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!

 

 

 

It’s Been Quiet Around Here Lately

It’s after midnight on a Monday night. I’ve been working for the past three hours and just realized what time it is. It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen into my work like that, where I’m fully engaged and energized intellectually that way.

It’s no secret to those close to me that I struggle with what I call my multiple identities. Lately I’ve been ramping up the training again for some runs at the end of July and again in late October. But I’ve been missing being with my family. And I kind of miss mountain biking. And I’d love to have time for a pedicure. And I definitely miss time with my hubby.

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The cool thing is that the hubster’s been joining me. As I’ve started three-day training blocks, it’s been on a run-hike-run cycle, and he’s been joining me for the hikes. I like that.

We used to do stuff like that all the time. When I first moved to Seattle to be with him, he introduced me to all the standards—Si, Tiger, Granite, Mailbox—and to a bunch of the classic area alpine climbs—The Tooth, Chair Peak, Ingalls. Then I got tired of humping a heavy pack full of gear through the mountains so we took up scrambling together. One summer, almost every weekend we opened the guidebook to local scrambles and picked an adventure. That was a fun summer!

The other thing that’s no secret to those close to me is that I struggle with depression and anxiety. That’s the shitty part of life. Sometimes it’s hard to be excited about family, or making progress on anything. Sometimes it’s hard to be enthusiastic about going on adventures: they somehow get twisted in my brain and become have-to-ventures instead of want-to-ventures. It gets harder to deal with people, to be with big groups of people, to engage, to even enjoy what I’m doing.

My big goal for the summer has been to do the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier in three days. The trip kind of germinated last year from separate seeds that came from separate conversations among different members of my trail running circle. We ended up with nine women signed up and committed to the trip—which in my spiraling state this season was just way too many people: too complicated, too many conversations, too much planning, too much gear, too much anything and everything.

Trust me, I love each and every one of those women dearly. I was simply overwhelmed.

I had a lot of conversations with Mike about what to do: Should I just bail? I wasn’t having fun getting trained. I wasn’t having fun planning. Mike—being my rock—kept me centered and encouraged me. He reminded me that once we were past all the planning and getting on to the doing, I’d be in my happy place again.

And so it was that on Monday, July 30, my friends and I—down to seven from the original nine due to life getting in the way—started out on the Wonderland Trail. That’ll be the topic of my next post. But I wanted to finish this post, which was started a few weeks ago, because it’s part of the story.

About six months ago, my cousin Chris asked me to write a post about the why of ultrarunning. Why do I do it? What do I get out of it? It’s definitely not something that’s easy to answer. But I think part of it starts here: for me, it gives me an anchor. It’s something that comes from me that’s a fighter, that’s strong and determined, something that has purpose, a goal, a direction. And that takes me to beautiful places away from the everyday life: to places that inspire and feed my soul and teach me that I can be OK.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Being a Role Model

Running a lot is my passion. It’s also my single greatest source of “mommy guilt.” I love my weekends in the mountains, testing my limits; exercising my heart and lungs and muscles and soul; and feasting on fresh air, views, and the expanse of nature.

Those weekends in the mountains also mean that I’m away from my twin 8-year-old daughters. They’re pretty good at letting me know how they feel about it too: “Are you running again, Mom?” or, upon seeing the weekly family calendar, “Mom, why can’t you be here when I wake up on the weekends?”

Now, I did stop working full-time outside the home so that I could spend more time with my girls, and I volunteer at their school—in their classroom, on the PTA board, on field trips, etc.—take them to swim lessons, join them on hikes with their Brownie troop (1.2 mi. in 55 minutes was brutal!), and just generally adore them.

I’ve also tried to include them whenever I can. They joined me at the Corral Pass Aid Station a few years ago to support runners at White River 50, and they helped my husband crew me at Black Canyon 100K. We also run(walk) 5Ks together, and they come with me to summer track sessions and do some of the drills.

But … I’ve wondered: Is it enough?

Yesterday, in one of the Mother’s Day messages from one of my girls, I think I found out.

For context, when Meg found out we were going to Arizona for me to run a 100K, she asked, “Why are you doing that when you couldn’t even run 50 miles?” First: OUCH! Second, it was a good question. I did DNF White River last year. I told her that it was because it was something I really wanted to do, and that I had learned a lot from that race that I thought would help me finished Black Canyon. And, I wondered if my message was heard … or understood.

In that Mother’s Day message, Abby listed adjectives she would use to describe me. One of them was, “Never gives up.”

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YES! That’s a lesson I hope they both carry through their lives. While I’m certainly no Desi Linden, I love her statement: “Keep showing up.” Mine may be a little different, “Never give up,” but either way I think it’s about knowing what you want, making sure what you want feeds your passion and your heart and your soul, and then pursuing it—through the bumps and failures and challenges and successes. Because then you know who you are, and you know how strong you truly are.

I hope they never give up, keep showing up, and find their passion too.

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By the way, I’m apparently also a cooker, a sleeper, and sneaky (so watch out!).

 

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.

Cowiche Birthday Party

My friend, Will Run for Whisky (aka Ana), and I have birthdays that are one day apart, so we decided to invite a bunch of friends to join us for a birthday run. Since pretty much everybody is tired of wet feet and rain, we decided to head to Yakima—on the east side of the Cascades—and Cowiche Canyon for some desert landscape and dry trails.

Fortunately, we have really cool and awfully nice friends, and despite the 2-1/2 hour drive (each way) a big crew ended up showing up for the party.

Kelly W., who is a master at making all occasions festive, gave And and me sombrerito headbands and sombrero-sparkle-bead necklaces since we were the birthday girls. We had a couple of mountain bikers and then folks wanting everything from 6–8 to 16 miles and after trying to figure out a route, we just decided to run. Once again I forgot my Garmin—seems to be a trend since Black Canyon—and we set out.

It was a joy to run on dry trails and to even see spring flowers polka-dotting the grasses and sage brush.

One problem/benefit of deciding to “just run” is that I promptly got us semi-lost. As I took out my map and tried to figure out how to get down into Cowiche Canyon itself, Kelly announced another feature of our party: it was piñata time! Ana and I tried punching it and hitting it with a rock, but that little guy was tough! We resorted to tearing off its legs, and everyone scrambled for the candy.

We found our way down into the canyon and headed our way upstream. The canyon itself is just a few miles long, but has ancient basalt columns on one side and some kind of andesite formations on the other. (We actually did stop and read an information sign that had pictures and everything.) At the end of the canyon, we decided to explore some more and we headed back up and found another trail system that wound around and around and around. We put Tim of Boldly Went Adventures in front to get us back to the canyon, and sure enough we got to have an adventure as he picked up a deer trail (or something similarly unmaintained and fairly indistinct). He had a good sense of direction, though, and we eventually got back to the trail we had come up. From there, it was back downstream, and then back up to where we started.

Oh—and why the sombrero theme? Because after our run we headed to Yakima proper and feasted on James Beard award-winning tamales. Yum!!

I’m still loving these little adventure “jaunts,” but I’ve got a training plan that will kick into gear after my kids’ spring break and will be logging more time on longer trails soon. And I’m happy to report that I’m looking forward to it.

Post script and pretty much totally unrelated except it happened on this trip: On my way home, I stopped at a McDonalds to use the restroom. Sadly, this guy was hanging out at the door begging for food. I’ve never seen a duck do that before, aside from at duck ponds where people throw them bread. It was kind of surprising to have him just walk up to my feet and stare at me when I walked outside.