Spring Training

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Winter slogs reward you with great sunrises (sometimes)

No, not baseball. This is way more exciting than baseball. Everyone wants to know what to do to stay in shape through the winter, or to ramp up training in the spring so they can be ready for whatever ambitious climbs they’ve been dreaming about for 6 months. I have never hiked Mailbox or Si or Cable Line for conditioning because like many others, I hate people I go to the mountains to escape, and those trails have a lot of traffic. While slogging up Granite a while ago, I had a moment of clarity where I realized what works best for me (which probably means delirium had set in from exhaustion). Here are my general guidelines.

1) Don’t get out of shape. But who are we kidding. I like egg nog and you like hot chocolate and we both like rumchata and ever since I discovered you can mix them all together my holiday winter standard diet has gotten out of hand. So this is a fake #1.

Here’s the real #1.

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Ass deep in shattered dreams (Granite)

1) Ditch the snowshoes. They’re impeding your progress to Greek body glory and double Rainier summits and one day multi peak slams. Pushing through thigh deep powder on a 30 degree slope will burn like 200 calories per step (non-scientific estimation). Offer to always break trail for your friends, unless they’re in way better shape than you and need something to slow them down (cough, JT). Just remember to step carefully when you turn off of a well packed trail or you’ll faceplant immediately, which may provide comic relief to your equally exhausted trailbreaking friends, but will not help you.

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Why would I skin all of this? (Hidden Lake Lookout, recommended winter summit)

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“Logs of Sorrow” aka a great core, butt, balance, and don’t-cry workout (Eldorado)

2) Pick up skiing, but don’t actually learn how to ski. Or splitboarding, but again, don’t really ace it. Obviously, this is why I’m still bad at skiing. Make sure your ski/snowboard boots are uncomfortable enough that you always carry approach shoes, mountaineering boots, and the ski/splitboarding boots. And throw in some down booties because your ski boot liners will start to smell like death so you shouldn’t wear those in the tent or in the lookout. And overpack every time. Between carrying the skis, extra food, extra puffies, down booties, the ten essentials, I don’t know, some beer, it’ll add up.

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Look how happy I am!! It’s because I thought we had 10 essentials and would be down in an hour! (Cutthroat)

3) Forget at least 2 of the 10 essentials. Now I know this may cut down your training weight, but it increases the chances that you will be stranded and moving through the night, or unreasonably cold and therefore burning more calories via shivering, or expending calories melting snow with your body heat, or not eating enough fuel in general. Okay forget the second one, bring enough layers. No one likes being cold. Maybe make your friends forget the essentials and you can be the hero with effectively the same results.*
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Huddling for warmth hours later because WE DIDN’T HAVE HEADLAMPS (Also Cutthroat)

4) Mentally resign yourself to turning around all the time. Part of getting in shape for mountaineering is mental, and this is your mental training. You aren’t going to summit on those winter snow plow trips. If you do, it’s an added bonus. But this isn’t about the summit. This is about slogging and suffering and getting dehydrated and cranky and impatient and testing your friendships and climbing compatibility because no one likes climbing with assholes unless they’re snarky and hilarious. 70% of mountaineering is being generally uncomfortable for extended periods of time, and that’s part of training. The boring, tedious, yet somehow exhausting slog. And if you get used to turning around now, it’s easier to turn around in the summer too.

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Wow, look how not even close we are after six hours of agony!!! (Baring)

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Woohoo! Views! (Breccia)

5) Round up your good friends to join you. I have several who have seen me at rock bottom. Tony, while I was facedown on the Colchuck trail clothesline-carrying my skis after taking a tree to the face. Tony when I snapped that no, he may not make coffee after a night stuck out on Cutthroat because it’s 8am on a Monday and I need to get to work. Tony when I made it to Winchester Lookout at 5am after a 11pm start and asked that he take pics of sunrise for me before deciding I was being wimpy.

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Psych! You’re gonna get lost and lose your hat bushwacking for the next 9 hours because all of your nav stuff died and why would you bring a compass?! (Snowfield)

Okay, so mostly Tony. But Sam’s had his moments (me, staring blankly at an impassable downed log when we got lost on the way down from Snowfield) and JT (also bushwacking down from Snowfield, or crawling back from Formidable), and Kacie who realized that any time I’m being extra nice it means I’m 9/10 pissed and Cheryl who combined with Simon and whiskey makes anything funny and Calvin who will never forget the one goddamn time I didn’t bring a headlamp and taught me many new versions of the f bomb. Who’d I leave out?! You’re probably in the lucky bunch. Point is, you need to make sure you have a good crew, otherwise you’ll be ass deep in posthole with your foot stuck under a branch falling downhill because your skis make your overnight pack too heavy and you can’t sit up while you wonder why anyone does this shit for fun and why the world has betrayed you.

Bonus: turn the heat off in your apartment. You’ll save money, and prep your body for cold weather. It’s called “cold training.”
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Why go around… when you could go through? (Colonial)

Another bonus: Have your roommate/SO/kids/dog eat all the junk food. That way you aren’t being wasteful, but you also aren’t eating it yourself, and you seem like a nice person.

You can also be normal and go for runs, or load up a pack and hop on the stairmaster if it’s gross outside (or if you live in the flat half of America), or lift weights. Squats and lunges, buns and thighs! Cardio helps, but a lot of mountaineering is power muscles. Cooking? Warrior II while that sauce simmers, sunrise salutation while the pot boils. Doing laundry? Carry both loads up and down the stairs at once, don’t take two trips. Wash your sheets more often. Oh, you have in-unit laundry? Great, escape the lap of luxury and help me carry mine you spoiled bum. Binge watching Westworld or Stranger Things or whatever the cool folks are marathoning? 8 minute abs! Put the beer down, you know if you have three of those then you’ll end up eating the cheetos in the cabinet that you didn’t offer your roommate in the bonus step.**
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The fog cleared for a miraculous 15 seconds, long enough for the real summit to say “ha, suckers!” as we sat on the wrong summit (Cashmere)

Basically, do anything. Anything is better than sitting at your desk for 10 hours straight and then going home to sit on the couch which is exactly what I’m doing tonight no, I’m going for a walk, and now I have hundreds okay, dozens of readers to hold me accountable. Doing laps on Si or Mailbox or Cable Line is fantastic if you have enough breath and patience to stop every few minutes to talk to hikers on their way down. Stuck in the city? Go hit up Denny or Queen Anne Hill or jog up and that hill downtown between Alaskan Way and 2nd and laugh at everyone who can’t do hill starts in their cars.

And fine, just because there has to be something useful in this post, here are my personal top 10 get-in-shape hikes for spring and early summer. That means elevation gain, baby! None are tougher than a class 2-3 scramble, snow level varies but hey you’re going to be mountaineering so you better get comfortable with those boots and that ice axe. And just for the record, self arresting with a 50lb pack on is a hell of a lot harder than when you’re wearing nothing. Practice it, you’ll get a nice ab workout and feel like you got hit by a bus the next morning.
I’m going to put these in roughly seasonal order depending on when you can start them. Some are dependent on snow melting. Hibox and Pugh will likely not be fair game until July, but most guided summits are June, July, and August, so I was lenient and gave them a spot. I wanted to break the mold from the usual recommendations and get a bit more adventurous.
*disclaimer: all of these have avvy danger. You’re in the alpine in the winter on fresh snow. Be smart.
Five Four (shut up, I proofread) FIVE!! trails get Honorable Mention, because I haven’t done them personally but I know they’re awesome:
  • Mailbox  – The old trail obviously, the new trail is all downhill
  • Mt. Adams – Road currently snowed in. More slog!! Except it’s like 20 miles of slog which is too much even for us. So maybe wait for May on that one. Good for carrying skis (skinning is too easy).
  • St. Helens – road closed at the moment, several miles of more slog!!
  • Ruby Mountain – the slog of all slogs with great views of highway 20
  • Teneriffe – Close to seattle! Less sloggy, still steep.
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She’s better at climbing than I am (Vesper)

And these three are trips I didn’t blog about, but are good to practice off trail navigation and wallowing in forested powder in the dead of winter (like December and January). These are all below tree level, which helps a bit with avvy risk. Oh, and no snowshoes allowed. If your friend brings snowshoes and the other 3 of you are booting it, steal his snowshoes and whack him with them and cast them away from thyself. Haven’t we been over this?
  • Low Mountain – WTA
  • Round Mountain – sneaky WTA
  • Excelsior Peak – WTA
  • Stettattle Ridge – Basically Sourdough but go left and up the ridge instead of following the trail right when you hit the national park sign (well this one I turned around on before the ridge because I was alone and wallowing alone is no fun – see rules 4 & 5)
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Granite (winter summit)

Finally, here’s a link to one of the best winter resources, the Mountaineers’ list of winter summits. Don’t look for what days they’re doing which climbs on their website, because then their massive 12 person groups will have broken all of the trail and that violates rule #1. You. Always. Break. Trail. Stop. Whining.

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McCausland (another winter summit)

One of my friends made a facebook post earlier today about losing weight, and my friend AJ had my favorite advice on there. “Just keep pushing, every day. The scale is useless, what did a scale ever do for anyone? Just do do do and go go go and wake up one day five months from now and ask yourself how you feel.” Because that’s what getting in shape is. It’s waking up after 5 months of slogging, grinding, feeling shitty, and thinking hey, I feel pretty strong today. You don’t notice it on day 3, or on day 8, or even on day 30 if all you’re doing is comparing day to day. And that’s how my spring training is. Get in a routine, space out, every weekend is physically punishing, but then June comes around and I think whoa, I can do some pretty cool things pretty easily.

Now start dreaming and savor the 10pm motivation that you’ll probably have forgotten about by 8am tomorrow!
*Guys don’t actually do this
**Owen there are not actually cheetos in the cabinet but go do some work on those damn girl scout cookies
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One of many stunningly beautiful turnaround points (Black Peak)

Mt. McCausland Ski

 

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Bish coming up from the saddle with Lichtenberg in the background

Guys I swear I’m still here. I have just been boring the past few weekends months, with SAR training (going well) and a WFR class (went well) and some lazy Sundays (did not go well, I was bored by 8:30am) and some ski lessons (okay, only two). But finally, a weekend where I was free, weather was good, avvy conditions were good, and shit, I hadn’t been backcountry skiing AT ALL yet. I had two days at Stevens Pass, where I falsely inflated my own ego because groomed runs are wicked easy. So I needed to be humbled. And humbled I was, thanks to an old favorite, Mt. McCausland! “Skiied” 1/14/2017.
  • Distance: 9ish miles?
  • Elevation Gain: 3,300ft (5,700ft highest point)
  • Weather: Single digits and sunny! Dreamy!
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:45, unless roads are frosty/snowy/covered in spun-out cars
  • Did I Trip: I wiped out on skis many times and one time hugged a tree to save myself
  • Rough map (from an old meetup post) for McCausland (north peak) and Lichtenberg (south)
We were planning more ambitious peaks (I had them listed here but decided I’m not going to tell you because I’m selfish and sneaky) but unfortunately, some of us overslept. Which was okay, because Bish only had boots (no skis or snowshoes) and we had decided to #BootforBish (come on that’s adorable) and our original plan would have been a true trailbreaking sufferfest.
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Finally off the road!

We were going to meet at 6. I woke up at 5, rolled over, said “meh” and hit snooze. I texted JT asking when and where he was meeting Bish, who I thought was in Seattle. Woke up again at 5:30. No response from JT. Hit snooze. Woke up at 5:40. Shit, I didn’t actually text JT, I just dreamed that I did. Okay, I actually texted JT. “ETA… 6:30.” Okay, well now I’m up, so I’ll… have…. tea…? “ETA…. 7.” Well if they take that long I could go to the cafe that opens at 7… “ETA…. slow.” Hell yes, cafe time. So I left my apartment, ice axe in hand, and went to the cafe, where I sipped my earl grey looking not unlike Seattle’s homeless population fabulous.

JT and Bish pulled up around 7:40, and we brainstormed alternatives. I pitched Lichtenberg and McCausland off of highway 2, knowing it was a much shorter drive than the original plans with less elevation gain and less navigation and a large chunk of the travel would be on a road. Bish and JT agreed, and we went to seek out a pair of snowshoes for Bish while JT and I piled ski gear into the car. Woo! We took off, found some snowshoes thanks to Haley (who lives in Florida as of yesterday and will not be using those snowshoes), and soon enough were at Stevens Pass.
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Snow tree curls

2 degrees is what the thermometer said. We piled on all of our layers, no skin visible, eyelashes and snot freezing, and started skinning. I lasted about 15 minutes before taking off the first layer. Another 15 minutes before I took off my second layer (three puffy jackets was excessive) and JT ditched his puffy layer. By an hour in, we were all down to one or two layers.Toasty warm, except for my camelback, which was frozen. The Day of Dehydration had begun.

 We followed the usual winter route, which follows a valley heading southwest from the second switchback in the road (the furthest switchback to the west). From there, we were on snowmobile tracks for a hot minute, and finally were on our own breaking trail. I laughed as we left the snowmobile tracks behind. “First day of the rest of the season!” Time to learn how to suffer again.
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Bish in the trees below Lichtenberg

But when I saw we broke trail, I mostly mean JT. I think I broke trail for like 200ft. Dammit. And it wasn’t exactly challenging terrain. But that’s okay, gotta start the season somewhere and I was feeling good. We followed a snow covered creek up to the saddle between Lichtenberg and McCausland overlooking Lake Valhalla, and set our turnaround time at 2pm. We don’t often do turnaround times, but we wanted a true day trip, so we figured we’d see what happened. I was sick of being in the trees, needed a snack, and was very thirsty. Grumpy Cat was back.

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Doesn’t look so far from here right?

Hitting the saddle, I voted to push it a bit further to the top of a knoll for some good views before taking a break. As usual, we got to the top of the knoll and kept going as views opened up below us and sunny blue skies egged us on. “The trees would be easier but the face.. I mean the face looks more fun.” I looked up at JT. I had already said it earlier that day when JT chose the toughest path up a gully for whatever reason. “Why would we ever take the path of least resistance? Let’s do the face!” And JT took off making zig zags up the face while I snapped pictures of Bish coming up from the saddle with my recently-thawed camera. Well, almost thawed. There were still some blurry frost patches.

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Oh how I missed the Z’s

I quickly followed JT where I got the first true kick turns of the season under my belt. The wind scoured snow was scalloped and everything was almost blue in the light. I remember looking up at JT and just laughing. “I love this shit.” It had been way too long.
Mt. McCausland was one of my first hikes in Washington. Which basically means it was one of my first hikes ever. I didn’t know what a “scramble” was, and I hadn’t heard of Glacier Peak. Mt. McCausland introduced me to both of those, though of course now the legitimacy of the “scramble” label is in question. I also was worse at photography, which you might not think is possible, but believe me it was. Go see my old post for proof. No, I didn’t ever learn how to edit the sky in photos. Someday.
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Don’t say anything WHC

There was a very neat somewhat corniced ridge as we topped out, and of course we wanted to see Glacier Peak, so we ditched the skis and went to boot across it. That’s the mountaineering I’m used to. The summit register I had found two years ago(!) was likely under 8+ft of snow, so we didn’t even try. It was windy and frigidly cold up there. JT wanted pics of Bish and I across the cornice, but his hands kept freezing when he tried to take pictures, and I was miserably cold and bitching openly about it until I realized I was wearing my entire fucking pack which contained all of my layers. Duh and/or hello?! So like a wise man, I shut up, stopped whining, layered up and booted back to my skis.

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Finally at home

I’ll have you know I did not put skins back on my skis from the summit all the way back to the car. Yeah you heard that. I strapped the skis on, jumped off the top, took a sweet turn, and immediately wiped out. Overconfidence at its finest. Confidence newly destroyed, my next turns were true backseat skiing. I couldn’t handle the wind scoured snow, but as soon as we were on more mellow powder I remembered how to use my legs. Unfortunately, in the backcountry, you don’t get a warm up, and on peaks like McCausland, you don’t get much vert before you’re back in trees. And me skiing through trees is like this dog, except I don’t have the excuse of having a box on my head. I just slowly go in confused circles and hit everything.

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JT taking pics with frozen hands

Bish had booked it down from the top, assuming we’d catch up (I think he forgot that I don’t know how to ski). I finally stopped to have a mother fucking snack because I hadn’t eaten anything since those damn cheezits for breakfast in the car and I was getting hangry. Yes, that’s hungry + angry, if you aren’t familiar with the term. *Side note, honey stinger waffles taste way better frozen. And then I couldn’t figure out where Bish and JT had gone. I figured I’d follow the tracks we had put on the way up (there were a bunch of new snowmobile tracks now) and just holler every once in a while. Soon enough JT responded. Woo! We roughly followed Bish’s fresh snowshoe tracks. I finally had to boot it for 15 minutes through a steep section I remembered from the way up. Sam, we need you back. Booting is way less fun when you’re postholing hip deep alone.
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Patiently waiting on top of the world

I finally got to a place where I could strap the skis back on. The worst part about leaving the skins off is the uphill parts. There was one where I thought I could pick up enough speed to make it up the slope at the bottom, but didn’t quite get enough so naturally I tried to dive for it. Which didn’t go as planned, considering I was wearing skis. One got stuck on a tree, the other was on the opposite side of the small mound, and I was floundering unable to get traction in any direction. Luckily no on was there. They gave the newbie some privacy.
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Easy section on the way down where I could pull my wits together

I caught up to JT putting his skins back on. I refused, and kept moving. He caught up to me immediately, because we hit a 10ft steep hill that was very difficult with no skins and my level of coordination (very low). The trees were too close to sidestep. While I grappled with the slope, JT skinned up it and took off. Sucker, I got to fly down the road without skins and finally caught  back up to him and Bish, who has established himself as the fastest snowshoer I know. We told him by the end of the day he’d want an AT setup but I don’t know. Also, “fly” is subjective. I was like juuuuuust fast enough to just and and not need to walk.

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Turns out you shouldn’t jump off boulders if it’s a flat landing

We were approaching the car and JT made a good point. “I think this is the first trip we’ve done where we’ve been back before dark.” I thought about it for a minute and… he was right. Our trips have all been sufferfests, and this was a mild 6-7 hour outing that wasn’t rushed or stressful or anything. And you know what? It was amazing!! After so long not being in the mountains (ski resort doesn’t count) it was refreshing to get out even if just for a day. And to think that our casual trip was something I wouldn’t have thought of doing myself two years ago when I didn’t know anything about snow/avvy conditions or winter navigation. Damn I’m lucky.

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Bish coming up McCausland once more with Lichtenberg in the back

Oh, and we topped it all off with a free dinner at Haley’s house because she had cooked ham and potatoes and pretzel buns and had too much left over. I announced that the day had almost gone too well. Smooth trip, successful summit, back by dark without stressing or hustling, and a free yummy dinner. Everyone freaked and told me not to jinx it, we still had to drive back to Seattle and Tacoma. Spoiler alert: we made it!

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!

Climbing on Accutane

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It’s ~85 degrees in this pic. I’m wearing Smartwool’s heaviest base layer. Because I am an idiot, who 1) fried stripes along her arms and 2) didn’t bring a lightweight long sleeved layer.

No one ever wants to talk about it. I get it, there’s a stigma around having acne. I have no idea why, because if you have the tiniest number of pimples they can all potentially be solved with one drug that for some reason everyone seems ashamed to mention until someone else admits they’ve been on it. At least that’s my experience. I wish someone had come up to me in college and shouted JUST TAKE ACCUTANE WE ALL TRIED IT because then I wouldn’t be juggling its fun side effects with climbing. But I had an attitude. My face wasn’t actually bad, it was just that I picked at bumps and blemishes no one would have ever noticed. Acne medication wouldn’t help that, that was just me being fidgety and bored in class, on planes, in the car, at a desk job. I wasn’t the stereotypically pimply kid, I don’t know what it’s like to be constantly told to wash your face or change pillowcases or coconut oil or honey and all the complaints my pimple ridden brethren have about others trying to give advice and miracle cures. Sounds annoying as shit. Anyway, I finally went to see a dermatologist about healing scars, and she just looked at me and said “well why not also stop the bumps? Then you have nothing to pick!” as I stared back at her, because could it be that simple? The answer (for me) was yes. With smooth cheeks and a smooth fivehead forehead, there was nothing to pick.
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You can’t tell, but moving my face was painful. I already knew I was fucked here. Thanks for loving me despite my blistered nose, guys.* (PC Rick)

Anyway, I did some googling, and everyone who talked about accutane online seemed to have had extreme experiences with it, one way or another. It’s not life or death (usually, no promises – I’ve heard some rough stories). I honestly think I’ve had a pretty average experience with it, possibly slightly more highlighted by my lifestyle – half of the side effects I never would have noticed without climbing. Extensive information on accutane and climbing was even more scarce, so here’s exactly what I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with over the past few months, and my 10 favorite tips if you’re considering it while climbing.

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Once you burn your nose, it will peel for the next 4 months

Here’s what you (and your climbing partners) can expect. Your tent mate will wake up to a peeling, even weeping sunburned nose (Sorry Kayla and Connor). They’ll have to stop every 30 minutes while you reapply sunscreen (sorry, everyone who has roped up with me, especially Angie and Haley) and they’ll have to lend you theirs when yours fails, or runs out, or spills all over the rocks. So they’ll lend you their stick sunscreen and laugh at how you missed a spot and burned vertical stripes down your arms (Kacie). They’ll be assholes and won’t tell you when you have whiteface because none of your zinc stick sunscreen was rubbed in and you were talking to a good looking climber (dammit Angie and Haley). If you’re lucky they’ll share in your misery draining their own sunburn blisters sitting in the parking lot at Paradise in front of horrified tourists after a brutally sunny weekend on Rainier (thank you, Rick and Kayla). Your coworkers will crack up when you walk in on Monday morning and ask if you know what SPF is. Showers will be painful, your dermatologist will want to fire you as a patient, makeup looks terrible because it highlights the flaking and peeling and your lips are falling off your face and you’re basically going bald at the rate you’re losing hair and eventually you just give up on doing your hair and wearing any makeup and looking decent and accept that you’ll make new friends in 6 months when it’s over, and you’ll just take a hiatus from making any first impressions for a while.

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Everyone looks good in a noseguard (PC Connor)

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The good hand, a week after healing (it actually looks pretty good, it was gnarly when they were big and fresh)

And that doesn’t even start to cover rock climbing or dry tooling. Your palms will disintegrate, your knuckles will be shredded and bloody every time they touch rock (dry tooling was brutal), you’ll get blisters faster and deeper because of how thin your skin is and just to spite you they’ll rip off immediately leaving you stranded on the third pitch of a 5.9 climb wondering if you’re ballsy enough to stuff your freshly exposed weeping underblisters into a dirty, dusty crack (I mean you didn’t really have a choice, plus they’ll get numb eventually, plus it’s a little funny) Or hobbling along a glacier wondering if the situation could be improved by just not having feet to begin with as the soles of your feet burn through your boots. And then you’ll lose your breath trying to shift into second gear in your car with fingers you can’t bend while pressing the clutch with a foot that is basically one big blister. And then the entire bottom of your foot will come off a few days later. Oh, and everything takes months to heal, even if you leave it alone. So start carrying band aids and neosporin everywhere.

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Mentally preparing to stuff my shredded hands back in a crack (still possibly the most fun pitch of my life)

And there are the muscle aches, and the persistent dehydration. Imagine having the flu, except for random 60-120 minute spurts whenever your body feels like screwing you over, probably at the most inconvenient times possible. And you better start carrying an extra liter of water, or a filter, and a bladder instead of a water bottle or else you’ll have to alternate your every-30-minutes-sunscreen-breaks with every-15-minute-water-breaks, because you woke up incredibly dehydrated meaning you started your climb incredibly dehydrated meaning you basically aren’t going to be hydrated until Monday which means you aren’t going to feel very good for the next 48 hours.

Things my dermatologist has said:
   “Oh, honey.” (like every time I’ve walked into the room)
    “We need to keep you out of the elements.” (multiple occasions)
   “You’re the second person I’ve seen today with high alpine burns!!” “But it’s 7:30am!” “Yeah, you’re the second person I’ve seen today.” (12 hours after I returned from my Rainier double whammy)
   “Honey, your lips are practically falling off your face.”
   “No sunburns?!” “July weather was lousy. Not much climbing.” “Great!”
Or my beloved mother, when I visited the fam back home after I gave up blow drying & straightening my hair because everything is too harsh for it for the time being:
   “You look like you have dreadlocks.”
Well, shit. But hey, at least I have shiny nice skin, and dreadlocks mean I’m not actually balding.
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Good climbing weather for Accutane patients. Later we broke above the clouds…

I’ve been lucky with side effects. These are all a pain in the ass, but they’re all temporary and none are lifechanging. For me, it’s already worth it 100x over, and I wish I had done it sooner. All I needed was for one person to say oh I’m trying this, or oh I had huge success with this. I honestly think that 50% of the people I’ve told that I’m taking Accutane have been on it, some with great experiences, some with terrible experiences. Your mileage will vary. All I know is if I had known how many people had done it when I was 16-18 and all of this started, maybe my teenage attitude would have given in and I’d have done this years ago instead of waiting until my mid 20’s. What was I doing at age 16? I can only assume I was busy being indoors, because I can’t remember anything that interesting.

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…where I spilled all of my sunscreen on the summit block.

Here’s my advice.
1) Do it.
2) Do it like October through April. Rainy days are great.
3) Get Elta MD sport sunscreen. Do not share it. Shit’s expensive. No it’s not perfect, but come on, you gotta lower your standards for a bit here.
4) Buy like 20 chapsticks immediately. One for every pocket of every jacket yo own, one for your car, one for your office desk, one for every pack you ever take hiking/climbing, one for your bedside table, one for your bathroom, and then double up on a few of those. And give some to your friends for when you forget them. And most of those if not all should have SPF. Banana Boat has some awesome green ones at REI that also smell great. Aquaphor has some great stuff too.
5) Chapsticks with SPF attached to carabiners are great for climbing. This is so important that it gets its own bullet, separate from #4. Make your own with duct tape. There are also travel size bottles of sunscreen that will go on carabiners.
6) Sweep the floor constantly but don’t look at what you swept because you’ll worry you’re going bald.
7) Drink water all the time. ALL THE TIME. Don’t walk past that water fountain without taking a sip. Hydration station, baby.
8) Hats are great, especially this OR one. Shut up, you’ll look amazing. Pair it with your noseguard.
9) Tape your hands before rock climbing. Always. It won’t help much with palms, but it’ll save your knuckles, and people won’t ask if you got attacked by a cat, and you won’t bleed all over your ice tools.
10) Don’t shake hands with anyone if you continue climbing. Especially not the high end Nordstrom buyers. They WILL feel the torn blisters and you’ll know they feel them and you’ll simultaneously laugh and cry on the inside because it’s hilariously disgusting. They’re probably just crying on the inside.
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Days like this keep you going!

Just remind everyone you’ll only get better and better looking the longer they know you. Everyone wants to be like fine wine and cheese.
*I called Feathered Friends a few days later to make sure they had nose guards. I told them I’d be in that night. I walked in the door, with my creme-bruleed face. “You must be the one who called in asking about the nose guard!”

Cashmere via Victoria’s Secret/NW Face

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Looking back at Lake Victoria

For a socked-in-by-clouds summit, this was a pretty awesome day. 4.5 miles with 6500ft of elevation gain, I mean that always has to be fun right? Simon, Sam, and I all headed out to Leavenworth on Friday night. I had no plans. Literally none. I had all of my gear in my car and figured I’d play it by ear. I tried to make that abundantly clear to everyone. I didn’t even know if I was going to go. A brutal week had left me exhausted with an abject lack of shits to give about anyone else or any sort of planning, but Sam was already in Leavenworth and Simon was somehow putting up with my bitching and still wanted to come. He was just that desperate for mountains after a month of travel and injury. Oh, did I mention I found this route up Cashmere like two hours before leaving?
  • Distance: 9 miles round trip (varies based on whether you’re a route finding idiot at the time)
  • Elevation: 6500ft gain, baby! Buns and thighs!
  • Weather: 30’s and snowing and windy, 40’s and foggy, 50’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30 with no traffic
  • Did I Trip: To the point where I had to self arrest, so yes, yes I did. It’s been a while since I didn’t trip on an outing. I’m getting uncoordinated. Maybe don’t rope up with me.
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Don’t worry it gets cloudier

I mean, the route sounded awesome. Private property, bushwack, unmaintained/abandoned trail to a lake most people haven’t heard of, with a backdoor route up Cashmere. Awesome.

I got to Leavenworth around 8, and I stopped at Safeway, where I found a cheese I had not seen since moving here from Boston: Cabot’s!! It puts Tillamook to shame. I bought 3lbs of it (Seriously sharp cheddar and habanero cheddar) and some crackers and met Sam, who was napping at a nearby park n ride. Simon was still an hour out, so I cleared my back seat and followed Sam’s lead. Naptime.

Simon showed up around 10, and we headed to the trailhead. We were planning to start up Friday night, but what… what it…. we just… didn’t? I timidly posed the idea. Sam laughed. “I had been asking myself ‘why do we choose to do this?’ earlier tonight.” We agreed to sleep and get started around 5am.

I woke up at 4am. We all did, and telepathically agreed to not get up. I was in the middle of the best night of sleep I had had in well over a week and I was getting my extra hour.

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Starting up through steep forest

At 5am I dragged my well rested ass out of my sleeping bag, packed up camp, loaded the cars, and started moving. With our day packs. Day packs!! What is a day pack?! It’s a pack that’s light, and doesn’t include a tent or sleeping bag or sleeping pad or liner or dehydrated meal or stove… and it is fantastic.

We trespassed immediately onto private property (part of the fun?), and walked down the road (driveway?) until we saw a blaze off in the forest. Sweet, time to head up. I had a compass bearing, but it wasn’t necessary. Just go up until you break into the burn zone, and then go up more.

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At least it was a scenic detour

We made a slight mistake as I was not checking the actual trail map at all, only the mediocre GPS app I was testing, which did not have a map of the route on it. Our biggest issue was that you should keep going up until around 5100ft, but we headed left far lower than that, because I thought the drainage we were supposed to follow was far more east than it actually was. This meant some exciting creek crossings, steep snow, no shortage of devils’ club, and an abundance of elevation gain that was was more of a pain in the ass than it would have been had we stayed in the burn zone, which was a nice walk up. Also, there’s a nice series of blazes starting around 4500ft in the burn zone, which will help you find the route very quickly. We did not have that luxury.

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Fun scramble near the lake

After a few facefulls of thorny plants, some steep snowy bushwacking, and bitching on my part (I don’t like stopping, I didn’t want to be in photos, I had some frustrations to take out and they wouldn’t be beaten by taking my time and relaxing, I’m not that type) we finally got to the lake. Clouds were roiling above Cashmere, so I made sure to lower my expectations. To the ground.

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Heading around Lake Victoria, Cashmere being elusive in the clouds

We started heading around the lake, as it was too melted out to cross directly. Honestly I think we were a week or two too late to get the real experience here, since the snow had melted 2,000ft up over the past ~10 days (~5200ft we hit consistent snow). It’s usually a ski trip, but I didn’t bring the skis. I knew Sam would be booting it since he hates his skins, so I figured we’d all take turns breaking trail, and I was into this whole “day pack” idea.

 

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About to start up the gully above Lake Victoria

Simon decided to chill at the lake instead of head up to the summit. Sorry Simon, with a grand finale like you had back at the trailhead I couldn’t leave you out of the post! With most people I’d be concerned, or turn around with them, but Simon is extremely capable and I knew that for him to draw the line, something had to be bugging him (he was coming back from an injury, too, so better to play it safe). Being as self sufficient as he is, I knew he’d be fine getting down on his own. So we carried on, agreeing to meet back at the trailhead.

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Kicking steps up the gully

Sam and I got to the base of the gully and took a quick break for snacks and sunscreen. It wasn’t actually that steep, maybe 45 degrees at the most. We made fairly quick work of it, except 3/4 of the way up Sam demanded a sandwich break. Okay, let’s do it, I’m hungry too. He devoured a sandwich and I sat down and cut the cheese (stop laughing) to eat with crackers, and we carried on.

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On more mellow ground in the basin, sun almost breaking through

Soon enough we were in the clouds. We kept hoping they would clear, and occasionally they’d blow past for a split second, but never enough to have views or even see where we were going. We got one glimpse of the true summit for maybe ten seconds, and made a beeline for it. It took us probably another 20-30 minutes from that glimpse to get close to it. I had a hard time breaking through the icy crust, so I strapped on my crampons (in the steepest, most awkward spot I have ever had to put on crampons) figuring I’d front point the rest of the way up. Some very steep snow (steeper than the gully), a few scramble moves, and some rock-ice blends that made me appreciate my few days of dry-tooling and briefly made me wish I had brought tools rather than the axe. I was shocked that any ice was still up there.

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Final push!

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Summit?!

Sam popped up to the summit while I negotiated a different route, trying to follow a steep snow finger between rocks rather than his scramble. Wouldn’t it be funny if we were at the wrong summit? I heard Sam go “uhhh.. crap.” The clouds lightened, and we saw… the real summit. 50ft to the east, and maybe 15 feet higher than us. At one point I was trying to stop swearing (in general, in life) but this was just comical. God. Dammit. All that effort, whiteout conditions, only to suddenly realize we were sitting on the wrong damn rock.

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The real summit (back right). Crap.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I wasn’t going over there, are you kidding? No views, I was cold, it was windy, we’d have to downclimb and climb back up again, and 99% of our time above the gully had been completely socked in by clouds. It just wouldn’t be worth it. Maybe we’d have ended up on the third summit ish rock, there were a few that all looked similar in the clouds. We’ll make a revenge trip someday. Sam demolished a pop tart, and we scrambled down a separate route back to steep snow where we painstakingly downclimbed backwards, more or less trust-falling into our previous steps, some of which had punched deep through the crust. Sam finally put his snowboard to use, stopping every 100ft or so to make sure we kept each other within sight. Low visibility can be problematic.

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Visibility getting better on the way down (that’s Sam snowboarding)

Going down the gully I did have to do an easy self arrest after the snow changed from powder (easy to plunge step) to ice (I went for my plunge step and just wiped out) and guys, I have one tip here. Wear gloves, sleeves and pants when you’re on anything that might require self arrest. I had sleeves and pants, but my hands were torn to shit by the ice, and it hurt. Your brain doesn’t care until a few minutes later, when you’re like “why are my hands burning” and look down to see bits of gravel and ice and scrapes and who knows what was in that avvy debris all in your skin. Gross.

Another tip that I loved is one that I originally chuckled at. Most crampons nowadays have plates built in to prevent snow balling up between the teeth under your foot. Well, it doesn’t always work. I had an IMG guide over the summer make me run down a steep slope whacking snow out of my crampons with my ice axe, which both looked and felt ridiculous. But that silly technique saved me from a few more slips on the way down, and the “clink! clink!” with every step gave me a funny rhythm to maintain and I imagine notified Sam of my arrival when he couldn’t see me.
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Five blazes. Actually six, but the wind blew one out of frame

 

As usual, going down went faster than going up. We got snowed on, rained on, sunned on, and luckily found the regular route back down quite easily thanks to Simon’s footprints (thanks for breaking all that trail!) and the 8000 blazes that mark the route assuming you find it at the top of the burn zone. It’s pretty funny that we missed it by that much. I got a picture with six blazes in it at one point, and Simon had old-school cut blazes into a few trees in case we missed any of the hot pink flags. Sam’s colorblind, which made finding blazes hilarious (but not as hilarious as watching him try to follow routes at SBP).

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Where Simon (I’m convinced) fell through, with an Eve shaped hole right above

We’re pretty awesome, and got down in far less time than it took us to get up. We false-summitted after about 8.5-9 hours (we spent a LOT of time in the whiteout deliberating over where we were and where we should go, not to mention our off route expedition on the way up) and were back down in 4. There was one amusing spot where I am pretty sure Simon fell through a snow bridge, because I saw a huge hole in the middle of a very thin snow bridge over a small brook and thought ‘oh, I’ll just walk next to it’ only to immediately punch through neck deep myself, laughing at my stupidity. Eventually we left snow cover, and after heading down through the burn zone we found an old logging road and some squirrely trails that got us back to the private road much faster, though we had to fight off thick ass slide alder to find the nice route. I heard dogs barking at one point, and started having paranoid thoughts about “the most dangerous game,” what if the owners of that house are avid hunters and send the dogs out thinking there’s a deer or cougar nearby? I wanted to be down by dark, and I remember several times where I was tangled in alder fighting my way through (why did I have this stupid shovel sticking off my pack!? At least it isn’t skis) imagining how miserable it’d be to be doing that, in the dark, wondering if we were about to be confronted by drooling growling dogs and angry property owners. Also, I was convinced the skin was sloughing off the bottom of my feet. I wore my like D-Team socks (A team is Darn Tough baby) and it just wasn’t working out.

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Map (thanks to Summitpost & Wenatcheeoutdoors.org)

I couldn’t believe it when we hit the road. Awesomely fast. There were fresh tire tracks, but we didn’t see anyone. They must be used to the occasional climbers using their road and schwacking through their forest. We hiked back across the bridge where Simon was loyally waiting with hot chocolate ready for us, fretting about how we had never chosen a “call search and rescue” time for him to take action. He had settled on midnight – knowing our speed and experience and having done half of the route, he logically concluded that if we weren’t back by midnight, something had gone very wrong. Yes, I’d agree. We’d have to had seriously screwed up to be up there that late.

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One more pic of Sam being bad ass

I opened my trunk door. It stayed open. For anyone who’s been in my car lately, the door wouldn’t stay up and I’d prop it open with a trekking pole. I looked at Simon. “Did you do this, or is it just working?!?” He had replaced the pistons in the door of my car, which I had (stupidly) left unlocked. Holy shit! A working trunk door, and hot chocolate, and shoes that didn’t have my shitty socks, and German food, and I tried schnitzel for the first time, and the lemonade that Sam had mentioned halfway up the climb that had been on my mind for hours… wait, I was in a great mood. What is this? I hadn’t bitched about anything in hours! I hadn’t whined or moped (well, besides lamenting the clouds and lack of sun, cmon Cashmere) or been snarky or rude or irritable. And it wasn’t even sunny. But I guess there’s something refreshing about 6500ft of gain in 4.5 miles, with steep snow and ice and bushwacking and bear prints and deer prints and a false summit because it wouldn’t be climbing without the occasional oops, right?

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Nearing the top of the gully

In hindsight, that was one of the most awesome trips I’ve had in a while. Even if it was cloudy with mediocre conditions, it pushed it physically, technically (kudos to Sam, because I do not know many people who would have kept going without protection once it got steep, rocky, and icy but Sam basically doesn’t have a comfort zone, everything is fair game), and it’s pretty cool to look back and realize that we did that so casually, with no rush, no alpine start, no after-dark return. And almost zero planning, though I at least had a picture of a map on my half charged phone. So I had like, 6/10 essentials. Don’t follow my example. Prepare more, and don’t be a bitch. Yours truly, Proud Owner of a Healthy Trunk Door.*

 

*Car, or ass? You decide.

An Abridged Collection of Winter Hikes

So I gotta give a quick thanks to Simon for dragging my sad ass up to Lake Serene a few weeks ago. In a world of exhaustion and shattered muscles and low red blood cell count and probably dehydration, someone recognized me from this blog. From the Mt. Hinman run, which was literally the opposite of my trek up to Serene, which I tackled with Simon and the Choose Mountains crew after a week of no sleep, running twice a day, and donating blood 24 hours prior. That’s how I deal with stress, what can I say? He was probably shocked that this panting, sweaty hiker had pulled off a 24 mile trail run. Yeah well in July 2015 I had all of my red blood cells and the legs of a fucking gazelle. In February 2016 I was more of a pre-hibernation bear.

So guys, I’m still here. I swear. Just lurking in the thick clouds and rain and snow that the Seattle winter has thrown at us. I mean shit, we broke a record for wettest winter on record. Meaning it was rainy by Seattle standards. So here’s a full dump of what I’ve been doing to try and survive the winter. This is where to go when avvy conditions are high, when you don’t want to lug 50+ lbs of gear, when you have no friends to tow your stuck car out of a snowbank because it’s 6am on a Saturday.

Where To Go When In Doubt
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One of the waterfalls (doesn’t look as big here)

1) Boulder River. Here’s a better report from last year. I seem to always be the only one suggesting this one. What’s not to like?! It’s unbelievably green, and reminds me that the Seattle winter is good for some things. Many things thrive in these conditions. I am not among those things. It’s a 9 mile hike if you do the full trail, but honestly feel free to turn around after the third waterfall. It’d be a killer trail run too if you want a moderate distance without the technicality or elevation.

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Mossy heaven

Boulder River gives you lush green moss, a rushing river, and a few surprisingly huge waterfalls, especially this time of year. The road is easy, it’s just over an hour from Seattle, and you get to enjoy the silence of the woods. Best of all, spring flowers should be popping up any day now! There is a great campsite about 4.5 miles into the trail right next to the river, and a few ~1 mile in if you want an easy one. In fact, if you duck off the trail at a certain point just before the first campsites, you’ll move from second growth forest to a much denser, older growth, suddenly surrounded by emerald colors and hanging moss on a small cliff above the river. But let’s keep that section vague enough to stay secret.

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Fresh cedar blowdown

Warning: Pretty big blowout about 2 miles in. Other than that… super muddy. Basically its own mini river at some points. Bring your goretex everything.

Tip: Less of a tip and more of a fun fact. This used to be the approach for Three Fingers! Now the trail just fizzles to an end, but it used to be that you crossed the river and continued on. It was abandoned in the late 60’s when they built FR-41 to the current Three Fingers trailhead.

2) Heather Lake. February 2015, again February 2016 (no pics this time).I spend a lot of time at Heather Lake. It was one of my first hikes out here (my first was really the DC route up Rainier, but that’s more of a climb, and is a hilarious answer when anyone asks). The WTA description says something along the lines of “good for a kid’s first ‘real hike!'” and my roommate and I thought “great, that means it’s good for moms!” We took our mothers here back in August 2014. Besides that, it has been a winter trip for me.

The road can be snowy, but usually not too bad. Clocking in at 4.2 mellow miles round trip, “Lake TwentyTwo Lite” is what I like to call it. Less exposure, not as steep, less avalanche terrain, and the same steep cliffs in the backdrop but slightly shorter. In winter you will want to bring microspikes, maybe snowshoes if the snow level has been low lately. But avvy danger is low, the trail is straightforward, and the lake is beautiful, especially if you can see the snow-dusted crags above it. In spring, you might be lucky enough to see frost flowers below the cliffs, which Jonathan and I encountered last year.

Warning: Look before you sit, because I dropped my trusty pocket knife up there. It will bloom with the tulips.

Tip: You’ll appreciate poles or a walking stick. Most blowdowns have been cleared, but if there’s snow up there, it get slippy and there can be a lot of postholing and falling, which means general hilarity when lots of people try to get to the lake.
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The Enchantments from Hex Mountain

3) Hex Mountain. Sometimes you’ll be lucky and the east side will clear up. So if you’re bold enough to drive through blizzard conditions at Snoqualmie, this is when you go hit up Hex Mountain. 6 mile snowshoe, the occasional steep section, but mostly quite manageable. If you have an affinity for slogging through powder (or more fun, running back down through powder), you could give it a shot without snowshoes. Great views of the Enchantments and even a peak at Hinman and Daniel if you’re lucky.

Warning: very tight parking, and the road (though paved) is quite icy. We got towed out of a snowbank after trying to dig the truck out with our ice axes. My buddy had forgotten to bring chains, but remembered his tow straps!

Tip: stop at Owen’s Meats in Cle Elum on the way home and get a steak. Or some jerky. Crap, I’m drooling. Get the ribeye. Or the NY strip. Filets are for the weak.

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Rain or shine, Skyline lake is always a win

4) Skyline Lake. This is a sweet snowshoe or ski up by Stevens Pass. It’s 3 miles round trip, so if you’re camping, you can set up camp, ski or snowshoe back to the lodge for burgers and beers and real bathrooms, and then return to your snowy paradise to sleep. I have yet to spend the night there, but I have several friends who (miraculously) found their way back to camp after enough whiskey to inebriate a buffalo while I happily drove home in my warm dry car to sleep in my warm dry bed.

Warning: Get there early, or the parking lots will be full. If you have 4WD, tell them you’re dropping something off and you’ll definitely find a spot that the plebs in their sedans and summer tires couldn’t ready. Don’t drink and ski. Okay, drink a little and ski. I’ll watch and laugh.

Tip: If you’re stalking me and the winter weather looks bad, there’s like a 60% chance I’ll be at Skyline lake. I have a bad ass set of friends who basically just camp there every weekend since it’s relatively safe in bad avvy conditions. So if you’re bored, come on up.

5) Kendall Peak Lakes. Or Gold Creek Pond, which is where we thought we were going, until we had been snowshoeing/skiing for two hours and I knew we couldn’t possible take that long to go a single mile. Gold Creek Pond is 2 miles round trip and very flat. Kendall Peak Lakes is 9 miles round trip, and not as flat. I. Freaking. Counted. 1600 Steps. And turned around to Surafel and yelled WE DEFINITELY MISSED THE POND but we had gone too far to give up. But it was a lovely snowshoe along a wide road and trail until the very end, and I hear the views are lovely when you aren’t socked in by trails.

And I ran into Michael at the lake, who came up Rainier with us in the summer. He introduced me as “mountaineer extraordinaire, who has climbed Rainier twice!” to his snowshoeing class, and then they all got to watch me work on my pizza slice and faceplant on skiis instead of be a bad ass.

Warning: Don’t test out new ski boots on this one. I had a blister the size of a silver dollar on my heel. I had to wear flip flops for the next three days. In January. I looked great at work.

Tip: Make sure you’re on the right trail. Don’t be lazy and stop caring about life and love and beauty just because the Seahawks are down 31-0. Also don’t take off your skiis before packing down a nice spot to sit. I hopped off my skiis and landed in chest deep powder. Which is nice and fluffy and fun, until you realize you’re stuck.

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Okay full disclosure this is totally from the parking lot. ADA accessible!

6) If you get lucky enough, and it’s clear, head up to Artist Point. Here’s your packing list:

  • The ten essentials (lazy start here) x3 for your noobie party
  • Hot chocolate or tea (the 11th essential in winter)
  • Common sense and bravery
  • Wrists that did not just get rebuilt with steel plates and screws after being shattered
  • Two fully functioning ACL tendons per person, one in each leg
  • A general knowledge of snowshoeing and acceptance that snowshoeing is not always just around a golf course a la Eastern Massachusetts
  • Optional: A zen mantra to repeat when your helpless party members flail in snow and realize they do not know how to snowshoe
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Mom and Ned on the flat section (“ohthankgod”)

My mother and brother visited in mid February, and I mean let’s be real I’ve been waiting 18 months to show them what freaking Shuksan looks like in person. You all know how I feel about Shuksan. Ned had just gone snowshoeing and loved it, my mother said she’d be fine despite her fresh wrist, okay great I’ll go reserve some rental snowshoes for the weekend and we’ll go to Artist Point woo!! I was pumped. The forecast was grim but we thought what the hell, let’s go for it. Ned had 24 hours of music he wanted to share that he had collected over the past few months and my mother had a year of pent up gossip and questions, so a 3 hour car ride would be okay.

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Clouds finally clearing up

The beginning was great. Ned had no idea how to put on snowshoes and kept tripping himself. My mother was already behind. I was decked out in my usual mountaineering gear, realizing I’d probably have fit in better if I had showed up wearing jeans. “We’re going up THAT?”! They were both shocked. I forgot my mother was afraid of heights. And my brother was already complaining he was tired. And my mother couldn’t risk falling because she had a broken wrist. And two barely functioning ACL’s. And there I was, telling both of them that they had told me they’d be fine, simultaneously realizing they probably would have been fine if it was a New England snowshoe around a lake, and eventually coming to the conclusion that I had taken them to a snowshoe that miiiight have been pushing it a bit.

I dragged them up the slope because I’m a selfish unforgiving person, took them across the flat part to where they could have seen Shuksan if it was clear, and sat down to have snacks. We did not tackle the final section to actual Artist point, which was a bummer because I like showing people how deep the snow is using the parking lot bathroom as a scale (it’s usually buried).

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Not even steep enough to glissade. Sorry mom

On the way down, Ned was fine. My mother hid her eyes on the slope. She joked that she needed those horse blinders that only allow you to look forward. The powder was too fluffy to glissade, but the slope was too steep for her to walk. I should have shown her the pic of my friend diving headfirst down a similar slope into powder. The pinnacle of hilarity was her sitting on her ass in the middle of a learn-to-backcountry-ski group working on their kick turns around her while she tried to scoot down a six foot slope and I debated whether to laugh or cry.

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There we go Mom!

The two of them are troopers and made it back to the parking lot alive, and by then it had started to clear up! We dropped the snowshoes and poles in the car and I made them walk over to Picture Lake so they could get a glimpse of Shuksan towering over everything. Had to make the 3 hour drive worth it. So you could say we drove 6 hours round trip for a 2 hour snowshoe and a five minute view of Shuksan from a parking lot. They’ll never get the “in the middle of the mountains” feeling at this rate.

Warning: Don’t be afraid of heights or deep powdery snow.

Tip: No, the skiiers in bounds will not randomly ski out of bounds. No, the backcountry skiiers will not crash into you. They assume you as a snowshoer have no idea what you are doing and will dodge accordingly. You are a traffic cone. Especially with those red REI rental snowshoes.

(Disclaimer: my family is great and Calvin and my father whined just as much going to Blanca Lake as my mother and Ned did going up Artist Point. It’s a Jakubowski thing. If we aren’t whining we’re probably bored.)

Where Not to Go

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My face says “hahaha!” but my soul says “WHY DID WE DO THIS” (photo credit: Simon)

Answer: halfway up Eldorado. “I’m sick of bailing because of weather!!” proclaimed John, a few days before my birthday. It looked like there might be a clear window Saturday morning, so we grabbed Simon who had just learned crevasse rescue and headed out Friday evening to start climbing at 8:30pm. I strapped skiis and snowshoes and avvy gear onto my pack, laughing at the hilarious idea of me carrying that much weight on the Eldorado approach. The very approach that made me swear last time to not ever carry more than 40lbs up that shit again. Psych.

We crossed the first log over the river without dying. We got slightly sidetracked in the dark and eventually found the trail after fighting through downed trees and branches and mosses. I was in a world of misery. It was raining, it was 11 pm, this is so steep, why did I wear these shoes, why am I carrying skiis, why did I also bring snowshoes, why didn’t I work out all winter, when are we going to be at the boulder field, WHAT WAS I THINKING. I almost gave up like 6 times. You guys know me, I’m usually a head-down-plow-through-it-eff-everything type. Not on this. I was a “waaahhhhhhh, helpppp, my liiiiiiife” type. I also drank all of Simon’s water because I knew if I took my pack off, I would not be putting it back on. The skiis stick up two feet above your head and hit every branch, and stick down a foot below the pack so there’s no good way to put the pack down. Brutal. And there’s nothing like army-crawling under logs because you can’t figure out how to get the skiis to fit.

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This encompasses 60% of the trip

We made it to the boulder field, excited for snow, hoping for perfect crampon conditions, or at least good snowshoe conditions. No. It was 45 degrees and raining, not 25 and snowing like the forecasts all said. It was a mess of slush and slipping and getting stuck in snowshoes and after like 100 vertical feet we pulled over to the side, gave up, and set up camp. I love digging, and was beyond thrilled to be shoveling out a platform. It was 1am, that’s past my bedtime, and if the snowpack were a person, I’d have punched them in the face. I take a lot of pride in being decent at breaking trail, but this… no sir.

The next morning (happy birthday me!) we took off to try and gain elevation. John and Simon were optimistic. Or maybe they were pretending. Needless to say, snow conditions deteriorated as we started climbing, and eventually with a few mini avalanches and plenty of postholing (in snowshoes) and slipping and fighting up the slope, we decided to just go back to the tent and hang out. John snowboarded down while I got myself stuck several times and Simon… I don’t know, he seemed to have a fine time walking. I needed a personal helicopter, or a zip line to the bottom, or the power of teleportation.

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And this encompasses 30% of the trip (I’m leaving 10% for “maybe part was fun”)

Back at the tent Simon and John surprised me with a birthday cupcake and Sweet & Sour Pork which I’m pretty sure is the best and hardest to find dehydrated meal out there. We napped for a few hours (4-5 hours of sleep Friday night was not much) and woke up around 5, debating whether to go down then or not. Nah, let’s just stay. Nothing to do back in Seattle, plus if we wait until Sunday we can go out for steaks on the way back.

And that’s exactly what we did. The trip back down was not as miserable as the way up, and went much faster. I have never been so happy to see my car.

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At least we had Simon’s sweet tent (okay, 100% fun)

Tip: Stop at Rhodes River Ranch in Oso and get the ribeye, or the Oso burger, or the bison burger, or the prime rib. It is amazing. Also, the bathroom at the Eldorado trailhead is five stars right now. Fresh two ply toilet paper, no stink. Love it. And the brewery in Darrington has free dinner on Friday nights!

Warning: Mentally prepare for a butt kicking. If the boulder field snow is hard packed, you’re going to have a great time with crampons and you’ll be up it in an hour. If it’s slushy melting rain-on-snow threatening avalanches, it’s not worth trying. But hey, you got a workout carrying all your crap all the way up here right?!

And that’s what I’ve been up to the past two months, with intermittent doses of indoor climbing. There have been a few other trips as well that I will perhaps get around to. Like Round mountain, which was an awesome trail-less snowshoe climb just outside of Darrington. Or Lake Serene, which I didn’t really discuss. And once the weather clears up, climbing season is just around the corner and this will be full of weekly reports of what’s awesome, when you should go, and how you get to all of it.