The nutshell version of my trip report:
This was a challenging route with amazing views from Windy Peak and in the high country, bugs were not too bad until Middle Fork Toats Coulee Creek(?), and there were lots of blow-downs and significant over grown trail sections.
The long winded version:
My day started at 3am with ninja coffee preparation as my family slept. We had camped at Lake Osoyoos for the weekend, which was how this run came to be. I, ever the opportunist for trail runs, found a UPWC route within a "reasonable" distance from where we would be staying. I'm not sure 1.5 hours of drive time is necessarily reasonable distance from a destination that took us 2.5 hours to reach, but that's how I sold it and it worked. After some how making two cups of instant coffee on a camp stove in the dark without waking anyone up and taking care of the morning business I set out for the trailhead.
Shortly after passing Loomis I realized I was in no cell service country and I had only brought my phone for driving directions. I thought to myself this might be a problem later, depending on the number of turns my route would take, because I would be on my own to drive back to camp and getting lost is one of my superpowers. Since that dilemma was many hours away I decided to table it and carry on with more positive thoughts, like wow Ed, you didn't print any maps not only for the drive, but for the run also. You sure better hope you don't trip and fall on your phone out there. Oh, did I mention this was my first solo run in remote country? Also, I have absolutely no boy scout skills? Fear, anxiety, and second thoughts started crawling out of the dark corners of my mind and kept me company for the rest of my drive. Visions of hungry wild animals, phone software glitches, and multiple day self rescue treks on a broken ankle played out in high definition on the big screen of Ed's pessimism theater.
Things only got better when I arrived at the Long Swamp Campground. First thing I noticed was my truck's temperature gauge told me it was 32 degrees outside. This seemed strange to me because in the rest of my world it was summer with 100 degree days and 68 degree nights. I suspected my temperature sensor had to be broken, because all of Washington state must be one climate, right? Jumping out of my truck in shorts and a short sleeved technical shirt I found that the truck had been right. Even if I wanted to suspect some thermal-sensory-hallucination the frost on the grass verified the temperature was indeed near freezing. Through sheer luck I had a long sleeved mid-layer full zip in the truck I had only even brought on the trip because my wife made me, and had only ended up in the truck because I wore it during my coffee consumption to keep a slight breeze at bay. I put on the extra layer and my running pack, locked my truck, and headed for the trail head.
So, this next part is great only if you know how terribly scared of wild animals I am. How terribly scared of wild animals am I? Extremely. While at this point in my life, standing at the trail head sign, I had never had a run in with anything but skunks, raccoons, lots of deer, and one elk I had devoured all of the most terrifying headlines and internet videos and cautionary tales that existed on the topic of how badly everything in the wood wanted to mess you up. I could go back on my heart rate graph after a run in MUCH less remote wilderness where I thought there was maybe something in the woods with me because I heard a stick crack and see a spike. Grouse exploding out of bushes next to me had either almost given me heart attacks or caused me to jump off cliffs more times that I could count. During the drive up I had thoroughly considered how highly improbable it was that I WOULD NOT see a black bear AND a mountain lion on this trip due to the remoteness and how scary that was and how based on that I should turn the truck around and go back to camp with my tail between my legs.
So, now that I have painted a picture of my feelings about basic wild animals, I will continue with my description of the events that transpired
Upon reaching the trail head I began reading the posted literature. I always do this to make sure I am an informed trail user. The second posting my eyes came across almost ended the whole day. The posting was a guide with the headline "Attention Hunters: Know Your Bears," or something to that effect. It was a side by side artistic depiction of a Grizzy Bear and a Black Bear with key points for telling the difference between the two, my favorite of these the part where they mention that the Grizzly's claws are 2-4" while the Black Bear's claws are merely 1-2". I said to myself, so, if they felt the need to put this sign here for hunters I think there is a strong likelihood that it is because there are Grizzly bears in these woods. This is not something I had considered in the slightest at any point ever in my plan for this adventure. As a matter of fact several times in my life I had strongly stated that I would NEVER run ANYWHERE that there were Grizzly Bears. The prospect of having an encounter with a Grizzly is literally the scariest possible thing I can imagine. Now, here I was seeing this leaflet casually letting me know that the Grizzly's shoulders were higher than it's butt. I had seen lots of trail heads and never before had I seen this particular posting so I knew it wasn't just standard issue. I stood there for a long while considering my options, which were chance it or jump back in my truck and consider this all a nice three hour morning drive into and back out of the woods for fun. Between the absolute certainty I would be eaten by a Grizzly Bear, my shivering, and my failure to bring a backup navigation method I had a hard time talking myself into hitting the start button on my watch and getting going on the trail but eventually I was able to convince myself a couple miles to think about it while moving would at least warm me up.
The first five or so miles of the Windy Peak trail were moderately treed with plenty of climbing and a significant number of blow-downs. There were a few runnable stretches I took advantage of but mostly it was hiking and routing around blow downs. I noticed that there was a lot of fresh looking cuts so I assumed most of these uncut blow-downs were fresh, and man there were a lot. Shortly before the intersection of Windy Peak trail and the Deer Park trail (or Clutch trail or 343?) I got warmed up, or it got warmer, and I stopped to lose the extra layer and send a check-in with my satellite tracker. My wife made me get one since she is more than aware of my ability to get lost and my inability to listen to common sense and turn around when I'm in over my head.
After passing the intersection I quickly got into more open country, which was a relief since now I should be able to see the Grizzly from far enough away to avoid him. I was pretty stressed about the whole situation in the trees and now I felt like I could breath a little easier. Also, the beauty of where I was really started to kick in since I could see so much more. The environment reminded me of my trips through the Enchantments back home. Flowers, smallish trees, sandy soil, and granite. I think it is called sub-alpine?
Eventually the trees became smaller and smaller until there were no trees and more sandy soil and granite as I ascended towards Windy Peak. The views just continued to get better and better the whole way up. I think it was at this point I sort of forgot about the Grizzly that was waiting in the woods to pummel me.
I climbed to the top of Windy and was immediately blown away by the scenery available all the way around. I remembered in the route description a note about "incredible 360 degree views" and the potential to linger here too long. The author was correct on both counts.
After eating a small breakfast consisting of two bars and a chia seed gel, and taking lots of pics of course, I made my way back down from the top of Windy. I thought it was interesting the the trail was so easy to see from the top down, as I had felt like I couldn't see the trail at all on the way up and was mostly just climbing over rocks to the top in the general route from my 2016 Forest Service map layer. When I got the the bottom I and found the well marked sign for the spur trail, which clearly wasn't the way I had taken up, I realized I now needed to run back to the point where I exited the trail to ensure compliance with the rules of the route. This mistake only added about a half a mile to the adventure. Yay, bonus miles!
The next seven miles were definitely my favorite part of the whole run. The section between Windy Peak and Sunny Pass were mind-blowingly gorgeous. Sweeping views all around, grass and wildflowers everywhere, and lots of small streams. Just off of Windy in a large, flat, green area, I spotted three separate tents scattered around the high meadow and campers sipping coffee and relaxing.
As I descended from Windy through and old burned section I encountered the only other trail traveling humans of my adventure. A couple of hikers with very large packs on their way up. Less than a mile after passing them I had my most significant wildlife encounter of my life so far.
I had turned onto a short flat section in the old burn and as I was following the trail through the charred, white toothpick trees I spotted something much darker than everything else out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look head on at this anomaly and there was a young moose. He wasn't moving and was staring at me, hard. I could see that he had fur on his antlers and my judgment that he was young was based on seeing internet videos of moose that towered over SUVs. This guy was very big, but not that big. I quickly decided that maintaining eye contact with this creature might not be a good idea, as someone had told me they can be dangerous. I turned forward and started walking again, watching him from the corner of my eye. He continued to stare me down, standing still as a statue. Of course I had to take a picture, so as I walked I pulled my phone out and got my camera ready and when my corner eye shot told me I had a good full-on view I stopped and quickly snapped a shot. It was probably all in my head, but I was sure that his expression was communicating to me that I was pushing it now and better kick some rocks if I wanted to live. I stowed my phone as I walked, and bumped the pace back up to a slow run. Once I was fully clear of his view and far enough away to feel safe I thought how great it was to have seen such an amazing creature here in this remote wilderness. I felt blessed for sure.
Shortly after Sunny Pass the descent began, diving into much thicker old burn area. The wildflowers were out in force. The trail was overgrown enough in enough places that running seemed a little sketchy, so I ran where I could and walked where I couldn't. I was kind of in the middle of nowhere and pretty far out still, so I really didn't want to have to limp to my truck from here.
Eventually the trail really cleared up as I descended into the Deer Park area, so I naturally took advantage and started running quickly to make up some time. This ended up not being the best place to start downhill sprinting as I completely missed the turn on to trail #341. A mile and a half too late I thought to myself that it was strange I hadn't seen the turn I knew was supposed to be coming up yet. When I pulled out my phone I found I had shot right past it. It occurred to me that I had been running downhill this hole time so now I would get to power hike back up to the site of my error. Yay, more bonus miles AND vert!
When I got back to the missed turn I could see how this was an easy mistake to make. The trail that would bring me back to the Windy Peak trail was small and didn't appear very heavily used, and it was at a pretty sharp angle to the much more defined trail I had been on.
This connector trail, #341/343, seems to have been long forgotten by any maintenance crews and not very utilized by other bipeds. Going was extremely slow due to heavy overgrowth on the majority of the trail making it impossible to see rocks and roots and other runner destroyers that might lurk beneath the brush. My ankles and lower shins suffered heavy fire for the next seven miles or so. I eventually became numb to the sharp pains of abrasions getting further abraded by more branches and brush. I stopped at the Middle Fork Toats Coulee creek to refill my bladder and bottles and this is where the bugs started. No mosquitoes, but plenty of these small, quick, flies that were on me in a swarm. I didn't realize they were also biting me until much later when the itchy bumps showed up the next day. I am not sure if this initial group followed me for a great while or there were just lots of bugs in this section, but they were with me for a significant bit after this first contact.
After what seemed like a very long time, probably due to the slow pace and the consistent whipping I was receiving, I arrived at the intersection with the Windy Peak trail. At this point I had been out a lot longer than I had expected to be and was quite relieved to know I was on the home stretch.
I descended as quickly as I could while navigating the numerous blow downs again and running through the longer cleared sections. Before I knew it I was back at my truck. My first UPWC adventure was complete! My watch told me I had traveled 34.5 miles and accumulated 8209' of vert. To be honest it felt further than that and like I'd climbed a lot more than that. Later I would realize this entire adventure was at a much higher elevation than I normally ran at and I'm betting that had something to do with that feeling.
This adventure for me was significant in that I overcame my fears and continued on despite my mind's persistent proclamations that I would certainly be eaten by a bear today; I got to make a little checklist of things I need to be better at on longer adventures, namely backup navigation methods; and I became aware of some unique, beautiful country that I hope to explore many more times in the future. This route was amazing and challenging and I thank the Ultra Pedestrian Wilderness Challenge for scouting and sharing it!
Caltopo of planned route: https://caltopo.com/m/HKL7
Strava of my effort, with bonus miles: https://www.strava.com/activities/3817003246
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