We started at 7am from the trailhead, taking it easy through the old road section prior to descending to the river trail.
Campsites were full and backpackers were moving back toward the trailhead. There were two bears near the trail in an open meadow, grazing peacefully. The trail rolled gently, with a slight and steady incline.
We reached the “ski chalet” (ranger’s station, ~13.5 miles in) and the open space that’s referred to as “Enchanted Valley” at about 4 hour elapsed. Sheer cliffs towered above the river. Spurting waterfalls spilled from the rockface. Sun shining, fair breeze, 70 degrees. Absolutely gorgeous.
Terrain got tougher after this.
As we moved through camp, we saw yet another bear. A mile or so down the trail, Kate burped loudly into a pair of trees (sounding like a bear snarl) while Dustin happened to be looking at a pile of bearscat. “KATE!” “WHAT” “A BEAR!” “A BURP.”
We climbed a few more miles before arriving at what is probably technically a creek, but was moving like a seasonal river. Fast. We almost turned back. Kate tried the high route which was dodgy. MEANWHILE a guy in rainbow crocs just danced over the logs (it’s like 80% probability of death if you fall over). So we had to cross at that point ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Dustin was able to brace himself against logs and swim parallel to the current and get across.
We began the climb up toward the glacier, seeing occasional patches of snow. Then snowy sections. Then longer ones. On top of a snow bank we met a park ranger, who was descending: “if you’ve made it this far, you probably already know: be very careful on the snow bridges. They’re liable to collapse this time of year. Also, you should know that the trail is 85%+ snow covered.”
Snow bridges were quarter mile sections, with sometimes 20-30 ft of melting snow, with creeks flowing below them. The creeks hollow out the snow and eventually collapse. You don’t want to be there when it happens.
We tried to work around the weakest parts, or avoid the snow bridges altogether. This required scaling creek banks through brush, or tracing a tree line. Slow.
We emerged from a wooded section to the steepest part of the climb, which was fully snow covered. We followed the ranger’s tracks as best as possible, weaving steeper and steeper switchbacks. Two thirds of the way up was the steepest pitch, ~25-30% grade? We had to lean in and use our hands to continue making progress. Clear scrub finally appeared, and we scrambled up to the rim to see a snow-covered alpine lake ringed by tall peaks.
We traced the ridge to the GPS point that marked the official turnaround and then back up to rejoin the previous tracks.
After ~200 yards, there’s a dropoff. Back to steep terrain. Kate led, downclimbing, punching holes in the snow with her running shoes. Dustin used the “five point method”: two hands, two heels and a butt.
If we had lost grip, we would have spilled down the mountain, having to self-arrest without an ice ax or poles. So we carefully descended about a half mile in that way, gingerly turning forward as we got further down. The last bit was just plain fun, skipping and sliding.
The second half of the descent is a mix of open field (snowbridges over water) and forest (fragile snow banks, especially around trees). We traced our footsteps back down as best as possible, but also made some safety modifications.
A couple of the crossing points we used on the ascent looked too dangerous on the return, so we made wider berths to a mix of brush (bushwacking) and lower elevation (less far to travel if you fall though). We also inadvertently picked up another trail for a half mile or so after a water crossing before retracing our steps to find the way home.
The return across the "raging river" was less eventful, though still frigid.
As we were passing the Enchanted Valley camp, we chatted with a couple who had also crossed the river, inspired by our plunge. We also were chased down by the ranger, who was about to send after us. “I was worried, I hadn’t seen you cross back by.” With only two hours of daylight and four hours of running, he was also worried about darkness. “We have headlamps and plenty of snacks, we’re fine, but thanks for everything!”
The next section was easy running. Hikers had turned to campers and were eating dinner around fires. We came very close to a young bear who was a bit less confident in his close proximity to humans than the others we encountered in the valley.
Dustin stayed back to filter water while Kate shuffled on ahead, confident in his ability to catch up. Dustin’s dying headlamp had other ideas, however, so he wasn't able to enjoy the dancing runnable downhill of the last few miles of the day.
We finished with a little over 16 hours elapsed. You could probably do this course at a comfortable pace later in the season under 12 hours. Very soft. But worth it. Go get this one!