The weathermen are putting the weekend chance of rain around the Wenatchee Valley at 100 percent. For a notoriously inexact science, it seems shortsighted that the prognosticators don’t leave themselves some wiggle room with a prediction like “99 percent chance of rain.” Nonetheless they get their message across: It’s going to be sloppy out there.
A number of us had been a planning a high-mountain traverse, but on Friday night the threat or rain dissolves those plans. Most of our cohorts decide to work on the ‘honey-do’ list and bank some marital goodwill for future weekends. But Tom Janish and I, ever the lousy husbands, decide we’ll concede our homes to the termites and head for one of the driest crannies of the state–the Vantage area.
But for what activity? We’re most interested in climbing, but even the Vantage forecast predicts an 80 percent chance of rain. We settle on mountain biking–if we get rained on, it won’t matter. There’s also a route along the Babcock Bench I’ve wanted answers to. Do the dirt roads on the Babcock Bench connect the Frenchman Coulee area (where we frequently climb) to the Ancient Lake area (where we hike, mountain bike, and trail run)? Our topographic maps don’t define ownership boundaries and it’s been unclear whether the primitive roads traversing the area are open to the public. We decide to find out.
We make the hour-long drive from Wenatchee to Frenchman Coulee near Vantage and it’s lucky we left the rock climbing gear behind – the weather is more sunny than cloudy. We look longingly at the rock cliffs to the south, but mount the bikes and ride north along the bench lands. The ride starts encouragingly on properties that prohibit unauthorized motorized use but not non-motorized travel.
We ride north on flat terrain high above the waters of the current Columbia yet several hundred feet below the cliffs of the ancient Columbia. The sepia-toned scenery is stark, spectacular, and stolen from a Spaghetti Western. Seven miles from the start we find a connection to the Ancient Lake trails we’ve ridden before. That connection creates a network of new riding, hiking, and running opportunities previously unknown to us (see the Details Box below).
Also previously unknown to us is the spur trail we find connecting the Babcock Bench to the Cave B Inn perched on the edge of the cliffs several hundred feet higher. The inn has developed a trail network for its visitors and different spurs wander down to the shores of the Columbia River, to a nearby creek plunging over basalt cliffs, and to destinations along the Babcock Bench.
We debate whether we should keep riding north and visit Dusty or Anthony lakes (destinations we’re familiar with) or whether we should detour to the inn. The juxtaposition of dirt bags mixing with the guests of a deluxe resort amuses us so, as storm clouds start to blot out the southwestern skyline, we ride uphill to see how our affluent brethren live.
We wander through the vineyards of the inn which are beautiful; peek into the detached buildings whose luxurious accommodations come with a per-night price that would purchase a very nice tent, and wander through the main lodge amidst visitors and employees who actually take interest in our sweaty mode of travel.
Our tour ends a minute before the rain begins. By the time we’ve saddled up, water drips from our helmets and flows down our cheeks. We have neither the fine palette nor the available cash to wait out the storm eating lunch in the restaurant. Instead, we ride to the edge of the property, dive for shelter under trees, and enjoy lunch at the Cave B Inn, brown-bag style.
The rain continues but, with lunch gone, excuses for loitering vanish. It’s time to embrace the wetness. We ride south from the inn on Silica Road. The rain is short lived but long enough to leave us suitably soggy. And that makes us happy–without a real downpour we might have fretted that we spent the Babcock Bench Badweather Bailout option on a perfectly acceptable climbing day.
Details, Details: Babcock Bench Options
Nearest Towns: Quincy and Vantage.
Recommended Activities: Mountain biking, hiking, trail running.
Recommended Seasons: spring and fall.
Trip length: 14 miles to 23 miles.
Skill Level: Mountain biking: various options from 1+ to 2+ (easy to intermediate). Hiking: various option from 1 to 2- (easy to low intermediate). Trail running: various options from 1 to 2 (easy to intermediate). Note: trails and options are mainly unsigned so a good map is important.
Fitness Level: 1 to 2 (easy to intermediate), depending on the option taken.
Access. Drive east of Quincy and take I-90 West to Exit 143 (Silica Road). Drive north on Silica Road a few hundred yards and then turn left (west) on Vantage St. Follow this 2.75 miles to a small, gravel parking area on the right (north) side of the road. Gated dirt roads take off on both sides of the paved road. As of October 2009, no permits were needed to park.
- Alternate start: Hikers looking for a shorter walk along the Babcock Bench can drive Silica Road another 4 miles north of Vantage Street to Sunland Road, turn left, and drive about 1.5 miles west to a gravel parking lot situated where the dirt road spanning the benchlands intersects Sunland Road.
- Go through the gate on the north side of Vantage Street and head north on a dirt road 3.3 miles until you cross a paved road (Sunland Road). Various spurs will branch off the main dirt road but always travel north, paralleling the course of the river.
- Cross Sunland Road, and keep heading north along the bench on the main dirt road. After a mile, there is a short, steep descent and less skilled mountain bikers should walk down this grade or follow the mellower road to the left that circles around the drop. About 3.25 miles from Sunland Road, a spur trail to the right heads up to Cave B Inn.
Now there are a variety of options.
- Cave B Inn Loop. Take the spur mentioned above to the right which soon merges with a steep jeep road and climbs about 300 vertical feet to Cave B Inn. This jeep road can be ascended by advanced mountain bikers but many cyclists will need to push their bike. Some riders may want to walk up to inn, walk back down, and reverse their ride along the Babcock Bench to the car. To make a loop of your ride, however, take the bike with you. After poking around the inn, ride 1 mile on the road leading out of the resort, take a right on Silica Road and ride the pavement 5.5 miles south to Vantage Street. Take a right on Vantage Street and ride west 2.75 miles to the car.
- Super Coulee Hike. Rather than taking the spur leading to the inn, stay on the main dirt road and, in roughly 150 yards, go through an opening in a fence line. Almost immediately thereafter, take a hard right turn and travel east for 0.33 miles until the dirt road drops down into a creek bed and ends. At the creek bed, turn left and follow a narrow trail that contours the slopes on the south side of the creek but drops down the coulee and heads downhill to the shores of the Columbia River. The trail is about a mile long, narrow, and (if you’re considering riding it) technical. Most mountain bikers will be better served walking this trail. The hike however is highly recommended.
- Anthony-Dusty Lake Connections. About 100 feet back from where the Super Coulee Hike begins, there’s a lesser trail on the right that contours to a creek crossing (there may be a sign placed by the resort stating ‘Ancient Lakes’). Fork off to the right on this trail and, in 100, feet you’ll reach the creek and will need to cross it. Sometimes the creek is easily stepped across, sometimes there’s enough flow you’ll need to get your feet wet making the crossing. After crossing, contour uphill on a rocky, narrow trail. In about 150 or 200 yards the trail merges with a double-track road. You can follow that road about 0.25 miles north and connect with Fred and Frank’s Loop, or 2.75 miles north and reach the Dusty Lake turnoff, or 4 miles north and reach the turnoff to Ancient Lake. See the links to these other rides and you can cobble together a variety or routes that can challenge you both technically and physically.
Maps. See our Babcock Bench topo map (Map 1). Also, see our Ancient Lake topo (Map 2) if you want to keep riding farther north.
Permits. None needed.
Leave It Better Than You found It. This should be every user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull noxious weeds along your route, disperse old fire rings, throw branches over unwanted spur trails…
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.