Snoqualmie Valley Circus

A few weeks back I arranged a challenge for myself. I wanted something that was far enough outside of my experience and comfort zone that I wouldn’t be able to predict if it would go down or not.

Sixteen miles seemed hard. Lots of vertical seemed harder. There is also something exciting about trying to do “linkups”. So I figured for my first foray into this sort of challenge I’d try to “link” Rattlesnake Ledge, Little Si and Big Si as three trail runs.

Given than Rattlesnake is something like six miles away from Little Si, I figured it would be best to drive between them. I’ve done each of these a number of times as individual hikes, so the logistics would be straight forward. It was purely a question of endurance.

I rented a car and ruminated on this idea for almost a week before the fateful Sunday came on March 22nd.

The first leg was an easy bit of warm up. I’ve only done this trail once, about seven years ago. It as a little out of the way, but this part of Rattlesnake Mountain borders the cedar river watershed, and so is mostly off limits to recreational humans. In other words, it’s beautiful. A quick two mile / 1050′ of vert took me to the the top of a rocky outcropping on the east end of the mountain.

rattlesnake_lake

The trail was soft and well packed, if slightly cambered. To my surprise, I quickly stripped down to a t-shirt and gloves. It was like 44F! Lesson learned. The “summit” in this case was just a rocky outcropping. The mountain is long and the true summit, replete with cellphone towers, is a few miles off. I elected to skip that bit.

Si from Rattlesnake Ledge. Rattlesnake lake below.

Si from Rattlesnake Ledge. Rattlesnake lake below.

The ledge was crawling with families and people gingerly scrambling around the rocks. One particularly tough looking fellow in a hoodie and basketball shoes frowned at a two foot gap in the rocks.

“Man…” he said “I jump off of buildings into pools, and I’m scared of this shit? That’s stupid.”

He then jumped across. Point taken. When you’re up high, even on a “civilized” trail, you feel exposed in the mountains. This is something that only experience can temper. I’m still working on the cold temps.

The downhill was a ton of fun. I caught up with another trail runner who managed to clear a path through the lines of day hikers. He had one tough dog.

Four miles in about fifty minutes. Not a bad warm up.

I dove into the Jeep, ripped open a gel and started driving back towards North Bend Way. Little Si was next. I was a bit worried about parking. There are two parking lots for the trail. Climbers I’ve met have sworn off this area because of all the “hikers” that descend on the area. Parking is impossible. There are even street signs that ask you to consider a different hike.

Of course, you could be really lucky, like I was.

Sweet parking.

Sweet parking.

I haven’t done this trail in a few years, and certainly have never tried to run the whole thing. I hadn’t realized how technical it was. “Rhinolite” shards were everywhere. When there was a bit of buffed out trail, it was probably best to avoid it.

Little Si trail is well groomed...

Parts of the Little Si trail are certainly well groomed.

I had HOKAs on, so I didn’t pay much attention to the rocks. Besides, once you swing around the climbing area by Doug Hansen’s bench, the trail leaves the rock fall zone and becomes much easier. The summit was fun. Some guy even cheered me on. “Looking good! Nice job!”.

North Bend

North Bend.

And then there was one.

And then there was one.

The summit was blanketed in a cloud of cigarette smoke from a youthful posse of scramblers who was reveling in their weekend adventure.

I took their advice and scrambled up, down and around the summit. Ultimately, it started to rain, so I chose to run back the way I came. Not counting the tweet minutes of goofing around at the summit, it was another 4 miles with 550’+ of vert in just under 50 minutes. I was happy with that. I was also very tired as I approached the parking lot.

I wasn’t sure if the big beastie, Big Si, would go. I drove back out to North Bend Way to the little drive-thru coffee stand for a mocha (mixed with a salt packet) and contemplated the last leg of this adventure. I figured I could drive to the Si parking lot, park and reason it out. So I did.

I sat in the Jeep for almost twenty minutes and contemplated my situation. The rain was definitely here. I was already exhausted, and had accomplished a reasonable 8 miles with 1500+ feet of vert. Did I have anything left to prove?

Apparently.

Mt. Si was first described to me as the Disneyland of Seattle hiking. It rarely fails to live up to that reputation. There was a horde of hikers scattered around the mountain. I wouldn’t be in any real danger. Still, I took a study rain jacket and food in a backpack and pack vowed to at least try for a PR.

I’ve never attempted Si as a run, so I figured that beating a two hour ascent would be easy even with walking.

Well. I started grinding up the early part of the trail, definitely feeling the previous 8 miles. I power hiked (read: walked) almost all of it, running only to get past long chains of chatty hikers in brilliantly colored outfits. The second mile started with extreme fatigue and mild nausea. I’ve learnt my lesson about keeping up with nutrition, but I kept chanting “eat at Snag Flats”, a mild clearing induced by a wildfire over a century ago.

Hunched over, cold, nauseated and prepared to turn around, I sat down on a massive log near the trail and opened my pack. A GU, two bits of salami, a lot of water and ten minutes of sitting (with the clock running, of course!) had me feeling much better. I looked up at the long slog of switchbacks and tried to evaluate my situation. Turning back would still make for a great set of runs.

Then I watched as a woman ran slowly, methodically, past the puncheon at the Flats and up the switch bags. She almost seemed frightened when I cheered her on, but smiled and moved on. Five minutes later I was inspired enough to keep moving.

I can’t say it was easy. But it was easier. The final half mile gets a bit steeper, and I picked up the pace a little bit. Moderately delirious I chanted to myself “wow, I can’t believe it!” over and over again. All the vertical. All those miles. I was actually going to pull this exceedingly arbitrary but personally difficult set of tasks off!

“Yeah man, you’re almost there.” a fellow in a white T-shirt chimed in as I pushed past him. I smiled, and immediately began contemplating the descent.

Made it. I love Snoqualmie Valley.

Made it. I love Snoqualmie Valley.

It was wet, and I was bonking a bit. Better to leave the Haystack be today.

It was wet, and I was bonking a bit. Better to leave the Haystack be today.

The summit rocks were cold and cloudy.

I was up in 97 minutes – beat my PR by over twenty minutes!

Despite all the hikers I encountered going in both directions, almost nobody was at the summit. That one tough trail runner was there. I told her she was my hero. She looked confused for a moment before breaking out into a huge smile; she walked away without saying a word.

To finish things off properly, I walked up the stone stairs towards the shoulder below the Haystack. Rather than take the trail as I should have, I found myself stumbling around the rock piles taking photos of the valley below. For a moment, a small cluster of Europeans appeared to take photos. They vanished, and I realized two things. One, I was alone at the summit and two, I was (mildly) bonking. I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t seen the trail, or how I was supposed to get back to the tree line. It took me a while to convince myself that I wasn’t hypothemeric, and I slowly retraced the route back to the relative safety of the lower summit rocks. I was lucky, walking back was entirely unconscious. If I guess that’s a lesson learned. Don’t push too hard in the mountains unless you are really familiar with the area. I guess I choose the right peak.

I crammed in water, a stinger waffle, raisins, dried figs and another bit of salami. I put on my buff around my neck and rinsed my face. Almost immediately I was alert and warm again. At that moment, I saw another runner in HOKAs summit and turn around without a word. Seattle runners. Feeling good again, I tighten my laces and went after him.

The descent took 57 minutes, another record for me! It was wet and there were a lot of people still coming up. I love running downhill and I love running through crowds.

When I started the trip, I had every intention of driving south to IKEA to buy actual furniture for my apartment before turning around. The car was due back at 7pm. I opted for a beer at NBBG instead. That was two weeks ago. I still think it was worth it.

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