I had to get up at 4:30 to be at Karen’s house by 6:00. We had about a 1 ½ to 2 hour drive ahead of us, and we were on the trail by 8:45. There were three of us: me, my friend, Karen, and our coach, Bill. For about the first ½ hour or so, we were plagued with bugs and flies attacking us, but once we started climbing in elevation, they went away. Prior to that, it felt like they were trying to invade every open orifice. It was very irritating. Also, it wasn’t long before we felt the affects of going up in altitude and the weight of our packs. We had each filled our bladders to capacity (60 to 72 oz), and were carrying a little bit of extra “food” and some emergency supplies, just in case.
A month or so earlier, Coach Bill (as we affectionately call him) had given each of us one of those cooling bandanas. Those things turned out to be a blessing in disguise! If you don’t know what they are, they are a bandana shaped in a triangle with a piece of chammy cloth in it, and have a slit at one side. You can either just wet them down and tie them around your neck, or you can fill them with ice, put the chammy side to your neck, and as the ice melts, it keeps you nice and cool. It wasn’t long before we soaked ours and began using them. They made a HUGE difference with regard to keeping us as cool as possible, and Karen and I kept commenting on how wonderful they were. If you run in the heat, I HIGHLY recommend these things.
I had been to the lower portion of the Trinity Alps a couple of times, but it had been well over 10 years. Karen and Bill had never been to there. The trees and vegetation soon thinned enough that we began being afforded wonderful views of the Alps, which are truly awe-inspiring. Their make-up is mostly of granite, and the jagged formations that are made as the granite is chipped away is incredible. Words can’t describe the beauty. Bill and Karen, especially Karen, just kept commenting on what an awesome sight it was. You’d come around a corner and there in front of you would be another grand view granite peaks rising 6,000 feet plus above your head. Absolutely incredible.
Due to the rise in elevation and some pretty hazardous footing, most of the climb up was hiking, with running interspersed here and there. We were constantly reminding each other to eat and drink, ‘cause if your body failed out there, it’d be quite the feat getting search and rescue to you. After a few hours of climbing, we soon passed the tree line and popped out onto massive amounts of granite: boulders, slabs, rocky pathways. The trail markings at that point consisted of rocks piled in stacks of 3 or 4. Sometimes we had to look around for the next pile to ensure we were on the right path. There was quite a bit of climbing up and over slabs of granite, and again, the altitude was a factor, but didn’t slow us down a whole lot.
We had begun wondering how close we were to the lake when Bill says, “I see water!” and there it was! This lake was absolutely stunning. Clear, deep water. Granite peaks rising right above our heads. It was an absolutely magnificent site. And standing there, we realized, those peaks right above our heads - those are the ones we had been pointing out waaaaay down below. And now we’re standing right under them! We had climbed to approximately 6,000 feet, traversing grades that were at times 17% to 19%. I couldn’t help but comment that merely a year ago, I could not have seen myself making such a climb. At least not without feeling like I was going to die. There 4 or 5 other people up there, but we were all spaced far enough away from one another that we didn’t infringe on anyone’s solitude.
We refilled our water bladders and sat around for about half an hour or so until the purifying pills took affect. I stood in the water for most of that time cooling off my tootsies. When it was time to go, we all changed into dry socks, soaked our bandanas, I soaked my shirt and hat, and we were off. We had given ourselves a set time to head back out so that we didn’t get caught in the dark. We were well ahead of schedule, so we decided to climb a little bit further “just to see.” Well, we hadn’t gone far when Bill said, “There’s more water!” What? We thought there were only two lakes: the one we were at and one about a mile farther that was suppose to be fairly difficult to get to. Turns out there are two lower ones and then the upper, hard-to-get-to one.
At this second lake, there were a couple of guys fly fishing, way down to the right, we could see three or four people camping . . . . and two naked guys sitting at the lake’s edge. This wasn’t as pleasant a site as I had hoped for when Karen said, “Hey, there’s two naked guys.” She tried to get a picture, but after I saw what I saw, I think I’ll burn the picture.
It’s from this lake that you can take off and try to scramble over cliffs and crevices to get to the third lake. It would’ve been a fun adventure to try, but we didn’t have the time. However, we decided to go along the edge as far as we could, and Bill and I took off at a jog since it wasn’t too rocky. We hadn’t gone very far when we heard, “Leslie! Come back here!” We started back, and here comes Karen sort of limping. “Something stung me in the a$$!” What? Karen’s allergic to bee stings and carries an epipen. This quickened our pulse a little bit. We go running back - - well, Karen has on these colorful running tights - - something stung her just below her right butt cheek and left a stinger! Must've thought she was a flower! Every time she tried to take a step, her tights pulled the stinger. So here we are, I'm kneeling behind her with the back of her pants pulled down trying to find the spot. (I did, 'cause she yelled when my fingernail passed over the stinger). Bill's trying to be polite and keep his head turned, I say, "Whatever you do, don't pass gas," we're laughing so hard I can barely work on the stinger, and some guy starts coming up the trail at us. So Karen and I move off to the side, but she can't pull her tights back up 'cause of the stinger. The guy's limping 'cause he twisted his ankle pretty bad, so he's not moving very fast. And to top it off, he’s kind of curious about what’s going on. I’m thinking, Dude, please just get by us! Once he did, I went to work on the stinger with some tweezers Bill had in his trusty Leatherman, and Voila! I got it! Karen never experienced any shortness of breath, so we have no idea what got her.
At that point, we decide to head out and caught up real quick with Limper Dude. He was camped at the lower lake and was suppose to leave the next day. We politely asked if there was anything we could do to help him, and he says, "Actually there is. There's something you can carry out for me." His 5-lb. beer cooler! What?!? Karen - be she ever so tactful - says, "Sorry. We're running. That just wouldn't be possible." Good luck, though!
The trip out was much quicker than the trip in. It’s always easier to run downhill! There were still a lot of rocks, boulders, etc., we had to climb over or run over, so easy does it was the name of the game. By that time, though, my stomach was sort of nauseous from eating mostly Clif bars, shot blocks, and having the GU2O in my water, so I was moving a bit slower. Bill and Karen pretty much left me in the dust. They’d get a certain distance ahead of me, then wait for me to catch up. Personally, I think they did it so that they could have rest time, ‘cause I would barely catch up with them and they’d be off again. ;o)
At the every end, I was by myself for a good distance. The footing was easy, but my legs were getting tired and, even though a detour into the woods helped relieve some of my stomach discomfort, it still wasn’t 100% . I reverted to singing out loud to myself for motivation to keep running, and stopped at the last water crossing and just stood in the water for a few minutes to cool off my feet. I have figured out that my trail shoes are too small, because coming downhill, my toes were crammed up into the toe box and towards the end were getting pretty sore. The cold water felt like heaven. I finally rounded a corner, and there were Karen and Bill, sitting on a log waiting for me. They were yelling at me like I was crossing a finish line and telling me, “Smile for the camera!” It was a hoot.
Karen had the trunk of the car popped open before we even got to it, and the first thing I did was chug down half a big bottle of ice cold water. OMG! I don’t think pure, cold water has ever tasted to good! No additive, no iodine taste (from purifying). Just plain cold water! YUM-MEE!
We changed clothes and headed home, stopping in Willow Creek to scarf down burgers and fries, hoping our odiferous bodies didn’t offend anyone sitting nearby. I have to figure out other easy, non-sweet, foods to carry besides Clif bars, ‘cause I got to the point where I absolutely could not chew up and swallow one more bit of bar. Yuck! I tell ya what, that burger and fries were like manna from heaven!
Not only was this the longest run (okay, hike/run) I’ve done to date, but it was the first time I’d done a run longer than 16.6 miles that was simply for the joy of trail running. No training, no race. Just pure fun. We had an absolute blast and I’m ready to go again at any time!
If you’re ever in this area, I cannot recommend enough that you give this trail a try. It is truly a spectacular place.