Trail Talk – August 2017

Another 100 degree day in the Bear Creek Valley, another early morning trail run kept short by daunting afternoon temperatures, and my mind’s fantasy went to snowy trails in August. Who could blame me?

Oregon, unlike our neighbor to the south, does not have a lot of trails that boast elevations in excess of 9000’. And our Mediterranean climate does not lend itself to lingering snow packs one finds in the Pacific Northwest climate areas to the north in Washington.

Running the Pacific Crest Trail in California’s High Sierras and Washington’s Alps during recent Augusts gave me ample opportunity to enjoy their Winter Wonderlands in the hottest time of the year. Unlike the snowy slogs of mid-winter, I find summer snow runs to be pleasurable. And on hot summer days on our local trails, these past adventures bring a cool smile to my parched lips.

Recent jaunts in the High Sierras, trudging up snow fields to Muir and Forrester Passes, was a real education in what fast-packing (back-packing at a trot) in elevations in excess of 12,000’ is about. At altitude, when summer storms materialize twice daily, one learns patience. And completion of such a trek leads to a smug satisfaction of one’s ability to carry on through trying circumstances.

But hubris can be hazardous. A cocky demeanor on refrozen snowfields will surely lead to a great tumble from grace. In my mind’s eye, I see the lone runner, 50 miles in with 24 miles to go, struggling along through the jagged metamorphic peaks of Washington’s Alps. Running a needle ridge where uplifting fog blanketed the dizzying depths to either side of the trail, the backpack riding heavily on his shoulders, our intrepid wanderer kept pushing forward, one foot in front of the other, struggling to maintain the pace needed to meet up with his shuttle driver.

And the sun slowly burnt through the surrounding fog to reveal a wilderness of white wonderment. Rounding the crown of the hill, the runner was surprised to find the entire Simon-Fraser University cross-country team relaxing at the turn-around of their morning workout. Straightening his bent frame, striding tall with chest out, it was time for this grizzled mountain man to impress the young folks. Loping gently down along the snow-covered trail seemed the thing to do at the time.

Pride leadeth to a fall and Nature always bats last. As his feet shot out to the side on the icy surface, our traveler realized he was schussing rapidly, without the benefit of skis, into the trees at the lower end of the mountain glade. Grabbing the first young spruce tree protruding from the white expanse, he arrested his descent. Scrabbling to his feet, spirit crushed but not broken (and certainly quite cool to the touch), he trudged off down the trail. He’d meet his shuttle, stock up on vittles, and tackle the next 70-mile stretch with quiet determination, truly humbled by snow in August.