I went to visit my father, who is now a full-time resident of Moab. On my list of things to do for the 10 day trip was mountain biking. Not much else was on my list, but if the weather didn't cooperate, we could always hike or trail run up some of the canyons.
The weather, however, did cooperate. Almost every day was sunny and temperatures ranged from 40 degrees in early morning to 65 degrees in late afternoon. Snow fell in the high country the night before I left, so I felt that my trip was perfectly timed.
The morning after I arrived, we headed over to Poison Spider Bicycles to buy a mountain bike from their rental fleet. Poison Spider always keeps the latest bikes in their rental fleet, so around this time of year, they sell of their 2009 bikes in order to make room for the 2010 bikes. I chose a Gary Fischer Roscoe, which had a good mixture of comfort and durability. Bike in hand, we headed up to the Porcupine Rim to try it out.
The Porcupine Rim is one of my favorite rides. You can ride (or shuttle) 9 miles up Sand Flats road to the trailhead. There are some new trailheads further along Sand Flats Road for Lower/Upper Porcupine alternate routes, but we (my dad, Kristine and I) went to the original trailhead that required a 900 foot climb up a 4WD road to the rim. I really enjoyed the climb as it allowed us a moderately technical workout pedalling uphill over minor ledges and rocks. The trail then continues along the rim, which provides amazing views of Castle Valley, with overlooks on the edges of cliffs that drop several hundred vertical feet to the valley floor. Get some pictures here. From the rim, the 4WD road descends for several miles and ends at a singletrack bike trail that drops you down to the highway along some fairly technically challenging, exposed trail. You'll definitely have to walk at a spot or two here (especially towards the end), but otherwise it is a sweet rollicking trail that is worth its reputation. At the highway, you can bike a few miles back to town, half of it along a bike path that is off the highway.
The only mishap that I had was that the front shock on my bike failed. I felt like I had a flat due to the hard jarring I took coming down the jeep road; however it turned out that all the air had leaked out of my front shock. We were able to pump up the shock with our bike pump and finger tighten the whatchamacalit that came loose, and the shock held for the rest of the ride. If you don't have shocks, this ride is much less fun. I took my bike back to Poison Spider on the way home, and they re-pumped/tightened everything, and the shock was fine for the rest of my trip.
On Friday and Saturday, we (Warren/Kristine/I) rode the White Rim Trail, which much support help from Karen, who shuttled us to and from Canyonlands four times. Karen dropped us off at Schafer Road, and we biked down it to the White Rim, then along the Rim to Murphys Campground. There, we locked our bikes together and followed a hiking trail back up to the rim, where Karen picked us up and took us back to Moab to shower, eat and sleep. The next morning, we got a ride back, then hiked back down to finish the ride, ending up at Mineral Bottom Road. The White Rim can be ridden in one long day (in November it may be partially in the dark), but doing it in two days was more relaxing. And after six hours sitting in my bike seat the first day, I was definitely ready to get off my bike for the 5 mile hike out and back the next morning. Many people do this route as a four day bike/camping trip, but it requires a 4WD support vehicle to follow the bikes the whole way, and sounds like an awful lot of logistics to me.
Most of the White Rim is relatively flat, with a few steep climbs interspersed along the way. I really enjoyed the second day as I became more meditative about the scenery, and we also dropped down to the river for a nice change of scenery as well.
On Monday, I rode the Slickrock Trail with Kristine. I love this trail. There is definitely a learning curve though of getting used to the idea that you actually can get your bike up some of the super steep uphills and downhills on the super-grippy slickrock. Confidence and tenacity are paramount here, but falls can be somewhat damaging to your health, so you have to accurately know your limits as well.
Karen wanted to hike to Osha Arch in the Mill Creek drainage, so we decided to do an exporatory hiking trip on Monday to give my bike seat a break. We drove up Sand Flats Road about five miles and hiked southward down a jeep road to the rim of a side canyon that fed into the Mill Creek Canyon. Following cairns and faint trails, we contoured and then dropped into the canyons down to Mill Creek, then followed it a short ways before heading up another side canyon that contained the arch at its end. After lunch at the arch, we followed Mill Creek back down to Moab, exporing some other features (such as Drop Slot Canyon) along the way, as well as criss-crossing Mill Creek a few times. Back in Moab, we shuttled back up to get the car on Sand Flats Road.
On Tuesday, I needed another mountain biking fix. I got up early and rode the Slickrock Trail as fast as I could, finishing in an hour and forty minutes. I saw one other person along the whole trail, just before I finished. It is great to have such a beautiful day and the trails totally to myself. I succesfully completed a couple moves that I hadn't done the other day, and I didn't hurt myself, so I was quite happy. I rode 3 miles back down to our townhouse, had a little lunch, and then set out again with my dad to go see Pothole Arch at the end of Amasa Back.
Amasa Back has a very difficult start, but if you can get up the road a little ways past the initial difficulties, then it is one of my favorite rides. It is sunny and south-facing (good for winter riding) and quite technical for a 4WD road, and has beautiful views of the Colorado once you get to the top. The route to the arch is now well-marked with paint across some of the later slickrock sections. Some of the locals don't like it, but if it keeps the tourists from criss-crossing all over the delicate landscape, then I'm all for it. We returned the way we came, although there is an alternate loop option going down Jackson Valley trail. We met Danielle Ballengee along the way, who was marking the trail with orange tape for an upcoming trail run on the weekend. Warren asked her where she fell that one time a few years back where they didn't find her for three days, and she pointed down a side trail that we had not yet explored.
On Wednesday, we decided to get Karen out on her mountain bike. She also got a new (to her) bike from Poison Spider the other week, and really likes it. We visited the trail system up at Dead Horse Point State Park, about 8 or 9 miles of flat, easy trails with some good views. After lunch at the overlook, we headed over the the Bar M loop, which is another easy loop on dirt roads (but without the views). While Warren and Karen rode mostly on the main loop, I tried out several side loops: Bar B, Rockin A, Circle O. These side loops were moderately technical, and included some nice singletrack on Bar B, and lots of fairly bumpy slickrock on Rockin A and Circle O.
On Thursday, my dad and I rode up Poison Spider to the top of the mesa to explore the trails up there. His neighbor Tim said that he didn't like the trail as it was too sandy, and I can see why. After so many days of sunny weather, we spent a lot of time pushing our bikes along deep sandy roads. The steep slickrock sections immediately after sand pits were a non-starter, so we pushed our bikes up those, too. The easternmost trail on top of the mesa (the one closest to the edge) was much better than the trail that ran to its west. I would do this ride as an out-and-back along the eastmost trail rather than as a loop. Or you could ride down Portal Trail, which is the realy exposed technical trail on which a few cyclists have died. If you go that way and are not a male between 18 and 25, then you will definitely walk your bike through the techinical exposed section(s) so that you don't end up doing a 400 foot bunny hop off the edge.
After many inconsequential falls throughout the week, my dad finally took a 0 mph fall on Poison Spider and sprained his ankle. We decided to skip a couple side trips on spur trails to overlooks and just head back to the car, as we had had enough of the sand anyways. He fell a few more times along the way back. I think it was because he hesitated when clipping out of his pedals on the side on which he had a sprained ankle. Luckily, there was deep sand, so the falls were soft and we made it home without any more injuries.
On Friday, my last day, I decided to go for a trail run, as rain was threatening and biking did not look so fun. There was going to be a trail race on Saturday, so I chose to run the 20 mile course that the race would run the next day. Danielle had already marked the course a few days ago, so all I had to do was follow the copious orange ribbons. The course went up Pritchett Canyon then back down along the rim of Hunter Creek and down some singletrack, then out and back along Hunter Creek, then across the highway and up a jeep road, across a mesa, down Nellie's secret trail, up Amasa Back, and down Jackson Trail. I had never been on any of the course except for a small part on Amasa Back, so I really enjoyed seeing some new scenery.
Going up Pritchett Canyon, I got to see why this was labelled a 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5) as a 4WD road. While it was mostly easy going, there were about three difficult slickrock sections, the hardest being near the end. I watch a motorbiker try to go up this last section, and he jumped off his bike as it fell and slid down the wall. Ooops. I scrambled up the wall while they were picking up the pieces.
The rim road along Hunter Creek was very beautiful. The singletrack coming down was unrideable for a biker (although mountain bikes were allowed), and somewhat hard to follow without the ribbons. It was very, very technical, and required a bit of downclimbing in spots.
The jeep road up the south side of the mesa south of Amasa Back was very tough, but had beautiful views. Coming down through the slickrock on Nellie's trail made me realize how Danielle could have slipped here in winter. Ice on the north facing sloped slickrock is dangerous. There is one section in which the race course takes you through a two foot wide crack in the slickrock, almost like a miniature slot canyon, except that it is only six feet high. The Jacson trail had one section in which I could look down to see the Colorado River next to my feet (exposed), and one or two tricky sections for bikers. It was a nice run. I thought this course was really great, and I would recommend the race for anyone who is interested in visiting Moab this time of year.
Friday night, it rained in Moab and snowed on the high mesas. Winter is coming. I could have stayed another week or two and spent every day doing more trail running and mountain biking, but it is time to head home to cold, gray Seattle. I will definitely be back soon.
The Craggies (Big Craggy Peak and West Craggy Peak) are two peaks north of Winthrop that are among Washington's Top 100 Peaks. Susan Ashlock invited me along to scramble these two peaks on Wednesday, and despite the reported 6 to 8 inches of snow that fell in the mountains on Monday/Tuesday, I quickly accepted her offer.
After a long drive up from Seattle on Tuesday night, we stayed at one of the campgrounds out Eightmile Road, north of Wintrhop. An inch or two of snow dusted the road, but the campsite was bare. The temperature was definitely below freezing, however, and it was going to get colder up top.
We arose at 6am and got on the trail at about 7:15am, just as it was starting to get light out. The trail began as a jeep trail and eventually turned into a hiking trail, which was still easy to follow despite a few inches of snow over everything. The jeep trail/hiking trail did not seem to match the trail on the topo map, but it got us to the right spot nevertheless.
At 5900' we turned off the trail and headed up an open meadow, following the SE ridge all the way up to the peak of Big Craggy. As we got higher, we encountered deeper snow and some drifts, and the last scramble section was a more sporting due to the snow-covered scree that unnerved me a bit as the slope steepened up (I think that going much further climber's left would have been easier). I wallowed up a snow-filled gully trying to follow Susan's light steps, but we eventually prevailed through the steepest sections and followed the final ridgeline to the rime-covered cairn at the summit. The temperature was 21 degrees, but the winds were calm and the sun was even threatening to peak out on this gorgeous late October day.
From Big Craggy summit, we traversed the ridge and followed an easy contouring descent down open slopes to the saddle between the Craggies that was only made easier due to snow covering the scree. We continued contouring along slightly more difficult slopes, occasionally bogging ourselves down in snowdrifts, until we reached a wide gully with access to the West Craggy ridgetop. We went up the gully to a notch, then up another gully to access the easier high slopes on the west side of West Craggy. The final climb up the gully was a bit tricky, requiring us to scrape the snow off of the rocks to find good footholds, and it was even trickier coming down (I let Susan show me her delicate balancing style coming down the snowy rock outcropping and I followed as best I could). An easy hike along the ridge got us to the top. The sun came out and we had beautiful views of the Pasayten Wilderness in all directions. On our way down, we dropped down to Copper Glance Creek and followed the creek down to our original hiking trail. The snow drifted much higher down near the creek, and we alternately plowed through waist deep snow or dealt with tricky rockfields hidden under the snow that threatened to trip us up. Once back on the trail, however, we cruised the final couple miles back to the car, happy that we could enjoy a final trip to the mountains before the snows became too deep.
Total time: 9 hours, including 3.5 hours to Big Craggy, 2 more hours to West Craggy, 3 more hours back to car.
When I go out to do an activity, I believe that I am more successful if I visualize it first, imagining myself doing the activity to a successful outcome. Yesterday, I demonstrated to myself the concrete advantages of this approach.
I decided to kayak around Bainbridge Island. I got my stuff together and started to drive over there. On the way I imagined myself kayaking around the island. I pictured myself in my drysuit with my paddle... paddle? I had to turn around three blocks from my house because I realized that I had forgotten to grab a paddle. Thankfully, I discovered this before I got too far. That is the power of visualization.
I paddled out from Golden Gardens, and looked south to West Point. There was lots of smoke coming out of the smokestack on the lighthouse on West Point, which looked really odd. I thought something was wrong, and when I looked again a minute later, I confirmed it. The lighthouse had moved around the point - it was actually the superstructure of a large tanker ship coming up the channel at me. I stayed in the lee of West Point while it crossed 200 yards in front of me, then continued my crossing to Bainbridge.
Lots of wildlife today. I saw a group of about 8 harlequin ducks in there fall plumage - very beautiful. I also saw something the size of a whale, but which I believed was a large sea lion offshore of me. As I paddled on, I kept looking back, expecting to see it following and harassing me, but it did not resurface. I don't like sea lions.
At the south end of Bainbridge, I looked at my watch and realized that I had taken 2 hours and 45 minutes instead of the 2 hours that I had expected. I wasn't sure why the discrepancy, but decided that it was best to put of the Bainbridge circumnavigation if I was going to be slower than expected. I did not want to recross back to the mainland in the dark, and there were no real bailout points once I started going around the backside of Bainbridge (Kathy was out of town, too). I will do Blake Island instead.
I started to head to Blake, but all of a sudden, a (the?) sea lion appeared 10 yards off my bow in a huff. I immediately turned around and headed for shallow water. Looking back, I saw three sea lions now cavorting where I had been. Were they all following me now? I decided to continue along the shoreline around Bainbridge. However, after another 10 minutes, I changed my mind again and headed towards Blake Island. Expected east winds also added to my concern about being stuck going from Bainbridge back to the mainland late in the day.
I circumnavigated Blake, stopping at the Cascadia Marine Trail site there to check it out. The Cascadia Marine Trail was set up to provide camping for human-powered beachable watercraft (e.g. kayaks) in the Puget Sound, and there area special campsites in a lot of locations to help out all you kayak campers out there. After Blake, I kayaked back to West Seattle, then around Alki point and back towards downtown Seattle.
I wanted to get across to Magnolia, but there was a lot of boat traffic to navigate, as well as a 2 foot chop from the 10-15 knot east winds that had finally arrived. Ferries regularly travel between Seattle/Bainbridge and Seattle/Bremerton. Additionally, not one, but two cargo ships decided to head into the Port of Seattle right when I wanted to cross, so I had to wait until all the boats cleared out. When I made my dash across, I was stopped short by a Coast Guard cutter that was also waiting for the other boats to clear out. I felt like I was playing frogger.
Once I made it to Magnolia, I had an easy cruise along the coast back to Golden Gardens, arriving 7 1/2 hours after I left. I got in a full day's work after all. When I got home, I re-measured the distance around Bainbridge and discovered that it was 11.5 miles down to the south side of Bainbridge rather than 8.5 as I had originally thought, but that the overal distance around Bainbridge (35 miles) was not any longer than I had originally thought, so I would have been on schedule after all if I had done the circumnavigation. Next time. As it was I had a good tour of Puget Sound and got in a long day's kayak on a nice fall day. No complaints here.
Andrew and I were going to participate in the 24 hour Big Tahoma Rogaine down near Mt Rainier, but Andrew hurt his hamstring last week and had to stay home. I'm a bit burned out on everything else I've been doing, so I looked forward to doing the 6 hour event solo (solo participants can do the 6 hour event, whereas teams may do the 6/12/24 hour events).
I got up too early on Saturday morning and drove down to Ashford and up the forest roads to the event start, which was in the same location as the Fall Beast race last year. Eric Bone showed up customarily late with the maps, but we started within 10 minutes of the posted start time with a little less time to plan our route. The skies were clouded over and the temp was about 40 degrees, but the rain was supposed to hold off until Saturday night, not affecting us 6 hour folk. I decided to treat this as I would a 50km trail run, and brought just a windshirt and tights, hat and gloves with me. In hindsight, this was a mistake.
I planned an ambitious route that would cover 45 km or so and hit two areas that had some controls with large point values, with a place or two to skip a checkpoint if I was getting behind. Right from the start, it included a long climb to High Hut to get me warmed up, and after the first 15 minutes or so, I was in my t-shirt, hiking/running up the hill feeling good.
At the very first CP, I took off a glove to punch the checkpoint and write my name in the log. I was the first one there. Other people were following me, and in my hurry, I dropped my glove somewhere, realizing only a few minutes later. I would have liked to have that glove later on.
Everything went reasonably smoothly for the first couple hours, and I did very well at navigating to the checkpoints. The climb to High Hut was straightforward, and kept me warm with all of the frost on the ground and trees around me. I was especially happy when I navigated straight to CP 65, which required following a couple overgrown rides then bushwhacking to a "subtle hilltop". I decided to skip a 50 point CP in order to give me a little more time for the second half, then I ran into problems.
Checkpoint 64 did me in. It wasn't that hard to find, but required bushwhacking 300 vertical feet down a ridge across slippery logs. I fell three times in a row and my body was a bit unhappy. Going back up, I had to go 600 vertical feet back up the ridge to get to another path. The faintest trail was marked on the map, but I could not find anything and ended up heading through bushes that were completely laden with water from dew or the previous night's rain. In any case, I was soaked within minutes, and I spent what felt like a half hour thrashing around in the bushes, cold and soaked to the bone. My fingers stopped working; I was miserable.
I headed back to do the second loop in bad shape. The day was still cloudy, so I was not warming up much. My shoe got untied and I couldn't retie it. The strap on my thumb compass came off, and I could not rethread that either. Then I dropped my compass while trying to get some food, and only noticed it a short time later. I spent the next five to ten minutes hiking back and forth like a drowned rat packing, looking for my compass, shivering with my shoe untied. I was deciding at this point whether to fake a debilitating injury and call it quits when I spotted my compass on the ground. Not too much time lost. Maybe I would keep going, but no more bushwhacking.
I tried to find CP 43 which was off the road down a reentrant, but after a short effort, I turned around, as there was too much brush. Then I headed up for a long climb up and over a ridge. At one point, I turned around, deciding to call it quits again, but after hiking back down only 30 feet or so, I psyched myself up again and decided to continue on. Being alone brings out the difficult psychological battles in me, apparently. It would have been nice to have a partner to work with to keep me going strong.
After getting another couple easy checkpoints along the road, I got to an intersection where I could head up to some of the higher scoring ones, but I decided I did not have the time or determination to do so, and I followed another trail that would loop back to the start. I completely went past CP 23, which I thought might be easily visible from the road, but it wasn't. No turning back, though. At another intersection, I had a chance to go for a couple more CPs that were on side roads, but my will was gone and it had started to flurry, so I kept following the course back to the start/finish. I picked up a couple more CPs along the way back, then grabbed a couple easy ones near the start/finish before checking out in 5 hours 30 minutes. As I had run to the last couple CPs along the road, I had actually started to warm up by the time I got back, but otherwise I had been miserable for the last two and a half hours. I wrung the water out of my hat and called it a day.
It turns out that my 725 points was enough to finish in 2nd place of all the 6 hour folks (including the people who were on bike half the time), and Matt Hart was only 30 points ahead of me. I could easily have picked up another 30 or 50 points in the half hour I had left, and won. I guess that goes to show that one should never give up. Next time, though, I'm bringing my gortex jacket.
Brock Gavery and Sam Thompson planned to head out and run the Wonderland Trail this past weekend. It was something that I've wanted to do, so I asked if I could go, and I joined in. I had run the Wonderland Trail from Mowich Lake to White River (the long way) last year, but I still had yet to do the whole thing in one push. Brock/Sam planned on stopping in Longmire for dinner and a short bivy, but otherwise they were going to run/hike straight through.
We each dropped off a small bag at Longmire before we started, containing a bivy sack, a little food, and a couple extra pieces of clothing. The Inn would not hold these bags for us, so we tied them to a tree in the woods, hoping they would be there when we arrived the next day. After dinner and a trip back to Mowich Lake, we took at three hour nap before our expected 12:45 am start.
Night travel was slow, and we started to wonder whether we would actually make it to Longmire by the time the restaurant closed at 7:45pm that night, 60 miles away. Once the sun came up, however, we started to speed up a lot on the downhills, and we pulled into White River at 8:15am. The longest, fastest downhill section, however, was a somewhat quad-busting section coming down from Indian Bar to Box Canyon. The climb up to Reflection Lakes took forever, as we were tired and knew that we did not need to hurry anymore, but once at Reflection Lakes, more long easy downhills led us into Longmire at 5:20pm (16 hours 35 minutes).
Dinner at the Inn was fabulous: pasta, soup, bread, beer, cobbler for dessert. Looking at the amount of food I had in my pack, I'm glad I could load up on the calories at the Inn for Sunday, as I had not brought my own dinner along. After dinner we wandered into the woods and found a nice soft spot in the forest on which to lie down. I put on all my warm clothes as it was fairly chilly out, but once in my bivy I was quite warm and comfortable. We went to bed around 7:30pm and woke up again at 12:30am, ready for a 1:15am departure. Noone really wanted to do the trip from Longmire back to Mowich as we were all a bit sore from yesterday, but Mowich was where the car was so we had to go.
The second night was much colder than the first, and we kept some of our warm clothes on as we hiked half-awake up and down the ridges, awaiting the light of the day to perk us back up again. We really didn't run until daylight, and we were averaging about 2.5 miles per hour for most of the first half of the second day's "run". We did find a very nice runnable section towards the end, from Golden Lakes down to South Mowich Camp, where we ran 6 miles in an hour, but otherwise we were mostly hiking the second day. We pulled into Mowich Lake campground at 2:15pm (13 hours). Total time car to car was 37.5 hours. The trip was a bit more grueling than I thought it was going to be; however, the weather stayed reasonable, we all made it back without too much injury and we did what we set out to do, so it was definitely a success. I'm glad it's over, though.
Sam has a slightly more detailed writeup on our trip.
Now that I've recovered some, I can think back positively on the recent Triboa race out in Plain, WA. I raced with Andrew Feucht, Roger Michel and Beth Brewster. Beth was completely new to adventure racing, but she had just done an Ultraman (a double Ironman done over a 3 day period), so she was certainly in shape to run around with us for the weekend. Andrew was our logistics man, as Roger was flying up from the Bay Area, and I was coming back from Colorado (Imogene Pass / Hardrock hike) on Thursday night. Kathy picked up both Roger and me from the airport at the same time, in fact. I had Friday morning to do my laundry and re-pack for our adventure race.
Map handout was at 8pm on Friday evening, with the race starting at midnight. The course would take us kayaking across Lake Wenatchee and back, then hiking and biking along many of the trails on or near the Plain 100 mile trail run course.
At midnight, we headed off on our mountain bikes after a Le Mans start. Our first crucial decision came after we crossed the Wenatchee river - many people followed the main roads towards the checkpoint, but we headed south to take a shorter logging road, which did not exist (or so I claimed). Glenn (the RD) gave us a curious extra map that seemed useless, but it came into play as we headed south after missing our turn, finding another logging road that actually went through. After a long climb, we arrived at the location of the checkpoint and bushwhacked to the saddle. Beth thought we were kidding when we got off our bikes and told her we were hiking through the brush. She had never been off trail before. She was in for a new adventure this weekend for sure.
Next we headed back down the logging roads and to Lake Wenatchee to do our kayaking leg. We had borrowed Eric's triple (actually a converted double) and planned to tow a single kayak behind it. The major benefit of this setup was cost, as we did not need to rent any kayaks. However, the triple was far too small for three people to paddle together, and Beth, who was in the center of the triple, got so soaked that she almost went hypothermic before we stopped to let her change her clothes and put on a raincoat with a hood. I navigated while paddling the single, and I was also the designated gopher that hopped out to get the checkpoints. I wore my drysuit so that I could jump out in knee-deep water without having to worry about getting wet.
I enjoyed the kayaking leg. Several of the CPs on the far side of the lake were situated in marshes and sloughs that allowed for some navigation decisions as well as taking us to nice spots. My favorite spot was sliding through swamp grass to enter a lagoon on the southwest corner of the lake. Coming back out, we beached our kayaks in foul-smelling mud, which was not so fun.
After the kayak, we stripped off some wet clothes and headed out on our mountain bikes for a long climb up to the Mad River trailhead, then up more steep singletrack to a horse camp/transition area to the trek. By this time it was after 10am.
We trekked mostly along trails, with several forays bushwhacking up or along mountains in order to tag a checkpoint. At about noon, Beth sprained her ankle. Ouch! Andrew got her going again, saying it is best not to stop, and she kept going, albeit a little more slowly. At this point, we had three other teams ahead of us, and we realized that we probably would not be catching them, so we focused on finishing the race as well as we could.
The trek was long, and we finished at 7pm, just as the sun was going down. The day had been cool and cloudy, but a chill set in as night came on. The last section was on mountain bikes, with a long section of singletrack at the end described as "sweet" by the race director, although we used different adjectives such as "frustrating" and "insane".
We were staying up for the second night in a row, and we started to get silly. A smattering of light rain had moistened some of the dust, and I was absolutely sure that the ground was covered in a dusting of snow, even calling Andrew "such a liar" when he didn't see the snow. Beth was bonking at this point without realizing it, falling off her bike left and right as Roger stayed walking behind her trying to catch her. He eventually got her to eat some gels and she came around again.
Glenn had put a dozen CPs along the singletrack at the end to make sure that we rode it, and told us that the CPs would be easy to see from the trail. Apparently, the reflecting material did not reflect very well, because we had a very difficult time seeing the CPs, especially as we had been going for 24 hours already and were exhausted. Also, the singletrack twisted and turned all over, whereas the trail on the map went straight from one point to another, so we had a lot of trouble keeping track of where we were. As we did not want to have to backtrack, we went very slow in order to make sure that we didn't miss checkpoints. By the time we got near the end, I was already (figuratively) crying like a baby. I just wanted to go back to he lodge.
All the teams had trouble with the last several checkpoints, and only one team found them all. In retrospect, they didn't seem so hard. They were near well-recognized features by the trail as long as we were paying attention. The CP that we missed (CP28), however, was 20 meters off the trail where there was a "trail/snag". I assumed that this meant a dead fallen tree across the trail or something like that. Wikipedia defines a snag as a "standing dead tree" with perhaps a few large branches on it, so we were not even looking for the right indicator.
After we could not find CP 28, we decided not to look too hard for the next one. CP 29 was in a shallow reentrant off the trail. We passed one shallow reentrant and looked up it with flashlights (we had mostly dimmer flashlights because our batteries had run out on our HID lights), but could not see anything and moved on. We found another shallow reentrant later, but we also did not see anything up it. As we were already getting beyond where we had expected it based on the bike odometer, I decided to give it a small effort and hiked 5 meters up the reentrant to look. I still did not see anything, and turned around to tell the others. At that point, Andrew asked "what about that tape next to you?". I looked and saw I was standing next to Montrail tape. That's odd, why would they put tape and no CP? Then I found the CP slightly behind a tree trunk 3 feet away from me. I had been standing right next to it. That is how hard they were to find in our condition. Doing a double all-nighter is tough.
The last CP in hand, we enjoyed our bike back to the lodge and the finish line as we watched the sky lighten into dawn. We arrived at about 6:15am, a little over 30 hours after we started. Beth told us she was having fun. She'll definitely be back for more. Andrew did really well in spotting several of the difficult checkpoints for us, and Roger kept us together going forward well beyond when I wanted to quit. A week and a half later, I am starting to look back at the race with fond memories rather than profanities. Same time next year?
Running with James Varner the other month, I told him how the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier was one of my favorite trails. He indicated that it was one of his as well, but that the course for the Hardrock 100 mile trail run was his favorite trail. This made an impression on me, and so I decided to hike some of it during the week after the Imogene Pass Trail run, as I would be out in the area anyways. I asked my father to join me for an overnight trip from Tellurdie to Silverton, and he said OK.
The Hardrock 100 follows a 28 mile course from Telluride to Silverton at an average elevation of 11,000 feet. It crosses a 13,160 foot pass and it includes 10,000 feet of elevation gain. My father provided the camping gear, which was the heavy old school kind of gear. My pack was full after putting in the sleeping bag, pad and 3 person tent (for extra room). I barely had enough room to throw in a piece of warm clothing or two, then we were off.
Karen dropped us off in Telluride, planning to meet up with us the next evening in Silverton. The weather was looking grim, with expected rain and thunderstorms, but we were determined to give the hike our best effort. Karen left town with the car, and we were on our own.
The hike from Telluride up to the two passes (Oscars and an unnamed one) was the longest climb of the trip. We climbed almost 4500 feet in intermittent rain and sunshine. The views were as beautiful as James had said, though. As we neared the pass, we saw a thunderstorm way off to our right, and heard another way off to our left, but we crossed the 13,160 pass with sunshine above us and no fear of electrocution.
From Oscars Pass, we dropped down a steep, steep, rocky jeep road towards Ophir road. We missed the turn to Chapman aid station (or where it would be), but using our USGS quad and the course description, we quickly got back on track. I found it fun to try to follow the unmarked course; it gave an extra feeling of adventure and exploration to the trip.
We next climbed up Swamp Creek basin to Swamp/Grant pass. The last portion of this was across rocky scree-ish fields and then across a basin to finally climb up an almost impossibly steep slope to the pass. The slope looked impossible from a distance (due to foreshortening), but was a little more moderate when we got up close. We still slid back down the slope with every other step. The other side felt even steeper right near the top. I can't believe that people do this as a trail run.
Below us was Island Lake, and from there we dropped down to Lower Ice Lake and detoured off the Hardrock course to find a campsite. Darkness was threatening to set in by the time we set up our tent, and we quickly ate and crawled into our tent as the rain moved in. We were beat, having climbed a cumulative 7000 feet during the course of the day, even though we only went 15 miles.
I admit that I was a little afraid during the night when the thunderstorms set in. Lightning flashed brightly and thunder quickly followed, reverberating loudly off the peaks around us. I was so glad that we were 2000 feet below the pass, and that we had made it over all the passes without lightning setting in. Thunderstorms moved through every couple hours during the night, providing me a fitful sleep at best.
We woke in the morning to find a dusting of snow on our tent and on the mountains around us. Today was an easier day, so we took our time eating breakfast and packing up, and we hit the trail at 9:30am or so. Shortly after we started, we ran into Karen, who was hiking up to Ice Lakes from a nearby trailhead, having driven up from Silverton this morning. After a short chat, we continued on, while Karen headed up to Upper Ice Lakes for a day hike, planning on meeting us back in Silverton in the evening.
An animal trail took us down and across Ice creek to the Kamm Traverse. The course description marks certain spots as "Exposure. Acrophobia", but they weren't so bad. I might feel differently if I were trying to run along it though. After a fairly short exposed section, the Kamm Traverse joined an abandoned jeep trail which dropped down to the road, which we crossed. We forded a stream (ankle deep) and bushwhacked a short distance to pick up another trail that headed up and across towards Porcupine Basin. After the stream crossing in Porcupine basin, we lost the trail briefly, but just headed upwards until we picked it up again.
We gained the wide ridge and pass between Porcupine and Cataract basins. To our right we saw two wolves peering at us from over the ridgeline. They might have been red wolves - certainly larger than coyotes. Weather was moving in again as we moved along the ridge to climb up and over to Putnam basin. It started to snow, but at least there was no thunder/lightning as we scrambled to attain the highest ridge and dropped down to the pass and into Putnam Basin, our climbing finally done for the day.
The rest of our day was a relaxing descent down Putnam and Bear Creek basins to Silverton. The very end of the trail was very muddy and chopped up by horses that had come out of the horse camp by the road to Silverton. Not the best way to finish, but we were glad to be done. We looked forward to fording Mineral Creek to wash off our muddy shoes. The creek was about a foot deep where we crossed and refreshing. The other side of the creek was muddy and soggy, however, and our shoes got twice as muddy as before just trying to go 30 yards to the highway.
As Karen was waiting patiently for us to arrive in Silverton, we decided to call her and have her pick us up along the highway rather than hike the last mile or two into town. Then it was time for prime rib at the Pickle Barrel and a good night's sleep.
My father has been talking about the Imogene Pass Run for a couple years, asking me if I would come out to run the race in 2010 when he turns 70. He wanted to break the 70+ age group record, and as he held the age group record for 65-69 year olds for a few years, he definitely had his chances. I signed up, as did Wayne, Kathy and Karen. It would be a family outing.
Kathy and I flew out from Seattle to Ouray, CO on Friday, the afternoon before the race. I've heard that if you do a race immediately after going to altitude, that it does not affect you that much. Don't believe a word of it. We were feeling winded in Ouray at only 7800 feet in elevation, and the trail run crested out at 13,1oo feet high.
Kathy and I had been to Ouray before a couple of years ago in the winter time to go ice climbing. Ouray is the ice climbing capitol of the world, at least according to us Seattle folks. There is no really good ice climbing in Washington state unless you like climbing up glaciers. In Ouray, we can climb one of dozens of frozen waterfalls within ten minutes of our hotel, and then come back and enjoy a warm soak in the hotel hottub.
The trail race turned out very nice. Threats of rain were not realized, although during the awards ceremony afterwards, marble-sized chunks of hail rained down on us. I squeaked a few times when I was conked on the head by a particularly pointy hailstone. I was glad that the mountains spared us this weather earlier in the day when we were hiking our way over the pass.
I did a lot of hiking during the race. The course is 17 miles long and has 5500 feet of elevation gain from Ouray up to Imogene Pass over the cours of 10 miles, then drops 7 miles and 4500 feet into Telluride. I tried to run as much as I could, but is hard with one lung tied behind your back. Even so, I felt pretty good and finished the race in just over three hours time.
Wayne tried a different training tactic in which he ran 7 miles a couple months ago and then never ran again. He relied exclusively on his good running genes that he got from our dad. he finished in four hours, then promptly passed out before he even made it out of the finishers gate. This unofficial study of twins suggests that months of hard training will only decrease your finishing time by 33% compared to sitting on the couch and listening to Chinese language tapes.
My dad had a good race too, but not quite good enough to beat the course record. I think he was three minutes too slow, but he did win his age group (like he usually does). Karen and Kathy had more relaxing runs. Everyone in the family made it safely to the finish line in Telluride. Looking at the medic tent, I could see that many people did not; many were having their hands and knees patched up after having suffered falls on the steep, rocky run down.
I've told my friends that often the drive home is harder than the race. I was refering to doing 24 hour races (e.g. adventure races, rogaining) in which it is very easy to fall asleep at the wheel after having stayed up for so long, but it was true in this case as well. Our friend's dog tried to lick my face, and I playfully pretended to lick his as well. Then he bit me in the face. Now I have teeth marks on my eyebrow. Lesson learned: don't lick a gift dog in the face, or something like that.
Kathy wanted to go kayaking, so I decided that we should head up to Tofino for the week. Clayoquot Sound has a good mixture of open ocean kayaking and sheltered spots, and no matter what the weather, we could find someplace to go. I had only been there before for one day, so it was also a somewhat new area to me as well. We drove up Friday and stayed at the Paddler's Inn. It was slightly overpriced for what we got, but it was right next to the Goverment Dock and was run by knowledgable paddlers. We also talked with another group that had just finished their paddle and told us of their experiences. Although they had nice weather, today it rained all evening and all night. Saturday morning was blustery and rainy as well, with wind gusts over 30mph. Luckily, the weather cleared out by the time we got on the water at noon. This was going to be a relaxing trip.
After a stop at my favorite coffee shop, the Common Loaf, we parked the car in a most-likely-to-be-there-when-we-get-back spot and headed on out. We crossed the channel to Opitsat, a small Indian community across from Tofino that is served by occasional water taxis, then we headed up around the east side of Vargas Island. We lunched at a gravel bar, pulling out the cooler from my Big Beast (I brought the PWS Sea Otter in order to carry the cooler), then spent the early afternoon wandering over to Flores Island. Swell came in from the outside coast in spots, giving Kathy a taste of what it was like, and a tailwind kept us moving along. Kathy used Andrew's NDK Romany Explorer. She was still learning how to use the skeg, and in wind and waves it became a bit frustrating learning how to manuever correctly. She decided to use the Big Beast for the rest of the trip. We landed on a beach just east of Whitesand Cove to camp. Rain appeared as we set up camp and stayed with us all night and into the next morning. The wind picked up, too, and blew sand through our tent, which was one of those tents that had only a mesh liners underneath the rainfly. I hope I don't wake up under a sand dune... At least the rain will keep the sand from blowing on us too, too much. I moved the kayaks next to the tent to act as a windbreak. The next morning, we made sausage and eggs scramble w/veggies) for brekkie, watched a few diving birds through the binoculars, then headed out for a hike. We hiked along the Wildside Trail a short bit, which runs along all the beaches as far as Cow Bay, about 4 miles away. We also hiked a trail north towards the bay containing Ahousat, but turned back due to miserable-looking watery bogs in our path. At lunchtime, we decided to move camp down to a nicer spot on Whitesand Cove where there were more amenities (including a wooden pallet that acted as a table). After moving camp, we paddled our empty boats out toward Cow Bay. Rounding the point, we started to enter areas of larger swell. My stormsurf forecast showed that 10 foot swells were expected today, dropping down to 3 to 5 feet for the rest of the week. As we got further along the coastline to the more exposed areas, the swells picked up to at least six feet and got steeper and steeper. I felt a little nervous taking Kathy out in these conditions, and we eventually turned back. Cow Bay was a good spot to see whales, but we would have little chance to seem them in these conditions in any case. In the evening, we walked along White Sand beach to wash our dishes at a stream along the far end of the beach as literally millions of sandfleas jumped erratically around us. Kathy swore as she crushed their small bodies between her feet and her sandals. The sand was not even white here. Monday was the best weather day - it only rained a couple times in the morning, then stayed overcast to partially sunny the rest of the day. Wind and swell were low. Kathy and I watched birds again, then eventually broke camp and paddled south. We stopped at Whaler Island to look at the campsites tucked into the edges of the dunes there, then continued on to the northwest side of Vargas Island. The weather report predicted 20-30 knot SE winds (not to mention rain) the next day, so we decdided to camp on one of the NW beaches, planning to go back around the inside of Vargas and back to Tofino in the morning. At this point, we have decided to cut our trip a day short, as the rain is a bit too much for us. Kathy practiced surfing into shore on small 1' waves. A sign warned about the wolves on Vargas Island. We saw wolf tracks in the morning. Or maybe fox. They looked a little small to be wolf. Maybe they were skinny wolves. An osprey circled above us. We returned to Tofino on Tuesday just as the winds picked up, and we decided to go visit Port Alberni for the evening. It rained most of the way there, which made us feel good about our decision to stop early. Port Alberni has a nice river that runs next to town where we did some more bird watching. The next day, we washed all the sand out of our kit and headed home.
On Saturday August 29th, I headed out to Easton to attempt my first 100 mile trail run. I decided early this year to choose the local 100 mile race, Cascade Crest, as I would know a lot of the other runners in the race and I could pre-run the course. The race filled up the day after registration opened in February. Luckily, I was in.
It started to rain Friday evening, and continued to rain as I drove out to Easton Saturday morning, finally clearing up as I reached Hyak. The rain never materialized on the east side of the crest, making for perfect weather in the 50s and 60s. It easily could have been 20 degrees warmer.
The race started at 10am, and I settled in to an easy pace, trying to stay behind James Varner and Jamie Gifford, who I knew had enough experience to run the race wisely (Jamie completed his 10th Cascade Crest race this year). We climbed about 3000' steeply to Goat Peak, then on to Cole Butte. I got ahead of both James and Jamie, and I remember thinking that I might be going too fast, so I tried to slow down even more. Another 1500' descent and climb led us to Blowout Mountain.
I had given Andrew (my pacer) a timeline that had me finishing in 23 hours 15 minutes, and I came into Cole Butte and Blowout Mountain right according to that schedule. I suddenly had severe cramping and GI issues, however, and visions of DNF'ing flashed through my head. How could I be having problems at only 14 miles in? Was I going to blow out at Blowout? I was almost doubled over at one point, but after some ginger ale at the aid station a couple minutes break, I felt better. I did not have any more problems like that for the rest of the race, thankfully.
After Blowout, a long sweeping downhill led us to Tacoma Pass. James Varner passed by me like a blur. Adam Hewey caught up with me as well, and we ran together for a while through Tacoma Pass. Adam had high aspirations for his finish time, and so in short time he also moved on. Mist and clouds enveloped the ridge beyond Tacoma Pass, making the afternoon almost but not quite too cold. The weather was perfect for running.
I came into Stampede Pass (mile 34) at 4:15pm, 45 minutes ahead of my timeline. I was developing some hotspots, however, so I spent 10 minutes playing with my feet while I ate a pasta lunch I had packed in my dropbag and some soup from the aid station volunteers. Johnathan Bernard pulled just as I was leaving. He seemed to be having a reasonable race. I grabbed my iPod from my dropbag at Stampede Pass and listened to tunes on my way to Hyak. I knew this part of the course as I had run most of it on a rainy day the previous month. Luckily, the rain did not arrive today and I stayed dry through the bushy parts. Although I was mostly alone, I did start meeting and passing people who were struggling a little more than I was.
Oddly, I did not feel like I was racing a race against the other people on the course. We were all fighting our own battles, and some of us had harder battles to fight than others. My job was to find the easy battle to fight, so I kept listening to my body and not trying to push it too hard. As the tunnel was closed, the course was rerouted this year to go over the ski slope at Hyak and down. The RD (on advice from James Varner?) chose a challenging rock strewn gully-like path for us to come down. I was happy that there was still just enough light by which to navigate it.
I pulled into Hyak just after dusk at 8:15pm (an hour ahead of my timeline for a 23:15 finish). Andrew and Kathy were both waiting for me with a chair set up for my and all my gear spread out. I enjoyed more pasta and soup while they looked at a blister that had developed and patched it up. I switched shoes and socks as well, and the blister did not bother me for the rest of the race. I spent about 20 minutes in the aid station; I was not really in a speed racing mindset. I gave Kathy and hug, and Andrew and I headed out for the second half of the race.
Andrew and I ran the frontage road for a couple miles before it became unpaved and headed upwards. Jamie Gifford and his pacer, Jim Kerby, caught up with us, and we traded spots back and forth all the way up to Keechelus Ridge aid station. Kerby is extremely friendly and enthusiastic, and while trying to give me a pat on the back and wish me luck at the aid station, managed to get me to spill potato soup all down my shirt. I looked like I had vomited, but that is all part of the image, I thought.
We sped down the other side of Keechelus Ridge with only slight twinges from my legs. I felt great. Andrew and I pulled into Kachess Lake aid station (which had a Halloween theme) and got ready for the Evil Forest. I spent more time than I should have, once again, rummaging through drop bags and deciding what food to bring; I vowed to be quicker at Mineral Creek. As I checked out, I found out that I was in 12th place. If we could pass a couple more people, I'd be in the top 10... We headed up the road a short bit to where a skeleton beckoned us to climb a dirt slope and enter the Evil Forest.
The five miles along Kachess Lake are the most technical section, and required us to scramble up/down difficult sections, climb over logs, and crawl through the branches of downed trees. It certainly did feel spooky at night time. Andrew brought his mega-powered mountain biking light which really helped (it also helped on the logging roads, too, so that we could see the grade of the road for the next few hundred yards and know when to run vs. hike). We moved along quite well, and I only fell on my face once, with no injuries. We passed Chris Twardzik here, who described himself as being in "a difficult spot". He looked like a ghost. We pressed on.
Andrew and I quickly moved through the Mineral Creek aid station at mile 74 and hit the road. I started to feel like racing now - only a marathon to go. That marathon included a 3000' climb up to Thorpe Mountain, however. We headed up the logging road at a fast walk, and caught up with another runner at the crew stop a couple miles up the road. I was feeling better and better. As we were approaching the Noname Ridge aid station, we saw a sign at the side of the road. It had a walkie-talkie attached to it and a menu. Apparently, you could call in a food order and they would prepare it for you while you hiked the next five minutes to the aid station. All the items had cheese in them though, but I was not in a cheese mood, so we did not order anything. I was shocked at Noname aid station to see James sitting in a chair. "What are you doing here?" I blurted out. Another runner was also there saying that he had had enough and was going to drop. It seemed like there was a lot of carnage going on in the front part of the field. Andrew and I quickly moved on, and Laura Houston (one of the volunteers) wished me luck from afar as we were already headed up the trail.
The climb to Thorpe was not as difficult as I had remembered from my practice run the other month, and Andrew and I ran a lot of the flat to slightly rolling parts. We passed by Arthur Martineau, who was looking a bit peaked. The climb from the aid station to the lookout and back down certainly was hard and steep, though. As Andrew and I started up the climb, another runner and pacer came down, looking strong-tacular. We timed our out and back as being 15 minutes long, so they would be incredibly hard to catch up with, looking as good as they did. As Andrew and I came down, we saw another runner heading up. Chris Twardzik? Apparently he had come back from the land of the dead and was now 10 minutes behind us. I had visions of him passing me at the last few minutes of White River the other month, and vowed not to let that happen again. We picked up our pace some more.
The Cardiac Needles after Thorpe were quite steep, and definitely got our hearts racing. As we topped out on the last of them, we found the strong-tacular runners sitting by the side of the trail. They said "this is where runners come to die". I guess looks are deceiving. Our climbing for the race mostly over, Andrew and I descended towards the lights of French Cabin aid station. I had been looking forward to the bacon at French Cabin for the whole race. As we arrived to the aroma of bacon cooking, however, I became worried that trying something new (meat and grease) might cause my stomach problems. I had come to a gentleman's agreement with my stomach on how we would work together, and I decided not to upset the balance, so I had a PBJ instead. The aid station volunteer said the bacon was not ready in any case. Maybe he was just being nice.
After a final short climb out of the basin, it was all downhill, and we picked up our speed. We dropped down into Silver Creek basin and started to motor along. My legs and body were feeling great, and a steady flow of endorphins kept me feeling electric. I told Andrew once or twice to pick up the pace, and when he started to walk up on of the hills (which had been our MO through the night), I chided him. Now is the time to run with the wind. Or like the wind, or whatever.
As we dropped down to Silver Creek aid station, I ate three Gus (which was more than I had eaten during the rest of the race combined) for quick energy, and we motored right through the aid station and onto the roads/paths that would lead us back into Easton. I caught myself glancing behind us, nervous that someone would catch up with us at the last second. Once we were entering Easton, however, I saw there was nobody close (the next finisher was 20 minutes behind us) and I relaxed enough to pick up aluminum cans along the way to recycle when we finished. Andrew and I crossed the finish line in 21:23:20 in 6th place. Kathy arrived 10 minutes after we finished, and while she did not get to see us finish, I'm glad she was there.
We all hung out at the finish line for a couple hours, chatting with other runners, pacers and volunteers and enjoying the camaraderie of the sport. Special thanks to Charlie Crissman, the race director, for all of his efforts to make this race happen, as well as to the numerous volunteers who spent the whole night out on the course and made sure that we runners were healthy and happy. I was definitely happy.
The Ptarmigan Traverse is a classic 5+ day traverse along the crest of the North Cascades. John Commiskey and Susan Ashlock joined me on a recent trip. John and I had tried doing the traverse two years ago, but I had an inflamed tendon before we started (from running White River 50 mile trail run the week before) and I made us turn back at Koolaid Lake when I realized I was going to be limping (or worse) the whole way.
On Monday morning (8/17) we met Bob Coleman, who travelled with us to Suiattle River Road to drop off the car, then shuttled us up to Cascade Pass TH where we would start our trip. Thanks Bob! We all hiked up together up easy switchbacks to Cascade Pass, then Susan, John and I said our goodbyes to John and headed out on the climbers trail up to Cache Col. We ascended the glacier unroped to the col and dropped down scree fields on the other side to Koolaid Lake. Not wanting to stop quite yet, we headed over to the Red Ledges, which is a short scrambling section on an otherwise modest day. We scrambled about twenty feet from a steep snowfield up onto the ledges, then traversed across one or two gullies before it opened up again. John dislodged a boulder as heavy as he was during the climb to the ledge, and it crashed down into the moat between snow and rock. Susan was luckily out of the way below him, but it reminded us that mountaineering is an inherently dangerous activity that requires constant attention. Shortly after bypassing the Red Ledges, we found a heather bench next to a stream, and settled in for beautiful views of Formidable and a gorgeous sunset.
We rose at dawn on Tuesday (6am), our usual wakeup time. We made a descending traverse to bypass a rib, then climbed alongside the Middle Cascade Glacier to about 6600 feet before roping up and walking onto the glacier. We dropped a short bit to avoid icefall and crevasses above us, then headed straight up the center of the glacier, occasionally bypassing a crevasse in the way. We reached the Spider/Formidable col, then dropped down a very steep snowfield on its backside before traversing right towards a saddle on a ridge south of Forbidden.
At the saddle, we prepared to climb Formidable. None of us had a summit pack, so we dropped food and gear from our packs that we did not need. John decided to stay with the packs after eyeing the scree-filled gully we would have to descend; he was on vacation after all and had enough scree for the day.
Susan and I use the beta from summitpost to choose our route to climb Formidable. We traversed across a basin a then traversed a rib that bisected the south basin. In order to bypass a cliff band above us, we could either choose a gully option or a ledge option - they said the ledge option was easier except for a very exposed section, so we decided to choose the gully, as we felt good about our climbing abilities. I felt like everything was fairly exposed, but at least in a gully you get to use your hands and your feet. We stayed right up the gully and climbed past a short class 5 alcove before reaching easier grades above. We scrambled the upper sections, aiming for the leftmost of several summit stacks, and made it to the top after some exposed but fairly straightforward scrambling.
Getting down made me a bit more nervous. I spent extra time downclimbing in order to focus on what I was doing and not slip or dislodge rocks on Susan below me. We downclimbed the gully (one at a time) that we had gone up, and eventually made it to easier ground below. A traverse back across the basin brought us to John and our packs. Whew! The route was a bit more chossy and exposed than I liked, but the day was perfect and the views were incredible. We grabbed our packs and dropped down to Yang Yang Lakes to camp.
On Wednesday, we followed a trail onto a ramp that headed up to the ridge leading to LeConte mountain. At the upper end of the ramp, we had to scramble up a steep dirty section for a couple hundred feet to attain the ridge. The ridge itself is was wide and flat and very easy going. After we reached the low point in the ridge (good bivy spots, but not much flowing water) we hiked up a couple hundred more feet and then traversed leftward onto snow, then made an ascending traverse of the snow onto the side of LeConte mountain. From afar, the traverse looked very steep, but it was quite moderate. We continued to traverse, dropping to a corner of LeConte glacier where we roped up and worked our way up past a couple crevasses, then headed up towards a gap on the right of the glacier below Sentinel Peak.
On the other side of the gap, we traverse rock/scree all along the west and south side of Sentinal Peak until we could drop down onto the South Cascade Glacier, a fairly flat glacier which stretched the length of the valley below us. Crossing the upper part of the glacier (no rope or crampons) , we crossed a gap on its south side and then descended steep scree slopes to White Rock Lakes. It was a hot day, and we enjoyed a good foot soak. John wanted to camp at White Rock Lakes (it was 3pm), as Pat had mentioned what a beautiful spot it was. Susan wanted to go on to Itswoot Ridge to be in good position for Dome and Sinister tomorrow; I decided to stay at White Rock Lakes - it was a classic camp site and we had it all to ourselves. We would get up in the morning at 5am instead of 6am, however, so that we could have a good shot at Dome Peak the next day. We camped with beautiful views of Dana Glacier across the valley, and we pondered at what our route would be, as it all looked impossible (foreshortening at work again). Susan, always full of energy, decided to hike part of the next day's route as a scouting mission, and came back at dinnertime with reports that the route was once again very moderate.
I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking that John was grinding his teeth. No wonder he needed a vacation. It must be the stress of work. I looked outside our tent to see a goat chewing on the heather a short ways off. After shooing it away, the grinding noises stopped. We put our boots and poles in the tent (we always kept our food in the tent, in odor-proof bags) so as not to lose them to the goat if it came back.
On Thursday, we woke pre-dawn to alpenglow. Susan led us on her pre-scouted route to the base of the Dana Glacier, and we climbed along rock and snow sections until we reached a spot where we could easily enter the glacier, although we ended up much higher and to the right of the area for which we were aiming. We crossed a lot of blue ice with small crevasses and melted out sections and ascended to the pass at the top of the glacier near Spire Point. From here, we traversed a snowfield and climbed down scree/boulders on the other side, trying to figure out how to start traversing east without losing too much altitude. In retrospect, we should have dropped all the way down Itswoot ridge to the bivy sites, left our packs, and took an established trail across heather below the many scree fields and ribs on the south side or the ridge that aimed for Dome Peak. We went a harder way with our packs, and after much scrambling, decided to leave them in order to make better time to Dome and back. John decided he had enough scrambling for the day and planned to meet us back at our gear drop in five hours or so.
Susan and I headed out for Dome Peak with lightened loads, gradually ascending up snowfields aiming for the upper part of the Dome Glacier. We crossed some very tricky glacier-scoured slabs. A few moat crossings between the snowfields and rocks were tricky as well. We attained the Dome Glacier and traversed over to a flat area below the Dome/Chickamin col. From here we had to skirt between several huge crevasses at the base of the col (I was a little more nervous as there was only two of us now on the rope), then climb up dirt/rock (ok in crampons), dropping onto a steep snowfield on the other side. From here we climbed a couple hundred more feet up steep snow to sandy benches, then headed up the benches to the summit. I opted for the easy summit (probably two feet lower than the true summit) that I could comfortably sit at, while Susan scrambled around on an exposed 100 foot long arete in an attempt to see which of the small bumps on the arete was the tallest. Once she was satisfied, we headed back down the way we came, and met back up with John - round trip time from our gear drop was 6 hours.
With our full packs again, we decided to drop down to heather meadows and pick up the established trail that took us easily to Itswoot Ridge. A stream ran briskly by the camp spots along the ridge, and Glacier Peak commanded our view southward as we settled in to camp. Shortly before dark, a thunderstorm passed 15 to 20 miles east of us, and we saw the lightning flashing east and north of Dome Peak. Five drops of rain fell on us.
Friday morning, clouds filled the valleys a few hundred feet below us, but dawn sparkling off Glacier Peak enticed us out of our tents. Enjoying the last views of the mountains, we dropped down into the clouds for the long slog back to the car. Slick dirt, wet brush, slide alder and avalanche debris awaited us during the course of our 15 mile trek down Bachelor and Downey Creek basins to the trailhead. The road was closed due to washouts, so we slogged another 9 miles down Suiattle River Road to the car. The trail was quite reasonable for the most part, though, and bountiful blueberry bushes helped soften our sorrow as we winded our way slowly back to civilization and milkshakes at the Darrington Burger Shack.
Between Cache col on the first day and Downey Creek on the last day, we saw no other people. The skies were sunny and beautiful every day. The mountains were gorgeous. We climbed a couple very remote peaks and crossed several glaciers that you cannot see from any road. We are definitely happy campers.
James Varner had apparently hooked up with GreenTrails and contracted to GPS several of the trails down by Mount Rainier for them. He asked if I'd like to help provide logistical support for him for the first half of the week (aka a car), and I told him to sign me up. Time for a run-cation! We also decided to get a training run in on the Cascade Crest course before heading down.
I met James and his friend William on Saturday evening (August 1st) at the pizza place in Rosalyn. Our mission was to run from Kachess Lake (mile 68) to Silver Creek(mile 96) on the CC100 course. We drove to Silver Creek, set up tents and dropped off a car, then headed over to Hyak, arriving at 10pm. From Hyak (mile 53), we drove the logging roads on which we would be running all the way to Kachess Lake. Then about 11pm, we got ready to run.
I can understand now why people go so slow on this section of the course. The rocks, roots and off-camber trail kept us alert and on our toes, especially at night. We spent an hour and a half to go the 5 miles to Mineral Creek, and we were fresh. The next dozen miles took us up over 3000 feet to Thorpe Mountain, where there is a lookout. We couldn't see much at 3am, though. Next came the Cardiac Needles (some steep up and downs that will be painful after 90 miles of running) , and then a nice long downhill to Silver Creek. We arrived at 6:30am (7.5 hours) and promptly crawled into our tents for a four hour nap.
James and I dropped off William at his car back at Kachess Lake, then we headed down to Clearwater Wilderness area to do some trail running. We drove up a road just off the Carbon River and hiked in a mile or so from the trailhead to set up our tents at Twin Lakes.
On Monday we "ran" a 27 mile loop through the Clearwater wilderness. The first few miles and the last few miles were well maintained, and had beautiful views of Mt Rainier. The rest of the trail was either overgrown or covered with blown down trees, and we struggled to stay on track for most of the day. The last section of unmaintained trail traversed the top of a rocky ridge that required some scrambling. After 10 hours of running/bushwhacking/scrambling/wandering, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.
On Tuesday we went to Poch Peak area, along the road to Mowich Lake. The trails here were ORV trails, but many were in reasonable shape for trail running. We saw one vehicle the whole day, so we didn't have to worry too much about motorized traffic. In order to cover all of the trails, we made several loops, and retraced our steps in spots. 4WD roads criss-crossed the trails as well. This area was not a place I would normally go to run trails, but it was interesting to see once. We covered about 25 miles that day, then headed to Mowich Lake campground. We ran the Grindstone trail (a short trail that really goes nowhere) before bed.
On Wednesday, we ran the Spray Park loop plus some extra side trails. The trail started only yards from our campsite, so we could roll out of bed and start running. I really enjoyed running on well-maintained trails again, especially through such beautiful scenery. The Wonderland Trail is definitely one of my favorites. The wildflowers were abloom up in Spray Park as well. We dropped down to the Carbon River and followed it down to Ipsut campground. Then we headed back up and over Ipsut Pass, which was a somewhat technical grind at the end, and the hot sun took its toll on me. My ankle was killing me as well, and so I threw in the towel. I headed back to Mowich Lake to finish the loop, while James added an extra 3.5 mile side trip to (I forget) Lake, and met me back at the campground. He also had an extra spur section to run on the Wonderland Trail, so I drove him down to the park entrance, from where he ran the spur out to the Wonderland Trail, then ran the WT back up to our campground. Meanwhile, I made us dinner and drank a cold beer.
James' friend William showed up late Wednesday night to take over for me, just in time, too. I was beat. I had covered 100 miles of somewhat difficult terrain over the last four days, and I was ready to go home. James continued on for the next 3 days, covering trails between Mowich Lake and Paradise, and then into the Tatoosh range. He'll definitely be ready for the Cascade Crest race, having put in almost 200 miles over the course of the week. Impressive.
I decided to "become a runner" this year and upped my trail running to a base of 50 miles per week. My ultimate goal is to run Cascade Crest 100 mile race coming up on August 29th, but I also decided that I wanted to do well in the Washington Ultra Series. After a solid performance in the Capitol Peak 50 mile race earlier this year, I might even win the Ultra Series, so I decided to try my hardest at White River this year. I really wanted to to beat Chris Twardzik, who I always seem to be chasing down at the end of trail races this year. He has started to run a lot of 50km trail runs this year and has been doing really well.
I drove up to White River with Murray Maitland on Friday night to check in. Adam Hewey heckled me a bit about just turning 40. He is 41 and had his eye on the prize money for the top 5 Masters finishers; however, I decided not to join the USATF and so was not eligible. I was pretty sure that I could finish in the top 5 Masters, but I wanted to enjoy my race without feeling like I was competing with everyone. Murray and I headed back to our campsite at Buck Creek (within earshot of the starting line) to prepare for the morning's race.
The race started at 6:31am on Saturday morning after we waited an extra minute for Scott Jurek to get to the starting line. I intentionally stayed in the middle of the pack for as long as I could, and after 15 minutes of warming up, I moved my way slowly up through the field until I was right behind Chris Twardzik. I ran behind him for a while, but once we reached the hills, I decided to push myself a little harder and see if I could create a sizeable lead before the turnaround at Corral Pass at mile 17. I caught up with the next group of runners and followed them as we worked our way up to Ranger Creek. There were two women in our group of runners: Kami Semick and Prudence L'Heureux. They would be fighting it out for first place.
At Corral Pass (mile 16.9, 2:44), I was feeling great. I remember two years ago, I reached Corral Pass and I didn't want to leave the aid station as I was already feeling the pain. It's amazing how much training helps. Chris Twardzik was two minutes behind me. As there were a lot of early starters, I couldn't really tell how I was doing as far as position went, but I was definitely on pace for a sub-8:20 finish (10 minutes/mile), which was my goal.
The downhill from Ranger Creek to Buck Creek was the best part of the course: soft easy downhills with long switchbacks let me pick up the pace without hurting myself. I was feeling even better. I heard footsteps behind me and saw Adam Hewey trying to reel me in. At Buck Creek (mile 27.2/4:10) , I stopped for him so that we could run together up the steep climb to Suntop. It was good to have company, and time flew by as we mostly hiked the climb under mostly cloudy skies. We caught up with Phil Kochik as well, and the three of us stuck mostly together all the way to Suntop. We passed Kami Semick during this section, which really made my day. Kami was more worried about where Prudence was, but we hadn't seen her and figured that she was a fair ways back. Kami seemed relieved.
At Suntop (mile 37/6:05), we started the quad-busting 7 mile downhill on a logging road to Skookum Flats. I had a blister on my heel that was increasingly bothering me, but I ignored it and pushed on. Phil, Adam and I all ran this together, although I was working a little harder than they were. I still felt good, but in retrospect I should have been more concerned with eating and drinking in preparation for the last section through Skookum Flats.
We quickly breezed into Skookum Flats aid station (mile 43.4/6:50). I looked for a few Gus to pep me up, but didn't see any. I quickly filled up one of my bottles with water, thinking that was all I would need for the last 6.6 miles to the finish. Adam and Phil left the aid station and I charged after them, but after a few hundred yards, I had to stop to eat something. After that, I couldn't get going again. I had bonked. I struggled to run, but hiked some of the harder parts. I nibbled at another cookie that I had in my waist pouch. I drank the last of my water and realized that I was overheating as well. The day was really heating up. The minutes seemed to drag by, and Adam and Phil were long gone. Then Chris Twardzik flew by, looking good. Ugh. I pushed myself to run as much as I could. Only 15 more minutes. When I saw the road, I gained some renewed vigor and ran in to the finish: 7:50:15. Very respectable and about a half hour better than I had been aiming for.
Adam and I headed down to White River to soak our feet, where we joined some of the trail running luminaries (Uli Steidl, Mike Wardian, William Emerson). Then I hobbled to the medical tent to have them clean the grit out of my blister, which covered most of my heel. I really enjoyed hanging around and chatting with the other runners. The finish line at White River is a very social place and most people hang out and cheer on the other runners that are coming in. Murray said that he was planning on running in 10 hours, so I had a few hours to relax and recover while waiting. After Murray finished (10 seconds ahead of schedule), we enjoyed some post-race BBQ and then drove home, happy and satisfied. I'll definitely be back next year.