Lake loop through the Rattlesnake Wilderness

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After my final long run before a 55K race turned into a trying day, I decided to break my taper with a 29-mile loop through the Rattlesnake Wilderness with a friend.

Clear skies and lakes – and a trail mostly free of downed trees – were just what I needed.

Like the routes to Stuart and Mineral peaks, the Lake Creek loop starts on Trail 515 at the main trailhead at the Rattlesnake National Recreation. About two-thirds of a mile north, we turned northwest on Trail 517.1 along the shadier side of Spring Gulch.

At 2.4 miles, we crossed the creek and continued on Trail 517, passing junctions with the Wallman Trail and the trail back to Curry and Sawmill gulches. We rose steeply at first then more gradually as the trail switchbacked through thinner forest to the wilderness boundary at about 7 miles.

After rounding the top of the East Fork Grant Creek drainage – passing the Twin Lakes overlook and skipping the side trip up Stuart Peak – we reached the junction for Trail 534 at 9.8 miles.

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From there, we turned east and ran down into the Lake Creek drainage – all new trail to me.

In the next 2.4 miles, we passed McKinley Lake, an unnamed pond, a historic cabin and Carter Lake, looking back up to the rocky ridges to the west.

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After the lakes, we refilled our hydration packs at a creek crossing, then left the wilderness as we switchbacked down to a junction with Trail 502 at about 14.8 miles. From there, we continued half a mile over a bridge where Rattlesnake Creek makes a narrow cut through rock, then reconnected with Trail 515.

From the junction with Trail 515, it was a long, hot and dusty 13.6 miles south and west along the creek back to the trailhead – and by the time we were done, I was feeling more confident about my upcoming race.

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Here are more photos from the Lake Creek loop.

Year on the run, from races to RATBOB to R2R2R

Last year was a fairly big running year for me – not in terms of total distance or race times, but simply in overall experience.

As in 2014, I raced at 11 Miles to Paradise between St. Regis and Quinn’s Hot Springs, finishing with a small PR, and at the 52-mile Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run at Dayton, Wyoming, and The Rut 50K at Big Sky Resort, coming in a little slower than previously at both.

I also ran the Missoula Marathon as a member of the Pacer Corps – and since I don’t race marathons very often, my finish just under 4 hours and 10 minutes ended up being my second fastest.

Aside from races, my training partners and I ran some local favorite landmarks – Blue Mountain, Stuart Peak and Point Six (all about 20 miles) and Sheep Mountain (about 26 miles).

I also joined local groups on a few destination runs – the Hells Canyon Adventure Run (about 25 miles), Run Across The Bob (aka RATBOB, about 50 miles), and Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon (R2R2R, about 46 miles).

In the end, I ran about 2,334 miles in 2015 – nearly 100 less than in 2014, but still plenty. And along the way, I was honored to be named Male Masters Runner of the Year by the local club, Run Wild Missoula.

What makes all of this possible is the great running community in Missoula, so thank you to my training partners, other road and trail friends, and RWM!

A 50-mile run across the wilds of The Bob

Sunrise on Headquarters Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

On the last weekend in July, I joined a group of Missoula friends for the Run Across The Bob, or RATBOB.

The annual run – this was the third year – is loosely organized, covers 50-some miles and crosses the Bob Marshall Wilderness from east to west. The 1 million-acre wilderness area was designated with the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

We left Missoula on a Friday afternoon and camped at the Mill Falls Campground on the Rocky Mountain Front west of Choteau, stopping in Augusta for dinner at the Buckhorn Bar and last-minute supplies at the grocery store next door.

Early the next morning, we packed up camp and got our gear together for the day, then drove to the South Fork Teton trailhead a mile up the road to the southwest.

Sunrise on Headquarters Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

About 5 a.m., we started up the trail southwest to Headquarters Pass by headlamp. The first 4 miles were some of the more scenic parts of the day, as we passed a tall, streaming waterfall, took in sunrise on the talus slopes below Rocky Mountain, and were greeted at the 7,755 pass by a group of mountain goats.

At the pass, we said goodbye to our shuttle drivers, who ran back down to the trailhead then spent the day on the road and setting up camp near the end of our route on the west side of the wilderness. At that point, there was to turning back.

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For the next 8 miles, we descended west along Headquarters Creek to the North Fork of the Sun River. After a stop to eat some food, we crossed a pack bridge over the river and headed for the Gates Park Guard Station.

With several trails meeting at the guard station, the scene of our group stopped at a junction consulting multiple maps made for a moment of humor – especially when we found the cabins and backcountry airstrip just beyond the stand of trees in front of us, at about 13 miles.

From the guard station, we continued west up Red Shale Creek on the Continental Divide Trail, splitting into several smaller groups. The area burned in a 2013 wildfire, making for a sunny, warm run, and many of us made our first stop to refill water bottles and bladders here. While I was among those who carried a filter, this was the only place I used it – several people who went on previous years’ runs found the water safe when left untreated, and I joined them out of convenience.

Along the North Wall during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

After entering thick forest for a couple of miles, we reached a meadow at the base of the North Wall near 21 miles and stopped to wait for others to rejoin the group. The North Wall is an extension of The Bob’s famed Chinese Wall, a 22-mile-long escarpment that averages 1,000 feet in height.

Up Switchback Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

For the next 13 miles, we followed the trail north along the base of the wall, splitting into smaller groups again as we crossed several small passes and burn areas that offered views up and down the cliff line. Eventually, we turned west and climbed steeply up the wall for a mile to Switchback Pass near Kevan Mountain. From the pass we could see back south along the wall and east to where we started.

Up Switchback Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

The 7,767-foot Switchback Pass got its name from the trail on its west side – in less than 4 miles, we dropped about 3,000 feet to the southwest and rounded more than 40 switchbacks. Back in the forest at the bottom, the trail became level as we waded across Pentagon Creek and reached Pentagon Cabin at nearly 40.5 miles.

From the cabin, we followed the Spotted Bear River northwest, meeting a couple of our shuttle drivers after about 2 miles. After spending the day on the road and setting up camp, they were gracious enough to run a pack full of snacks in and offer support.

Our groups split up even more in the final miles and I ended up on my own for much of it. After wading across Dean Creek and passing the silty, turquoise waters of the Blue Lakes, I reached the other shuttle drivers and first runners gathered at the Silvertip trailhead – about 50 miles and 15 hours after we started.

After a short recovery period, the first of us back piled into an SUV and drove down to the Spotted Bear Campground, where another shuttle driver was tending a buffet of hot food and cooler of beer. After a quick rinse-off in the river as the sun set, we ate, awaited the return of the rest of our group and recounted the day for the drivers before finally falling asleep in our tents.

The next morning, we packed up camp and drove home, crowding a small cafe in Hungry Horse for breakfast.

Here are more photos from the RATBOB.

A look at Iceland in winter

A little sunset color reflected on the surface of Mývatn

After spending the better part of 10 days in Iceland in mid-February, we’d go back any time.

While many of the mountain areas are unreachable in a rental vehicle in winter, there’s plenty accessible in other parts of the country. And it’s clear from both this trip and our previous visit, in the summer, that the weather can cause problems no matter the time of year.

We spent this trip visiting areas we had to hurry through after a storm stranded us while we were circling the country last time. We picked our dates after reading that conditions for skiing – cross-country, in our case – in the northern part of the country were best in February and March.

While there wasn’t enough to ski, we still managed to get out on a few short hikes – but more about that later. For now, here’s a a look at our trip, by way of a little number crunching.

Route

The view above Siglufjörður during a snowy hike on the Tröllaskagi Peninsula

We flew into Keflavík, west of Reykjavík, and stayed in the capital city our first night. The next day we drove to Mývatn, in the north, where we stayed for three nights. While there, we explored around the lake and slightly farther east to the Krafla area.

Next, we came slightly west to Akureyri, the country’s second largest city, for two nights. We spent one day driving north out Eyjafjörður to the town of Siglufjörður, on the Tröllaskagi Peninsula. This was the farthest north we came on the trip, with the Arctic Circle 46 kilometers or 25 miles away.

Our last stop was two nights in Grundarfjörður, where we rounded the western tip of the Snæfellsness Peninsula, before returning to Reykjavík for our final night and flying home.

In all, we covered 2,020 kilometers or 1,255 miles.

Fuel was one of the larger price differences when compared to home. The average price we paid for diesel for our rental SUV was 206 krónur per liter or about $5.85 per gallon, compared with less than $2 per gallon for unleaded gas in the U.S. Our most expensive fill was a little more than 45 liters for 9,355 krona or almost 12 gallons for a little more than $70.

Climate

Steam rises and pools boil in the Hverir geothermal area

Temperatures were close to what we’re used to at home. For the period we were in the country, the high in Reykjavík averaged about 1 degree C or 34 F and the low minus 4 C or 25 F. Historically, that’s a little colder than the average high of about 3 C or 37 F and low of minus 2 C or 28 F. The historical averages for Missoula during that period are a high of about 39 F and low of 21 F.

The biggest difference was the amount of daylight. When we arrived, there was about 8 hours 10 minutes of daylight in Reykjavík, compared with 10 hours 5 minutes in Missoula. By the time we left, that was extended to about 9 hours 10 minutes in Reykjavík 10 hours 35 minutes in Missoula.

Most of the daylight difference was in the morning. When we arrived, sunrise was about 9:35 a.m. in Reykjavík, compared with 7:45 in Missoula. By the time we left, sunrise was 9:05 a.m. in Reykjavík and 7:30 in Missoula. And with the sun so low in the sky because of how far north we were, any time it was blocked by a mountain or clouds there was a general dimness.

On a couple of days during our visit, wind made recreating or driving difficult. Both days had maximum wind speeds of more than 20 meters per second or 45 miles per hour, gusting as fast as 35 mps or 78 mph.

While staying in the Mývatn area one day, we were pelted with ice and sand or rock particles while trying to hike down the road from the Víti crater. That night, our guesthouse rattled continuously. Driving along the southern coast of the Snæfellsness Peninsula another day, we lost sight of the road in whiteout conditions several times and had to briefly stop, at one point for about 10 minutes.

During the trip, we never saw the northern lights from the ground. We did, however see them from the plane – both inside and out. Flying through the night over Canada and Greenland, our Icelandair plane’s interior lights changed to green, blue and purple. For a short time, the real aurora lit up the sky beyond the wing.

Food and drink

We’re vegetarian. Fish, seafood and lamb are Icelandic staples. Fortunately, Reykjavík has a number of vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurants. We ate at Gló twice. Its menu is simple – wraps, soup, salads, a meat option – but flavorful, more filling than it appears and reasonably priced.

While our diet largely limits our ability to sample the local cuisine, we do eat dairy so yogurt-like skyr was an option.

We always like to try local beer when traveling, and Iceland has a number of excellent options. You can’t really go wrong with anything from Borg Brugghús or Einstök ÖlgerðWe didn’t, however, sample the seasonal Hvalur 2, which you might have read about. The ingredients, from the brewer’s website: “Pure Icelandic water, malted barley, hops and sheep shit-smoked whale balls.”

The price of beer was another large difference we noticed. At the government-run Vínbúðin, we paid an average of 502 krónur or about $3.75 per bottle, close to restaurant prices at home. At restaurants, we paid an average of 1,070 krónur or about $8 per beer.