First Tracks

Today I got my first skiing of the winter season up at Summit West, near Snoqualmie Pass. The snow report indicated that 3-5 inches of fresh snow would fall on top of about one foot of base. A trip report from the day before indicated that the grassy slope below the Pacific Crest lift had enough coverage to be skiable.

The temperature was lingering right at about 32 degrees, meaning that the snow was quite heavy. The lighter snow underneath made it “punchy” – my skis tended to break through the top layer to the softer stuff beneath. Skiers call this “upside down” snow since usually storms start off damp and end dry and fluffy, which makes for much better skiing. I wasn’t complaining too loudly.

I got three laps in. It was snowing heavily for the first two, then rainy for the third. I called it a day after that. On the way up the third time I noted a small avalanche right below the lift shack. Evidently skier triggered, but I was surprised at how clean the fracture surface ran across the whole slope. I figured that the vegetation would hold it in place but evidently not. One can never be complacent, not even in bounds on a blue run at a ski area.

Continue reading First Tracks

Double Mailbox Peak Run: Farewell to Fall

Mailbox Peak (GPS track)

4822′ peak elevation

19.5 miles RT (2 laps)

8900′ vertical gain (2 laps)

Before the rain/snow comes, I wanted to see how much vertical I could run in a day. I had run Mailbox Peak a few weeks ago and appreciated how cushy the lower trail was on my feet, so I figured that would make an ideal candidate to push my limits without beating up on my knees/feet too much. I was also inspired by this account of a double Mailbox peak and wanted to see what I could do.

My previous biggest day was an ascent of Mt. Adams two years ago at 6700′ vertical, although that took pretty much all morning.

I packed my tiny bag (Camelbak pak without the hydration sleeve) with a fleece, small first aid kit, and a Nature Valley granola bar along with my handheld water bottle. I staged one pair of extra shoes at the car knowing that my shoes were likely to be soaked on the soggy trail left by a week of rainy weather in  the area.

Lap One

I took off trying consciously to hold my heart rate back on Lap One (I would gain any lost time back in spades later in the day). Fall conditions on the trail included quite a few puddles, mud patches, and leaves on top of the silky smooth grade created by WTA volunteers over the last couple of years.

I knew that I was feeling good as the miles ticked by on the long sweeping switchbacks. No burning in the calves indicated that I was well rested for this attempt. As I reached the steep last mile to the summit, I switched to walking to preserve my strength. I’m still at the point where trying to run on grades much steeper than 800’/mile is less efficient than walking anyway so it was probably faster overall. I took this chance to eat some energy chews. I also hit snow for the first time this season – tiny patches which melted away by the time I summited the second time.

I hit the watch at the summit in 1:31. I thought “That’s not possible!” My previous attempt was only six minutes faster with much more effort.

Lap 1 success

I descended at a “neutral” effort – letting gravity do the work and recovering aerobically for Lap 2. I hit the car and swapped out my shoes, refilled my water bottle, and ate part of a banana.  Continue reading Double Mailbox Peak Run: Farewell to Fall

Defiance Ridge Run

Putrid Pete’s Peak – Mt. Defiance ridge traverse

GPS track (partial – lost reception on the climb to P3)

~10 miles

~5100′ gain

It’s November – the gloom has finally arrived, and temps are starting to drop in the mountains. I had run many well-traveled peaks in September and October and I wanted to try something off the beaten track before snow forces a switch to skiing instead of running.

After weighing a number of considerations (safety on a solo run, exposure with wet rock, driving time, familiarity with the area) I ended up selecting Putrid Pete’s Peak as an objective and figured I’d improvise a way down once I made my way back into terrain I have seen before. Arriving at the Ira Spring Trailhead along the customarily potholed road, the temperature lingered at around 37F. This was going to be a chilly day. It was also raining, so I was concerned about temperature management, especially if I got injured and took longer than expected to make my way out or wait for rescue. I threw in an extra puffy jacket into my running pack just to be safe.

Route map (black is off trail running and scrambling, red is established forest service trails)

I started off running and kept going straight instead of taking the first marked switchback (the Ira Spring trail). These Summitpost instructions got me started on the faint use trail to the summit of P3:

“Begin at the Ira Spring / Mason Lake trail. Follow the trail 1/10 of a mile to the first switchback. Instead of turning to the right, continue forward over the sticks meant to block the way onto a faint path which quickly becomes well pronounced. After 1/3 of mile the trail begins switching back as it climbs steeply along the mellow ridge leading up towards the east summit.”

Much of the lower half of the route was sort of brushy – with the recent rain and dew, I was totally soaked to the skin from brushing against all the vegetation. It was going to be a long, chilly day.

From there, the route steepens considerably and ascends virtually direct to the summit. The last ~30′ to the summit block is low third-class scrambling which was quite secure. At the top there is a very steep dropoff to the north and a waterproof canister for the summit register.

The visibility was… not great

P3 summit view (not sure which direction – does it matter?)

The next portion of the route was a bit of an unknown quantity – I just knew I needed to follow the ridge ESE to Mt. Defiance. The ground here was pretty rugged for the first half of the traverse, with potential for dangerous falls in both directions, so I proceeded with a lot of caution.

Wet, sloping rock on the P3 – Defiance traverse

This section of the route had no identifiable trails so I generally tried to stick right to the crest of the ridge and the whole thing went at Class 2 with a bit of  minor exposure in some points. My biggest challenge was simply the temperature. I was dressed for trail running with minimal insulation, and the temperature was probably 33F or so. After I stopped climbing, my aerobic output didn’t help keep me warm and I soon started to shiver. Continue reading Defiance Ridge Run