Heading West, A Trail Sampler Menu (Sara Montgomery and Derrick Spafford)
In June we took a trip to the West Coast of the United States, to Portland, Oregon to visit our friends (who are like family!) Deb and Dan; and then we flew down to San Ramon, California to visit our family (who are also friends!) Debbie and Jack. Instead of doing a spring race, we decided to have this vacation with, among other things, a lot of trail running in new and fun places.
We put together this ‘menu’ of the runs we did, from the seemingly endless options we had tempting us every day. From the Oregon Coast to the Columbia River Gorge; from admiring the volcanic mountains of the Cascade Range to getting up high in the Sierra Nevada; from the unique and beautiful jewel of the East Bay Area, Mount Diablo, to the cool redwoods of Oakland; we had a very satisfying overall experience to launch us into the rest of our year.
1) Just Add Water: Ecola State Park, OR
With a heat wave hitting the state, we decided to go to the coast, though it ended up being just as crazy hot there. On the way, we were treated by Deb and Dan to a loop of the iconic Michael Johnson track for a warmup. After seeing videos of many former Olympian track runners doing workouts here, it was awesome to take a little jog around the oval. Then we proceeded to the trails of Ecola State Park, and although the sun was scorching, there was ample shade to take cover under. From the main parking lot to Indian Beach, Clatsop Loop trail to Tillamook Rock lighthouse observation point.
Distance: 8 km
Elevation Gain: 430 m
- Alternating beautiful ocean views and lush vegetation
- Ups and downs as it follows the coast
- Busy! Lots of friendly people out enjoying the trail and beach
Best Paired with: North Coast Red Ale, Seaside Brewing, Seaside, OR
2) The Magic of Self-Rising Power: Multnomah Falls to Larch Mountain, OR
Surprisingly just a touch cooler along the Columbia River Gorge, we started at the base of the iconic Multnomah Falls, and went straight up to the top of Larch Mountain to Sherrard’s Point. The best thing about the heat was that the sky was clear and blue – great for views!
Distance: 22 km (round trip)
Elevation Gain: 1200 m
- Climb above the falls, hardly anyone up there
- Beautiful, lush trail, pine needles, crosses creek on bridges
- Rocky area scree field near the top, kind of like the Adirondacks
- Reach the top with impressive panoramic view of Mt. Hood, Mt Adams, Mt Rainier, Mt St. Helens
Best Paired With: Blonde IPA, Pfriem, Hood River, OR
3) Recover With Flat Pancakes: Trillium Lake Trail, OR
Driving through orchards to the south side of Mount Hood, we relished a flatter recovery run on Trillium Lake Trail. The loop itself is about 3 km, but we added on a side trail to enjoy it a bit longer.
Distance: 5 km
Elevation Gain: 90 m
- Flat run around lake with views of Mt Hood
- Lush vegetation surrounding the lake and lots of ducks in it.
Best Paired With: Slipknot IPA, Full Sail Brewery, Hood River, OR
4) Bike ‘n Brew Palate Cleanser: Cycle Portland Brewery Tour, Portland, OR
Deb and Dan had extra bikes! They took us on a bike tour of Portland (aka Beervana) to sample some of the many, many, many brew pubs in the city. So. Much. Fun!!
Distance: 26 km
Elevation Gain: 120 m
- 96 breweries in Portland
- So many within small area
- 1.5 hr riding, 6.5 hr total time!
- 5 breweries, lots of beer and food for fuel
- So fun to do this on bikes, tour of a good chunk of the city in addition to the breweries and the wheeeee factor of doing it at night
Best Paired With: Black Bear XX Stout, Alameda Brewery
5) Bite of Wildwood: Forest Park, Portland, Oregon
We had to get a run in the famous and huge urban Forest Park before we left the city, so we started from MacLeay Park and used the Lower Macleay Trail to access Wildwood Trail.
Distance: 10 km
Elevation Gain: 240 m
- Urban park, incredible options
- Good climbs initially, then rolling
- Beautiful trees made it shady and cool
Best Paired With: Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Deschutes Brewery
6) First Taste of Tahoe: Fallen Leaf Lake, South Tahoe, CA
After a regroup night in San Ramon, where we borrowed camping gear and obtained local trail beta from Debbie and Jack, we decided from the many great options to head to Tahoe for a few days. After enjoying the drive there and finding a place to stay at the Fallen Leaf Campground in South Tahoe, we stumbled upon this trail right from the south end of the campground where we could enjoy some great views.
Distance: 4 km
Elevation Gain: 34 m
- Spectacular views of Fallen Leaf Lake and the surrounding mountains
- Clear, dry air
- Flat and easy for recovery, yet still beautiful
- First time seeing huge Ponderosa Pine trees, jigsaw puzzle bark, amazing. Sara was a bit obsessed with them.
Best Paired With: Campfire sloppy joes by Chef Derrique
7) Gnawing at the PCT: Echo Lake to Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness, CA
A short drive to Echo Lake brought us to an access point of the Pacific Crest Trail where we planned to go as far as we could before being turned around by the snow being too deep.
Distance: 19 km
Elevation Gain: 545 m
- PCT, beautiful views along lake from the very start
- Flat to start with, climbed to above 8,000 feet and finally hit snow
- Went along the snow carefully as far as we felt was reasonable
- Safe enough, just had to be careful in spots
- Tough route-finding in the depth of snow
- Felt fortunate to see up that high as far as we did
- Running in shorts on deep snow is fun!
- Lots of cute little lizards. Geckos?
Best Paired With: Lagunitas IPA, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma, CA
8) Scrambled Legs: Shirley Canyon Trail, Olympic Valley, CA
From Squaw Valley Ski Resort, Shirley Canyon Trail to Shirley Lake following Squaw Creek with waterfalls down the rocky landscape; from there a snowy scramble up to High Camp Ski Hill, then option to take the free tram ride down, which we took advantage of.
Distance: 5 km (one way, tram down, or 10 km round trip)
Elevation Gain: 600 m
- From village, up Shirley Canyon Trail along waterfalls
- Scramble past the main trail to get to the top of the ski hill
- Start of Western States
- Very steep to get to the top, bit sketchy scrambling up over snow
- Super windy and cold
Best Paired With: Red Wine. Anything from Cali is good, isn’t it?? We think so.
9) This Dish Needs to Sit for a Fortnight: Western States Trail, Auburn, California
On our way back to San Ramon, we stayed a night in Auburn and the next morning were able to check out another part of the Western States 100 course. Two weeks later when Jim Walmsley went off course, we could picture exactly where his mis-turn took him!
Distance: 8 km
Elevation Gain: 200 m
- From No Hands Bridge to Robie Point
- Very hot and exposed, dry sandy dirt
- A few horses on the trail
- There was a race going on, lots of people
Best Paired With: 805 Blonde Ale, Firestone Walker Brewery
10) Steeped to Perfection: Mount Diablo, California
Debbie and Jack know this mountain VERY well, so when they recommended a route for us, we were grateful in knowing we would see a spectacular slice of the mountain that dominates the landscape for miles around. We did the Grand Loop, starting at Juniper Parking Lot and going clock-wise to circumnavigate
the summit and see a lot of the diversity that the mountain offers.
Distance: 10 km
Elevation Gain: 530 m
- Very steep downhill jeep road to begin
- Steep single track up from there
- Watch for poison oak
- Run got better and better as we went on
- Fire from a couple of years ago, trees were still charred
- Single-track etched into the side of the mountain was fun
- Gopher snake, stopped suddenly to check, thankfully not a rattlesnake
Best Paired With: Tennessee Moonshine (D&J had just returned from a week of backpacking in the Smokies!)
11) A Long Time Growing: Redwood Regional Park, Oakland, CA
For our final run it was fitting to go to see some famous redwoods, and they were indeed magical to look up at while running under.
Distance: 10 km / 13.5
Elevation Gain: 390 m / 630 m
- Start with climb up to exposed ridge
- Enter the redwood forest
- More climbs and some flatter sections high up on side of hill with redwoods overhead
- Switchbacks down, flat parts traversing the side of the hill
Best Paired With: Nothing. Time to sober up and go home!
A quick thank you again to our Oregon hosts/guides Deb and Dan, California hosts/guides Deb and Jack. Thanks for giving us awesome trail recommendations, and putting up with a couple of sweaty trail runners during our stay.
Also, a big thanks to our sponsors for providing us with the best gear and nutrition on the market so we could fully enjoy our trip…
La Sportiva – The new line of La Sportiva clothing kept us cool and comfortable during the heat wave we experienced throughout the majority of the trip. For shoes, we used the Mutant for long days, and when on snow. The Akasha’s were also awesome on long days when the ground was dry and hard as they provide maximum cushioning. We used the HeliosSR on shorter days or when running faster…these were also our bike tour shoes!
Suunto – We used the Ambit3 Peak and Ambit3 Vertical. The navigation features were particularly useful as we needed help with finding routes and preprogrammed a few routes to find our way on certain trails. We also needed help one day finding our way back out off of the PCT when we were miles from the start and couldn’t find the trail or our footprints in the snow.
Julbo – We both used the lightweight Aero sunglasses with photochromic lens. The glare on the higher exposed areas and snow made it vital that we had the best in eye protection.
Elevate Me Bars – We packed a lot into our trip and were scrambling to fit in runs, which also sometimes left us short on calories. We relied heavily on Elevate Me Bars before, during and after our runs…plus, while waiting for flights at airports!
Endurance Tap – This was our go-to fuel on our long runs. Great natural gel that kept our energy level high all trip long!