It’s been a very, very wet Winter here in the Pacific Northwest. I think we’ve all been feeling it over the last few weeks. The wild weather changes within minutes from little bit of blue sky to pounding hail with lots and lots of rain in between.
Snow levels fluctuated so much this season, that most mountain summit attempts were hard to plan and risky to attempt due to ongoing avalanche danger.
My folks used to say that if you run fast enough you can run underneath the falling rain without getting wet.
We put this to the test a couple of weeks ago, when the weather forecast warned us of over 1-3 inches of rain in the Quinault region in just a single day. That forecast wasn’t kidding either, it rained 2.78 inches. We knew it would rain. We knew it would be wet. We knew running would be a slog. We went anyway.
There are only so many weekends one can look out the window and wish, long, and pray for a clearing in the weather. It doesn’t have to be endless sun, just sunny long enough to tie your shoes. We’re not made out of sugar! (Another glorious encouragement from the old days)
Fully prepared for insane trip Doug and I met early on Saturday before Valentines Day for our rendezvous in the Olympic National Park. The folks at Lake Quinault Lodge ran a Valentine’s Special that weekend, but sitting by a cozy fireplace over-looking the lake covered in fog is for lovers. We came here for adventure.
The road to Graves Creek campground had been washed out just a few weeks prior, and part of the plan was to assess and report on the damage. The National Park Service had closed the road at the last bridge and is in the process of determining if and when it will be possible to fix the road and reopen it.
We parked our car next to the bridge that connects the Quinault Lake loop and got ready while the rain began to quietly fall on us. It takes someone with just the right amount of loose screws to find excitement in what were were about to do. However, that was the exact reason why we couldn’t wipe our smile of our faces as we left the warmth of the car behind and headed into the Quinault rainforest.
The first few miles toward Graves Creek campground were wet but pretty easy-going. We ran on the now-closed road, which gently gained in elevation as we made our way along the river. Many smaller waterfalls along our path told the story of how much precipitation has been falling here over the last few weeks.
It usually takes me about 10-15 minutes to get my body temperature up to a point that I feel it can beat the cold, but repelling the rain only works for awhile. Doug and I both knew we’d get soaked through and through, even with amazing gear. It was just a matter of keeping the body moving and staying positive.
After a little bit of running, we reached the areas where the river had taken huge chunks out of the road and paused for a few moments to snap some pictures.
Getting into ‘the zone’, you tend to zoom out during a long run and you forget where you actually are. Almost 3/4 our way to the campground, we had settled into a productive jog when Doug suddenly pulled my arm to bring me to a halt. I was so into the run, I didn’t notice what was ahead.
We had almost ran into a group of elk, 6-10 of them grazing quietly, probably wondering who would be so insane as to come out here on a day like this. This excitement refocused and exhilarated us and shortly after we reached the completely deserted campground.
The increasingly harder falling rain didn’t invite us to stop for a break at the campground. We were already pretty soaked and slowing down just would’ve made us come to terms with how wet were truly were. Pony Bridge was our desired destination and turnaround, and when we have a goal, we do our best to reach it.
The first six miles we covered easily on the road, but just before we hit the campground we encountered the real obstacles of this trip- The first of many fallen trees. This Winter has been brutal, and I lost count of how many trees we had to climb over, under or had to find a way around, but there were many. Yes, each tree we climbed over, we committed ourselves to revisiting the same damn tree on our way back. Amazingly, they were easier on the return trip.
The trail to Pony Bridge is beautiful and one of the highlights of all the easy trails in the Olympic National Park. No matter what season, it’s not a hard trail. Last year, I hiked it with my family, but in this weather it felt more like we ran up a constant growing stream of water on the trail. Puddles were everywhere, shoes were soaked, curing occurred from Doug. Small streams turned into little waterfalls while the trees, ferns, and underbrush were soaked. Everything was drenched, including us.
As we approached the final few hundred feet before we the bridge, we had to climb over so many precarious fallen trees that the run turned into a climb. Pushing our way around wet branches and ducking underneath huge trees, we barely could make out the trail. This will be quite a cleanup effort for the NPS crew, once they will make their way out there in the Springtime.
Once we reached the bridge, we snapped a few pictures, took a brief break to refuel and headed back. In the steady falling rain there was no place to rest and recover.
We made our way back over all those fallen trees for a second time and now, being completely soaked to the bone, gave up on trying to bypass all the puddles of standing water. It actually made for an easier run and faster pace to just embrace the insanity and run in a straight line through the deluge.
Back at the campground, we finally took a break at the deserted ranger station. There roof provided a bit of a break from the rain and we found a dry place to sit, change into somewhat dry clothes and eat one or five granola bars.
After a short break, and with numb fingers, we headed back out into the rain. We still had 6 miles to get back to the car, the trail would now be easy, but our legs were starting to feel heavy. Was it the dampness, the cold, or both?
This is power time. With not much time to enjoy the surrounding scenery, you focus on the task at hand and long for a warm fire and a cool beer. That we got, at the Lake Quinault Lodge. Getting back to the car, we changed into dry clothes – that’s the third set of clothes for those folks keeping track, and turned the heater to eleven. Once we sat in the car, the windows fogging up from our wet bodies hid the smiles on our faces from the few passing cars we passed.
Adventure running sounds insane and can feel insane when out there on a day like this. As I said to Doug during our run: the great thing about this sport is that it provides the right amount of crazy to make you feel alive, while at the same time keeping the amount of actual risk very low. Of all the wonderful and daring adventure sports one can do, this one is pretty low on the scale of risk one has to submit themselves, and their family to.
All we did was run on a an old road and a hiking trail, in the freezing rain, in a completely deserted place, deep in the rainforest of the Olympic National Park.
It was glorious and that is exactly what we came here for.
Get our Summit Book 2016 and read our big feature section: ‘Trail Running – A Primer’.