Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Kettle Crest Traverse: North To South


photo & graphic by Ras



photo by RasBy Kathy Vaughan

     Autumn mornings are cold and crisp here in North Central Washington. Frosts begin to happen in September and by October, there are areas that are permanently set in frost, all day and all night, until covered in snow for the winter months. Ras and I were heading into one of these areas, the Kettle Crest Range that runs north to south through the Colville National Forest. The range crest has 15 peaks along it and the trail barely skirts the summits of a number of them. It gains 19,000 feet in elevation along 46 miles of rugged, technical and remote trail. There is little travel along the trail and therefore little information about it exists. Ras and I had decided to enter into this territory and see what we could find out-about ourselves, each other, and the trail.

      Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hikers do this section of trail as a part of their route. The trail crew workers we ran into on the trail had seen about 5 of them this season. The trail is considered a National Recreation Area. Horse travel, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and backpacking all happen along the route, but infrequently. The most popular seasons appear to be the hunting season, during which we were on the trail, and winter.


photo by Ras

     Ras and I had decided to run from the north trailhead at Deer Creek off of Boulder Pass, to the south end trailhead, White Mountain. We had seen in a trail guide that this distance was 43 miles. We hadn't seen a trail profile and did not have accurate elevation gain information. We had a map loaded onto our GPS and a paper map with us. Earlier in the summer we ran from Deer Creek to Lambert Mountain, about 18 miles in, summiting 4 peaks along the way. We had hoped to run to the south end on that trip and climb all of the peaks, using maintained summit approaches, ranging from 1-4 miles in distance off of the Kettle Crest itself. We found all of these trails to be in terrible condition, littered with blow-downs. It was awesome to be at the top of these unique peaks, sometimes reaching over 7,000 feet. The going was rough though, and we were forced to turn back as a team. Ras would like to go for that same attempt again, although it was out of my league. Climbing over silvered blow downs, having been burned in a wildfire 25 years ago, is very challenging for me. When these huge trees have fallen over the trail from up slope, along the steep shoulder of a mountain, they are pretty high off the ground. Sometimes crawling under them on your hands and knees is easier, but you have to watch the sharply pointed branches above your head. Climbing over, these same branches can tear up your legs if you aren't really conscious of each of them, avoiding their wrath. All of this adds to the challenge and excitement of moving through this remote wilderness.

photo by Ras

     By completing the trail, we would be setting an Only Known Time for the Kettle Crest Trail. The northern trailhead at Deer Creek is an hour and a half drive from our home, so it has been of interest to us for a long time. I remember seeing the signs on Sherman Pass where the trail crosses the highway, many years ago. I was curious then about going into the remote area where a huge wildfire had swept through and left dramatic evidence you can see as you travel over this pass. I had heard that grizzlies and wolves roam this area. It was at once both terrifying and tantalizing to think of trail running through a place like this.

photo by Ras

     So with a bear spray canister strapped to the outside of my pack for Ras to quick draw with ease, we set out on a cold, dark morning. We were each wearing WAA Ultra Bag packs, mine gifted to me by the company to wear on just such an adventure. Ras had worn his bright gold one on his Grand Canyon run in May and they want us to help introduce these great packs to the U.S. Mine is black and when it arrived In packaging quite obviously European, I was really excited. I know, nothing new on your big day, but this pack is exactly what I needed. By the end of the trip, I had all of the straps and pouches figured out. I was very satisfied with how it met my needs. The pack has a good amount of capacity in the back and unzips all the way for easy access. There is a large inner mesh pouch inside this as well as a zip pouch with a rain shell. The bottom of the pack contains a rainproof pack cover in an easy access zip opening. 


photo by Ras

     But what I really loved, were the front and side pouches. The front of the pack also has 2 water bottle holders which I like. The weight of the pack is distributed very evenly and running with the kind of weight I needed to carry for an unsupported back country adventure, can be hard with the wrong set-up. There is a front pouch that easily zips open with a very sturdy zipper. Inside is a ton of room for shedding hat & gloves, carrying a map, headlamp, mp3 player, snacks, t.p., tummy remedies; whatever one likes to grab readily while on the move. On each side is a pouch with tons of room and the same style of zipper. These pouches slide along a piece of webbing and are therefore adjustable. They do move as you run though and Ras stitched his to the webbing itself.  They tend to slide forward and sit under the water bottles, making them hard to get into if they are in that position. They can be moved easily though, and I like that they are adjustable and won't go for the stitching method like Ras. There are inside zip or velcro pockets in each of these larger pouches too. 

     My gear list had to accommodate the colder temperatures, night running and what I thought would be 86 miles worth of running. The 46 that we did run felt more difficult than the 100 mile supported trail ultra race I ran in May though. I was glad I had everything I carried with me, and I used each piece of clothing or gear. I didn't eat all of my food though and I should have.


photo by Ras

Kathy's Gear List

1. Black Diamond Headlamp
2. GoMotion Sternum Light
3.  Smartwool Midweight Sweater (in my pack to change into at dark)
4. Injinji Merno Wool toe socks in my pack, just in case my feet were getting wet, which they didn't
5.  Mammut Down Puffy Jacket and Mont Bell Down Puffy Pants
6.  One 2-pack of hand warmers and one 2-pack of toe warmers with adhesive backing
7. Ankle wrap
8. pain killers, ibuprofen, band aids & gauze, safety pin, tiger balm, tums, ginger chews, mints
9.  Swix wool hat, fleece hat, Smartwool neck gaitor (highly recommend this versatile piece of gear!)
10. 2 pair of cross country ski gloves-My hands get sweaty and soak a pair of gloves, although in the cold weather I usually have to wear a pair of gloves the whole time I'm out. I did wear gloves the whole time and I was glad to have a dry pair to put on in the middle of the night.
11. Insulated North Face tights (in my pack to change into at dark)
12. Zensah calf sleeves
13. Altra Lone Peak 1.5's
14. I ran in a Smartwool mid-weight sweater all day, sometimes with Smartwool arm sleeves over the top. I wore capris with a comfy Solomon running skort over the top. At night I took my skort off and put my insulated North Face tights over the top of my capris and calf sleeves and this kept me warm as long as I was moving.
15. Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles


photo by Ras

        With all of this gear loaded into my pack and the compression straps fitting the pack tight against my body, I could run the runnable sections for a good portion of the day. The trail started out climbing though and Ras and I both felt like we were almost constantly climbing. We didn't know the total elevation gain until Ras figured out how to check it on our GPS unit at the end of the run. We were shocked at the number  we saw, but it explained a lot about why the traveling through the dark of the night, deep into our mileage, had been a huge challenge for me. 


photo by Ras

     It was exciting to see the sun come up and know that we had a big day ahead of us. I was looking forward to the day getting warmer and getting some miles in. I had my neck gaitor pulled up over my face and my hats tucked down as far as I could pull them over my ears.  Moving fast to warm up, Ras and I soon settled into a good pace. The first time I looked at my watch we were 3 hours in.  When you move along the trail for miles and hours, your perspective of time becomes skewed. This might be our mind's coping mechanism as we pursue these endurance challenges. We have the ability to enter a timeless space in our reality and just keep making relentless forward progress. We can somehow ignore pains, or feeling slightly chilled, then too warm, or aching calf muscles as we continue to climb for hours. It only gets hard when our mind suddenly gets pulled out of this almost meditative state for some reason.  By managing our needs on the trail consistently and effortlessly, we can stay in this zone.


photo by Ras

     I began realizing I needed more calories about 3 hours into the day as I felt waves of low blood sugar feelings passing through me. I began to sip my Hammer Cafe Latte Perpetuem more and reach into my side pouches for hardier snacks. I had made Ras and I bean & rice burritos with whole wheat tortillas and it was time for one of those now. Ras had already eaten one of his and was bummed that he had not asked me to make more than 2 for him. We both discovered that this is a satisfying and easy type of food to bring along. They fit nicely in a ziplock and taste good cold. They can be as fancy or as simple as you like. The protein from the beans feels good to take in and the savory flavor is nice. I also squirted my new favorite hot sauce on them, Srirachi, which really hit the spot.  I had also brought Justin's Almond and Dark Chocolate Nut Butter pouches, wasabi & tamari seasoned almonds, 2 shitake mushroom strips , 1 package of soy jerkeys, Tasty Bite Bombay Potato pouch, sunflower seeds, Gu Lemon flavored Chomps, 2 Luna Bars and 1 Cliff Bar, a bag of spicy seeds & nuts mix, and Fuel 100 Electro-Bites in Pumpkin Spice, Apple Cinnamon and Salty Vanilla.


photo by Ras

      The first section of trail had been maintained over the summer. Ras and I had met 2 of the guys working under contract when we had been on the trail in July. We had visited with them for a while and seen their interesting trail machine they were using. They were barely getting started, but now they were just finishing. We had brought Ultrapedestrian stickers for them and when we saw the trail machine but no guys, we put the stickers inside a bag on the seat. We saw more and more evidence of them and continued to be grateful for the great trail work. Finally we heard voices up ahead.  They were working separate sections by the time we reached them, but both of them remembered us and both were surprised to see Ras with his dreadlocks down this time, rather than tied up on top of his head . The older and more talkative of the two, said when he saw us in the distance he thought it might be us because of the colorful clothing which he said was “our thing”.  These guys have done excellent trail clearing on about 12 miles of the first section of trail heading north to south.


photo by Ras

     After seeing the trail workers, we reached an exposed and windy campsite and trail intersection. We had about 30 miles to go and we were now on unmaintained trail. We could definitely feel the difference. The views were amazing all around. The tamarack in the height of their autumn color were the standout. Other foliage like vine maple, alder, aspen, blueberry and grasses were all golden, red or orange & brown. At times we were in forest with old fir and pine trees. Other sections of trail took us through rocky areas, along grassy shoulders of the peaks along the crest and through burn zones, exposed, with huge silvered trees blocking our way. These trees were slippery with frost and climbing over them was hard.  Sometimes I shimmied under, other times I clambered over the top in some very interesting and most likely, comical ways for Ras to see. He would go ahead of me and break branches out of the way if he could to help make it a little bit easier. The worst section had these downed giants piled up along a steep slope with snow underneath. It was rugged and difficult, making it all the more awesome to be out there. 


photo by Ras

     Water sources along the Kettle Crest are few and far between. When Ras and I ran the trail in July, we reached two good creeks at about 11 miles. We were ready for water when we reached this point, but these creeks were now just muddy trickles. We kept going, remembering the developed spring at the base of Lambert Mountain. As we approached the spot where the spring was, I noticed I did not hear any water running. Unfortunately, the spring was frozen. We continued on. As we climbed higher along the trail, we reached enough snow to fill our water bottles and wait for it to melt from our body heat. This is what we'd have to drink until we reached the next creek or developed spring. We also hoped that the other springs would not be frozen. The map showed these springs and we had read about them in the trail guide. When we reached the next spring near Jungle Hill, we filled our bottles. The spring was simply a pipe coming off of a steep hillside with a little stream of water coming from it. It was enough though and we were very grateful to have come to it.  We found one more spring like this near the Snow Peak cabin.  The area was unsheltered and blustery, so our stop was fairly short, but we were happy to have enough water now.


photo by Kathy Vaughan

     The climb up to Copper Butte at 7,140 feet reaches the highest point on the trail. This was a stiff climb and the summit is an interesting spot. There were many cairn piles, old scraps of metal, a wooden cross and expansive views of the Kettle Range. It was a cool place to be and I felt like such a small part of the universe. 


photo by Ras

     We wanted to get as much mileage in before dark as possible and therefore took no substantial breaks during the day. We were working our way south along the crest, knowing that Highway 20 would be a big land mark we would cross, possibly around dark. We at first naively thought we could make it to the turn around by dusk and head north again to complete an out n' back. By this point, we knew a point-to-point trip was becoming our reality and it would have enough of its own challenges. Just after dark, we did hit the highway and it was lonely there this time of night. I sat on a stump while Ras found where the trail took off on the south side of the highway. It was pleasant while the moon shone down on me. I turned off my headlamp and snacked on some nuts. I enjoyed this quiet moment alone along the only part of the trail hitting road access. Soon I heard a hoot and it was time for me to get up and hike up the highway toward Ras' lights and the trail taking us back into the wilderness. 


photo by Ras

      From here, the trail now climbed to reach the high shoulder of Sherman Peak at 7,011 feet. There is a loop trail that encircles the mountain and we would follow along one half of that loop, shouldering the steep slope of the peak. We climbed higher and higher in the dark night and reached snow again. Sometimes we climbed straight up snowy trail, crunchy though, providing stable footing. The wind howled through the trees and the trees themselves croaked and whined. It was eerie and exhilarating  Now that we had reached the highway, our next big land mark would be the Snow Peak Cabin, just off of the trail. We both had separately been thinking a lot about the cabin. We had already begun to find little places in the trees or at the base of a large rock to sit down and cuddle together to rest. Sometimes we were falling asleep for 10 minutes or so. Sometimes we were just resting or snacking. It was cold enough to get us back up and moving again. But as I thought of the cabin and the fact that surely it must have a wood stove and a wood supply and that it most likely would be empty in this quiet part of the country. I wanted to go inside and build a fire, warm up, rest, eat and dry out my sweaty layers. But I also knew that would be highly dangerous to the completion of our point-to-point journey and possible OKT on this trail I'd been moving along for hours already. 

photo by Ras

     When we got to the cabin, I boldly walked towards it even with my headlamp shining in the windows. I wanted to see if anyone was inside, and yet I didn't. I knew better. Ras was more resilient and stayed on the cabin approach trail. He called out to me and asked if I was looking for an outhouse. We obviously had not communicated with each other about what we would do when we got to the cabin.  I turned and walked backed towards Ras, away from the cabin and the possible warmth, not knowing if anyone was sleeping inside or not. Having not smelled woodstove smoke, I felt like it was empty. It seemed empty. We left it behind and with strength forwarded on towards our goal.


photo by Ras

     Sometimes  I would look at my watch to see how many more hours of darkness were left or sometimes I would try to figure out how many miles might lie ahead. But mostly I just moved on in the darkness, enamored of the moonlight and the ever changing scene around me. After Snow Peak, we still had 3 more peaks to skirt high up on their shoulders. White Mountain would be the final one and it was in this area where I had read in the trail guide that several confirmed grizzly sightings had occurred. Oddly, I didn't feel nervous about that fact now and I felt indifferent to the darkness and what wildlife might be moving around in it. I felt safe and protected in front of Ras on the trail.


photo by Ras

     At times the wind, climbs and exposure felt so intense in combination. I couldn't believe I was out here in this environment, in the dark of night. I could feel the night progressing and soon saw a brightening in the distant horizon. The sun would rise as our long descent from our final climb came to an end. We  hiked forever along a very steep shoulder with a drop-off to our right. The trail was grassy and very scant. Cattle had moved through here and left huge cow pies. We followed these and stopped several times to make sure we were still heading the right way. Sometimes I would become suddenly startled at something, feeling very tired and almost dreamy.  More blow downs littered the path. No trail maintenance had happened in here for many years.  As we descended lower, the forest became damp and very fragrant. The air changed and the trail twisted and turned on level ground. It was getting lighter, we were getting closer to the finish of the trail and everything felt very surreal.  Suddenly, we saw two headlamps. Hunters were just setting out on this crisp morning, rifles slung over their shoulders and bright orange vests visible in the dim light of pre -dawn.  It was a father and son and they were more startled by us, than we were by them. They hadn't expected anyone and hadn't seen a car in the parking lot. We exchanged shocked good mornings , told them we'd seen not one deer on the entire trail after they had asked and then, anti climatically, exited the trail. Thus we established the Fastest Known Time and Only Known Time for the Unsupported Kettle Crest Traverse, North to South, via the Kettle Crest Trail #13 of 23 hours 56 minutes.


photo by Ras

     I had imagined building a big campfire and warming up. I thought I might take a nap and then somehow figure out how we'd get from this lonely trailhead  to our car on Boulder Pass, at least 50 miles away.  I knew we were about 20 miles deep in on Forest Service Road. The lot had a little area with a large fir tree, encircled in big rocks. An old wooden sign still stood, although it had been shot several times. Nothing was posted on the board. The ground inside was grassy and frozen, but it seemed like the best place to set up a nest for a couple of hours. Ras put on his puffy pants, ate a Tasty Bite pouch and immediately fell asleep. Frost built up on his mustache and I snuggled up against him for warmth. I looked at the map and saw clearly what our reality was. I couldn't keep warm enough or be still, because of the aching and throbbing in my feet, so sleeping wasn't an option for me.  I kept having to adjust my position to become comfortable again. I was happy Ras was so relaxed though and took the time to let the shock of our adventure sink in. I drank a bunch of water and had some snacks. I opened up the hand warmers and tucked them in the pockets of my puffy jacket so that I could hold them when I wanted to warm up a little bit. I was pleased that I had everything I needed with me. Ras obviously did too.


photo by Ras

      When Ras awoke after an hour of rest, we put our packs on and hit the Forest Service Road. It was hard to get moving again. We were stiff and cold. Our feet hurt and the hard road was a mixed blessing. It was nice to not have any obstacles and a straightforward path to follow, no blow downs, snow or rocks. There was dampness to the air down here and many fall colors in the deciduous forest. I felt good. I wasn't stressed out about how this day would play out. I knew we would just hike and hope for a ride, although a ride was highly unlikely. We would have to get to Highway 20 first, about 15 miles away. Our car was not on Highway 20 though, so we would have to hitchhike to the next northern pass where our car actually was. The chances of someone going this route were highly unlikely. We decided when we got there, we would first just try to hitch a ride to the closest town, Republic. 

     We took many rests on grassy benches along the road. One time we both laid back on our soft packs and fell asleep. This was  2 hours after we left the trail head. I awoke abruptly to the sound of a truck. I awoke Ras and he ran out into the road and waved his arms. The young guy stopped, smiled cautiously, looked Ras up and down and agreed to take us down to the bottom of the road anyway, where he then had to head in the opposite direction. His hunting partner in the front seat mentioned that they were in a hurry, but the driver seemed like he wanted to help us out. We climbed in the back, pretty happy at this bit of progress. We both noticed the sticker at the same time on his back window that read “If its brown, its down.” As vegans in a desperate situation, we just laughed and passed no judgement. As hunters would be our only allies today in this neck of the woods, we wanted them to also not be passing any judgement upon us as we stuck our thumbs out longingly.

     This ride got us about 3 more miles down the road, but we hopped out and thanked the driver. He looked Ras up and down one more time, smiled at me and went on his way. Now we knew we could just sit and wait some more, have a snack and then hope for our next ride. We did this and then began hiking uphill along the road for what we thought would likely be a 10 miler to the highway. We started laughing and talking and soon forgot we were hoping to catch a ride. After about an hour, another hunter pulled up and Ras waved him down. This guy had a truck full with him, all in camo and bright orange vests. He was a local and really helpful. He has hiked the Kettle Crest and hunted along it for years. He let us hop in the back and took us all the way to the highway. It felt so good to sit in the back of the truck, the wind blowing in our faces, camo backpacks at our sides, belonging to the hunters who hadn't had a successful day.


photo by Ras

     Now at the highway, we thought we would really have a hard time catching a ride. We made ourselves look as presentable as we could and kept smiles on our faces, or so we thought. We'd been there about 15 minutes and had about 15 vehicles pass us. A truck went by and I smiled at the 2 ladies inside. They passed and I dropped my head, thinking it was going to be a long day. It would be cold again at night and what kind of a ride would we actually end up getting anyway? Would it be safe? Just as I was thinking all of these thoughts, the two ladies pulled up in their pickup and invited us to hop inside. They had seen a disappointed look on my face as they passed and felt bad. They were out on a fall drive along the mountain pass and would gladly take us all the way to our car, offering to stop in Republic so we could get coffee. We all chatted like we were old friends and soon we were back at our car. 


photo by Kathy Vaughan

     After roll starting the Subaru we were on our way home.  I sat in the comfortable front seat of the car, enjoying the feeling of stretching my legs out in front of me and basking in the joy of a hard physical effort accomplished.  I knew the Kettle Crest Traverse would be one of the harder physical pushes I had ever pursued. Its hard to know ahead of time where that intense effort will take you mentally and spiritually. One of the reasons that I return to these challenges is to reach the point of what I think might be my limit and then push beyond it.  The result is always one of growth, healing and change. 



4 comments:

  1. All I can say is WOW!!!!! One thing that would be interesting to hear in future posts is how both of you train for these expedition/runs...do you have a specific training plan and schedule or is your running organic in that you just put in miles and miles and miles of running.

    Anyway congrats. You are both inspirations and are slowly leading me away from the 'race events' to FKT's and running for the pure pleasure of the miles under my feet.
    Bon chance est a bientot.
    Peter

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Peter! I'm glad you inspired to set out on your own running adventures that are about running for the pleasure of running. I will include training in my future blogs-thanks for the suggestion. Much of Ras' running is about him putting in miles and miles while he pursues the adventures themselves. He works full time as a carpenter which is very hard physical labor. This keeps him strong. Most weekends, we will do a long run together, a planned ultra race, or a bigger adventure like the Kettle Crest. I loosely follow a training plan during the week, just getting out consistently and running trails that have lots of hills so that I am including hill training in almost every run I do. I have a set mileage goal per week and then decide on which routes I want to do, making sure the routes will total the mileage goal. Enjoy your running and yes, for the pure pleasure of miles under your feet!

      Delete
  2. I have been following this blog for a while now and have really appreciated the lack of focus you both have on winning. I love the OKT concept you both embrace. It falls right in line with my personal adventure planning. As an aspiring vegan it is really encouraging to read your snack lists and see that an Ital diet can work for high energy output lifestyles. I love reading your posts so much I thought I would share something I wrote about being outside with you.
    Empty Mountain
    by joey
    I sit here on mountain side, breathing
    I take a sip from waterfall
    Nibbling on fresh fruits and veggies
    Listening to eagle mother flap and sing
    People ask me on the trail if there is a waterfall at all
    I cannot but say, “Yes, keep going, it’s up there”
    Though I want to tell them that the trail is difficult,
    I also yearn to tell them
    of the sweet wild grapes, raspberries and strawberries
    Mushrooms, sorrel, dandelions, paint brush greens and sage
    The food the trail gives is born from that waterfall you seek!
    And is scattered about your feet even now
    I want to show them the tiny rainbows in each fold of water
    As it rushes through the flumes of smoothed granite gneiss
    But it takes a different kind of eye to see this subtle magic
    The eyes that perceive your dreams and give form to your ideas
    We all have this vision, but few practice seeing the waking world
    Through the eyes that do not see duality.
    I long to sing the waterfalls’ song to them
    But the language of magic is hard to hear over the sound of thoughts
    This mountain and its waterfall are empty vessels
    Filling up with whatever you have in your heart
    Love, joy, curiosity, fear, loneliness, anger
    Whatever you bring with you is all that you will find
    To bring nothing with you is the only way to find the waterfall

    ReplyDelete
  3. Joseph-I love this poem! Thank you so much for sharing! "I also yearn to tell them of the sweet wild grapes, raspberries and strawberries Mushrooms, sorrel, dandelions, paint brush greens and sage The food the trail gives is born from that waterfall you seek!" The Ital bounty! I'm glad you enjoy following our blogs and Ras and I will both continue to share our adventure stories and the insights we gain from these. Thanks!!

    ReplyDelete