyond.

 

 

Sublime, right? And so it went for about 6 miles before things took a gnarly turn for the worse. Scattered rocks, became bulky blocks with jagged edges,  boulders and ankle bashing bruisers galore. I didn’t get pictures of these tortuous areas because, I was too miserable fending off hordes of face flies while hike-a-biking my hefty 35 pound bike. Even if I’d had a Go Pro, you wouldn’t have been able to see beyond the blur of flies – that’s how bad it was. Brutal – yes.

We only saw 2 other mountain bikers on the rough lower portion. They were wearing completely padded body armor suits with full face helmets. Another clue that I was way out of my element…I’m tough, but I’m not technical and have horrible eyesight and depth perception so this it was more than a bit hazardous. I’m extremely lucky to have escaped with only a handful of bruises and scratches.

( I later discovered – post-research – that this area is notorious among mt.bikers and is affectionately called Stairway to Hell and Roman Road.)

Here are a couple links to youtube videos on the area.

We kept looking for a route that would loop us back as a couple people at the trail head had mentioned, but we never found it. And there was no way we were going back up the Stairway to Hell…I even thought of abandoning my beater mt. bike and hiking out even though I only had my bikes shoes.

 

20170916_144652
A smile (or grimace) of relief after surviving Stairway to Hell

Instead, we made it out to the Pine Valley picnic area and then out the road. Realizing then that we would have to ride up the mountain via Sunrise Highway. Not much of a shoulder there, but a lesser evil than Stairway to Hell. Climbing 8 miles and 3K feet back to the car after the tortuous Noble Canyon was its own purgatory, and certainly, I’ve learned my lesson about doing my research. Perhaps next time, my BF will read the links I send him prior to departure too. (Snarkyness aside – selfreliance is critical even when you’re with a partner. If we both had read the trail reports thoroughly, one of us likely would have retained which trail to loop back on – though we still might not have found it…)

This day certainly put us to the test. Even though we both keep a fairly high fitness level – it kicked our butts. And to both our credits, we didn’t bite each others heads off. I did come close to meltdown with the face flies on attack while I was hefting my bike over boulder after boulder, but I held it together. We both did, taking the punishment mostly in silent, focused suffering. What was going to be a pleasant morning adventure, ended up being a whole day ordeal. Great workout – not so fun.

I’ve reread some of the trail reports and it sounds like there are other options if you want to avoid the burly section of Noble Canyon. I may be back, but need a cooling off period and time for my bruises to heal first.

Where: 40 minutes from downtown San Diego, near Pine Valley, off of Pine Creek Road North of I8 or off of Sunrise Highway to go top to bottom

What: Noble Canyon Trail, Laguna Mountain Recreation Area

Distance: 19.9 Miles out & back

Elevation  gain/loss: 3,346

Rating: For hiking: Moderate. For Mt. biking: Advanced+++

Notes: Adventure Pass required.

Tip: Bring bug spray and plenty of water. Consider a car shuttle for a 10 mile option. Given that it’s single track and a mountain biker destination, it’s not the most peaceful option for hikers…The trail head maps aren’t great, do your research first. ; )

Have you had any small adventures turn into challenging ordeals? Do tell.