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

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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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Wonderland Trail in Three Days

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Trail Facts:

  • 93–96ish miles
  • 25,000-ish feet gain and loss
  • Circumnavigates Mt. Rainier
  • Affords hikers and runners views of all sides of Mt. Rainier
  • Wanders through forests and meadows, crosses streams and rivers, passes by lakes and glaciers, and climbs and drops and climbs and drops through continuously breathtaking terrain

Our Trip Dates:

  • Sunday, July 29: Drive to Mt. Rainier National Park, eat at the National Park Inn at Longmire, sleep at Cougar Rock Campground
  • Monday, July 30: Drive to Longmire, start on the Wonderland Trail at 6:01 a.m., arrive at Mowich Lake at 9:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, July 31: Leave Mowich Lake at 6:30 a.m., arrive at Sunrise Visitor Center around 5:45 p.m. (in time for burgers!) and White River Campground about 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, August 1: Leave White River at 6:30 a.m., arrive back at Longmire at 7:30 p.m.

This year’s “big adventure” destination landed squarely in our Pacific Northwest backyard: seven of us—Kari, Kelli, Wendy, Heidi, Sarah, Vivian, and I—decided to go around Mt. Rainier on the Wonderland Trail in three days. There was lots of discussion about the pros and cons of starting points and directions, but ultimately we chose to start and end at Longmire and to go clockwise. Our dates ended up being at the tail end of a week-plus of high temps for the region, and our first two days were pretty toasty. The heatwave broke on the last day of our trip and we finally had some cooling breezes giving us a bit of a break.

I talked about this in my prior post, but getting going on this adventure was tough mentally for me. Even as I was packing, I had doubts about my focus and questioned whether I had the level of commitment in my heart to pull this off. I got my answers in the middle of the trip, when I hit my “low” point and puked in the bushes outside the Sunrise Visitor Center parking lot. But I’m ahead of myself …

Day 1: Longmire to Mowich Lake

We had reserved a site at Cougar Rock Campground for the night before, and we were all settled by about 9:30 or 10. The next morning (our first day on the trail) our amazing crew for day one—Ana, Adam, and Sharon—had water boiling at 4:45 a.m. and we were packed and ready to go by 5:45 a.m. They drove us to Longmire and we took all the obligatory group photos, and then we were off. The trail starts rather anticlimactically by running along the road for a bit, and then starts heading up Rampart Ridge (and ironically taking us right by Cougar Rock campground). Our first views of the Mountain came as we crossed the Kautz Creek at about 3.5 miles.

After crossing Kautz Creek, we continued our way up. This section is mostly forested and a bit of a grind. Our first landmark, at 5.5 miles and 2500 feet, was Devil’s Dream. If you think about it, that would translate to “Nightmare” and it was indeed a nightmare of bugs. We pushed into a run to get out of there and soon arrived at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground. Oh! My! Goodness! Flower-coated meadow. Mountain views. Cabin tucked into the woods beside the meadow. It was insanely gorgeous!

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Wendy running through flowers and escaping the bugs
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Idyllic Indian Henry’s

From here, we had about 11 miles and 3400 feet of gain to get to our next major landmark: Klapatche Park. It was getting pretty hot by now, and we were careful to hydrate, maintain electrolytes (Nuun, Tailwind, and S-Caps were our friends on this trip), and slow down a bit to keep things under control.

We first headed up to Emerald Ridge, which was breathtaking! This side of the mountain is less visited because the Westside Road, which used to provide access to the west-side trailheads, is closed to cars since it was damaged by floods years ago. However, you can still get there by bike, and I think it’d be a worthwhile day trip to ride up to the South Puyallup Trail and hike up to Emerald Ridge. I really liked this area: it’s alpine-y, with huge views of glaciers, moraines, and waterfalls, and the area was awash in color from magenta and orange paintbrush and dozens of other flowers that I don’t know the names of. There was even a resident marmot who ignored us as he stood on his haunches, pulled on a flower stem, and then devoured the flower. He was quite plump and cute!

A steep and rocky trail took us the mile and a half from the top of Emerald Ridge to the South Puyallup River and a stunning suspension bridge. Crossing the bridge was a thrill, and we all acted like children squealing and laughing as we bounced our way across one at a time.

Once across, we had a long hot climb up to St. Andrews Lake. The trail was often overgrown, which just seems to add a bit of misery when you’re already hot and sweaty. This was just one of several overgrown sections on day one.

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Heidi leads me through the overgrowth … 

At St. Andrews Lake, we encountered a family of four (the kids were 6 and 8). We were all in awe of the parents, as none of us with kids could imagine ours being out there doing what they were doing. That family and another couple were swimming and cooling off in the lake, and we quickly joined them. After the heat of the day and the long climb, the cool mountain lake water … simply utter and complete bliss!

None of us wanted to leave, but all of us wanted to get to Mowich at some point that evening, so we resigned ourselves to putting back on our shoes and packs and heading out. This next sections don’t really stand out in my mind for anything except that we kept going up and down, through the trees and out in the open. It’s about 8 miles, with 1500 feet gain and 2100 loss, to Golden Lakes, our next major landmark. The bugs seemed happy, though.

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At Golden Lakes, I split off from Wendy and Heidi—with whom I’d spent the last couple of hours—and set off downhill toward the Mowich River, trying to catch up with the rest of the group. I finally caught them after a couple of miles and enjoyed their spontaneous rap songs (with Skat Master Sarah as DJ) and silliness.

My husband had hiked down to the Mowich a couple of weeks earlier to check out the crossings there. When our friend, Marna, did the Wonderland last year, the Mowich bridge was out and it made for a sketchy crossing. Mike found a bridge on the North Mowich, but the South Mowich had to be forded. So, when we got there, we decided to wait for the group to be whole again so we could be assured of everyone’s safety. As it ended up, both forks of the river are safely bridged now and it was an easy crossing.

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North Mowich River

As the sunlight waned, we worked our way up our final 2,000 foot climb over 3ish miles. I switched my headlamp on with just over a mile to go. Mike—who had arrived earlier in the day to set up camp—was waiting at the intersection with the trail that heads off (the wrong direction) to Spray Park and offered us all a bit of a scare (since it had been so long since we’d seen anyone else) as well as a sense of welcoming, and Sharon waited just up the trail and offered a warm hug and congratulations as we headed into camp.

Adam, Ana, Sharon, Heidi’s husband Bill, and Mike had hot food and cold drinks ready for us, and I don’t think we showed any manners at all as we shoveled it into our faces. (Thank you to my mother-in-law, Nancy, who’d made my favorite chili chicken with rice. It was delicious!) With our tents and sleeping bags waiting for us, we changed out some gear in our packs and fell into bed.

Day 2: Mowich Lake to White River Campground

Up again at 5 a.m., we were slower at getting ready and finally left camp at 6:30 a.m. I was excited about day two: I knew most of the trail, loved the views, and knew that it would be a shorter, easier day that ended in burgers at Sunrise Visitor Center. Translation: I was cocky, didn’t take the day as seriously as I had the day before, and I just about trashed the trip for myself as a result.

The day started with a long descent down a stunning canyon to Ipset Creek and ultimately the Carbon River. It was along this descent that Heidi stepped on a loose rock the wrong way and was suddenly sliding off the trail. Those things always happen so quickly, and luckily she slid into a tree which stopped her downhill progress. It was a good reminder that things can and do happen on the trails!

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Mowich Lake in the morning
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Looking down-canyon

Once we hit the Carbon River, we were on known territory for me. A few years ago, Mike and I rode our mountain bikes up the Carbon River Road to Ipset Creek Campground and then hiked up to the snout of the Carbon Glacier. It was fun to revisit those memories as I ascended the same way. Once we passed Mike and my previous turnaround point, we were back again in unknown territory until we reach Old Desolate above Mystic Lake.

Eager to make progress on this shorter day (I really really wanted to get into camp early and take a nap!), I charged ahead, ignoring my watch chimes that I have programmed to remind me to eat, drink, and take electrolytes routinely. This section ascends just under 2000 feet over 3ish miles, and it becomes another one of those breathtakingly beautiful places along the Wonderland Trail. Without a doubt, Moraine Park—with Moraine Creek, wildflowers, and incredible views of the Mountain—was a highlight.

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Mt. Rainier towers above us in Moraine Park

At Mystic Lake, we all needed to refill our water and then we were off again. We had been hearing from backpackers going the opposite direction that the crossing at the Winthrop Creek was bad and that we should get there as early as possible. We also heard that a man had been washed off the log bridge the day before and had died. His teenaged son had run for help, and that morning helicopters had been out searching for the body. This news definitely affected our outlooks. This was the second person to die in a river crossing in the past five days (there would be one more we’d learn about later), and we were definitely concerned.

Over the 2 miles from Mystic to the Winthrop, we powered on … hoping we would arrive before the day’s warmth increased the river’s levels too much. But when we got there, we not only found the river pouring over parts of the bridge in waves, we also encountered a ranger who strongly advised against crossing. While we debated our course of action and looked at the bridge, we literally watched the water level rise. The water was so forceful that we could hear boulders rolling underwater. It seemed possible that we would have to turn back and give up on our trip. There was a work crew on the other side of the river, and they were there to install a railing to make the crossing safer. However, it would be a wait before they could complete the work. The ranger advised to wait an hour, and we could see where things stood with the bridge improvements.

As we waited, the day continued to warm and my earlier “Sunrise-or-bust” attitude started to tear me apart. I grew hotter and I started not to feel well. There are so many things I could have done during this hour, and in retrospect they’re obvious (hydrate, eat, find shade and a cooler place). But, I was frustrated about the bridge situation, I was a little scared, and I just wanted to keep going. In other words, I wasn’t thinking well.

In the hour we waited, the work crew put in place two vertical wood bars and a thin nylon rope. At this point, they said that we could make our own decision about whether to cross, but it was an adult decision that would be made by informed adults. They said they would give us each a life vest from their gear, but that the thin nylon rope and the life vest were no guarantees of our safety: the rope would probably break if we fell and our heads would probably be bashed by rocks before the vests could save us. Cheery thoughts.

After some discussion, most of us felt confident about going, but not everyone. The rangers told us we could wait another 3 hours for them to finish the bridge in order to be safer. Another group conference later, we remained split and agreed those of us who were ready to cross would, and if the remaining group members weren’t comfortable they’d wait the 3 hours and cross later.

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Work commences on the bridge over the Winthrop Creek

Ultimately, all of us crossed. It was unnerving—because the water was so brown from the silt is was carrying, when the waves of water crossed the bridge I’d lose sight of my feet and the bridge itself. However, I didn’t feel any force from the water and it was actually a relatively easy crossing. My thoughts remain with the man who died and especially with his son, who witnessed everything. The mountains are serious business.

After the Winthrop, you traverse gently up and down to Granite Creek and then ascend several hundred feet through forest. Topping out affords views of Skyscraper Mountain, Mount Fremont, the valleys down to Grand Park, and the Burroughs. There are no words.

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Kelli topping out from the climb above Granite Creek
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The breathtaking traverse out of Berkeley Park toward Frozen Lake and Sunrise

After the climb, everything caught up with me. I walked the rest of the way to Sunrise, trailing behind the group. Vivian kept an eye on me, and cheerfully announced each new spectacular view. I responded with a miserable, “I don’t care.” Just as we arrived at the parking lot of Sunrise Visitor Center, my stomach called BS and I puked up the little that was left in my stomach into the bushes. I then ran to the bathroom to take care of the other side of things. Ugh. From there, I dragged into the Visitor Center and promptly inhaled a hamburger, two bags of popcorn, and two sodas.

From Sunrise to White River is 3 downhill miles. They were some of the longest, most demoralizing miles of my life. I was frustrated with myself for mistakes over the day. My right IT band was tight and my knee hated every step. My feet were hot and sore and felt blistered. It was clear to me that my trip was up. There was no way I was going to be able to continue the next day.

At camp Wendy and I conferred. She was suffering from a swollen foot and blistering, and had realized during those same long 3 miles that her trip was up. I shared my own situation, and I think we both were in the same state of mind.

I went to bed resigned to failure. Mike encouraged me to make the call the next morning, and see how I felt after a night’s sleep. I took some Advil and drank a bottle of water. I then slept like the dead until I woke up at 4 a.m. to go to the bathroom. Then I drank another bottle of water and went back to sleep. When my alarm rang at 5 a.m., I drank another bottle of water.

Day 3: White River to Longmire

The night before, our friends Elly, Angel, and Tim had arrived to replace Ana and Adam and supplement Sharon, Mike, and Bill as crew, cheer, and support. Our friends are the best!

After that bottle of water at 5 a.m., I decided to give the last leg of the trip a try. I dressed, forced down food and changed out my day three food bag to include a quart-sized baggy of chips. I also ate a bunch of chips. Clearly salt was still high on the body-needs-this list. I talked to Wendy, who was limping through camp in her flip-flops, and I felt terribly for her. As for me, I left camp queasy, uncertain, and determined.

Our day started with crossing the White River just outside camp. Here, the river had carved a new channel the day before, and we had to rock hop and finally just walk through the water to get to the bridge over the main channel. This bridge also was partly submerged, so feet that had made it across the first channel dry now got to get wet anyway. This was a big deal because our feet were feeling the miles and keeping them happy was a priority. Oh well.

Our first destination would be Summerland, a long-time favorite of mine. Basically, everything between Summerland and Indian Bar are part of what I consider heaven on earth—beautiful meadows, high alpine ecosystems, stellar views of the Mountain! Elly, Angel, and Tim quickly caught up with us, and it made for cheery conversation to catch up with them.

At Panhandle Gap—the highest point on the Wonderland at 6800 feet—we toasted with a few sips of whisky. Angel, Tim, and Elly headed back down toward Summerland and their cars, and we headed onward.

The first time I did the climb out of Indian Bar, it kicked my butt. I was totally demoralized by this “uphill-downhill” which noodles along a ridge and provides way too many false summits. Since then, I always know what I’m in for, and I warned everyone else in advance. About halfway through the climb, we bumped into another woman, Rachel, who was also doing the Wonderland in three days, but she was solo on her trek. We invited her to join us, but she cheerfully shook her head and later passed us at a nice clip. Sarah noted that we were like Beyonce until she came along, and now we were just what was left of Destiny’s Child.

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Taking the stairs up out of Indian Bar

We finally hit the descent to Nickel’s Creek, and moaned about our feet as we worked our way downhill. I asked if anyone would mind stopping at the creek so I could soak my feet in the cold water, and everyone was onboard with that idea! When we arrived, Rachel was soaking her feet in the creek and she shared that two humongous blisters were troubling her. She also shared that she was the first person the teenaged boy had found after his father was swept into Winthrop Creek, and that it continued to weigh heavily on her mind. This time when we invited her to join us, she jumped at the offer, and we were once again a group of seven.

At Box Canyon, we marveled at all the people and cars and used flush toilets and washed our hands with soap and water. I love how luxuries and civilization are a shock after just a couple of days on the trail. We then headed off toward our last climb of the trip. We’d descend to the bottom of Stevens Canyon and then ascend to Reflection Lakes near Paradise. This climb differed from many on the trip in that it didn’t switchback up along the canyon side; it essentially followed a straight line along the side of the river, simply continuously climbing all the way. At one point, it crosses a creek and then ascend an evil set of stairs. Perhaps two-thirds of the way up out of the canyon, there’s a wash out that makes for a bit of a spicy eighth of a mile.

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Sarah, Kari, and Kelli taking very careful steps

We popped out on the road and felt a sense of dislocation with the sudden change of scenery, but quickly returned to the forest for more climbing. And then suddenly we were at Louise Lake! Our climbing was essentially done!

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Mt. Rainier and Louise Lake

In another half mile, we arrived at Reflection Lakes. There, Elly was waiting to accompany us the final 5 miles back to Longmire. She gave each of us a wonderful hug, and seriously it was like a smile in my soul!

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Kari and Elly … and perhaps another shot of whisky
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Feet up whenever there’s an opportunity (plus Sarah considers hitching a ride for those last few miles)
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OMG—what a happy sight to see!

The final descent along the Paradise River is a treat. The trail is relatively smooth, it’s not too steep, it’s all downhill, and it’s the homestretch. I ran most of this on my own … behind Elly, Kari, Sarah, Heidi, and Kelli and ahead of Vivian and Rachel. My feet were screaming at me, causing me to occasionally stop and flex them and breathe, but I felt strong. I—and the others—had been very attentive to our hydration, food, and electrolytes all day and it had paid off. In fact, I don’t think any of us have peed during a day on the trails as much as we had that day.

This final solo stretch was an important time for me. I spent a lot of that time reflecting on the journey, on what I had learned about myself and about my friends, on what I could do to be a better group member and person, on the giving and supportive friends and spouses who contributed to our trip, to our friends who did not start or could not finish, to my children who waited at home for me. I wish I had some definitive, trademarkable bit of wisdom to share, but I don’t. I simply know that I am blessed. My trip would never have happened if it were just me out there, alone and without purpose. My family, my husband, and my friends give me purpose and direction, and I love them. I can only strive to give back to them as they give to me.

The Wonderland Trail: Wrap-Up

When I was in my 20s, I went on two backpacking trips with my brother, Rob, and his friend, Kip, in the High Sierras of California. After those trips, I learned of the Wonderland Trail and tried to talk them into doing it with me. It’s been so long that I don’t remember why that trip never came together. But it was always there, in the back of my mind.

In recent years, I’ve covered the section along the Carbon River to the Carbon Glacier, the section between Frying Pan Creek Trailhead and Box Canyon five times, and the section from Sunrise to Mystic Lake. Each time, I’ve wanted to see more, experience more, of this wonder: a trail that goes around Mt. Rainier, that shows off its volcanic nature as well as its meadows and forests and glaciers. A trail that would challenge me mentally and physically. A trail that would overwhelm my senses with its grandeur. A trail that could be cruel and giving. I found it all.

Thank Yous

The people you do things with flavor your experiences. The right people enhance the experience and make each moment bigger, better, and simply more fun. And some people give of themselves to be your crew, to help make it happen for you. You guys are all the BEST!

Crew

  • Mike Maude
  • Ana and Adam Hinz
  • Bill Flora
  • Sharon Hendricks

Runners

  • Kari Vigerstol
  • Heidi Flora
  • Kelli Taylor
  • Sarah Brouwer
  • Wendy Abbey
  • Vivian Doorn

Planners, Beta Givers, and Cheer Givers

  • Meredith Wells
  • Marna Kagele
  • Elly Searle
  • Angel and Tim Mathis

All photos copyright Sarah Brouwer and me. All text copyright me. Love to all!

 

 

 

Chelanigans

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Look at Those Amazing People! I’m So Thankful They’re Part of My Life! Freakin’ in Stehekin 2018. Photo Credit: Sarah Brouwer

Last weekend 24 friends (yes, really! that many) and I headed east for the second annual Weekend in Freakin’ Stehekin. Stehekin is a little town on the “uplake” end of Lake Chelan in central Washington. Accessible only by foot, boat, or air, it’s a wonderful place to disconnect and simply enjoy.

But, I’m ahead of myself.

The adventure to Stehekin was part fun, part training (as most things are this time of year). Several of us broke up the drive out to Chelan on Friday with a 16-mile out-and-back run on the Ingalls Creek Trail, and then everyone joined for some version of ferry + run or ferry + hike or just ferry to get out to Stehekin on Saturday. This post is long because it covers both runs and a bit of Stehekin. I hope you enjoy it.

Day 1. 16 miles of out and back on the Ingalls Creek Trail

Two carloads of us headed out Friday morning and detoured to Ingalls Creek for some extra trail time. We were a mix of hikers and runners, and so broke into two groups at the car.

The consensus was that this is not a destination trail and none of us need to go back here again (unless we’re using it for access to points further into the Stuart Range or other area trails).

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When the Trail Is a Creek

I’m not sure why we were all so negative about it—perhaps because it was raining, or because it’s overgrown and all the carwash effect from the wet plants made it feel even wetter, or because … well, enough whining. We were like those reviewers on Yelp who say absurd things such as, “The beach was too sandy,” or “The water was too wet.” There were some pretty and runnable parts.

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Ingalls Creek Trail

The trail noodles up-valley alongside the north side of Ingalls Creek, which with the recent snowmelt currently is more like a raging roaring river. We saw some pretty flowers, ran up trails that could easily be called creeks, and crawled over, under, or around quite a few downed trees.

Probably the most excitement of the day was a mystery: At the base of a talus slope, there was what looked like a cave behind some rocks. Around the “cave” the air was steaming. We don’t know why, but we had many theories … some had to do with cold air flowing down the slope and some had to do with big grumpy furry animals with big claws and teeth. Ultimately, we decided NOT to investigate. We later checked in with the hiking portion of our group; they had similar theories and similar caution. So the steaming maybe-cave remains a mystery.

Anyway, our goal for the day was 16 miles and we turned around at 7.94 (per Garmin). It was there that we hit a pile of downed trees that looked like too much work to crawl over or around for that .06 extra.

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Enough!

The way down was quicker, as downstream runs tend to be, but I had been on full-on ding-a-ling mode prepping for the day and had failed to pack enough food. (You see, my logic was that Friday’s run was the shorter of the two planned for the weekend and therefore I didn’t need much. Let’s see: 16 vs. 18—not much of a difference. Doh!) Wendy and Heidi kindly offered up sour gummies (seriously sour) and some Sour Patch Kids (also seriously sour), which juiced me up enough on sugar to run it in to the cars.

We swapped out of soaking wet clothes and shoes, and piled back into the cars for the final hour’s drive into Chelan.

Chelan—Webb’s “Cabin”

This is just a shout-out to a friend of a friend, who now for two consecutive years has hosted the full Stehekin gang in his beautiful home perched on a hill overlooking Lake Chelan. A seriously open floorpan offers us spacious views and enough floor space for everyone to sleep. Thanks Webb!

Day 2. Chelan to Stehekin via ferry and 18 miles on the Lakeshore Trail

We had reservations for the 9:45 Lady of the Lake ferry from Fields Point uplake to our various destinations. Somehow, 25 people making breakfast and packing up gear was not too chaotic! Everyone wanted to leave a bit early to be able to make a run to Starbucks in downtown Chelan before making the 30-minute drive to Fields Point. As we pulled into the parking lot, the group’s competitive nature came out: car doors flew open and people raced to be first in line. (Tip: Use Starbucks’ mobile ordering feature—you get served ahead of everyone else.)

It was an hour-and-a-half chug uplake to Prince Creek, where 13 of us disembarked to start our adventure. **My husband, Mike, along with several others, stayed onboard for another hour-plus and then disembarked at Moore Point, where they started their 7-mile adventure on the same trail we would travel later in the day. You can also take the ferry all the way to Stehekin, which is a great option too, as there are many day hikes/runs out of there that head into the Glacier Peak Wilderness.** (Tip: You can leave your luggage onboard the ferry; they’ll drop it off in Stehekin, where the lodge staff will take it to your room. Pretty convenient!)

Along with the 13 of us in our group, about 15 to 20 backpackers got off at Prince Creek as well. There are many backpacker campsites along the lake, and it makes for a nice weekend outing to backpack the same stretch we’d be running and then ferry back to your car at the end of day 2 or 3.

As we gathered on the shore and made sure we hadn’t forgotten anyone (quick head count? yep: 13!), I was excited to head off and explore new country.

So off we went, following some of the backpackers and eager to get out ahead so we didn’t have to keep passing people. (With a group our size, we were sensitive to our impact on them as well as our own desire not to be stacked up behind folks.) After .2 of a mile we came upon Prince Creek. Like Ingalls Creek, this was a roaring raging river with all the recent snow melt. We could hear boulders being rolled downstream—wow! It was impressive! But the trail we took from where the ferry dropped us off did not go to a bridge. We—and a bunch of backpackers—scoured upstream, and we all worried about how we could possibly cross. We finally found the bridge downstream, almost to the lake, and on the other side of a “river” we needed to cross to get to the bridge to cross the river. There’s just so much water out there right now! **Update: Per a couple of posts on the Washington Trails Association trip reports page, this bridge washed out since our visit. Click here for a look at what the bridge looked like on Monday.**

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Prince Creek Roaring Beneath the Bridge That No Longer Exists

Once we got across Prince Creek, we discovered the trail switchbacked up the hillside, and thus began a series of ups and downs that would keep us busy for the first 10 miles or so. There were trip reports warning of ticks and rattlesnakes, and at least one rattlesnake was encountered during the first annual Weekend in Freakin’ Stehekin, but perhaps due to the rain on Friday and somewhat cooler temps this year our total tally was one tick and zero snakes.

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It’s difficult to break this part of the trail into sections, as it meanders along the lake continuously and I found there to be few landmarks, trail intersections, or other detours. However, it’s all so pretty—gawking was requisite with each turn of the trail, as the lake lay below in an almost aqua-blue ribbon and the cloud-topped and still-snowy mountains peeked out in the distance.

This area was affected by a wildfire a couple of years ago, and there is evidence of the devastation everywhere. But, the resulting fields of lupine, arrowleaf balsamroot, and wild rose were gorgeous, and the surviving trees provided both moments of shade and a contrasting beauty against the backdrop of flowers.

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We crossed a lot of creeks and rivers, some with bridges and warnings not to dilly-dally and others that required some balancing on logs or hopping across rocks. I remain reluctant to get my feet wet early in a run, but as the day progressed we all just tromped on through the smaller creeks.

At 11 miles, we reached the intersection of the trail heading down to Moore Point. From here, the ups and downs continued but the ups were shorter than earlier in the run. There were lots of fun “screaming downhills” and still lots to gawk at.

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Note the White-Flowered Dogwoods and Purply Lupines in the Foreground

At about 14 miles, the trail dips down near the lakeshore. There are some campsites here,  and also a large smooth rock shelf where we spent a bit of time basking in the sun and soaking our hot feet in the chilly lake water. Oh, and we gawked at the views some more too. Seriously, the mountains and the lake: Wow!

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My Final View From Lakeshore Trail as I Entered Stehekin

The final 4ish miles are fun and highly runnable, even on tired legs. Upon arriving at Stehekin, friends already there cheered us in and met us with hugs and cold drinks. Heaven!

Day 3. Stehekin

Sleeping in with no alarms. Breakfast on the deck looking out at the lake and mountains. Baby goats. A bakery with insanely yummy cinnamon rolls and sticky buns and GF cake. A cascading waterfall providing a Sunday morning “baptism” of spray. Super heavy rental bikes. Absolutely no phone, internet, TV, or texts. Bliss.

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My iPhone Cannot Do Rainbow Falls Justice

The 2 p.m. ferry home picked us up and we traveled back downlake the way we had come the day before. New adventures were discussed, including new routes to Stehekin leaving from Lucerne (another ferry stop on the lake, but this would be longer and along the south rather than the north side). And then home.

Looking Back

The third annual Weekend in Freakin’ Stehekin has already been discussed. I don’t know whether we’ll repeat the same route on Lakeshore Trail, or diverge to alternatives discussed on the way home. I can say that we all came away from the weekend relaxed and disconnected from the stressors of our daily lives.

I am very glad that the Prince Creek bridge was still in place when we crossed. Reminder to self: checking trip reports before heading out is always a good idea!

I don’t know what made the weekend so special, exactly. I think it is the sum of many parts: being totally disconnected from the outside world, the novelty of taking a ferry to a run, a magical lodge in the woods, beautiful surroundings, and probably most of all the people who came together for this adventure: my friends, new friends made, and of course Mike.

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Baked Goods at the Stehekin Bakery

As always, cherish your friends. Say yes to adventure. And adventures with cherished friends are the best!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring

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.

HujxI4pLSgmX1ybneidYrAThunder Creek in the North Cascades

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.

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Sarah!

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.

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So lush!

The highlight of this section of trail were the old trees towering above us.

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Remembering to look up! (PC: WB Abbey)

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.

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Too bad we didn’t bring the kayaks.
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Heidi and I enjoying Thunder Creek. PC: K Woznicki

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.

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Brrrrr! PC: WB Abbey

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.

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.

Otter Falls, North Bend area

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.

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).

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Snoqualmie Lake Trail Beyond Otter Falls Turnoff
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Trillium, Ferns, Moss, and a Trail—Who Needs Anything More?

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.

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If you miss this one, it’s all on you.

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.)

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Otter Falls

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.

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We made Kelly go through and then all turned around to head back. Psych!

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.