4 Wheel Quad Riding in the
High Country


This is a experience of 3 older geezers, (70 + year old cousins) who decided to retrace the ride of one of the group who rode motorcycle on the Blue Lake trail in Gifford Pinchot National Forest of Washington State some 40 years before.

As we get older sometimes time has taken a toll on how well we can perform some simple tasks as hiking or moving around like we did when we were younger.  Times have changed and if any recreational outings are to be maintained, other modes of transportation that in our earlier years seemed unnecessary now become looked at in a different light.    Therefore the purchase of 4 wheel drive Quads takes on a different meaning.  These machines shown are older early 1990s  250 and 300cc Suzukis.   These machines are not for racing or tearing the ground up, but for getting us older guys from point A to point B and back again.  As we all have back, knee, or hip problems, with a little bit of feeble mindedness thrown in.

After a few months of planning this trip we pretty well had things laid out.   We each made and remade more than one list, being food, shelter, camp cooking gear survival gear, quad readiness, etc.   We probably went overboard on some things, but what the heck, these motorized horses did not complain about the extra load.

A stop at the Randle Ranger Station on the way in to verify where it was legal to ride and gain any helpful information as trail maps etc.  was in order.  We were right in planning this trip in that the trails we chose are the only one where quads are allowed.  Initially we thought that this restriction was being rather restrictive as compared to where the motorcycles can travel.   But after riding here we decided that these Quad trails are in actuality just slightly widened motorcycle trails which were originally just hiking trails.   Even with the trails designated 4 wheeler trails there are many places that are minimal width.   With motorcycle usage for over 40 years, there are now many DEEP ruts and most of the top soil missing on the hills even though the Forest Service has tried to do damage control.

Lots of the trails are zig-zagging down a steep ridge with hairpin corners that a Quad has problems negotiating downhill without backing up.   This can very well get kind of hairy and calls for lots of rider co-ordination between the brakes, shifting lever and throttle, otherwise you and the machine may well be launched out into space even 100' below onto a rocky hillside.

Our initial plan was to make this a 2 day trip with a overnight stay at Mouse Lake being on the itinerary, as LeeRoy and son Jim had hunted there before and knew some of that area well.  The jump-off spot was to be the Blue Lake Creek campground where we left the pickup trucks and trailers.  We departed from there at 10AM on Sept 26th  2006.  

From there we rode about the mile southeast to the intersection with the main trail (#271) from the trailhead, and from there 3.1 miles on up to Blue Lake which has an elevation of about 4000'.   The 271 trail from it's intersection with 271A to272 on the above map has been abandoned.  From there the trail (#271A) then heads uphill steeper and with switchbacks before until it reaches the top which intersects with trail #272 another 1000' higher.   South on #272 about a mile then will pick up the trail #271 which then stays on the ridge heading southeast for 4.2 miles until it intersects with a short side trail (#271C)  (not shown on the map) that goes west to Mouse Lake.   This was to be our intended camping area for the night.

Jim, LeeRoy, & Errol  with Blue Lake in the background using a time exposure on the camera
It being late September with grouse hunting season being open, so 2 of the group were packing pistols.  About 1/2 way down the ridge trail and before we got to Mouse Lake, LeeRoy being in the lead, spotted a Blue Grouse setting on the edge of the trail about 70' away.  Stopping and shutting off the Quad, he pulled his Ruger old model 44 magnum which was loaded with a light wadcutter load in 44 Special just for instances like this.  When the dust settled after only one shot, we had blue grouse for supper.

A stop along the trail to glass a logged off hillside & sample some wild huckleberries

We stopped at times just to do looking at possible deer or elk country, to pick a few wild huckleberries that remained on the vines as their season was pretty much over when we made this trip, or to take photos.  When we got to Mouse Lake it was still early, so we did a little exploring and picture taking.  About 2PM, it still being early to camp for the night, we decided to go on down the ridge trail #271 to see if we could find another suitable campsite more toward the 1/2 way spot.  Arriving at the end of the ridge then dropping off onto the end of an old abandoned road, another mile, no location for a real campsite looked appealing.   So the decision was made just to continue on and get back to the vehicles following trail #270 another 8.5 miles then to the campground that we had left them at in the morning then to spend the night there instead of roughing it at a campsite that was not quite level.
Our speed was not that great up to that point because of the many downhill switchbacks.   This section of the trail was difficult for a quad to come downhill on as we could not turn the corners as sharp as a motorcycle.  We had to run just beyond the corner to the end of the corner, back up, jockey ahead trying to not go over the bank, then possibly back up again before we could get aligned enough to continue down to the next hairpin corner.   If we were going uphill, we could have up pulled into the corner, let off on the gas slightly which would have allowed gravity to slide us downhill while negotiating more sideways in a better position to do this again and be able to make the uphill corner a little easier.
This narrow trail parallels and slightly downhill a steep hillside but if we had met another quad, I am not sure what we would have done as there was not much room on the uphill side and NO room on the downhill side.  The trails were not steep in themselves here, but side-hilled or paralleled the sides of the hills going angled uphill or downhill depending on the direction you were going.   In most places there is no place to get off the trail on the uphill side, AND nothing but air on the downhill side with a slope of about 45 degrees.   The unwritten word is the downhill rider has the right of way.  But it would take a very experienced rider with three eyed vision to back downhill up to 500 yards in places and then possibly have to enter one of the sharp switch-backs to allow enough room to pass. 
But once we dropped off the bluff, the road should get better as it paralleled the main road along the river.   I said SHOULD, but the first 3 miles of this was quite similar to what we had been on earlier.  Down the canyon farther and closer to the river bed area when we hit flatter ground, the trail became better where we could make better time, even shifting up into second gear.  Speed then could be increased to maybe 8 MPH. 

Time was slipping by and it was then getting along to after 5PM by then.   We needed to be back to the campground by at least 6:30PM to be able to set up camp and get supper cooked before dark.  We had not prepared for setting a camp up after dark.  In the valley trail late in the fall day, dust from the lead Quads necessitated the ones following to drop back a bit.   We made it back to camp about on time, but did run with the headlights on at the last, mostly for safety's sake however.

The crew with quads and mountain in the background using  a time exposure photo
This trip was planned during the last week of September after a few days of a slight amount of rain.   The weather forecast was for warm sunny days in the mid 70's and low 80's with the nights about 45 degrees.    Since we are all moldy old fogy retirees, we picked midweek to allow us to be on the trails that would possibly not so congested.    Even so, we encountered 2 other groups, totaling 5 motorcycle riders.   It appeared these young men were practicing for some endurance run as witnessed by the speed they were covering the ground. 
One of these encounters was rather exciting, as being the lead Quad, I could hear another motor, but initially thought it may have been the rider behind me approaching close enough to signal a possible needed stop.   No, wrong noise, then I thought maybe his muffler was becoming loose, no this was more of a 2 stroke noise or a 4 stroke machine with no muffler. 
Next thing, right in front of me on a corner was a 2 stroke motorcycle and rider doing about 30MPH.  With me IN the trail and no place for him to go, the cycle rider locked up the brakes going into a broadside skid, then at the last couple of seconds, he hit the throttle, pulling his bike around and he hit the huckleberry brush on the other side of the trail, then cranked it back toward the trail to stop side by side with my Quad.   Very good maneuvering and fast thinking on the part of the bike rider.  He had 2 other bikers following him, but they could see the dust and their buddy ahead so slowed down enough to pass safely.
It soon became obvious after that encounter, that for safety, at least the front rider should run with the headlights on.
Also any inattention for only a second or two by a rider could put him in jeopardy of wrecking the machine as tree roots were prevalent and rocks the size ranging from softballs to larger than basketballs were imbedded in some of the trail.  Some granite rocks larger than mentioned were not uncommon in places being tucked between tree roots, where there was no way around, you had to go up/down and over. 
We however had an enjoyable day, good weather, beautiful scenery, good companionship, got to see some different areas, rode 24 miles in the high country, and had blue grouse for supper.  Errol says he is glad we did it, but would not want to make it a round trip again, only up to the lakes and fish, then back the way we went in.   None of the steep hills with switch-backs for him next time.
An improvised shelter for the night, using the quads for tarp support & the sleeping bags between

Errol passed away in 2015 of complications due to brain cancer, so we are glad to have made this trip

Copyright 2006 - 2016 LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

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Originated 9-27-06, Last updated 08-17-2016
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