Angel Falls! by Armando Malo | Tales from the Trails: PNW High Country

Angel Falls! by Armando Malo | Tales from the Trails: PNW High Country

Angel Falls! by Armando Malo

Angel's Staircase on TrailForks


It's after 8pm and just arriving at the car, where kenobonn had been waiting for hours.

Obviously, this was not in the plan.

The previous Saturday, I awakened very early to a clear sky over Leavenworth ready to make the drive in time to meet the yearly BBTC pilgrimage to the Angel's Staircase loop.

A soft plea from my wife to stay and spend the day with her wiped away my previous plans to ride.

All week had passed with sunny days and all I kept thinking was how badly I wanted to just drive out there by myself and make that ride happen... solo or not.

Friday came and the chance to make the ride came together last minute and after a good night sleep at the in-laws' in Leavenworth, kenobonn and I made a lazy arrival at the Crater Creek trailhead and quickly getting ready and finally departing at 12noon.

We noticed that two other younger riders arrived with bikes and were a few minutes behind us getting ready.

We greeted but didn't talk much as I wanted to get moving ASAP.

In my previous trips out there, Art and I had been the last to leave camp but never later than 11am. It seemed that we'd be bitting a lot more than we could chew at this pace. Being out of shape, with the possible threat of the cold front sneaking in earlier than expected, and the potential of less light due to heavier cloud cover, we had some work ahead to make this ride happen... and so, we embarked on the ride.

It didn't take long before we noticed the trail surface was extremely dry and loose.

We continued for a few miles thinking trail conditions would improve. No such luck, as we found that on steeper pitches, our tyres would sink. At some point, I came up on a bundle of supplies tightly wrapped in canvas and rope. I decided to wait for kenobonn, and after a minute or two, almost simultaneously, kenobonn appeared behind me just as an outfitter had walked down trail in front of me with his 2 pack mules in tow to pick up the supplies that had dropped off of one of the animals.

Since the pack mules took up all the trail and we didn' t want to be rude, we waited until he secured his load, mean while, he was telling us that there were several packs of mules and horses up ahead carrying hunters and outfitters. "FKN GREAT !", I said to myself. We can pretty much expect to ride in an uphill "beach" behind a pack of mules at least until the horse camp near CooneyLk.

Just as we got going, the two riders we had left behind at the trailhead had caught up to us. We found a chance to pass a large group of horses and mules but trail conditions were very sandy, meaning the other group was likely farther up-trail churnin' up the path.

We crossed Martin Creek and were soon passed by the two riders. This is where I noticed that they were riding super-light fully rigid single-speed steel frames. Further up, I increased my pace, finally reeling in one of the riders ahead, just as we reached the Martin Lakes spur. Point in which kenobonn decided he would be turning back but insisted I continue and finish the ride, as he left me his night light in case I needed it. I accepted only because I knew I could catch up and possibly tag along with the two other riders. As such, kenobonn and I parted ways and only a couple of hundred feet into the trail, the two other riders were riding towards me saying we had all taken the wrong spur, WUUUUT ? I found that the map they had was about as worthless as a wet piece of toilet paper and I would therefore be likely pointing the way since I had, inexcusably, left my map behind at home. We quickly got back on track and just before reaching Cooney Lake I heard a gunshot... and that sound breaking through the serene scenery never sounds comforting. Once at the Cooney Lake, I snapped a shot or two as I chatted briefly with one of them who told me that he had built up both of their steel frames and he also talked about having done the CreamPuff 100, which is a pretty brutal race down in Oakridge, OR. After a quick snack and a chat, we got back on trail quickly and began the 800ft hikeAbike up to the Angels Staircase. This is where we bumped into a lone hunter who had said that it was definitely colder on the other side of the Staircase.

We continued the hikeAbike and half way up I could see them carrying their bikes on their shoulder one switchback higher than me as I struggled to push my lovely 42lbs steed.

We finally reached the saddle where I snapped another coupla shots as I pointed the traverse route to the 8,000ft top of the Angels Staircase. I was a feeling a bit shagged by then but happy to be riding on rocks and not in sand any longer. We stood atop the Staircase, which is home one of only a few trails legal to mountain bikes in the state. Only for few quick minutes we took-in the immense views as I reminded them that by reaching this summit at 3:15 we were doing fine on time as long as we kept moving. I then dove into the jagged and rocky descent, bombing over huge boulders and cleaning the some sketchy switchbacks.. but I would stop occasionally to make sure they were following ok. At one point, one rider regrouped but we didn't see the second rider until we looked up trail and saw him face down on the rocks. Then, he got up but bending over, reeling in pain. Finally, he yells that he'll need help as he held his hand. Lots of things going on in my head. The first being that we would not be out until after dark. Once we reached the rider, he told us that he had likely broken his hand. His pinky looked out of place and he was unable to grasp the bar on the bike. At that point, I thought I should mention that we needed to move fast because we were only about half way into the ride, we had about 2k feet to gain, and I could see a front moving in, although not sure how soon or how much of it we'd see. Also, I was hoping with might that he would not go into shock because I knew that we weren't prepared for that. I had not brought my space blanket and all I had for him was Ibuprofen to edge out the pain/swelling. Fortunately, he was pretty calm and toughened it out. Still, I kept thinking how kenobonn would be waiting at the trail head not knowing what had happened and I worried that he may get desperate and call a search party. The injured rider seemed to be holding up well and said he'd be walking the rest of the way and that he would move as fast as he could. I took his feather-weight bike on my shoulder down until we reached my bike. From this point on, he would be walking his bike back to the car. As you can imagine, this took a long time, even though he was walking at a good pace. We reached Boiling Lake, where the trails merge. We began climbing the switchbacks and I recall still trying to clean the scree climb to the top. We reached HorseHead Pass at around 6pm in the waning light. At this point we stopped so I could take out the night light. The injured rider would go ahead of me and his buddy would ride behind me, as we inched at walking pace the 6-7miles back to the car in almost complete silence. We arrived after 8pm, and found that kenobonn had been talking to some hunters in the campground who had not seen us come over Horsehead pass. kenobonn said he would have waited another hour before calling for help.

The injured rider and his friend were thankful for my support, but I couldn't help thinking the whole time whether or not they knew in how much trouble they would have been if I hadn't been there and with a light.

Needless to say, our day didn't go anywhere near as what was planned; however, for me, after not really pedaling a big ride on a bike in 3-4 weeks, most any adventure atop the Angels Staircase is a good one.

Author: Armando Malo

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