Sunday, August 16, 2009
I did a long and challenging trail run/scramble yesterday out in the cascades with my running group. Evidently this trail has been on the wish list for one of the ladies for quite a while and with good reason.
the Phelps Trail head is far out there (a three hour drive) and deep enough in the mountains that the first realization from most of us that was that we had no cell phone service. It's always a good reminder for me when I'm out on a trail run that I need to pay attention to fueling and water and be careful with footing. No falling allowed. Based on the diverse abilities of the group doing the trail, it would not do to end up with an tripping injury. There would be no calling a cell to get some help. I knew this run would be at the limit for some people's abilities and there is always the possibility that I may be needed to run extra miles to support the group.
I got started just after 9 am and planned on taking it really easy as we were at altitude (trail head is at 3500 feet) and I just didn't know what to expect once we made the climb towards Spider Gap. It's a really pleasant old road, overgrown and wide for the first few miles. It gradually climbs the whole time but there is some up and down and little stream crossings. It was a bit chilly and I was regretting my shorts. My hamstring and hips were cold and I wasn't generating enough heat to keep those muscles warm.
I made sure to have some water and a snack at 3 miles and kept chugging on upwards. The first hints of Spider Meadow are so pretty but coming out of the forest trail to the lower end of Spider meadow at 5.2 miles is stunning. It's the perfect glacier carved valley filled with lush meadow of all sorts of blooming flowers. I started speeding up taking in the energy of the place and I had a huge grin on my face. Every few moments I'd have to stop to look at some interesting plant or I'd track a new bird.
The trail is deeply rutted through the meadow and makes running a bit challenging as you can't quite see where you are putting your feet. At 6.5, the trail can either take you straight ahead to the Phelps basin or you can start a heart pounding ascent up towards Spider Gap. This was where we were headed and I was glad to see the signs as I thought I might have been off trail. I'd seen no signs of anyone else in my group besides Coach T passing me as expected around 2.5 miles.
the ascent to climb towards the glacier was something else. It was extremely steep with very sharp switchbacks and over large areas of scree. I was starting to have moments of vertigo when climbing. I could not at all look down and if I did, it would prompt a moment of dizziness and a grab at any shrubs or rocks around to steady myself. I just tried not to think about it and kept climbing being careful to place my feet well and staying to the inside edge. When the trail leveled out there were stunning views out towards the valley floor. it does not bother me looking out over things but looking down was not an option!
With the close attention to the ground and the plants along the trail, i noticed bright purple bird droppings. Sure enough, there were wild blueberries along the trail. Of course, I stopped to sample. Up and up. Eventually I spotted a couple of running mates far ahead and up on the trail and shouted hello to them. They waved back and I marveled at how far both had come in the past year. This was an extremely challenging trek and both of them had been very new runners just last year.
I caught up to them right at the base of the snow field called Spider Glacier. All of a sudden, we were above the tree line and on the surface of the moon. Rocks, scree and snow and we were going to climb the glacier to Spider Gap. Traversing over snow is a new skill I've learned how to do over the past few years. it's slick and slushy and you have to dig your feet in. Slow, hard work. It took me a while to remember how to do this actually. Climb and climb. It was tough and I questioned whether I'd make it to the top. I was having flashbacks to other challenging physical exertions but knew if I just kept at it, I'd get there.
It's just 700 feet up towards Spider Gap at 7100 feet but that last not quite a mile takes a long, long time to an incredible view. Peek over Spider Gap on the other side looking towards upper Lyman Basin and a hint of Lyman Lake lying in the lower basin. I realized after the snow scramble, that I was starving. I sat down on all the rocks and quickly pulled on some more clothes (nice cold breeze on top of a gap!) and had my pancakes and peanut butter. Good stuff!
I knew we'd be hanging out here waiting for everyone to make it to the top of the gap. I had this great desire to go farther on the trail to see what it looked like so checked to see how much time I had to explore before needing to turn around. Coach T well aware of my desire to roam gave me (and RPD who had caught up) 20 minutes. then obviously, Coach T also needed to see where we were going because he came out too. I'm glad we went a little farther as there was a great view of Lyman Glacier. I heard and spotted a whistling marmot and heard the disconcerting sound of rocks pinging down the mountains.
Coach T had not been sure that LE would make it to the top but by the time we turned around to go back to the gap, she was there. I was so proud of her. That was a tough, tough climb and she has come so far. She tends to be a bit scattered so Coach T started her on the road to fueling up and getting what she needed to get going back down. Meanwhile, RPD prudently asked how we get back down the snowfield. Dig those heels in deep and if you start to slide, turn over and dig the hands in and more importantly, work very hard that it doesn't happen.
It was easier than I expected. I could feel that it really worked my total core and hip muscles but I didn't have much trouble. I passed another hiker out with his 40 pound pack (I asked) and was very thankful that wasn't me. Everyone I passed had a grin on their face though. We were all so pleased to have made it up.
Since I'd scooted out ahead of everyone, I did take a moment to climb up on a knob with campers and take in the view down towards the valley. I tried not to think about the descent down. I was tired after the exertions but ready for the challenge and I started down. At this point, a lot of day hikers were making it up the switchbacks and they all tended to marvel at me with my running gear. I made sure to tell everyone that it was totally worth the trek to the top. I hope they all made it!
And the descent wasn't so bad. Really, I was too busy watching foot placement as I hiked down (to steep and slippery on scree to run). I was completely startled by a pika which was sitting on a rock in a scree area and made a sound like a toy car beep. I did shriek as it was loud and completely unexpected. :-D
Once down to a runnable section, I realized how quickly we had climbed. My quads were toasted and there was still miles of downhill. I stopped to have another gel and started to realized I was pretty hungry and out of water. Right about then (with another 5 miles to go), speedy Dave caught up to me and ran with me the rest of the way in to the trail head. he had extra water and I shared my margarita clif bloks plus my homemade energy bars with him as he was out of food. He's a fun guy to chat with but towards the end I was getting really tired and starting to not think all that clearly.
He is one fast dude and it was really instructive to watch him run over the rocks and roots. He really picks up his feet a lot more than I do and kept his feet on the ground such a short time. I'd try it and it works even though it was getting harder to pick my feet up because I was tired. I know I ran a lot faster because I was with him than if I'd been by myself so that was a good pick me up. 16 miles is the farthest I've gone in quite some time and my legs were feeling it. I was past the point of wanting any more trail food because I was so hungry. I know that makes no sense but that is what happens.
It is a great feeling coming to the car and knowing you are done! I'd done pretty well to bring a range of food for after the run so Dave and I snacked while we waited for everyone to come in. I knew it was going to be a while. After a while, one runner after the other came in with that particular happy, satisfied and tired grin.
I started running at 9:05 am and was back at the car at 2:40 pm with 4 hours and 24 minutes of running/hiking.
1 long sleeved shirt, 1 lightweight shell, 1 pair mittens, 24 oz of water, 2 pancakes, 2 packets of cinamon pb, 3 gels, 2 squares of my energy bar, 1 packet clif blocks, electrolyte tablets, hat, sunglasses, headband, first aid kit, inhaler, emergency blanket, chemical hand warmers, camera + extra battery.
I needed more water and more food. I need to figure out something salty to have on the trail adn please no trail mix :-p. And I need to figure out how to set watch to beep to eat every 45 minutes or so. Out of the food, I did not eat one gel, half packet of clif blocks, one bar and one packet of pb. I would've eaten more pancakes had I brought more. I ate well for breakfast: two eggs, english muffin w/ cheese, oj and then once on the road oatmeal with nuts and more coffee.
All in all an amazing experience only slightly ruined by realizing as i was having dinner that the sore throat I had was not from trail dust but from a developing cold. At least it waited until I was off the trail!
Full set of photos: click here