Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Augerpoint Traverse Run Report

Magical moments in the mountains. Heading up Albert Edward.
This August, alongside two super gals, I finally ran across the spine of Vancouver Island.  The Augerpoint Traverse had been on my list for a while but not in the traditional sense.  Most people take 3-5 days to hike the Traverse, but I had my mind set on finding out just how quickly I could cover it.  I spent a few trips scouting out the route from both ends this summer to get a better picture of the terrain and approximate times for each section of the route.  Once I had it pieced together, I waited for a free day and a few crazy friends and we went for it! 

I have published the details of the traverse route from Paradise Meadows to Buttle Lake as an 'Adventure', titled: Hiking Across The Spine Of Vancouver Island, on The Outbound Collective.  You can check it out over on The Outbound Collective along with my Mount Becher and Albert Edward adventures and other recent articles if you like!

If you are looking for more of the behind the scenes details on our run adventure, then read on for my Augerpoint Traverse Run Report.

Let's go on an adventure, shall we?

Saturday, July 25.  Plans coming together...

"Hey.  You want to run the JDF tomorrow?"  This is the type of text that I love to receive.  My friends continually remind me that I am not, in the slightest, crazy.  The text was coming in from my ultra trail buddy Jen.  Her adventure plans for the weekend had gone array and she was looking for someone to log some big 'Plan B' miles with.  

S: "Actually...I already have plans.  Wanna run across the Island with me and Roanne?".  

J: "...How far?..How long?..How will we get back?.."

S: "35k?  8-10 hours depending on what happens out there.  Hitchhike?"

J: "...I'll be there around midnight tonight!"

And so, two became three and an adventure I had been scheming for a while suddenly became a reality.  I love dreaming up adventures.  But executing them, is even better.

Sunday, July 26.  Go time...

I woke up at o-dark-thirty and Ms Jen was, in fact, snoozing in my spare room after arriving only a few short hours before.  Time to get the coffee on.  Friends like Jen tend to travel with an 'adventure purse', so she had nearly everything in her bag to get the job done.  Water purification tabs?  Check.  Extra socks? Check.  Tensor?  Check.  Snacks for 10 hours?  Check.  Space blanket?  Duh.  We did a quick run through of the gear we would need for the day, and then some.  These types of missions require packing for the unexpected and not just for the perfect day. 

5:00.  We picked up our third partner in crime, Roanne, at the Strathcona Parkway and travelled up together to the base of Mount Washington Ski Hill.  

M O N S O O N     R A I N.   

It was absolutely and dramatically pouring down with rain on our drive up to the trail head.  It was raining so hard that my wipers couldn't hope to keep up.  It was raining so hard that we were driving in silence because we couldn't hear each other talk and because we didn't really want to.  This was going to be a complete and utter sufferfest.  Not the type of crew to complain or even consider backing out, we drove in silence, with the occasional 'oh my god' and 'this is insane' whispered between us.  There was no plan B.  This was the day we had to do it and we were prepared for the worst.  We had our gear, our food, and our resolve and we were going for it regardless of a little liquid sunshine.  Eeek.

Out of the car and we were completely soaked in mere seconds.  I can still hear the sound of that rain pounding down on the earth.  Luckily I had to pee, so I hid in the dry outhouse for a few precious minutes.  The parking lot was full of cars and I could just hear their soon-to-be epic stories of drenched sleeping bags, terrible sleeps, wet boots and useless tarp set ups...

5:30am. With our hands tucked into our sleeves, our hoods pulled tightly over our heads, and our eyes on the prize we ran hard into the Park partly to take advantage of the fast terrain but mostly to get our heart rates up.  We moved quickly through Paradise Meadows to Helen Mackenzie Lake, via the wheelchair access section of the route, where a quick run was easy to achieve.  Along the way, we spied rare glimpses of a buck, a family of Ptarmigans (babies!) and a grey heron from below the rim of our hoods.  And we thought we were wet.

We stopped at the Ranger Cabin to say good morning to a friend, and share a few adventure tales before continuing off on our mission of the day.  6kms in and ahead of any previous run times, the cold, wet weather, was helping us keep the pace up as we worked hard to stay warm.  

To our surprise, moments after leaving the cabin, the rains began to let up and the clouds started to lift.  We even got a brief glimpse of the ridge line ahead while the clouds moved in and out.  Every minute without rain is a gift when you are prepared for 10 hours of monsooning.  We all looked at it the same way, and felt more than lucky to have even a short break in the rain.  

But things just got better from there.  Surprise, surprise, the weather man was wrong.  HA!  

Roanne and Jen enjoying the epic view on the way up to Albert Edward summit.
We reached the Circlet lake turn off at 10kms and about 90 minutes and began the first of what would be three big treks of the day.  The view never gets old and we stopped plenty of times to take photos and soak it all in.  Blue sky is fantastic.  But there is so much more magic with clouds in the mix.  Providing cheeky sneak peaks of the views, clouds pick up and throw off all sorts of wild colours, sunbeams and unicorns.  Without water drops and ice crystals in the mix, we would never know the supernatural beauty of a rainbow (or a circumzenithal arc if you're lucky enough to see one in your life- like me!!).  As Roanne put it simply, "Clouds make it that much more epic."  Indeed.

We reached the summit of Albert Edward exactly 3 hours after leaving the trail, a record for me and a very comfortable pace for all of us it seemed.  From our vantage point in the centre of a giant cloud, we had to use our imaginations to recreate the view.  We enjoyed a quick breakfast and left our mark in the summit log before venturing off the back into the abyss.  The backside of Albert Edward was the one piece of the route that I had yet to travel and I was keen to get it out of the way.  Apparently straight forward, but still exciting, as we were venturing into unknown territory.  With little to no visibility at the top, we missed the main route slightly and spent some time scrambling through awkward sized rocks.  Better safe than sorry, we were trying to steer clear of the steep drop off into the abyss behind the summit.  Eventually, we merged with the path more travelled and made our way off the summit and down the bumps on the back, beginning the traverse in earnest.

Heading into the abyss, Roanne runs off the back of Albert Edward.

It was no problem finding the route down the bumps, as there really is only one way to go, to avoid getting cliffed out.  'Stay to the left' when you have a choice, was some good advice that worked for most of the route finding choices along that section.  We took our time, looking for the way and picking our way down this unknown territory.  Once we got close to 'the bottom' of the bumps, we kept our eyes peeled for a way down to the marsh/creek/low point on the right side and found it with ease.  This marsh crossing is about half way along the traverse, and we reached it after 4.5 hours.  I was hoping to be there at the 4 hour mark, for an 8 hour finish, but our travel time slowed significantly on the previous section as we had to take our time finding the route.  Knowing the route vs finding a new route, makes a very big difference to speed of travel in mountain terrain and this was a perfect example!  Scouting the remainder of the route in advance of the fast attempt, made a huge difference on our moving time as I knew every rock and turn of those other pieces.  Less time and energy spent thinking and seeking, means more forward moving speed.

After the marsh I knew exactly what was coming.  Big climbs.  Up we went, working our way through the natural breaks in the rock and travelling from cairn to cairn.  Eventually we reached the beautiful Ruth Masters Lake, and although it wasn't raining, there weren't any takers on a skinny dip.  Next time...

Jen and I looking pretty stoked to reach Ruth Masters Lake- but not quite pumped enough to swim on this day!

Up from Ruth Masters we hit the track through the slides and up to the saddle below Augerpoint Mountain.  We could see our target!  That is the cool thing about this traverse- you can see the ocean and from where you came as well as the lake and to where you are going from a few spots along the way.  No matter how many big adventures I have been on, it never ceases to amaze me how far we can travel on our own two feet.  Thank you, two feet.

It felt like we were on the home stretch.  Once I pointed out our destination down the ridge, by Jack's Fell, the girls were ready to finish the thing.  "That's it?  It's like a walk in the park!"  Haha.  Because I had scouted it out in advance, and because of the crew we were running it with,  it really was a smooth day.  We cruised along the final ridges at a nice easy pace.  We were not hammering the route.  But we were not dogging it either.  We were cruising.  Enjoying the views but not loitering too long.  We were sharing stories and enjoying each others company. The mountains have a special way of making words flow with ease.  It's amazing what you can learn about your friends on an 8 hour adventure.  Another great reason to get out and explore with your peeps for some quality mountain time:)

We cruised past the camp above Shark Lake and trekked our way up the final climb of the day, towards Jack's Fell.  This was it!  It was all downhill from there and we let our minds wander to treats at the end.  "I have a wheel of Camembert for us to eat at the end!" "I'm getting chips at Strathcona Park Lodge."  "Eeeeek!".  We filled up our water at the last of the sub alpine ponds before the route turned to trail and dropped into the forest towards Buttle Lake.  We were about 7 hours into our adventure and I was skeptical about making it to the trailhead in an hour.  I remembered never ending switchbacks.  I remembered it being much farther than you wanted it to be.  

Down, down, down, 3000 switchbacks or so later, we trotted our way to the finish.  Our watches slowly ticked away and to my suprise, we popped out at the lake at 7 hours and 59 minutes.  Wowza!  Good guesstimate!  I should have put money on that one!

What dreams are made of...

Hi 5s, camembaert, and a few wooohooos and I was jogging off down the road towards Strathcona Park Lodge.  The girls started walking with their thumbs out, but I wanted to get a few extra kilometres so I carried on down the road at a nice steady run.  I had just signed up for the Fat Dog 50 mile ultra, which would be 3 short weeks later, so this was my 'last chance' long run to prepare for the main event.  I made it another 5kms or so, before getting honked at by our saviors from the mainland.    We had a chance to load up on dreamy snacks at the Lodge between rides and met some nice folks hitchhiking our final leg back to Courtenay.  

It absolutely poured rain all the way home.  Rain at the start, rain at the end and clear sailing for nearly 8 hours in between.  Sometimes the clouds just line up right.

That was a fun day.  I'm sure it can be done much faster, but it was a great first crossing and a great day adventuring with friends.  For now, I'm calling 8 hours my PFKT- my personal fastest know time.  But...I'm sure I'll be back to try and beat it...

Happy Trails,


Paul Chapman said...

Thanks for the report. I am thinking of doing the traverse but I have a slight fear of heights, how exposed are you on the route between Albert Edward and Ruth Masters Lake?

Sarah said...

Hi Paul! Absolutely zero scrambling or exposure on the entire route! You are good to go! Just be sure to take a GPS track in case the weather turns- small band of spine to take you down off AE to the dip below Ruth Masters- don't want to get cliffed out. Only one way through- you'll find it:) SAFE journey!

Paul Chapman said...

Thanks Sarah, I appreciate your report and advice.

Sarah said...

My pleasure Paul! Please message me on FB if you have any questions at all! https://www.facebook.com/wildseads/

Paul Chapman said...

I ended up going east to west due to drop-off/pick-up arrangements. I think this direction is easier for folks afraid of heights because you get to turn your back on your fear and face the up-slope where it matters. GPS was a great help too. Thanks again for your input.

Sarah said...

Yay Paul! You did it! Nice work:) And the 'hard' way to boot. That is quite the quad burner climbing up Augerpoint trail lol! Awesome job. Feel free to ask if you need any other beta for your adventures!