Pacific Crest Trail Adventure Part II Section L (Canada Border to Rainy Pass)
After 31 miles of running and about 30 minutes of resting, we started our Washington Pacific Crest Trail FKT attempt at 10:15PM on August 30th. We were not optimistic about running back through all of the soaked vegetation, but I think we must have knocked most of the water off the leaves on our way north, because conditions seemed much better on our way south. I also feel like our pace improved through this section, despite our first wildlife stop. The iridescent yellow stripe across the back of a Long-toed Salamander caught my eye and I could not resist stopping to photograph my favorite Mole Salamander. The water droplets glistened in the light of the headlamp and the unique amphibian scurried away back into the cover of woody debris.
Unfortunately, my morale took a negative turn after about ten or so miles southward from the border. Several things were weighing on my mind, first, after taking stock of my supplies I realized that I must have left my bag of tailwind somewhere on the trail. This meant that I was short about 2000 calories, which could spell certain disaster in the final 15 to 20 miles of section L. Second, it was dark, and past my bedtime, meaning my body was trying to shut down. Third, I began to feel nauseous and weave around on the trail, catching myself with my trekking poles. Soon after the first symptoms of nausea, I dropped to the ground and vomited most of the calories I consumed during our break at the border.
Fortunately after vomiting I felt a little better and popped up quickly to begin jogging again. When tackling a distance of this magnitude, I try not to focus too far ahead. I did not think about the finish in Oregon, I did not think about our aid at Rainy Pass, I did not even think about the halfway point at Hart’s Pass. I thought about a small ravine where several tents were set up and there was a sign indicating the distance to the border northward and the distance to Woody Pass southward. These manageable distance goals help to keep me motivated and focused. Reaching that insignificant ravine after mitigating a personal low point restored my confidence.
After vomiting I find it difficult to consume calories, which is obvious, food is last thing your body wants after voiding it from your digestive system. However, human bodies cannot sustain without fuel and I was at quite a calorie deficit. Not only was I unable to utilize the fuel I consumed at the border, I had not been eating for at least an hour after throwing up. I was fading and John did his best to keep the conversation alive in order to keep me awake. I finally started to take in calories again as my nausea began dissipate. These miles in the early hours of August 31st are a blur to me and because I could not see more than the immediate path in front of me, they are not really worth remembering anyway.
Perhaps the best moment of that early morning for me was when I located my long lost bag of tailwind. I had a sneaking suspension that I may have left it at this random cascading stream where John and I had refilled on our way north. Sure enough I found the essential high calorie powder resting on a rock next to the rushing water. It appeared that a little rodent chewed a hole in the bag, which actually acted as a nice pouring hole for my waterbottle refills in the subsequent miles. I like to think I also helped a cold little chipmunk get an easy meal before bedding down for a long cold night as well.
I looked at my watch and knew that daylight would be approaching soon and that my energy levels would experience an enormous boost with the light. However, it was still dark, and the weather was still misty and rainy, but the forested sections were behind us and glorious alpine trail lay ahead until Hart’s Pass. We made quick work of the passes and I actually found it much easier to ascend them in the dark, because I could not gage how much further I had to climb. My legs churned uphill like I was being carried by an escalator and the darkness gradually gave way to an ominous foggy landscape. Frost highlighted larch and fir needles and boulders resembled intimidating animals in the distance. Although we were able to dim the headlamps, the low hanging cloud that enveloped the landscape restricted visibility to less than 10 meters ahead.
I vividly recall flowing along a smooth dirt trail traversing a mountainside while John explained his Salomon ambassadorship and love of the products. We were enjoying the transformation from dark location-less trail to sweeping alpine views of the Pasayten Wilderness. I often spot Spruce Grouse in this type of vegetation and elevation, and sure enough we encountered one of the cute stocky birds. Unfortunately we inadvertently chased a young little grouse down the trail. This upset me for two reasons: First, I hate causing an animal (which has to fight for survival on a day-to-day basis) when I am simply participating in an arbitrary adventure without purpose. Second, it immediately reminded me of my stocky little Blue-headed Pionus which has an identical gait when we run around the living room and caused me to miss my family at home. Missing home and family is a dangerous headspace to enter in a long run of any kind, unfortunately I had to file away the memories of Apryle and my parrots and come back to the trail.
The final mile back to Hart’s pass was new, because we accidentally took the road for a short time on the way northward. The elusive path dipped through a low forested section and popped out at a cabin and the picnic area where we started our warm up run. We stopped at Hart’s Pass for several minutes to take stock of our calories and take care of our saturated feet. My feet were completely soaked and deep wrinkles had formed across the plantar aspect of my foot. I was glad to see that there were no blisters yet, but I knew that they were not in good condition considering that we were only about 62 miles into the the run. I changed socks and loosened my shoelaces a little and felt about 50% better as we hopped off the table and continued our journey south.
The following miles were pleasant, the sandy trail was dry, the sun was shining brighter and burning off the clouds and most importantly, we were in the alpine. Our mountainous surroundings came in and out of view as the remaining clouds sailed across the sky, obscuring peaks and even filling deep valleys. The trail stayed high on ridge lines and we seemed to glide over several passes without much elevation change. Though this entire section was stunning, I most vividly recall a beautiful upland area (Grasshopper Pass) full of frost covered Larches with a backdrop of jagged granite peaks in the distance. This section was cool and clouded over, but as we reached the highpoint and began descending the other side, the sun was prominent and the temperatures increased.
We were treated to a long, winding, quad-demolishing descent into a deeply carved valley. I felt as though the steep switchbacking trail would never end because there appeared to be no bottom to the valley. Once we finally reached the bottom it was shaded by tall old growth trees and the dirt trail was wide. While we walked to give our running legs a break, we noticed a sign that said Glacier Pass, which caught us off guard, because we would have assumed the top of the switchbacking descent was the pass. Perplexed, we pressed onward as the trail transitioned from a wide shaded path to an exposed and overgrown single track.
We passed by a lake and then followed Brush Creek down to a Brush Creek wooden bridge with a clearing for convenient water refill. I recall stopping here for a few minutes to set up my watch charger, reorganize my 14 L pack, and fill my hydration bladder with cool water and tailwind. The large quantity of cool water was becoming increasingly important, because the temperatures were becoming increasingly warmer. The sun was now in full brilliance, and without canopy or clouds to act as a shield, I was hot for the first time on our run. Fortunately, our time in exposed fields was limited and we entered a dense forest that provided shade. We saw our first sign for Rainy Pass and were rejuvenated.
I found myself in the most positive place I had been in for the whole run to this point. We had put 75+ miles behind us, I was eating well, feeling energized, and the trail was wide and runnable. The towering Firs and Hemlocks kept vegetation minimal and low which allowed for easy running and rare distant views within the thick forest. We passed over several crystal clear streams and I was beginning to feel connected to the quest. I was excited to see what was around the next corner and ready to tackle section K and the subsequent sections. Eventually, the easy running ended and we began the climb up and out of the forest and back into the alpine. The ascent was gradual due to the high concentration of switchbacks and we reached an exposed dry alpine area and tried to map out our route ahead.
We were disoriented and tried to look for signs of narrow trails in the distance and utilize peaks to triangulate our position. We finally saw our path after some debate over our trajectory and it was a long gradual slope up a ridge that appeared to top out at a rock outcropping. We continued our strategy, running the descents and flats and hiking the ascents. We reached the rock outcrop and it was much higher and steeper than expected. The conversation stalled and we huffed our way up the tight switchbacks which were carved into a rocky talus field. Once we reached the top we descended slightly to a narrow trail carved into the mountainside. The mountain provided some much needed shade and we decided to take advantage of the cool temperatures while resting the legs with a brisk walk.
We turned the corner just in time to see Ryan Thrower who was running up towards us with camera in hand. It was perfect timing after he ran up to this point in order to snap some photos of John and I running over Cutthroat Pass. We were elated to see him and decided to switch our brisk walk to a run as we descended to highway 20. We chatted about the run so far, other summer adventures, and the recent Wonderland FKTs that had been set. Nick Danielson appeared on the trail as well and he and Ryan worked seamlessly as they ran down the trail with their cameras. It was such an interesting experience to have two excellent photographers taking photos and shooting video of you and I have to say I drew some motivation from it. I marveled at how well Ryan and Nick glided over the rocky trail holding bulky cameras and only paying half attention to where they were stepping.
The exposed alpine trail transitioned to forested single track and I was counting down the miles to our make shift aid station at the Cutthroat TH on highway 20. I arrived at at 4:27 PM on August 31st, and John’s wife Brit had the parking area set up like a true aid station, a camp stove with food cooking, a generator for recharging our electronics, and all our gear set out by big comfortable chairs. We spent about two hours there, visiting with family and friends, eating, and getting organized for the 127 mile leg ahead. We needed to carry enough food for up to 48 hours on the trail and in addition to that I also carried two changes of socks, insoles, rain coat, SPOT, batteries, external battery pack, two head lamps, camera, cell phone, hydration pack, Be-Free bottle, and a down sleeping bag attached to the bottom of the pack. We were weighted down to the max, and before we left, we tried to sleep a little in the truck, but we were unable doze and decided to hit the trail again to begin section K.
Time Awake: Woke at 5:30AM on August 30th therefore roughly 35 hours.
Time Slept: 0
Section Miles: 62.03
Total Miles: 93.55
Section Time: 18:12:07
Total Time for FKT: 18:12:07
Total Time: 26:40:00
Section Elevation: 11,263 feet
Total Elevation: 16,270 feet
|Distance from Northern Terminus (mi)
|Brush Creek Crossing