The Stromtrooper.com crew got together again in late July. We rode some of the most scenic routes that I’ve found to date in Washington State. That is really saying something as Washington is a very scenic state. Our route would take us through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and up to the Mount Saint Helens viewpoint on the east side of the mountain.
We are riding through the heart of the 1.3 million acre Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The forest runs along the western side of the Cascade Mountain range from Mt. Rainier through Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams to just north of the Columbia River. The forest is named after the first chief of the United States Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot. Included as part of the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve in 1897, it is one of the oldest national forests in the U.S.
The foothills surround us as we ride along US Highway 12 from Morton to Randle. We head south out of Randle along National Park Highway 26. This is a wonderful road with mostly easy curves wrapped with tall coniferous forests. The gradual climb as we head south opens new views of the valley below. The trees provide a good deal of shade, however, it also makes it hard to see the dips, cracks and other hazards in the deteriorating roadway.
Approximately 12 miles into the ride we turn west onto Forest Road 99 and begin ascending to the Windy Ridge viewpoint of Mt. St. Helens. This is a busy two-lane road when it is open during the summer months. There are several viewpoints along the route that provide facts and information about the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. To date, this is the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic eruption in the U.S. The summit is now 8,365 ft. The mountain lost more than 1,300 feet of elevation after a giant landslide caused by the eruption. Despite the nearly two months of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes as warnings that an eruption was immanent, 57 people were killed.
FR 99 twists and turns as it makes a strong climb to the Windy Ridge viewpoint. Along the way you can see the remnants of the eruption. The lateral blast of the eruption stretched as far as 19 miles. Many char-singed trees remain along the route. Even more trees lay on the ground from the blast and point in the direction that it traveled. Anything within eight miles of the blast was completely obliterated.
The climbing and twisty road begs to be ridden hard. The surrounding devastation reminds you that there is a lot to see and learn here. I recommend that you follow the posted speed limit. The mountain is very much alive and frequent rock slides leave the road covered in pebbles. Many of which accumulate on the blind portion of the corners. The debris in the road along with the lack of guardrails in many areas could lead to a quick descent down the many steep cliffs. Not a good way to end a great ride.
After several stops at viewpoints we arrive at the end of the road a solid hour and half after the time that left Randle. The ride is less than 40 miles, but the road is slow and the many views are spectacular.
We dismount and take in the mountain and its mile-wide horseshoe-shaped crater. Windy Ridge provides the best viewpoint to see the path that the giant landslide traveled, filling in a good part of Spirit Lake. A once busy tourist destination with a grand lodge is now buried deep beneath the mountain. The part of the lake that remains is filled with singed trees to the point that it looks as if you could walk across the lake on a boardwalk.
This is truly an educational trip that shows the possible destruction that can occur on the Ring of Fire. This is a beautiful area with year-round mild-weather, however, a deep scar reminds us of the power of Mother Nature when she decides to show her teeth.
The road seems to move past the bike faster on the descent of the mountain. We know the curves and where the debris is in the corners. About a quarter way down we find the best dual-sport and adventure-touring road that I’ve found in Washington so far. FR 26 takes you from FR 99 down the mountain to FR 25, which leads back to Randle. FR 26 shows up on maps as a dirt road. It is in fact a paved single lane road with small dirt sections. Traffic travels both directions using the narrow width of the road. It tightly hugs the mountainside providing ear-to-ear grins all the way down. I’m guessing that this road is an insurance policy to get people off the mountain during an evacuation. In all other non-emergency times it is a fantastic and fairly private scenic route through the park.
We pull into the gas station in Randle and drink gallons of water to fight the heat. It was a warm and beautiful riding day. The five Stromtrooper.com riders spent several minutes recounting the many favorite parts of the day. The single shared favorite was the gem of a road that we discovered in FR 26. I highly suggest taking this road on your way back down the mountain.
From Randle we split into two groups. RedBean and Lonestrom head back to civilization. The three remaining riders including Hoebster, Scrminbansee and WeeMcD (me) ride the dirt down FR 23 to a rustic campsite at the Takhlakh Lake Campground for the night. I’ll include information on that ride as the second part of this article.