Monday, July 6, 2015

2015 UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge

2015 UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge
art & design by Ras Scott Mosher of Ites Design
Each participant who completed the 2013 UPWC
received this custom designed patch. For the
2015 UPWC there will be a unique finisher's patch
for each route, and a special award for those
rare souls adventurous and badass enough to
complete all three routes, aka the Triple Crown.
     The third annual UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge is a multi-faceted multi-media adventure blogging contest open to Trailrunners, Fastpackers, and Backpackers. This year we are offering three unique routes. Entrants may attempt any or all of these. There are no aid stations, no course markings, no start/finish, no lemming lines, no cut offs, no set date, in fact, it's all up to you.


The UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge is all about shattering paradigms, but as we are only in the third year, it is still very much a work in progress. While simple speed has it's advantages and rewards, one of the main goals of the UPWC is to recognize and celebrate other aspects of adventuring as well. For the first two years we struggled with figuring out how to quantify these other aspects of achievement. We have now come up with a points-based system intended do exactly that: award ALL aspects of adventuring, including, but not limited to, speed. Here is a breakdown of the new points system:

Five (5) Points will be awarded for:

Each Route Completed
Men's Fastest Time
Women's Fastest Time
Firsties (First Person or Team to Complete Each Route)
Lasties (Last Person or Team to Complete Each Route)

Two (2) Points will be awarded for:
Wildlife Sightings/Encounters
Blog Writing Excellence
Photographic Excellence
Good Style/Fair Means
Uniqueness Of Methodology
Overcoming Adversity

Additional categories may be added at any time. All points are awarded at the sole discretion of Ras. There is no system for registering an appeal or requesting any form of arbitration or conflict resolution. But ya never know: call me out in the Facebook Group and if I find your argument creative or convincing or offensive enough, while it won't change my mind, it might earn you some bonus points (see below).


     Previous UPWC Routes may be completed for bonus points. Participants will receive 5 bonus points for each route completed from UPWC #1 and UPWC #2. Completing a route includes producing content in the form of a trip report, photo album, video, audio recording, artistic rendering, or any other form which reflects your experience of the route and can be posted online via your personal blog and/or the UPWC Facebook group page. There is no signup fee for any of these bonus point routes, and, consequently, there are no finisher's patches for these routes. However, to be eligible for bonus points, entrants must have registered and paid their entry fee for at least one route from the current UPWC before completing a bonus route, and must complete at least one route from the current year by the end of the competition in order to receive the bonus points. Bonus point routes and current UPWC routes may be completed in any order.

     Five (5) bonus points will also be awarded for completing the UltraPedestrian Mind/Body Challenge.

     Important Note: Two (2) bonus points may be randomly awarded by Ras at any time for any reason. Capturing a faceplant on video, sharing trail beta in the Facebook group, and displays of creativity are examples of what could earn you bonus points. Two major pointers for racking up random bonus points: be active in the UPWC Facebook group, and let your unique personality shine through in your adventures.

     Route #1, chosen by Rainshadow Running Race Director James Varner, is the Graves Creek/Enchanted Valley Loop. This route is about 55 miles and has three big climbs and about 15,000ft of elevation gain. It is a great mix of everything that makes the Olympics so amazing, big trees, dense forest, steep trails, river valleys, high open ridges, fun single track, and good odds of seeing bear, elk and other animals. This is a remote route with no road crossings and very few people. There are creek and river fords that have possibility of being dangerous at high water, there are a few sections like Graves Creek, Sundown Lake and Six Ridge Trails that get little use and even less maintenance. Excellent navigation skills are essential especially on Six Ridge Trail where the trail itself often disappears in meadows. Expect this route to take a lot longer than a 50 miler would normally take. 

     James advises, "I would recommend doing the loop counter clockwise to get the most difficult navigating done first and before it gets dark."

Here's the route: 

Start/Finish East Fork Quinault River Trailhead
Follow the East Fork Trail for about a 1/4 mile then turn Right onto Graves Creek Trail. Then turn left onto Sundown Lake Trail. Then Left onto Six Ridge Trail, Then Left onto North Fork Skokomish Trail. Left onto Duckabush River Trail towards O'Neil Pass. Trail Becomes O'Neil Pass Trail. Turn Left onto East Fork Quinault Trail and follow all the way back to trailhead.

     Route #2, chosen by Kathy Vaughan, is the Chinook Pass/Ohanepecosh River Loop. This 32 mile long loop begins at Chinook Pass on Highway 410. Choose between heading east towards Dewey Lake and then south to Anderson Lake, turning west on the Three Lakes Trail along Laughingwater Creek and then north near Silver Falls to follow the Ohanepecosh River along the Eastside Trail back to Chinook Pass OR doing the loop in the reverse direction, by following the Chinook Creek south, first. This is in the east side of the Mt. Rainier National Park and follows the Pacific Crest Trail for a stretch. East of the main Wonderland trail that encircles the mountain, this loop isn't as commonly explored. When you look at the Rainier map, though, the loop is obvious and just calls your name. This scenic loop offers a little bit of everything from rocky, high alpine country covered with wildflowers; to soft forested single track, cruisy and easily runnable; to virgin old growth forest along the delightful Ohanepecosh River, with wooden bridges, large boulders and both rapids and gently flowing bends.

     Kathy says, "I did this loop as one of my first unsupported, ultra distance runs with Deby Kumasaka, Adam Gaston and Angel & Tim Mathis, while Ras was running his Double Wonderland in 2012. At the time, I had figured the elevation gain to be about 6,500 feet."

     Route #3 for the 2015 UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge, chosen by Ras, is a fast, fun, competitive, and classic route in the North Cascades: Easy Pass. This 24 mile route runs between the Easy Pass Trailhead and the Colonial Creek Campground on the southeast end of Diablo Lake. Easy Pass is a point to point route which can be completed either direction via the Easy Pass Trail and the Thunder Creek Trail.

In addition to being a favorite test piece for trail runners, the Easy pass route is a part of our personal history. We first hiked it as a double overnight when our daughter was 9 or so. Then it was the first long, unsupported trail run I ever did. Then to round things out, last year Kathy and her adventure bestie Lisa did a badassed out and back on the route. Now it's your turn, whether fast or slow, runner or backpacker, to make your way through the Fischer Basin, where Grizzlies and Wolverines have most recently been spotted in the North Cascades, and along Thunder Creek, retracing the steps of miners from yesteryear.

     All participants must at all times comport themselves in accordance with Federal, State, and Local laws, as well as Leave No Trace backcountry ethics.

     Registration via must be completed before a route is attempted. Entrants may participate solo or as part of a team. Teams can be independent, self-supported athletes than just travel together, or team members can mule for one another. But teams will not be allowed to receive any outside support from non-running personnel. Every member of a team must be a registered entrant in the 2014 UPWC (registration for minors is free). 

          All participants must submit proof of having completed the route via Spot Transponder, GPS/Garmin/Suunto/DeLorne/Other data, photographic evidence, and/or a convincingly detailed trip report/blog. If you are submitting your entry for speed based awards you MUST provide SPOT/GPS/GARMIN/SUUNTO/DELORNE/OTHER data as proof. 

     Each entrant or team must submit a detailed blog, photo blog, video, and/or podcast segment detailing their trip. The more details the better, everything from technical nuts & bolts (gear list, food/fuel list, pacing, strategy), to wildlife spottings & encounters, to personal/phsycological/spiritual experiences, and beyond. There are no limits to what you may include in your trip report. How you experience the trail and how you present that experience are up to you. The goal of this event is for all the participants to share and compare one another's unique experiences and perspectives. You must generate content!

     Everyone who completes a route for the 2015 Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenge will be awarded a unique finishers' patch (only available through UPWC participation) for every route they complete. Each route will have a unique patch design, and there will a distinct award for participants who complete all three, the 2015 UPWC Triple Crown. In addition, there will be other prizes and awards based on a variety of criteria, including speed, good style, best photograph, best blog, gnarliest SNAFU, most diverse team, and numerous other aspects of backcountry wilderness adventure. Additional categories may be added based on submissions. All awards will be based on total points accumulated during the contest.

     Sign up will close Tuesday, December 1st, 2015. All trips must be begun no earlier than Thursday, June 4th, 2015, and completed no later than Tuesday, December 1st, 2015. Results will be announced on on Tuesday, December 15, 2015. Prizes and awards will be mailed out (unless we will be seeing you in person soon).

     The entry fee for the 2015 UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge is $20.00 per person per route. All proceeds beyond the cost of prizes, awards, and shipping costs will go to support and the UltraPedestrian Podcast.

How to participate in the 2015 UPWC:

1. Sign up on before Sunday, November 1st, 2015.

2. Between the dates of Thursday, June 4th, 2015 and Tuesday, December 1st, 2015 complete any or all of the routes: the Graves Creek/Enchanted Valley Loop, the Chinook Pass/Ohanepecosh River Loop, and/or Easy Pass. IMPORTANT NOTE: You must complete your signup and pay your entry fee for each route PRIOR to attempting it to be eligible for awards and prizes.

3. Email your proof and documentation to with the subject line, "2015 UPWC PROOF & DOCUMENTATION" no later than Saturday, December 5th, 2015.

4. Visit and on Tuesday, December 15, 2015 for complete results & awards.

5. Watch your mailbox for your UPWC swag envelope.

Complete results will be posted on on Tuesday, December 15, 2015. Prizes and swag will be mailed out soon thereafter.

     We strongly encourage all entrants to join the UPWC Facebook Group to ask questions about the routes, gather and share trail beta, connect with other UPWC participants, scope out the competition, and keep up to date on the most recent news, information, and general goings on. Otherwise, please post any questions below in the 'comments' section.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rock Creek Ramble Race Report

Rock Creek Ramble 100k:
A Journey Through Time, Wind And Wonder

photo by Ras / UltraPedestrian.comBy Kathy Vaughan

     Ras and I arrived at the abandoned 20th century Escure Ranch with just enough time to set up our camp. The following morning we would each step foot on the starting line and run 63 miles through the channeled scablands, guarded by huge basaltic rock formations. This terrain would be new to me.  The landscape was open and expansive. The views were unobstructed with no trees; only sage brush, marshy areas with cattails and ponds, and Rock Creek itself meandering through the land along some areas of the course.

photo by Kathy Vaughan /

     I was one of only two women who had signed up for the 100k distance and there were only four men running the race. One of them was Ras. He was running on a foot with a large laceration underneath his big toe and he wasn't sure how far he would make it. Our plan was to run our own separate races, but if he was struggling, he would slow down and run with me. I didn't expect this to happen, so I was mentally prepared to be alone on the course for at least 15 hours. I had run one 100k in a self-supported Fat Ass style along Baker Lake last summer, so I really didn't have a clear expectation of how long this race would take me to finish.

     I had five goals going into the race:

  1. Finish in 16 hours or less
  2. Place 1st Woman in my age group with a pie-in-the-sky goal of 1st Woman overall
  3. Run strong in the dark solo
  4. Finish with gas left in the tank, as I am in training for Pigtails Challenge 150, to be held Memorial Day Weekend
  5. Have fun

     Ras worked to set up the Easy-Up shelter in the breeze while I worked to set up the interior. We had brought our big folding table, a camp stove, our tent, warm sleeping bags and pillows, camp chairs, a cooler, bins and duffel bags of clothing and gear choices, and a Tofu ScRamble I had made ahead of time for us to reheat after our race finishes. (Recipe Here)

photo by Kathy Vaughan /

photo by Kathy Vaughan /

     With the camp set up, it was time to have something to eat before getting a good night's sleep. We heated up pouches of Tasty Bite Kung Pao Noodles and I enjoyed a hot cup of coffee. Caffeine doesn't keep me awake at night, as I have been a coffee drinker for many years. It is one of my favorite beverages to enjoy and it helps me to feel relaxed. It sets the mood and I wanted to sit and mentally prepare now for the big day ahead. Running 63 miles would be a big deal and being in the mental space to review my preparations was the best thing I could be doing at this time. 

     I made sure I had my running clothes organized. I planned on sleeping in my gear as I knew it would be cold in the morning. The race would start at 6 a.m. Taking off my warm sleeping and morning layers and having my running attire on underneath already, would help to make the morning easier. I would only have to drink some coffee, use the bathroom, set up my bin at the start/finish, pin on my number and start running when the Race Director said “Go”. 

     The weather forecast had called for high winds and blowing dust. Some of the gusts would be up to 33 mph. I could feel the cold wind now, as I gathered with the 8 or so other runners now at the start area. The 50 mile runners would start with the 100k runners. Some shorter distance races would start later in the day and the following day, a navigation race would be taking place. Arthur Martineau was going to run the 100k with his pretty dog Lola and we had a chance to visit with him a little bit the night before. I figured he would take the over-all win and finish in a ridiculously fast time. A group of ladies were there and I didn't know if one of them might be the other gal running the 100k, or if she had decided to run the 50 mile distance, or possibly had not shown up at all. Either way, it was time to focus on my race and not worry too much about what any one else was doing.

     It was a super relaxed and pleasant start. Mark Taylor, one of the Race Directors with Northwest Trail Runs, gave the pre-race briefing. He told us we had until 11:00 that night to finish (a 17 hour cut-off), but he wouldn't mind if we finished earlier than that. I thought to myself that I sure hoped he would not be waiting at the finish line just for me at 11:00 that night.

photo by Ras /

     The runners took off through the old tin sided buildings of the Escure Ranch. We took a left after passing the buildings and began winding our way up a gentle incline, into the channeled scablands and open terrain of the Rock Creek Preserve. The guys took off up the hill and I soon lost sight of them. Ras gave me a hug and kiss goodbye and followed behind the other men. I would not see him again on the course. A couple of ladies seemed to be running together and I recognized Gunhild Swansen, an older lady with tons of ultra finishes. I followed her for many miles, and we played leap frog once. Then she was gone too and I could see no runner up ahead, as far as the eye could see. I was on my own.

     I settled into the run, the unique landscape pulling me along easily. I felt awesome. I felt like I could run forever. I was in a comfortable pace that felt sustainable for the miles I would have to cover. As the course was through a currently operating ranch, Eric Bone (one of the other Race Directors), had installed wooden ladders to cross each fence line we would come across. When we got to the first ladder, I took the time to start my reggae dancehall music going on my mp3 player. I love listening to music while I run. It does not distract me, but rather keeps me focused, happy and allows me to keep a solid, consistent foot turnover going. I smiled as the music came through the one ear bud I had in, leaving one ear open to the sounds of nature or other runners coming up behind. I had passed one lady earlier on and had not seen Charles Rose yet, so I assumed he was behind me somewhere. He was an older guy who I had run in the back of the pack with at other races before. I had increased my speed over the past season, and I had now moved up in the pack enough to have him running behind me.

photo by Ras /

     I climbed over more of these wooden ladders and worked my way towards the first of many water drops that lined the course. There would be one aid station at mile 8, and then another 11 miles before the next aid. I hoped to arrive at the first aid in under 2 hours. I hit the first water drop at mile 4 in 50 minutes and felt good about my pace. I didn't need water yet, so I ran past it. I continued on towards the first aid station, cruising along comfortably.

     It took me 1 ½ hours to reach the first aid station and I was really surprised. It was a big boost for me. The course was really runnable, with only some short, steep climbs. Most of the climbing was gentle and easy enough to run up, using form techniques I had been learning about through a fellow Altra ambassador, Damian Stoy from Wholistic Running. I let myself fall into the hill and increased my foot turnover. I leaned forward from my ankles and effortlessly climbed. 

     The wind was definitely a factor. I kept my wool Buff Wear brand buff, pulled up over my head and around my face. I also wore a Smartwool neck gaiter and my fleece UltraPedestrian beanie. I had my Altra shirt and Smartwool arm sleeves on, with a Smartwool mid-weight sweater on over them. It would be easy enough to shed my sweater when I warmed up enough. As it turned out, I didn't need to take it off until about ten that morning, the wind keeping it cool enough to still need the layer. I wore gloves to keep my hands warm and calf sleeves for some extra warmth on my legs. Now that winter was over, it had been feeling so good to run without tights or capris, so I just had on a Salomon running skort, my very favorite brand. The under shorts never ride up or cause discomfort, and the over skirt of light fabric just moves easily with me as I run. Once the warmer weather arrives, I wear nothing but Salomon skorts. I'd worn one completely out on my thru-hike of the Arizona Trail last spring and I have one other lightweight one that is a little big around the waist with no way to tighten it. I like this black one as it has a drawstring to keep tied tight enough to keep it up as the run goes on, and adjust it so the waist band does not settle onto my hip bones causing bruising. 

photo by Ras /

     I had chosen my new Altra Lone Peak 2.0 as my shoe for this first 50k, and would change into my Altra Olympus for the second 50k if my feet were needing the max cush. As a second year Altra ambassador, I'm lucky enough to have an arsenal at my disposal.  At the half way point in the race too, I would know if the trails were technical enough to require the more aggressive tread of the Lone Peaks, or if the Olympus' tread would be adequate. I figured there would be some rock and lumpy ground across the grasslands, but I didn't know how technical it would actually be. As it turned out, the trails were lumpy and rocky, but not like what I'm used to in the Okanogan Highlands. The ground was dry, so mud wasn't a concern. I really liked the trail tread in most ways and found it easy enough to navigate in a fun way – a little dancing through the rocks here and there, speedy sections with no obstacles, and lumpy ground that kept me thinking quickly. Everything about the course was turning out to be better than I could have hoped. I was having a blast!

     As I was getting closer to passing through the ranch upon completion of the first 30k loop, I could see some yellow flags coming up through some rock formations. The flags joined up with the orange flags I'd been following, right at a junction with several ladder crossings. I figured this must be where the 20k loop came in and I must be close to the ranch. This felt good. There was a water drop here and I remembered from studying the course description ahead of time, that there was about 1 ½ miles from this final water drop to the start/finish and the spot where the 20k loop begins. I was pleased with my time and how I felt. I would drop off a couple layers and pick up some Clif Bars at my bin, and eat from the aid station. I like to plan out exactly what I will do at the aid station before I get there, so that I can be as efficient as possible and not become distracted. I got there, filled my water, snacked and took off up the hill to begin the 20k loop. 

photo by Ras /

     Eric had been working on his lap top at one of the picnic tables there, so I had a chance to ask him how Ras was doing. He said that Ras had reported his toe was hurting some, but he basically was feeling good and running strong. I was not surprised that he was still going. His strength and endurance is amazing. I knew he would power through the race as long as he wasn't causing further damage to his laceration that had begun to heal since he injured it, five days previous.

     The first climb up the 20k loop was the most significant one on the course. The wind was howling and I was climbing against it. It threatened to hold me back, pushing at me with all it's strength. I power hiked as fast as my legs could go, climbing along the grassy trail. It felt good to be on the second part of the course. I had wondered how different this loop would be from the previous one. The changes were welcome though, until I got to the most challenging section of the course. This section was double track trail, the tracks being too narrow to run in and the center of the tracks too lumpy to get a good rhythm going. I tried to run in the tracks and wondered how the other runners were handling this section. I knew that Ras, with his feet much bigger than mine, must be having a heck of a time in here. I hopped back and forth from one track to the other. At times, I tried to get good footing in the center. Quick and nimble, I tried to be like a goat as I hopped and trotted along this section, wondering how long it would go on. The trail switched back on itself and this tread continued. Finally, it turned into pleasant single track and descended to the aid station, five miles into this 20k loop. The dad and son team running this aid station were friendly and kind. They said everyone had mentioned the conditions of that last couple of mile stretch, and it gave me a connection once again to the rest of the pack. I asked about Ras, describing him as the guy with the long dreadlocks, and they had of course remembered him. They said he was running great and was in good spirits. I know he likes to joke around with the aid station volunteers and it sounds like he had been doing just that. 

photo by Ras /

    I continued on, now down a dirt road with Rock Creek gurgling and rushing alongside it. It was nice to hear the sounds of the creek. The dirt road came to a bridge which crossed the creek and then continued on for several miles, before heading into a marshy area, with tall grasses. The course was superbly marked and never once did I question which way to go. I was super impressed with this and felt confident that once I was on this section at night, alone in the dark, I could surely find my way with ease. 

     Dark clouds came and went over head. The sun was warm when it was out from behind clouds and the temperature was nice for running, not too hot or too cold. The wind was not letting up and I hoped that it would settle down when evening came as it sometimes does. A shift in the time of day can bring a calm to the air. I hoped for this, but did not really expect it, as the gusts still felt so powerful and relentless. My lips were getting chapped and my face began to feel the effects from the dry, windy air. Being an east-sider, though, my skin is exposed to sun year round, so I didn't feel as though I was getting sunburned. I had forgotten to put on sun screen though, and wished I had protected my skin from the elements, conditioned or not. I pulled my buff around my face and at times, when the wind got really strong, I also pulled the heavier neck gaiter around my ears too. It was easy enough to pull both of these layers up on to the top of my head, out of my way, when I felt too warm. Head layers, are great for this; pulling around my face for protection as needed and easily pushing the layers away. I used these layers for the entire run and never felt like I needed to tuck them away in my Ultimate Directions SJ running vest.

     In just under 3 ½ hours, I saw the familiar spot where the yellow flags join the orange flags at the spot where there are three ladder crossings. It felt so good to be here! I was on the home stretch , completing the first 50k. My 50k Personal Record is 6:42, so I had hoped to finish this part of the race in 7 hours. I would finish it in 7:30 instead, but I was okay with that. I just had to keep moving like I had been and I would make the cut-off. I would stay on track with my time goals, close enough anyway.

photo by Ras /

     My plan was to change into my Olympus, as I could tell by now that they would be great on this course. My feet were hanging in there, but I liked the idea of the max cush now. I also liked the idea of sitting out of the wind for just a few minutes while I changed into them inside our Easy-Up shelter. I also needed to get some more Clif Bars from my bin, snack on chips and bananas at the aid station and make a few other minor adjustments. I filled my water, poured a Mango flavored drink into my second water bottle and took off towards the tin buildings for the second time that day. This time, there were no runners ahead of me though and no mysteries. I knew what would lie ahead on this loop. I just had to keep moving through the grasslands, winding amongst the mystical rock formations, trying to stay on my feet. I'd already taken a couple of falls, once landing so that my left rib cage, hit against some rocks and another time landing in a way that scraped up my shins.  Neither of these falls had caused any serious damage, luckily, but they reminded me of the potential of what could go wrong.

     I wanted to stay steady all day and run even splits on my loops. I figured I would slow down on my final loop as darkness hit, so I wanted to make good time during all of the daylight hours. I continued to push along the trail, listening to music, sipping on my water and flavored drink regularly, and nibbling on bars. Sometimes my stomach would start to feel really empty, so I would take in a Hammer Gel and pull out a Clif Bar. I loved the peanut butter gels that were being provided at the aid stations and found them to be very palatable. I never had any GI issues and really felt good all day. I had used Gu Rocktane on my first loop, then the hibiscus drink from the aid station, later Hammer Mango Endurolytes, and finally, straight coke. I went back and forth, consistently sipping water from one bottle and then the flavored drink with calories from the other. I stayed well-hydrated this way. I never use salt capsules of any kind, relying on salt intake from the salty snacks I eat at the aid stations and what is in the drinks I consume.  I don't have issues with any swelling in my hands and I seem to have figured out a balance that works well for me.

     This race is my final one before Pigtails 150 next month, so I was definitely using it to help determine what I still need to get dialed in before then and whether I'm conditioned for that kind of mileage. Ever since I began ultrarunning, I have used the back-to-back running days format to determine how prepared I am to tackle a distance. When I could run 15 miles two days in a row, then I knew I was as prepared as I could be for my first 50k. Before Echo Valley 50 mile trail run, put on by Evergreen Trail Runs, I ran Yakima Skyline 25k with 5,000 feet of elevation gain one day, and the next I ran Spokane River Run 50k, with 1,700 feet of gain. I accomplished that goal. Echo Valley 50 Mile was the following month, and I was able to complete it. Another goal accomplished. This past January, I completed a 200k Nordic Ski Challenge (read my trip report here). I thru-skied 200k through the Methow Trails system in a 55 hour push, including about 13 hours of napping and getting warm in the camper. After this, I knew I was ready to sign-up for Pigtails 150.  Running this 100k as another test piece for that distance, I knew I wanted to still feel gas in the tank at the finish line and know that I could get up the next day and do it all over again. 

     It felt good to reach the aid station for the second time on the 30k loop. The same teenage guys were still working there and were friendly and encouraging. It was a good milestone. I thanked them for being there all day and went on my way. I never tired of the scenery. I liked the way the course changed from jeep track, to single track, to dirt road, all the while taking turns and twists. Stepping over the ladders changed up the rhythm just enough to keep things interesting. It was so different from running through the damp, thick forests of the west side of the Cascades. It was different in most ways from where I run from home in the Okanogan Highlands, amongst sage brush; through pine, tamarack, aspen, fir and saskatoon trees; climbing steep rocky trails through Whistler Canyon; circumnavigating the tall peak of Bonaparte Mountain on rugged, narrow trail. 

photo by Ras /

     This ground was dry and grassy, like home, but there were very few trees. Saskatoons and willow were growing near some of the small ponds. There were cattails and tall grasses in these areas as well. There were some sweet little wildflowers in bloom too, dotting the landscape and adding color against the new green of the fresh spring grass. It was a very pleasant landscape to take in, all day long. I never tired of it.

     Now I was back at the main aid station, the spot where I would not allow any temptation to call it at 50 miles come into my consciousness. I was not allowing it while running, and I wanted my strength to hold while I was here. My plan was to grab my Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles to help with the climbs on this 20k loop, now that I had 50 miles on my legs, and to aid with the lumpy, narrow tracked section before the aid station. I also needed to grab my headlamp out of my bin and find something more substantial to eat. I was feeling pretty hungry at this point, now just shy of 13 hours into the race.

      I crossed the bridge over Rock Creek and ran the final stretch into the main aid station. Julie Cassata who had won the 50k earlier in the day, greeted me with a high five and a big, friendly smile. It made me feel so good to see someone I knew and to get some encouragement at this point in the run. Then I saw Ras in his puffy jacket and I knew he was done running. Had he finished the 100k this much in front of me, or had he decided to just complete the 50 mile distance instead? Julie said that he had stopped at 50 and then I got to him and gave him a hug. He said his toe had bled through his shoe and he just had to stop. He ended up being the overall winner of the 50 mile with a time of 11:29:18. I asked if Charles was still running behind me and Mark told me he had dropped. I now finally asked the question I'd been wondering in the back of my mind all day. Was I the only woman running the 100k? Yes, I was. I had 13 miles to go and I would be the only woman finisher, first place woman. This was the only way I could ever get a first place finish. I am not an elite, front of the pack kind of gal. This feeling was incredible. I was completely stoked and energized. Mark made me a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich on really fresh bread, and I took off up the hill for my final loop, headlamp on my head, ready to turn on once darkness came.

     I had about an hour before the sun would set. I took off power hiking as fast a I could. I wasn't having any of the serious tiredness in my legs I tend to get during ultra runs. I was super focused as I moved forward, each step getting me closer and closer to finishing. My motivation was empowering. I moved well, in good spirits, feeling confident and brave. I knew Dave Lund was way ahead of me, probably just about to finish the loop. Arthur had already finished and he, Dave and I, would be the only finishers. I would be third over-all. 

     I ran everything I could and hiked steep hills. Each moment counted now that dark was approaching. I could move better in the light. There would be no one at the aid station, the volunteers long since had gone home. There would be no sweeper behind me. This was up to me. I had to stay on course and I had to stay strong in every way. I could not fall. I used each landmark I could remember: the place where the trail dipped down into a draw between two tall basalt formations; the spot where it passes close to some little lakes; the kind of crappy section of narrow tracks and lumpy ground from cow hoof prints permanently embedded. My poles helped a lot in this area and I actually enjoyed it. They gave me an extra point of balance and I was so glad I had brought them on this loop. The sunset had been spectacular and lasted forever. The horizon was a soft lavender shade, so peaceful and tranquil. A group of about five deer stood on the ridge in the distance, their silhouettes standing out in the dim light of dusk. I felt calm and welcomed the darkness that I had earlier been dreading.

     With the company of my normal reggae music still playing in my head, I continued to move just I had been all day. I did not let the darkness intimidate me. I looked carefully for each trail marker. They were now my friends, my guides. With each marker I felt connected to what I was doing and focused on the end goal. I moved from marker to marker,  sometimes even thanking them out loud, now lonely from hours on the trail solo. 

     I had grabbed the little baggie of gummy bears and strawberry newtons from the aid station table, since there was no one else behind me requiring aid. I snacked on these a couple of different times along the way. The sweet treats were little rewards and a way to change things up, whenever I began to feel even slightly overwhelmed. I had to stay cool and calm, and so I kept any negative thoughts or feelings from coming to life. When my music shut off between tracks and the silent, still night became too eerie, I went back to the comfort of my music. Suddenly, a little mouse darted in front of me. It was the color of the ground and very hard to see, but my headlamp caught the movement. We definitely startled each other. It ran off the trail ahead of me, darting to and fro until it finally realized I was going to keep moving forward on the same trail. I startled another tiny field mouse a few minutes later, but these were the only critters I saw in the dark.
     And then there I was, back at the junction with the water drop and the wooden ladders over the conjoining fence lines and where the orange and the yellow flags come together. I had grown to love this spot. I said “Yes!” out loud and even gave a fist pump. I was here and now I only had a mile and a half to go. I picked up the pace and ran as if I had just started out for the day. My legs felt fresh. It's called “smelling the oats in the barn”. I smelled them and I was going straight towards the barn, or the old, creaky ranch buildings, rather.  The final wooden ladder, the shortie of the bunch, came upon me faster than I had expected and I almost felt tears well up in my eyes. I had it now. Take the left through the old ranch site and cross the bridge to the finish, that was all I had left to do.  

     I didn't know if anyone would still be there or not. I even figured there was a chance Ras had gone to sleep. The volunteer who'd been helping all day said he'd pull his car up and to wake him up when I finished if he had fallen asleep. But as I got closer, I heard Ras yell “Whoo!” and saw his headlamp ahead. I ran towards it and then stopped running for the day. I was done. 16:41:23 for First woman and Third over-all. The kind volunteer handed me a  yellow potted miniature rose and I thanked him for staying out late for me. Then Ras, who'd driven our car over to the finish to wait for me, drove me over to the Easy-Up shelter where he heated up the Tofu ScRamble and I got into cozy, warm clothes. 

     The day ended perfectly, just as it had begun and had continued to be throughout. My legs still felt strong and I could imagine doing it again the next day. I'd met all of my goals, except my finishing time being under 16. I was still pleased with what I did. Thank you Rebecca Jensen, Mark Taylor and Eric Bone of Northwest Trail Runs! I will be back to run Rock Creek Ramble again. 

photo by Ras /

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Methow Trails 200k Challenge

Thru-skiing the Methow Trails:
Friendship, Flying, and Floating Through Time

photo by Kathy Vaughan/
Kathy Vaughan & Lisa Eversgerd
By Kathy Vaughan

     The stars twinkled overhead as Lisa and I pulled up to the Suspension Bridge parking lot off of Goat Creek road in the Methow Valley near Mazama. We were about to begin a thru-ski of the Methow Trails, a 200k adventure through the largest Nordic ski area in the country. Just four days prior, Lisa and I had been pulling out of the Highlands Sno Park lot after a long ski together, when I poked my head out the window of my car and called out to her “You know, Methow Trails has a 200k Challenge.” The seed had been planted and that was all it took for the idea to flourish in our minds. We both went home and after warm showers, that night we each started scheming on how to take on that challenge.

     For those of you who read my blogs regularly, you will already know of some of the adventures Lisa and I have done together over the last couple of years. (Mother Mountain/Northern Loop, Windy Peak, Winter Adventuring, Devil's Dome) Two winters ago, we decided we wanted to ski all 50k of the Highlands Sno Park trails in one go. We had an awesome time doing that and were impressed with the diversity of the trails in the park and what a wonderful journey it is to ski that distance in one push. We did it once more together that winter and Lisa celebrated her birthday by skiing it with her husband an additional time in harsh conditions. The following season we again skied what became known as the Highlands Challenge, a couple of more times together. Ras skied it once with our ultra running friend Cam Painter, and confirmed the fact for himself that he prefers running and hiking over long distance skiing.

     Lisa and I also enjoy skiing the snowmobile routes throughout the area that are groomed for the snow machines a couple of times each season. Lisa printed out the maps for us and we tackled several of these routes last winter, choosing routes each time that were an ultra distance. We were ready for something bigger.

     Lisa and her husband Jason had just gotten a new camper. They had only spent a few nights in it themselves. Jason and Ras are each really supportive of these adventures we do together which only helps encourage us and allows us to thrive. Jason lovingly sent us on our way, sharing the “Palomino” for our ski trip. This gave us a home base, aide station and support vehicle all in one. It was key to our success, giving us a place to make hot coffee, heat up soup Lisa had prepared ahead of time, change into dry clothing, dry out wet boots and other gear, sleep and warm up by the extremely efficient heater. 

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     On our 2 ½ hour drive to the Methow from our homes in the Okanogan Highlands, Lisa and I loosely discussed some of our plans. We decided to start on the Valley Floor, ending these trails in Winthrop where her friend Michael lives. We would stop by his house when we arrived in Winthrop and see if he would help us out with some shuttles. We hoped he would ski some kilometers with us also and maybe bring another friend of their's along, Alissa. They had all worked together for the Forest Service during the previous summers. Their company would be nice on the trails and it would feel good to have some support in the area.

     We stopped at Hank's Harvest Foods in Twisp and picked up Clif Bars and Nature Valley Granola Bars for the trail, both good energy foods, vegan, low fat and simple. I had also baked some banana, apple sauce, raisin, and chocolate chip bars which would be good with coffee when we warmed up in the camper. I made a garbanzo bean spread which included tahini, green pepper, garlic, cumin and chopped onion. This was a high protein food we could have on crackers or with the freshly baked bread I had bought at Main Street Market while Lisa fixed her soap display there. Lisa makes and sells wonderful, natural soaps with essential oils through her company Fairy Slipper Botanicals. She brought a bar along for us to use too during our adventure and for apres-ski showers.

     Michael was a really helpful, fun, cool guy to meet and he was more than willing to assist us in any way he could during our 200k attempt. He is a groomer for the Methow Trails and thus was also a good source of information about some specific trails. We made a plan with him that we would ski to his place from the Suspension Bridge parking lot in the morning, after having skied all of the Valley Floor Trail System. We told him we didn't really know exactly how long it would take us, but we would plan on getting there sometime after 9:00 a.m. We planned on getting on the trail by 4:00 in the morning, in order to make it to his place in Winthrop by then. We did not know yet exactly what we were in for.

     As Lisa and I drove to Mazama from Winthrop, we decided that we felt like beginning our ski that night. We knew we had tons of skiing to do and we were anxious to get started. We would quickly get the camper set up and then get changed into our ski gear. We decided to go out for about 5 hours.  We took a couple photos by the trail head sign and began our adventure at 7:08 p.m. 

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     I felt so wonderful as I started pushing and gliding along the wide, flat trail ahead. Lit only by my headlamp, I could see sparkles in the snow and the light against the bright white made it easy to see well. The snow was glazed over with just the right amount of ice. Our skis were loud on the snow and we had chosen to wear our Fischer Back Country skis; heavy, shaped, metal edged skis. This gave us good control on the skied-out, icy trails and we glided along easily. These skis are not for the well groomed tracks though, and we could not use the benefits of track skiing on this first night out. Due to a broken strap on my light weight Alpina ski poles, I was using some heavier Black Diamond adjustable poles with large baskets.  I use the Black Diamond Ultra Z poles for trail running and the weight difference in these is very significant. I could tell early on in our ski that I would begin to feel this weight over the kilometers.

     Lisa and I each had a set of lighter weight skis with us as well and these had partial metal edges, but would still fit into the groomed tracks. I had learned some track skiing technique from my friend Grace who taught lessons at Sun Mountain several years ago. With light weight poles and proper technique, you can get going quite fast in the tracks on flat trail and make very good time. Unfortunately, Lisa and I were not able to do that this first night out on the Valley Floor trails, rated mainly Green (the easiest trails in the system). The next rating up is Blue and the hardest trails are Black. All of the trails throughout the entire Methow Trails are very well signed with a large map of the whole system, the rating of the trail and a tasteful & rustic looking sign with the trail's name. It makes navigating through each of the systems in Methow Trails very doable. With Lisa's experience supervising trail crew for the Forest Service, she became our map reader and lead navigator. She did great.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     We were lead by Orion's Belt, the little dipper, various planets and other twinkling stars into the beautiful night. As we traveled along quietly, only the sounds of our skis could we hear. Lisa and I saw Christmas lights strung on trees in front of lovely homes and lodges. The lights were strewn along roof lines in the distance and when we could see many of these lights grouped together, we could tell we were approaching one of the various places where visitors can stay when skiing in the Methow. If it had been daylight hours, we could have gotten a bite to eat or a soy latte at the Mazama Store. We skied by the Freestone Inn, North Cascades Base Camp,and the Timberline Cabins and were in awe as we passed. The lights felt so magical and inviting and we continued to glide along as if in some sort of fairy tale. 

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     Although we were moving along well, it was taking us longer overall to rack up the kilometers, the “k's”, as we began to call them. We wanted to ski every trail in the park, knowing that when we skied out n' backs it would make it so that our total k's would add up to more than 200. We didn't think this would make a huge difference as we set out on this first night. It didn't take long before I first spoke up, about 3 ½ hours into the night and still quite far away from the Palomino. I pointed out the out n' back trails we were doing were really going to affect our skiing time and energy out put. I suggested maybe we alter our goal. Lisa was on board with me. We are almost always in sync with each other, one of the many reasons these endurance outings we take on work so well. We decided we had to let go of the goal of doing every single trail. We wanted to still go for 200k, but we might also end up just seeing how many k's two Okanogan girls could do while skiing the Methow Trails. The following day was The Backyard Ski day, one of many events the Methow Trails holds each year. Included in the weekend is a Ski for Free day, the main reason we had chosen this weekend as the time to go for the Challenge.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

          We were stopped at one of these large wooden map intersections while having this talk. We snacked and pried the tops off of our frozen water bottles so that we could have a drink. It felt good to be able to adjust our goal as needed, and we both skied on, along the Methow River, with new thoughts in our heads about what we might be pursuing over the next day or two.

     With the Goat Wall to our left, we skied through an open meadow. Aspen trees lined the outer meadow on the other side. We stopped for a moment, turned off our headlamps, and looked up at the night sky. It was spectacular. Everything was so still and with the loud skis now stopped, we could hear the river running off in the distance. There was not another soul around. It was a very special moment and I knew then that the night skiing would likely be my favorite times on the trail during this 200k Challenge.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     We skied on and on through the night, following the map and still skiing all the trails that we could, unless it was an out n' back. We finally came to a spot where we could get back to the camper for the night by skiing along Goat Creek Road for a few kilometers. The county snow plow driver had bladed a flat path, maybe for walkers, skiers or even snowmobiles to travel along safely. This was a nice path for the most part, although it was strewn with some large clumps of frozen snow here and there. Lisa made especially good time along this path and made some distance on me. I lost the gleam of her headlamp a time or two, but before I knew it, I could see she had turned off the path and was at the back of the camper, a welcome sight. I looked down at my watch which I had set to run the time we were out and it read 7:50. Nearly 8 hours after leaving the Palomino for a 5 hour night ski, we were back to it's welcome coziness. 

     We changed into dry clothes to sleep in. Lisa heated up potato soup and we both pulled out our maps. I had even brought my trusty calculator so that we could add up our k's and we each had a chart provided by the Methow Trails, where you can tick off the trails as you ski them. Lisa tallied up our k's for the night and we came up with 38k. In later figuring back home with a fresh mind, I confirmed 41.3k for that first night out.  

     We decided to sleep for 5 hours and then wake up and drive to Winthrop rather than ski there. We needed to sleep and we didn't have enough time to do that and ski the 4 hour trip into Winthrop along the Valley Floor. Plus, I think it would have taken us a lot longer than the 4 hours we had estimated. We both fell asleep immediately and slept soundly. We woke up and had coffee and some snacks to get us going. We arrived at Michael's and he and Allissa were waiting for us patiently on the front porch. We filled them in our long ski from the night before and then we left the Palamino at his place in Winthrop. We all drove together up to Cub Creek Parking for the Rendezvous System, where they would join Lisa and I for a couple of hours.

     We chose to ski from the Cub Creek parking lot at 2,720 feet, up the longer of the routes that climbs to Rendezvous Basin, the 5.5k Cougar Bait trail. This trail is rated Green, but it does climb steadily. We were distracted during the climb by visiting with Michael and Alissa. They were on skate skis and had to slow down to wait for us as we shuffled along uphill on our skinnier skis. We had both chosen to use our lighter weight skis today, knowing that our heavier skis had slowed us down the night before. But even with these, our speed was not what it could have been if we had been skate skiing on super light, non-metal edged skis. They were kind though and very supportive of what we were undertaking. Michael took some photos and said he would post them on the Methow Trails Facebook page. We didn't think much of it at the time, although we were glad he was helping us take some photos for memories of the trip.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     We continued onto the Cedar Creek loop, deciding not to ski the steep route up to the Heiffer Hut. I have skied into the Rendezvous Huts to stay with lady friends for about 10 winters now and so am quite familiar with these Rendezvous trails. Lisa has come on these trips several times as well, and so we together decided that skiing all of the spur trails up to the huts themselves would add on a lot of additional k's and challenging ascents and descents. We decided we would skip all of these throughout this system. 

     At the intersection of where the Cedar Creek Loop ends and joins up with Cow Creek, Michael and Alissa said goodbye and descended one way down it while Lisa and I continued to climb towards the pass in the other direction. We chatted happily, enjoying the day. It drizzled on us lightly for the whole climb, but it only felt cold if we stopped. Once at the top of the climb at the Rendezvous Basin at 3,981 feet, we had a snack and put on our down puffy jackets for the first 2.4k descent that would then continue on and on, until we reached the Mazama trails at nearly 2,100 feet, once again along the Methow River where we had skied the night before. 

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     After having pushed and glided the night before along Green trails and having begun this day with a big climb, the downhill was so welcomed by us that we shouted with glee as we began to fly down the steep slope. The speed was just right and I felt like a kid zipping along the snowy trail. I began downhill skiing as a teenager and those same feelings I felt then return to me when I get on a fun downhill as an adult. By the bottom, my toes were cold, but luckily we had some more short climbs and flat trail with more foot movement, before reaching the crazy long Black 9.2k downhill stretch to the valley. We had never been on this trail before and we had heard about it. We were about to find out for ourselves. Fawn Creek it's called. There used to be a shelter along this trail, but it was no longer being used.

     We traveled along the Rendezvous Basin trail, it having it's own fairly steep downhill section, until finally reaching the start of Upper Fawn Creek at 3,834 feet. We would descend all the way to 2,074 feet. I took the lead. We had agreed with each other that we would take it as slow as necessary to feel in control and that we weren't in any rush. We knew there would be some sharp turns and who knows what else. Drop offs on either side? Icy patches? Debris in the trail? We kept our cool and began skiing down. Our bigger skis would have been good for this now, but overkill for the big climb we had already done and for the rest of the way along the Valley Floor into Winthrop. We have lots of experience on these skinnier skies though, and we did feel confident as we dropped lower and lower. We stopped when we needed to, resting our quads and the arches of our feet, both on fire from the intense snow plowing it took to keep our speed in check. 

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     Suddenly, although it being nearly dusk, I saw a skate skier coming uphill towards me. She looked amazingly strong and so skilled on her skis. She was carrying a large backpack and I assumed she was skiing in to one of the huts, although she would still have a good climb ahead of her in order to reach one of them. I pulled off to the side of the trail to get out of her way, giving me a good opportunity to rest and allowing her all the room she needed to keep in her rhythm. I let her know there was another gal behind me. She had a dog with her, but it was impressive and shocking to see that the backpack was actually a child carrier and in this carrier was an older toddler, about 3 years old. A heavy child. An adorable, red cheeked, dark banged youngster riding up Fawn Creek on it's mother's back.

     I skied on, snow plowing and pondering the strength of this woman and what she might be training for. Finally, we came to the bottom of this long downhill stretch and cheered out loud. We were so relieved to have completed this and now we knew we had a ton of trail ahead to get into Winthrop, but nothing would be as challenging as that descent for the rest of the night. We still had a Black trail called Goat Creek Cutoff, but it would be short and sweet. And it was. I loved this section! It dropped us right down on the wide valley trail again. It was time to push and glide through the valley, just as dark was coming on. We got out our headlamps. A few other skiers went by, on their way back to their cars after a day of skiing. Our day was just ending too, but we had a night ahead of us. This is when the endurance athlete part of us would have to kick in. This is when your mindset changes and you are stoked with what you have already accomplished, rather than looking too far ahead at what you have left. This is when you go through your mental checklist to make sure you are taking care of all of your needs so that you can keep pushing forward. Keep sipping water. Keep nibbling food. Keep positive. Stay in the Now. Adjust layers as needed. We both used chemical hand warmers in our gloves almost the whole time we skied. This gave us a constant source of warmth and a way to keep our hands toasty whether they were wet from perspiration or the snow, or just a long down hill when they aren't moving much. They are so easy to carry in your pack. We each would have 1 or 2 extra packages with us, in case of an emergency situation where another heat source would be good to have. Once opened, each pack lasts seemingly forever, but at least 10 hours.

     We had skied 31k and we now had 26.1 to go. We could do it. We had done these kind of distances together before, both on skis and trail running in the mountains. We would think of it in little chunks at a time. We were headed towards the Rolling Huts and we thought there was a chance that they might still be open and we could get a hot coffee. If not, we at least knew that the trails were all Green for a long time now. Push and Glide. That is all we had to do now, for hours.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     It was so pleasant along the river now. The snow was softer than the night before, but we could now get in the tracks and this helped it seem like so much less effort. We moved along pretty fast in the tracks, making good time. The Rolling Huts was closed. We felt good though and were in such a flow that neither of us cared at all. We kept going, skiing by Brown's Farm, out in the open meadows for a long distance and then back into the trees for a loop that gave us tons of little ups and downs. We decided to forgo the Black Bob Trail, wanting to just keep making good time. We could see from the gleam of our headlamps that it was a steep climb and it didn't take much convincing to pass it by. We had plenty of steep climbs ahead that were not out n' backs. We would let this one go. It was 2k and we could make up for it somewhere else. We skied past the Wolf Ridge Resort and continued along the valley. This section was easy, but it did feel at times as though we skied on and on forever through these open meadows.

     Finally, we could see the lights of  Winthrop in the distance and skied past the Power's Plunge trail that comes down from Sun Mountain, 9 miles outside of the town, up in the higher elevations. We knew Michael would be coming out on the groomer soon and thought it would be funny to see him. Push and Glide. Push and Glide. Before we knew it, we were skiing towards the ice skating rink and it's flashing lights. Bright lights from the groomer were ahead as well, and so we stopped off to wait and say hi to Michael. We didn't know if we would surprise him or not. We thought he might have been expecting to see us somewhere out here. It was fun to say hi. He couldn't believe we had just skied 57k, but we had. Our total was now 95k. It was feeling possible. We were doing it.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     We took off our skis and walked over the bridge towards Michael's home to hop in the Palomino. We had decided to drive up to the Gunn Ranch Parking and sleep for 5 hours before finishing up the Rendezvous trails. We still had about 39.5k to do in there, including an out n' back on Gunn Ranch itself, which we had never skied before. We knew all of the rest of the trails and knew we would have some good climbs and super fun downhills. It would be a challenging time completing this system, but we were really ready for it and excited to keep ticking off the k's.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     Lisa heated up the chili when we got the camper all set up at Gunn Ranch. We studied our maps again and refueled. We got our packs ready for the next morning and finally laid our heads down on our pillows, setting the alarm to wake back up at 2 a.m.  After these trails were finished, our plan was to drive back to Michael's and leave a drop bag there. We would leave warm clothes for after we finished and some bedding to catch some sleep before heading home. We planned to drive the camper to the Chickadee Trail Head in the Sun Mountain system, using it as our home base there while we skied all of Sun Mountain. When we were done with the Sun Mountain trails, we would ski the 2 Black trails that would take us back down to Winthrop and the small section of Spring Creek Ranch trails we would have remaining as well. This would give us exactly 200k, according to our figures we had been keeping all along. Michael would then drive us back up to the Chickadee Trail Head to the camper. We loved our plan and it all seemed so doable now.

     We awoke to the sound of the alarm at 4:00 AM and were up and drinking coffee by 4:30. It did take us a while to finish getting ready and wake up enough to head out into the morning, dawn now approaching, to begin skiing for the day. When we finally did, the air felt good and fresh, not too cold. We knew we would start with a 5k climb which would heat us up almost immediately. No one else was around, once again, and we felt the quiet and solitude as we began climbing towards Grizzly Way. I have great memories of staying in the Grizzly Hut, and it was nice to be over here again, climbing towards Grizzly Mountain and reminiscing about the time I stayed in the hut with Ras when we packed our own gear in. I had also spent several nights with my friend River there, learning to play cribbage and relaxing with a hut all to ourselves.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     We passed the Grizzly Hut spur and continued towards the Cassal Loop, a fun, fast Black trail that I love. We climbed the shorter part of the loop and descended the longer side. We were soon on the Rendezvous Basin trail and would climb back up the 2.4k fast descent we had taken the day before. This was an out n' back that made sense to do and we had no other choice. We decided to use our mp3 players for this climb, the first time we had listened to them. We had saved them for just this situation, when we would need a boost. It worked just right. I found the climb to be really pleasant and go by quickly. I felt strong and I knew we were making good progress. At the top, we would have a quick snack and then hit the Cougar Mountain Loop, another one of my favorites. Lisa and I have skied this together before when staying at the Gardner Hut with our group of friends from our area. We knew it well and couldn't wait for the fun downs. 

     It was just as awesome as I remembered it and from there we turned onto Little Cub Creek for a fast and exhilarating run. Little Cub Creek is such a blast! I have had some of the funnest groomed downhill runs on this trail. It lifted our spirits to the hilt and gave us the energy boost we needed to then just turn around and begin climbing towards Rendezvous Pass, now on the Cub Creek trail, just inside of Cougar Bait, which we had climbed with Michael and Alissa early the day before.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     The climb seemed relentless and for the first time, I felt tired as I pushed uphill. I pulled out a granola bar to help give me the energy I needed and continued to climb. I did not want to feel overwhelmed. I knew once at the top of this climb, it would be a fun and easy downhill along the Rendezvous Basin, the third time on it now, plus the Gunn Ranch Road would be smooth sailing. Just keep on climbing and then it's all easy from there.

     Sure enough, topping out at Rendezvous Pass was a big relief. The downhill wasn't as fast as it had been the day before, as the snow was softer and skied-out. It was fast enough though, and soon we were on Gunn Ranch Road. Lisa sped off ahead in the tracks, while I kept up a slower, yet steady pace and continued to descend. There were some flats and very short climbs mixed in. The snow was slow and the trail got busier. Many folks were out skiing in this area on this sunny afternoon. I saw a brother and a sister, skate skiing uphill while their dad classic skied in the tracks. They all looked pretty experienced. I liked seeing the family out together. Two guys flew by me downhill on skate skis, coming up from behind fast, totally engaged in conversation and having a good time together skiing as friends, like Lisa and I. I liked seeing this too. There was a couple, stopped off to take pictures of the mist hanging in the distant mountains and of the river valley far below. Then I could see the final descent towards the lot and the camper awaiting. Coming up hill toward me was a group of Fat Bikers with their dog. The trail was wide enough for us to go past each other so I kept up good speed, while totally in control, to ski by. Lisa at this time was already at the camper and had the heat turned on. I skied up to the camper door as she called out “Woo Hoo!! Good Job!!!” We had just conquered another 39.5k.

     The sun shone in the camper door, so we kept it open. All the skiers were finishing up now, glancing in the door, wondering what we were up to. We knew we didn't look like all the others. We wore skirts and sweaters, hand-me-down ski pants that were too big and patched up, hand made wool mittens and hats. Only my gloves were Swix and my socks and sweater were Smartwool, but neither of us looked the part. We stood out a bit. And now, set up in our camper in the parking lot, it seemed we had piqued folks' curiosity. I thought they were maybe a little jealous that we were enjoying hot soup and coffee, after having only finished skiing a few minutes ago. We felt blessed and lucky to be enjoying this trip, having the Palomino, and being physically and mentally tough enough to take on what we were in the middle of doing.

photo by Michael Taylor

     It turns out, people were thinking it was pretty cool what we were out there doing. Michael had posted a picture of us in our skirts on the Methow Trails Facebook page, including a short explanation about what we were doing. It became a popular post, and Lisa's adorable sweater skirt in particular, became the talk of the trails. No one could believe what we were attempting. Michael told us no one had ever skied all 200k before in one go. That was just the fuel we needed for our fire. There was no option now. We were doing it.
     One of the keys to our success on these long adventures that Lisa and I set out on, is our team work mentality on the trail. We look out for each other. We decide together on routes, layering options to have on the trail with us based on the weather or time of day, and when to stop for brief pauses to make adjustments or have a snack. We like to have open and honest communication and to check in with each other about how we are feeling. We keep it positive, but are honest if something is really affecting us and we need to address it. We make sure the other has their headlamp with fresh and extra batteries, dry gloves, or whatever it is we think will be necessary as we are gearing up. We stay together, only allowing short distances between us and waiting at all intersections. I really love and appreciate this about doing these kinds of things with Lisa and we were right on the same wavelength throughout this whole trip.  

     After finishing our soups, we battened down the camper and took our coffee cups with us into the cab for the drive back down into Winthrop. We were still on target for our plan to leave drop bags at Michael's and then head up to Chickadee Trail Head in the Sun Mountain system. We would set up the camper, put on our night skiing gear, and head out into the cold darkness once again. Sun Mountain, here we come!

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     It was 7 at night when we headed out to the Rodeo trail, the only Black trail on the Blue side of the Sun Mountain trails. We had noticed that Sun Mountain has a predominately Green side and a predominately Blue side. We decided to ski the Blues first, so we could finish on tired legs with the Greens. We wanted to get Rodeo out of the way. It formed part of a loop trail, the other side being Blue. It was one way, so we had to descend Rodeo. It was the first time on all of the trails that I had felt on the verge of being out of control. It was hard to check my speed on the short, but icy and scary, little hills that swooped up as soon as you hit the bottom. My local ski trails at Highlands have a miniature version of this, but this was crazy on my skinny skis. Lisa was much braver. I took my skis off for one of them, walking off to the very side so as not to damage the trail. I side stepped down another. My heart was racing and I felt a little trembling in my hands. My adrenaline was going. I was nervous. I mentioned this to Lisa, saying I felt pretty strange. It was dark, we had skied a total of 137.9k. My energy was at a low point. I likely needed to be taking in some more calories. 

     Kindly, after we completed that first loop, she led me over to the Green side and soon we were easily gliding along the Wolf Trail and I felt at one with my surroundings once again. I was not fighting off discomfort, but flowing with ease. We talked about what our weddings had been like, and all kinds of other stuff. We did short, fun little loops and ticked of k's. We heard the groomer off in the distance and were assured that he was fixing all of the Blue trails up. They would be beautiful by the time we hit them and were ready for some more fast downhill. The Blue side had a Black trail called the Inner Passage; our route called for us to climb one section of this and go downhill on another section of it. We preferred they be freshly groomed and were happy to hear the welcome machine off in the distance. At times, we caught glimpses of it's bright lights. 

     We climbed to the Sun Mountain Lodge, a huge retreat alongside the trail. It was lit up brightly and some cars were coming and going. Folks can dine there and were still out for the night. Others were wandering through the lit up outdoor walkways. The trails near the lodge, not surprisingly, were in horrible shape: newbies falling, snow plowing through soft snow, ruining tracks and making a mess out of things. The area near the lodge is very exposed and the warm day's sun had made the snow very soft. It was now firming up and all the boot tracks, snow shoe prints and burmed up snow was hard to navigate. We had to do a lollipop loop up there. Some parts of it were fun, but for the most part, we just wanted to get out of the heavily trafficked area. 

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     The Sunshine Trail was pleasant. It overlooked the road that takes cars up to the lodge. We could see cars going by and the groomer's lights again. We just had to ski down this trail to the Beaver Pond Trail and we would be back at the camper once more, another 24.4k completed. We talked about our plan. We decided we needed to sleep a little bit, but not for too long. We had 48.2k left to ski. We would have it then. We wanted to keep our momentum going. We were feeling really good about things. A 2 or 3 hour rest was all we wanted. We definitely wanted to get warm by the heater, put on dry socks and dry out our boots. We could hear the groomer right by the camper once we were settled inside of it, so we knew we had the best possible scenario before us. We would have fresh groomed corduroy we could make first tracks in.

     I had some hot chili and coffee. Lisa had hot tea and we both studied our maps once again. Lisa had figured out a way to do all of the various loops we had left to do, which would include repeating some sections of trail. We didn't mind though, as we needed the k's from this side to make our total. As it turns out, this whole section was super exciting. We started out with a hard climb up Thompson Road, but soon we were on Meadowlark and Blue Jay, going wonderfully fast down hill, on fresh groomed trails, feeling free and high as a kite. It was probably our favorite time on hills. Those hills were just so fun! And doing them in the dark! It doesn't get much better than that.

     But then suddenly, my mind got so tired. My stomach felt woozy. I worked to stay alert and awake. I kept going like that through these trails, pushing on. It's a familiar feeling. I've had it in a 100 mile trail running race I completed and I've had it on many unsupported trail runs with Lisa and Ras. I experienced it when I thru hiked the 800 mile Arizona Trail last spring. Lisa has experienced it too and it was time to tell her that I was getting the drowzies. She suggested that we pull out our mp3 players and I agreed that some good raggae dancehall music would wake me up. It turns out, her player was dead and so she couldn't listen, but I went ahead and used mine anyway, as it was important for safety reasons that I wake up. Normally, we would only use our mp3 players if the other one was too, out of fairness. I also had two peppermint candies with me and, as mint is a stimulant and even the smell of it can help make you more alert, I shared one with Lisa and off we went.

     This worked and soon we were at the base of the dreaded 1.5k Black climb, gaining 500 feet, up the Upper Inner Passage trail. We took off our heavy outer layers as we knew we would get sweaty and we didn't want to get wet. We still had a down hill ahead of us. Fast downhill gets you a little cold if you are wet underneath. We didn't want this to happen. Being overheated also inhibits your ability to climb efficiently, forcing you to focus too much on the discomfort of your body temperature. The puffy layers do not allow as much of a good range of motion for a consistent, steady climb. We gave each other positive vibes and encouragement for what was ahead and snacked on our trail food. Finally, we started the climb. Much of it was herring boning, which is a real energy zapper. It was hard to push and glide because the snow was glazed over with ice. The skis would not grip to the surface well and it took adaptation, from a very slight herring bone in sections, to an extreme one in others, to get the climb done. 

     Before the climb while Lisa and I were regrouping, I noticed something unusual happening in the sky. It was getting lighter, very faintly.  I had forgotten that we were skiing towards morning hours. So much of our skiing had been in the dark, that I was confused about what time of the night this darkness in particular was. Was it evening dark? Was it still 3:00 in the morning? It felt so strange. By the top of the intense and difficult climb, it was light. I was spent. I felt so exhausted from that push. I couldn't believe it was light out now. Lisa got there a few minutes before me and had changed into a dry under layer. It was so good to know she was feeling the relief of the climb being done just like I was. We had the ski down Thompson Road to the camper left, before our final 17k into Winthrop. We were most certainly going to finish our 200k Challenge now. Nothing was going to stop us. I became overwhelmed by emotion and tears filled my eyes. I couldn't help it. I had taken my skis off and walked away from Lisa towards the wooden trail sign for Thompson Road. I stretched and looked up towards the blue morning sky. It was so pretty out. I let the tears flow and told Lisa I was really emotional for some reason. I pulled myself together and bundled up into my down puffy jacket again for the fast downhill ahead. 

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     Lisa and I took off for a 3.7k, 840 foot descent in the cold temperatures of post dawn. It felt so good to let loose on this freshly groomed trail. We made incredible time. We skied a short loop through the Overland trails and were back at the camper for our turn-around in no time. We had steely focus as we got ready for the final stretch. We would start out on the Cabin Trail, taking us by Patterson Lake Cabins. Then, we would hit the Winthrop Trail, a Black drop to 1990 feet. We were ready to pull this thing off. We could smell the oats in the barn.

     We drank water and snacked while changing into clothes for the final ski of our Challenge. We didn't need much in our packs now and we took with us only what we knew we would use. We had our drop bags at Michael's to change into warm clothes as soon as we finished. I mixed up an Emergen-C electrolyte pouch in one of my water bottles, as I was feeling a little shaky. It tasted good to have a lemon lime flavored drink in one of my bottles. I snacked on tamari rice cakes and slurped down a gel. We blasted the heater to dry out our gloves and warm up, then exited the camper for one last time. 

     The Black section on the Winthrop Trail was super fun! It had tight hair pin turns and lots of fast stuff. We dropped nearly 400 feet in 2.7k. We hit the Blue section and made our way to the fairly boring, yet nicely groomed trails in the open meadows near Spring Creek Ranch. There were a few other skiers out there. It was quiet and peaceful. My heels were quite sore in here. Lisa and I had both used moleskin at Michael's and then put heavy duct tape over the top of that. This helped, but our heels were both well worn and sore at this point. I stopped at one point in this section to check on how the tape was holding. It felt all bunched up. The tape was holding fine and seemed to be a good fix. My heels were just shouting at me that they would like the long ski to be over.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     We dropped down to the Valley Floor for the final time on the Black Power's Plunge trail, this time a 200 foot drop in 2k, and skied up to where it intersects with the Methow Community Trail. We could see bibbed skate skiers coming along fast and it was then that we remembered that there was a race going on. A guy shouted out to us, “Are you the ladies skiing all of the trails here in one go?” We said yes and smiled, skiing on our way as he called out “That's great! How much further do you have?” When we answered that we just had to ski into Winthrop (just under 5k), he hollered congratulatory calls to us, as did the rest of the skiers there with him watching the race. It felt good and it was then that we realized the post with our picture had spread the word of our endeavor.

     We skied off to the left of the groomed tracks to stay out of the way of the racers. They would come flying up from behind and blast past us. It was all open trail and we could see the racers for quite a distance after they went by. It was a mental push at this point. We were tired and all the racers and the bystanders (byskiers, if you will), were overwhelming. We felt out of place. My heels hurt on each push. For some reason, the lightness of the skate skiers form and gear seamed to emphasize the weight and heaviness of my own. Cowbells were sounding as folks with homes along the trail rang them with encouragement for the racers on their home stretch. 

     Now away from the friendly man in the red jacket at the intersection who called out to us, no one knew what we were finishing. One younger skier, still a boy, turned to look back at me after passing. I wondered if he liked my UltraPedestrian patch, was bothered by my clunky skis and out of place clothing, or remembered me from Gunn Ranch the day before, as it occurred to me that he might be the brother from the sibling pair I'd seen skiing there with their dad. A man came skate skiing towards me and stepped in front of me to get out of the way of the racer. I had to stop skiing for him. He called out to the racer, encouraging him and saying “Great work! You got this”, or something like that, something like I call out to fellow racers when I'm running an ultra marathon. But the man who'd stepped in front of me didn't seem to want to look at me. He got back across the tracks as quickly as he could after the racer passed and skated off in the opposite direction. I smiled anyway. I always do.

     Lisa was way in front of me now. I could see the ice skating rink once again, this time approaching it in the daylight, this time for the finish. Cow bells were ringing and spectators were cheering for the racers as they crossed the finish line. The irony was thick in the air and I shouted out to Lisa when I saw her stopped at the final sign “We did it! 200K Challenge! We're Trail Champions!!” Sixty-five hours and eight minutes after beginning our quest we had overshot our goal by more than six miles for a total of 211 kilometers. We gave each other a big hug, took off our skis and walked across the bridge into the small town of Winthrop, an anti climactic ending to an epic adventure.

photo by Kristen Smith/

     Or so we thought. Barely off the bridge, a car pulled off and a woman waved to us frantically, yet in a friendly way. I figured it was someone else in Winthrop that Lisa knew, someone from the Forest Service. It turns out it was Kristen Smith, who works for the Methow Trails. She was so excited to see us. She made us feel so special and so good! She took my heavy skis and carried them to the Methow Trails office, which we were now in front of. She invited us in to warm up, have some food, a beer (which we declined), anything we wanted. She gave us cool Methow Trail trucker caps in twinsie colors and Sock Guy wool ski socks with the Methow Trails emblem on them. She took our picture and filmed us in an interview, still “endorkphined out” from the amazing experience we had just had. Lisa and I were gracious and shy, overwhelmed and happy, relieved and spent. Kristen was really kind and she confirmed that we were the first to have ever skied the entire 200k Challenge in a single push. 

     The Methow Trail system is reputed to be world class. I say they are world class in the video and I laugh about this, as my other ski cred has only come from skiing near Mt. Baker, the Steven's Pass Nordic area, the Highlands Sno Park in Tonasket, out my back door, and at Nickel Plate Nordic Ski Area near Apex in Canada. But I know it felt out of this world to me to ski all of those wonderful trails in one go; so well maintained and signed, so challenging and diverse, so incredibly scenic and inviting. I can't wait to get back on them again. I now have some favorites picked out that I want to return to. I could also see another thru-ski of the Methow Trails with Lisa happening in the future. I hope that many more skiers will take on this challenge and see how they too can do it to suit their strengths and goals.   

photo by Kristen Smith/

photo by Kristen Smith/