Forest Park “Tour de Nasty”

  • Date: January 27, 2019
  • Start: Firelane 2 pullout, Leif Erikson off Germantown Road, and Lower Macleay Park
  • Distance: 67+ miles
  • Duration: 20 hours (breaks and commute time between trailheads included)
  • Elevation gain: 13,550 feet
  • Type: Loops
  • References: runs4cache

The light from my headlamp cut through the dense fog as efficiently as a butter knife slices through concrete. Each exhalation into the cold, winter night air formed clouds directly in the stream of light, further obstructing the sight of rocks, roots, and other hazards on the trail. Aware of how tired my body was after 50+ miles of running, and unable to see more than a foot in front of me, I shuffled cautiously through our last route of the day, picturing myself hopping down the final set of stairs to Lower Macleay Park. Less than 15 miles to go…

I learned about the Forest Park Nasty routes a couple of years ago. They’re notorious for utilizing some of the steepest trails in the park. Many local runners train on them in the off-season to prepare for upcoming races and adventures. Our original goal was to run all of them in a week, but by the end of fall, that goal gradually morphed into the idea of running them all in a single day. Over the course of 8-10 weeks–yeah, it was a pretty last minute idea–we incorporated the various Nasty routes into our running schedule, completing all of them at least once (and most of them two or more times), with our final “big” training run consisting of three back-to-back Nasties in a day (36+ miles with around 8,000 feet of gain). Despite some lingering fears on my part, when the last weekend in January finally arrived, we were ready to give it our best shot.  

Flaming Nasty (16.67 miles; 3 hours 41 minutes, breaks not included)

(Note: We started the loop at Firelane 2, but the standard start is at the bottom of Firelane 1 off Highway 30)

We pulled up to the Firelane 2 trailhead shortly before 2 am. It was eerily quiet as we stepped out of the car. Despite the early morning alarm, we were actually wide awake, having gone to bed at 5 pm the day before for a luxurious 6-7 hours of sleep. We set off into the fog and down the first of many firelanes–Flaming Nasty utilizes Firelanes 1-5. With the relatively dry weather that week, we lucked out with a fairly non-mucky descent on what is usually a slopfest in the winter.

A few more ups and downs on Leif, Chestnut, Wildwood, and Morak brought us to Firelane 1 and the long descent to Highway 30. It was still early enough in the morning that the highway was practically empty. During our training run on Flaming a few weeks earlier, this section–Highway 30 to the Saltzman Road turn-off–gave us a lot of grief because Cassie kept trying to jump at the cars and trucks roaring by at 60 mph. We had to stop constantly–definitely not fun in the pouring rain–and Mack had to carry her a few times. This time, it was smooth sailing to Saltzman and we were off the road section quickly.  

Running along Highway 30

The climb up Saltzman is the longest, continuous stretch of this route (and potentially of all the Nasty routes!). It’s not particularly steep, but you gradually climb for nearly 4 miles up to the Saltzman/Firelane 5 parking area at the top of the Tualatin Mountains. It was uneventful and monotonous, especially in the dark. Reaching the parking area was probably the highlight of the route even though we still had a few miles left. It felt like the home stretch.

At the bottom of Firelane 4, with only 3-4 miles left, a familiar pain suddenly returned to my achilles. Each push off my right foot came with the sensation that the tendon was going to tear. My heart sank. I’d been dealing with the pain the past two weeks, significantly decreasing my mileages, wearing an ankle brace, and icing the tendon constantly in hopes of getting better before Tour de Nasty. I hadn’t felt any pain the first 13 miles, but here it was. How was I going to run 50+ more miles? We took it slow, only running the downhills after that seeing as the pain seemed to be worse when I tried to run on flat sections. I moved carefully and consciously, hoping it would subside. Despite having to slow down, we were still making faster time than anticipated and topped out onto Skyline Road from Firelane 3 nearly an hour earlier than our estimated time. We jogged along Skyline back to our car at Firelane 2 and promptly started the short drive to Leif Erikson off Germantown Road, the starting point for the next three Nasties.

North Nasty (11.81 miles; 2 hours 48 minutes, breaks not included)

The normally bustling Leif Erikson entrance off Germantown was silent and empty at 6 am. Sunrise was still about an hour away. I switched into my blown out, very broken-in Altra Lone Peaks (still wearing my ankle brace) and immediately felt relief in my achilles. I assumed the snugness of my “newer” Lone Peaks combined with the ankle brace had aggravated the tendon somehow. Excited to enjoy some *hopefully* pain/injury free running with this shoe switch, we began our second Nasty of the day.

Of all the Forest Park Nasties, North is our absolute favorite. It was the first one we ever ran, the one we trained on the most, and it’s situated in our favorite part of the park. All of its ups and downs and twists and turns was incredibly familiar to us, even in the early morning darkness. First light came sometime on our descent of Newton Road. We figured we’d make it just in time for sunrise on BPA Road, which opens up to views of Helens, Adams, and Rainier on a clear day. Unfortunately, it appeared that the fog we’d encountered on Flaming was going to remain prevalent so we ended up with a steep, view-less–but nonetheless enjoyable!–climb into the clouds.

Climbing up BPA Road in the fog

Aside from BPA Road, the back end of the North Nasty encompassing Firelanes 12 and 15 is the best part of the route. There’s hardly anyone ever on these firelanes, you pass through a very lush section of the park, and you get in some fun rolling hills (though none as stout as BPA or Newton). As expected, we didn’t run into a single person and enjoyed the soft spoken sounds of the forest waking up for the day. 

Daylight brought a renewed sense of energy and we pushed a little more once we found our stride on the mostly flat Wildwood Trail, which connected us back to Firelane 10. From there it was just over a mile of down and up back to our car at Leif. We finished shortly after 9 am, ready and eager to start South Nasty.

Firelane 12
Home stretch on Firelane 10

South Nasty (13.54 miles; 3 hours 10 minutes, breaks not included)

Despite our eagerness to keep going while we had momentum, we also had to recognize and respect the fact that we’d now run close to 30 miles already. It was time for a more legitimate break. Our friend, Alex, met us at the trailhead. He and another friend of ours, Aaron (who planned to catch up with us after we started), were joining us for this Nasty. Alex had brought a thermos of hot tea and shared it with us as we huddled beneath the trunk door of Mack’s car, keeping our bodies warm as we rested.

In the days leading up to Tour de Nasty, Mack had filled a small storage bin with our favorite running “nutrition” (Gushers, candy bars, GUs, variety of gummy candies, potato chips, cheetos, bottles of Gatorade to refill our flasks, and his homemade veggie burritos). It was our own personal aid station between each Nasty! As we repacked for South Nasty, we also forced down some of our aid station food to keep us energized for the next 13.5-ish miles. 

Although I enjoy the trails utilized in South Nasty, it’s probably my least favorite (or potentially tied with Flaming) because of precarious road running on Germantown. After taking Cannon Trail to the Wildwood Trailhead off Germantown, we ran up Germantown to the “unnamed” trail near the junction with Skyline Road. To be clear, this “trail” isn’t really a trail at all. It’s barely a social path. The only way we found it the first time we ran South Nasty was with a gpx track. It’s a short section, but it involves bushwhacking through Oregon grape, sword fern, and a variety of prickly, brushy plants. It’s not particularly difficult, but it is slow going. Once we entered the clearing at the top, we dropped down onto an official trail, Waterline Trail, and took it all the way to Leif.  

Aaron, being the speedy runner that he is, eventually caught up to us as we were descending a more technical section on Tolinda Trail. From there our quartet got back onto Germantown Road. The section of road running between Tolinda Trailhead and Bridge Avenue is my absolute least favorite of all the Nasties. There’s literally inches–okay, maybe a little more than that but it doesn’t feel like it–between you and oncoming traffic on Germantown, and to make matters worse, there are one or two blind turns in the road, as well as a guard rail that basically eliminates any space to run safely. 

The asphalt pounding continued as we turned up Springville Road, the first–really the only–lengthy climb on the route. In fact, the steepest section is actually the paved portion before reaching the gated, unpaved portion leading up to Skyline Road. Good company and conversations always make the tough climbs go by quickly though. I was grateful that Alex and Aaron were out there with us.

At the very top of Springville, we dropped all the way back down to Bridge Avenue via Firelane 7 and Ridge Trail. I felt especially nostalgic on Ridge Trail. It was where Mack introduced me to trail running for the first time when we lived in St. Johns a few years prior. It was where I fell in love with trail running. 

Hiking up Springville Road

Ridge Trail spit us back out onto Bridge Avenue, but the road section was short this time (and there’s a sidewalk available!). The final portion of South Nasty is a maze of sorts, utilizing the various trails off of Firelane 7. We started with the uphill stretch on Firelane 7A from Bridge Avenue, a sloppy, brushy slog up to Leif Erikson. After that it’s a series of ups, downs, and flats using Gas Line Road (not signed with this particular name), Firelane 7, Trillium Trail, Wildwood Trail, Oil Line Road (also not signed with this particular name; both Gas Line and Oil Line sort of bleed into Firelane 7), then finally a fun descent on Hardesty Trail. 

The two or so miles on Leif leading back to our car were probably the most pathetic of the entire day. It’s a very gradual uphill–so gradual it basically appears to be flat–but my legs had had enough. I leaned into my trekking poles and walked. Not power hiked. Just walked. We were over 40 miles in now, but we still needed to push through another marathon distance to finish. 

The elusive Firelane 7A

Skyline Nasty (10.92 miles; 2 hours 50 minutes, breaks not included)

(Note: We started the loop at Leif off of Germantown, but the standard start is at Skyline Tavern)

Three down, two to go! Now that we’d made it well past the halfway point, I had absolutely no doubt we were going to get it done. That being said, we were definitely feeling the 40+ miles we’d already completed, and fueling with sugary goodness for nearly 12 hours wasn’t exactly providing any long lasting energy. I could tell Mack was starting to recede mentally when he tried to pour Gatorade into a plastic Ziploc thinking it was his flask. Alex headed home with the intention of meeting us for the final Nasty later that day. Aaron decided he’d stick around for both.

Since we were starting from Leif rather than Skyline Tavern (to avoid additional driving), the route started off just like North Nasty for the first few miles, including the steep, rocky descent of Newton (which my knees were not pleased with by this point) and the long, arduous trudge up BPA. Although Skyline Nasty is shorter and flatter than its counterpart,–well, after you finish BPA that is–our overall pace was far slower. Even running the small ups on Wildwood became a chore!

Rock hopping over Newton Creek

Despite how slow we [me and Mack only; Aaron was cruising!] were moving, I just kept reminding myself that every step forward was a step closer to finishing. Aside from being a bit tired from being on our feet all day, neither of us felt like we were suffering and found it easy to smile, joke, and chat as we shuffled along. My spirits rose even more once Mack informed me we’d passed the 50 mile mark. For context, I dropped out over halfway through my first 50 mile race a few months prior and, since then, had a difficult time believing that I was cut out for such distances. Yet here I was 50 miles and over 13 or 14 hours into a gnarly 100+ kilometer “fun run.” I knew we still had a ways to go, but crossing that 50 mile mark felt even more special than knowing I’d complete nearly 70 in a few hours. 

Running on Wildwood for a change!

After finally crossing Germantown at Wildwood, we jogged out to the true start of Skyline Nasty, following Wildwood out to Waterline, then Waterline all the way up to the gate at NW Skyline. We looked longingly across the way at the tavern. The idea of grabbing some celebratory drinks and a bite to eat sounded so enticing, but we weren’t done yet. We settled for a couple of photos then headed back to the cars parked at Leif.

Selfie at the gate across from Skyline Tavern

Alphabet Nasty (14.77 miles; 3 hours 50 minutes, breaks not included)

It was still light outside when we pulled into Lower Macleay Park. Alex was already there and Aaron arrived a few minutes later. Although I’d been in shorts since the first Nasty, when I stepped outside of the car, I was reminded that it was indeed winter. I changed into running tights and threw on my Oiselle Vim jacket for extra warmth. We took our time getting packed up and refueled. The sun was setting soon and we knew we’d be in the dark for nearly the entire run. Why rush at this point? In conjunction with the cold, the 20 minutes or so spent driving to Lower Macleay left my legs feeling stiff. After a relatively longer break, we walked to the start of the trail, shook out our legs, and began the gradual climb up to Pittock Mansion. 

Darkness overcame us quickly. I switched my headlamp on even before we reached the Stone House/Witch’s Castle. I was amazed to see so many hikers still out on the trail, most of whom didn’t have a headlamp and still had at least a mile to cover to get back to Lower Macleay Park! To be fair, they probably thought we were pretty crazy, too. After crossing NW Cornell and getting on Upper Macleay Trail, we saw nobody else. The fog and moisture in the air was a nightmare to deal with and made running downright impossible (at least for me). Fully aware that I was the slowest in our group, as well as the least comfortable running in the dark, I had Mack run behind me to make sure I didn’t fall behind. Alex and Aaron always seemed impossibly far ahead, but it kept me and Mack moving. 

We enjoyed a slight reprieve from the heavy fog once we entered one of the neighborhoods adjacent to the park. (Rather than taking the trail all the way to Pittock, the Alphabet Nasty route actually utilizes the neighborhood streets!) I was even able to switch off my headlamp for a little while since the streetlights were so bright. We’d hoped to enjoy a nice view of the city lights from Pittock Mansion, but, as expected, everything–including the mansion itself–was obscured. At least we’d covered 3-4 miles already!

No views from Pittock Mansion

We were back on trails after Pittock. The majority of the running takes place on the NW 53rd Drive trails for the final 10 miles or so, trails that Mack and I are very familiar with since they’re the closest Forest Park access points from our place. We pushed our way up Holman (the trail that I used to think was an ass-kicker until I experienced BPA for the first time), jogged down Birch, Wildwood, and Aspen, then trekked through another neighborhood to reach the seemingly seldom-used Water Tank Trail.

Water Tank brought us to Leif and all the familiar routes branching off that Mack and I have run in this area. In an attempt to make the final miles feel less demanding, I reminded myself that what we were about to run now was, on a normal day, a “short” run for us. Up Wild Cherry, down Dogwood, up Alder, Keil to Dogwood, and, finally, down Wild Cherry. It was a constant game of catch-up the entire way,–how did Alex and Aaron always suddenly end up so far ahead each time I caught up with them???–and Mack was fading fast from sleep deprivation, but at the end we were all shuffling excitedly down NW Thurman together. On the Thurman Street Bridge, I looked down and saw the park. A wave of relief and finality rushed over me. We hobbled down the stairs and crossed our “finish line” on the last step. The park was quiet save our a little quartet making the rounds of high fives and “You did it!” A perfect, subtle end to our longest running adventure yet.

All done!
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Wy’east & Loowit in a Day

  • Date: March 17, 2019
  • Start: Timberline Lodge & Marble Mountain Sno Park
  • Distance: 17 miles total
  • Duration: 19 hours (breaks, lunch stop, and drive time included)
  • Elevation gain: 11,000 feet total
  • Type: Out-and-back (for both climbs)
  • References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot
  • Ancestral land of the Chinook people and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Wy’east), and the Cowlitz people (Loowit)

Out in the open above timberline, the hot, merciless sun beat down on our tired bodies. Less than 10 hours earlier I’d been wiggling my fingers and toes to keep them from going numb while hiking up to the Hogsback on Wy’east. Now here we were shedding layer after layer and taking giant swigs of Gatorade every couple hundred feet of climbing. The snow had turned to mush from the heat of the sun. I groaned with each sinking step, trudging slowly up the steep slopes of unconsolidated snow. Just a few thousand more feet to go.

Back in January, the PNW was graced with an unbelievably gorgeous weather window for Saturday and Sunday. On a whim, Mack and I decided it would be fun to attempt a doubleheader mountain weekend: Loowit on Saturday, then Wy’east on Sunday. Unfortunately, neither summit was reached despite enviable conditions. We’d have to wait for another opportunity to arise. Fast forward to March…

After spending over two weeks sick with the flu and having to forgo numerous climbing opportunities and general social engagements, I was desperate to get back out to the mountains. The PNW was gifted yet another beautiful weekend and I wasn’t about to let it go to waste. On Friday afternoon, we decided to give the Saturday-Sunday doubleheader another go. Earlier in the day [Friday], I’d attempted a pre-work Wy’east climb, which threw off my sleep schedule and left me physically and mentally depleted by the time Friday evening rolled around. When our midnight alarm went off for Loowit, I reluctantly told Mack that I didn’t think I could do it and we went back to sleep. Loowit was off the table, and I hated myself for it. At least we were still planning to climb Wy’east.

I woke up well rested a few hours later but couldn’t shake the guilt of having let our doubleheader weekend slip through the cracks yet again! Then, all of a sudden, something switched on in my head. From my sulking and self loathing, an idea came about. One that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t even considered before. Why not climb both mountains on the same day? Mack agreed to it without hesitation–BEST. ADVENTURE PARTNER. EVER!–and before we knew it we were driving out to Timberline Lodge for the start of a long, adventurous Sunday.

We met up with our friend, Emily (who was climbing Wy’east for the first time!), and proceeded up the climber’s trail. With a good deal of people having climbed up the previous day, numerous tracks were in place and made the overall ascent very quick. We were doing so well that we made it to Devil’s Kitchen over an hour earlier than I’d anticipated! Extremities began to succumb to the cold, so we decided not to linger despite being so early. We hiked up to the Hogsback and began the ever steepening crawl up the narrow spine. The Pearly Gates were a breeze–compared to the sheet of ice it had been at the end of January during my last climb–and we followed previous tracks all the way to the summit. The sun had yet to rise, but we made it for blue hour!

Mack climbing up the Pearly Gates
Mack, Emily, and me on the summit
10 fingers for 10 summits!

Sunrise was still 10-15 minutes away. On our way up (while we were still near Devil’s Kitchen), we saw behind us the inevitable stream of headlamps gradually moving up the mountain. Not looking forward to down climbing the gates and sharing such a small space with potentially large groups (or having to wait our turn while our fingers and toes froze), we opted not to wait for sunrise and descend while the crowds were still down lower. Still in the shadows and not having been exposed to the sun yet, the gates were in fantastic shape for easy down climbing. Probably the best shape I’ve ever seen them! 

Emily and I downclimbing the gates

We could see light from the sunrise slowly wash over the lower slopes where we were headed. The ever majestic shadow of the mountain, a sight I’ve been fortunate enough to experience numerous times now, stretched out to the west. It’s a sight that never fails to breathe life into me no matter how exhausted I am from climbing through the night. Aside from the unfailingly breathtaking sunrises, one of my favorite reasons for climbing so early is getting to witness the life cycle of this shadow. You’re only graced with its presence for a short window before it dissipates with the rising sun. 

After the Hogsback, the rest of the descent passed fairly quickly. The snow was mostly soft enough to plunge step all the way down to the parking lot. We arrived back at our cars shortly before 10 am and enjoyed a late breakfast/early lunch in Government Camp with Emily before we began the long drive out to our next objective, Loowit. 

Mack and Emily downclimbing below the gates
Back on the Hogsback

The three hour drive to Marble Mountain Sno Park (which Mack was kind enough to do so I could get some sleep) meant most everyone was finishing up their climb by the time we pulled into the parking lot. Folks were either packing up or lounging about enjoying celebratory beers. The air was warm and the sun high in the sky when we stepped out of the car. Were we really going to do this climb in the hot afternoon sun and crappy snow?

By happenstance, we ran into our friends, Ali and Brad (we all climbed Eldorado Peak together over the summer), who had just finished skiing the mountain. It was tempting to just skip out on the climb altogether and enjoy some post-climb beers and BBQ (I mean, we’d already summited a mountain that morning!), especially after getting beta from them about the snow conditions. We pushed past the temptation and headed over to the trailhead. 

The hike up Swift Ski Trail wasn’t too bad despite the mushy snow. We stepped aside for numerous skiers flying down the trail, envious that we weren’t quite at that level yet (and that we didn’t own our own set-up to even give it a try). One day that’ll be us, I thought. Unfortunately, the cool air and shade of the forest gave way to complete sun exposure and softer, deeper snow once we reached timberline and started up the ridge. We received a few confused glances from climbers descending the mountain and one seemingly veiled warning from the climbing ranger (or volunteer?) who inquired about our equipment (mainly checking to see if we had emergency overnight gear and headlamps) and informed us we were still a few hours from the summit.

We encountered less and less people as we climbed higher, until it was only us two. As expected, the going was slow as we sank into the snow with each step. We kept a pretty good pace for awhile though, but near the seismic station (which sits about 2,000 feet below the summit) we were hit with strong, sustained winds. Our energy began to dwindle, sucked out by the incessant gusts that bombarded us. The final climb up the snow field to the crater rim, and subsequently the quarter mile climb along the rim to the true summit, felt never-ending. It was certainly the slowest we’d moved all day, but just as we’d hoped, we made the summit before sunset. 

Hiking alongside Pahto

Daylight was on its final leg now. Shadows had spilled into the mountain’s crater, but to the north, Spirit Lake and Tahoma were illuminated by the remaining light. To the south stood Wy’east, and we suddenly remembered that that climb had taken place several hours earlier! It already felt like an entirely different day.

Mack took out his phone to take pictures of his own and realized it had died. We’d been tracking and mapping our route on Gaia so we could easily navigate the descent. We’ve always mixed it up one way or another on every Helens climb we’ve done together. Not particularly interested in digging out my map and compass, especially with the wind still being an issue, we booked it off the summit and followed the boot track while we still had light. I knew once we made it off the snowfield and onto the correct ridge we would be fine.  

Looking out on the crater with Spirit Lake and Tahoma beyond
Wy’east
Summit selfie

We’d hoped to save time and effort by glissading down, but the paths were too icy now that the temps had dropped. Thankfully, the snow was still soft enough for plunge stepping (or, rather, plunge step running with how fast we were trying to move). The tracks were easy enough to follow though and I didn’t fear us getting off route this time around. Alpenglow now stretched across the horizon in bands of rosy pink and orange. The last light of the day. I thought back to that morning. How fortunate we were to have witnessed all the beauty and magic that comes with the start of a new day, and now to see it all again at the end while still in the mountains!

We were finally forced to turn on our headlamps somewhere around the seismic station. At least we’d already descended 2,000 feet! We even managed a little bit of glissading below that since the paths were less icy and steep, but it was short lived when the zipper on Mack’s snow pants got stuck and he could no longer zip up the side of his pants. The last part of the ridge just before reaching the forest was the worst. The post-holing had been bad, but tolerable, on the way up. Now that we were exhausted and ready to be back, I was no longer feeling tolerant about sinking into knee, thigh, and sometimes waist deep snow.

Once we made it back into the trees we were able to start moving uninhibited again and finally collapsed at the car shortly before 10 pm. We were starving, dehydrated, and a little delirious from lack of sleep, but the experience of climbing two of our favorite mountains in a single day, something we never would have thought as being fun or reasonable for us even a couple years earlier, was more than worth it. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. Hopefully when we repeat it, we might even be capable of skiing down both mountains!

Pahto basking in alpenglow

Wy’east: Leuthold Couloir

  • Date: March 31, 2019
  • Start: Timberline Lodge
  • Distance: 8.1 miles
  • Duration: 9 hours 16 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 5,640 feet
  • Type: Balloon
  • References: Mt. Hood Climber’s Guide by Bill Mullee; SummitPost
  • Ancestral land of the Chinook people and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs

Left tool, right tool, step up, step up. Breathe. Left tool, right tool, step up, step up. Breathe, and don’t forget to look around. Behind me stretched a vast, glaciated slope punctuated by rocky ridge lines and pinnacles. Above me stood the gatekeepers of the upper mountain, towers embodying the perfect marriage of rock and ice, a symbol of the mountain’s harsh yet captivating exterior. Time to move again. Left tool, right tool, step up, step up.

Ever since climbing Cooper Spur, I’ve made it a goal to attempt at least one new route on Wy’east each year (as long as I’m equipped with the necessary skills). After doing some research and receiving feedback from fellow mountaineers last spring, I set my sights on Leuthold, a steep snow and glacier climb on the mountain’s western flank. Although we started planning the climb back in January–obsessing over weekly snow and weather conditions, poring over maps and route descriptions, and practicing crevasse rescue in our living room a couple times a week–setbacks forced us to postpone weekend after weekend. By the final week of March I was feeling pretty defeated and certain that we’d have to wait until next year. That Saturday I happened to check Mountain Forecast for the following day. Sunny, clear skies. High of 16. It had snowed a little over the past few days, so I checked NWAC next. I could feel my face light up with joy as the map loaded. Green. Wy’east was green. This was it. This was our window. I casually sauntered out of the room, trying not to appear too excited/desperate as I approached Mack, knowing full well that we already had other plans in place for the next day. “Any interest in climbing Hood tomorrow?”

We arrived at Timberline the next morning around 2:30 am. My mind and body were aching for sleep. The previous afternoon had been a hectic one after our last minute decision to climb. Following a day of volunteering in Tillamook State Forest, I hastily packed up our gear so we could attempt to sleep a little before driving out to the mountain. Sometimes I envy Mack for his ability to fall into a deep sleep at the drop of a hat. The night before our climb was one of those times, especially as I laid awake with butterflies fluttering around in my stomach, my mind envisioning all the various aspects of the route, while he slept peacefully next to me. 

We signed in at the climber’s register and began the all too familiar slog up to the Palmer chairlift upper terminal. It was nearly 4 am already, and the thought of daylight arriving in a couple short hours revitalized me somewhat. Save for a few headlamps high above and well below us, the mountain was surprisingly void of the climbing crowd. It was a calm, clear, and quiet morning. No howling wind. No human voices. Just the sound of our own breathing and our feet punching into the soft snow. The moon became a faint glow in the sky as blue hour struck near Illumination Saddle. A lone, little orange tent sat perched there overlooking the glacier. Even though I knew it wasn’t my tent and I wasn’t going to be wrapped up inside a sleeping bag when I arrived, the mere fact that it represented warmth made me pick up my pace.

Traversing to Illumination
Roping up at the saddle
Looking out on the Reid Glacier

At the saddle, I got to work getting our rope flaked out and attaching our glacier gear to our harnesses as sunrise colors lit up the sky behind us. Perfect timing. Aside from Mack’s poop break, our transition into glacier travel was relatively quick thanks to consistent practice at home. We walked to the edge of the saddle, peering down onto Reid Glacier and visually assessing the boot path leading to the base of the couloir. The boot path was a godsend and made for a speedy traverse. In these particular conditions, the rope actually felt like overkill (not that we regretted bringing it)! 

Daylight gradually swept over the rolling, forested hills far below and beyond. We knew we likely wouldn’t experience its warmth until we were on the summit ridge. At the end of the traverse, we opted to un-rope (especially since the boot track was so good) and take out a second tool to aid with the steep climbing of the next section. I looked back often as we climbed higher, expecting to see another party approaching the couloir on this unbelievably gorgeous spring day. Never saw a single soul. 

Directly above us, rime encrusted rock formations guarded the entrance to Leuthold, a brief, but narrow stretch known as the Hourglass. This section is notorious for raining down ice on climbers seeking to attain the upper reaches of the couloir. Somehow, on this day, we were graced with no ice fall whatsover! I was even able to stop and savor the rugged, crystalline beauty surrounding me and take photos of Mack as he climbed up shortly after. 

Traversing the Reid
Climbing thru the Hourglass

After topping out above the Hourglass, we’d now completed the steepest portion of the climb and the couloir had expanded into a wide, open slope. From here up to the summit ridge was fairly mellow climbing and, thanks to the continuation of the boot track, very straightforward navigation. On climber’s left we had an incredible view of the gnarly Yocum Ridge, a daunting, jagged spine that snakes its way up to the summit ridge alongside our much more manageable route. Definitely one of my favorite sights of the day (and one of those “maybe one day in the distant future” goals). At the top of the couloir, we were greeted by long awaited sunshine and warmth. We were now within a few hundred feet–maybe less!–of the summit.

Gaining the summit ridge

I’ll admit the ridge felt a bit longer and more tedious than I’d expected (or I was just being impatient), but once the catwalk came into view, I couldn’t bring myself to keep moving. Up until this point, I’d only ever seen a small portion of this undulating crest from the times I’d ascended via Old Chute. Starting back further and being graced with an even wider, more zoomed out perspective made for one of the most picturesque scenes of the entire morning. We made our way across one at a time. I looked down at the Hogsback, expecting to see the typical swarm of late morning climbers. I was pleasantly surprised to see less than a dozen! We reached the summit at 10 am and celebrated with a few other climbers who had just ascended the Pearly Gates, and another who climbed via North Face Left Gully. After a celebratory photo we started our descent.

Catwalk
Summit!

The Pearly Gates were in decent condition. It wasn’t quite as prime as it had been two weekends earlier, but it didn’t require much effort to get through. Also, the low traffic of climbers made the descent of this section much faster than the previous time. I was still in awe that the mountain wasn’t a complete zoo right now! Mack made a semi-serious joke that everyone was probably on Loowit since it was the final day you could climb without reserving a permit. The remainder of the descent was non-eventful and characterized by our continuous efforts to avoid overheating and escape the harshness of direct sunlight (which proved to be futile). Those last couple hours in the sun coupled with a near complete lack of sleep left me deflated and dizzy by the time we stumbled into the parking lot. Regardless of the hot mess I turned into by the end, I can still say with certainty that this was one of the most–if not THE most–perfect day of climbing I’ve experienced on this incredible mountain. Leuthold is by and large my new favorite route on Wy’east. I can’t wait to give it another go and start researching some other routes for next season! Maybe it’s time to try one of the headwalls? 

Mack downclimbing the gates
Devil’s Kitchen

Columbia River Gorge Triple ‘D’

  • Date: November 25, 2018
  • Start: Wahkeena Falls Trailhead, Starvation Creek Trailhead, and Dog Mountain Trailhead
  • Distance: 26.6 miles
  • Duration: 11 hours (commute time between trailheads included)
  • Elevation gain: 10,000 feet
  • Type: Loop (Devil’s Rest) and out-and-back (Defiance and Dog)
  • Map: Green Trails Map 428S: Columbia River Gorge-West

A glimmer of daybreak shone faintly in the distance as we moved like shadows through the darkness. I don’t generally like running during non-daylight hours, but the paved, even trail leading to the top of Multnomah Falls presented no threat to my footing and I was able to move with confidence and certainty. We paced ourselves as we climbed switchback after switchback, reminding ourselves that we still had a number of miles and a good chunk of vert ahead of us. Afterall, this was only the beginning of a beautiful first weekend back on some of our favorite gorge trails on the Oregon side since the devastating wildfire over a year prior. What better way to celebrate their reopening and continued healing than with a little adventure run?

Devil’s Rest (8 miles; 2 hours 44 minutes, breaks included)

The Columbia River Gorge Triple ‘D’ challenge has been on our ultra-running bucket list since before we had even completed an ultra distance! We put off doing it for the longest time though because the gorge is our “backyard” and using our precious weekends to head there instead of a place we’d never explored seemed silly. We took this beautiful place for granted, and it took the Eagle Creek Fire sweeping through this beloved area for us to realize it. Dog Mountain remained open of course since it’s located on the Washington side, and Mount Defiance eventually reopened in the spring or early summer, but Devil’s Rest remained the missing ‘D’. Then, the day after Thanksgiving, we got the good news. After a failed attempt Saturday–which at least allowed us the chance to run up Angel’s Rest–we returned on Sunday determined to push on and put it all together.

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The run up to the top of Multnomah from the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead brought us into the first moments of daylight as we crossed the culvert bridge over the creek. We continued through Dutchman Tunnel and up past Weisendanger Falls, struck with sadness by the sight of the scorched landscape, yet amazed and overjoyed by the vibrant signs of recovery. The gorge was still the gorge, resilient and adaptable in the face of human-induced trauma.

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Above Weisendanger we turned onto Wahkeena Trail for a brief stretch before the gradual ascent to the summit via Devil’s Rest Trail. Upon reaching the treed in high point–characterized by giant, mossy boulders and a seemingly unofficial wooden sign hanging off one of the nearby trees–we grabbed a quick selfie then proceeded to enjoy the long, rewarding downhill back to the car, pausing every so often to savor some sorely missed gorge sights, especially the quaint but magical Fairy Falls. By mid morning, just as many others were beginning their hike up, we were back at the car and ready to tackle the next, and most difficult, ‘D’ of our challenge: Mount Defiance.

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Mount Defiance (11.76 miles; 4 hours 50 minutes, breaks included)

At 4,960 feet, Defiance is considered to be the highest point in the Columbia River Gorge. By itself, it comprises nearly half of the elevation gain for the Triple ‘D’ challenge! We were extremely pleased to be starting the route at a reasonable late morning time. As anticipated, there was very little running involved once we left the Historic Columbia River Highway. The gain was mild at first past Lancaster Falls and through the powerline corridor. Then we entered the forest, where the trail’s notoriety truly begins. It’s unrelenting steepness made even power hiking a struggle at times. Mack and I had only ever hiked Defiance once nearly three years prior. Within those three years I’d somehow managed to downplay the difficulty of the route in my memory.

A couple miles into our crawl up the mountain, we met a hiker coming down and casually inquired about the conditions further up. His response: at least a foot of snow–likely more than that–in the last mile or two before the summit. Oops. I looked down at my blown out Altras covered in holes and also remembered that we’d left our microspikes in the the car. We continued up anyway since we hadn’t reached the snow yet. No point in turning around until we absolutely had to. What started out as a light dusting further up very quickly turned into well over a foot of relatively fresh snow. Fortunately for us, hikers from the past couple of days had packed down a pretty decent boot path that we were able to walk/run on even without the aid of microspikes! Nonetheless it was another important reminder about being better prepared with potentially necessary gear and research regarding snow levels.

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The views over the the final couple of miles were just as stunning as I remembered, especially with Pahto standing guard to the north and Wy’east practically glowing beneath the early afternoon sun to the south. The wintry conditions made things slow going since we weren’t able to run even some of the flatter sections in the deep snow but soon enough the out-of-place radio tower came into view, signaling the end of our second big climb of the day. Our feet were soaked and freezing as we jogged the last few feet to the summit. Our breather at the top lasted all of 30 seconds–enough time to take out my camera and snap a selfie–before we hightailed it out of there, excited to reach dry trail again and warm up/air out our cold, wet shoes, socks, and feet.

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The struggle of the steep climbs and deep snow were forgotten as we flew down the trail with reckless abandon, filled with endless stoke about having completed our second summit. Only one more to go! We were doing it. We were finally doing it. The fog from earlier in the day had lifted at last as we re-entered the powerline corridor. I looked out across the Columbia to the Washington side. The unmistakable bare summit of Dog Mountain was staring right back at me. I smiled and held my gaze. Just a couple more hours.

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Dog Mountain (6.9 miles; 2 hours 9 minutes, breaks included)

The parking lot was nearly empty as we pulled in. Sunset was scheduled for something like 4:30 or 4:40 pm. It was nearing 3:30 as we laced up our shoes for the last time and started up the trail. Our legs were pretty shot by this point, having covered nearly 20 miles and over 7,000 feet of gain since 6:30 am. Our power hike was more of a desperate crawl but at least we were making steady progress. Within the first mile, we passed most of the remaining Dog Mountain hikers as they were descending to their cars. One of them was actually the hiker we’d run into on Defiance who had warned us about the snow! He recognized us and congratulated us on our efforts that day.

Daylight was fading fast at the lower viewpoint, so I decided to snap our “summit selfie” here in the event it was too dark for a real one at the top. It had been a long time since we’d done an adventure that both started and ended in the dark. There’s something so fulfilling about being outside from dawn until dusk, pushing your limits and making every second count. In the final minutes before sunset, we were en route to the summit on the last exposed and winding stretch along the dry meadow grasses.

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Blue hour descended upon us as we completed the last hill and stepped onto the summit. We took a few minutes to let our accomplishment soak in as we stood side by side in complete solitude, reflecting on the millennia of cataclysmic events that led to the remarkable landscape that now lay before us, and how this place will continue to survive and adapt to our constantly changing world long after our generation has passed. How fortunate we are to be seeing so much of it while we’re still here, I thought.

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It wasn’t quite dark enough to warrant headlamps as we began our run down the mountain but we put them on anyways to avoid further breaks and stops. Although the Dog Mountain Trail isn’t nearly has “polished” as the switchbacks heading up Multnomah, I still felt that same sense of security and confidence that I’d experienced in the morning, even when complete darkness finally set in and we were picking our way over rocks and roots. We arrived back at the car within the hour (of leaving the summit), thus concluding our first–of hopefully many–full day run-ventures in the Columbia River Gorge.

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Timberline Trail

  • Date: September 15, 2018
  • Start: Timberline Lodge
  • Location: Mount Hood
  • Distance: 42 miles
  • Duration: 14 hours 46 minutes (breaks included)
  • Type: Loop

Each downhill stride shot searing pain through my knees, as if they were on the verge of bursting. We were 30+ miles into our Wy’east circumnav and thoughts of self doubt were running rampant in my head. The sound of rushing water was the light at the end of the tunnel at the moment. Ramona Falls was just ahead and we’d be taking our last “big” break before pushing through the final ten miles. But it was still ten miles. Ten more miles on knees that could barely take baby steps with trekking poles let alone run. Once at the falls, I watched the water cascade down the moss-covered basalt columns before me, breathing deep, massaging my aching knees, and reminding myself that despite this current low point, our day so far had been one of the most fulfilling of the summer.

We pulled into Timberline following a mostly sleepless night. It was about 4 am and sunrise wasn’t for another couple of hours. Stepping out into the stinging cold to finish organizing our gear was unmotivating to say the least, so we curled up in the front seats with the heater on for a little while longer. We finally got our legs moving just before 5 am, heading out counter-clockwise toward White River. Despite running downhill as we dropped into the canyon, it was slow going in the dark. Crossing White River was a surprisingly easy rock-hop (unlike the previous time just a few weeks earlier) and soon we were power-hiking uphill to reach the Mount Hood Meadows area. Now a few miles in, the need for headlamps gradually diminished as we watched the sun light up Wy’east, bathing it in that pink alpenglow that I’m so fortunate to have witnessed time and time again.

We picked up our pace now that we could see more clearly, seemingly racing the sun as it began to flood Wy’east’s lower slopes and canyons with daylight. It was the final weekend of summer and fall colors were already starting to transform the grassy hillsides that we ran alongside. We crossed a few more creeks, following the trail as it dipped up and down into the various canyons housing them [the creeks] until we began the longer ascent on Gnarl Ridge, moving through a dense forest of mountain hemlock and subalpine fir, then thickets of my favorite tree in the area, the rugged and mysterious whitebark pine, a sign that we were nearing treeline.

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Soon enough we were out of the forest and face-to-face with Wy’east, looking out at the Newton Clark Glacier encompassing her southeast flanks. Newton Creek flowed far below in the depths of the canyon. It was almost incomprehensible that we’d crossed it only a few miles prior! The blue skies with a smattering of streaky watercolor-esque clouds were a hopeful sign that we’d at least get decent weather during the most exposed and somewhat more technical part of the route. We finally got to enjoy some mellow downhill as we traversed the barren, rocky terrain of the mountain’s east side. The views from this side have always been some of my favorite as well, so I was even more grateful for the current bluebird conditions.

From the trail we could make out the Cooper Spur route we’d climbed back in May, as well as the magnificent Eliot Glacier sprawled out below Wy’east’s intimidating north face. After passing below the Cooper Spur shelter we continued on the spine of the Eliot east-moraine to get in some proper ridge running. At Cloud Cap Saddle Campground we decided to pause for a quick snack and bathroom break before tackling the next section that would take us to our halfway point. Fifteen or so miles in and still feeling fresh! I couldn’t believe we were actually doing it! Of course we still had a marathon to go.

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If we had tried to do this run a couple years ago, I would’ve planned our entire route around crossing the Eliot at a “safe” time of day. Thankfully, with the new official trail that was cut on either side of it, I didn’t lose any sleep over it. From the campground we sped down the switchbacks, crossed the Eliot on a log,–so much easier and faster than the crossing we made back in 2015!–then power-hiked up the switchbacks on the opposite side. The next few miles to Elk Cove, our halfway point, are kind of a blur in my memory. Nothing about these miles was a bore of course, but I only really remember being very focused on reaching Elk Cove so I could finally have lunch and refill my flask. As we ran, the afternoon forecast finally came true and dark clouds enveloped Wy’east. At least we’d enjoyed some stellar views on the east side!

The usual view of the mountain from Elk Cove was non-existent due to the cloud cover, but we were thankful that it wasn’t raining. We’d run over 20 miles now, so it felt great to sit down, stretch out, and enjoy the veggie burritos Mack had made for us. It was also cold though, so we ate quickly, refilled our flasks, and got moving again. The next ten or so miles to Ramona felt clumsy, slow, and then painful near the end, like a switch had turned in me at Elk Cove. I took a spill while running through Cairn Basin and split open the small gash I already had on my knee from when I’d climbed Black Peak a couple weekends earlier. I patched it up with a band-aid, but I was definitely a little grumpier after that.

I’d been looking forward to running downhill along the Bald Mountain ridge as it was an area I was very familiar with. By the time we got to it though, my knees were already starting to act up, and I’d also somehow forgotten how technical the trail became with all the gnarled tree roots covering the path in sections. There’s a good chance I was moving even slower downhill than I had when we’d been climbing uphill. I was able to push a little more once we were on smoother, less technical single track past the Top Spur Trail junction, but less than a mile out from Ramona my knees had had it and I was forced to hobble it in from there despite the totally runnable terrain.

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Ramona was a sight for sore eyes and, in my case, very sore knees. I was reluctant to leave, especially in the pain I was in. Fortunately, after crossing the Sandy, much of this part of the Timberline was uphill to Paradise Park  on the southwest side of the mountain. Seeing as we’d already put in over 30 miles, we decided to power-hike rather than run this portion, giving the ibuprofen I’d taken at Ramona a chance to kick-in and alleviate the swelling and pain in my knees. I was finally on my second wind and even Mack had a difficult time keeping up with my uphill hiking pace (a rarity I definitely savored).

The dense forest eventually gave way to open slopes carpeted in bright red mountain ash berries and their yellowing leaves mixed with the crimson tint of late season huckleberry bushes. We were back in another autumn wonderland for a brief moment before stepping back into the forest. At this point we were basically paralleling the Paradise Park trail. No longer moving uphill, we started to run again, passing the junction with the Paradise Park Loop Trail, equally ecstatic and exhausted about the five or so miles we had left. Once we dropped down into Zigzag Canyon and crossed the river, we knew we were in the homestretch.

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The climb up from the river to the Zigzag Canyon overlook felt grueling and never-ending (although it was really nothing compared to some of the day’s earlier climbs). Fortunately, it was our last bigger climb of the day. The final 2-2.5 miles would be mellow undulating. Although the iconic view of Wy’east from the overlook was obscured by clouds, we enjoyed witnessing the final light of day pierce through the overcast skies to the west. With that, we scampered off down the trail, waiting anxiously for Timberline Lodge to come into view and let us know we were near the end.

I grew incredibly impatient after a few minutes of not seeing it. My view was consistently blocked by trees or a small hill. At least when you approach from the opposite direction you can see the lodge and the parking lot for the entire last mile! Only in the final minute or so of our run did the those inviting, glowing windows finally appear, guiding us down as night began to fall on the mountain. Without stopping we continued across the parking lot until we reached the car, our official starting point and now our official stopping point. Our summer had now come to an end with the setting sun, but new goals for next season were already brewing between us. Despite being famished and in dire need of a nap, all we could talk about was how we could incorporate the Timberline Trail into an even bigger adventure. I guess we’ll be back in 2019!

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