Monday, September 28, 2015

Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

I'm not fast; and I don't consider myself to be competitive when it comes to trail running. But for some reason in about the span of a week I decided I wanted to run the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier (93 miles, 25,000' gain) and see if I could come close to the Fastest Known Time for an unsupported trip (25:48 by Yassine Diboun and Brian Donnelly).

This is decidedly not what I normally do on my weekend mountain outings. I normally run a bit, hike a bit, take a bunch of pictures and just enjoy the area I am in. To try and move fast, not during a race, is a little foreign to me. It didn't help that quite a few of my friends (Ben, Ethan, Richard) all had done it and I was starting to feel a little left out!

So, with a beautiful forecast I picked up Sir Hikes (already planning to meet friends in the area) at 4:30am Saturday and we drove down to the White River TH. I put on my "Really I can do it!" game face, left my camera in the car and struck out to enjoy my longest solo outing thus far.

That's a pretty weak game face...Sir Hikes photo, White River TH at 6:47am
I felt weird and twingy for the first 20 miles or so but things started to click when I came upon an elk family (bull, cow and fawn all together) in the woods near Nickel Creek and the trail was smooth dirt with fall's cushy detritus. Steven's Canyon had gorgeous colors and was a nice quiet stretch where I didn't see any people; a big contrast from the crowds I'd encounter momentarily at Reflection Lakes.

Descending to Longmire a trail runner passed me going up and we managed a quick "hey!" in passing. About a mile later he came back in the same direction and introduced himself as Korey Konga, someone I'd seen on Seven Hills' team, who is quite clearly in the front-of-the-pack speedster group. He asked what I was up to and we ran together for 15-20 minutes on the way back to his car at Longmire, where he kindly took and Instagram-ed a photo of me.

It's almost like I'm on social media! Thanks Korey!
Starting at Longmire (if you're going clockwise), the Wonderland takes you on a relentless pattern of climb-descend-climb-descend, repeat ad nauseam, as you work your way over Rampart Ridge, Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, Emerald Ridge, St. Andrew's/Klapatche Park and finally Sunset Park. I hadn't been to this portion of MRNP, so to travel through all those ridges, river valleys and park lands with very few people out in the late afternoon and evening was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The mountain was fully out (morning was misty on the east and south sides), bull elk were bugling and as night started to set in the time arrives that you have to really "commit" to what you're doing. I think that feeling was especially strong Saturday knowing that in late September we have about 11 hours of darkness (maybe more when you're in the woods).

After putting on new socks and all my night-time clothes at 10:30pm I still was ahead of Yassine and Brian's FKT time (through 63 miles in 15:44). However, by the time I got to Ipsut Pass at 1:30am it was cold and windy. The trail was loose rock with a bit of brush and just not runnable for me given the circumstances. That descent of only three miles took me an hour; I got chilled and when I saw at 2:30am a hollowed-out tree that was dry underneath, I climbed in for a nap.

I needed 15 minutes to close my eyes and it was worth it. I switched GPS watches as well and started to think about when the sun would come up.

The climb from the Carbon River up to Mystic Lake was draining, but light started to creep back into the sky and when I crossed the frosty log bridge over Winthrop Creek, with morning twilight lighting up the mighty Willis Wall, it brought a huge smile to my face.

Over the last ten miles I got to say hi to a couple of people backpacking the Wonderland who I'd already run into early the previous day. That was fun to see familiar faces and hear one individual say, "I thought I'd see you again!" Those are moments not lost on me.

I arrived back at White River at 9:23am, 26 hours and 36 minutes after setting out, finishing what probably is the best "athletic performance" I've ever had trail running.

It was fun to try something new and doing it solo and unsupported gave me a very personal appreciation for what I saw, how I felt during the run and how I've interpreted it afterward. While I always enjoy posting photos here, I don't regret not taking my camera. The Wonderland is worth doing, so please, go and enjoy the views in person :) .

For anyone interested, here is what I used on the trip:

Gear and clothing
  • Pearl Izumi EM N3 Road shoes
  • Salomon S-LAB 12L vest - 2013 model
  • Petzl Myo headlamp (primary)
  • Black Diamond Spot headlamp (backup)
  • Black Diamond Carbon Ultra Distance Z poles (used last 60 miles)
  • Garmin 910XT and 920XT
  • iPod Shuffle
  • SOL Emergency Bivvy
  • iPhone
  • Two 20oz bottles  

  • Pearl Izumi Fly In-R-Cool long-sleeve top
  • Pearl Izumi ambassador singlet
  • Mizuno 3/4 tight
  • Champion sport compression underwear
  • Injinji Trail socks (two pairs, switched at ~60 miles)
  • Icebreaker Quantum merino wool gloves
  • Mountain Laurel Designs eVENT shell mitts
  • Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody windbreaker (outlet-store older model)
  • Pearl Izumi Fly In-R-Cool hat (daytime) 
  • Half Buff
  • Patagonia Chuckanut beanie
  • Meister compression calf sleeves (from ~60 miles to end)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A.H. Sylvester Chiwaukum loop, Alpine Lakes Wilderness

It seems impossible to travel through the Wenatchee or Entiat ranger districts without being touched by the place names given by A.H. Sylvester. The Chiwaukum Range especially bears the names of his wife (Lake Alice), relatives and friends, as well as some of the whimsical (Grindstone Creek and mountain, "named for a small grindstone which was lost from the load of a pack horse at this crossing.") and descriptive names he gave (Frosty Creek and pass, after his camp in the area received a heavy frost in early fall; Chatter Creek, for the sound of its flow). Sylvester Lake, named in memoriam, sits on Grindstone Mountain's southwest side. On a side note, Sylvester is credited with changing the name of the North Fork of the White River to the Napeequa River, a native and descriptive name I love, which also is one of my favorite places in the state.

On my first trip to the Chiwaukum last November, Ethan, Kate and I "enjoyed" a quite-cold day of solitude, but didn't get to fully experience the area.

Yesterday I did the long-form loop from Chatter Creek through the Mormon Lady Lakes, Frosty Pass and on to Doelle Lakes (pronounced "duel-ee"; named by Sylvester for William Doelle of Cashmere who lost his life fighting a forest fire in the area) and Chain Lakes, returning via Icicle Creek. Ben had done this a couple of weeks ago and reminded me I needed to go too.

All trails are in good shape and there is abundant water throughout the loop. From the Chatter Creek TH through Frosty Pass was quite busy (15 people?) but I was the only one through Doelle and Chain Lakes, the highlight of the loop. Larches on the east side are just starting to change.

Thanks to Forest Service rangers Adam and Shane, who I had a nice long chat with on the trail. Great to see them out rangering the high hunt and hear some of their thoughts on challenges the area is facing. I have a lot of time for those guys.

The loop is just under 30 miles with ~7,500'+ of gain.

Looking back down the Chatter Creek drainage from the upper basin; Cashmere Mountain peeking out
Index Creek drainage, from just below Lake Edna
Larches in the basin south of Lake Edna
Lake Edna, Icicle Ridge and Big Jim Mountain (left)
Pano from above Ladies Pass (center); Ladies Peak above and Snowgrass Mountain summit in the clouds at right
Northwest face of Grindstone Mountain, with Lake Alice
Northwest face of Grindstone
Upper Florence Lake
North face of Mt. Stuart
Lake Margaret, Frosty Pass and the ridges toward Doelle-Chain beyond
Bulls Tooth
Large meadow before Doelle Lakes

Lower Doelle Lake
Fight crowds in the Enchantments or have this all to yourself...?
Lower Doelle Lake
Upper Doelle Lake and the north end of Bulls Tooth
The upper two Chain Lakes
ID help? Maybe a baby Western Toad?
There is a lot of old growth in the upper Icicle
Fall colors through Icicle Creek


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Stetattle Ridge North Peak, North Cascades National Park

I almost never repeat trails/routes. Yet, somehow, I found myself on Saturday morning parking in Diablo and starting up the Sourdough Mountain trail to access Stetattle Ridge...for the third the last 12 months.

I took the route adjacent to Sourdough creek up (probably the most direct of the three slightly-different routes I've done to reach Stetattle) to the saddle at the class 3 step which I scrambled for the first time instead of bypassing it on the west. It's two high-step mantle moves and otherwise is class 2. While I had grand ambitions of doing Elephant Butte in a day, I reached the high point of Stetattle (6728') at 3:50 elapsed and still had 3-5 more miles of cross country with 2500'+ of gain and descent (before repeating it all back). I wasn't quite convinced I should commit to a probably 16-hour day, so I turned around and strolled all of the ridge to the Sourdough lookout.

A mother bear and cub have been travelling the entirety of the ridge as well as I followed their tracks through four tarns spread over the whole ridge before running into them on the summit of 6728'. Almost all of the tarns were recharged with the recent storm so there is a decent amount of water up there. If someone goes up soon the register on 6728' needs to be replaced and the wet register dried and cataloged.

Wonder how long it'll be before I'm back for a fourth trip up...

Tarn on southern Stetattle 
Looking south at the Colonial-Snowfield group and beyond to all the peaks up the Thunder Creek drainage
Davis Peak's north face
Northbound on Stetattle
Bear tracks
The Roost, Thornton Peak, Triumph
North unit of the North Cascades from 6495' on Stetattle Ridge; loaf-shaped feature center-right is Stetattle high point 6728'
More bear tracks
Mama on left, cub on right
Onward to 6728'
Mama and cub (on rocks center-right) on the summit of 6728'
Pano from 6728'; labeled picture below
1. Davis Peak, 2. The Roost, 3. Thornton Peak, 4. Triumph, 5. Glee Peak, 6. Mount Despair, 7.  McMillan Spires, 8. Southern Pickets: Terror, Twin Needles, Mustard Spires (Himmelgeisterhorn, Ottohorn), 9. Mt. Baker, 10. Mt. Shuksan, 11. Elephant Butte, 12. Northern Pickets north end (Ghost Peak, Crooked Thumb, Challenger), 13. Luna Peak, 14. Bear Mountain, 15. Tradition Peak, 16. Redoubt, 17. Mox Peaks, 18. Spickard  

Looking back south down Stetattle from 6728'
Rarely-seen Nohokomeen glacier on Jack Mountain
The Southern Pickets (labels above) 
Azure Lake and Stetattle Creek
The register on 6728' is ruined with water damage; needs replacement and cataloging
Lone goat on Stetattle
Big Beaver Creek and wetlands
Another good track I missed on the way out
Tarn on southern Stetattle
Sourdough Lake
Sourdough Mountain lookout 
Diablo Lake, Colonial-Snowfield group and the Thunder Creek drainage