As far as I know, there aren't a whole lot of "unwritten rules" for trail running. In fact, I admit I've rarely read any written rules about trail running.
But if there were, I'd make sure this is in the all-time, top-five list: don't save the uphill, no matter how short it looks on the map or is in your mind, for the end of your run.
I was brought to that point quite clearly a couple of hours into my trail run/hike along the Elwha River as I explored the Geyser Valley loop and trails last week.
My purpose was threefold: one, to try out my semi-new pair of trail running shoes; two, to finally see all those spots I'd been missing these years - such as Michael's Cabin and Humes Ranch - when I'd ditch the long trail for a glimpse of Goblin's Gate; and three, to get away from work for a while.
Well, I was three-for-three. I should have added No. 4, however: return an unbroken, wholly lucid human being.
The series of Elwha River day hikes, dubbed the "Geyser Valley Complex" in some hiking books, features a number of eye-popping views of the Elwha on both the northern (upper) trail and the southern (riverside) trail.
The trailhead at Whiskey Bend offers hikers a number of choices, including longer and significantly steeper trails to Hayden Pass and Hurricane Ridge. The less hearty hiker generally keeps to the relatively tame trails here, extending three miles from the trailhead to my own self-prescribed end point, a bridge crossing the Elwha that leads to Dodger Point.
The Elwha Trail is a bit of a hybrid, giving hikers the sense of an alpine climb with plenty of evergreen shade and sweeping views of one of the peninsula's finest rivers. Even on a muggy July afternoon at the hottest point of the day, a number of day hikers of all ages were here and there, probably wondering why some idiot was running by them and not stopping to see the views. To be sure, I did. I just ran from one view to the other.
A little more than a mile into the run/hike is the Eagles Nest overlook. I recall scoping out some elk one early morning in my childhood from this spot. We didn't see any that time and it wasn't on my schedule for the day, but I assume it's still there. It dips less than a tenth of a mile out of the way and back.
A stone's throw from there is a steep drop into Rica Canyon and Goblin's Gate. This is the path I normally choose. It's a little tough on the knees going downhill so steeply but the views at the bottom are incredible, particularly at the "gate." I met several hikers who were taking this route, going downhill to start the hike and getting up-close river views to start and saving the upper route for later. I passed.
Another half-mile beyond that is the Krause Bottom Trail, another zigzagging bit of earth taking hikers down toward the river. I passed again.
My first stop was Michael's Cabin, about another half-mile beyond the Krause Bottom trail junction. I'd heard lots of folks making the trek out to the cabin so I wasn't sure what to expect.
It's ... a cabin. It's old. It's preserved. Sorry to ruin the suspense.
For local historians, it's probably a real gem, though. According to the neatly typed and framed description, Michael's Cabin, made of split cedar shakes, was named for "Cougar Mike," a wilderness man who made his living hunting predators with hounds, maintaining mountain trails and phone lines. Michael lived in "Dok" A. Ludden's Geyser House after Ludden died in 1927 until the late 1930s. Ludden, I came to find out later, was the guy who dubbed this place Geyser Valley for, as he explained, "the wind sweeping down the fir-clad sides of the hills whirls upward again, twisting and forming the clouds into geyser-like shapes."
Michael then moved to Riverside on the Soleduck (or Sol Duc, for those who care) when Olympic National Park was formed. He died in the 1950s.
The cabin was built on the property in 1937 by Jay Gormley and Gus Peterson for overnight use as they traveled to Olympic National Monument to keep trail and phone lines intact, the note informs visitors.
Good to know.
I ran on for nearly another half mile before finding Humes Ranch, where I found another rather Spartan homage to local pioneer history. Only this place was twice as good: it had two rooms to Michael's one. Apparently, a man named Grant Humes, relative of nearby pioneers William and Martin Humes, built this cabin and a barn in 1900 with help from William. Grant lived there until his death in 1934. He started the first wildlife sanctuary on the peninsula with the two meadows of his homestead and surrounding area.
According to local history, Grant Humes once wrote: "I have come to know that it ain't all of hunting to shoot."
The barn was destroyed in 1958 after being deemed unsafe and the cabin was repaired and preserved.
On this day, a family of four was using the cabin as shelter from 75-degree sunshine. The younger hikers were adamantly wondering aloud whether this was the final stop while the older hikers pondered some side trails. I wasn't going to get in the middle of that, so I moved on.
The path varies between root-filled and rock-strewn here on the upper trail, and while it makes running quite tricky in some spots, my trail shoes provided ample support. I found the numerous footbridges and small creeks an extra challenge as I sped up and down the divergent terrain.
I can't say I saw much wildlife other than a pack of bugs here and there; hopefully I wasn't scaring them off. Fauna included the rather ordinary combination of ferns, mosses and the occasional penstemon.
After an hour, I made it to the bridge that eventually leads the trail to Long Ridge and Dodger Point. The whole valley opens up here, and with the river so low this summer, it seems like another planet as the rushing waters slowed to a gurgle here. I couldn't help but take a respite from my run.
Then, for the long trip back. I took the lower trail along the river hoping to get some cooler air. Along the way I met a couple from Georgia who had hiked Hurricane Ridge the day before and wanted to see what the Elwha looked like. They seemed nice enough and gave me a great reason to stop under a tree near Krauss Bottom. I kept on toward the Rica Canyon trail where I saw a small family enjoying a dip in the blue-green Elwha waters. I wanted to go for a dip too, but I wanted to finish this run.
The lower trail is much rockier and has some rather slippery spots thanks to crumbling dirt here and there, but oh the views ....
A little more than two miles from the bridge turnaround, I found myself at Goblin's Gate, a freakish little spot where the Elwha squeezes between canyon-like walls. Behemoth fallen trees seem to dangle precariously over the gap, though it looks like they haven't moved in decades. It's a nice spot for a snack.
Unfortunately, I was well-winded by this time and, as I mentioned before, the path back from Goblin's Gate is like a Stairmaster set on "kill." I tried my best to run up the steep slope. Then I jogged. Then I simply took a few steps, gasped for breath, and repeated.
By the time I made it back to the car, I remembered why they call these day hikes, not day runs.
Next time, I'll leave any kind of trail running here to the experts, and instead take the slow road.
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.