Posted by: pointlenana | June 2, 2017

Issy Alps 100M – May 20 and 21, 2017

The short version:  Janet dropped me off early at the Mailbox Peak trailhead one morning.  Then I ran (at times) and walked and moved forward and eventually ended up at High Point 100+ miles and 38 1/2 hours later.  Van Phan gave me a mango smoothie and then Janet drove me home again.  There’s a link to the world’s least-exciting movie at the bottom of this post.

The long version:  Before I did the Issy Alps 100M, it felt like a really big thing – 100 miles, just me, carrying everything on my back, cougars.  Afterwards, to be honest, it’s not a lot more interesting than the short version – there were no spectacular near-disasters and I spent a lot of the time moving forward fairly steadily.  But here are the details anyway for the masochists (aka other ultra runners).

I already posted about what the Issy Alps 100 is.  I didn’t really explain how I got onto this path though.  It all started with signing up for Plain 100 this coming September – 100 miles, no course markings, no aid stations, no pacers, one drop bag about 62 miles through the race.  I signed up and figured I should practice being self-sufficient.  I looked at the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenges and at some point became aware of the Issy Alps runs.  I’d seen those before but it was back when I was still sane, and at the time thought “only crazy people do that”.  Anyway, to cut to the chase, I figured the best way to practice for something intimidating was to try something even bigger and more intimidating – out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The decision process was a very steep slope for me – I’m sure I didn’t pay much attention to the Issy Alps until after Canyons 100k (April 29) and I was already pretty serious about it by Lost Lake 50k (May 13).  During that time I decided to scout every piece of the route, practice all the self-sufficiency stuff (filtering water, carrying lots of food in my pack, fighting off cougars with a pen knife, etc.), and recover from 3 races in a month (Boston on April 17, Canyons April 29, Lost Lake May 13).  I figured I’d make my attempt in early to mid June while there probably would still be a fair number of creeks running, so I could carry less water.  Janet and I scouted Mt. Teneriffe before Lost Lake.  The day after Lost Lake I did my first “run” up Mailbox Peak and up the trails to the CCC road.  The day after that (Monday) I scouted the connector between Rattlesnake Ridge and Tiger Mountain.  When I got home I noticed a good weather forecast for the coming weekend and pondered making an attempt earlier than expected.  Sure, I had filtered water exactly once to make sure the filter worked, I hadn’t run with a stuffed pack, I didn’t know all the route, and I hadn’t recovered from my previous races.  Otherwise everything was lining up perfectly – yeah, that’s it.

It also felt (and still feels) that this route is somewhat fragile.  Richard Kresser found out mid-attempt a few weeks ago that a trailhead was closed due to construction.  Rattlesnake Ridge was logged sometime in the past 18 months and a section of nice trail turned into a logging road through a clearcut.  Timber sale signs have been posted at Tiger Mountain and somewhere else late in the route (Cougar Mountain?).  Waiting might improve some aspects but make other things worse.

So I told Janet what I was thinking.  “That would be great!!!!”, she said, being sick of me talking about Issy Alps non-stop for the previous week.  So it was decided.  I gathered my things between Tuesday and Friday, for an early start Saturday.  My one lingering concern was a slightly messed-up toenail on my right foot – it probably got dirty in the previous week, didn’t get cleaned well enough, stayed wet and dirty through 3 straight days of Lost Lake and scouting runs, and got a little infected.  I soaked the foot in epsom salts 2-3 times each day through Friday and ran the toe under hot water – by Friday I was pretty sure the toe would hold up at least until the second day, when everything else would be hurting anyway.

After sleeping 2-3 hours Friday night, I got up, mixed up Tailwind in my hydration bladder, and weighed my pack for the first time (~13 pounds with the bladder half-full).  Because the forecast was benign, I was able to leave out some things I would/should have carried – rain pants, an extra warm shirt.  Janet had me at the Mailbox Peak trailhead by 4:05am, with twilight still ~40 minutes away.  I fished out my flashlight, turned my tracker on, started my watch, and set off past the gate.  After Janet and the car headlights were gone, it was pretty dark.  I figured it would be light enough soon, but with the deep forest, steep hillside, rooty trail, and western slope, it was a good hour before I could see well enough to travel without the light.


The climb to Mailbox (in daylight, when I was scouting).  It’s actually steeper than it looks.

Mailbox is steep – about 4000 feet of climbing in about 2.7 miles.  By the time it was light I was about halfway up, and soon afterwards I hit the turn onto the new trail.  The last mile or so is a rocky trail above tree line but, just like my recon the week before, I couldn’t see much more than the clouds swirling around.  I reached the top about 1 hour 48 minutes (1:48) into the journey, took a quick video and headed down.


Up high on Mailbox – the week before when I was scouting.

The heavier pack didn’t seem to affect me going up but something – the heavy pack or my poles – slowed me a bit heading down.  Also, my foot slipped off a dangling root at one point and I sat down hard.  My pack hit the root and saved my rear end, but my upper arm slammed down hard on another root – I had a very large knot there after a few minutes and felt a bit lucky that the fulcrum of the impact was closer to my elbow than my armpit so nothing broke.  The rest of trip down was uneventful.  By 6:45am on a Sunday morning, lots of training climbers – big boots, heavy packs – were already headed up.  I filtered water near the bottom, made a detour to the outhouse in the parking lot, and headed up the road towards the Granite Creek trail around 3:10 (elapsed time, not time of day).

To get to the Teneriffe trailhead from Mailbox, we take a long detour up one side of the Middle Fork (Snoqualmie River) valley, across the valley via two unofficial trails, and then back down the valley on a lightly-travelled dirt road.  I had scouted all but the dirt road the previous week.  This time it went smoothly – up the Granite Creek trail for 2.5 miles, 1+ miles down the (not-yet-opened) connector trail to the road, through the parking lot construction that had stymied Richard Kresser a couple weeks before (surveyors were out when I scouted, it was empty this time), across the river on the road, and then a sharp turn onto the Sitka Spruce trail.


Crossing the Middle Fork, just before turning onto Sitka Spruce.  Mailbox Peak is up to the right I think.

There’s a half mile of swampy trail at the beginning of Sitka Spruce that crosses a few creeks before finally turning up onto drier trail.  My feet got pretty wet and muddy during scouting but somehow I hit everything right this time and I got up to the dirt road with just one somewhat-wet foot.  I was pleased to discover the road was empty, pretty runnable, and mostly downhill.  I arrived at the base of Teneriffe at about 5:30 into the run, almost 30 minutes ahead of my guesstimate.

Teneriffe packs a similar bang to Mailbox Peak – 4000 feet to the top in about 4 miles but the first 1.5 miles are relatively flat, the next 1.5 are steep, and the last mile climbs 2000 feet (close to a 40% grade).  It was prime hiking time at this point (10am on a Saturday morning) so I passed a lot of people hiking to the Teneriffe/Kamikaze Falls.  These falls are amazing – dropping 200-300 feet straight down far above the trail.  Once I got to the falls I turned off the main trail and headed up – basically straight up – to the narrow ridge looking over the Middle Fork/Snoqualmie Valley and heading up towards the summit.  I started hitting snow somewhere around 4000 feet (the summit is at ~4800 feet) but it was fairly consolidated and there were usually tracks to follow.

The snow did cause my second weird accident of the journey – my foot slipped backwards and I leaned forward to plant my poles.  As I did, my armpit landed right on top of a sharp stick pointing straight out of the snow.  It kind of hurt so I pushed hard on the pole to take pressure off but with the tiny basket the pole just postholed deeper.  The harder I pushed the deeper the pole went and the deeper the point of the stick pushed into my armpit.  This process took about 3 seconds, long enough for me to wonder if I’d see the stick suddenly poke out through the top of my shoulder.  Thankfully, I was able to pick myself up before that happened.  I didn’t even want to look at the hole in my armpit – it hurt a fair amount but I didn’t see blood gushing down the arm so I decided to ignore it.  Between the fall on the root (same arm) and the near-impalement, it hurt to lift my arm above my shoulder for the rest of the journey but fortunately 100 mile runs don’t require much of that.

Shortly after that accident, I was at the top, again in clouds.  There was a hiker up there waiting for the clouds to clear – I talked to him for a bit and he was one of the few people who looked at my running shoes and stuffed pack and figured out that something unusual was up.  He wondered why I didn’t throw Green Mountain (NE of Teneriffe) into the mix while I was at it.


Janet at the top of Teneriffe, from a hike a couple weeks before.  The dark pyramid on the left is Mailbox Peak.

After I couple minutes I said farewell and dropped down to find the trail over towards Mt. Si.  It was pretty easy to find by looking for the footprints in the snow that headed west instead of down.  Although the snow was compact, it was still tiring sliding around and occasionally having to look for footprints again when I confused tree drip spots with footprints.  That’s pretty much how this snow section went, even once I found the road heading down – pretty straightforward but slow and more tiring than I wanted.  With a snowstorm a few days previously, the snowline was further down than when Janet and I had done this 10 days before.  Eventually I hit my first dirt, then more snow, and finally done with snow for good (I thought).  Yay.  Down down down the Teneriffe road.  Eventually I found the connector to the Talus loop trail on Si..

As I refilled my water in the little stream I lamented how tired I already felt just one quarter of the way into the run – 10000 feet of climbing so far, leftover fatigue from races, something else?  Not much I could do about it though.

I should talk briefly about how I handled water.  I carried a 70oz hydration bladder in my pack.  Depending upon how sure I was about finding creeks, I usually only filled it partway.  Most of the time I’d pour 3-5 scoops of Tailwind (premeasured into small plastic bags) into the bladder before filling it so that I’d get a little nutrition with the water.  I used a Sawyer filter (full size) and got the adapter so I could swap my mouthpiece off the bladder tube and attach the filter.  I thought this would help me go faster – instead of sitting by the creek squeezing water into the top of the bladder, I could fill the filter bag and squeeze it into the bladder through the tube while I walked.  This worked as planned (I never tested this before I started – there’d be no adventure if I wasn’t trying new things during my 100 mile unsupported solo run).  I’m not sure it really saved me much time – it was a little awkward and at times I had to walk when I could have run with no bag in my hand.  Also, holding the bag in front of me and squeezing with both hands got tiring, so I ended up holding/squeezing the bag against my head with one hand.  It looked totally dorky I’m sure, but it worked and I don’t remember passing anyone when I was in mid-filter.

It’d been a couple years since Janet, Wyatt, Moani and I went up Mt. Si.  The trail passed quickly enough and then I was out with the Saturday crowds at the landing before the Haystack (scramble, not part of the Issy Alps route) at the top of Mt. Si.  I pulled out my Garmin Inreach to decide if I’d gone far enough – it would suck to do 99.9% of the route but miss a few feet of “summit” when it was ambiguous.  I seemed to be ok, so after looking around for a minute I headed down.  The Inreach/nav device was invaluable in finding the turnoff to the old Si trail – an unmarked turn to the right a couple hundred feet down the hill, probably obvious if you know it but easy to miss if you’re like me and haven’t used it before.  I picked my way downhill, finally got to the Boulder Garden trail (which I loved) and ended up with the crowds on the Little Si trail.  I was fairly dispirited at this point – moving slowly, doing a long fishhook out-and-back past the climbers, families and hikers wandering around on the Little Si trail, me not moving much faster than little kids.  Hours later – it felt like – I’d worked my around to the summit and then back down to the Little Si trailhead.  About 13 hours in at this point.  In my dreams I had hoped for 12, in part so I’d get to the Rattlesnake/Tiger connector in daylight and in part because Yitka Winn had made it here in 12 1/2 hours – after taking some breaks.  I had taken no breaks, was running behind her time and felt tired.  Oh well, lots of “race” left ahead of me and finishing at all was really my goal.  I took 5-10 minutes to regroup at the trailhead – consolidating food trash in a bag, unpacking the “second 1/3” foodbag into more convenient pockets, and thinking about the path ahead of me.

I managed to run most of the ~2 miles from the trailhead up the Snoqualmie Valley trail to the river.  I then semi-wasted 5-10 minutes trying to filter water (it turns out my filter bag fills up best if there’s a rivulet I can direct into the opening, not so well in a broad river that puts as much pressure on the bag as it does on the opening).  I also taped a hot spot on the bottom of my left foot, using some of the Leukotape I’d wrapped on a lipbalm container and the tiny Leatherman knife Janet gave me for the run (cougar protection, since I refused to carry the bear spray she got me).  Then it was up the last ~4 miles of Tunnel Marathon course to Rattlesnake Lake.  I ran off and on, and at some point trod slowly past a guy who was walking his dog up the hill.  He noticed my pack and said “It looks like you’ve been out for a while – how far have you run?”  “Maybe 40 miles at this point.”  “That’s awesome!” “Or maybe dumb…”  “No, you’re awesome!”

I certainly didn’t feel awesome.  I was gradually accepting that I’d have to find my way through the Rattlesnake/Tiger connector in the dark.  Around this time I realized I’d meant to charge my watch on the rail-to-trail grade, so I got my portable charger and watch cord out, clipped the cord to the watch, and (running with the charger in my hand and the cord flapping around my arm) was happy to see the watch battery climb slowly from 45% back up to 80+%.

Rattlesnake Lake came and went, and I climbed up towards Rattlesnake Ledge as many many people were coming down at 8 in the evening.  After the Ledge, I stopped seeing people.  Just me, the trail, and eventually some more snow on the trail – not tons, but enough to make me pay attention and slide around some more.  Then I hit a mess on the trail – downed trees that I had to climb over and under.  “Ah, the reroute!”, as a result of logging.  I got up on a downed tree and looked around – it wasn’t clear where to go but the clearcut seemed to be to my left, so I scrambled through logging mess for 30-40 feet and found myself on a logging road.  I looked around and saw “Reroute” signs.  Again, it wasn’t 100% clear where to go, but I headed down the logging road for a mile or two and was happy to see another sign directing me back through the mess onto the trail.  I might have turned too early because it was difficult for another 5-10 minutes, but eventually the mess cleared and I continued on nice trail.

The light was fading, so I stopped at an overlook, got my headlamp out and taped another hot spot, this time on my right foot.  With some sadness I watched the daylight disappear and then the world shrunk to the small space I could see in the cone of my headlamp.  After a few more miles and several gates/stiles (to keep mountain bikes out?), I got to the powerline which connects Rattlesnake to Tiger.

I’d scouted this a few days previously, and when I showed a picture and described it to someone, they said “what, is this like the Barkley?”  No, but there is some routefinding in this section and it really helps to scout first.  From the trail, you hit the clearing and turn left down the powerline.  A game trail gets helps you get through the scrub quickly, and then you turn left down a service road.  There’s nothing tricky about the road – except that this felt like a place where I could run into bears and cougars, so I moved to the other side of the road when I heard noise in the woods ahead of me.  I trotted along, occasionally looking over my shoulder to see if there was a herd of cougars following me in the darkness.  After a mile or so, the powerline bends left and shortly after there’s a tricky switchback off the road to the right that leads you onto a path into the woods – I hit that but then went in circles for a bit finding the path to the exit further down the powerline.  After a few tries, I finally found it and exited just past a steep slope.  As I came back out into the scrub I called out “hi bears, just passing through.  I’m friendly, nothing to worry about.”  Then it was a steep descent down the rutted service road (all in darkness, by headlamp) and out onto the flats on the way towards the Raging River.

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The Rattlesnake/Tiger crossing (in daylight).  You can see the end where it bends in the distance.  It looks straightforward, and parts are, but there are lots of opportunities to get into trouble here.

I could hear cars on the road (on the bridge above the Raging River) somewhere ahead.  You can’t see the road (in my case, the headlights of the cars on the road) until the very last moment when you come over a rise – the bridge is ahead and the Raging River is somewhere in the darkness underneath it.  The service road got swampy, then turned into a stream, and then narrowed into a little creek/path with blackberry brambles grabbing at me.  I worked my way down and found the final stream to the river.  Needless to say, my feet were soaking at this point – no matter though because I was about to be in water up to at least my thighs.

When I’d scouted the Raging River a few days previously, I’d had to cross it with one pole (I’d dropped the other somewhere, and didn’t find it until about 3 hours after I’d dropped it, on my way back – which tells you how few people go there).  The water was crotch deep and moving along pretty well, and the rocks on the river floor were round and slippery.  The crux wasn’t more than 8 feet wide but it was still a bit hairy with just one pole.  This time, with two poles and knowing what was coming, it didn’t seem bad even in the dark.   I crossed, filtered water, and headed towards Deep Creek.

Deep Creek isn’t that deep, but the banks on either side are 12-15 feet sheer drops and unless you hit the right spot it’s very difficult to get down to the creek or up the other side.  I’d spent 20-30 minutes hunting for the right spot during my recon, and after I found it I spent a few more minutes “practicing” getting to the right spot.  That paid off during this run – as soon as the trail got swampy and started dropping towards the creek, I took the right turn onto the little path, and then dropped over the edge into bushes part way down, picked my way through more bushes, and found myself at the creek exactly where the green ribbon was hanging (George Orozco aka Mr. Issy Alps put this up).  I crossed, worked my way up through the stream/swamp/path and eventually reached the service road taking me to Tiger.

Excited to put on dry socks at last, I stopped and reached into my pack.  I pulled the socks out and noticed they were… wet.  “That’s odd – I haven’t fallen into any creeks.  Oh.  Doh.  18 hours of sweat soaking into my pack.”  For a moment I considered putting them on anyway (“I was going to change socks.  It would be good to change socks even if they are wet.  Right???”) and then pushed them back in my pack and continued.

I really liked the service road/NW Timber Trail segment.  I’m not sure why – I think it was new, I was past the dreaded connector and probably halfway, and the NW Timber trail just felt fun to move on in the middle of the night.  I felt really alone but basically safe and the trail passed quickly.  Then I turned up the East Tiger road and… fell asleep.  I kept moving forward but every minute or so I’d find myself lurching to one side or the other, as if I’d dropped off and caught myself just before faceplanting.  The 4 miles to the top seemed to take forever.  Sitting down/napping didn’t seem like a great idea with all the cougars waiting to pounce on me, so I continued.  I passed a road on the right and decided that would be the road I’d take after coming down from the summit.  Eternity (ok, maybe 0.7 miles) passed and I found myself at picnic tables on what seemed to be the summit looking down at town lights below.  I looked around – fenced service areas, communications towers – and decided I could lie down without being eaten.  I lay on the picnic bench for about 2 minutes, closing my eyes and getting cold in the breeze.

When I opened my eyes I was awake again.  I ran easily down the hill back to the road I’d seen.  “This must be the Preston grade.”  I started along the road and checked the nav device to make sure.  “Huh?”  My brain still wasn’t working great but after a while I realized it was NOT the right road, and I’d run down past the right path several minutes before.  I looked at the nav device again, and it seemed to be telling me that I hadn’t actually made it to the summit either.  “Crap.  Oh well.”  I turned around and hiked with purpose back up the hill, past the trail I would take once I’d really summited, and back up to the picnic tables.  When I got there, I looked around for something higher, didn’t see anything, and pulled out the nav device again.  At this point I realized what had happened – the device thought I was further back on the trail and hadn’t done the summit portion yet and told me to go up there.  So, all told, moving and making decisions while I was asleep cost me a good 1.5 miles/30+ minutes.  At least I was awake again.

I dropped back down – only partway this time – poked around, and eventually found the correct path.  I scuffled along, sort of running, sort of walking, mostly interested in staying upright with daylight 1-2 hours away.  I don’t really remember when the sun came up – I think I was close to the Bootleg trail connection but this was all new to me and I just remember traveling what seemed like a very long distance to get from the East Tiger summit down to High Point.  I knew I’d have to pass through the homeless Tent City at High Point – I didn’t know what to expect – but at 6 am on a Sunday morning it turns out that the 40 tents lined up are pretty quiet.  At ~26 hours in, I’d reached the 100k mark.  “2/3 done.”  (Yeah, about that.  100k is about 62 miles.  2/3 of ~103 miles is about 68 miles.  I don’t know the real distance to High Point but if it’s actually 62 miles, I was about 6 miles short of 2/3 done, which is 1 1/2 to 2 extra hours at ultra pace – a non-trivial difference.)

From High Point I had ~4 pretty good hours.  I know West Tiger really well, and the hike to the summits of West Tiger 3/2/1 went quickly.  There were already weekend hikers out and a few passed me as I unpacked my “last 1/3” foodbag into my pockets.  I called Janet near the #1 summit and gave her a quick update.  I told her I was going to try to do this last segment in about 10 hours.  As I was saying goodbye, I reached a fork in the trail and managed to make a wrong turn while I was talking to her.  5 minutes later, I figured it out and got myself back on track.  I also thought about my 10 hour math, and realized I’d done it wrong – I’d forgotten the 3 miles at the end.  10 hours wasn’t completely impossible but very optimistic.


Looking south from the Hiker’s Hut near the top of West Tiger #1, from an earlier trip.

I flew down the back side of Tiger – I think I covered 5 miles (of the ~32 remaining) in about an hour.  I felt great, and thought that if I could do the downhills at that pace, 36 hours to finish wasn’t completely crazy.  I reached the Issaquah High School, crossed the road, and then started on the Squak/Cougar/Squak section that was all new to me.  Then the climb up the east side of Squak crushed my soul.

I’m not sure what happened – not eating enough (I was pretty tired of all the food I was carrying by this point), running too fast down Tiger, the relentless steep climb, the fact that the “level” East Side trail was slightly uphill the whole way?  Probably all of those things.  But after feeling great coming down the previous hill, I hated life going up this one.  My right foot was also really starting to hurt on the bottom – maybe a blister or maybe maceration from being wet, but something wasn’t right.  I didn’t think I could do much for it, and I was “almost done”, so I ignored it as much as I could and continued.  Miles crawled by.  I filled my bladder and managed to spill a bunch of Tailwind on the ground in the process.  I looked at it, puzzled, and did nothing to clean up the pile of white powder – I just continued on. (I did realized this though a bit later, and cleaned it up as much as I could on my return trip several hours later).  I got a little lost at the jog from the East Side trail to the West Side trail.  And then finally the West Side trail headed down – genuinely down – to the road.

Crossing the road wasn’t fun.  How far do I travel down the road?  Why is the shoulder so uneven?  Why are those cars going so fast past me?  Am I even headed in the correct direction?  Eventually I found the Squak/Cougar connector trail and turn up that.  It went up and up and up some more.  Then the Wilderness Creek trail – more up.  Then winding around on the Deceiver and Shy Bear trails, where I’d run a half mile just to make 0.1 mile of forward progress towards the west side of the park.  “People run at Cougar all the time and I’ve never been here before.  Stupid.”  I was relieved to turn onto the Indian Trail – straight, wide, not trippy.  I called Janet and told her “10 hours was delusional.  I think I’ll be down about 3 hours after I start back up Squak.  Maybe 6:15pm/38 hours.  But figure 3 hours from the start of Squak.”  I hiked up the Quarry Trail, then Shy Bear, and then made a detour up to Wilderness Peak after missing a turn due to 6 people standing in the intersection where I was supposed to turn.  (Wilderness Peak is about 25 feet above and 0.1 miles from the correct path – so not a big deal.)  Back down to the correct turn, then an endless descent down the Wilderness Cliffs trail and down the connector.  I collected water for the last time and headed down towards the road, filter bag pressed to my head.

Back up Squak – the climb from the west side was much easier than the east side climb.  The East Side trail really had been all uphill because it was slighly downhill most of the way in this direction.  My foot hurt a lot walking or landing on roots, but it gradually dulled whenever I ran for a bit.  I had my favorite hallucination during this point – a red “No vehicle traffic beyond this point” sign nailed to a tree in the middle of nowhere turned into some weird contraption with two guys dangling from it in climbing harnesses.  When I got closer the two guys turned out to be moss dangling in the breeze.  Down the East Ridge trail, back on the pavement, across to the High School, about one hour left.  Looking at about 38 1/2 hours to finish.

It was hot down there at ~5:30pm.  It was a warm day and whenever I was lower down I felt it.  Thankfully, up high it was cooler and there was usually a nice breeze to keep me comfortable.

I ran the flat path past the high school, managed not to get shot by people shooting what sounded like shoulder cannons at the rifle range, and then got a little confused on the short hill up to the Tiger trails.  I had scouted this a couple weeks before because it seemed to confuse people, and I still didn’t remember exactly where to turn.  After a couple more wasted minutes, I was on the Tradition plateau and turning onto the Brinks trail.  I had no interest in running this – my foot hurt, I didn’t want to land on or trip over the roots, and I’d be done soon enough.  I shuffled along as quickly as I could, passed through the powerline sections, hit the boardwalks on the Swamp Trail, and reached the road from the High Point upper parking lot to the lower lot.  I didn’t really know where the end was but I knew I had about 1/2 mile left.  I ran down one hill, walked up a slight grade (saving myself so I could finish running for all the fans – meaning Janet – waiting at the finish) and trotted the last bit.  In the distance I could see a couple people waving.  “Are they waving for me?  That doesn’t make sense.”  As I got to the gate I saw Janet – I hadn’t recognized her – and Van Phan (first Issy 100 finisher and ultra legend – “what’s she doing here?”) and my friend Sam from out of town who had just landed about 2 hours before.  As I passed the gate, I asked Van “Where’s the end?” “Right here.”  Oh, good, I’m done.  Whoopee.  Pffft.  I spent a minute or two understanding why there were so many people waiting for me, and then Van reminded me to stop my watch.  38 hours 26 minutes.  Van offered me a lot of food – most didn’t sound good but the mango smoothie hit the spot.  I got dizzy – like I did when I fainted after UTMB – so I sat down.  Eventually I got in the car with Janet and our friend Sam, and we drove home.  The end…


Crossing the finish line, from Van Phan”s video.


No, I didn’t really travel 122 miles.  Strava claims it was 106 miles.

Upon Further Review

This went pretty well.  On some level I had no business doing 100 miles unsupported and solo – there were just too many new things (trails, water filter, food choices, nav device, cougars, etc.).  But I had enough pieces in place that it didn’t seem stupid to try, and I knew I had exit points along the way if things went south.  I’m pretty happy with how it went given how many things could have gone wrong.  And Plain is not as intimidating now.

On a good day, I can see finishing maybe a couple hours faster (I don’t like to think about this because it would only happen if I ran it again, and I’m not ready to think about that):

  • routefinding – I’m sure I lost 45-60 minutes due to wrong turns and bonus miles.  I had few problems on the trails I knew already.
  • running on fresh legs – doing this right after my races wasn’t my best-ever idea (but far from my worst also).
  • food choices – I got really sick of the food I had after about 24 hours and should have put some new/different stuff in the 3rd bag for the last 1/3 of the course.
  • foot problems – This is ironic, but I think the epsom salts soaks in the days before my journey did in my right foot (the painful one).  When I took my (foul-smelling) shoe and sock off, I had a big blister on the sole of my foot, two on my heel, and another on my toe.  I don’t usually get blisters and certainly not to that extent.  I’ve had wet feet for a long time before without blisters, and my left foot was blister-free this time in the same conditions.  The one thing different about the right foot this time was all the epsom salts soaks in the preceding days for the toenail problem.

Kudos to George Orozco for figuring this route out.  It’s long, it’s hard (about 30000 feet of climbing along the way, like climbing Mt. Everest from sealevel), and even though it’s close to Seattle it feels pretty wild and empty.

And kudos to Jeff Wright, who finished his unsupported solo run this past weekend, stealing away my “oldest finisher” title after I’d held it for just a week.

Gear (huge thanks to Yitka Winn and Van Phan for documenting the stuff they took on their unsupported attempts – I basically copied their lists and then tweaked them a bit):

Stuff I used:

  • Altra Olympus shoes
  • Feetures elite socks
  • A thick coat of TrailToes on both feet (works great if you don’t soften feet with epsom salts first)
  • Dirty Girl gaiters (the Hyponatremia pattern – you wanted to know, right?)
  • Nike dry fit compression shorts (I don’t like Nike but these shorts don’t chafe)
  • Merino wool short sleeve shirt
  • Band-Aid brand “nip guards” (aka bandaids to prevent bloody spots on my chest)
  • Body glide on every possible chafing spot
  • Seven Hills hat
  • Ultimate Directions PB v3 pack
  • Black Diamond Z-poles
  • Platypus 70oz bladder
  • Sawyer water filter, 64 oz bag, and hydration tube attachment
  • Petzl Nao headlamp
  • Fenix flashlight and spare batteries
  • Arm sleeves
  • Running gloves
  • Phone with photos of all the maps + charging cord
  • Garmin Inreach nav/tracking device + charging cord
  • Suunto Ambit Peak watch + charging cord
  • Ankor 3500mah portable charger
  • Warm hat
  • Small Leatherman knife
  • North Face light raincoat
  • GoPro camera

Spares/Just In Case – carried but mostly didn’t use:

  • Ultimate Direction body bottle
  • Mini first aid (pepto bismol, that long bandage I had to carry for UTMB, money, large and small bandages, Squirrels Nut Butter sample, hand sanitizer, a couple tiny toothbrush things, Leukotape wrapped on lipbalm, and that piece of paper with my name and phone number that Janet wrote for me in the car on the way to the trailhead when she asked if I had id and I said “no”, tp, sunscreen)
  • That SOL emergency bivy sack I had to carry for UTMB
  • That wet pair of spare socks

What I’d change:

  • Put things I want to keep dry inside of a waterproof bag – doh.

Food (carried ~8500 calories, ate about 7000):

  • ~25 servings of Tailwind (some with caffeine for the night) – 2500 calories
  • 3 Rxbars – 600 cals
  • 12 gels (some with caffeine) – 1200 cals
  • 6 Gu and HoneyStinger waffles – 900 cals
  • 3 bags of TrailButter – 2400 cals
  • Crushed potato chips (Thank you Yitka Winn!  Great idea.) – 450 cals
  • Trader Joes pretzel slims (good but too dry) – 450 cals

I should have carried one less TrailButter (unappealing after 24 hours), less Tailwind (I like getting the nutrition with the water but at times I just needed plain water) and one or two fun/yummy things for the end (baby food pouches, dried fruit, different bars?).




Van’s video of me finishing

My GoPro footage (you’ll notice that I took less and less as the run went on – I wonder why?)


  1. I’m tired just reading it.

  2. congrats, mark, on yet another crazy adventure!

  3. Mark, congrats! …and thanks for all the documentation. i enjoyed reading your report, esp: “When I opened my eyes I was awake again.” i take this to mean you had been sleeping with them open. i think i know the feeling, That’s really cool of Van to come greet you at the finish.
    i am anxious to hear how Plain goes. might be easier in terms of routefinding. are you allowed to confab with other runners?

  4. You’re so freaking amazing. Glad I’m not the only person who talks aloud to animals like that. Love the pictures of Mailbox – why is it so hard to capture steepness in photographs? I suppose it’s all in the flattening of the image, but my steep climbs always look so “meh” in pix.

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