Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Angel's Staircase

Race Report: Angel's Staircase 8/11/12
     Mountain Ultras have a love hate relationship with those who participate in them. There are times of extreme pain and suffering where one questions their sanity for undertaking such a task and swears that they will never run another; then there are the moments of bliss as one glides down the trail completely lost in the ambiance of the mountains and Gods creations; wishing, hoping that the journey may never end.  

Angel's Staircase was one helluva journey and then some. For me the journey started on Friday as my father and I loaded up his car and traveled four and a half hours west to the Methow (Met-How) Valley region of the Northern Cascades arriving at the Foggy Dew camp grounds around 6:00 pm. We set up camp and my dad made some wonderful chicken and vegetables for dinner. We Slept out under the stars and woke up about 5:30am the next morning to get ready for the day ahead of us. 

Start to Foggy Dew Trail Head: 3.6 miles, 600' vert

Registration was from 6:00-6:45 with a start time of 7am. There was a short pre-race meeting just before we got underway where we were informed of how the trail was marked and that the race director had encountered a black bear with cubs the day before while setting up the second aid station. The race director also told us that he had missed judged the distance to the first ad station by .6 miles thus adding 1.2 extra miles to the race. I should have seen the real warning in that announcement, because if he couldn't get the correct mileage for the only section that was on a forest service road, how was he going to get the mileage correct on backcountry single track trails. The official start of the race was at 7:06 am as the group of about 60 runners started up the now 3.6 mile road section towards the Foggy Dew trail head. This section proved to be a great warm up as the incline wasn't too steep but still warranted a mix of 80% running and 20% hiking allowing the legs to get ready for the backcountry.   
Foggy Dew to top of Angle's Staircase: 8.5 miles, 6000' vert

After about forty minutes I hit the Foggy Dew trail head. The trail was extremely dry and dusty and I was soon covered in dust from the knees down. The trail followed Foggy Dew creek up to the point where it reached Foggy Dew Falls. The falls were about 40 feet in height and were beautiful. The falls were also the location of the first aid station were two volunteers dressed as angels manned the an extremely limited aid station as rap music blared from the boom box they had packed up.  The Aid station only had M&M's, potato chips, candy bars and GU gels, not quite what I expected especially after the wonderful aid stations I experienced at Pocatello in June. I filled my water bladder with 60oz of water since I was assured that the next water station was only 6 mile away and took off up the trail relying on the food I had packed. The trail then veered away from the creek and ran up and over granite ledges until flatting out a bit as I came into Merchants Basin. The basin was a lovely meadow full of wild flowers which were in full bloom and delicate blue butterflies. On the sides of the basin were rock walls that sealed in the meadow from the surrounding wilderness. The trail ran strait up the basin then zig-zaged up the peak that laid at the end of the basin known as the Angel's Stair case. The summit of the staircase offered spectacular 360 views of the Cascade mountain range it was truly awe-inspiring.   

Top of Angel's Staircase to Eagle lake: 8 miles, 2000' vert

The water station according to the mileage given at the first aid station should have put it near the top of the staircase, but there was no water and I was running out fast. The trail took us down the backs side of the staircase and through a valley that rested between Old Maid mountain and Martin peak. Here I shot some videos as I ran down and through the valley that was filled with wild flowers and creeks. The water that was promised finally showed up about 4 miles farther then we had been told. By that time I had already been dry for about 20 minutes. The water station was unmanned and consisted of three 15 gallon jugs of water and a roll up table, that was it. I filled up not knowing exactly how far the next aid might be and took off down the trail towards Boiling lake and Horsehead pass. Just before I hit the lake I ran into a women and two men dressed in caveman style buckskins. the were bear foot and one of the men carried a old wooden recurve bow while the other male toted a modern-day fishing rod and reel. At this point I was wondering if the sun was getting to me and I was hallucinating, I quickly slapped myself but they were still there. As I passed them I said hi and that they responded with the same greeting. They were all in their late 20's and looked way to clean to be wackos living off the grid but what do I know except the fact that I was about 15 miles in the backcountry with three people trying to look like cavemen, kinda weird (that's an understatement). Shortly after the caveman encounter I came to Boiling lake and the start of Horsehead pass. Horsehead pass was about a 1.5 mile, 2000' ascent through boulders and shale then a 1.5 mile 1500' descent into Eagle lake. This was the point where it started to get really hot as temps rose to the low 90's and there was little to no shade leaving you baking in the sun. It was also in this section that my feet started to get pretty beat up do to the sharp rocks that made up the trail. My shoes just didn't have enough under foot protection for that kind of terrain.  

Eagle Lake to Foggy Dew Falls: 16 miles, 3000' vert

The aid station at Eagle lake marked roughly the half way point and was about as well stocked as the first aid station (meaning not very well). Here I downed a couple of gels (chocolate mint and Vanilla bean both tasted really good) and packed some for the road as I was told the next water was 6 miles away and the next aid (food) was 10. The next 6 miles I was in a grove as I crushed this downhill section covering 6 miles in under 40 minutes. But at the end of the 6 miles what was suppose to be a water only station was an aid station. I was a little confused and asked how far it was to next water and I was told 6 miles. So I filled up with 60oz of water and started towards the next aid station. After descending about a half a mile the trail started to ascend again. I climbed about 1500' in two to three miles and then started descending again. At this point I figured I was 3 or so miles away from the next aid and I was doing fine on water. After descending about a half mile the trail started to climb again which was startling because according to the maps it should have been a strait descent into the next aid. Well about another three mile and 1500' of vert I finally started my descent into the last aid station complete out of water and at least three to four mile to go to water. I tried to run to the aid but the lack of water and the heat left my legs unable to run and throbbing in pain from the days efforts. It was at this point were I really questioned why was I doing this, why would I put myself through so much pain and suffering? why did I decide to run ultras, especially ones in the remote mountain locations? I wanted the pain to end but do to the nature of this race the only way it could end is if I finished or died and the later was not an option. So I grit my teeth and dragged my feet forward. I finally reached the aid station covering 10 mile instead of 6. I sat down chugged some water, electrolytes and gels and started walking down the trail. 

Foggy Dew Falls to the Finish: 6.5 miles all downhill, thank goodness

It took about fifteen minutes for my legs to start working again. My dad was waiting for me where the trail hits the road again and the start of the last 3.6 miles. We talked briefly and my dad got in the car and I started jogging down the road. Dad pulled up beside me and rolled down the window. We talked for the next 2 miles about the race and his experience hiking to Merchants Basin, taking pictures, a nap and all the people he got to meet as they came down the trail. It was such a blessing to have him there pacing me for those last few miles cause I was in bad shape; my legs and feet were killing me but having dad to talk to took my mind off some of the pain. With a little over a mile and a half to go a runner came charging down the hill behind me and I had to accelerate quite a bit to keep up. I wasn't going to let him pass me, I hadn't been passed by anyone for over half the race and wasn't going to let it happen now. It was fine by me if we finished together, I just didn't want to be passed. He slowed down after a quarter mile as I kept the same pace, he caught back up with me again but was unable to maintain the nearly 6 min mile pace we were at. He faded back and my dad pulled up besides me again. My legs hurt so bad, but I just kept the pace knowing that the finish was almost insight. I ran into the finish line, 10 hours and 46 minutes after we started. The race director greeted me and told me how to get to the creek if I wanted to wash off in the cold water. That sounded great so my dad and I headed down to the creek. It was ice cold and felt oh so good. Other racers were down at the creek and we compared notes on the race. We all agreed that it was longer then advertised and that the aid stations were way to far apart and not where the were suppose to be. One racers also saw the cavemen and woman so I really wasn't hallucinating. All in all, despite the pain and suffering I went through I enjoyed the race. The scenery was magnificent the journey hard and rugged and in the end it was all worth it.

The Days totals: 42.6 miles, 11600' vert
Special thanks to my wife and kids whom I was away from for this race. I missed you guys and wish you could have been a part of this one like Pocatello. You keep me going when the going gets tough, I love you. Also to my Dad who took the time to drive me there and back, paced me towards the end and enjoyed some father and son time, it had been a long over due.

Pictures provided to you be Tevis "the elder" and Tevis "the younger"
Me just before the start of the race. See I'm still smiling which means I was totally ignorant of what laid in store for me!

And there off. There were about 60 people who started but only 35 would finish.
Looking down at Foggy Dew Creek
Foggy Dew Falls

the trees have wings
The angels at the first and last aid station
Trail heading up to Merchants Basin
Looking back down the trail at one of the 35k racers 
Entering Merchants Basin
The Trail ran through the grass Basin sandwich between rock peaks.

Merchants Basin from the top of Angel's Staircase
Panorama from the top of Angel's Staircase looking west

Boiling Lake
Climbing Horsehead Pass
Looking down at Eagle Lake form Horsehead Pass

Martins Peak

north fork of Foggy Dew creek
Me coming off the trail and back on the road
Running down the road, almost there
Crossing the finish-line
Finally finished
Dust covered legs
Where's the soap my feet are disgusting 

Cooling off in the creek after a hard day  

Running down the backside of Angel's Staircase


  1. I will forever be in awe of you! Simply amazing! I also decided that I didn't want to stay home again. Cant stand the silent waiting.

  2. Great write up! Thanks for sharing. Totally stoaked about running it this year!