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This is Why I Run

Posted Jun 06 2009 12:04am

All week I’d been itching to get out of town for my scheduled twenty mile run. Itching to go somewhere I’d never been. Close enough to make the trip in one day but far enough away that I could still call it a trip. And it absolutely had to be a trail run. In the mountains. With spectacular vistas and chance encounters with wild animals. With packed single-track and lots of ups and downs. With creek crossings and river swims. With trees and rocks and shady spots in the grass to eat my peanut-butter and honey sandwich. With the slightest cross breeze and Fall temperatures in the Summer. Oh, and there had to be cloud cover, except for when I wanted to take a picture then I’d need all the sun I could get. And would it be too much to ask for if all this trail running goodness were within cell-phone range?

After some painstaking research, I found a trail in a hiking book that looked to be up to the task.

Location:Blue Mountains / Umatilla National Forest
Distance: ~21 mile loop
Difficulty: Moderately Difficult
Hiking Time: 2-3 days

Hiking time 2-3 days? Moderately Difficult? I know that these hiking terms don’t translate very well into trail running terms, but I was still a little concerned that I might be biting off more than I can chew. Then again, I think that challenge was part of the reason I picked this trail. My goal was to do the loop in less than 6 hours.

The plan was to leave very early yesterday morning to get on the trail before the day got too hot. And I wanted all the daylight I could get just in case it did take me all day to make the loop.

The alarm went off well before the sun came up. I got up well after. Great, I slept through the alarm and was already over an hour behind schedule. But this turned out to be a good thing because on my way out of town I saw Jen cruising along on her 18 mile run. Hi Jen!! Nice run!

The Blue Mountains and UmatillaNational Forest are located in Southeastern Washington and Northeastern Oregon. According to my error free drive time calculations it would take me just over 2 hours to make it to the trailhead. Never, ever, underestimate the time it takes to drive along mountain roads. I got to the trailhead in a bit over 3 hours. Now it’s already past 9am and the sun was already starting to get hot. Lace ‘em up and get going.

I love the trails.

(Note: Poor Sadie didn’t go on the run with me. She has an open sore/blister on one of her paws and needs a week or so to heal. She’s having a rough time these last few weeks. The run was lonely without her.)

The start was in Washington at an elevation around 5,400 ft. Basically, the run was to go down into a canyon and run along a river for a bit then run up the side of the canyon and loop back to the start.

Graphics below: Rough sketch (nothing GPS'd) of the route. I ran the loop counter-clockwise starting at the top left just off the map. Also, an elevation graph I put together based on the guidebook's graph.
The first 7 miles or so was downhill, very steep near the beginning, then becoming more gradual. The one downside to the entire run was in this section. Of those 7 miles, a portion of it was completely overgrown with bushes and vines and limbs. The trail was still visible below all this but it was difficult running in these parts because it was so thick (so thick it ripped a gash in my shoe) and I had to bushwhack my way through. A lot of it was rocky. Most of it was runnable.

This section also fulfilled my wildlife sitings quota for the month. I came up on elk on two separate occasions. I don't know if these elk were deaf or not, but they waited until I was pretty close (less than 30 yards) before the jumped and groaned and bounced off into the woods. These caused me to have only mini-heart attacks. The major heart attacks happened when a Blue Grouse or two would fly up from underneath a bush when I ran by. This happened at least a half-dozen times. And they don't just "fly" up. They wait until you are basically two-inches away from them and then shoot up about 10 feet into the air (right next to your head, mind you) with their wings flapping so loud you think you're being attacked by a rabid werewolf. Honestly, the only thing that could possibly be scarier on a trail run than a heart stopping Blue Grouse encounter would be if you actually tripped over a bear.

Those 7 miles led south to Oregon and the Wenaha River, elevation around 2,500 ft. The 4 mile section along the river was amazing. Since the canyon walls are so steep, most of the trail was overlooking the river from 50 to 100 feet above. I was able to run most of this section. Did I mention that I didn't see anyone the entire run. It was wonderful. This section of the trail actually runs nearly 30 miles to Troy, OR. Maybe something to plan in the future. :)

Then I reached the junction to head back up. Up to this point I had tried to run as much as I could because I expected that most of the nearly 3,000 ft climb back to the start would include more hiking and less running. The trail up was called Grizzly Bear Ridge. The first couple miles back up were very steep and I was doing short 1 or 2 minute runs to every 5 minutes hiking. And with the sun high in the sky I was getting pretty tired. Right when I was ready to give up and wait for the sweeper vehicle to arrive and pick me up I got to the top of the ridge and it wasn't nearly as steep from there on out. I caught my breath and took a short break in a shady grassy spot and then headed back up. The last 8 or so miles was a very runnable gradual climb along Grizzly Bear Ridge. I got in some good running for most of it. But with about 2 miles to go I totally bonked and walked pretty much the rest of the way in. But I did it. 21 serious trail miles in about 4 hrs and 45 mins. I'll take it.

Now get me home to take a nap. Wait, who's driving me??

Alright, here are some photos. Enjoy.

Umatilla National Forest


I get to go down this...


There's a river somewhere in
that canyon way over there


There it is! The Wenaha River


View from the trail


Can you see the trail on the left
going over the black rock?


Ahhhh


Heading back up


On my way up


Not a good section of the trail
to practice my cartwheels


If the views weren't so spectacular
I wouldn't have stopped as often
(special thanks to the chipmunk
who took this photo for me)


Looking back down Grizzly Bear Ridge
toward the end of the run


It was a highly successful day. I was tempted on going back today, but decided to settle for a 3 mile recover run.

My last post I was (semi) joking about "Why am I running?" I think the photos on today's post do a great job explaining why I do.

Saturday - 21 miles
Sunday - 3 miles

Keep running!

-Scott
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