Friday, June 19, 2015

Beacon Rock

Sheer cliffs and gorge views to the east headed up Hamilton

It's mostly runnable, said James Varner, the race director of the Beacon rock 50k. Those words would ring in my ears as I did two loops of the figure 8 course up two mountains (twice each), innumerable switchbacks, and 7500 feet of elevation gain.

Our friends Sara and Anna picked Beacon Rock as their first big trail race. After they mentioned it on our Facebook running group, Ann signed up for the 50k. I was a bit skeptical when I heard that it was two loops, but since Ann was already registered, I did too (yes, this is a theme here on our blog).

Grins at the start

Since it was after Miwok, our big race for the year, we didn't think about Beacon Rock or read anything about it til two days beforehand, when Varner sent a massive email with the details.

The course sounded complicated, with just one aid station, visited 4 times, and the midway point being the start/finish line-- an incredibly efficient event. Seeing that Animal Athletics would be staffing the aid station was a pleasant surprise. And the afterparty, with pizza, beer, and a giant slip & slide, sounded amazing.

Gotta have our Performance Enhancing Kokopellis

We still didn't plan much. Ann wasn't feeling well the day before, so I bought bagels to eat in the car on the way to the race, and made us wraps to carry (just in case, not wanting a repeat of Ann's stomach issues at Miwok). Ann picked me up at 6:30am, and we were off.

We got to Beacon Rock State Park around 7:30am, driving up to and around the campsite area. No signs, nothing. A bit of panic set in. With little cell reception, we checked the website and Google maps but couldn't quite figure out where we went wrong. We drove back out of the park and down Highway 14 about a quarter of a mile before we saw the "group camping" sign. Aha!

On the way up to Hardy Ridge

A peek at Mt Hood from the top of Hardy Ridge

With less than 10 minutes til check-in closed, we zoomed up the road and found a nicely organized parking area. We threw our gear together, got our bibs, and then stood around in the cold morning shade.

A few minutes til the start, Varner gave last-minute instructions, and then we were off. It was a motley band of characters, judging by the gear people wore. I love seeing unique running gear; a tropical running dress and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tshirt cut into a tank top were two sartorial stand-outs from the day.

Thank you, runner #16, for the photo!
Runner #16 at the first view spot

We ran through the parking area and back down the road we had driven up. A sharp left turn, and the climb began in earnest on mostly-shaded gravel fire roads in the early-summer stages of overgrowth.

I tried to walk when everyone else was walking, to reign in Ann's natural inclination to run all uphills. We walked a lot. It was great.

The gorge looking west

We finally turned off the fire road and into single track, switchbacking up the mountain. The larger trees gave way a bit, and suddenly we broke out of the vegetation at a rocky outcrop with a sign reading "optional viewpoint." Of course we took it. We perched on the rocks and took a bunch of photos, including one of runner #16 (hi!), who also took one of us.

That was the summit, so we had some awesome downhill on narrow, dirt trails before being spit out on fire road again. Not long after, we came to the aid station and we're thrilled to see Willie and Yassine with the rest of the Animal Athletics crew. They had an awesome assortment of food, including Trailbutter on tortillas. Oh my yum! We chatted with them and then had to tear ourselves away.

Looking back at the top of Hamilton Mountain

More of the Gorge

Just a little more downhill on fire roads, and we came to a crossroads where an enthusiastic, helpful volunteer pointed us to the left; on our next time through we'd go straight.


More fire roads, then lovely shaded single track. And then the real climbing began. What a slog up Hamilton Mountain! Rocky, exposed switchbacks. Shockingly steep scrambles where the trail had crumbled away. Up and up and up, and the heat of the day was beginning to set in.

A spotless ladybug landed on me

Suddenly, we came to a spot atop a ridge, where we could see out over the entire gorge. "Is this the top?" I asked Ann. "I think so," she replied. We were so wrong. We moved along the ridge, back into tree cover, to another wide-open view of sheer cliffs and the roaring Bonneville Dam. At this point, it was clear we had a bunch more climbing. We got quiet and Ann pulled way ahead. We passed Glenn Tachiyama (the best race photographer), and faked some running. Finally, we got to the summit-- strangely anticlimactic because of the us-sized brush obscuring the views.

Bonneville Dam roaring away in the distance

We began the glorious descent. Down, down, down, across a rocky field where we could look back and see the top of Hamilton against the backdrop of the gorge. Then we were back on a fire road, and dropped into the shady forest before taking a turn into single track. This section was my absolute favorite. All of the pain of climbing forgotten, I flew through the trees, letting my body relax and gravity carry me. I waited for Ann where we came back out onto fire roads, and then we had a short stretch before hitting the aid station again. This time I asked how Heather's 100 miler went.

Same view going up Hamilton for the second time, different time of day

Back to our helpful volunteer at the crossroads, we took the trail straight, and were met with some flat and uphill where I had expected all down. Somewhere along this stretch, man zoomed past us and said "Hey, Girls Gone Wildwood!" We were surprised to be recognized; he said he is friends with my sister-in-law, Shetha, and just ran the Bend Beer Chase with her. Then he zoomed off, leaving us to marvel at how our little running blog seems to be finally taking off after years of putting love into it.

The fire road took us up to where we had first come into the park, and we had an amazing downhill, exchanging myriad "good works" and "great jobs" with people headed back out on their second loop. I tried not to think about that much.

View from the top of Hamilton Mountain

We got to the road and trudged up it to the start/finish, trying not to dwell on the many people finishing their 25k event. My friend Allison was there with her daughter and husband-- it was great to see familiar faces and catch up while a kind volunteer filled up my hydration bladder.

We headed back out, this time knowing what we had in store, and where to leave everything out on the trail. We ran a bit more of the uphill. We didn't bother with the optional view point. There were lots more hikers on the trails to dodge.

Ann crossing a neat bridge

At some point, slogging up Hamilton Mountain in the full heat of the day, we came upon a racer who was sitting on a rock in the shaded corner of a switchback. "I found a way to get my heart rate down!" he said to us. I laughed, because I know this lesson well-- take it easy on the ups! He said he had pushed too hard on the first loop, and had to just sit still for a while on this one. I opined that it was better to take it easy both times. I assume he'll agree, as I steadily power-hiked past him.

The rest of the course continued much the same. I was worried about the wide open, rocky plain bothering my knee, but it didn't. The downhill was even better the second time. We enjoyed our visits and quick conversation at the aid station. And then, on steep downhill stretch of fire road about a quarter mile past the aid station, a runner tripped and fell, rolling over.

Mt Adams photo bombing - the first time up Hamilton Mountain

We're at the top of the last climb!

She clutched her leg and couldn't stand. We asked if she was okay, and if she wanted us to go back to the aid station for help. I helped her up, and at first she wasn't able to move her ankle. Slowly, though, as she tried using her leg, she was able to limp along. She told us to go ahead, and we did, a bit reluctantly.

We enjoyed the rest of the run, but worried about the injured runner. When we got to the road, Ann went for it and blasted up the hill. I'm proud to say that I ran the whole thing, but Ann beat me by 20 seconds. It felt like a great finish.
Crossing the finish line and giving James a high-five



We went to the car to grab our things, and when we returned to the main area, Erik and Leif were waiting for us. It was so good to see them! I was really looking forward to going down the slip & slide in my sweaty running gear and dirty legs, so I went by myself because no one else wanted to. After that attempt and seeing how it was done, Leif wanted to go down it on my lap. That was much more fun, although he wasn't a fan of his clothes getting wet. Refreshed, we got beer, had a pizza made for us, and sat around eating and enjoying the sunshine.

Funny bumper sticker. I looked it up and it's from a bordello in Wallace, Idaho


We spent about two hours there. I've never hung out after a race for so long, and I loved it. Rainshadow really knows how to throw a party! The relaxed vibe left us in a good mood, which carried through the long drive home. I would definitely do this race again, and I can't wait to have my family come hang out with me at the finish party at my next Rainshadow race.

Leif and I on the giant slip & slide at the afterparty





More of the Gorge


Mt. Adams in the distance

it's this big



1 comment:

  1. I ran the 25K! I wish I had recognized you gals I definitely would have said hi! Maybe I'll see you there next year? I can't wait to run that race again it was so much fun! I might even try the 50k... I'm ultra curious but my longest race so far has been a trail marathon. Thanks for the write up!

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