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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Eldorado Peak

  • Date: August 5, 2018
  • Start: Cascade River Road (mile marker 20)
  • Location: North Cascades National Park
  • Distance: 8 miles
  • Duration: 15 hours 30 minutes
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: The Mountaineers

Just one more hill. Just one more hill and finally, after 5,000+ feet of climbing (over three miles I should add), we’d finally get a glimpse of the Queen of the Cascade River herself.  My mind and body seemed to forget about the morning’s intense vert once my boots hit the snow of Eldorado Glacier. I scampered up the long incline with a surprising pep in my step, overcome with excitement and impatience. The North Cascades just have that effect it seems, no matter how difficult the journey. Despite getting eaten alive by mosquitos all morning while navigating steep, technical trail with heavy mountaineering gear on our backs; despite the fact that the blue skies were choked with wildfire smoke and a veil of haze transformed many of the surrounding peaks into mere sihouettes; despite being hours away from finishing and another several hours from home, I felt nothing but pure, unadulterated joy as I stood on the edge of Inspiration Glacier and gazed in wonder at the classic East Ridge of Eldorado Peak.

When Ali threw out the idea of climbing Eldorado together just a few days earlier, I didn’t think twice before enthusiastically responding ‘yes.’ So what that we’d just driven all the way up here the weekend before for a Dakobed C2C? So what that we had a week-long California trip to plan for starting three days later? Mountain conditions were looking fantastic and there was no way I was going to turn down a North Cascades alpine adventure, especially another C2C of a peak I’d been dying to climb for over a year. On Saturday night we met up for dinner at Marblemount Diner following a long afternoon on the road, then caravanned up Cascade River Road to the familiar lot at mile marker 20. We set our alarms and braced ourselves for the early morning wake-up.

Shortly before 5 am we found ourselves carefully scrambling across the slick log over North Fork Cascade River and making our way into the dense forest by the light of our headlamps. As anticipated, the trail was incredibly steep and covered in thick tree roots that snaked across the narrow boot path, creating something of a staircase in sections. Reaching the boulder field and exiting the darkness of the forest was a relief, especially with views of Johannesburg, Cascade Peak, and the Triplets to greet us. Of course this section wasn’t without its downsides. If navigating the boulders wasn’t slow going enough, we also had vicious, persistent mosquitoes to contend with.

Soon enough though we were back on actual trail, hiking past waterfalls and continuing up a slope of mountain heather and granite slabs. Completely unobstructed, jaw-dropping views to the south made it difficult to leave Eldorado Basin. I probably could’ve spent all day sprawled out on some granite staring at the mountains surrounded by pink mountain heather blooms with only the sound of rushing water to keep me company. Instead, we followed the path up to the ridge on our left, then traversed and dropped down into Roush Basin via a class 3 gully. At least the first half of our approach was officially complete.

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Looking out toward Cascade Pass
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Easier going up than down
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Sunbathing, hoping for food scraps, or both?

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Johannesburg from Eldorado Basin

After a bit more scrambling at the base of the gully we crossed into the basin and dropped our packs upon reaching a flat section to sit and enjoy a well deserved snack break. It was mid to late morning now and we still had close to 3,000 feet of gain and a glacier to cross. I refrained from dwelling on it too much and savored my chocolate GU, as well as the view of the surrounding landscape. Large swathes of crevasses appeared scattered in patches on Eldorado Glacier. I observed the group ahead of us heading onto the glacier, taking note of their path for when we reached it.

No longer on steep terrain, we moved quickly across the granite basin, donned our crampons at the edge of the snow, and began another uphill stretch. The snow was already quite soft but it was thankfully still possible to kick steps without sliding backward or expending more energy than necessary. Johannesburg was back in sight behind us, a pleasant distraction from the continuous incline whenever I did turn around. Most of the time though, I kept my eyes on the horizon in front of me, eagerly anticipating the first view of Eldorado. One final climb above the ice cliff  and my wish was finally granted.

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Setting up the timer on my camera
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Snack break in Roush Basin
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Hiking up Eldorado Glacier
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Mack and the ice cliff
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Admiring the East Ridge

We all paused for a moment as we stood at the meeting of the two glaciers, soaking in the scene, knowing it would only become more magical as we neared the summit of the peak before us. I could also see Tepeh Towers and Klawatti Peak further north across Inspiration Glacier. Another reason to plan a future climbing adventure in this area. We enjoyed the flat-ish traverse across Inspiration to reach a gap on the East Ridge where we got off the snow and took another break to eat, reapply sunscreen, and rope up for the final push.

Through the gap and back on the snow it was all uphill again. There were only a handful of visible crevasses and the boot path skirted around them easily enough. Part of me wished we hadn’t roped up with what seemed like little crevasse fall risk, but I knew I’d probably appreciate it once we were on the exposed knife edge. After what felt like a relatively quick ascent (although it probably took us longer than it felt), we were standing at the base of the infamous knife edge, anxiously waiting our turn to ascend while a pair of climbers ahead of us finished their descent.

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Tepeh Towers and Klawatti Peak
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East Ridge
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Ali and Brad on Inspiration Glacier with Moraine Lake far below
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Climbers descending the knife edge

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Although not as terrifying or intimidating as I thought it would be (granted it had been packed down significantly at this point in the season), the traverse of the knife edge was by far the most exhilarating part of the entire climb, especially with the long runouts on either side of us. At the top of the edge, the route plateaued and widened all the way to the rocky summit at its conclusion. The group ahead of us was just starting to traverse back across and descend, so we lucked out with the summit to ourselves! It was around 1:30 pm when we finally dropped our packs on the summit, just over 8.5 hours since crossing North Fork Cascade River in the dark!

The sky was still hazy as ever, but the “endless sea of peaks” view that I’ve come to find typical of the North Cascades had not been tarnished. Just like I had on Sahale, I dreamt of future climbing endeavors as I stared off into these isolated, rugged ranges, wondering what challenges and mysteries they held. Maybe one day I’ll see for myself. We took some obligatory summit photos, grabbed another quick bite to eat, then booked it down (carefully of course ) the knife edge and glacier, looking forward to unroping back at the gap. My absolute favorite view of the entire approach was on this section of Inspiration Glacier: Moraine Lake, a delightful turquoise gem, with the towering Torment-Forbidden traverse watching over it from high above.

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Best part of the climb hands down
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Summit!

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Ali and Brad descending the knife edge

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Not even the smoky haze could ruin this view

Back at the gap we packed up the glacier gear and (surprise, surprise) ate more snacks. We still had a ways back to the car afterall! Mack and Ali also took advantage of the composting toilet here. Although I didn’t see it with my own two eyes, they both swore it provided one of the best backcountry bathroom views either of them had ever experienced. Better than digging a hole or packing it out, too! We were all pretty exhausted now, especially with the heavy afternoon sun beating down on us, but at least the snow was easy on our joints as we lost elevation quickly. We made it back to Roush Basin just after 2:30 and, with how quickly we were moving, thought that we might actually make it back to our cars by or before 7 pm! Naturally, I was wrong.

Navigating back through Roush Basin to scramble up the gully and regain Eldorado Basin wasn’t terribly difficult, but I was starting to feel some aching in my knees and even moreso in my poor toes getting shoved to the front of my boots. Ali suggested I take some ibuprofen but I said it wasn’t that bad and I could probably make it back to the car without too much pain. Wrong again of course. The unforgiving nature of granite took its toll on my body almost immediately as we started through the dreaded boulder fields. I struggled to keep up and eventually asked Mack (read: chided him for not noticing how far behind I’d fallen in the first place) to stay closer or hike behind me so I didn’t get separated from everyone.

Ali and Brad continued on down, seemingly unaffected by the steep grade after so many hours spent on our feet. I envied their energy but kept putting one foot in front of the other as best I could, cursing the entirety of the final half mile. Once the river came into view though, the pain seemed to diminish. Ali and Brad had finished a few minutes earlier and were now soaking their sore feet and legs in the water, celebratory beers in hand. It was just around 8:20 pm, and a six hour drive back home (as well as work the following morning) awaited all of us. Steep climbing and marathon driving. Signs of another exhausting but perfect North Cascades weekend, this time made even better by the presence of friends who also find  joy and worth in long, challenging days in the mountains. Now to plan our next North Cascades double date alpine adventure…

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Back in the beautiful Eldorado Basin

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Black Peak

  • Date: September 7, 2018
  • Start: Rainy Pass Trailhead
  • Location: North Cascades National Park
  • Distance: 12 miles
  • Duration: 9 hours 35 minutes (breaks included)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: SummitPost

My phone alarm went off like a blaring siren, filling the confined space in the back of my Crosstrek. I fumbled frantically in the dark for it, embarrassed that I was disturbing the rare silence and solitude in the normally crowded Rainy Pass Trailhead. After turning it off (as well as all the subsequent alarms I had set), I pulled my sleeping bag and blanket back over my face. I wasn’t feeling sleep deprived. In fact, I was quite awake and ready to greet the day. What I wasn’t ready for was setting off alone on a trail I’d never been on and scrambling up a peak I’d never navigated before. It was my final weekend before full-time work started again though, so I wasn’t about to let fear ruin my last climbing adventure of the summer.

My on-a-whim solo trip to the North Cascades began two nights earlier. I set out from Portland late Wednesday night in hopes of soloing Mount Shuksan on Thursday. Unfortunately, I underestimated my ability to stay awake for the entirety of the drive and ended up having to make several nap stops. I made it to the trailhead much later than expected/was ideal but attempted the climb anyways. I only made it as far as the glacier, turning around just before high camp.

I was disappointed, convinced that my solo endeavor was ruined, and planned to hightail it back to Portland, probably moping the entire way. However, after a much needed stress-free nap back in the car, I realized how silly I was being and decided to head out further east to attempt my contingency climb, Black Peak. I made some last ditch efforts to find a partner to go with so I wouldn’t have to climb alone but none panned out. However, as I watched the sun set behind Ruby Mountain, savoring the last rays of light as they danced across the surface of Diablo Lake, I knew that going at this alone was exactly what I needed.

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Magnificent Koma Kulshan while heading up to Shuksan
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Trying to have some fun with a self-timed jump shot after calling it quits
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Sunset over Diablo Lake 

As expected, the trail was empty when I set off shortly after 7:30 am. My senses were heightened. I found myself constantly turning around, jumping at every snapped twig and rustle in the brush. The first mile and a half passed quickly and soon I was out of the trees, feeling a little less on edge, and overlooking Heather Lake. The fall colors for which the Heather-Maple Pass area is famous were just starting to reveal themselves. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how vibrant they’d be in a few short weeks.  I left the loop trail and continued on to Lewis Lake. A brief jaunt through a meadow brought me to my first view of Black Peak. The pictures I’d seen while researching the scramble didn’t do justice to the rugged, yet simple, beauty of this peak. Only a long stretch of boulder fields and two alpine lakes lay between me and the final approach.

I felt like an ant in the ocean of boulders leading to Lewis Lake. Sometimes I’d be lucky enough to end up on a worn path of sorts, but most of the time I was carefully picking my way through endless unstable rocks. After a few solid ups and downs, I finally reached Lewis Lake. Although the view of Black Peak from the eastern shore was stunning, I didn’t find the lake all that impressive. Then, I made my way around to the western side (in order to continue to Wing Lake) and turned around to get one last look. What a difference. It’s milky aqua green tint was like nothing I’d ever seen. The variety of colors surrounding the water (from the bright red huckleberry leaves and forest green to the glistening pale grey of the granite field) only enhanced its mesmerizing qualities. Every couple of feet I would turn around and snap photo after photo of the scene from this angle.

The scenery only continued to improve as I climbed the steep, technical trail leading to Wing Lake. I still hadn’t seen another soul, and, to my surprise, I was actually delighted! The sun was shining, skies were blue, and layers upon layers of mountains filled my immediate view. I didn’t need an adventure companion in this moment to be content. It felt good to realize how happy and confident/competent I was by myself. It was late morning (between 10 and 10:30 maybe) when I crested the final hill and Wing Lake came into view. I stopped along the shore for a snack break. The remainder of the climb was now completely visible to me so I studied it while I sucked down a GU. So close but still a ways to go, I concluded.

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Lake Ann
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Lewis Lake with Black Peak in the background
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Favorite angle of Lewis Lake

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Wing Lake with Black Peak towering above

I briefly enjoyed some runnable singletrack before hitting the loose rock of the moraine above Wing Lake. It became more of a trudge (but an enjoyable trudge!) from there to the summit. After doing my best to make quick work of the short and steep switchbacks on the moraine, I scampered across the soft snow to end up just below a col on the south ridge. The only thing that stood between us? An intimidating, particularly steep, scree slope. Even getting up was a little nerve-wracking. Not only was the surface level rock incredibly loose, but the layer was shallow with slick rock underneath. There was practically no solid rock to grab onto whenever I started to slide. I tried not to think about the descent once I finally made it to the top of the col.

The rest of the way was far more enjoyable. More scrambling over solid rock and less scree sliding. The lakes below were mere dots against the mountainous terrain now. I could also finally see some of my favorite peaks further west. The jagged outlines of Goode, Storm King, and Logan were at the forefront, but I swore I could even make out Buckner and Sahale beyond them. Either way it was an endless sea of peaks that stretched so far back I couldn’t distinguish where the sky met their summits.

After ascending a gully, I followed a slightly more worn “path” to the east (which matched descriptions that I’d read about the final traverse to the summit scramble), finally passing the first person I’d seen all day: a female mountain runner heading down from the summit. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and, after bringing up my lack of enthusiasm regarding the steep scree slope below the col, she kindly suggested a slightly better (though still sketchy) way down. I thanked her and we continued on our separate ways. A few minutes later, I ran into a male hiker also heading down from the summit. We stopped and chatted briefly. He’d been up at the summit since about sunrise–it was already around noon when I saw him–soaking in the beautiful weather and views while enjoying a summit beer. The mountain runner I’d passed earlier was the only person he’d seen all day as well. I continued on and smiled, knowing I’d have the fortune of an empty summit.

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Wing Lake and Corteo Peak
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View of the scree slope from the top of the col
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Gully scramble

The “path” ended at a short fourth class pitch to the summit. I laid my trekking poles at the base of the pitch and scrambled up. It was 12:15 pm, just over four and half hours since I’d started out. I used the inReach to message Mack to let him know that I’d made it to the summit then wandered along the summit ridge to see what I could see. I was certain I could discern the North Cascades Highway far below to the east. It’s always amazing to see your entire route laid out before you. For me, at least, it almost always appears more difficult than it actually felt. I mean, had I really started all the way from that skinny little line snaking its way through the valley far below? I felt a tinge of pride, but, more than anything, I felt gratitude, especially toward this spectacular mountain who allowed me this beautiful day of climbing.

I stayed on the summit for an hour. I could see why the other hiker had chosen to stay even longer than that. Without my trusty Instagram husband to take pictures for me, I used my mini-tripod to capture some fun summit “selfies” (it’s still a selfie if it’s a self-timed shot, right?). My favorite shots though were of the surrounding mountains by themselves, without the interference of my presence. After one final round of gazing in admiration and amazement, I packed everything up again, scrambled down to my trekking poles, and picked my way back to the col. From there, I stayed a bit more to the left (climber’s right) and found more opportunities for scree skiing since it was deep enough that I wasn’t skidding across the slick rock as often. It still took me a solid 20 minutes to make it down to the snowfield, but from there I was gleefully running, knowing that I’d made it through the crux.

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Lewis & Wing Lakes from the summit
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Views to the west
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Mountains upon mountains
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Mount Goode

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Once past the slow going loose rock of the moraine, I picked up my pace on the singletrack and even on some of the technical downhill leading to Lewis Lake, only once slamming my knee into a granite boulder (which I have a nice little scar as a result). My pace slowed again at the giant boulder field, especially since it was actually more uphill than downhill to get back to the Heather-Maple Pass loop trail. Rain clouds were building up behind me, but I was still in the clear.

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Made it safely down the scree slope
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Wing Lake
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Lewis Lake

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Enjoying the view of Black Peak while I still have it

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Back on more well groomed trail following the boulder field, I finally got to do what felt like actual running. I took one more longing look at Black Peak as I crossed the meadow, still in awe that I’d been up there looking out on this spot just a couple short hours earlier. I smiled ‘goodbye’ and sped past the Heather-Maple pass junction, past the expected hordes of people, stopping occasionally for a photo here and there, but mainly just running, uninhibited and full of joy. And that’s how I finished my final North Cascades adventure of the summer, filled with joy, excitement, gratitude, an insatiable desire to return as soon as possible, and certainty that I would be back to share this adventure with Mack.

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Meadow leading back to the junction
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Lake Ann

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Signs of fall!

Sahale Mountain

  • Date: July 15, 2018
  • Start: Cascade Pass Trailhead (three miles prior due to road closure)
  • Location: North Cascades National Park
  • Distance: 19 miles (6-mile round-trip addition because of road closure)
  • Duration: 14 hours 41 minutes
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: SummitPost

My headlamp cast a long beam of light into the darkness. Besides Mack walking by my side, it was all I had to comfort me on the stretch of closed road leading to the trailhead. I’m used to alpine starts and hiking in the dark (even by myself!), but I’m used to being out in the open, on the slopes of Wy’east where I feel safe beneath the moonlight or starlit sky illuminating the snowfield beneath my feet. The dense forest that Cascade River Road runs through made me feel vulnerable and nervous about what could be lurking behind the trees or in the brush. I felt more and more confident as we neared the three mile mark though, knowing we’d finally be at the trailhead and starting the switchbacks up to Cascade Pass. Then the beam of light from my forehead hit it. A pair of glowing eyes, low to the ground, looked intently at me from the brush and trees on the side of the road.

We started our hike from the mile marker 20 gate closure at 3 am with heavy eyelids, excited for daylight and the sight of breathtaking mountains. It was an uneventful hike until those glowing eyes. I stopped breathing at the sight of them. “Mack…what is that?” He followed my gaze and saw them too. We began yelling and clacking our poles together. The eyes, a mere 20-30 feet from where we were standing, remained unwavering for the first several seconds. Then, the animal leapt out and took off up the road. Mack was convinced it was only a deer, but I swore I saw a long tail catch the light of my headlamp when it darted away. We hiked up cautiously, still making noise. A minute or two later, the eyes were back, again peering out from the side of the road. If I wasn’t petrified with fear at the first sighting, I sure was now. We shouted even louder this time and after a few moments it took off again. To our relief, we didn’t see those eyes a third time, but the damage was done. I was a nervous wreck for the next hour or so until sunrise. Mack was still under the impression that we’d seen a deer, so the uncomfortably close encounter wasn’t affecting him.

Daylight brought a renewed confidence and we were already about halfway up the long series of switchbacks to Cascade Pass. Our energy only increased as we stepped out of the forest, done with the switchbacks, with a complete view of Johannesburg Mountain, Cascade Peak, and the Triplets, sunlight slowly spilling down their sheer rocky cliffs. The sound of rocks crashing down their steep slopes filled the air and reminded us that we were indeed in a beautiful, but also rugged and dangerous mountain range not to be taken lightly. We stopped for a short snack break at Cascade Pass, the first leg of our approach finally complete. Light had yet to fill the valley below us, but Mixup Peak, Magic Mountain, and Pelton Peak were already soaking it in. I traced the beginning of the Ptarmigan Traverse–something I really want to make happen next summer!–with my finger before it disappeared behind Magic Mountain. We left Cascade Pass Trail and began the trek up to Sahale Arm.

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After a few more switchbacks we finally reached the ridge and were rewarded with our first view of Sahale Mountain. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t find it to be that aesthetically pleasing with it’s disproportionately small and pointed nubbin of a summit in relation to the vastness of the rest of the mountain. Of course this didn’t affect my feelings about climbing it! I was beyond excited to put my alpine scrambling skills to the test and rappel off a mountain for the first time ever.

The views only continued to improve as we hiked up to Sahale Glacier Camp. As we gradually climbed the undulating ridge, we got glimpses of Doubtful Lake, sparkling beneath the mid-morning sun far below us. Mountains upon mountains towered high above deep, forested river valleys on either side of us, and the meadow-covered Sahale Arm felt like a scene straight out of an enchanted fairytale kingdom. The final section up to the camp was a steep climb over scree and large, loose rocks (typical North Cascades terrain). We pushed to the camp area as quickly as we could manage and sat down at the edge of the glacier, giving ourselves a breather before tackling the final part of the climb.

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First view of Sahale!

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Looking back along the ridge

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Doubtful Lake far below

We chatted with another group that had just returned from their climb as we strapped our brand new aluminum crampons to our trail runners (the first time ever we’d be crossing a glacier with such minimal, lightweight footwear!). From the beta they provided us, I realized they most likely climbed the wrong peak (neither Boston nor Sahale) but decided not to say anything. (Note: The USGS bench mark on Sahale is marked as ‘Boston’ and this group didn’t know that prior to climbing) We scanned the glacier before stepping onto it, noting only one open crevasse that was well off the current boot path, and opted not to rope up to save time and move faster. Aside from one steep snow section on the southeast side approaching the summit block, the glacier and snow portion was pretty mellow. Once on the rock we dropped our packs and grabbed only what we’d need to rappel, as well as my camera to take some pictures. I may or may not have felt slightly badass coiling our rope into a backpack and wearing it up as I scrambled. Another first! We traversed over to the north side and scurried up the final fourth class pitch with ease. After nearly eight hours, we were finally standing on the summit of our first non-volcanic peak in the North Cascades.

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Power hiking up Sahale Glacier

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Scrambling the summit block

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I was a kid in a candy shop looking out on these beloved mountains. My alpine goals grew exponentially as I scanned the neighboring ridge lines, gazing in awe at Mount Torment, Forbidden Peak, Sharkfin Tower, Boston Peak, and Mount Buckner. One day soon, I thought. One day soon. We reveled in our successful summit a few moments longer, committing to memory our excitement and exaltation, as well as the incomparable beauty of the surrounding peaks. Back on the south side, we triple checked the quality of some slings left in place then went about setting up the rappel. Mack rapped down first so I could check his set up before he took his first steps off the edge. I followed a few minutes later. We conveniently landed next to the gear we’d stashed earlier and quickly repacked for our return to the glacier camp. The steep snow below the summit block required some patience and focus but from there we enjoyed a fast and easy descent. We made it back around lunch time and lounged around the glacier camp while we feasted on candy and sandwiches.

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Summit selfie with Boston Peak photobombing behind us
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Boston Peak and Mount Buckner connected by Ripsaw Ridge
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Boston Peak, Sharkfin Tower, and Forbidden Peak

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Looking toward Mount Buckner 
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Rapping off the summit

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Watching as two other climbers head up
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Trail runners with C.A.M.P aluminum crampons worked great!

The hike back to the car took longer than expected mainly because I’d decided to save most of the picture taking of the Sahale Arm for the hike out. Of course, once we entered the forest after Cascade Pass and began the infinite switchbacks down to the trailhead, we were desperate to get back to the car. The most tortuous section of the entire day (aside from waiting for daylight after our suspected cougar encounter) came when we reached the parking lot and remembered that we still had just over three miles left due to the road closure. Not even the views of Johannesburg could inspire me to enjoy this final stretch. We dragged our tired bodies through the late afternoon heat, finally shuffling past the closed gate to our car shortly after 5:30 pm. Despite the six hour drive back home (and work the next morning), all I could think about was the fact that we’d just spent an entire day among the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever laid eyes on and that my dream of alpine climbing in the North Cascades was slowly but surely becoming a reality.

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Hiking back down on talus with Doubtful Lake peeking out below
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Looking out at Eldorado (next objective!), the peak on the far right
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Enjoying your meal there, Mr. Goat?

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Taking in the view of Sahale Arm

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Back at Cascade Pass
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Road walk back to the car in the hot afternoon sun

Glacier Peak

  • Date: July 28, 2018
  • Start: Sloan Creek Campground
  • Distance: 34 miles
  • Duration: 17 hours 28 minutes (breaks included)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot; The Mountaineers

The sound of low rumbling shook me from a deep sleep. Bursts of light cast shadows of the surrounding trees on the walls of our tent. I jumped at each rumble and crack. “So much for our summit bid,” I thought. As if running/hiking/climbing 34+ miles and 10,000+ feet of gain in a day didn’t terrify me enough after barely recovering from a recent injury, the thought of venturing out in a thunderstorm was further proof that it wasn’t going to be our day. Feeling defeated before even stepping out of the tent, I curled back up in my sleeping bag and fell fast asleep again.

The storm eventually passed, but we ended up sleeping through our original start time to avoid being in the storm. The 7.5 hour drive through heavy Friday traffic may have also played a part in our decision to sleep in. By the time we started around 6 am–three hours later than our planned start!–we’d already come to terms with the fact that we weren’t going to summit. This was just going to be a scouting run to get beta for our next attempt. We hit the trail with absolutely no expectations.

With the exception of two runners that passed us early on, we didn’t encounter another human being for the first nine miles. We moved quickly while still enjoying the early morning sounds of the waking forest and the peaceful lull of the rushing North Fork Sauk. The trail appeared to have already been cleared of fallen trees, as well as brushed of overgrown plants, so there was no need for climbing over giant logs or bushwhacking through face height shrubbery. An improvement from last year! The daunting climb from Mackinaw Shelter to White Pass (about 3,000 feet of gain in 3.5 miles) was also much easier this time around with small daypacks. Last year we suffered immensely under 40-50 pound climbing packs and it took us over six hours to reach White Pass! This time, we were there in less than three. We celebrated with a burrito (Mack) and Gushers (my new fave running treat besides Mamma Chia squeeze snacks).

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Rewarded with mountain views after a steep climb from Mackinaw Shelter

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Heading to White Pass on the PCT
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Homemade burritos are his favorite adventure running snack

Although it was nice not to be scorched by the sun, the overcast skies were making us question how much further we’d be able to go. Nonetheless we took advantage of the relatively flatter Foam Creek Trail and finally got our legs running again after the previous miles’ climb. This section of the approach, with its sprawling wildflower covered slopes, mountain views in all directions, and enjoyable singletrack, is easily one of the most idyllic parts of the entire route! Even the pouring rain that started to come down as we neared the end of the trail couldn’t dampen our spirits. We turned off the trail to gain the saddle above us where we met a climbing group on their return trip. Due to the early morning thunderstorm, they’d decided to bail on their summit bid and were now hiking out. Fortunately for us, though we were still standing in the pouring rain, Dakobed was completely visible against a backdrop of clear blue skies in the distance. Pleasantly surprised and filled with excitement, we quickly dropped down the steep slope, climbed back up another saddle, and were greeted with an even greater view of the incredible mountain before us. Maybe we still had a chance.

The “trail” ended after Foam Creek Trail, but there was a heavily used boot path in the snow through White Chuck Basin. We ran (i.e. slipped and slid over the semi-soft snow) then scrambled up and over various rock bands, growing more and more excited as the mountain became closer. Just before noon, we hiked the final steps up to Glacier Gap, the high camp we’d stayed at before climbing Dakobed last summer. We were 14-15 miles in now with just a couple more to reach the summit. I turned to Mack. “I think we owe it to ourselves to keep going.” Without hesitation he replied, “Let’s do it.”

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Looking back at White Pass
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Running on Foam Creek Trail
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A carpet of Western Pasque Flower
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Greetings Dakobed (and posing marmot)!
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Idyllic tarns in White Chuck Basin

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After scarfing down more burritos and filling up on water, we began the final stretch of our long approach. We hadn’t made the summit yet, but the feeling of accomplishment was already there for me. After a peroneal tendon injury forced me to drop out of my first 50 mile race back in June, and subsequently kept me from running at all for nearly a month, my dream of completing a Dakobed C2C just kind of slipped away until a few days prior to our attempt. I’d only started running again two weeks prior, and it was only once or twice a week for 7-10 miles, not exactly the best preparation for an undertaking like Dakobed. Despite the low running mileages, I’d still been doing some hiking, and we’d just come off a 60-mile backpacking trip in the Wallowas. I could feel my body growing more strong and capable, and with limited summer vacation time left, I wanted to take advantage of my confidence and availability. So here we were, 15+ miles in now,–my longest “run” since June 16th.

We traversed beneath Disappointment Peak through a “bowling alley” section, stopping every couple of minutes to keep our eyes and ears peeled for falling rock. After our ongoing battle with rockfall on Cooper Spur back in May, sections like these put Mack on edge, even though this traverse is far more mellow. Although we ended up only hearing rockfall but not seeing any, I could tell he was a bit shaken once we finished the traverse. Both of us felt better once we made it through the following crevasse-riddled section and were heading toward the final slope leading up to the summit.

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Moving quickly through those pesky crevasses

After a short mix of scree and steep snow, we stood on the summit of Dakobed for the second year in a row. It was just before 3 pm, nine hours since we’d started; a big difference from the 2.5 days it took us last summer. We looked out over the North Cascades, wishing we had more time to sit there and identify as many peaks as we could, but it was a long journey back to the car and we still needed to make the tedious descent off the mountain. Mack signed the summit register for us, we took a few photos and ate a few more snacks, then down we went after a mere ten minutes. Nothing like climbing a mountain to remind you that it’s all about the journey!

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Signing the summit register
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Mack’s ” beautiful” Cupid drawing

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Showing off the amazing Kula Cloth created by Anastasia Allison
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Obligatory summit selfie while twinning (i.e. same running packs)

The going was slow until we made it past the crevasses, then we sprinted through the “bowling alley” until we were out of the rockfall path. Around 5 pm we dropped back down onto Glacier Gap. We’d now covered around 20 miles and over 10,000 feet of gain, but it didn’t physically feel like it. We expected a one day push to be far more demanding than our 3.5 day climb, but this was turning out to be so much easier! We plopped down on some rocks to change our sopping wet socks (which turned out to be a stupid idea since we were about to run through another snowfield) and eat some dinner (you guessed it! more burritos!) before heading out. To the east, storm clouds were gathering. I’d barely finished switching out my socks when I heard it: that low rumbling that shook me awake earlier that morning. Mack and I both looked at each other. He probably saw the fear in my eyes even behind my sunglasses. “Let’s eat fast and get off this mountain,” he responded.

Now that we were mostly moving downhill, we were able to pick up our pace. We passed several groups heading onto the basin to camp. I hoped the weather wouldn’t become as terrible as it appeared for all those staying the night in the area. Then again, thunderstorms terrify me to no end, so maybe it wasn’t as big a deal to the people we passed. As we neared the end of the basin, I breathed a sigh of relief as I looked over to the other side of the saddle where Foam Creek Trail lay. The skies were still clear and we wouldn’t be entering any nasty weather systems once we crossed over.

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Trying to out run those ominous storm clouds!

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I turned around often as we neared the saddle, knowing these would be my last views of Dakobed before we dropped down to Foam Creek Trail. She was more beautiful than ever bathed in the light of the early evening sun. It was difficult to turn away each time. We carefully maneuvered down the steep slope from the top of the saddle. Last summer, this section almost had me in tears because I had so much trouble balancing with my unnecessarily large pack. I honestly thought I would end up toppling over and tumbling down hundreds of feet through snow, dirt, and mountain heather. This time, it wasn’t much of an ordeal at all and my fear from last year never resurfaced. We climbed back up the opposite side, where we’d talked with the other climbing group earlier that morning, then dropped down to Foam Creek Trail.

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One last look at Dakobed

It was just past 7 pm now. Golden hour made one of the most beautiful sections even more enchanting. Being back on singletrack prompted us to start running again. We sped through those magical wildflower covered slopes, ecstatic about reaching White Pass with a single digit number of miles left. We made good time and the sun had not yet gone down. My knees were starting to ache though, and we were just about to start a 3,000 foot descent to Mackinaw.

On the PCT and back on North Fork Sauk, I did my best to run and push the pace, but my knees just weren’t having it, especially once we hit the steeper, more technical downhill sections on North Fork Sauk. All the elevation gain and loss of the day was finally catching up to me. We strapped on our headlamps shortly before reaching Mackinaw Shelter as the sun dipped behind the mountains in the distance. Now it was time for me to face my next big anxiety trigger: running through a forest in the dark.

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Golden hour on Foam Creek Trail
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“Take a picture of me jumping over this creek!”

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Back at White Pass

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Last of the golden light

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Yes, I’m a grown-ass woman and, yes, I am absolutely terrified of being in the dark. My mind (well, my imagination) tends to go to horrible places, especially in a dark forest where I can’t see what might be lurking behind the trees or within the bushes. Mack doesn’t really have this fear, and just as I was there for him when he was freaking out about potential rockfall beneath Disappointment Peak, he did his best to be patient with me as I whined about how many miles were still left to cover in the dark. Although I didn’t feel comfortable running outright with all the roots and rocks covering the trail, we still managed to power hike and jog, averaging 3+ miles an hour. Time seems to move far too slowly when you’re anxious and ready to be done with something, but we were covering these last miles in good time. In addition, the only wildlife we came across on our night miles were numerous Cascades frogs that hopped out onto the trail and never failed to scare the shit out of me.

We finally stumbled into the parking area around 11:20 pm. We were exhausted (and my knees felt like they were on fire!), covered in sweat and dirt, and probably smelled like ass, but we were beyond happy and grateful to have completed an adventure we didn’t think would be possible to finish when we started out 17 hours earlier. As I lay in the tent, unable to fall asleep and scrolling through the iPhone pictures I’d taken throughout the day, I reflected on how different this summer was shaping up to be. Things were looking pretty dismal after my injury in June. But now? Now this was becoming the best summer yet.

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