Tag Archives: mountain running

It’s a Hard Knox Life

Route map here

18.5 miles (from GPS – missed some switchbacks in the Hillmap route)
7000′ gain
7.5 hours car-to-car

French Cabin Mountain – North Peak, South Peak, West Peak (attempt)
French Chin
Hard Knox
Thorp Mountain

After hanging up the skis for the foreseeable future and successful summits of Adams and Baker over the last few weeks, I was ready to return to my main activity: mountain running and peakbagging. The Salmon La Sac area has been on my shortlist for exploration for a long time. Nestled between Snoqualmie Pass and the Teanaway, I had only been through once on the way to an attempt on Mt. Daniel. After consulting Summitpost, I decided to piece together a big loop trying to tag as many summits as I could. As far as I can tell nobody has written a TR on this loop before – now I see why.

The route ascends the Domerie Divide trail (1308) from French Cabin Creek and FR 4308-115, going off trail to tag North Peak and South Peak of French Cabin Mountain before cutting west along the Silver Creek tie trail (1308.1), crossing the south ridge of West Peak and offering a summit of that peak as well. Then the trail drops steeply into Silver Creek basin where it connects with Kachess Ridge (1315) heading north across the pass into French Cabin Basin and offering summit attempts on French Chin and French Tongue. From there, the trail climbs steeply again to gain Kachess Ridge proper, offering easy access to Hard Knox (pt. 5841) and undulating for 3 miles or so until the spur trail to Thorp Mountain, before picking up the Thorp Lake trail (1316) for a gradual 4-5 mile descent back to the car (including a  ~2 mile road run).

Cle Elum Lake

The devil is in the details. I parked my car, loaded with 3L water and survival essentials in a running pack, and promptly soaked both of my shoes in the river ford. Great start. From there, I ran/jogged the road 700′ vertical to the Domerie Divide “trailhead” which is easy to spot as it begins where the road is blocked with a mound of dirt – there’s also a sign tucked back in the trees. The heat was already getting to me not 20 minutes into the trip. This would be a recurring theme.

The ridge gaining elevation to French Cabin Mountain looked gentle enough on the topo, but it was too steep for me to run, so I got out my poles and speed hiked my way through, trying to keep my HR low considering how long a day I was expecting. After breaking out onto the upper ridge, good views of Cle Elum Lake and the boats below were afforded.

Along the ridge to North Peak

From there, the ridge undulates a few times before dropping below the north peak. I left the trail as soon as it was clear the ridge was diverging and navigated forested but open slopes up to the summit. There are little rock steps on the ridge proper but if you stay left (south) it goes at Class 1. Continue reading It’s a Hard Knox Life

McClellan Butte

McClellan Butte


3400’ gain

Class 3 scramble (easy but very exposed)

This weekend the weather wasn’t looking promising anywhere, so I hopped on Summitpost to see what was around I-90 that I hadn’t been to the top of yet. I was planning on running a mountain just as a workout even if I couldn’t see anything from the top in the clouds. McClellan Butte had been on my radar for a while – I had seen it in every proximity search but never clicked through to the page. Once I saw folks describing the route as a scramble at Class 3 or even Class 4 I knew that I had to give it a shot.

The trailhead is relatively close to Seattle, right at Exit 42. This was my first time checking out the south side of the valley but it all looks fairly similar. McClellan Butte’s trail gains elevation fairly gradually for the first couple of miles, crossing the John Wayne rail-trail at just before the one mile mark.

John Wayne trail

After the road crossing, the route gently pitches up until I ended up walking some of the steeper upper sections (the whole thing is runnable, I’m just not in my best shape right now). The upper mountain started to drizzle on me.

Cloudy hillside

After mile 4 or so, the trail crests a ridge and juts to the (south?) in order to avoid some cliffs. It traverses along the upper mountain until reaching the final summit scramble.

Cliffy from here (the route curves around to the much easier opposite side)

Continue reading McClellan Butte

Dumpster Divin’: Blowdown Mountain and Lake Twentytwo

Hiking trips aren’t always spectacular, magazine-worthy endeavors. Here are a couple of examples from a recent weekend.

Blowdown Mountain (4/18/15)

I wanted to go for a mountain run for exercise and decided to explore a little bit higher on the Mt. Si ridge without doing the slog that is Mt. Teneriffe in the snow, so I found this little “gem” on Summitpost, described as a “Peakbagger’s peak, nothing more, nothing less”. I found this peak has a lot to recommend for itself.

For one, the approach follows the Mt. Si for most of the elevation gain (one of the most crowded trails in the I-90 corridor). Here’s nwhikers poster Angry Hiker’s artistic rendition:

Credit: The Angry Hiker

From the Haystack, proceed through the trees along a faint foot/deer/old Jeep trail up the ridge. How is there snow here still?? I was, of course, in running shoes and shorts with no gaiters and promptly packed my shoes full of snow.

The Haystack

Continue reading Dumpster Divin’: Blowdown Mountain and Lake Twentytwo

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.

Credit: RainShadowRunning.com

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