Last year, I celebrated my birthday by running my age in miles, which also happened to be the exact distance across Joshua Tree National Park. This year the plan was to run the Rogue River. It’s 40 miles, but I figured close enough, I’ll be turning 38, and a couple bonus miles never hurt anyone. However, then I realized that running the Rogue would require 14 hrs of driving, plus paying for a pricey shuttle… and the final kicker was that the weather forecast for southern Oregon was heavy rain, while it was supposed to be relatively nice up here. So I decided to stick close to home and do a 38-mile traverse of the Issaquah Alps instead.
It’d been a couple years since I’d done any significant running in the Issy Alps, and my hope was that they’d feel new and exciting again. I also really really liked the idea of driving 45 min to/from the trailhead, and sleeping in my own bed both before and after the run.
Doing a route relatively close to town also meant that I could easily convince a friend to help me with the shuttle, and run some miles with me. Best of all, it meant I was able to meet my family for a “lunch break” half-way through my day!
Early on Sunday morning, my friend Rachel met me at the Tiger Summit trailhead (my finishing point). After presenting me with the best birthday balloon ever, we left my car at Tiger Summit, and drove her car to the Sky Country trailhead on Cougar Mtn (my starting point).
From Sky Country, we did the 7.6-mile loop shown here. The Issaquah Alps traverse is only around 26-28 miles, so I needed to do some extra miles to reach 38, hence the bonus loop. Also, one of my coached athletes is running that loop in a race at Cougar this coming weekend, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to preview the course.
Not three minutes into the loop, we saw an owl swoop by and then land on a tree right next to us. A great way to start my birthday run! Then, approximately 4 miles in, my headlamp caught the glowing eyes of an animal in the bushes. I stopped and looked more carefully. It was a big cat of some sort – I assumed mountain lion, and told Rachel as much, but later it dawned on me that it also could’ve been a large bobcat. Whatever it was, it was cool. It followed along next to us for a few minutes, and as it moved, the woods were completely silent – not even a twig snapped. So stealthy!
We finished the Cougar loop and I grabbed some water and food from my bag in Rachel’s car. She then went home, while I ran the Military trail from Sky Country to Red Town trailhead. I was ~9 miles into my day at this point, and just beginning the actual traverse. A map of my route is below, and you can access the GPX file here. (If you’re interested in doing only the traverse, feel free to email me and I’m happy to provide more detail on just that part of the route.)
The traverse itself is fairly straightforward, with well-marked, well-maintained trails. I started at Red Town trailhead and crossed Cougar Mtn on the Red Town, Quarry, Shy Bear, and Wilderness Creek trails, exiting on the Squak Mtn Connector trail. I ran a very short distance down Hwy 900 and then picked up the West Access trail on Squak Mtn. From there I used the East Side trail and the East Ridge trail to cross Squak, exiting Squak on the Sycamore Access trail. I then ran on the road for approx 1 mile towards Tiger Mountain, which was a bit jarring after so many miles of soft pine needles.
While waiting to cross Front St in Issaquah, I was pleasantly surprised to bump into John and Van, who were in the midst of completing the Issy Alps 100-miler. If you want some perspective when you’re feeling kinda tired and you’re 20 miles into your day of supported running, try bumping into people who are 70+ miles into their second day of unsupported running. They went on to finish the 100-miler unsupported (meaning they carried everything they needed from start to finish) in just over 40 hours. Nice work guys!
After saying hi to John and Van, I picked up the High School trail on Tiger Mountain and made my way to the High Point trailhead, where my husband, daughter, and dog were waiting for me!
I took a few minutes to rest my feet, and then we all headed for the Swamp Trail. If you have young kids and haven’t done this yet, you should! Signs are placed every 1/4 mile telling the story of Zoe and the Swamp Monster, which never fails to keep Rowan entertained. As we walked, I ate cheese sandwiches and PBJs and meandered along at Rowan’s pace. It was a great break in the middle of the traverse.
After hanging out with Tom and Rowan for about an hour, I continued on my way, now with Maggie (the pups) for company. When I left the fam, I was at 23ish miles – this included the 7.6 mile Cougar loop at the start of the day, as well as the 1-2 miles I walked with my family during lunch. Only 15 miles to go!
I traversed Tiger Mtn via the Tiger Mountain Trail, up until where the TMT intersects with West Side Rd. At that point, I took a left on the road and headed back to my truck. I reached my truck at 37.4 miles. Ugh. Of course I had to do an out-and-back for 0.6 miles because my little brain needed to see the “38.0 miles” on my watch. Such a silly little brain. And then I was done! Happy birthday run to me!
In general, this was a fun route, although the constant highway noise was a bit of a bummer, as were the many acres of logged forest on the east side of Tiger. On the other hand, I LOVED being so close to home in terms of logistics, fossil fuels not burned, and being able to easily see family and friends. I was also pleasantly surprised at how much wildlife I saw (2 owls, 2 pileated woodpeckers, 1 big kitty, and some deer).