Cascade Crest Classic 100 Mile, Easton, WA

Elevation Gain: 20,470'; High Point: 5840'

Aug 23-24, 2008 - For me, traveling to distant places to compete in challenging foot races is pure adventure, the stuff that dreams are made of. Flying into Seattle to enter into a race across the breathtaking Cascade Mountains was the quintessence of everything I live for. In retrospect, Cascade Crest is probably one of the high points of my forty years of running. It exceeded all expectations.

The flight across the country and picking up a rental car all went as planned on the Thursday night before the race. Arriving very late I pulled over in Issaquah along I-90 in my sporty little red Pontiac G5 rental car to sleep off the jet lag during what was left of the morning. I slept little, but comfortably, and arose at dawn to get something to eat, buy some provisions, then head back into Seattle to the REI flagship store to buy some Hammer Perpetuem. In that Perpetuem is a white powder that could be suspect in a carry-on bag, I opted to buy what I needed in Seattle rather than risk wrestling with security at check-in. After relaxing a bit in the city I headed east on I-90 for an hour or so to Snoqualmie Pass to recon the area and find the start in Easton. I'd been across the pass numerous times in the past, but it was still wonderful to be back.

I stopped at the Pacific Crest Trailhead on the pass to get out and stretch some before heading back down the mountain to find an exit along the highway to car camp the night before the race. Finding a quiet pull-off without much traffic, next to a waterfall, I parked and settled in for the evening and night. I slept like a baby and finally arose at 4 a.m. to drive to the start. A few vehicles were already there, with their occupants trying to get some shut-eye before they had to rise and hit the trails.

Pre-race activities started at the fire station in Easton, Washington, at 7 a.m. with a casual atmosphere in the sunny hours before the start at 10 a.m. The late start was great, allowing one to wake up with dignity at a reasonable hour and not have to hurry around in the morning in anxiety as at most events. Some of the locals served up some breakfast and coffee while Race Director Charlie Crissman was seeing to last minute preparations and offering instructions. I got my drop bags together, suited up, socialized a bit with a few folks, and before you knew it, it was time to launch.

The field of about 120 runners spread out quickly from the start after we paused for Oh Canada and the Star Spangled Banner. Runners and support crews were either relaxed or anxious, as with all races, until we started down a country road east of the fire station and got a taste of the reality that would test us this day. After reaching the trailhead and heading south, the perspective became vertical pretty quickly. I settled into a climbing pace that suited me and worked back and forth with several other runners to make the first climb of about 2500 feet in 3 miles up to Goat Peak. What a view of the Cascades north, as seen here. Well worth the climb.

Goat Peak View

After the first five miles I felt very much like I was running within myself. Temperatures were warming up, and finally exceeded 80 degrees, but I was drinking well and moving comfortably. For the next five plus miles or so the terrain was variably up and down with nothing too steep or that lasted very long. I made it into Cole Butte at mile 11 by 12:11, taking just over two hours to run the first eleven miles. It seems like a quick tempo now, but I felt like I wasn't exerting myself more than I should. Looking at the splits, the leaders were only 15 minutes ahead at this point.

CCC Elevation 1

From Cole Butte to Blowout Mountain the trail wandered down, then slightly up again, allowing myself and others to move a little faster. I rolled into mile 15 at Blowout at 1:04 p.m., maintaining a 5 mph pace, fast perhaps, but it seemed sustainable. Just before getting into Blowout my right arm was severely lacerated by a pointed branch extending over the trail that wouldn't yield when I pushed it out of the way. By the aid station I was was bleeding profusely and had to take a couple minutes to find someone with a couple bandages to cover the wounds. I licked my wounds and continued on toward Tacoma Pass, mostly downhill with steep drop-offs to the left and lots of scree to mile 22.

On the way to Tacoma Pass we veered hard right off the ridge and picked up the Pacific Crest Trail for the next thirty miles. Compared to the Appalachian Trail the PCT is a smooth highway, as this pictures attests.

Pacific Crest Trail

I was cruising downhill all the way to Tacoma Pass, swinging back and forth amid the tall cedars and cool shade. I stopped for five minutes to apply some moleskin to both feet and empty my shoes of scree, enjoying the brief repose amid this gorgeous scenery. Just before the aid station I passed three through hikers backpacking on the PCT, closing in on their goal of reaching Canada. I stopped and talked to them long enough to hear their story, learn their trail handles, and briefly share some of my own experiences on the Appalachian Trail. We parted enthusiastically wishing each other best of luck. Arriving at Tacoma Pass at 2:42 p.m. I didn't stop but carried through in good stride with good momentum. The picture at right was taken just after this aid station at 22 miles.

CCC Elevation 2

The PCT went up and down for the next 25 miles or so, with some steep climbs along the way. I passed through mile 29 at Snowshoe at 4:16 before reaching my first drop bag at Stampede Pass at mile 33 at 5:08 - a third of the way in seven hours - the same as I had done at Massanutten. The picture at right was taken coming into the Stampede Pass aid station. I sat down for probably ten minutes in a folding chair and traded my sweaty day clothes for dry night gear, refilled my fuel belt, and took in nutrients, fluids, and caffeine. The race requirement was to pick up your headlamp at Stampede, well prior to darkness, just in case. It would be impossible to negotiate these trails in complete darkness. When I left Stampede the temperature was still quite warm, so the extra clothing and weight slowed me a bit as I climbed out of the pass. I felt fatigued from my lack of training, but I hustled to get back my previous momentum, but eventually slowed while running solo as it took me until 6:56 to reach the next aid station at Meadow Mountain at 40 miles. While I was still in the top 25 runners, I was relegated to back off a bit as night approached and moderate my pace.

This was a very serene part of the course through a valley with creeks and ponds and a waterfall to climb at the end of it. I reached the top of the waterfall at twilight, to find many different camp sites around a larger lake to my right. The smell of wood smoke filled the air with the sights of flickering fires here and there. Encouraging words from the campers came out of the near darkness. I ran in the dark as long as I could before turning on my headlamp when I began to stumble.

My eyes do not adjust well to darkness anymore and I was running without glasses, to complicate matters. I slowed to negotiate the trail more safely, finally rolling into Ollalie Meadows at mile 47 at 8:50. I ate a couple of their famous onion pierogues before continuing on after other bobbing lights heading down the trail. I was not too far behind many of the runners I had been running with to this point, speaking to some of them on a short out and back. The trail narrowed before taking a hard right away from the PCT down a very rocky jeep trail that would lead to the famous rope section. The rope section is a steep descent requiring ropes to keep from sliding down on one's back side or getting impaled on broken, downed trees. I kept a couple sets of bobbling lights ahead of me a ways to follow on the way down, so I reached the bottom without any navigation difficulties or falls.

The trail comes out on a paved road that leads to the two-mile Snoqualmie Pass Train Tunnel under the mountain. This was an interesting twist for a race, running in a damp, cold tunnel under a mountain, water dripping from leaky seams in the roof, with only the sound of your own echoing steps to keep you company. Two miles in the middle of a hundred mile race is a long way. Flat as it was and even though I tried to step it up on the level to change up my muscles, it still seemed to take forever to reach the other side. Somewhere in the tunnel is the halfway point of the race. On the other side I caught two runners that had been a quarter mile ahead as I entered the tunnel, continued my momentum up the frontage road south of I-90, crossed under the interstate highway and hit the aid station at Hyak on Snoqualmie Pass at 53 miles at 10:29 p.m. I had reached halfway in 12 hours. The aid station was all lit up with Christmas lights, but I didn't stick around long to celebrate.

CCC Elevation 3

The course continued in the dark along the north frontage road for about three miles. I was running well at this point on the pavement. There were no head lamps to follow, so I continued on for a long way without seeing a glow stick to indicate that I was still on course. I finally saw glow sticks heading up a dirt road that diverted to the left and turned to follow it up for most of a half mile before encountering a dozen or so other runners coming back down the road - all of them lost. This was not the way and no one in the group knew exactly which way the course took. We all continued on the frontage road without any indication that we were on the right course. A couple of us headed back to find someone who had been there before while others continued slowly forward.

As it turned out there were some locals hijacking the glow sticks and deceptively placing them where runners would become misdirected. We all lost at least a half hour here, before we were confident that we were on the correct course. The road turned to dirt and climbed four more miles to Keechelus Ridge. Everyone slowed, but I seemed to slow even more than most, jogging to catch up to those who were walking ahead of me. I reached to top at Keechelus aid station at mile 60 at 12:42, having needlessly lost time due to the local prank. I later found out that the guys stealing the glow sticks were run off the course at some point. I tanked up a bit here before heading down hill another eight miles to Kachess Lake Campground at mile 68 where I arrived at 2:18 in the morning. I was moving along at a fair pace, considering that I was somewhat physically fatigued and that my left heel was killing me.

There wasn't much of a break at Kachess before heading onto "the trail from hell", a five mile section following Lake Kachess on the right through downed trees and steep angled slopes. I knew I was in trouble when I couldn't stay with some guys who looked less fit than me. I knew I was well within the race's cutoff time limits, so I just slowed to be able to see and negotiate the trail as safely as possible. The section's reputation was right on - extremely tough and slow going for everyone. I managed to get twisted up in some boggy muck and fell backwards onto my right elbow, chipping a bone and getting entirely covered with muck. To say I was miserable would be an understatement. I also managed to trip and watch as my drinking bottle flew down a steep embankment toward the lake. Just glad I didn't slide off the trail into the cold waters of the lake myself. Fortunately I had my spare to fall back on until I reached my drop bag at the next aid station. Despite the difficulty encountered during this portion of the event, the lake was eerily beautiful with the moonlight gently flickering off its shimmering surface. I made the best of the adventure and found pleasure in the challenge. When I finally emerged it was nearly three hours later to cover seven miles of hell at mile 73 at Mineral Creek at 5:08 a.m. I resupplied here and grabbed another bottle from my drop bag.

CCC Elevation 4

I felt I had it made at this point so continued on with a good attitude, knowing that it would soon be daylight and all I had to do was maintain to finish the full hundred. I started out on the gravel Ridge Road winding seven miles up 2500 feet to No Name Ridge. I reached mile 80 at 7:25, having run and walked 50/50 mostly in early daylight, running and chatting on the way up with another guy - Bill Geist, a nuclear physicist from Los Alamos - who was suffering from a painful muscle problem in his leg, and ultimately would not finish.

The four-mile path from No Name to the next aid station at Thorp Mountain was some of the prettiest of the entire course, but had some severely steep climbs, coming at a point where climbing muscles were fragged. This section is infamously known as the cardiac needles - well named, I thought. It was still exhilarating to keep going in this beautiful country to see what was next. Thorp Mountain is a dog leg one-half-mile required side trip off the main trail, straight up to a Forest Service fire tower and back. Each runner stripped out of his gear at the aid station and mostly walked up the hill to retrieve a ticket at the fire tower as proof of accomplishing the climb. I stopped at the top to enjoy the view all around, especially a beautiful lake and Mt. Rainier to the south, and spoke a bit to the ranger there on duty. On the way down I chatted with Glenn Tachiyama who was taking everyone's photograph with Mt. Rainier in the background. The photo to the right says it all. I enjoyed our brief conversation before getting back to the task at hand and returning to the race at the bottom of the climb.

The cardiac needles continued over much of the next four miles to French Cabin. I was reduced to stopping to rest my legs even while hiking straight up some of these climbs, but fortunately was at least comfortable in the shade of towering pines. Leaving the needles the trail wound down a recently clear cut area where I chatted with a bear hunter a bit. After talking to him I then noticed many, many obvious signs of bears. When I entered this race and envisioned what I might encounter, the prospect of bears, moose, mountain lions, and "Bigfoot" all occured to me in my imagination, but fortuitously I didn't see any colored eyes in the dark or bump into anything warm and furry.

I hit mile 88 at French Cabin at 11:01 in the morning. A clear view across the valley showed my next short but step climb on the other side. I didn't linger, but continued on with but twelve miles to the finish. After one last climb up over a saddle into some pleasant open meadows with some creeks to cross, it was all down hill to the finish. No more climbing. But since my knees, like everyone elses' were screaming at this point, cutting loose was out of the question. If anything, I cut back to save what was left of my knees and let quite a few people run past me toward the finish. A big part of me, too, just wanted to savor the experience, both the pain and the exhilaration of running in such a beautiful place. I was just in no hurry to have it end, honestly. This was not a competition for me, but an endurance achievement, and I knew I was going to be victorious.

I became a bit disoriented on the way when the trail blazes became spotty. After not seeing a blaze or another runner for what seemed like too long a time, I backtracked to try to make sense of my apparent disorientation. Still nothing - no tracks, no blazes, no other runneers. I may have been in this dilemma for twenty to thirty minutes before legendary Hans Dieter Weisshaar flew past me and said I was right and apparently had been right all along, blazes or not. The hill down to the final aid station at Silver Creek at mile 96 was as close to vertical as one can get without holding on. I babyed my legs and rolled into Silver Creek with four miles of road running to go at 1:50 in the afternoon.

Leaving a big party at Silver Creek I followed a dirt road heading back to I-90. Again, because of poor markings and no other runners in my proximity I was having doubts that I was still on course, so I slowed to allow someone to catch me to confirm that I was on course. Doubt or insecurity at this point of a long event is pure mental torment. The last thing you want to do is run more than you have to after already covering so much ground.

I managed to hit the pavement and hobble to the finish, again, with several people passing me in the final mile. My get-away sticks were just shot. My total lack of training was to blame, but the finish was a credit to my digging deep and putting a lot of heart into it. I crossed the finish line to claim my buckle in the Cascade Classic 100 at nearly three in the afternoon in 28:58:25 in 43rd place of 77 finishers. Pleased? You cannot begin to imagine!

I sat down to relish my victory with some of the local firemen and their wives, who just treated everyone like a celebrity. Even coming in toward the finish, time after time passers-by would holler from their cars, or hang out of their windows and offer encouragement. For a small town, Easton was fully appreciative of the efforts of the finishers of this race. Made me feel real good. I hung around for awhile, mostly talking about hunting and wildfires in the Cascades with a couple of the firemen, had someone generously bring me a beer, and just purely enjoyed the entire atmosphere. RD Charlie Crissman was very gracious in his presentation of my commemorative belt buckle and the stylish piece of artwork designed by Scott Jurek's wife Leah that was presented to each finisher.

I finally crawled off to my car, leaned back, closed my eyes, and slept for a few hours there in the parking lot. When I awoke the parking lot was empty except for me, so I cranked up the rental car and headed back to where I camped the night before the race. My legs were more than stiff, with a couple blisters, but no black toenails. When I went to get cleaned up, it was a real tenuous experience to maneuver down a bank to the side of the stream by the waterfall, washcloth, soap, and towel in hand, to try to get it done before dark. Somehow I managed to clean up, even wash my hair, then get into some clean clothes to rest the night before limping to the gate the next day and flying home. I slept well, needless to say. Someone might ask why I didn't stay in a motel; I certainly earned a shower on this day, but camping in the outdoors, under the moonlight, even in an exhausted condition, was all a part of the plan and added an unmeasurable amount to my adventure experience. I wouldn't do it any other way.

Larry Creveling  
Descending Thorpe Mtn in Cascades

Larry Creveling














Stampede Pass

































CCC Thorp Mountain

















CCC Buckle