Denali National Park Hikes

This is the second part to our Alaska adventure, read the first post! Here we take you through the land-locked hikes in the Denali National Wilderness.

Discovery hike

Discovery hikes are ranger-led, off-trail hikes through the park. These hikes range from moderate to strenuous and can start from anywhere on the park road at the ranger’s discretion. You’ll start with a bus ride ranging from 1-4 hours, hike for 2-3 hours, and then take a similar bus ride back. You have to sign up in person at the visitor’s center a day or two before the hike, and make sure that you have the appropriate gear outlined on their website.

Standing on the Denali wilderness on a gorgeous day

We opted for a strenuous hike with Ranger Emily that started around mile 30 on the park road. The bus dropped us off on the side of the road, we got a rundown of safety and how to hike off-trail, the ranger picked a point to meet, and we all took off on separate paths to meet there. One main takeaway about off-trail hiking is to not make new trails. Rangers encourage leave no trace practices including not stepping in another person’s tracks to avoid creating social trails and much more.

Ranger Emily had us climb to a peak on the Igloo Mountain range. We encountered various terrain including tundra and rocky scree. There were a couple of points where we ended up taking different routes after the original path appeared too steep…all part of the fun of off-trail hiking!

We were also able to enjoy the bounty of blueberries, cranberries, crow berries, and other tasty treats for our personal enjoyment and sustenance. In fact, we spent a good portion of the hike bent over filling our bellies. We saw plenty of recent evidence of bears doing the same…

During our hike we were able to stop to enjoy some of the gorgeous scenery. Every few hundred feet we climbed, we could enjoy more of the glory around us! We hiked to a peak where we stopped for about an hour to eat lunch and just enjoy the view – we even did a little coloring while we were there. The hike down took a different route with a lot less scree and a lot more brush. We found ourselves doing a bit of bushwhacking and creek crossing to make it back to the road.

Highly, highly recommend the Discovery Hike.

Savage Alpine Trail

The Savage Alpine Trail is a strenuous, 4.5 mile trail that connects the Savage River Campground to Savage River Day Use Area in Denali National Park. Take the free shuttle bus either from the visitor’s center or the bus depot to the trailhead. We hiked this on a cool, rainy morning and there were very few people on the trail.

The trail gains 1,400 feet of elevation culminating at a lookout point over the valley. We recommend starting at the Savage River Campground since the climb is much more gradual.

The trail winds its way through alpine fields before coming to a rocky tundra. Once you get to the top, the trail descends steeply via a series of stairs to the Savage River. While a bit more grueling than some of the other on-trail hikes in the park, we loved getting up high and looking over the wilderness.

After a strenuous hike, the only thing left to do is head towards the only road in the Wilderness and wait for a bus with available seats. The scenery, even on a cloudy day, makes it a quick wait.

Need a ride in Denali? Just catch a bus!

Horseshoe Lake Trail

The Horseshoe Lake Trail is an easy, 2 mile loop in Denali’s front country. We started from the bus depot, which added an additional 3/4 mile along a bike trail, but the bus can drop you off right at the trailhead. The trail descends roughly 400 feet from the trailhead and then it’s an easy jaunt around the lake.

The scenery of this hike was very different than the previous two hikes we did in Denali – it was through pine forest rather than alpine tundra. The coolest thing about this hike is the beaver activity along the trail. There are active beaver dams and we heard that you can often see those busy beavers at work. We did this in the afternoon after we hiked the Savage Alpine Trail and the weather couldn’t have been better.

The sun came out and we had bluebird skies. The lake was so still it was like glass, perfectly mirroring the landscape.

Horseshoe Lake in Denali

Finally…

What is an Alaska adventure without a moose??

Moose in Denali!

We have one more Alaska post coming at this. This time we take to the water in the Kenai Fjords!

August 2019 Hikes

Most of our August hikes happened while we were in Alaska. Stay tuned for updates on that trip.

Hamilton Mountain

Hamilton Mountain trail is a 5.5 mile hike located in Stevenson, Washington. It’s a moderately trafficked trail and the parking lot can fill up fast. We went in the afternoon around 3pm when crowds had died down. The trail is mostly uphill for the first mile when it comes across a waterfall. There were plenty of people playing in the water to cool off on the hot, August afternoon. From that point, the trail levels off for the next 0.5-1 mile and meanders through the forest with a few gorgeous vistas of the Gorge. Around mile 2 you come to a lookout point where most people stop. If you’ve got it in you, I highly recommend gutting it out for the last mile to the top. The trail is a bit unrelenting as it climbs ~1k feet through countless switchbacks but the reward is worth the pain. At the top there are sweeping views of the Gorge, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. Be sure to take plenty of water; most of the trail is shaded, but the last mile has a lot of exposure and can get very hot.

July 2019 Hikes

The biggest “hike” for July was the Mt. Hood 50M 🙂

Horsetail and Ponytail Falls

Horsetail and Ponytail Falls are located in the Columbia River Gorge. We ended up hiking this short trail when the parking lot for Multnomah Falls was overflowing and we didn’t want to wait. Horsetail Falls is the lower falls, right off the parking area. Taking a short 0.5 mile hike up the trail will get you to Ponytail Falls, which is a smaller waterfall feeding Horsetail below. The trail is at an incline, but it’s not a very difficult climb and is an overall easy hike. The trail winds behind the waterfall at Ponytail Falls and the pool at the base is cool and refreshing. Due to the Eagle Creek Fire of 2017, the trail is closed after Ponytail Falls.

Summit Springs Trail

Another Plan B trail – we hiked the Summit Springs Trail when we couldn’t make it up the road to Silver Star Mountain. This is a lightly trafficked trail (we didn’t see a single other person) that winds 6 miles through dense forest. It is a moderate trail that climbs 1,700 feet all in the first half. We took the shortcut halfway up and it was incredibly steep. So much so that we were crawling on hands and knees to get up the climb; probably didn’t save us much time in the end and wouldn’t recommend it. The top opens up to a vista of the hills – no mountain views, but still pretty – with a rock slide area to scramble up. The trail turns into a jeep trail at this point and leads to campsites up the mountain.

Mt. Hood 50M

The second weekend in July I ran my first 50 mile race and lived to tell the tale! The Mt. Hood 50M is put on by Go Beyond Racing and I can’t say enough good things about Todd, Renee, and the rest of the team. The course is a double out-and-back course run entirely on the Pacific Crest Trail near Timothy Lake. While we didn’t get the sweeping views of Mt. Hood due to cloud cover, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

The race had a 6am start time, so Matt and I stayed at a hotel in Mt. Hood Village the night before. We rolled into the Clackamas Ranger Station at 5:40, I pinned on my bib, and got ready to go. I had run the first half of the course before and knew what to expect, but I was still equal parts nervous and excited.

Miles 1-6: We wound along Timothy Lake for 6 miles before hitting the first aid station at Little Crater Lake. I took this section slow – falling in pace with whatever group was ahead of me – to preserve my legs for later. I cruised through the first aid station and started my first climb.

Miles 7-14: It was 3 miles of uphill to the next aid station and to the rolling ridge line. I didn’t need to stop for aid after climbing the hill so I kept on going the final 5 miles to the turn around. I was keeping pace with a group of people and started chatting with a guy from Cincinnati, of all places. At this point I was able to count the super speedy ladies ahead of me and knew a top 10 female finish was within reach.

Miles 15-19: I reached the turn around and kept moving forward. The photographer was along the ridge line to hopefully get some shots of runners with the mountain, but the clouds were not in our favor. I still pulled out a big smile and headed downhill.

Miles 20-28: I filled my water at the next aid station and let my legs loose. Downhill felt so good after all the climbing and I was finally ready to bust out some fast miles. I ran into Matt and Snickers around mile 21 – Snickers went crazy! After a quick hello I kept on trucking. Since it was only 3 miles between aid stations, I went right through it, but the Wy’east crew was looking dapper in their suits. The next 6 miles were rolling hills at a slight incline; I took them in my usual manner – run when you can, walk when you can’t – and got to the halfway point in 4 hours and 40 minutes.

Halfway: I stopped briefly here to catch up with Matt and Snickers. We refilled my water, loaded up on food (GUs, potatoes, Nuun), slathered on the sunscreen and Body Glide, and I was ready to go again. I felt really good at this point. The Go Beyond Racing team puts on such good races and there was so much energy at the halfway point. My legs felt good and I was excited to hit the back half of the course.

Miles 29-33: The second half of the course was HARD! Not only was I running on tired legs, but there was a lot of uphill and fewer aid stations. While the first half I ran with people, I didn’t see a single person for the first 4 miles of the second half. It was a 6 mile climb to the first aid station and I was moving pretty slowly. I always hike the uphill sections to save my energy, and 6 miles of uphill felt like an eternity. There was also a bit less tree coverage, so I was thankful for the clouds. I made it to the aid station and took full advantage of the water sprayer they had to cool down.

Miles 34-44: It was 5 miles to the final turn around point with a blissful 3 miles of descent right off the bat. I immediately saw the first place male finisher – he was 11 miles ahead of me! Talk about speedy; he finished in 6 hours, 23 minutes!! I sped down the hill and finished the last 2 mile climb to the aid station. The volunteers filled my bladder with ice and water and it was amazing to finally drink cold water. I was out of there in no time and had 11 miles to the finish! I zipped down the 2 mile stretch and power hiked up to the last aid station. After grabbing a GU and another water spray down, I was in the home stretch!

Miles 45-50: Going into the last aid station, I was still holding 9th place female. I saw a woman who had been ahead of me all day talking to a medic; I felt for her – you truly never know what can go wrong in a race – but I couldn’t help smile as I took hold of 8th place. I took the last 6 miles downhill as fast as I could, which isn’t easy when you’re already 44 miles into the day. I was starting to feel the aches in my joints, but felt pretty good overall. With a half mile left I came upon another lady. I gave it everything I had and pulled ahead of her hoping I could push it to the finish.

Coming into the finish line was amazing! I could hear the cheering as soon as I hit the road crossing and it powered me to push my legs with energy I didn’t realize I still had.

Going into any race I usually set three goals for myself: 1. finish; 2. a realistic goal I share with everyone; 3. a secret goal that I can maybe hit if the stars align. For the Mt. Hood 50M my goals were:

  1. Finish standing up
  2. Finish in 10.5-12 hours. This seemed like a long time, but given that this was a new distance and my 45 mile training run didn’t go as planned I wanted to include a large buffer for bonking.
  3. Finish in 10 hours and place in the top 10 women

I not only met all of my goals, but I completely knocked the last one out of the park! I finished an HOUR under my anticipated time in 9 hours, 13 minutes. Out of the 144 racers that toed the line, I finished 25th overall, 7th place female, and 3rd in my age group!! I am still shocked at how good I felt at the end of the race.

As always, I have to give a huge shoutout to the Go Beyond Racing team for putting on another amazing event. To all of the volunteers continuing to bring the smiles and support to the aid stations. To Paul Nelson for always capturing stellar race photos. And to my personal crew – Matt and Snickers – for not only putting up with my crazy antics but supporting me at every step along the way….even if that means getting up at 4am and hanging out in the woods for 9 hours.

Momofuku Milk Bar Carrot Cake

We love carrot cake. Matt regularly requests it for his birthday and we even served it at our wedding. I have a no-fail recipe, but this time I decided to change it up and try the Momofuku Milk Bar version. I’ve made a handful of Milk Bar cakes before, and, while often time consuming, they’re always fun and combine a variety of flavors and textures.

This cake starts with a spiced carrot cake base made without walnuts, pineapple, or coconut. It’s layered with liquid cheesecake, milk crumbs, and a graham cracker buttercream. Stacked three layers high it’s truly a beautiful cake. Overall, we’d rate it a 6 out of 10 for taste. Each bite is an experience – creamy cheesecake, crunchy milk crumb, and moist, spongy cake. While this cake is a sensory explosion, we prefer the simplicity of a regular carrot cake. You just can’t go wrong with cream cheese frosting!

I own the book and followed the recipe directly from the pages, but if you’d like to give it a try Cake by Courtney has the recipe on her blog. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time since there are a lot of components. I typically make these cakes over two days. And if you’re just looking for a solid carrot cake recipe without all the frills, here are my favorites: carrot cake recipe, buttermilk glaze recipe, and cream cheese frosting recipe.

Bon appetit!

June 2019 Hikes

Some more hikes we’ve enjoyed this spring.

Salmon Butte Trail – Mt. Hood National Forest

Technically we did this in late May, but I’m rolling it into the June hike category

The Salmon Butte Trail is 11-12 miles through the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness on the southern side of Mt. Hood. We went on a cool, overcast day and had the trail practically to ourselves. It is a moderate trail with a slow, steady climb. The trail meanders along a stream and old growth forests before reaching the summit where you get sweeping views of the valley and Mt. Hood (on a clear day). There were still a few patches of snow when we went in late May, but nothing covering the trail. It’s well worth a visit if you’re not looking to go too far outside of Portland and want a relatively secluded hike. 

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Hebo Lake to South Lake – Pacific City, OR

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Where to begin with the Hebo Lake Trail? This trail starts at Hebo Lake and is an 8 mile point to point to South Lake. When we hiked this, the plan was to run it twice out and back for a total of 32 miles. The first 5 miles of the hike gains 1,500 ft in a steady, unrelenting climb. There’s a steep descent after the Hebo Mountain Peak, but the brush was so overgrown by mile 6.5 that I turned around and didn’t make it to South Lake. The lookout point at the top is spectacular offering views of the valley and the Pacific Ocean and well worth the climb. If you’re in Pacific City and looking for a hike, it’s worth it to do at least the first 4 miles to the lookout. Be aware that it is probably ~75% exposed so make sure to wear sunscreen and carry plenty of water.

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Wilson River Trail

The Wilson River Trail runs for just shy of 20 miles through the Tillamook State Forest. It’s a gorgeous, shaded trail with plenty of on and off points so you can do as much or little as you want. Matt and Snickers hiked 8 miles of the trail starting at the King’s Mountain Trailhead (another great hike if you’re looking for some serious climbing), while I ran 20 as a couple of out and back loops from the Jones Creek day use area. The portion of the trail along the river is very beautiful, but does incur a lot of noise from Highway 26. Depending on which section you do, it’s an easy to moderate hike and well worth spending a day in the forest.

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PCT, Timothy Lake, and Little Crater Lake

In mid-June I set out for a training run on a portion of the PCT that my upcoming race will traverse. Starting at the Frog Lake Trailhead, I went south for 8 miles, looped around Timothy Lake, and ended at Little Crater Lake. This trail was gorgeous! The first few miles on the PCT were mostly downhill with vistas of Mt. Hood the entire way. There were a few downed trees, but they were easy enough to hop over. The trail around Timothy Lake is a 13 mile loop that is mostly flat. The day I went, there were very few people aside from a 1 mile section near a day use area. The lake itself was serene and glassy and there were amazing views of the mountain from the south. There were plenty of campsites and it would be an idyllic place to spend a summer night. I finished the day with a short jaunt to Little Crater Lake. The trail is flat and short, and the lake is worth the walk to see. While small, it is 45ft deep, crystal clear, and nestled in a wildflower meadow. If you’re looking to get out of the city for a while and don’t mind the 2 hour drive, Timothy Lake is a great destination.

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Pacific Crest Trail from Mt. Hood to Columbia River Gorge

Read a full recap here. Suffice to say, it’s not for the faint of heart. Definitely not a day trip for most, but would be a fun weekend backpacking trip.

Summit to Sea: running from Mt. Hood to the Columbia River Gorge

With a big race coming up in July, I decided to go all out for peak week and chose a trail I knew would be both challenging and rewarding. After debating between a few different trails, I decided to run from Mt. Hood to the Columbia River Gorge. Covering 45 miles with 7,000 ft. of ascent, and 13,700 ft. of descent this trail was going to test my mental and physical stamina.

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PCT at Timberline Lodge

We got a late start to the day, hitting the trail around 9:30. I knew I would be chasing daylight but had high hopes for finishing strong. I started on the PCT at Timberline Lodge with a starting elevation of 6,100 ft. No stranger to altitude, I knew this first section of trail would be challenging on the lungs. The first three miles were fun and quick. There were still patches of snow, which made for some slippery miles, but it was an overall descent to the Zig Zag River. The river was running from the snow melt, but I was able to pick a path across and be on my way.

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Mt. Hood

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Zig Zag River Crossing

The trail proceeded to climb 1,000 ft. over the next 3 miles. With the snow and altitude, it was slow going, but the views of the mountain through the clouds kept me energized. After mile 6, I was met with a blissful 2,500 ft. descent over the next 6 miles. The terrain changed drastically – going from snow, across rocky plains, down a sandy hill, and finally into the pine forest that is ubiquitous in Oregon. I rolled my ankle around mile 9 and thought I might have to tap out. Thankfully I was able to recover quickly. Miles 12-13 were familiar territory – we hiked this portion of the PCT to Ramona Falls way back in 2016.  There was a fun creek crossing across two fallen trees where I had to cling to a rope to avoid falling. Then came a grueling 1,600 ft. climb over 2 miles.

I finally met Matt and Snickers at the top of the hill, feeling a little disheartened. My pace was suffering greatly from the climbing and I was about 20 minutes behind schedule. Nonetheless, we powered the next 3 miles (thankfully downhill) to the car at mile 16 to refill food and water. If I wasn’t able to get back to my normal pace, there was a possibility that I’d need to get pulled from the trail at the next stop to avoid running in the dark. I had 16 miles to the next crew point and at that point we would make the decision whether or not to keep going.

Thankfully the next 16 miles felt great. I had a burst of energy and was able to power through the rolling hills with little issue. There were wildflowers galore and views of Mt. Hood around every turn. This section of trail was very different from the beginning; it reminded me a lot of Utah running. The trail was more rocky and there was a bit less tree coverage. Around mile 28 I rounded a curve and saw Mt. Adams more clearly and up close than I’ve ever seen it before. It was truly a great day to be out on the trail. I finally saw the sign to Wahtum Lake (where I was meeting Matt) at mile 29 and it was straight downhill from there.

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Mt. Adams

I felt really good rolling into Wahtum lake at mile 32 and wanted to keep going. We assessed the map and calculated somewhere around 8-12 miles to the end point at Herman Creek Trailhead. The trail I initially planned took the Eagle Creek Trail to Cascade Locks, but that trail is still closed from the wildfires of 2017. I decided to keep going thinking it was going to be mostly downhill. Boy was I wrong.

After leaving the parking lot, I was immediately greeted with a 700 ft. climb in 0.7 miles. It was brutal and I felt like I’d never reach the top. The PCT was rolling hills for the next 9 miles. It wound through rocky terrain and a portion of forest that was burned in 2017. Every time I felt like I was finally descending, the trail would shoot me right back up to the ridge line at 4,000 ft. I was expecting 9 miles to the finish but it was actually closer to 13. When I hit mile 40, knowing I still had 5 miles to go and still hadn’t started the descent, I was hitting a breaking point. I finally hit the descent with 4 miles to go. This part was very rocky and technical and my tired legs kept tripping, so for safety reasons I slowed to a walk. I was finally able to get ahold of Matt at this point and he ran in 2 miles to help me get out. Night was fast approaching and I was so angry and frustrated at myself for not moving faster. When I saw him with 2 miles to go, I officially broke. Mentally and physically I was done. I’m sure I was a sight to see hobbling down the trail with tears running down my face 🙂 . Bolstered by some food, hiking poles, and a pep talk we finished the 2 miles to the parking lot just in time for dusk.

I finished 45.5 miles, 7,000 ft. ascent, 13,700 ft. descent in just over 11 hours total. Even looking at the moving time, which was right at 10 hours, my pace was the slowest I’ve ever run. Mentally I’m disappointed I couldn’t maintain the pace I wanted, but rationally I know that’s silly. I covered more ground and more ascent – by a good 10 miles and 2,000 ft. – than I’ve ever done in a single run. I would’ve liked to finish much faster, but I’m really amazed at the distance I was able to go. I finished standing up with no injuries or GI issues, which is a feat in and of itself.MVIMG_20190622_204617_v1

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Sunset in the Columbia River Gorge

I’m ready for my race…let’s just hope my legs stop hurting before then.

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