Enchantments Backpacking – 8/23-26/17

I flew back to Portland from Colorado on Monday night, then spent Tuesday shopping for backpacking food / gear and Tuesday evening we drove to Ellensburg, WA to stay in a cheap motel before taking off for a 4 day/3 night backpacking trip on Wednesday morning. I love piggy-backing adventures, but it was a whirlwind week, for sure!

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We started Wednesday morning at IHOP, fueling up before the next few days of consuming dehydrated meals and trail mix. We had to make a quick pit stop in Leavenworth because *someone* forgot their down jacket and had to purchase a new one! I won’t name names…

We arrived at the Snow Lakes Trailhead of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and after a final pack weigh-in (mine was ~33 lbs), last minute candy bar snack, and hearty sunscreen application, we were ready to get going. It was already a gazillion degrees and our destination was up.

Let me take a step back and introduce our backpacking party: Jesse & me, our good friends from Idaho, Lindsey & John, their lovely neighbor, Anna, and Lindsey & John’s 9-month old daughter, who I’ll call kid-O.

Photo by John

Taking another step back, let me explain the trip a bit more. We were backpacking The Enchantments, which the Washington Trails Association describes as: “an alpine paradise of granite worn smooth by glaciers, larches manicured by wind and cold, and crystal blue lakes strung together by a creek that tumbles and thunders between them. Seemingly everywhere, herds of mountain goats calmly wander by.” That is quite accurate, I’d say. Camping in The Enchantments is by permit only, and a lottery to boot. Camping in the “core zone” is an even harder lottery to win, but after years of trying, Lindsey & John’s names were finally drawn and they invited us to join the adventure (with the caveat that they would have kid-O along). No doubt, we’d be joining.

Back to the hiking. In all honesty, kid-O had more backpacking experience than I had (she’d been once that summer already and I had been exactly 0 times before in my life), but I was keen to keep up with the party. The trail was as beautiful as the pictures led me to believe. Unfortunately, wildfires in the Pacific Northwest were particularly bad this summer. Evening/night number one smelled of smoke and we could see it in the distance. Luckily it cleared up over the next few days, but hikers and campers with permits in the week after us weren’t so lucky. They had to be evacuated and lost the chance to use their permits due to the fires. We were fortunate.

The core zone was just out of reach for day 1, as hunger for everyone set in and we wanted to avoid setting up camp / having dinner in the dark. We called it a day at Nada Lake (~7.5 miles; 3,500 feet of gain). After dinner, Jesse & John strung up the food sacks, we stuck our feet in the cool alpine water, and then headed to bed.

Photo by Lindsey

The next day we had breakfast and took off again. After a few miles, we relaxed on the shores of Snow Lakes, saw our first mountain goat, had lunch and refilled water bladders in a gorgeous shady spot by Snow Creek, and eventually made it to the core zone. We had dinner / spent our second night in a rock shelter next to Lake Viviane and Prusik Peak.

Photo by Lindsey

Photo: Lindsey

Here is where the real adventure began. It was windy and much colder than our first night. I had on a merino bra, merino t-shirt, two merino long-sleeved tops, my down jacket, and my rain jacket. I had on a hat and gloves, merino leggings, and my hiking pants. I was freezing and desperate to crawl into my sleeping bag. The bigger problem, however, was that we had set up our camp in what was seemingly a mountain goat’s lair. We had 3 goats, and 1 particularly menacing one, circling us for about an hour. Jesse, John, & Anna bravely threw rocks, yelled, “sword”-fought with trekking poles, and other various methods of getting the goats to retreat, while Lindsey, kid-O, and I tried to keep warm and calm. Eventually it was too dark to continue fending off the goats and we all resigned ourselves to bed. We were pretty sure the goats just wanted to sniff around and find some of our salty snacks, but they were quite intimidating nonetheless.

The next morning, we all had a leisurely breakfast, were annoyed by another mountain goat (though this one was much more patient as we packed up camp), had a good little photoshoot, and took off back down the trail toward “home”.

“Look that way, kid-O!” Photo: Lindsey

After a day of downhill hiking, we ended up back at Nada Lake for our final night. We were there early enough that we could set up camp and hang out a bit, rather than just eating and calling it a night. Jesse & John decided to take a swim in the lake – by swim I mean a 3-4 second dunk accompanied with shrieks of shock and pain. That water was cold! I could only go in to my shins for about 30 seconds before I couldn’t take it anymore, so they were especially brave! But it was nice to freshen up and “wash” some clothes.

We spent the evening tying climbing knots, eating, doing dishes, and just lazing around. Kid-O played with her balloon, a cup, some rocks…and was having a genuinely happy time. With each night, Lindsey & John would apologize for kid-O being loud but I honestly hadn’t heard a peep out of her once. Granted, I’m an incredibly heavy sleeper but I was truly impressed with how easy-going she had been all trip. Oblivious to the work her parents put in to make the adventure a success for everyone, she played with her pinecones, tent stakes, and sticks without a care in the world. I, and every other hiker we passed those 4 days, was impressed.

Photo by Lindsey

Photo by Lindsey

Morning came, we all donned clean clothes, no longer rationed our food supplies, and we made our way back to the trailhead. Six friends, 4 days, 3 nights, ~20 miles, and nearly 7,000 feet of elevation gain, we were back at the car. My final pack weight came in around 25 pounds (the lightest of all of us..!).

Photo by Lindsey

Photo by Lindsey

Photo by Google Earth / Lindsey

We headed to Leavenworth for some real food, beers all around, ice cream, and bittersweet good-byes. It was funny how after just a few days of being disconnected in the wilderness, I was annoyed by the amount of vehicle and foot traffic once we were back in town. I didn’t want to turn my phone on, fearing what world news I had missed. While I looked forward to running water and my own bed, I gave into the cliché of feeling like I could survive on less.

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How was California? – 7/15-17/17

One of my closest friends lives in the Bay Area and I had yet to visit since she moved there, so I booked a flight and went. I guess adults are allowed to do that and it’s quite lovely.

I arrived early morning and we picked up some fresh bread, stone fruit, and veggies. We made an emergency vet visit, and then grilled an array of appetizers for the perfect summer dinner. It was hot, much to my chagrin, and that evening we walked along the water through the most impressive dog park I’ve ever seen.

On Sunday, we went for a hike/run up Mt. Tamalpais and got a little turned around. Giving up, we ended up down in Miur Woods to beat the heat. The redwoods were beautiful and I enjoyed our mini California adventure. That evening we had some pretty incredible pizza from Berkeley and watched Wall-E, because why not?

The next morning I was back in Portland. It was such a lovely girls weekend; I need to make these more regular, for sure.

Saddle Mountain – 7/8/17

More training, more hiking, more trails, more friends, more views, more adventure.

We hit up the coast range this time for a repeat of Saddle Mountain to beat the heat. I brought my running buddy and her son, as well as Jesse and RileyDog. Not a cloud in sight, we hiked for a few hours, then headed the rest of the way to Seaside for brunch by the ocean. Not a bad Saturday!

Mt. St. Helens – 6/24/17

Me: **calls sister**
Me: “Wanna climb Mt. St Helens this summer?”
Her: “Sure, why not?”

My favorite adventure partners can be described in one word: keen.

This was back in January. Permits for Mt. St. Helens go on sale in mid-February and we roped our mom in as well. We picked our weekend (just before my mom’s birthday) and I was on the website the minute permits were available. Three secured. Let the training begin.

The months flew by and I admired (though not without monitoring, judging, and offering “helpful” tips) my mom & sister’s training from afar. They both live on the flat prairie in Idaho, so getting in any sort of hill training / proper hiking called for creativity.

After months of preparation and scheming, the weekend arrived and we spent the day making snack packs, gathering gear, planning, and not sleeping. Typical pre-adventure prep.

“Are we seriously leaving at 2 AM?” the newbies asked.
“Yes, seriously. Set your alarm.”

We weren’t too far behind schedule. I wanted to start the easy hiking section with headlamps to get up above the tree line before the heat of the day (it was going to be upwards of 85 F that day). We had headlamps at the parking lot but by the time we signed in, refilled pack bladders, and emptied human bladders, it was light enough to forgo them. We were starting once again from the Marble Mountain Sno-Park (i.e. the winter route) as Climber’s Bivouac was still closed from the harsh winter.

The initial forested section was beautiful as always. We helped a random guy with an inhaler, were swarmed by mosquitoes, completed a small water crossing, and finally had a view of Mt. Hood in the distance.

We were all in such good spirits and were taking it pretty casually, enjoying the adventure and the views – Mt. Adams to the east and Mt. Hood to the south, per usual.

We reached the snow and put on our YakTrax / MicroSpikes. To save weight, we left the crampons behind and I’m glad we did. They would have been a bit overkill (though we did see other hikers with them and they did have a slight advantage). The steep became steeper and the going got slower. We ended up behind ‘Dolly and friends’ and had to do some passing maneuvers. I even gave up one of my hiking poles to a guy without any, as he was struggling a bit. “I’ll just get it at the top” I told him and we carried on past.

“Okay, we’re going to pop up to the false summit and Mt. Rainier will surprise you. Take a photo, but don’t linger because we’re going to carry on”, I ordered my team. Luckily, they obliged without arguing and we traversed over toward the true summit, away from the crowds. We had a gorgeous spot with a view of Rainier, plus the crater and Spirit Lake, (which aren’t visible from the false summit) to ourselves. We enjoyed our lunch here for about an hour.

We made the traverse back over, I collected my pole and gave a brief lesson about glissading, and we started our descent. My mom went first and her giggles could be heard the entire way. It’s funny how easily childhood rushes back when you’re sliding on your butt! My sister went second and I followed. The glissading conditions were perfect – it makes for such a quick descent.

My winter-y St. Helens hike earlier this year ended with horrible sunburn so I did extensive research on the market’s best sunscreen and made the shameful Walmart run to buy some. I was devastated to learn that I lost my bottle during my glissade! I had been diligent in everyone applying every hour on the hour, too! Fortunately my mom had some as well, but now I’d have to make the dreaded return to Walmart to replace the bottle for the rest of the summer. *sigh*

Eventually, the glissading came to an end and we were back on our feet. The dust and rocks were slick going downhill and it was tricky to find stable footing. There were only 2 mishaps, but in our crew, we don’t fall and tell so you’ll have to just guess who took them!

In the last mile and a half or so, my eyes started to become quite irritated. I wear contacts (as do my mom and sister) and they were smart enough to bring drops. I put some in and we continued down, hoping the intense eye watering would clean out whatever was bothering them. It wasn’t immediate, but we carried on.

Back through the water, back through the woods. We hit the parking lot, pulled off our shoes, signed in, and hit the road. I was looking forward to my dad’s cast iron cooking back at home!

About 5 miles up the road, my eyes were in so much pain I pulled over and asked my mom to drive us home. I ripped my contacts from my eyes, tears streaming. I threw them out and the world went blurry (seriously, I have terrible eyes). I wrapped a shirt around my head to shield the light, hoping that would help. After we hit Vancouver, my sister offered her glasses to me and somehow we have remarkably similar, if not identical, prescriptions. I was impressed.

It was hot back in Portland. We sat on the patio with my dad and Jesse and had dinner, ice cream bars, and a daily recap. I am so incredibly proud of my family for their summit. They worked hard and it was a perfect day.

Maybe Mt. Adams will be next?

Mt. Defiance – Starvation Loop Hike – 6/11/17

The Oregon Hiker’s Field Guide gives these details about this hike:

  • Start point: Starvation Creek Trailhead
  • End point: Mount Defiance
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 11.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4940 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult (and that’s only because we don’t have anything harder)
  • Seasons: June-October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

“And that’s only because we don’t have anything harder.” Apparently this is the “hardest” hike in the Gorge. I hadn’t heard about it until about 2 weeks prior. In an effort to keep up my hill training, I slapped it on the calendar, rounded up my best adventure buddies, and off to Defiance we went.

There are 2 things I have PTSD about: sunburns and poison oak. I have become terrified of both and will go to great lengths to avoid them. This hike was sure to bring both and I was prepared: long pants and SPF 70. The downside to this? It was freaking hot, which make both a terrible idea.

The first section of the hike was exposed, steep, and noisy, due to the freeway. We just came off the flat and paved path, enjoying a quick waterfall before starting up the trail, so I was spoiled from the gate. The struggle in the heat was real and I told the boys to go on ahead so the pressure was off to keep up.

Eventually we hit the woods and felt the nice relief of a breeze. There were a few pockets with a view and took the opportunity to rest and enjoy them.

After cooling down (and slowing down slightly), the hike seemed less daunting. I received a text message from Jesse that he made it to the summit and warned us of the “fork in the road”. When we came upon it, the choice was obvious: ‘more difficult’.

We hit some snow and eventually the summit (it was tempting to cut up the gravel road to the radio towers, but my inner hiker stuck to the singletrack). Our view was a bit clouded and there were a few other groups up there, but we sat and enjoyed our lunch, mapping out the route down. We looped back around the ‘easiest’ way, just to mix things up, and decided to descend on Starvation Ridge, rather than just back down the way we came.

Quick pit stop at Warren Lake

This was easily the best part of the hike. It was a steep descent (after a bit my left knee started to argue with me about the decision we’d made), but it was quite a cool ridge in the middle of the trees.

Our group of 4 was all hiking together at this point and we spent the bulk of the time trying to figure out which plants were poison oak. We came across one hiker who shared his “wisdom”, but as we continued on, we still weren’t convinced.

The switchbacks down to the car were unrelenting, but we had such a good mix of terrain throughout the day I was happy to enjoy it all.

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It was an all day excursion and I was glad to check it off the “to-hike” list. Also, no one suffered any poison oak outbreaks…win-win!

Mailbox Peak – 6/3/17

I love this photo. Everything about it is my favorite. Laughter. Girlfriends. The moody Pacific Northwest. Novelty. Precariousness. Pink. Adventure.

I heard about Mailbox Peak from a woman at the Green Monster Duathlon a few months ago. She told us she uses the hike as a training route and I knew I had to visit it. My favorite Washington ladies and I had been planning this hike ever since and the day finally arrived. I added one of my best Portland friends to the mission and at a very dark 4 AM, we made our way up to the trailhead some 3 hours away.

We took up the last of the parking spots at the trailhead and started up the Old Trail. “Non-trivial” is going to be my description: 2.5 miles and 4,000 ft of elevation gain.

The actual trail wasn’t always obvious and we took turns being the trailblazer, not wanting to claim responsibility for getting the group lost in the woods! It was foggy and cool and I wasn’t complaining. It was steep and root-y. I was amazed at how different this forest in northern Washington looked from other nearby hikes I’d been on. I enjoyed every grueling second of our ascent.

After passing the intersection of the Old and New trail (and teasing the man with the enviably luscious locks), we hit the rock scramble and I scoffed. “These are basically stairs!” we all thought. The path was clear as day and easy to navigate. The trip reports warned of it being a bit technical, so I was surprised at how basic it seemed.

Eventually, the boulders turned to rocks and then turned to stones and then pebbles, and indeed the hiking guides were right. It was a short but vertical climb to the summit.

As the photos show, we were socked in all day. Our views should have been of Seattle, Rainier, and various other mountain ranges all around. Just a few hundred yards from the summit we stopped to see just the tip of Rainier peeking out. Within about a minute it was gone and never popped out again.

We reached the top, elbowed our way through the crowd to the mailbox, wrote our letters to Santa, took a few photos, then plopped down to eat some snacks. I was thankful I put on some bug spray at the car, as we were swatting mosquitoes away.

The mailbox’s contents are ever-changing. This particular day there was a Costco-sized bottle of ibuprofen, a hiker’s log, stuffed animals, some foreign currency, a water jug, and many other random items. It is such a unique destination and a fun way to leave behind a piece of yourself at the summit.

On the descent, we took the New trail, which was much less rough, but twice as long and had relentless switchbacks. It was a beautifully maintained trail and I was wishing I could run (or sprint) all the way down.

At some point, I had to pee so badly I couldn’t stand it. The new trail was relatively busy, so I hussed up the side of the trail behind a tree, telling my buddies to keep watch. No sooner had I dropped my pants, did a fellow (male) hiker come walking up and then sat down on a tree stump directly in front of me, just feet away from my “watchwomen”! Mortified, I aborted my mission and jogged down the hill. “You people had ONE job!” I teased. Laughing, they were distracted by a bag of candy. I think the male hiker was more embarrassed than I was. “I didn’t see anything, I promise!” he assured me. I conceded I’d have to wait until we were out of the woods (no pun intended).

It was such a lovely adventure and after reaching the cars and changing clothes and shoes, we picked a nearby brewery to convene for lunch. Over a few homemade chicken strips and french fries, we planned our next ladies hike. I can’t wait!

Mt. St. Helens – 5/20/17

Jesse & I were offered permits to hike up Mt. St. Helens with our friend, his wife, and their 2 former neighbors. We’d been planning it for a few months and just a few days before our permit day, our friend’s wife could no longer join us and their neighbors told us they had company visiting from Michigan. The downside was that they wouldn’t be joining us, either. The confusing upside was that they were sending their friends in their stead.

A few days of questionable planning ensued and we all decided to caravan up together at 3 AM so we could begin hiking before sunrise. We [mostly] stuck to the plan, though it was light enough at the trailhead that we didn’t need headlamps. We were just about 1/2 hour behind schedule.

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The sun coming up over the mountain was beautiful. We were hiking in snow right away, but it was warm. It was unclear what sort of conditions we’d have to trek through, so we all packed all the options: snowshoes, crampons, ice axes, poles, layers…the works. It was a much different experience than our summer ascent from last year.

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Our hike was slow going, as we sorted out the appropriate gear as we climbed. Some hikers we saw had nothing but YakTrax on, others began with crampons right away. Some were skinning up with skis on and we all knew what that meant – they would have an incredible ride back down! One particular skiing group brought their border collie along. My day is always improved with a dog sighting!

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We stopped for photos and lunch before the final push to the top and we were almost blown away by the wind. Once we got going again, I counted my steps in increments of 20 to pass the time. It seemed to take ages.

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Once we reached the false summit, I threw down my pack and smiled to the north at Rainier, who was there to greet us. Mt. Adams to the east only peeked out a few times that day, Mt. Hood just the tip, and no Jefferson this time. You can’t win ’em all.

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The rest of our group joined us and we relaxed on the top for about an hour, eating some, reapplying sunscreen, taking photos, and preparing for the descent. We wandered over to see the summit and after chatting with a few other groups, decided it wasn’t safe or wise to venture to it. No one had done it that day and it would take quite a bit more time. We just gazed from afar.

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Jesse & I brought garbage bags for glissading and made pseudo-diapers out of them. (Note: it does not work as well as one would think).

Of the 5 mile descent, we were able to do about 3 miles on our butts. The chutes were well worn and it was easy to find a track and take off. The problem was all the gear we brought! I had to figure out how to hold my body so my feet were off the ground, my snowshoes wouldn’t drag behind me, my ice axe was at the ready, and also that I wouldn’t impale myself. It took most of the afternoon to sort it out, but it was such great fun!

At some point we put our snowshoes back on and were back on our feet. We arrived at the car and made plans to stop at Burgerville just down the road a bit. We were all famished, sunburned, and sleepy.

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Never have I ever been so badly burned. The next morning, my nostrils had blistered and my lips were swollen from it. I went on a 7 mile run with a friend in Forest Park and she politely didn’t say a word!

Tom Dick & Harry Mountain – 1/7/17

More fun in the snow. More adventures with friends. More crazy weather. One particularly questionable day, we were invited on a snowshoe adventure with a friend and a others up Tom Dick & Harry Mountain. It’s an easy enough trail and we opted to bring RileyDog with us this time, too.

In the winter, the main trailhead is blocked by the massive snowbank the plows create along the highway, so hikers must park at the ski hill and walk along the road nearly a mile. Riley insisted on relieving himself several times before we even began the roadside walk, so several trips back to the car were in order, but finally, we could take off.

We strapped on our snowshoes at the trailhead and entered the woods. The trail features a couple of wooden bridges and then climbs up the mountain with plenty of switchbacks. We reached Mirror Lake in no time and decided to keep heading up to the summit.

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After traversing an exposed part of the mountain through the wind and blinding snow, Jesse and two others decided to trudge on ahead to the summit, while I and another turned back toward the lake, knowing they wouldn’t make it too much farther anyway. Here’s where the adventure began: my group got lost. With the wind and snow, our tracks were quickly covered, even in the forest. We knew where the lake was, and where the intersection of the loop trail was, but we didn’t know where exactly we were. So we went left. Then went back and went right. Then went back and went down the hill. Then turned around and went straight. And finally, the literal sign we had been searching for! Also, a few run-ins with other dogs and a lost bootie (Riley’s, not mine) added to the stress of the day.

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We stood at the intersection, chatting away, after 20 minutes or so, the others showed up. We headed back down the hill, working up the courage to trudge up the highway to the car; the thought of pizza motivating our quick descent.

Poor RileyDog struggled on the last mile. His poor paws (well, 3 of the 4) became ice packed and he was desperate to lie down on the trail to gnaw at them. It took some coaxing to finish the trek and once he was in the car, he was neither seen nor heard from again. There’s “dog park” tired and then there’s “hiking” tired. Dogs are on their best behavior after the latter.

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I hope to return to this trail in the summer for the lake views and a proper summit adventure. Until then, I’ll enjoy this frosty selfie:

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Mt. Rainier – 8/7/16

You remember my 50k buddy Sybil, right? We finally got around to running together again and planned out a weekend on Mt. Rainier. Well, it was less of a weekend and more of a Sunday-Monday adventure. But then I started a new job on August 1st and it turned into just a day trip. But still – it was a fantastic day!

I woke up insanely early, as running tends to require, and drove 3 hours to the mountain to meet up with Sybil & Belia for a day of exploring the Wonderland Trail.

I was in awe of Rainier the entire time. Mt. Hood is a great mountain right in our backyard but Rainier is Hood’s bigger sister and I fell in love instantly. Driving into the park had a very grand feel to it; the top of the mountain barely visible, expansive forests and valleys, and other daunting peaks cropping up along the way. I guess that’s why it’s a National Park!

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Our route took us from Fryingpan Creek up to the Panhandle Gap and as you can see, it was not a beautiful sunny day! Our views were limited but the trail (and the company) were spectacular!

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It was a decent hike up to Panhandle Gap; around 3,000 ft of climbing in 5.5 miles. We traversed some sketchy snow patches, fun bridges and water crossings, and enjoyed the marmots scurrying about. Although we were climbing, it cooled off quite quickly and hats, gloves, and jackets came out. It didn’t stop of from playing in the glacial pool, though!

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I could have watched the marmots play all day!

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“If that lady can hike this with a baby on her back…!”

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Sybil was certain this hole would be the death of us

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Photo courtesy of guy in Saucony’s and school backpack

We ran most of the 5.5 mile descent and it felt great to get in some mountain running with my badass lady friends.