The last couple of weekends, I’ve headed out to new-to-me trails with a group of friends. It’s been fun to explore new places, and it’s reminded me even when training, while the ol’ faves are faves for a reason, the world is big and it’s worth the time to do some dreaming, look at maps, read some trip reports, and go seek out the unknown.
At the end of April, two carloads of us headed out to Thunder Creek as part of a birthday celebration. We parked at a mostly deserted Colonial Creek Campground, which hasn’t opened yet for the summer season, and shared exclamations over the sunshine and warm temps. (In Seattle, it was foggy and dreary, and we anticipated colder temps in the mountains. I love it when nature surprises me!)
After passing through the campground, we started a planned 12-mile roundtrip jaunt upstream. Shortly, the trail crossed a bridge, which took us across Thunder Creek and to the east side of the river. Sarah attempted to replicate her Colorado River bridge crossing photo here, but it wasn’t quite as successful this time.
We’d stay on this side of the river for the rest of our way. For the first few miles, we remained in the green forest—surrounded by the ferns and moss we’re so accustomed to. There were many crossings of feeder streams, which we started out hopping from rock to rock to cross and later accepted that approach as a lost cause and simply ran or walked through.
The highlight of this section of trail were the old trees towering above us.
After a few miles, the trail worked its way above the river and noodled along a side slope a couple hundred feet above the river. This was a fun section, with some little steep ups and downs, but generally runnable. Trail gnomes haven’t been out yet, and there are quite a few trees down across the trail.
Our turnaround point was just before McAllister Camp, at about six miles. Here, the trail had dropped back down to the river, and the river—which was broad and relatively calm downstream—was squeezed into a tight canyon that made for some nice white water a great place to take some pictures.
As always seems to happen when I’m on a trail by a river, on the way back downstream I realize how much up we’d been doing on the way out. This made for a much quicker trip back to the cars.
After a quick stop at the cars to dump some gear, four of us headed across Highway 20 for a quick hike Thunder Knob for some advertised views of Ross Lake. This is a quick 3+ miles that started with an icy river ford. The water was just below knee deep and was cold enough it made my feet ache after about halfway across.
We quickly started ascending and were surprised by the change in climate compared with the Thunder River Trail—here we were in pines, with much less undergrowth and much more sunshine and exposure. About a mile up, we paused to enjoy the view of Colonial Peak and we surprised by a territorial rufous hummingbird. This little guy did not like our being there at all, and buzzed us several times, up close and very personal! He was a beauty, with the classic coppery red throat that typifies the male rufous.
At the top of Thunder Knob are view-enjoying benches (which are also very inviting for nap taking on a sunny warm day after a long wet PNW winter!). However, our favorite part here was a very friendly … well, OK, let’s go with calm … snake who posed for pictures and seemed as interested in us as we were in him.
Our buddy, Mr. Snake (a racer of some sort)
Post script: I later spent some time looking at my Green Trails map, thinking it’d be fun to continue further up Thunder River to explore some more as the snow continues to melt. That’s when I realized, duh!, Thunder River is part of the UltraPedestrian Easy Pass route. Well, that makes this a no-brainer, as Easy Pass has been on the list for a bit now.
With the Middle Fork Trail currently closed due to a landslide earlier this year, it was a question where to go last weekend for a relatively flat middistance run last Saturday. The Snoqualmie Lake Trail was suggested, with Otter Falls as a destination, and then a continuation beyond there to our goal distance for the day. We had many of the same cast of characters, with Ana and Paula joining us this time but with Callista and Nina off on other adventures.
Photobombing Will Run For Whisky
Ana almost ran me over!
This was another follow-the-river-upstream trail—runnable, but much faster going back downstream! The trail between the parking area and the turnoff to the the falls is an old logging road the forest is gradually reclaiming; it’s kind of rocky and doesn’t feature many views beyond the moss, ferns, and trees (and trillium, because it is spring, y’know).
We were on the lookout for a cairn shortly after a stream crossing at about 5 miles. This would mark the turnoff for Otter Falls. It was very easy to find.
Otter Falls allegedly cascades 1,200 feet, but you can only see the lower 500 feet. That’s OK; it’s totally amazing. (A guy launched his drone just as we were getting ready to leave, and I admit to being curious about whether he would be getting images of those upper 700 feet.)
Back to Snoqualmie Lake Trail, we continued on our way. We wanted to turn around at 6 miles for a total of 12, and conveniently encountered this tree down across the trail at right about the 6 mile point.
Post script: So, who knew? I had never been to Otter Falls or the Snoqualmie Lake Trail, but on our way back we passed mountain bikers and many other hikers. I clearly need to get out more.
It’s been cold in Seattle lately. Not Minnesota cold, or Canada cold, but pretty cold for us. An awesome thing about cold weather in Seattle is that we can see all those gorgeous, snow-covered peaks that hide behind the clouds most of the winter. The other thing it means is that all those muddy trails freeze, and the forest takes on a new aura: no longer dripping and dark and mysterious, it becomes bright and sharp and gives me the sense of living things just waiting for warmth to wake up again.
This weekend my friend Christy and I headed out for a planned 24-mile run on the Middle Fork Trail, which runs alongside the Snoqualmie River, and discovered a wonderland.
We pulled into a frost-covered parking lot around 9 a.m. and were on the trail by 9:15. The trail is accessed by a beautiful arching bridge over the Snoqualmie River, and it was covered in layers of frost. The trail then noodles its way upstream, sometimes up, and sometimes down, through many little drainages, winding through the forest, always offering beauty along the way.
We marveled over the many microclimates we ran through—gloves and hat on, off, on, off, and so on, throughout the day. Sometimes we were surrounding by green, and other times the world was white with frost.
Ice curlicues that grow out of the mud were everywhere in the frosty sections.
We enjoyed venturing through the changing forest, and marveled over how there would be distinct boundaries marking areas of frost. Then we were surprised to find the world encased in ice.
We speculated at length over where the ice came from—frost that melted and then refroze? last week’s rain shifted to sleet as the weather changed? It became a v-e-r-y slow mile or so as we hoped the ice would end and we could continue our run, and then became a photo session for me as I went from discovery to discovery.
So, we did it! Heidi, Sarah, Wendy, and I completed the R2R2R on Friday. It’s now Sunday, and I’m finally starting to be able to pull my thoughts together enough to at least try to articulate what I experienced—from the never-ending vistas that just kept unfolding to the physical challenge, the jokes and hilarity we shared, and definitely the pain we all experienced too. (Update: It’s now Thursday … and maybe this will go up today. I’ve been sucked back into “real life” so quickly that time is flying.)
R2R2R was fun, amazing, horrible, awesome, painful, all the things! I think I’m going to try to unpack this by parceling the experience by sections of the trails, but first I’ll share the list of feedback we developed for the NPS. Developing this list was unendingly funny to us: you know, funny in that way that only an intense shared group experience can create. I had that on a two-week backpacking trip in the Sierras with my brother and two of his friends back in college, where we still quote some pieces from the Mad Libs we did on that trip. I hope some of the ones from the Grand Canyon stick as long.
The Phantom Ranch canteen hours really need to be expanded. We came through too early for snacks and caffeine in the morning, and we came in too late for anything in the evening. Boo!
The NPS should allow Amazon Prime drone orders to be delivered in the canyon. They’d make a killing on a cut of the take: We would have paid a premium for an ice-cold Coke our second time through Phantom Ranch.
They may not realize it, but they’ve done a poor job of housekeeping on the lower parts of the Bright Angel Trail. I mean, really, they’ve let the sand build up to several inches deep! And that SUCKED after close to 40 miles. Some serious trail work with a broom is desperately needed!
Why don’t they have emergency mule service? Like 1-800-MULE-CAB? They could make a killing on that too.
Back to the Phantom Ranch canteen—they have beer but no sodas? What’s up with that?!
Thumbs up on the ventilated, very clean composting toilets that are spaced every few miles, along with the potable spring water nearly as frequently provided.
For me, doing R2R2R was a goal—but perhaps more of a dream, because “goal” sounds like something you check off and this was more something that fed my heart and soul—for a couple of years. I don’t really remember when I first heard of people running it, but once I did it stuck. And last year, when my friends and I started talking about focusing on going on great adventures with great friends rather than always looking for something with a race bib and timer, I brought this up as an option. Over the spring and summer, it started firming up, and then a Facebook event page was created, and then we booked plane tickets, and then all of a sudden it was time to go do it!
R2R2R basically means you start at one side of the Grand Canyon, go down to the bottom, go up the other side, and then turn around and go right back down and then up to the side you started on. We decided to start on the South Rim, descending the South Kaibab Trail, going up the North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim, and then back down the North Kaibab Trail and up the Bright Angel Trail. This involves some 47ish miles and somewhere in the range of 11,000–12,000 feet of gross elevation gain and loss.
Some people run all or most of it, and complete it in very short order. The current fastest known time (FKT) for the full R2R2R is 5 hours, 55 minutes, and 20 seconds. It would be awesome to be able to run like that! We finished in just under 20 hours, and I’m not sure I would call it a run: Sure we wore our trail runners, and we used our running packs, and we did run parts, but we also did a lot of “purposeful hiking.” No shame there, but for those for whom technicalities matter I want to be clear that it’s hard for me to call this a run even though I’ll refer to it as a run throughout.
Preparation: Thursday, October 5, Phoenix to Grand Canyon Village
We started the day with a quick shake-down run in South Mountain Park, on a trail that started just outside the door of our condo. It was good to move after packing and traveling most of the day before.
After a quick trip to REI because someone couldn’t find her sunglasses when she was packing (yep, that’d be me—doh!), and a yummy breakfast at Biscuits (I totally recommend them if you’re in Phoenix), we packed up the rental car and started heading north. For lunch, we detoured to Sedona (gorgeous!) and started some new dreams looking at the trails there … but no, we had to focus on this trip’s objective first! We drove up the lovely Oak Creek Canyon, and then after running into some road construction that delayed us by 15 or 20 minutes, we were back on the main highway. We stopped in Williams to stock up on food and got a kick out of the Route 66 signs. We finally arrived at Grand Canyon Village right at sunset.
With four of us trying to sort gear and make decisions about food, clothing layers, emergency supplies (read: 10 essentials), and water, every surface in our hotel room at the Maswick Lodge was covered. How many calories would we need? What would appeal and what would we be able to eat during the run? What clothes would we need with a temperature range of 36 degrees in the morning and 85 to 90-plus degrees in the afternoon? There were some hilarious moments as we found, lost, and then refound stuff we had laid out on the beds, but we finally got it together and were in bed around 10 p.m.
South Rim: South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Creek (6.4 miles, net –4,860 feet)
Alarms rang at 3 a.m., and we got ready pretty efficiently. We had the phone number for a taxi service that runs in Grand Canyon Village, and the taxi picked us up right at our planned 3:45 to take us to the trailhead. Our taxi driver was a bit odd, but he got us to our destination at 3:59 a.m. (We were one minute early—a miracle!) When we asked the taxi driver to take our picture, he said no, he had another call waiting for him, and he took off. Hmmmph! Fortunately, a couple walked up just then, and we got our preadventure group picture after all.
To us city-dwellers, it was dark-dark out, but once our eyes adjusted the harvest moon illuminated the outlines of the canyon and various formations as we descended. There was lots of whooping and hollering, we were so excited to finally be on the trail!
It was such a thrill to see the Colorado River as the sun rose, realizing we were close to our first major milestone of the trip. After another 20 (or 30? or 40? or 500?) switchbacks we crossed the Colorado River on the Black Bridge.
The river is brownish from the sediment it carries downstream and flowing fast. There are plenty of signs suggesting that trying to swim in it is a really bad idea. My National Geographic map warns that “Swimming [in the Colorado River] can be fatal.” Guess I’ll skip that adventure!
As I look back on it, I think I found South Kaibab to be more challenging than I had anticipated. I’m the one who loves letting loose on the downhills, right?, but it was steep, with lots of waterbars and rocks, and I know I was being conservative because I was worried about getting injured so early into the adventure. It was also kind of emotional, because it marked the first leg of the adventure that I had dreamed about for so long, and there were times when I couldn’t help but stop and soak it in, thinking, “We’re finally really doing this!!!”
After crossing the Colorado, it was a quick scamper down the trail to Bright Angel campground. The campground sits along the banks of Bright Angel Creek, just upstream from where it joins the Colorado River. We’d be following Bright Angel Creek for much of the next portion of our journey. After our first water refill of the day, and a quick stop in the fully plumbed bathroom, we turned toward North Kaibab Trail and Phantom Ranch.
I loved seeing Phantom Ranch; it’s been kind of mysterious and “far away” since I had first visited the Grand Canyon with my mom on a mother-daughter trip some 20+ years ago. It’s actually not that exciting of a place, but I enjoyed the resident deer nibbling on the ranch’s trees and grass … especially this determined one who was using the fence designed to protect the trees as a way to reach the tree’s apparently yummy leaves.
Colorado River to North Rim via the North Kaibab Trail (14.3 miles, net +5,790 feet)
The Grand Canyon isn’t a canyon that’s singular. Everywhere you go, new canyons appear, new features are exposed, and new springs and creeks pop up. For the next seven and a half miles we trekked along the cheery and gurgling Bright Angel Creek, which has carved its own subcanyon that veers away from the Colorado River to the northeast.
These seven-plus miles are a delight, with around a 1,000–2,000 feet gain spread over the distance. Bridges took us across the creek numerous times, and we encountered probably 30+ day hikers, backpackers, and trail runners along the way. We were able to see Ribbon Falls from the trail and decided to skip the side trip because we were behind schedule.
We refilled all our water bladders and flasks at Cottonwood Campground, prepping for the big climb as the sun (and the temps) continued to rise. The climbing is gradual at first, and slowly steepens toward Manzanita, which has water and a ranger facility, and then gets serious about ascending from there.
It’s really hard to put the climb to the climb up North Kaibab Trail up to the North Rim into any kind of coherent sequence or frame.
I remember marveling over the changing colors of the earth—reds, whites, blues, greens, oranges, blacks—not only on the cliffs towering above but even in the dirt of the trail. I’d hike on orange dirt, and then it’d turn black, and then white, and then orange again.
There were cliffs that I can’t even describe, towering above us and carved by wind and water over the millennia.
There were places where the trail was carved into the cliffside, with a huge drop on one side and more towering cliffs above us.
There was Roaring Springs, another place for water—which we foolishly skipped—where a spring-fed waterfall cascaded down the cliff across from us.
And there was heat, and sun, and I started to suffer. I was hot and starting to feel a little woozy and off kilter. With about four miles still to go before the top, I started to worry about whether my water would hold out. I tried to just keep plugging away, but with about two and a half miles to go, I called out to the rest of the group and sat down in the shade.
Friends are wonderful, and going on adventures with friends is wonderful. But, I think sometimes you realize the depth of the friendship you have with some people only when you’re at a dark moment. Heidi handed me a flask of Tailwind, Wendy gave me some gulps of water from her flask and some life-saving Sour Patch Kids (who knew? in “real life” I think those things are disgusting!), and I suddenly felt better.
In this section of trail, the earth is orange-red but above us the cliffs were a fascinating white striped with blacks, grays, and greens. This was one of my favorite features, so striking. We continued on and after another half mile or so, we hit our next landmark, the Supai Tunnel.
Just beyond the tunnel is another water fountain—hallelujah!—and we doused our OR ice sleeves in water, filled up again, and headed up. We hit our first mule train a few minutes later, but they passed us quickly, and we were quickly able to continue.
As we gained altitude on North Kaibab, we moved from cactus and manzanita to juniper trees and other high desert plants. In the last mile, we were surprised with the red and yellows of fall colors decorating aspen and maple trees.
As we climbed, I tried to avoid thinking “I’m almost there,” because as the canyon unfolds there seems to always be another layer to ascend that you couldn’t see before. But as the number of day hikers increased and the sky opened up again, I knew we had made it! We popped out at the trailhead of the North Rim and oohed and aahed over the views, ate some, and refilled water (although little was needed since we’d refilled only two miles previously).
There’s a bit of a side story here too. Our friends, Angel and Tim Mathis, have a venture called Boldly Went. They host adventure storytelling forums, connect adventurers, and produce a weekly podcast, among many other related things. On our drive from Phoenix the day before, we had listened to a few episodes of the Boldly Went podcast. In one, Angel describe the term “yogi-ing”; it’s used by through-hikers (people going the full length of trails like the PCT or Appalacian Trail) to describe the subtle approach to bumming yummy snacks off other hikers. Well, at the North Rim, we encountered a couple of people who were supporting several R2R2Rers and who just happened to have a cooler of cold drinks. We decided to give yogi-ing a try, and managed to bum an ice-cold can of Coke from them. Seriously, this Coke—which the four of us shared—was the best thing in the universe.
Wendy texted this picture to Angel, celebrating our success with yogi-ing, and I texted my husband, Mike, with a progress update, and then we were off!
You would think that going downhill would be easier than up. In a way it is, but it also becomes grueling when you’re doing it for miles. My BD z-poles became crutches as I navigated hundreds of rock drops and water bars.
We were now descending the same nearly 6,000 feet that we had climbed over the previous several hours. Our landmarks were the same, but they came up more quickly, and we focused on maintaining our fluids and food as we still had a long way to go. At a water stop at Manzanita, we signed the message board: HHRG R2R2R Wendy, Heidi, Sarah, Ellen. Who knows how long it will be there or who will see it?
After Cottonwood Campground, we had the seven and a half miles along the Bright Angel Creek to traverse again. Here, Sarah and I felt the urgency of the waning daylight and set getting to Phantom Ranch before needing headlamps as a goal. Sarah and I ran most of this section together. It was fun to run a bit and feel good, and the four of us did arrive at Phantom Ranch without needing to don the headlamps.
The canteen at Phantom was once again closed, so we dug into our packs desperate to find something that would appeal and did some sharing and comparing. With water refilled, headlamps on, and stomachs sort of filled, we headed off to the Silver Bridge to cross the Colorado River again and start our journey along and up the Bright Angel Trail.
Bright Angel Trail to South Rim (9.6 miles, net +4,460 feet)
After Silver Bridge, we encountered the beach trail. As in lots and lots of sand. In all honestly, the sand was HORRIBLE after 40 miles and on now-tired legs. This is when we started getting goofy and detailing our list of improvements that we would send the NPS once we finished this thing. Seriously, didn’t they know there was this much sand on their trail? They needed to do a much better job sweeping the sand away for us!
We traversed the gently rolling trail along the Colorado for about a mile and then started heading up along Garden Creek. It was pitch-dark at first and we paused to turn off our headlamps and gaze at the stars. It was beautiful. The moon rose again and started to show us the shadows of the cliffs above us. The rocks continued to radiate the heat of the day, and we stayed warm despite the sun’s having set. Garden Creek gurgled along next to the trail, the crickets chirped, and despite being tired, I think we were all excited to be on the last leg of our journey.
Bright Angel Trail is a much gentler trail than South Kaibab. The trailhead is a bit lower, and it spreads the elevation over a greater distance. Thank goodness it was gentler! Everyone’s feet and legs were starting to hurt, we were becoming less eager to eat, and it became an act of discipline to keep moving purposefully, keep hydrating, and keep eating.
Another nice thing about Bright Angel is that the campgrounds, bathrooms, and water sources are placed closely along the trail—I think the longest stretch was a bit more than three miles. As we drained our hydration bladders, we all shifted to going with less water, which lightened our packs and made for happier backs and shoulders.
There was a fair amount of delirious hilarity as we counted scorpions and mice and other creatures on the trail. There were too many crickets to count, but we did see three mice, five live and one dead scorpions, one black widow spider, and one bat. We refined our improvement suggestions for the park service and mourned the lack of emergency mules that could have carried us the rest of the way to the South Rim. And then we grew quieter and hit that silent place, where you are suffering and just want to be done, so you set yourself to the job of getting it done and we got it done.
As we neared the top, the next day’s runners and hikers started their descents, and we watched a few runners as well as ten or so hikers heading down. The wind started to blow, and I remembering noting the folks coming down were wearing a lot of clothes compared with our shorts and t-shirts. And when we topped out, oh my gawd it was cold! Our bodies were taxed and had no ability to manage the wind and cold, and we were instantly frozen.
A woman who was sitting on a bench bundled up in blankets at the trailhead asked us about two older gentlemen she was waiting for, and we provided an update on their status (they were probably still at least an hour from topping out), and then she took our picture.
Done! 12:02 a.m. Saturday, October 7
A quarter mile walk that felt like 100 miles took us to our room, and we pulled on jackets, blasted the heat, and basically fell apart. Heidi and I sat on a bed with the comforter over our legs, inhaling chips and mango salsa. Wendy filled the tub with hot water and Epsom salt and we somehow all squeezed in to soak our aching feet. We tried to open bottles of Mexican Coke and Wendy finally found a handy lamp on the wall to pry the cap off, but ended up spraying two-thirds of the bottle on the floor in the process.
We managed quick showers and then collapsed into bed. I remember Heidi fell asleep instantly, and I’m not sure about Wendy and Sarah, but my feet were throbbing and I had a rough time getting my body to relax enough to sleep. Despite our 2 a.m. bed time, we were all up by 7:30 the next morning. Stomachs were still dealing with 20 hours of trail food, and it was difficult to eat. Walking around was an exercise in mind-over-body control, and we staggered around to a few sights and gift shops. We searched everywhere for R2R2R stickers but had to settle for a MacGyvered version.
Our adventure ended with a stay in a resort in Phoenix, where we lazed by the poolside and let our bodies recover while our minds processed all we had seen and done.
Before we left Seattle, we all took the time to think about and share our goals for R2R2R. Among our top goals were simply finishing and not rushing—taking the time to savor the sights and experiences, take pictures, and have fun together. We all agree that our trip was a resounding success! If you’re going on something big with a group, I think sharing your goals in advance is imperative. If our goals weren’t aligned, it wouldn’t have been as much fun as it was.
We were also realistic about our physical abilities and the possibility that one or more of us might struggle. Being able to be open about how I was doing on North Kaibab was so important: I was able to address the issue early on, which kept me from digging myself into a hole and having a harder time recovering.
Good group dynamics are another key to a successful adventure. Whether it was easy going and tough, we laughed and appreciated our friendship and sharing that incredible place together.
As I write, I laugh a bit at all of us too: We have a list going for 2018’s adventures, and as we suffered up the last few miles and through the past couple of days of recovery, we were crossing things off the list. I bet they’re back on there within a couple of weeks!
Finally, as always, I want to recognize the support of my husband, Mike, who encourages me to pursue my dreams and covers things on the home front for my training and adventure time. I love you, babe.
My kids put up with a lot too. Abs and Meggy, you’re the best! I love you.
Plants! I always have plant pictures, but this time saved them for the end.
And Trail Signs! That’s the other thing I always include, so here they are.
NOTE: Photo credit and copyright—Wendy Abbey, Sarah Brouwer, Heidi Flora, and me. Text copyright me.
This weekend I teamed up with five awesome adventure buddies for back-to-back days in the mountains of Olympic National Forest and Park. Day 1 was designed by a coach two of the women work with—so the rest of us were just tagging along for fun —and Day 2 was a repeat of Heidi’s birthday run route of a few years ago. Both days took us to beautiful places, so be ready for lots of pictures!
Day 1—Upper Dungeness River Trail to Goat Lake and Marmot Pass
In the old days, before kids, when I mountain biked instead of running everywhere, one of my favorite fall rides was the Lower Dungeness River Trail/Gold Creek Loop. I always wondered where the Upper Dungeness River Trail went (it’s closed to bikes), and on Friday I found out.
Sarah, Wendy, Heidi, Meredith, Nina, and I caravanned to the trailhead for a chilly 9 a.m. start. After our warm and sunny summer, it was weird dig out the jackets and gloves again.
The trail starts out much like Lower Dungeness, rolling and gently up through the forest, along the river, through carpets of green moss and elegant evergreens.
Our route directions told us to hang a couple of rights on unmarked trails at about 3.3 miles, and then make our way across the river on a log jam to find a boot track that would take us to Goat Lake. We missed the logjam and ended up wandering around a bit at Camp Handy—where we walked through the season’s first frost—but we finally found the way.
The climb up to Goat Lake is stiff: steep, unmaintained, and unrelenting, with roughly 3,000 feet gained in around 2 miles. I think it made a record for my slowest mile ever! It’s a bit of a blur of up-up-up, with some funky bushwhacking, some loose sandy stuff, some rocky stuff, some climb over trees stuff, and a few false summits.
Good thing the payoff is pretty spectacular!
The way down was a hoot and fast, and next thing we knew we were bushwhacking again to get to our log crossing. The plan was to continue up the trail to Marmot Pass for some more climbing, and Heidi, Wendy, and Meredith made the trek. (I hear that from Marmot Pass you can see out to the Sound, and a look at the map tantalizes with more mountains and trails to explore. Next time, definitely!) Nina and Sarah hung out and explored Goat Lake a bit and then headed into Port Angeles. I went up toward Marmot Pass a couple of miles, but just wasn’t feeling the mojo and turned around. Since I knew I’d have a long wait at the car, I puttered along, taking photos and enjoying the solitude along the river.
It was chilly by the time Heidi, Wendy, and Meredith reached the car, and they were thrilled I had the seat warmers on and the heater blowing. We munched on some Superhero Muffins and Cokes before packing up and heading back Highway 101.
We tracked down Nina and Sarah at the Next Door Gastropub in Port Angeles (yum!) and then went straight to our uber-functional and -utilitarian motel, showered and zonked for the night.
Day 2—High Divide/Seven Lakes Basin
After an early start (haha—actually on-trail time was 11:10 a.m. and Strava labeled it as a “lunch run”), we were off exploring again. We were supposed to meet up with our friends Lisa, Sharon, Belia, and Carol at 9:00, but they wisely chose to leave without us. We went counter-clockwise, which based on chatter on Seattle Mountain Running Group recently is the way just about everyone out for the day goes.
A short mile of rolly stuff takes you to Sol Duc Falls and the turn off to Deer Lake Trail. It’s about 3 miles to Deer Lake, and while you climb consistently the gain is only 1,600 feet so you can keep a nice pace. The lake is so pretty, but with our late start we were on a mission and kept going, now on the High Divide Trail.
There are a few little tarns above Deer Lake, and as we passed one tarn a group of five backpackers resting beside it said, “Hi,” and one said, “Hi Mom!” Amazingly, Wendy’s son was among the group—neither knew the other would be on the trail that day—and it made for a happy but brief reunion before we continued on.
As you get above these tarns, the terrain becomes more alpiney and the views continually more breathtaking. High Divide Trail traverses up, first to the intersection with the Seven Lakes Basin Trail 3.3 miles after Deer Lake (last time I was there, we took this turn and feted Heidi’s birthday at Lunch Lake) and then Bogachiel Peak about a mile later (where you can do a quick detour up for more views). We skipped both in the name of onward progress and the hope that we might catch up with the other group (but we didn’t), and especially as we had spent a lot of time distracted by the best of all trail snacks: The blueberries along High Divide Trail are ripe, and all of us—and everyone we met—had fingers and mouths stained purple from the berries.
Purple fingers = happy tummies!
As we skirted above the Seven Lakes Basin on one side and the Hoh River Valley and Mt. Olympus on the other (wowowowowowow!), Wendy was out front and suddenly
shouted, “Holy shit! Look at that bear!” The bear, apparently flushed by a group of backpackers diagonalling up from the lakes and then further startled by us coming from another direction, was running, like a full-on gallop, except I don’t think bears gallop precisely. You know how they say bears are fast? Yup, they are! It was wonderfully exciting and so impressive to see him run! He crossed the trail some 100 yards in front of us. As we passed where he disappeared into the bushes, we all chanted “hey bear hey bear” just to be sure he knew exactly where we were.
Before High Divide Trail starts heading down around mile 10, there are some nice ups and downs with continued 360-degree wowowowow views.
As we turned onto Sol Duc River Trail, I was toward the back of our group because I kept taking pictures, and I spied another bear up toward the Cat Basin Primitive Trail. This one was a big one and looked fat and content munching on berries.
We regrouped at Heart Lake (truly heart shaped), filtered water, and then headed
down. From here, we followed a drainage and soon returned to the forest. The downhill was fun, with rocks and water bars that certainly kept me focused and fewer views to distract.
The last four miles of the loop are quite runnable—a delightful way to end the day. And as we neared the end of our trail and the intersection we had turned off on to Deer Creek several hours before, the evening sun illuminated the forest and seemed to put a spotlight on the warmth of the camaraderie we all felt from being with great friends on a grand adventure outdoors.
And then, suddenly, there were a lot more people on the trail and we quickly popped up into the parking lot.
A few trail notes:
We went to Goat Lake because the climb was part of a training goal. The lake was very pretty and would be a great place to lounge and swim on a warm day, but I’m not sure I would put it on a must-do list. The trail up is kind of a pain in the butt.
For the future, exploring the area beyond Marmot Pass is definitely on the list.
For a long day, it might be fun to run the lower Dungeness River Trail and then continue on to the part we did.
Heidi’s birthday run at High Divide/Seven Lakes was a few years ago and on a Friday. I’m not sure if it was because this time we were out there on a Saturday, or if the word has gotten out on how spectacular this area is, but it was busy. There were tents at every possible camping spot and quite a few trail runners doing the loop like we were. I always find myself torn by being a trail user and the desire to keep wild places wild. As the population continues to increase, I think one key will be for all of us to practice the Leave No Trace principles.
Day 1—The full route with Marmot Pass is 22 miles and 6,900 feet gain. I had 16 miles and just over 5,000 feet gain.
Day 2—The loop was a bit over 18 miles and 4,400 feet gain.
There are still some wildflowers to be found if you’re willing to work for it. And lots of “fun guys” hiding out in the woods too.
A few weeks ago, my friend, Ana, messaged a group of us looking for run buddies for several routes that she’d planned as part of her training for Mountain Lakes 100. When I saw the UPWC Owyhigh Loop on her list, I bit! I’ve been eyeing the UPWC routes and was eager for more exploration around Rainier—new trails, new views, new challenges! This route offered it all, and made for a wonderful long day on the trails.
For those unfamiliar with the UltraPedestrian thing, you can check out their Facebook page and read about some of the amazing adventures people have been doing locally lately. The Owyhigh Loop is a new UPWC route this summer and is made up of several trails that encompass approximately 36–40 miles and 8,000-ish feet of elevation gain of the northeast side of Rainier: Fryingpan/Summerland, Wonderland, Cowlitz Divide, Eastside, and Owyhigh Lakes trails.
We projected 12–14 hours for the route, and the forecast promised heat, sun, and smoke, so on Saturday I picked Ana up from her place in Seattle at 4:30 a.m. so we could get an early start. We were on the trail by 7, and started the 2,000-foot climb up to Summerland in relatively cool temperatures. This was my fifth visit to Summerland in the past few years, and it’s one of the few “touristy” destinations that I think really live up their billing. Unfortunately, this year we missed the wildflowers, but it’s always a breathtaking place.
A little higher we began to encounter a bit of snow and a few late-blooming fields of purple daisies. As we ascended to Panhandle Gap (elevation 6,800), we ran into more snow than I’ve seen up there before, but there was nothing challenging.
We quickly joined a group of five other scenery gawkers at the Gap. Mt. Adams took over the horizon and the expanse of Ohanepecosh Park spread out below us.
We took a bunch of photos, and then started the glorious descent through down to Indian Bar. Here, there were fields of purple lupine and red and magenta paintbrush still coating the hillsides and big, fat, bumbly bumblebees were in their own kind of heaven. There were several snow crossings, but again nothing difficult. The final bit down to Indian Bar features about a million water bars, but that’s OK because I didn’t mind slowing down to look around. Within a mile or so of Indian Bar, the trail winds through fields of blueberries, which made me wonder about bears, but I didn’t see any.
I was a bit ahead of Ana when I arrived at Indian Bar, so I found some comfy rocks near the water where I could refill my hydration pack and have a snack while I waited for her. It was a nice, quiet moment to relax and enjoy the view, but Ana abruptly interrupted my reverie as she came up and exclaimed, “Did you see that bear?!” Apparently there was a bear hiding in the blueberry bushes, but s/he was content stuffing him/herself and waddled off when Ana hollered, “Hey bear!” So Ana got the points for wildlife sightings. (I don’t think the bees count.)
After Indian Bar the Wonderland Trail pushes up and out of the Ohanapecosh Park and then wanders up and down, and up and down, along a ridge. This was a busy section of the trail, with many backpackers looking pretty hot as they climbed up from Box Canyon on their way counterclockwise along the route. We leapfrogged two guys doing the full Wonderland Trail a couple of times, and passed few folks out for day hikes, but mostly just kept trucking along with the occasional stop to appreciate Rainier as well.
Just as you’re done with the ups and downs, you hit the intersection with the Cowlitz River Trail, where we started the 4-1/2 mile descent toward Eastside Trail and the Grove of the Patriarchs. Cowlitz is a nice change from the busy Wonderland Trail; we saw only two other people on this section of the route, and the trail was less worn and dusty. However, I love it when I can let loose on a descent, but Cowlitz is not one of those trails; it was more Parkour course with trees still blocking the way in places, and parts washed out with rocky drops and grooves. And while it was nice to be in the shade after the climb out of Indian Bar, it became stuffy and a bit oppressive. By the time we popped out on Stevens Canyon Road, we were both feeling a bit beat up.
We found the connecting trail after a brief hunt (cross the road and turn right; it’s only 10 feet thataway), and made our way on the Eastside Trail past Silver Falls and up to the Grove of Patriarchs. A drinking fountain for easy water refills and another snack, and then we were off. Here we had a bit of a debate over whether the UPWC route required a lap around the Grove, and I’ve never been to the Grove so was eager to see the famous towering trees, but a long line to cross the one-at-a-time suspension bridge settled it and we headed back to the Eastside Trail. (We both agreed that we were a bit—OK, a lot!—tempted to stop and swim in the river like so many others were doing here, but sucked it up and kept on going.)
Eastside Trail takes you up about 1,000 feet along a little more than 6 miles of trail and is shaded the whole way—a gentle ascent reminiscent of the Siuattle River Trail we’d run earlier this summer. There are many pretty little creek crossings and waterfalls along here, but we saw only three people on this stretch of trail.
In an odd juxtaposition to feeling like we were out in the wilderness with still a ways to go, because the trail runs parallel to Highway 123 we were serenaded by distant Harleys, the thumbing of bass speakers, and trucks most of the way. By the way, Eastside Trail is a bit overgrown in places and lots of spiders are building their webs here, so watch out!
When we reached Deer Creek we refilled with water one last time and had a snack. We now had 2,000’ of climbing over 4.7 miles to get up to Owyhigh Lakes and the beginning of our final descent.
Much of this climb is in the woods, so there were few views, and we focused on steady onward progress. As Ana reported in her blog, my stomach had begun rebelling against the journey and the day’s heat, and I don’t really remember much about the climb except that I was pretty happy when it was over.
As we arrived at Owyhigh Lakes, we herd an elk bugle and I spied a small herd of elk wading in the larger, eastern lake. (Finally, points for wildlife sightings!) When I looked back a minute later, they were running south across the meadow and looked like a flickering film reel as they went in and out of the trees in the near-dusk light.
We took a moment to find our headlamps, knowing dark would come before we got to our car. This final section is 4.6 miles down 1,600 feet, and we were thrilled to find smooth, buff trail the whole way. I was pleased to run most of this, despite my unhappy stomach, and it went by quickly. Once we reached the road, we had an easy mile on pavement to the car.
As a post-note, everyone but the cat was sound asleep when I got home, and after a quick shower I slipped into bed with heart and soul full. The next day, my husband and I packed up the car and the kids for two days of car camping—and I have to say, that hammock was mighty comfortable!
For the first time since WR50(28), I ventured back out on the “big girl” trails this weekend for an out-and-back of about 20 miles on the Wonderland Trail at Mt. Rainier. I loved running with no purpose beyond the joy of moving in a majestic landscape, and I spent much of the day oooohing and ahhhhing at the views.
We were on the trail by 7:30 and with few others on the trail we quickly gained some altitude as we ascended the ridge north of Sunrise. This takes you to an intersection with about 50 million different trail and destination options.
With Mystic Lake our destination, we continued on toward the Wonderland Trail. This first section of trail reminded me a bit of the trails in the Sierras: a bit dusty, a bit rocky, a bit large-gravel-sized sand, and featuring mind-blowing, expansive views.
After a mile or so traverse, we topped out on a ridge at 6700 feet, where we saw a marmot sunning on a rock. The hoary marmots found in the Cascades are among my favorite animals. In the Sierras, marmots kind of look like guinea pigs with rust-colored fur, but the hoary marmot is bigger and much hairier! (No pics though—he was one well-camouflaged marmot.) We also saw the elusive pika on this stretch, but he darted into his burrow before the cameras could come out.
With Skyscraper Mountain looming above our ridge-top rest, Ana had me going for a bit when she said we were going that way. But instead we started a fun, sometimes rooty switchback descent to Granite Creek at 5800 feet.
Once beyond Granite Creek we traversed generally up but sometimes down for several miles, encountering widely diverse terrain: glacial moraines, boulder fields, meadows, and classic northwest ferns and forest. About halfway between Granite Creek and Mystic Lake, we came to the toe of the Winthrop Glacier and crossed its roaring, milky runoff via a bridge made from a downed tree.
Most of the year’s wildflowers are gone now, but we still got to enjoy a few remaining red and magenta paintbrush, purple daisies, what I called “old man flowers,” and a new (to us) one we later learned is the mountain bog gentian flower (the blue and white ones, center below).
Mystic Lake looked like a great place to hang out, but there were a ton of ANTS everywhere. I shook some gravel out of my shoes, and quickly we were off again as the trail noodled its way through the meadows around Mystic Lake.
We then ascended the ridge that separates the Winthrop and Carbon glaciers. There were so many blueberry bushes and ripe blueberries here! We stopped for just a couple of berries, and then some more, and then some more. YUMMY!
From the top of the ridge, the trail headed straight downhill and we decided that at 10 miles we were at a good turnaround point.
Since the way back featured the same glorious views, rather than taking more pictures we focused on making progress—mostly downhill until we hit Granite Creek, then solid ascents back up to the base of Skyscraper, and then down and back up to the ridge above Sunrise.
With the afternoon had come the crowds, and in the last couple of miles we saw more people than we had seen the entire day. Early starts are the best!
Oh, and we did see a mountain goat. Can you find it in the image below?
We had earned a treat, and ended the day with a stop at Wapiti Woolies in Greenwater. The huckeleberry sorbet was the best!
7,411 gross gain
6 hr 30 min
–I need more diversity in my food: I had too much sweet, and too little salt and solid food.
–Get the gaiters on the new shoes: I had to dump gravel out of my shoes twice.
So, here I am starting a blog and what happens? I have a really sucky day and DNF for the first time. Do I want to write about it? Not so much. But, I learned some really important lessons and I don’t want to forget them. And, I really need to process it and I’m going to go into “stream of consciousness mode,” so watch out.
In the week leading up to White River 50, the temperatures rose into the 90s and the oppressive gloom of smoke from wildfires to north and east hung heavy over us. It was not my ideal scenario for this race, and while everyone was sending me encouraging notes I was already thinking, “I don’t really want to do this.” My head was not in the game.
If you know me, you know that I’m about as stubborn as a mule (or a donkey, or whatever the most stubborn thing in the world is … maybe as stubborn as a two-year-old?). So, of course, rather than soul searching and making a wise decision, I headed down to Crystal Mountain on Friday to pick up my race packet. Before heading down, I had to try to squeeze in a few hours of work on a hot project, then make a stop at REI for new flasks since I misplaced some heaven only knows where, and then make a run to Target to get birthday presents for the girls (they turned 8 the day after the race). All of these errands got me caught up in traffic, so when I got to Crystal I sooooo was not feeling the vibe.
Do you hear me making excuses already?
Race morning I lined up at the start line with 2 liters of water, a plan, and my head feeling a bit clearer and ready for the challenge.
The race starts with a little jog along a dirt road and then on to a single track—where we promptly piled up into the classic inchworm walk as runners navigated a few downed trees that blocked the trail. Then we were off across Highway 410 and onto the White River Trail, where we were able to start finding our pace amongst the crowd.
I hit the Camp Shepherd Aid Station right on schedule, and headed straight through as planned. Shortly after, a man in front of me tripped on a root and landed chest-first in the dirt. We were all alarmed as he didn’t move right away, but he’d knocked the air out of himself and couldn’t reassure us until he got some air back.
After that, we were all off and soon to hit the steep switchbacks that climb up the bottom of Palisades. This was my second time up Palisades, and I have to tell you it is one heck of a lot more fun to mountain bike down that it is to go up on foot. At this point, I was feeling great—eating on schedule, drinking well, minding my pace—and even had a fleeting thought, “If this goes well, maybe I will try a hundred sometime.” Ha! on me I guess.
We continued to climb, and finally reached Ranger Creek at 11.7 miles. I was surprised at this point to be feeling thirsty and a bit out of it. So I kept climbing, kept drinking, and held to my plan.
Yep, this is when things started falling apart.
After Ranger Creek, there’s a long section where runners are going both ways. Basically this means that mid- and back-of-the-packers are still going up, and the fast folks are going down. Deception Pass has a lot of out and back on singletrack, and I hated it when I did that race and I hated it now. Usually trail runners are awesome, courteous, supportive people … but something about those out and backs on singletrack brings out this I-will-not-yield thing, and I spent a lot of the next several miles jumping out of the way for other runners and feeling really grumpy about it.
Finally I reached Corral Pass—the BEST aid station on the course, since it’s run by High Heel Running Group and I got to see awesome people with huge smiles and loud cheers greet me. (I only have a photo of Wendy and me, but I saw all y’all, and thank you! You guys are the best!) It was here that I think I made a clear mistake: I wasn’t feeling that good, but I have a personal rule to get in and out of aid stations as quickly as possible. So, with my friends helping me refill water bottles and resupply food, and I tried to shove down some potato chips—and didn’t have enough spit to chew them. But, I rushed on and started my way down.
And started walking. And then desperately needed a bathroom (I’ll exclude the TMI details). And there was nowhere to go. After a couple of miles, I finally found a place I could scramble behind the trees, and thought thankfully that I could run again. This was true for a bit, and I reached Ranger Creek feeling ok. And then, I had to go again. And there was nowhere to go. Finally, after about 2 miles of walking, I found a place to scramble off the trail. Oh, thank goodness, maybe I can run now! Uh … no … GI distress struck again. And then there was Highway 410, and my wonderfully supportive husband Mike, and all I could think was GET ME TO THE PORTAPOTTIES. I blew through Buck Creek AS to get to the portapots, and started hyperventilating (which I’d never done before and it’s really rather scary when you can’t breathe), and then I said, “F it.” So I dropped.
DNF. Failure. I sucked.
I didn’t want to see anyone, or talk to anyone, and I’m still ignoring the FB posts about the race and the HHRG aid station.
Today, I feel like I’m starting to get my head back in the game. I’ve got some things coming up, no races for me but adventures that I’m very excited about. And I want to take stock of some lessons learned.
I need to commit: don’t even start … OR get it together and start out with the right attitude. Why was I there? Because I really wanted to do that race! Was I thinking about that purpose? No, I was whining about the heat and the smoke.
Never wear new socks on race day. Those suckers were sliding down my heels and driving me absolutely crazy. Not a game-stopper, but an irritant for sure.
Listen to my body and revise the plan if I need to. I think that if I had been thinking strategically, I would have stopped at Corral Pass and spent some time resting and getting my body back in line. The inability to masticate potato chips was a pretty big red flag. I was drinking the amount planned, but clearly with the weather I needed more. If I had taken the time at CP, would the GI issues have not occurred? I don’t know, but I would have had a better chance.
Don’t give up so easily. My head wasn’t in the game, my stomach wasn’t in the game, but the bottom line is that I gave up. Really. When I got to Buck Creek, again I could have sat down and spent some time seeing if I could get things back in line. But, all I could think about was the lack of places to go to the bathroom on Sun Top Trail. So I quit.
Stop eating crap food. I have a chronic form of colitis, and it is often triggered by (1) crap food and (2) stress. Sure the whole girls’ birthday thing and the rush job created stress, but in truth I know that I’ve been eating foods for months now that exacerbate things. (Y’know, like dairy, and fried foods, and wheat, and corn…) If I want to push my body and ask it to perform, I need to respect it. Maybe I can get away with it 90–95% of the time, but when another factor—like the heat—gets added to the equation, it just ain’t happening.
So, on blog post 2, here I am basically vomiting my disaster onto the page. You didn’t need to read this far. But thanks. Happier stories to come …
I love exploring new (to me) places in the mountains, and on July 9 I fed that love with a long day along the Siauttle River and then up to Image Lake. The highlight was a visit to a fire lookout with stellar views of Glacier Peak towering above neighboring ridge lines and the river valley below.
The day began along the Suiattle River, where the trail generally headed up gently, crossing many streams along the way. My friend, Ana, and I came across a lot of backpackers with their dogs (so many happy dogs!) and a group who were heading to Glacier Peak with the goal of climbing one side and the descending the other “if the mountain lets us,” they said.
We finally came to our intersection and headed up Miners Ridge. Once we made this turn, we saw very few people and truly enjoyed having the wilderness to ourselves. This next section is about five miles of climbing, and we definitely earned our Oreos/Glutinos! We lucked out with the weather, and there was a nice breeze that kept most of the bugs away and made the temps just right for that kind of climb. Climbs come with their pain, but also with their rewards. Since I had not been close to Glacier Peak before, it was reward indeed to see it gradually appear through the trees as we ascended.
At the top of the ridge, we detoured to Miner’s Ridge lookout. This is probably my favorite lookout so far! It stands high on its stilts and has 360-degree views that seemed to go on forever. (I guess that’s what lookouts should have, but seriously this one was pretty cool.)
The WTA site said that the lookout was closed to hikers, but a sign at the bottom said that we could go up (but no more than four people at a time—yikes!). It was indeed rickety, with signs warning you not to lean on the handrails. It looks like they’ve got a restoration project in process, as there are stacks of new lumber and other building supplies staged beneath the lookout.
After that, we finished our outward jaunt with a visit to Image Lake, where we filtered water and envied the two backpackers who were napping by the lake in the sun. A nap was tempting, but, no, off we headed back down the trail.
Five-plus miles down a relatively steep trail is definitely faster than up that same trail, but after a while I started to wonder whether it would ever end! I still had fun, and spent the descent practicing using poles. I’m still not sure whether I like running with them, so more practice is needed.
After this descent, we had the nine-and-a-half miles back down the Suiattle River Trail to go. The gentler grade was nice, especially as we were getting tired and ready to be done. Eventually we got there, indulged in cool drinks and some food, and then headed out for home.