There’s always the volcano …

It’s a sad year to be a skier in the Pacific Northwest.  The resorts are closed or closing; it’s been consistently warm and raining or warm and dry in the Cascades, and there’s been a lot of muttering about global warming, El Nino, and/or some other tropical weather pattern.  UW meteorologist and local weather expert Cliff Mass does a pretty good job of explaining all of this on his blog.  But whatever side of the weather debates you find yourself on, the same disappointing outcome seems here to stay.  For the snow sports enthusiasts, this winter has been a royal bust.  If you count the day we went to Snoqualmie Pass and skied one run through mostly mud, I’ve skied a total of 7 days this year.   Three of those were trips to Rainier.  There’s always snow on the volcano.

Twice this past month, we’ve skinned and hiked up the 3,000 feet or so from Paradise to ski the Nisqually Chutes on Mount Rainier.  The conditions have been what I’m told you should expect in June or July, with lovely corn snow in the chutes, and chunky, icy crap pretty much everywhere else.  But at least we got to ski a bit, and for me, a full day out on the mountain in the blazing sun is always a good thing.  Here’s a few shots from our last few trips to Rainier.

Me at the top of the Nisqually Chutes (photo by Andrew Winstanley)

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Andy & Brandon, part-way up IMG_0828

Looking back at the chutesIMG_0722 (1)

Icy transition for AndyIMG_0724 (1)

Looking down into the chutesIMG_0817 (1) Parking lot at Paradise IMG_0827

Brandon skiing the chutesIMG_0826

Ancient & Dusty Lakes: sunny central Washington

IMG_0331It’s hard to believe the stark climate shift that transforms the landscape just east of Issaquah from a dark, wet rainforest to dry, sunny desert.  Typically, so it seems, by the time you get to Cle-Elum, the clouds and mist will have magically parted, and the sun that seemed forever hidden behind the relentless drizzle of the Puget Sound pops out.  In search of a bit of light therapy this weekend, we drove out that way to Ancient and Dusty Lakes for some trail-running under the desert sun.

Part of the Quincy Wildlife Recreation Area, Ancient and Dusty Lakes are located east of Ellensburg, past Vantage, not far from the Gorge Amphitheatre on the Columbia River.  The dry clay & sand trails that wound around through desert sagebrush here reminded me of the trails around Kamloops in BC, as did the copper and gold coloured late-afternoon light that bounced off the huge vertical basalt cliffs & refracted in the two small, glassy lakes we ran out to.  I do most of my running under the dense forest cover of Issaquah’s trails these days.  I certainly feel lucky to have access to that caliber of trail running right out our front door, but there’s something about running under open skies that I adore.

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Crewing for the Fat Dog: Part II

Originally posted on RunSkiDrink:

As the sun dropped down behind the enormous firs & cedars surrounding the Bonnevier aid station in Manning Park, Neil set off to run through the night, and Andy & I packed up & headed off to our campsite. By the time we were driving East on the #3, it was completely dark, reminding me that summer would soon be coming to a close. I’m always sad to see summer fade, but I’ve been especially sentimental about it this year, probably because we’re leaving soon, but also because I’ve had to cancel some of the bucket-list backcountry runs I’ve been looking forward to doing all year. Andy and I had plans to run the Kootenay Rock Wall Route, as well as an approximately 75 mile point-to-point from Stevens to Snoqualmie Pass, and possibly also the Stein Valley Traverse. None of this was possible after I pulled a muscle in my…

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Run. Soak. Run: Goldmyer Hot Springs

IMG_0301Located about 20 miles east of North Bend, WA in a wilderness area in the Cascades foothills, Goldmyer Hot Springs are unquestionably one of the best “undeveloped” backcountry hot pools in the Pacific Northwest.  The bathwater temperature water runs clear, smells just a touch of sulphur, and trickles through a series of cascading rock-lined pools.  The springs are owned by Northwest Wilderness Programs, a Washington state nonprofit organization and they have a live-in steward who enforces some basic land-use principles to minimize impact on the area, including an upper limit of 20 visitors per day.  Despite their remote location (you can’t drive there), the springs are very popular, and without this limit, I’m sure they’d be overrun and overcrowded.  There were only a few other people there when I went, but it was midweek in December and quite rainy.  You normally need to make a reservation, and the caretaker told me that if you hope to get a spot on a weekend, you need to book about a month in advance!

Most people hike or mountain bike the 8 kilometer trail from the parking lot at the Dingford trailhead to the springs.  I packed my towel, some water, and a puffy jacket in my running pack and jogged in.  The trail to the springs is a breeze: it’s an old railroad route that climbs a very gradual 250 meters over about 5 miles.   The drive from N. Bend to the trailhead is much more … interesting.  You definitely need a high clearance vehicle for that road: it’s about 15 miles, follows the Middlefork River, and despite appearing to have been recently graded, is full of deep potholes.

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Bullion Basin ski tour

There hasn’t been much snow in the Washington Cascades yet this year, so Andy and I were pretty excited to get out for our first ski tour of the season at Crystal Mountain weekend before last.  A full day in the sun (not overcast for once!) lifted my spirits immensely, if temporarily.  The snow was pretty nice at the top, but so thin down lower that we chose to hike much of the way out rather than risk destroying our skis on exposed rock.  We climbed about 1,000 meters all told (so a bit over 3,000 feet), and apart from some trouble with skins that failed on the final climb after getting too much snow on them (sliding out of the skin track at the end of the day sucks a bit), the tour was fun and glitch-free.  I’d been nervous about the actual skiing part of this.  I still consider myself to be a beginning skier and I struggled, skiing in deeper powder last year.  Plus I was using a pair of Andy’s skis that I wasn’t at all used to. But somehow, the actual skiing felt easy and I didn’t fall even once. IMG_7597 IMG_7592 IMG_7590 IMG_7589

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Issaquah Alps: new trails, new chapter

Some time during the first week of September, a little brown envelope from the Canadian government arrived in the mail.  Andy’s visitor’s visa had expired; his application to extend it a second time had been denied, and he had until September 30th to leave the country. A savvy immigration lawyer helped us buy an additional month, but the writing was on the wall.

We’d been living together in Kamloops since the previous winter, and although we’d known from the start that we’d eventually have to face the music and either begin an extensive, complicated immigration process, or move somewhere we could both live and work legally, we were far from ready to face this inevitability.

Correction.  Andy was ready.  As a US citizen with no rights to work in Canada, he was living off a dwindling savings account and after more than a year’s sabbatical, wanted to get his career back on track.  He wanted me to move back to the US with him (I’m a dual US-Canadian citizen which means I have unlimited rights to live and work on both sides of the border), and I’d been actively looking for academic librarian jobs in places like Alaska, Montana and Utah – pretty much anywhere close to mountains with good skiing plus enough of an economic base for Andy to find work in his field.  In other words, anywhere we’d both be happy.  I’d been a finalist for a few opportunities, but despite countless hours spent putting together the lengthy, complicated applications required for most jobs in my field, by early September, nothing solid had panned out.  Oddly enough, just a week before we finally left Kamloops, we both wound up getting jobs within a couple of days of each other – but in different cities.  Andy’s job was in Seattle; mine was just south of Salt Lake City in Utah.  I felt extremely lucky to find something not just in my field, but in the kind of role that would position me very well to advance in my career.  But Andy’s gig paid more and from a practical economic standpoint, it made more sense to go to Seattle.

I’ve taken a leave of absence until January 2016 from my librarian job in Kamloops, which means I have the option to come back.  I’ve since found work as an adjunct faculty librarian at a college about 45 minutes south of where we live, but it’s very very part-time. And so, I have a lot of time to run these days, which is part of the reason why we decided to live in Issaquah.  The trail running community loves this area for the trifecta that is Tiger, Squak and Cougar mountain -i.e. the “Issaquah Alps”.  “Alps” is no joke; these are climby little hills.  My go-to daily run up Squak, for example, climbs over 700 meters in just under 5 kilometers if you go all the way to the radio tower at the top.  (I know I should stop using metric at some point here, but I guess I’m resisting the switch.  Worldwide, the US is pretty much the last holdout on this so they’re bound to come to their senses one of these days, no?)

East of Issaquah, the hills, and with them, the quality of the mountain running, grows exponentially.  Just a 15 minute drive east in the Snoqualmie Pass/North Bend area, you can run up a hiking trail to the summit of Mount Si which tops out at almost 4,000 feet (look – not metric!)   A bit further east you’ll find many many access points to the Cascades alpine between Mt. Baker to the north and Rainier to the south.  But beyond Si and maybe Rattlesnake Ridge, most of this is getting a bit snowy for running.  Plus, frankly, I find the almost-always-overcast skies and rain typical of this time of year more than a little uninspiring.

Having grown up on Vancouver Island, I’m no stranger to wet dark weather, and I’ve long known that I suffer from a bit (a lot?) of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  All in all, I’m homesick.  I miss my job. So much unstructured time spent alone in a place where I have almost no friends at this point is lonely and frankly, feels unhealthy.  I miss running in the grasslands around Kamloops – the sun, the open skies, the views.  And I’m indulging in far too much feeling sorry for myself.  I know I should just “buck up”, find something to do with my time, and make the best of things.  But I’m just not feeling it right now.  I don’t seem to have much energy for anything.  If the weather was nice, I’m sure I’d at least be getting outdoors and enjoying the mountains.  But the rainy weather here leaves me struggling to motivate myself to even go for a run.  And when I do, the effect is less than therapeutic.  For some people, running seems to purge negative emotions and bring about a calmer state of mind.  For me, it just amplifies whatever I’m already feeling.  So, when I’m generally content, a good run makes me feel ecstatic.  When I’m down, a run can make me want to shout at the trees, or just sob.

I’m glad Andy’s getting a chance to get his career back on track, and I know I’ll have an easier time adjusting to life here in the spring & summer when the sun comes back out and the endless drizzle here dries up for the season.  And maybe also once it finally snows enough to make skiing a regular option.  But for now, I’m just lacing up my trail shoes & grumbling through the mud and the rain.