Posted by: Matt | June 9, 2009

Granite Mountain Hill Climb

Yesterday I went into work early and cut out when I could seize the initiative. With the sunshine still high in the sky and a few pilots hanging out over Tiger mountain in the light north west Pacific breeze I headed up to Exit 47 in order to attempt a running ascent of Granite Mountain.

In the time I’ve lived in the Pacific North West this has been a mountain that I’ve wanted to climb, but haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve read about it in several places, but had yet to experience it directly so when I pulled into the parking lot and turned off my rig I started getting ready with much anticipation.

While I was getting ready I had a nice conversation with an older fellow who had just returned from a side trail. He and I shared a common past in Colorado and got to talking about places and things done. I stretched and assembled my bag.

There is a big sign board at the trail head that has a rudimentary map of the area and trails. Trail 1016 looked like where I wanted to go, but there was no scale associated with the map so my orienteering for the day consisted simply of knowing that it was probably my first right then more up.

Easy enough, I set the GPS up and started my watch so I could run in a rhythm of fifths (16 minutes running, four walking and drinking). Off I went, but I won’t say “down” the trail. There may have been periods of trail where it went down, but I undoubtably blinked at those points and thus missed them.

The climb was regularly steep, but the trail was a great surface. Washington Trails Association has done a great job in this area. They’ve used local materials to build water breaks and bars all over the place and there appears to be regular stewardship of the path as weather allows. I’d suggest that some of this stewardship is accomplished by “Andy” the Forest Service backcountry guard who posted trip and trail reports at the head. Regardless of who it is maintaining this footpath it is in remarkable shape.

At 1.39 miles into the run you come to a Wilderness Boundary sign. I stopped here and let my heart rate fall a bit and ate a couple of honey drops. Easy moment snap a photo. Since the days that I worked as a Backcountry Wilderness Guard back on the Flat Tops Wilderness I’ve always enjoyed seeing these signs and make it a little event to walk over the boundary into the area. Alpine Lakes Wilderness at this point has a persistent pressure from civilization because it’s so close to a metropolitan area as well as Interstate 90 down below. The passage of car and truck traffic is very audible as you climb the mountain.

At about this point the forest starts to become dwarfed in standard sub-alpine form. This high up you can look off the side of the path out into open air for miles. I probably stubbed my toes once or twice because I wasn’t paying attention to the trail before me. It’s hard to do so when the horizon is so far away, it feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders and neck and I’m pretty sure my pace quickened at this point. There was certainly a smile on my lips.

The switch backs run parallel with a melt stream a little higher than the boundary sign and the sound of the cascading water drowns out the fracas of the Interstate miles below. The sunshine was on my shoulders and felt divine, my legs were in low gear and I maintained a constant “torque” driving myself up the hill.

Eventually, I crossed the melt cascade on a snow field above the flow of water. The snow between my toes felt really good (you think I’m crazy I know) and the sub-alpine have way to the low ground cover and snow fields of the alpine. Breathing is a tiny bit more difficult up here, but this is perhaps one of my favorite places to run. The wetness of the melting snow and the speed that life assumes because of the impending change of season is impressive and it fills me up.

As I climbed the snow started to take over and I tested the edges of the snow fields to avoid post holed as I crossed. Barefoot in the snow is extra especially fun; you can use your toes like a dog and claw into the stuff in a way that shoes prevent. It’s cold, but that makes you want to move your legs that much faster and a regular cadence results even though you’re often attempting to run right up a steep slope without turning.

I could see the fire watch tower on the peak to the west of the one I climbed, but the snow between where I was and that destination made me think twice about a crossing. Fun yet slow going and it was already getting later in the day. Descending in the dark over a re-frozen snow field didn’t seem like much fun so I stuck with the peak before me. Enough is as good as a feast.

Once I topped out I spent a little time stretching, snapping photos and looking about. The air was chilly I could see Denny Lake frozen, blue and white below. The Cascades sticking their gnarled knuckles up into the cloud base to the north, east and south. Cumulonimbus clouds standing a majestic 40,000 feet over the inhabitants of central Washington off in the distance.

There’s no substitute for this kind of peak experience in my memory. It’s a good thing I live so close to this topography. Endlessly interesting, dynamic and variable; open enough to run through.

The run down the hill was pretty straight forward. My speed increased once I cleared the snow fields. I encountered a number of other people ascending behind me, but no one running.

Over all, the toll I paid in flesh was pretty light. The only injury to report of any significance is a bruise on the top of the middle toe of my right foot. So far it doesn’t hurt at all, although I keep trying to rub the “dirt” off it when I notice the color on my shiny white feet. I probably incurred this while running where I could look around above the tree line.

My calves are completely tired and thighs are completely burnt out from the climb, but I’m working on building up my energy store for another run tonight or tomorrow.

|| GPS Log ||

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