Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Running on the Pacific Crest Trail

Larry, Laura, and I usually meet up to do a long run on Saturday mornings. In July Laura asked if I wanted to join them on a long trail run on the Pacific Crest Trail. Larry and Laura wanted to get some altitude and uphill training. I wanted to get a 12 mile run in. Even though I’m not a huge fan of trail running (yet), and I knew nothing about the trail, I decided it might be fun to do the run with them. It would be a little different and I would get to see someplace new. We got up early and started the long drive to the Snoqualmie area, picking Becky up along the way to join us for this particular run.

We parked at the trailhead, applied bug spray, adjusted our hydration systems, and started running up the trail. Within the first mile I started to regret agreeing to this madness. I don’t know what I expected of this trail, but I just imagined an easy meandering trail with birds chirping, lovely forest shade, and maybe an occasional waterfall crossing. After we got back from the run I looked up the statistics and found out that this trail had a 2700 foot elevation gain in only 5 miles. And let me tell you, as if the elevation gain wasn’t hard enough to overcome, the terrain didn’t do us any favors either. Much of the trail was narrow and rocky. And as we got to the higher elevations, snow patches covered the trail at places and we had to carefully climb over the packed snow. I’d say I did much more hiking than running so that I wouldn’t trip over my feet and I could catch my breath from running uphill. But when we got to the top we were rewarded with incredible views; it was one of the prettiest trails I’d been on in a long time.
If only that was the end of my story. But the day ended up being much more interesting than just a super-hard trail run. Shortly after we had turned around at the top of the trail to make our way back down, we came across one of the snow patches. The snow covered the trail, but the snow had started melting to make an extremely narrow muddy path right next to it. I carefully placed my foot in the mud, so as to not fall and also minimize getting my clean running shoes muddy, but the mud gave away and I started to slip. I lost control and started sliding off the trail and down the hill (some might say cliff). Larry tried to grab me and save me, but the momentum and gravity were too great to be conquered; Larry started sliding down the hill too. I was sliding on my right side and looking at Larry, who still had a hold of me. I couldn’t see much else, but I felt that we weren’t stopping; the hill/cliff was too steep. I was blindly grabbing the earth, hoping that I could grab a tree root or rock, but my hands only found more mud. Somehow Larry was able to turn himself around and could see down the hill. He spotted a rock and aimed for it. He hit the rock and the rock started sliding with us. But after a few seconds the rock lodged itself into the mud and we were able to stop with it. We sat there for a minute silently, processing what had just happened – we had slid off the trail and down a cliff for 20-30 feet. We decided that neither of us had serious injuries and we started the process of scrambling up the hill, with Laura and Becky guiding us and yelling out directions. We got to the trail again, covered in mud (so much for keeping my shoes clean), and assessed our injuries – just some bruising and scraped up arms and legs. We were incredibly lucky that we didn’t sprain or break anything and, come to think of it, we didn’t die either. I feel absolutely awful that I was the cause of Larry sliding down the mountain with me, but at the same time, I’m very glad he was there to help save me!
When it’s all said and done, I actually don’t regret the trail running that day. Sure it was tough, sure the fall was scary, and sure I was nursing my injuries for the next week. But you know what? The accomplishment of that day felt incredible. We ascended 2700 feet, made it above the tree line, survived a fall down a mountain, and ended up with a great story to tell about the 12 mile run that day. (I’m not ashamed to say though that the next weekend I ran a great 12 mile route in the suburban jungle that is Federal Way – paved trails and roads, no mountain cliffs!)

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