FKT: Ashly Winchester - Mt St Helens (WA) - 2021-08-07

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Total time
13h 36m 51s

Photos on Strava.

Loowit summy-circ

I had been planning on taking on the summit and circumnavigation of Loowit for at least a year. There's something beautiful about climbing a mountain and then viewing it from every angle. There's a real intimacy there. A real getting-to-know. It was drawing close to my birthday and to the end of Jason's Bulgers FKT, and I was scanning for Loowit permits for Jason's final day. It just so happened that a single permit appeared on the site for August 7th, the day after my birthday. On a whim and while standing on the snowless flanks of Komo Kulshan, I purchased the permit. I figured it was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday: big vert, big miles, and a visit to the pain cave.

The morning started off pretty low key. I aimed for a 3:30am start, but ended up standing at the trailhead at 4:40am. The climb up Loowit was fairly uneventful. My legs felt strong and I was ahead of the ascent record pace. I seriously considered going for that FKT until I hit a 30-40mph headwind around an elevation of about 6,000 ft. The wind got stronger as I climbed, blowing me sideways and backward. Some hikers were turning around, but I persisted and the wind was surprisingly calmer at the rim of the crater. I traversed my way over to the official summit and was blown away (pun intended) by the clouds swirling in the wind above the crater. I could tell the clouds were moving in quickly and it would soon be out of view. I turned and jogged my way back down the scree to the Loowit trail.

A runner with a race bib jogged by as I got to the intersection... Uh oh. I hadn't realized that the Volcanic 50k was taking place on the same day. Using beta that a friend shared with a few days prior, I had decided to run the loop clockwise... the same direction, apparently, as the race. I took a moment to weigh my options as a couple more runners jogged by. I could run in the opposite direction, making it very clear to the runners, aid stations, etc, that I was not part of the race... but that would require stepping off the trail any time I came upon another runner. That's a lot of short pauses. Or I could run as originally planned. It appeared that I was dropping into the back of the pack, so I thought I might be able to find a gap in the runners, find my own groove, and ignore the race.

And I was right! Except for the first few miles of passing runners. I was accosted by an aid station volunteer demanding to know my bib number and at one point I got stuck in a group of about 20 people bottlenecked at a canyon crossing. I stood for about 40 minutes as the clouds sank lower on the mountain and a light, misty rain started to fall. I spent 40 minutes there. Refusing to give up my "unsupported" style on this FKT, I didn't speak a word to anyone while there. To be completely honest, in that moment I was frustrated that I didn't feel the remoteness and solitude I always seek during my FKTs. However, the canyon crossing spread the runners out enough that immediately after I found myself totally alone. From then on I was able to run without obstructions or interference.

The trail was obvious and easy to follow and I ran straight through the aid stations. I stopped at a clear, cold stream that seemed to bubble up out of the volcanic rock in the blast zone. There was an aid station nearby but I dipped into the stream itself to refill my water bladder. I added the Gnarly Nutrition Fuel2O that I had brought along in a ziploc bag and continued on my way. This was the only time I refilled my water. Eventually I saw a sign for the runners to follow off the Loowit trail and back to their start - a different trailhead than the Climber's Bivouac where I started. The clouds began to lift a little and the intermittent rain stopped completely. I had been struggling a bit on some of the climbs and the little bit of sunlight lifted my spirits.

The final climb back to the my trail intersection was tedious. I snacked on my last Snickers Peanut Butter and trudged upwards. Once I hit the Climber's Bivouc trail, I struggled to open up my stride because of some nagging knee pain that had been sneaking up on me throughout the day. I reached for the ibuprofen that I happened to forget back at the van... ah well. Let's really immerse ourselves in the pain cave.

I forced myself to run what felt like a 10-minute mile on the way down, but ended up being closer to 14. Back at the trailhead, I was surprised at how good I still felt. No cramping and the knee pain had subsided a bit. I was just stoked with how the day went.

Overall, what a phenomenal day and experience. I'm glad the race didn't seem to get in my way or affect my run beyond the first couple of miles on the Loowit trail. I am submitting this FKT as an unsupported effort because I did not use any of the race resources, nor did I ask for help from any of the runners, or receive any kind of mental boon (if anything, it had the opposite effect). I kept to myself and ran the trail using my pre-planned strategy, which was run the runnable and walk everything else. I know this can go way faster, and I can't wait to see the times that the rad, fast PNW ladies can lay down on this very runnable Cascade volcano.