Cascade Triple Crown: No One Said It Had To Be Pretty
The official Cascade Triple Crown Challenge was solidified when with the following conversation via text
Laura: “I am up for signing up. I can do it tomorrow”
Steph “Oh s**t. Here goes nothing. Signing up.”
Laura “Did you do it? I will sign up in a few”
Laura “Ok. Time to start some serious hill work.”
Steph “Let’s get Ruckled! Is that the name of the trail?”
Laura “I can’t believe I just signed up for a race that harder than the Gorge 50K”
You spend enough time with one of your best training buddies on the trails and the conversation just
naturally might drift to planning future adventures. Deciding to do a multi stage adventure started with
one of us mentioning Aspire Adventures. Three days around Mt Rainier and they take care of
everything? We just have to make it 30 some miles a day to next camp? Perfect.
Sometime later Laura saw a post for the Mazama’s Ultra Camp up at Mt Hood. We thought it would be
a great warm-up for Rainer and a chance to meet some more folks that would have great running tips
and stories for us. It would give us another chance to run around a mountain with full support. Perfect
for a couple of trail rookies.
Laura gets to take the credit (or blame) for finding the Volcanic 50k. Sure, there was probably a time in
the early spring when we chatted about how cool it would be to concur St Helens as we ran through the
mud on Wildwood Trial. That’s all it takes for one of us to do a little internet searching, then the text
message conversation begins. It ended when we told coach Yassine about all three mountains being
between our reach within 14 days. He was as supportive, and cautious, as you want your coach to be
when proposing adventures. We are pretty sure the word “epic” was used.
Ok the events:
Mt Hood – 42ish miles on 7/29
Laura: I knew that I was going to be the slowest one in the group based on a shakeout run. This added
some extra stress, worrying that the group would have to wait on me. The crew stuck together, I didn’t
feel pressure to keep up. There was a big climb as we got to Aid Station #1. I felt pretty good but was
dropping back a bit. Coming into the second aid station, around mile 24, I had slowed down. I was still
happy we were more than half way. I was holding my slow and steady pace. We got to the last big climb
and I was hiking with some of the group but I needed to slow down or I didn’t think I would make it. So I
let the others go by and then just went at my own pace. As I was by myself for 3 hours, I remember
thinking that I just needed to keep going. Walk the up, run the down and I would be finished before
dark. I kept going around corners that I was sure had to be the last one, that was about 2 miles worth of
trail. Finished before dark!! Success!
My triple mountain challenge didn’t start out the best. I came into Mt Hood with a bad cold. Combine
that with higher altitude and exercise induced asthma, and that can make for a long day. I couldn’t
breathe much of the day, which kept my heart rate elevated as I circled the mountain. In awe of the
sites that surprise you on the Timberline Trail. The bonk of all bonks started as I climbed from Ramona
falls. It was ugly, I was a wimpy, whiney baby as I trudged up a 3 mile climb. I was on the trial puking up
the nutrition as Krissy Moehl, rubbed my back. Nearby, Jennifer Love, waited patiently as she prepared
to distract me with stories of her many running and mountain climbing adventures. They were both so
willing and ready to tell me about their low points on the trails to make me feel better. I finished just as
the sun was setting, a magical hour up at Timberline Lodge. Then, I proceed to lay in the middle of the
living room of the Mazama’s Lodge as kind new friends help to bring me back from the bonk.
The week between:
Minutes after finishing Mt Hood, we agreed we would skip St Helens. I knew I would stick to the plan. I
am pretty stubborn and once I say I am going to do something I do it. I also knew that Steph would do it
but kept telling her we had all week to decide. I didn’t want to pressure her, she came around, which
made me very happy to have her out on the course, even though I knew I wouldn’t see her.
Nope, I wasn’t going to do Mt St Helen’s. It took a few days to recover from my epic bonk. I had
horrible blisters on my feet, I was still sick and I was tired. I wasn’t going to do it. Until Friday morning’s
text message conversation:
Laura: “Race starts at 7:00. Meet at 4:45”
Steph: “See you in the morning. “
Laura: “Yep. It will be Epic”
Steph: “Burgerville on the way home?”
Mt St Helens 50+k on 8/5
Laura: Since we had done a training run on the first 12- 14 miles of the course I felt pretty good getting
to the second aid station. I knew to expect boulder fields and ropes going in and out a couple of the
ravines. I was happy that I knew that because if I had come across the ropes without being prepared I
would have freaked out. My goal was to get to the fourth aid station prior to the cut off, just keep it
steady. Everything was feeling pretty good and I ran/walked through the wide open blast zone. I loved
this section, I was hot and moving slow but it felt like you could see forever. And then there was an
Oasis! I had been told this would be the best water that I have ever had, which it was, but I wasn’t told
that it would be served to me by Astronauts.
The last 8 miles of this race were the hardest 8 miles I have done. My knee started hurting. I decided I
could just finish walking, it would take forever but I could do it. I did it and then had a Cucumber Sour
Beer and it may have been the best beer I have ever had. I have no idea what I would think of it if I drank
Sticking with the plan turned out to be a highlight for me and I had a pretty good day on St Helens. It
was a tough course, it was hot and there was NO shade. I took the lessons learned from my Mt Hood
bonk and made sure I didn’t make the same mistakes with pacing and nutrition. The first 12 miles flew
by since I was familiar with the trail. Ropes course, boulder fields? No problem! Miles 12 – 20 were
tough due to epic climbs and no shade as I made it through the blast zone, but it was magical. I had no
idea there was a waterfall in the blast zone! The Spring Aid station at mile 20 is one I will dream of for
years. The water coming out of the mountain was the nectar of the Gods after the long, hot section.
Although hard, the Volcanic 50 was so well organized and supported. Seeing Mt St Helen’s as I traveled
around it on foot is the best way to really appreciate the splendor. When I crossed the finish line I was
tired, my blisters were bigger, my legs hurt and I was so happy!
The four days leading up to Rainer:
Laura: On Sunday I could barely walk. My knee hurt!! So I kept off it. The next day a little better, but
made an appointment to get a message to try to work it out. By Wednesday it felt pretty good, I bought
a compression wrap for it just in case but thought it would be fine.
Stephanie – Leading up to Rainier
I must have been slightly exhausted from St Helens because I don’t remember much from the days
leading up to Rainier. I know I went to work, because I sent a ton of emails. I do remember trying to
take my 4 page packing list and trying to condense it down to 1 page.
Laura: “Hope I remember everything I need and don’t pack to much extra”
Steph: “Oh yeah! My list is huge!”
Laura: “If I pack rain clothes, it won’t rain, right?
Steph: “If I pack a headlamp we won’t be out past dark”
Mt Rainer – 93 miles, 3 days, 8/10-8/12
We drove up to Rainer on Wednesday to meet the group we would be running with. There was a group
of 5 that would be running. We had a great salmon dinner and talked about what the next few days
would bring and specifically about the next days 34 mile run.
Day 1 – 34 Miles
Laura - Goal for day 1 finish in day light. From Longmire, the trail starts up hill. Right away the other
runners were out of site. We climbed for miles and came out into a meadow with Mt Rainer right on top
of us. One more climb, with the promise of an alpine lake. It was beautiful and the highlight of my first
day. I don’t usually stop for a swim but I jumped in. We ran on and got to another lake, took another dip
and then we had 10 miles to go! From there we cruised downhill for 6 or so miles. It would have been
great but we both ran out of water. We got to the final river crossing. It wasn’t very deep but it was
moving. Once we were safely across we had only 4, uphill, miles to go. The day went better than I
thought. We made it to camp with 20-30 minutes of day light left! We set up our tent, ate some food,
did not shower and went to bed.
Steph – When your guides start off by warning you about a river crossing with a washed out bridge
around mile 30, be nervous. Be very nervous (if you are a nervous nelly like me). That is how I started
my Wonderland adventure. My goal for day 1 was get to camp before dark. I had never ran the trails at
night, nature scared me a bit and I didn’t want to cross the river in the dark. The day was spent traveling
up and down out of valleys, crossing rivers and basking in the beauty of Rainer surrounded by Alpine
Meadows. The meadows and alpine lakes make the 3 miles climbs well worth the trip. The river was
super scary as it roared through rock fields, over boulders and down from the mountain. We did get to
the river in the light, got across and got into camp just before dusk.
Day 2 – 28 Miles
Laura – While the goal for was to finish in the day light, it should have been eat/drink and be merry.
From the beginning, my knee hurt. The day had some great scenery but I remember very little of it. I
was using my poles more than I ever had and realized that I don’t eat or drink enough when I using
them. Once we were up by Paradise I was hot and wanted no more food or water. Never a good sign. I
tried to keep drinking and Steph gave me some ginger (which I will now always associate to dry heaving).
One of our guides pointed out some mountain goats lounging in the shade. It was amazing and I wanted
to go join them. We got to the last few miles and it was all downhill, only that did not help me since my
knee hurt and when I tried to run I thought for sure I would throw up. It was a slow march. When I
finally got to camp, I iced my knee, snacked, had a beer and started feeling better almost immediately.
This time I opted to shower and it was wonderful! We had a great dinner everyone stayed up a little and
talked, there was even Dutch Oven Brownies!
Steph Day 2 was the shortest with only 7,000 feet of climbing. I started the day with a sense that we
needed to make it to camp before dark and we needed to get there fast. Years of training for races
engrained in me the urgency of getting to the finish line as fast as possible. Although day 2 was the
shortest, it was not very easy with some tough climbs. At some point, I think it was as I was slogging up
a tough climb, I felt myself relax. I started to look around and enjoy all that I was experiencing during
the day. We got so close to glaciers that I could hear them cracking, we saw mountain goats and
marmots, and rested by alpine lakes. All the while, we were given amazing views of Mt Rainier. When
Laura was going through her tough patch I felt no urgency to go ahead, it was still just nice to be out on
the mountain. The end of our challenge in site, and I was going to be missing being on remote trails
once I got back to work on Tuesday. I needed to take this all in and enjoy the journey.
Day 3 – 31 Miles
Laura - Goal for Day 3 finish before dark, better nutrition. The day started a little later which was
probably good since right before left it started to storm. We packed extra gear in our packs and talked a
about what to do if the storm kept up. I thought I might lose Steph, I reminded her the she was my
buddy for the day and that we would get through it. After the prior day I wasn’t sure what to expect, but
this turned out to be my favorite day of the whole Triple Crown. Getting to Pan Handle was amazing. It
went by quickly on some great runnable trails. As we crossed snow fields I really felt like we were on top
of the mountain. There were marmots running around and waterfalls in every direction you looked. This
day we had two aid stations so my goal at this point of climbing was to get to the aid station and drop all
the extra layers I had packed for the storm that didn’t stick around. I had a ginger ale and some chips
and watermelon and we were off. I think there was only 4-6 miles until the next aid station. But it was all
climbing. I think we were all very quiet and just trudged on up. We were told it was all downhill from
there, 5 or so miles. This section was hard. I knew I was close to being done, I knew that I was on
runnable trail, but I had no energy left. We finished to cheers and high fives.
Day 3 Yep, Laura almost lost me on day 3. I started the day as I sat in the bathroom, crying, scared for
the day ahead and the storm that was thundering overhead. How was I going to make it Panhandle gap
in a raging storm? In truth, the storm was not raging. Feeding off of Laura’s determined strength, I put
on my big girl running shorts and got out on the trails. The sights, sounds and feeling that I experienced
on Day 3 is what I still carry with me a month later. Panhandle Gap is something that needs to be
experienced by everyone because you feel so connected to the mountain. The aid stations were a great
way to break up the last climbs on my tired legs. I don’t remember much of the rest of the day, except a
glorious downhill run from Panhandle followed by some long climbing. I spent a lot of time reflecting on
the amazing spring and summer as I trained with Laura. Thanks to the Triple Crown challenge, I got to
see parts of the Cascade Mountain range that I didn’t know existed. This goal finally slowed me down as
I enjoyed the moment, instead of just trying to get to the damn finish line.
What did we learn along the way
There are amazing people in this world and we got to meet and run with many. When you
worry about being the slowest, this might keep you for joining group adventures. Don’t let
that stop you. At both camps all the runners and the guides were encouraging. Everyone was
so positive and it rubs off on the entire group.
We are physically and mentally stronger than we think. We all are. We had confidence in
completing the challenge, but we anticipated longer days and harder efforts. If you train right
you can do anything.
Nature is calling, and it is all around us in the PNW. The sites we experienced were enough to
get us through some very low points. Nature is powerful that way. You can be feeling really
tired, sore or low but a glimpse of a mountain or an alpine lake can change how you feel in an
Appreciate – everyone and thing around you. We have each other to train with, which means
running every weekend despite the snow, rain and heat. With a coach like Yassine cheering us
on and understanding husbands, we have so many people to thank. It can feel selfish to
disappear for hours on a weekend, but our support crew kept us motivated.