This One Time, When I Fell Off a Cliff …

As a kid, both my brother and I were pretty fearless. We grew up in a part of Southern California that still had a lot of open space (we called it “the fields”) and we spent much of our childhoods running around, picking up tarantulas and lizards and snakes, building forts out of yucca stalks, stuff like that.

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My big brother.

While the fields were fun, even more exciting was The Canyon. (We said it like that, with those initial caps, because in our kids’ minds it was a formal name for an awesome place.) The canyon, which is actually called La Barranca, is a couple of miles long. From our house, we’d hike down about 300 feet to a creek and then work our way upstream with a mix of trail and boulder hopping. At the far end of the canyon, there is a waterfall with a swimming hole below it, and if you continue beyond the waterfall you ended up at the far end of our neighborhood with a couple miles’ walk on streets to get back home.

As teenagers, we’d go down there and jump off the cliffs into the swimming hole. But as a younger child, it was just an adventure to hike it.

One time, about two-thirds of the way to the falls, there were three owls sitting high up in trees. We watched their heads pivot as they followed our progress on the canyon floor.

Another time, I hiked up to the falls with my friend, Rachel, and her two yellow labs, Kimmy and Max. They were great water dogs, but by the end of the hike their claws were worn down and bleeding. That was pretty traumatic, but they made it (as did we).

But this story is about the first time I went down there.

I was six years old, and I went with my big brother, who was ten, and our dog, Bootsy. It was a grand adventure, and boulder hopping across the stream was a big deal for me. There were a couple of times I was scared and hesitated, but I really wanted to see the waterfalls my brother had told me about so I sucked it up and made my way upstream.

When we got to the waterfalls, I was pretty stoked. But when it was time to start heading home, we had a dilemma. I really didn’t want to go back downstream and deal with the boulder hopping because it was kind of scary. My brother said he thought there might be a trail that’d take us past the falls and up to the streets, and I was in favor of that.

So we made our way up a slight trail to the cliff band above the waterfall and swimming hole. As we inched along the cliff, there was a place where the rock wall jutted out slightly, making the trail quite narrow. My brother and I were able to get past it, but Bootsy couldn’t do it.

This is where my version of the story and my brother’s version diverge.

Here’s what I remember: Somehow I ended up back down on the canyon floor with the dog. I thought my brother was going to proceed upstream and see if the trail went through, and then he’d come back for me. At one point, he did come back and stopped at that point where the rock pushed out into the trail along the cliff and hollered down to me. But with the sound of the falls, I couldn’t really understand what he said.

After waiting a while, I went looking for him. I scrambled back up to the cliffside trail and went back and forth several times looking for him and yelling his name. Each time I couldn’t see or hear him, and I returned to our dog.

I finally pushed my luck and went past that place where the rock jutted out once too many. I lost my balance and fell.

Here’s what I remember: I remember thinking “oh no, I’m falling!” I remember sitting cross-legged in the air and starting to tilt to one side, and I thought, “I don’t want to fall on my head,” so I tilted myself back upright. And then I remember finding myself sitting on the canyon floor on a little beach at the base of the cliff. The “beach” was at a bend in the river and was covered with small rocks and pebbles, maybe the size of ping pong balls. Next to me was a small “boulder” that was about waist height on me when I was sitting there; my left arm had landed on that boulder and was just resting on it like it was an arm rest on a chair. I remember it kind of buzzed, but it didn’t hurt.

I think I only sat there for a minute or two, and then like any smart six-year-old, I started yelling for help. I could hear some voices downstream, but apparently they couldn’t hear me. Bootsy quickly found me, though, but she hated swimming and stayed on the opposite side of the creek. I realized nobody was coming and that I needed to find help on my own, so I waded through waist- and chest-deep water until I had made my way to the dog. I again hollered for help, but again nobody responded, so I started working my way back downstream toward the voices I could hear.

Once I rounded a bend, I found a mom with two kids. I think they were fishing, but I’m not sure. I told the woman that I had fallen off the cliff and she looked at me like I was crazy. In retrospect I’m not surprised, as in subsequent years when I returned I realized I had fallen approximately 25 or 30 feet. Really!

The woman’s children were older than my brother and me, and she told them to stay put and she guided me up this totally crazy trail that scrambled up the side of the canyon. I remember telling her I thought I had broken my left arm because whenever I went to use it, it kept feeling “buzzy,” but she kept saying she didn’t think it was broken. Ultimately, and I have no idea how, we made it out of the canyon and to what is now the North American Science Center.

(At the time, the Science Center was owned by one of the aerospace companies—Northrup? Lockheed? I don’t remember. If you check out this photo, you’ll see a white rectangle about halfway vertically and more to the left; that’s the Science Center. La Barranca is visible running more or less vertically just to the left of it. Our home was a the end of the developed area curving up and to the left of the Science Center.)

The woman brought me to the front desk and told them my story. Everyone looked very doubtful, but I do remember that they asked if I knew my phone number (I did!), and they called my mom. In the meantime, they had an onsite medical clinic and they took me there; the nurse may have checked me over, but mostly she just kept me company until my mom arrived.

What I later learned is that my brother arrived home alone, and my mom freaked out. When she asked him where I was, he said, “Isn’t she here? I told her to go back along the river the way we came.” My mom ran down the trail to the bottom of the canyon, yelling my name, and then ran all the way back up. She was preparing to call the police when our phone rang with the call from the staff at the Science Center.

It ended up that I did break my arm, and I was in a cast for six weeks. It was one of those horrible ones, where you can’t bend your elbow, and made of white plaster. Of course it didn’t really slow me down, and we had to return to the orthopedist twice to get it patched.

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Me and my cast. I can see my mom’s and my dad’s signatures on it in the photo, but not my brother’s!

To the day, my brother insists we had a miscommunication. He also has confessed that he was scared to go past the spot where the rock jutted out into the trail (smart boy). I, however, didn’t let him sign my cast for a week because I was mad at him!

I guess I was lucky. Today the best part is having a story to give my brother a hard time. I really have forgiven him and don’t blame him.

The thing I think about the most is how lucky we were to grow up where we did and how we did. Sure, there was the time I ran into a jumping cholla and had needles all over my knee. Or the time I split my lip open while my brother and I were playing in the pool with PVC pipe. (I have no idea why we were doing that!) Or the time my brother and I as teenagers got caught in a rip tide at Zuma Beach, and after swimming in, collapsed on our towels exhausted … until a half hour later, when we looked at each other and said, “That was fun!”

#optoutside is a popular hashtag today, and I love it! Outside, being active, exploring, learning about our world and all the beings that inhabit it, is the healthiest place for us and for our children to be. Experience the world around us, be fearless, charge forward, go for it, live your life … but be careful around older brothers! 😉

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Celebrating a Birthday

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My friend (and one of my Javelina pacers), Nina, had a birthday yesterday. So, of course, that meant that it was time to celebrate! With my schedule having me in a recovery phase after a busy period of training and adventuring, an eight-mile hike to a lake—with promises of hot chocolate and birthday hats and good friends—sounded delightful!

Kari, Nina’s Women Who Run the World business partner and dear friend, suggested a few routes and Nina chose to go to Rachel Lake, which I hadn’t been to before. It’s about a 90-minute drive from my home near Seattle, which went by quickly as I passed through patches of fog and clouds and sun, with the snow-capped mountains of the Cascades peaking through.

Six of us—Nina, Kari, Carol, Melissa, Melissa’s dog Maddie, and I—all met up at the trailhead, where it was just below freezing. It took a few minutes to land on exactly which layers to wear and which to bring, and then we headed out through the woods. The trail starts with a short climb, and then over the next couple of miles meanders through the woods while gently gaining elevation.

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A pretty creek, green trees, and—best of all—sunshine and blue skies!

With recent rains and snowfall, there was more water on the trail than we’ve seen in a while and some somewhat sketchy creek crossings where we played “guess whether the rock is icy and slippery” as we made our ways across. We all made it through with pretty much dry toes, so we felt like life was good.

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We decked the birthday girl out with a tutu, unicorn headband, and an “it’s my birthday” pin, and we all wore leis. Lots of hikers told us we were “colorful.” Here’s Nina (center front) with Maddie and Melissa just behind.

After those first two miles, the trail starts climbing, gently at first and then with great enthusiasm. In some areas, the trail is essentially a creek bed, and in others it involves some easy, short sections of pseudo-scrambling before switchbacking back to forest trail. As we gained elevation, the snow was more prevalent, and in some places there was ice under the snow that had hikers heading the opposite way slipping and sliding down the trail toward us.

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Caution: May be slippery on steeper slopes.

As we gained elevation, we gained views too. Here’s Hibox Peak showing off on a neighboring ridge line.

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It seemed like we climbed for quite a while—but I suspect for me it was my still-recovering-from-Javelina body saying “hey, the tank’s still not quite full!”—but soon enough we popped out at Rachel Lake.

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Pretty awesome place to hang out.

We laid out coats (note: bring a small sit pad next time!), donned unicorn party hats, broke out the feast—waffles, hot chocolate, creme de menthe, salami—and sang happy birthday to Nina on kazoos.

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The birthday girl (and a knife?).

It was a delightful 30 minutes spent chatting and soaking up the warm sun. Then a light breeze picked up and suddenly it wasn’t so warm, so we packed back up, slipped on our micro spikes (which made for a much easier journey downhill than some of the hikers we saw earlier had had), and headed back the way we had come.

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Kari in her element.
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It’s not quite winter but it’s starting to look like it!
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Carol, Melissa, Nina, and Maddie out front as we head back to the cars.

We topped off the celebration later with dinner at Le Coin in Fremont, where we were lost Melissa but were joined by Kelly, Heidi, Ana, Wendy, and Marna. The party continued with drinks and dancing, but the tank was empty and I headed home after dinner and quickly fell asleep while counting my blessings: great friends, great adventures, and a recovery period that allows for a relaxing day in the outdoors with those friends.

Happy birthday, Nina!

 

As always, all words mine. This time, all photos are mine too. 

Javelina Jundred

It was a successful weekend in Phoenix for our group of friends: Elly ran her first 100K in fine fashion, and Heidi and I ran our first hundreds and are coming home with buckles!

It’s so hard to put together the words to describe Javelina. The course itself features desert beauty—highlighted with green grass and lots of flowers this year due to a downpour earlier in the week—and a fantastic party atmosphere. Sarah, one of Heidi’s pacers, described trying to nap at Jeadquarters as “trying to sleep on a techno dance floor but on sand.” It’s just a wild, raucous, and hot run with hundreds of like-minded and incredibly supportive people!

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In the foreground: fairy duster, a flower I’d never seen before. So pretty! Photo by Ana Hinz (@willrunforwhisky).

In the end what Javelina was to me was an internal journey—where, through the support of my husband and my friends, I found a focus and strength that I don’t know I really knew was there. You see, for the past month, my commitment to the race had wavered and waned and I wasn’t really sure why I was there. I was tired.

Balancing the demands of training, working, and parenthood (with its emotional highs and lows and with its physical demands of time, interrupted sleep, and driving—I must track my route some day and see how many circles around town I complete!) … it had all worn me down. I didn’t even have a race plan. Friday afternoon I was packing food and gear bags with no lists, just a swag at what I might want or need. I didn’t have a pace chart. I didn’t know the distances between aid stations.

Friday was full of a sense of surrealism. I was actually there, I was actually getting my race bib, and OHMYGAWD it’s hot! One of the best parts of Friday was stumbling on the Taco Shop on the way out to packet pickup. It’s hard to get real Mexican food in Seattle, and those were pretty awesome street tacos!

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Things start getting real when you show up at packet pickup.
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Heidi and I check out where it will all begin (and end).

Saturday morning, after a 40-minute drive to Jeadquarters, we arrived about 45 minutes before race start. Mike and Heidi’s husband, Bill, were checking things out and Heidi and I decided to lie down in the tent we’d rented for a bit. At about 15 minutes before race start, we both bolted upright realizing that we were “this close” to falling asleep. Yikes!

We’d decided to start with the second wave—the noncompetitive runners—at 6:10. I don’t know that it really made a difference either way, but it was so exciting to watch all the runners run by in that first wave. We headed over to the start, and it was just the most amazing atmosphere. Techno music was blasting, tons of people were milling around, and Jubilee was up on her camper with a bubble machine going and had a virtually nonstop commentary to get the party started.

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The sun came up early on loop 1.

If you’re not familiar with the race, here’s how it works: you do five loops alternating clockwise and counterclockwise (washing machine style). The first loop has a little extra tacked on to make up for the remainder of the loops, which are slightly under 20 miles. There isn’t that much climbing on each loop, but it does end up to be essentially uphill to Jackass Junction and downhill back to Jeadquarters, with either Rattlesnake Ranch or Coyote Camp in the middle.

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Let’s get loopy!

Probably because of my lack of a race plan and not having my head in a good place, I was destroyed by the time I’d made it about two-thirds of the way through loop 1. It warmed up quickly once the sun was up, and I don’t know why, but my legs felt like my muscles were in a vise. I came in to Jeadquarters—where your team can meet you as you come in and then you run a horseshoe to the start/finish, and then come back around through the horseshoe to get back out on the course—and I was … well, I’m ashamed but I was a really horrible person.  I was mad at Mike because he didn’t have my gear and food ready the way I wanted (maybe if I had had a race plan for him to follow, he wouldn’t have needed to try to read my mind?) and I was convinced the whole thing was a bust and I should just quit.

My friend, Wendy, was there and she walked the horseshoe with me. Over the past several months we had talked a few times about how, if I lost my cool, the thing I really needed to do was refocus. She was amazing and made me think clearly and make sure I was taking care of myself. So as we walked around the horseshoe, she talked me through the math (you can walk this whole loop and still be fine … just start walking and keep going), didn’t flinch at my f-bombs, and I so appreciate her!

So I headed out on loop 2, with Heidi a bit ahead of me and with me figuring I’d never see her again except at places where our loops overlapped in opposite directions. I thought about my friend Vivian’s advice—if you don’t feel good, eat and then eat some more—and I walked, and I stocked up on ice at the aid stations, and I ate a smooshed crunchy-almond-butter-on-white-bread-with-the-crusts-cut-off sandwich. It probably took an hour to eat that damn sandwich, but to my surprise, once I had it down, I was feeling a lot better. Thanks Vivian!

When I came back into Jeadquarters, Mike was more prepared with what I wanted, and the team stuffed my arm sleeves with ice, Wendy wiped my legs down with an ice sponge, my pack was refilled, and I was in good spirits. I think I kind of freaked them all out because I was on such a tear earlier. Marna may have even said, “Are you the same person?” By the way, having a crew is amazing. It’s that one time where I feel totally babied: Everyone’s there to take care of me, help me, get me things. Quite the opposite of my life as a mom to twin 9-year-olds! Thank you guys!

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Feelin’ the love … I cannot thank everyone enough! Photo by Wendy Abbey.

I think Heidi was just heading out as I came in, but I’m not sure. It’s kind of a blur, now that I look back on it. I remember that the music was blasting, and I remember being glad that my pacers had heeded my request that they stay back at the house and relax during the heat of the day. I also remember bumping into Elly, who was heading out for her loop 3 on the 100K course with her pacer, Adam, and I was just feeling happy that so many of us were there to share the experience together.

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Elly finished her 100K more than an hour ahead of her goal time. What a rockstar!

Loop 3 was probably the loneliest, just because there’s still so far to go, and the sun set during that loop. But I listened to the coyotes howl, and then I watched a huge shooting star streak across the sky from about two-thirds up to nearly down to the horizon, and I felt like the gods had smiled on my race. An hour or so later I watched a huge orange moon rise and thought, wow, this is amazing! My legs felt good and my stomach was happy, I was eating every 30 minutes or so, and life was good. As the race wore on, the “good jobs” just increased from runner to runner, as we all knew we’d been out there a long time and were stoked for each other.

There were quite a few runners in costumes, which I frankly couldn’t imagine doing in the heat and for the length of time we were out there. Some were just out for the Jackass Night Run, but some were in costume for whole thing. A couple of my favorites were Fred Flinstone, who was also at Black Canyon, and a butterfly who was able to ripple her wings through the air in the day and then dazzle us with lights outlining those wings at night.

To my surprise, I bumped into Heidi at Rattlesnake Ranch (about 3.7 miles from Jeadquarters) toward the end of loop 3. While I grabbed a piece of Costco pizza (seriously, I can’t eat this stuff in real life, but Costco pizza at that moment was delish!), Heidi shared that she was struggling with her stomach and had ditched her gaiters because they were irritating her ankle. I could relate to the stomach issues from where I had been early in the race, and encouraged her to eat. I remember being so happy to see her out there and to be out on the course at that point with such a wonderful friend!

As I came in from loop 3, Nina was there, ready to pace me, and I was so excited! From my earlier moments of thinking “I’m only here out of obligation” and “I should just bail” to now going out on loop 4, feeling confident in my finish, and getting to hang out with this fantastic friend for the next 19.5 miles … it was all just so freakin’ awesome! (Seriously, I was that cheerful, which is so out of character for me.)

I waved to Heidi, who was with her team, and to Sarah, who would be her loop 4 pacer. And then I took off, ready to go. I’m not sure what Nina was doing, but she wasn’t quite ready, and I could hear some laughter as she was like, “Oh, she’s going. Wait, she’s going without me!” But I was ready and I had a job to do, so I was off to get it done!

My cockiness quickly fell apart, though, as about 2 miles into loop 4 out of the blue my stomach started feeling off. Thinking of Vivian’s “eat if you don’t feel good” advice, I tried a Gu—which was like a big blob in my mouth. And then I was suddenly and rather violently sick a couple of feet off the trail! I was shocked and worried. But once I was done, I was surprised to find that I felt so much better. So off we went to Rattlesnake Junction, where the first of my rest-of-the-race quesadilla noshing began.

We did some chatting while I did a bit of walking on the way back up to Jackass Junction. We exclaimed over the beauty of the desert at night, and a couple of times turned off our headlamps so we could gaze up at the stars. We cheered the butterfly, and shared “good jobs” with so many runners. I’m sure I told her about my day on the trail, but I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I think the biggest surprise is that I often don’t like a lot of chatter, but I kept asking her questions to keep her talking and just enjoyed the camaraderie we shared.

When we arrived at Jackass Junction, the party was definitely in full swing. Pirates and disco divas (I was so confused!) were everywhere, the music had definitely been cranked up, the disco ball was spinning, and the drinks (of all kinds) were flowing. Oh my gawd, what an absolute blast! Nina took a few minutes to say hi to some friends while I dug through my drop bag for some treats.

We were then on our way back downhill, toward Coyote Junction. The rocky places were just where I told her, as were the cholla that had attacked one woman at mile 4. I asked after Heidi, as Nina’s phone was dinging with updates, but she had little to share. I eventually became convinced that there was a pact not to share updates with me so that I could focus on my own run. However, I thought about Heidi throughout the rest of the race.

As Nina and I started down the wash between Coyote and Jeadquarters, Nina snagged her foot on a root or stick of some kind. It was one of those slow motion, I think she’s gonna save herself oh gawd maybe not, damn she’s down kind of falls. I was so worried she’d slam into rocks or a cholla, but—after a moment to catch her breath—she took stock and counted just a few scratches. Phew!

Back at Jeadquarters, I went for a more minimal approach to the food I was carrying since I seemed only interested in my smashed sandwiches, Gu, and the aid stations’ quesadillas. For loop 5, I now had my friend Ana by my side. Ana did Javelina last year, and I think she was excited to get out on the trails again and enjoy the party without the pressure of the race. We’ve had some great adventures together, and I was happy that she was going to accompany me to the finish.

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Heading out for the last loop and definitely feeling a little loopy! Photo by Ana Hinz.

Ana was (obnoxiously) cheerful, and I got a kick out of how many runners responded to her “How are you doing? Great job!” with grunts. I reminded her that we were all starting to run on empty, but she kept up the great cheer and I think it was quite the boon to many of the runners whose paths we passed as night passed back to day and everyone’s races were coming to a close. I very clearly remember Ana asking one guy how he was doing, his response of “my feet hurt,” and her reply, “That’s because you’ve been kickin’ ass for so long.” He laughed so hard, and I’m sure that laugh gave him a boost for miles.

It was now about 4 a.m. and I was feeling sleepy. Ana kept me moving, although I did give her grief whenever she forgot to shuffle instead of jog as we made our way back up to Jackass. As we chugged along, the sky began to lighten and gradually a new day began. The birds were going wild, singing and chirping and claiming their territory, and flowers that had been closed up yesterday in the heat of the sun were now wide open and sharing their glory with the dawn. Yes, a little poetic and mushy, but I remember this one ravine just steeped in the flowers’ perfume in a way I’ve only before experienced in Summerland on Mt. Rainier when I hit the peak of the bloom one summer.

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Photo by Ana Hinz.

By now Jackass looked a little bit more like Hangover Headquarters, but they still had pancakes and quesadillas so I was happy, and I hoped the party was as fun as it had looked in the middle of the night. This race is staff with amazing, dedicated volunteers! I think at Jackass there were at least two shifts as I remember bumblebees during the day and then the pirates and disco divas at night, but I’m not sure.

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Running toward dawn, surrounded by yellow flowers. Photo by Ana Hinz.

We chugged downhill, and I started to marvel that I was going to get my buckle. I talked to Ana some about my horrible first loop, nasty temper, and lack of conviction in and after loop 1 that I’d finish. I talked to her about my progression through the race and what I’d learned and what I remembered to do. And I talked about my joy in knowing that I’d complete the journey.

Well, I think I did. I also remember being quiet and wishing wholeheartedly that the thing was just plain over so I could get off my feet. And I remember between Jackass and Rattlesnake Ana telling me just about every story she could think of about her early dates with her husband, about a wedding she and Adam had just attended, the speech Adam had prepared and how he’d prepared and how he didn’t get to tell it after all, about all sorts of random things that kept my mind just busy enough that I was able to keep chugging along.

We passed one last time through Rattlesnake, and we took a few minutes to stock up on ice. The volunteers seemed surprised we’d take the time, but the day was already warming and it felt like I didn’t have much left in me to deal with the heat and sun at this point. (The ice we took had all melted by the time we finished, so maybe it wasn’t so silly after all.) We both soon realized how close we were to the end … and then we rounded the corner and could see Jeadquarters again, could hear the music, and knew that I was finishing!

I choked on a huge sob that seemed to just burst out of me. Ana I think sobbed just for a moment too. We chugged up the little hill to the entrance to the horseshoe, and I asked my pacers to join me but they told me to keep going on my own, that it was my glory lap.

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Sobbing as I enter Jeadquarters with Ana next to me and my crew and friends ahead of me. Photo by Wendy Abbey.

I handed off my vest and I don’t know what else to Mike and Ana, and I took off for that final time through the horseshoe. While many tents were now empty, just as many were still occupied, and in every one that was occupied, I was greeted with cheers and “way to go runner!” and cowbells and applause. I half cried my way through those last steps, and then Elly and Nina tried to do a tunnel for me to run through and I hugged them instead (awkward!), and then I was across the finish line!

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Crossing the finish line. Photo by Wendy Abbey.
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A huge hug from my best friend and biggest supporter. So. Many. Tears. Love ya Mike! Photo by (I think) Wendy Abbey.

It wasn’t that much later that I struggled out of a chair and made my way back to that blue arch to cry all over again as we all cheered Heidi in for her glory lap to the finish line. I was so happy to see her get her buckle and to know that she too had vanquished her demons over the course of the race. Her huge smile said it all!

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Heidi (on the left) with her pacer, Marna. What amazing smiles!

As I look back at this experience, I wonder at the why. Is there a purpose or a meaning behind running an ultra-distance race? Is there some epiphany that comes from this experience? Are people who do this different because of it? Am I a better parent for it? Or worse for being away to do these things?

What I know is that I feel intense gratitude for all the support people gave me to follow and attain a dream. This year I did my first 100K, I ran around Mt. Rainier, I did a couple of unsupported long days on the trail solo, I ran around Mt. St. Helens (again), I went fastpacking with friends, and I ran my first 100 mile race. I am different because of the relationships I have with the people who join me in these endeavors and adventures, with my daughters who I hope see me as a role model, with my husband and his steadfast belief in what I can do, and in the relationship I have with myself. I know myself better now … I know what I am capable of, I believe I can do things I never before thought possible, and I think I am a better person for it all.

And I have laughed. and cried. and loved all along the way.

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Ana (left), me (center), and Nina after the race.
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Most of our motley crew (left to right): Wendy, Bill, Sarah, Marna, Ana, Heidi, me, Mike, Elly, and Nina. Missing are Sean and Adam.

Hats off to Aravaipa Running for a fantastic party in the desert; to all the runners I met, chatted with, or exchanged “good jobs” with along the trail; and to all the amazing volunteers who staffed aid stations, road crossings, timing tents, packet pickup, first aid stations, etc., etc. You have all touched my life.

A deep, heartfelt thank you to my direct crew and pacers—Mike, Ana, and Nina—and to my extended trail family that included Bill, Sarah, Wendy, Marna, Sean, and Adam.  More hugs and tears to my fellow runners, Elly and Heidi: I am so honored and happy to have shared this journey with you.

And, finally, babe, I love you.

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Photo by Ana Hinz.

 

As always, all words are mine. Photos are mine unless otherwise attributed. 

 

Chinook Pass Loop: An UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge

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Sunrise above Dewey Lake on the Naches Loop Trail

The weekend before last was supposed to be my big training push before a race at the end of the month, but I was sick and decided to rest. This was a very hard thing to do when I already had nerves building about the upcoming race. Taper was to begin after, and I found I couldn’t wholly commit to the taper without at least one more longish run under my belt.

Luckily, the Pacific Northwest is having one of the Octobers we all dream about: intense fall colors, glorious sunshine, and insane views of nearby peaks all clamor for us to get OUTSIDE! So I did.

I decided to pick another gem from the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge route menu, this time going with the Chinook Pass Loop. This loop starts at Chinook Pass on Highway 410, using the Naches Loops Trail to connect with the Pacific Crest Trail, and then travels along the PCT through the William O. Douglas Wilderness for about 10 miles. It then hangs a right on Laughingwater Creek Trail, descending over 8ish miles to Stevens Canyon in Mt. Rainier National Park. From there, it’s all uphill on the Eastside Trail to get back to the car.

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The route

I hit the trail just as the sun was rising. It was just below freezing and a breeze was blowing … brrrr! I’ve been heat training and this was definitely the anti-heat-training experience. Mt. Rainier was awash in the pink of alpenglow and I kept stopping to take pictures and then reminding myself that I had a ways to go and needed to get moving.

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Shortly before I hit the intersection with the PCT, I encountered two women who had hiked to Dewey Lake early to watch the sun rise from the lake. What a great idea! They said I was the only person they had seen out there, and indeed I would see nobody else until I reached Laughingwater Trail.

While the PCT is generally gently rolling with some ups and some downs and some sorta levels, I had a hard time getting going. I think the two weeks’ worth of a cold were still hanging around, and breathing in the cold air wasn’t very easy. I finally hit a groove after a couple of hours, and I think that bleepin’ cold is finally gone.

The PCT here is amazing! I could imagine it can be blazing hot in the summer, but much of it is open and I had frequent views of Mt. Rainier and later Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens. The mountains are transitioning seasons, and while I still had sections with blazing reds and oranges I could sense that the land was quietly waiting for the snows and restoration period of winter.

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Mt. Adams and the PCT

 

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Mt. St. Helens in the distance
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Looking down toward Two Lakes
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Colors!

As I rounded a corner shortly after the second junction for the trail to Two Lakes, I came upon two horse packers/hunters … the second set of people I’d see on the trail. We chatted briefly, and I later realized I could easily have been mistaken for a deer or elk and wished I had worn brighter colors. (Knowing I’d be in the national park for much of my run, I hadn’t really thought about hunters. Note made.) They had just come up Laughingwater Trail, so they headed wherever they were going and I headed down … down … down for the next 8 miles.

Laughingwater Trail is a joy to run. Aside from the upper quarter-mile or so, where it was icy, it is that kind of soft, plush forest trail that just encourages you to let go and fly! It was nice, too, to be able to let my body relax and spend some time reflecting. You see, when I was a kid, my mom and I were in this community group through the Y where we had nicknames; my mom was Laughing Waters and I was Bubbling Brook. My mom passed away a few years ago, but October 11 would have been her birthday, so I felt like she was close to me as I ran down this trail that held one of her names.

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Trail nirvana

Soon enough I began hearing the cars on Stevens Canyon Road. I popped out of the forest, crossed the road, and headed toward Eastside Trail. All of a sudden I began seeing people, with several national park visitors enjoying Silver Falls. I stopped to enjoy it too; I’m not sure how, but I had never made it there before.

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Silver Falls
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Looking downstream from Silver Falls

After a short mile, I reached Grove of the Patriarchs. When Ana (aka Will Run for Whisky) and I did the Owyhigh Loop last year, we skipped the trip through the Grove because it was a busy summer weekend and the line to cross the suspension bridge was long and slow. While there were 20 or 30 people at the Grove, this time there was no line for the bridge, so I got in my loop around the old and huge trees. I have to confess, I was a bit disappointed. I think the trees along the lower part of Eastside Trail are nearly as big, and the setting away from crowds is prettier. (I didn’t see anyone after Grove of the Patriarchs.)

From the Grove, it was a little under 6-1/2 miles to Deer Creek camp. This section of trail is one of those obnoxiously runnable uphills … so I alternated between trotting along and power walking as I wiped away spider webs (apparently the spiders are still quite busy in the lower elevations!). I had a lot of fun checking out all the mushrooms, which were everywhere, in all sorts of colors and sizes.

Just past Deer Creek, before the junction of the Owyhigh Lakes Trail, a small bridge crosses a stream just in front of a small waterfall. I had plenty of time left in the day, so I sat in a patch of sunlight and just let my body and my mind be still.

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Breathe and be still

I’m really not sure how long I was there, but the sunlight went away and I realized it was getting cold again. I had been told that the final three-mile climb up Eastside Trail was stiff, but I tell you what else it is: a sucker climb! The first mile and a half are gentle, as they noodled uphill and lulled me into thinking I had been misled. Ha! All of a sudden the incline angles upward, and indeed that last bit is stiff.

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Soon enough I crossed Stevens Canyon Road once again and made my way up the final mile and a half to Tipsoo Lake and my car.

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Tipsoo Lake sporting fall colors in the later-afternoon sunshine

Final stats:
Elapsed time—10:07
Moving time—9:03
Elevation gain—6765
Distance (per Garmin)—31 miles

Circumambulating Mt. St. Helens: An UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge

Last week texts were flying as my friends and I tried to decide what adventure we wanted to tackle over the holiday weekend. Our first idea was discarded when we learned that our route was closed due to a wildfire in the area, and after some back and forth Marna and I landed on doing the Loowit Trail around Mt. St. Helens (another in the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge list of routes). Then Sarah had FOMO, and then Heidi jumped onboard, and then we convinced Wendy to come with us, and suddenly we were a group of five.

Mt. St. Helens is one of my favorite places in Washington. I vaguely remember news coverage of its May 1980 eruption (when I was in high school), but once I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2001 it was one of the first places I wanted to visit. Since then I’ve mountain biked up Ape Canyon, across the Plains of Abraham, down to the Windy Ridge Visitor Center, and back several times and three years ago I ran the Volcanic 50, which took me around the mountain on the Loowit. I’m fascinated by its landscape, which can shift from forest to moonscape in the matter of yards, and by its slow recovery to once again hosting glaciers up high and wildflowers, bushes, and trees down low. None of the rest of the group had done any of the trails, and I was excited to share it with them.

fullsizeoutput_3427We started south on I-5 around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday and decided to stop in Chehalis for dinner. Ha! What a mistake! An hour after we ordered, our waiter let us know we were still four tickets out in the kitchen and offered us each one small complimentary fruit cup to make up for the inconvenience. We felt really sad.

We had hoped to arrive at Marble Mountain Sno Park, where we planned to sleep, before sunset but ended up not even leaving the restaurant until sunset. You know what they say about best laid plans, right?

Anyway, we got to Marble Mountain Sno Park around 10 p.m., set up a mix of bivvy sacs and tents next to our truck, and crawled into our sleeping bags. In the middle of the night I had to go to the bathroom and when I stumbled out of my tent I couldn’t believe how many stars I could see. Seriously, it’s good to get away from the city and remember how grand the universe is!

fullsizeoutput_3428The Loowit Trail is a 28-mile loop trail with multiple access points. We chose the June Lake Trailhead on the south side of the mountain as our starting point because, at 2 miles, it was the shortest “connector” trail. We hit the trailhead around 6:15 Monday morning, with the sun just starting to rise. It made for a glorious start, as our peeks of St. Helens through the trees were highlighted with early morning alpen glow. Once we hit the Loowit Trail, we headed west to start our clockwise trip around the volcano.

We were soon out of the trees, and our jaws dropped as we stood above clouds enveloping the valleys below us, with Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams visible to the south and east. Our first boulder field came up quickly, and we picked our way through the boulders by following wood posts that mark the trail periodically. With the black rock, the tan posts are fairly obvious and make for relatively easy route finding.

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Can’t get much better!
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So excited for our adventure!
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That’s Mt. Hood in the distance

After the first boulder field, we passed the winter and summer climbing routes going up Tubal Worm Trail and Monitor Ridge and then reentered the forest. When I did the Volcanic 50, there were three separate ground wasp nests with very angry wasps ready to attack the runners. I was stung five times; I heard one woman report 15 stings! I was on the lookout for the wasps here but didn’t see any. But as soon as I mentioned that we were in the area where I had been stung before, Marna stumbled upon a nest and was stung on her leg. After the forest and wasps, we hit our second boulder field and worked our way to the west side of the mountain.

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Boulder fields require lots of paying attention to where your feet are and where they’re going!

From here, the trail winds up and down, through sand and rocks and through forested areas. I don’t think the trail is ever flat. Fall colors are coming out now, and in some sections deciduous trees and bushes sporting reds and oranges contrasted beautifully with the black and gray of the surrounding terrain.

Our next milestone came at Sheep Canyon, where the trail has deteriorated significantly since I was last on it. It now features a steep and eroded descent that has been protected with a rope and ends with a 3+ foot drop off at the bottom. We “got to” climb up the other side with the aid of a rope as well.

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Wendy descends into Sheep Canyon

The trail climbs for a bit after Sheep Canyon, and then we began the descent to the Toutle River. There is a lovely forested and very runnable section that switchbacks downhill until you near the river. The final drop down to the river also involves a rope, but this descent was shorter and not nearly as steep at the Sheep Canyon descent. The Toutle captured my imagination the first time I drove across it on I-5 and my husband described the flow and debris carried by the river after the 1980 eruption. In a 1981 USGS report, the author describes:

“The hydrologic effects of the May 18 eruption have been both widespread and intense. During the eruption, a massive debris avalanche moved down the north flank of the volcano depositing about 3 billion cubic yards of rock, ice, and other materials in the upper 17 miles of the North Fork Toutle River valley. The debris deposits are about 600 feet thick in the upper reaches of the valley. Following the avalanche, runoff from the melted glaciers and snow, and possible outflow from Spirit Lake, caused an extraordinary mudflow in the North Fork Toutle River. The mudflow shattered and uprooted thousands of trees, destroyed most of the local bridges, and deposited an estimated 25,000 acre-feet of sediment in the Cowlitz River channel.”

Fortunately for us, the Toutle was much tamer on Monday and involved just a bit of rock hopping to cross.

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Toutle River

We filtered some water here, as water is scarce for the next 10 or so miles until we would hit a spring on the northeast side of the mountain. It’s another steep climb up from the river, and then more climbing took us up switchbacks through some trees. I had told everyone that there was a “sand ramp” after the Toutle and while I had forgotten about the switchbacking section the sand ramp was still there. Once we cleared the sand ramp, we enjoyed a nice runnable section that meanders up and down until the trail finally dropped us out in the blast zone.

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The sand ramp
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Nearing the blast zone

I’m not a geologist or volcanologist, so I can’t adequately describe the events of the 1980 eruption. What I can tell you is that as I have traversed this section of trail, I have been overwhelmed with a kind of primitive understanding of the power of the volcano and how small and ultimately powerless we are in the scope of the world. I do recommend checking out this time-lapse series of satellite images from NASA Earth Observatory showing the gradual “re-greening” of the area around Mt. St. Helens and how the blast zone remains an austere place as nature rebuilds itself on its own timeline.

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As we crossed the northern flanks of Mt. St. Helens we were able to peer up into the crater. We were treated to a little bit of geology in action as a rock slide avalanched from the crater rim and crashed down to the crater bottom. At points we were able to see Mt. Rainier to the north as well as Spirit Lake and all of the dead trees that still float in it today. The rocks themselves are mostly gray and black—some so shiny black that in the distance they looked white from the reflected sunlight—but are interspersed with terra-cotta-orange-colored rocks.

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Dust from the rock slide is visible on the left side of the crater; the lava dome and steam are visible in the center of the crater (with clouds behind)
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Up close and personal with Mt. St. Helens
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Spirit Lake: the white area on the far shore is not a nice sandy beach but instead is a “raft” of dead trees that were deposited there during the eruption
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Nearing the east side

Next we climbed up out of the blast zone to the top of Windy Ridge. There are a few trails here that lead to Spirit Lake, up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, and to Loowit Falls (which we could see parts of from our trail and look like they’re worth a side trip in the future). Once we ascended Windy Ridge we could look out to the Plains of Abraham spreading east and south of us, and Mt. Adams was back in view and dominating the skyline.

We had a brief discussion about why the Plains of Abraham are named what they are. A route description on the Washington Trails Association site describes them here:

“Here spread out before you is the Plains of Abraham, a near-level expanse named not for the father figure of biblical fame but after the famed battlefield in Quebec City. An early adventurer here saw some semblance, but certainly the plains in Quebec sont plus vertes! In early summer, the pumiced plains are painted purple thanks to a proliferation of lupine.”

The descent from Windy Ridge down to the Plains were some of the sketchiest of the trail. There’s a faint path that makes its way down a steep scree slope, and with each step the path slid downhill just enough to make it feel tenuous. We all made it down safely and were glad to leave that section behind us.

The Plains are open to mountain bikes (we saw none), and I know it well from my past rides on the mountain. We made good time as it’s flat and runnable, and it’s so wide open that the views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood (which was back again by this point) are simply in your face. This ended much too quickly after we passed Ape Canyon and the Muddy River.

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At Ape Canyon, with Mt. Adams in the background

Once again I had given everyone a heads up on what to expect—this time that there were ravines ahead. What I hadn’t remembered is how many ravines there are! It’s up and down on loose sand and rocks, again and again. About halfway through, we wished we had counted them so we could give future travelers a heads up and realistic expectations. Perhaps if you travel in a counter-clockwise direction and encounter these with fresh legs they aren’t so bad.

Finally out of the ravines, we traversed (with some ups and downs) through the absolute best blueberry patch I’ve encountered in the mountains. There were so many, and they were perfect—ripe, and sweet and tart at the same time. What a wonderful pick-me-up at this point in the day!

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So! Many! Blueberries!

As we spotted fairly frequent piles of bear skat, we discussed how bears actually eat the berries. Considering how long it takes for a human (with fingers and opposable thumbs) to pick a handful of berries, how on earth could a bear get enough? This discussion fed a lengthy, end-of-the-day-goofiness string of theories, and continues to entertain us even a day later as we discuss a bear’s prehensile lips. Here’s what we’ve since learned: “Black bears are efficient berry-eaters, consuming up to 30,000 berries a day in a good year. They gather berries quickly, using their sensitive, mobile lips and swallowing them whole.” If you want to learn more, you can read about it here.

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We did the Loowit! Now just 2 miles back to the car

After the berries, we entered another section of rocks and boulders, although we now had a more defined trail that didn’t require the same degree of boulder-hopping that the earlier boulder fields had. We hit a section of forest with a soft, plush trail that felt like heaven, and then some more rocks and boulders, and finally another forested section and the intersection with the June Lake Trail. It was a relatively quick 2 miles back to our cars, where we quickly changed out of our sweaty clothes and into sweats and puffy jackets and comfy sandals, and then sat down to a quick feast of leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.

Final Thoughts

As all of us have done the Wonderland Trail, it was natural to compare the two. They both go around a volcano. They both boast varied terrain. The Loowit Trail is quite a bit shorter—without the connector portion, it’s about 28 miles compared with Wonderland’s 93 miles.

However, I think it’s dangerous to compare them. We loved the constant gratification the Loowit Trail and Mt. St. Helens provide. The views are nearly nonstop, and the terrain is continuously changing. The Wonderland has long sections in the forest, where it felt like a lot of work for less return.

I think we must take each at face value. Running the Wonderland Trail is unique, and running the Loowit Trail is unique too. I absolutely love Mt. St. Helens, its stark demonstration of Earth’s power, and the opportunity the Loowit Trail affords those of us on foot to explore all its sides in a relatively approachable 30ish miles.

Stats (per my Garmin)

32.33 miles
7375′ elevation gain and loss (gross)
Total time 13:41
Moving time 11:10

In 2015 I did this loop in 9:50. That time it was raining much of the time, and it was a supported race. I took about three pictures. This time amongst the five of us we probably took around 400 pictures! You gotta come do this one … the views are amazing!

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Ravine number 982,543

All photos belong to either Sarah Brouwer or me. All text belongs to me.

 

 

 

Easy Pass: An UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge Route

“[H]iking was a ‘forced simplification of my life.’ We are in an era when the demand for our attention is exploding. … There is a danger that we can confuse being busy with being entertained and being relaxed with being bored. When hiking, we don’t just leave behind the customary distractions; we have to escape from our addiction to them.”
David Miller, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail

It’s been a busy summer. In addition to my pursuits in the mountains, my nine-year-old twin daughters have been on summer break. If I wasn’t driving them to and from camps, I was responding to the typical end-of-summer complaint: “Mommmm, I’m BORED!” At the same time I’ve been trying to keep up on my freelance business, which has resulted in a lot of late nights as I worked to finish jobs while everyone else in the house was asleep.

This weekend—with the girls away visiting family—seemed like the perfect opportunity to get outside with my hubby, Mike, and see some new territory. I was especially interested in a route that would not only be a good distance for me but also would give us the chance to spend some time together. After a little research, I landed on Easy Pass. This is one of the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge routes, which—based on my small experience of one prior route and lots of others’ trip reports—offer great challenges in beautiful places.

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At Easy Pass Trailhead

Easy Pass is a point-to-point route, and Mike and I decided that we would drive together to the Easy Pass Trailhead. We’d both go up to Easy Pass at our own paces; I’d then continue on while he’d head back to the car, drive around to Colonial Creek Campground and the Thunder Creek Trailhead, and hike in to meet me for the final couple of miles.

One of the highlights of this route are the views from Easy Pass. It’s a four-mile climb from the trailhead, initially winding through forest and then switch-backing up rocky fields under rocky cliffs. I was hoping for a marmot or goat sighting, but everyone was hiding from me. As you reach Easy Pass and look west, peaks tower dizzyingly above the Fisher River basin … well, that’s what people say, anyway. I happened to choose one of the first rainy days we’ve had in ages, and it was “No views for you!” throughout the day.

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Looking east on the way up to Easy Pass, with the always-popular Western Pasqueflower in the foreground
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Still a few flowers to be found out there!
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The final bit up to Easy Pass

The top of the pass was breezy, cloudy, rainy, cold, and sans views. It was kind of exhilarating to feel the rawness of the weather for the first time in a few months, and I was excited for my solo adventure. I had on a wool shirt, tights, gloves, a knit cap, and my rain jacket, and I was still cold for probably an hour after the pass. What a change from even last week, when I was sweating in my lightweight sleeping bag on the Copper Ridge Loop.

I started down toward the Fisher River and found the next few miles to be mostly steep, rocky switchbacks. After last week’s fall on the Copper Ridge Loop, my foot and knee are still tender and I had committed even before leaving to be conservative to avoid further injury. So it looked like I had more hiking ahead! The trail is often overgrown, and with the plants wet from the rain, every step through them was like a waterfall flowing into my shoes. I think I could have walked through a river and had drier feet!

About two miles below the pass, I encountered one of the few people I’d see the whole day. This guy had been backpacking—starting from Colonial Creek—and seemed fairly disgruntled with the wet and cold night he’d spent out. He continued east, and I continued west. I would see no one else for the next 15 miles.

As I headed into the woods—and through more overgrown areas—I had bear phobia and every 10 or 15 minutes shouted out some woot-woots so any nearby bears would know I was coming. The phobia got worse as I hit a section with lots of bear skat on the trail, so I kept making noise and singing songs (Flintstones theme song, anyone?). I ended up seeing no wildlife all day, except for a few birds, so I guess it worked. (hahaha)

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The trail between Fisher Camp and Cosho Camp (miles 5.7–9.8) runs through pretty forest and features many piles of bear skat
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Such a happy mushroom!

Once in the forest, the trail became more runnable, with only occasional overgrown and/or rocky sections. The rain had stopped as well, and while I had been gradually peeling off layers I stopped here to complete the process and reorganize my pack to hold everything. After Cosho Camp, the trail was even more runnable and often made me think of the Middle Fork Trail as it winded through mossy terrain, along the river with gentle ups and downs.

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My happy place

It was along here that I found myself easing into a contemplative, happy place. Internally my attention had shifted to my self—my breathing, my heart beat, my hydration and food, feeling the strength in my legs and confidence in my body. I felt the stress of the summer schedule slip away and I simply enjoyed being where I was, in the present. I no longer worried about bears, or work deadlines, or anything else. I almost think the lack of views contributed to this: because there was no reason to look up, to gasp and ooh and ahh, my world became more contained and I was able to ease into contemplation.

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Bridge crossing Logan Creek

Between miles 12 and 13, the trail is washed out and there’s a fairly sketchy crossing. As I traversed this section, rocks and dirt poured down the slide below me, and I held onto roots that were sticking out of the hillside to ensure that I didn’t slide down too.

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Watch out for the washout!

After the washout it was another couple of miles to the junction with Thunder Creek Trail. I was so excited to reach the junction—it marked a milestone in the journey, and I was feeling good.

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Only nine miles to go!

From the junction, Thunder Creek Trail initially meanders along. After a mile and half or so, it starts a steep drop down to Thunder Creek. Here it was clear the trail was more highly used, including by horses: it was more beat in and beat up. Once down to the river, I filtered a liter of water to ensure I had enough to get me through the final miles, crossed a bridge over Fisher Creek and headed downhill some more to arrive at McAllister Camp at nearly 19 miles.

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Between the McAllister hiker camp and horse camp, I encountered the second person of the day. This guy was also backpacking and was thrilled to hear that I hadn’t seen anyone in ages; he too was looking forward to some solitude on his journey.

Reaching McAllister felt like I was home free. In May, I did an out-and-back with a group of friends from Colonial Creek Campground to McAllister. I knew it was an easy run back and I now had landmarks that would help me track my progress. I looked down to Thunder Creek, where the rapids pick up before it roars into a slot canyon, and smiled at the memories from May.

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After this section the creek gradually opens up and calms, and the trail ascends above the creek to wander along cliff-sides and through more forest. At this point, I was about an hour and half ahead of schedule and I wondered if I would see Mike on the trail or surprise him (probably sleeping) in the car. I trotted along and came across two more hikers, exchanged salutations, and kept going. With a mile and a half to go I crossed Thunder Creek on a bridge and then headed off again.

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Almost done and feelin’ fine

In the end, I came across Mike about 100 yards from the trailhead. He had just started out, thinking he’d have an hour or so to hike before we met up. Sorry, babe! I ran it in to the trailhead, and we took the obligatory “after” shot to document our successful meet up on this end of the trail.

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Reflections

Sometimes you take the right journey at the right time. I didn’t realize how much I was carrying on my shoulders until it slipped off midway through this route.

Outside of all my personal reflections, I will say this: Easy Pass is an awesome outing! Even without the views, it was so pretty and the trail is really enjoyable. I’ll definitely be back … next time on a clear day when I can see all the peaks!

Stats per the Garmin

24.09 miles
7:56 elapsed time
7:08 moving time (guess I stopped more than I thought)
4406′ gain
6804′ loss

 

Copper Ridge Loop Fastpack

Back in May my friend, Kelly, reached out to a bunch of us to see if we were interested in fastpacking the Copper Ridge Loop in August. It is well known that I have a bad case of yes-itis, so of course I said “yes!” At the time, I didn’t realize this would end up being two weeks after the Wonderland Trail and one day after my family and I returned from California for my dad’s funeral and two days at Disneyland for the girls’ birthday. So it was kind of crazy and I ended up tearing the house apart the night before heading out trying to pack and stay light and find gear that I hadn’t used in a while.

We met at a local park & ride, stowed everything in Kelly’s car, and headed north to Glacier to get our wilderness permit. Then off to the trailhead we went!

We had decided to do the loop counterclockwise, starting at the Hannegan Pass trailhead and camping at Indian Creek (approximately 14 miles) and then completing the loop (approximately 20 miles) on day 2. This worked out well for us; while it gave us a bigger climb up to Copper Ridge than the clockwise loop, we closed out the trip with amazing mountain views (which you don’t get in the valley along the Chilliwack River).

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R-L: Heidi, Marna, Kelly, and I are ready to start our adventure

The Puget Sound region has been plagued by smoke from wildfires burning across the West. The day before we headed out, camps and outdoor sports were being canceled because the air quality was hazardous. Day 1 was still pretty smoky and hazy, but the forecast for the next day was better so we had our fingers crossed.

We started the 4ish-mile climb along Ruth Creek, up to Hannegan Pass. The air quality wasn’t great, and when the trail passed through open sections we didn’t have very good views. We did pass a large work crew from Washington Trails Association doing trail work along this stretch. We thanked all of them—trail work is hard physical labor, and they’re all volunteers.

Once we reached Hannegan Pass, we had a quick mile downhill before we would take a right turn onto the Hannegan Whatcom Trail. (To the left is the Copper Ridge Trail, which we would descend the next day.)

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From the turnoff, our next section was about 5-1/2 mostly downhill miles through a mix of forest, overgrown bushes, a million blueberry bushes (trail snacks!), and a longish section where it looked like a trail crew had taken a weed whacker to the brush (which we appreciated). I really enjoyed the small creeks along here: several had these fantastic rock pools that looked like they’d be great for swimming in if we’d had the time. However, there really weren’t any views along this section: just a lot of trees, bushes, plants, etc. We gradually made our way closer to the river, and finally arrived at one of the highlights of the trip—the cablecar!

At this time of year, the Chilliwack looks pretty easy to ford, but how could we resist the novelty of a human-powered cablecar river crossing in the middle of a national park? On the north side of the river (where we were), we ascended a ladder up to a wood platform. The car rides along a cable that stretches from the platform to another one on the other side. The cablecar was on the other side of the river, so I pulled the rope which brought the car to us.  My friends teased me about my addiction to the battle ropes course I’ve been going to for a couple of years now and how I managed to find a way to mix in ropes wherever I go. Ha! Anyway, Heidi and I hopped in the car, and with some whoops and hollers and sightseeing along the way, crossed to the other platform. Marna and Kelly went next, and they did some whooping and hollering too.

From there, we had some ups and downs for another several miles. A couple of my favorite parts of the trail were the view of the river from a bridge and a sign notifying us we were 9.1 miles from the “international boundary.”

We then met up with “Galloping Gertie.” This suspension bridge, which you encounter  just before Indian Creek Campground (where we were planning to camp), bounces and twists as you cross it. Yeehaw!

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Kelly tests out “Gertie”

After the bridge, it was a quick walk into camp. We found one other party—a trio of men, probably in their 60s—who pointed out the trail to the toilet and to the two other campsites. We chose the one farthest away and set up camp. We started out with a mini happy hour feast, then turned to freeze dried meals with whisky and chocolate for dessert. By then it was all of maybe 5 o’clock, which meant a long wait for it to be dark enough to sleep. We entertained ourselves merrily trying to hang our food, as none of us could get a good toss to get our rope over our designated tree branch. Too low, too right, too left, and the rock falling off the end before the rope really got anywhere. It was hysterical. To our chagrin—and relief—one of the men from the other campsite came along and tossed our rope for us. But that ended up being kind of funny too. Then we headed back to camp to wait, and wait, and wait for darkness.

The next morning we were on the trail by 6:30. We had 1 mile to go to reach a ford of Indian Creek and the Chilliwack River. The men from the campground had already made it across and pointed out a way to get across without the water going over our boot tops. We all looked down at our trail runners, shrugged our shoulders, and tromped through the water. It was definitely a “good morning, wake up!” cold crossing, but expedient.

After the water crossing, it’s a long 7.5 miles and 3500-ish feet of up to Copper Lake. We passed through forest for much of this stretch, occasionally seeing small streams and flowers, and then back into the forest. After a while, we started gaining the ridge and could see down to the river. It’s always rewarding to see where you’ve come from!

Once we gained the ridge, we still had more climbing on our way to Copper Lake. Now we were out in the open and views of Mineral Mountain, Easy Peak, Whatcom Peak, Luna Peak, Mt. Fury, and many others would appear as we exited the forest and rounded corners. This was a wonderful stretch that sometimes reminded me of the High Sierras with granite blocks and open views.

It was near the section you see above, in the bottom left photo, that I was distracted by the views and lost my footing. My left foot slid off the loose gravel and as my weight shifted with it, the rest of me followed. I was later told that I called out a very calm, “Um…guys,” but otherwise simply fell in slow motion. Once I stopped, my right foot, ankle, and knee were hollering a bit and I sat there taking stock. Fortunately, after a minute or so, I was able to get up and continue on, but my foot hurt more and more on the day went on. Nothing to do but keep going, so I did; Advil did become my friend.

At Copper Lake we stopped to enjoy the blue water (I was reminded of Lake Tahoe) and refill our water for the next long climb. I wandered over to the campground to find the toilet, and got a kick out of the high-tech composting toilet that made me think of some kind of Mars Rover. However, when you’re sitting on it, the views are fantastic!

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Beautiful Copper Lake

From Copper Lake it is another 1.3 miles up to Copper Ridge Fire Lookout (at our high point of 6250 feet). I didn’t mind the climbing, as I was well distracted by the views all around. There were two other women already there, and just as we were nearing the top two pieces of foil from their lunch were caught by a breeze and went flying into the air. As they (and we) looked on helplessly, the thermals took the foil higher and higher. Suddenly one dropped about 20 feet behind me and I made a dash to grab it before it took off again. The other was last seen drifting high above the Chilliwack River, possibly headed toward Mt. Challenger. If you encounter it, please know that the person who lost it was very upset about littering in the wilderness.

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Approaching Copper Ridge Fire Lookout

From the lookout, it was “all downhill” until we would meet back up with the start of the Hannegan Whatcom Trail and turn back to begin retracing our steps over Hannegan Pass and back to the car. Of course, all downhill means that yes, you will lose nearly 2000 feet of elevation but you’ll do it by going up and down and up and down the whole way. Since we had Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan towering in front of us the whole way, we thought that was just fine.

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As we reentered the forest, we started to shift into “get ‘er done” mode. The packs—much heavier than we’re used to—were fast becoming mortal enemies, my foot was throbbing and had me walking funny, which was giving me unfamiliar blisters on my other foot, and we had lost the reward of the wide-open views we had just enjoyed. It was here that we encountered more people than anywhere else during the trip. Some were backpackers, some had done some cross-country treks, and others were climbers heading out or returning with heavy packs with ropes, ice axes, and helmets.

We continued on, rarely stopping and with less chatter, and suddenly found ourselves back at the intersection with the Hannegan Whatcom Trail. This marked our departure from the North Cascades National Park and the start of the mile climb back up to Hannegan Pass. We all felt like it had been a week, rather than a day, since we had traversed this bit of trail. Weird how trail time and “real time”—whatever that is!—can be so different!

The final 4-1/2 miles seemed to take forever and no time at all at the same time (clearly I was getting goofy). At the cars we cheerfully took off our packs and threw them on the ground. After a quick change of clothes, we headed down to Ruth Creek to soak our feet and enjoy a cool drink. It was the coldest darn water and a great way to end the day!

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L-R: Kelly, Heidi, and Marna soaking away the past two days

Perspective

After completing the Wonderland Trail, I was pretty burnt out. I took a full two weeks off and didn’t do anything—no gym, no walks, no hikes, no runs—except for the 8 miles a day I walked at Disneyland. When I started out on the Copper Ridge Loop, I had what I called my Wonderland Trail Adventure Hangover. My body felt fine, but my mind was struggling to be “into it.”

The cool thing was that once we got going, and once we hit that cablecar crossing, the switch got flipped. It was fun to be out again, and Heidi, Kelly, and Marna were great adventure buddies. I loved the views of day 2 and felt like I was back in my happy space.

I wasn’t sure that getting back out would be the answer to my adventure hangover. I was thinking about shifting to road running for a while, taking a break from the trees and trails, in order to refresh my mind. Who knew that going right back out there was the answer? I’m very glad it was.

The other big thing this trip reminded me of is how quickly you can get hurt out of nowhere, when you least expect it. I’ve had several friends take simple spills on the trails over the past couple of years and end up with broken or severely sprained ankles. As I worked my way through the final miles yesterday, I despaired that my fall race plans were in jeopardy and I was mad at myself for that moment of inattention. I feel very lucky that all I have today is a bruised and tender foot and a tender knee. I should be fine in a week or so.

I’m so glad I have awesome friends who like to instigate adventures!

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