50 Miles across the Olympic Mountains

Why I wanted to cross the Olympic Mountains in a day.

press expedAfter reading “Across the Olympic Mountains: The Press Expedition, 1889-90” it became a goal of mine to do the same through route in a day. I didn’t fancy doing it alone for many reasons but didn’t know anyone locally who might be crazy enough to put their body through so much effort. My one reliable fellow nutter was my brother, Moz. I sowed the seed into his brain in 2010 and said no more for many months to let it germinate, or in his case fester. He lives in England and we get together every couple of years for some daft outing. Moz was due to visit me for 2 weeks in 2011 for an itinerary including an ascent of Mt. Baker, some sailing and crossing the Olympic Mountains in a day on foot. Moz is 3 years my senior and was 60 in 2011. He keeps very fit with orienteering events almost twice weekly over the last 25+ years. A short event for him may be about 2 hours, most of his longer sessions are around 5 hours or occasionally more. So fitness for both of us wasn’t a major concern but long term endurance at high output rates needed addressing.

 

How did we prepare ourselves for 50 miles of mountain trails?

We both continued longer runs for endurance and stamina. Moz just continued his orienteering races throughout Britain with no other changes.

I don’t normally run for more than 1.5 hours at any given time but increased it to 3 hours 2 or 3 months before the trip approximately 1x/week with 2x10k/week. I also included 6 weeks of gym workout for some upper body strength mainly if it proved necessary to extract Moz from a crevasse during our Mt. Baker ascent (no problems, all went well).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Moz in Blue (left). Myself in Yellow (right). Photo taken on the ravine bridge North Fork of the Quinault Trail

Diet or food preparation before the 50 miler.

Moz’s diet is mainly snatching food between his busy schedule and lubricated generously with Britain’s fine ales. He gets some better nourishment sporadically when cooking for friends or visiting (married) friends. He’s mostly on the go all the time and doesn’t think much about quality of food, mainly quantity.

I’m lucky to have a wife, Ingrid, who is into the quality of foods and doesn’t complain too much about the quantities I scoff down of her fine cooking. She wishes I would drink less beer and alcohol but my excuse is that it’s a trait of the British and Pisces star sign.

We are not vegetarians or vegans and enjoy a very wide variety of all foods.

Food as fuel for the 50 miler.

The object was to stay light and move fast so we didn’t want to be encumbered with bulky or heavy food. We wanted dense, high caloric carb, protein and fatty foods that could be eaten on-the-run. I guesstimated that we’d need at least 6000 calories each for the trip.

6x Homemade Chia bars, approx 400 calories per “double ice-cube” size each. Recipe – Click Here.

6x Zero Limit pumpkin protein nugget each.

6x Power bar Energy Gels each – caffeine free.

4x Organic Raw Bars each.

1x large pack of hard Turkey Jerky – shared.

½ lb Raisins each.

Hydration for the 50 miler.

We both carried Camel Back pouches and refilled them regularly with filtered river water and lemon-lime flavored Accelerade powder. We christened the mixed elixir “green slime”.

4x individual packets of Zija XM+ each.

4x Emergen-C sachets each.

Gear for the 50 miler crossing the Mountains

Normal running gear: wicking long sleeved shirt, shorts, socks and lightweight trail running shoes.

Extras: Lightweight fleece and super-light windproof jacket plus 1 pair socks.

Vaseline, Band-Aids, Ibuprofen (Moz), 1x MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter, small plastic mug each, small Camel Back day pack each, head torches, 1 map of route and 1 Silva compass.

Day of the Trip

Thursday 18th Aug 2011. Bright, clear, sunny and warm to hot all day.

Start : 5am at North Fork of the Quinault Trailhead – South to North traverse.

Finish: 17.5 hours later at Altaire campground on the Elwha river.

Statistics

The normal through route is not 50 miles but Whiskey Bend road was out of commission in 2011 due to previous winter slides, so we had to add it and find Ingrid waiting for us in Altaire campground; thus giving us 50+ miles.

North Fork of the Quinault Trail – Elevation gain 3,766ft, elevation loss 676ft, distance 16.4 miles (per Falcon Guide).

Low Divide elevation 3,650ft – (per Falcon Guide).

Elwha River Trail – Elevation loss 4,085ft, elevation gain 1675ft, distance 31.2 miles (per Falcon Guide).

Pre-Trip Events.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe summited Mt. Baker by its Coleman/Deming glaciers and Roman wall the week before and then rested for 5 days. During those days we ate heartily and healthily including a couple of days sailing Puget Sound waters and secluded anchorages.

I awaited a blister healing on my left instep and for my quads and calf muscles to settle down after mountain exertions.

Moz was struggling with back and sacro-iliac joint discomfort and tight calf muscles. I took Moz to a local chiropractor for adjustments prior to setting off for the Olympic Mountain North Fork Quinault campground .

Moz on Mt. Baker Summit with Mt. Shuksan behind.

Trip Report

After an early night tent camping we arose at 4am for a good solid typical English fried breakfast of bacon, eggs, baked beans and coffee before embarking. Campers the previous night had alerted us to a troublesome Black Bear that had been bothering hikers at approx 1.5 miles into the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt 5 am it was still pitch black, we hiked quickly by head torch, and I was a little nervous for the first 3 miles incase I saw any large beady eyes reflecting in my torch beam. We didn’t smell the typical earthy greasyness of a close-by bear and soon felt any danger was behind us. By 5.45am we doused the head torches as dawn was approaching.

Our overall plan was to hike at a fast pace and intermingle with occasional jogging. Over the entire trip I guesstimate we jogged 25-30% and fast hiked the remainder.

There were many water courses to cross heading up North Fork Quinault to Low Divide and impossible to keep dry feet fording at least 2 rivers where we linked arms so as not to get swept away by current.

Luckily, at a bridge over a ravine, we met a backpacker who photographed us and then wondered how we had got there so early and with so little equipment. He had been on the go for 5 days and was expected to complete his N-S traverse later that same day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt took us 5 hours to reach the Low Divide and we found a great perch on some warmed rocks overlooking a lake. Breakfast had long since been used up as energy and we started in on the hard turkey jerky which was a superb blend of spicy and sweet, really livening up taste buds. Other snacks and drinks were taken whilst just across the lake from us a large Black Bear waddled from the scrubby trees over to a receding patch of snow. It lumbered into the middle of the talus slope snow patch and splayed all 4 legs out to lay flat bellied on the cooling snow – well, it was sunny and hot without cover even at 3,600ft!!

Washington August 2011 053We ran all the way down rough switchback trail to Chicago Camp on the Elwha where we met several groups of backpackers who were already setting up camp for the next night; seemed early to us. As we rested a brief moment someone asked us where we’d come from and why we had such little gear. After we’d told them they seemed confused, amazed, incredulous and even dazed at the next response to their question of “Where are you going”? I answered “All the way”. They couldn’t comprehend us covering what had already taken them 4 days in just several more hours!! We left them still speechless and resumed fast hiking.

Maybe an hour later Moz sat on a rock with his head lowered , popped an Ibuprofen, and then raised his head to look at me with questioning eyes. His only comment was “No wonder you couldn’t get any other silly bugger to do this with you”. I calmly retorted, “One marathon down, let’s get on with the next”. And so we trudged on.

Washington August 2011 055Hydration and food refueling became automatic about every 50 minutes and our bodies felt like little factories. Nourishment in, process, work done, refuel, repeat. We could feel the calories being used up and our approaching need for restocking until satisfied by whatever was at hand whilst continuing to push forever ahead.

The gorgeous scenery sort of shot by and memory blurred over condensed time, only remembered through occasional photos.

Eventually the wet feet gained much earlier had generated a sizeable and increasingly painful blister on the back of my left heel. I attended to it with only a sweat soaked shirt to try and dry my prune wrinkled raw skin and stick a Band Aid over it, Vaseline my feet, then put on my spare clean, dry socks. Moz kept on going with his long stride whilst I attended my heel and it took me near ½ hour to catch him up again. By which time the Band Aid had slipped down under my heel. Moz had suffered from a blister between two crossed toes earlier in the day but his Band Aid had remained in place wedged to separate them. By the time we reached Elkhorn Camp Moz had convinced me to take an Ibuprofen for pain relief. I elected to take ½ a pill and soon was striding along comfortably pain free and thereafter jogged more of the easier, wider trail.

We reached Lillian Camp, after what seemed like a long uphill haul from Mary’s Falls, to take a well earned 10 minute break for more refueling and liquids. We sat on a log and gormlessly watched campers going about their business setting up tents and cooking evening meals. We knew we had to carry on as the end of the trail was less than 5 miles, then we had the Whiskey Bend Road to contend with!!

We realized dusk was not far away so picked up our pace and jogged again; we both wanted to exit the forest trail before darkness would surely engulf us. We popped out of the trees to an empty car park and sign post signifying the start, or in our case, finish, of the Elwha River trail. There was just enough light to take a couple of photos.

Washington August 2011 057

We ate our final bits of nourishment, guzzled more liquids, rearranged what little gear we had to find head torches and Moz applied liberal amounts of Vaseline to his hairy, rubbed raw, salty, sweat ridden butt crack that was making it difficult for him to walk without pain at this stage. His Ibupofen couldn’t handle his latest demise!! My blister had become painful again and was joined by a couple of other small and less painful blisters on the same foot. We continued with our strangely hobbled gaits by head torch along a pitch black gravel road for several more miles until we finally reached Altaire campground and searched for Ingrid. She was snuggled up in her sleeping bag inside the car not quite asleep as we arrived. She had a good day hike after packing up the previous night’s tent camp and driving around to collect us. We were very glad and pleased to find her and decided to drive home for a decent hot shower to wash the day’s worth of salty sweat and trail dust from us, and, of course, celebrate with a beer or two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Aftermath

Even though we were both a bit gimpy towards the end of the trip our energy levels were fine and neither of us felt as though we had to stop. We had eaten and drank all our supplies, supping at least 10 pints of water-based liquids each during the day. I had a realization that I wouldn’t have wanted to do much more of a distance in a single push – maybe a 100k (62 miles) at the outside. Moz slept most of the next day after visiting the chiropractor again, and the following day we were off to the airport for his return to “Old Blighty”.

A few weeks after his return Moz took on the Joss Naylor Challenge successfully.

We both continue to keep ourselves fit for more daftness in the future and slow down the body rotting processes for as long as we can.