Umtanum Ridge Crest & Road

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Cruising through the grass

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Sweet start

After last week’s shortcut, I figured I’d take another shot at a long run, so I messaged a few steady trail runners for suggestions out east knowing the weather everywhere (even in the Teanaways!) was going to be brutal. Yakima looked sunny, and Stuke had a phenomenal suggestion that was a 27ish mile out-and-back taking the Umtanum Ridge Crest trail to the Umtanum Ridge Road, which runs the length of the ridge and despite being a road is more like a wide trail. I thought I had thrown this plan out the window when SMR got busy on Saturday, but after being turned around without even setting foot on the trail, my long run was back in action. Ran 10/22/2017.

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That is a perfectly good burrito

I got to the trailhead around 8:30 and stepped out of the car into wonderful sunshine and what might be the most delicious air I have ever smelled in my life. Everything was covered in dew from that had just stopped, and the entire canyon was full of sage bushes. Sunshine with the smell of fresh rain mixed with tons of sage, I gotta give Yakima a little more credit. It was freaking gorgeous. You know when you start an activity and your entire body just says yeah, this is where I should be right now? It was one of those mornings. I packed my bag with way more food than I ended up needing and started off.

  • Distance: 27.6 miles
  • Elevation: 2,400ft net gain (3,480 highest point, and around 6k gain on rolling hills)
  • Weather: 50’s and a mix of clouds and sun
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:40 unless everyone crashes in the rain (RAIN) on i90
  • Did I Trip: Some stubbed toes but no casualties
  • Strava link here
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First light post rain

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Dammit Saucony. Maybe #runmostplaces not #runanywhere

The first 2.5 miles gain the 2,400ft of elevation, so needless to say I hiked those.There was no one else in sight. The trail briefly follows Umtanum Creek (you need to duck under some train tracks, or go over but I’m lazy so I went under) before hanging left and starting up through quaking aspen and sagebrush and tall grasses towards the ridge. It was quite muddy, and I found the only flaw in my running shoes that I have encountered so far. With this clay-ish-mud mix, the lugs on my shoes just got caked with mud until I was basically hiking on mud pancakes, slipping all over the place. I’d stop periodically to scrape off the bottoms and delicately tiptoe up the trail.

The last half mile to the top is very steep, and I was less than stoked doing it without shoes that had good mud traction (and poles) but soon enough I topped out at the ridge road. Stuke’s description was accurate. Rolling hills, and a road that’s more like a wide trail than a road. Sweet! I started jogging.
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Totally different topography compared to western Washington

There were two things I had only briefly considered before starting up the trail, because I don’t know much about either group. First was hunters. I had my neon pink hard shell, which is close enough to safety orange that I figured I had that base covered, and hopefully if I was being an idiot someone would tell me. Second was 4×4 teams (who I think were usually also hunting), who I hoped would be okay with me hopping off the road so they could pass, and again tell me if I was doing something stupid. Here’s the confession: I’m basically scared of random 4×4 drivers, and definitely scared of random hunters. Neither of those activities were part of my life, they’re totally foreign to me, and they’re intimidating, and I’m just a hot pink helpless nerd going for a jog.

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Almost at the ridge (not)

So the first two trucks that drove past me freaked me out. And the first hunters I passed freaked me out. But I was pleasantly surprised by everyone I ran into! The hunters were all amicable (one team on foot just laughed and said “good for you!” as I jogged past) and several trucks stopped to ask how far I was going and to flag them down if I needed anything. Everyone was totally fine about sharing the road, in fact I might even go so far as to say that they were more pleasant than a lot of the hikers I encounter on trails, who don’t hear or see you coming, don’t move out of the way, and glare or silently stare ahead when you ask if you can pass.

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Rolling hills!

So you pretty much start at the high point. This was great as I started my jog, because woohoo downhill! I hiked most of the uphills unless they were very slight. Supposedly you can see the Stuart range from the top of the ridge, but all I got were clouds. Oh, and the wind, which occasionally ripped by just to spite me. The road switches between beautiful gravel, nice dirt, and terrible rocks and mud, so you get a nice combo of footwork and space-out-cruising. I fell victim to “summit fever” – not a summit, but around mile 11 I was like okay, I’ll turn around at that high point. And then I was there, and it was 11.5 miles, and I thought no you didn’t drive 2.5 hours just to turn around at 11.5 miles, go for 13. And then I hit 13 and thought okay, that high point (I was going downhill and didn’t want to start my return trip with immediate uphill). And then I could see the road intersection that was the turnaround point from that knoll, and I didn’t come that far just to turn around 300 yards short of the end. So I tagged the intersection and began the long slog back.

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The nicest section of road ever

I didn’t let myself check mileage again until around 19.8 miles. I wanted to be sure I had less than 10 miles left next time I looked (mental games) so I waited forever. The rolling hills were kind to me though, I ran more uphills than I had on the way out and felt pretty good. The final uphill to the trail turnoff was brutal, but not as brutal as the ensuing descent, losing 1,000ft+ per mile, destroying my knees and quads and hips while I counted my steps to distract myself from everything else because I was even tired of the sage at this point.

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Trail leading off into the distance

I jogged across the bridge (surprisingly bouncy) and popped into the parking lot, pretty thrilled with how the day had gone. I had only eaten around 6 tablespoons of peanut butter, and felt fantastic the entire time. I had the perfect amount of water, my new shoes had felt great, and I didn’t have any weird aches or pains. I didn’t even know that was possible. I hopped into my car, mentally on tope of the world, and drove straight into a wall of traffic on i90 because people forget how to drive in the rain. Shit.

Oh, and I found a Hot Pocket that I had lost in my car back in summer of 2015. You read that right. Over 2 years later. Turns out there’s a void beneath the fabric on the floor below my drivers’ seat. I can only imagine the decay had spawned a mold-based life form, because the only reason I found it was because there was this odd crackling noise going on and I was panicking that there was a mouse in my car while driving on the highway. No, just a hot pocket that came to life. I was hoping I had mentioned it in the trip report but I didn’t. But for two years I’ve been assuming that there was a glitch in the matrix that resulted in the loss of some high quality sustenance.
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Sage has yellow flowers 🙂

Lakes Dorothy, Bear, Deer, and Snoqualmie

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The far end of Lake Dorothy, neat channels underwater

Catching up on old posts, and since this is a rainy day one it’ll be a quickie. I had donated blood the previous afternoon, so I ignored all hiking/climbing requests to do my own thing in case it was similar to the last time I donated blood. Last time I thought it would be smart to hike to Lake Serene, and I was pouring sweat with a heart rate of like 180 and miserable the entire time and I did not want a repeat of that. So I surveyed the population for “boring lake hikes.” The lakes can be nice, but I don’t want any tempting peaks behind them, no scrambling, no elevation gain, a well maintained obvious trail, relatively short drive, you get the idea. Hiked 9/9/2017.

  • Distance: 14 miles
  • Elevation: 1600ft gain, 3600ft highest point (warning: you lose 500ft elevation to Snoqualmie Lake)
  • Weather: 50’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
  • Did I Trip: No. Who’s well grounded!?
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Your first glimpse of Lake Dorothy

And I settled on lakes Dorothy, Bear, and Deer. I figured if I felt crappy I could turn around at any of those lakes. I got to the trailhead around 10am and started off, immediately being passed by two trail runners. I was jealous. Then I cruised past some park rangers, one of whom dated my friend last year (I’m awkward and announced him as such) and prayed they didn’t give me a ticket for my expired America the Beautiful pass. Lake Dorothy is about 1.5 miles down the trail, but the lake is HUGE. Tons of campsites, great for families with kids and inflatable boats and towels and big stoves.

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Closest thing I had to a view all day

It took what felt like forever to get to the other end of the lake. You finally hit some elevation gain on the far side, and switch back up a short ridge that eventually drops you to Bear and Deer lakes, which are twin lakes! There are more campsites at each lake (immediately off the trail), and you can either stop here or continue to Snoqualmie Lake.

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Beautifully maintained trail

I had all day and was moving faster than I thought, so I figured I’d carry on. I also expected there to be a turnaround destination here, which there wasn’t, and continuing trail is just so tempting. I lost what felt like a ton of elevation dropping to Snoqualmie Lake, which interestingly had some sandy shores. There are campsites here, my personal favorite (which I deemed my turnaround spot) was actually just off the main trail to the right towards a beautiful surprise tarn. So that’s where you should camp if you don’t mind a 7 mile hike.

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Local riff raff

Figuring it wasn’t going to get any more interesting from there and looking forward to a warm cozy dinner, I turned around and high tailed it back to the parking lot. I did not get a ticket from a lack of pass, thank you rangers! I had actually called their building on the way hoping to get a pass but it was close, so I swear I had tried. And I finally got the new pass a week, don’t worry. I know, I know, I live on the edge.

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Favorite tarn by Snoqualmie Lake

Overall, pleasant hike, good destination for anyone who wants lake camping with kids or a long trail run. The trail continues beyond Snoqualmie Lake all the way to Middle Fork Snoqualmie River (I’m pretty sure those two trail runners started at Middle Fork, ran to the Dorothy trailhead, and then ran back to Middle Fork), so you could have a fantastic out and back or even car to car trail run on a mellow, well maintained trail if you so desired. Just don’t donate blood the day before. Good for hot summer days (lakes!) or gross rainy days (…lakes!) or lazy days (flat trails, and… lakes!) since you can turn around at any number of destinations.

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Luxurious campsite near the tarn

Moab Trail Marathon: How to Fake Run a Marathon

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Top of mile 15 baby!

Okay, we still ran most of it, miraculously. Leading up to it I had done a single 19 miler (but much of that was walking), and I don’t think my father had run more than like 8 miles in two years. So there was a lot of walking involved, and some scrambling, and some “arm rappels” or whatever you want to call those. And some cramps and muscle spasms, and some whining, and some “shut up so I can count my steps” (which is code for “I’m dying”) and luckily a real life voice doppleganger of Charlie Day from Always Sunny who carried us through mile 23. Oh, and a rogue cactus that nearly did me in at mile 24.

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And we’re off! Who needs to run when you can take photos every 25 feet?

It’s easy to forget that I originally moved to Washington for trail running, especially with all of the climbing/mountaineering/pretending like I know how to ski. But once upon a time I was a runner. Now I’m a lazy person with a boring desk job who happens to climb mountains and occasionally goes for slow jogs, primarily motivated by upcoming marathons and Pokemon Go. And one morning back in September, I woke up and realized I had a marathon coming up in five weeks. Shit!

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The Wave of Plebs

My dad was anxious. His question wasn’t “how much of these 26 miles will I walk vs run” or “will I finish” it was “do I bail at mile 9 and walk 4 miles to the start, or bail at mile 17 and walk 6 miles to the start and hopefully get there before she finishes the last 3?” But there we were at the starting line, laughing at how unprepared we were, surrounded by insanely good runners, wondering just how much pain we’d  be in after a few hours. I forgot my camelback, so I stuffed plastic water bottles in my pack. My father carried a plastic bottle in his hands. I left the salt tabs at home. I had strongly caffeinated Gu in preparation for the unavoidable bonk. First tip: start slow. So slow. We were in the fourth wave, the Wave of the Plebeians (okay, the second to last wave). And off we were!

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Sweet cliffy single track

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Awesome single track

Oh, did I mention that the one day I fly to the desert is the one day it’s cloudy/drizzly in the entire second half of 2016? Yeah, it was rainy. In Moab. The desert. But that packed down some of the dust, and made the sandy parts easier to run. I had popped aspirin which is my only hope of easing my calf issues, and it kept them at bay, like a 5/10 on the swollen scale instead of 9/10 like a few of the past runs. And of course, mentality has a huge impact on any race. Everyone was jogging, we were darting to the sides of the trail to take photos and marvel at views and for once I did not bitch when there were bottlenecks in front of us, which is an unfortunate reality with any single track trail race, especially one that has a few scramble sections. Second tip: Take all of the photos. It’s a break without admitting you’re taking a break.

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Natural Arch (I’m convinced it’s at mile 4 but I don’t think it is)

We came around the first bend in the trail and I laughed. We had been complaining that red rock canyons look way better in sun, and this year might be boring with the clouds. False. They’re still pretty damn awesome. The first few miles climb, and then you come out near the top of the canyon and follow a single track trail which is glorious. There are rest stops every 5 ish miles, stocked with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, oreos (rip off oreos this year, come on!!) more salt tabs, gatorade, soda, and lots of peppy volunteers. Some of the stations were accessible by mountain bike, some by car, and some by huge ridiculous ATV. It’s amazing seeing how far this race has come in the past few years. Third tip: EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT. There’s a joke that ultramarathons are more eating competitions than running. Treat long trail races like that too.

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Gonna be a bumpy evacuation!

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Approaching the bottleneck

At mile 8 was the infamous bottleneck, which wasn’t awful this year, probably due to all of the shorter bottlenecks leading up to it. It’s basically two third class scramble moves, and you can pick your poison. Small chimney with great jugs, or slabby exposed shit, perfect for the “butt scoot” technique. I went with the slabby exposed shit, because no one else was, and I’m impatient. They have volunteers standing at the base of each to spot people, but not everyone is comfortable on a spicy 3rd class downclimb after running 8 miles. And if you slip, you’ll just take the volunteer with you. One woman got stuck in the chimney, so my father helped spot her while I waited, my slabby shortcut now a moot victory. Past that, it’s down to the canyon floor, where the half marathon splits off at mile 9 and you are left likely by yourself to continue the marathon.

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Neat mini tunnel on the out and back

There’s an out-and-back right after the half marathon splits off, and once you’ve finished that (~2 miles) you’re back on track for the rest of the marathon. It’s amazing how many people just do the half. You go from being in a line of people along a single track to maybe having 3 people in your field of vision at any moment. Suddenly the scale of the canyons is real, and you can tell how enormous everything is.

This is where you can get pumped for mile 15. You think you can see the entire climb from the base, but you can’t. You wrap around the top corner, only to continue climbing. It gains something like 1300ft in one mile, which is just peachy after you’ve run 15 miles.You’re tiny, the guy hundreds of feet in front of you is dwarfed by the distant pillar, the people behind you are a trail of ants, the trailer at the base of the climb gets smaller and smaller as you ascend to the canyon rim. Tip four: Enjoy the views. Look around. Just don’t trip.
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The climb that is mile 15

The first year, we tried to run the whole thing. I died. The second year, we hiked it. My dad had cramps and bailed at the top. This year, we hiked it again. And groaned about it. And complained at every corner even though we already knew there were false corners and top outs. And chatted with those around us (my dad picked out a guy’s South African accent after three words, amazing) as they trudged up the same death climb. Between his weight lifting and my mountaineering, we were actually pretty damn prepared for this section. As usual we snapped our picture at the top, for once both looking happy instead of me dead (first time) or dad dead (second time). And from there, your’e on top of the world, cruising across desert with towers and huge drops in the background and an expanse of slick rock mountain biking trails ahead of you. Hope your shoes have good tread!

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Looking back about halfway up the mile 15 climb

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And this is where you end up. Cruising on another planet

This is the best part of the race. The beginning is cool, the climb at mile 15 is amazing because you watch the close landmarks shrink as mountains and canyons grow in the distance, but miles 16-23 are just phenomenal. So keep your mental game strong, because this is where you want to be alert. Rolling slick rock, awesome rock formations, a windy trail that occasionally disappears (it gets more and more well marked every year, we definitely lost it the first year), and the runners are so spread out you really only have to deal with one or two other people at a time. It’s just you, cruising through unbelievable terrain, and that’s why I trail run.

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Even I barely fit through the end of this. Turn sideways and scoot.

It got tough around mile 18. We saw the sign for mile 18 and my dad said “oh thank god that’s a mental boost.” I made some joke about feeling pretty good, and he responded “yeah well I’d like to lie down and vomit.” A mile or so after, I started to feel it. The rolling slick rock goes from super easy to run (slabby, mellow downhill) to difficult (slabby sidehilling or uphill or quick pivoting turns) to nearly un-runnable (some low class scramble moves). Eventually, I am interrupted while blabbing away about something, and I head “I am going to count my steps. Don’t talk to me for a few minutes.” So I shut up, and let my dad count his steps while I trailed along behind him. Bring on the caffeinated gu! (Tip Six: Caffeine) Luckily, around mile 21 or 22, you pop onto a smooth trail that runs downhill along the river, and that’s where we found Charlie Kelly. (Tip Seven: Find Charlie Kelly)

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Such neat terrain

Anyone who watches Always Sunny immediately knows who I’m talking about. Through our mile 22 tunnel vision comes Charlie’s voice, floating up from behind us, talking about how miserable it is that you have to run past the finish line and do a 5k loop to actually finish the marathon. How he tried so hard through mile 23 last year and then crashed when he realized there were still three miles left past the finish line. Setting everyone’s expectations as low as possible. And I remember those last three miles, because it sucks running past the finish line and listening to the top runners finish while you’re slogging up a sand dune. And a waist deep river to cross, which my father had been praying for. IT’s like a short ice bath for sore legs. Except this year, it was a dry puddle of mud. Damn you, global warming. Okay, tip Eight: Coca Cola. Just chug some coke at this rest stop and you’ll basically be in heaven.

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Just so cool to run

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Ladders! We stuck with the same group of  ~4 for the last three miles. The guy in front is basically Charlie Kelly.

The last three miles are a mini obstacle course, with ladders and hand lines and pipes to run through and neat caves that I always forget to photograph. Oh, and a nice prickly pear cactus that I did not notice until it was sticking through my foot. I couldn’t even tell what had happened besides feeling like flames were shooting up my foot until my dad yelled “You stepped on a cactus!” and my brain worked it out. The spines had gone straight through the bottom of my shoe and into my foot. Painful and quite surprising. I hobbled to the side of the trail in a cactus free zone to start plucking the spines out.

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“Look like you’re running!”

Shortly after, my adducter seized, which is an interesting feeling. I don’t usually get muscle spasms, but they’re a pretty well noted side effect of Accutane, not to mention I was probably dehydrated or low on salt despite my best efforts. Whatever, it was the cactus leg, and who needs an adductor or a foot? We only had like a mile left, and it was the mile through the parking lot, which means shut up and count your steps  (tip Nine: Learn to enjoy rote tedious activities while in mild amounts of pain) and then make sure you look good crossing the finish line (rule #1 is always look good, right? #2 is don’t die, and #3 is if you do die, look good doing it). We didn’t quite nail the looking good part, but who cares! We had finished, and despite zero training, we had done almost the exact same time as the previous two marathons. We may not have been as in shape, or as well trained, but we ran a smart race.

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The worst stretch. Going through a parking lot.

So I guess the answer to “How to run a fake marathon” is lots of caffeine, lots of salt pills, walk all the uphills, take tons of pictures, and have Charlie Day help you along for a few hours. Bonus points if you sunburn your terribly Accutane-ravaged nose in your 6 hours in desert drizzle. Crap.
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Woo!