It started out good. I started out with Judy Carluccio and we quickly caught up on things since we last saw each other at HURT. The first couple of miles are on an old rail bed leading to the trail head. Once we got onto the trail, the climbing began.
The weather was cool and the trail was like a cushy red carpet inviting me to go just a little faster than I normally would go on such a long adventure. I knew the first climb was going to make or break me, so I wanted to go slow. Judy tends to be one of the better climbers I know, so about half way up I let her get her stride and take off. We would pass each other at least a half dozen times throughout the race.
That first climb was amazing. Imagine being on single track in an evergreen forest with what seems like years and years of pine needles and forest debris under your feet. It felt like I was walking on clouds. But then all my daydreaming was crushed when two motorcycles decided to share the trail with us. I went from smelling that great pine smell to sucking motorcycle exhaust for about 3 miles. They would pass me and then about half a mile later would stop until I passed them—then about a half mile later they’d pass me again. It became a little disconcerting after a while. But eventually we started up into places they weren’t allowed, and I was left to the tranquility of my blaring ipod. The views at the top of Goat Peak were amazing—in fact, the views for the entire race were pretty amazing. We could see Mt. Rainer in all her splendor, along with all the Cascades.After the first climb we went down a logging road into a valley about 1500 feet down, and then up the other side of the valley another 1500 feet. About ¾ of the way up, a few jetfighters came through about 1000 feet from the valley floor and about 1000 feet horizontal to us. It was loud, it was fast, and it was pretty darn cool. At the top of this climb we hit our 3rd aid station at Blowout Mountain. From there we climbed a little more until we hit the Pacific Coast Trail and it was generally all very runnable downhill for the next 7 miles into the Tacoma Pass Aid Station. This was our first drop bag and I spent a bit too long there. I was already feeling the effects of my running. When I tried closing my drinking bladder after filling it up, I ended up spilling about 1/3 of it on another runner who was sitting close by (oops! Sorry!).
After Tacoma Pass Aid Station we had a few moderate climbs, and some more runnable sections into Stampede Pass, then some more running for a few miles. After a couple of climbs we got into the Meadow Mountain Aid station (Mile 40-41), where it started to get dark. I tried to take the next section fast because it was pretty overgrown and I didn’t want to have to do it with my lights. There were a few small stream crossings and plenty of mud spots to get your shoes nice and sloppy. I think this is the area I even saw snow on the sides of the trail! At Olallie Meadows I tried to convince the volunteers that since we were so close to the half-way point, we should be able to just double our time and be happy—but they wouldn’t go for it. Darn it. I had to do the last half as well.
We ran on a little ways until we hit the ropes section. This is basically a ridiculously steep hill that some crazy person thought would be a good place to bushwack a trail. At the race briefing we were told that the ropes weren’t really necessary, but I think doing this section without ropes would be utter suicide. I’m really glad I bought gloves for this section, because without them I think the ropes would have rubbed my fingers down to little nubs.
We got to the bottom of the ropes section, which came out on another gravel road, and everyone started running again. We ran for a few more miles, two of them in an old railroad tunnel which was pretty spooky at midnight. Our next aid station was Hyak (mile 53) which made me happy because I was over half-way done! Hyak was my favorite aid station because they were having a big Christmas party there. I tried to score some eggnog, but was unsuccessful. After wishing them all a Merry Christmas and making sure they all had designated drivers, I took off for the second half of the run.
I’ve always heard that the second half is harder than the first. I think this is true—but not because the trail is tougher. I actually think the trail itself is a little easier during the second half, but since you’re so tired, the long up and down hills become excruciating on your legs.
After Hyak there’s a never ending road—first asphalt, then gravel—that goes up about 2000 feet. I did this part mostly alone because the hard surface had started taking a toll on my knees. A lot of people got confused here because of the lack of trail markings. But it didn’t take long for trucks with chem. Lights to pass me and mark my way. On the way up I passed someone who was getting very aggravated that his lights were getting stolen. He put one up and stayed just to find out who was taking them. I passed him and not more than 30 seconds later a big red truck came down the hill. I guess he had found his thieves by the way he was hootin’ and hollerin’ behind me. I don’t think they stole any more chem. Lights after that. After the 9 mile uphill treck to Keechelus Ridge came 7 miles of sweet downhill road. I took off and felt great for about 5 miles, but ended up walking the rest of the way because my quads were getting pretty tired.
After the long downhill we came to Kachess Lake, and the entrance to the “Trail from Hell”. I knew this was going to be ominous when I saw a skeleton holding the sign. The first half-mile wasn’t so bad. It was just a bushwacked trail with a few trees to climb over or under. However, once we got to the lake that the trail goes around, things got a little scary. Going through this trail in the daylight on fresh legs may make sense. But going through this trail at 4 in the morning after running 70 miles probably isn’t the sanest thing to do. Almost all the trail is 100 feet directly up from the water—meaning one misstep and you’re going over the cliff. Now this would be fine if the trail was nice and manicured, but no, this trail had trees over it that are 5 feet high on their sides, which you somehow have to climb over. There are parts where you are grabbing footholds on the side of the cliff so you can get to the rest of the trail—not to mention the log you have to walk on to cross 50 feet over a stream crossing. This part of the trail was only about 4 miles long, but took well over 2 hours to finish. Finally, though, we came to the last and largest creek crossing and into the Mineral Creek Aid Station.
The final climbs start out with another never-ending logging road up to No Name Ridge (Mile 80). After that we were back onto single track for what I’ve been told is the hardest part of the entire run, the Cardiac Needles portion. This is a series of 5 climbs of about 500 feet each, and they tend to be in short bursts. Although I had been told they would be hard, I found them a little easier than I thought. The last climb is about a mile out and back up to the lookout cabin, and gave what I think were the best views of the entire run.
After that it’s pretty much downhill the rest of the way. The guide says there’s only one more hill, but trust me, after going this far you tend to find a couple more hills that they didn’t tell you about. After that last hill there were about 6 miles of downhill to go and then 4 miles of flat surface to get to the finish. By this time my quads were so completely spent that I ended up walking about half the downhill backwards. Luckily I had a couple of runners who had dropped earlier in the race with me to watch just in case I veered off of the trail. Eventually I hit Silver Creek, the final aid station, and was on flat surface until I got to the finish line.
The weather was great the entire run, but about 5 minutes after I got through the finish line it started raining. I decided to just head over to my car, put the back seat down, and take a 6 hour nap before heading home. Although I didn’t have the strong finish I wanted I am now the proud owner of a Cascade Crest Classic 100 mile belt buckle (my first 100 miler!) and will wear the t-shirt with pride. This is a truly beautiful run with some of the most amazing views I’ve seen in my life. If you’re thinking of adding another 100 miler, I would definitely suggest this one. It’s very tough, but the rewards are excellent.
Lookout Cabin, about mile 89 or 90.
Photo Copyright © 2008 Glenn Tachiyama. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use, reproduction and distribution to others is strictly prohibited by law