Monday, November 5, 2012

Hike: Rattlesnake Mountain

Hike: Rattlesnake Mountain
Distance: 20.5 mi
Location: Snoqualmie area I-90

My goal for this hike was to see how my body fared on a long hike. I have decided to seriously look into through hiking the PCT in 2014. While that sounds like a long ways away I have a lot of unanswered questions and preparations to make before I can undertake the adventure feeling prepared.

For those that don't know the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a National Scenic trail that starts at the US/Mexico border and continues north through California, Oregon, and Washington on its way to Canada. It is 2,600 miles give or take and it travels through some of the most highly regarded scenery in the US. Because of the threat of snow in the High Sierra mountains most people start the trek around the end of April and finish 4-6 months later.

One of the things that concerns me most is the rigorous pace that is required to finish the PCT before the weather makes traveling in the upper Cascade elevations very difficult. For me I would only really be able to attempt the trek if most of my time on the trail was covered by vacation time that I have from work. With that in mind I've been tentatively budgeting 16-18 weeks for the whole PCT. Operating under those assumptions I will need to be averaging 25-30 miles of hiking per day.

That is a lot of hiking, and I am just not sure my body is up to the task. I've had some issues with my feet in the past that could make the trip impossible for me right from the get go. In order to find out I wanted to try a nice long hike that somewhat simulates what I could expect on the trail.

I chose the Rattlesnake Mountain hike because it had a good amount of mileage and was pretty close to home. The higher hikes around Seattle are starting to get a bit dicey when it comes to snow and the threat of snow. Rattlesnake Mountain is a fairly low elevation so it should stay clear of significant snow for quite a while.

I decided that for this trip I would try out the suggestions of trail running shoes rather then proper hiking boots. I've tried several boot styles, weights, brands etc (as my girlfriend can attest a trip to REI usually means at least 40 minutes of me looking at shoes). I chose a pair of Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 trail running shoes 1 size larger then my typical shoe size. I hadn't tried them on even the morning I set out, which when you are talking about boots is a death sentence. They performed very well and I only got a tiny blister on my heel after the whole 8 hour ordeal.

I also loaded up a backpack I have with about 15 lbs of various stuff in order to get an idea what it might be like on the PCT.

Something I have never considered before is the use of an umbrella while hiking. I've been reading that quite a few people hike the PCT with umbrellas because the afford good protection from the sun and the rain. I was surprised how nice it was to pop open the umbrella when the rain started coming down, rather then getting my rain jacket out.

20+ miles is a long way to hike, by just about anyone's estimations. 20 is pushing and probably beyond the range of my longest walking adventures. I have to say however that I was very impressed with how I felt after the 8 hours of hiking. I was definitely tired, and had some serious muscle soreness the following day, but I feel like I could have maybe done another few miles if I had rested for a little bit.

This is a good sign for my PCT hike. 20 miles would be a low mileage day for me on the PCT but considering that I haven't hiked seriously in over a year, I haven't been working out for the passed 2-3 months, I've always had issues with shoes and hiking, I think I did pretty darn well.

The hike itself was quite nice. The day was mostly drizzly and overcast. The trail moved through overgrown logging roads, clear cuts, under some power lines, through dense forests thick with fog, across some streams, and stopped at a lake. I had lunch and hiked the trail in reverse. The first 2/3 of the hike to the lake I was practically alone, except for a few runners. Then I started running into those hiking from the Rattlesnake Ledge trail head.

Overall I'd say the trip was a success here are some takeaways:
  • I need to drop a few pounds. Each pound I don't have to carry from the start the finish will make the whole trip that much easier.
  • I need to start up a cardio program again. I wasn't panting TOO bad on the trail, but it wasn't a walk in the park for me either.
  • I should maybe get my ankle and knee checked out by a professional. They weren't too bad on the trail, but within a few hours of being off the trail they were definitely sore. Perhaps hiking poles would help, but I'd rather see if I could address the real problem.
  • I will never wear hiking boots again. Ok maybe never, but never for hiking when there isn't feet of snow.
  • Hiking with an umbrella is awesome!
  • I do really like hiking. Something about being in the woods, with no one around is really calming for me.