Umtanum Ridge and Yakima Canyon

Umtanum Ridge

15 miles

4500′ gain

This weekend called for flawless, unseasonable weather – 60F in Puget Sound. I took it as an opportunity to head out into the desert to test out the route of an upcoming trail race I’ll be running, the Yakima Skyline 25K.

I headed out over Snoqualmie Pass, through Ellensburg, and along the Yakima Canyon scenic byway before reaching the Umtanum Creek recreational area. I loaded up a running pack with the essentials for a solo desert run: a phone with GPS maps loaded, 60oz of water and sports drink, food, and a couple of essentials for the worst-case – an insulated jacket and headlamp in case of injury or getting lost and stuck out after dark. It gets surprisingly cold in the desert.


I did not expect 100% of the run to be in full sun, but that is what I found. The climb out of the canyon was swelteringly hot in the stale air, with scrubby sage brushing against my knees as I walked most of the way up the 2000′ to the ridge in less than 2mi.

Stuart Range from the ridge crest

From there I followed a hard packed jeep road along the gently rolling ridgetop. The views included the majestic Stuart Range north of Cle Elum, the neighboring Manastash Ridge, and the (artificially) fertile Yakima Valley to the south. Here’s an experiment with image stabilization. I haven’t been able to shoot decent trail running video and am still very much trying to refine the technique.

Baldy – where the ridge continues after being bisected by the Yakima River

The descent to Roza looked fairly gentle in the elevation profile, but in reality it varied between flat sections and technical, loose, steep switchbacks.

After the descent to Roza Creek

By this point I realized I had used more than half my fluids and I would need to be very conservative with my pacing on the way back over the ridge. Fatigue and heat started to set in even though it was just 70F, and I wasn’t able to run the second ascent to the ridge as planned. There was no water to refill here; hopefully on race day my hydration will be less of a limiting factor.

The worst part of the run is the last 2 miles of descent – it is too steep and loose to run at full speed, and has some brutal sections of flat/uphill so you can’t count on just coasting to the finish. It felt great returning across the pedestrian bridge to the parking lot. I drank another quart or two of water, then rinsed off in the Yakima River and settled in to camp for the night.

I hiked in Umtanum Canyon at dusk looking for bighorn sheep, but didn’t spot anything more than some fresh tracks. It was still a beautiful walk.

Umtanum Creek Canyon at dusk

After a frosty night’s sleep and the loss of an hour due to Daylight Savings Time (great for me – I hate the long nights when camping solo!), I took a scenic drive through Yakima Canyon all the way to Yakima, then took the interstate back to Ellensburg.

I did a quick recovery run on the Iron Horse trail in Cle Elum before grabbing some barbecue at nearby Smokey’s, my go-to place to eat east of the crest.

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