Sunday, September 19, 2010

Stehekin Run

Stehekin is a town on the north end of Lake Chelan, accessible only by boat, plane or trail. No roads in. It is known for its remote mountain bakery, the Stehekin Pastry Company, and as a place to truly get away from it all. I’ve always wanted to run there, and on Saturday I finally made it happen, with a 36 mile Pacific Crest Trail run.

I met my friend Craig at 4:40 AM in Burlington, and we drove up to the Bridge Creek trailhead together, where we met up with Heather, Brian and Catherine. Heather had originally suggested the run, and was a rockstar, managing to fit in an extra 14 miles for a cool 50 on the day. Brian and Catherine made a weekend of the run, coming out on Sunday after a night in Stehekin. Good plan.

As far as backcountry runs go, this one is pretty different. We had to make it 18 miles down the trail to the remote High Bridge campground by 12 noon, so that we could then catch the North Cascades shuttle bus down to the Bakery and the lake. After a few hours in the area, the plan was to catch the return shuttle back to High Bridge, and run it back out. So—basically, long trail run, a sweet intermission for pastries, and then another long trail run.

It was cold at the start of the day, mist and rain. The forecasts said showers, but in the North Cascades, you never know, as there are all sorts of microclimates and rainshadows. It turned out to be a great day, with increasingly improving weather as we approached Stehekin. I think it rained all day back home.

There are many trails into the town of Stehekin. We took the Pacific Crest Trail, which is a relatively easy route. Our path was broken into two segments: the Bridge Creek Trail, and the Old Wagon Trail. The Bridge Creek trail travels through subalpine forest and open slopes, and crosses the creek at a junction with the North Fork. Parts of this run seemed very backcountry.

After roughly 13 miles, the PCT trail converges with the Stehekin Valley trail, at Bridge Creek Camp. This section is called the Old Wagon Trail, and it is gorgeous in the fall, reminding me of the east coast this time of year, with its mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, changing colors. The trail continues to parallel Bridge Creek.

One of the coolest things about this run was seeing the recent burn from the Rainbow Bridge fire, which has shut down many trails on this side of the park this summer. I didn’t like seeing burnt old growth per se, but you could smell the fire, see the charred trees, and then you could also see the new bushes, ferns and other growth turning color with the fall. A striking dichotomy. I have a good friend who used to study fire ecology—it is really fascinating stuff.

We indeed made it to High Bridge by 11:15, and it was actually pretty easy. We slowed down quite a bit towards the end, talking with thru-hikers on the PCT, near their finish, and kicking around. The gorge at High Bridge is killer, with 100s of kokanees visible swimming in the water, and the river rocky and wild. The charming old shuttle bus arrived on time, and we drove down into the valley, first visiting the Stehekin Valley Ranch, and then the bakery, and then finally Lake Chelan and the Landing.

The Bakery may be the best aid station of all time, ever. After running 18 miles on mountain trail, in the mist, corn chowder and a gooey cinnamon roll were just the ticket. I ate way too much, throwing down a piece of pizza and a mountain bar on the way out, and suffered for it on the return. The Landing was a pleasant spot, where taking a nap seemed just right. We ran into more PCT thru-hikers, and I checked out the National Park Visitor Center.

Getting going again on the way back was tough, after roughly a 3 hour break. But we did, and soon we were motoring uphill, hiking when necessary, running when able. It did get tough towards the end—it just was a long day, but we stayed steady, and were back at the car by 7:45, and home for Saturday Night Live.

Some pics below, more pics here.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Sounds epic! Sorry I didn't join you, but I don't think I had enough energy to run that far this week. I'm glad the weather worked out fairly well!