Tuesday, four days before the race, the email came through that Angel’s Staircase 60K was being cancelled due to wildfires. I haven’t been doing much racing this year, but this was one I was pretty focused on, so I was pretty disappointed. Fortunately Richard Kresser came through with an alternative for me: “Want to sweep 35 miles of the Bigfoot 200 course?” I had run this area (the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument) earlier this year (somehow in February, with our freak weather this year), and had been itching to get back this summer. So, with an emphatic “yes”, my tough weekend was still on.
The Course (As Much as I Saw)
Sweeping 35 miles is just a drop in the bucket when it’s part of a 200 mile race. I’d spend all day on the trail, but only cover 17.5% of the course. It was a TOUGH day, which puts into perspective what the finishers did. I ran three “segments” of the course, picking up the course markings and stuffing them into my backpack (or pinning them on my clothes).
Windy Ridge (mile 31.3) to Johnston Observatory (mile 39) – 5 AM start. After a 1.9 mile run in the dark to get onto the course, I set out just as the sun was getting ready to rise. This is a beautiful stretch of trail, in the flats between Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lake. The trail is dusty and rocky, which bits of scrub brush. I saw a huge herd of elk (25, at least) and got to about 100 yards away before they decided they wanted nothing to do with me. Well, except the HUGE bulls, which kept an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t going to be trouble. After meandering through this barren landscape, a slow steady climb goes up to the Johnston Observatory. I was happy to see Dana Anderson keeping the aid station up for me here – I had an early morning burger for breakfast!
Johnston Observatory (mile 39) to Coldwater Lake (mile 45.7) – The next section is fun and fast. The views aren’t great, but it’s a steady decline down to Coldwater Lake, off the dusty hills near the observatory and into wetlands. It was pretty amazing how quickly the landscape changed. The Coldwater Lake aid station had just shut down when I got there. I dropped off all the course markings, filled up my water bottles, and grabbed a (very big) bag of trail mix and headed back out!
Coldwater Lake (mile 45.7) to Norway Pass (mile 64.4) – The Mt. Margaret Backcountry. We had tried to head here in the winter, but even with our warm/dry winter, there was still too much snow up there (most of the trails are over 5000′). After a long, fast run along the north side of Coldwater, there’s a bridge crossing. The crossing is the last place to get water for 14 miles, so I filled up (and treated the water) here, before a long, steep climb. The Mt. Margaret Backcountry is just stunning. It’s high, dry, and rugged. There are huckleberries EVERYWHERE! For me, 14 miles is too far between aid stations (I ran out of water with about 5 miles to go), so chowing on berries was helping me get some fluids – and they were delicious. This part got a little frustrating, as I ran out of room for the… let’s call them thorough… course markings. My backpack was totally crammed full and I had managed to create a giant hula skirt of ribbons. It was beautiful (as evidenced by the many compliments I got), but weighed a ton. This was a tough segment of trail – all that weight made it much tougher. I was sore all over the next day! But, it was so worth it.