Monday, May 11, 2015

Coldwater Peak and Mount Margaret

The road to the Johnston Ridge Observatory re-opened last week. It was a good time to check out the trails to the north of Mount Saint Helens. This area has been on my to-do list for a while but always gets eighty-sixed in favor of the nearby Loowit trail around Helens, one of my all-time favorite places to run.

Continuing the field guide theme of my last post, I'm writing up this route to help inspire any nearby trail enthusiasts. Put it on your bucket list. It's that good. It's rugged, exposed, and the views are magical. On a clear day, you'll play an endless game of volcano peek-a-boo with all of your Cascade favorites. The majority of the route is between five and six thousand feet, a perfect elevation when most of the PNW trails above six thousand feet are still melting out this time of year.

I ended up running about 21 miles with about 5,000 feet of vertical. I turned around a mile or so after Mount Margaret due to tedious post-holing and steep snow fields. I summitted Coldwater Peak a second time on the return. Bring plenty of water. The route is mostly on exposed, dry ridgelines.

Here's a general map and some photos. Be safe.

I knocked out the two-hour drive from Portland the night before so I could get an early start. I arrived at the observatory at dusk, snapped this photo of Helens, and then may or may not have stealthily slept next to a 'no overnight camping' sign.

Starting the day off right with some delicious tailgate coffee.

Stairway to Helens

Arch Rock

Mount Adams

Saint Helens Lake

Spirit Lake and Helens

Mount Ranier's crown

Mountain goats. Saw a bunch of elk, too,

Summit of Mount Margaret, 5868 feet

I turned around here. Got tired of knee-deep post-holing. It'll melt out soon, though.

The 1980 Helens blast released energy equal to 24 Megatons of TNT. Take that trees.

My happy place

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tann-idere Loop

Weekend long runs aren't typical fodder for a blahg post, but I'm making an exception. On Sunday I pieced together a loop that combines some of the best terrain the Columbia River Gorge has to offer. It's worthy of a repeat, so I'm writing it up as a kind of field guide for others who might want to give it a go.

I've run parts of this route many times but find this particular loop notable for a few reasons:

  • The loop summits Tanner Butte (4500 feet) and Chinidere Mountain (4673 feet), two of the most iconic high points on the Oregon side of the gorge. Both of these craggy peaks offer expansive views of Cascade volcanoes and the endless forested creases in between. 
  • The 35-mile loop hits the sweet spot for a long-run distance. The gorge is ripe with 20-ish mile loops and out-and-backs, but some creativity is required to piece together slightly longer runs. This loop nails it without feeling contrived.
  • With around 9000 feet of vertical, this loop has a little more up/down than a typical gorge run. Better yet, almost all of the ascents on this loop are runnable with only a few short sections requiring hands-on-knees stair-steppers.
  • While the loop doesn't visit the spectacular waterfalls along Eagle Creek, it also avoids the excessive crowds that are always present on that part of the trail. 
  • Aesthetically, it's a very pleasing loop. It's fun to climb a peak and look miles across a deep chasm to see where you're going or where you've been.

Basically, this loop has it all. Long runnable climbs, rocky summit crags, deep valleys, lush forests, creek crossings, waterfalls, steep technical descents, scree fields, lakes, open meadows. I could go on.

Here's a map, some photos from my run, and a general route description (below). Usual disclaimer: Be smart, be safe, do this at your own risk. 

The loop starts by crossing Eagle Creek on the Gorge trail.

Very runnable ascents.

The route passes in and out of the Mark Odom Hatfield wilderness.

Some lingering snow at around 4000 feet.

'Bear grass alley' on the way up to Tanner Butte (~mile 9).

Just below the summit of Tanner Butte.

Mount Adams from Tanner Butte. The route eventually crosses the long, flat ridge in the foreground, Benson Plateau.

Upside down reflection ... newt swimming through trees.

Lots of blow-down on parts of the route.

Crossing Eagle Creek (~mile 13). Icy cold with all the new snow melt.

Nice little waterfall (~mile 16)

Passing Wahtum Lake on the PCT (~mile 23)

Mount Hood from the summit of Chinidere (~mile 25)

Checking out the valleys I just traversed. Chinidere summit.

Heading to Benson Plateau (in the background). ~mile 29.

More soft ribbons through bear grass on the Benson Plateau (~mile 30).

Wild flowers on Ruckel Creek Trail (~mile 32).

Last descent toward the Columbia River.

So grateful to have these amazing trails close to home.

Trailhead: Eagle Creek, along I-84.
Go West along Gorge (400) trail.
Ascend the Tanner Butte (401) trail to Tanner Butte (401C).
Descend Eagle-Tanner (433) trail into Eagle creek drainage.
Cross Eagle creek and ascend Eagle Creek (440) trail.
Turn onto Indian Springs (435) trail.
Go North on Pacific Crest (2000) trail around Wahtum Lake.
Ascend Chinidere Mountain (445) trail.
Continue on Pacific Crest trail across Benson Plateau.
Descend on Ruckel Creek (405) trail.
Turn West on Gorge trail.

Monday, March 2, 2015

15 in '15 Challenge

A new year is upon us. Days are lengthening. Fitness is building. It's time to conjure upcoming adventures and build anticipation for big runs, races, and FKTs. These are typical pursuits for many in the ultra running community. This year I'm also eager to attempt a different kind of challenge, to stretch in a slightly new direction. Fifteen nights in the outdoor world, fifteen nights under the stars, away from closed quarters and civilization. 

Ironically, ultra running has diminished my time in the outside world. Ultra runners are like the special ops of outdoor enthusiasts. We go in, get the job done and get back out. I rarely spend multiple days and nights backpacking due to the simple fact that I can run the same route and return to my bed at day's end. That's all good, but I feel like I'm missing out on parts of the outdoor experience that I really enjoy. Mainly, stillness and idle time. Yeah, it's a little uncomfortable and messy, and nightfall carries a stark reality that seems to trigger angst in the caveman part of my brain, but it makes for good memories and a clear perspective.

So this year I want to make a habit of stepping away from easy comforts, the familiar glow and convenience of day-to-day life. I want to make micro adventures a more regular part of my summer. I want to take my family along with me more often. I want to do runpacking trips with friends. I want to take solo adventures. Along the way I hope to become a little more at ease with the timeless indifference I often feel when I'm still and quiet in the wilderness. 

Fifteen is random, except that it's 2015 and it's the number of letters in "hydropneumatics" which is one of the longest words in the English language that doesn't repeat a letter (I just looked that up). If fifteen doesn't sound like much, for this dad with a demanding job and a full schedule, fifteen nights will be a true challenge. I'm excited to give it a go.

And just to be clear, when I run through the night from sunset to sunrise during a race or FKT attempt. Yeah, that counts. 

If you're inclined to join in on the challenge, let me know. I could use the extra inspiration.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Daily Life

 Your daily life is your temple and your religion.  Kahlil Gibran

Johanna, wildwood trail

you know it's been a good off-season when your shoes yawn

Kayla, springwater corridor

crow drops a photo bomb, portland saturday market

i like this old bike. 20 years of good memories.

mile marker 19, wildwood trail, forest park

christmas nails on muddy trails

the local hill, bpa road, forest park

st. johns bridge grafitti. nice idea, but charles bukowski never wrote this.

wildwood trail, forest park

extra space for the boards, if you know what i mean.

maple trail, forest park

fremont bridge, second largest tied-arch bridge in the world. always the perfect welcome home.