Category Archives: Running

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.


Where is the snow?

This winter has been without precedent as a horrible one for skiers. Record high temperatures throughout much of the west, combined with Washington’s relatively low elevations, mean that the ample precipitation we have received has largely fallen as rain rather than snow. Cliff Mass’s weather blog has a good discussion of how this has come about and why it might be a preview of the Northwest as affected by climate change more than half a century from now. I’m moving to Canada.


I’m taking this opportunity to get Mountain Running season off to a good start. I signed up for the Yakima Skyline 25K in April so I’ve been trying to build in some elevation to work up to it. The Issaquah Alps are snow free and have been particularly beautiful lately.

Rattlesnake Mountain (2/14/15)

West Tiger Mountain (2/21/15)

I found the “Tiger Mountain Dumb Ass 50K” route suggestion online and tried it for lap one – up the steep, steep Section Line trail and down the pretty technical K3 trail. One lap was enough for me so I went up the normal West Tiger 3 trail on the second lap for a total gain of around 4000′.

One of the very best pictures I’ve ever taken on my iPhone 4
West Tiger 2

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

Rattlesnake Ridge – Two Ways

After running Granite Mountain yesterday, I followed up with a relatively easier day – running up Rattlesnake Mountain one way with a bike shuttle  back to the car. I locked my bike to the fence at Snoqualmie Point, then drove to the ledges trailhead at Rattlesnake Lake and ran from there.

View from Rattlesnake Ledges on the way up
Lovely backdrop to the very scenic summit cell tower

This is really the way to run this mountain. The ascent trail is only 4 miles long gaining 3000′, a perfect steepness for running uphill. Then, the 6 mile descent is easy on the knees and runs FAST. I hopped on my bike and rode the flat road through the lovely town of North Bend. There is a slightly unpleasant steep hill on Cedar Falls Rd right before reaching the trailhead, but by and large the half hour, 9 mile ride was a nice cooldown after the run.