Trail & Ultra Running.
My son is currently working on a documentary about mental health and running. Here is a link to the trailer.
It’s the day after a big mountain adventure. All your friends are asking, “How was it?” and wanting to know all the nitty gritty details; the terrain, the views, possible wildlife encounters, near death experiences…you know, all that juicy mountain trail running gossip! We are a rare breed. But when you find people of your own kind, you relate. We want to know all about the experience because hearing about it and seeing the pictures is the next best thing to actually doing it ourselves. I totally get it. When we are in the mountains, we are living our life as fully as we know how. When we aren’t in the mountains, there’s no place we would rather be.
You can’t just spend over 36 hours doing a single activity and answer the question, “how was it” in a single word. It’s just not possible.
So, here it is for all who have been asking:
The route: Hayden-Hurricane 100k FKT course created by Isaiah Hemmen, who currently holds the men’s Unsupported FKT time of 17:51:21 which is just astonishing to me now that I have completed the same track. It is located in the Olympic National Park. It starts and ends at Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. The route takes you over Grand Pass, Cameron Pass, Lost Pass, Hayden Pass, along the Elwa River, up to Dodger Point, then making your way back to Hurricane Ridge. It was described as being a 64 mile route but Mary and I both ended up with over 70 miles upon completion.
Here is the link to
Isaiah Hemmen's FKT Route:
We both arrived at the Visitor Center on Friday evening and car camped. Our plan was to begin at 4:30 a.m., which we did. However, we took off in the wrong direction on the road so ended up with over 2 bonus miles. We did a “re” start at around 5:45. The first 8 miles are fairly easy (as long as you start off in the right direction, ha). They are on road from the Visitor Center down Obstruction Point Road to the Obstruction Point Trail Head. From here, we went over a couple of passes: Grand Pass, Cameron Pass, Lost Pass, Hayden Pass. These miles are fully exposed and I later found out that both days we were on trail, the temperatures were “red flag” level, so quite intense. “Intense.” This is actually the word Mary and I feel described our overall experience the best. These climbs were somewhat technical and a bit slow going. We were expecting to move through them a bit faster but mostly, we wanted to enjoy our experience. We wanted to finish the miles but be able to stop and enjoy a waterfall or soak our feet in cool water or relax while eating a meal together. So, that is how we went about our journey; just like that; as a “journey,” not a race.
I have to say that my favorite parts of the loop were through these four passes. There was an unbelievably beautiful meadow as we approached the climb up to Cameron Pass: lush green and full of wildflowers, waterfalls, and rocks. We soaked in several panoramic mountain views, passed a few crystal clear lakes, and even a couple of snow patches. After coming down from Hayden Pass, we arrived at a familiar spot. It was part of the “Press Traverse Route” that we had ran in the fall of 2018. It was a nostalgic moment for both of us being back in that place; just like visiting an old friend. What was even better is that we got to run through my absolute favorite section on the Press Traverse Trail; the Press Valley which reminds me of The Shire from the Hobbit stories. The entire ground is covered in soft and vibrant green moss. The trail is smooth and ever so slightly rolling. This was the most “runnable” section of the loop and we both thoroughly enjoyed our time there and were grateful for a few faster miles.
Up to this point, things were going fairly smoothly. The climbs had been a bit slower than expected. The sun exposure and altitude had definitely tired us out a bit. But, here is where things started to change; a true test of grit and character. Our little section of the Press Traverse ended with having to ford the Elwa River. I’m guessing it was around 10 p.m. It was quite dark and due to this being a late snowfall/melt year, the river was at a high level. The water was cold, the current was strong, and the bottom was full of slimy smooth river rocks. We walked up and down that section for probably an hour, trying to decide the “safest” place to cross until we just went with where we had first begun. Go figure! My guess is that it was about 30’ wide at this location. I had to concentrate quite intensely; making sure my trekking poles were grounded solid, taking one step at a time and being sure I wasn’t stepping on a slippery rock. It took all my strength to not get pushed into the current. The river was almost waist high in sections. It was quite frightening; not just because I was terrified of crossing but once I did get to the other side safely, I had to then watch Mary cross which may have been even more nerve racking.
Eventually we both made it across safely. We were a bit cold and wet but we were wide awake and the fun was just getting started. The next section is the part I had been the most nervous about when reading up on this route. It consisted of an extremely primitive trail; the “trail” being only marked by pink reflectors on trees. However, these markings were very sporadic and over the years, of the few trees that had markings, some had fallen down. ALOT of trees had fallen down on this trail! Just finding the trail took us about 30 minutes and, in this time, we ended up bushwhacking through some kind of muddy, mucky quicksand-like substance I have never encountered in the Pacific Northwest. Then, to get out of there, we had to cut through a patch of nettles and thorny bushes. I’m sure the GPS data is quite entertaining to look at from the “crossing the river” to the “finding the trail” section.
We were quite frustrated at times but eventually, we found the trail. However, finding the trail in itself was not the victory. The true success was “staying” on the trail which proved to be nearly impossible. Isaiah’s trip report had mentioned that you definitely didn’t want to try this at night with the navigation demands. We had not intended on being there so late and had to deal with it as best as we could. We both later agreed that having our headlamps on for the river section was an advantage as it allowed us to see the bottom quite clearly and approximate the depth and footing. We also felt as though being in this primitive trail in the dark, our headlamps made the trail focus more clearly. There were many “wrong” ways to go…gaming trails or spots that looked like trails but led to nothing so we would have to backtrack and much of the trail was overgrown. We also began to have some hallucinations; ironically, some of them were the same ones. It was very slow going but, eventually, we came out of the forested area into a valley.
The valley was full of marmot holes and underbrush and quite wet. This is where Isaiah’s GPS data started to venture away from the actual trail and take a different route. If we could have followed the actual trail, we would have had to go slightly out of the way then do some backtracking so we decided to follow his course. We had just started to do this when I looked to the woods to the right of me and saw two giant orange eyes staring intently back at me then they bobbed from side to side. I couldn’t see a body image as it was too dark but I am quite certain this was a cougar. I was terrified. I told Mary but she had misheard me and thought I said “bear” so got her bear spray out and ready. I raised my trekking poles and banged them together to make noise and backed away, trying to put as much distance between us as possible. We started moving at a quicker pace. I kept looking for the eyes and they stayed put, not moving towards us. This was not the ideal way to get up to Dodger Point, as we were basically going straight up the mountain through ground covered with holes, mush, and underbrush. After about ¼ mile or so, we came to a section of rocks or more like boulders. Basically, it would be equivalent to a 10 story building made of nothing but rocks. To the left was now a cliff and to the right were woods that contained a cougar. We felt as though our only option was to climb straight up these rocks. They were loose and glass-like with sharp edges. It was about 1 am; 1 am and we were climbing straight up a huge pile of boulders on the side of a mountain, possibly being stalked by a cougar. Yes, “intense”…to say the least.
After what seemed like a never ending period of time with my heart racing and adrenaline flowing at epic levels, we came to the ridge line. We found the trail heading straight up to Dodger Point. We were so close! It was right there! But then we looked up and saw four bright pair of eyes looking right at us and slightly moving. No freaking way! We were convinced the Karma Gods were playing some crappy tricks on us. We backed up and looked for alternate routes. We were trying to figure out what kind of animals these were to be huddled so close together…mountain goats, deer, coyote? But the more I looked, the more I noticed those “eyes” were staying the exact same distance from one another. Mary tuned in also and we finally came to realize, they weren’t eyes at all. They were reflectors on the side of a tent and the tent was moving in the wind. This was a bit too much exhilaration for one night but definitely gave us a much needed laugh.
Once we finally got up to Dodger Point, we were exhausted in every way. We pulled out our emergency blankets and tried to get a couple of hours of sleep but the wind was chilling and the bugs were biting so it was mostly a chance to just let our bodies relax. I had borrowed a Garmin In-Reach and we had the tracking on so friends and family could see how we were doing. This actually became a source of stress for me as I started to worry about other people worrying about us. I decided I’m not a fan of having tracking on when doing a mountain adventure. The sunrise at the mountain that morning was one of those images you can’t truly capture on a camera; just glorious!
We started off early and encountered very few people. The first several miles were a descent and quite scenic but within no time, we came to some switchbacks. The good part is they were going downhill but they all looked exactly the same and had to be the longest switchbacks I’ve ever done. I could not stay awake. It was like driving on a windy road in the middle of the night. I think we stopped at least twice to lie down on the side of the trail and rest. After this, we got to a more traditional trail for a bit and then surprisingly back on the Press Traverse route. Water had been so abundant throughout that we both neglected to fill up when we should have. We came to the end of the trail and had to turn on a trail back up to our starting point. It was about 8 miles long and had been the original road up to Hurricane Ridge I believe. It consisted of more switchbacks but now we were exposed to the sun and running out of water. It was extremely grinding. I was drinking one sip of water every ½ mile to try to conserve but definitely felt extremely dehydrated and light headed. I remember thinking, “if someone offered me a glass of water right now for $100, I would buy it.” Then Mary split the remainder of her water with me! Definitely the sign of a true friend! When we only had about 2 miles left, we came to a water source and we took full advantage. It was like an oasis in the middle of the desert; complete primitive joy! This made the last two miles on the trail a bit more bearable.
We came off the trail onto a road and trudged through that final mile. That final mile; this is the point when I say: “I’ll never do this again. I need to stick with shorter distances where it’s fun the whole time.” But these are lies and I know it as I’m speaking or thinking it. Being truly alive does not mean you are always having fun or you are always happy and smiling. It’s experiencing all the ups and downs; all the feelings and it’s having companions along the way to share this journey. Of course, I’ll do it again. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Besides, what kind of story would it be if someone asked, “How was it?” and all I said as “Oh. It was good.” Pretty boring if you ask me!
Ultra runner in Washington state with dreams of setting a Guiness World Record in 2019.