July 31, 2008

Mt Saint Helens Run Recap

This is gonna have to be a quick cap of the run, so here goes.

Ran around Volcano, had fun, 12hr, made it, beautiful trip. Phew, finally done!

Seriously though, I hate half assed reports but I'm running outta time before taking off for Tofino and a surfing trip this coming weekend, then my first 100 miler next weekend, which does not leave a lot of time outside of working and training to get to this stuff right now...plus girlfriends do NOTHING BUT get in the way!! HAHA, just kidding!! There are things more important than blogging, or so I'm told!

The week before we left, Geoff Palmer called down to get the current trail conditions for the south side of the mtn. The ranger, who we named 'Ranger Rick', was blunt:

"Don't even bother right now!"

Geoff was dumbfounded, "Huh?"

"There was fourteen feet of snow back there two weeks ago. There's no way you'll make it through the south side."

Keep in mind that Geoff had not even mentioned our grand scheme to run the entire trail in a day. Since most endurance athletes are stubborn to at least some degree, it was already settled. We'd head down and run it just to say that we did, and that Ranger Rick was indeed wrong about his own trail network!

We departed North Vancouver at 5pm on Friday and managed to luck out with a rapid border crossing. We then stopped at REI in Bellingham, Wash for some last minute items, including a proper trail map. That was followed up by enjoying a grocery store dinner in the parking lot, complete with Gluten Free beer, yuummmy!

We arrived at 1am, set up camp in the parking lot, and put our heads down around 1:30am. The 5:30am alarm sounded all too soon.

We packed up camp, had breaky and went about getting our gear ready to go when we noticed a large group of hikers displaying virtual 8x10 permits across their backs. We knew nothing about permits and after much debate and numerous questions we guessed that permits were only necessary for hiking to the Crater Rim, above 4800 feet. Otherwise the trail appeared to be free and we took our chances with a note to Ranger Rick saying we'd check in with him afterwards, promising to settle up whatever we might owe.

We were forced to start about 2.5km from the trail itself at 'The Climber's Bivy' parking area, as the road beyond was closed. The parking lot was covered in patches of snow and after our 7am departure we spent the first thirty minutes in snow wondering how bad it was going to get.

Thankfully we cleared the worst of the snow once we made our way onto the Loowit Trail itself, and then proceeded in a counter clockwise direction. Panoramic views followed shortly thereafter. Within the fist ninety minutes we could see why people said the trail would take over ten hours to complete...we could not go 100 meters without stopping for a photo op!

The terrain of the run was ever changing and it felt as though we ran through three or four completely different eco systems, from barren lunar like landscapes, to dense forests, and lush mountainside flowering plains. The run presented us with something special at each and every turn.

There were numerous washouts and creek crossings that demanded a level of confidence and experience to safely cross. After most of these obstacles we would end up spreading out and playing a game of who could find our running route again first. Our trail map was a mandatory piece of gear and I'm glad we took the time to purchase on the way down!

Even with our map we did end up lost at one point, for about an hour, as we ran up the wrong ridge line! We got caught following animal trails that seemed as worn and prominent as any trail we had traversed to that point in the run. After seeing a herd of Elk...are they called a herd? After seeing a posse of elk running away from us you would think could have figured it out, but no, we continued onwards and upwards until we gained a mini summit with some pretty amazing views. Which wasn't terrible! From here the proper route below was clearly laid out for us and we able to straightline it back to our intended running route.

I'm already way deeper into this run than I would like to be, as there was truly so much more to it than this quick cap can justify.

From here we hit a nice 5-6km running section before being confronted by the absolute crux of our day. A 'canyon' like glacial moraine was laying below us with walls of six or seven hundred feet! It was spectacular, but we all wondered exactly how the hell we were supposed to make it across this behemoth?

We followed the trail as it winded ever downward and eventually spit us out onto a rocky ledge, about seventy feet above the river that we still had to cross. We followed the route in the natural direction of travel, all doubting that there would be any easy way through. In fact Geoff later admitted that he fully thought our run was over and done with at that point in time. Sure enough though, a somewhat easy, and surprisingly safe, loose rock scramble down to the river opened itself up to us. We were across in no time and scrambling up the steep slopes on the North side of the river.

Again it was tricky to determine if we were in fact on the proper route and after referencing the map for a few minutes we were able to continue climbing with confidence. Shortly after cresting this climb of about 800 vertical feet we came across just the second group we would see all day. They had not yet seen the major obstacle we had just crossed, yet they could not stop talking about the terrain they had just covered and what still lay ahead for us!

By this time we were almost ten hours in and I could tell that the energy of the group was fading a little as we were all mentally ready to get off of the trail and enjoy a few beers!

There ended up being two additional washouts to cross with the largest adding about a full mile to the original route. It was amazing to look just a few hundred meters across at where the trail continued and realize that we were going to take 15-20 minutes to get there!

The last six kms or so were fairly uneventful, outside of the fact that it seemed to go on forever as we were all looking forward to completing this monster of a ~50k route.

We hit our intersection for 'The Climber's Bivy' and everyone's pace quickened instantly as we leaned into the switchback grade and let gravity do its work. At slightly over 12hr we cruised into the parking lot, mission accomplished! There were a few warm beers, dry clothes, and fresh fluids and food awaiting us in the car. We hung out for thirty minutes before heading into the nearest town of Cougar to camp for the night. At dinner we were to learn that the trail itself, below the crater rim, is indeed free. In fact between the four of us, with gas, food, camping and everything, the weekend cost just 60.00 per person! That's less that I would have spent had I stayed at home!!

The run is phenomenal and I don't feel like I have done it justice with this report. All I can say is that Tom says it's one of the most incredible places he's ever seen and I would tend to agree with him. In fact he asked me to tone down my run report so as not to attract too much attention to what a 'hidden gem' this run truly is...uh, there, that's as toned down as it gets!

As a group of four, Geoff, Duncan, Tom, and myself could not have had a better time, or been a better team. Everyone stayed solid throughout the run and no one was falling off the back, which was nice. It almost felt like an adventure race with there being four of us out there with ~10 pounds of gear on our backs, water included of course.

(It's official, three out of four dirty trail runners prefer Montrail Streaks to satisfy their running goals!)

One theme we kept referencing while running was a clip that I viewed through Matt Hart's blog. Check it out, Arnold is always good for a laugh!

And yes, it was that good!


Oh yeah, and a huge congrats to Todd for indeed winning his first solo MOMAR this past weekend, nice work bud!

Also, Aaron Heidt placed 5th at White River, the American 50 mile ultra running championships, in his first official 50 mile race!
Not to be outdone, Nicola Gildersleeve, at just 24 years of age snagged the 4th overall woman. Two solid results from some serious up and coming ultra runner's from the BC scene. Congrats guys!


Anonymous said...

Sounds like it was fun Gary- glad you enjoyed it!
Erika aka couch potato...

Jay Thompson said...

Hey Gary, I'm the guy that recognized you at the Fremont Lookout at Mt Rainier this past weekend. I came to your site looking for info on the Loowit trail a few years ago, thats how I recognized you. Anyhow, it was nice to meet you. Keep on running!

Jay Thompson

garobbins said...

Jay, I just logged into my blog for the first time in months and noticed your comment waiting to be published. My apologies that I missed it and it was funny to run into you out there.
Thanks for dropping me a line!