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.

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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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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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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!

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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