“Best-of” lists and New Years resolutions tend feel a bit boilerplate to me, but I’m a reflective sort of person and one of my hopes for 2016 is to make more time for writing. So here goes. 2015 was a monumental year for a whole bunch of reasons going well beyond outdoor adventure.
Lake O’Hara Wedding
On August 31, Andy and I tied the knot on the shores of the remote and absurdly beautiful Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. It’s a very sentimental place for us, having run the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit together there a few summers ago. Returning to the spot where we shared one of our first mountain excursions – to get married – was magical. It was considerably chillier than the last time we were there – two years prior to the day, and we wound up canceling plans to hike up to the Abbott Hut as temperatures plummeted well below freezing. We said our vows under an enormous black umbrella, shivering, and spent most of the rest of the time in our sleeping bags as sleet, snow, hail, and chilly rain took turns pounding our tent. Cold hands, warm heart. I couldn’t possibly have been happier. What can I say? I love the guy.
Going long: White River & the Fat Dog
Ran my first 50 miler at White River in July followed by an attempt at the Fat Dog 120 two weeks later. Having run a handful of 50k’s, I wanted to test and push my endurance. White River went well and I finished in a respectable 10:30 without tapering or trying to “race”. The Fat Dog was another thing altogether. I DNF’d at mile 70 after hobbling through the night with severe ITB pain, then spent the following three days with what felt like flue symptoms. Will I give it another shot? I have some serious questions about the longterm physiological damage that races this long may cause, but the answer is still: most likely.
Running the Ho River Trail in Olympic National Park with Andy was definitely one of the highlights of 2015. We tried out some new ultra-light gear and combined trail running with camping for the first time. After out-and-backing up to Glacier Meadows, we camped in a bone dry spit on the banks of the Ho. Unseasonably warm and dry weather worked in our favor, cushioning this typically wet-as-all-hell route for us, and we went home with grins on our faces and optimism about plans to fast-pack the Wonderland trail around Mt. Rainier later that summer. But the following night, I landed in the emergency room with breathing trouble and severe chest pain. An ill-fitting pack and the cumulative effect of of 15 Ibs bashing against my torso for 40 miles had resulted in an inflamed chest wall. Clearly I have a few gear-related riddles to solve before trying this on a longer and more challenging route like Wonderland.
New backyard: Getting to know the I-90 corridor
I’ve missed running on the sunny, open grassland trails around Kamloops. To passers-by, the semi-arid landscapes of the Thompson Nicola highlands can seem monotonously yellow and brown. Certainly, that was my perspective when I first moved to the region. But my view of the terrain there changed over time – mostly through trail running, and I came to love the endless views of rivers, the dramatic and ever-present skies, and the subtle beauty of the plants that thrived in a climate with much greater extremes than the mild West Coast.
The Cascades are, of course, nothing like the hills around Kamloops. And while I’d like to be the sort of person that appreciates everything on its own merits and doesn’t compare, for summer mountain running, I have to admit that the I-90 corridor is better. I was still working part-time last summer, so I had plenty of time to check out the new backyard. I ran, hiked or scrambled a good chunk of the trails: most everything in the “Issaquah Alps” (Tiger, Squak and Cougar mountains), Granite and Red mountains, trails out to and around Kaleetan, Annette, Melakwa, Pratt, Alaska, Joe, and Snow lakes, Kendall Peak, the Ridge Lakes, Lake Lillian, Teneriff, Si, Rattlesnake Ridge, and a bunch of other routes I’m forgetting. I feel lucky to have access to the Cascades alpine so close to our home in Issaquah, and this does help to compensate for some of the rubs associated with living in the burbs – long commutes etc.
This blog is about my outdoor adventures, so I don’t usually get into personal or professional stuff too much. But a huge highlight of the year was starting a new job as a faculty research services librarian at Seattle University. I left a job I loved behind when I left Thompson Rivers University to move here with Andy, and finding a solid career-track position at a great institution here was an enormous relief.
10 hours around Mount St. Helens in 100 degrees: our experience of the Loowit Trail was certainly one of extremes. But it was the distinctness of the landscape, with miles of lava boulders, lupine meadows and treacherous sand gullies that lifted this day into my shortlist of 2015 highlights. The trail around this volcano traverses some otherworldly terrain, and while I have no particular desire to go back there, ever, this was certainly one of the more memorable mountain runs I’ve done.
Revelstoke & Rogers Pass
For the Christmas break, Andy and I spent five ridiculously fun days in Revelstoke, B.C., and the close-by Glacier National Park. The weather gods blessed us with a spate of bluebird days and low avi risks, so we headed up into the alpine. In addition to skiing out to the Asulkan Hut, we spent one long day touring Video Peak. And while the day turned out to be somewhat more adventurous than I’d anticipated, I skied my first legit mountain peak in the backcountry. Two years ago I could barely ski at all, so this felt like a real accomplishment.
(Photo stolen from Facebook, by Lindsey Kunz)
Not far from Leavenworth, the Enchantments are one of the more beautiful alpine environments in the state. We backpacked in for the July 4th long weekend and spent four days slapping mosquitos while gaping at the smooth granite, larches, and clear, chilly glacier lakes. The trip was far from perfect; we all found ourselves challenged by the bugs and by exposure to so much direct sun, and then Andy rolled his ankle on the way out (never wear Hokas with a heavy pack). But it was my first time in this very special region and maybe just for that reason, stands out in my mind as one of our more noteworthy trips of the year.
Paradise: Mt. Rainier
We skied the volcano a whole bunch last year, mainly due to the snopocalypse. None of these trips were particularly epic in terms of big days or challenging terrain, but skiing the Nisqually Chutes was definitely something of a threshold experience for me in terms of steepness.
I tend to chew on the motivations behind outdoor pursuits a fair bit in general. Why do we choose to run around in the mountains instead of staying home? My own drivers vary from day to day, but one thing I can say that feels like a common thread for me has to do with newness. Learning to do something new and putting myself in the position of being a beginner helps me see the world with fresh eyes, and helps to hold boredom at bay a bit. It was anything but a boring year.