It's been kind of nasty this winter here in the Pacific Northwest in that we've had very few days of sun with lots of rain and stormy weather. I have spent most of my time in the gym trying to get ready for this season, which will put huge demands on my mental and physical stamina. My training is approaching my days of ultra running, i.e. last week I ran (fartleks) for 4 miles, then climbed 2300' feet over an hour on the stair machine, then I biked for 20 miles for a total workout time of 2:50. I anticipate workouts like this to eventually approach 5 hours by June.
But this past Monday (April 3,2017) the Mt. Rainier forecast called for sunny skies and the freezing level eventually climbing to 4500 feet. I figured I could tick off quite a few boxes:
• Test my progress on actual terrain• field test the Inov8 ArcticClaw 300s I recently picked up on Mass Drop• get in real bike time versus gym bike• climb a total of 7000 feet in one outing• time my event to enjoy crowd free hiking and a deserted road• get some downhill time on the legs• dial in clothing system that would work for both biking and hiking
There were a few unknowns that could have been deal breakers, such as the road from Longmire to Paradise being too icy to safely bike, and especially the snow conditions as I was only taking these beefed up trail runners with no snowshoes; I also decided to leave the skis at home for this one. I got lucky on all accounts. After a breakfast at the National Park Inn, I was on my bike at the gate opening at 9 AM and was pleasantly surprised by temperatures as I ascended. I was wearing the Inov8s on my flat pedals, some biking softshell pants with a bike padded liner, a NTS layer (Beyond Clothing Aether long sleeve) under a long sleeve bike jersey, and a final outer layer, the proven Beyond Clothing Brokk windshirt, along with a beanie under my helmet and some full fingered mountain bike gloves. This is a 2600 foot climb right from the get go, but the temperature stayed cold enough to preclude much actual sweating and cold enough to keep all the layers on. I was a bit concerned on the climb about the road condition on the way back down later, as I had plenty of slippery patches to cross on the way up. These next two shots are composites of frame grabs during the climb.
I arrived at Paradise 2:15 after I started, faster than I have done it before despite the pack and stopping for photo ops, plus I was holding plenty in reserve for the climb from Paradise to 9800 feet. There were about 20 cars in the lot, and I knew every one of them would be gone by 5:30 PM, as the gate is locked at 6 PM on weekdays at this time. Basically I had as much time as I wanted to hike up high and time my arrival back at the parking lot after everyone had departed.
I secured my bike to a post; the only clothing changes I made were to trade my helmet and beanie for a sun cap with drape and put on some gaiters. In hand I had one regular pole and a Black Diamond Whippet, not knowing what snow conditions I would run into, only knowing that there was lots of it. What I did meet with during the day enabled me to continue to my high point of 9800 foot elevation (giving me my total planned climb of 7000 feet for the day)....sometimes soft, sometimes crusty, sometimes icy, but nothing to impede my progress in trail runners. It of course warmed up on the snow field as I expected, but the sub freezing temperatures kept the heat at bay...in fact, I never had to don an extra layer or even take one off; I even used my same bike gloves. Because my Brokk pullover shirt has two zippers, I even found that I could sling my camera over my neck and poke the lens through, zipping all the way up to extract to my face for shooting, then nestle it back inside my shirt, very handy. I was slowing considerably as I passed 9000 foot elevation, more due to age and the altitude than my legs, which stayed true to the training all the way to the end. As I descended I crossed paths with parties I had passed on the way up, but soon had the rest of the hike to myself after the last skiers and boarders whooshed by. The lighting on the mountain seemed especially sublime on the descent, affording lots of photo ops (complete photo set here). With the sun behind a cloud the snow was setting up fast, and I judiciously grasped my Whippet on some steep sections just in case, but frequent post holing was my main impediment, especially after Pan Point (7000'). Sure enough, I was greeted with an empty parking lot when I arrived at 6 PM, and after employing brakes on the first part of the bike descent (gaiters off, warmer gloves and a beanie and one more layer), it soon became apparent that all vestiges of snow and ice were gone from the roadway, as were any vehicles, so I was able to let off the brakes and use the entire road for the best line on the way down. This year will see the completion and final paving of this section and I look forward to the buttery smooth ride that awaits at the end of the season versus the bumpy, sometimes teeth jarring present experience what with all the patches. When I arrived at my vehicle 15 minutes later, I was greeted by another empty parking lot, save mine. Yes, with careful planning you can have this park to yourself. Totals for the day: 29 miles (22 miles biking, 7 hiking)/7000' elev gain/loss.
ARCTICCLAW 300 Review
How can I write a review on something I've used just once? Well, the variable snow conditions I experienced on this hike covered just about everything. The shoes were warm enough with just regular socks (no WPB liner), although my socks got damp during the day. Considering I spent hours in snow and cold temps, I'm satisfied. I could have worn some WP socks for extra warmth, but I see this as unnecessary. Where these puppies really came through was on ice....the studs on the bottom gave me complete security on moderate slopes. At one point I took a break on a rock where the surrounding rocks and snow were basically ice. I crunched around to my hearts content with no slippage. On the steep climb to Panorama Point, I simply followed a boot track, with the studs providing enough security that I never needed to kick a step. At the top during a photo break I watched a guided group ascending the same path and the leader was kicking 2 to 3 times for each step. In the photo above the conditions were about an inch of loose snow on top of crust, and I easily tromped along (no breakthroughs on the way up), including side hilling, with nary a slip. When the snow was soft enough for post holing or plunge stepping they acted like any other footwear, with the exception that any shoe like this is not torsionally rigid, but with soft snow the heel is plenty beefy enough for the secure plunge. One has to remember that this shoe is designed for winter runs on icy terrain, but they excelled in this hike where every other person on the snowfields were in climbing boots, snowshoes or ski boots. I got a few looks as I passed people in my running shoes. I am lucky in that I can order Inov8 shoes in size 11.5 and they consistently fit my feet, these were no exception; comfy, no toe jamming, no hot spots and no blisters on the climb/hike portion of this trip, 7 miles and 4400 feet of elevation gain/loss where the only even steps I could take were the sections on crust. With the high snow year we have experienced I plan on using these well into the summer.