Bellingham ultra runner will try again to complete quest from Bellingham to Baker - and back

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 2, 2014 

Baker Ultra

Bellingham ultra-runner Daniel Probst nears the 6,500-foot base camp on Mount Baker on Saturday, June 28, 2014. Behind him are Bellingham runners Emily Morehouse (in gray jacket) and Aaron Poh (wearing orange helmet.) They were among eight runners who attempted a 108-mile run, hike and climb from Bellingham Bay to Mount Baker and back in homage to the Mount Baker Marathon a century ago. The runners were unable to complete the trek because poor visibility and bad weather kept them from summiting Mount Baker.

CHRIS DUPPENTHALER — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

At base camp on Mount Baker and shy of the halfway point of a 108-mile trek from Bellingham Bay to the summit, a group of runners weighed their desire for history against the forces of Mother Nature.

Visibility was down to as little at 50 feet and there were fears that up to a foot of new snow had covered small crevasses or created weak bridges over crevasses that a runner could fall through during a summit attempt.

So history was put on hold a third time.

"We're not putting anybody's life in danger because that would be the end of it all," said 35-year-old Bellingham ultra marathoner Daniel Probst, who had organized last weekend's run, hike and climb event for the group of eight runners.

The effort marked his third attempt to go from bay to mountain top and back again to revive the legendary Mount Baker Marathon, a short-lived competition a century ago that was the forerunner of today's Ski to Sea race.

It also was the second time Probst was frustrated by bad weather. But, he said, he'll try again.

"You have to keep trying until everything lines up. If you give up before it does, then you fail," Probst said. "I haven't failed until I stop trying."

The founder of the group Cascade Mountain Runners, he organized all three attempts to show the route could be done, with the goal of launching a new endurance race called the Mount Baker Ultra Marathon.

"Even though it's not successful yet, it's building momentum," Probst said. "We're trying to bring back the history of the original race."

Lasting from 1911 to 1913, the original marathon was known for its danger, the devil-may-care attitude of its competitors and even some intrigue among competing towns.

Back then, competitors raced from Bellingham to Mount Baker by car and by train, then ran to the summit before returning to the finish line.

Last weekend's attempt included linking up to the trail system that was used by the original competitors a century ago.

In his first attempt at making new history on Aug. 9, 2013, Probst and three other runners were thwarted by bad weather that forced them to abandon the effort at the base of a glacier.

Two weeks later, Probst went alone and got all the way to the summit, with the help of an American Alpine Institute guide, but couldn't complete the return run.

HISTORY'S STEPS

After a hearty breakfast at Mount Bakery on the morning of Friday, June 27 - Probst ate a large fruit crepe, two poached eggs, toast, bacon and roasted potatoes - the group started from the beach at the end of Cornwall Avenue at 9 a.m.

The other runners were Bruce Grant, Beat Jegerlehner, Suzanne Lundberg Gamble, Deb McInally, Jackie Muir and Aaron Poh. Four of them were from Bellingham. The others were from Seattle, Canada and California.

Their route followed a proposed national recreation trail that would go from downtown Bellingham to the reconveyance land that's been dubbed the new Lake Whatcom Park and out to Acme. There, they stopped at the Acme Diner about 25 miles into the trip to fuel up on milkshakes and ice cream.

It was raining when they left the diner. By the time they got to Mosquito Lake Road, "it was a monsoon," Probst said.

"It's just exhausting. It's taxing," he said of being out in the rain.

The group reached the Ridley Creek Trailhead - 45 miles into the effort - about 9 p.m. Friday. They were ahead of schedule. They changed out of their wet clothes and waited inside support vehicles, hoping the weather would improve.

At 3 a.m. Saturday, after the rain had dropped to a light mist, seven of the runners decided to make their way to the Mount Baker base camp at 6,500 feet at the base of Easton Glacier, where mountaineers Dave Vitt and Chris Noskoff were waiting for them.

Vitt, founder of Kulshan Brewing Co., and Noskoff, its systems manager, were there to help the group summit Mount Baker. Kulshan also was a sponsor.

"I was excited about the connection to the historic race that happened. I liked the history behind it and thought this would be a good thing for Bellingham," Vitt said.

With poor conditions that included low visibility, new snow at the top, fog and rain, which could cause hypothermia, they told the runners that it was unsafe.

"We felt it would be irresponsible to take a group up in those conditions," Vitt said.

The climb to the summit was called off around 7 a.m. Saturday.

ANOTHER TRY?

The Kulshan crew said they'll help Probst with his next effort.

"He can do it. It's just he's had very bad luck with the weather," Noskoff said.

Although Probst and the others weren't able to summit, three of them did complete the rest of the route, for a total of 100 miles. The other two were Poh and Jegerlehner.

They finished at 2:18 a.m. Sunday, after a stop at the Acme Diner on the way down for a barbecue.

The 25-year-old Poh, who enjoyed the challenge of the long run and the history behind the effort, said he'd try it again.

"I'll need a couple of weeks to recuperate, but definitely," the Bellingham resident said.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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