Saturday, November 22, 2014

When Life Has Plans Of Its Own

When Life Has Plans Of Its Own:
Another Lesson In Endurance

photo by Kathy Vaughan/UltraPedestrian.comBy Kathy Vaughan

     October was beginning and the first Saturday of the month I would be running my 14th ultramarathon, the Baker Lake 50k. Baker Lake was the first ultra I had ever run and my first trail race ever, back in 2011. I was pumped up for the race and ready to run a Personal Best. I had been out on five unsupported ultra distance adventure runs throughout the summer, several of them lasting all night long. I was well trained and feeling awesome.

     With the beginning of October, came the return of some classic pancreatic pain which I have gotten for many years. It comes and goes but had returned 1 ½ years ago with a bout of pancreatitis and a week long hospitalization. Since then, I'd been in the hospital a couple of more times and I did not want to wind up in there again. I was having some cramping in my upper abdominal area that was radiating around to my back. I continued my taper for Baker Lake and went about life as usual.

     Baker Lake went as planned. I saw lots of friends, enjoyed the entire race and took 31 minutes off of my previous year's finishing time. It was also my 6th  Baker Lake finish. I was happy with how the day had gone and feeling excited about my autumn running plans. I still hoped to get out on the Kettle Crest National Scenic Trail before snow would make it impassable and I had lots of other trails in mind to explore throughout October and November. Ras and I had our 3rd annual Highlands Halloween Hundred Trail Un-Run coming up the 3rd week of the month and the first of November, I was planning on running my first 12 hour run, Carkeek in Seattle.

photo by Takao Suzuki/

     Avoidance is a tactic some people use when going at a situation that is too scary to tackle head on. This happens when I feel the beginning of the ache, the sign that I am having issues with my pancreas once again. As an endurance runner, I can ignore pain and push it aside. I can go about my day. I can go on really long runs. The runs make me feel better, mentally and physically. I went about “business as usual” for two weeks, trying to pretend the pain was not really there.

     Finally, I asked Ras to drive me down to the local ER as the pain had become unbearable and was wearing me down. I was very tired and I really wanted some relief. I was starting to feel concerned about why I was having this pain once again. We arrived at the small town hospital and a group of local community folks were gathered in the lobby area which doubles as an espresso stand. It was loud and chaotic as I approached the admitting desk. A young lady came out from a back office and I told her I thought I might be having pancreatitis. She unlocked an office across the hallway, led Ras and I inside, and called for a triage nurse to come into the office. I noticed her nail polish was flaking off and she and the nurse exchanged unprofessional giggles over the phone. I handed the lady my ID and insurance information. She verified my address and the male nurse walked in. He stood at a distance and in an unsympathetic voice asked what was going on. I repeated to him that I thought I was having pancreatitis which I have a history of and that I was in pain. 

     He led me back to the examination area and took my vital signs. I did not like the way things felt. The nurse was standoffish and seemed surprised that I was not running a fever or vomiting, as some pancreatic patients do. Alcoholism is the number one cause of pancreatitis and he asked if I drank alcohol. I have not since my early 20's, and so I told him this. All of this information is in the records held at the hospital on me, as I had just spent 5 days there in March. It did not seem as though he had accessed these records. A doctor came in. He also stood at a distance and never approached the bedside, let alone did he examine me in any way. He asked some questions. I was sure to tell him that I had pancreatic surgery in 2007 and had been fine until these bouts of pancreatic pain had returned recently. He ordered blood work and the nurse hooked me up to an IV. I was given some fluids and one dose of pain medication through the IV. The doctor returned saying my blood work looked great and I could go home. He never looked at my records or contacted the specialist I see at the University of Washington Medical Center. He gave me a prescription for 6 pain killers and told me to go home and stay on liquids until the pain went away. The pain didn't go away. I set appointments with my primary care provider and my specialist. I couldn't get in to see either for over 10 days and by the time I did get in to see my PCP, I had a fever and full blown pancreatitis. 

     I don't like this story. I don't like what I went through or the ignorance of the Emergency Room doctor at the hospital in the town where I live. I ended up spending a week in the hospital and when I saw the specialist last week, she ordered an MRI which showed a 2cm x 2cm cyst in my pancreas, like I've had before and like I thought I might have again.

photo by Ras/

     Now I wait to hear what the doctor says the treatment will be for this cyst. Last time it was surgery, although this time it might be possible to simply drain the cyst through an endoscopic procedure. If the cyst stops causing pain, it might make more sense to take a “wait and see” approach. The doctors are very hesitant to give me a prescription large enough to handle the days of pain. I've been told they don't want me to mask the pain and ignore a serious problem. They don't use consistent reasons or even reasons that make sense.  

     There is one good doctor I've been able to see throughout this process, Dr. Silla. She was the ER doc when I was admitted in March. She is an endurance athlete herself, insightful and intelligent. She was on the phone with my specialist within minutes of me entering the ER. She took it seriously and believed that I was in pain. She was kind, warm and efficient. She was the best doctor I've ever seen in Okanogan County and I wish she could be the doctor that could give me my care during this process. She came in to speak to me once I was hospitalized and apologize for the other doctor's behavior, the one who turned me away, telling me I didn't want to be hospitalized as “There are sick people in there, people with the flu.” At the time, I was arguably as sick as anyone with the flu.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

      The specialist I see at the University of Washington Medical Center is at least 6 hours away. I like to incorporate a run on the mountain pass any time I am making a trip over. Ras and I had decided to do a run to a place called Stiletto Peak before we left, but as we approached the trail head on the pass, the rain was coming down in sheets and had snow mixed in with it. Clouds hung low and thick fog obscured the surrounding peaks. We decided to continue past the Stiletto Peak trailhead and run along Ruby Creek instead, staying down in the lower elevations. We would certainly get wet on this trail as well, but we would be out of the colder temperatures and the wet snow.

     I love the Ruby Creek trail. The creek itself is loud and roaring. It tumbles over huge boulders and settles into serene pools as it makes it's way toward the confluence with Panther Creek where the trail begins. The trail drops down from the North Cascades Highway through a short series of switchbacks and then crosses the confluence of the two creeks on a strong bridge. After crossing the bridge, the Ruby Creek trail heads off to the east and the East Bank trail along Ross Lake heads off to the west. 

     The rain was falling softly now and the sun was trying to break through the clouds. The brush was very wet alongside the trail and I was immediately sopping. I didn't care though and the fresh damp air smelled good and I welcomed it as it brushed over my face. Huge maple leaves covered the trail in a thick blanket that hid slippery rocks and roots. The trail dipped and climbed along the bank of the creek, sometimes narrow, dropping off to the rushing creek below. I ran along easily, feeling joyful to be out. I felt like I could go forever, even though this run was only a 6.6 mile out n' back. I knew this trail yet it still held mysteries for me. I hadn't captured all of it's best viewpoints yet, or dipped my toes in the icy cold water at the point of the trail where it becomes level with the creek for a stretch. 

     A collapsed cabin, being overtaken by briers and moss, sits almost at the point where the trail meets up with the bridge at the turn around. This bridge leads to another trailhead parking lot and a couple of more cedar cabins, still standing. The trail straight ahead continues towards a steep climb into the high country of Jackita Ridge and the Devil's Dome Loop. I have done this loop several times and it is one I highly recommend. It is tough, but well worth every bit of effort it takes to complete. Last year it was the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge course. I completed it with my adventure buddy Lisa Eversgerd and this is the blog I wrote about our trip.

     Ras and I turned around at the bridge to run the 3.3 mile return trip to the car. It felt so awesome to be out in this lush forest. Huge ferns lined the trail; large cedar, hemlock and fir trees towered overhead;  the musky smell of damp earth filled my nostrils and my mind was clear, relaxed and alert. Again I was filled with the desire to continue this run for hours and hours, knowing that it would soon be cut short. I looked forward to other runs I would do while on this visit to the “wet side” of the mountains. Living at 3,500 feet in a high mountain desert, I thrive on these opportunities to enjoy the coastal and western Cascade forests. Ras and I would be staying at my parent's home in the Anacortes area, just miles from Deception Pass and Ft. Ebey State Park trails. I have run races in both of these parks several times and have some familiarity with the trails. I was planning on getting some miles in these parks over the next few days.

photo by Ras/

     Back at the car, Ras and I changed into dry layers, got out some road trip snacks and continued on our way towards Anacortes. The next morning we would need to be in Seattle for my appointment by 8:45 AM. My parents were out of town, so we would be staying in their home. We wanted to get a few groceries on our way there and possibly purchase a new juicer. During my pancreatic pain, I have to stick to liquids and fresh squeezed juice is a healthy way to be able to do this and still take in some good nutrients. Lisa had lent me her juicer for a couple of weeks and Ras was enjoying using it as well. My favorite juice had been apple, carrot and ginger. Fred Meyer was our one stop shopping trip in Burlington as they have a really nice natural foods section and appliances. We got the less expensive juicer and as soon as we pulled it out in my parent's kitchen, we could see it would be inadequate. This was a bummer, but we would be able to exchange it the following day for the more burly model. 

     The specialist was thorough and easy to talk to. She decided I should have an MRI/MRCP of my pancreas and an ultrasound of my gall bladder to help determine the cause of the recurring pancreatitis. It was easy to get scheduled the very next day for these imagings, which was awesome as we had come so far for the appointment. Taking care of as much as I could while in the area was ideal. I am allergic to the contrast solution used for the MRI, so I had to get some prescriptions filled that would help prevent an allergic reaction from coming on. I had to take strong doses of Prednisone and Benedryl at intervals leading up to the test, as well as a relaxant to help with the claustrophobic feelings of the MRI machine. I had a blood draw at the hospital to check calcium and triglyceride levels as well.  

     Ras had a talk to give later in the evening at Seven Hills Running Shop about his unsupported Washington Pacific Crest Trail OKT. We also had plans to meet our daughter Angela for lunch. She is a senior at the University of Washington and it would be easy enough for her to meet us at the medical center when she was done with her morning class. She met us in the lab area and seemed more than ready to continue on to a more pleasant environment for our lunch date. I was going to have to stick with soup, so we decided on PCC, a market where we could do some shopping and each pick out whatever we wanted for lunch from their deli. This is somewhat of a tradition for our family when we visit Seattle anyway, so it worked out just fine. Our other, more indulgent tradition of vegan pizza from Pizza Pi, would have to wait for a different day. I enjoyed a delicious cup of split pea soup with lemongrass. Angela and I shared a yummy rosemary roll as well. We had lots of time to visit and it was so nice to spend time with my 22 year old college student daughter. She had just finished a math mid term, that she later learned she had gotten 92/100 as her score. I am so proud of her and I love that she is a product of homeschooling from 3rd-9th grade, mostly in an off-grid cabin in the woods along a creek.

     By the end of the next week, I was able to speak with my specialist regarding the cyst. She let me know that the pain was probably from the cyst, but the cyst itself might have been caused by pancreatitis. She didn't know. She wrote me a prescription for more pain meds and pancreatic enzymes. She instructed me to continue on the thickened liquid diet I'd already been on for about six weeks. I started taking the enzymes and within a couple of days, the pain had subsided greatly. I felt more like myself and ready to think about the future again.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     I continued with 30 mile weeks during all of the most painful times of this pancreatic bout. I suffered from pain for 6 weeks straight, the only time of relief was during the hospital stay. I began walking the hospital halls as soon as I was able. I continued with my 30 day Squat Challenge, even throwing in two sessions of 60 squats each while I was in the hospital.  I continued training for Baker Lake 100k Fat Ass (the Tofu Trot I would be running with Ras and Lisa) and the 18 mile anniversary run with Ras to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I kept all of these goals in mind. I continued my Fartlek Friday sessions, pushing through strong discomfort and blood sugar fluctuations while doing so.

     I got in a 5 hour run in Whistler Canyon in 20 degree and lower temps with Ras and Lisa, training for our Baker Lake run. This was the day when I noticed a definite turn around in the way I had been feeling. This was the day that I felt like I exited the pain cave. This was the day that I ended the run and had the familiar high feeling of the endorphin rush. I had run well on the final stretch of downhill and I it had felt like I still had my game. It felt amazing.

photo by Ras/

     I spent several other days with Lisa, going on runs in the high country of the Okanogan, followed by several hour sauna sessions in the little cedar structure she made herself. The sauna sits beside a creek and feels like a special spot that only exists in fairy tales. The saunas are always followed up by homemade vegan food that we share with each other and fresh squeezed juice or kombucha. We sip on healing, chilled herbal teas while sweating in the sauna, replacing the fluids lost in the process. Lisa makes herbal soaps with essential oils and the final time in the hot room is spent soaping up and rinsing off with the creek water, warmed just enough on the wood stove. These are the ways I heal from the intensity of a bout of pancreatitis and a five day stint in the hospital. 

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     There are still big question marks in my life right now. My life has plans of it's own of which I am currently unaware. The house that Ras and I have been caretaking for five years is now on the market and we will have to move out soon. We are already looking for the next opportunity, the possibilities endless yet sometimes not seeming so. We have both been working temporary, seasonal jobs since we returned from thru-hiking the 800 mile Arizona Trail in the spring. It has allowed us to make ends meet, but not to set aside money. We want to return to the trail, to hike and run for 5,000 miles, covering a series of long distance trails in the months of spring, summer and autumn of 2015. This is my dream, the dream that I share with Ras. I must maintain my health in order for this to happen. We must find a place to live and store our belongings when we aren't on the trail. We must find a source of income and a way to fund our trip. Our three cats and two elderly dogs will need a well chosen care situation while we are out wandering. The solutions to these challenges will come with time, energy and effort. I choose to approach my life as if there are zero limits to my dreams and goals.

There are no barriers to my life. The gateways to wisdom and learning are always open, and more and more I am choosing to walk through them. Barriers, blocks, obstacles, and problems are personal teachers giving me the opportunity to move out of the past and into the Totality of Possibilities. I love stretching my mind, thinking of the highest good imaginable. As my mind can conceive of more good, the barriers and blocks dissolve.     Louise L. Hay

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Trail Trot Terror

Trail Trot Terror:

My First 50 Miler, The Runner's Trots,

& The Acoustic Properties Of Port-o-lets

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras


     In April of 2011 I ran my first 50 mile race, the Mount Si Relay & Ultra Runs. It was another first for me in that it was also the first, and so far only, time that I have suffered any serious sort of gastro-intestinal distress during a race. Enough so that by the end of my tale you may think that the event being named the Mount Si Relay and "Ultra Runs" is not only apropos (apropoo?), but, perhaps, a bit too on the nose.

     Rest assured: I did not accidentally become the Tim Sylvia of ultrarunning. Nor did I suffer a wardrobe/biological malfunction of such memetic magnitude as is pictured below (fictitiously, thanks to Redditor totalitarian_jesus). But I did suffer a widely shared, if not archetypal, experience among endurance runners, commonly referred to as the "runner's trots." Despite the humorous euphemism, this is a genuine biological phenomenon.

graphic by totalitarian_jesus

     In addition to being my first 50 mile race, Mount Si was only my third ultramarathon. And at that point in my life, it would be the farthest I had ever traveled by foot in a single push. I was new and still learning. (Now I'm less new and still learning.) I had not yet begun any of the fueling experiments that I now find so fascinating. In fact, I can't recall exactly what I was eating during ultras at the time. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say this was during my bulk refillable gels, Perpetuem, and Vespa phase. But I really didn't know what I was about when it came to fueling.

     On the morning of the race everything seemed fine. I remember seeing a restroom or two along the course early in and thinking that I didn't need to use one, but it was good to know they were there. Then I didn't see any for a while. Then my intestines started rumbling. Then they started feeling loose. Then I started to worry.

     I had to find a restroom or a Sani-can. I had needs that could not be taken care of behind a tree. And much of this course was suburban gravel trail, not at all conducive to well timed moments of privacy. So I found myself running from one aide station to the next hoping against hope that I would happen upon appropriate facilities before things turned ugly. I was essentially performing a continuous kegel exercise the entire time, as I ran on, clinging to the hope that I would happen upon a Port-o-let in time.

     I passed desperate miles wherein I would occasionally have to stop and walk in order to maintain control of the shituation. Finally, a little more than halfway through the race, I sighted an aide station ahead, with a Honey Bucket front and center. I beelined with a puckered behind, making one last desperate push to quickly cover the ground between me and my Sani-can salvation. A few other runners were just heading out of the station as I darted into the porta-potty, assumed the position, and, to use the Pirate vernacular, I let 'er rip. And this is where the shame began.

     The layout of the aide station was such that you first came up to the drop bags, on the left side of the trail, and the Honey Buckets across from them, off to the right side of the trail. The actual 'aide' part of the aide station was another 50 feet further along the trail. Unfortunately, 50 feet was no where near far enough to give me the privacy I needed, much to my chagrin and that of the poor, beleaguered volunteers. 
     The initial blast emitted by my biological processes produced as much sound as anything else. Equal parts alpenhorn, tuba, and raspberry, the timbre, pitch, and tonal qualities of the noise I emitted were simultaneously concussive and ululating, albeit in a baritone register. I believe it was the low end properties of my performance that reverberated so resoundingly through the plastic walls of the porta-potty. I essentially turned it into the soundbox of an unholy instrument comprised of the eliminatory end of my digestive tract amplified through a six foot tall molded polyethylene elongated cube.

     Although I was inside this aural camera obscura, as it were, I had immediate input from those outside as to how well the sound had carried and how horribly its import had been conveyed. This information took the form of a distraught cry of, "Oh, God!" from one of the aforementioned volunteers innocently manning the aide station some 50 feet away. There was no question; no ambiguity. They knew that whoever was in the Port-o-let had been either the victim or the perpetrator of something horrifically uncouth.

     After I finished taking care of business I felt great. I had done what needed doing, the storm in my innards had passed, and I was ready to get running again, except for a Damoclean sword of shame poised above my head, suspended by a single frail hair of anonymity. I was trapped in Schrodinger's Cat Box. As soon as I was observed I would die of embarrassment. So I waited.

     Although I doubted I could completely avoid being seen exiting the Sani-can,I had two possible means by which I could potentially, if you'll pardon the contextually unappealing visual, muddy the waters. Plan A was to wait until I heard other runners stopping at their drop bags across from me, dart out amongst them, and feign as though I had been with them all along and had no connection to the unseemly events which had played out so recently in yon porta-potty. Plan B was simply to wait so long before making my egress that the volunteers would presume I was an unconnected third party who had come along to make use of the facilities after the fact, and that they had somehow failed to observe the exit of the perpetrator.

     As it turned out, I soon heard runners stop at the drop bags across from me and I made my move. Quick like a bunny, I burst forth explosively from my confines, and was lost among the other runners at their drop bags before the door could slam shut and the volunteers could look up and single me out. I finished at my drop bag and moved up to the aide table along with my new found peer group. I made a solid effort of conveying the sense that I was a serious runner, newly arrived, simply in need of water and a few calories, and in no way associated with the recent unpleasant goings on 50 feet away.

     From the friendly smiles I received and the manner in which the volunteers were unabashedly able to look me in the eye, I concluded my ruse had been successful. They failed to associate the man before them with the cacophony that had assaulted their senses only a few short minutes ago. I counted myself lucky to have made a clean getaway. And if they were just pretending not to know out of politeness, then that is a kindness for which I will forever be grateful.

     To this day, my face reddens in shame any time I call to mind that horrified cry of, "Oh, God!"

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Running Through Perimenopause

10 Reasons I'm Running Through Perimenopause

By Kathy Vaughan

1. The endorphin rush from running helps to counterbalance the hormonal fluctuations and accompanying moodiness.

2. Running helps to keep weight gain from estrogen fluctuations under control.

3. Running is a weight bearing activity and thus helps to build bone density, which decreases with age and decreasing levels of estrogen.

4. Post run bliss helps to increase libido during this time of hormonal changes when there can be a decreasing sex drive.

5. Being a runner helps me keep a positive sense of self worth, especially as an empty-nester.

6. Running helps me fall asleep more easily, sleep more soundly and fall back asleep again during the night after having awakened from night sweats.

7. It is important to stay well hydrated during times of heavy night sweating and women runners understand this concept and take the concept of hydration seriously.

8. Running with other women is a healthy way to process the changes and experiences of the perimenopausal years.

9. The meditative aspect of long, slow runs is helpful in creating a sense of balance, calm and introspection during this time of mood fluctuations.

10. Putting on flirty running skorts, brightly colored arm and leg sleeves, and sporty running shoes help me channel my inner girlieness.

     So, get out there and run ladies! It's the natural way to stay in balance while our bodies adjust to the fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone brought on by perimenopause.

graphic by Ras /

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Running the Rugged Terrain of Mt Rainier

Running the Rugged Terrain of Mt. Rainier:
Tackling the 2014 UPWC Mother Mountain/Northern Loop

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

By Kathy Vaughan

     Mowich Lake sits at over 5,000 feet with Mt. Rainier looming over it. It's a beautiful spot and it is accessed via a 21 mile washboard and pothole ridden dirt road. Lisa and I traveled up this final stretch of our road trip, anticipating what kind of camping scene we would find once we arrived in the dirt lot. I had been here many times before, but for Lisa, this would be her first. In the morning we would run the 44 mile Mother Mountain and Northern Loop figure eight, which has about 14,000 feet of elevation gain, and is one of the routes for the 2014 UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge. We were meeting Vivian Doorn here, a Seattle area ultra runner who had been wanting to join Lisa and I on one of our adventure runs. She would be camping at Mowich Lake tonight as well, and we would begin our run sometime around five AM, hitting the trail before first light to get an early start on the day.

     We pulled up at the lot and began walking towards the camping area to find Vivian. An older man in a park ranger's uniform stopped us. He had met Vivian and was keeping his eye out for us to let us know where she was camped. It had just gotten dark and she would have been hard to find in the crowded camping area. He escorted us to Vivian, where she was in discussion with a Wonderland Trail thru hiker about their various pieces of camping and hiking gear. Lisa and I thanked the volunteer ranger, I introduced Lisa and Vivian to each other and we all finished setting up our camping gear for the night. It was time to get a good night's rest before the long journey we would take up into the surrounding high country the following day.

photo by Vivian Doorn

     I spent a fitful night tossing and turning in my warm sleeping bag. I was comfortable enough. My mind just would not relax enough to allow me to sleep straight through until my four o'clock alarm would sound. Finally, I got up to use the bathroom so I would have a better chance of falling back into a sound sleep, which I was able to do until just before four. I got up and put on my running clothing that I had brought into the tent with me. I unzipped my tent and stepped out into the cold, dark of the morning. I walked to Lisa's truck and found that she was already there, setting up the stove so that we could have a cup of coffee before we hit the trail. She had also set out a tray of her muffins, homemade with zucchini from her garden. They were delicious and it tasted good to eat one with my cup of hot coffee. Lisa and I enjoy sharing our homemade vegan foods with each other when we do a long run or cross country ski trip together. I finished my preparations with my pack and put on my new Altra Lone Peak 2.0s. I was excited about trying these out for the day. They had great traction and I knew this would be a good thing on the rugged trails I was about to enjoy.

     I had been on both of these loops separately in the past, as well as the Wonderland Trail in it's entirety seven times. I knew these trails well and I knew it would be a difficult 44 miles. When we were all ready, we set off towards the trail head and decided that I would lead the pace. We turned on our watches and set our head lamp beams on high for the trail and off we went, three brave ladies taking off into the darkness.

     Two miles in, we became disoriented in Eagle's Roost camp and Vivian approached some back packers whose light we could see had come on in their tent. They directed us out of the camp and back onto the main trail where we set off again towards Spray Park, the first of the high alpine parks. Light in the sky began showing through the big trees as we climbed higher and higher on well trod, soft forested switchbacks. As full light entered the sky, we began climbing the first of the erosion steps and the trail became interspersed with muddy sections. We were now out of the forest and in the grass and flower strewn meadows of Spray Park. Many of the flowers had died off for the season, but avalanche lilies and bear grass blossoms were still in abundance. The meadow had a strong fragrance lingering in the damp morning air, one of old flower blossoms, pungent and telling of the September season of the mountain. 

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     It was not long before I could see the rock and snow fields that lay ahead on the route. This was one of the reasons we had chosen to run the loop in this direction. We wanted to hit this area in the daylight, when our bodies and minds were fresh. We knew we might have some challenges here and we were about to discover what one of them would be. There was not really much lingering snow and the cairns made it easy to find our way. As the leader, I stepped cautiously onto the snow field, noticing that it was glistening in the morning sun. To me, this meant it might be icy. Being a skier, I knew what glistening snow meant. Sure enough, it was slick as could be and I was glad I had my trekking poles with me. I let the other ladies know that it was very slippery and to use caution. We made our way across this first field to an outcropping of rocks. We were able to stay on this rocky section for a while until we were forced to step out onto the slick snow once again. This time I had decided that I might sit and glissade across it if it seemed safe to do so, and after a hard fall onto my bottom, I did just that. It was fun and Lisa and Vivian decided to do the same. We all made it safely across the snow and now it was time to descend the rest of the rock field.

photo by Vivian Doorn

    I felt good, fresh and light on my feet as I continued to descend toward Seattle Park. There were so many miles in front of me and so much varying terrain to cover. For now, I was in the moment and enjoying the trail. It was time to descend some of the erosion steps through the park, working our way down to Cataract Valley Camp. This would be the seven mile mark, not really that far into the day's adventure. I was glad we had made it through the snow and rock field safely, though. The rest of the route would be easy to follow using the park signs and our map.

     We passed by the wooded camp and continued our descent to the Carbon River. We reached the river bottom and saw that the crossing would be over a suspension bridge that hung high above the river. I crossed first and then one at a time Lisa and Vivian followed. It was thrilling to look down and see the raging, chocolate milk colored river far below. I remember crossing this with my daughter Angela when she was seven, as backpackers, and it felt good to realize how far I'd come as a trail runner.

photo by Kathy Vaughan

     As is true for most routes in the Mt. Rainier area, a long descent was followed by a long climb. Now that we had crossed the river, it was time to climb up to Yellowstone Cliffs and Windy Gap, 2,400 feet above us. We settled into the climb and I thought of pleasant memories that would entertain my mind. It was hot in the forest, but the trail was in good condition for this five mile ascent. 

photo by Vivian Doorn

     Yellowstone Cliffs were magnificent in the sunlight, towering over Vivian, Lisa and I as we traversed the steep hillside below them.  The brush was dense and grew over the trail. I pushed my way through. I could feel some of my energy waning after the extended climb. Now the full heat of the day shown down on me on this exposed section below the cliffs as I tried to keep up a good pace through the brush. I felt ready to sit down for a few minutes and take a break. My water bottles were low and the other ladies were ready to fill theirs as well. We stopped at the next stream for our first water refill of the day.

photo by Kathy Vaughan

     Vivian had brought water drops to share around for sanitizing our water. She taught Lisa and I how to use them, as we normally use a Katadyn water filter bag. While the bottles are filling, we snack, rest and stretch. This method was new to me and took a little getting used to, but once I understood how it worked, it seemed like an efficient way to rid the water of dangerous bacteria. While stopped alongside the pleasant stream, two young guys ran up and we exchanged a few words about our routes for the day. They were doing the shorter of the two loops we were combining, 17 miles on the Mother Mountain Loop. We had the 27 mile Northern Loop in addition to the mileage they were tackling. They looked pretty tired already, but likely were pushing the pace a bit faster than we ladies were. They were carrying smaller packs than us.

photo by Kathy Vaughan

     We finished our water stop and continued making our way around the Northern Loop. There was a big descent ahead, dropping down to the crossing of the glacial White River. Much of this section was runnable, so I set an easy pace on the mostly forested trail. It was rooty and rocky in some sections, but the running was fun and cruisy. I enjoyed being able to run on this downhill terrain and get some miles done quickly. After the long descent, it was time to refill water bottles before beginning a long climb to the Firecreek Camp, Berkely Camp and finally Skyscraper Pass at about 6,000 feet.

photo by Vivian Doorn

     The views from here were spectacular. Looking back into the drainage from which we had just emerged, we could see the long, flat plateau of Grand Park. This is an unusual phenomenon in the Mt. Rainier National Park and the flat, grassy meadow stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding landscape of rugged peaks. 

photo by Vivian Doorn

     It was now early evening. We had reached a point in the loop where I was very familiar with the trail. We were now on the Wonderland Trail section of the route, a 94 mile loop I had completed seven times. I knew all the climbs, descents, river crossings and major intersections. We were about half way through the mileage and we were going to have a long night ahead of us. 

photo by Vivian Doorn

     The trail tread was nice and soft. I started running towards Granite Creek Camp, a two mile downhill run to one of my favorite camps on the Wonderland with a lovely creek running through it. I had fond memories of my family spending a rest day when Ras and I took Angela through here at seven years old. She played in the creek, explored the camp, and did anything but rest. The descent was easy. Two backpackers came climbing up the hill towards us and we soon realized they were coming from Eagle's Roost Camp. They were the two men Vivian had spoken to through their tent walls many hours and miles ago. They were impressed to see how far we had come since those dark hours and a little overwhelmed when they heard about how far away our final destination was.  

     They had about five miles to go before they would finish their hike at Sunrise. They had been trying to find a ranger on the trail so that they could change their camp for the night. Having not come across one on the trail, they had decided to just hike the rest of the way out to their car. They were excited about having a big meal when they were done. I answered a few questions they had about trail running and I told them transitioning from carrying a huge pack to lightening the load and changing to a slow running pace on the trail, was not difficult. I encouraged them to give it a try. Being from the Tri Cities in Washington, I let them know that the Badger Mountain100 Mile trail race took place in their neck of the woods in March and that maybe we would see them there. Vivian had finished that race earlier in the season and learning this their eyes got very big. We both went on our way and the young men's imaginations had new fuel for their final miles.

photo by Vivian Doorn

     The next big landmark for me was a special resting spot called Garada Falls. Here, Vivian, Lisa and I could refill our water and take a short break in a flat spot with logs for sitting. This was a spot well used by hikers over the years for this very purpose and again I was flooded with memories of family times spent at the falls. After passing Granite Creek Camp, the trail became more technical, dropping at a steeper rate and strewn with rocks and roots. At times, water ran over the trail causing it to be muddy and slippery. I navigated this section carefully and looked forward to the rest at the falls.

     The rest didn't happen. The falls were no longer there, or at least no longer visible. The water had changed course. A huge pile of logs was jammed up in the area instead, cuts from a saw proving that this had happened a couple of seasons ago. I couldn't believe my eyes. I was confused that it wasn't there. Dusk was nearing and I was feeling tired. I thought maybe this was not the section of trail I had thought it was. I kept pushing myself forward, wondering what had become of the spot along the trail I loved so much. The terminus of the Winthrop Glacier was to the left of the trail and the river was raging out it. The rock was tinted with red and orange, rich with iron. The snow and ice was filthy looking. The entire scene was very intense and loud. But there was no water fall gushing off the hillside and filling an idyllic trailside pool with cold, clear water.

photo by Vivian Doorn

     We crossed Winthrop Creek and began the trail section that meanders and winds through an old moraine field. I knew when we got to this point that the destroyed falls was behind us and not still ahead. The force of the mountain and the movement, however slow, of the glacier, had changed the course of the water creating Garada Falls. It simply no longer existed in the form that I had always known it. I had to let go of the idea of seeing the falls, showing it to the ladies and enjoying its cold waters.  

     After the moraine field, there was some rolling trail before hitting a second crossing of another fork of the glacial White River.  Now dark had fully set in. We had stopped along the trail to pull out our headlamps, but we would need to make an additional stop to refill out water bottles as soon as we came to a fresh water run off of the White River itself or came to another creek. We finally reached a spot we could access easily from the trail and began the process of combining drops for five minutes until they turned color, adding them to the fresh water in the bottles and then waiting fifteen minutes before drinking. As we did this, we put on our night layers. This was a cold spot and loud from the rushing creek. It was hard to talk to each other while we were here and watching what the other ladies was doing was key to being ready at the same time they were to our progress along the trail.

     I put on my down puffy pants and jacket because I was wet with sweat and the creekside stop in the dark was very cold. I wanted to stay warm. I did not take my coat off when we got moving again and thus I was overheated as soon as we began climbing towards Mystic Camp, our next destination. I got very sweaty and irritable, but continued on through the steeply situated camp and on to the lake, dimly lit by the moon. It was so pretty in here. I wished that the ladies could see what it looked like in the light of the day. We crossed boardwalks and little babbling brooks. The mountain towered over us to our left and other peaks guarded the lake to our right. We continued on, quietly.

     Climbing out of the basin where the lake was, the trail got steep and damp from the dew fall of the dark night. When we reached the pass at the top of this climb, we would begin descending through the magical Moraine Park, reaching Dick Creek Camp and finally the terminus of the Carbon Glacier. We would descend for miles until reaching the Carbon River crossing for the second time on this journey, following alongside it for several miles, and then begin the final climb through the Carbon River rainforest until reaching Ipsut Pass. We would slip through the pass and then follow the easy 1.5 mile trail to our finish at Mowich Lake Camp. The end was in sight, but still so far away.

     At the trail junction to the final climb toward Ipsut Pass, Lisa took over in the lead. I was feeling  empty, lacking energy, mentally drained and ready to have someone else take over in the front. I wanted to drop behind and eat a Clif bar, hoping to regain some energy for the final stretch. Lisa and I like to play games to keep our minds distracted in the night hours, when it gets hard, but Vivian had not been interested in playing a game. Luckily, I had brought along my mp3 player. I put one ear bud in and began to enjoy some lively raggae dancehall music for the final miles. This helped so much.  

     The three of us spread out on the trail quite a bit. It was easy to see the headlamps of the other ladies to keep track of each other, but we all needed our space now in order to settle into the final climb in whatever way we could get it done. Lisa took off pretty fast and created a big gap. I moved in the middle and Vivian dropped behind. At one point, I stopped and waited to make sure she was okay and snapped a shot of some cool mushrooms, glowing under the light of the moon. Vivian was fine and had strength left to make it to the end. I kept nibbling on my Clif bar and at one time had to call out to Lisa to see if she could share some of her water with me. She had enough to spare and I gulped down a huge sip, grateful for the cold liquid available to quench my strong thirst.

     The trail broke out of the rainforest and continued switchbacking towards the opening in the massive rock cliffs;  Ipsut Pass, our destination. The moon cast a glow over the brushy, rocky ascent. The wet brush soaked my down pants, keeping me cool as I climbed, yet just on the brink of becoming chilled. My body temperature fluctuated between feeling sweaty and cold and clammy. I couldn't wait to take these clothes off and put on my warm dry clothes that were waiting for me in the back of Lisa's truck. I didn't know if I would feel like heating up the vegan chili I had made for the end of the run to share with Lisa and Vivian, or I would just feel like going straight to my tent to lay down and fall asleep. I was definitely hungry, so much so that I felt a little queasy. I had depleted myself and had needed to focus on taking in more food throughout the entire day. This is an area of weakness of mine and I will work on improving this so that I can maintain a more even energy level throughout.

     The glow of Lisa's headlamp disappeared and I knew she had reached the pass. She would likely layer up and wait for us before making her way towards Mowich Lake. I kept switchbacking up into the darkness, through the wet brush, and surprised myself when I popped out at the pass after being confused as to just where it was. I was at a loss for words and simply said “Good job Lisa.” We waited for Vivian for just a couple of minutes. The hard work was over. Now we just had to cruise into camp.

     Our conversation became light and lively. We talked about how our bodies had held up, how had our running shoe of choice worked for us for the day, what changes might we have made, what should Lisa sign up for next (as she has never done a 100 miler and Vivian and I both felt like she was capable of completing this distance), and would we eat or just crash out once we got back to Mowich Lake. Soon, we saw the glow of the water through the trees as we got closer to the camp. The moonlight was shining on the lake's surface and making it visible enough for us all to get our bearings. I looked down at my watch and could see we would finish in 21 hours and some odd minutes. We had hoped for 20 hours, but I was still happy with 21:19 when I finally got to Lisa's truck where the dry warm clothes, food and coffee awaited. 

     I turned off my watch's timer and found a rock at the edge of the parking lot that I could lay against. Everything had shut down as soon as we stopped. The queasiness was overwhelming, every muscle in my body ached and I just wanted to lay in the dirt with a rock as my pillow, forever.

     Vivian said “Well, I guess I'm an UltraPedestrian now.” I loved hearing this. She was so proud of what she had done and she definitely had acquired UltraPedestrian status. She walked off to her tent to have a snack, change and sleep. Lisa finished up at her truck and headed back towards her tent as well. I finally rose from the ground and set up my camp chair behind Lisa's truck. I pulled out my Baker Lake duffel bag, which I had earned earlier in the summer after finishing my 5th Baker Lake trail run, and set it at my feet. From my running bin, I pulled out a heavy wool blanket and covered myself up as I began to peel off the clammy layers, sponge myself off and put on the delightfully dry and cozy clothes I had carefully chosen out at home to put on at this time. I took my time relaxing alone in the dark parking lot before shuffling back to my tent, my mind still racing with memories of a long, glorious day on trails around Mt. Rainier.

photo by Vivian Doorn

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Windy Peak Circumnavigation

Windy Peak Circumnavigation:
Rugged Trails In the Remote East Pasayten Wilderness

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

By Kathy Vaughan

     The dogs began to bark, letting me know that Lisa had arrived. She was right on time, although I had forgotten what time we had decided on in our phone conversation, several days prior. I was just about ready, but I had to make a cup of coffee for the road and grab my hummus and sandwich rolls to make up my trail food while on our two hour drive to the Long Swamp trail head.

     Lisa and I had a 31 mile run planned in the Horseshoe Basin area of the Pasayten Wilderness. We would start off by climbing to just below the summit of 8.300 foot Windy Peak, and then circumnavigate it. The route was a lollipop, meaning the trail taking us towards Windy Peak was about four miles, making up the stick of the lollipop. We would then travel in a clockwise direction around the mountain, returning to our lollipop stick that would take us back to Lisa's truck at the end of our run.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     I loaded my gear in Lisa's truck and we took off, hoping to be on the trail around 8 o'clock. The ride was scenic and pleasant. Lisa and I enjoyed catching up with each other, having not spent time together since our last run together, a 34 miler on the Kettle Crest Trail in the Colville National Forest, the end of June.

     We passed by the Similkameen river; numerous apple orchards; old homestead apricot trees, loaded with fruit; the Enloe Dam; Palmer Lake and a handsome herd of Big Horn Mountain sheep, grazing peacefully in the early morning sun. As we rode along, Lisa told me about how she had called the local ranger district for the most current trail information. She asked about each specific trail that would connect our loop together, making it a thru route and she was assured that downed trees had been cleared off of each of these trails.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     We purchased our $5.00 Northwest Recreation Pass, and readied our packs. The trail started out with a stiff climb towards the mountain, so we settled into it. We both were using Black Diamond trekking poles. I like using poles for more rugged adventures, when I know there will be lots of steep climbs and technical descents. I find them very helpful. Being a cross country skier, it comes naturally to me to use these with good technique.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     The wild flowers were abundant and fragrant. Fireweed was growing everywhere, prone to thriving in old burns, like the one through which we were now climbing. Lisa told me that before the flowers bloom, when they are young and tender, they are good for eating and taste similar to young fiddle head ferns. We also saw little Grouse worel berries growing, low to the ground. They were tiny and tasted like huckleberries. They were delicious. Nature's bounty was everywhere. The old burn had encouraged new growth in the fertile soil it left in it's wake. We later learned that the fire had burned through this area 8 years ago, in the summer of 2006.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     Below the summit of Windy Peak, Lisa and I took a break to have something to eat and soak in the views. As a trail crew supervisor for the Forest Service, Lisa has worked throughout much of the Pasayten Wilderness. She recognized many of the distant peaks as she cast her gaze out over the distant peaks and ranges. Referring to her map, Lisa was able to point out many of the areas where she had worked. The views were spectacular from this high perch. It was a perfect day to be in the mountains.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     We hit the trail again, now dropping down into Horseshoe Basin. This area was rich with little streams, other varieties of wildflowers like Indian paintbrush and lupine, and groves of aspen trees that offered nice shade with their thick foliage. The breeze carried with it the sound of their leaves quaking and bird song from the happy feathered creatures enjoying the trees. I love aspen groves. They are filled with character. Aspen often rot as they get bigger, due to growing in wet environments. This means that there are often downed aspen in these groves that get silvered, piling on top of each other like matchsticks. Some of the older gnarled ones that die remain standing. The woodpeckers like these and create holes in them, turning them into flutes as the wind passes through. The white bark of the aspen also contributes to the beauty found in these stands of trees, making them endearing throughout all of the seasons of the year.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     We climbed out of Horsehoe Basin to reach a place called Sunny Pass. Here, we were surrounded by lovely alpine meadows filled with flowers. The colors seemed almost unreal; bright fuschia Indian Paintbrush, purple lupine, yellow asters, white yarrow and other flowers encompassing every color of the rainbow. We ran a 2 mile out n' back from this point to hit a place called Louden Lake. This section of trail was cruisy, winding through these flower meadows, crossing streams and dancing through the rocky trail. We ran into an old timer who immediately introduced himself to us. He went through his entire list of experiences he'd had in this area since the early 1970's. He was in the middle of a training hike, getting him ready to keep up with the younger folks with whom he normally hikes. He was quite the character and Lisa and I had some good laughs throughout the rest of our run remembering our conversation with him. He had told us that in all of his years hiking in this area of the Pasayten, he had never talked to anyone that made the approach to Windy Peak from the same trail head that Lisa and I had used. 

photo by the old timer

     This was a fun little ego boost, as Lisa and I had both felt like we had mostly been climbing, now half way into our day. We had miles to go still, but our climbing legs were feeling the elevation gain we had been chewing away at, as we looked back over the direction from which we had come. We had been climbing over many downed trees, from the first section of trail we hit, throughout the rest of the day. We were surprised at this, Lisa having been told all trails were cleared. We turned it into a joke, each time we came to a huge jumble of stacked trees over the trail. One of us would call out “All's Clear!”. At the end of the day, we'd both be scratched and scraped from climbing over or crawling under these.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd

     We stayed up high, following a ridge line, after returning to Sunny Pass from our out n' back to Louden Lake. The trail became very rocky and technical, slowing our pace so that we could make our way through this section without a twisted ankle. We could see Windy Peak now. It was still far away. We would have to drop down off of this high ridge and climb 1,300 feet back up, in a mile and a half, to reach the lollipop stick portion of our route, before we would leave Windy Peak behind us for the day.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     I saw a nice flat rock, one like Ras would love to rest upon, so I suggested we take another break before continuing along the ridge. Lisa liked this idea. The flat rock had a huge one standing on end behind it, so we were able to rest up against it, stretching our legs out in front of us on the cool rock below. The day had been hot and dry, the temperatures reaching the mid 90's. We had kept well hydrated and stopped for water at a nice creek in the Horseshoe Basin. Our water was holding out pretty good, but we looked at the map and decided to stop and filter more at our next creek crossing. I was carrying a Katadyn water filter bag, convenient to fill from a water source and then hang from a tree branch or log to refill bottles through the gravity feed, while you rest and eat. Ras and I used this on our Arizona Trail thru hike and I highly recommend it as a great way to treat water on the trail. It's simple to use.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     Evening was coming on as we stopped at the creek. I put my Altra visor away, tucked my sunglasses and camera inside my pack and made sure my headlamp was handy to pull out when the light became too dim to see without it. I had extra batteries inside my pack, just in case. We continued through the creek bottoms. The evening air felt cooler and we made good time, working our way towards the big climb we knew we had ahead.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     The trail began to ascend and we knew we had now reached that climb. Only a mile and half, but it seemed to last forever. It became dark about half way into it and at the same time, the trail grew faint. Not many hikers use this route, and grasses were growing over it in places. I was leading the way. I slowed down at times and even came to a stop a time or two, trying to find the trail. At one point I said to Lisa that I thought maybe we had missed the turn for the lollipop stick. I felt like we really should have been to it by now and that we were possibly climbing Windy Peak for a second time instead of descending back down to the truck. She assured me it was just up ahead. My mind was playing tricks on me. I was tired and feeling like the climb was lasting forever, that surely we had missed our turn.
Sure enough, within minutes of this scare, we reached the silvered sign directing us back towards the trail head where we had begun our run this morning. We still had at least 4 miles to go, but at least we were on the final stretch and knew we were headed in the right direction.

     The trail tread became easier and I tried to pick up the pace, running when I could and speed hiking as fast as I could. It was getting late, but I didn't want to check my watch to see what time it was. I felt like this would break up the momentum and give me information I didn't really need to have. Putting one foot in front of the other as quickly as I could was the only focus I had at the time. Lisa said she could make coffee for us when we got to her truck and I was extremely motivated by this good news. I really love coffee and I couldn't wait to enjoy a cup when this night time trail adventure ended.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     My surroundings all looked the same. There were charred trees on either side of me, creating a tunnel, both physically and in my mind. I looked straight ahead, only sensing these trees in my periphery. I wanted to see the thick cover of the fireweed again, knowing this would mean we were almost to the truck. Lisa and I moved quietly, our visiting long since done. We moved together as a unit; I could hear her footfalls behind me and if they changed even the slightest, I would know. If she fell behind to make an adjustment, I sensed it. She and Ras both like when I lead the pace, so I have a sense of comfort in that position on the trail with both of them now. It feels natural and intuitive. I can always sense Ras dropping behind as well, and I usually know without looking what he's doing. If it takes a few minutes, he is likely fiddling around with his mp3 player. If it's just a few seconds, he's probably watering the trail. On hot days, I know he'll stop at creeks. If it's going to be more than a few minutes, he will call out to me to stop. With the right running partner, a run can at times feel like a solo venture. When running in silence together for miles, you can experience the solitude of the wilderness. You can have the safety and comfort of having a friend with you, while benefiting from the stillness of nature. I love that with both Ras and Lisa, I can have this experience.

photo by Kathy Vaughan/

     During one of our stretches of solitude, Lisa suddenly stopped behind me. She quietly said, “ There is some kind of bear down there.” I stopped and looked down into the deep creek bed, watching for movement or a dark animal. Within a few seconds, the bear began to run in the opposite direction of Lisa and I. Following behind, was her little cub. They were black bears, but in this area, it would not be out of the question to see a grizzly. Now, my bear sightings for the month of July total five (two mama bears with their cubs and one yearling by itself).

     Finally, Lisa called out that she could see reflectors down below. She was seeing her truck. I looked down and saw the reflections myself, thinking that we must have several switchbacks until we reached them. Instead, after just a few more minutes, we dropped right down to the back end of the truck, done with our Windy Peak Circumnavigation in 15:18.

     Lisa opened the tailgate and I pulled out my bag of dry, warm clothes. I saw her set up her Jet Boil to prepare the coffee she had promised while we were still on the trail. By the time I was changed into my cozy outfit, Lisa had pulled some amazing looking vegan spring rolls out of her cooler and opened up a container of Thai peanut dipping sauce. I could not believe my eyes. I had not gotten her Facebook message about this special treat she was bringing, and therefore I was surprised to see them there before me. As I thanked her, I opened the container of vegan chocolate chip/ dried apricot bars that I had made. We went over some of the highlights of our day as we filled ourselves with the nourishment we had brought to share with each other.

Gear List

  1. Altra Lone Peak 1.5s
  2. What An Adventure Ultra Bag
  3. Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles (no longer able to fold down, duct taped together)
  4. Black Diamond headlamp with 3 extra AAA batteries
  5. Ras' Western Mountaineering puffy suit (lighter weight than my own Mammut puffy jacket and Montbell puffy pants)
  6. Smartwool hooded mid-weight sweater
  7. Smartwool toe socks
  8. Run Pretty Far gaiters
  9. Solomon black running skort
  10. North Face Spokane River Run tech-t
  11. Small ziplock baggie of first aid supplies: neoprene ankle wrap, a few Tums and Reed's ginger chews, 8 ibuprofen, inhaler for asthma (rarely use, but just in case), 2 benadryl capsules
  12. UltraPedestrian fleece beenie
  13. bandana
  14. Altra buff , visor and bracelet (Always Representing!!)
  15. bandana
  16. Buff Wear merino wool buff
  17. Swix cross country ski gloves
  18. Rain dickie (light weight rain vest that comes built into my W.A.A. Pack)
  19. Food for the day included: 1 raspberry flavored Hammer gel (leftover from a race), 6 Clif bars, a package of corn nuts (low fat & salty), 1 package of mango green tea beverage to add to my water bottle, several Nuun electrolyte tablets, 1 roasted garlic hummus sandwich on a chipotle roll (I was hesitant to eat the second sandwich I had brought as the day became hot and my stomach had times of queasiness already)

    photo by Kathy Vaughan/