Sunday, January 11, 2015

Baker Lake New Year's Eve Run

Baker Lake New Year's Eve Run:
A Frigid 50k in a Frozen Forest

photo by Kathy Vaughan/UltraPedestrian.comBy Kathy Vaughan

     The rhythmic sound of crunching footsteps and heavy breathing were all that I could hear as the beam of my headlamp led me off into the distance along the winding trail. There was a frozen world all around me, but I could only see what was just ahead. Barely ten minutes into the run, I crossed the Baker River on a snowed over suspension bridge and continued towards the sounds of rushing creeks ahead in the darkness.

     Ras and I had camped at Kulshan Campground the night before, staying warm under layers of sleeping bags and blankets in the single digit temperatures. We awoke at 2:30 in the morning to start heating water to fill two thermoses of coffee, one for either end of the 15.5 mile out-and-back trail we planned on running four times. We would have a change of clothes, food and water at both ends as well. We were all set to run the self-supported Baker Lake 100k Fat Ass. 

Watch 'Out Of Darkness', the companion video to this trip report.

     First, we had to drive to the Baker River Trailhead at the other end of our out-and-back route to begin. Our first leg would be running back towards our awaiting camp. We parked the car and made our final preparations. It was now time to start. When we returned to the car in the afternoon, we would have completed 31.5 miles of our intended 63 mile distance for the day.

     As we crossed more and more creeks along the trail, we began to see how much they were slowing us down. Many were swollen and braided. The crossings were tricky and took time. The rocks were glazed over with slick ice and so we had to test each rock before we could trust it. The creek crossings were so icy and treacherous that the local fauna was using the bridges instead of getting their feet wet. This was evidenced by almost perfect bobcat prints melted into the icy bridge surfaces by warm feline paws. One creek we crossed by shimmying over a mossy, slanted log and another one Ras had to throw a huge rock in to use as a way to step up to a larger boulder. This was taking a lot of energy and I started realizing doing this for all of the creeks, for four out-and-backs along this trail, was going to become daunting and maybe even dangerous. Slipping into one of these creeks and getting soaked in cold temperatures like we were experiencing on the trail could quickly become a life or death situation. 

photo by Ras/

     In between crossings and icy patches on the trail, I tried to pick up the pace and run strong. The dark didn't slow me down on the smoother sections of single track and I tried to keep up a good tempo on sections where I had to pick my way through rocks. Ras followed behind and soon we had some miles under our belts. The sky stayed pitch black forever it seemed and stars twinkled above. Finally, the sky lightened in the distance and soon the snowy white peak of Mt. Baker appeared majestically on the opposite side of the lake. I couldn't wait for this light in the sky created by the rising sun to bring a rise in the day's temperature. The cold made it so we kept moving well, not wanting to stop for even the slightest minute. My merino wool under layer was beginning to feel damp and I planned on changing into a dry one as soon as I got to the camp. I kept my wool buff pulled around my face, an additional wool hat on my head and the hoods from my sweater and jacket pulled up over my head as well. 

     As we moved along the trail, we were also slowed by many blow downs and debris. Some trees were huge to climb over; some still had thick branches we had to push and crawl our way through and still others had frozen, slick surfaces, making stepping around and over them challenging.  

    This was the seventh time I have run this trail, one other time as a 100k Fat Ass in the summer, and I knew it pretty well. There were definite landmarks I knew to look for and we were passing by familiar established camps. I had made it through all of those miles of single track and creek crossings without soaking my feet, but I made the wrong choice about what way to head through a flooded section on the road and soaked my right foot all the way through not even two miles from our turn around point. I would now be changing into dry socks as well and trying to dry my Altra Lone Peak 2.0 in the bathroom at the campground, using the hand blow dryer. I loved that feature of this campground bathroom and had looked forward to getting warm in there for a few minutes anyway.

photo by Ras/

     After about 4 hours of running, Ras and I got to our First Up shelter. We each grabbed what we needed from our supplies and headed into our designated bathrooms to do what we needed in order to head back out into the winter weather. I poured myself coffee from the thermos, grabbed some baked Thai seasoned tofu and my dry sweater and socks. I pulled my down puffy from my pack to help keep me warm while I ate and dried my shoes and Buff, damp from my condensation. I peaked my head out the door to see if Ras was ready, and continued with my stuff until he was done. Then we put what we needed back away in our Easy Up shelter and began our climb back up the road towards the Baker Dam and the single track trail that would take us to Baker River and our car of supplies.

     We saw a backpacker heading onto the single track too, just as we approached it after our 1 ¾ mile climb. He was pretty loaded down and looked to be in for a big adventure. After exchanging friendly greetings with him, it seemed like he was just going out to spend New Year's Eve alone in the woods, a great way to bring in the New Year. We wished him well and trotted off down the trail.

     We were listening to our Mp3 players now and not visiting much. The daytime temperatures were noticeably warmer and even comfortable. I was down to a single Smartwool, with an additional wool sweater tied around my waist to put on if needed, and to help keep my backside warmer. It worked pretty well. We hit a really nice sunny patch, complete with mossy sitting logs and decided to take advantage of this moment of warmth. We soaked in the sun while having a snack and then continued on our way. I enjoyed this section and this time of day quite a bit and I was really feeling confident about our ability to complete the mileage. There are fewer creek crossings on the end of the trail closer to the Kulshan Campground and the going was quicker and smoother.

photo by Ras/

     But after about 3 ½ more hours, the sun dipped lower in the sky, the creek crossings increased and the coming night would bring on even colder temperatures once again. I kept pushing myself along the single track, running up gentle hills and letting my pace open up on downhills. I became used to the frosty, crunchy surface, in contrast to the frozen dirt or icy patches. Each section took different care and it made for exciting running. I remember the snow covered bridge crossing with bobcat tracks that was still ahead and the 3 sets of downhill switchbacks. I knew it would feel long at the end, longer than finishing a supported 50k where my pack was light and friendly faces greeted me, filling my water bottles and handing me snacks. There had been frozen moments of loneliness in the hours so far and I wondered how I would go on all night for this many hours more, for a second 50k on this trail in these conditions. I so wanted to go on and earn a buckle, and struggle through the mental and physical ups and downs it takes to  complete something like this. 

     We got to the final section of the trail that meanders through the Baker River bottoms and runs alongside the river itself for a stretch. It passes by rocky caves, where drafts of cold air are evident in the summer, but at this time of the year, the cave's air felt warmer than the outside air as we passed. Now it was just time to push it out strong all the way back to the car. The trail was fairly rolling or flat and there were no good excuses to not run. I got to the car, not knowing how Ras was feeling, but after spending many miles on the trails with him, I knew he wasn't his regular self. As soon as we got in the car and began to let it idle, the heat started warming us. I changed into another dry Smartwool sweater, dry sports bra, and dry socks. I opened my Bombay Potatoes Tasty Bites meal and began snacking, silently visualizing the rest of the run. I poured coffee for myself into my travel mug and sipped on the hot drink gratefully. It felt so good to have something hot to drink. 

photo by Ras/
Notches, like the one pictured above, were cut into trees to place a springboard for loggers to stand on. This allowed them to make their felling cuts above the swell at the base of the tree.

     Finally, Ras admitted he wasn't feeling well. He hadn't felt right from the beginning of the day. He knew he could complete the distance, but he really didn't have a strong desire to finish it in these conditions. He was concerned about the creek crossings through the night and the danger a dunking could put us in. I agreed that the crossings were dangerous. With this first half having taken us 10:31 to complete and still needing to finish this break and have another one at the Kulshan end, I just knew it could take another 12 hours to complete the 100k. Once out on the trail, our only option would be to run the 15.5 miles and spend at least 5 more hours to get to Kulshan. That would still leave our car at the other end, not at the camp. We would still want to run back to it for the final 15.5 mile stretch. Heading back out onto the trail was a big commitment.   

     I've run through many miles of pain or hard-going before. I knew I could do it. I just didn't think it was smart to do it in the cold temperatures with potentially sketchy water crossings. It was hard enough to see the ice on the rocks and scout the crossings in the light in a fresher state; the dark and tiredness brought a different challenge. A part of me wanted to attempt this challenge and see that I could finish it. I wanted to head back out on the 31.5 mile commitment. Because the wiser part of me spoke louder, and because of the team aspect of this run, the decision was made together to not continue. 



1. Ultimate Directions Peter Bakwin vest with 2 bottles carried up front
2. Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem Caffe Latte flavor – 1 10 0z flask consumed (I had other's ready, although I did not end up using them)
3. Tasty Bites Bombay Potatoes
4. Gu Salted Caramel, Vanilla and Strawberry Banana gels
5. Caffe Latte Chia Gel from Chris Barry @ Seven Hills Running Shop
6. Coffee from thermos prepared in the early morning
7. Wildwood Baked SprouTofu Royal Thai flavor – ½ package 
8. Smartwool Knee High Length socks x2 (extra pair in pack in case of delay, with soaked feet, due to injury)
9. Carhart Wool/nylon Blend socks (changed into these at the half way point)
10. Buff Wear brand merino wool buff
11. Smartwool brand merino wool neck warmer
12. Felted wool ear flap hat
13. Smartwool mid-weight sweaters, 1 with hood x3
14. Wool v neck sweater
15. Brooks Thermal weight hooded jacket
16. mp3 player by Sony
17. Black Diamond headlamp with fresh batteries and 3 extra AAAs in a ziplock baggie
18. neoprene ankle wrap
19. chemical handwarmer packets x2; 1 footwarmer packet; 1 toe warmer packet with adhesive backings in case of IT Band flareup
20. Ibex brand merino wool tights
21. Sugoio Insulated tights
22. Altra Lone Peak 2.0s
23. Marmot Down Puffy Jacket carried in pack
24. Mont Bell Down Puffy Pants carried in pack
25. Firestarter sticks x2 plus a new Bic lighter
26. Ziplock baggie of 3 Tums, 2 Reed's Ginger Chews, 8 ibuprofen, 2 Aleve, 1 ½ Vicodin (in case of pancreatic attack, enough to alleviate pain so I can get myself out to help)
27. one Iced Ginger Clif Bar
28. Burton Light Weight Snowboading Gloves in morning and Swix Cross Country Ski gloves in the warmer afternoon; kept dry pair of Swix gloves in pack as hands perspire and a dry pair of gloves to put on in an emergency stop situation is important
29. Dirty Girl pink camouflage gaiters

1. What An Adventure (WAA) Ultra Bag
2. Altra Lone Peak 2.0s 
3. Injinji toe socks
4. Smartwool light weight base layer
5. Pendleton wool button up shirt
6. Polar Penguin insulated work gloves
7. UltraPedestrian fleece beanie
8. Buff Wear brand merino wool buff
9. Camouflage fleece beanie
10. Dirty Girl Camouflage gaiters
11. Black Diamond headlamp with fresh batteries and 3 extra AAAs 
12. Sugoi insulated tights
13. coffee from thermos 
14. Maple Almond Butter sandwiches on Ezekiel 4:9 bread
15. Clif Bar
16. GoPro Hero3
17. Black Diamond Ultradistance Z-poles, one collapsed in my pack, one used as a camera boom
18. REI merino wool glove liners and Swix overmits (carried but didn't use)
19. Mont Bell synthetic puffy (carried but didn't use)
20. Smartwool arm sleeves (carried but didn't use)
21. Tasty Bites Bombay Potatoes and coffee during the drive to the trailhead

22. Tasty Bites Punjab Eggplant when we returned to the car
23. Sony Walkman mp3 player
24. SPOT transponder

photo by Ras/


  1. This self support is a different ballgame. Your gear lists are more mind bending than Ras' soundtrack. Oddly the camera work doesn't really capture the cold Ka is describing, it really looks kind of inviting.

  2. Yes, Erich, I was a bit vexed that the harshness of the cold doesn't really come across in the video. It looks sunny and nice once the sun rises, and it was, but it was also freakin' cold and icy.