When Bellingham resident Suzanne Lundberg finished a 108-mile run, hike, climb from Bellingham Bay to Mount Baker and back Sunday, June 7, she swore she’d never do it again.
“The last 40 miles was extreme suffering. I even had little breakdowns of crying, but I was determined to finish it,” Lundberg, 30, said Thursday, June 11.
But memory is a funny thing.
“You forget about the suffering and you’re so addicted to the accomplishment you keep signing up for the next one,” Lundberg said with a laugh. “Now I’m like, ‘Let’s do it again and get our time down.’”
Lundberg was one of four ultra-runners who set out from the beach off Cornwall Avenue around 8 p.m. Friday, June 5, for the century challenge. Three of them finished some 40 hours later around noon on Sunday. The only sleep they got in that time was a roughly 30-minute nap at Mosquito Lake and Middle Fork roads during their run back .
“We were actually falling asleep, having little dozes while we were running,” she said. “The sleep deprivation was by far the hardest part.”
The venture this year was one of five organized by Bellingham utlra-marathoner Daniel Probst, who has taken part in all five efforts going back to 2013. It was just the second time the route has been completed, and Lundberg was the first woman to do so.
Probst, California resident Beat Jegerlehner and Bellingham resident Aaron Poh were able to do the entire route last August in 48 hours, 17 minutes and in hot weather. That outing was the second attempt last year after a group of eight runners, Lundberg among them, were prevented from reaching the summit of Mount Baker because of bad weather.
This year, Probst was hoping they could do the entire trip in 32 hours. But aspects of the climb, as well as socializing and having a good time with friends and supporters, tacked on more time.
“You just can never tell on the mountain how long things are going to take,” the 36-year-old Probst said.
“It was a success because we only had to do it once this year. We didn’t have to do it twice,” he added, chuckling.
The other runners who set out Friday, June 5, were Poh and Bellevue resident Gavin Woody, past president of The Mountaineers for the Pacific Northwest. Poh made it all the way to the summit of Mount Baker but didn’t do the run back because of tendonitis.
Probst, the founder of running group Cascade Mountain Runners, has been organizing the adventure runs for a number of reasons:
▪ He wanted to pay tribute to the Mount Baker Marathon, a competition that lasted from 1911 to 1913 and was the forerunner of today’s Ski to Sea race.
▪ He’s bringing attention to his effort to launch a new 100-mile footrace, called the Mount Baker Ultra Marathon, by showing that such an endurance challenge could be done.
▪ He is building support for the proposed Bellingham-Mount Baker Trail, which would connect Bellingham’s shoreline to the Easton Glacier on Mount Baker and parallel the route the four runners took.
The proposed trail would link the future park off Cornwall Avenue on the waterfront, Whatcom Falls Park, the reconveyance land that’s been dubbed the new Lake Whatcom Park, the town of Acme and South Fork Park to the historic Mount Baker Marathon route up the middle fork of the Nooksack River and connect to the Ridley Creek Trail on to Easton Glacier.
It would provide more than 50 miles of multi-use trails for the public, Probst said.
He’s continuing his efforts to launch his ultra marathon over that route but needs Congressional approval to use the Ridley Creek Trail — a little over 2 miles of the trail is all that remains of the original trail used in the Mount Baker Marathon — for the race because it’s in wilderness.
Until then, Probst plans to use an alternate route for a race he hopes to launch June 2016, with registration possibly starting in fall. That route would take racers out the South Fork River Valley and up to Schriebers Meadow in Mount Baker National Recreation Area, he said.
Mount Baker and beyond
When the runners reached the Ridley Creek Trailhead at the base of Mount Baker, they were within 15 minutes of their schedule. Then they fell behind, but at least the weather stayed cool this year unlike 2014, when high temps including on the mountain zapped the runners’ energy.
This year, they were able to escape most of the afternoon heat and ran through the night out to Mount Baker when it was cooler. A breeze during the ascent kept them from baking on Baker and the snow from softening further, according to Probst.
“It was a perfect temperature all night long. At Baker, we weren’t fried and exhausted by the time we got there. The moon that night was absolutely incredible, it was an orange moon,” Probst said. “We definitely got super lucky on the weather.”
Lundberg was wowed by her ascent to Baker, which was her first summit.
“It was so beautiful, quiet and calm and serene up there,” Lundberg said.
As for Woody, he appreciated the history of the original Mount Baker Marathon that Probst shared along the way, and also the modern challenge.
“It was awesome. For me, the coolest part was all the different types of terrain we encountered,” Woody, 38, said.
They ran through blisters and made their way over road, trail (with some bushwhacking) and glacier. They ate Fat Pie Pizza as well as bacon and eggs, and enjoyed cans of beer from Kulshan Brewing at the summit with each other as well as friends and support crew.
“It was fun. It wasn’t a race for time,” Lundberg said.
Probst has been among a number of people working to restore the Ridley Creek Trail in the Mount Baker Ranger District
The community effort to rebuild what had been an almost-lost trail started in 2014. The work is a combined effort of Cascade Mountain Runners as well as the U.S. Forest Service and the Washington Trails Association.
The association had organized a work party for the trail, for a total of 403 hours from volunteers, the weekend the runners were doing the 108-mile run, hike, climb.
“It felt like it was all coming together; runners traversing the trail to the summit with freshly worked trail underfoot,” Probst said of traveling over Ridley Creek Trail. “The Mount Baker Marathon and its trail are being brought back to life. It’s no longer just an idea.”
Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.